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strange fear i ain’t felt for years

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The first time it happens, Jason’s on a stakeout. It’s the end of February, he’s camped up on a truly freezing factory rooftop down by the docks, and he’s killing time by pitting Jane Austen heroines against each other in a series of elaborate mental cage matches. He’s just about determined that Anne Elliot would knock the daylights out of Fanny Price when his comm jumps to life in his ear.

“Hood, the warehouse is going to explode in seventy seconds.”

It’s Tim’s voice, cold and professional as Red Robin. Jason swallows his shock long enough to do his job. “Building clear? Anyone you’d like me to save?” he says, already stretching some flexibility back into his cold-stiffened joints.

“All clear. Just get out of there.”

Jason does, slipping off the edge of the roof and down the fire escape. He hits the streets at a dead run. He didn’t bring his bike and there’s nowhere high enough around the docks to hold a grapple for swinging, so he’s left hoofing it just as fast as he can with no way of knowing whether the warehouse he was watching is rigged with a stick of dynamite or six bricks of semtex. He’s far enough away by the time the blast detonates that it’s almost muffled, just a pop-gun of sound and then the collapsing of walls. He slows and stops in a shadowy corner. “Am I good to go back and case the scene?” he asks.

Tim is quick in his ear. “No need. The initiation won’t be held here tonight.”

Jason waits for more, for some explanation, but there isn’t one. He frowns.
“Did, uh, did you set that explosion?” he asks, pretty sure he knows the answer.

“Of course not,” Tim says. “A Camorrista did, obviously. They know you’re following them. Be more careful.”

“Thanks,” Jason says, so surprised it just slips out. “Fuck off,” he adds, because he’s not a thank-you kind of guy.

“Uh huh,” says Tim. “Red Robin out.” The line clicks off.

Jason glares at the column of gray smoke coming from the docks. A siren has started in the distance and is getting closer; Tim must have alerted the fire department as well. He hadn’t had the faintest inkling the warehouse was rigged to blow, which is upsetting in and of itself, but the more important question is how Tim had known. Was he working a parallel case? The Camorra didn’t exactly belong to the Red Hood alone. It was only by law of proximity that Jason was on their tail at all, since the mob had started encroaching deeper into his usual territory. He’s been giving them grief for a month now, doing his damndest to pick off the ones who need picking off and send the rest back up to whatever New York City den they crawled out of. But a fresh batch of faces has been popping up in Camorra operations, and somehow foot soldier recruitment has recently more than tripled. Jason has the sneaking suspicion that he’s going to have to take drastic measures before he has a gang war on his hands. It’s possible Tim’s coming at the whole thing from the other side—Jason vaguely remembers his taking an interest in weapons trafficking, so maybe Tim’s just got his beady little eye on the crates of guns the mafia is sneaking in. Regardless, without Tim, Jason would have been on the receiving end of a pretty piece of high-ex, and that’s uncomfortable. Jason doesn’t like being in anybody’s debt.

The next time it happens Jason’s in the middle of a knock-down, drag-out streetfight with a whole passel of Camorristi. There was simply no point tiptoeing around them anymore, not since Tim was so sure the mob was aware of his interest, and Jason’s been longing for the opportunity to put the fear of God back into the most brazen of the bunch. Or maybe the fear of the Bat. The fear of the Hood, at least. After an age of creeping around on rooftops, it feels good to throw his weight around a little.

Or a lot. Jason has six on the ground and a sniper on the balcony of the building behind him, plus any number of Camorristi wives in the building’s upper levels who may or may not decide to put their little Berettas to good use. Jason’s still not worried. He’s almost laughably better trained, and if things get really hairy he’s packing a pocketful of smoke and gas pellets to speed his getaway. He has two men laid out in seconds and takes down a third with ease. Streetfighting isn’t hard when you’re big and not afraid to fight dirty: collarbones snap under even light force and kicking a knee out of alignment is simple. Jason has no problem aiming for the crotch, and a fourth falls groaning. The last two are shouting as much at each other as they are at him, but Jason really doesn’t speak Neapolitan Italian and has only the barest idea what they’re saying. Their hands are shaky on their guns. Jason’s able to kick the pistol out of the grip of the first while breaking the second one’s wrist before they know what’s happening. He’s been careful to keep the fight in a tight group up until now, keeping the mass of bodies confused enough that neither the sniper nor anyone on the ground will risk shooting. But he’s running out of Camorristi to hide behind and—

“On your six. Gunman on the balcony.” It’s Tim in his ear.

“Yes, I know that,” Jason says, kicking out the knee of the Camorrista with the broken wrist and grabbing the last man around the neck. He wheels the man around and pulls his Glock with his free hand. The gunman on the balcony isn’t really a sniper. He’s just a Camorrista who happens to be behind an AK-47, and now—safety-aim-trigger-bang—he’s dead.

Hood,” Tim groans.

“I don’t recall asking for your opinion, princess,” Jason says, holstering his weapon and scanning the scene. “Or your help.” He keeps hold of his mobster hostage as a shield. He’s sweeping for Camorristi lurking in the shadows, the wives in the upper rooms, and Tim, here either in person or in camera. At last he lands on an ancient CCTV cam dangling in front of a long-abandoned grocery store across the street. He’d assumed the thing was busted, but in retrospect Oracle probably has power running through every camera in the whole city. He drags his pet mobster closer to the camera and sets his hands like he’s about to snap the man’s neck. He cocks his head at the camera.

“Don’t you dare,” Tim says.

Jason shrugs and pistol-whips the Camorrista instead. “Just for you, baby,” he says, but his helmet is on so Tim can’t see how he’s grinning. “Now knock it off. Or is Gotham crime-free tonight?”

“Red Robin out,” says Tim. The line goes dead.

“That’s what I thought,” Jason says to the street of unconscious Camorristi.

The next time, Jason’s tracked a Camorra capo to his hideout in a wealthy neighborhood in the outskirts of Gotham. Young, attractive Antonio Benoni isn’t at the very center of the Camorra’s stateside operations, but he is a man who’s been in Gotham since the very beginning of the Camorra’s ex-NYC migration. He’ll tell Jason what he wants to know. Eventually. But Jason’s most immediate problem is the house itself. Benoni’s clapboard New England is a veritable fortress, an unlikely candidate for bunker-status, but there it is all the same. Jason skirts around the exterior floodlights for five minutes trying to find an entry point he wouldn’t have to use a wad of C-4 to bust through.

His comm switches on. “Hidden root cellar under the recycling bins. Should have internal access.”

“If you’re hacked into the CCTV security system, you can damn well open the front door for me,” Jason grouses, but heads for the line of bins anyway.

Tim’s a little smug in his ear. “Now where’s the challenge in that?”

“The challenge is in me not kicking your ass. Are you bored? Is that it?” He drags the bins away from the wall and yep, there’s a wooden hatch set into the ground, not even padlocked. Below is a steep, damp staircase and the smell of mold. It’s dark, but an empty sort of dark. Jason doesn’t think there’s anyone lurking with guns. Well, besides himself.

He steals through the root cellar and up to the basement proper. The heavy basement door swings open at his touch, just like it would be if someone had been messing with the keycard access. “Alright, thanks,” he mutters. Tim is quietly triumphant. The house is silent but not empty; doors are ajar and hall lights are on, for all that it’s two in the morning.

“Two bodyguards in the kitchen eating Oreos. Benoni alone in bed, second floor, end of the hall.”

“I don’t need your backseat driving,” Jason hisses as he ghosts up the stairs, placing his feet carefully on the outer edges of each step to keep from squeaking. The bedroom door opens on silken hinges and there’s Benoni, alone in bed but for the muted gay porn on his laptop and his own friendly hand. He hasn’t noticed Jason yet, too focused on himself, and really it’s a shame Benoni’s a Camorristi mobster because he’s more or less gorgeous.

“Oh, babybird,” Jason whispers. “You naughty thing.”

“I didn’t say he was asleep,” Tim says.

“Sure. Bet you’ve been watching the live feed since the show began. You like your cameras, don’t you, kiddo?” Jason hears a swallow down the line but gives up teasing Tim. It’s time to get a move on. Benoni’s making faces like this all might be over pretty quick, and Jason can’t miss his moment. “Now, Antonio, didn’t your mother ever warn you about going blind?” he says by way of announcing his presence. Benoni yelps and slaps the laptop shut. He drags a pillow over his lap as Jason stalks into the center of the room, Glock drawn as a precaution.

Benoni’s stammers his way into a threat. “Get out of here! I’ll—I’ll call my guards. I have connections—people you don’t want to piss off!”

“That’s cute,” Jason says kindly. “Antonio Benoni, second cousin to Don Alberto Malto. I hear you’ve been moving quite a bit of product across country lines, Antonio. I’m sure you know Gotham has all the cocaine it could possibly need, and I’d be obliged if your crew would stop snatching the working girls. But I’m really here tonight to have a little chat. I’m just so interested in what Don Malto’s up to these days.” Jason scoops up a pair of sweatpants from the floor with the toe of his boot and flips them up onto the bed. “I think we’d all be more comfortable if you put those on.”

Benoni struggles into the sweatpants. “You can go to hell. I’ll die before I tell you anything,” he says, rather bravely for a man in his position. Jason grabs up the laptop while Benoni’s hands are busy with the sweatpants. It opens back onto the video.

“Bear rams twink, how educational. And the browser history, let’s have that too. Twink facials, frat gang bang, freshman gets pounded. You’re a man of singular refinement, Benoni.” Tim giggles in his ear, quick like he didn’t mean to. Jason grins in the privacy of his helmet. Benoni, on the other hand, has gone deathly pale. “Shall I go on?”

“No, please,” Benoni says, genuinely terrified. He glances at the door.

“I’m guessing twink facials don’t go over very well with the average Camorrista,” Jason says. “Bit of a homophobic bunch, are they? Wouldn’t end well for you if I had my people broadcast your internet history to the rest of your friends?”

“Please,” Benoni repeats, fingers clenched and white at the knuckle. Jason presses play on Bear Rams Twink and turns the laptop towards Benoni. The mobster’s eyes flick from the screen to Jason and back again.

“Now about that chat,” Jason says.

“That wasn’t nice of you,” Tim says in his ear thirty minutes later. Jason’s on his way out, having left Benoni to his private dark night of the soul.

“You would have preferred me to torture him? Thumbscrews and whatnot?”

“No, but…”

Jason stops in the now-empty kitchen to steal the last package of Oreos. “I didn’t even kill him,” he protests as he climbs back up through the root cellar. “Look, I wasn’t actually going to follow through. Broadcast his history or whatever,” he says, not sure why he feels the need to defend himself. Tim’s still quiet in his ear. Jason huffs in frustration. “I wouldn’t, with that, alright? I don’t go around outing people. I mean, it’s me. I’m as queer as he is. As queer as you are.”

Tim still isn’t talking. Jason thinks back through what he said.

“Wait. It’s not some kind of secret, is it? Come on, kid!”

“Not…really…” Tim finally says, like he’d rather be talking about anything else.

“There you go, then. We’re all adults here. Right? How old are you?” He’s several streets away at this point, coming up on the toolshed where he stashed his bike.

“Eighteen,” Tim mutters.

“Technically all adults, then.” The bike, a modified KTM, purrs to life entirely without the roar of any normal motorcycle. He can kick it up loud on the highway, but the beefed-up muffler is an absolute necessity in his line of work. “See? Nothing to worry about. You, me, and fingerstripes, probably the demon spawn, and I’d put good money on the big bat. That’s five for five, in case you were counting. Couldn’t tell you a damn thing about the girls. You’re the stalker, bet you could give me the dirt.” The highway back to central Gotham is crowded even at this hour, and the wind whips high off the curve of his helmet. Tim’s voice still carries perfectly through the earpiece.

“Batgirl yes, Black Bat maybe, Oracle probably not,” Tim says, too quickly, like he’s reading off an internal list.

“Probably not? O? Damn, kid, if you say so.”

“I do,” Tim says, a little more easily. Jason wonders dimly if Tim’s ever talked about this sort of thing with anyone before.

“You being careful, though? Condoms, et-cetera?” Jason says as he takes the exit that’ll bring him back to his own neighborhood. He’s suddenly awash in an unexpected swell of fraternal protectiveness.

Tim pauses for a moment. “No one to be careful with,” he finally says, awkward.

“What, ever?” Jason says, trying to scrub the surprise from his voice. He’s not interested in embarrassing Tim at the moment.

“Well not never, not—not really,” Tim says cagily.

“Gonna give me more details?” Jason asks. Ginger and Sapphire wave at him from the corner as he passes.

“No,” Tim says. Jason snorts. He spirals down to the basement of his favorite parking deck and steers his bike up the waiting ramp and into the back of an old delivery van. The van’s totally shot, motor gone, but the back hatch is fingerprint-lockable and pretty hard for any normal person to break into. If some enterprising kid off the street gets past all that, Jason figures they can have the bike. His safehouse is nearby. They’re both quiet as he climbs the stairs and lets himself in, but Tim doesn’t cut the line. Jason can hear him on the other side, swallowing a mouthful of something and typing.

“Now,” Jason says after he’s rearmed the security and torn into his stolen pack of Oreos as a very late midnight snack, “are we going to talk about what you’re doing hanging around in my ear?”

“What’s to talk about?” Tim says.

“Plenty,” Jason says.

Because last he was aware, he and Tim Drake weren’t exactly best buddies. Things have mellowed out since he first blew back into town, sure, but that doesn’t mean they’re good pals or whatever. They just don’t have much to do with each other, these days. Jason thinks it’s been a solid three weeks since he’s even seen Red Robin in the field, and that was from two streets away and heading in opposite directions. Their usual patrol neighborhoods don’t overlap whatsoever—Tim is across town most of the time, working the beat on the outskirts of Chinatown. He still lives at the Manor. Jason hasn’t even stepped foot in the Cave in six months. Both Bruce and Jason like it better that way, keeping out of each other’s sight but close enough to check up on whenever neuroses get the better of them.

But that doesn’t mean Jason’s out of the loop. He’s as finely tuned to the cape grapevine as the rest of them, and he keeps more or less up to date on mission and patrol reports uploaded to the Bat database by all of Bruce’s little soldiers. He’s not technically supposed to have access, but there’s always a backdoor to the system left open—probably specifically for him, and probably by Barbara. He hasn’t nosed around in there for a good week or so, but it’s ready when he wants it.

Jason settles down at the makeshift table made of fruit crates and opens his laptop. Forget the rest of the Bats—it’s really just Oracle’s network, and she’s not shy about letting them know whose grunt work keeps things running. It flashes up green and glowing and he scrolls through Tim’s record files. This last week is suspiciously bare-bones for meticulous, detail-oriented Tim. He opens the biggest file, a patrol report from over a week ago. Oh.

“Went and got your arm broke in three places, did’ya? Crushed by a steel beam, good lord, kiddo. How did you manage that one?” Yikes, and it’s his dominant arm, as well.

“If you have the report open you can read for yourself. I was pulling squatters from a collapsing building.”

“Very heroic,” Jason says. Tim’s definitely been benched. There’s no way Bruce would let him back in the field with a massive cast all the way down his right arm. “Been going stir crazy on desk duty? You must be about to shoot yourself if you’re bored enough to be bothering me.”

“I’ve already overhauled Wayne Enterprises’ stock portfolios,” Tim admits.

“So you’ve decided to apprentice to Oracle?”

“I could use the practice,” Tim says. “Are you going after Don Malto tomorrow?”

“Shouldn’t be telling you jack shit, Jiminy Cricket.” Jason stretches. It’s well past three AM and he wants to go to bed.

“I won’t interfere,” Tim says.

“Yeah, right. Listen, princess, I need a shower and I’m taking out my earpiece to do it, not that I wouldn't love to hear your sweet voice while I’m all soapy and wet.”

There’s a beat of silence, then Tim says, “Ha,” but it’s strained. Well then. “For tomorrow, Don Malto will be taking a meeting with two messengers from the larger clan in New York City. Time unconfirmed, location unconfirmed. Will report back when I know more. Red Robin out,” he says, and the line goes dead before Jason can protest.

The next day Jason’s staring down his earpiece while he eats breakfast. It’s noon, the sun is coming in through his shitty broken blinds, and it’s just lying there on the fruit crate where he left it, pale and innocuous. He could just leave it there, or very carefully contemplate something else until he forgets about it. Jason drums his fingers on the rough wood. Finally he slides the comm back into his ear without letting himself think too hard, doing his best not to make a thing out of it.

It’s not uncomfortable to wear at all, just an anchor and a slip of wire, almost totally undetectable and virtually invisible. He’s fairly sure Bruce lives with his in full-time. For being so small they’re terrifically powerful: they transmit a whisper as easily as a shout and juggle frequencies with ease. Opening a new private link requires either computer access or a favor from someone else with computer access, but connection to the open line is automatic. Jason keeps the open line turned off most of the time. It needles him to listen to the Bats moving like a well-oiled machine, talking and calling to each other across Gotham, so usually he doesn’t bother. They can put a request in through Oracle for a private channel if they want him.

Jason flips over to the open line for just a minute out of curiosity, but there’s no one awake and moving on it so he shuts it back off. The hours pass gently. Jason works out and eats again, showers and goes to the grocery store. At five Tim connects to his frequency.

“Hood?” he says, unsure if Jason’s there or not. No names over the lines, open or otherwise.

“Yeah, I hear ya,” Jason says. Try as he might during the day, he’d been unable to come up with any information on the meeting between Malto and the NYC messengers. The meeting exists if Tim says it does, but then again Tim’s always been the better detective. Jason would need to hit the streets and crack some heads to get the same amount of information Tim can get with a five-minute trawl of the internet.

“Don Malto is taking the two messengers to the lobby of the Gotham Grande Hotel. 7:30 PM. Bodyguards will also be in the party, I’m sure.”

“That’s not great news, kid.” The lobby of the Grande is terrifically public and populated. Dangerous for whatever shady dealings Malto will no doubt be getting up to, but also extremely tricky for any vigilante to interrupt. Or at least to manage the sort of interruption Jason had been planning, which featured some fancy gunwork and a lot of noise.

“You going undercover?”

“Not if I can help it,” Jason says.

He isn’t able to help it. He does restrict his involvement to a five-minute waiter’s getup, in which he bustles around the tables in the lounge of the Grande topping up the vases of the flower bouquets. At Don Malto’s table he also slips a bug into the rose petals.

One quick change later and he’s lounging on the fire escape out back, listening with Tim to the conversation. It’s by and large as dull as an evening at one of Bruce’s charity galas, and the talk so far has centered around the weather (cold), boxing statistics (favorable), and relatives (numerous). Finally the conversation circles around to relevancy.

“All of the City has been hearing of your troubles with costumes, Malto,” says the older messenger, who is apparently the nephew of a NYC Big Boss. His name is Giancarlo Mancini.

“Exaggerated reports, I’m sure,” Malto says. “Gotham is famously a tough nut to crack—so much trickier than the City. Your uncle knew there would be resistance.”

“So much resistance, though.” This is from the younger, Giuseppe Lombardi, who is perhaps Mancini’s brother-in-law. Jason feels a tiny burst of pride. The Camorra are his case. The resistance is from him.

“Certainly it must feel as such in comparison with New York, where there is no resistance that cannot be paid to go away. Gentlemen, I assure you, your reservations are unfounded. We are moving according to schedule. Already we are recruiting, some of the first true new blood the Family has seen in many years. Soon we will be strong enough to put forward candidates for the police academy and local government. Gotham is a waiting game, my friends. Giancarlo, tell your dear uncle he has my word.”

