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Following smoke and remembering fire

by Te

[Story Headers]

Following smoke and remembering fire
by Te
July 10, 2004

Disclaimers: All is DC's.

Spoilers: No real spoilers, per se, but includes vague references to various storylines in Batman, Gotham Knights, and Robin.

Summary: The direction of a push does not perfectly predict the path of a fall.

Ratings Note/Warnings: NC-17. Content some readers may find disturbing.

Author's Note: I meant this as a sequel to "A mean arithmetic," but it isn't... quite. Still, it might help to read that first.

Title from "Paths of Desire" by October Project.

Acknowledgments: Thanks to Jack, LC, and Livia for audiencing. Liv also gave me a title.

*

Bruce doesn't like to think about it.

About... it isn't the sex, per se. It's the relationship. The tangled vagaries of it, the thrilling transgression of it. He's breaking a rule that doesn't have anything whatsoever to do with Tim's age, or even with the relationship the two of them are, theoretically, supposed to have.

He's never been entirely sure what that was, anyway. And the more he thinks about it, the more suspicion he has that Tim didn't, either.

They've been a good team when they've worked together. Tim had been balm to his worst excesses -- to Batman's -- and he had been...

There had always been a few small things Bruce could provide for Tim no one else could. Once or twice, he'd even managed to provide them without causing further damage.

Once or twice.

And now...

They don't work together any more often than they did, or any less. Tim had been carving out portions of the city for his own for years now. He had his own allies, his own routines, his own fears and nightmares.

With a little effort -- focus -- he could probably make an educated guess about which of the above is occupying Tim's time right now.

What's keeping him away, a small, loathsome (even to those parts of himself capable of forgiveness) voice suggests. Insists.

It's loathsome because it isn't true, and never has been. Tim...

Tim has never been like the others. Sometimes the illusion of familiarity and permanence, the hope of it, slips away to reveal them as nothing more than a disparate group of needs and training, his own touch on them -- all of them -- easily brushed away. Forgotten.

He's never thought of himself as especially possessive -- shouldn't he be better at keeping them, if so? The hurt and anger of the realization is absolutely meaningless next to the terror of it.

The end of every nightmare Bruce has can be defined by one word: Alone. This is his weakness, obvious to any who cares to look.

And there are times when he wonders if that, more than anything else, was the basis of Tim's reasoning. Why he'd done this -- started this.

The urge to blame himself entirely, to cover himself in the ashes of his own old, familiar self-loathing is... not insignificant, especially when combined with the hateful and terrifying possibility of coming to believe Tim deserves...

Whatever terrible thing his mind could come up with to finish that sentence. Tim has not made this easy, even for Bruce. He's never expected anything to be easy, after all. Only... he shakes it off.

If he was entirely ignorant of himself, he would've been a dead man long before. Long before he'd ever known the name 'Drake' as anything more than that of another one of Gotham's 'favorite sons,' somewhat less afflicted by the dilettante's disease than most. Tim is not Jason.

Left to his own devices, nothing could've made Bruce cross that very real -- if always difficult to define -- boundary between partners and... this.

Bruce frowns to himself and lifts his forehead from the glass of Jason's case, wiping the imprint away with a clean edge of the chamois he'd used on the car. The terrible truth is that there is never just one slippery slope. One need provokes another. One memory...

Cutting himself off from putting most of this into clear, definitive language is another sort of transgression entirely, or feels like it should be. He doesn't think he's allowing himself some sort of willful blindness about his relationship with Tim -- the other terrible truth of the moment is the fact that he has far, far more questions than answers.

At the same time, however, the existence of those questions should provoke him into the search for answers. All he has to do is think about it.

("Man, you talk a good game, but you're really fucking superstitious, aren't you?")

Language, Jason, Bruce thinks, and feels his mouth try to smile while something inside him simultaneously tries to tear. The Cave echoes with silence and the memory of laughter. There's a perverse sort of pleasure to the nights like these, when Alfred shifts the combination on the compartment holding Batman's spare uniforms, and does a remarkably good job at hiding everything else before Bruce wakes up.

