The loading bay in the very bottom of Wayne Tower is silent this late at night. There's room for a dozen big rigs in here, replenishing everything from crates full of blue pens to the cannolis for the Italian section of the cafeteria. The bay doors lock down at night, so there shouldn't be any color here but smog gray.
The boy's cape is black on the outside, so he's almost unnoticeable when he comes in through a side door. It hides him so completely that he makes it to the one section of concrete that the cameras don't pick up without attracting even one set of eyes at the security desk inside. Of course, in defense of night manager Chuck and security specialists Pete and Ted, the boy's been doing this for years. He'd never get caught.
Inside the deep shadows of the cape, the boy readies a gadget that looks kind of like a custom iPhone. It's got a touch screen only - no buttons - and there are no logos of any kind except a sharply stylized yellow R. That logo isn't trademarked. Nobody would have the balls to try. The boy touches a pattern on the screen without needing to look, and it gives a short buzz in his hand. After a moment, it buzzes again.
He walks at the wall without hesitation. Where his skull should bounce off the gritty surface, he passes straight through, and the concrete resolves itself behind him when he's past.
The boy's name is Robin, and this is his elevator.
Well, okay. Eight living people know it exists and six of those can access it, so perhaps it's not strictly Robin's elevator. But close enough.
The inside is mirrored brass with a black, undecorated carpet. There are rock solid rails around the edges, and beside the doors (which close soundlessly behind him) there are two round buttons. They are marked, Wonderland-like: UP and DOWN. Robin hesitates over them for a moment before pressing the top one, which lights up under his gauntlet, mother-of-pearl. The elevator makes the softest whirr as it starts its climb, away from the street and the cave far beneath, toward the stratosphere. There's only one speed on it: emergency. It's proved useful more than once, so it'll stay just how it is, but that doesn't mean Robin doesn't wish from time to time that they could devise a means of keeping his guts from trying to tango with the g-forces. Ugh.
He focuses instead on his golden reflection in the closed doors, watching the bruise on his upper arm start to color in. It's worse than it should have been, but that's only because it was either catch the full weight of a piece of rebar safely on his shoulder or risk it hitting his face. Robin really hates having to cover stuff like that up. Foundation is a bitch to get off the lapels, and it gives people the wrong idea.
He's already got his gauntlets off and the cape over one arm when the doors open on the lavish penthouse bathroom. Some people have apartments smaller than this. Robin tosses his stuff in the wall safe, already standing open and ready for him, and follows it with the rest of his uniform. Another time he might grab a shirt and jeans out of the top compartment and go home, but he has work to do. It'll have to be the suit.
Robin eyes the pristine white dry cleaning bag hanging on the back of the bathroom door, resentment narrowing his gaze. His skin burns where he scuffed the hell out of his shoulder tonight, his knee is killing him, and he's not really one hundred percent convinced that he didn't go over the maximum safe amount of inhaled tear gas.
A shower, he decides. A long, hot shower that'll fog up the whole room and prune his skin will do just fine. Alfred's with Bruce in Iraq, so there isn't even anybody to yell.
Half an hour later Tim pads out onto the steamy tile, feeling exponentially better. He towels off and changes into the suit, which is his favorite navy Zegna - excellent. If he has to be uncomfortable, he can at least look good. He decides against a tie, though. It's three in the morning on a Saturday night; surely the lack of strictly proper attire is forgivable. There are elements crucial to Wayne Biotech's upcoming corporate takeover that absolutely can't wait until morning, and that's fine, Tim's directly on top of that - but if anybody asks him where his tie is, he'll feed it to them.
He makes his way through elegant halls, out of the apartment and into the Tower proper, until arriving at his office. It's a wide room with light furniture, its own washroom, and a view of the harbor. The first thing he does is sit down behind his desk and boot up his beloved laptop. It's one of dozens of specialty models Bruce commissioned to interface with the computers in the sub-sub-basement. A single black wire runs out of a discreet depression in the desk and into the machine. Nine times out of ten, Tim can tell people it's for his iPod, and they believe him. They don't know that iPods don't run at 5.6 petaflops. Google doesn't run at 5.6 petaflops, but several hundred feet down there's a nitrogen-cooled room full of custom processors that do.
It never gets less awesome.
The laptop's glow fades in, and Tim checks in on the market and a couple of pet projects before getting down to business.
Three years ago, Wayne Biotech was a functional offshoot of Wayne Medical, doling out health care to the populace of Gotham City. Medical dealt with the running of hospitals and free clinics, and Biotech built them better mousetraps - paraplegic aids, new automated IV safety protocols, things like that. There was a huge department that dealt with cancer and AIDS, but that was just a glorified fact-checker for the Wayne Foundation to use in identifying good candidates for grant money. Universities chose the direction, universities innovated, and universities kept the research. Wayne Enterprises never kept anything for itself.
Tim assumed leadership of the Biotech division on his 24th birthday. If he were only a couple of years older, Bruce could have called it the vice-presidency that it actually is, but there's the stock market to consider. Bruce did throw Tim a congratulatory party that was attended by no less than six senators, and for a while it seemed the newspapers forgot any words they knew except nepotism. Tim's turning 26 in four months and Wayne Biotech is now the hands-down world leader in stem cell and cloning research. Forbes just published their fourth interview with the young man they've dubbed Gotham's Crown Prince, and Alfred keeps leaving People's requests for a Most Eligible Bachelor spread in prominent places around the penthouse. When Tim closes this deal for Cadmus Labs to come under Biotech ownership, the stock will jump by at least twenty points. He anticipates his first successful cloned organ transplant before his thirtieth birthday party.
Not bad for a day job.
Biotech has its own researchers and scientists, of course. They're at a lab in La Jolla, doing... well, it's complicated. But the short story is that when Tim presented their projections to the board of Cadmus Labs, they couldn't get to the negotiation table fast enough. If Biotech and Cadmus combine technologies, the results could not only lead to enormous strides forward in organ cloning research, but a group of patents that would mean billions of dollars for the people to file them. All the Cadmus board has to do is agree with Tim on a reasonable price for their company, sign the paperwork, and then they'll be part of Wayne Enterprises and everyone can get to work putting the two halves of the research together. Tim reviews the La Jolla reports in his email with a smile; everything's more or less on target, which means it'll be ready for integration within the year.
Then he checks the notes from his assistant.
Tim drops his pen. "This can't be right," he breathes, reading the next mail, and the next. Familiar words come up - merger, press conference, Cadmus...
"No," Tim whispers aloud, the plastic on the mouse gritting under his grip. "That's my lab! What the hell does Luthor want with my lab?" Tim connects to the computer towers seventy stories beneath him and feeds them keywords, his fingers flying across the keyboard. He chews his lip, his eyes glued to the pictures shimmering on the screen. "Come on, come on... you gotta have something, who's your guy? Rodriguez? Chambers? Seth Levy, God, don't let it be Seth, he's the only decent micro-engineer on the con... tinent..."
The picture glowing on the screen cuts Tim's tirade off at the knees. He can only stare and hope that this all somehow begins to make sense in the next minute or two, because otherwise Tim is at a total loss to explain why the Cadmus board would be giving so much as a complimentary cup of coffee to Luthor's dilettante son, Conner.
Now there's nepotism in action. Conner Luthor has a vice presidency at LuthorCorp in charge of a division whose name seems to change according to whatever sounds best at the time. He shows up in the society section and the tabloids on a daily basis with actresses and models and the daughters of Luthor's business partners hanging off his arm, which he can do because he was blessed with every single one of Luthor's attractive features and a few more besides. He owns something like a dozen vehicles and never wears the same thing twice. He's precisely what everyone thought Tim was two years ago, a useless rich idiot not fit to share a name with his Goliath of a father figure, and yet here he is in black and white pixels, standing at his podium in front of the LuthorCorp logo and informing the Associated Press of his intention to open negotiations with Cadmus Labs for merger.
His tie isn't even tight.
Tim yanks the phone out of its cradle and stabs the button for his assistant - though that term is a misnomer. Martín serves as Tim's secretary, valet, butler, bodyguard, interior decorator, real estate agent, public relations manager, and about a dozen other things that don't belong on the same job description. Alfred had determined a few years ago that the young master needed an assistant of his own and went through sixty-seven candidates before deciding on Martín. He introduced the man to Tim a few months after that: here he is, you two will get on famously, must get back, bye now.
The phone rings three times before Martín picks up, his deep voice gone deeper for having been rousted out of bed in the middle of the night. "Timothy," he reproves, his strong French accent withering as always. "You have not finished reading your email."
"When does my flight leave?"
"It is... four hours. Your bags are already en route, as you would know if you had finished reading the email I sent to you. I left your favorite suit because I long ago made the mistake of catering to your moods and alas, Alfred informs me it is too late to stop now."
One time Tim tried to fire Martín - he thought he could manage his own life, including the wisecracks, so thanks very much for the effort, but no thanks.
Bruce said no.
"Did you pack the bottom compartment?"
"Of course," Martín says, his voice sobering. "We are going to Metropolis."
"Who's my first appointment, and why am I not on the jet right now?"
"Monsieur Cannon for a late brunch at Cabrini's, and because Monsieur Wayne took it to Iraq."
"Man, I really need my own jet."
"I'm certain Monsieur Wayne will be eager to help you wreak havoc internationally."
Tim graciously ignores that. "After Cannon?"
"I don't have time to-"
"Timothy, the board refuses to convene before Monday morning, and I refuse to have you turn up in front of them looking as though you are being beaten with sticks in your spare time. You must sleep. But when you wake, I will have arranged connection to the Tower's computers so that you may stalk the junior Monsieur Luthor as the lion stalks the gazelle in the savannah."
"I could sleep on the plane."
Martín sighs. "But you won't."
"I will arrive to fetch you in no less than three hours, Timothy. Call me if you need anything."
"Thanks, Martín." Tim hangs up, feeling calmer. His assistant is, of course, completely right: Conner Luthor can't possibly be at this on his own. As Tim thinks about it, he's quickly convinced that Lex Luthor is trying to make something of his son, possibly even as a direct response to Tim's own success. If Conner can buy out Cadmus even after the Wayne Enterprises golden boy has announced his plans to do the same, that'll mean more publicity than even LuthorCorp can buy, and a reputation that'll make Conner a valuable asset. He'll have the most formidable resources, science and backup at his command. Wayne stock will even be the one to take the hit; an old enemy struck in the fray. Classic Luthor.
Well, Tim thinks, putting his hands to the keyboard. Other young men go through trials as a coming-of-age. This is just his version - facing off against Superman's arch nemesis on his home turf.
At least it's something totally impossible. Anything else would just be inconsistent.
Lex Luthor's home office is where he spends half his waking hours; the other half is spent in the office six stories down. It's a Sunday afternoon, which means that most everybody else is out enjoying the sun and the breeze and the parks of Metropolis in autumn. Of course, this means the man with his name on the door is hunched over his desk with his back to a wall of windows that looks out over the city. He's trying to do something on this land acquisition in Siberia, but he keeps getting interrupted.
And honestly, he needs to be, because this is important.
"Dad," Conner tries again, fastening his cuff links. "Cecilia Larson has the IQ of a coconut."
Conner's father doesn't look up from his computer. "Next time think about that before you sleep with her."
"I was eighteen! I would have slept with Mercy!" Conner waves a hand in the direction of the bar.
His father's bodyguard doesn't even look up from pouring the scotch. "No, you wouldn't."
Conner rolls his eyes. "I meant because you're like family, Mercy, don't be gross. Dad, seriously."
"Bernard Larson has the IQ of Stephen Hawking's coconut, Conner. I told you your project couldn't interfere with my business. You get Cecilia to bring her brother by for a chat, or I'll take Paul Westfield off the Cadmus takeover and put him back in Aeronautics where he belongs."
"Fine," Conner tells him pointedly, "but don't think I won't go for Bernard. If I score Bernard, I'm keeping him."
A rueful grin curves its way onto his father's face. "Tell me why I keep you around again?"
Conner frowns at his sleeve, picking at it until it lies flat. "Because I'm the charming and suave heir to your empire, and I'm going to make you another billion this quarter."
"So you say," Dad says, pointing at him. "But I have yet to see results. The NYSE is all over the place after your stunt last night."
Conner grins and spreads his hands, drawing attention to his perfect suit in the very best of dramatic gestures. "Hey. Trust me. I'm a Luthor."
"Prove it," his father tells him, and even though his tone is serious, Conner can hear the encouragement.
"Watch me," he grins, and turns toward the elevator. There's not a shred of doubt in him. Victory belongs to those who want it most, and Conner wants it more than anybody on earth. He's prepared, he's ready, and it's his time.
"Do up your tie!" Dad yells.
Conner punches the button for the ground floor, and resigns himself to strangling on Italian silk and Cecilia's polo score for at least the next hour.
In the slick glass lobby of the LuthorCorp building, Prudence is studying her iPhone. She's wearing the blue short-shorts outfit, which looks great on her. Conner makes a beeline. "Pru! Give me good news."
She aims a gleaming white smile at him, flips her straight, dark hair out of her eyes, and waves him over. He bumps her shoulder with his and peers at her screen. "Queen Industries is officially occupied," she says, showing him the CNN data stream.
"Fan-fucking-tastic!" he says, and gives her a solid one-armed squeeze.
She laughs and shoves at him. "Come on, you have to meet Cecilia at two and Jess Harper at 3:30, which you will not be late for. Tim Drake's plane landed ten minutes ago and if she agrees to meet with him, you're totally over a barrel."
Pru gives him a look. "Conner, have you seen Tim Drake? Jess would, like, crawl over you to get to him. He meets her before you do, and she's definitely voting Biotech."
"...Really?" Conner's seen pictures and all. Hard to avoid Mister Straight And Narrow Rising Star Darling Of The Media Circuit. Mister Director Of Wayne Biotech Who Has Actual Respect Instead Of Respect Because His Father's A Frillionaire. He's got dark hair, Conner's pretty sure, but other than that he couldn't tell you much. Average build. Conner could take him in a fight.
"Oh, yeah," Pru says, a sly smile on her face. "The Prince of Gotham is a major league hottie."
"Major league pain in my ass," Conner scowls. "He straight?"
Pru shrugs. "Probably. A few acknowledged girlfriends."
"Anybody right now? Can we bring somebody in?"
"Nothing doing," Pru says firmly. "Everybody that's been confirmed is long term and serious, no flings. Nothing like big daddy Brucie, that's for sure."
"Weird. Okay. What do we know?"
"Walk and talk," Pru says, taking his arm and pressing against him. She completes his picture perfectly, a sunny California girl full of sugar and spice, heels and pink lip-gloss. The press loves to see them together, loves the pious denials Conner always gives them about how their relationship is strictly professional. The one time he kissed her temple in public, four angles of it were splashed on every tabloid in town the next day. Of course, they don't know she holds double masters in International Relations and Economics from Harvard, and they sure as hell don't know she put herself through school on a joint scholarship from the Luthor Foundation and the Marine corps. They also don't know that she's been Conner's best friend for the last two years in addition to being a top-notch personal assistant, but that's none of their fucking business.
They climb into Conner's car du jour, a cherry red Ferrari, and speed off toward the Metropolis Golf & Country Club. Pru fills Conner in on Drake's basic stats: adopted son of mogul Bruce Wayne, youngest recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism, ruthless negotiator, spotless record. To all reports, the guy is buttoned up tighter than the queen's underpants. As they blow past Embassy Row, Conner complains that he still sounds like a livelier time than Cecilia. Pru assures him that she'll try her best to find out, and he scowls at her pretty smile.
When he arrives at the club, Conner discovers that Cecilia's latest fixation is lawn bowling. There are intricate rules and addendums to the rules, all of which she explains in detail. He only tries to drown himself in scotch twice in the course of the afternoon, so he counts it a win.
Pru is gracious enough to come and save him after forty-five minutes. She pulls him out to the car on the pretext of an emergency business meeting, and as Conner burns the treads off his tires peeling out of the lot, she explains that she wasn't exactly joking. "I got him," she crows, wiggling her iPhone beside his head.
"Got who?" Conner demands. "Cannon?"
"No, Cannon's not taking our calls. Drake met with him first thing off the plane."
"Son of a bitch."
"I know. I'm working on it. But listen, meantime, I got his hotel room!"
"Drake's! God, pay attention!"
Conner grins. "Is that so?"
"That is. I deserve a seriously expensive birthday present this year."
"Put yourself down for two!"
"Done and done."
Tim is facing off with Darkseid on Apokolips. The great smoking rock of a demigod is insisting that he will take no more enjoyment in Robin's death than he would in stepping on a worm - an accident of fate, little human, I will not even give you the courtesy of eating you - the usual. Tim's heart is racing and Darkseid grabs him in one hand, his bones are breaking, his skin is burning off, he's about to die, and suddenly there's a ringing sound and Darkseid says oh, hold that thought and pulls out a cell phone, and then his fingers are too big to hit the right keys so it just keeps ringing and ringing and ringing. Tim is just about to ask if he should come back later when he realizes he's face-first in the hotel room pillows and his courtesy phone is flashing.
He fumbles it off the hook and up to his ear. "Tim Drake," he mumbles, scrubbing his hand across one eye.
"Mister Drake," says a boisterous, unfamiliar voice. "Conner Luthor; thought I should pop by. I'll be in the hotel bar whenever you're ready."
The line clicks off in Tim's hand, and he stares at the receiver. "...What?"
It doesn't answer him, so he hangs up. The clock reads 5:03, which means he's had at least three hours sleep - at least he's rested. He calls down to the desk to see if anybody's asked for him and is informed that yes, Conner Luthor did indeed spend ten minutes persuading the young man at the desk that Do Not Disturb did not apply to him. He asks the abashed concierge to relay that information to Martín and to have a neat Rum and Zesti waiting for him at Mr. Luthor's table. The young man assures him it will be done with all haste, and Tim hangs up on him mid-apology.
He grabs a quick shower and allows his hair to escape with only a brief combing. He definitely wasn't expecting this, but it's exciting. Clearly Luthor imagines that Tim can be steamrolled by sheer force of will. Show up, put him on guard, surprise and confuse and then strike. But why? He must have done his homework, seen Tim's record. Why would he imagine that Tim's cage would rattle so easy? Maybe he's just baffled by the idea that somebody out there won't immediately back down when confronted by a Luthor. But Tim is a Wayne, or good as; that can't be it. Maybe...
Tim comes up blank. For once he has no sense of his adversary, and that's... fascinating.
He chooses an artfully beat up pair of jeans, a black button-down, slim suit jacket, and a pair of black docs. It's casual, but also youthful, trust-fund-brat chic. Luthor ought to interpret that as an invitation, like calling out to like, and it'll encourage him to relax his guard, if he's as useless as Tim always thought. Of course it's possible that he isn't, but in that case, the clothes might throw him. Surprise him back.
It's impossible to say how he'll react, but Tim can admit to himself that he won't hate finding out.
The bar is dark and classy, a soft piano playing jazz in the corner. The only people rich and serious enough to stay here have an eye for business; Tim sees tasteful dresses, understated blazers, the same haircut over and over again. There's Martín at the bar, his beefy bodybuilder's frame disguised under a gray cashmere-weave sweater. Tasteful, elegant, the kind of thing you'd never wear if you expected a fight. He gives Tim a covert nod, and Tim follows his gaze to a table with one occupant.
Even without the hint, Tim would have known that the young, muscular man with the Caesar cut and the designer club wear is his quarry. Luthor sticks out like a sore thumb here, but there's not a soul in Metropolis who'd correct him. He's as good as royalty, and he knows it. Tim would lay good odds that he's got a license plate with some derivative of his name.
He spies his drink on a cocktail napkin, so he heads for the table. He arrives at exactly the right moment to hear Luthor curse the names of the footballers on the muted widescreen in the corner. "Sorry," Tim says, sliding into his seat and leaning his elbows on the table. "Duchesne's arm hasn't been the same since he broke that finger last season."
Piercing blue eyes pin Tim to his chair. Luthor misses nothing, taking in Tim's rebellious hair and lazy attire, the shape of his face. Tim can practically feel the intensity of that gaze, the instant and personal assessment going on. Then Luthor leans in and lowers his voice. "Listen," he says, confidential. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I'm waiting for someone right now. Business. I'll be busy tonight, but you should call me."
Tim watches Luthor pull out his wallet with an ease born of practice and offer a slim white card. He takes it and reads: Conner Luthor, Vice President, LuthorCorp. No division name. There's a phone, a fax and an email, and that's it. Black block print, nothing extravagant. Tim puts it in his pocket. "This someone you're waiting for," he says. "Is his name by any chance Tim Drake?"
Luthor narrows his eyes. "How'd you know that?"
Tim holds out his hand without a word.
Luthor's cheeks color in, instantly, and he takes Tim's hand with a rueful smile. "Jesus. Sorry. Conner Luthor."
"Nice to meet you," Tim says, noting that he's feeling at ease and forgiving. Luthor's evidently good at that.
"Nice to meet you," Luthor corrects. "You're like the only guy in the world who's my age and doing my job. I've been meaning to stop by Gotham for a while now, but there just hasn't been time."
Tim smiles and lifts his glass. "It isn't easy."
"I'll drink to that," Luthor grins, and takes a swig of his scotch. Tim notes with a certain professional appreciation that the actual level of liquor in the glass hasn't gone down all that much.
He returns the gesture and then sits back in his chair. "So, Luthor, what can I do for you?"
Those technicolor eyes wince. "Please. Luthor is my father, and the only person allowed to call him that is tough enough to wear tights in public. Call me Conner. Do you mind if I call you Tim?"
"Not at all," Tim says, even though he does. Conner's entirely too likable to be informal with.
"Great. God, you look really different in your pictures, y'know? I was expecting..." He waves his hand, searching for the word.
Tim lifts one eyebrow.
"A Kennedy," Conner finally laughs.
"East coast," Tim says, granting him the easy out. There's that generosity again. He should have turned the thumbscrews, but it's too easy to let Conner off the hook. That's a mistake.
Conner grins, wide and white and open. "I thought I'd come by, like I said. Show you around. Now, I don't want to sound disingenuous, I mean. We both know why we're here; I'm not trying to sucker you or anything. But no matter how this thing shakes down, I think we're both man enough to leave it in the boardroom. I don't want to make an enemy of you, Tim. So I figure the best way to prove it is to ply you with booze until you believe me."
He smiles, brilliant, and Tim surprises himself by laughing. He has absolutely no doubt now that he's up against Luthor's true heir, that this playboy act is every bit the charade that Bruce's is. Perversely, he finds himself reassured. Conner's dangerous now, sure... but he's also a worthy opponent, and if there's one thing Tim knows, it's that a life full of boredom really, really isn't for him.
"Okay," he says. "Cheers."
"Cheers," Conner says, and there's the smallest narrowing of his eyes, that assessment again.
Tim hides his smile behind the glass.
They fence back and forth, just like that. They pretend to drink. Topics of conversation are war, politics, religion, and celebrities, no holds barred. It's like lions mauling one another - play, dominance, a fun but lethal testing ground. Tim's had to prove himself against Bruce's colleagues and adversaries a dozen times, both in the suit and in the uniform, but this is the first time he's ever met somebody his own age who knows how to play the game. Tim has to dumb it down whenever he plays with the big dogs - always remember to lie down before they see you as a threat, to hide the cards in your hand. Don't let them know your full potential; if you take someone down, take them down hard enough that they won't be getting back up on their own. Protect yourself until you're old enough to take them all on.
But this time, with this playmate, there's no need to hide it. And what's more, Tim can see the bright, vicious thrill he's feeling mirrored back at him through Conner's eyes. Every time the guy smiles, there's a bit more teeth in it. Every time Conner scores a point he should have held back, every time he deliberately shows his skill, Tim considers his offer.
...The one about leaving it in the boardroom. Of course.
An hour slips away before Tim even bothers to look at his watch. The bartender keeps looking at them. It's a quiet look, but he comes over more times than he ought to, asking if they need anything, if they'd like anything else. They say no each time, but Tim can see people eyeing Conner, his clothes. Some of them whisper something to their companions and receive hurried whispers back - Tim's mind fills it in: Don't you know who that is? - and then the looks stop. Still, it's enough to make Tim uncomfortable.
"You know," Conner says grandly, leaning back in his chair. "This is a nice hotel you have here."
"It's all right," Tim demurs. That kind of lame small talk can only mean that Conner wants to lead up to something. At this point, Tim's willing to play along.
"How's the service?"
Tim shrugs. "About what I'd expect."
"Yeah," Conner says, curling his lip and gesturing with his glass. "They're good at what they do in Metropolis, but they tend to specialize. I mean, you want room service, this is your spot, but I'll be honest with you." Here he leans closer, making his voice into a stage whisper. "This bar, it's not really my speed."
"Slower or faster?"
"Faster," Conner grins. "I did promise to show you the sights. If you're up for it."
Over Conner's shoulder, Tim catches the tight set of Martín's mouth, the disapproving irritation visible in his shoulders. Of course Martín hates Conner. He's wearing Calvin Klein, for God's sake; he couldn't be more American if he were holding an apple pie. Nothing pisses off Martín like Americans. Tim smiles. "I wouldn't say no to a guided tour. Got someplace in mind?"
"Well," Conner says, sliding his eyes away and leaning back in his chair. "I'm on the VIP list at the best club in town. But... I don't know if you'd like it."
Intrigued, Tim leans on his elbows. "Low-rent? High-rent? Artists and addicts? Help me out."
Conner's mouth quirks. "Getting warmer. If you're feeling brave, I'll drive."
"Beats my rental," Tim says. "Let's go."
Conner shifts, feels the Ferrari jerk his body forward. Beside him, Gotham's golden boy thumps back against the seat, and Conner smiles. The guy has his hands on the door and the seat, he's braced, but his eyes are open and his barely-there smile is pulling at the corners of his mouth. He's a speed freak, Conner can feel it.
Pru sure as hell didn't lie. Tim's crazy hot, in that serious, intense, gunslinger kind of way. Every time he looks at something, at somebody, Conner can practically see his genius drive spinning up, breaking it down into its component parts and figuring it out. Dad gets the same look sometimes. It only adds to Conner's feeling that Tim might be the one person in the whole world who has the first fucking clue what it's like to be him, and that makes him better than just hot. Conner can feel his fingers itching to get near; he thinks of the time coming up when Tim's going to get on a plane back to Gotham, and he wants to close the airport.
He actually could do that. For a couple of days, at least. Hm.
He makes the turn onto Church Street at Mach 2, throwing Tim against the window and squealing the tires, his fingers digging down into the steering wheel.
"You're crazy," Tim grins.
"Better than boring," Conner says, not taking his eyes off the road until they screech into the handicapped parking stall in front of the club. "Come on."
They get out of the car and Conner puts a hand at the small of Tim's back to guide him up to the big metal doors. The line of people eye him. Some throw snippy asides at each other about Miss Rich Bitch jumping the line, and some wiggle their fingers and call his name. Conner beelines Tim for the bouncer, ignoring his companion's wide eyes.
"Hola, Juan," he says. "How's tricks?"
Juan smiles past his sunglasses and steps away from the door. "Good and plenty, Mister Luthor. Just one guest tonight?"
"Pru will be along with a date in a minute," he says. "Make sure they don't get any trouble, would you?"
"De nada, Mister Luthor," Juan says, pocketing the fifty and holding the door for them. "You and your friend have a good time."
"Wait," Tim says under his breath, as Conner propels him into the club. "I have a bodyguard, he's - "
" - Pru's date," Conner interrupts as the cover charge girl waves them through. "She's my assistant. I gotcha covered."
Tim mutters something Conner doesn't catch, but that's okay because it's drowned out by the heavy dance thump coming out of the second set of doors. From here, Conner can see the gates of Heaven - that's the name of this place. Tim raises an eyebrow at the fall of downy white feathers on fishing wire that block the view into the club, but Conner only pulls them aside to let Tim get his first good look.
It used to be a remodelled faux-Irish bar in a shitty part of town. Conner remembers walking in on his 21st birthday, seeing a limp rainbow flag next to a plastic leprechaun, and walking right back out again. He bought them out at an incredibly inflated price a week later. Conner and his father approved all the designer's plans before a single thing got implemented; he learned a lot about marketing that year. The fact that he's the owner isn't what gets him through the door, though, because nobody here knows that.
No, the reason he's treated like royalty in this bar is that when the son of Lex Luthor started showing up in his flashy car and the press leaped all over him, he said, I come here because I like the music. I treat everybody here with respect, they do the same for me, and that's all you need to know. They aired that on the big screens the night he said it, and attendance in Heaven tripled overnight.
Tim's eyeing the dance floor, packed full of bare, stacked guys, and Conner puts a hand on his shoulder to reassure him. "Everybody comes here," he says, leaning close so Tim can hear. "Doesn't matter who your date is."
There's a short pause as the computations get made, and then Tim turns to look at him. There's some kind of flash in his eyes, some quirk to his mouth that gets Conner right in the gut, pulls at him. "I guess tonight that'd be you," he says, almost too quiet to hear.
Conner's at a loss for words, and Tim takes advantage of it to head down into the dance floor. He slides the suit jacket off and casually tosses it across a railing before heading for the bar. The lights are painting his black hair in streaks of blue and red, and Conner heads after him, feeling hungry. His head is buzzing with it, the nerves on the surface of his skin starting to fire up, and as such he's forced to apologize to two guys and one girl that he almost knocks over because he didn't see them until he was already shouldering past them.
When he arrives at the bar, Tim's got a glass to his lips. It's something in cola, probably whatever he was drinking before. His sleeves are undone and rolled up his arms (nice) and he's got a shirt button undone that wasn't undone before. He smiles, just a fraction, eyes showing the edge of something that might just be smugness.
Conner smiles back. If he'd known that this was Tim Drake, he'd have a fucking standing reservation at the Gotham Hilton by now.
Carefully, he presses forward. He's all the way up against Tim's chest when he feels the hitch in breath that tells him he's scored a point, and then leans a little further - just past Tim's shoulder - to shout his order at the bartender. When he stands back away, he meets startled blue eyes with a smile on his own face that's definitely smug. "Sorry," he says, with total insincerity. "It's packed in here."
Tim looks away and sips his drink, and Conner undoes his top button. The bartender hands him a cold vodka Knock Out (invented and patented by LuthorCorp when Conner was nineteen) and then something awful happens.
Conner turns with the bottle still at his lips and scowls straight into it. Several people stumble as Terry "Match" Matcheson shoves his way past, golden highlights and signature white clothes: Heaven's own resident angel. He's head to toe designer, of course. Kid's always in the style section; sometimes he bumps Conner below the fold. It's not the outfit that makes Terry bad news, though, or the occasional Page Six one-upmanship. He's just a dick.
"Who's the new boy toy, Luthor? He's too hot for you." He aims a brilliant, vicious grin in Tim's direction, from unruly hair to ever-so-slightly-too-plain boots. It's assessing, sharp, and Conner grinds his teeth as Terry's grin sharpens. The guy takes a step toward Tim and leans forward to be heard. "You been in here before? I'm sure I've seen you."
Conner notes with a certain personal satisfaction that Tim doesn't lean in to listen. He shifts his body just so, just the right angle so Tim's behind him. "You're dreaming, Match. He's just visiting Metropolis, be gone in a week. Put your claws away."
Terry's lip curls in a bright, friendly smile, as if Conner's going to spontaneously forget everything he knows about the fucker. "Down, Simba. I just wanted to say hi to your new friend." He slides to the left, trying to get Tim in his line of sight. Conner can see his mind working, trying to place the face. "We're all friends here, right?"
"The hell we are," Conner warns, but he knows as soon as he says it that he's too late.
Recognition spreads across Terry's face, wide eyes and lips parted, a kind of hunger coming across him that makes red sparks dance through Conner's vision. "Watch your back tonight, Luthor. That is one fucking gorgeous piece of ass you wandered in with, and he's gonna own half of the east coast in ten years. You aren't careful and somebody'll have him bent over the sinks in the back room before you can blink. I'm not saying who..."
Conner doesn't hesitate. He grabs the guy's wrist and twists it behind his back, yanks him close and moves right up next to his ear. Terry instantly struggles, tries to shove him away, but of course it's like a monkey trying to fight off a tiger. Pathetic. They're drawing eyes, even in this bar, but Conner couldn't give a shit. "Match, old buddy, you just made a mistake. And now it's gonna cost you. You're about to learn why Dad gives me the time of day. Ready?"
Terry goes still under his hands.
Conner whispers against his ear, pressed right against him. "If you embarrass me or my friend, I will make it my personal mission in life to motherfucking end you. There'll be pictures in the paper of your face when they repo your Maserati, and because I'm a nice guy, I'll leave your dad enough money to make a down payment on a duplex. He shouldn't have to go homeless because his son's too stupid to shut the fuck up."
Terry jerks again against his hands, but more in shock than anything else. He doesn't say a word.
"Now," Conner says, brushing his lips across one golden temple. "You be a good little angel, and fuck right off before I get cranky."
He opens his hand, and Terry backs away. The smile is pasted onto his face, and Conner can smell the fear rising from his tan. "Easy, Luthor," Terry says, palms out. "I told you, you're not my type."
Conner smirks and gives him a mock bow. It allows Terry to save face, and it's the example of good conduct that Conner knows the bouncers need him to be. When he stands back up, Terry's walking too quickly toward the back rooms, there to dive headfirst into a fistful of E.
Conner smiles and turns back to Tim. "Sorry, he's-"
There is an empty space where Tim should be. Conner quickly scans the room, the exits, the bathroom hallway, and comes up with nothing until he finally spots Tim in the place he least expects, and his breath catches in his throat.
Tim is on the dance floor.
He moves like a veteran, like he's been dancing every night for the last ten years. It's not complicated, no fancy steps, but he hits the beat in perfect measure, and he looks like he belongs in motion. The blond dancing with him is bare-chested and covered in glitter, his hands resting light as angel's wings on Tim's belt, moving as he moves, eyes all over him. Club lights stripe down onto their mouths, their biceps, cerise and azure, electric verdigris. As Conner watches, a thick gym addict with tanned arms and a black beater slides up to Tim's back and into his rhythm.
Conner takes the opportunity to observe, watching for any hint of nervousness or tension, but he's starting to suspect that it might take a nuclear threat to make Tim afraid or unsure. His lashes are lowered just so, his arms rising over his head so Mister Big-N-Tall can undo the rest of his shirt buttons. They all bump and slide together, lashes lowered and hands slipping south. Tim leans against the one built like Conner and wraps a hand back around his neck, showing off a surprisingly built chest and stomach as the black button-down falls open.
The thumping beat rises through Conner's feet and legs; he feels his teeth grit and his focus narrow. He hands his drink to the guy next to him without even bothering to look, and pushes his way onto the dance floor.
He can feel eyes on him, but when he arrives next to Tim, he can't seem to make himself care. Without a word, he slides his hand in behind Tim's neck and closes his fingers. Those sharp blue eyes fly open and rivet on him, and there's that millimetre smile again. Hey, he mouths.
The other two guys are getting the message, flicking their eyes at the newcomer. Conner just matches Tim's eyes with his own, slides his other hand in and slowly, inexorably pushes the other two guys away from him. Tim slips into Conner's gravity and puts a hand on his shoulder; Conner starts to dance on his own terms, at his own pace, and Tim aligns with him perfectly.
"Was that your boyfriend?" he asks, talking just loud enough to be heard.
"Terry?" Conner says, slipping his hand around Tim's back and trying not to pull too hard. "No. Just an old acquaintance."
Tim slides closer and shakes some glitter out of his hair. "Hope you don't mind I went off without you."
The music changes. Conner pushes Tim's shirt up, lets his thumb rest on bare skin, and doesn't answer.
Fresh, cool autumn air blasts against Tim's overheated skin as they crash out of the back door together. Conner's following close on his heels, jingling keys in his hand. They haven't stopped dancing for hours; Tim's feet hurt and his ears are ringing and even though he feels drunk, he hasn't had more than that first sip all night. He rests his back against the brick wall opposite the door and closes his eyes, letting the night cool his chest. It's like he can feel the fingerprints all over him, Conner's warm, warm hands on his sides and his neck and his back and his hips, never straying too far for comfort but always there, keeping him close. Tim's heart is pounding.
"Come on," says Conner, right in front of him. "I'll take you back to your hotel."
Tim lets his mind interpret all possible meanings of that phrase before he opens his eyes and pushes himself off the wall. A promise, an offer, it could mean so many things. The endless possibility is almost better than knowing for sure.
Conner's shirt is soaked with sweat, clinging to his body. His hair is spiked with it, his cheeks reddened, and though anybody else would reek with it, Conner inexplicably smells of spice and musk. Probably ambergris, too, if Tim is identifying that cologne right, but surely that's not the only explanation for it. Surely he's got some LuthorCorp cologne factory that puts Poison Ivy league pheromones in the mix. That would explain everything.
Of course, it's ten times more likely that Tim is human and finds power and danger attractive, so he makes a quick movement with his hand and snatches Conner's keys, lets them dangle from his finger. "Maybe I'll take myself," he grins, and sprints full tilt toward Conner's waiting car, enjoying the startled face after the fact.