A waiter arrives delivering coffees and the conversation is dropped. Jason settles back against the brick. “Well, it’s not like it’s an original or surprising plan,” he says. Tim hums in agreement. “Disappointing, really. The zany grabs for power are always so much easier to foil.”

“What are you going to do about it?” Tim asks.

Jason sighs. He wants to lurk in an alleyway and shoot all three of them, but he’s not sure that’s his best option, at least for the moment. “What do you think I should do?” he asks.

“Scare Malto, compile evidence against him, and drop him off with the police.”

“He’d be back out again in two hours, with his New York connections,” Jason says. Typical Bat plan of action. More trouble than it’s worth and no results to show for itself.

“Scare him really well,” Tim insists.

“I’ll take it under advisement,” Jason says drily. “In the meantime, you should bring me up to speed on the Camorra’s weapons trafficking. The night’s young and I’m itching to punch somebody.”

Tim directs him back to the docks at Tricorner Yards, but that’s as far as he’s able to help. “The shipment was unloaded at Pier 37 two nights ago. I didn’t flag it as leaving on a big rig, so the goods were either stashed nearby or moved yesterday.”

“And you didn’t think I might have wanted to know about it then?” Jason asks, annoyed. The guns could be gone by now.

“Thought you didn’t want any help,” Tim says, voice in danger of going sly.

“Oh, we’re getting awfully big for our britches over there, Oracle Junior.” Jason comes up on Pier 37. It’s not even nine o’clock but the place is deserted. Jason pokes around the empty moorings for a minute while Tim gets antsy.

“I’d hardly think they left the boxes just sitting on the wharf,” Tim says impatiently.

“Do I tell you how to run your cases?” Jason says. He tests the heavy ropes trailing into the water and hefts each in turn. An old smuggler’s trick, to waterproof your cargo and let it sit down on the seabed, invisible even under low tide and connected to the dock by a rope. When you want it moved, just haul it up and off you go. But it looks like the Camorra didn’t think of that one, unless they switched docks. But Jason doesn’t have all night to sit around playing find the lady—he’ll hope they stored the guns in a container or warehouse. “Hold the line, operator,” he tells Tim, and flips open tonight’s burner phone.

Antonio Benoni picks up on the first ring. “What.”

“Antonio! Hey buddy, it’s me, the man who knows all your secrets. Quick question: where are the guns from the February 28th shipment?”

“No idea.”

“Are we still playing these games? I thought we had an understanding. But if you’d rather I stopped protecting you, you can have it your own way…”

Benoni makes an ugly noise. “Warehouse five. You’ll burn in hell for this.”

“Been there, done that, had a great time,” Jason says cheerfully and snaps the phone shut. “You see why Benoni’s a good friend to have?” he tells Tim.

“You’re very pleased with yourself,” Tim says. There’s the distant sound of typing. “No CCTV in warehouse five. Stay alert.”

“Should’ve had an extra coffee at the Grande,” Jason says as he jogs up the docks. Warehouse five is low-fronted and grim, piled with broken pallets and rotting planks. One of the windows is entirely missing, so Jason swings in through it rather than risk the door. A weak electric lantern is burning on the far wall and a couple of beefy guards sit in folding chairs, absorbed in their phones. He relays as much to Tim. “Golly gee,” he murmurs. “I sure do hope I can take them.”

“Don’t get cocky,” Tim says.

“You like me cocky,” Jason says, and when Tim doesn’t have a reply he rolls in swinging. The two guards go down and he zip strips them on autopilot, already looking around for the shipment. The crates are a little tricky to find, actually, and Jason pries the lid off of six different kinds of auto parts before he gets lucky. The nails come out of the right lid and he whistles under his breath when he sees the goods. “I know you can’t see this, but sweet mercy, babybird. These guys ain’t fuckin around.”

“What are they?”

“God, I’m not even a hundred percent sure. Slavic?” He picks up one of the rifles and reads the engraving. “Where are Zastavas made?”

“Serbia,” Tim says, after a beat of what’s probably googling. “Although there’s been some trouble with trafficking Zastavas manufactured when the area was still Yugoslavia.”

“Messy. Still, you don’t usually see this sort of thing Stateside,” Jason says. He knocks the tops off the rest of the crates. All assault rifles and submachine guns, and not exactly what he looks for in a pretty weapon. There’s too much light wood paneling, but he still picks one out to keep for himself and doesn’t mention it to Tim. “Some pretty nasty firepower,” he says. “Not that I’m getting worried over here, but how do six crates of Zastavas stack up against the peaceable ‘conquer from inside the system’ plan Malto was laying down earlier?”

“I’d say gangwar,” says Tim.

“I was gonna go with hostile takeover.”

Jason waits around on the roof of the warehouse while Tim calls in the authorities. They need to make sure the guns are in the right hands before leaving the scene. Well, maybe not the right hands, but better hands than the alternative. Jason doesn't think Malto’s infiltration of Gotham PD has gotten off the ground, and he’s fairly sure that even with Gotham’s usual simmering level of police corruption no one’s going to toss a submachine gun back to the streets. Jason lets one cop catch sight of his dark shadow on the roof before he takes off, but with the way she grins she probably thought it was Batman.

“Want to bring me that gun you stole so I can have a look at it?” Tim says as Jason straddles his bike again.

Jason actually startles a little. “How did you—?”

“As if you could have resisted. I want to see how far back I can trace it. Probably useless for this case, but you never know.”

“Uh, yeah,” Jason says, hesitant in a way he can’t pin down. “Where are you? I’m not coming to the Manor.”

“I’m staying in the Penthouse right now,” Tim says. “I’m out of everyone’s hair and I’m close to work for the Foundation and Wayne Enterprises. Which is apparently all I’m good for at the moment.”

“Aw, princess, you’re good enough for me,” Jason says as he heads downtown.

“Thanks,” Tim says, voice flat, but Jason thinks he might be smiling.

Jason hasn’t been to the Penthouse since before he died. It perches at the top of the Wayne Foundation skyscraper and eats up the top two floors, the private roof, and the hidden internal elevator connecting down to the Bunker underground. And it sounds like Tim has the place all to himself, lucky boy. Jason’s never been one to need luxury, as evidenced by his string of grotty safehouses, but he’ll never get over his streetkid wonder when it’s handed to him on a silver platter.

He’s surprised with his hesitancy as he circles around for the hidden approach to the big sleek building. Ridiculous. It’s only Tim.

There’s a Bat-entrance through the bottom level of an underground parking structure. Tim opens the remote-controlled false wall for him and he speeds down into an abandoned subway tunnel. The place is loaded with scanners and cameras and probably lasers, but then he passes through another sliding wall into the Bunker proper. It has an industrial feel to it, all exposed metal piping and poured concrete, not even a quarter the size of the Cave. There’s a training pit, the row of vehicles, and up top the computer banks. Tim’s nowhere in sight, but Jason can hear him clear his throat across the comms. The comms come with a proximity function and will cancel out when they’re in the same room, but for now Jason can still hear Tim, hear it when he coughs or mutters something at whatever he’s working on, and it’s at once deeply personal and so much white noise. Jason abandons his bike and helmet and heads for the elevators.

It’s a long ride up.

Tim’s waiting for him when the doors slide open, standing in the middle of the room barefoot and looking like something J.Crew puked up. “Hi,” Tim says, a little shyly, reaching up to tug at the collar of his polo.

“Hi,” says Jason. He’s somehow turned shy himself. How long has it been since he’s been around Tim out of the field? His brain is coming up with “never,” but that can’t be right. A long-ass time, then, long enough for Tim to have grown all the way out of his baby face. He’s still a slip of a thing, slim and delicate and if he’s taller than 5’7” Jason will eat a whole crate of Serbian guns. But he’s pretty. God in heaven, he’s pretty like a little china doll. The hard blue cast wrapping from below his shoulder all the way to his fingers looks almost violently out of place on him, as do the fat scars that track across his exposed skin.

“Can I have the—“ Tim begins.

“Yeah, here,” says Jason, too fast, trying not to stare. He almost gets stuck unslinging the Zastava from his shoulder.

“Thanks,” Tim says, taking the gun and heading for the line of navy couches across the room. His hair is long enough to fall past his chin. He’s pale like a ghost. His hips are tiny. Jason swallows. Oh, this is very bad. “Make yourself at home,” Tim says, already typing into one of the laptops spread over the couches. “There’s coffee, or water, or whatever.”

Jason gets himself a glass of water to stall. The whole main floor of the Penthouse is terribly modern and open-plan, kitchen and living area divided by a mammoth central island. The outer walls are ninety percent window and the view of Gotham would be breathtaking for anyone who doesn’t spend an awful lot of time perched on gargoyles at this general altitude. Jason sees smoke from a fire across the city. “Is midtown in trouble?” he asks, going to stand by the glass. He can almost see the flames.

“Yeah, but Batgirl and the fire department are on it. Oracle says not to worry.” Tim’s typing is impressive for someone only using his left hand. “If you’d like the full report, Nightwing is stopping muggings in Blüdhaven, Black Bat is watching over Park Row, and Batman and Robin are in El Salvador. I could rattle off the whole Gotham cape scene for you, if you want.”

“I can’t decide if you’re admirably thorough or just a stalker,” Jason says, and half a smile curves over Tim’s face.

“The first one, I’m sure. The gun, it’s like I thought,” Tim says, gesturing to the Zastava with his cast, “I can’t get anything helpful for the Camorra case, but I do ping the serial number passing through a supplier at the Swiss border.”

“They haven’t filed that off yet?” Jason asks, amazed.

“Guess not. Huh, SportWholesale. I haven’t heard of them. I’ll do some digging. It’s always good to update the files on shady weapons dealers.” Tim shuts the laptop and looks over the back of the couch at Jason. Once Jason gets past how well puberty has treated Tim, it’s easy to spot how exhausted he looks. His eyes are red-rimmed and heavy with dark circles and empty coffee mugs crowd the endtables.

“You get any sleep, kid?” he asks. Tim blinks at him.

“Plenty,” he says.

“Yeah, right,” Jason says. “You’re on desk duty. What’s stopping you?”

“There’s always work to be done,” Tim says.

Baby Bruce. “Gonna burn yourself out, princess.” Tim takes an involuntary breath, barely noticeable. But Jason’s trained to notice the barely noticeable. The nickname? Must be. He swallows a grin. Teasing Tim makes him feel better, more like himself. “What the hell am I gonna do next time I’ve got a perfect shot lined up and my conscience has fallen asleep at the wheel?” he says.

Tim rolls his eyes and pulls his legs up under him. “I couldn’t fall asleep if I wanted to,” he says. “I’m wired like a jumped car.”

“Well you’ve only had about nineteen cups of coffee today,” Jason says, coming over to the couches at last. He picks up the nearest mug. It says I ONLY DATE SUPERHEROES in pink letters. Tim grabs it from him.

“It was just—in the cupboard,” he says, not looking at Jason. “And it’s not the coffee. I’m not out in the field, that’s the problem. I can only sit here and listen to Steph get beaten up and watch people shoot at you—”

“Watch me shoot at people,” Jason corrects.

“That too. I can’t do anything to help. Professor Pyg might be out there starting a comeback and I’m stuck in here looking up—looking up gun sales in Switzerland!

“Christ, kid,” Jason says. “Hate to break it to you, but the fate of Gotham does not rest squarely on your shoulders. There’s a lot of us, in case you hadn’t noticed. I know it sucks watching from the sidelines, but we’ve all had to do it. So quit moaning and grow a pair.”

“Inspiring,” Tim says, deadpan.

“Fuck off, I’m being motivational. Put your jammies on and stick your hand down your pants, for chrissake. Or wait,” he says, as Tim looks anywhere but at Jason, “you can’t, can you? Right arm busted in three places. Goddamn, Replacement, that’s hard luck. That’s why you can’t get to sleep, you haven’t gotten off in, what, a week?” He’s laughing, and Tim’s bright red. “The left hand just isn’t the same,” he tells Tim seriously. “You’d better find some nice boy willing to do you a favor soon or you’ll work yourself into an early grave.”

“Right, thank you very much,” Tim says, staring determinedly out the window. He’s cute when he’s embarrassed. He’s probably cute all the time, Jason thinks distantly, but the shock of it has worn off some. He decides to be merciful.

“What’s there to eat in this palace?” he asks, heading back to the kitchen.

“Uh, nothing much,” Tim says. “I’ve been ordering in.”

“Nothing to do but sit around all day and you still don’t cook,” Jason says reproachfully. He opens the freezer. “And with frozen soup from Alfred in the icebox,” he adds. “Tragic.”

“I didn’t know how to make it,” Tim says.

“It’s frozen soup,” Jason repeats. Tim shrugs. Jason turns on the stove.

He washes Tim’s coffee mugs and the sink of dirty dishes while the soup melts. “You don’t have to,” Tim says hesitantly, but Jason waves him off.

“You’re an invalid.”

“I’m not,” Tim retorts.

“You are,” Jason says.

“I could kick your ass,” Tim says. Jason laughs, delighted.

“You could sure as hell try.” Their eyes meet across the room and Tim gives him that little half smile again. Jason looks away. “Whatever. I cook, I clean, I’m a regular housewife.”

Tim relocates to a barstool at the island as Jason’s placing the last mug on the drying rack. His cast is frozen in such a way that his arm is bent at a slightly strange angle. He has to position the whole thing carefully on the countertop, moving the cast with care, like he has to think about where it is at all times. Tim glares at it in disgust. “Dick tried to convince me to put racing stripes on it.”

“Shoulda gone with hot pink,” Jason says. “Can I sign it?”

“Absolutely not,” Tim says.

“Well what’s the point of a cast,” Jason says. He ladles out two bowls of thick vegetable soup and finds them spoons. He eats standing at the island across from Tim and nearly whimpers with his first bite. “Alfred,” he says, with feeling.

“You know where to go to get more,” Tim says mildly. Jason shoots him a look. He holds up his good hand, sorry, sorry.

Jason shakes it off. “Alfred would cry to see you eating takeout,” he says.

“I’d never let him know. He’s already called twice asking if I need anything.”

“I can’t imagine you’d ever be allowed to wither away in peace,” Jason says. “Where’s Dickiebird? Thought he’d be over here fussing.” Jason glances at the door, as if Nightwing might appear at any moment.

“He calls too, but he’s busy. And I don’t want anyone over here fussing,” Tim says.

“Oh, sorry then. I’ll take my leave.” Jason’s kidding, but he walks a few steps towards the elevator anyway.

“You don’t, uh. Have to. You’re okay. If you want,” Tim says. Jason slowly turns back around. Tim’s gone a little red again. Their eyes meet, and this time it’s Tim who looks away, and busies himself with his soup. Jason washes their bowls when they’ve finished and puts the rest of the soup into a tupperware.

“Just heat it up when you want it again,” Jason says. “The microwave’s fine.”

“It’ll be gone by morning,” Tim says. Jason picks up his jacket from where he shucked it earlier and puts it back on. “There’s more of Alfred’s food in the freezer,” Tim says. “If you ever want to come back and cook it.” Jason checks. More soup, lasagnas, Christ, a pie.

“Thawing food is too much of a struggle for the world’s second-greatest detective,” Jason says, shaking his head.

“I’m an invalid, don’t forget,” says Tim.

“I’d say you’re doing alright,” Jason says, only it comes out huskier than he wanted it to, and Tim’s eyes kind of skate down his torso and come back up to fix on his mouth. Jason decides it’s time for himself to leave. “I’m gonna go run a patrol through my neighborhood,” he says. “And I’m taking the gun.” He doesn't look to see if Tim’s disappointed. He can’t decide if he wants Tim to be disappointed. He scoops up the Zastava from the couch and slings it over his shoulders. “I’ll figure out what to do about Malto tomorrow,” he tells Tim.

“I don’t like those gun shipments,” Tim says, all business again as he walks Jason to the elevator.

“It doesn’t look good. I need to send a message.” What he needs to do first is stop those two NYC messengers from ever leaving Gotham alive, but Tim doesn’t need to know that.

“A very loud message, I’m assuming,” Tim says. The elevator door opens and Jason steps in.

“You read my mind. Catch you later, princess,” he says, and there it is again, that little indrawn breath. They hold each other’s gaze until the door slides shut.

He’s on his bike and halfway home when Tim’s voice comes through his earpiece. “It’s Phi Alpha Rho Red Light Night,” he says.

“That supposed to mean something to me?”

“Annual fraternity tradition. They bring the pledges down to your neck of the woods and set ‘em loose on the sex workers. Sometimes things don’t end well.”

“And how do you know about this?” Jason asks, already resigned to a night of scaring disgusting rich boys.

“I monitor Gotham U greek communications. I just checked my alerts.”

“You’re some kind of strange, babybird,” Jason says. “Thanks for the tip.”

He doesn’t hear from Tim for the rest of the night, but he thinks the line is still open. Sometimes he hears the ghost of a small cough, or quiet typing, and it’s kind of nice, having someone in his ear. Tim hasn’t set himself up with Oracle’s usual microphone system. All he has is his own earpiece, which doesn’t come with a mute feature, so whenever Tim sets his coffee mug down a little too loudly, Jason hears it. Jason wonders distantly why Tim hasn’t cut the line, but then forgets Tim’s there entirely. He’s focused on other things, like making sure Svetlana isn’t forced into a Hummer full of frat guys, or scaring the bajeezus out of a group of boatshoes-wearing assholes trying to make a very scared pledge drop his pants. When Phi Alpha Rho clears out it’s just the usual suspects, drunks with guns and a couple of kids overdosing on coke. Jason gets back to his safehouse at four in the morning tired and somehow still wound up, the way he gets when he feels like he’s spent his night frying some very small fish.

His shower has a faulty hot water tank, but it gives him fifteen minutes of warm drizzle tonight and he uses every second of it. The shower doesn’t help him calm down, and neither does cleaning up around the apartment. He drinks hot lemon tea and that doesn’t work either, so finally he kicks off his sweatpants and flops down on his mattress.

It doesn’t take much to get himself hard. It’s been too long since he did this and he’s sensitive. He feels every stroke of his hand like his nerves are on fire, and yes, this is exactly what he needed tonight. He goes slow, drawing it out, scraping up and down his cock, thumb circling the head. His hips jerk with it and his heels dig into the mattress. He’s not thinking about anything in particular, just focused on how good it is, how good it will feel to come. He’s breathing hard and making a little noise, and then he hits a sweet spot and throws his head back and moans.

And there’s a tiny little bitten-off sound in his ear.

Oh God, the comm. “Shit, ha,” Jason says, sitting up fast, struggling to breathe. He’d forgotten he was even still wearing it, oh man. “God, kid,” and his voice is so gravelly and sex-rough that he winces. There’s no answer from Tim’s side, but Jason can hear him breathing. He can hear him breathing, the way Tim’s been hearing him get off for the past three or four minutes. He looks down his body to where he’s still holding himself. His erection is showing no signs of going away. He swallows hard. “Tim,” he says, breaking the no-names rule.

“Jason,” Tim says, like he can barely breathe, and Jason squeezes himself involuntarily and makes a noise, because he can see Tim, suddenly, frozen on that couch and listening to Jason moan. A fresh flood of arousal washes through him. He sinks back down onto the mattress and puts both hands over his face.

“Sorry,” he says, and he sounds so absurdly out of breath. “My fault. Forgot the comm. Didn't mean to…traumatize you.”

Tim’s voice is shaky. “It’s okay. I’m, uh—it’s okay.”

Jason’s naked and hard and Tim’s voice is like a whisper in his ear. He squeezes his eyes shut. “Got wound a little tight tonight,” he murmurs. “You—haha—you know all about that.”

“Yeah,” Tim whispers.

There’s a long moment of silence during which Jason can feel every inch of his body.