When Bruce has been told, in various ways, that it's time for him to take a night off. He itches to refuse, of course, but Alfred always picks just the right time. The night after the latest major project is complete, and/or the night after some spectacularly inconvenient injury. A combination of events, coincidences, and... conspiracy.

The pleasure is there. Gotham never has more approved operatives working in tandem or alone than when he himself has been... benched. If he goes to the console, the mask and other cams will show him Gotham through the eyes of everyone, anyone. The entirety of his family, and his family's families.

In the Clocktower, Oracle is undoubtedly waiting for him to pester her unnecessarily for the reports that will be sent to him anyway -- when she's done with them. Nightwing is on the Northeastern outskirts of the city, as close to Bludhaven as he can get without leaving Gotham itself. The others are working through their own territories, unless something has gone wrong and --

No. Nothing would keep Oracle from relaying that call to him. He isn't injured, he's only...

Making a pretense of rest and recuperation, enough of one to keep Alfred from (leaving) reprimanding him. Enough of one for all of them but himself. Tim didn't take the bike tonight. It is, of course, as immaculate as the rest of the vehicles. The tank is full and it would take a well-trained eye to know that it's been driven at all.

Bruce crouches and runs a finger over the back tire. The tread is more than adequate, but it would still probably be a good idea to replace it soon. A week, perhaps. Less if Tim decides to take it out more than once before then.

Tim is as careful with it as he is with all of the equipment -- he knows he is as likely to forget the faint hint of dismay on the boy's face the first time he'd returned from a solo patrol with an unsalvageable uniform as he is to forget Jason's habit of carrying shreds of his own destroyed uniforms on his person -- but before he records his mileage and wipes the odometer, Bruce makes note.

Tim puts just as many not-strictly-necessary miles on the bike as Bruce had hoped he would. He loves the bike. It isn't the freedom -- Bruce has always held on to Tim very, very lightly -- it's... something more visceral. Simple, the way very few things are for Tim. Either of them. Bruce loves the car, too.

It makes him want to come up with any excuse possible to give Tim more of them, other vehicles. He would've given Tim a car of his own to take to San Francisco, if he hadn't been so very determined to take one.

That, perhaps, had been about freedom, though Bruce thinks it still isn't likely. His relationship with Tim -- his -- has been...

Bruce scrubs a hand over his face, smelling rubber and the faintly alkali scent of the grounds by Robinson Park. Tim hadn't mentioned patrolling there, which means it was one of the places he'd driven through for the joy of it. His heart pounds a little, seizes at the imagery. He would've been wearing his helmet, since he only took it off for emergencies.

He would've been... the image isn't the best. It's been a long time since Bruce has been especially familiar with a Tim at play for nothing serious, or necessarily cruel. His relationship with the boy has been damaged far too deeply, and far too often by Bruce's own confused need for more from him. Confused because he was never sure what form that 'more' would take.

He still isn't.

The others...

He has thought, more than once, that his life would've been more comfortable if he'd gotten less from Dick. Easier, in that weak, shrinking way that he'd tried to take anyway. That he still does, because looking at Dick is very much like trying not to grasp for the sun that will burn you to nothing. Because Bruce was never, could never be the man Dick wanted, and perhaps even needed.

And Jason... if Bruce ordered the lights up, the shadow of the Case would fall over Tim's bike, and over himself. ("Christ, I don't care, Bruce. They can hang all over you all they want. Heh. It's kinda hot when you come home smelling like perfume.")

He's tried to put it into words more than once, tried to organize his thoughts into coherence. Five years since Jason came into his life, three since he was killed. Temptations and madness and pain and loneliness. Jason had been so much. Jason had been absolutely everything.

Intellectually, he's long since come to realize that he'd drowned himself in Jason, that it was unfair and dangerous for both of them. That his obsession was... just that. Utterly unmediated by the love. Beyond that, there's very little intellect at all.