He fully expects to win the race, and he's calculating whether he'll have enough time to make it to the driver's seat when he's grabbed from behind, spun around and slammed bodily back against the car door - but gently. Conner presses against him, full length, holding him against the chassis, and Tim is breathless enough with the feeling of that body again that he barely even notices Conner retrieve his car keys.
"Those are mine," Conner whispers, and Tim can feel the breath against his own lips.
He wraps a hand around Conner's back, makes a fist in his shirt, and wets his lips with his tongue. "You mean the keys, right?"
"Them too," Conner groans, and then he lowers his face and presses a long, slow, painfully hot kiss to Tim's mouth.
It's instantly too much. Tim's on fire, he can't make his hand let go and he's opening wide, sucking on Conner's tongue. A hand pushes into his open shirt; fingernails rake across his ribs and catch on his scars, sending pinpoints of pleasure-pain racing up his spine. He pushes his hand behind Conner's head, but there's no hair to grab and it only encourages Conner to push a thigh between Tim's, to make him slide his mouth down and suck heated marks against Tim's neck. It's too much, it's too far, and Tim knows that, but the son of Superman's archenemy is mauling him against a Ferrari and he can't seem to make it stop.
Conner lifts up and kisses him again, and this time it's Tim who pushes into his mouth, who holds his head and forces him to stay still and let his bottom lip be bitten. Conner groans, and that's when Tim feels his belt start to give.
"Wait," he says, breathing it out.
If Conner hears, he doesn't acknowledge. The top button of Tim's jeans opens, the zipper slides down and Tim's dick is instantly straining toward the pressure. "So hot," Conner mumbles against skin, his teeth underscoring his point as he starts to push his hand inside.
"No," Tim says, firmer than he means to, pushing at those broad shoulders. "Conner, wait."
Conner pauses in his work and lifts his face. "What?" he asks, those deeply blue eyes showing only confusion and concern. "What is it?"
Tim gentles his hands, but shifts and squirms until Conner turns him loose. "I'm sorry," he says, deftly doing up his jeans. "I can't... I'm not like that. I don't just..."
"I know it sounds stupid for somebody my age, and please don't bullshit me that it doesn't, but I just don't." Tim knows it's the right thing to say, under the circumstances. It's the right move, politically. But he also knows he means it, deep down. He's had sex for political reasons before and it's never sat well with him; he'd probably stop this even if it were the smart thing to let it go on.
Even if Conner was, somehow, even more attractive than he is now. Which is potentially impossible. Tim can't be sure without extensive testing, but he's pretty sure Conner's really too attractive to be entirely human.
"Okay," Conner says, way too evenly. He steps back and turns away, rubbing the back of his neck. "Okay, then. Get in the car. I'll just be a second."
Tim hesitates, feeling like a royal jerk. He's throbbing in his jeans, but he doesn't have any right to complain. "I'm sorry," he says again. "I should have..."
"It's okay," Conner says again, and though he sounds sincere, he still won't meet Tim's eyes. "Go on."
Tim does that. As soon as he shuts the door, there's a deep sound like thunder that rocks the whole street, and a flash of red light. Instantly, Tim jumps out of the car and looks around: the smell of smoke and heat is in the air, and there's a sound like rain on the top of one of the buildings. Conner's got a hand on the roof of the car. "Don't worry," he says, his eyes gleaming under the streetlight. "It's just Big Blue fucking with the sound barrier. We should get out of here, though."
That's a lie. Tim has been near Superman when he's created sonic booms a hundred times, and this isn't how it sounds. But there's no way he can call Conner on it, because there's no reason a random Gothamite would know anything about Superman. So he does the only thing he can do, and gets in the car.
The drive back is uncomfortable. Conner doesn't talk much, and Tim's working overtime trying to simultaneously figure out a) why he would lie, b) what that actually was, and c) how to get Conner to forgive him for being such a total asshole. By the time they arrive at the hotel, Tim's come up empty on all three counts, and it's time to try other avenues than his own mind. Conner parks right at the front doors and throws it in park.
"Listen," Tim says. "I thought about what you said before. About leaving it in the board room?"
Conner meets Tim's eyes, wary. "Good. And?"
"And I think I'd like to try that. So, if it's okay with you, after that meeting tomorrow morning - I assume you're coming to that?"
"Okay. So after it's over, I'll take you out for lunch somewhere. No matter what happens, no hard feelings. Deal?"
Conner takes a minute to mull it over. He contemplates Tim askance, his eyes narrowed. "And if some of my feelings are hard?"
Tim can't restrain a smile. "I'll be up front about it. No more mixed messages, I promise."
"Okay, then," Conner says firmly. "Deal."
"Good," Tim says. "See you then."
"See you," Conner says, and then Tim's out of the car and it's roaring off toward LuthorCorp headquarters, and Tim's left digging his key card out of his pocket and wondering how much of what happened tonight is going to make it into his report.
The elevator doors open at the penthouse of the LuthorCorp building. Prudence wisely refrained from saying a single word beyond see you at six before exiting at the employee apartment floor, and Conner will definitely appreciate that tomorrow. Right now, he couldn't give a goddamn.
He hears his father's voice from the office suite, something about the latest global investment strategy. Nothing requiring Conner's attention. He heads down the hall leading toward his private rooms without so much as looking in.
Behind locked doors, he immediately makes for his bedroom. He starts to strip the second he walks in, shoes and shirt and belt and socks and jeans and any other goddamn thing that might smell as good as that son of a bitch, that wretched cocktease Tim fucking Drake. He should leave a note for housekeeping to burn them.
Conner never in his life had anybody try to pull a stunt like that. He climbs into bed and immediately lies back and closes his eyes, picturing those razor sharp eyes. The way he moved, God, the taste of him, the way he opened up so nice and then fucking told him to stop. Unbelievable, unfuckingbelievable.
Conner puts a hand behind his head and reaches down to massage his aching balls. The last time he had this bad a case was... well, he can't remember, really. He's sure it happened sometime when he was in puberty, junior high or something. It's worse for that, maybe; the accident made him forget everything that happened before he was fifteen, and so now he has to experience having the most hellacious case of blue balls in his entire life all over again like it was the first time, when what he should be doing is shoving that bastard face first into these pillows. He should have driven straight to the penthouse; Tim should be up here right now with his slender hips in Conner's hands, taking it, begging for it, all that resistance and reserve and composure cracked wide open for Conner to get inside. No, wait, first he should make him suck it. God, yes, that clever mouth with the twitch at the corner that practically screams to be kissed open, pried apart. Conner's fist goes tight at the memory of it, of shoving Tim against the Ferrari and taking what he wanted from that perfect, perfect mouth.
One day, Conner promises himself. One day soon he'll get Tim on his knees. He'll hold him still, press those lips apart with his dick and make him lick it nice and soft, on his knees, yeah, that's it, make him take it deeper and then more, he'll be kind because he can, because he's gonna want it again, because this way Tim won't spook, and maybe tomorrow Conner will grow up and know it's better that Tim said no at the car because now when they finally do get it together it'll mean something better than Cecilia, but tonight all he can see behind his eyes is that evil, cruel, teasing son of a bitch on his knees...
Conner's whole body shakes when he comes, fist hard on his dick. He's breathless, shaking, but he managed not to wake up the whole building, so at least that's something.
A quick shower does wonders for rearranging his mind.
When he comes out of the bathroom, he's stopped thinking about Tim and started thinking about tomorrow's presentation. It's the first one, the first time since he got his foot in the door that he'll have the chance to address the assembled board. Conner's got a plan of attack, but it's not foolproof and it'll take all his resources to pull off. He tosses his towel into the hamper and falls naked into bed. Pru will be in to wake him up at six. They'll do breakfast and go over the presentation one more time, and at 11:00 am, he goes in swinging.
He has time. He's planned. He's ready.
Only one hitch comes into play, and that's at around 7:30. He's got a toothbrush stuffed in his mouth and coffee in one hand. Pru's sitting cross-legged on his rumpled bed with a list of prepared questions, and Conner hasn't found a karmically pleasing shirt yet, so he's reciting the answers in his suit pants with The One Tie draped around his neck - sky blue from Cerruti, he has nine more just like it. The knock on his door is unexpected, but not too much. It could only be one person.
"Come in!" Conner yells. The door swings open to admit his father, and Conner's smile fades when he sees the serious expression on his father's face. "What's up, Dad?"
"Prudence," Dad says gently. "Would you excuse us, please?"
"Of course, Mr. Luthor," she says, her pink bubble gum smile as soft with him as ever. If Conner didn't know better, he might suspect there'd been something there once. Pru leaves her questions on the bed and slides out of the room.
"Big day for you," Dad says, coming up to remove the tie for inspection.
Conner pads into the bathroom to spit toothpaste into the sink. "Nah. Just my public image riding on it, no big deal."
"Clever. Is there anything you need?"
Conner comes out with two of his favorite shirts, examining them with a critical eye. "I don't know which one to wear."
"Wear the white," Dad says, with the ease of long practice. "The tie is distinctive enough to be personal, but you need the white to be classic."
"Hm." Conner pitches the blue shirt onto the bed and shrugs into the white one.
"Remember, even if this goes badly, you can still recover. There's no need to be nervous."
"But don't take the Ferrari."
"We're taking the Lexus."
"Good. That's good."
Conner steps in front of his father and steals the tie from his hands, slings it around his neck to tie it with a smile. "Anything else, Father?"
"Can the smart-ass," Dad scowls. "You'll need it in the meeting."
"Yes, Dad," Conner smirks, and wanders over to the mirror to check that the Windsor knot is just so, an absolute necessity. Looking good is half the battle: a Luthor axiom.
"I hear you met with Tim Drake last night."
Conner's fingers freeze, along with the beat of his heart. "I did," he says evenly. He broke his father of the habit of surveilling him when he was 24 by making out with everybody he could get his hands on until Dad finally promised to turn off the cameras if Conner would just for God's sake be a normal boy again, and Conner gratefully and exhaustedly agreed. But there's always the chance of backsliding.
"Prudence mentioned it in passing," Dad continues, which is a total lie because Pru doesn't chat with him in passing. "I don't want to tell you how to run your life, Conner."
"I just think you might want to reconsider seeing him. Socially." Dad paces away to gaze out at the skyline, clasping his hands behind his back. It's what he always does when he doesn't want to look at what's in front of him, and that's why most of the rooms in the penthouse have at least one wall of solid glass. "I'm sure you can handle yourself," he continues, "but the Wayne family have never been friends to us. Wayne Manor has more secrets than the Pentagon, and Tim's a part of it. You don't want to be involved with that kind of dysfunction, believe me."
Conner walks up behind his father and watches Metropolis by his side. "Don't you think that's a little hypocritical coming from us?" he asks. "After Lionel, I mean."
Dad bows his head, the weight of that on him. He'd told Conner about what happened. His father doesn't believe in secrets. "I accept that," he says, somber as always when discussing this topic. "But we endeavour to be honest within ourselves, whatever the cost. When I've held things back from you, and from myself, I've always acknowledged to you that there was something there, even if I couldn't discuss it. The Waynes are liars, even to themselves, and I've watched it tear them apart." When Dad looks up, Conner can see the determination there, the iron fortitude that nobody in his life has ever matched up to. His father bears pain unbowed, and that's one of many reasons that he's Conner's hero. "I don't want you to care about somebody like that, Conner. Nothing good comes of it."
"Okay, Dad," Conner says. His trust in Dad's instinct, his knowledge, has never steered him wrong before. He puts a hand on his father's shoulder and squeezes, meets his eyes with firm faith. "Okay."
"Thank you," Dad smiles. "Now forget about that. It's an important day."
"You said that already," Conner grins.
His father narrows his eyes witheringly. "Yes, well. That aside."
"It's cool, Dad. I got it handled. Now let me go kick ass."
"All right," Dad says, allowing the smallest quirk to his eyebrow, and then turns toward the door. Conner spies the smile that catches around his mouth, and takes it for the vote of confidence it is. "I'll send Prudence back to you."
"Thanks. And Dad?"
"Book some time for champagne when I get back."
Dad smiles again, proud and rueful at once, and then closes the door behind him.
The board meeting is a total disaster.
Conner has Levy. He has Westfield, he has Auron; he even has that psycho Donovan, for fuck's sake. Tim silently shreds the corner of his notepad, sits in his chair in the board room, and tries not to let anything show on his face as he counts votes.
Waller will vote Luthorcorp for sure. She's the government rep on the board. God knows they'd rather cut off their own ears than try something new, and Westfield is old guard Cadmus, back before Cannon took over. That means Cannon automatically votes to sell to Tim, of course. Jess Harper is probably going to vote for Biotech too; her father Jim is also old guard, but he's golf buddies with Cannon and he fucking hates most of Conner's scientists. That leaves Serling Roquette, the once-child-prodigy head of engineering who just turned 24, and Xavier Xi, the head of genetics. Xi's a total question mark, but Serling is almost unquestionably in Conner's pocket; she might as well be asking questions of a Backstreet Boy, and Conner won't stop smiling at her.
Which... is irritating.
But that aside, that's still a tie with a could-go-either-way tiebreaker vote, and that's way more of a questionable outcome than Tim thought he'd be facing down when he left Gotham. The more Conner talks, the angrier Tim gets with him; not because he's being in any way inaccurate, but because he's obviously on the attack. No part of Wayne Enterprises is left unscathed; it's a smear campaign of the highest order, and why Tim ever thought a Luthor would be above operating this way is completely beyond him. Conner flashes the eyes at Serling again and Tim watches, livid, as she melts for him.
As Conner makes his closing, Tim mentally reviews what he dug out of the computers last night. First public mention of Conner Luthor was when he was eighteen years old. Lex cited a wish to keep his son out of the public eye as the reason he'd never been seen before, and refused to discuss the mother, saying she had passed on and it wasn't something he discussed. Birth certificate lists the mother as Candice Kane, an obvious pseudonym. Lex would have been around 28 years old at the time of Conner's conception, which predates the death of his father Lionel by approximately a year. Further digging into the charts reveals inaccuracies that merit further investigation. Bruce was intrigued at the report and instructed Tim to pursue, which he would have done anyway. (Iraq is still in chaos, Batman notwithstanding.)
LuthorCorp's paper trails are a vast rabbit warren of impenetrability, but a couple of holding companies show old activity that was pretty small change for Luthor's - Lex Luthor's - usual operations. Nothing has Conner's name on it, but it all shows profit and then more profit; a learning curve growing higher and higher the more current it gets.
There are dozens upon dozens of news articles calling the Luthor boy a letch, a ne'er do well, a hooligan who gets arrested more often than not but always walks right back out again surrounded by his father's lawyers. The media love to hate him, they practically fawn over his misdeeds, but his name is always in the paper. Everyone in Metropolis knows his name. Tim wonders which LuthorCorp PR rep got moved straight to the head of the division for having the idea for that kind of spin. If Conner scores the Cadmus deal, he'll go from tabloid to front page material overnight. Conner Luthor sells papers; the media don't much care what he's doing.
But it does mean that Conner's got a lot riding on this thing. If he loses this game, the media will never let him live it down, not for years. That's a lot of pressure. People with nothing to lose have a terrible weakness, if you can find it and exploit it. Conner's taken the gloves off straight out of the gate, he's swinging hard enough to put Tim down, and Wayne Enterprises' interest in Metropolis with him. Tim will be damned if he'll back down from that.
Of course, it means he'll have to sink to being the kind of bastard that'd exploit somebody's weaknesses for simple business.
But Conner's not the only one with a mentor. Bruce would say that Luthors are a threat no matter their seeming benevolence. Bruce would say that Cadmus is too great a technology to allow it into the hands of an enemy, and that if Tim has to sacrifice a bit of tender sensibility to make it safe, it's worth it. Bruce would be right.
But Tim doesn't want to be Bruce.
When Conner thanks the board for their attention and sits down, Tim's talked himself into a state of total agitation and has to either move into full-on Robin mode or get the hell out of the room. Blessedly, Cannon takes the floor, thanks them both for their excellent presentations, and promises to get back to them promptly. Tim holds onto it long enough to glad hand and then heads straight for the bathroom.
In the mirror, his face is strained and serious. He can almost see the mask over his eyes. He splashes some cold water over his cheeks, rubs his eyes and wills Robin down, demands that his mind assemble itself into Tim Drake and continue to freak out, because if there's one thing he'll never listen to Bruce on, it's the value of denial.
"Hey," comes a soft voice behind him.
Tim spins around, his mind obeying him enough to thump his heart, clench his fingers.
Conner's got a smile on that's really more of a wince. "You're gonna leave me hanging for lunch, aren't you?"
"Not a chance," says Robin, with a hard curve to his lips as he crosses his arms and leans back against the sink. "But I still don't know Metropolis well. Maybe you should pick the place."
Conner brightens. "I know a great place, it's not far from here. You like Thai?"
"Spicier the better," Tim smiles easily.
"You're gonna regret that," Conner grins, and walks him to the elevator. "I'm sorry about that in there," Conner says, hitting the button for the parkade. "I kind of wish you weren't the other guy at the table, y'know?"
"I get it," Tim says. "But it's who we are, right? I mean, you said it: it's a job, and we both know how it works. We leave it in the office."
"Exactly," Conner smiles, showing relief. It might even be genuine. "Listen, I gotta debrief with my assistant. Can we meet in a little while?"
Tim blithely watches the numbers ding lower. "I don't think so. I'll take you in my car. You and Pru can chat later. A couple hours isn't going to kill your case."
Conner stares at him. "Oh. Well. Okay."
The doors open on the dingy parkade, and Tim walks toward his car with his hands in his pockets. Conner follows behind, and that makes Tim smile as he digs his keys out and taps the button for the car doors.
"Jesus," Conner breathes. "This is your rental? It's a fucking Bentley!" He runs a reverent hand along the pearl gray rise of the rear fender.
"Don't scuff the paint," Tim cautions, and drops himself into the driver's seat. It is, in fact, a sporty, convertible Bentley Continental GTC. Martín would accept no less.
Conner directs him to the restaurant and Tim observes all rules of the road as closely as possible. It's a nice drive with the top down, still warm enough an afternoon that their cheeks heat in the sun. People stare at them, and well they should - the Bentley's gorgeous enough all by herself, but when you factor in Conner's fame and the fact that Tim's picture was in the paper this morning, it's a stare and a half.
The Krua Kai is beautifully decked out in red and gold. A tiny woman in a silk dress comes up to them and bows. Conner is about to speak when Tim puts a hand on his stomach, ever so subtly pushing him back. "For two please. We'll take a seat by the window."
The lady bows deeper, and Tim returns it with an incline of his head. She produces two leather-bound menus and leads them into the restaurant proper.
"What was that about?" Conner asks, sotto voce.
Tim lets his fingers ride along a ridge of muscle as he withdraws them from Conner's stomach. "Just sparing you the trouble," he murmurs back. "Come on."
"You gonna order my food for me, too?" Conner says as they walk, subtle edges of tease and seriousness in his voice.
Tim glances over his shoulder. "I wasn't planning to, but I'm flexible."
A sharply raised eyebrow is all Tim gets for his trouble, but that's all right. He's confident he can raise the bar.
He winds up letting Conner order for both of them, and of course there comes retaliation. Conner picks whatever he can find that has three of the red pepper symbols next to it. "Trust me," he says, all innocence. "If you like spicy food, you'll love this."
What Conner doesn't know is that Tim wasn't bluffing. He eats at the Hot Pot in Wayne Tower's cafeteria, and if that doesn't acclimate one's mouth to spices, nothing will. Tim takes a healthy selection from each dish that comes to their table, and eats it all. It's excellent food. "What," he asks Conner, his mouth burning with chili oil. "Yours isn't good?"
Conner's scowl is so far from the smug attitude he was sporting when he ordered the food that Tim can't hold back a smile. It's the same smile he gave Two-Face, that time he managed to swipe the scar-faced coin and replace it with a one that had two heads.
"You're a smug prick," Conner gripes. "You know that."
"You ain't seen nothin' yet." Tim dabs at the corners of his mouth with the napkin and enjoys Conner's furious stare. He doesn't know the game they're playing, Tim can tell, and it's driving him crazy.
They eat in silence for a while. Conner fumes. Tim lets him stew in it as he finishes his food, and when the waitress comes to clear their plates, Tim leans his elbows on the table and lowers his voice to an intimate volume, the kind that only carries between the two of them. "So, you remember yesterday, I promised you no more mixed messages."
"Yeah," Conner says, his eyes wary. His whole body stiffens. He's been rethinking the whole thing, Tim can feel it.
"I meant it," Tim says, meeting his eyes and reaching for his real feelings, something he can believe. "So let me be clear. I thought about it, and I like you. It's against all advice, but I like you, and even though I know you're technically dangerous after that performance at the meeting today, I still can't think of much else right now except how you'll look when you come in my mouth. So, if you don't object in the next ten seconds, I'm going to pay our check and then I'm taking you straight to my hotel room."
Conner's blue eyes are wide and stricken. Tim can hear the breath coming short and shallow, and crosses his fingers under the table. Come on, Conner. Stay quiet.
Tim counts heartbeats, and then pulls out his wallet.
Conner doesn't say a word.
"Hi, Pru, it's me. I'm fine. Pru, listen, I'm gonna need a pickup at the Ritz later. Bring the Ferrari. Wait, don't bring the Ferrari, bring your car. No, wait, no, bring the Ferrari. When? Uh."
For a half second, Conner considers asking Tim, but Tim is busy driving, the sun's glancing off his jet sunglasses and he's not looking. Conner's gaze narrows on that mouth. Can't help it.
"Yeah, I'm not really sure. Maybe a couple hours? I'll call. Yep. Mm-hm. Mmm, yes. I'm going to go with yes. Yes, definitely call me for that. Okay. Bye."
"If you try to answer that phone in my bed, I'm throwing it out the window."
"...Okay." Conner pockets the phone and ducks his head so Tim won't see the confusion all over his face. Tim is a motherfucking mystery, that's what he is. One minute Conner's sure every word out of the guy's mouth is a pointless game, a flirt or a lie or some kind of fake-out. After seeing Tim's face in the Cadmus meeting, Conner was pretty sure he was gonna get ditched, and then out of nowhere, he's getting shoved around like a scarecrow at the beach. Then he was sure Tim was just screwing around, here, have some lunch, see ya later, but hey, while I'm at it, why don't I just lick peanut sauce off your fingers?
And then just when he thinks he's got Tim all figured out, the guy turns around and says something that's as gospel as the letters of St. Peter. I like you, Tim said, just like that. Who fucking says that?
Conner's at a loss to explain it, and the thing is, he's never once seen something he wanted and failed to go after it. He always got it, too, always managed victory, and never encountered an obstacle he couldn't either bypass or overcome. Now Conner wants an explanation - a solid answer - about the reserved, brilliant enigma of a guy sitting next to him. He wants it, he'll get it, and okay, maybe Dad's warning is haunting at the edges of his mind, but he can't leave it alone.
When they get to the hotel, will Tim toy with him and then chuck him out the door like before? Will he follow through, and if so, what will he expect from Conner after? Conner really isn't a hundred percent sure what any of the answers to these questions will be, but he wants them anyway, because no matter how weird the guy might be, Tim continues to be tantalizingly familiar. The things he talks about are things Conner knows well, even if he's not sure which subject Tim's on at any given moment. Hell, he's not sure Tim knows the answer to that question. But Tim's the only one who even speaks his language, is the thing, and...
Well, it's just that he never had anybody to talk to. Not that would ever really talk back to him, instead of kissing his ass or... being afraid. Sounds dumb, but there it is, and Conner long ago realized that he wasn't anywhere near as strong as his father, so if something hurt him, he better damn well recognize it on his own and do something about it. So if this is what he wants, deep in his subconscious, well, he'll indulge it until it becomes unproductive to do so. Even Dad couldn't object to that.
And in the meantime, Conner has every intention of getting his hands - and mouth, and tongue - under that tight collar and seeing what Tim's made of. In that alley, man, he was unleashed. Conner wants to know what else he can make Tim let go of. He's so tightly controlled, so perfectly centered... it's like a challenge.
They pull up in front of the hotel and Tim hands his keys off to the valet. "Put it in the garage," he says. "I won't be needing it for the rest of the day."
"Only, like, a dozen hours left in it," Conner says, straightening his lapels. "Day's almost over."
"Time to turn in," Tim says evenly, and he knocks Conner's hands away and straightens the collar himself.
Conner smiles at him, wolfish. "I know what you're doing," he says, looking down into Tim's face. He's got a couple of inches on him.
"Maybe," Tim says, lifting his face to meet Conner's smile with a total lack of expression. He leans in, close enough to lower his voice. "But I'm doing it. And you're taking it. Which is a trend I plan to continue." He backs up a step, and now, sure, now there's that microsmile on his face. "Follow me."
He's fast on his feet, the little fucker. Conner'll give him that.
They cross the lobby together and wait for the elevator. They get looks; part of Conner wants to tell them yes, I'm going upstairs with him and I'm going to fuck him blind and you fucking wish you could watch me do it, but you can't. By some magic they have an elevator to themselves, and Tim just folds his hands in front of him and watches the lights climb. Conner lets his eyes do the walking, studying Tim as he really hasn't had the chance to do so far - up close and personal.
There's gel in his hair. Does he make it do that on purpose? No way, can't be. He's got perfectly clear skin, white as anything. Doesn't he do the beach? But then, he's from Gotham. That town full of vampires is probably allergic to the sun. His lashes are dark black, heavy, gorgeous, so the hair is natural. Conner wonders if he'll see the same on the carpet, if Waynes from Vampireville believe in personal grooming.
The elevator pings and they head for the room at the left end of the hall. There's another one at the right, and those are the only two rooms here. Conner thinks the one on the left is probably the Queen's suite, and it makes him laugh under his breath.
"What?" Tim asks, opening the door with his card.
"Nothing," Conner says, wandering in behind him and undoing the top button on his suit jacket. "It was dumb."
The door closes, and the moment it does, strong hands come shoving at his shoulders, turning him with ease. Conner thumps against the wall, flat against his back, and Tim's right there, pressing their mouths together. It's slick, hot and a little painful when they bump the wrong way, but that only adds to it. Tim's fingers make quick work of Conner's buttons and then yank at his tie, rake through his hair, shove one shoulder of his jacket off. Those fast, hard hands are everywhere, gripping him tight; it's like standing in a whirlwind. Conner can't keep his bearings, Tim keeps kissing his breath away, and so he resorts to just wrapping an arm around him and lifting him right off his feet.
"Bedroom," Tim orders in a voice like dry sand.
"Fuck yeah," Conner agrees, and feels Tim's legs wrap around his waist in a way just perfect for Conner to grip Tim's ass with the other hand - perfect, muscular, God, the guy must work out every day. They head in what Conner vaguely figures is a bedroom direction, and he's not surprised to feel his tie ripped off. He is surprised to see it go winging off through the darkened suite, but hell, okay, why not, because Tim's dragging on his mouth with hot breaths all down his neck. Conner can taste the chili oil on his lips, burning down into him. He licks into Tim's mouth and fails to watch where he's going, and finally Tim just pushes down off him and leads him by the wrist.
Conner follows. What else can he do?
There's a bed the size of a small country and all the drapes are drawn in here, too. Shadows cover them both, and that's wrong; Conner wants to turn on all the lights. See what he's doing to the body underneath him.
Or. Should be underneath him. Where is -
Again, the solid thud of strong hands sends him tumbling backward, and he finds himself sprawled on his back, watching Tim shed his jacket and crawl up onto the bed. He plants a knee here, a hand there, and Conner expects that anybody doing this would look stupid except Tim, who looks like an immovable object. He's perfectly balanced, and so when he somehow winds up straddling Conner's thighs, it's easy just to watch. "The way you move," he tries to explain, reaching up a hand to wrap around Tim's tie, trying to pull him down.
Tim allows that, rests against Conner's hips in just the right way as they kiss, and this could be good, just this. Conner puts a hand at the small of Tim's back and holds him down, presses him closer so they line up just enough to. Yeah.
"Ah, ah," Tim warns. Somehow his tie's got free when Conner wasn't paying attention, and Tim wriggles away to smile in the gray light. It might even be a real smile this time, but Conner can't quite see. "I already told you what's gonna happen here," Tim tells him, and starts to shift down.
"Well," Conner says, folding his hands behind his head. "If I have no choice."
Tim laughs, and it's a low down wicked sound. Conner shivers, can't help it, and just when it's passed, Tim's teeth find his nipple right through the fabric of his shirt. Conner gasps, grips his hair, but Tim just slides away. "Want you naked," he murmurs, kissing his way over the sternum. "Wanna get my hands on all this skin."
Conner wastes no time helping with the buttons, moving so things can be pulled away and flung over the edges. Just as he's dealing with his belt buckle, his cell phone rings in his pants. Tim grabs it and flings it to the carpet at just the right angle, and it goes skittering under the armchair. "Hey," he objects. "My phone!"
"You can pick it up later," Tim insists, and shoves him back down onto the bed. Conner watches as Tim rakes his eyes across chest and belly and hips, following the hot gaze with his hands. "Fuck me," he mutters, low down.
"My pleasure," Conner says softly, his hands resting on Tim's hips. It's not what he meant, but Conner doesn't care; he's a hundred percent serious. If Tim's up for it...
Sharp teeth flash in the darkness. "Maybe another time," he says, pushing Conner's hands down with a gentle force. He rocks his hips, warm and heavy. "Right now I'd rather suck you 'til you can't remember your name, and when you forget to breathe, too, that's when I'll swallow you."
"Fucking do it," Conner snarls, throbbing hard in his pants, his face burning. "Stop screwing around and do it already, Tim, fucking Christ."
Tim lets him go and slithers down, hooking his fingers into Conner's waistband and hauling the whole heap of bunched fabric down and away. He even takes the socks, one at a time, flipping them over his shoulder, and that's when Conner realizes that aside from his shoes and jacket, Tim's still fully dressed. He's about to say something about it, but Tim leans over, puts his tongue just inside Conner's knee and starts making his way up, and the words fly out of his brain like they never were.
He feels hot breath on his balls, and then Tim's tongue right there. He can't hold the gasp in as Tim licks so soft and wet, lifting them one at a time and sucking them into that heat. A stinging scrape of teeth, how did he know, God; Conner's hips twitch and buck. "Higher," he demands, only it comes out shaky and breathless. "My dick, Tim, please..."
"God, you sound perfect," Tim says, scraping his short nails down Conner's hip. "Do you always sound this perfect?" he asks, but the last words get smeared against skin as he licks the soft hollow just beside where Conner's aching.
Conner grips the duvet, feels it give under his fingers. Good luck explaining that one, you fucking bastard. "Tim," he groans, trying to slide his hips enough to make the shaft bump against those wet, nimble lips.
"Is this what you want?" comes that soft whisper, and then Tim's licking at the thick length of him, sucking soft at this spot, at that spot. It's good, it's fucking awesome, and when Tim runs his soft mouth up and down the length, it's goddamn near perfect...
But not quite. "No," Conner chokes, his fist full of Tim's spiky hair and his eyes slammed shut. "I want you to do what you promised, you evil fuck. Please, Christ, just fucking do it..."
"All you had to do was ask," Tim smirks, and then.
His mouth is everywhere, tight and firm and there, his tongue, God, yes. Conner flexes his thighs, pushes up and in, lets himself press against the back of Tim's throat because he's earned it, he paid and paid and now he gets this, yes, god damn it, yes, so good, so right. He can't stop himself from bringing his hands up to Tim's head to tangle in the spikes of hair, shockingly soft on his fingers, and using it to hold and guide and grip. Tim's hands slide over Conner's hips, caressing, encouraging. He hums deep in his throat, an mmm good kind of sound, and okay, that's not fair. Conner's seeing stars already, he wants to breathe deep and feel his dick throb against Tim's lips, but he's too focused on the long, slow stroke in and out, can't make himself stop. He crowds in further and further each time until Tim starts to cough, and that's when he forces his hands back to the covers; he knows he could push harder, Tim would let him, Tim would choke on it if that's what Conner wanted. Every line of this weird, enigmatic person with him screams, do it, I can take it, I'll be everything you need, and Conner wishes he knew how to say thank you for that, but he doesn't think it's possible, and anyway it'd probably be more than two syllables which means it's totally fucking beyond him.
Tim brushes a soft knuckle just behind Conner's balls, and then he does some trick of the lips that lets Conner slide all the way into the tightest possible space, so close it almost hurts, and when Tim lets him slip back out again, he's coming before he knows it. He pushes a hand down to wrap around his dick, pumps it fast and hard and tight and grabs Tim's hair again so he can paint that pink, perfect mouth. Tim doesn't hesitate, not for a second; he rubs his lips over the most sensitive part, sucks right there, and Conner makes an embarrassingly high sound in his throat before really losing track of things entirely.
When the black comes off the edges of his vision, Conner's panting and twitching on the bed, listening to the buzz in his limbs. He looks for Tim, who's impeccable again - neat, clean mouth, pristine white collar, his eyes gone soft as a summer sky. He smiles, that tiny thing that's barely a twitch of the lips, and Conner flops back down onto the pillow, blissed out and shocky.
Tim stands up then and starts to strip, neatly and in order. Tie comes first, then shirt, then slacks, hung over the back of the chair so they'll hold their crease. T-shirt and socks go on top of a towel by the bathroom - laundry service. The fitted boxer-briefs hug him in all the right places. Lots of guys built slender are kind of skinny when you get them undressed, but Tim's built like a god - everything that should be thick is thick, everything that should have padding is muscled perfectly, and somehow he still looks supple and almost delicate, in places. Even so, Conner imagines turning his stylist loose on him. The guy dresses like a funeral.
It's so dim in here. Conner rolls toward the lamp; he wants to see more than just the lines of the body. He wants to see the color and quality, the texture of Tim's skin. But halfway through fumbling around the end table looking for a switch, Tim catches his wrist and pushes him back onto the bed. "Hey," he murmurs, climbing up over Conner again. "Your turn."
"Believe me, I'm all over that. I just want to see you."
Tim locks his hand around Conner's wrist and rolls to the side. It brings Conner spinning with him so they wind up tangled together, Tim on his back in the middle of the bed and Conner resting just so between his legs. "Look with your hands," Tim suggests softly, and it seems like a hell of a good suggestion, so Conner follows it. He kisses that mouth, tastes sex and heat, pushes a hand inside Tim's shorts the way he wanted to in the alley. It's a good, thick length, hot and ready, and Conner wonders if he could just kiss Tim's mouth and hold his dick until he came, just like that. He's done it before, it could be really good...
But then he'd have to give up the chance to hear if Tim only talks when he's topping. If he talks when he's taking it, God help them both, because they're never leaving this room.
Tim wraps his arms around Conner's shoulders and holds his head close, seeming content to kiss forever. He must like it, his mouth open and hot, and though his dick is like warm steel in Conner's hand, he doesn't buck or thrust. Conner experiments a bit, rubbing his thumb across the underside, just there. It earns him a sweet sound, a moan just at the back of the throat, and so he does it again.
"Conner," Tim breathes, and draws his knee up so he can push into the tight grip. "God, yes."
Conner's on fire all over again, a nice slow burn that sits in his chest. He eats at Tim's neck, his mouth, his collarbones and cheekbones, anything in reach. There are these gorgeous sounds coming from that white throat, those bruised lips, and his lashes hide his eyes away. He shivers in Conner's arms, a full body shudder that doesn't seem to mean stop in any way. "Tell me you want it," Conner says, pressing his face against the hot, humid place just under Tim's ear.
"I want it," he breathes, instant and pained. "I do, God, do it. I need your mouth, Conner, please, I need you..."
"Hot as hell," Conner mumbles back, sliding down that narrow, perfectly defined chest. He bites here and there on his way down, but he knows where he's going, he doesn't linger. His fingernails scrape against Tim's hips when he drags the shorts down, and he hears the hiss of pain. "Sorry," he says, kissing the tip of his cock in sympathy. "Sorry."
"God, just keep doing that, I promise I'll get, over, it, ohhh, fuck..."
Conner sucks him slow, barely moving at all. He likes this part, the thick feel against his tongue, right there. It's selfish of him, because he knows damn well that what he wants when he's on the receiving end is nothing but move, move, up and down, in and out, but when he's giving he likes to take his time. Enjoy it. What's the point if you don't, right?
Tim can't help himself now; he bucks against Conner's mouth. It's small movements, though, less of a bump and more of a slow roll of the hips, a ship on the ocean. That suits Conner just fine, and he lets Tim slide as he likes.
It's just instinct, then, to feed his fingers into Tim's mouth, reach up and let him suck and lick them. Tim does a fantastic job, practically blowing his hand, and Conner feels his interest stir again. But that's not what this is about. When they're nice and wet, he retrieves his fingers and brings them down. It's only natural, in a way, because Tim's built for sex; Conner presses gently against the tight little hole and then inside. He searches for the sweet spot and finds it instantly, but God knows he's not expecting what comes after.
Tim locks up completely. His body goes vise-like around Conner's finger, his hips stop moving and his hands find hair to grip after all. He's a strong bastard; if Conner were anybody else, it might hurt.
He lets Tim's dick slide out so that he can kiss it, soft and soothing. "Relax," Conner coaxes, breathing hot against the spit-slick surface. "You're tensing up. Breathe, okay?"