“You don’t…have to stop,” Tim says, voice barely above a breath, and Jason’s cock throbs.

“Kid,” he says.

“Please,” Tim says, and it comes out like a moan.

“God,” Jason groans, and he wants to. He inches his hand halfway down his belly. “You been listening this whole time?”

“Yeah,” Tim says, breathless.

“Where are you? You on the couch?” His fingertips are brushing the base of his cock.

“Uh huh.”

“You hard?” Jason says, like he can’t help himself.

“Fuck,” Tim says. “Yes.”

His hand wraps back around his cock before his brain gives permission and Jason grunts in relief. He strokes himself slowly but he feels like a taut wire, like he’s about to snap. His breathing speeds back up. Tim makes a small noise on the other end of the line. “You touching yourself?” he asks.

“No,” Tim says.

“Do it,” he says, more savagely than he means to.

There’s a quiet rustle Jason almost can’t hear over the blood rushing in his ears and then Tim’s high whine. Jason’s head digs back into the pillow. He tries to keep quiet so he can hear Tim, Tim who’s trying and failing to swallow his own noises. They move together for a long minute, gasping down the line.

“You looked good tonight,” Jason finally manages. He’s fucking his fist, molten heat in his belly and orgasm on the horizon.

You looked—“ Tim says, but can’t finish. His breath hitches around his tight little moans. “Fuck, Jesus,” he whimpers.

Jason’s hips buck on the mattress. “Talk to me,” he pleads.

“God,” Tim says, voice brittle. “Jason, please—Jason—”

Jason comes like it’s being wrung out of him. His groan is frantic and harsh and when it’s over he lies on the mattress and thinks he’ll never move again. But Tim’s still going and it doesn’t matter that Jason just came, his gut is still prickling with want and he’s hot all over, still absurdly turned on. “Fuck, babybird,” he says, able now at least to talk. “You sound like sex. Feel good?”

Tim can’t even reply, just makes a desperate sound.

“Bet you look amazing. Wish I could see you.”

“Want you here,” Tim says, voice wrecked.

Fuck, princess,” Jason breathes. “Gonna get me hard again.” Tim sounds like he’s hyperventilating. “Are you okay? With your left hand?”

No,” Tim gasps. “I’m not—I can’t—”

He can’t come, Jason realizes. Probably been struggling all week. “You can,” Jason says, voice rough. “Come on, babybird. Do it.”

Jason,” Tim moans.

“God, you’re gorgeous. You’re so small. Feel like I’d break you.”

Tim’s frantic in his ear.

“Christ, I’d eat you alive,” Jason growls, and that’s definitely Tim coming, shattered and perfect.

They breathe across the line to each other while Tim calms down. Jason’s still keyed up but he can handle it, now.

“Fuck,” Tim finally says, long and drawn out, almost a sigh.

“Hell, Replacement,” Jason says. “You’re something else.”

Tim makes a disgusted sound.

“What?” Jason asks.

“Got it all over my shirt,” Tim says.

“Strip out of it,” Jason says, voice gone low again. His cock is filling up again and he’s picturing Tim, flushed and covered in come, half-naked in the middle of the Penthouse living room.

“Yeah,” Tim says, a little breathless. Jason’s hand starts up on his cock again and his eyes flutter shut. “I need a shower. I’m going to take out my earpiece,” Tim suddenly tells him, sounding—what? Embarrassed? Jason’s hand stills.

“Don’t get weird about this,” he says, trying not to sound like he’s begging.

“No, I—uh. It was. Good.” Now Tim definitely sounds embarrassed, and the catch in his voice is making Jason go funny as well.

“Yeah, it was good,” he says determinedly. “Go shower. We’re okay.”

“Yeah. Jason. Thanks.” Tim coughs awkwardly. “Red Robin out,” he finally says, and the line clicks off.

Jason takes his earpiece out and gets up to leave it on the makeshift table, then drops back on the mattress on his hands and knees and beats himself off rough enough that it nearly hurts. He comes again with his mind fixed hard on the idea that all the way across town, Tim might be in the shower doing exactly the same thing.

He falls on his stomach when he finishes and considers smothering himself with his pillow. Tim Drake. He’s never even had a conversation with Tim Drake. Not ever. Not once. And here he is four days into—into whatever this is, having phone sex across a closed comm line. Jason groans. It feels illicit, is what it feels like. It’s not even the age difference, it’s that it’s Tim. His replacement, sure, but that’s water under the bridge by now. It would be different if it were Dick. Dick’s always been easy. Hands everywhere, no prudishness, no shame about him at all. When Jason was Robin he and Bruce would get word about Dick and Kori or Dick and Roy and Bruce would get this pained look on his face, but then he would have to let it go, because it was Dick and Dick was…easy.

But Tim. He imagines Bruce’s face if he heard about Tim and Jason, and his laugh has an insane edge to it. Tim’s like—like the good silverware, or a Sunday suit, or the fancy cologne. And Jason’s getting his grubby hands all over him. Bruce would have an aneurism. Bruce would lock Tim in a chastity belt. It’s the most terrifying and exhilarating thing Jason’s ever considered. But Tim is good company, Jason decides. He hasn’t at all minded having Tim in his ear the way he thought he would, and Tim…

Is eighteen and horny and probably lonely. Jason’s been there and done that. He knows what it’s like. Jason rolls onto his side and catches sight of the Zastava slung across the back of his only chair. The more important question, he reminds himself, is what he’s going to do about Malto. He lies in the dark for half an hour thinking, and right before he falls asleep he gets up and puts his earpiece back in. The line’s still dead, but. He’d hate for Tim to try to contact him and think Jason was avoiding him. And then he has to do twenty crunches because God, how soft is he?

It’s eight o’clock the next night and Jason’s thinking about heading out for patrol before Tim reopens the line.

“Have you decided what to do about Malto?” Tim asks without preamble, voice just slightly too loud.

“Hello to you too,” Jason says, refusing to let this be awkward. “No, not yet,” he says, which isn’t strictly true. He has the beginnings of a plan that Tim isn’t going to like, but it’ll be a cold day in hell before Jason takes that into account. “Hey, who’s running your patrol while you’re laid up?” he asks.

“Black Bat, mostly,” Tim says. “She can pull double duty no problem.”

Cass could run this whole city no problem, Jason thinks. “Anywhere in particular you want me to check out?” he asks. “My neighborhood’s been a little quiet recently, shitfaced frat bros aside.”

“The Camorra not giving you enough to do?” Tim says, but then he hums like he’s thinking. “Maybe if you could poke back around Tricorner,” he says slowly. “There’s always something happening over there.”

“I knew you’d be sending me across town,” Jason says, fixing his helmet in place. His voice echoes strangely inside until he gets used to it again. “What’s everybody else up to tonight?” he asks, curious and somewhat pleased to have his own personal cape stalker.

“B and R are still out of the country, N is in California with some Titans, Black Bat hasn’t gone out yet, and Batgirl has been sent with some Birds of Prey to investigate a disturbance at Blackgate.”

“I’ll pray for the poor fool on the receiving end of that teamup,” Jason says, setting his security and heading out into the freezing March night.

“I might move to the docks permanently, I’m down here so often,” Jason says as he rides the long loop around Tricorner. The moon is nearly full and shines bright on the water whenever there’s a break in the clouds. Container ships rest at their moorings and even at this hour certain spots around the island are alive with activity. Smaller boats chug in and out of the Yards and the long lines of warehouses are only just transitioning to the night shift. “Anything specific I should be watching for?” he asks.

Tim’s typing. “Nothing major is coming up in my filters, but circle around again.”

Jason does, and is about to call it a night and head for more fertile punching grounds when he hears muted sound from the northwest corner, as if a lot of people are trying to be very quiet all at once. Instinct demands further investigation. He stows his bike and enters the scene carefully and very much in the shadows. There’s a small ship in port, with a line of burly men handing crates over the side. They’re not bothering with the cranes or winch gear, despite the size of the crates, which is an immediate red flag. In the floodlights of a nearby warehouse is standing a whip-thin silver-haired man Jason immediately pegs as high ranking in Black Mask’s gang, and with him is—

“Malto,” Jason hisses. “He’s with Joseph Bonesaw.”

“Damn,” Tim says. “I really didn’t see that one coming. I know the Camorra want to get up in the city, but there’s up and there’s Black Mask.”

“This is gonna have to accelerate my schedule,” Jason says as a sharply dressed Mask gangster sets a crate at their feet and crowbars it open. Inside are guns, a lot of guns.

“Zastavas,” Jason groans.

“Where?” Tim says, impatient. “Remember I can’t see what’s happening. Unless you want to install camera in your helmet…”

“Not a chance,” Jason says. That’s all he needs, Tim behind his eyes as well as in his ear. “There’s a shipment of guns. I count twenty-eight, maybe thirty crates in all. Can’t be positive it’s Malto responsible for bringing them in, and can’t be positive they’re a gift for Black Mask, but that’s my gut instinct. Political bribery.”

“Wait around and follow the crates,” Tim tells him. “Just to make sure. I’ll need to report this one to B personally. It’s got the makings of a nasty few weeks for everyone.”

“Copy that,” Jason says, easing himself further back into the shadows. The wheels in his head are spinning. Malto will have to die, he’s certain of it. The question is whether it will need to be a public execution or not. He’s leaning towards not, or at least not from him, especially if he wants to attempt any political maneuvering, delicate or otherwise.

“The Zastavas from last night,” he begins, thinking out loud. “That shipment wasn’t even a quarter the size of this one. Decoy, wasn’t it.”

“Looks like it,” Tim says.

“I’m going to need a word with our friend Benoni.” Jason moves away from the hot pier until he figures there’s no chance of his being overheard. It’s a new burner tonight—Jason would never be stupid enough to call a baddie twice on the same phone.

Benoni lets it ring a good long while before picking up. “What,” he says through gritted teeth. Jason’s pretty sure there are only so many “unknown callers” who have his private number.

“Antonio, I thought we were friends,” Jason says.

“We’re not.”

“Now see, that cuts me deeply. And do you know what else cuts me deeply? When I tell you I have an interest in firepower and you keep quiet about the biggest Camorra gun party this side of the state line. But that’s okay, I don’t need you. I’m just here with your cousin Malto and I have so very many things to discuss with him about you. Just thought I’d call to give you a friendly heads up.”

“You’re bluffing,” Benoni says, but he’s tense.

“Tricorner Yards, Don Malto and Joseph Bonesaw, some bea-utiful Zastavas coming in off the Maria Sofia. I’m sure when the Black Mask contingent heads home your cousin wouldn’t mind a little chat.” He gives it a beat. “Does that sound like bluffing to you?” he says, letting his voice go stone cold.

Benoni hems and haws for a couple minutes before giving in and apologizing. “There we are, Antonio, I knew we were friends. Don’t play smart with me again. But, listen, I know how hard things are for you. I want to do something for you, since you’re such a good help. If you keep being a good help, I promise you’ll be richly rewarded.”

“Is that so?” says Benoni, sounding doubtful.

“Absolutely. This is a business transaction, Benoni, remember that. I’m not just taking something for nothing here. And I always keep my promises. That could work either for or against you. Keep that in mind. I’ll be in touch. Ciao.”

“What do you mean, richly rewarded,” Tim says suspiciously as soon as he hangs up.

“Nothing to worry about, babybird,” Jason says. “Just keeping the fish biting, as they say.”

“Okaaay,” Tim says, unconvinced. “I still don’t like how you’re blackmailing him.”

“Your objections have been duly noted,” he says, not in the mood to be lectured on morals tonight. He creeps back towards the pier, where the last of the crates has been unloaded. The Maria Sofia is already easing back out to deeper waters. The Mask gangsters are moving the crates into a line of unmarked white vans, which begin to peel out of the docks as soon as each door is slammed shut. Joseph Bonesaw and a group of his bodyguards are the last to leave, and he bids farewell to Malto with all the cordiality of a killer who also considers himself a businessman. Malto and his Camorristi head off as well, and Jason goes back for his bike. He’s managed to snap tracers on two of the white vans, Bonesaw’s Lexus, and a Camorristi Lincoln that he thought belonged to Malto but, luck of the draw, turned out just to be for his backup.

Jason pulls up the tracking feed on the screen built into the shell of the gas tank. He gives Tim the details to hack into the signal so he can bring up the map in the Penthouse as well. The Camorristi Lincoln is making tracks for midtown, but the white vans and Bonesaw’s Lexus are all going to the Fashion District. Jason follows them at a distance. They pull into the underground lot of a prominent building and Jason frowns. “Do we have this on record as a Mask property?” he asks.

“I don’t think so,” Tim says. “Don’t engage further. We need intel and recon.”

“Please don’t just pass it off to B,” Jason says.

“Black Mask’s an A-Lister,” Tim says like he’s the voice of reason. “B gets to make the call.”

“B’s not even in the country,” Jason mutters, pulling back onto a main road and revving his bike obnoxiously.

“Look at it this way: you’re freed up to focus on Malto.”

“Joy,” Jason says, still feeling somehow slighted. He didn’t mean for this whole thing to turn into Tim taking control of his cases. He huffs a breath. Tim doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does about what Jason has planned for the Camorra. And no matter how Tim might object, the messengers and Malto will be getting their own pairs of cement shoes. “What else is disturbing the peace tonight?” he asks, hanging a left and traveling uptown.

“Nothing on my radar. Black Bat’s having a good night on Amusement Mile and the Blackgate trouble has calmed down. Things are quiet.”

“The bad guys know I’m watching them,” Jason says, managing a completely straight delivery.

“The big bad Red Hood,” Tim agrees, “stalking the streets of Gotham.”

“I strike fear into many a heart,” Jason says.

“Please know that I’m scared of you,” Tim says warmly, and Jason smiles and forgives him, the controlling little freak.

“Anywhere else you want me to be?” he asks, thinking of calling it an early night. It’s only half past two.

“I—” Tim says, and hesitates.

“What?”

“Do you remember—yesterday.”

“I remember yesterday,” Jason says. Vividly.

“When you said I…should find myself, uh, a nice boy. Willing to do me a favor.” He sounds like he’s talking at gunpoint.

“Solid advice,” Jason says, heartrate beginning to pick up.

“Are you a nice boy?” Tim asks, so fast the words almost slur together. Jason nearly collides with the Prius in front of him.

“Babybird, I am the least nice boy you will ever meet,” he says when he’s steadied himself again. “But—” and here’s where things get a little fuzzy, where Jason loses his head, “I’m willing to do you a favor.”

“Yeah?” Tim breathes.

“Yeah.” Jason’s lightheaded as he cuts through three lanes of traffic and makes an illegal U-turn to point himself downtown again. There’s no way he should be doing this. But at the same time—there’s no way he’d ever refuse. “You’re at the Penthouse?”

“Uh huh.”

Jason’s not terribly far away. The skyline looms in front of him. “You want flowers?” Jason asks, as if a joke will take away the nervous gnawing in his gut.

“I want you,” Tim says, suddenly bold.

“Christ, princess,” Jason murmurs, and speeds up.

He leaves his helmet on top of his bike in the bunker. Jason’s spent the last ten minutes on the way to the Penthouse trying not to have a heart attack, and it doesn’t get any easier when the elevator opens to show Tim standing there by the elevator door, waiting for him. He’s in a low-necked tee shirt and jeans and he’s biting his lip, blushing hard.

“Hi,” Tim says, voice small.

“Hi yourself,” Jason says, feeling a grin spread over his face. He steps out of the elevator and it slides shut behind him.

For a moment no one moves. They watch each other across the room and Jason won’t do anything, wants to let Tim decide how this is playing out. But then Tim crosses the distance between them and gets up on his tiptoes and they’re kissing, Tim’s mouth hot and open against his. Jason’s hands skate down Tim’s back and he lets his thumbs find the points of Tim’s tiny hips. He tastes like toothpaste and Jason opens his eyes to find Tim watching him, blue eyes sharp. Jason breaks the kiss, mouths down his jaw, and Tim tilts his head to let Jason scrape his teeth across the skin underneath.

“Can’t believe a pretty thing like you has to come begging to the Red Hood,” he says against Tim’s neck. “Thought they’d be lining up down the block for you. Thought Daddy would need to get the shotgun.”

“You’re the one with the shotgun,” Tim points out, pushing now at Jason’s jacket. Jason slips it off obligingly, but there’s a lot of body armor underneath it. “And I’m not begging.”

“Think I like it when you beg,” Jason says, and is gratified when Tim draws in a breath. He gets his hand flat on Jason’s sternum and pushes, and Jason falls back a step against the elevator door. Tim’s right there with him, pressed up against him and licking into his mouth. Jason rests his weight back on the door and grabs Tim’s ass, and when Tim pushes his hips against Jason’s thigh Jason swings them around and crowds Tim against the metal. “What do you want?” he asks, mouth at Tim’s ear.

“Anything,” Tim says, catching Jason’s mouth again.

“Mm, no,” Jason says, pulling back. He leans his arms over Tim’s head and looms over him. “I think you’re going to need to tell me. What do you want?”

Tim bites his lip. “I want you to take off your armor.”

Jason grins. “That’s right, babybird.” He steps back and starts the tricky process of stripping out of his suit. There are three separate panels that need to be disarmed, and hidden catches. Tim doesn’t move, leaned against the elevator door and obviously hard in his jeans, eyes dragging down Jason’s chest and abs. At the last minute Jason turns and heads for the couch, slipping out of his black boxer-briefs as he walks. He hears Tim following him, and when he settles down in Tim’s usual spot, naked and hard, Tim looks like he’s stopped breathing. “I think you’re overdressed,” he says, and reaches out to undo the button on Tim’s jeans with one hand.

Tim strips out of his shirt with more grace than Jason might have thought, with one arm useless in a cast, and slides out of his jeans and underwear. He stands there, naked, looking like it’s only force of will keeping him from shifting from foot to foot. “You’re something to see, kiddo,” Jason says hoarsely. Tim’s gorgeous, petite and covered in scars, pretty cock already leaking at the head. “C’mere.”

Tim straddles him and now it’s Jason who has to tip his head back to be kissed. Jason runs his hand down Tim’s bare back and over his ass, slips his fingers between the cheeks. Tim’s hips stutter when he brushes over his hole. “Show me how you were getting off last night,” Jason says lowly.

Tim looks down at him, long hair hanging around his face and mouth bitten and wet. Jason moves Tim’s broken arm to rest over his shoulder and the back of the couch, out of the way. Tim’s good hand finds its way to his cock, and the noise he makes is perfect. His little hips roll with his strokes and Jason has to reach between them for his own cock. He helps hold Tim steady with his free hand and leans in to suck marks on Tim’s chest. Tim jumps and whimpers when he scrapes his teeth over a nipple. “Wish you could look at yourself,” he says, leaning back again, breathing erratic. “Babybird. You’re fuckin—obscene.”

“Will you—” Tim says, but cuts off. Jason tips his head back against the couch to look at him, flushed and panting. He rubs an encouraging circle over Tim’s hipbone. “I’ve only got one hand,” Tim says. “Will you—your fingers.” He won’t look at Jason.

It takes a heartbeat for it to click. “God,” Jason breathes. “Is there lube?”

“In the bathroom,” Tim says, already climbing off. “Don’t move.”

“Couldn’t if I tried,” Jason says. Tim’s back in a flash and lets Jason coax him back onto his lap, up on his knees, thighs spread wide across Jason’s legs. His face is hot with embarrassment as he hands the lube to Jason and Jason has to get a hand around the back of his neck and kiss him. Finally he dribbles lube over his fingers and wonders what the hell is wrong with Tim that he’s letting Jason do this. “Touch yourself,” he murmurs as he slips the first finger in. Tim sighs with it and does as he’s told, head bowed and cock very dark at the head. He moans when Jason gets another finger in, and nearly bends double when Jason finds his prostate. “You do this to yourself?” Jason asks, voice rough, taking his hand off his own cock to help hold Tim upright.