Bruce checks the time mentally, then
actually -- off by three minutes. Ten minutes until he can pester Oracle without causing undue annoyance. The others' patrols are staggered by both necessity and design, but it would be very strange if any of them had been out for more than two hours.

Orpheus almost certainly first, because his half-reformed gangs worked early, Batgirl soon after because she hungered for the night as much as Bruce ever has. The irrational, mindless part of him reaches for a sense of them, heedless of the fact that no ordinary human could.

The irrational part of him demands the search, the reaching, because there is nothing else to sate it. Not really. ("I know you do, I know, oh fuck, Bruce --") He leans in just enough to smell the leather of the bike's seat, sharp and aging quickly from hard use. He doesn't plan to replace it until (Tim asks, or does it himself) he absolutely must.

He can barely smell the nomex and kevlar of Tim's uniform, much less Tim himself.

Tim had left nothing behind when he'd moved back in with his father, and the fact that it had been less a message than the boy's simple, ruthless practicality only made the lack more palpable. Now... now, perhaps, there would've been more a message to the act.

Even before Tim had... seduced him?

There are any number of reasons why the word feels irritatingly incorrect, from his own worries about control to the fact that seduction would imply that Bruce hadn't thought about it. Feared and hoped and wondered.

Jason had opened a universe of possibility, undeniable even in the face of Tim's own mix of professional opacity and passions directed seemingly everywhere but at himself. Even to the Bat.

If he thinks about it, he gains the naggingly plausible sense that none of this would've happened if he hadn't pushed the boy quite so hard, pushed so much personally. He's forced to wonder if Batman's gift for Tim's sixteenth birthday had been the point of decision, some sort of last straw beyond which Tim could no longer treat Bruce with precise, distant care.

As though his declaration of intent toward Tim's future had been more of a transgression than anything else he'd ever done, or failed to do. It makes more sense than he wants it to, but the evidence is there. He was never supposed to make Tim question his role as Robin. Not after he'd given him the suit, and certainly not after Paris.

He was never supposed to strike at the heart of the one thing he could be sure Tim believed in, or at least, wanted to believe in. Perhaps the only thing Tim had ever believed in.

That he'd done it out of pride and the need to praise Tim as much as out of necessity doesn't matter in the least. He had trespassed.

Bruce closes his eyes and fights against the wave of pleasure, of rightness. He knows more about what he wants from Tim, what some grasping, greedy part of himself needs, than he wants to admit, even to himself. Tim is a promise.

He stands and stretches, slightly, and trails his hand over the bike's controls before moving to the console.

"Oracle."

"Here. Now go away."

If she was truly involved in more things than she could handle while also dealing with him, she would've said she was busy. "Report."

The sigh is brief, but impressively gusty. "Nothing new from Orpheus. Batgirl just went in to give Canary some back-up. Robin's headed in, because --"

"Why?"

A moment's pause, and Bruce bites the inside of his cheek. Intellectually, he knows that if Tim were injured, Oracle would mention that first. And Oracle knows that he knows that.

Bruce is reasonably sure that only the fact that Oracle knows he'd just track her down keeps her in the Clocktower. She could work from anywhere. He can feel her deciding how much he needs to know, versus how much he wants to, versus how badly she'd undoubtedly like to --

"Minor injuries only," she says, as clipped and blank as she can manage without switching on the scrambler. "He was caught in a blast. The uniform took the brunt of the damage."

"Bomber?"

"Currently being processed at the one-nine. Anything else?"

If he asks about Nightwing without her mentioning him first, at this point, it's entirely possible that Oracle will decide they need to talk about... any number of the things neither of them actually wish to. Oracle has many weapons. "No."

"I'll call if I need you. Oracle out."

Minor injuries only, which means that the only reason Tim's coming in is that the suit's irreparably damaged. He should be pulling out a spare.

Almost certainly, it will be the first thing Tim wants when he comes in. He hates interrupting a patrol nearly as he hates damaging his uniforms. Tim's fastidiousness...