"I don't have any condoms." Tim's voice is very even, and very calm. "I wasn't expecting this."
"That's okay. Just a helping hand, then. We'll fuck next time. Now relax for me, Tim. Breathe." Tim does that, and it's amazing, his muscles go liquid again almost immediately. "That's perfect," Conner rumbles, and rubs his fingers together, nice and slow. "Just like that."
There's a moment, two, and then Conner hits just the right combination of nerves and Tim gasps, shocked and open. It's good, it sounds so fucking good, and Conner lowers his head again to open, taste, suck. Tim groans and hitches his breath, he scrabbles weakly at Conner's hair and bucks into his hands, sharp now, serious. He tries to say things but they're snatched away with his breath; Conner tries to memorize every mangled syllable for later, when he's alone and Tim's in fucking Gotham. He hums approval, takes Tim as deep as he can and pushes his fingers in, heavy. Tim shudders in his hands, completely silent, and comes hard into Conner's mouth.
He waits to feel the last aftershock roll through Tim's body before he pulls free. He looks up to see what he's done, and finds Tim staring intently at the ceiling, like he's reading something there that might bring about world peace if he only understands it properly. Conner can't help but smile as he starts to kneel up.
Then, without a word, Tim rolls over on his side and curls up. Conner lies down behind him and rubs an hand along his arm. "Are you cold?"
"Yeah," Tim says, and nothing else.
"Well, come on, then. Perfectly good blanket right here."
With effort, they both get underneath it. Tim doesn't alter his position, lying down with his back to Conner again. "Not perfectly good," he says softly. "You punched a hole in it."
"Sorry," Conner laughs, not sorry at all. "It's your own fault." He runs a hand along Tim's side, following the curve down, down, and back up. Tim shivers under his touch, and Conner smiles.
Tim's voice is gravel and molasses. "What're we, cuddling now?" He doesn't move, really. If he does, it's infinitesimally in Conner's direction.
"If you wanna call it that," Conner shrugs lightly. "I gotta go in a bit, but I'm not moving just yet."
"Mm," Tim says, noncommittal. "There's things I need to do, too."
Conner hesitates. There's a world of possible meaning in this conversation, and he's never been good at having patience with that kind of thing. He gets enough of it at home. "You want me to go?" he asks.
Tim hesitates too. His head is bowed forward, exposing the back of his neck. "I didn't say that."
"Good," Conner mutters, and presses himself against that strong back so he can kiss right there, where Tim's hairline stops.
Bit by bit, Conner can feel the body against his come to equilibrium. It's not anything specific, but more of a feeling: Not Okay, Okay. He tries to think of what he's doing, to remember this for when Tim is Not Okay again... that is, if it isn't him that makes things bad. It could be. The next time Tim's stressed might be because he's lost Cadmus, and then the chances that he'll let Conner put a hand on his hip and kiss the back of his neck is probably, uh, less.
"I don't know if we should keep seeing each other," Tim murmurs.
Conner blinks and lifts away enough to look at him. "How do you have a reputation for being a long-term guy when you keep blowing me off just after I get my hand in your pants?"
Tim laughs, short and restless. "Yeah, I don't usually do that, either."
"I'm getting that impression," Conner tells him. "Listen, how about if we don't plan the next year every time we get together? I realize that's probably like asking you to cut off your arm or something, but I think it might be a good idea."
"I don't work like that. You're a Luthor."
Conner winces. People have been whispering that to him his whole life, like it's some kind of secret. Like he doesn't know who his father is. It always pisses him off, always, and today's no different. "Yeah," he says, pulling away. "Somehow people never let me forget that. But that's okay, 'cause I don't see why I'd want to."
Tim rolls onto his back, the sheet bunching under his chest. "Seriously? I would think in Metropolis, you know. It'd be hard to hold your head up."
"Why?" Conner says, old rage rising up in his gut. "Because some fucking alien with a grudge decided to make my family public enemy number one? Wayne Enterprises does at least as much business as us and just because we're more adventurous in our research, he's allowed to blow up any lab he wants to? The cops won't stop him, the papers won't report it, he's caused my father millions of dollars in damage alone and we can't even sue the bastard! Do you have any idea what that's like? No, Tim, you don't. Because the Luthors are the only family in the fucking world that have to put up with this bullshit, and all because the precious last son of Krypton picked this sad solar rock to land on, and since he pulled little Katie's kitty out of the tree, and, oh yeah, because he's a fucking god, he can do anything he wants and nobody says boo. Well, we say boo, okay? We don't toe his line and we don't kneel before his throne and we sure as hell don't call him Superman, because we're fucking Luthors."
Tim stares at him, at a loss for words.
Of course he's at a loss for words, Conner thinks, as he grabs his pants from the foot of the bed and yanks them on. "You know, fuck this, man. I'm out of here." He hits the ground angry, hunting for his t-shirt.
"You don't have to go," Tim says softly. "I'd like to understand."
"Yeah, but you can't, is the problem," Conner bites off. "Listen, Tim, I'll talk to you later, okay? I want to get home. Prudence is waiting for the report. Shit, my phone." He pads over to the armchair, hoists it up and scoops up the glowing screen.
"Give me your number," Tim asks, shifting over out of the bed and picking up the pad of complimentary paper on the nightstand. "Next meeting isn't for days and I still haven't seen the sights you promised me. Tomorrow." He offers the pad to Conner, which isn't fair as he's still unabashedly naked.
"Fine," Conner says, distracted into scribbling down his cell number. He tosses the pad onto the bed, and then slips his hand behind Tim's neck for a serious kiss, something deep and heavy, the kind you don't let them take pictures of. When he pulls away, Conner sees a soft daze in those eyes that is satisfying in a purely primal way. "Don't be so fucking charming," he says, smiling against his will. "I really gotta go."
"Okay," Tim smiles, a faint blush under his eyes. "I'll see you later."
Conner shrugs on his shirt, leaving it unbuttoned and untucked, slings his jacket over his arm and leaves. He doesn't give a goddamn what it looks like. Let 'em stare.
In the elevator, he hits a single button on his phone and waits for the pickup. "Pru," he says, when she answers. I'm good to go. Is there a... they what? They did? Fucking yes! Baby, I'm gonna kiss you. Call Dad. Right the fuck on."
Tim stands in the bathroom, brushing his teeth. He's done counter-surveillance, SOP for post-critical incident debrief, and checked flagged messages from Bruce, Alfred and Martín. Delphi sits next to him on the marble countertop, ready. He takes the toothbrush out of his mouth and prounounces with care: "ETA: Sunset."
Tim spent long hours writing the subroutines that Delphi follows. She learns from his speech patterns and has for years, so now she can interpret things like 'I need the Cave' as instructions to bounce an uplink signal off a couple of satellites before connecting to the computers at Wayne Manor. She's housed completely in her casing, motherboard and CPU, and is braced for an impressive amount of impact and PSI in case she ever gets dropped. (The casing is the only part he couldn't solder together himself; he had to outsource to WayneTech.) Her screen accepts a butchered one-handed typing system and utilizes the latest in touch-sensitive plastics, so there are no buttons. She has a fingerprint-coded power command that ensures that any unauthorized user sees only a standard password screen, which doesn't actually do anything. She's less than four ounces, waterproof, and absolutely irreplaceable. Her voice belongs to a young British woman with red hair and blue eyes who enunciated perfectly.
Two hours, twenty seven minutes.
"Estimate travel time from here to Cadmus Labs."
Rooftop or civilian?
One hour to security perimeter.
Twenty-one minutes to building exterior.
Tim spits into the sink and pours some water. "Okay. Set Mission 0810CL4: Tonight, Travel, Rooftop, end."
"Open Template: Report."
"I lost the first round. Conner gets the... Delphi, stop."
"I lost the first round. Luthor has first crack at the testing phase. We're due to receive delivery in two days, though, and Quintum's in place, so I'm sure we can make up the time. If we can get some serious results, we can still win this. Let me know how Bruce is doing... I mean really how he's doing, Alfred. I don't care what he says, I'm worried. Robin out."
"Flag red and transmit."
"Open Template: Journal."
"Dick says he's still exploring our options. He won't elaborate, but I'm sure he's talking about magic, and the chances of getting Bruce to allow a magician to tinker with his kidneys don't bear discussion. I'm still convinced that a cloned replica is the best option. It's difficult to deal with, I won't say it isn't... but I'm making use of available emotional support. Dick and I talk regularly. For the record, Jason refuses to come home, even to talk to the old man. I still think he was serious about the offer of one of his kidneys, but Dick won't even talk about it. We'll manage. Delphi, over."
Tim lays his black belt out on the bath mat and sits down on his towel, flips open all the compartments and hoists it up so he can see inside. "Okay. List components for tonight's mission." Delphi reads out each item in turn. Tim double-checks them all, noting location and accessibility. He mentally reviews his objective and then, when the list is done, he stands up. "Okay. Set alarm for one hour past sunset."
"...Open file: Conner Luthor."
"...Close file, Delphi."
"Open file: Luthor."
"Check surveillance flags, penthouse."
One flag found.
"...Huh. Display on the laptop."
"Thank you, Delphi."
You're welcome, Robin.
Tim pads out to the living area of his suite and sits down at the desk, opens his laptop. Batman's sensors in the Luthor apartment are set to flag any unusual activity, but there's only one bug and it's got limited range due to its... unique design. Tim watches the two Luthors in their reception hall, toasting Conner's success today. Conner will have more time with the trial overall; when it's Tim's turn, Conner will pull results, run tests and diagnostics. Tim scowls heavily; he needed those days. But he'll just have to make do without.
Or, well. Perhaps not entirely without.
He lies down in bed and takes an extra twenty minutes to fall asleep in the lingering scent of Conner's cologne, of his own sweat. When he wakes, he picks up his compartmented briefcase, checks that Martín remembered to pack the black mask instead of the green (he did) and heads out. He takes the car to a parkade by a restaurant, bribes a waiter to hold his table while he 'chases down his date', and then leaves his suitcase in a plastic bag in the men's room trash can. It holds brand new street clothes.
Robin exits through the window.
Metropolis at night is a different place than Metropolis in the day. People aren't on the streets unless it's glittering bright, and then they're there in droves. It's like if the lights are dim, they're afraid Clark won't see them.
He shoots a grapple up to the rim of the Daily Planet, and heads south.
Bruce wouldn't approve of this. He never mixes day business with night business. Wayne Industries is run by Lucius Fox, with the occasional input from the man with his name on the door. Gotham gets the lion's share of time, energy and attention, and that's the way Bruce thinks it should be. Money is the only connection between them. Batman works for nobody but justice.
Tim's more pragmatic. There's a change in the guard coming, and though he doesn't look forward to it, Tim is honest enough with himself that he has to at least acknowledge it. There will only ever be one Nightwing. There will only ever be one Red Hood, for that matter. But Batman does something that needs doing, something only very few people are qualified to do, and the thought of Gotham without him is unbearable to anyone who knows what it would look like.
It took a long time for Tim to figure it out. Dozens of analysts tried, many suggesting that Batman's presence in Gotham actually created monsters, but they had it backwards. Gotham's monsters are drawn to each other. Without Batman to focus on - the unbreakable will made of only human flesh and bone, just like they are - they would tear the city apart like wild wolves, and when they were done, they'd turn on the rest of the world. Batman keeps them caged here, a single man making sure that the great slumbering evil at the heart of the world stays asleep.
There is no higher calling.
Tim knows that now. It doesn't take a martyr or a superman, but somewhere, somehow, somebody must do it. Before Bruce it was Jim Gordon, and before him, there was another to guard the gates. Bruce has been the best at the job so far; he learned how to last the longest, to live and not to break. He's made mistakes, but he is nevertheless the best, and he deserves that respect. Tim gives him that, and sometimes he thinks he's the only one who knows how. To Dick, Bruce is a father. Alfred sees a son, Babs sees a hero and Cassandra sees a king. They don't get it. Bruce is just a man.
What that man thinks is worthy of consideration, but it is not gospel, and Tim has weighed the choices here and made a decision. He disables the security fence, opens a hole in the mesh and is into the Cadmus compound in just under 21 minutes. Robin's bright tunic is at home; Tim's current costume is a simple black nomex suit patterned on Batgirl's, including a full hood, and a Barbara-era short cape that's good for gliding if he needs it, but is still easy to hide. Can't be much question that he's a Gothamite to anybody who even looks at his gear, so Tim didn't bother to disguise it. But take away the costume's identifying features, and figuring out exactly which Bat associate is in Metropolis will be unspeakably hard. Hell, he could be Huntress under here and they'd never know, which is crucial.
Clark's notoriously unreliable when it comes to being discreet. Can't take the chance.
Tim isn't sabotaging. He isn't even spying, really. He doesn't plan to steal, change or even use anything he finds tonight against Conner in the boardroom. But if there should happen to be something not quite above board going on in Cadmus labs under Xi's nose, or maybe Serling's, well, he wouldn't be above making it known to Cannon.
That's not an abuse of power. If nothing's out of line, he'll have to deal with it in the daytime. He's also gambling that Cannon and Harper have their noses clean, because if they don't, he'll be honor bound to turn them in. But regardless, this is better than wasting his salary on the Metropolis night scene... or watching reruns at the Ritz.
There's a method to most criminal activity. They put cooked books and secret files under the highest security, close to hand for the people who'll need it. Robin decides to focus first on the labs and then on the offices - labs will be harder to break into, but if he trips any alarms, they'll be untouchable. He can still get into the offices later, if he has to.
Lab security here is largely technical, and not as easy to get around as one might think. He slips past with a static generator and some fancy footwork, including one instance of walking in step with a guard that was face-first in a mystery novel. The guard was a big guy with limited vision, and there was only one camera, so all Robin had to do was move at the same pace, and bingo. Once he's past the door, he records that one on his keypad - Tim's not yet convinced that there should be another Robin in the future, but if there is, he'll love that.
He's got to put one man down, right at the main lab entrance. It's not even a security guard, just a random technician working late. Tim winces to himself as he cuts off the guy's oxygen with a hammerlock, and is careful about lowering him to the ground. He doesn't want any bruises. The guy's just doing his job.
He does take the keys and ID badge, though. Sorry, Adam Cabot.
Robin slips soundlessly into the lab. A lot of this stuff looks technical, probably in process. There are countless vats and containers and petri dishes that he doesn't look closely at. He sees a microphone hanging from the ceiling and makes his way to it, where he finds a workstation scattered with human detritus. Paper is everywhere, pens and coffee cups and a box of gloves... Robin lifts the edge of a file folder and finds it.
He fires the thing up and it prompts him for a password. Windows. Excellent. He sits down, jacks Delphi into the port and lets her work her magic.
In a few moments, the screen is filled with a huge graphic of Superman. He's standing in front of the Daily Planet, with his cape billowing, and...
Robin spares a moment to wonder if that's digitally enhanced before his mind shudders away from the very notion and he forces himself to pay attention and open Outlook. A brief check of the signature on outgoing mail confirms that, yes, he is at the desk of Dr. Serling Roquette.
Of course, by rights, she has an office somewhere in the floors above. Robin can only imagine, however, that someone promoted by strength of technical ability as Serling was couldn't bear to be that far away from the action. He pictures her wandering around the labs with coffee in hand and a pencil holding her hair together, and nods to himself. It fits the bill. Probably high strength passwords, then, but a limited ability to secure hard copies. Better search the desk.
Most of the mess is what people of a certain intelligence and disposition tend to call "organized mess". Tim's had more than one significant other educate him in the difference. Another time, Dr. Roquette. He tries the desk drawers - unlocked, probably nothing of value. The overhead bin on the wall, however, thumps when he tries it.
The catch comes out underneath. Tim flips it with his fingertip. When he rolls it back, he finds it stuffed to the gills with binders and unfiled paperwork, nothing with any kind of label. He tries the ones on top and is instantly rewarded: project manifestos, latest updates with file references. There has to be a central division, someplace all these paper copies are stored, and there they will have a file cabinet that has three more locks than any of the other file cabinets, and that's where he'll find what he wants.
Robin slides past the unconscious technician with a pat to the shoulder. "Sit tight, buddy. I'll be right back."
Adam makes no reply.
By the time he figures out where the file room is and makes his way inside, he's out of breath and his heart is racing. He's got a nasty bruise welling up on his forearm that's going to burn like a mother tomorrow, and though the alarms aren't going off, Tim is betting they will be within the next twenty minutes. That'll be the top of the hour, and when the basement-level security guy doesn't check in, they'll probably be mad.
He picks up a blank sheet of labels off a desk and tries Adam's key in each filing cabinet, one after another. The ones that unlock get a sticker, for ignore me. There are three that resist the key, and so Robin cracks each one in turn. One has personnel files, and he gives those a glance over. Cannon's are harsh, Harper's are glowing, Xi's are eerily complete, but seem accurate. Serling hasn't filed any for eight months, but the last ones were cursory and clear with an absolute minimum of effort. Great attitude, could use brushup - cryonics. Coursework? Nothing unexpected.
He moves on to the next cabinet: financial transaction records. This needs a definite going-through, so Tim moves on to the next one in the hopes of ruling it out so he can focus on the money.
The lock's got a state of the art PIN pad. "Fantastic," Robin scowls, and starts to pick the faceplate off. Ten precious minutes roll by, but he manages to tap into it without shorting it out. He could have smashed it, but they'd have known what he got, and he'd never be able to use it without outing himself as a thief - or an employer of a thief, but that's pretty much the same thing.
The cabinet's made out of reinforced steel. Robin has a moment's intuition. There's nothing visible that's suspicious, or even dubious, but he flips on his RF jammer before opening the cabinet anyway.
Sure enough, there's the tripwire, busted and transmitting alarm. Of course, the transmission'll never make it anywhere with Robin standing right here, but it means he's got to take another five minutes to plant an active jammer in here with it so he can leave. Time's ticking down, so when he finds all the files inside bear the same file name, he sighs in relief.
Tim flips past dozens of pages he doesn't understand, absorbing only the briefest bits of intel as he goes. He takes pictures of some things that look important, paying special attention to anything that has the logo at the top - that'll be the stuff that got sent to Cannon. No, wait - Westfield. This stuff has Westfield's name on it, it's from when he was the director. How old is this file? Tim skips to the top drawer, first file. It's talking about viable zygotes, there's something here about how the infant shows no signs of rejecting the Donor's DNA, just the Donor, that's all it says, there's no identifying...
Homo sapiens splice appears viable. White cells appear stable at normal levels throughout initial development.
Robin takes a picture with his heart in his throat, and reads on.
"No," Conner says through his teeth, his patience strained to the limit. "It is not conclusive, they're contaminated. Now. Run. Them. Again."
Reports are scattered all over his desk, dozens of them. It's hour 39 of testing on Project Grammata, the breakthrough gene mapping sequencer Cadmus designed two months ago. They claimed any anomaly could be tracked through the Grammata - feed in the blood sample on this end, get the report on that end. LuthorCorp will market it to forensics, hospitals, and research firms for every genetic disease they can find. Of course, it can also identify the meta gene, which is how Conner got his father to donate the capital, but that's an application they'll need to keep a tight leash on when they acquire it.
Only it's broken.
It has to be broken. Conner got a bunch of the scientists working on the project to donate blood for testing because it was easier than getting a random sample. It's double blind testing, so they sent him up a dozen neatly labeled vials and he sent them back thirteen, numbered in sequence, and Conner's the only one who knows which vial of blood belongs to who. He's had them run the tests a dozen times now, and so everybody else is sitting down in the lab whispering about how Conner managed to 'acquire' a vial of blood which comes up with that kind of result no matter how many times they run it: meta, meta all over the place, the genetic equivalent of hammer prints all over the helixes where it's been completely fucked with.
Conner ignores the squawk from the receiver as he hangs up the phone, and flips through the latest series of results. Twelve are mostly normal: propensity toward Alzheimer's, Huntington's, active cystic fibrosis.
#3, though, always comes back the same. Conner's brought the samples back upstairs and changed all the numbers on them. Three times. It always comes back with the same result.
Subject #3: Conner Luthor. Massive recombinant genetic sequences consistent with whole reconstruction. Donors unknown.
All he wanted was to know if his meta-gene came from his mother or his father. He's stronger than regular people, always has been, but that's all - no multiple branches, extra chromosomal sequencing, unknown marker, unknown. If you want to know something, Conner, you find out, you don't let anybody stop you, not even me. But this... no, no, this is wrong. There has to be a mistake.
He stands up and starts walking, without any real idea where he's going. Prudence is asleep somewhere downstairs because they've been working non-stop and he told her to sleep or he'd fire her. He's ignored all his messages unless they're from the team, so he's got nothing scheduled. Conner wanders the penthouse halls, past the art and the secret rooms, past the Good Housekeeping rooms you don't sit in and the big steel kitchen for the top two floors that you can use to sneak downstairs if you need to.
None of it makes sense, but the tests are double blind and run three times. Maybe he could triple blind them, but the odds of that making a difference aren't good, and Luthors know when to gamble...
If a Luthor was even one of the donors, that is.
If his whole life isn't a lie.
But the more Conner thinks about it, the more convincing it gets. Post-traumatic retrograde amnesia at the age of fifteen; car accident. The heartbroken look on Dad's face when he woke up in the bed at Metropolis General and asked who he was. Conner had to talk for years, convincing his father to let him get behind the wheel of a car again. The intense yelling matches whenever Conner would fall or slip with a knife, those never made any sense; Conner never got hurt, but Dad would always lose it anyway...
He never got hurt.
He should have got hurt, sometime, somewhere, he should have...
Conner strips off his shirt in one of his father's bathrooms and examines himself for something, anything. A mark, a scar, somewhere, he has to have a scar. Everybody has them. He has to have had chicken pox, for fuck's sake, everybody's had the fucking chicken pox. He checks his knees, his feet, his elbows and his back with a mirror.
There's nothing. Smooth, clear, unmarked skin. Freckles.
Conner had a psychiatrist for a while, just after the accident. Or. When he woke up. The guy said that, given the location and severity of the trauma, chances were very good that he wouldn't regain his memory, so he shouldn't try. He said it would cause stress and anxiety; he sure as hell didn't say there was nothing there to remember.
Conner rips open the medicine cabinet and throws half of it in the sink, looking. Finally he remembers that it won't be here, and walks out of the bathroom in his boxers, heading for the master bedroom. He doesn't pay any attention to Mercy's questions when she asks them, and she disappears after a couple of halls. When he reaches the master bath, he can sense there's somebody walking in behind him, but it isn't until he grabs his father's straight razor off the countertop and tries to push it to his arm that he recognizes who's there.
Dad grabs his wrist and yanks the blade up, away. "Conner!" he shouts, and Conner realizes that he's been saying that word for the last minute or so. He meets his father's eyes, lost.
"Who am I?"
"God," Dad breathes, and then Conner is on the floor on his knees, crying against his father's chest like the kid he never was.
"I don't know who I am," he shouts, and smashes his fist against the floor. The tiles crack and splinter, the floorboards underneath do the same.
His father cradles him, his impossible strength still here, unwavering. "My son," he says, with absolute surety. "Your name is Conner Luthor, you are the best of me, and you're here. That's all that matters."
"Am I?" Conner asks, everything aligning into unbearable clarity. He sits up, his vision watery and red. "Because it was your petri dish? 'Cause you paid the scientists?"
Dad holds his gaze as long as possible, but finally lowers his eyes.
"Was it your genes?" Conner demands, unable to move. "Did you slot just the right parts of you into my helix to make sure I got hair? What else do I have in me, Dad? If you wanted a kid, you could have had a normal one, so there has to be something you put in me, something wrong with-"
His father grabs his shoulders and shakes him, hard. He's never done that before in his life, not once, and Conner is so shocked by it that he shuts up. "You listen to me," Dad says, fiercely serious. "There is nothing wrong with you. Understand? I have seen you grow from an idea to a single cell to a person; I have been right beside you every second I could. I am your father, and I am telling you that you are good. I never wanted anything more than I wanted you, and I have never for a moment regretted what I had to do to get you. I love you, Conner... and I'm sorry."
Conner has never heard his father apologize. Not to anybody. He flicks the razor open, lifts it and draws the live side across the skin on his shoulder. Dad shouts and tries to stop him, but Conner is stronger. He knew he would be.
The blade grates along his skin. He can feel its edge.
There's no blood. There's not even a mark.
Dad closes his eyes, hiding from the clear skin. "Damn it, Conner."
"How much more?" he asks. "Could I re-grow a finger?"
Dad winces. "Don't experiment."
Conner chokes back a shocked laugh. "Oh, that's rich, Dad."
He doesn't respond to that, and Conner can tell he's hit a nerve. It's a terrible moment, and they both respect it with silence.
Finally, Conner wipes a hand across his face, sniffing. "I want to see the files," he says. "I know you kept them."
"I had them scanned," Dad says quietly. "They're in my office."
They stand up together and head into the bedroom. Conner's father gets him a pair of pajama pants and an old Met U t-shirt to wear, and Conner puts them on like armor. They go to Dad's wide, white office and Conner sits behind the heavy desk and remembers being a kid and doing this when business took his father away for a day or two. He would look out at the city, sometimes, or put his back to it and pretend the office was his, that he was old and wise and tasteful enough to appreciate the Berber carpets.
Dad calls up the files. "A lot of this is technical, so read the reports they made to me. They're simplistic, because the scientists thought I had more money than brains, but they cover the salient points."
An hour later he's sitting in the garden on the terrace. He's tracing his fingers over one of the palm fronds, feeling the sun on his skin. The doors open to admit his father, who comes over and sits down in the grass next to him. He hands Conner a glass of water, which Conner accepts but forgets to drink the second it's in his hand.
Finally, Conner manages to put a sentence together in his head that he thinks will make sense coming out his mouth. "Why did you have them grow me up so fast?"
"It was a part of the stabilization process," Dad explains, tugging a tiny weed sprout out of the ground. "They had to be sure you wouldn't suffer any of the degenerative diseases that affect clones. They wanted to take you straight to 21, but I fought them on it. I told them you were to have as much of a childhood as possible."
Conner nods, and then braces himself. "And... what about my mother?"
"I need to know, Dad. Whatever it is, I'll deal with it, but I have to know what happened to her."
There's a long, tense silence. Conner's father shreds the plant in familiar hands, pieces and pieces and pieces until they smear green on his fingers. "Your mother..."
He trails off, but Conner doesn't push. Instead he bites his lip, and waits.
"I didn't ask permission for you. I stole the DNA I needed and I went ahead. I'm not proud of it, but it's the truth."
A tension in Conner's chest releases, and he can breathe again. "So... she's alive, out there? Somewhere?"
"Yes, alive and well, but I'm afraid we... don't get along."
"Oh. Well, did you tell her about me?"
"Mm, just after you were born. I knew that once you were alive and breathing... there was nothing anyone could do. I did have to make a number of promises, but we came to terms."
Conner scowls. "She thinks I'm a freak. A science experiment."
"No," Dad says, his face oddly soft. "Conner, I chose the best for you. As dangerous and unstable and... ridiculously self-righteous as your mother can be at times, believe me when I tell you that there's nobody more innocent on this earth. The idea of condemning you without ever even talking to you... it would be anathema."
"But she gave me up," Conner says, the tightness returning to his chest.
His father's mouth goes flat, and there are lines around his eyes. "I didn't allow an alternative," he says. "With the abilities you were given, Conner, and the advantages your upbringing gave you, innocence is a luxury you can't afford. Your mother can't afford it either, but that's part of why we don't see eye to eye. I'm not without resources; I made some demands of my own. I assure you that they weren't well received, but in the end, I left him no choice."
Conner nods, barely managing to absorb the information coming at him. His father is hiding something, but that means he doesn't think he can talk about it, so it's pointless to ask. Better that Conner just decode it as best he can - but that means missing parts, and he can't really keep track of what's going on, and...
"Does she love me?" he asks, and hears himself ask it a second later, when it's too late to take it back. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to say that," he gulps, his breath oddly short in his chest.
With ultimate care, Dad puts a hand on Conner's shoulder. It's too heavy to bear, everything between them weighted on that single touch, and Conner bows his head like Atlas to hold it up. They sit together for a while, and Conner reaches out a hand after a while, needing to borrow his father's strength.
Dad takes it, of course, and presses his lips into a thin, grudging line. "I can't imagine what this must be like for you. I don't know what to give you; I don't know... what'll help."
Conner almost laughs. "I should come with a manual."
"Every kid should," Dad replies, a tiny frown appearing at the corner of his mouth. Conner knows that frown. He saw it approximately fourteen billion times when he was younger, when his chief objective in life seemed to be getting into trouble. Dad frowned like that in the dean's office at prep school, in the sergeant's office at St. Anthony's Academy for Boys, and in the drunk tank the night Conner turned twenty. He also frowned like that the time he got word that one of the ex-Soviet states acquired a suitcase nuke.
Conner finds it eminently reassuring.
"Is there anything you'd like?" Dad asks. "I'm only guessing, but I think in your place, I might need some time to come to terms with things. A retreat."
Conner thinks about that. "Well. We still have four days of testing, but I don't have to physically be in the building to review the reports, I guess."
"Conner," his father gently reproves. "I think you could be excused from active duty for a while."
He gives his father a flat look. "Dad. Upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all."
Dad scowls. "Don't quote Alexander the Great at me."
"Don't tell me to quit when the going gets tough," Conner retorts.
Dad lifts his hands in a plea to the heavens. "My God, I raised a Luthor."
Conner can't help but smile. His life has just been turned upside down, but somehow his father can deal with anything, and so long as that hasn't changed, the world will possibly continue spinning. "I wouldn't hate Hawaii," he offers. "I could take a couple days of sun and surf."
"Absolutely," Dad smiles. "Go, take some friends with you."
Conner grins at him, feeling some leftover teenager rebellion rising to his surface, urging him to make his father frown again. "I think I'll take Tim," he says.
His father's smile freezes.
Oh no. That's bad, this is all very bad.
"Tim," his father repeats. "Drake."
"Relax," Conner says, waving a hand in the hopes of defusing the bomb. Overconfident, overestimated, shit, shit. "We're just screwing around. I'm not about to marry the guy."
Dad grabs his shoulder. "Conner, answer me. Are you involved with him?"
Conner winces guiltily. "Uh. What are we calling 'involved'?"
"Do you care about him?" Dad demands, practically yelling.
Conner is wide-eyed; he doesn't know how that's relevant or even Dad's business. He's never asked anything like this before, not like it's going to explode the world if it's the wrong answer. "I... I don't-"
"Yes or no, Conner!"
"Yes, okay? I do care about him. I'm not in love with him, but I like him, okay? What the fuck is the crisis, here?"
"Damn it," Dad shouts, and then climbs to his feet and storms into the house. Conner hears the clink of glass, and then shortly later, the same sound.
Whatever this is, it sucks.
After a minute or two, he trails after his father into the house. Dad stands by the bar with a rim of scotch around the bottom of his glass, his head bowed. Conner approaches warily, rests a hand on his father's shoulder. "Dad... if it's that much of a problem, I can stop seeing him."
Dad just shakes his head. The curve of his skull, for the first time in Conner's life, looks vulnerable. "Yes," he says, his voice roughed up and kicked around by the booze. "Stop seeing him."
Conner blinks. That was unexpected.
"If you have any trust left in me, that I know what's best for you, if you can learn from... from my experience, at all, you stop seeing that boy."
"Dad," he says, hesitant but pretty sure of his conclusions. "Did you... did you have a thing with Bruce Wayne?"
His father turns to look at him, hurt fading into confusion fading into surprise and amusement in lightning shifts. "What? No! No, nothing like that." He smiles ruefully, isn't-that-funny, and tips back the rest of his scotch.
Conner frowns, keenly aware that it's the suitcase nuke frown, but unable to stop it. "Well, what is it, then? I thought you'd tell me it was my choice to make, I thought you'd give me something to go on, but you just want me to cut him loose with no explanation?"
Dad hoods his eyes, won't meet Conner's gaze. "Yes. I've never asked it of you before, but yes. I do."
There's something here. Conner can feel it. "What are you hiding from me?" he asks, inching his way toward real concern. "What's wrong with Tim?"
His father covers his eyes with his hand and sighs deep. "I think you'd better sit down."
The phone rings three times before Tim makes it into the elevator. "Hello!" he says, punching the button for the roof and then hammering the one that closes the door. "Don't hang up!"
"I wasn't gonna," Conner says, his voice relaxed and calm.
The elevator fires upward, out of the Daily Planet bullpen. Clark isn't here. Tim's been desperately trying to reach him without seeming desperate for two days and finally braved the lion's den, but Clark isn't here. "Where the hell have you been?" Tim demands into the phone. "Too good to answer messages?"
"Yeah, sorry about that." Tim can hear the wince, even over the phone. "Since we got Grammata in, it's... things have been hectic. More problems than we expected."
"Really," Tim says, flat. That could be the beginning of any number of ploys on Conner's part, and all of them are clumsy with that opening.
"No lie. Listen, I have a proposition for you."
Here it comes. Tim's too good for this lame attempt. Conner's too good for it too, so it's twice as annoying. "Go ahead," he says, as the doors open onto the roof.
There's a miniscule pause. Nerves. "Listen," he says, playing for time. "Are you alone?"
Tim rolls his eyes. "Sure, James Bond." Whatever this is, it's going to be totally expected.
"I want you to come to Hawaii with me," Conner says, clear as a bell.
Tim walks onto the tarmac, checking for people. "Very funny."
"I'm not joking," Conner says, in a sober, serious voice. "I want you to come with me for the weekend."
"I bet you do," Tim scowls, his attention caught by the sheer brass of this move. "You know what I'm doing this weekend: yelling at scientists."
"I know it sounds suspicious," Conner starts.
Tim laughs, right out loud.
Undaunted, Conner plows ahead. "But I'm not even kidding, Tim. I have to talk to you."
"What could possibly be so important to tell me right now that I should drop everything and, oh, let you seal the Cadmus deal for LuthorCorp so that we can-"
"Fuck the deal," Conner shouts. Tim is startled enough to be silent for a moment while Conner gets control of himself. "I need to talk with you about something important, okay? It's... look, my phone is secure and I'm pretty goddamn sure yours is secure but I still need to talk to you in person and in private."
Tim's whole body has gone cold, a suddenly arctic breeze nipping around him. Conner can only be talking about one thing. He knows. Somehow he found out that somebody was in Cadmus, somebody tripped a secret alarm and somebody found out something they weren't supposed to, and now Daddy's secret is out. There's no telling how much he knows... fuck. Fuck.
He licks his lips, composes himself. If he plays this right, it could be something serious. It could be a lead on where the Scion is being kept. Conner might not know anything; he might just be recruiting. Or, hell, even young enough to be looking for reassurance, a confidant. And if he knows everything, well, Tim's dealt with guns before.
"Jesus, Conner," he says, letting worry color his voice. "What the hell's going on?"
"Just come to Hawaii with me," Conner urges. "Come on, it'll be fun. You can bring your laptop, stay in touch with the lab. We'll take the jet and I'll have you back before curfew, okay? Please."
Tim shakes his head and rubs the spot between his eyebrows, just to get the right sound to his voice. "I must be certifiable," he says. "But hey, I did grow up in Gotham."
"Great," Conner says, and Tim can hear him grinning. "Great. Thank you. I'll be by your hotel to pick you up in ten minutes."
Tim eyes the nearby rooftops and does a few quick numbers in his head. "Make it fifteen," he says. "Give me time to grab a shower."
Twenty minutes later, Tim's hair has fresh gel in it and he's sitting in the passenger seat of Conner's Ferrari listening to his erstwhile host shout obscenities at the traffic. "I don't suppose there's any chance of getting you to tell me what all this is about?" he asks easily.
"It's the pedal on the right, motherfucker! Christ!"
They park six feet away from the door to their terminal in a spot with a LuthorCorp logo on it. Conner doesn't even put the top up, just grabs his duffel bag and Tim's carry-on and presses the button on his key chain to make the alarm engage. "Come on," he says, plunking the carry-on in front of Tim's feet and heading straight inside. "They're waiting for us."
Tim hurries after him. "Hey," he calls. "It's not like they'll leave without us!"
"They need to get back here," Conner yells back. "Dad's got to be in Seoul by tomorrow morning!" He flashes his driver's license at the security desk before dropping his duffel right on the counter top. The people sitting behind that have LuthorCorp badges too, and Conner's shouted he's with me seems to accord Tim the same privilege. They take his bag and wave him forward.
They run into the terminal. By one of the gates, a flight attendant in royal purple is tapping her pointed toe mercilessly. "Mister Luthor," she hollers, hands on her hips and stern as a drill sergeant.
Ahead, Conner waves at her, and then turns to find Tim with his eyes. "That's our gate," he says. "Come on!"
Tim races, but not fast enough to escape stumbling when the attendant pushes a firm hand against his back, urging him to go faster. Tim's a fast guy. This woman has reflexes like a Navy SEAL.
Conner's panting in one of the golden tan Lay-Z Boys when Tim falls into the plane, his cheeks red with the exertion. "Charity," he huffs, by way of introduction. "She's... not really that charitable."
"Charitable enough not to ground your butt," says the lady in question, pulling the heavy outer door closed behind her. She takes off her jacket and lays it over the arm of one of the attendant's seats, and turns to lock the door, and formidable muscles show under her shirt. Tim appreciates the view, and then notes her as a potential threat.