“When my—” Tim breaks off to gasp, “—arm isn’t broken.”

Jason works a third finger in and uses his thumb to rub behind Tim’s balls. Tim’s moving in earnest, dragging at his cock and trying to fuck himself back on Jason’s fingers. The sounds he’s making are gorgeous, and Jason can’t tear his eyes away. “You’re better than porn, princess,” he says, and Tim throws his head back.

Tim’s noises are getting high pitched and frantic. “Come on,” Jason says, letting go of Tim’s waist. He nudges Tim away from his cock and works him with his own hand. Tim wraps his good arm around Jason’s neck and rolls his hips desperately, thighs trembling. “Come on, baby.”

Tim’s mouth opens in a silent wail as he comes, splashing over Jason’s hand and his own stomach. Jason eases his fingers out of him and lowers him down to sit on Jason’s thighs. Tim’s shaking. He leans forward and buries his face in Jason’s neck.

“God,” is all Jason can say. Tim noses under his jaw and slips his free hand down to wrap around Jason’s cock. And after a show like that, all Jason has to do is tip his head back and let go. The fingers of Tim’s right hand aren’t trapped in the plaster and Jason feels them in his hair, rubbing into his scalp. Jason moans and tries not to dislodge Tim when his hips buck up, steadies him with both hands around his waist.

“You’re so big,” Tim whispers in his ear. Jason grins.

“Flattery will get you everywhere,” he says breathlessly. Tim’s hand vanishes and reappears a moment later, slick with lube. “You opened that bottle one-handed,” he says, impressed, and then he can’t say anything at all because Tim’s hand is tight and wet and Jason’s gasping.

“I can do anything one-handed,” Tim tells him, and Jason gets enough of a bleary look at him to see his mouth set very smug.

“Not everything,” Jason says, slipping a finger down to tease at Tim’s still-wet hole. Tim lets out a breath.

“That’s why I need nice boys like you,” Tim says. “Doing me favors.” He leans in to kiss Jason but Jason can barely manage it, can only pant into Tim’s mouth until his orgasm slams into him.

He shudders through the aftershocks and Tim draws his fingers through the come on Jason’s stomach. “If I lick this,” Tim says thoughtfully, showing Jason the white streaks on his hand, “are you clean?”

“Fuck,” Jason says. “Yeah, I’m clean.” Tim brings his hand to his mouth and doesn’t make a face at the taste. Jason can’t tear his eyes away from Tim’s mouth, tongue dragging over his fingers, from the way his face looks, his high cheekbones, the shadows of his lashes. He needs to get up to wash his hands, but he doesn’t want to move. He wants to keep Tim sitting on him, still working the fingers of his broken arm through Jason’s hair. Tim meets his eyes and grins and looks away again. He shifts and swings off Jason’s lap, and Jason has to force himself not to grip at his waist to make him stay.

Tim stretches his arms up over his head and Jason watches the pull of muscles under his skin. Tim’s strong, and dangerous, and his deceptive size only works in his favor. “Are you hungry?” Tim asks.

“Yeah, but you can’t cook, so don’t even try,” Jason says. “I’ll make something.”

Tim laughs and disappears down the hall, presumably for the bathroom. Jason finds his underwear and his pack of American Spirits and goes out on the balcony for a smoke. It’s fucking cold outside, but Jason feels like he needs it, the freezing air waking him up like a bucket of cold water. The nicotine unwinds his chest and he breathes a plume of smoke into the Gotham night. The city’s lit up like a jewelry box and somewhere out there the others are patrolling, keeping everyone safe. Jason finishes his cigarette and goes back in while he can still feel his fingers.

Tim’s in the kitchen fussing with the kettle. “There’s a spare toothbrush in the bathroom, if you want to brush your teeth after that.” Something in his voice tells Jason this is an order and not a suggestion.

“Don’t wanna kiss me anymore?” Jason says. Tim doesn’t turn around.

“Not with that breath. Do you want tea? Somebody told me you liked tea.” There’s an unopened package of Earl Grey in his hand. Who would have told Tim that? It’s true, but… It rubs Jason the wrong way, that people talk about him when he’s not present.

“Sure,” Jason says, and leaves for the bathroom before he can think about it any harder. The bathroom is just as fancy as the rest of the house, modern and bright white. Jason cleans the dried come off his stomach and relieves himself. The extra toothbrush is still in its packaging and Jason briefly considers not using it, just to be contrary, but then decides he’d like to kiss Tim again tonight.

There’s a mug of tea waiting for him on the island. It says DAMSEL IN DISTRESS on the side in purple cursive. Tim’s not attempting to hide his smile. “I think it was a novelty set,” he says.

“Dick Grayson?” Jason guesses, taking the mug without further comment.

“He and Damian had the Penthouse for a while last year,” Tim says.

“I’m surprised it’s all still in one piece.” Jason pokes around in the fridge. There’s a jar of pickles, a half-empty jar of pasta sauce, and some mustard. Takeout containers crowd most of the shelves. The cabinets are no better. Jason pulls out a bag of marshmallows and shakes them at Tim. “How are you still alive?” he asks. “Doesn’t sugar give you cancer or something?”

“Smoking gives you cancer,” Tim says mulishly.

“You’re going to die of heart failure if you ever give up all this exercise,” Jason tells him. There’s a nearly-empty jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread in the freezer, and that’ll have to do. Somehow 3:30 a.m. seems like the wrong time to be defrosting one of Alfred’s lasagnas.

“I doubt any of us will make it that long,” Tim says, casual, like it’s nothing. Jason grits his teeth where he’s plugging in the toaster and doesn’t say anything.

Tim adds a layer of marshmallows to his peanut butter toast and Jason pretends to gag, but when he kisses him again after they’ve finished Tim’s mouth is sweet. Somehow they end up back on the couch, Jason with his head propped against one armrest and Tim across his chest, kissing him slow and deep. They’re both hard but aren’t making anything of it, just grinding together like they have all the time in the world.

Tim has to brace with his good hand whenever he wants to shift his broken arm, and finally he huffs in frustration. “I’m going to go insane before I get this cast off,” he says, making like he’s going to thump his broken arm against the side of the couch. Jason catches it and won’t let go.

“We heal quick, kiddo,” he says, going for reassuring.

Tim snorts. “No quicker than anyone else. We just have a high pain tolerance.” He wedges himself between Jason’s bulk and the back of the couch and rests his cast across Jason’s chest. “I’m going stir crazy. I can’t patrol, I can’t ride my bike, I can’t even get off right. All I can do is go to a nine-to-five day job at WE like any joe off the street.”

Jason kicks his foot where their legs are tangled together. “Whine, whine, whine,” he says. “We’ve all been laid up. You just make the best of it. Like installing yourself as my personal quartermaster, I guess.”

“Don’t kid yourself, 007.”

“It’s Todd, Jason Todd,” Jason says, and is delighted when Tim groans. “Seriously, why are you in my ear? I don’t really mind, anymore,” he adds.

“I was bored, and everyone else relies on Oracle,” Tim says. “And—I was curious.”

“About what? My high-roller Bowery lifestyle?”

“You do keep a connoisseur’s selection of crumbling safehouses,” Tim says, but Jason’s never shown Tim any of his safehouses, the stalker. He makes a mental note to come back to that later. “But no. It’s your, ah, methods.”

“Methods?” Jason free hand is cupped around Tim’s hip, fingers sneaking under the waistband of his sweats.

“Your code. Your use of…terminal force.”

“Oh. You mean killing assholes who deserve to die.”

“Yes, that,” Tim says lightly.

“You want in?” Jason asks, not believing it for a second. “You know, I did try to recruit you at one point.”

“And then you shot me,” Tim says. Jason cranes his neck to look at him. He’s smiling.

“A friendly shot,” he says. “A bullet between brothers.”

“Didn’t take me nearly as long to recover as this will,” Tim admits, gesturing with his cast. “And no, I don’t want to kill people.”

“Not people. Assholes who deserve to die,” Jason insists, because it’s a sharp line, in his mind.

“Assholes who…deserve to die,” Tim repeats. “No, I’m not going to kill them. But I’m…glad you are.”

“No shit?” Jason asks, actually surprised.

“Bruce’s way isn’t the only way,” Tim says, like it’s a mantra he’s had to teach himself.

“Dang, kiddo, I feel like I just won a medal off the queen.” Tim burrows deeper into him, rests his head on Jason’s shoulder. “You sure I can’t get you a gun?”

“No thanks,” Tim says. “But will you at least tell me what you’re planning with Malto? Now that you know I’m not going to squeal on you.”

“Not a chance, princess,” Jason says. “You’re not a tattletale, but some things are need-to-know.” Tim sighs and pokes him in the side with his good hand. “I’ll tell you I’ll be killing those two New York messengers, though,” Jason says, feeling rash.

“I figured as much,” Tim says calmly. “You really think you need to?”

“I think I have to,” Jason says. “You don’t have to listen.”

Tim stretches. “I’ll be okay. Don’t let them suffer.”

Jason smiles and runs his fingers over what he can reach of Tim’s chest. “Bleeding heart,” he says fondly.

Tim hums and pushes himself up to connect their mouths again.

“I should go,” Jason says after some time.

Tim shifts where he’s been drifting to sleep on Jason’s chest. “You don’t have to,” he says, and Jason wants to stay, is terrified by how much he wants to stay, which means he needs to leave.

“You should get some sleep, babybird,” he says, gently extricating himself. Tim weighs nearly nothing, is absurdly easy to move. “Keep me updated on the Black Mask situation.”

“Bruce isn’t going to be happy,” Tim says, sitting up and rubbing at his eyes.

“Bruce is never happy. If you can, keep him out of my business.”

“Of course,” Tim says. He watches Jason pick up the discarded pieces of his uniform and put them back on. “Be safe,” he says, as Jason pulls on his gloves.

Jason grins “Never.”

It’s nearly five o’clock by the time he gets home, and somehow he’s able to get to sleep. He’s back up at noon the next day with no time for a workout and luxurious breakfast: he has things to do while he still has the light. “Replacement?” he says. The sound over the comm isn’t the white silence of a dead line, but he’s not sure Tim’s listening.

But Tim says “Yes?” almost immediately, so Jason starts pulling on his uniform and checking his weapons.

“Any idea where our friend Benoni might be at this time of day?”

“Let me look around,” Tim says. Jason’s getting lazy. A week ago he’d have had to track that information down himself, and it would have been a lot of legwork. With Tim in his ear it’s just ask, receive. “Last night texts were sent from his iphone to an unknown number for lunch at Mama Ranzetti’s Italian Restaurant,” Tim finally says.

“Hacking into an iphone datastream? Impressive.” Jason really wouldn’t know where to begin. He’d have to pass it off to a techie.

“It’s nothing. His bluetooth is on,” Tim says, but he sounds proud nonetheless. “Couldn’t you just call Benoni again?”

“Some things are better done in person,” Jason says, and adds a layer of civilian clothes over his uniform.

The only CCTV cam is over the entrance to Mama Ranzetti’s, so Tim isn’t much help once Jason’s inside. Mama Ranzetti’s is a classy place, in an old-school sort of way. It’s down in the Financial District and full of dark wood paneling and shadowy booths, white tablecloths and a mile-long wine list. Just the place for private business dealings or romancing the office secretary on your lunch break. Jason hopes the garlic bread is good.

He ditches the helmet and plays customer-searching-for-bathroom while looking for Benoni. He’s tucked away in a back booth with his lunch date, an older woman in a green sweater. At the bar Jason orders his garlic bread and sends a text to Benoni’s phone.

Let the lady leave alone. Stay in your booth. Don’t worry, just a chat. Text yes if you understand. –your new friend

He can’t see Benoni’s reaction from his spot at the bar, but a few minutes later his burner buzzes. The text just reads Yes, so Jason figures Benoni got the message. He gnaws his garlic bread quietly, positioned to monitor the front doors. He couldn’t see a back exit and figures it must be through the kitchens—he’ll be taking his chances on Benoni not bolting. It’s decent garlic bread. He wants to order spaghetti to go with it, but decides against something so heavy on his stomach. He has a lot to do today. Tim’s been quiet in his ear ever since he walked into the restaurant, and Jason appreciates the respect. At last the older woman leaves and Jason can get a move on. His helmet will attract too much notice at a place like this, but he slips on a red domino mask before sliding into Benoni’s booth.

Benoni’s terrifically tense and not at all pleased to see him.

“Who was the lady?” Jason asks conversationally, resting his elbows on the table and making himself comfortable.

“My aunt,” Benoni says tightly.

“A family man, I like it,” Jason says. “How have things been? Weather okay for you?”

“What do you want?” Benoni snaps.

“Just breaking the ice a little, jeez,” Jason says, folding his hands. “Fine. What do you have for me on your cousin’s dealings?” Benoni glowers at him. “Hey, you scratch my back, I scratch yours,” Jason says. “Just give me what I want and I’ll tell you what I have for you.”

Benoni sighs and glances around, like Camorra spies might be anywhere. “We’re recruiting, right now. We need new blood.”

“Boring,” Jason says. “Next.”

“We’re going to be the biggest Family in Gotham,” he tries.

“Strike two,” Jason warns.

“Once we’re much bigger, Black Mask will help us take out the Falcones. We’ll gain the Falcones’ territory and tribute, and from there it’s just stepping stones. Falcone, Maroni, Odessa Mob. Small steps to all of Gotham.” Benoni stares down into his glass of water.

“Hmm,” Jason says. “Does New York know about this?”

“Yes, but the dons don’t believe in us. Gotham’s an experiment to them.”

“An experiment doomed to failure,” Jason says. Benoni curls his lip.

“You can’t stop us,” he says. “You’re just one man. Even if you release my secrets, the Family will continue to grow. You may be pulling my strings, but you don’t control the Camorra.”

“No,” Jason agrees. “I don’t. But neither do you.” They stare at each other for a long moment. “Would you like to change that?”

Jason is very patient in outlining his terms.

“I can’t kill Malto,” Benoni whispers, voice harsh and panicked. “I would never, and even if I did, I’m not next in line to lead. It wouldn’t solve anything.”

“You’re not next in line, but you’re high-ranking,” Jason says. “Supporters will flock to you. Simple.”

Simple?” Benoni says, nearly choking. “What do you want from this? You want me to be some kind of puppet king? You want to run the Camorra?”

“Heaven forbid,” Jason says. “It’s really not difficult. I make you head of the Camorra, and you take the Camorra out of Gotham. Open and shut.”

“…That’s it?” Benoni says. “That’s really all you want?”

“I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the Camorra, Benoni. Take your Family to Newark, or Philly, or Baltimore. If it’s out of Gotham City none of us”—Jason gestures to his mask—“will bother you. You can go on running your gang, well away from me and my nasty, nasty files of your personal internet history.”

“So that’s the game. I betray my Family and kill my cousin, or you out me.” Even angry as a bear, Benoni has a handsome face. If Jason were fifteen again it might be a distraction.

“Listen, Antonio, Malto is going to die with or without your hand in it. It’s no use warning him or protecting him: I or any one of my many agents will be in and out so fast no one will see us coming. He’ll be bleeding out in your arms and you’ll wish, you’ll wish you’d taken my deal, because by then it will be too late. The Camorristi in Gotham will be taken out to the last man in new and inventive ways, and there will be nothing you can do to stop it. The question you must now ask yourself, seeing the inevitable future laid out in front of you, is whether or not you can profit from it.”

Benoni’s rigid in the low light of the booth. “I…don’t know,” he says, but Jason can tell he’s considering it.

“New York already thinks Gotham’s a bust. No one would question your seeking more fertile ground, especially following the tragic death of your boss. I’ll let you think about it,” Jason says, cracking his knuckles and shifting to leave, “but I’d think fast. New York will be getting a very loud message from Gotham today and the wheels, my dear Antonio, will be set in motion.”

“What do you mean?” Benoni asks.

“Nothing to worry about,” Jason says, “unless you decline my offer. I’ll be in touch very soon.” He slides out of the booth and pauses, then leans very suddenly over the table, face very close to Benoni’s. “We are friends, aren’t we?” he asks, voice silken.

Benoni swallows. “The very best,” he finally says.

Jason steps out of Mama Ranzetti’s and into the strong March sunshine. “Red Robin?” he says, a little hesitantly.

Tim is livid.

“I don’t have anything to say to you right now,” Tim says, voice harsh. Yikes. Jason knew he’d be mad, but just how mad was up for debate. But Tim launches on: “Of all the absurd, irresponsible plans—”

“I guess you do have something to say,” Jason mutters, which is the wrong thing to do.

That’s what you’ve been planning? Deposing Malto for Benoni? Christ, Hood, what did you just do?

“I stopped a gang war, that’s what I did,” Jason snaps, never one for serenity in the face of a challenge. Tim’s here because Jason allows it. He’s not gonna be taking lip from a barely-legal junior Bat.

“Like hell you did. You didn’t stop a gang war, you delivered one to Newark or Philly fucking gift-wrapped with a bow on top!”

“Oh please, kid, do you really think the Camorra will hold up that long without Malto? With Benoni in charge? That idiot couldn’t lead his way out of a paper sack. He’ll be in Newark two weeks before running back home to New York.”

“Dammit, Hood, take this seriously. What if that doesn’t work? Benoni might step up to the plate and then you’ll have singlehandedly created a crime empire. What will you do then?” Tim sounds like he would really like to strangle Jason. Jason wishes they were in the same room. They could scuffle and throw punches and then it would be over. Fighting with words is such a waste of time.

“Out of Gotham, not my problem,” Jason says, not actually believing it. “Now cool it, kid.”

“Quit with the kid,” Tim says. “I’m not that much younger than you!”

“Five years ain’t nothing,” Jason says, a little amused. He swings onto his bike and heads for a junk car dealer. There are a couple he’s used in the past, when he’s sure the car won’t survive the mission intact. Dick Grayson might burn through pretty cars and bikes like they’re two for a dollar but Jason has more respect than that.

“Oh, so I’m just some child, huh? Some little brother you’re never going to listen to. Thanks. Now I know where I stand.” Tim’s voice is hard and Jason’s pissed off they’re still arguing.

“Look. I trust you, okay? You’re the only one I’m talking to about this case, if you hadn’t noticed.” Jason cuts right and pulls onto the long straightaway that’ll take him as far into the uptown wilds as he cares to go. He bites down a smile as Tim clears his throat, obviously wrong-footed. “But you don’t control me, no matter how Bat-progressive you are about guns.”

“But you have to think,” Tim begs, building up momentum again. “Sometimes you have to actually think.”

“That’s what I have you for,” Jason says, done with the conversation. “And if it all goes tits up, feel free to say ‘I told you so.’” Tim sighs gustily in his ear. “Now, where can I get spray paint and giant letter stencils?”

Two hours later Jason is the proud owner of a run-down white Chevy Suburban. He’s stenciled PAMELA’S PETUNIAS: FLOWERS DELIVERED TO YOUR DOOR on both sides, along with a bullshit web address. The inside smells like cats and the upholstery has seen better days, but overall he’s rather proud of himself. Tim’s cooled off in his ear by the time he swings into the driver’s seat.

“What’s it for?” Tim asks, with good grace.

“The part of the job you don’t want to know about,” Jason says.

“Oh.”