Bruce traces the console with his un-gauntleted fingers and checks to see if Alfred's awake. There's nothing moving in the manor, which suggests not. One of the reasons Bruce doesn't fight his periodic 'groundings' as much as he could is because Alfred seems to treasure the chance to sleep at night whenever possible.

Bruce had long since surrendered the fight to keep Alfred from staying awake while he was on patrol.

He makes a mental note to mention whatever Tim says or does about the damaged uniform to Alfred in the morning. Alfred has always been fond of that particular quirk. Of Tim in general. There was a time when he'd assumed Alfred's near-immediate acceptance of Tim had been the result of the fact that Alfred had become accustomed to the mostly wordless need Bruce has for partnership, but frankly there's so much more to it than that.

There are any number of things about Tim which demand... attention.

The first unnecessarily loud footfall makes Bruce tense, despite the familiarity. However, since Tim immediately shifts to a quieter pace, it's clear that the first had more to do with courtesy than injury.

Bruce can feel Oracle glaring at him.

He still has time to get Tim's spare suit before... before.

There's a hard twist to Tim's mouth, cynical annoyance. The cape is impressively shredded along its lower right side, nearly perfect on the left. He hadn't had time to cover himself entirely, which is obvious by the damage to the left leg of his tights and the charring along that side of the tunic.

Bruce stands and takes a closer look. His shin is bruised, and there are a few scrapes. The vast majority of the damage is to the boots.

A deep breath and Bruce can smell smoke, melted plastic, and melted rubber. The uniform must have been actively burning at some point. Bruce looks closer still and gets a raised eyebrow for his trouble.

"No burns. The suit is a wash, though." Another twist to his mouth, and a brief, telling hesitation before Tim heads toward where he keeps his spares.

The hesitation is more about the fact that Bruce didn't have one ready for him than anything else.

"The perp is a new player," Tim says, walking easily. "Correction -- a wannabe. Homemade suit, more damaged by his own bomb than mine. Hm. I think the gauntlets are still fine."

There's an unspoken question. As always, there is no obligation to answer it. "Oracle didn't offer many details."

Tim drops his cape into the acid bath and pauses before looking back over his shoulder. There's a blankness to his expression that almost certainly belies whatever is behind his mask. "I didn't finish my patrol," he says, and sits down on the bench to pull off his boots. One of them falls apart when he tugs.

"Oracle has it covered." It would be unlike her not to divert someone else to Tim's territory. Which Tim knows as well as he does.

He watches Tim strip with steady care. The fact that he isn't moving faster is another several answers to unspoken questions, though Bruce isn't entirely sure which. It doesn't stop him from moving closer, from crouching in front of Tim and setting his hand over the catches of the tunic.

Tim's belt is heavily charred, but otherwise undamaged. Bruce spares a moment to wonder whether Tim will attempt to scrub off the damage and restock or simply take a new belt. But then Tim's hand is over his own, and it becomes irrelevant.

This close, he can smell the smoke in Tim's hair. He'll have to shampoo more vigorously than usual before going home.

"I should've guessed you'd be... restless," Tim says. He doesn't try to move Bruce's hand, but he also doesn't apply any pressure. The gauntlet is rough, hard, and cool on his knuckles.

"Yes."

A beat. "How restless?"

Bruce smiles, unable to keep it behind his face. Not when it makes Tim's breath catch, just a little. "I'd rather be on patrol," he says, honestly, and slips the first catch.

"So would I," Tim says, dryly. His hand is still over Bruce's own.

Another catch. "There'll be other nights."

"I find your sudden development of a
philosophical attitude moderately disturbing."

Tim's t-shirt is, as usual, faintly damp with sweat. He'd have to get closer to smell it over the smoke, however. "Less sudden than you might guess," he says, and slips the rest of the catches.

Tim pauses, again, and then slips the tunic off entirely. Less of a pause, and then he pulls the gauntlets off and sets them down -- on top of the belt, rather than the tunic. Bruce cups Tim's sides and strokes, pressing hard enough to feel muscle, bone.

And leans in to nuzzle and breathe against Tim's chest.