The plane is an XLS, probably one of the best business class planes out there. It can reach Mach 0.85 and, at its limit, it could probably do Metropolis to Sydney without touching down for gas. Bruce uses XLS components in a lot of his planes. Of course, they don't tend to look like this inside - it's either wall to wall monitors or shag carpeting. This plane, on the other hand, appears to be crafted solely out of class, dignity and power.
Tim eases himself into one of the soft leather chairs and looks for a seatbelt.
"Please," Conner grins. "If anything happens to this thing at cruising velocity, we're dead anyway."
Tim's working out something to say about his brother back home who pretty much lives by that philosophy of life, but then the engines whine, and they start to taxi. The seats turn of their own volition and lock into place, so Tim leans back and tries to watch the show out the window.
"Hi, Conner," chirps a woman's voice from the speakers.
"Hi, Pru," Conner says, deadpanning as they roll ponderously along.
"It's a truly shitty day in Metropolis this morning, but the skies over Ni'ihau are sunny and gorgeous. We should be landing at the compound in approximately six hours."
Tim blinks. Commercial lines take nine. "Where is she?" he asks Conner, going for the subtle question.
Conner looks at him askance. "The cockpit? She's flying the plane."
Takeoff is smooth as silk. Tim feels the familiar lurch in his stomach when they make their way into the air, and looks over at Conner to see him leaning into the G-forces with his eyes are closed, his mouth parted with the hint of a smile.
Tim manages to wait until Charity has brought them drinks before he clears his throat. "Conner," he warns.
There's a nod of acknowledgment, and then Conner leans way back in his chair so he can peek around the side of the front compartment. "Hey, Charity?"
"Could you give us a few?"
"Of course, Mr. Luthor. Call if you need me."
"Will do, gorgeous."
Charity scowls hard, but Conner just gives her a cheeky smile. Tim's charmed by it, but Robin isn't, and it's coming close to the point where it's Robin's show, so Tim pulls Delphi out of his pocket and lets it rest on the heavy table next to him. Robin deliberately relaxes his shoulders and battens down the hatches.
The cockpit door closes behind Charity, and Conner turns his face to Tim. All traces of the cocky kid that was here a minute ago are gone, and Tim finds himself chilled, even through the preparation. "My father asked me to stop seeing you," he says, and bites his bottom lip.
One more time, Tim is forced to re-evaluate what's going on here. Was it a ploy after all, a strategic move surrounding the Cadmus deal? But you never ask a question you don't know the answer to, not out loud, and so Tim plays it straight. "I can't say that surprises me," he says. "Your father and Bruce traditionally haven't gotten along; I can't imagine he'd approve of us."
Conner smiles, and this one has an edge to it. "What about Bruce? You heard from him yet about me?"
Tim hesitates. He's heard from Batman, but that's not what Conner's asking, really. "No. Bruce doesn't really concern himself with that kind of thing."
"Huh," Conner says, leaning back. "That's not what I heard."
Tim lets his Wry But Fond smile come onto his face. He gives that one to the press a lot. "The playboy act, right? He likes pretty company, it's true, but he isn't really that superficial. It'd be more work than he likes."
"Aw, you had me right up to the end," Conner says, waving a disappointed hand at him. "I was with you, and then you said he doesn't like to work. That's just a lie."
Tim narrows his focus. Conner knows something and he's playing it, seeing how much information he can dig out. He's either excellent at spotting lies or he knows the truth already. "I don't know what you're talking about," he says, which might as well be metahuman/vigilante code for please enter the password.
Conner only grins. "You think you got it all under control, man. It's cool. I never saw it on you before but now... yeah, I think I'm getting it. Dad was totally right about you, man."
The scowl is totally natural. "...Why exactly am I on a plane with you going to Hawaii if your dad was right and you shouldn't see me?"
"Oh, believe me, pal, I'm the only one who does." Conner sits forward in his chair and matches his eyes to Tim's. "Yeah, I think I see you fine, Robin."
There's no hesitation. Not for this. "Delphi. Condition: Trapeze." She buzzes a silent acknowledgment against his hand.
Conner's eyes are sharp and remarkably blue. "What was that?" he asks.
Robin replies evenly. "That was Batman finding out that I'm in trouble. He knows where I am, how many people I'm with, and my current heart rate, B.P. and breathing. Annnnd... now he knows I'm on a plane. Or with the Justice League, but he'll rule that out fast."
Without missing a beat, Conner pushes a button at the side of his chair. "Flight, hit the RF."
"...Excuse me?" Prudence sounds as nonplussed as Robin feels. You can't hit an RF jammer in a moving plane. You won't be able to use the instruments. They shouldn't even have an RF jammer on a plane; you'd never use it. Except, evidently, if you're crazy.
"Fly sight; take us over the cloud cover. You should have plenty of visibility."
"But Conner, the-"
The tone that comes from Conner next is not anything Robin's ever heard from him before. That's his father's tone. "Pru, hit the fucking RF."
There's a disturbing rattle along the length of the plane. Robin can see ice forming up on the windows, and Conner sits in his chair and steeples his fingers and seems to be completely oblivious to what he's doing.
"Excuse me," Prudence says through the speakers, shivering high. "Mister Drake? Hi.... okay, I don't know if you can hear me, but Mr. Luthor Senior? Hates doing this. And the reason he hates it is 'cause it's kind of insane-o dangerous? I mean, you could pretend we're cruising Manhattan Boulevard in a hot rod going a hundred miles an hour with the windows blacked out, except our hot rod is twenty-two metric tons and full of jet fuel. So if you could just short this up by telling Mr. Luthor whatever he wants to know, we'll probably make it to Ni'ihau alive, and that'd be awesome. 'Kay?"
Conner rolls his eyes. "Thank you, Prudence. Now shut off the mike or I'll shut it off for you."
There is silence.
It stretches between them, tense and tenuous. Conner's frowning now, his calm evaporating by the moment, and every second that ticks by is a second closer to everything spiralling out of control - beyond them.
"You gonna give that thing to me or not?" Conner finally says, putting out a hand.
"Not," Tim counters, folding his arms over his chest. "This close to Metropolis? Probably Superman's going to get the call. Depending on what he's doing, we probably have between five seconds and five minutes before your jet is toast."
Conner's mouth twists. "That's a pretty high opinion of yourself you have there."
"Warranted," Tim says, leaving no room for denial. "I'm irreplaceable."
"You're not the only one," Conner counters, and Tim's mind maps out the forty or so reasons he's right. Luthor's only son counts for all but two of them: Conner is a good man, and he is Tim's lover.
Of course, reasons like he's a multibillionaire are probably weighted higher.
"Tim, be reasonable. Just... okay, don't turn it over, but turn it off."
"You've gotta be kidding me."
"Why?" Conner asks. Tim braces for the whole huge thing, the avowals of innocence and the promises to behave and the just talking, the full meal deal. People try that all the time and Tim's pretty inured to it. But then Conner has to turn around and say the one thing that means something. "Do you really want to bring Batman into this?" he asks, with a lift of one pointed eyebrow.
Tim looks at him, askance. "What do you mean?"
"Well, not to put too fine of a point on it, Robin, but you've been boning a Luthor and I really don't think that's going to stand up too well in Bat-court."
"...That's not strictly untrue."
"Yeah, I figured," Conner says, with a wry smile. "If Batman's anything like my dad."
Tim finds himself smiling back. No, check that - he finds Robin smiling back. "You'd be surprised."
"Probably not as much as you'd think," Conner grins. "Just hear me out. Then, if you still want to call in the cavalry, go ahead. He'll tear the wings off my plane and I'll give him the finger and parachute down while he flies you home."
"I can't imagine what you could say," Tim says slowly, "but you've been remarkably well-informed so far. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't curious where you're getting your intel."
Conner laughs. "And with good reason! Call off the spandex dogs."
Tim pushes the button again. "Delphi, condition: I'm Trusting Somebody I Don't Think I Should But It Seems Necessary For The Time Being And I Therefore Notify All Parties Of A Temporary Ceasefire While I Determine Risk Scenario."
Conner lifts that eyebrow again. "Seriously?"
"It's a safeguard," Tim shrugs. "Any hesitation in that sequence trips a notification at least as urgent as the one I sent out before. If I stumbled over a word, or changed one, Batman would send more help, not less."
"And this time?" Conner asks, an appreciative smile on his face.
Tim returns it. "You won't know until it either arrives or doesn't."
"Well. Okay, then."
"Can we stop flying the death-inducing skies now?"
Conner rolls his eyes. "God, you're worse than Pru. Relax, will you? Statistically speaking, it's still the safest way to travel." He informs the cockpit that things can go back to normal, Tim transmits and then they're left once again, staring at each other across the plane. Conner's eyes wander now; he grabs himself a drink from the bar. "You want something?"
Conner wanders back in and sits down, puts the glass to his lips and keeps it there too long. Tim's a patient guy, but if Conner keeps screwing around like this, the curiosity level's going to get lethal. Finally Conner chuckles, eyes on his hands in his lap. "I don't know where to start."
"Start with what you want from me," Tim suggests. "If it's not something I can do, it'll save us a lot of time."
Conner nods. "Okay. That makes sense. Uh." He folds and unfolds his hands, picks at a fingernail. "Listen, I just want you to know. I mean. I've known lots of people in my life, but there aren't a lot of them who know what I'm about to tell you. It's a big fucking deal to me."
Tim nods, sober, mentally running the odds.
"What I want from you," Conner continues, "is just to... be somebody I can trust. Nobody knows we're up here right now, I mean, nobody knows what we're talking about. Dad thinks I'm infiltrating you, I think, or... I don't know. He wants me to stop seeing you."
"You told me that."
Conner keeps right on going. "The thing is, I told you when you got here, you know... I'm different from people. I always figured I was different than everybody, but you seem to understand things that I'm not really sure I understand, and I need someone..."
"Conner," Tim says, leaning forward in his chair. After so long, after all his training, he can feel secrets hovering in the air like the faces of old friends. "I'm Robin. I know how to keep a secret. So just... tell me. And we'll figure it out from there."
"I'm meta," he blurts out, his wide eyes lifting to meet Tim's. "I can use something they called tactile telekinesis, which is basically - "
"Wait," Tim says, his hand up. "Wait a second."
"- telekinesis, only I have to be touching them, or something they're touching, and -"
"Conner, listen to me."
"- at first it was just strength, so Dad told me I was a meta like anybody else, but when I got older I started to get other stuff, and I guess now I'm kind of invulnerable, only - "
"Conner!" Tim shouts. This time it works, and those startled blue eyes - blue eyes, of course - blink once. Tim's brain is running at six million RPMs; he can't believe what he's thinking but it's plausible, even logical, and that's the impossible part.
"Nobody could understand this but you," Conner says, like it's just slipping away from him and he can't stop it. "Other people get to be superheroes or the sons of world leaders, but only you and me are both, get it? You're the only one, I had to."
Tim can't hold back a short, high laugh. "Man," he chokes out. "I guess. But... I just. Wow."
"I heal fast," Conner offers helplessly. "I don't scar. And I don't really get colds or the flu or anything - that's from my dad. Everything else comes from my mother, but I don't know who she is."
Too many possibilities, too much information. Too many things making sense, and leading to too many new questions. "Does... does Lex know you're here? Telling me this?"
"He knows we're here," Conner hedges. "I don't think he knows I'm telling you, though. He'd probably lose it. Dad doesn't trust anybody."
"This is too much," Tim says, flopping back into his chair. "There's so much to go through, there's things I don't..."
Conner gets up and comes over to hold his hand out. Not knowing what else to do, Tim takes it and is pulled to his feet. They're standing awfully close now, and Conner lays a hand on Tim's arm, his fingers brushing right at the back, where it's warm and sensitive. "Listen, I really need to know something. And this is the most important and only question I have, so pay attention." He's so sincere, so close. "Do you still like me? Even if I have some crazy Weird Science origin story, do you know what I mean about us being alike? Please tell me you do, because I really need you to understand me right now, or I think I'm gonna kind of freak out."
Tim searches his face. It looks like he expects a certain answer, and is hoping against hope that it's a different one than what he thinks. Robin is supposed to turn his heart off, to think with his head and do the right thing, but Tim just needs one look at the expression on Conner's face - the loss he expects - and Robin's had it.
Tim's never been good with loss.
Just one last time, he promises himself, laying a hand to Conner's cheek. And then he hoists himself up on his toes and kisses a Luthor as hard as he can.
Conner doesn't take long to catch up; he wraps his arms around Tim's back and lifts, making their bodies hitch together. It's nice, it's better than nice, but Tim's got the sense not to follow his instinct (repeat leg-wrapping move, test Conner's strength capabilities). Instead, he just kisses his way to a halt, rubbing his thumb over the back of Conner's neck. "Later," he murmurs. "Too much to talk about."
"Nngh," Conner disagrees, pulling Tim's shirt out of his belt.
Tim laughs and fends him off, tugs free of him. "Come on, I have things to ask you."
"Fine," Conner says, rolling his eyes and folding his arms over his chest. "But there are things I won't tell you. I'll protect Dad's interests from your boss."
"Likewise," Tim agrees. "But you're going to have to let me report."
"Later," Conner counters, his eyes narrowing for the bargain. "I want things settled between us before we involve them."
"A unified party line," Tim allows. "Okay."
They make their way to the back of the plane, where a vast couch covers one wall. It's the lounge area, and people have been known to sleep there on trans-oceanic flights. Tim and Conner make their way there and Conner sprawls in the precise corner of the sectional, tugging Tim down after. "Everybody knows Luthors are sinners," he murmurs, nudging his nose into Tim's neck. "I'm feeling greedy."
Tim tacitly approves this development by failing to object.
The next time Conner looks at the clock, two hours have passed. Tim has talked about politics, reputation, God, France and baseball, but he has yet to touch on anything involving the actual words "Robin", "Batman" or "Luthor". Conner keeps thinking he's going to, but after ten minutes of aimless conversation, Conner's hands just get bored and start wandering off on their own, and he really thinks he should not be blamed. He isn't being deliberately evasive. After all, he's invested in answers to some of these questions... just less so than he is in other things. He's in his own private jet, on his way to Hawaii for a sex weekend with Robin. His life cannot possibly get any cooler than it is right now. At some point over the next couple of days he'll ask how Tim got the job - he's wanted to know since he first heard about Batman's kid sidekick. Maybe there's a Boy Wonder Academy or something. But Conner can prioritize.
It's Tim who winds up having to make a firm decision against the mile high club. But they find other ways to pass the time.
"What about Batman?" Conner finally asks, as they idly survey the big screen TV. The in-flight movie is Animal House, because Conner's on board. "Are you sure he's not gonna... I don't know, swoop down and batarang me for seducing his ward?"
"I think we can both maintain a certain confidentiality," Tim tells him an hour later, picking at the fruit tray. Their conversation wanders the gamut, but they always return to the theme eventually. "We're both in an unusual situation, you know? There are lines I think we won't cross, but I... I guess I don't know where yours are. If I did, I would respect them."
"Nothing about Dad's business," Conner says, idly thumbing his way through the latest wardrobe on Rock Band IV. The PS4 is hooked up to the big screen, and he's got the controller in his hand. "I don't tell you, you can't tell Bats; simple. I bitch that Dad won't let me run my own country yet, that's totally fair game. Y'know, basically, I'll just assume that anything I tell you could make it back to your boss, unless I say otherwise. God damn, that shirt is ugly. I gotta get it."
It takes an hour for Tim to finish the freaky, silent conversation with Batman. Or, report. Or whatever it is. He just taps on his phone and frowns at it a lot, that's all Conner knows. When he's finally flips the thing closed, he stomps straight over to the bar and starts mixing a pair of truly vicious screwdrivers. Conner happily tosses his controller on the ottoman and saddles up at the bar to watch Tim toss his drink down and then bare his teeth at the empty glass. "Sometimes I hate him," he says. "He can be such an asshole. But this job is too important, and he's the best. Every time I think I'm ready, he teaches me something else, and I go back to wondering how he got to be so fucking awesome."
"Man, I know what you mean," Conner says, throwing a straight down on the table, jack high. Tim tosses his pair of pairs and Conner scoops the pot. "Dad's a fucking giant. There are times I think I'm doing great for myself because I'm successful; I'm not him, but I'm successful. And then he does something that affects the entire world, including my dinky little project just as an afterthought, and... I'm done, y'know? I'll just go be king of the bush leagues, because nobody's ever going to match up to him."
They run out of things to do with forty-five minutes still on the clock until they touch down. Tim suggests they grab some shut-eye, but it only leads to fooling around on the couch. "There are things I still want to tell you," Tim murmurs, leaning back so Conner can mouth over the muscle on his neck. His hand is strong in Conner's hair, but not guiding anywhere; just present. "There are things I don't know if you know yet."
"Later," Conner mumbles, and makes a necessary adjustment to his jeans before burying his face in skin again.
Ni'ihau's airfield is only a couple of minutes from the Luthor Compound by car. If anybody else tried to land, air traffic would turn them back. LuthorCorp jets bearing family clearance codes, however, come to a halt on the tarmac only to have a black car pull up to take their bags from the cargo hold directly into the trunk. Pru stays behind to talk to the pilot who's going to take the jet back to Metropolis, so Conner holds the car door for Tim and then they go cruising through the countryside. It's been a while since Conner was here, but he really does love Hawaii, and it's not just because he's effectively royalty here. People wave as the car goes by; Conner waves back a couple of times and rolls down the window once to lean his head out and shout a greeting at an old friend.
Inside the car, Tim's wearing the tiniest curve of a smirk. "The king reigns but does not govern."
Conner grins at him. "What is a king? A man condemned to bear the public burden of the nation's care."
"Does Ovid beat von Bismarck?" Tim asks. "I'm new at this."
"It's debatable. I get points for classicism but you get points for being politically relevant. Only Alexander the Great trumps everybody. Or Caesar."
The conversation is interrupted as they top the rise that spreads the great estate before them. Conner sits forward, his eye immediately drawn away from the sprawling, verdant Baroque gardens before them and toward the mansion, where thick black smoke is boiling out of a line of windows in the west wing. His heart skips a terrible, nauseating beat. "Shit! Keola, get me there. Now!"
Their driver nods, grips the wheel and guns the engine toward the mansion. There's people milling around, and as the car approaches they resolve themselves into some of the groundsmen and the Monsieurs Mince. Gabriel is the compound's steward, a heavyset, jolly man. He's in his shirtsleeves, red in the face with exertion, part of a line of people trying to put out the fire. His brother Alain stands by his side, his scarecrow-thin frame clinging to a garden hose aimed at the wall. Conner rushes up to Gabriel, his brain buzzing with the need to do something. "What the fuck happened!?"
"Lamp shorted out," Gabriel growls, puffing breath like a bellows. "I knew we should never have trusted that wiring man."
"It was original!" Alain is puffing twice as hard; he's the chef at the compound, so he's more used to the heat, but this is more hard labor than he usually sees in a week. "An antique. Monsieur Luthor insisted."
Conner's heart is pounding hard, his breath catching against the beat. This house is part of his childhood. He was always with Dad one way or another, but the times they spent here were times he could get his father to relax, to smile. The kids here were never snide to him, like in Metropolis; he has friends in both of the towns. People smiled at them here, and okay, maybe it was because they owned the entire island, but it sure as hell wasn't because they were afraid Dad was going to burn their house down or whatever. There's no competition on Ni'ihau, nobody to hire reporters or assassins or character assassins, there's just a bunch of people who live together on an island, and everybody knows what everybody else is having for supper every night. It's honest here, and now it's burning down, and Conner's gonna throw up.
He feels Tim's hand on his shoulder. "I have an idea," he says, too quiet.
"Grab a hose," Conner says, searching around his feet.
"I have a better idea," Tim says, and tugs at Conner's arm. Conner turns to look at him, confused, but Tim keeps pulling, taking him around the end of the wing and down the other side of the burning room.
"What are you doing?" Conner demands, pulling his arm away. "I have to help them put this out!"
Tim turns and takes Conner by the shoulders, the blue of his eyes shocking bright under the Hawaiian sun. "Conner. I think I can help, but you have to trust me. Don't think; just do what I say. Can you do that?"
Sounds of the world around them fade; the popping glass and the shouts of the men. Conner stands in the courtyard of his home away from home, looks at Robin - at Tim - and the noise evaporates. "Okay," he says.
"I want you to take a deep, deep breath, turn your face toward the fire and blow it out, like a candle. Don't think, just do it."
Conner makes his mind a blank. He takes a deep breath and thinks of candles on birthday cakes, too many for how old he was, of asking Dad what his eighth birthday was like, his fourth, and Dad distracting him with something else. Blow out the candles, Conner. What was your wish?
There's a terrible noise. The flames in the room flicker and die as Conner steps right up to the edge of the shattered window, keeping his breath on the coals until they go black. It's all over in a moment, and then Conner's breathing normally and the men are cheering and the fire is gone.
He turns to Tim, at once angry and awed. "What did you do to me?" he demands, putting his hands on Tim's shoulder. "What was that?"
"Later," Tim says, smiling this all-teeth kind of smile that Conner's never seen him make before, full of light and thrill. "I'll tell you everything later."
"Tell me now," Conner demands, irritated by the frivolousness. Tim knows a secret about what Conner is capable of, and that's unacceptable.
Tim gets cautious right away, his smile tempering down. "I think they're looking for you over there," he says gently.
Conner's eyes go wide as he hears Gabriel's deep voice calling him. "Shit, I forgot all about them! Come on." He doesn't wait for consent, just grabs Tim's hand and pulls. Conner isn't about to lose track of him for even one second.
Back among the staff, Conner inspects everybody for damage. There's nothing serious, just a cough or scratch here and there on smiling faces. He introduces Tim to the Mince brothers, which is hilarious good times as Tim catches on to the fact that Gabriel's last name means "thin" and he really isn't, and Gabe pretending outrage to make Tim squirm. When he finally drops it and laughs his big booming laugh, he asks his brother to add some ridiculously fattening dessert to the menu to commemorate the event. Alain chooses Tiramisu for Tim and crumb cake for his brother, and Conner can't stop laughing.
Then Alain asks if there are two more for dinner tonight. That's his genteel way of saying that if Conner wants a private meal with his new ami, such a thing could be arranged. Conner beams at him - Alain has always treated him like an adult, even when he was just a teenager. He reminds Conner of Dad, and anybody that can do that automatically has a place in Conner's heart. Conner turns the offer down, though. "I think we'll eat in the dining hall with everyone else," he says, and Alain nods with ultimate aplomb.
They tour the drawing room afterward, Conner, Gabriel and Tim. It isn't that bad, really; none of the antiques were harmed and the smoke damage is confined to one wall and a part of the roof. It should be about a two-month job to fix, if they want to preserve the moulding, which Dad will. The whole time they're at this, Conner keeps catching Tim in a strange look. He doesn't say anything aloud, but he's got that narrowed, contemplative look in his eye, as though Conner is doing quadratic equations in Chinese instead of acting like a contractor.
He's about to ask, but then Gabriel distracts him with the last points of business - how long Conner and his guest will be staying, if Mademoiselle Prudence is along as well, the driving range on the west belvedere has been completed and is very popular in the household, and there are a couple of upkeep items that will need attention later. Conner wraps that up and discovers that they've got about two hours to kill before supper.
"Come on," he says to Tim, watching for any hint of what might be going on in that brain of unusual size. "Let me give you the tour."
"I'd like that," Tim says. "This place is beautiful."
"Better than!" Gabe tells him, clapping him on the shoulder. He puts on a terribly sincere face. "Ah, but Conner, désolé, your father's rooms, they are being steam cleaned in anticipation of his summer retreat."
"It's cool," Conner says placidly, smiling on the inside. "We can steer clear of Dad's wing."
"Bien sur," Gabriel bows. "Then I bid you adieu."
Conner gives him a florid bow back, which is totally inappropriate for anybody but the kid who practically grew up with him, and Gabe laughs when Tim doesn't follow suit. "Your friend, he knows his manners. Welcome to Chateau Luthor, Monsieur Drake. I believe you will be well at home."
"God forbid," Tim mutters under his breath, and Conner grins.
They set off through the house, wending their way past chairs and through doors. "Okay. This is the library, here's the ballroom, through there is the piano hall. That's the breakfast room, this here is a bunch of art, and this is the east stairway."
"Wait, what's through there?"
"That's the rotunda and the east loggia, but you'll see them later. Come on, keep up."
"Hey, hold on..."
A tour would be great, Conner thinks, as Tim climbs the stairs behind him. Maybe they'll do that sometime. "That's Pru's room, this hallway spans my wing, and this," Conner says, opening a set of double doors, "is my office. Have a seat."
Tim's stopped right in the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest. He's on the threshold between the cream-and-fluted accents of the mansion and the darker, stronger hues of Conner's private section of the mansion. The light pouring in through the windows shows his lean lines perfectly, and there Tim stays. "Give me one good reason why I should go in there with you."
Conner avoids his chair with effort. When he comes into this office, his first move is usually to get behind his command center and go, but this time is different. He won't be able to throttle answers out of Tim from back there. "Because I have questions," he says, trying for honesty and seeing where it gets them. "And I'm thinking that chatting in the open hallways about that thing we're not supposed to talk about is against you-know-who's protocols." Conner aims a specific look at Tim, and thinks Batman really hard.
Tim rolls his eyes. "Conner, honestly. Your father is Lex Luthor. If nothing else, I think I can count on him to employ discreet household staff."
"Fine," Conner retorts, out of patience. "Fine, Robin, why don't we just-"
He doesn't get a chance to finish before Tim's shutting the doors firmly. "These are soundproofed, right?"
"Of course," he smiles.
Tim scowls deeply and walks straight to the couch to wedge himself into a corner. "I hate that."
"What, being wrong?"
"No, having my bluffs called."
"Sorry," Conner says, still grinning as he drops onto the sofa cushions across from Tim.
Tim scowls harder. "No, you're not."
"Tim, focus. You have some explaining to do."
"You need to never, ever attempt Ricky Ricardo's accent again. Promise me."
"Only if you pony up, spoon bender," Conner insists. He shuffles closer to Tim on the firm leather, meeting his eyes so he'll know if Tim lies, if there's any bit of the truth he leaves out. Conner has a need-to-know. "How did you know I could do... that?"
Tim squints at him, an assessing tightness to his eyes. Conner's seen that look a few times now, and he almost always comes out of it with what he wants, so he allows it. After a second, Tim seems to arrive at some conclusion, and slides a little closer himself. "Okay," he says, so quiet as to make Conner strain to hear. "I didn't know, strictly, but it was a sound hypothesis."
Conner asks what he means, and ten minutes pass.
What he's left with at the end of that time is an endless stream of data and precision knowledge about genetics, industrial espionage and paper trails on a secret project that Conner's absolutely sure will check out. Tim outlines his sources, which include a really blasé description of super Robin ninja recon at Cadmus. The conclusion that comes out of it all is something that Conner is unable to fully process without saying aloud, and he's not sure he can do that. He sits back on the couch and stares at the carpet, all the air gone out of his lungs.
Tim finally breaks the silence, after, touching a hesitant hand to Conner's arm. "You okay?"
"No," Conner says, and his own voice sounds wrong. "I'm not. I'm pretty fucking knocked down."
Tim withdraws his hand and ducks his head. "I could be wrong. Maybe Scion's somewhere else, maybe-"
"Maybe Dad shoved a second genetic hybrid of himself into a secret house in Peoria? ...Actually, Dad might do that."
Tim shrugs. "Anything's possible," he murmurs. "We'd have to test your DNA to know for sure."
Conner looks over at him, completely incredulous. "You want me to take a paternity test with Superman?"
Tim's cheeks turn pink and he hides the baby blues behind his lashes. "He's already on file. I'd just need yours."
Conner processes that for a moment. "Wait, how do you not already have mine? I won't buy for a second that you were waiting for permission."
That's rewarded with a veiled shark's smile. "No," Tim grants. "It's just that if I'd submitted those samples, I'd have had to explain where I got them."
"You're telling me that Batman wouldn't approve of that kind of detecting ingenuity?" Conner raises a dubious eyebrow. "Dad wouldn't hesitate."
Tim's mouth twists, wry. "No, you're right, Batman probably would approve. But I don't want to give him the idea that I'm willing to abuse your trust like that, because if I do he's likely to ask me for further impositions on that trust until eventually he reaches something I won't do, which I will then have to explain. If I entered the data and ran the tests and just didn't tell him about it, he'd find it anyway, and then he'd know I have a serious connection to you that I don't want to compromise, and then once more I'd have to explain myself... and I don't want to do that yet." Tim rubs his hands over his thighs, nervous.
Conner guesses you'd have to have balls of fucking steel to try putting one over on the world's greatest detective. "You've only got so much time, y'know. We haven't exactly been discreet."
"I know," Tim says. "But he's... busy right now. Bigger fish. Odds are good that I have some leeway, and you always play the odds when you have to risk." Conner nods, and then the silence settles again. Tim allows it for long minutes - he's comfortable with silence, Conner's picking that up - and then ventures another question. "You just want to talk about my interactions with Batman? I mean, when there are other things..."
Conner spreads his hands. "What am I supposed to say, Tim? It's not enough I'm a Luthor and a meta, I have to be an alien, too? I have to forget about a mother who might care about me in exchange for my father's worst enemy? What do you want me to say?"
Tim just shrugs, looking about as helpless as Conner feels.
"It's true," Conner offers, and Tim's eyes snap up to match his. It's just how it is, Conner knew it the minute Tim drew the lines for him. "I feel it. Everything about him, I have it memorized because of him and Dad. I know what hurts him and what... aw, shit, it probably hurts me, too, doesn't it? Kryptonite?"
Tim flicks his eyes to the side, thinking about it, but he doesn't say anything.
"Probably," Conner answers for him. "But we'd have to test it to be sure."
The nod Tim makes is small and short and tight and upset. Conner's sorry for that, he is, but there's nothing to be done.
"I'm the son of Superman and Lex Luthor," Conner tries, right out loud, into the air. It hangs there, between them, and then Tim does the impossible and lifts his face, despite the weight of the words.
"Conner," he says quietly. "You are who you are. And the more I get to know you, the more time I have with you, the more convinced I am that..."
"That what?" Conner asks him, needing to hear the answer. He needs to hear something that will mean something. He can't possibly think of what that would be right now, of anything Tim could say to make this even remotely better, but maybe he has some secret translator, some computer that will show him what the answer is. And he fucking better, because Conner's at a loss here. This is too many shocks in one very short period of time, and if Tim can't give him something really fast, he isn't sure what he'll do with all this... need to know.
At home, at the penthouse, he had a test for it. Razor didn't cut him. So how do you test for super-genetics? Conner can think of a couple of things, and as horrifying as they could be, he can't bring himself to be afraid. He's sure they can't hurt him.
He wonders if he might be going kind of nuts.
Tim takes Conner's wrist in one hand, his palm warm on the skin. It's a distraction from Conner's own thoughts, which is nice, so he tries to pay attention. "Bruce is a great man," Tim says quietly. "He's been an excellent father to me in a lot of ways. But he's flawed, just like your parents. We, you and me... we're the things they made in their own image. Better. Improved. Just like all children and their parents, everywhere. I can't imagine how much this is screwing you up, to know who makes up the other half of your genetics, but adopted kids go through the same thing, sometimes. My brother Jason came through the foster system; he talked to me about it."
"This isn't like finding out your biological father is a Sox fan," Conner says, but it's a weak objection. He feels for all the kids out there, Tim and his adoptive family included. Dad might call it a weakness, this rush of feeling for people he never met. Dad would say it was the noblesse oblige guilt of a privileged white male, but it isn't. The hurt he suddenly feels is everywhere, out there. He knows it, and he wants to help.
Conner touches his chest, and wonders if somewhere, Superman is having this same feeling about fathers and doesn't know why. If maybe he always has.
Right now, Tim is operating on about three different levels. The first and most pressing is nigh-total panic.
Robin is shrieking alarms in his head right now. My adoptive father Bruce Wayne, in a discussion of mentors. Sure, Conner's probably already considered the possibility that Bruce is Batman, but the difference between Conner and the rest of the world is that everybody else totally dismisses it. The difference between Conner and an ace reporter is that the reporter would be ground into metaphorical dog meat before he'd get anywhere near the truth, because Batman's giant network of resources would make sure of it. A Luthor, however, given sufficient reason for suspicion, would prove a threat.
But Tim knows perfectly well that anything less than family would never have made it past the noise in Conner's head. Most important, perhaps, is that Tim wouldn't have meant anything else he could have said, and he isn't about to lie.
He isn't going to examine the reasoning behind that just yet, because it might lead to inappropriately timed declarations, and Tim is unquestionably not ready for that.
The second level his mind is whirring past is the testing-and-proof phase. He has already tried and discarded kryptonite; there's too much room for variable, given the amount of kryptonite Luthor's used and maintained proximity to in his life, not to mention whether or not it was used in the splicing process. It could prove more than painful, in point of fact, and so it's out. DNA is a possibility if he can convince Conner to provide a hair follicle, because that's conceivable and not too intrusive. Still, he'd rather not, because if one takes it from Bruce's perspective it's still a betrayal, and Tim has no intention of implying to Batman that he'll betray Conner.
With those two ruled out, things get an awful lot harder, but the best way that Tim can think of to go is also the most fun: take Conner outside and see if he's invulnerable, if he has superspeed, if he can use heat vision. Most of those things are potentially very harmful, so there will need to be safeguards instituted. This would be easier if Clark were on hand, but Clark would tell Bruce because he's way too trusting, and things would degrade from there, so Tim will have to work out safeguards on his own.
The third and final level, operating somewhere in the deepest curls of his cerebral cortex, is the part that demands he deal with Conner's obvious distress as soon as humanly possible. Tim suspects this is the same level responsible for his ineptness at lying to Conner, and is fully cognizant that if it would just kindly shut the fuck up then he could figure out the best way to address what's happening right now, but alas it seems to be this particular portion of his brain that's calling the shots, because every time he starts to sweat about the sure and certain bat-brand insanity that's going to shake down the second Bruce gets wind of this, something makes him look at Conner's eyes, and then it's over.
He's still holding Conner's wrist. So far, the new last son of Krypton has failed to object, so Tim rubs his thumb softly across the thin, warm skin and hopes it's comforting. What he doesn't do is attempt to distract Conner from any potential contemplation of mentors and father figures by bringing up the possibility of brand new superpowers. That's a tactical mistake, to avoid that in favor of this... soothing. You can't afford tactical mistakes with Luthors. But Tim is slowly coming to have a kind of earth-shakingly destructive notion that the word Luthor doesn't necessarily mean what he thought it did, and so he says nothing and thumbs Conner's wrist.
"You don't have to do that," Conner says vaguely. "I'm fine."
Tim hears the lie with ease. It might as well be Nightwing talking. Nightwing has claimed to be okay with a broken arm and a piece of rebar through his thigh. "No you're not," he says, and slides across the couch, nice and slow. He moves his hand up to Conner's shoulder and rubs, presses the tension there.
"Really," he says, eyes fixed on the carpet as he brings his arm down to make space between them. "I don't need to be babied. I'm fine."
"You're lying," Tim tells him. "And this isn't babying."
Conner lifts his gaze to meet Tim's, as serious as Tim's ever seen him. "What is it, then? What do you want?"
Tim blinks, honestly surprised. "Nothing."
"Come on, you can tell me," Conner says, with a wry smile. "You wanna go flying? Maybe some hair for testing? Tell me, I promise I won't get mad."
"I don't want anything," Tim says, feeling the truth of it as he says it. "You just looked like you needed-"
"What?" Conner interrupts, his brows starting to furrow together. "What do I need, a shoulder to lean on in a troubled time? Come on, Tim, you're better than that. I'm not gonna buy you trying to glad-hand and kiss babies. Just tell me what you want and maybe I'll give it to you."
Tim can speak eleven languages like a native. He has equivalent Master's degrees in at least six different subjects, bachelors' in ten more, he's been to 63% of the world's nations and dealt with a variety of cultures. He has had twenty girlfriends and six boyfriends (some of which took place in alternate time streams, some of which, Tim's reputation notwithstanding, couldn't technically be classified as 'dating' relationships, and fifteen of which were superheroes) but never in his life has he been this confused. He suspects it's because he listened to the wrong instinct, and the rest of his brain has abandoned him in retaliation. Still, he can only try.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Tim says clearly, trying as hard as he can to project genuineness, to make Conner believe him. "I don't want anything from you except to listen and support you, if I can. I'm your... boyfriend."
Conner stares at him, searching him for something. Tim doesn't know what it is, but he sits still and tries to let it show. But just as he imagines he can see Conner come back to him, just as he imagines that the storm has cleared, those eyes go diamond hard. The shoulder under his hand tenses completely, the set of his mouth becomes at once foreign and painfully familiar - amused, spiteful, jaded. Tim's whole body goes cold.
"There's a part of me that'd sit here and play this little game forever, just to know how far you're willing to take it, but seriously, I just ran out of patience. Just how stupid do you figure I am?"
Tim blinks, and his mind is white and empty.