Jason may not be able to hack an iphone, but he can certainly get past some child’s-play hotel firewall. Mancini and Lombardi are staying on the thirtieth floor, rooms 30023 and 30024 respectively. He digs out his burner and phones the hotel, and when he gets reception on the line he says he’s a cousin and asks the call to be put through to one of the rooms. Mancini picks up, Jason claims it’s a wrong number, and that’s that. Easy proof the messengers are in residence. He points the car downtown towards the Gotham Grande Hotel.

“Hey, kid, even if you can get into the security cameras, you don’t have to watch this. Or listen. I’m just going to shoot them in the head—it’ll be over in no time.” Somehow Jason doesn’t want Tim to watch. He glares at the traffic ahead, unwilling to examine the thought.

“I said it was okay,” Tim says, but his voice is funny, and Jason knows it isn’t.

“Don’t push yourself about this,” he says seriously. “I gotta do it, but you don’t need to be involved.”

“Right,” Tim says, and is very quiet the rest of the way to the hotel.

Jason parks on the otherwise-deserted roof of a nearby parking structure. It has a line of sight to the Grande but takes two jumps with the grapple to get onto the right balcony. Not ideal, but it’s the best he can do, and when he lands on the balcony of 30023 he’s just hoping that it being after five means downtown Gotham has gone home for the night. There’s no way he’s discreet enough, swinging between buildings in the last of the daylight, and he’s counting on the fact that it’s Gotham to let his movements go unremarked upon. Vigilante sightings are a dime a dozen around here.

Mancini is inside sitting on the bed, drinking coffee and flipping through channels. There’s a pile of dirty room service dishes in the corner and a suitcase open on the stand. Mancini himself is in a rumpled suit and wet hair. Jason’s done his homework: Giancarlo Mancini, 38, married, no children. Crimes include heavy involvement in money laundering and extortion; he’s no kneecap-smasher, but he’s in charge of those who are. In the other room is Giuseppe Lombardi, 30, single, no children. In the past five years Lombardi’s been implicated in seven counts of kidnapping, most recently of the three-year-old daughter of a New York City police investigator. The two men are trash, human trash, and will be doing more good in their deaths than they ever did alive. Still, something’s itching between Jason’s shoulderblades. He briefly considers dropping his comm unit over the balcony, then decides against it. He’s warned Tim, and that’s going to have to be enough.

Jason jimmies the lock on the balcony doors and slides inside. Mancini reacts immediately, but Jason’s across the room with a fist to the side of his head before he can shout. He smacks him a second time while he’s down, just to make sure, then creeps through the adjoining door into Lombardi’s room. Lombardi is trim and alert and tries to put up a fight, but Jason has him out cold within seconds. He drags Lombardi into Mancini’s room and drops him on the floor, then sits on the bed and waits for nightfall.

He doesn’t have to wait long. The sun sets just before six, and twilight deepens to darkness soon after. He heaves Mancini under an arm and swings with him back to the parking structure, loads him into the back of the Suburban, gives him another good clip around the ear, and goes back to do the same for Lombardi. Now comes the unpleasant part. Jason screws a silencer into the muzzle of his Glock and shoots both men in the head. They die instantly. He aims more shots into their bodies, making a complete mess of the trunk, but that’s the point. When he’s done he steps back for a moment. It’s ugly work, but not terrible. The things in the trunk—they’re not people anymore. They stopped being people when they stopped breathing. They’re just sacks of meat, empty now. That’s what death means, going empty. It’s not this unimaginable thing, this hard line the others can’t imagine crossing. Mancini and Lombardi can’t hurt anyone anymore because they don’t exist anymore. That’s how things are. Jason bites his lip. That’s how things are.

“Are they—dead?” Tim says in his ear.

“Yeah. Yeah, kid, they’re gone.” Jason whips a stained painter’s sheet over the bodies and slams the trunk shut. It’s about two and a half hours up to NYC from Gotham, maybe three with the traffic. He’s good on gas and won’t stop until he reaches the compound of Gino Mancini, Giancarlo Mancini’s uncle and one of about three Big Bosses of the NYC Camorra. Jason cranks the radio but not even classic rock is helping with the funk he’s suddenly fallen into. “Were you at the office today?” he asks Tim instead.

“In the morning. Mega-conglomerates don’t just run themselves,” Tim says. “The afternoon I toured some of the R&D labs, listened to your disaster of a meeting, and came home to yell at you about it. I had my earpiece muted through most of it.”

“You can do that?” Jason says.

“Just installed the feature,” Tim says. “I can mute mine. You can’t mute yours.”

“You turned out mean, babybird,” Jason says.

“It’s the stocks that do it to you. You start messing around with market shares and your heart turns to ice.”

“You make the rest of us look bad, kid, you and your day job.” Jason taps the steering wheel in time with the Rolling Stones, already beginning to feel better.

“My day job keeps us in spandex,” Tim says. “Especially with Lucius starting to think about retirement. I know he’d never say anything, but he’s glad someone else is starting to take an interest. He thought he’d have to run the company until he was ninety.”

“B doesn’t really do much over there, does he,” Jason says.

“He never has,” Tim says, sounding aggrieved. “He’s built his whole public image around making sure he’s never asked to do more than sign his name on things.”

“You gonna be a CEO when you grow up?” Jason teases. A Camry plastered in bumper stickers cuts him off and Jason honks, because in Gotham it would be more suspicious for him not to honk. The driver flips him off. I BELIEVE IN THE BAT is most prominent across the back windshield, yellow on a black background. If only the poor bastard knew.

“I’m already CEO,” Tim says. “Well, Acting CEO. The only threats to my power are the Board of Directors and the brat wonder.”

Jason laughs. “They grow up so fast.”

“Should be grateful he gets to grow up at all,” Tim mutters savagely.

“You could still beat him up, princess,” Jason says, and Tim huffs.

They trade comments about Damian and then Dick while Jason pulls out of town and onto the Jersey Turnpike, and Jason nearly can’t believe it, how easy it is to talk to Tim, how there’s no effort to it at all. And sure, maybe they’re just discussing Dick’s latest run in Blüdhaven instead of the secrets of the multiverse, but Jason likes that, how he doesn’t have to think. Tim gives him stock figures and Jason tells him how boring it is and Tim laughs and Jason swallows a choking panic because what is he doing, what is he doing, what does he think he’s doing with Tim, talking with him, laughing with him, fucking him? Jason’s twenty-three and should know better by now, has earned every one of those years with enough hard lessons to teach even the dumbest man alive not to screw up like this.

God.

Tim’s been in his ear for what, a week? And he’s lost it. He’s weak, always has been, always will be, apparently, because he knows, just knows that if Tim told him to come to the Penthouse right this second, he would.

Well. Maybe he’d finish up with Don Mancini first, but then he’d be back in Gotham in record time.

But then Tim says something dry and deeply amusing about Bruce, and Jason’s laughing and forgetting why he was worried all over again.

Don Mancini and his extensive family live in a compound just outside the City. It’s a fabulously wealthy neighborhood, further proof of how well the Camorra’s done for itself in NYC. Jason passes mansion after mansion before he finds Don Mancini’s. He’s confident Mancini will be home—intel says he rarely leaves his own guarded walls. Jason drives right up to the front gates and rolls down his window. A security guard wanders over, hand only nominally twitching towards his sidepiece.

“Can I help you?” the guard says, not looking nearly as suspicious as he probably should.

“Flower delivery,” Jason says, smiling winningly. “For a mister Gino Mancini? Didn’t get a good look at the card, but I think it’s from family.” The guard squints at the lettering down the side of the Suburban, then hits a switch to open the gate. Jason shakes his head as he continues up the drive. It’s a wonder Mancini’s lasted this long, with the state of his security. He parks in front of the main walk and doesn’t get out of the car until he’s sussed out a good exit: duck behind the row of Cadillacs, then around the back of the poolhouse, then up the oak tree and over the gate. Then it’s just a matter of sneaking around the mansions of multi-millionaires until he finds a bike to steal for the ride back to Gotham.

The clock’s ticking. Another security guard approaches the car and Jason opens the door. He grabs a slightly worse-for-wear bouquet of daffodils he picked from the side of the highway, the backpack containing his helmet and a few odds and ends, and as much patience as he can muster. He plasters his smile back on.

“Bouquet for Gino Mancini?” Jason says.

“Give ‘em here,” says the guard.

“No can do, pal,” Jason says. “Need a family member to sign for ‘em.”

“I can be family,” says the guard, bored.

Jason scratches the back of his head. “I hear ya, pal, I do, but my boss’d skin me alive if I didn’t get the right signature down, right? Can you help me out?”

The guard sighs. “Wait here.” He walks off a few paces and murmurs into his walkie talkie. A minute later the front door opens and a harried man in a half-buttoned dress shirt comes out. He checks his watch as he approaches. Jason shakes his hand.

“What’s your name, sir?” he asks, jaw beginning to ache with his fake smile.

“Al Mancini,” he snaps. “Does that work for you?”

“That’s just perfect,” Jason says. He thrusts the flowers at the new Mancini relative. “I have the papers ‘round the back.” Mancini follows him to the trunk of the Suburban. Jason opens the back hatch, whips the sheet off the bodies, and is racing away across the lawn before anyone can react. He left a folded note on Giancarlo Mancini’s bloody chest that reads STAY OUT OF GOTHAM –YOUR FRIENDS IN MASKS. He figures that’ll be enough to let Don Mancini know where they stand, for sure.

There are shouts behind him and a single gunshot, but he’s away across the fence and into the backyard of what might be Zoe Kravitz much too quickly to be in any danger. He gets himself six or seven mansions away before he stops to look for a bike. The first garage has a classic Harley, but he turns his nose up. Harleys are for middle-aged men with unwashed beards. The next house has a pair of black Hondas, which he supposes will have to do. He pulls out into the neighborhood, helmet firmly in place, and makes it back onto the Turnpike without being spotted by angry Camorristi even once.

“Think it’ll work?” Tim asks. Jason hasn’t explained the plan to him, but he guesses it’s not that hard to figure out, especially for someone like Tim.

“Probably. Don Mancini will either decide Gotham’s completely bust, or get so offended he comes in guns blazing. Depends on how much he liked that nephew, I guess.”

“I guess you already know what I think about it,” Tim says, sounding a little distracted.

“Do you happen to think I’m an idiot recklessly endangering the safety of the citizens of Gotham?” Jason asks, wishing he’d worn a warmer coat. Eighty miles an hour on the Turnpike in March is cold.

“Got it in one,” Tim says. “Listen, I need to go join a video conference with our Japanese investors. Don’t do anything stupid until I get back.”

“It’s nine o’clock at night,” Jason says. “Don’t these people respect your family time?”

“That’s eleven AM in Tokyo,” Tim reminds him. “I’m muting my earpiece.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jason says, but Tim’s already gone.

He’s in Gotham by midnight. He rides back into his neighborhood, ditches his layer of civilian clothes, and drops the bike off on a rough street—it’ll be gone in an hour, tops, never to be seen again. Stopping petty theft is Dick’s game, not his. He gets himself up to the rooftops and takes the blocks at a run, just doing his beat, making sure he’s not neglecting his own people while he’s involved with the Camorra. That’s Bruce’s problem, he thinks. He’s always going head to head against Penguin or Scarecrow or off in El Salvador or whatever, and he has no time to look out for the little guy. The little guy like DeAnthony Jackson, who runs The Gin Joint down on Blare Street and is currently up to his ears in a barfight. Jason marches in and punches things back to quiet, then finds his own bike and rides downtown, thinking he’ll work Tim’s usual patrol as well.

Tim’s territory stretches from Tricorner Yards over to the outskirts of Chinatown. Jason’s starting to know the Yards like the back of his hand, but for once the docks are quiet. He’s finishing an uneventful run at the mouth of Chinatown when he gets jumped. It’s a handful of Asian kids Jason’s age or younger, dressed like punks and with enough gang tattoos that Jason can read their allegiances from down the street. They square up for a fight and Jason almost pities them—it’s clear they haven’t been around long enough to know what kind of person to mess with and what kind to leave well enough alone. He takes a spinning kick to the chest before he starts taking them seriously, and then he grins and settles in. He hasn’t actually exerted himself in days, and a bunch of brats hopped up on martial arts is exactly what he needs.

Jason spins and ducks and lashes out, dancing with the kids around the alleyway like he’s getting paid to do it. The kids are just good enough and there are just enough of them that it’s a real workout, and Jason has to break out a smoke bomb before he’s done with them. Eventually, though, he has the nastiest ones out cold on the ground and the rest suffering minor wounds, and he’s worked up enough of a sweat that he can’t even feel the chill in the air.

“Nice work,” Tim says.

“Welcome back. You were watching?”

“Traffic cameras across the street,” Tim says, something odd about his voice. Jason waves to the cameras. Bruce makes a point to avoid getting pegged on those things as much as possible, but Jason can’t be bothered. It’s not like he’s showing his face—or has a public image to protect, for that matter. He stretches his arms above his head and feels the muscles pull deliciously. “Those were Hanoi Ten foot soldiers—they shouldn’t be this far out of their territory,” Tim says. There’s still something strange in his tone, but Jason can’t put his finger on it. “You were good.”

“Yeah? Liked what you saw?” he says.

Yes,” Tim says, voice warm and heavy, and oh, that’s what it is. Tim’s turned on.

“Oh babybird,” Jason croons. “Is that what gets your motor running? Some fancy footwork to grease your wheels?” He’s in the high after a good fight, blood still pumping and no adrenaline comedown in sight. When he was going through puberty he’d get hard with nearly every street brawl, which was deeply embarrassing and even moreso when Bruce took him aside and told him it was normal for a growing body, Jason. He’s past that stage nowadays, but it’s not going to take much to send him right back to age thirteen, jacking off furiously in the showers after patrol. Tim low and liquid in his ear is as good a trigger as any. “Tell me about it,” Jason says.

“What’s to tell?” Tim says. “You’re very—strong. And that’s…nice.”

“Is it now,” Jason murmurs, laser-focused. “And what about you, huh? You don’t weigh more than a feather, princess.”

“I’m heavier than I look,” Tim says.

“No you’re not,” Jason says. “I could pick you up no problem. I could throw you around like you were nothing.”

Tim’s breathing picks up. “Yeah?”

“I could put you anywhere I wanted. I could hold you down with one arm,” Jason says. Tim makes a little noise. “You like that, babybird? You want that?”

“I think,” Tim says, a little shaky, “you should come over now.”

“I think I should,” Jason agrees, taking off at a jog for where he stashed his bike. “And I think that you should take a shower.”

“What?” Tim says, not following.

“And you should get yourself really clean.”

There’s silence for a long minute as Tim works it out. “Oh my God,” he says.

“I’m gonna hold you down and rim you until you scream,” Jason growls.

Tim sounds like he’s choking. “Fucking—” He makes a wordless noise. “Christ, Jay,” he finally says, like he can’t breathe.

“No names on the comms,” Jason says, teasing.

“Fuck off,” Tim says, and a minute later Jason can hear water running.

Jason finds his bike and braces for a very uncomfortable ride, hard as he is. At least it’s not far from Chinatown to the Foundation tower. There’s a low moan in his ear and he twists the throttle until he’s going so fast he’s not sure radars can grab him. “Don’t touch yourself until I get there,” he says, barely able to concentrate on the traffic.

“Then hurry up,” Tim gasps.

Ten minutes later the elevator door slides open to the Penthouse. Tim’s nowhere in sight. Jason stalks through the apartment, hunting. The bathroom door is open and steam is still sneaking out, but it’s empty. He turns left down the long hallway and finds the master bedroom: empty, and from the looks of things completely unused. He turns back around and there, not three steps away, Tim has silently snuck up on him. Jason would be worried that he got the drop on him if his mouth weren’t so dry, and if he could stop staring for even a second. Tim’s naked and dripping wet and hard and Jason covers the ground between them and grabs him up. Tim wraps his legs around Jason’s waist and kisses him like he’s drowning, and Jason was right: holding Tim is easy, and more than that, it’s a power rush. Tim’s cock is trapped between them and Jason loves this too, that Tim’s stripped and wanting while Jason’s still dressed.

“Where?” Jason asks, breaking away from Tim’s mouth. Tim blinks at him fuzzily.

“Second door after the bathroom,” he says. “Couldn’t take the master. That’s B’s.”

Jason walks them to Tim’s room. It’s nearly as big as the master, with the same modern styling and a giant four-poster against the wall, bedding in disarray. Jason doubts it’s been made even once since Tim moved in. A single bedside lamp casts shadows across the walls, the heavy drapes. Tim won’t let go of Jason’s neck with his good hand when Jason pushes him onto the dark gray coverlet, just pulls Jason down on top of him. It’s deliciously good having Tim underneath him, small and yielding, trusting him. Jason braces on an elbow and sucks marks under Tim’s jaw, running one hand up and down Tim’s body—Tim holds him tight and slowly flushes all the way down his pretty pale chest. Jason’s drunk on him, the way he smells, how he’s making such gorgeous noises. Tim spreads his legs and draws his knees up and Jason wants to fuck him right there, but he made a promise.

“Get up on your hands and knees,” he murmurs in Tim’s ear before sliding off him. Tim covers his face with his good hand, seems incapable of movement. Jason runs a hand down his side and pats his flank. “Come on, babybird.”

Slowly Tim picks himself up and rolls over, one arm holding himself up, elbow locked tight. Jason nudges Tim’s legs farther apart and makes himself comfortable. There’s a long chest of drawers at the foot of the bed for him to kneel on, and he bites up the back of Tim’s thigh before spreading him open. Tim looks good. God, he looks good. Jason kisses and licks his way between Tim’s inner thighs until Tim starts to relax some, and the minute he calms down Jason presses his tongue flat against Tim’s hole. Tim whimpers. Jason licks and sucks and drags his tongue over Tim’s hole, points it and pushes it inside. Tim opens for him so beautifully, lets him fuck his tongue in and out while Tim whines and pushes his ass back into Jason’s face.

Tim’s legs are shaking but Jason doesn’t let up, just forces his tongue deeper and sucks harder. His cock is aching, trapped in his jock, and rubbing up against the side of the bed is no help at all. Tim’s breathing is ragged, little gasping moans on each inhale. At last his good arm gives out and he falls forward onto the bed, face in the coverlet and ass in the air. Jason reaches around and closes his hand on Tim’s cock; Tim’s cry is muffled by the bedding. Jason jacks him off for barely thirty seconds before he comes, hips jerking forward and moan gone high-pitched.

Jason lets him collapse when he’s done, only nudges him out of the wet spot and onto dry bedding. Tim’s still gasping for air and Jason crawls up to brush the hair out of his face. Tim reaches for him and Jason pauses.

“Are you sure you want to kiss me after that?”

Tim narrows his eyes and fits their mouths together. They kiss for a long moment, Tim lazy and languid and Jason less and less able to ignore his erection. His whole body is wired straight to his cock and everything seems designed to remind him how much he needs relief: Tim’s sighs and the dips between his ribs, the way Jason’s fingers raise goosebumps over his arms. Jason must groan a little too harshly because Tim pulls back and says, “You should fuck me.”

“Yeah?” Jason says, already sliding his fingers between Tim’s legs again. His hole is still slippery with Jason’s spit and a finger slides in easily. Tim spreads his legs and his eyes flutter shut.

Please fuck me,” he says, and it comes out like an order instead of begging.

Jason nips at his earlobe. “Can you get lube and a condom? I think I’m overdressed.”

Jason slips off the bed and strips off his uniform while Tim leans over to the bedside table. Lube is waiting on the tabletop and condoms are in the drawer. Tim tosses them both onto the bed and settles back down, watching Jason expectantly. Pulling off his cup is the best thing Jason’s felt in ages but he keeps his hands well clear. He wants to last, wants Tim to be impressed.