"Bruce..." Tim's tone is faintly hesitant. Questioning.

"Yes?"

Tim doesn't say anything for a long moment. It's tempting to just keep going, and his hands haven't waited for permission --

Tim's skin is damp, sleek, and Bruce's fingers find the few scars easily, reflexively. He forces himself to look up. There's a tightness to Tim's mouth that usually suggests pain, and Bruce narrows his eyes. "Are you --"

"I'm fine. Just..."

("Hunh? No, it isn't anything. I'm just... distracted.") Bruce narrows his eyes a little more. "Tell me."

Tim smiles ruefully and covers Bruce's hands again, pressing hard, dragging them up over his skin. "No."

"Tim --"

"It's not about you," he says, and the pressure on Tim's hands speaks volumes about the amount of effort the boy has put in to strengthening them.

Bruce grunts, and listens to Tim's breathing hitch again. He still isn't accustomed to the fact that Bruce is willing to make noise for this. That he needs to. As usual, the thought brings a flood of images. "Take off your mask."

Almost a gasp, this time, and Tim squeezes Bruce's hands again before doing it. And then strips off the t-shirt before opening his eyes. By the time it's off, Tim's expression is steady, mild.

Bruce feels himself offering his own rueful smile and slides one hand over Tim's sternum. Over his heart. Tim eyes are watchful, then calculating. "What do you want?" Tim's tone is low, teasing.

The question is entirely honest. Bruce presses his palm harder over Tim's chest. There are a lot of equally honest ways he could answer. He presses his tongue to the backs of his teeth and decides to go with the most... pertinent. "I want your passion."

The calculating look doesn't so much as shift. "To own?"

"To feel."

Tim's heartbeat thuds beneath his palm, and Bruce curls his fingers helplessly. The expression on Tim's face holds for a moment, another, and then crumbles into something almost scared before settling into...

There's a terrible sort of inevitability to the fact that Bruce finds Tim's expressions most unreadable when they're most open.

"Bruce."

Tim's mouth is unyielding beneath Bruce's own until he traces the scar over Tim's ribs with his thumb. And then it falls open and soft, perfect for Bruce's tongue. Just as if the only thing that had stopped him before was surprise.

Bruce moans quietly into Tim's mouth and does a mediocre job at best at not clutching the boy too hard.

You wanted this, he doesn't say. You demanded this, and Tim's cheek is soft, smooth and heating quickly beneath his palm. He slides his other hand up to Tim's nipple and pinches before he can remind himself to use at least a little control. But it makes Tim whimper into his mouth.

("Harder, just -- God, fuck, don't stop --")

There aren't many similarities between Tim and Jason, but there are a few.

He pulls out of the kiss solely to look at the flush on Tim's face, and the way his lashes move on his cheeks before Tim opens his eyes again.

And then he leans in and bites Tim's lip hard, watching Tim's eyes widen and narrow again. He licks it, and --

"Bruce."

More of a breath than a word. "Yes," he says, and tilts Tim's chin up so he can press his tongue against Tim's pulse-point. And bite him there.

Tim groans and Bruce bites harder, brushing his thumb over Tim's nipple in something that could be construed as a warning before twisting it again. "Bruce --"

Bruce sucks on Tim's throat, but Tim's gasps are too tempting, too close to what he needs. He pulls back and slides his hands down to Tim's hips, yanking him up and pulling the shorts and tights down. Tim steps out of them and reaches for his own jock, fumbling when Bruce strokes his thighs.

He looks up, but Tim's eyes are hidden by the fall of his hair and shadow.

A grunt, and Bruce looks down again in time to see Tim's erection springing free. More than half-hard, but not entirely. Yet.

He drags off the jock, sweeps Tim's uniform off the bench and onto the floor --

"Oh --"

And pulls Tim down again, shoving onto his back.

"Oh God, Bruce..."

His legs are already spread, but Bruce pushes them further apart, anyway, and drags until Tim is hanging off the edge.