"Seriously," Conner says, sitting back against the cushions so his body falls out of contact with Tim's hand. He crosses his arms over his chest, regarding Tim with that terrible twist to his mouth. "I'm supposed to buy that, of all the times you could have picked to come to Metropolis, sleep with me, reveal to me that my other father is Superman and pick up a research lab into the bargain, it all just had to fit into this one narrow window in which Bruce Wayne just so happens to be out of the country? What's he doing, Tim?"
Tim is at a total loss for words. Abandoned. His mind isn't giving him the parameters here, and it also isn't working the angles. Instead there's just a useless hollow feeling just behind his solar plexus. "What game?" he asks, instead of answering Conner's question. "You're playing a game?"
"Please," Conner scoffs. His voice is completely different, everything here is wrong. "So I don't know exactly what's happening out there. I can guess. Dad's already digging into what Wayne Enterprises is up to, and he won't be taken by surprise, no matter how off guard you throw me. He's prepared, no matter what you try, so go ahead. What else do you have for me, Tim? You're fucking good, I'll give you that -"
"Shut up," Tim whispers.
"- it takes a special brand of asshole to use the facts against someone, you know? They say the devil never lies because the truth is always more effective."
There's something happening to Tim's vision, it's blurry. He blinks it away. "You don't know what you're talking about," he says.
Conner laughs. It isn't the right sound, it's not anything he's known from Conner before, it's the kind of sound he used to associate with...
"Come on," Conner demands, and it's become angry now, insistent. "You're done, Tim. You're caught. Quit pretending."
"I'm not," he says, and his vision still isn't clear. The hollow spot is starting to burn around the edges, firing again, again.
One hand catches his upper arm, right near the shoulder. Tim tenses under it, feels the steel strength there. Conner's eyes are piercing, his teeth ground together. "Tell me," he insists, shaking Tim by the arms. Much harder and Tim will be forced to break away. "Tell me what it is, why you keep doing this, why you keep telling me these things, Robin. What do you want? What do you want, what is it?" Conner's voice rises and rises, up through the decibels until he's shouting, grabbing Tim too hard. "What do you want from me?!"
"I loved you," he says, without meaning to. "You were... good."
Conner moves too fast to track, but Tim feels the hand gripping his hair a hair's breadth before Conner's mouth meets his. He bends backward as Conner's hand would seem to indicate and accepts the insistent licks against his lips as cue to open his mouth. He feels only that burn in his chest, spreading.
"Take it back," Conner murmurs against him, pressing him back into the cushions. "You're lying."
Tim knows the answer to this. "I'm not. I loved you."
"Stop saying that," Conner insists, grabbing Tim's collar and ripping the fabric in two like paper. "You fucked me to fuck me over."
Tim stays silent as Conner presses his nipple, rolling it between two fingers. It feels all right, but Tim's had better. "No," he says, and means it both ways. "I loved you, Conner."
Conner shouts again, sitting up, drawing away. "You don't even know who that is! I'm my father's son! I'm Conner Luthor!" There's a red glow limning his eyes, lighting deep in the recesses.
"You are," Tim agrees, lying perfectly still. "And I loved you."
"Tim," Conner says, his voice breaking as he stands up and crosses the room, pacing the floor. "Stop it, please, stop, don't... don't do this to me, I can't, I can't..."
Tim sits up and lets the ruined shirt fall from his shoulders. The leather of the couch catches against his back. In the kind of split second usually reserved for gunplay, Tim decides that Conner didn't mean everything he said before and this is it, this is really him, and so maybe he'll just forgive it all and pretend it didn't happen and maybe it's not all over, maybe it isn't too late. The hollow horror in his chest recedes some, clutching itself into a heavy ball.
"I could love you," Tim says, standing up. Every instinct except one screams that he run; get away from the crazy metahuman with super strength and hide where he won't be hurt, yes, away where he won't be ripped apart. But that one single totally insane urge wins out, pushing him directly into the line of fire, toward the person in the center. Tim puts his hand out to Conner, palm up. "If you let me, I... I could..."
The eyes that meet his are only, purely blue. There's a hurt there that Tim can't fathom, that he only wants to ease. "How?" Conner asks, voice full of broken, jagged glass. He holds out his own hand, faltering. "Why would you ever love me, Tim, when you could have somebody... real?"
Tim grabs his hand and grips it as hard as he can. "You're real. This is real. I'm real, and I'm here with you."
Conner looks away, his face tight with pain, but he holds on.
Tim takes the chance, takes the step. Another, and another, until he's in Conner's arms and Conner is in his, and Tim can use what regular, human strength he has to squeeze those ribs until he feels it. "I'm here," he says again.
Conner's arm hoisting Tim against his chest is no surprise, but it is most certainly welcome. This time, Tim kisses him back, and there's a heart in his chest again. He holds Conner's face and drinks up as much as he can get, barely even registering the movement until he's lying back on a big white bed and Conner's there, he's right there.
Sunlight glows around them. The windows are all draped in thick, soft lengths of white gauze that paint the whole room in light, and Tim has a moment's hesitation when he realizes what that will mean... but no, not now. It's only reflex, anyway; Conner already knows. So Tim puts his hands to skin, where he can find it, and holds on.
Conner shoves pillows off the bed with one arm, and then urges Tim up higher, to lie back. Tim does as he wants, spreading his arms to the side, and as Conner gets a good clear look at the skin there, Tim feels him hesitate, draw in that unnerved breath that every one of Tim's lovers to date has done, no matter how much they knew about who he was. "They were earned," he tries, keeping his voice soft. "I'm not afraid of them."
Conner's fingers are gentle on the bullet hole shadowed on the skin of his fourth rib. His fingernails scrape soft over Cheetah's white claw marks, and then gently feel the texture of the acid scores from Ivy's Venus flytrap. Or, well. Mantrap, really. Damn thing's the size of a house.
There are dozens more. Bruce's legacy, etched in skin.
"Jesus," Conner breathes. "Was all this here before?"
Tim just smiles.
After a second, Conner returns it. "Okay, dumb question." He contemplates them all for a moment more and then leans down to press his mouth to a burn mark. Tim feels the heat of his tongue like fire, and almost laughs.
Conner maps his way across the expanse of scar tissue, of ridges and lines that shouldn't be, that wouldn't be, if Tim were any normal guy. He's gentle and kind with his teeth, his fingers, and it makes Tim squirm against the hold. "Don't," he whispers, finding the back of Conner's neck with his hands, gripping there. "Don't hold back. I can handle it."
"You can't," Conner says, shaking his head, his nose brushing soft over Tim's sternum. His voice is hesitant, though. Tempted. "You're only human."
"Do you want to hurt me?" Tim asks, finding broad shoulders and wishing they were uncovered.
Conner lifts his head, his brows drawn together in confusion and offense. "Of course not," he says. "Why would you ask that?"
Tim touches his face, smiling. "Then I know you won't," he explains. "You'll be careful enough."
Conner shakes his head, his eyes still puzzling it out. Tim takes his hand by the wrist and guides it, drawing it over his own ribs and up, up. He feels the blush bloom over his cheeks as he takes two of Conner's fingers into his mouth, but he still won't look away from those eyes. He sucks once, twice, and then lets his bottom lip drag against them all the way out. Conner's gone blank but for one thought, and Tim pulls at one of his shirt buttons. "Come on," he whispers. "Show me what you got, Luthor."
That red glow fizzles in Conner's eyes again, just for a second, and then Tim's equilibrium erases itself as he's jerked upward in a grip too strong for a man. Conner holds him effortlessly as he settles Tim's body the way he wants it, hot breath warming Tim's collarbone. The kiss that follows is blinding, and Tim has to fight his urge to just melt into it for the ability to tug Conner's shirt open, push it off his shoulders. It catches at his wrists, and the undershirt is just cruel, but Tim gets around that by ignoring it, skipping his fingers underneath the fabric until he can get his whole palm and all his fingers full of the radiant heat of Conner's back. He makes a muffled sound into the kiss, he knows he does, and Conner grips the back of his neck hard enough to make Tim wonder if there might be bruises later on. The idea is... more appealing than he'd have thought.
Conner bites Tim's bottom lip and then draws away, just a hair's breadth of space. "Relax," he warns, and Tim obeys unhesitatingly, making his body go light and flexible. It's a good goddamn thing, because Conner's laying him back on the bed again, but Tim's hips don't go along; Conner holds them a good foot above the bed, enough to shift forward until his thighs are braced under Tim's ass. It's an especially intimate position, and Tim allows himself a moment to close his eyes against the obvious implication.
Conner starts pulling at the belt under his fingers, tugs down Tim's zipper. One broad palm is spread across Tim's stomach, heating the skin there, and the tugging at his hips from the way Conner is deliberately jerking at his clothes is so erotic that it's becoming a distraction. Tim looks up just in time to see Conner decide that his shirt has become an obstacle, and pull it off in one curving, perfect, brain-melting display of musculature. "God help us if you ever decide to go costumed," Tim breathes, his mouth moving before his mind catches up. "Nomex wouldn't hide a fucking thing."
The flash of teeth is unmistakable. Tim's seen it in the boardroom, when Conner's winning. "Like that, huh? Let's see how you feel about this."
He slides his fingers under the waistband of Tim's shorts and tugs them down just enough. His other hand (one hand!) holds Tim's body at the just right level to allow Conner to lean down and press a hot, wet, open-mouthed kiss to the tip of Tim's cock.
It's unbearable. Tim squirms in midair, writhing against Conner's lips. He can hear the sounds he's making, terrible and embarrassingly loud. Between one heartbeat and the next, he makes the mistake of glancing up and finds Conner watching him, an easy gaze straight down the plane of belly and chest. His mouth is red and shining, kissing and rubbing over Tim's dick, and Tim's uncomfortably close to hyperventilating before he finally averts his eyes.
A considerate lover tries to give to his partner, Tim recalls dimly, fighting for coherence. Conner's tugged away Tim's remaining clothing now and is cupping his balls, running his fingers over Tim's thighs and in the heated places between, fairly unassailable from his current position. Tim reaches for him, uncoordinated and distracted, but Conner only ignores him. It's not very fair.
But then, he supposes, collapsing back onto the pillows as Conner wraps a fist around him, sex with a Luthor really wouldn't be, would it?
"I want," he breathes, trying to communicate the concept.
"I know," Conner says. He doesn't understand, but his mouth is making its way across the soft skin just at the crease of Tim's thigh, and the feeling of his voice in such a sensitive place steals Tim's ability to explain. "Look at you, Tim. So fucking hot. Wanna see your mouth on my dick again, maybe when you're Robin. Wear the mask for me someday."
The images fill Tim's head - he could wear the gauntlets, Conner might appreciate the rough touch if he's invulnerable. The cape would be good for a few things. Robin has never been a part of him that he associated with sex in any way, but maybe with Conner it would be... more.
Just like that, he feels that part of his mind wake up. Robin provides Tim with some things he could say, and Tim repeats them verbatim, because every word is accurate and true. "Upside down. Backwards. Oh, yes, please, God. In a mask or out of it, in... in full costume if you want, Conner, oh. Anything. I can do anything. I'm not afraid."
Conner says nothing, just lets Tim rest against his thighs again so he can lean in, cover Tim's body with his own and kiss. Tim wraps his legs around Conner's waist and feels the heavy press of his answering erection, lined up perfectly and separated only by fabric. Their hearts beat together, skin on skin.
"Tim," Conner groans, kissing him again, again. "I gotta ask you something."
Any response Tim might give is muffled by Conner's mouth. As the benefits of kissing outweigh those of talking by about a million to one, Tim wraps his arms around Conner's neck and kisses him back.
"Mmph," Conner notes, his hips starting to hitch.
Tim bites at his mouth, feeling his body hum with blood and heat. How many human beings have mated with Kryptonians? Conner's conquests are a certainty. Lois can be assumed. Clark must have had a high school sweetheart, and one can reasonably count Lex Luthor, so... fifteen? Twenty? "How many people have you slept with?" he asks Conner, scraping teeth against Conner's jaw. The tiniest hint of stubble catches at him. Clark shaves with a mirror and his heat vision; Conner too?
Conner lifts his face. "Why?" he asks, suspicion hovering at the edges of his eyes. "Does it matter?"
Tim blinks. "No, of course not. I was just curious. Don't answer." He rubs his hands down the warm curves of Conner's back and shoulders, over the tight swells of his arms. All this muscle leads the press to believe that Conner's vain - no corporate prince needs to spend that much time in the gym. The thing is, the lat press at the cave bears the marks of a dozen hands, and Tim's seen its work on a dozen bodies, blocky and blunt. The smooth, liquid muscle under his hands outshines that by the strength of a yellow sun, and lying under Conner right now is like being stripped to the skin, the bright rays turning skin brown.
"Six," Conner says, his voice ragged against Tim's neck. "Plus you."
Tim raises his eyebrows, can't help it. He puts his hand against Conner's hair, rubs his thumb along the edge of skin. "I've been with... considerably more. Is that all right?"
"Depends," Conner says, and slides down to run his tongue across the point of Tim's right nipple. "You didn't let me ask my question."
There's the edge of a flirt in his voice that makes Tim think he's kidding, and so he drags one of Conner's hands up to bite and suck at his fingertips. Conner shudders and attacks his chest, reaches down with his free hand to wrap it around Tim's cock and test the wetness there with his thumb. "Ask," Tim says against Conner's palm. "Go ahead."
"The other day. When I took you home."
"When I sucked you off."
"And then you returned the favor."
Conner squeezes his fist on the upstroke and bites down just hard enough on the sensitive skin under his lips to make a cold electric twinge race down Tim's spine. "That," he confirms. "Something happened there."
"I would hope so," Tim says, drawing two of Conner's fingers all the way into his mouth. He tastes like smoke and gold.
Conner runs the warm flat of his tongue over the bite mark, soothing it down. "My question," he says, making his fist loose and limber as he runs it up and down Tim's dick. It's slick and hot and Tim can't keep himself from flexing his hips, looking for more.
Conner won't give it, and it's getting frustrating, getting to be a tease. He's got no right to complain about that, but he doesn't care. "Ask your goddamn question, Conner."
Tim's surprised to feel everything tilt again. The arm's back around him, they're sitting up and Tim's straddling Conner's lap, pressed against his chest and face to face. The expression on that face is so like Clark that it makes Tim do a double take, so understanding and patient and calm. "Have you ever let anybody - any guy - be on top before? I mean."
"I know what you mean," Tim says, completely still at his center. He's tempted. He's really tempted to give the easy answer: I don't bottom. In Tim's experience, most men take that as the clear fact that it is and don't push it, and those that don't want to respect that boundary deserve every broken bone they end up with.
But that would be a lie.
Tim lies as a standard of being. He started to lie when he was four, to his parents, and perhaps it was telling or at the very least unsurprising that he lied to them about Dick Grayson, but it started a trend. Tim lies about being Robin and he lies about being the sole responsible Wayne heir. Creating the fictional dynamics of the adoptive Wayne family, once they decided that taking Tim public was less dangerous than staying private and hoping nobody made the connection, was like a lying symposium from the masters of the craft. Tim bluffs at boardroom tables, he passes himself off as dozens of minor characters in Gotham's criminal organizations, press rooms and streets. He's pulled a con with Catwoman, for Christ's sake, but for some reason that he can't put his finger on, no matter how hard he tries he can't bring himself to tell a bold-faced lie to Conner Luthor.
That's... disturbing. But it's true.
Tim sighs and tries to look away, but Conner touches his cheek with a knuckle. "Hey," he says softly. "Don't."
Tim shakes off the touch, but rests his hand against the back of Conner's neck. He pitches his voice low, because this isn't anything he's said out loud before, and it certainly isn't anything he's thought about in years. He's tried not to. He tries to phrase it in his head, but it doesn't come out right. "I tried. One time."
There's a pause. Conner rubs circles at the small of Tim's back, and says nothing.
"I was with this guy, and we... we weren't really in love with one another. I don't know if we even liked each other that much, but... he was what I needed at the time. And vice versa. He touched me, just his fingers, and I thought it would be okay to try."
"He didn't hurt you," Conner says, almost a non-question, his voice threatening violence if the answer's wrong.
Tim smiles and presses his temple to Conner's forehead for a moment. "No, nothing like that. He wasn't interested in anything I wouldn't enjoy. I just knew before we got anywhere near actually trying it that it wouldn't be with him. I put a stop to it and I haven't wanted to try with anybody since. There were people I knew I could ask, and it would be good. But... I suppose I didn't want good."
Conner nods, and plants a simple kiss at the corner of Tim's jaw. It's nothing, not even an interruption, but it makes Tim smile anyway. Nobody's made Tim smile as much as Conner has. It's like it's against his will, his facial muscles do not respond to his brain because of the Kryptonian pheromones, the Luthor mind control devices. If Bruce could see him, he'd say... well. He'd say a lot of things.
"You can say something," Tim prompts, leaning into Conner's arms. He doesn't want to think about Bruce right now.
Conner kisses his jaw again, warmer this time and more open. "I want it to be me," he says softly, seriously. "I want to be the one to open you up. See your face like that, when you come with me inside you."
Tim can't breathe. He can't breathe. His arms don't work anymore. Maybe it's some form of seizure. Conner licks a warm strip up his neck and then sucks a mark just behind Tim's jaw; his hand slides down to grip Tim's ass, firm and warm and utterly melting.
"You're so. God, I want in."
"Maybe," Tim shivers, knowing he's not being fully honest here. "Maybe we could just. Your fingers, like before..."
"Anything," Conner promises, and Tim can feel the push behind it as Conner lays him back again, kissing whatever skin he can reach. "Let me go grab some stuff from the bathroom, okay? I'm gonna make it so good for you, just. Stay here, okay? Don't move."
Conner long ago released any sense of personal privacy when it came to the good people who staffed the various Luthor manses. When he yanks open the drawers in the bathroom one at a time, he curses each one in turn for hiding his condoms and lube where he can't fucking find them. Turns out they're in the medicine cabinet for some obscure reason, but they have a whole shelf to themselves, so it's easy to choose. Condoms are easy: he skips over anything that could be construed as fancy or scary and just picks out the plain white. It's presuming a lot to even take them out, but Conner's mind is fucking chock full of the best possible images of Tim spread out and begging yes begging for more of his cock oh God and Conner has no intention of stopping for supplies even one more time if Tim says yes so the condoms are coming and that's how it fucking is.
It's the lube that poses an issue. He doesn't even stock KY, because it's cold and a seriously unsexy consistency, plus also he found some in his father's bathroom one time which obviously had to have been some for sort of medical purpose, but even that's a grossly unsexy association, so. He's got three flavours plus some kind of warming stuff, and then there's the standby Astroglide. Conner hurriedly agonizes between the last two and the strawberry one before finally picking up the warming stuff. If he's bothered by the intimacy implicit in fucking, he's probably not going to go for rimming. And if fingering is as far as it gets, he wants Tim to fucking love it, to want it again.
A strip of three condoms goes in his pocket. He's young. You never know. The lube he carries in his hand, along with a pair of warm, damp washcloths out of the steamer. Consideration and preparedness are key.
Jesus, he's so nervous. Conner stares into his own eyes in the enormous mirror, worrying at his lip and absently checking his hair before going back to breathing, deliberate and slow. His heart's pounding, he wants Tim so much but he's scared to fuck it up, to be the first one, and if Tim were anybody else maybe Conner would think it was stupid and wrong to show fear because he's a Luthor.
But it's Tim. He's got enough money to do anything Conner does. He won't be shocked by anything Conner can accomplish with money; if they need to solve a problem with a check, it's going to be a question of who can write faster, because Tim thinks like that. He's not insecure or unhappy with who he is, and as if that weren't enough, he's not going to let the law stop him from doing what he thinks is right. He's a vigilante. Tim is the only person in the world who makes Conner feel like he can just be what he is, and like he's not a freak for it. And so Tim is the only person in the world, aside from his father, whose opinion matters.
What if he fucks up? What if he doesn't...
"Conner?" Tim asks, standing at the door. Conner looks over and finds him completely bare, as comfortable naked as if he were in his own home. The pearled scars criss-cross his body like satellite maps. "What're you doing?"
Feeling pathetic, he lifts his towels and bottle. "Looking for these. Got 'em."
"I see that," Tim says, the corner of his mouth twitching as he steps in close and brushes a hand over Conner's chest. His eyes follow his fingers, brushing collarbone and sternum, tracing down the treasure trail until they land on his belt. Tim leans closer, pushing his fingers underneath to grip the fabric, and his mouth is right there, so close. "Lose the pants and get your ass back to bed," he whispers against Conner's lips, and then he's turned away, walking back into the bedroom like he fucking owns the place.
His curved, tight, apple-perfect ass flexes as he walks, and Conner practically floats after him like a cartoon skunk with hearts around his head.
Tim climbs onto the bed with ultimate grace. Cats are jealous of this guy; his moves are precision, nothing wasted. He glances over at Conner and lifts an eyebrow.
Oh, right. Pants.
Conner drags them off in a few obvious, ungainly motions. They drop at his feet and he kicks his way out of them, putting stuff on the bed as Tim lies back, puts his arms over his head and closes his eyes. When Conner looks back, he figures he's ready, but he didn't quite see Tim reach one of those hands down and put a light grip on his own dick, stroking slow. Conner can't resist lying down beside him, kissing that reddened, perfect mouth and just... helping out.
Tim laughs, low and gentle, and pushes his hand away. "Come on," he murmurs, right up against Conner's lips. "Don't get caught up in the details. I'm dying to see what the washcloths are for."
"One's for later," Conner grins. "We'll need it."
Tim lowers his lashes and lets his lips part to show a glint of teeth, which Conner is coming to understand as a sly smile. "Understood."
Conner grabs one rolled white cloth from the bedside table, shakes it out and covers Tim's thigh with it. "The warmth helps you relax. I've got one of the steamers at home, too; they're great for when you get off work. Slap one on your shoulders or behind your neck and just take fifteen, y'know?"
Tim hums an acknowledgement, closing his eyes. Conner feels the bed shift as Tim opens his thighs, and his eyes are immediately drawn down to look, to watch. "Go ahead," Tim says, rubbing his thumb over the head of his dick. Conner's mouth is watering. "Sounds nice."
He covers the cloth with his hand, just resting on Tim's thigh. It shifts under his hand, restive, and Conner tugs the heat away and down, between.
"Cold," Tim complains, soft.
"You'll warm up," Conner assures him. He lets the cloth rest in just the right spot, and when he's kissed Tim's mouth and his chest, and maybe taken a bite or two on a sensitive area, he starts to really touch.
The cloth mutes sensation. That's what it's for. He just massages with his thumb along the inside of Tim's thighs, just behind his balls, and then lower. Tim makes a particular sound, something unsure and turned on and unsure, so Conner kisses him again, deep and numbing. Blunt fingernails press imprints onto Conner's shoulder, and he hums into Tim's mouth and lets the cloth drop.
"There you are," he whispers, his fingers sliding over the damp, heated skin. It's all smoothed here, not a mark on this skin. Untouched, Conner can't help but think. Private. He only touches, only on the outside. He doesn't push, not yet.
Tim's tension bleeds away after while. It's there, Conner can feel it in the arms and chest underneath him, but it seems to come away in his hands. He keeps kissing Tim's mouth, which is good all by itself, and he's sure that he had a plan after that, but then Tim's hand slides in - sneaky - and takes Conner's dick in a light grip.
"Mmm," Conner murmurs, right into Tim's mouth. "You can keep doing that."
"I know," Tim whispers back, a smile in his voice and his eyes if not on his mouth, and starts to gently stroke.
They stay like that, wrapped together. Sometimes Conner cups Tim's balls, plays with the soft skin there, wanders before coming back to base. Tim squeezes just so, dabbles his fingertips in the wetness that wells at the tip, which isn't inconsiderable; Tim's hand slides easily. It's warm and close and perfect.
When things seem ready, Conner leans back and grabs the lube off the table. He explains what it does and Tim examines the bottle with a certain professional interest. Conner slicks his fingers, takes hold of Tim's dick and demonstrates, and very shortly afterward, Tim loses interest in the ingredients. The sun dims then as a few clouds roll across the sky. The breeze picks up some, tossing the drapes.
There's something addictive about Tim's mouth, Conner thinks, kissing it heavily as he lets his warmed fingers slip down, down, down. Tim's half wrapped around him, a hand on his dick and his breath coming faster. Conner kisses him once more, no, okay, one more, and then lifts away enough to talk. "Tell me," he says, rubbing slick circles with his fingertips over the delicate opening. "If there's anything you don't like, if you want me to stop."
"I will," Tim assures him, his breath hitching and his body gone pink and flushed. The wind picks up again, flipping a bit of gauzy drapery close enough to the bed that it brushes Tim's side, makes him shiver.
With infinite care, Conner kisses him again, and allows his finger to slide in, in, in. Tim accepts it beautifully, only tensing once or twice, and Conner watches him grip his dick tighter, making up for it.
"I'll suck you if you want," he murmurs, getting ready to slip down there, take Tim in his mouth while he opens up.
But he has to stop when Tim tightens the arm around Conner's neck, gripping him hard. "Stay," he says, breathless. His eyes are almost gray in the low light, the color of the storm clouds rolling in. "I need you."
Conner settles back where he was without hesitation. "I'm right here," he says, shifting his fingers just so, just gently. He gathers Tim close with his free arm, kisses his head and his cheek. "I'm here."
Tim only lifts his hips, asking without words.
Whispering assurance, questions, making sure, Conner slips another finger into that unbelievable heat. Tim grips his shoulders, ignoring his dick entirely, just cocking up that one knee and pushing against Conner's hand. He won't close his eyes; sometimes he can't look away from the ceiling, but he doesn't shut them. A third, and Conner's done, he's sure he can bring Tim off just like this. "Let me," he whispers against Tim's ear, kissing what skin he can find. "You'll look so good, so hot just like this. I can make it good like this if you let me, Tim, God, you look..."
"No," he gasps, his voice catching deep in his throat. "No, Conner. I don't want good." Conner doesn't dare to breathe, but Tim catches him at the jaw, makes him meet those storming eyes and listen. "I want you to do it," he says, and though his face is perfectly composed, his body shows his need: he's sweating, pink and warm, his heart beats fast, faster in his chest. Conner can hear the hectic, rushing beat.
The condom's on in seconds, wrapper skittering away across the floor, and then Conner lets himself ease down between Tim's legs. "Face to face is better," he says, running his hands over those strong, capable thighs. "But if you turn on your front it'll be easier."
"Better," Tim says instantly, pushing his knees further apart. "I don't want it easy."
Conner drops down, plants a hand on either side of Tim's chest and kisses him, deep. There's no hesitation for Tim; he just lifts his knees to either side of Conner's hips and kisses back, his arms wrapped tight around.
Conner wants desperately to say something, to talk. He wants to tell Tim how fucking gorgeous he is, how good, wants to tell him how amazing he feels. But when he reaches down and takes himself in hand, all he can say is lift your knees up, that's good, now breathe. Breathe for me.
Tim breathes. Outside, it starts to rain.
He's prepared and ready, and when Conner sets his hips to oh-so-slowly push inside, it's practically torture not to just do it. The heat, the grip of muscle that's almost too intense, God, yes, it's perfect, and Conner's whole head is swimming, blank and desperate.
Tim stares at the ceiling, his eyes wide open, his mouth gone soft. He's splayed across the bed, just breathing. He doesn't beg or scratch or anything, he just takes it, and Conner can almost see him cataloguing every sensation, the burn and the stretch of it. He waits for Tim to be ready, to finish, because he's starting to understand how it works. When Tim understands it, it's all right. Until then, the world is wrong.
Finally, heartbeats and shivering breaths past, Tim moves his hips. It's a tiny bit, just a shift, but it makes him moan and tense around Conner's dick, and that echoes straight through to Conner's whole being.
"Can I move?" he breathes, suddenly desperate to, and Tim nods quick, wide. His hands reach up, blind, and so Conner braces over him again and very gently rocks his hips.
"Jesus fucking Christ," Tim says, perfectly clear and articulated. His nails are digging into Conner's shoulders again, his body a bowstring, and so of course Conner does it again. A slow, measured shift that pulls him out and then pushes back in again, and underneath him, Tim turns wild.
The flash from a lightning strike flares through the room, and an instant later there's a deafening crash of thunder. The rain roars at the windows, blowing against the glass.
Conner makes his measured, heavy thrusts with every hair on his body standing on end, and Tim is shouting and clawing at his skin. He isn't making any sense - harder, please, Conner, don't, I need, God, Conner - but he still sounds perfect. His body is an inferno; Conner's burning up in him. Can't catch his breath, can't hardly remember where he is or why, but for this purpose, this urgent, desperate need to fuck Tim as thoroughly as he possibly can.
"Listen," he hears himself say, reaching between Tim's thighs to take hold of his dick, stroke and press and squeeze. "I want to tell you."
Tim's not listening, really, not to listen to his words. But there's a grip to his hands, his knees, that makes Conner think he can hear. He leans close to Tim's ear and drives in hard, God, perfect, he's so perfect, and with a blind kiss, he whispers.
"I love you, too."
Tim comes instantly. The storm gathers inside him, there is a moment of perfect stillness, and then he makes a warm, heavy sound and jerks in Conner's hands, pulls at Conner's being, and falls apart. Fucking him while he is boneless and full of this ecstasy is like finding paradise, and Conner reaches for it until it finally catches up to him, breaks over his back and runs down like water. He's shipwrecked on Tim's shoulder when he comes back to himself, his heart racing. Tim holds him and shudders with aftershock, and Conner wearily kisses whatever should happen to present itself.
They cling together afterward. Conner kicks the bolster until it covers them, and they just hold on. The storm rages at their windows, rattling the frames, but they are safe inside together, and nothing can go wrong.
Eventually, they make use of Conner's towel. "I'm the most thoughtful boyfriend in the world," he teases Tim, rubbing the cloth over his own belly. "It's okay, you can say it."
"You're something, all right," Tim says, dry as the Sahara. It makes Conner smile, and they thump together again.
They talk quietly about nothing: favorite food, favorite movies. Tim is a Sean Connery purist, but Conner can't understand why anybody buys a Scottish guy as 007. "I'd make a great Bond," Conner says, folding an arm under his head with a smile.
"Say 'Moneypenny'," Tim retorts.
They burrow under the actual duvet, when the house starts to cool. There comes a tap on the door that Tim doesn't hear. "It's Pru," Conner grins against his ear. "I can hear her breathing."
"Maybe she'll think you're having sex and go away," Tim grumbles, wrapping his arm around Conner's waist.
Conner takes a deep breath and sighs longingly. "But she has Alain's supper tray. He made steak."
There's a long pause, and then Tim makes a distressed noise. "I'd have to put on pants."
"You stay right here," Conner says, kissing his forehead. "This is how amazing I am." He stands up and hustles over to the door, grabs a long white robe from a hook on the back of the door, and pulls it over his shoulders. Out of the corner of his eye, he catches Tim pulling the duvet over his head until all that's left is a few black spikes of hair poking up over the pillow. Conner whips the door open and holds out his hands. "Give me the steak and nobody gets hurt."
She looks perfect, as always. "You're a riot. Here." She shoves the silver tray at him and then plucks her notebook from among the wine and roses and flips it open. Conner tries to go back inside, but she catches his arm. "Hold it, Prancer. Daddy wants status."
"You have to stop calling him that," Conner complains. "It was cute when I was eleven. Now it's just creepy."
"You were never eleven," Prudence retorts.
Conner smiles at her sweetly. "My point exactly. I have steak to love. Tell Dad... tell him you couldn't get a straight answer out of me. Tell him I was addled by sex."
"You are addled by sex."
"It's good that you think that. Nobody can lie to Dad. I'll see you in the morning. Go take a bubble bath or something."
Prudence raises her voice to holler into the bedroom. "Leave something in his head, Mister Drake!"
Tim huddles further under the covers and Conner shoulders the door shut. "Thanks for stopping by, Pru. Jesus."
They hear the bathwater running in her suite a few minutes later. Tim sends a holding pattern over his blackberry, which is the weirdest design ever when Conner gets a look at it up close. Tim explains that he built the damn thing, which is crazy. Conner nearly offers him a job at LuthorCorp (the autopilot response to competence) before he catches himself.
After a while, Tim decides they need to get out of bed or risk becoming one with the sheets. They shower, which is an exercise in futility as they only wind up getting dirty again. When they're both wrapped up in Conner's robes, Conner leads Tim through the office and into the TV room. Tim examines the system and asks some questions, but gets bored when he determines that it's only for entertainment. He drags Conner into the sitting room, then, and spends an hour exploring the library that Conner's started. It's his father's philosophy that you should be able to gauge the value of every man by the books he surrounds himself with, and Conner has acquired in accordance with that philosophy. Conner talks in measured, quiet tones to Tim about what it means that his memories of Dad reading the first edition Robert Louis Stevenson books to him were piped into the maturation chamber he floated in, until they cracked him out of it.
"I don't know," Tim says softly, his fingers resting on the spine of a book older than he is. "But if it were me, it would mean something that my father read to me, even if he had to go through an oxidized nutrient bath to do it. I wonder how they jump-started your digestive system."
Conner wraps his arms around Tim from behind and lays a kiss on the back of his head. "You are a giant freak."
"Clones in glass houses," Tim says, leaning into Conner's chest.
Conner makes a mental note to get some books on genetics.
Tim doesn't get sleepy, it seems. Like, not ever. Conner finally hints that they might want to think about it, and Tim gets a look in his eyes that might be sadness, might be amusement. "Do we have to?" he asks, the faintest hint of wry humor in his eyes. "If we sleep, soon it'll be morning."
Conner smiles at him, at the way he plays without seeming to. "I know what we'll do. Come with me."
He holds out his hand, and though Tim gives him the eyebrow of skepticism, he takes it and follows along after. Back into the bedroom and out the other side, Conner leads Tim into the loggia. Right here in the center, the stone is still dry, the fluttering thick draperies having caught out most of the rain. Between the pillars, the night sky is black as the devil's heart. Conner wraps his arms around Tim from behind, and rests his chin on one strong shoulder. "We'll just stay here until the storm breaks," he says, pointing out toward the horizon. "And then we'll find the second star from the right, and go straight on 'til morning."
Tim laughs, he actually laughs out loud. It's a small sound, but perfect, all the same. He rests his hands on Conner's and gazes out at the wind and rain as though he sees something beautiful. "And will we be young and play forever, Peter?"
Conner presses his lips right beside Tim's ear, making sure to hold tight. "Just don't look down, Wendy."
Of course, it's the first thing Tim does. He tenses, his hands and his back, his whole balance shifts. Conner holds him firm, and after a long moment, he lifts his head.
They're about halfway to the ceiling now.
"I didn't even bring you a thimble," Tim says, his voice eerily calm.
Conner knows what that calmness hides, and brushes his mouth against Tim's neck. "I know what a kiss is."
"I guess you do," Tim breathes.
It's some time before they come in, and when they finally do, they climb into bed together and sleep.
Conner wakes up only once, an indeterminate time later. Tim is at the window, staring out at the storm. Conner drifts off again between long minutes of waiting for him to move.
It's a knock at the door that wakes Conner again, sharp and serious. He starts into wakefulness, notes the dawn light filtering through the drapes and rubs a hand over his face. "Come in," he calls, out of habit.
The door opens to admit Pru, and Conner has the belated impulse to whip around and check for Tim - whose heartbeat is in the TV room, with the volume way down. He's watching the news, something about Iraq.
Pru walks straight to the bed and she's holding a phone. Conner immediately sits up against the pillows and scrubs his hands over his eyes. She waits until he's shaken himself out and nodded he's ready, and then hands the phone off with a very serious look drawing her face. Soundlessly, she mouths a word to him: unhappy.
Conner breathes deeply, and then puts the phone to his ear. "Dad."
"I know I haven't called. I've been distracted."
Dad's voice is edgy. "I heard. Gabriel sent me the repair estimates."
Conner winces. "The damage looks superficial," he tries. "Two months, tops."
"I don't know if I accept your assessment, Conner," his father says. It's evened out now, calm as a sleeping snake, and calm means bad, and talking about minor things as code for major things means bad, and this is just bad on several levels.
"Dad," he tries, keenly remembering the time he was caught trying to steal a traffic light, because the conversation was about this awkward. "I've had a look at the site of the fire. It looks confined to the first floor. We might get away with a sweep and mop up on the loggia. Maybe, on the outside, we have to refinish some of the stone. But it's definitely manageable."
There is a pause, and it's too long. Conner can hear the wheels turning, and nothing good ever comes of Dad having too long to think. He's trying desperately to think of something, a suggestion, but he's not fast enough.
"I think I'd like to see it for myself," he says, almost idly.
Conner goes cold. He can't mean...
"Take some pictures and bring them with you," Dad continues, and Conner can hear the smile in his voice. "I'll trust you to find the right angle."
"Dad," he warns, stressing the word heavily. "I'm not sure I'm that great a photographer."
"You'll manage," his father says, confidently. "I want you to come right back. There's no time to waste."
"...I thought you had the jet. Shouldn't you be in Seoul right now?"
Dad's voice is without inflection of any kind. "I was concerned about you, Conner."
"Okay," Conner hurries to say. "Okay. I'll find a way."
"Good. See you at home."