Tim’s hole is still wet with spit but Jason lubes his fingers anyway. Tim’s half-hard again and it doesn’t take much to get him all the way there, hips bucking when Jason works his prostate. He’s so sensitive, so desperate to be touched. Tim’s loose for him but Jason stretches him anyway, gets four fingers in before he stops. “Are you good?” he asks, rubbing behind Tim’s balls with his thumb.

“I think so,” Tim says, but there’s the echo of a question in his voice. Jason frowns and ducks his head, taking the tip of Tim’s cock into his mouth. Tim chokes as he sucks and Jason feels Tim’s fingers scrabble in his hair. “Okay, yes, I’m good,” Tim says breathlessly, and Jason pulls off. Tim has a condom waiting for him and Jason rolls it on, slicks up his cock with what ends up being probably too much lube. He’s desperate to get inside Tim but Tim’s just so much smaller than he is, so much younger, and Jason’s convinced he’ll break. “Jason,” Tim whines, impatient.

He settles between Tim’s spread legs and steadies himself with a hand. He tries to watch Tim’s face as he guides himself in but it’s too much, it’s too tight, and his head drops forward, hanging between his shoulders. He inches forward, as slowly as he can make himself, and when he looks up Tim’s biting his lip hard. Jason instantly stops moving. “Are you okay?”

Tim nods. “Keep going,” he whispers, voice tight. Jason leans down and kisses his neck.

“You have to tell me,” he insists.

Tim shoves at him. “You’re not going to hurt me,” he says. “So stop acting like it.”

Jason noses under his jaw and pushes until he’s inside to the hilt, Tim molten hot and tight around him. “Jesus Christ, babybird,” he mumbles, brain a mess of white noise. Tim kisses him more desperately than Jason expects and Jason returns it, props himself up on his elbows and licks into Tim’s mouth. He hitches his hips forward and back just the smallest amount, barely pulling out, letting Tim clench and relax around him.

Finally Tim breaks away. “Please move,” he says, entirely out of breath, and Jason does, dragging out and pushing in again, still going slow, and finally Tim wraps his legs around Jason’s waist and gives him a shaky little moan. Jason speeds up and it’s so good, Tim’s so good around him and is getting better, is loosening up a little, making the slide easier, but it’s still like fucking a vice, walking the edge of too much. Jason wants to scream.

“You’re so tight,” he groans and Tim looks very smug.

Tim’s finally moving with him, meeting his thrusts and pushing back against him. “Harder,” he orders, and Jason lets go, gives in and fucks Tim like he wants to, hard and fast. He balances on one arm and works the other down behind Tim’s hips, lifting his ass nearly off the bed and forcing them into a better angle. Tim bites down hard on Jason’s shoulder and it hurts and Jason loves it.

“Fucking God,” Jason gasps. “I’m gonna come in about three seconds, princess, so hurry up and get yourself off.”

Tim lets go of Jason and pushes his good hand between their bodies to his cock. Jason’s holding out as best he can but isn’t going to last. He can’t help how rough his voice is, how he’s gasping. And then Tim clenches around him and Jason’s gone, coming in long waves, mouth slack. He shudders for a moment, lost in it, but when he can think again he lowers Tim back to the bed and pulls out, hand at the base of the condom. He ties it off and wraps it in a tissue from the bedside box and returns his focus to Tim, who’s still working his cock, newly-freed hips stuttering up. Jason slips two fingers back inside Tim and rubs and Tim moans, pink mouth open and wet. Between Tim’s hand on his cock and Jason’s fingers inside him Tim comes fast, shooting all over his belly and crying out, fingers of his broken hand clenching on the blankets.

He takes a long minute to calm down, panting and shiny with sweat. Jason traces a hand down his side, marveling at the scars, at how soft Tim’s skin is around them. Finally Tim stretches and laughs. “That was good,” he says, sounding surprised.

Jason hands him a couple of tissues from the box to clean up with. “Feel free to keep telling me about it,” Jason says.

“I don’t think you need your ego inflated any more,” Tim says. He lifts up and kicks the messy coverlet out from under him. Jason pushes it the rest of the way off the bed and settles back on the sheets, propped up against the pillows.

“I think I do,” he says. “Go ahead. Keep singing my praises.”

Tim scooches up next to him so their shoulders are touching. “I think you do that all by yourself.”

“You seemed a little unsure about things for a minute there,” Jason says, glancing at Tim out of the corner of his eye. Tim darts a look back at him and then examines his fingernails.

“I guess I…haven’t had much practice,” Tim says. He coughs. His fingernails must be very fascinating. “Or—any practice, actually.”

Jason nearly bites through his own tongue. “You were a virgin?” he says, voice gone high. Panic blossoms in his stomach, threatens to choke him. “Tim!”

Tim’s gone scarlet. “No, no, wait,” he says. “What about last night? That was sex. And I messed around plenty with Steph back in the day—”

“I’m not talking about messing around!” Jason says, feeling like he can’t breathe. “You’ve really never—”

“Well now I have,” Tim says, like that settles the matter. Jason wraps an arm behind Tim’s shoulders and pulls him more firmly into his side, so he can feel the weight of him, the hot expanse of his skin. He feels like—like something he can’t even put into words, horrified and protective and responsible and like he’s fucked up beyond the pale.

“You didn’t think to tell me?” he whispers hoarsely.

“You wouldn’t have touched me if I had,” Tim says. Jason sighs hugely, mind racing. Tim smacks him in the ribs with his cast. “Stop it,” he orders. “Congratulations, you made a man out of me.”

“But—” Jason says.

“It’s my body, and I say it’s fine. Now I’m going to kiss you so you’ll shut up.”

He does, and Jason does, but he doesn’t stop thinking. He can’t help it, can’t get over it, the way he’s suddenly so afraid. He opens his eyes and watches Tim, the dark circles under his eyes, the long sweep of his eyelashes. It’s unbearable how fragile he is, how young.

“You should stay the night,” says Tim, some time later.

“No,” Jason says, like a reflex. “Sorry, I mean, I can’t.”

Tim’s hair is hiding his face. Jason can’t see what he’s thinking. “Fine,” Tim says, voice deceptively normal.

“Sorry,” Jason says again, almost to himself. He can’t. There’s no way—he just can't.

“Go on then, if you’re going,” Tim says. He pulls away from Jason and drags a tablet off the nightstand. In a moment he’s scrolling through documents and doing a good job of pretending Jason doesn’t exist. Jason bites his lip and swings his legs off the bed, but can’t move any further. He stares down at the hardwood. “It’s fine, you can go,” Tim says, after a minute.

“I have to,” Jason says, still not moving. Tim huffs a loud breath.

“Jesus. I said it’s fine,” he says, and Jason twists back to him. Tim’s on the edge of angry, mouth all wrong, still not looking at him, and Jason thinks how easy it would be for him to get angry too. Then they could shout and fight and Tim would kick him out. But his chest feels hollow and dim and his usual glowing coal of venom seems unreachable.

Jason reaches out and very carefully combs a tangle out of Tim’s hair. Tim twitches away from him and continues to stare at his tablet, eyes fixed on a single point in the middle of the screen. Neither of them move. Finally Tim looks up and even in the low light his eyes are ice blue. Jason’s heart seems very loud in his chest, and he knows in a moment he will say something foolish. He slips off the bed and pulls on his costume in silence.

“Jason,” Tim begins, sounding desperately tired, “I’m not…” But he doesn’t finish, just lets the words hang there between them while Jason shrugs on his jacket. Jason opens his mouth, closes it again, and leaves, and Tim doesn't stop him.

At night Jason lies on his mattress on the floor of his safehouse and can’t sleep. He knows where he’d rather be.

What a disaster.

He’s never had an ounce of self control. Not on the streets, not as Robin, not as Red Hood. He just does things, as if nothing has consequences. He let Tim tag along in his ear and didn’t stop it when Tim wanted more. He should have stopped it. He knows that now. He’s twenty-three, for God’s sake. He should be able to divorce his brain from his dick. And Tim, of course he wanted sex, Christ, eighteen and horny and a virgin. Well, not a virgin anymore. What a classic Jason Todd fuckup. He thinks of Tim’s face, his kiss-slick mouth, “You should stay the night,” the way he meant it.

He lights a cigarette. He has a toothbrush in the Penthouse bathroom. The handle is black. Tim’s is red. They stand together in the same cup by the sink. He sucks down the cigarette and lights another, and another after that. He thinks about taking out his earpiece, nearly does it again and again. At the last second he pulls back, drops his hand back to the mattress.

Jason stands up and drags his uniform back on. There’s no way he’s sleeping tonight.

At six AM he calls Benoni. Benoni picks up on the first ring, and Jason has a hunch he didn’t sleep last night either.

“So there go our friends from New York,” Benoni says. He doesn’t sound angry.

“Yes,” Jason says, not in the mood to play it cute. “What’s Mancini’s play? What’s Malto’s?”

“Mancini’s furious. He blames Malto. We’re looking at a rift in the Family here—Mancini might ruin Malto. Malto’s worried. He counts on New York for backup and political protection. Without Mancini he doesn't stand a chance.”

“You’ll have to act quickly,” Jason says. “Are you killing Malto or am I burning you out of Gotham myself?”

“I’m doing it,” Benoni says, voice wavering. “I’m killing Malto.”

“Good. Do it today. You have supporters,” Jason says. It’s not a question. Benoni is respected in the Camorra, old enough to be trustworthy and young enough to be likeable. He’s a counterfeiting genius and probably deserves a bullet to the brain, but he’s the best Jason has. Benoni has supporters and business sense but lacks entirely the stone-cold savoire faire necessary to run a crime syndicate. The operation will fall apart in three months tops under his leadership.

“Yes. Mancini’s called Malto up to New York for a meeting. I think he won’t be alive to attend.” Benoni sounds a little crazed, like this is all a bit much for him.

“This is what’s best for the Camorra,” Jason reminds him. “You will be going to that meeting in Malto’s place. And Benoni—this is your only chance. Fail here and you won’t be around to try again.” Jason doesn’t add that it will probably be Malto’s own guards sinking Benoni’s body in the bay if Benoni fails. “I’ll be in touch tonight,” he says, and cuts the line. He’s running out of burners. First stop will have to be his supplier, and then a long, long day of tailing Benoni to make sure he pulls off the assassination. His plan hinges on Benoni taking charge. Jason’s made all the appropriate threats to Benoni of the hurt the Camorra’s in for if Benoni doesn’t get them out of Gotham, but the truth is that Jason doesn’t have a clear idea how he’d follow through, if he even could. He’s not sure he likes the idea of putting a bullet in every Camorrista in Gotham.

Jason stalks Benoni all day. It’s horrifically boring and gives him absolutely no distractions from the nagging, circling thoughts about Tim. Tim’s been silent in Jason’s ear since last night, but that somehow makes him all the more conspicuous. Jason grits his teeth and tries to focus on Benoni, engaged in deep conversation with a circle of Camorristi in the safety of his home. Jason has binoculars and a good seat in a tree across the property. He doesn’t have the house bugged—stupid, stupid—but he can lipread bits and pieces. Benoni’s talking about Malto’s incompetence. This is the third meeting he’s had on the subject today, and it probably won’t be the last. Support has been hesitant but encouraging, and it’s perfectly clear that Malto is a leader who commands respect but not loyalty.

Most of the Camorra carry guns, so it’s not unusual when Benoni loads up with a light Beretta before leaving the house. He carries it absurdly, tucked into a fancy studded holster that’s only barely covered by his suit coat. Benoni climbs into the back of an Audi and is driven away, one guard driving and another riding shotgun. Jason follows on his bike. It’s around eight o’clock at night, and definitely time for the wheels to start turning.

Tim still hasn’t made an appearance. Jason can’t decide whether the comm line is dead or just muted on Tim’s side. “Benoni’s heading for the main event,” he says aloud, just in case Tim’s listening, but there’s no response. It’s probably for the best.

Jason tails Benoni to Tricorner Yards. From the looks of things there are plenty of Camorristi here already, mainly ones Benoni’s been meeting with over the course of the day. Benoni gets out of the car and greets his supporters, and from his discreet vantage point atop a warehouse Jason begins to assemble his sniper rifle. Not that he doesn’t think Benoni will do the job, but it’s always good to have a few backup plans.

Malto rolls in twenty minutes later, just about at the point when everyone else is starting to get jittery. Jason doesn’t have a bug on the scene but he’s just close enough to hear what’s being said if he strains.

“Where’s the shipment, Benoni?” Malto asks, getting out of the car. “You said another load of guns came in. Where are they?”

“Alberto Malto,” Benoni announces, voice rather shrill. Jason sighs. It’s clear he’s in for some theatrics. “For too long you have been a lead weight around the neck of this Family!”

“…What?” Malto says, still scanning the docks like he could have missed an illegal cargo ship hiding behind some extra-large coil of rope.

“You are the one who brought us all to Gotham, where we have been hunted and persecuted at every turn.” Benoni waves an arm for effect. “And now two of our brothers are dead. The fault is yours and yours alone.”

Malto has realized something is happening. He squares his shoulders. “Think very carefully about how you want this conversation to end,” he warns.

Benoni plunges on. “There is only one way it can end, Don Malto. The Camorra must leave Gotham. We must go where we can thrive, for the sake of ourselves and our families.”

“My Family,” Malto begins, opening his arms. “Surely you have more faith in me! Maybe you cannot see it, but we are so close to victory in this city. Black Mask is our ally, and every day our numbers grow. Tenacity, my friends!”

“We are dying for your tenacity,” Benoni says. “And we won’t stand for it any longer.” His hand twitches conspicuously towards his gun. Idiot, Jason thinks. He’s made himself a threat.

“I won’t stand for insurrection,” says Malto coldly. He lifts a hand and a guard standing behind the car draws a pistol. Benoni hasn’t noticed.

“It doesn’t matter what you’ll stand for,” says Benoni. “You’ve been voted out.” At last he pulls his Beretta from his ridiculous holster, but the guard is already taking aim. Jason sighs and fires a round off his rifle. The guard behind the car falls. Benoni yells in shock and pulls the trigger on his Beretta, but the shot goes wide. Jason lines up and fires just after, and it’s his shot that brings Malto down. If Benoni’s smart, he’ll take credit. Malto’s other guards are smart. They drop their weapons immediately, completely unwilling to die with their boss. The docks are alive with nervous Camorristi, shouting and talking and looking to Benoni for instruction.

“I did it,” Benoni’s saying. “I killed him.”

Jason pulls the rifle off its stand, out of the line of sight on the warehouse rooftop. He rolls onto his back and tunes out the noise below. “Malto’s dead,” Jason says into thin air. There’s no response. “But I guess you already knew that.” He’s sure Tim does. Tim knows everything, probably. Everything Jason knows, that’s for sure. Hopefully not everything Jason thinks.

The Gotham night sky wheels big and red and angry above him. Spots of light off the searchbeams dance across the cloudcover and off in the distance, a security blimp is patrolling. The Signal hasn’t been lit yet, but it’s just a matter of time. The skyscrapers of downtown sprout even to the edge of the Tricorner bridges. The Foundation building is further inland, not visible from Jason’s warehouse, but Jason feels it all the same. Fifteen minutes through traffic and he’d be there. He wants to be there. He wants to be a thousand miles away. He wants to be across the globe. He wants to lie on this rooftop and never move again.

The rest of the Camorra eventually overcome their misgivings and rally around Benoni. Malto’s body is disposed of without much ceremony and Jason leaves as they’re all toasting their future. He runs a brutal patrol uptown, pushing himself faster, harder, until he can barely think, can only look for the next fight, and the next, and the next, knuckles bruised and painful under his gloves.

The sun catches him on a rooftop above Crime Alley. He’s surprised to see it, has somehow forgotten that dawn is coming. The red clouds go pink and delicate and the morning light takes the bite out of the dark alleys, turns them harmless, just dead-ends full of trash and graffiti. There’s nothing more for him to do. He heads home, exhausted and bruised, bleeding a little from where a knife caught him in the shoulder. There’s been no word from Tim.

Jason sleeps till noon, eats, and calls Benoni. Benoni’s cagey with him on the phone, doesn’t want to talk. He’s busy with running his gang.

“Where are you relocating and how soon will you be out of Gotham?” Jason asks, annoyed that Benoni’s not being more grateful. It’s a veritable rags-to-riches story, and Jason’s the fairy godmother. Godfather, maybe, he amends in his head, doing a Pacino impression at himself in the cracked hall mirror. Tim would have groaned.

Benoni sighs irritably on the other end. “I don’t know. It’s been one day, okay? Give me a chance to think.”

“We’ll talk tomorrow,” Jason says. “And you’d better have an answer.” Jason’s the man with the sniper rifle, and Benoni had better remember that.

“Fine,” Benoni says, and hangs up on him. Jason grinds his teeth.

He stays inside until the sun just begins to dip below the horizon and then he’s off again, running the streets, forcing himself between perp and victim. He stops three muggings and beats the living hell out of the pimp who just broke Angel’s nose. He catches his breath to find Park Row gone quiet in the early hours of the morning, but his blood is still hot—he needs to be moving, doing something, anything. Down at the shitty local middle school he scares off a couple of kids smoking pot on the roof and shadows the girl until she gets home safely. He confiscates keys off a drunk guy trying to drive home from The Gin Joint. Back on the street Angel’s nose still hasn’t stopped bleeding so he takes her to Leslie’s clinic. Inside is another woman with a busted face and he grills her until it’s clear she won’t stop protecting her asshole boyfriend, then does the same for a kid whose broken ribs don’t look like an accident. Leslie eventually has to throw him out.

“What’s wrong with you tonight?” she asks, leading him down the front steps. Her hand at his elbow is kind but firm.

“Nothing,” he says. Leslie looks tired. She could use a coffee. Maybe Jason should bring her one.

“Go home, son,” she says, rubbing his arm. “Go sleep. You’re no good to anyone like this.”

“It’s still early,” Jason protests.

“You’re a sweet boy. You always have been. You need to take care of yourself, or you’re going to end up in here with me doing it for you.” Leslie smiles and makes a shooing motion with her hands.

“You get me all the information on that kid,” Jason says, feeling somehow hangdog, like he’s been caught out.

Leslie’s already walking back inside. “Go home,” she repeats over her shoulder.

So Jason does, and leans against his open window and watches unhappily as the wind picks up and the rain begins. On his makeshift table he takes apart and cleans every gun in the safehouse, and then cleans the safehouse. Then he flops down on his mattress and jerks off, at first thinking very determinedly of nothing at all, and then, when he can’t help it anymore, thinking of Tim, Tim, Tim’s mouth and laugh and pretty cock, his tiny hips, the way his face looks when he comes. Jason hits his orgasm and groans with it. He hopes Tim is listening, has been noisy on purpose, just in case. But there’s no response. He gets no sleep again.

In the morning Jason calls Benoni.

“Tell me your plans,” he orders, feeling bleary and slightly ill with exhaustion.

“I need another day,” Benoni says.

“I don’t—” Jason begins, but Benoni hangs up. Jason nearly hurls the phone into the wall in a rage. How dare he. Jason’s white-hot as he slams into his uniform and shoves out the door, no clear plan except to find Benoni and teach him the error of his ways.

The parking structure where he stores his bike is busy at seven a.m., commuters coming and going on their way to work, but the bottom level is empty as usual. It’s very dark and dank down here, covered in gang tagging and bits of rubble, and no one seems to want to risk leaving their car to its fate. The only vehicle is the gutted van where Jason keeps his bike. He presses his thumb for scanning on the hidden panel and—

“There’s a bomb wired to the van,” says Tim in his ear.

“Hi there,” Jason says, suddenly breathless, a helpless smile spreading over his face.