The sound Tim makes is sharp, brief. Louder when Bruce bites him high on the thigh. He switches to the other and bites harder, too hard, and Tim's hand snakes down into his hair, shoving for an instant before he just grabs a lock of it and holds on.

Bruce licks at the flesh between his teeth and feels Tim jerk, and holds on with his teeth until Tim whimpers again. And then he leans in further and shoves his tongue into Tim's cleft. Another jerk and a surprised yelp, this time, and Bruce considers flipping Tim over and taking him this way.

Later, he promises himself, and licks back up to Tim's sac, indulging himself with several slow, wet sucking kisses before pulling back again. The flush has spilled halfway down Tim's chest, and, while he watches, the tendons of Tim's throat tighten with something else unspoken.

And relax.

Bruce licks the edges of his teeth and strokes Tim's thighs again, pressing his thumbs against the bite marks. He could wait, hold there. Eventually Tim would look up, his expression faintly, sweetly dazed for a moment before snapping back into question, calculation.

He releases one of Tim's thighs, instead, sucking two fingers into his mouth and watching Tim's throat tense again. The sound. Tim shivers, once, at the feel of those fingers in his cleft before planting his feet and pushing up.

Offering.

Bruce wants, very badly, to push in slow, or at least start with one.

But he wants Tim's pleasure more. He shoves in hard, just on the right (wrong?) side of ruthless, and feels his heart thud at Tim's brief, shocked scream.

"Oh --"

("Yes.")

Bruce crooks his fingers and pulls out nearly all the way. Slowly. And then shoves in again.

Tim gasps and stiffens, tightening around him. He does it again, and again. Some part of his mind is almost entirely sure that Tim will adjust enough to meet his rhythm in three or four more thrusts.

And he knows Tim doesn't want to.

"Tim."

The groan is strangled, and lasts longer than every other sound Tim has made. He stiffens again and Bruce adds a twist to the next thrust.

"Look up."

Tim gasps once, twice, and does it, curling halfway up and bracing his hands beneath his back. His eyes are wide, his mouth swollen. Bruce drinks it in for as long as he can, wordless warnings firing in his mind about just how long Tim might allow him to see it. He can't look away.

"Tim..."

Tim closes his eyes and bites his lip. Bruce stops thrusting, and he hadn't meant ("Didn't you?") for it to be a message, but Tim takes it as one just the same, tensing all over before opening his eyes again, fixing Bruce with a look somewhere between hunger and irritation.

Bruce's heart thuds again, and...

He's tempted to review the Cave's security tapes sometime after Tim has gone home, because he desperately needs to know what look is on his own face right now. He wants to know what it is that makes Tim's expression soften and shift.

He wants more than he has words for, and Bruce remembers when the terror of that had been familiar.

Now it feels almost precisely like slipping into something that had gone unworn for three long years.

Bruce swallows back the groan that doesn't belong to Tim and twists his fingers again, seating them comfortably before leaning up and in, kissing Tim as hard as he can make himself do it, and shoving his other hand into Tim's hair because it isn't very hard at all.

Misdirection.

It feels beneath him, for this. It feels...

Tim moans into Bruce's mouth and sucks his tongue, pulling against the hand in his hair and bucking against the other.

He can't wait any longer, and he isn't entirely sure why he was trying. Tim wants this, and it's the same wild hunger as it always is. When Tim had asked, the amount of time during which it had felt like permission had been fractional, irrelevant.

Permission is far too weak a word. Imperative is closer to the truth.

And the part of him that wants to know if Tim had realized that is the same part which Bruce had trained to ask every question he's never especially wanted the answer to.

The suction on his tongue lessens, and Tim pants into his mouth. Again. Again and Bruce swallows the small, high sound nearly before he's heard it. But not the next one, or the one after that.

A sharp little moan for every thrust, rhythmic and beautiful, beautifully ragged. Tim kisses him again, but it's messy and clumsily gentle.

And the sounds get louder.

If he took over the kiss now, the relief would be palpable. Bruce wants to, and does so helplessly before forcing himself to pull back again, tightening his hand in Tim's hair and fucking him faster. Harder.