"Bye, Dad." He hangs up the phone and hands it off to Pru with a scowl. "Call the airfield and tell them to gas up the jet. We're leaving."
Pru blinks. "Leaving? But we just got here." Conner gives her a flat, steady look, and she lifts her hands. "Okay, okay, Mister Luthor. I'll tell them. How soon do you want to go?"
"Soon as we can," Conner says, flipping back the covers and rolling out of bed. Pru modestly turns her back, which Conner pays no attention to as he pads into the bathroom. "I'm gonna grab a quick shower and then I wanna be in the car."
"Okay. We'll be ready. Is Tim leaving too?"
Conner hesitates just a bare second. "I don't know yet. Probably."
"Gotcha. Go shower."
It isn't relaxing or long. Conner scrubs down fast, wraps a towel around his waist and then intercoms Pru to make sure there's a suit waiting for him on the plane. He runs through the particulars of getting ready - de-fuzz for the hair, a shave, deodorant and cologne - and then it's time to face the music. Conner sighs into the mirror, decides to keep the towel for now, and then heads for the TV room.
As he suspected, Tim is showered and dressed in a pair of Conner's drawstring pajama pants and a spare t-shirt. "Hi," he says, muting the TV. "Didn't wake you, did I?"
"No, no," Conner says, dropping down onto the couch beside him. "Dad did. I've been called back."
Tim's eyes go narrow. "Hm."
"Yeah," Conner says, with a smile for how Tim already knows there's trouble coming. "He's, um. He's asked to meet you."
The narrowness is obliterated by the dinner-plate eyes that follow that statement. "Your father wants to meet me," he repeats, not really asking. "Conner... I don't know if I can do that."
"Well," Conner says, slapping his knee. "The jet's probably ready for us now, and I have to go. I have no choice. But if you come with me, it's just the Metropolis airport. You can call your bodyguard before we leave and have him waiting to meet you."
"He's not really my bodyguard," Tim says absently, chewing his bottom lip.
Conner thinks about that for a second, and finds it makes perfect sense. "Oh."
"I suppose I do need to be on the plane, regardless." Tim stands up and heads for the connecting door. "Come on, he hates waiting."
Conner follows after him, ditching the towel on the way. "I know that. Wait a minute, how do you know that?"
"It's mentioned in his file," Tim says, switching Conner's pajamas for real clothes.
Conner loses a few minutes watching, and then goes to very cautiously zip up a pair of jeans. When they're ready they head down to the front doors. Tim blushes hard upon seeing Pru, which she thinks is charming. She doesn't say so, but Conner can tell, and he very nearly warns her off before remembering that she already knows Tim's taken. It's not a far drive to the plane, and they're in the air within the hour.
"Oh, you got problems, little brother." Dick's voice over Delphi's scrambled channel is tinny, but clear. "He is going to kill you."
Tim shifts a little so the tap on the sink won't press directly against his ass. He's wired directly into the wall, so he's got limited movement even in a bathroom that, by most air standards, is palatial. "I doubt that," he says, as quietly as possible. The directional mike will pick it up. "He has a very close relationship with Conner; I don't think he'd-"
"Not Luthor," Dick says, with not a little duh, idiot in his voice.
Tim swallows hard. "Oh. Him."
"Yeah, him. He's leaving for Metropolis in an hour."
"No, no," Tim says, rubbing a hand over his head. "He can't beat me there; that's not doable."
There's a long pause over the line as Dick starts to panic. Tim can practically hear it happening; the sudden absence of movement sounds, the careful, measured tone. "You're not seriously considering going."
"He's going to kill me," Tim echoes, showing the edges of his own panic to the one person who'll get it. Nightwing isn't the only person who knows what it's like to be Robin, and Dick isn't the only person who understands how aggravating it is to love Bruce Wayne, but he's definitely the only one on Earth who can give Tim advice on how to do both at the same time.
"Not really," Dick counters.
"He's going to fire me."
"...Okay, he'll probably try that."
"I can't deal with this right now. Caesar's commanded my presence, Dick; what if he knows I'm Robin?"
"We have contingencies for this," Dick reminds him, making his voice soothing. "He's already implemented half of them, okay? Robin's grappling across Gotham right this minute."
"Poor Cass," Tim winces. "She hates that suit."
"Yeah, believe me, I know." Probably hours of the silent treatment, Tim thinks, with sympathy. Dick musters his optimistic voice again. "Listen, seriously, you can't go. If he's gonna get you anywhere, he'll get you there. There's no exit."
"I don't know," Tim says, picking savagely at a fraying thread on his jeans. "What if he just wants to figure out whether I'm a match for Conner? What if he's just... being a dad?"
"It's Lex Luthor," Dick says, the roll of his eyes almost audible. "Come on, man, use your head. Even if you're just the Wayne heir..."
"I'm a valuable commodity," Tim nods. "I should be expecting either assassination or a recruiting drive."
Dick laughs, easy and comfortable. "I can't believe we're actually talking about this."
"Like it's the weirdest thing we've talked about."
"It's up there, kiddo. You wanna go get wined and dined by one of the biggest and baddest of the big and bad."
Tim's heart is ricocheting off his ribs, but he nods. "I am. But hey, as a possible upshot, Luthor's penthouse is arguably the most heavily guarded place in the world. I won't be in danger from anybody but him while I'm there."
"This is a true statement," Dick says. Tim hears a sharp tap and a bouncing sound; he's probably playing nerfball. There's a basket with suction cups buried at the bottom of one of the lockers that Bruce hasn't caught them with yet. He doesn't approve of nerfball in the cave.
"Okay," Tim says. "I'm going."
"Don't die. I expect a call going in and a call coming out."
"I expect confirmation of your continued existence every half hour on the half hour, by the cam in the lobby if necessary."
"I'm not sure I can do that," Tim hedges. "Every hour?"
Dick makes an irate noise. "I hate that, but fine. Do not eat or drink anything Luthor gives you."
"I doubt he'd be gauche enough to poison me," Tim says. Dick begins a protest, but Tim cuts him off. "And if he's just being a responsible father, I might as well cross my arms over my chest and answer him in monosyllables."
"Don't even joke about that," Dick says, the smile volume up full blast. "It's not time yet. You're too young. And handsome and personable and not nearly brooding enough. And, you look terrible in all black."
"You're so clever."
"I'm often told."
"Jesus. Dick, I can't even figure out what persona to wear. How am I going to pick my suit?"
"Calm blue oceans, Tim. Calm blue oceans. Wear something with yellow in it; Junior wears blue and Luthor wears purple. Yellow complements both without being all, hello, I'm here to have a bunch of sex with your son."
"Whoops, sorry," Dick says, completely irreverent. "I was talking about oceans."
Tim tries to absorb as much relaxed charm as he can before he hangs up. He'll need every drop of it he can get. And it's not like it doesn't work, in a sense; Dick has a way of making every insane situation seem... well, not less insane so much as more rewarding. Certainly it's easier to be confident, which is nice when you're jumping out of a plane without a parachute, breaking into NORAD, or going for drinks with your boyfriend's psychotic father.
When Tim finally ducks back into the cabin, Conner's waiting to switch places. His stint in the bathroom is about a half hour. Tim puts the time to good use by calling Martín and making arrangements to avoid Batman. There are precious few things that work in that regard, but Tim knows them all.
Eventually Conner emerges, brushing invisible lint off his pinstripes. The sleeves of both jacket and shirt are just a hair too long, and it makes the cut appear traditional, but also sleek and modern.
Tim spends a few pleasant seconds figuring out the best way to remove that suit in the shortest amount of time.
"You're staring," Conner says absently, looking himself over in one of the mirrors.
It's funny, Tim thinks, how Cerruti is like Conner's version of kevlar. He puts it on, and suddenly he stands differently. His bearing is that of his father: tall, relaxed and regal. If Tim didn't know better, he'd suspect Conner of having a gun hidden somewhere amongst those perfect lines. He's not a completely different person, but there's a definite shift.
Conner moves toward the bar, pours himself a scotch. Tim expects him to belt it back, but instead he just carries it to one of the chairs and lays his body into it like a cat in a sunbeam. He holds the glass up to watch the light pick out sparks of diamond and amber, looking quiet and contemplative. "Did Bruce ever meet any of your lovers?"
The question is such a paradox that Tim is momentarily taken aback. He thinks hard about how to phrase an answer that is both discreet and faithful before giving it a try aloud. "Bruce has an investment in my personal life, but we both prize a certain well-earned privacy. I haven't brought anybody home to meet the family, if that's what you mean."
"Lucky," Conner smiles. "And not. Dad is kind of a trial by fire, but at the end you always know what they're in it for."
Tim raises an eyebrow. "Really?"
"Guess you'll find out," Conner says, taking a cautious sip from his glass. "If you come with me."
"I'm thinking about it. You must know that I'm worried about my safety."
Conner shakes his head. "Dad wouldn't do anything to you, not with me right there. And if he did, I'd get you out of there myself."
"No go," Tim announces, chewing on a thumbnail. "Even presuming you aren't sensitive to kryptonite, Luthor has a TAC nuke's yield worth of military grade ordinance on that roof and most of it's heat seeking. It might not hurt you, but I'm not invulnerable."
"Tim," Conner says. The smile in his tone makes Tim look up, and Conner's face is a study in affection, faith and fearlessness. The jagged edges of Tim's nerves lie down, and the extra skip in his heart smoothes away. "You're with me," Conner explains, like the most natural thing in the world. "You won't be hurt."
Tim smiles. He puts a conscious effort toward smiling, because he needs to show confidence and trust. Conner smiles back, then reclines in his chair.
Here's how it works, in order from most to least important:
Assumption #1: Conner is trustworthy.
Assumption #2: Lex Luthor will want to avoid harming his only son.
Assumption #3: Conner values Tim's life more than familial loyalty.
These assumptions are based on probable truths and combine to form a probable outcome that Tim can plan for. He will go to the Luthor penthouse, he will find out what Luthor wants with him, and then he will re-evaluate based on that information. He's been avoiding contingencies, but they'll be in Metropolis in approximately five hours and he's got limited time, so Tim leans back, closes his eyes and lets himself assume the worst.
If Conner has played him since the beginning, it will be painful and distracting. That's why a plan is crucial. Tim doesn't believe that he knew he was half Kryptonian, and if Tim has to, he can play on that to neutralize or distract. But if Conner has betrayed him, that at least will mitigate the sense of guilt that Tim will feel for taking him hostage to escape the building. Luthor may or may not care whether Conner is hurt, but the overwhelming majority of the people and electronic systems Tim will encounter on his way out of the building will assume that Luthor definitely cares. Conner's his best shot.
Martín has been apprised of the need to implement a code green, and will meet the jet at the airport with a fresh suit and a lead-shielded compartment full of kryptonite. The odds are acceptably small that it'll kill Conner outright, if it becomes necessary to expose him. It's overwhelmingly probable that it will simply weaken him over time, as it does Clark.
It's also possible that Luthor has a kill switch or control over Conner which forces Conner's compliance against his will. Tim will stick to plan in this event, but once he's escaped the building with Conner, he will have to get him to a Bat cave instead of turning him over to the authorities. This will be a much harder mission, but there is no alternative.
If Conner switches sides at any point, willing or not, then Luthor already knows that Tim is Robin. He will likely be attempting to take a hostage against Batman, or possibly Superman, and hoping to distract Tim with Conner's betrayal long enough to get past Batman's training. There's only one other goal Luthor could have in regard to Robin: recruitment. It's possible that Tim will be presented with the choice of joining the Luthor family - in both agenda and fact, with Conner as the carrot. So to speak. Luthor will cite Tim's solitary life, and he'll be prepared. Tim has to assume he'll know about Robin's history, and bring up the most painful emotional things he can find. It will be important to allow those hits to strike their mark, to show pain. Then, Luthor will imagine that Tim wasn't expecting it. They'll dither over ethics and then Tim will accept the offer. Bruce will be furious at the risk, but he'll get over it; the opportunity to become a mole in Luthor's operation is too good to turn down.
Of course, this is all presuming that Tim's assumptions are false. As he told Dick, it could simply be that Luthor wants to meet the person dating his son. Tim can probably expect intimidation tactics and some interrogation, but he can handle that, and it's no less than Bruce would do if...
This time, Tim's smile is legitimate. The thought of what Bruce would do to Conner to assure his integrity, given the opportunity, is horrifying at best and ethically impossible at worst.
"What's so funny?" Conner asks.
Tim meets his eyes. "Just imagining what this meeting would be like if you were the one meeting my father figure."
Conner shudders. "I think I could probably go my whole life without meeting Batman, thanks."
"Agreed," Tim murmurs, and goes to get a drink.
Sitting in the back seat of the Lexus outside the LuthorCorp building, Conner checks his watch. It's 11:51.
"One minute later than the last time you checked," Pru teases, adjusting her rear view mirror so she can see him.
He scowls at her. "Shut it. This isn't funny."
"Lighten up," she says, smiling her pink bubble gum smile. "You know how Lex responds to tension."
Conner makes a conscious effort to breathe.
"He'll be here," Pru says, reaching back to pat Conner's knee. "Relax."
"Yeah, I fucking hope he will, because if Dad has to wait even ten seconds past five-minutes-early, we're completely scr-"
Conner is interrupted by his door opening. It's one of the plainclothes security guys from the lobby, and he ducks his head down before holding the door open. "Your guest is here, Mister Luthor."
Conner straightens his tie and climbs out of the car. "Thanks, Freddie."
"No problem, sir. He's waiting by your elevator."
The central bank of elevators aligns with the lobby in the LuthorCorp building. It's all right at the hinge of the L-shaped building, along with the cafeterias, gym, arboretum and recreation areas. Some elevators serve floors 1-30, others take 30-60 and 60-90, and still others serve the sub-basements, all arranged in a great glassed square. There are dozens of them and there's never more than one out of service anywhere in the building. Conner's father specifically indicated to the architects that a person should be able to get anywhere in the building from anywhere else in under ten minutes.
There is a bank of three silver elevators against a black wall, just to one side of the security desk. One of the men behind the desk is already holding it open when Conner arrives, and Tim is waiting there in the hall. The security guy keys in the PIN number to call an elevator, and then silently excuses himself.
"I suppose I'm being x-rayed right now." Tim watches the elevator doors with one hand tucked into a trouser pocket. A pair of lightly shaded designer sunglasses rest on his nose, and his shoes are just casual enough for a meeting that isn't for business. There is no hint of wryness or amusement on his face, no indication in his artfully careless hairstyle of any tension or anxiety. He doesn't show much of anything except calm confidence, actually, but somehow Conner can still see all the readiness and sarcasm and sharpness around him, making him as Tim as he can possibly be.
"There's facial recognition in the cameras," Conner says. "And a retinal scanner in the box itself, though it won't be able to get a clear shot through your glasses."
"Mm. Good thing I wore 'em."
The elevator doors glide open as Conner grins, and they step inside. He fits a silver key to the X-shaped analog-optical lock, turns it twice and then presses his thumb to the light pad.
Floor? asks a delicate feminine voice from the wall.
"Penthouse," Conner tells her.
The elevator dings, and then they go rocketing upward. Conner tries to look at calm as Tim, but the whole quietly-freaking-out thing just doesn't work for him. "Listen," he blurts, needing to say something. "Just, whatever you do, don't mention you-know-who."
Tim aims an expressive eyebrow at him, arching it over the rim of his glasses.
"He hates the Sharks. I think he owns them, but he hates them. Don't assume he likes classical music, even though he does, and don't diss any actress who was in a movie before 1959."
"Well, there goes the 'Bette Davis should have done more comedy' portion of my small talk."
"Shut up. I'm being serious, here."
"So am I. She was hilarious."
Conner grabs his arm and takes the glasses off his face. They're too close, not anywhere near as formal as it's supposed to be, as serious as the occasion demands, but Conner has a need to know. "Why aren't you nervous?" he asks. "I'm gonna eat my own liver in a second and you're being a wiseass."
Tim's eyes are unearthly blue, and his touch on Conner's chest is electric. "I come from Gotham," he says simply.
Conner hears Robin in it, hears years of experience with psychos and crazies that sure as hell aren't likely to offer him a scotch, and breathes easier. "You could sweat or something. Dad isn't a lightweight."
"Believe me, I know." So sober, so serious. Conner rubs his thumb across Tim's cheekbone and almost kisses him right there, but Tim gently pushes him away. "Later, okay? When we're out of here and on our own, I'll turn you inside out, but right now I need..."
"You need to not get caught necking with me on camera," Conner says, smiling. "Of course, you're right. Gotta get the game face on."
Tim watches him for a long second, and then wraps his fist around Conner's tie and pulls him in. His mouth is hot and double sharp, all teeth and demanding pressure. It's the best strangulation-by-tie in memory, and Conner can't stop himself from pushing Tim against the wall, angling for more, fast as he can get it before-
The doors open on the wide foyer of Conner's home, and he tears himself off of Tim to put a hand on one of the doors. "Shit. Okay. How do I look?"
Tim fixes Conner's tie and gives up an actual, real smile. "You look fine."
"You look like nobody ever laid a hand on you," Conner scowls. "How the hell do you do that?"
"I grab your tie. Come on, he's waiting."
Conner leads him out of the elevator and down the hall toward Dad's office. At the doors he hesitates again, just one minute more. "You're not allowed to hate each other," he tells him, quiet as he can.
Tim only nods and puts a hand on Conner's arm. Go ahead, he seems to say. It'll be all right.
Conner takes a deep and thorough breath, and then turns the knob. Dad's behind his desk, silhouetted by the Metropolis skyline, so at least there's been no last minute emergencies. At least they're expected. "Dad?"
"Conner, come in." He stands up then, closing his laptop, and comes around the desk. He's calm and smiling, which doesn't prove anything. "And Mister Drake, I presume."
"Please, Mister Luthor, call me Tim." The smile on Dad's face is echoed perfectly on Tim's, and Conner experiences a weird sense of cognitive dissonance when they shake hands. "I'm so glad you could find time in your schedule to meet with me. I know you're a busy man."
Dad gestures to the couches by the fireplace, and the three of them go to sit down. "No more than you, Tim. You're building quite an empire under your father's wing."
Tim ducks his head and actually blushes. Conner wonders for a moment whether he can do that on command, whether there's such a thing as blushing class in Robin school. "Coming from you, sir, that's definitely a compliment."
"I'll admit I had some misgivings about you seeing my son."
"Dad," Conner interrupts. There is no way that this conversation is going there, not if Conner has anything to say about it.
Tim lifts his hand, not touching Conner, but implying it. "It's all right. It's good to clear the air. I'd like to hear what your father has to say."
Mollified, Conner crosses his arms over his chest. He's watching this, and if they step out of line, he'll break it up again.
"Bruce is a hell of an adversary," Dad says, his eyes sharp and assessing even though he looks relaxed. "Many's the time I've been grateful that he's in Gotham and I'm in Metropolis. I don't think there's a city big enough for the two of us."
Tim nods. "Granted. But with all due respect, Mister Luthor, I don't see what my relationship with Conner has to do with that."
"Don't you," Dad asks, but it's less of a question than it is subtle mocking. Conner's teeth set themselves on edge, but Tim can't play ignorant here and expect to get away with it. Dad leans back in his chair by a half millimetre, regarding Tim under his lashes. "There are reasons he doesn't come here, Tim. I'm sure you're aware that Bruce has certain business partners here in Metropolis."
Tim blinks. Conner can see it happen, the gears in his head suddenly kicking into overdrive. He's reasonably sure that to anybody else it would look like a blink, but it isn't.
Dad continues without hesitation. "Gotham houses a certain breed of investor. Bruce is best suited to them, just as the Metropolis investors are best suited here. You can't change that. Believe me, I've tried."
Tim ducks his head for a moment. Conner knows it's so Dad won't see his eyes, and has to bite his lip so he won't interrupt again. This is too much. Why did they come here?
But then, Tim raises his head. "I believe Conner and I can manage."
Whatever Dad sees in those clear blue eyes makes him very, very angry. Conner gets up so he can go crouch down by Dad's chair, stop him from doing anything rash if necessary. "Dad, please. We're not you, okay? Tim's proven he can be trusted, and didn't you always say that if you find somebody you can trust, it's precious?"
Dad's loose, relaxed, and Conner knows that means immediate emergency, because Dad only tenses up when he knows he doesn't have to fight. "Conner, you don't know what you're talking about. This is one of those times you just have to trust me."
"No," Conner insists, fighting the urge to grab his father's arm. "You trust me. Tim told me about Scion."
Dad's eyes go wide at that. He grabs hold of Conner's wrist, which means Conner can return physical connection. Dad doesn't like to be touched when he's upset, but he always deals out the embarrassing hugs and shoulder wrangling that fathers do with their kids. Dad's rules are always different when it's Conner. He's squeezing that wrist now, and Conner feels the panic in it. "What about Scion?" he demands.
"He found out as much as he could and then pieced the rest together," Conner says, rubbing a hand over his father's arm. "It's okay that you didn't tell me. I would have totally lost it, to add that on top of everything else."
Dad's a wreck, of course. Nobody would see the lines around his eyes like Conner can, nobody else would understand that the silence means he's at a rare loss for words. There's this stoop to his shoulders, this heaviness when he carries guilt. Dad hates lies so much, even by omission, that sparing Conner's sanity isn't an acceptable excuse. "You're too forgiving," he says, his voice rough. "You should be yelling at me."
Conner shrugs. "I'm okay, I swear."
Silence stretches between them, which is pleasant. Tim is fidgeting and staring at the coffee table, but Conner doesn't know why and can't spare the time to find out, so he ignores it. He's dealing with Dad. Everything's going to be okay.
Then, the intercom buzzes.
Out of habit, Dad leans over and pushes the button. "If this isn't important, you'll be looking for a new job tomorrow."
Mercy is, as ever, unfazed. "You have a visitor, sir. Mister Wayne."
The whole room is shrouded in silence for a long second. Then Dad leans closer to the intercom. "He's here? Now?"
"In the lobby," Mercy replies. "Chatting up Doug at the front desk about the Sharks score. He asked them to tell me that he was waiting, sir. By name. I felt it warranted a call."
Dad lets go of the button for a second and aims a hard look at Tim. "Did you know about this?"
Conner has a hard time not laughing when he looks at Tim: his eyes are as wide as a cartoon character's. "You could've fooled me," he says, startled out of his deference.
Evidently, Dad believes him, because he pushes the button again. "Bring him up, Mercy."
The five minutes that follow are excruciating. Because somebody new is coming, Dad is putting on his front again, so Conner has to go sit back down. Tim is a total island; even Conner can't tell how he's feeling, so he's sitting in a highly awkward silence with two statues that look like people he loves.
This is like Meet The Parents on acid.
When Mercy finally delivers them all by knocking on the door, everyone climbs to their feet. "Come in," Lex calls.
Bruce Wayne is a playboy, a restless dilettante who'd be lucky to tie his shoes without help. He flies all over the world, regardless of potential danger or tastelessness, flaunting privilege and wealth in the faces of everyone who doesn't have it. When Dad explained how, as wealthy first world white men, their actions could be terribly misinterpreted, he used Bruce Wayne as an object lesson.
Aside from a light tan, the man who comes in the door bears no resemblance to that at all. His suit is tailored and flattering, but it's in relentless black, from cuffs to shoes. His eyes are totally serious, and he moves like a controlled and focused avalanche. Conner has no idea what to even say.
"Bruce," Dad says simply.
Without a word, Tim moves to intercept. Mr. Wayne's focus shifts entirely to him, and something in his body aligns with Tim's like puzzle pieces locking into place.
He's Batman. There is no question in Conner's mind, and he can't figure out why anybody who's ever met Bruce Wayne doesn't know this immediately.
"We're fine," Tim says. "But we may need to step up remodelling in the cellar."
"Are you sure?" Mr. Wayne asks, and his voice is distant thunder, threatening to come closer. Conner's riveted by him, right up until the point that Dad walks through his field of vision on the way to the bar.
"No," Tim says, perfectly calm but perfectly serious.
Conner clears his throat. Why the fuck are they talking about home repair? Why isn't Dad angry that Mr. Wayne didn't answer him? What the hell is going on?
Tim makes a half turn in Conner's direction. "Bruce, this is Conner Luthor. You remember, I was telling you about him?"
Those eyes settle on him, kind of like Tim's in how they're sharp, but... Tim's like a laser, accurate, missing nothing. Mr. Wayne is like one of those Japanese swords that you can use to cut a tin can, and then a silk scarf in midair. He looks Conner over from head to toe, and Conner feels like he's been skinned by that regard, raw to the air. He steels himself, though, and puts his hand out. "Mister Wayne."
The handshake that greets him is short, grudging and firm, but Conner counts it as a small victory. When Mr. Wayne lets go and turns his attention to Dad, the air becomes slightly more breathable.
Dad, meanwhile, shows no sign of concern or tension whatsoever. Conner stares at him like he's an alien; he can't imagine that Dad doesn't know that Mr. Wayne is Batman, and yet if he knew, how could he just stand there? He must not know, that's the answer, and Conner's suddenly filled with urgency. But Mr. Wayne is walking over to the bar, and Conner can't figure out how to interrupt, so he goes to stand by Tim, who's pretty much just watching Mr. Wayne and Dad.
"Help yourself, Bruce," Dad says, touching the glass of scotch to his lips as he leans against his desk. "We're all old friends here."
Mr. Wayne ignores that, crossing his arms over his chest. "What do you want?"
"World peace," Dad quips. "Goodwill toward men."
Mr. Wayne says nothing, his sword eyes narrowing at Dad's throat.
If Dad is fazed, he shows nothing. "I could pick world domination, if you want."
"I could just leave with them," Mr. Wayne says.
"Or I could keep them," Dad retorts, and now he's pissed, now the gloves are off. "I wouldn't if I were you, Tim."
Conner's startled into looking, and finds that Tim's halfway to the terrace door. He doesn't know what Tim plans to do once he gets there, or why Dad doesn't want him to do it, but he shakes his head at Tim, no. Don't interfere, or we'll never figure out what the hell is happening. If Tim sees, he ignores it, but he stops moving.
Dad never even turned his head.
"What's your price?" Mr. Wayne demands, sounding angrier. "You don't take a hostage without naming the ransom."
"And of course I'm the kidnapper," Dad says, spreading his hands. "This has been your doing since the beginning, Bruce. If you send one of your protégés to my town and you don't like what happens to him, maybe you ought to reconsider sending protégés at all."
Mr. Wayne narrows his eyes hard, and Conner struggles with the implications of Dad's words. Did Batman send Robin here to do something? Was the whole Cadmus thing just a front so Tim could hunt for Scion? No, that doesn't make any sense - why would Tim just turn around and tell Conner all about it?
"You can take Tim out of here," Dad offers. "I won't stop you."
"Not acceptable," Tim says, and Conner turns his head to stare, totally blindsided. Tim's got his arms crossed over his chest, and Conner has no problem whatsoever mentally replacing his clothes with Robin's costume. He can practically see the cape shrouding Tim's shoulders. Even so, Conner can't help but wonder who the hell he thinks he is. "I could go," Tim shrugs. "But I won't stop seeing Conner for either of you, so the point's moot. Find another solution."
"What?" Conner asks, bringing his eyes back to Dad, but he and Mr. Wayne are staring incredulously at Tim. Conner takes a step toward them so he can get their attention, and it works too well - Mr. Wayne's gaze is only slightly less imminent a threat than Superman's death eye rays. But Conner folds his arms over his chest, planting his feet. He won't be moved on this. "Tim and I are going to see each other if we want to. Anything else is off the table."
Dad arches an eyebrow, which means disaster, but Conner doesn't budge.
"He is your son," Mr. Wayne observes, and Conner is appalled to hear the vague hints of a sense of humor in it.
Dad looks death in his direction. "Yes, he is. Tim and I were just chatting about that when you arrived; he's a clever boy. You know, I bet you don't pay him enough."
Any amusement that may or may not have been hinted at in Mr. Wayne's tone evaporates instantly. "Tim can't be bought," he says, through gritted teeth.
"I'll give him one of the apartments downstairs," Dad says, gesturing with his scotch so the ice clinks. "He'll make a great vice-president. Research, maybe. Seems like he's managed to learn how to tell the truth, your influence notwithstanding."
Mr. Wayne narrows his eyes hard. "I'm a liar? That's rich, coming from you."
"I don't hide who I am," Dad roars, slamming the glass down on the desk. Conner starts with the impact; it seems the whole world does. Dad closes in on Mr. Wayne, jabbing a finger at the floor. "I tell Metropolis exactly who I am and what I do. Where's your oversight committee, Bruce? Huh? Who polices the vigilantes?"
"You're a murderer," Mr. Wayne says through his teeth, his fists clenching at his sides. "Somehow I'll sleep at night."
"You people are fucking amazing," Dad snarls. "The rules apply to everybody but you; you can do any goddamn thing you want and it's for our protection, but so help us lesser mortals -"
Mr. Wayne throws his hands in the air. "Christ, Luthor, I'm only going to say this once, so listen carefully: not everything in the world is about your break-up with Superman."
"That's good to know," says an unfamiliar voice, and Conner turns back to the terrace doors to see the yellow and red of the S shield, a cape barely rippling in the breeze from the open doors, and the same stupid, rebellious cowlick that he fought every morning in the mirror until the day he buzzed all his hair off on his seventeenth birthday.
Tim steps away from the doors and hides his mutant blackberry behind his back.
"Clark," Dad says, and his tone of voice wrenches Conner's eyes back to him. It's like watching tennis, only they're playing with your heart instead of a ball, because Conner's never seen Dad take a step back before. Nobody puts his father on the defensive, not really - only here it is.
Conner sets his jaw and walks over to where Dad's caught between Superman and Batman. He deliberately stands next to his father and then meets Superman's eyes. "I don't know what you came here for, but this isn't any of your business."
Superman steps forward. His boots are exceptionally red against the carpet, like fresh cherries still on the tree. Conner always tried to think of it as blood, but now that he sees it in person, it has to be something alive. Something growing. "You're my business," he says gently. He's got a hand out, like he wants to reach for Conner but just... isn't.
"We had a deal, Clark." Dad is radiating tension, dangerous and volatile. He's making fists hard enough to turn his knuckles white. It's hard to look at him like this, hard to keep from putting a hand on him - but it's not safe.
Superman puts his hands on his hips, and Conner feels a surge of rage. Can't he tell what he's doing? "We had a deal," Superman asserts, and his gaze on Dad looks like it weighs a thousand pounds. "You're the one breaking it. Tim isn't supposed to be any part of this."
"I chose to be here," Tim puts in, and Conner again wonders who in the name of God he thinks he is.
Superman is unfazed. "I'm sure you did, Tim, but they're making this about you now, whether you chose it or not. That makes them my problem."
Some of the bravado goes out of Tim, and he suddenly looks very small beside the big swath of red and blue. "I was really hoping you'd say that," Tim sighs.
Dad picks up his scotch again. This is less of the fuck-you-Batman sip he was taking earlier, and more of the need-for-fortification kind that he usually only got when talking about Lionel. Conner can't help it anymore; he takes his father's hand and squeezes, and gets yet another shock when Dad squeezes back. "Thank you, Conner," he says quietly.
Conner's completely lost. "Okay," he says, looking over at Superman. "Somebody better tell me just what the hell is going on here, or I'm gonna lose it. I know you're my biological parent, but that's about it."
There's a barely-audible thump from where Mr. Wayne is standing. Shortly, it's followed by the hesitant clink of a glass on the countertop.
Superman winces. "Sorry," he says, looking over Conner's shoulder at Mr. Wayne. "I meant to tell you."
Dad laughs, short and malicious. Conner figures he's earned that, so he doesn't say anything.
Superman looks at his feet for a second and then back at Conner, a determined look about him. "We should have told you from the beginning. I knew we should have told you, but..."
"I talked him into it," Dad says, cutting across the halting words. "I told him about you, and then I talked him into letting me keep you, because I didn't want to have to fight him for you. Metropolis doesn't need to suffer the fallout of an intergalactic custody battle."
"It was stupid of me," Superman says, taking a good four steps toward them before Conner warns him away with his eyes. He stops, but looks so sad about it that Conner almost regrets it. "I was young at the time, I didn't have any money to speak of and I'd just gotten my first decent job. Lex was always so much better at those things than I was..."
Dad scowls into his glass. "You haven't even known him five minutes, Clark. Isn't it a little early to spin him bedtime stories?"
Superman's cheeks turn pink and he lowers his eyes. Conner stares at it; it makes no sense. Superman should turn on Dad, he should pull some stupid You're Such A Monster speech and act all self-righteous. This should be a dramatic battle of lifelong enemies, but instead it's terribly personal.
"The truth," Superman says, hesitating. "The truth is I was scared. My dad - I mean, my adoptive father, the man who took me in when I was just a baby - he was such a great man. He always seemed to know what to say and what to do. I didn't think I'd ever live up to him, and I... I let Lex take you. Conner, please, I need you to know that I'm sorry."
"Don't be," Conner says, knowing exactly what to say for the first time today. "Dad's worth three parents all by himself. I didn't need anyone else."
Superman's eyes go wide, stricken. Still, Conner doesn't feel guilty until Dad puts a hand on his shoulder. "Don't leap to conclusions before you have all the facts," he says.
Dad sets the glass down on the desk again and walks around it so he can sit down, lowering himself into the chair like an old man. "Clark will happily take responsibility for global warming if you give him half a chance."
Mr. Wayne makes this unnameable sound, choked off before it really got started. If Conner had to guess, though, it would probably be laughter.
"Don't sell me short," Dad continues. "I can be persuasive when I want to be. I ran the numbers for him on how much you would cost to feed, clothe, house and send to school. Then I added in recreation and therapy and watched his eyes pop out of his head."
"I shouldn't have been thinking about money," Superman says, walking over to the desk.
Dad stays so mellow that Conner starts to wonder if the scotch had something in it. "You shouldn't have," he agrees, not looking up. "But I was happy to help if it meant I got to keep him. I was also happy to have the bank threaten the farm that week."
Superman's gaze is withering. "I should have known."
"You should have, but you didn't. You also didn't manage to figure out that it was me who got your job at the paper, and me who got you paired off with Lois so you'd have a good solid dose of common sense if you decided to open up. Did you ever tell her?"
"Of course not," Superman scowls.
"Didn't think so," Dad says, and sips at his scotch again.
Superman sighs deep in his chest, folds his arms and turns to look out one of the broad, open windows.
Mr. Wayne puts his glass down on the bar. There's no evidence that it's been tasted; there isn't even the film of scotch along the side when Conner looks. God, Batman's so weird. "There's still a question to answer here. Conner and Tim seem... adamant."
"We are," Conner says to him, grateful for the opportunity to be obstinate.
"How do you reconcile what they do?" Dad asks, looking so serious. "Seriously, Conner, how?"
Tim appears at Conner's side, having made zero sound to get there. "We haven't talked about it," he says. "I imagine it'll be an issue at some point, but we prioritized it just under caring about one another."
Dad sends a heavy, pointed glance at him. "I appreciate your honesty, Tim, but you'll come to regret that decision."
"Agreed," Mr. Wayne says, with just as much weight. "Have you considered how that conversation will wind up affecting your relationship?"
"Of course," Tim says, and Conner chooses not to correct him because it's probably the truth, for Tim. "But we're strong enough. I wouldn't gamble on something this important."
Dad shakes his head. "You're a vigilante, Robin. My son gets things done without a cape, and someday you'll look down on him for it. Once that happens - once that faith is broken - you can talk all you want, but it won't do you any good."
"You don't know us," Tim insists, and Conner puts a hand at the small of his back, just to make that quiet promise. Tim doesn't acknowledge it beyond allowing it, which is good enough. "We're not you. Any of you."
Superman isn't paying attention. He's looking at Conner with this soft, slightly surprised look in his eyes, which is as irritating as it is weirdly reassuring - as though somebody else in the room knows that the whole superhero conversation is irrelevant. "I named you, you know," he says, just like that belongs in the conversation. Mr. Wayne scowls at him, but he doesn't notice. "When he called me to tell me about you, I came to see him and we made that deal - part of it was that I would name you. I wanted you to have that much of me, even if I thought we weren't going to know each other."
Conner looks at his father, but Dad only makes an face and then a movement with his eyebrows that means he's annoyed by it, but it's true.
"Your Kryptonian name is Kon-El," Superman tells him, warm and quiet. "Kon for your own name, and El for your house. I'm Kal-El, and my father was Jor-El. It's Conner, for short. Or I guess it's kind of for long?"
"He aims for Kryptonian, but he winds up with Irish," Dad mutters. "Classic."
Conner can't help a wry twist of his mouth. "It is kind of lame."
"Hey," Superman says indignantly. "Be grateful. He wanted to name you Lewis."
Dad grits his teeth. "Louis was a king whose name started with an L."
"Alexander doesn't start with an L," Superman points out.
"It has. An L. In it," Dad bites off, livid.
"Conner is just as good a name as-"
"Name me one king that-"
"Enough." Bruce's voice shakes the building, and everyone goes quiet. "The two of you arguing isn't going to solve anything. Tim won't leave until he's convinced we won't interfere with his seeing Conner, so we need to lay out some ground rules."
"Such as?" Dad's eyes take on that lethal look they get in boardrooms.