“Don’t you have security on that thing?” Tim sounds annoyed and Jason doesn’t care. Something is ballooning in his chest.

“I’d get the alert if someone messed with the bike inside,” Jason says. “Just the print scanner on the truck, though.”

“Is this 1995?” Tim snaps. “Do better. You’re going to get yourself killed.”

“Not this time around. Now where’s the bomb?” He drops to his knees and checks under the chassis. Clean.

“Couldn’t tell for sure. My money’s on it being wired to the hatch. Open the back and boom.”

“Boom,” Jason repeats. “And half the parking garage comes down with it. How’d you know? You got a camera on me right now?” He spins around, searching for a hidden lens.

“Just the one,” Tim admits.

“You’re a bona-fide stalker, princess,” he says. “It was the Camorra, wasn’t it. That snake Benoni—he just signed his own death warrant.”

“First the bomb,” Tim says.

“I’m going to need some power tools,” Jason says.

He cuts into the truck from above, going so slowly and carefully he nearly loses his mind. Any wrong move might set off the bomb, wherever it is. When he has a big enough square burned out he lifts away the metal and shines a light down in the hole. Tim was right—a fairly crude car bomb wired up to the back hatch. Jason drops down into the belly of the truck, inches around his bike, and sets to work. “Feel free to start playing the Hurt Locker soundtrack,” he tells Tim.

“It’s just a car bomb, Jeremy Renner,” Tim says.

“And in an Isuzu, no less. Where’s the style, I ask you. Where’s the Alfa Romeo.”

“Alfas are Sicily,” Tim says, and suddenly Jason knows they’re not going to talk about it, about Jason leaving and Tim shutting him out. It’s a relief. Jason has about five million things he needs to say that will never make it off his tongue because he can’t ever talk about anything that matters. And Tim matters. Tim matters so much he’s terrified of it, wants to fight and throw up and apologize. He settles for biting his tongue and getting on with his work.

It takes five minutes for him to dismantle the bomb and pack up the pieces for disposal. As far as he can tell his bike hasn’t been tampered with. “Time for some divine retribution,” Jason says as he backs the bike out of the truck.

“Go get ‘em, tiger,” Tim says. Jason can hear him on the other end of the line, typing away softly. It’s soothing like an ocean soundtrack, keeps Jason grounded and calm.

Jason doesn’t necessarily expect Benoni to be at home at this hour, but it’s the first place he checks. He’s fully prepared to tie up the guards and wait in the shadows for his prey to return, but when he arrives at the property it’s entirely deserted. No Benoni, no guards, no vehicles. Inside there’s no furniture. Benoni’s skipped town on him.

“Can you believe this,” he says, tranquility deserting him. He grabs up an abandoned plastic water bottle and hurls it at the wall. It doesn’t even burst.

Tim’s laughing in his ear. “Benoni and his crew packed up and moved out and you didn't even notice,” he says. “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, Hood.”

“Fuck off, I was preoccupied,” Jason says, doing a quick check of the house. It never hurts to be thorough.

“With what?” Tim asks. “I thought this was your biggest case at the moment.”

“With—” being fucked up over you, he doesn’t say. “With none of your business.”

“Everything’s my business,” Tim says. “Surveillance is how we show we care.”

“It was just a busy few nights,” Jason says. “Now drop it and help me find the Camorra.”

Jason rides past three known Camorra haunts, including the street in which he shot the gunman last week. There’s still bloodspatter on the pavement, but the apartment block is quiet. He knocks on a few doors that seem to have non-Camorristi occupants and the story’s the same: everyone packed up and left. There were vans up and down the block yesterday being loaded up with boxes and furniture. Where were they going? No idea, man, didn’t talk to those guys much. Rough crew. Family-oriented, though, you could say that for ‘em. Wasn’t close to anybody, though. You know how it is. You learn to stop asking questions, in Gotham.

“The entire gang cannot be gone,” Jason says, stuck in traffic on the Sprang Bridge.

“Probably not, but how many Camorristi do you actually have records on?” Tim says.

“Not many,” Jason admits. The leadership, mainly. Very few foot soldiers.

“Did Benoni go to New York? He could be asking for Mancini’s protection.”

“I don’t think so,” Jason muses. “He wants to make it on his own. It looks like he’s abandoned Gotham, but he’ll have gone somewhere that presents an easier target.”

“That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?” Tim says. “That was your big plan.”

“Car bombs were not in my big plan,” Jason says. “Benoni can’t get away with this.”

“You’re not just going to beat him up, are you,” Tim says. It’s not a question.

“If I did that I’d just solidify him as my enemy. He’d probably decide he’s my nemesis or something and keep coming after me. I’m killing him, and then his branch of the Camorra will either dissolve or go back to New York or take over Hoboken. I don’t care. I’ll be done with it and on to the next crisis.”

“No shortage of those,” Tim says quietly. Jason knows it’s not how he wants this story to end. Tim wants the mobsters in jail and their young recruits in his angel-of-mercy Neon Knights program.

“Can’t clean up the whole world, kid,” Jason says. “There’s not a broom on Earth big enough.”

“Yeah,” Tim says. “Things are always messier than you mean them to be.”

Ain’t that the truth, Jason thinks.

He spends two more hours following leads on the street. None of his usual sources know anything, and Benoni sure as hell isn’t answering his phone. He aims a kick at the front wheel of his bike. “This is ridiculous. If B knew I’d lost an entire mafia he’d give up on me for good.”

“Do you want my help?” Tim asks, and there’s something in his voice.

“I thought I already had your help,” Jason says suspiciously.

“I don’t remember you ever asking,” Tim says.

“Babybird, do you know something?”

“That’s not the question I’m waiting for,” Tim says, silken.

Trust Tim to make a whole thing out of it. “You are walking a very thin line here,” Jason says, entirely failing to make himself sound threatening.

“Gosh, I sure do wonder where the Camorra went,” Tim says, and Jason wants to punch him.

“Red Robin,” he grinds out, “will you help me find my mafia?”

“Well, since you asked so nicely,” Tim says. “I might have just traced Benoni’s iphone to Hartford, Connecticut.”

“Hartford?” Jason says, incredulous. “With the rich white folks? What’s a Neapolitan mob gonna do there?”

“Settle down and join the local PTA?” Tim suggests. Jason’s already headed towards another safehouse, one he uses primarily to store a couple of cars. He refuses to drive to Connecticut on his bike.

“There’s no way the Camorra can make itself respectable enough for Hartford,” Jason says. “I take out Benoni and the rest of them will be crawling back to New York before the week is out.”

“You say that, but—isn’t Hartford basically a breeding ground for dirty senators and the like?” Tim says. “Maybe they don’t brawl in the streets, but the big rich bad guys have to come from somewhere. And mafias have always considered themselves civilized organizations.”

“Yeah, yeah, all of humanity is awful, thanks for the reminder.” Jason pulls up in front of his safehouse and unlocks the double doors with their keypad-voice command combo. The space used to be a restaurant, back when this part of Gotham wasn’t quite so poor. Now the windows are bricked up and the galley kitchen full of Jason’s guns. The main restaurant space is taken up by the pair of cars Jason’s stashed there, a black Camaro and a souped-up white Jag. He pulls the Camaro and leaves the bike in its place, then shuts the place up tight. “Are there any capes in Hartford?” he asks Tim doubtfully, settling into his seat and doing a few checks—fuel, mirrors, turbo, rear machine gun.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Tim says.

“Too many kids sent off to boarding school,” Jason says. “Not enough miserable orphans.”

“It’s a long ride to Connecticut,” Tim says. “I’ll leave you to enjoy the scenery.”

“What scenery,” Jason says. “It’s five hours of interstate. You’re not staying to play road trip games? I spy with my little eye?”

“I’m not actually on a roadtrip, in case you’ve forgotten,” Tim says. “I’m getting ready to meet with Lucius to go over the books. The first quarter’s nearly over and Japan is still on my back.”

“You poor little billionaire,” Jason says.

“It’s your money too,” Tim says. “If you’d just take it.”

“Never gonna happen,” Jason says cheerfully, turning for the Trigate Bridge. “I get my cash the honest way: grabbing it off crime lords.”

You’re a crime lord,” Tim mutters.

“I’ll add that to my testimonials.”

“I’m muting my comm,” Tim says, and then he’s quiet, muted but not gone, still connected to Jason.

“I’ll try not to be too distracting, princess,” he says, and even keeps the radio down low, even though he’s in the sort of mood where every song is a good one. Yesterday’s clouds are gone, the March sun is shining clear and bright above him, and the still-wet asphalt shines like beaten silver.

Tim sends him Benoni’s last-known coordinates as he’s crossing the border from New York into Connecticut. He pulls up to a lovely estate in the suburbs—big manicured lawn not quite recovered from the last snowmelt, wrought-iron gates, impeccable landscaping. The only detail ruining the idyll is the line of overstuffed moving vans marching down the drive, parked and abandoned, enough for several families. Benoni must be crashing here with his most important underlings while they get their feet on the ground, thinking they’ve all escaped big bad Gotham for good. Jason’s about to tear a whopping great hole in their clever little plans.

He leaves the Camaro parked way off down the street. He’s had a fucking long drive to consider his options and cool off from his initial plan, which was of course to run in guns blazing. A stakeout seems the better idea, lying in wait for Benoni to exit the building. But as soon as he begins casing the joint for good trees to scale, the front door opens and a couple of kids run out onto the lawn. Dark haired little girls, a pair of them, maybe sisters. They have soccer ball between them and haven’t quite developed the coordination to kick it instead of trip over it. What a pain. Jason likes kids well enough, but not in the middle of his mafia assassinations. He hasn’t forgotten what Barbara told him about Helena Bertinelli’s childhood. Granted, neither of the little girls is Benoni’s, but that’s rather splitting hairs, when you get down to it.

It would be best away from the house. Ideally Benoni would leave with a few of his right-hand men and then Jason could kill him in front of them, but odds of that happening seem slim. Instead Jason will have to resort to tried-and-true Bat tactics, namely ghosting inside in the dark and conducting business before anyone knows he’s there. He grabs a nap in the Camaro while he waits for dusk, and it’s the most satisfying sleep he’s had in days.

Eight o’clock is as good a time as any. The light is on in the master bedroom and it’s the work of a moment to scale the side of the house. He was right: Benoni’s taken the master for himself, and is inside now with a grizzled man Jason doesn’t recognize. An advisor rather than a lover, most likely. Jason balances on cat feet on the railing of the Juliet balcony and is surprisingly calm, like he’s used up all his anger this morning. Benoni tried to kill him; now he will kill Benoni. That’s the game. Maybe he’s getting old.

Jason kicks in the balcony doors and is inside the room in a flash. Benoni looks like he’s seen a ghost, but the other man rushes him immediately. Good reaction time but poor combat skills: Jason spins out of his way and brings him down with a single kick.

“I have a very strict rule about backstabbing,” Jason says. He ambles over to Benoni, who’s just now realizing he should be running for his life. “You cross me and you die.” His silenced Glock is waiting in its hold at the small of his back. Jason pulls it, fires, and then Benoni’s dead, flat on the carpet with his skull a mess. The other man gives a hoarse shout, but quiets when Jason turns the gun on him. “Gotham will always find you,” he says. “Our eyes are everywhere. Stay far away.” Dramatic, but that’s what works with this sort of criminal. The man is too afraid to speak, and Jason’s overstayed his welcome. He holsters the Glock and flips out the window, hits the ground running, and is off the grounds before the shouting begins from inside the house.

“You’re okay?” Tim asks as he’s starting the engine of the Camaro.

“Easy as pie. Y’know, this is the part of the movie where we cut to our heroes drinking beer and having a barbecue,” Jason says.

“You really think it’s over?” Tim says.

Jason taps his fingers against the steering wheel. “It’s never over. Not for us. But Benoni’s done, and Malto’s done, and that’s two leaders the gang’s lost in a week. They won’t be doing much of anything for a long time.”

“Maybe not,” Tim says, “but there are always more mafiosi. Made men, right?”

“C’mon, kid. Lemme have my barbecue.”

“Alright, sorry. Congrats, Hood. The credits are rolling on this one.” Tim sounds like he’s smiling.

“Yeah,” Jason says, feeling jittery like he does when a mission ends too easily. “Feel free to keep me updated on plans for a sequel. You know Hollywood—nothing ever really dies.” He merges onto the interstate. When you look up in Connecticut you can still see the stars, dim and far-off. Jason prefers Gotham, the smog and the clouds, the brooding weather.

“Sometimes it’s the good things that come back,” Tim says, and Jason cracks up.

“Was that about me? That was about me, wasn’t it. Wowee, princess, that was sappy as hell,” he says, too amused to care when a BMW changes lanes almost on top of him.

“Fuck you,” Tim says. “When will you be home?”

“I dunno,” Jason says. “Four and a half hours?”

“Yeah?” Tim says, and then, much louder, “Dick, you know I have a front door—” The line cuts off on Tim’s side and Jason’s heart flies into his throat. Forget Bruce, if Dick finds out what he’s been up to with Tim, he’ll never hear the end of it. Dick would hunt him down, that’s for sure. They’d probably fight, brawl across the rooftops, knock the wind out of each other. It would be a relief, if Jason’s honest. He feels like he needs somebody to yell at him over Tim, to punish him. But chances are it won’t come to that. Tim’s sneaky, and Dick won’t know anything Tim doesn’t want him to know. Like the fact that he was probably about to tell the Red Hood to come on over.

Jason would have said yes. He’ll still say yes, if Tim asks again. How fucked up is that? He still wants to go back, because Jason can’t ever seem to do the smart thing, or the decent thing, which would be to stay out of Tim’s life before he ruins him like a book left outside in the rain. Tim’s competent and brilliant but Jason’s just the kind of mistake you make when you’re eighteen, brilliant or otherwise.

Maybe it’s Tim’s mistake to make. Maybe when it all goes sideways, Tim will have learned a Valuable Lesson. Jason thinks of Tim’s eyes, the little half-smile he gives, and feels heavy in a way he can’t explain.

It’s a long drive back. Jason will monitor the Camorra situation, both in Hartford and New York City. Gun to his head he doesn’t expect them back in Gotham anytime in the next generation, but he’s been wrong before. Moving forward Jason would like to follow up on Black Mask and the Zastavas, but Tim’s right—Bruce will insist on dealing with that business personally. Black Mask, Two-Face, Joker: there’s a certain A-list Bruce saves for himself. It’s about the only real work he does in Gotham anymore. He’s become a master delegator in the last few years. Maybe it's what happens when you’ve suddenly found yourself in your late forties.

It’s nearly two a.m. before Jason rolls back over the bridge into Gotham.

“He’s gone,” Tim says in his ear. “He wanted to talk about Robin.”

“Oh yeah? Did B lose his patience again?” Damian’s made admirable progress molding himself into the kind of son Bruce might approve of, but it’s slow going.

“Probably. But I think N just misses him. He wants to bring R to Blüdhaven for a couple weeks,” Tim says.

“Brat Wonder will ditch B in a heartbeat,” says Jason.

“He’d definitely rather have N as Batman again,” Tim says.

“Well, boy’s got it bad.”

“Hush, he does not,” Tim says, sounding scandalized.

“Babybird, he does,” Jason says, because you’d have to be blind not to see it, or maybe just oblivious, like Dick.

“He’s barely thirteen,” Tim protests.

“And what were you doing at thirteen?” Jason asks. “Mind pure as the driven snow? Perusing Thoreau after patrols?”

“’The world is but a canvas to our imagination,’” Tim quotes, obnoxiously. “And my imagination doesn’t want to contemplate what R’s doing after patrols.”

“Give it ten years,” Jason says.

“Not now, not ever,” says Tim.

“If you say so, princess,” Jason says, and then they’re quiet for long enough that Jason realizes he’s driven straight past his safehouse and has made it to midtown. Fifteen more minutes and he’d be at the Penthouse. He thinks about turning around, and doesn’t. He shouldn’t go back to his old safehouse anyway, not after the car bomb this morning. It’s time to pick up and move again, to abandon one bolthole for another. He has a couple on the go that will be okay. He needs a good night’s sleep. Maybe he’ll stop for food on the way. He’ll just take the next right and head back uptown.

He doesn’t take the next right. Or the next. Finally he forces himself to pull over into a Subway parking lot. He stares at himself in the rearview mirror. You’re an idiot, he mouths, so Tim can’t hear.

He goes inside and pees and buys two sandwiches. One for later, he tells himself, but that’s not what it’s for at all.

“Hey,” Tim finally says.

“Hey,” Jason says.

“Are you coming over?” Tim says, and it’s like a challenge, the way his voice hardens around it.

Jason looks at the extra sandwich in his hands. “Yeah,” he says. “I guess I am.”

Tim’s waiting for him in the Bunker. He has his hair pulled up in a bun and bare feet, and Jason absolutely cannot tell what he’s thinking. Jason parks the Camaro and holds the Subway bag out like an excuse, Just brought you dinner, kiddo. See ya later. Tim takes the sandwich, deposits it on the roof of the car, and steps into him, touches Jason’s hand. He stretches up on tiptoes and kisses him and Jason sighs into it. There’s a part of him that’s been coiled so tight and angry for days that loosens, like a clenched fist falling open.

“I’m a bad idea, you know,” Jason tells him when Tim pulls away. It’s the best he can do to put into words what he really feels on the subject, which is a messy car wreck, a housefire, shattered glass.

“Thank you for the warning,” Tim says, and Jason wants—a lot of things. To fuck him, to make him beg, to eat him alive. To go upstairs and just talk to him like they do across the comms. To rile him up, make him mad enough to lash out. To hear him laugh. He kisses him again, pushes Tim up against the side of the Camaro and doesn’t let him up for air until Tim’s shifting against him, hard and a little dazed.

Jason sinks to his knees and works the waistband of Tim’s sweatpants down over his cock and somehow the fact that he’s not wearing underwear is the most wonderful thing. He runs the backs of his fingers down Tim’s length and looks up at him. “Is this okay?” he asks.

Tim’s mouth is red and open. “God, yeah, please,” he says.

Jason licks up Tim’s cock and pulls it into his mouth, one hand around the base, the other splayed across Tim’s stomach under his loose tee shirt. He hollows his cheeks and sucks and Tim whimpers and says, “Shit, Jason,” and it’s so good, his name in Tim’s mouth, it’s always so good. He scrapes his teeth over Tim’s cock just the tiniest bit and Tim’s stomach muscles jump under Jason’s hand.

He sucks until Tim’s hips are stuttering forward helplessly, and Jason lets him fuck his mouth for a moment before holding him down against the Camaro. Tim’s sweet for him, so polite with his hands, so achingly eager. “I’m about to come,” Tim says, panting, and when Jason glances up his eyes are screwed shut. Jason rubs a soothing circle against Tim’s stomach with his thumb and doesn’t pull off, even when Tim gasps and his mouth is flooded with spunk.

He swallows and coughs and swallows again and kisses Tim’s hipbone, and then Tim drops to his knees with Jason, both of them down on the hard sealed concrete. He kisses Jason and licks what’s probably a drop of his own come from the corner of Jason’s mouth.

“Please don’t tell me that was your first blowjob,” Jason says, only half teasing. Tim drags his sweatpants back up and laughs.

“No, it wasn’t my first blowjob. My best one, though,” he says, and Jason winces.

“Oh God, don’t go comparing me to Stephanie. I don’t wanna know.” Steph’s absolutely gorgeous and Jason always has some kind of urge to beat up boys who look at her the wrong way.

“And who are you comparing me to?” Tim says, hand coming up to creep along Jason’s inner thigh.

“You ain’t getting a list, babybird,” Jason says, watching Tim’s hand with interest.