"Bruce..."

Tim's head is tilted back, his eyes heavy-lidded and -- "You want this."

"Please --"

Open. So open. And... "You want to be... overwhelmed by this. I feel it, Tim."

The moan is long and low, cut off only by the next. Tim squeezes his eyes shut again and twists, bucks. He tosses his head almost hard enough to make Bruce release his hair on reflex, but then his eyes are open, burning with a dazed determination. He's keeping his eyes open because Bruce had asked him -- told him to do it. And he's going to come only partially because of what Bruce is doing to him.

His pleasure -- his hunger -- has as much to do with the fact that Bruce is making love to him this way because Tim wants it as it does with anything else.

"For you," Bruce says, and Tim flexes, twists and bucks like Bruce is hitting him with live current.

Every moan ends on a growl, and the flush on Tim's skin gets deeper, darker, the bruise on his throat fading into it, the pattern of muscle tension and release growing closer and closer to randomness. Unpredictability.

"Beautiful," Bruce says, and watches Tim squeeze his eyes shut one more time, and bites his own lip. There's a sudden, vicious writhe --

"Nn --"

And Tim comes all over himself, shuddering. Gasping and moaning and Bruce stills his fingers and loosens his grip on Tim's hair.

And watches.

Come slides slick and warm down over his hand, and Bruce licks his lips and waits a little longer, listening to Tim's breathing steady and slow. And then Tim twists out of Bruce's grip on his hair and shoves himself back off Bruce's other hand. A moment's pause, and then Tim's standing on legs that would seem steady to most observers. Another pause and Tim steps over to one side of the bench and crouches to collect the most damaged parts of his uniform.

After he's discarded them, he shoves a hand back through his hair.

"What are you thinking?"

Tim stiffens and laughs, quietly. "About whether I ever would've thought you'd ask a question like that."

Bruce raises an eyebrow, and watches Tim feel it, notice it. Something about the tension between his shoulderblades.

"I know," Tim says after a moment. "Our relationship has... changed."

Bruce stands and moves closer, until he can smell the smoke and sex again. And then closer still. "It's usually a bad idea to make predictions about someone else's emotional reactions to you based on... how you've seen them behave with others."

Tim cocks his head to the side. "Mm."

"How many of the people in your life have you profiled?"

Tim looks back over his shoulder, and his smile is small and deeply sardonic. "How many have you, Bruce?"

Tim had, of course, read the files. "All of them," Bruce says, and wishes he'd asked at least one question about Tim's reactions to them.

"My point."

Bruce smiles. "I'm often wrong."

"Hence the need for a... complementary partner."

"That's one reason."

Tim frowns, and it only deepens when Bruce rests his hands on his shoulders.

"There are others," Bruce tries, and Tim's look is narrowly opaque.

Bruce has come to know it better than he'd like. ("Am I your partner or your fucking student?") And... not with Tim. Not now.

Bruce squeezes Tim's shoulders gently and deliberately. "There's as much to be said for the... familiar as there is for the complementary."

"Not if we make the same mistakes --" The last word ends in a hiss when Bruce digs in with his thumbs, and then Tim is silent as Bruce massages his way down the boy's spine.

"Tim. You need to tell me if you're... reconsidering."

The slightest increase in tension, no more. "I haven't decided if I'm reconsidering or not," he says, and turns, reaching up to unbutton Bruce's shirt and frowning in a concentration that -- probably -- has very little to do with Bruce's clothes.

"Tim --"

"Tell me about Jason," and he pauses with only the first four buttons undone and looks up into Bruce's eyes.

Another question with too many honest answers. ("Then you lie.") Or pick the hardest. He knows which one Tim would choose... and which one he'd choose with him, now.

Tim narrows his eyes, and Bruce knows he's smiling again.

"I seduced him," he says. "At the time, it felt... inevitable."

Tim's mouth tightens, evens.

"It still does."