"I don't want Conner in Gotham. He'd draw too much attention from the wrong people."
"Completely unacceptable," Dad counters. "Conner can go anywhere he damn well wants, and if you think I want Robin hanging around Metropolis all the time, you should have your head examined."
"He has a point, Bruce," Superman says, still looking out the window.
Dad gives Mr. Wayne a look of completely insincere sympathy. "You really should have your head examined regardless."
"Cute," Mr. Wayne says, without showing so much as an inch of feeling. "I'm trying to protect your son and you're wisecracking."
"I did a fine job of protecting my son for the first ten years of his life," Dad snarls back. "I don't think I need tips from a man who's already lost one child to his insane jihad."
"Lex," Superman barks, finally turning his head to look. He's disapproving, offended, and Conner feels guilty just looking at him even though he didn't do anything wrong.
Dad rubs two fingers over his eyes. "I apologize," he says, quiet. "That was uncalled for."
"Go fuck yourself, Luthor," Mr. Wayne says, and Conner watches his eyes glitter.
Dad only nods, and it's just impossible. It's like watching a purple elephant in ballet slippers waltz with the President. Conner leans close to Tim and lowers his voice. "Are they always like this? When they're together, I mean?"
Tim's fingers find Conner's and squeeze. "To my knowledge, this has never happened before," he says, not moving his lips at all. "Now stop talking, or they'll pay attention to us."
Tim's ears are ringing with the pressure in this room. He's trying his hardest not to miss anything, to catch every tell in three poker faces, and as much as it's almost impossible, it's also exhilarating. If he said he'd never thought of what would happen if you put Lex Luthor and Batman in the same room and made them talk, he'd be lying. Clark is like some kind of giant exponential bonus, and even though he's currently playing referee, there's the real possibility that this could explode into cataclysmic violence at any second. Tim has counted six tiny embrasures in the walls so far, any of which could house bullets, lasers or both. Batman is carrying at least one kryptonite rock, and probably mirrors tough enough to refract Luthor's death rays.
Frankly, it's all fascinating. Terrifying and fascinating.
The crux of the argument seems to be how best to interfere. If Tim proves a self-righteous hypocrite, or a detriment to LuthorCorp's profit margin or public image, Luthor seems to think it fair that he be allowed to use lethal force. And if Conner winds up compromising Robin's identity or having secret clone programming which causes him to turn evil, Batman wants to lock him in a room in the Batcave and throw away the key. Clark seems bent on reducing these consequences to something a little more humane, but he isn't making much headway. He's probably counting it a win that Bruce and Luthor aren't already wrestling for a gun, and he's probably right to do so.
Tim can't help idly wondering how it'll turn out. Will he need an apartment in Metropolis? Will Conner need one in Gotham? Who will be the first to get the gay marriage bill passed: Kansas or Jersey? Really, it's impossible to say, but he and Conner have definitely reached mutually assured destruction by bringing their various fathers together, and there doesn't seem to be a way out.
Things could be worse, honestly.
Conner's whispering voice drifts over Tim's ear. "Doesn't this seem a little..."
Tim squeezes his hand again. "Shh."
"I know you, Wayne," Luthor is saying, pointing a finger past his glass. He must be drunk by now, but if he is, he's not showing it. Not even a flush on his cheeks. "I wouldn't put anything past you."
Bruce's barely-there restraint is tested for what must be the twentieth time today. Tim can see Batman strain against the tailored sleeves of Bruce's jacket. "I'd never send Tim anywhere I wouldn't go myself," Bruce says pointedly. "The Luthor family is not one of those places."
"Charming," Luthor says, baring his teeth in a terrible approximation of a smile.
Clark is pressing his fingers against his eyelids, like that'll help. "Can you two please attempt civility? Let's go back to the no-work-in-opposing-cities rule; that was working for a while."
"Let's not." Tim turns his head to stare incredulously at Conner, just like everyone else in the room. Conner lets go of Tim's hand and crosses his arms over his chest. "You know, I have it on good authority that you guys haven't really spent a lot of time all together like this before, so I was willing to give you some leeway."
"Conner," Luthor says warningly.
If that warning gives him a moment's pause, Tim can't see it. "I'm done waiting," Conner says, lifting his voice so he'll be heard. "Leaving aside for a second the part where Tim and I are actually grown men and can do what we think is best -"
"You're kids," Bruce scoffs. "No matter what you think."
Conner puts a hand up, palm out. "Excuse me, Mister Wayne, but I'm pretty sure that Tim currently relies on nobody's financial aid but his own, which means he can buy his own toys if he wants. That makes him his very own vigilante superhero, and nobody else's. But leaving that aside, let me point out that nobody here has the moral high ground."
All three of them start in at once, and it sounds like it must sound on Olympus when the gods argue.
Conner literally shouts at them. "Excuse me! With all due respect! You're having a hard time not calling me it, you just taunted a father over his dead child, and you're a deadbeat dad in blue tights! Moral high ground: nobody!"
When he cuts his hand to one side, everyone is quiet.
Tim can only stare at him. "I don't think you've ever been more attractive than you are right now. Physically, I think this is it."
"Thank you," Conner says in a more normal tone of voice.
"Now I'm going to take Tim here out onto the terrace and show him the garden in the most gentlemanly manner possible. I'm going to close the doors behind us, so you can yell all you want, and then when you're all done bartering, come out and tell us how you're going to not wind up killing each other. If your plan doesn't totally suck, we'll talk about implementation. Okay?"
Clark is the first one to speak up. "All right, Conner. Go ahead."
Luthor whips around to scowl at Clark. "Are you fucking crazy?"
Bruce's glare would skewer anybody but the man of steel, so it's a good thing it's aimed at the S shield. "Of course he is."
Tim wants to see how it plays out, but Conner's tugging at his hand and Tim allows himself to be pulled out of the room with a only a bare minimum of heel dragging. Conner closes the doors behind them and Tim hears the deadly words inside evaporate. The soundproofing is really good here.
That's the last really coherent thought Tim has before his knees give out.
"Hey," Conner says, suddenly there to hold him up. "I've got you."
"You've got me?" Tim grins, feeling almost dizzy. He hooks a foot in behind Conner's knee and tugs, just once, and they go crashing down into the geraniums like a couple sacks of bricks. Conner lifts his head, rubbing black earth off his face, and Tim can only laugh. "Who's got you?"
"My God, they drugged you." Conner squints at him suspiciously.
"I doubt that sincerely," Tim says. He can't stop smiling, so big and wide that it hurts his cheeks. "That was awesome."
"I promised your dad Edwardian chivalry," Conner says, his hip warm against Tim's. "That probably doesn't cover necking in the garden."
"You might be surprised," Tim grins.
"I might be full of kryptonite in the next ten seconds if I don't help you up," Conner says, returning the smile as he climbs to his feet and helps Tim to his. "Come on. Doesn't look it from here, but this place is huge."
He leads Tim around, pointing out the amenities. It's the top of a courtyard that bridges the top six floors. There's a giant koi pond at the bottom, bamboo and vines and all sorts of greenery wending its way up to the terrace where it explodes into flowers and canopy. It's gorgeous and private and secret up here, and Tim entertains vague fantasies about it all - killer meteor rock plants in the back, Poison Ivy meditating with that palm frond, sex by the Zen garden. Eventually they flop down under a spreading acacia tree, lying back against the grass and looking up at the blue sky.
Conner rests his head on Tim's stomach. "So, I guess you probably know him, huh?"
"Who?" Tim asks, but as soon as it's out of his mouth, he knows the answer. "Oh. Superman."
"Mm. Dad called him Clark."
Tim shivers. "I won't lie; that one threw me. He's not supposed to know that."
"Seriously? You think there's much that gets past Dad?"
Tim frowns at the sky. "Actually, yes. He's always seemed obsessed beyond real reason."
Conner snorts. "Look who's talking, Wonder Boy."
"It's Boy Wonder. Wonder Boy is someone else."
"Whatever. Doesn't that ever strike you as... no, never mind. You were talking about, um. Clark."
Gently, Tim rubs a thumb over Conner's temple. His hair is warm and soft. "Any reason you ask?"
"Maybe," Conner murmurs.
Tim settles his back on the grass and reaches through his memories, sifting for red and blue. "I met him for the first time when I was about fifteen years old. I was kind of afraid of him, I mean... here I am, fifteen and Batman's sidekick, and this is my hero standing right here talking to me like he'll pay attention to what I say. I was completely uncool; I asked him for his autograph."
Conner laughs softly. "Did he give it to you?"
"Picked up a piece of scrap metal off the roof we were on and burned the shield into it with his eyes. I still have it at home."
Conner doesn't say anything for a while, and Tim lets him process it. "It's so weird," he finally says. "Part of me thinks that's totally arrogant, but part of me can imagine what it'd be like to be you, y'know? How cool that would be."
"That's why he did it," Tim says. "I mean, don't take my word for it - I'm sure he'd love to prove it to you himself - but he's the most humble guy I know. He works an honest job even though they'd probably shower him with money if he'd take it."
"Dad said he had a farm," Conner says, lifting up a knee and rocking it back and forth.
Tim nods. "He'd take you there, I'm sure."
Silence wraps them up for a while, and then Conner abruptly laughs. "How weird was it when Bruce said that Clark and Dad had a break-up?"
"Pretty weird," Tim smiles. "He's got a bizarre sense of humor."
"The guy who dresses up like a big bat has a weird sense of humor? No."
Tim flicks Conner's ear, and smiles when Conner bats at him lazily. "Say what you will, but all he's got to do is fly over a mugging and the thugs give the lady back her purse and walk her home."
"I'm not debating vigilante ethics with you," Conner grins. "Next time you try to start that, I'm distracting you with blowjobs."
"If you take utilitarianism as a valid expression of virtue, the maximum good for the maximum number of people isn't always best served by law and oh, oh my God, you have to stop that."
Conner lifts his face from Tim's belt, dropping it from between his teeth with a grin. "You play with the bull, man, you get the horns."
"Duly noted," Tim pants. "But later?"
"Later," Conner promises, and Tim lets his head thump back on the grass.
"You bet your ass, later," says a sly voice, and Tim rockets up off the ground with no regard for safety or caution. Luthor is walking across the grass toward them, a hard quirk to the corner of his mouth that's terribly familiar. "No christening of my garden until I'm safely in Fiji."
"Sorry," Tim blurts. He doesn't have his wits about him, he's rubbing the back of his neck like an idiot.
Conner climbs to his feet and brushes the grass off his legs. "Is it safe to come in now?"
"So it appears," Luthor says, hands in his pockets. "We've reached détente, no thanks to you."
"Okay. I'm paying for your vacation, right?"
"I expect a platinum card for expenses."
"But Dad," Conner objects as the three of them start toward the office. "A platinum card wouldn't cover your bar tab."
"Not in Fiji," Luthor says reasonably. "I'll just rent a private island and pack the jet."
Conner thinks about that for a second, and then shrugs. "Okay, fair."
In the office, Bruce and Clark stand side by side, looking out over the city. Clark is murmuring something under his breath, something that makes him smile, and Bruce just listens as he watches Metropolis race past his feet. Tim feels fifteen again, in the presence of two of the greatest men in the world.
Luthor and Conner seat themselves on the couches. "Well, let's not keep them waiting," Luthor calls, and Bruce and Clark turn.
Tim sits beside Conner, Clark sits on the couch facing Luthor, and Bruce leans against the arm. "You can date," he says, his eyes on Tim. "But there are rules."
"What did I say about-"
Tim puts a hand on Conner's knee to interrupt him. There are times for one to display the fact that one's spine is made of solid steel, and then there are times for one to not piss off Batman. "Go on," Tim says, with more calm than he feels.
It's Clark who sits forward then, bracing his forearms on his knees. Tim is instantly disarmed by the earnest apology in his eyes. "It's like the second cold war," he explains. "Neither one of them will ever believe the other isn't interfering somehow, but if one side does what he wants, the other one will immediately return fire and the whole thing's over. I demanded that whenever one of you visits the other one's city, he should be returned to his hometown alive. I wanted that stated up front."
Tim swallows back the nerves. There is a metric ton of room for interpretation in the word alive.
"You see the catch twenty-two, though," Luthor says. "It's brilliant. If I bug your Metropolis hotel room, you can kiss privacy goodbye when Conner's in Gotham. If I have you followed by thugs and claim it's for your safety, he can forbid any costumed activity while Conner's in town and claim it's because Arkham might get wind of it. Anything I do gives him leave to do the same."
"Assuming that we'll both spend more time spying on each other than we will on the two of you," Bruce says, scowling. "Clark thinks he's very clever for slipping that one in."
Clark has the good grace to blush.
Conner stares at them. "...Did you all just spend the tensest hour ever, two seconds away from killing each other, just so you could tell us the big news that you were going to act like yourselves?"
"Watch your tone," Luthor says idly, sipping from a blue bottle of water. Tim recognizes it but can't place the name. "I may feel the need to tour Australia after Fiji."
Conner's eyes go wide. "Yes sir."
Tim can see the nerves on Clark. He's watching Luthor drink that bottle of water like he's been dying of thirst for years.
"Would you like some water, Clark?" Luthor's voice is sinful, and Tim blinks to hear it.
No. Surely no.
"I'm fine, thank you." Clark sits back on the cushions with a blush rising, and Bruce scowls.
"Ten seconds. Go ten seconds."
"Shut up," Clark grouses, his cheeks flaring redder.
Luthor sits forward with a snake oil smile. "That wasn't that bad, was it? Acceptable to you both?"
Tim turns to meet Conner's eyes, and they hold a silent conversation. Did you see that? I totally saw that. This is getting freaky. You're telling me. When they turn back to their mentors, they nod. "I'm sure we'll all manage," Tim says. "Conner and I will have to spend some time discussing it, but we'll figure it out."
"He means spend some time circumventing us," Bruce says, folding his arms across his chest. "If I have to spend half my resources watching you, Luthor, I think we can enter into a shared information agreement regarding the two of them."
Luthor looks at him, his blue eyes narrowed in contemplation. "You know, that might just fly."
"Hey!" Conner objects. "So unfair."
"You wanted fair, you should have been born a Smith. We'll talk, Wayne."
Clark stands up then, and walks around the couch toward the terrace. "If that's everything," he says, and lets it trail off as he heads for the doors.
"Wait," Conner says, standing up. Clark freezes in his tracks as Conner walks over to where he is and puts a hand on his shoulder to turn him.
"Listen," Conner says. "It's obvious that you feel really bad about what happened. I'm loyal to my father, but I feel like I should know who you are, too. Maybe if you're not busy sometime, we could go do something. We could fly out to your farm."
Clark's eyes are the color of a Van Gogh sky. He puts out a hand; a simple, old-fashioned gesture. "I'd really like that, Conner."
When their hands meet, Tim can't look away. Something important has happened here today, and perhaps it should have been expected by pure virtue of who is present, but it could have gone astronomically worse, and it didn't. That makes what he's watching something of a miracle.
Clark steps onto the terrace after and lifts gracefully into the sky, a red flutter to announce his leaving, and then he's gone. Conner comes back into the room as Bruce shifts to stand straight. "Well," he says, and Tim's eyes are dragged over to him by the trace of New England accent, the smile that suddenly makes movie star dimples etch into his face. "This has been a truckload of fun, but I gotta take off. Tim, you coming? Dick and I are doing the French Guyana tomorrow!"
Tim smiles. "I think I'll sit this one out."
"Who raised you?" Bruce grins, closing the deal with a wink. "Lex, good to see you. I'll be in touch."
Luthor just huffs an irritated breath into his glass.
"Have it your own way, Prince Charming," Bruce beams. "See you at home, Tim!" He's gone in the next minute, hollering for Mercy to come get him out of this gorgeous rat maze.
Conner blinks, staring at the door. "Who was that?"
"Bruce Wayne," Tim says, delighted as always by that particular performance.
"Ohhh. I get it! You don't really get it until you see it."
Luthor finishes his scotch. "Tim, I know we just met, but I feel obligated to tell you that you work for a certifiable schizophrenic."
"You're not the first to say so, Mister Luthor."
"That's so cool," Conner says, still staring at the door. "He could do theatre."
Luthor stands up and heads for the bar to deposit his glass. "Well, I cleared my schedule for lunch, if you'd like to stay. Spencer's planning something to do with salmon."
Tim agrees in the interests of perestroika, and lunch is not only exquisite, but also not once life-threatening.
One month later.
The secret elevator doors in the lavish penthouse bathroom of Wayne Tower glide soundlessly open. Robin falls between them, backward, pursued by a big, hulking creature that grabs him by the cape's collar and hauls him straight over to the bathroom door. Robin struggles, triggers a button that unlatches the collar, but the fist closed in it is also holding the two sides together.
Conner got caught by that trick once and never forgot again. He's getting good.
Robin plants a foot, puts a hand in the center of Conner's back and pushes. They both go tumbling onto the bed and Robin lands on top, straddling the body underneath him. He pushes his nose right up next to Conner's and grins as he grinds his hips down. "Yoko sutemi. You always think you have me when I fall down."
"That's 'cause I'm never trying to knock you out," Conner rumbles, shoving a hand under the cape, searching for the release button on the yellow belt. Tim tries to distract him with a deep, heavy kiss, but Conner's on a mission; the belt comes slipping off and the hand comes digging at the waistline of the tights, searching for heat. "Come on," Conner whispers, short of breath. "In the costume."
Tim groans and disables some of the silent alarms, fighting with Conner's hands to do it.
And then, Tim's pocket starts buzzing in Morse code - S-U-P-S-U-P-S-U-P.
Conner glares at him, hard. "Don't you dare."
"It's important," Tim protests, pulling Delphi out of his pocket and fending Conner off with the other hand.
Conner scowls at him. "You haven't even answered it yet."
Tim checks the caller display and smiles. "It's the ring tone," he says absently, and puts the computer to his ear. "Are we good to go?"
"Well, he's here," Clark hedges. There's a rustling behind him, like the breeze through trees. "But he looks like he's really paying attention."
Tim sits up against the headboard, tugging the tunic closed with one hand. "Yeah, I bet. Give it time."
Tim listens to the empty air for a moment, keeping a serious look on his face, but it stretches out too long. "What's your status?"
"The same," Clark says, nonplussed, but after a second he catches on. "You need me to keep talking, don't you?"
"You know, that's actually good. I've been meaning to ask you something, and since you have the time..."
Tim lifts an eyebrow. "Really."
There's a quiet snort of laughter over the line. "He just started typing."
Tim ignores that, near to bursting with curiosity. "You had a question?" he prompts.
Clark hesitates. "It's kind of personal. No detailed answers, okay?"
"Sure, no problem."
"Okay. Has Conner ever... I'm not asking to check up on him, but I just want to know. How do you deal with who he is? What he does?"
Chills race along Tim's spine. It's the biggest sticking point between he and Conner, so he damn well knows what Clark is talking about, but that's not what makes him aware of the gravity. He's pretty sure he knows why Clark is asking, is the thing, and the pause stretches out as Tim thinks.
"I'm sorry," Clark says, abashed. "That's too much to ask, I'm sure."
"No, no," Tim assures him. "I was just making sure of what I want to say."
Tim clears his throat and shifts, making Conner have to reposition his head on Tim's stomach. Since the terrace, it's become a favorite relaxation pose. Tim rubs his thumb over Conner's temple and gnaws on his bottom lip. "It's simple mathematics," he begins.
"Really?" Clark says skeptically.
"...Okay, it's actually fairly complex mathematics, but hear me out. Assume that whatever ineffable quality defines the center of this conversation can be termed "virtue".
Conner aims a look up at him, annoyed. Conner hates it when Tim talks ethics. Tim puts a hand over those familiar eyes and then snatches it away when Conner tries to bite him.
"Okay, granted," Clark says, drawing Tim's attention back to the discussion.
"It then falls to us to determine virtue. Traditionally, that's been an impossible task, but if you can accept a relative answer instead of an absolute, it's possible to get at least a vague scale."
Conner makes a disgusted noise. "This is seriously what you guys do for fun in the Batcave, isn't it? Call me when you're done." He rolls off the bed and pads barefoot into the living room, where Tim's dusty X-Box lives, and Tim watches him leave, because that's always a pleasant activity.
"I'm following," Clark says, and Tim gives his head a shake and stares at the ceiling.
"Right, okay, so. Premise: virtue is determined by actions, as a constantly evolving state."
"Accepted." Clark doesn't hesitate on that one, of course; forgiveness requires the concept of virtue to be dynamic, and Clark has always believed in forgiveness.
"Premise: Every person's virtue can be expressed as a string of arguments yielding varying values, positive or negative, with the mathematical constant being them, themselves. Their soul, if you will. Relative virtue is determined according to comparison against standard deviation."
"Okay," Clark says, more cautious this time. "Accepted for our purposes."
"Okay. So given this for our foundation, and exploring the question you posed earlier, it becomes a question of altering the lead coefficient."
"...You lost me, Tim. Lex is the scientist."
Tim searches his mind for a metaphor involving some kind of plant or animal, but it's not working out. Nothing seems right, and so he returns to the math problem. "Okay, it's like... you add yourself into the equation. By being near the, um. The nexus point..."
"By being near Conner," Clark translates.
"Yes, exactly. By being near that point, you affect the overall equation because, like him, you're being factored in over and over again. Soul times action A becomes soul-plus-you times action A, and so on through all the actions the nexus point takes while you're there, so your contribution to it becomes exponential the longer you're there. Damn, I wish I had a whiteboard."
There's a bit of quiet as Clark processes that. Tim's become accustomed to letting people have a minute or two of quiet time after he talks, so he waits patiently.
"By spending the most time with Conner that you can, you influence him toward good by virtue of your presence alone, if not by actively distracting or persuading him."
"...Well, it's a simply put conclusion, but yes."
"Is there some reason you couldn't have just said that?"
Tim blinks. "I had to prove it."
"Of course you did," Clark says, and Tim can hear the smile. "Still... I don't know that I have your freedom to ignore the law."
Tim steps carefully here - Conner's been developing intermittent super-hearing. "The people we're talking about... swaying public opinion is what they do best. Speaking for myself, I've managed a number of mishaps that might otherwise have been disastrous."
The press had gotten hold of Conner the minute he came to town. When asked what he was doing in Gotham, Conner had given them a gleaming smile and replied simply: Tim Drake. The flurry of media attention was daunting and Tim had had a very short but intense period of freaking out, but Conner and Martín formed a solid wall of defense. They accepted certain invitations and loudly declined others, and despite Tim's strenuous objections that such things were not done this way in Gotham, he was completely hamstrung by Alfred turning up fresh from Iraq with two tickets to the Amnesty International gala and a new tuxedo he picked up for Tim on the way through Milan.
"This is different," Clark insists, sounding torn. "I can't just forget everything..." He chokes off the words, he's said more than he meant to.
"You don't forget. And you don't ignore. You just... forgive."
Clark hesitates. "I. I don't know if that's best or not."
Tim bites his lip. "Everybody makes mistakes. It's human. But some people's mistakes are bigger than others, because they're bigger. They need more forgiveness, more leeway, they need somebody to understand them. Nobody's forgiveness is bigger than yours. Except maybe the pope."
There's silence on the other end of the line, and Tim imagines he can hear it in the background, and here in the house. He pictures Clark, hovering just over the terrace, looking through the glass at the bent, elegantly curved head in front of the computer screens.
"Give him a chance, Clark," Tim says.
"You said my name," Clark says, suddenly full of tension.
Tim smirks. "That got him. Is he coming?"
"Looking out the window. He's seen me... and he's heading for the terrace doors. I'm pretty sure I have his full attention."
There's a burst of sound over the line, and then Luthor's voice, shouting fury. How many times do I have to tell you you're not welcome here before it fucking sinks in?
"Is he carrying anything?" Tim hollers urgently into the phone.
"Nope. Gotta go."
Delphi goes dead in his hand, and Robin scrambles out of the bed and runs for the desk in the living room. He kicks the cord out of the console in his haste to get past, pausing Conner's game mid-mayhem. "Hey!" he objects.
"Five seconds," Tim blurts, and opens the closed-circuit breaker panel. The switch flips under his fingers, and the whole apartment goes black.
"What're you doing?" Conner says, somewhere in the room.
Tim doesn't bother to answer, just grabs the TV remote and keys in a fifteen-digit sequence of numbers. There is no sound or light to the ripple of energy that is released, but Tim knows it's happened. He waits ten seconds, to be safe, and then flicks the breaker back on.
The sudden glow of the lights is blinding, and Conner squints against it. As soon as they come on, Tim whoops and rushes across the room, uses Conner's shoulder for a brace and jumps into the air - evidently for fun. "Let's see how they like that one! Now let's hope the lead shielding worked and I didn't just fry my phone."
Conner grabs Tim's shoulder, hard. Anything to get him to stay put in one place. "Hey! What. The. Fuck. Is. Going. On?"
Tim beams at him from behind the mask, his teeth flashing. "I just turned about four million dollars worth of WayneTech and LuthorCorp surveillance equipment into scrap metal. Wanna see?"
They go into the bathroom and Tim directs Conner to pry one of the tiles off the wall. Conner does that, and there's a directional mike with a thin trail of smoke rising off it. "Okay," Conner says, grinning. "You're crazy, but you're a total genius. You blew an EMP, right?"
"Yep. Your father's on watch, so I had to distract him, but I managed it. Everything fried that wasn't lead shielded."
"And your stuff is, right? Awesome. But, wait, is the whole building shielded?"
"Nope. I'd have tipped off Batman if I'd done that."
"So how'd you get it not to go past your floor?"
"It's complicated," Tim grins viciously. "But I can't really explain it in too great a detail or the Martian Manhunter will kill me."
"Okay," Conner says, coming over to invade Tim's personal space. "I am officially impressed. If we weren't already dating, I would ask you out right now."
The laptop on Tim's desk beeps, rebooting, and draws Tim's attention away. "Oh, hey," he says, turning toward it. "I should check on the babies."
He means the three petri dishes full of stem cells that Cadmus is developing as proofs for their theoretical research. They're not actually fetuses, they're just specific types of tissue - liver, kidney, that kind of thing. Tim almost pulled his hair out looking for a good enough reason to stall Cadmus until Conner could muscle through some crucial paperwork, but this experiment has turned out perfectly. It's taken the better part of a month and it's kept Tim thoroughly fascinated, which Conner is coming to understand as a necessity for better living.
Even so, Conner tightens his grip just before Tim gets away, tugging him back by the wrist. "Your babies are fine."
"You don't know that," Tim protests, giving his computer a longing look.
Conner starts walking toward the bedroom, dragging him along. "Sure I do. I have superpowers."
The bed's rumpled from when they tossed themselves on it earlier, but it still looks warm and dark, the light from the bathroom throwing shadows. Conner hauls Tim close and looks over his features, feeling uneasy in his stomach. "It's almost finished," he says softly, running a thumb across Tim's cheek. "Do you have to rush it?"
Tim's eyes go wide, catching the light in a startling blue spark. "What do you mean by that?" he asks, sharp, smart. Too smart for his own good, sometimes.
Conner sighs, slipping his hand down Tim's side. "Just... fuck the experiments, okay? Just for a little while."
"Conner, what's the matter?" He's all here now, focused. His hands make contact, his eyes search for the thing out of place, and all the indicators of strain - breath, muscle tension, pupil dilation, all that bat stuff - are under a microscope. That kind of laserlike regard unnerves other people sometimes, but to Conner it's always a weird kind of satisfying.
"Nothing," he smiles, and rubs a thumb across Tim's mouth. It only annoys him; he makes that irritated face that he always makes when Conner distracts him with sex, which is frequently. But Conner doesn't give a damn. "I'm fine. I just know this thing is gonna wrap up soon. Forgive me if I'm kind of nostalgic."
They kiss then, slow and comfortable. It seems like they've been kissing forever now; Conner knows just where to glide his tongue to make Tim sigh open for him, just how to hold that lithe, gymnastic body so it fits to his own. Finally the Robin mask scrapes against Conner's eyebrow, and they pull apart. "I want it off," Conner murmurs, his breath heavy in his chest as he runs his fingertips over the fire-red polymer.
"Thought you liked it when I wore the costume," Tim says, his voice shivering. He's already dropping the tunic, though, sliding it down his arms so it takes the gauntlets with it. He's left in an undershirt that fits like a second skin, the kevlar that clings to his hips and thighs, and that fucking mask that hides everything important.
"I do," Conner says, and means it. "But I want it off this time. Where's your solvent?"
Tim produces the bottle from wherever it is he keeps everything, and Conner rolls it along the rim of the mask until it peels away. How it keeps its shape, he'll never know; it's practically a gel pack. He tosses it onto the bedside table along with the bottle and watches Tim rub at his skin, getting rid of the glue residue. "Let me wash up," Tim says. "Be right back."
He heads for the bathroom, and as there's no computer in there, Conner figures it'll be safe enough. He kicks at the carpet, waiting and listening to the water run. It's taking a minute, so he pulls off his black hoodie and chucks it at a chair - Tim always makes him cover up when they patrol together, which Conner's never objected to. For all he teases about Gotham's unrelenting gargoyles, he likes black.
When Tim returns, he's lost the belt and his top button's open. That means all the demented, electrified booby traps that keep honest people from getting into Robin's pants have been put back in the kennel, and Conner's got a clear path. He smiles to see it; Tim's undressed just enough to allow Conner to remove every stitch of clothing possible.
"What?" Tim asks, scrubbing a hand through his dampened hair. There are two points of high color on his cheekbones where the mask was sitting; they'll be gone in a few seconds.
"Just enjoying the view," Conner says, sliding his hands around Tim's waist. "Something wrong with that?"
Tim rests his arms on top of Conner's and scowls. "I don't think so, but I could be wrong. Something's up with you."
"Getting there," Conner murmurs, and steps close so he can lay his lips behind Tim's ear, skim them over the warm, delicate skin there and breathe in Tim's sudden heat.
"That's not what I meant," Tim sighs, pressing his hips against Conner's and trading the sense of thickening, of rushing blood and attention. Conner can feel the thrum against his mouth, the beat of it against his chest - Tim, in his arms, alive and warm and human.
Abruptly, Conner twists on one foot and pushes them both down onto the bed. Tim grips him hard, as hard as he's learned that he can. He's got no fear anymore, he knows he won't hurt anything; it's fucking beautiful to watch him cut everything loose. Conner hooks a thumb into the bottom of his undershirt and hauls it up, presses his mouth to the pebbled skin underneath and scores with his teeth.
"Son of a bitch," Tim snarls, thumping his head against the mattress. His voice is rough and broken, all the power that should be in it diverted to his body. "You, you always, do that. Just. When I get. Close."
"That's a lie," Conner scolds, rubbing a thumb across Tim's reddened nipple. "I can get you from zero to sixty in under five minutes. We timed it, remember?"
"Stop avoiding me," Tim says, and when he sits up, spikes of black hair hide his eyes. That's good, because that way Conner can't squirm under them. "You know what I mean."
He gets up, then, straddles Tim's lap and pulls the shirt off over his head. Tim allows it, because he's not about to take silence for refusal. He knows better.
"I just want to fuck," Conner says, and his own voice is getting rough now. He pushes his face into Tim's neck to kiss and bite so it won't sound so obvious. "Is that so bad? Haven't we been happy with that for weeks? You can do me if you want; I've told you that like a dozen times."
Tim's hands come up and across Conner's back, re-learning the shape of the muscle with his palms. "Is that what you want?" he asks softly, his mouth starting to return the trace of touch and tongue across Conner's collarbone. "Is that what you're asking me for?"
"Yeah," Conner says, pushing a hand into Tim's hair. "It's been bugging me that you won't."
He isn't lying. Not strictly speaking. It's worried at the edges of Conner's mind for a while now that Tim never seems to want to do anything in bed but take Conner's dick - though of course, as that image might imply, he hasn't worried that much. Still, it's something that's niggled at him.
"You're holding back," Tim murmurs against Conner's neck.
It's fucking irritating how one person can be right all the goddamn time, and Conner retaliates by pushing his teeth against Tim's skin, shoving his fingers into the kevlar at his waist and pulling it open, hard. "Don't be so fucking smug about it."
Tim pushes his hands under Conner's t-shirt and presses his hands against the skin, slow and warm. "I'm not," he says, his voice so gentle. "I want it."
"You want everything," Conner snarls, shoving him back down into the mattress. He glares down at Tim's shadowed face, at the ripples of light that glow gold on his belly. "Maybe you can't have everything, Tim, did you ever think of that?"
Those strong, scarred hands come to Conner's belt and tug it open. "I can have you," he says, his words melting into the dark around them. If this were Conner's bedroom, they'd be ringed in the Metropolis lights, but Conner can't see a fucking thing because this is Gotham and their penthouses might as well be sixty feet underground for all you can fucking see. It makes him furious, but he just sits there and lets Tim open his jeans, lets him push his hands inside and grip, press, stroke. "I can have this," Tim whispers, sibilant and sure.
Conner stares at the ceiling and tries to work his throat, but breathing and swallowing and sounds all seem to war inside him and he can't focus. Tim's hand is hard; he rubs his thumb right there, right there. Conner can't keep his hips still, not when his face is hot and his legs are starting to do that trembling thing they do when you've been sitting on them too long. "Tim," he demands.
"Conner," comes the answer, somehow there despite Conner's blindness. "Lie down, now. Let me suck your cock."
No man alive could say no to that, so Conner rolls off and thumps down onto his side of the mattress. He pushes at his jeans, kicks them off the end of the bed as Tim kneels up and pulls his undershirt off. Conner's the one in darkness now, and Tim the one in light; he watches as the light fakes sunlight on that hard, pale chest. Lines criss-cross all over him, circles and bumps like some foreign alphabet, and no matter how many times Conner sees it, it always hits him right in the heart.
Tim leans over and kisses him, deep and heavy. They press together, all the way down, and Conner barely resists shoving at Tim's shoulders. More. Faster. Now.
Not a second's wasted when Tim finds him with lips and teeth. He takes Conner deep, his fist tight at the bottom as he swallows around the head. Tim's penchant for being the very best at everything he ever does has paid off in spades when it comes to cocksucking; were there Olympic-level competitions, Tim would do America proud. No pun. Conner can't keep the smile from his face as he bucks against the hold, pushing himself against that slick tongue. There's a warm well of bliss at his core, out of pure habit, and it swells and presses at his ribs until Conner thinks he'll come.
But when Tim's fingers go seeking, pressing and rubbing at the secret place between Conner's thighs, the warmth evaporates. He can't explain it, he doesn't understand it; he wants Tim just like this, but he's cold.
"Tell me," Tim mutters, his lips slipping across the most sensitive places on Conner's dick, so totally on purpose. "I want to know."
Conner pushes at his head, his shoulders. "Don't you ever shut up?" he asks, and hears the cold leeching at his voice.
"Not often," Tim replies steadily, and takes his hands away. He slides them over Conner's hip, pushing him.
It's pissing Conner off, how Tim keeps pushing. Never knows when to leave well enough alone, this fucking guy, and so he does as Tim's hands seem to want him to and rolls over. He's got his back to Tim now, and he has every intention of getting right off the bed, putting his clothes on and getting out of here. There's a private jet at Gotham International with his name on it. Literally, it says Luthor on the side.
The trouble with that plan is that Tim moves like a fucking attack dog when he wants to, and before Conner knows it he's face first in the pillows and Tim's weight is settled on the backs of Conner's knees, his tongue sliding hot down the hollows of Conner's spine. It's slow and sinful, meltingly necessary, so Conner relaxes against the down and figures maybe he'll stick around for five more seconds to see if Tim asks any more stupid questions.
"What if I fucked you with my tongue?" Tim asks, his breath searing against Conner's back.
That is a fucking excellent question. "I'd be comfortable with that," Conner pants, pushing his feet apart so Tim has room to lie down.
The laugh that comes is just as warm. "Maybe I will," he says, and his hands come down to palm Conner's ass, press him apart so the warm air between them feels cool.
"Do it," Conner says, trying to cock his hips so it'll be easier. His face is burning, but he doesn't care. "If you want to."
The first swipe of his tongue is so precise and measured, so perfectly Tim that Conner almost laughs. Of course, the bone-deep throb of lust that fires through every nerve in his body is excellent at keeping the hilarity to a minimum. Conner groans against Tim's black pillows and feels his eyes roll up as he presses his dick against the mattress. That tongue is slick and heavy, not cutting Conner even an ounce of slack. Tim drives against him, licking strong and firm against that supremely sensitive skin, and Conner forgets to hold back a couple of times until there's splinters of wood under his fingernails and a couple of white pillow fluff feathers drifting through the air. His voice is ragged by the time Tim makes a point with his tongue and pushes inside, and Conner feels his throat go raw when he shoves his face into the pillow and curses as loud as he possibly can.
Which is pretty loud.
"Keep it down," Tim laughs, pressing a bite to the inside of Conner's thigh. It doesn't hurt at all; just a warm, spreading burn. "You'll wake up the eastern seaboard."
"If you stop I will kill you," Conner promises, panting for breath.
"Noted," Tim murmurs, but he's already pushing close again, and Conner puts his teeth to his lip and squeezes his eyes shut to make it bearable.