“Who says I don't already have one?” Tim says, and it’s probably true but Jason doesn’t care. Tim looks so sly and pleased with himself that Jason has to grab him and shove him down onto the concrete, hand coming up to cushion the back of his head before it knocks. Tim laughs and tangles their feet together, hair coming loose from its bun. He kisses Jason briefly and slides his good hand down the slick front of Jason’s uniform, hunting for the catches. “Which one has the taser?” he asks.

“They all have a taser,” Jason says, and lifts up to do it himself, disarming the electrified panels and dragging the top off himself. Tim fits his fingers to a couple of Jason’s scars while Jason works on the bottoms.

He tries to keep himself from crushing Tim into the concrete when he’s naked, but it’s hard going with Tim’s hand around his cock and Tim’s mouth dragging down his neck. “You’re such a gentleman,” Tim murmurs, cast scraping against Jason’s bare back. “Always making sure I come first.”

Jason rucks Tim’s shirt up under his armpits and flicks his thumb over a nipple. Tim makes a low, pleased sound and tightens his grip, and Jason jerks forward, gasping. “Like making you come,” he says, when he can talk again. He bites Tim’s earlobe. “Like it when you’re loud for me.” Tim hides his face in sucking marks on Jason’s neck. Jason braces on his arms and rolls his hips forward into Tim’s grip. He’s going sex-stupid, his whole focus distilled into his cock, into the wet pressure of Tim’s mouth on his neck. Tim twists his wrist and rubs his thumb across the head, and Jason’s belly twists and then he’s coming, bucking his hips, striping Tim’s chest.

Jason rests his forehead on Tim’s shoulder as his heartrate slows again.

“You know,” Tim says when Jason’s stopped panting, when they’re breathing together, “the Bunker floor isn’t exactly that comfortable.”

“Yeah, okay,” Jason says, feeling heavy and sated. He drags himself upright and pulls Tim up after him. There’s a change of clothes in the trunk of the Camaro and he steps into the jeans rather than ride up the elevator completely naked. Tim picks up his abandoned sandwich from the roof of the car.

“And you even brought me food,” he says. His shirt is off and he’s using it to wipe the come off his chest.

The elevator opens on the Penthouse. The laptops are spread around Tim’s usual spot on the couch and an empty pizza box leans against the trash can by the island. The collection of used mugs is back on the coffee table and coils of fiberoptic cable litter the floor, some partially stripped. “Been busy?” Jason asks.

“Have to be. Keeps me from going stir crazy,” Tim says. He settles at the island and unwraps the sandwich. Jason forces himself to ignore the urge to clean and just makes himself a cup of tea. The first mug he pulls out of the cabinet is bright blue and reads FEEL SAFE AT NIGHT: SLEEP WITH A COP.

“Dick?” he asks.

“Dick,” Tim confirms.

Jason puts the kettle on and rummages for the tea. He opens two different cabinets before he finds it—a lot of it. Six or seven boxes, all different kinds. The last time he was here there had only been Earl Grey. He glances back at Tim, who’s carefully studying his sandwich. Jason decides on chamomile.

There’s some kind of knot growing in his stomach the longer they’re silent. It’s like he’s forgotten how to talk to Tim, what to say. “It’s starting to warm up outside,” he tries, and narrows his eyes at the gently whistling kettle. The weather? Really?

“Still cold, though,” Tim says, and when Jason brings his mug over to the island Tim smiles at him, amused.

“Well, it’s Jersey,” he says, and lets the steam off his mug drift into his face.

They’re quiet again.

“When was the last time we saw each other?” Jason suddenly asks, entirely before his brain gives permission. “Before last week, I mean.”

Tim tilts his head. “There was the Iceberg Lounge, back in January.”

“Doesn’t count,” Jason says. “Huge fight, all of us were there.”

“Okay, then December, when Dick and I were tracking Ivy and you showed up to hand us her location.”

Jason shakes his head. “I dropped in for about two minutes. And Dick was there too.”

“Fine, just us then,” Tim says. He takes the last bite of his sandwich and chews thoughtfully. “Not November, Cass was there. Bruce was there in August—”

“Don’t remind me,” Jason says.

“—So June. It was June. I was chasing Firefly downtown and he cut my line. I was falling. And you caught me.” There’s that half smile again, pulling at Tim’s mouth.

“I forgot about that,” Jason says.

“I didn’t,” says Tim, and his gaze is so soft. He pulls Jason’s mug away from him and steals a sip of tea. Jason has the urge to kiss him, but the island’s too wide to lean across and he feels rooted to the floor. He’s leaning against the countertop like it’s the last lifeboat, and he remembers that night, back in June, when he snatched Tim out of the air as he fell, how he timed the swing just right. He’d been in the area, had seen Firefly blaze past overhead. Tim was following just behind, running the rooftops and swinging whenever there was a good grapplehold. Jason kept pace for a few blocks on the roofs across the street, and then Firefly swooped in and Tim was falling and then Jason had him, held against his chest, barely feeling his weight. They landed on one of the gargoyles crowning the old bank building but Firefly was gone, signature invisible even under thermal lenses. Jason can’t remember if they said anything at all to each other before they parted ways. Maybe they just nodded, professional, cold. He was so light in Jason’s arms. Like the dummies Bruce used to throw for him in training. Like a doll.

“And before that?” Jason says.

“More of the same, really,” Tim says. “What are you getting at?”

“I don’t know,” Jason says. “It just seems strange, I guess. You’ve been in my head for nine or ten days and I’ve never even—had a beer with you, or whatever.”

“I don't drink,” Tim says. “Clouds the senses.”

“You don’t drink but you stuff yourself on takeout?” Jason says, somewhat appalled.

“Thank you for your concern,” Tim says primly. “And it’s not just me, right? You haven’t had a beer with any of us. Dick says you’re a loner,” he adds, but he’s smiling, and Jason can’t get mad. It’s sort of true. But it’s circumstance, isn’t it? A loner by circumstance, if there is such a thing. “Although I don’t know many loners who’d let me ride along in their ear all the time,” Tim says.

“Don’t you go psychoanalyzing me, princess,” Jason says, dragging his mug back from where Tim’s tried to steal another sip.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Tim says smoothly. “But I can call Dick, if you want. He could be here with a sixpack in thirty minutes, fingerstripes and all.”

“He would come, wouldn’t he,” Jason muses. “But if you try I’d have to disappear immediately for several months.” He might not be ready for a beer with Dick Grayson for several more decades.

“We can’t have that,” Tim says. “I’ve gotten used to having you around.”

Jason hides his face behind a long swallow of tea. “I’ve also…gotten used to it,” he says, slowly, when he can’t avoid it anymore. “To…having you around.” Tim reaches out for Jason’s mug and this time Jason gives it to him, lets Tim brush his fingers across the back of Jason’s hand. “Not that you gave me a say in the matter.”

“You could have taken out the earpiece,” Tim says.

“I could have,” Jason agrees. They watch each other across the island. Jason takes back his mug of tea and drains it, then leaves it in the sink with the other dishes, because if he starts washing things now he won’t stop until everything’s clean. When he turns back around Tim’s there, just behind him. Jason didn’t even hear him get off the barstool. Tim reaches out and catches his forefinger in a beltloop of Jason’s jeans. Jason brings a hand up to cup the side of Tim’s face and then they’re kissing, slow and gentle.

“You should come back tomorrow,” Tim says against his mouth, “and spot me in training.”

“You kicking me out already, babybird?” Jason says, letting his hand settle in the small of Tim’s back.

“Mm, not if you’re going to stay,” Tim says, working himself closer.

“It’s only three AM,” Jason says, glancing at the clock above the stove. “That’s the middle of the day for us.”

“Good, because I think you should come fuck me again,” Tim says, casual, like they’re back on the weather. He’s getting bolder.

Jason kisses him, nips at his lower lip. “Kid—”

Tim digs the fingers of his good hand into Jason’s side. “Don’t start,” he warns. “There’s nothing more you can do to—to ruin me, or whatever.”

“There’s plenty I can do to ruin you,” Jason says lowly. Tim swallows.

“Not exactly doing much to convince me, talking like that,” he says. “Come on. Tell me you don’t want to.”

“Wanting to was never the problem, babybird,” Jason says, well aware he’s lost the battle. He drops both his hands to Tim’s ass and squeezes. Tim makes a low noise, pushes himself against Jason’s leg.

“Good,” Tim murmurs, turning liquid in Jason’s’ arms. “You want me to beg?” Jason slips the waistband of Tim’s sweatpants down over his ass, skims his blunt nails over the skin. “Please—Jason,” Tim moans as Jason presses a finger against his hole. Tim tries to spread his legs wider and can’t, trapped by his sweats. “Lube’s still in the bedroom,” he says, fumbling with the button on Jason’s jeans. “Please tell me you’re okay with this.”

Jason’s hard and his head’s going cloudy with want. He squeezes Tim’s ass again, feeling all of a sudden desperately possessive. “You win, I’m good,” he says.

“Thank God,” Tim says, kicking his sweats all the way off. Jason works down his own jeans and somehow they make it down the hall.

“It’s easier, on all fours,” Jason tells Tim when he has him on the bed.

“No thanks,” Tim says obstinately, rolling onto his back. Jason shakes his head and grabs a pillow from the top of the bed. He lifts Tim up one-handed and shoves the pillow under his hips. “This is stupid,” Tim says.

“Keep it there,” Jason says. Tim might pretend otherwise, but he struggled last time, taking Jason’s cock. Jason’s determined to make it easier on him. He finds the lube and takes his time opening Tim up, endlessly fascinated with how Tim falls apart on his fingers. Tim shudders and pants, making a high helpless noise whenever Jason brushes his prostate. Jason has him stretched wide around four fingers before Tim nudges him with a shaking leg.

“Jason, I’ll come,” he says.

“Can you?” Jason asks. “Without me touching you?” He drags a finger hard over Tim’s prostate and Tim digs his head back into the bedding.

“Probably, never tried,” he says through gritted teeth. Jason grunts at the mental picture and has to pump his own cock a few times. He twists his fingers inside Tim again.

“I wanna see that,” he says, eyes focused on the stretched ring of Tim’s hole, the way Tim’s cock is twitching against his stomach.

“Not now,” Tim begs. “I want you in me,” which is enough motivation to make Jason do anything.

“Yeah, okay,” he says, sounding about as drunk as he feels. He rolls on a condom and slicks himself with lube. Tim’s just as tight as he remembers and it’s so difficult to keep from just giving in and slamming forward. He searches Tim’s face, ready to stop, but maybe it’s the pillows or maybe Tim’s learned to relax better, because Tim just sighs when Jason’s fully seated, pulls him down to kiss.

“I swear I’m fine,” Tim says, exasperated. “You can move.”

Jason does, working his hips in long, slow thrusts. Tim gasps and Jason stills instantly, but Tim wraps his legs around Jason’s back and forces him deeper. “Feels good,” Tim whispers, so Jason keeps it up, works to hit the same sweet spot, to angle his hips the right way. It’s a lot easier with his fingers, when he’s not losing his mind with how tight Tim is, how deliciously good around his cock.

Tim’s rolling his hips up to meet him and they find a rhythm, working with each other, easy as anything. Tim’s cheeks are flushed and he’s panting, beads of sweat catching along the edge of a scar on his neck. “You’re the best thing I’ve ever seen,” Jason tells him, and Tim grins and presses their mouths together, both of them too keyed up to do more than trade air.

Tim gets so loud for him. When Jason wraps his hand around Tim’s cock Tim twists his fingers into Jason’s hair and moans, mumbling something, and after a moment Jason realizes it’s his name, “Jason, Jason, Jason,” almost not a word at all, and Jason can’t handle it. He presses his mouth to Tim’s jaw, his neck, his collarbone, feeling the weight of himself over Tim, the heat off Tim’s skin, the way Tim’s watching him, the look in his eyes. Tim bucks up and comes and even through that, even with the way he’s shuddering and lost in it, his eyes lock on Jason’s and stay there.

Tim runs his hand down Jason’s spine and back up and Jason bows his neck, touches their foreheads together. He feels like he’s on fire. Tim tightens his legs around Jason’s waist and urges him faster. “So good, Jay,” Tim whispers, hand on the back of Jason’s neck. “Come on.” He clenches down around Jason and Jason’s gone, he’s coming, white heat flooding through him, world gone starry.

“God, babybird,” he moans when his head clears. Tim’s there to kiss him, deep and long, and Jason doesn’t want to pull out. He waits until Tim’s shifting beneath him, and they both make a face when he does. Tim stretches his arms above his head, dragging out the one in the cast as much as he can, luxurious with it. Jason throws away the condom and Tim pulls the pillow out from underneath him, kicks it off the bed. He looks a mess, fucked out and happy. Jason did that to him. Jason made him look like that.

Jason rejoins him on the bed, stretches out next to Tim on his belly. He props up on his elbows and smiles when Tim pokes him in the leg with a toe.

“You’re very good at that,” he tells Jason.

“Not too shabby yourself, kiddo,” he says.

“Practice does make perfect,” Tim says.

“That’s what they say,” Jason agrees, grinning at him.

“Did you know,” Tim says slowly, turning over on his stomach like Jason, “when I was a kid, you used to wave at me?” His voice is light but there’s a serious set to his mouth, all of a sudden. “When I was out with my camera, I mean. Or, ha, it wasn’t really a wave. It was like this little salute you used to do.” Tim mimes it with his broken arm, two fingers tipped from his brow. “It probably looks pretty dumb now, but when I was little I thought it was the coolest thing.” Tim stares down at his hands, that half-smile at his mouth. “Robin was waving to me. You probably don’t remember,” he says.

The boy with the camera. It was a full year after he came back to life before he connected that particular childhood ghost with Tim Drake. It helped, when he put the pieces together. It helped cool the anger. “I can’t believe you think my sweet moves look dumb now,” Jason says, giving Tim the salute. Tim laughs at him and Jason thinks he looks relieved. “You know, it was Dick who warned me about you and your friggin camera. ‘Don’t piss on the gargoyles, Jason, the paparazzi will see,’” he says, doing an admirable mockup of Dick’s voice. “He let me think it was real paparazzi for two damn months. Turns out it was an eight-year-old shooting polaroids.”

“I never got one of you peeing on the statuary,” Tim says. “My collection is incomplete.”

“You still got those old photos?” Jason asks.

“You’ll never know,” Tim says.

“That means yes,” Jason says, freeing an arm to scruff Tim’s hair. He rolls on his side to face Tim, brushes his fingers over Tim’s shoulder, over the pair of scars there, down to where his skin disappears into the cast. Tim rolls over too and pillows his head on his good arm. “How many more weeks until you’re back in the field?” he asks.

“Another four weeks at least until the cast comes off,” Tim says, “and then another couple for PT to rebuild strength. So basically forever.”

“I guess I’ll be enjoying your company in my ear until then,” Jason says.

Tim smiles. “It’s hard to promise anything, in our line of work.”

Jason catches his lower lip in his teeth. They watch each other for a long moment.

“It is,” Jason says. “It’s hard to promise anything.”

When Tim looks away Jason snakes an arm around his back and drags him close enough to kiss. Tim’s pliant and yielding for him and it’s a long time before they come up for air. When Tim does pull back Jason realizes how tightly he’s holding Tim, how he’s almost tucked him beneath his body. He eases away reluctantly, gives Tim some room to breathe.

“What are you doing tonight?” Tim asks. “Are you leaving?”

Ah. Jason draws in a breath as the panic seeps from where it’s always waiting, bottled up behind his ribcage. Tim’s watching him, big eyes betraying nothing. Hard to promise anything. He can’t stay. But he—wants to, wants it bad, like something in his chest is tearing free.

“It’s fine,” Tim says. He rolls onto his back, regards the ceiling. “I don’t care.”

“Maybe—just for tonight,” Jason hears himself say. God. God!

Tim twitches in surprise. “Really?” he says, and then composes himself. “Okay. If you want.” He picks himself up off the bed. “I’m going to shower in the master bath,” he says. “You can have the hall bathroom.” He’s gone in an instant, but not before Jason catches the look on his face.

Jason collapses on his back and scrapes his hands over his face. His heart is beating too fast. Something’s clenched tight in his stomach, and he’s shocked to find himself compiling a list of exits, windows elevator roof, grapple car run. Run. Stop it, he tells himself. But his heart won’t slow down.

The water pressure in the hall bathroom is ten times better than in any of his crappy safehouses. Tim’s shampoo is in the caddy, and Tim’s soap. It all smells like him. Jason stands under the hot water for a long time, arguing with himself.

There are Nightwing-blue towels on the stand. He dries off and wraps one around his waist, and then he braves the bedroom again.

He shuts the door behind him and locks it, because in the shower he had a sudden, horrible image of Dick showing up in the early hours and catching him out. Tim’s perched on the edge of the bed in a new pair of black sweatpants. Another pile of clothes is next to him, boxers and sweats and a gray tee shirt. “They’re Dick’s,” Tim says. “I don’t know if they’ll fit, but they’re clean. If you want them.”

“They’ll work,” Jason says. There’s a roaring in his ears. He pulls on the boxers and leaves the rest. They’re not a bad fit, maybe a little tight. Tim scoots back on the bed and switches off the bedside lamp, which is a blessing. It’s so much easier when the room is pitch-black, the only light coming from the LEDs on a laptop charging in the corner. Jason climbs into bed and finds Tim in the darkness, rests just the tips of his fingers on Tim’s elbow. It’s better, when he’s touching him. Like a tether.

Tim shuffles a little closer, but not too close. Not pressed against Jason, the way he was twenty minutes ago. Jason won’t be able to sleep at all tonight, but Tim yawns into his pillow. “Glad I could help,” he says quietly. “Y’know, with your case. Keeps me from feeling so useless.”

“I hope you realize Babs would kick your ass from here to Blüdhaven if she heard you talking like that,” Jason says.

“I’m no Oracle,” Tim protests.

“You do come with added benefits,” Jason says, scooting closer, stroking Tim’s wet hair behind his ear.

“I’m the full-service model,” Tim says.

“The upgrade,” Jason says, and Tim thumps him lightly with his cast.

“That’s blasphemy and you know it,” Tim says.

Jason laughs. “Irreverence is kind of my calling card,” he says. “Team Red Hood doesn’t play by the rules. I could still get you a jersey,” he adds. “You could be a first-stringer, right off the bat.”

“Pass,” Tim says drily. “I’m doing well enough aiding and abetting. Bruce would bench me for good, if he knew.”

Jason shudders. “New rule: no one says the B-word unless I’m fully dressed.”

“Thought Team Red Hood didn’t play by the rules,” Tim says, wet hair falling back down his face, and Jason gives up. He rolls onto his back and pulls Tim onto his chest. Tim goes willingly, and Jason feels his smile against his skin.

“You’re a helluva lot, kid,” Jason says. Tim hums indistinctly. In ten minutes he’s asleep, or doing a good job of pretending, breath steady and deep, gusting warm over Jason’s skin.

He’s so light on Jason’s chest. He’s so young. When Jason cranes his neck to look his face is soft and relaxed, skin much paler than Jason’s. Jason’s arm is wrapped around his back, fingers splayed across his ribs, over the ridges of scar tissue there. Jason remembers how he looked when Jason came over that first time, with the Zastava: his nervousness, his shy smile. Jason lets out a breath and he’s still wound so tight, but it’s different now, somehow. A different kind of twisting in his gut, something to do with how fragile Tim’s fingers look, curling around the edge of his cast. With how little he weighs. With how he’s sleeping, exposing his neck, his back. To Jason. To Jason. Jason watches him helplessly. There’s no way he’ll sleep tonight.

But Tim sighs and shifts against him, and somehow, in the end, he does.