When Tim finally lifts away and starts to circle with his fingers again, Conner's got pre-come all over the sheets and the headboard has scorch marks in it. "Now," Tim says, kissing up onto Conner's back. "Maybe you'll tell me what you were getting weird about before."
"God damn it," Conner sighs. "Can't you ever just let it go? You're like a fucking Doberman."
"Lessons learned early," Tim murmurs. "Now. You were saying."
Conner braces a hand on the bed and turns to look at him. "You really want to talk about this now?"
"Of course," Tim answers, like it's the most natural thing in the world, like he can just come drape himself down over Conner's back and push his nose against the back of Conner's neck, and it's just another day.
Conner rubs his hands over his face. "I don't know why you gotta fuck with me, Tim."
"I'm not," he starts, but Conner pushes him off and rolls onto his side so he can face him down.
"Don't lie," he says, grabbing Tim's shoulder and shaking it. "You honestly expect me to believe that you - you, with the big brain - don't know that one day Dad and Bruce are gonna get bored of this whole peace talks thing and go back to trying to fuck each other over?"
Tim stares at him, looking shell-shocked, and it only makes Conner angrier.
"How can you pretend like this? Bruce will try to send my father to jail, and then big, bad Lex Luthor will try to have him killed. It's the fucking circle of life, Tim, and I'll take Dad's side and you'll take Bruce's, and then..." He trails off, all his rage used up. Tim only stares, so Conner lays a hand on his hip, warming the kevlar with his palm. "I'm not sorry for wanting to make the most of the time we have left." Tim opens his mouth to say something, but Conner glares him into silence. "I do kind of hate you for making me talk about it now, though."
"Hey," Tim breaks in. He presses a hand against Conner's cheek, and then delivers a serious kind of kiss.
Conner kisses him back, wrapping an arm behind his back. This is more like it.
Only Tim pulls away, and that's unacceptable, but he pushes Conner back when he tries to follow with his mouth. "I hate that idea," he says, his eyes finding just the right shade of graven blue. "I hate it."
Conner shrugs. "I do too, but Luthors are realists."
"I wish you wouldn't do that," Tim scowls.
"Say 'Luthors' like that, like behaviour is genetic. Like you don't have a choice."
Conner shakes his head. "I'm not fooling myself, Tim. I know exactly what my choices are."
"So pick me," Tim snarls. He shoves a hand against Conner's shoulder, pushing just because he's angry, and Conner blinks in surprise. Tim doesn't let up, though, just pushes him down again, harder, moving so he can lean over Conner's body, hold him down. "If it's a choice, if you can choose, you choose to stay with me. It's not a difficult concept. You don't pick Batman, you don't pick law and order, you pick me."
Conner looks up at him, clinging to his melancholy. He can feel it slipping, and that's so dangerous. "Right. Because you'd pick me. Because if Dad lost it and went after Bruce, you'd completely stay out of it for my sake."
Tim grits his teeth, and Conner can see the shine in his eyes. "You think I haven't thought about it? To choose this over him?"
Conner doesn't dare to breathe.
"I did. We find a safe house in the mountains, someplace remote. When they start, we retreat to it and lock down all communication with the outside until a prearranged neutral party can inform us that it's finished. Then we find out who won, and one of us is screwed, but at least we know we can trust one another, because we'll have all the time we need for interrogation in the cabin."
Conner slides his hands up, over, across. "Tim."
"Don't. I've thought of everything."
"But how much did it cost you?" Conner asks, holding onto him. "I know you. It was a betrayal just to think about it."
Tim closes his eyes and pushes his face against Conner's shoulder. "He'd expect me to," he says, quiet as he can get without whispering.
"I know," he says, his heart aching. "He's a sick bastard." Tim shakes his head, but Conner presses a hand to his back. "Don't argue. I can think he's a sick bastard if I want."
Without a word, Tim presses an open-mouthed kiss to Conner's neck, just under the ear. His hand comes up and grips what it can of Conner's hair, which is getting just long enough that that's doable. He pulls and presses until Conner's bent backward, exposed.
"Okay," Conner groans. "This is. Unh. This is a subject change."
"Shut up," Tim says, his voice ragged as he pushes Conner's thighs apart. His touch is rough and not at all hesitant, sudden scrape of teeth and sharp press of his knee forcing the position he wants.
"Wait, wait," Conner pants, even as he grips Tim's ass to haul him closer. "We gotta get some."
Tim leans over, hauls the bedside drawer open and comes back with a fist-sized bottle. He drips the stuff into his palm and then wraps his fist around his own dick. Conner watches the flex of his arm, the way his eyes squeeze shut against the pleasure of it; leans up to watch the dark tip pressing in and out of his hand.
"Fuck, you're hot," he says, his mouth moving without the need for thought.
Tim ignores him completely, except for how he leans down to kiss Conner's head back onto the pillow, shoving with his tongue. It doesn't take anything to allow it, no relaxing of powers or caution not to hurt; it's easy as breathing to just let him in, and when Tim's slick fingers press inside him, thick and blunt and fucking relentless, Conner just digs his fingers into Tim's back and groans as hard as he wants.
The push of his dick, when it comes, is devastating. Conner's only invincible on the outside; past the aura he's as human as the next guy. It's been a long time since he felt anything like this burn and sting and fuzz in his mind, and he reaches up to the headboard and makes handholds in the blank wood, which cracks like gunshots under his fingers. "Shit. Nnnn, fuck."
"Okay?" Tim breathes, kissing spit and teeth marks onto Conner's chest.
"Do it," Conner scratches out, and lifts his knees up just enough to ease some of the pressure. Tim pushes harder, further, and there's something deep inside Conner that throbs and shivers, a heretofore unknown part that secretly controls his entire body. "Ahh, fuck. Fuck, Tim."
"Got you," Tim responds, kissing Conner's mouth again, and it's true.
Those slick fingers come back, wrap around Conner's dick this time, and Tim starts to stroke him slow and tight. Conner's whole body feels too tight, too tense, and he bucks and twists under the assault just to keep from shouting or hitting something. Everything with Tim is more intense than it is with anyone else.
They breathe each other's air, close enough to kiss but without the presence of mind to do it. Conner bites his lip so he won't say all the things he wants; he's said them all before anyway, and he wants to hear the harassed, choked sounds Tim makes against his cheek. They sink into his brain, searing into his deep memory, and Conner silently vows to make them happen again, more, and louder. When he listens as hard as he can, some of them resolve into something that might be oh, oh, Kon, and that lights Conner's fucking head on fire; he can't even make words in his brain anymore. He strains higher, harder, everything gone but the desperate need to come, and the closer he gets the more clear those words get in his ear. When it finally hits him, when he finally breaks through and pushes into that tight fist, he can't bite his lip anymore. Everything rushes out of him, and he tells Tim whatever secrets hide between dreaming and waking in his own mind, blank and clear and perfect.
His throat is sore when the stars streak across his vision.
Tim pries them apart with a Herculean effort and collapses face first into the pillows at Conner's side. Conner presumes that means he's finished too, and laughs wearily.
"What?" Tim mumbles, muffled by the down.
"Just happy," Conner says. "That's all." For once, that's true too.
They lie together for long minutes. They're good minutes, full of long silences and innocent touches that are made powerful by the aftershocks coursing through their bodies. "You ruined my headboard," Tim notes with a certain pride. "That's four major pieces of furniture since we started seeing each other."
"Give me ten minutes and we'll go for five."
Tim laughs, which is always a victory for Conner.
And then the alarm starts. Something on Tim's suit squawks about a half a second before the phone on the nightstand starts to hiccup a weird, aborted ring. Tim immediately jumps off the bed and grabs his phone. "Shit," he mutters, paging through screens and more screens. "Shit."
"What?" Conner asks, sliding over to the side of the bed. Tim being this upset can only mean problems on a national, or possibly global scale.
"Fighting's broken out at your penthouse. Police'll be there in minutes."
Conner goes cold. "Tell me who."
"Superman." Tim drops his phone and heads for his closet to tear a meticulously prepared suit out of its garment bag. "I'm afraid this may be my fault. Partially."
This is all moving way, way too fast. Conner gets up and drags on his jeans. "What the fuck are you talking about?" he demands. "Your fault?"
"I told Clark to talk to him. Listen," Tim says, buttoning his shirt. "We don't have time for this. I need you. Can you do something for me?"
"Jesus Christ," Conner growls, pulling on the black t-shirt. "What?"
"Fly me to Metropolis, and then turn around and come back here."
Conner shakes his head. "That is not happening. Plan something else."
Tim walks over, bare feet on the carpet, and puts his hands on Conner's shoulders. "Listen to me," he insists, asking with his eyes. "I need to be in Metropolis as soon as possible to do damage control. And I need you in Gotham, because only you can make a big enough bang here that Batman will have to stay. I know what to do, but I can't have him interfering, and you're the only one who can keep him here. And you can't be seen or use any superpower but speed and flight, or he'll know it's you and go straight to Metropolis."
Conner's brow knits. Tim always knows what to do, but Conner can't just leave Metropolis in his hands. "What're you gonna do?" he asks.
"I don't have time to explain," Tim says, his eyes as serious as they ever are. "Please, Conner. Just trust me."
"You better be right. I mean, you better be so right that everything is fine when I go home."
"I can't guarantee that," Tim hedges, which at least is honest. "But I'm maybe ninety percent sure."
"Damn it," Conner snarls, and paces away while Tim hauls a case out of the closet and stuffs his Robin suit in a false bottom. He's all prepared, he knows what he's doing, and nobody else will do this right. Conner makes an executive decision. "You can't screw with Dad's interests or I'll hurt you."
"Noted. Don't kill anybody. Not even anybody bad."
"I know the rules," Conner says. "Get your shoes on. If it's as bad as you say, we gotta go. And you better hope Delphi can tell you that Dad's okay, because if it can't, screw Bruce; I'm finding the hospital and I'm not leaving."
"Understood," Tim says, and goes to find socks.
The media room of the Metropolis Police Department is packed to the gills. Everybody with a press pass who could get here is shoving a microphone or a tape recorder at the podium, and a full line of cops is standing between them and it, making sure they don't knock the damn thing over. Tim's one of the few people sitting in a chair; the others are all here on passes just like his, scored by influential people in Metropolis, Gotham, New York, Los Angeles. Dark suits and serious faces are everywhere, and the energy level's through the roof.
Tim only has eyes for the one person in the room: Lex Luthor. He's not giving the conference personally, but it's about him, so presumably he has the right to stand behind the line of cops, hiding what looks like a hell of a black eye behind a pair of sunglasses. Tim's annoyed by the very sight of it, because if Superman had hit him, he'd be missing half his face, so the bruise had to come from somebody else. Most likely, that person is his bodyguard, either because Luthor told her to in order to have something to show the press, or (the more likely option) because Luthor refused to leave a dangerous area and Graves had standing orders to remove him by whatever means necessary. Or it happened in the altercation, somehow...
The doors open at the side of the room, interrupting Tim's idle speculation. The chief of police comes in, followed by a younger man in a slick suit with a leather folder in his hand; that's the LuthorCorp PR guy. More cops follow, but the barrage of shouted questions and the flash bulbs are all for those first two men. When they get up to the podium, the Chief takes the mike. "Okay, okay," he says kindly, holding up his hands. "Everybody please settle down, settle down. We have Mister Jeffries here to give a statement on behalf of LuthorCorp, as Mister Luthor's been giving his statement to police for the last few hours, and then I'll take a few of your questions."
"Will you be answering any questions, Lex?" somebody shouts from the front row, a woman's voice. The room is silent, listening for his answer.
Luthor sits back in his chair and adjusts his sunglasses. "Chief of police isn't good enough for you, Miss Lane?"
The room explodes with questions again, and it takes a second for the Chief to calm them down. He asks them to save any comments or questions until the end, and then turns the mike over.
Jeffries steps up and clears his throat, opens his folder. Tim doesn't know why. There's nothing in there. His speech is on the teleprompter. It looks good, though, and he faces down the press with a grim but brave face. "I'm sure you've all heard by now that a dispute at the LuthorCorp building broke out earlier today. I can confirm for you that Superman was involved and charges of trespassing and aggravated assault have been laid by Mr. Luthor. Superman went along quietly with police who arrived at the scene."
Luthor is calm, but his posture is tight and his hands are too still for him to be anything less than deadly serious. He looks displeased in the extreme, and Tim notes that reaction to the last detail.
"Superman has been accepted into Metropolis as its own golden son," Jeffries is saying. "And that's why these charges are so disturbing - the idea that Superman, of all people, could take such a direct action against the respected head of a multinational corporation is unthinkable."
Luthor's seen him, Tim's almost sure. He never looks directly, but he doesn't miss anything either. Tim watches his face openly, not bothering to look away. If Luthor notices, he doesn't make any movement to indicate.
Jeffries is still going, building to his crescendo. "The very foundation of our notion of Metropolis is what's been threatened here today. That's why, ladies and gentlemen of the press, LuthorCorp has made the decision to lend a group of our best lawyers to the public defender's office to aid in clearing Superman of-"
Whatever else he meant to say is lost in the roar of people shouting and pressing closer. Luthor is staring directly at Tim; his head snapped up on the word defender and erased any question that he didn't know Robin was here. His jaw is tight, furious, and Tim stands up, brushes his lapels straight, and leaves. Jeffries is being shoved behind the Chief when the door closes behind him, and he's still reading his speech, something about transparency of process, proving to the public that Superman couldn't be capable of such an act, or one of the other things Tim took such care to phrase in his mind on the way into town, to paste over the real speech in the teleprompter's buffer.
It worked perfectly. No fuss, no muss.
Tim's almost out the main doors when a light breeze tosses his hair. "Hey, kiddo," says a friendly voice.
Tim turns to find a man in the bright red costume that isn't totally out of place in Metropolis, but still a ways away from home. "You're the Flash," he notes, putting some awe into it. They're in public, after all.
"Man wants to see you," Wally shrugs, an apology in it. "'Fraid it can't wait."
Wally comes up and hugs him, and in the next second the world is a sickening lurch and a blind blur of color. Tim's traveled by speedster a hundred times, but the urge to hurl never gets less urgent when you approach breaking the sound barrier. Of course, for Wally, this is a light jog, but it's fast enough to keep people from seeing them.
When they slow and stop, and Tim's eyes and stomach are back to their operating standards, he's surprised to find himself in the basement of the same building he almost left, seconds ago. Here there are bars, there's a chill in the air and a total lack of noise. Everyone's been moved out of this area, and it isn't hard to see why, because the bright primary colors of Superman's costume don't belong here more than any color Tim's ever seen. He's standing there, in his cell, with his arms crossed. He's glaring. If he were outside at high noon, he couldn't appear any more imposing. He could bend the iron bars and leave any time he wanted; he stays because he chooses to.
"Here you go," Wally says. "Picked him up right where you said. Need anything else? File baked in a cake, maybe?"
"I'm okay, Flash. Thanks."
"Okay. Call if you do." And then he's gone.
Tim fights not to clasp his hands behind his back. That would be a nervous movement. "Superman. You wanted to see me?"
"Timmy," Clark says, shaking his head, his eyes disappointed. "What were you thinking?"
Somewhere deep inside Tim, his twelve-year-old self is crushed. "I'm not sure I know what you mean," he tries, but Superman just lifts one eyebrow, the way they do when they know you're lying. Tim sighs. "I know what you're going to say."
"Oh, do you?"
"Well, I think I do. But there's no way he'll take it back now. The press has hold of it; it's too late. They're running it on the radio and Reuters right now, and the public might fight about it, but in the end they'll be proud of LuthorCorp for being so open and honest. It's not Luthor's standard tactic, but strictly speaking, it's not against the company's interest. They'll make more in consumer confidence than they could ever lose in legal... fees. What?"
Clark stops rolling his eyes. Conner gets his direct look from Clark, Tim suddenly realizes; it isn't a boardroom tactic, it's just honesty. "You know better than to tangle with Lex Luthor. I don't know where Batman is, but you know better even without him here to tell you."
"I tangled with one PR guy," Tim says, feeling defensive. "I did it to help you."
"I've had worse," Clark says. "And it's my own fault, really. I let him get under my skin and I lost my temper. He's always been able to... well. That's not the point, is it? The point is that I was never in any danger."
"You're in jail!" Tim says, raising his hands to encompass the gritty black hole they're in. "You don't belong here!"
The voice that comes next isn't unfamiliar, or even unexpected. "I think that's for the courts to decide," Luthor says, walking in like a hurricane at sea. "And I'm content to let them deal with Clark. But you, Tim, are trying my patience."
Tim is accustomed to being borne down upon, but this is the first time that Luthor's ever been angry with him, specifically, and he finds himself grateful that Superman's here. He's reasonably sure Clark will bend the bars if it becomes necessary to pry Luthor's hands off his neck. Tim didn't expect to still be here when the two of them met, and he's thrown by it.
"Lex," Clark says, and Tim is shocked badly enough by his tone to turn and look. He's holding the bars now, like any man behind a set of them, looking at Luthor like he can change the whole world. "Come on, leave the kid alone."
"Why?" Lex demands, still standing right in front of Tim like a great and terrible force of nature, like he's the one who taught Superman to stand up straight. Tim's eyes are drawn straight back to him, instantly, and even though they're about the same height, Luthor seems to stand over him by a head or more. "It's not like he's done me the same courtesy. I wanted to tidy this thing up by nightfall, but he had to go and make it a news day."
"He didn't know that," Clark says. His tone is conciliatory, even soothing. "Talk to me, Lex. I'm right here."
Luthor seems torn a moment, and then swings his eyes around to meet Clark's. It's almost audible, the sparks when they meet. Tim stands there waiting, feeling more and more awkward with every minute he spends listening to them say nothing, failing totally to disguise the weight of meaning in this moment. Finally, he has to say something. "I'm just gonna go."
Luthor doesn't even bother to look at him. "Without telling me why you felt the need to co-opt my legal division? Tim, I expected better."
"I'm sorry," Tim finds himself saying, suckered into it somehow. "It's just... Conner said..."
Both men look at him now, both holding all the bearing of kings. Tim almost crumples under the weight. Blessedly, it's Clark that speaks, and he sounds like he probably won't murder Tim if he doesn't get the answer he wants. "Conner said...?"
"He was worried about you, Mister Luthor. He said one day you and Batman would decide to fight again and we'd have to take sides. He said that he and I couldn't stay together indefinitely because..." Tim trails off helplessly. He's been as honest as he knows how.
Clark's eyes are bottomless. "Because your families and your loyalties would pull you apart."
Luthor turns abruptly to look at him, and then gives the most pained laugh Tim's heard anybody give except Bruce. Luthor's whole posture has gone fragile, terribly so. "I read a play like this once," he says softly.
Clark glances down at the ground, a shockingly demure gesture coming from the man of steel. Tim doesn't know if he can take any more of these two men behaving like they shouldn't. "Let's make sure it doesn't end the same way," Clark says. "We should talk."
"I'll just go," Tim says, leaping on his cue, and practically runs up the stairs as Superman and his nemesis stare into each other's eyes.
White greasepaint rubs off Conner's face and onto the gritty warehouse floor. He can see it coating the dirt, the concrete immediate in his vision. His wig lies a few feet away, sad and tangled, but he can't tell if it's green because of the dye he used, or because of the glowing, sticky cloth that's clinging to his skin. Conner's never felt this sick before in his life. It's like something decided to eat him starting with his eyeballs; he can't move and he's in so much pain he can barely string words together in his head. He's got to get the cloth off, but no matter where he rolls, it rolls with him.
"I should leave you here," says Bruce, the fucking psychopath, his black cape coiling across the floor like reptiles around his thick boots. "Penguin's thugs would probably find you first, but Joker's clowns might just track you down. What do you think they'll do to you when they find out the idiot making waves all over town for the last day isn't their boss?"
Conner can't reply. He doesn't know how to, even if he could move his lips. It seemed like a good plan at the time - the only thing more important to Bruce than Lex Luthor would be the Joker. Everybody got scared, but nobody died or even got hurt. Fear is around every corner in Gotham anyway; it's totally within the rules. Or it should have been.
Conner doesn't know when Bruce figured it out, but here they are, and the fight didn't last more than a minute before whoosh! Out came the mantle of pain. Only in fucking Gotham.
"I'm not even sure I could turn them in for it, actually. You're the product of a madman's deranged science experiment. It's debatable whether you're even a person or a kind of organic robot, under the law. I'd probably lobby for person, though. I don't like the Joker's goons."
Conner closes his eyes against the stabbing sensation, and when he opens them again his vision swims with green stars.
Bruce paces a couple of steps along Conner's side, contemplative. "Robin's still young, in a lot of ways. He can't see you for the threat you are."
Conner twists just enough so he can glare at Bruce's face. If he could use his heat vision right now, he would; he doubts Tim would blame him for self-defense. Tim's very forgiving. "If... you... hurt him..."
Batman should never smile. It's creepy. "What you don't know about Robin would fill books. He's old enough now that I'm not sure I could hurt him."
"Really." The man stepping out of the shadows is dressed in a turtleneck, jeans and a biker jacket. His face is bare, no mask, and as a result his expression is both simple and terrible.
Bruce's feet turn in the newcomer's direction. Conner can't see his face, but he hopes it's anguished. "Jason."
"Guilty," the man shrugs, smiling.
There is a pause before Bruce speaks again, an auditory wince. "What are you doing here?"
"One guess," Jason says, and points to the section of floor where Conner's lying, getting his liver torn apart by a kryptonite blankie. Batman turns back, presumably looking at Conner.
"Jason," Conner whispers, because it's all he can manage. "Get... this shit... off me."
Calm, like a day in the fucking park, Jason strolls over, kneels down and does just that. He tosses the clinging cloth across the warehouse, and it catches on a high rail and stays there. The pain starts to fade immediately, and Conner can breathe again.
It was inevitable that the world's greatest detective would figure him out. He doesn't have the practice necessary to maintain secrecy, no matter how much faith Tim puts in him. But if you can't beat 'em, you anticipate 'em - so goes conventional Luthor wisdom. Conner's first choice had been Nightwing, but Conner couldn't find him. As it turned out, the second son of the house of Wayne only needed some convincing and a couple thousand dollars to agree to be the cavalry. Turns out he and daddy don't get along so well.
"Thanks," he says, and coughs, the gravel on the floor digging into his palm.
Jason nods and stands up. "You're welcome, kid, but I'm not doing it for you."
"Well, thanks anyway. That fucking stung."
Ignoring him, Jason faces Bruce and crosses his arms across his chest. "I want you to tell me the difference between this kid and me."
Bruce is a few feet away, the shadows cutting across his cape. His boots are invisible now, his cowl lost to the dark; all Conner can see is the fall of bat wings. "He's a Luthor," Bruce says, and Conner hears everything sewn into that one word: monster, killer, crazy, liar, cheater, thief, soulless. Bruce didn't invent the meaning of Luthor, not when he had Metropolis to do it for him.
"Apple doesn't fall far from the tree, huh?" Jason's smirking, Conner can hear it in his voice. There's a yawning abyss under his words, between him and Bruce, and Conner can feel the chill of it. He wouldn't begin to know how to navigate it, but thank God somebody's here to. Jason talks with his hands, like some kind of tragic vaudeville sketch. "I mean, I'm pretty close to my tree, right?"
"He's nothing like you," Bruce says, melting back into the shadows, letting them shield him. Conner can see the tactics at work, and wonders if Bruce even knows he's doing it. His voice is made from restraint and care, every word weighed and measured. "You're human," he tells Jason, using the words like a fencer uses an epee.
Jason's attitude is so cavalier, on the surface. "Yeah, I guess he has that whole half-alien thing going on. Didn't figure you for that particular prejudice, but I guess you never know about people, huh?" Conner can hear the daggers in it, all the same.
"You know what I mean," Bruce says, his teeth flashing white in the gloom. Jason's pissing him off; he's losing.
"Oh!" Jason says, making a production of it. He raises his hands in Bela Lugosi claws. "You mean mad science!!"
"It was actually pretty rational science," Conner interjects, wanting to defuse the situation. It's all gone farther than he meant.
"Shut up," Jason snaps, irritated at the interruption. "This is my show."
"Sorry," Conner says, trying to scoot back from them both in a way that's both effective and unnoticed. Shouldn't be hard, as they're both completely focused on each other. Conner appears to have been dismissed as a threat.
"He doesn't have a conscience," Bruce says, circling like a jackal. "There are no limits on him."
"Whoa, you're right," Jason says, wide-eyed and sharply facetious. "That's totally unlike me. I sure never went on a killing rampage through Gotham's underworld that you never threw me in jail for."
Bruce turns his face away, his whole body fighting for him, even if he hasn't moved. "You were a soldier," he whispers, in tortured syllables.
"I never asked to be a soldier!" Jason suddenly shouts, livid and loud, his voice bouncing back off the walls. Conner flinches. "I fucking died for you! And now you're pissed off at Conner for having the balls to enjoy a life he never asked for either? Fuck you, Bruce! He's just a fucking kid!"
The words hit Batman like bullets. Conner watches him take them, and is amazed he can stay standing. The silence stretches on, beat after beat of it, until Conner almost wants to say something just to break it, but is terrified they'll turn on him.
"Well?" Jason asks, ragged and tired. "Aren't you gonna say anything?"
Bruce is silent a moment more, still not looking. "No," he finally says, so quiet. "You never listen."
Jason holds position for another second, but eventually he can't bear up under the weight and turns by a fraction, just enough to step back. "Yeah, I know. But I'm not the only one here."
Conner feels his eyes go wide, feels the instinctive urge to run. This place is rigged to blow, any second, and if he makes the wrong step, he's a dead man. He should fly away.
But his father didn't raise a coward, so he braces his hands against the concrete and looks. Bruce watches him from the shadows, and Conner can only just make out the glint of his eyes deep in the cowl. It's a hard, steady look that demands the same in return, and there and then Conner promises whatever higher power chooses to listen that he will never, ever allow Tim to be alone enough to make one like it. By some miracle, he manages not to squirm.
Bruce barely moves when he talks, and it's like listening to a man bleed. "If anything happens to Tim because of you..."
"It won't," Conner promises him, without hesitation. "I'd die before I let anything hurt him."
Bruce holds his eyes for another long moment, memorizing the words. Conner has no doubt that, ten years from now, Bruce will be able to recite them perfectly, including time, date and location. Probably even what Conner's wearing. But he means every word he said, and knowing that lets him return Bruce's gaze without crumbling.
When honor is satisfied, Bruce turns away. Conner feels the weight lift off him, like a breath of fresh air. Bruce is almost melted into the shadows when he stops, and the air goes still again. "You should use the name Superman gave you," Bruce says, almost softly. "It might suit you better."
And then he takes another step, and Conner's eyes lose track of him in the shadows of the warehouse.
A scratch and hiss snakes through the air, and Conner turns to see Jason lighting a cigarette. "Well," he says, putting the lighter back in his pocket. "That's that. See ya, kid." He turns on his heel and makes for the warehouse door.
"Wait," Conner says. He means to thank him, to offer him something else.
"Don't bother," Jason says, cutting him off at the knees. "I told you I didn't do it for you. I did it for me. Now you better take off. Robin's probably looking for you."
Conner only blinks, and then Jason's gone. It must come with the bat suits or something. He shakes his head, struggles to his feet and presses a hand to his chest to ease the leftover ache of green in his chest - if he never gets near that shit again, it'll be too soon. He makes for the door at the side of the warehouse, shoulders it open and steps into the clear air.
"Mister Luthor? Mister Drake? They're ready for you now." The pretty secretary barely refrains from bobbing a curtsy, settling for a huge white smile.
"Thanks, Terri," Conner says, beaming back at her.
Tim rolls his eyes, but can't keep the corner of his mouth from twitching up. Terri makes herself scarce and Tim stands up. "Thanks, Terri," he mutters under his breath.
"Baby," Conner smirks, coming over to straighten Tim's lapels. "Don't be jealous."
Tim raises an eyebrow at him and endures the lint inspection. "Can we go in now?"
"You know your lines?"
"I have done this a time or two before."
"Fine," Conner grins. He's in his element, Tim thinks, as he watches Conner flip through the market index one last time. His hair's growing out, just enough to curl a bit at the front. The wide, perfect tie is only just tight enough to touch his throat, and no more. He's a public relations dream, and Tim knows he'll be grateful for that when their arrangement hits the papers. Conner can do all the talking. Lois's head will explode, though - trying to get answers of a Kent-Luthor amalgam if you don't already know them has to be something akin to beating one's head against a wall made out of meteor rocks.
"If you're done staring," Conner smiles, not looking up from his papers. "I'm ready when you are."
Tim turns on his heel and heads for the door.
The Cadmus board is assembled and waiting, circled around the boardroom table. There will be no surprises, though - Tim knows what they're walking into. They take their seats, and Director Cannon clears his throat. "Thank you for coming, gentlemen," he begins.
"You're welcome," Conner smiles, cocky, and Serling hides her smile behind a slim hand. Amanda Waller scowls, and Tim savors her rage for the rarity it is. After all, she is government.
Cannon lifts an eyebrow. "Yes, well. There've been quite a few developments since we last met, I'm sure you've heard. The unipotents we're producing have been successfully integrated into existing tissue structures repeatedly in testing, and I think we're ready to proceed to advanced animal testing. I don't have to tell you how encouraging that is."
"Impressive," Tim nods, allowing his finger to trace the Wayne Enterprises logo embossed on his folder. "Your use of nanite blastocysts to promote development is inspired."
Conner cocks an eyebrow. "I hear Star Labs is already claiming to be able to duplicate the process."
"Yes," says Xi, his voice soft and calm as always. "But then, Star Labs is a repository of gifted copycats."
"Xavier," Cannon demurs.
Xi's manner is perfectly unchanged. "Cadmus holds innovation as one of the cardinal virtues - but you know that."
Tim resists the urge to smile. The longer he knows Xi, the more he is simultaneously impressed and unnerved. Sometimes it's like the man can read your mind.
"Let's move on," Jess Harper suggests, tactfully flipping a page over.
"Yes," Cannon says, refocusing. "With these newest developments, I'm sure you can see that Cadmus has progressed beyond its competitors. The world market has become interested, gentlemen. We're receiving proposals from Tokyo, Beijing and Vienna."
"Good thing we all signed off on the closed negotiations agreement," Conner beams. "Or I'd be worried right now."
Everyone laughs easily except for Waller, who has no sense of humor, and Tim, who flips a page in his folder. "Partnership options are promising," he notes, and Cannon beams at him.
"They certainly are, Mister Drake. I'm glad you see it our way."
"I'm not certain of that," Tim smiles. "But go on."
Cannon falters, but presses ahead valiantly. "Let's talk dollars and cents," he says, leaning his elbows on the table. "I believe we tabled in the thirties, last time?"
"Luthorcorp bid $37.52 per share, and Wayne Biotech bid $31.26," Jess reads from her notes. "Presuming a bump on scale with the book build."
Cannon nods. "With these new developments, gentlemen, and the interest from abroad, I think we can be prepared to look at something in the fifties."
Conner laughs. He outright laughs, and everyone winds up staring at him. Tim understands; he knew they'd try to raise the price, but twenty points? Conner beams, sliding a thumb across one perfect eye. "Fifty?"
"I take it you've got a problem with the figure, Mister Luthor."
"Yeah, I'd fucking say so. Fifty!"
Cannon's face goes hard, but smug. Tim's his first choice anyway. He turns to Tim, a smirk curving his lips. "Perhaps Mister Drake is more inclined toward our way of thinking."
"Yeah, I don't think so," Tim says, a bland corporate smile on his face. "Your offer's rejected."
"Fifty," Conner chuckles, grinning at Tim across the table. "I knew they'd go high, but I didn't think they'd get high before they re-opened the bid."
"Mister Luthor," says Waller, her thunderous voice at low volume, but with the promise of storms. "Whatever you're accustomed to at home, here in the board room we show respect to the people we're dealing with."
"Stuff a sock in it, Amanda," Conner says, and the gasps of shock roll around the table. Conner fails to be dissuaded, and stands up to stroll casually around the room as he talks. "I would love to show you people respect, I really would. But I'm afraid there's this slight impediment I have, which is that I know how this all is going to turn out, and you don't, which means the longer we sit here, the more bored I get. So let me spell it out for you, okay? Save us all a little time."
Tim braces himself, and tries not to picture his family, which is hard. Bruce and Dick in particular will want video of this so they can watch it with popcorn.
"Your underwriter is called TKL Biotech, which is a new company under the joint management of Wayne Biotech and LuthorCorp. You will sell shares to TKL at twenty dollars per share and not a penny more." Four people start talking at once, Xi being the sole exception. Conner shouts them all down. "Let me explain! Please, people. I have the floor until I yield. Jesus."
"Proceed, Mister Luthor," Jess Harper says coldly. "So we can get on with throwing you out on your ear."
"I'd like to see that," Conner beams. "No, I really would. Because then I could march right downtown to the Daily Planet, walk right into Perry White's office and sell him a big, fat exclusive on the unconscionable practices put forward by Cadmus Labs during the execution of Project Scion."
The room is silent for a long few seconds before Serling speaks. "...What's Project Scion?"
"Never mind, honey," Conner says, laying a hand on her shoulder. "It's a dirty secret it's probably better you don't know about."
"Double X," Cannon says quietly. "How much does he know?"
"It would be faster to tell you what he doesn't know," says Xi, and Tim narrows his eyes at the man. What the hell is he? Xi meets his gaze steadily. "A project before Project Scion," he says, answering the unspoken thought.
Tim immediately begins humming the theme to Jeopardy in his head.
"Mister Drake," Cannon says, staring at his hands. "I presume you're a part of this."
Obvious questions for one hundred, Alex. "Wayne Biotech owns a fifty percent share of TKL. I'm in full agreement with Mister Luthor's figures, if not necessarily his methods. I presume that answers your question."
"You can't do this," Jess says angrily. "We signed an agreement with Wayne Enterprises and LuthorCorp. TKL is a third player; that's expressly forbidden."
Tim flips another page. "Cadmus will take the no-faith clause and exit the agreement. TKL will take over from there."
Jess, Cannon and Waller start arguing amongst themselves after that, and Tim closes his folder. They'll fight about it for a bit, but they don't have a choice. Xi just sits there with his hands on the table. Creepy.
"What does this all mean?" Serling asks. "I mean... are you going to shut us down, or what?" She looks afraid, and Tim feels bad for a minute.
"Hardly," Conner smiles, and leans on the back of his empty chair so he can look at her. He lowers his voice to a stage whisper. "I just named a price that'll put six million dollars in your own adorable little pocket. And that's not even counting the research funding you'll get when you're under our company's banner."
"Oh," Serling says, brightening a bit.
Conner grins at her. "I know. These bastards are just greedy."
Serling meets his eyes seriously. "What kind of funding are we talking about? Are you changing the priorities?"
"Organ replacement, primarily," Tim puts in. "But that's a major division here already."
"That's my field of expertise," she smiles.
"I know," Tim returns. "I'm giving you a blank check. More or less."
"Awesome," she says, and pushes her glasses up her nose.
Tim and Conner field questions for another few minutes and then take their leave. "It's been a pleasure," Conner grins, waving at them.
"Stuff a sock in it," Tim says under his breath, with a decided edge.
"Oh, come on," Conner says, pushing open the door to the reception area and holding it for Tim to follow. "It wasn't that bad."
"It was a roast," Tim notes.
Conner laughs, waving at Terri on his way by. "Well, they deserved it. Lighten up, Drake."
"I can't," Tim says as he calls the elevator. "We have dinner with your father tonight at the penthouse. Do you know what that means?"
"...Peking duck?" Conner guesses, stepping through the elevator doors and pushing the button for the ground.
"Funny. It means we're not going to be the only ones there. Your dad and you-know-who can't be seen in public together, but he can come to the penthouse."
"No," Conner breathes, turning wide eyes on Tim. "No way."
"Way," Tim pronounces grimly. "I almost wish it was Bruce. At least then we'd get to go someplace. Like Seven. I haven't been to Seven since it re-opened."
Conner scowls. "Y'know, if you want to go out for dinner, I'll take you. It's kind of my job."
"Will you bring me a corsage?" Tim asks, straight-faced. "I'm not a cheap date."
"I will bring you orchids," Conner promises, laughing. "I will bring you exotic orchids that cost four hundred dollars. Each."
"You better," Tim says, and steps out into the lobby of the building. Martín and Pru are sitting in the lush armchairs, basking in the sun. Pru is pointing her toes at him and talking, presumably about her shoes; Martín is giving her the warmest smile Tim's seen on his face since they were last in France. He and Conner can't figure out if they're seeing each other, or even interested, but they certainly seem to like each other. It's like a tacit blessing from the universe on their relationship, like moving in with your lover and finding that your cats are instant friends.
"That's so cute," Conner says, butting in on Tim's thoughts. "They're gonna share makeup tips next."
"Is that a gay joke?" Tim asks blandly.
Conner turns to him and slides a hand behind his back, pulling him close. "Shut up," he smiles, and then kisses Tim right there in the lobby, right there in public. Tim can feel the stares, feel his heart beat hard in his chest; it's still weird to be able to do this right here, where anybody can see. But Conner's body is warm and his mouth is perfect, and so Tim closes his eyes and kisses back.