The blink is almost painfully slow, but when it's done, Tim's look is just as hard and searching as it was before. He wants more.

"I fell in love with the ghost of Dick I'd overlaid on Jason's image," he says, and Tim's fingers twitch.

Once.

"And then I came to know him."

"He was... reckless," Tim says, and his tone is strange.

It takes a moment for Bruce to figure out why, but when he does, he has to exhale a little too sharply, a little too obviously. Tim sounds like a child repeating a lesson heard, but never learned.

Tim's eyes are focused on his own and painfully watchful.

"You thought I loved Jason despite himself."

Tim doesn't answer right away, stroking Bruce's shirt lightly. Only the shirt. His eyes narrow even more, and it's abundantly clear that Tim is forcing himself not to break eye contact.

"Tim --"

"You realize that makes... this all the more disconcerting."

"Because he's your predecessor?"

Tim's expression is abruptly withering, bordering on something very like contempt. Bruce thinks about Tim's birthday and bites the inside of his cheek very hard.

Some kinds of laughter aren't especially healthy. "Because you're wondering why I love you."

Tim doesn't answer, merely stands there. Watchful and perfect.

And Bruce can see it with a kind of brutally brilliant clarity. Every careful conversation Tim must've had with Dick, Barbara, and Alfred. Every unspoken question. Tim has spent much of the past three years doing everything he could to be something other than what he'd heard about Jason.

There was so little he'd ever managed to actually say out loud about him, the life Bruce had drowned in and the death that had -- he can think about it now -- all but strangled him.

And all of it must have added into something to avoid for Tim, something to shape himself away from.

To survive -- for Bruce's own sake.

To thrive in some reasonable approximation and assumption of what Robin should be.

How much of it Tim sees... how much of it Bruce is still missing...

Bruce cocks his own head and strokes Tim's cheekbone with his thumb. "Love is fear."

Tim frowns, but it doesn't look like disagreement. "I didn't expect this."

"You were expecting a shift in our relationship."

"Not this one," and the irritation is back again.

"Love is also terribly inconvenient," Bruce says, and smiles.

"Stop that. You just... you..."

("You never freaking stop.") "No."

Tim glares at him, and slides his hands down to Bruce's fly, opening it with quick, jerky motions and cupping him through his boxer-briefs. For a moment, the expression on his face softens again, opens again.

"Tim."

"If I asked you what you wanted from me, you'd just say something like 'you.'"

"Probably." It takes some effort to keep his voice even.

"But you don't. Because the whole fucking point of me is..." Tim trails off, biting his lip until Bruce strokes it, and then he twists his head away again.

Glares again.

"I didn't ask for this, Bruce."

"I'd never make you -- Tim." Tim's hand is hard on him, squeezing. Riding him with ruthless efficiency.

"Yes," he says.

"It... gets easier, you know." His voice isn't even at all.

"So does breaking your arm --"

"-- once you've done it, once or twice."

Tim's mouth twitches and he drops to his knees. Bruce gasps on his own laughter and wraps his hand around the base of his erection as soon as Tim pulls his shorts down to his knees. And Tim's mouth is hot and wet, sweet even with the light scrape of his teeth that feels accidental until Bruce can refocus on Tim's watchful, harsh expression.

Bruce shoves his hands into Tim's hair again and pulls, watching Tim's eyes flutter closed and feeling the low, pleased moan.

The flush is gone, save for the lingering stain on his cheeks, the memory of a burning that could've been disastrous, but wasn't.

Not tonight.

Tim's lips are even darker than that, redder and swollen. Tempting far beyond the undeniable fact of Bruce's erection sliding between them. Thrusting --

"Tim..."

He pushes back against Bruce's hands,
demanding again, heedless of whatever Bruce might do or feel or need. Or perhaps just incorrect. ("Does it matter?")

It never did.

He rocks in deeper, gasping when Tim swallows him, moaning at the fact that he has to pull out before he can thrust again. The sharp, strangled noise Tim makes feels like a gift, and Bruce pulls his hair, moving faster. The next gasp brings him the scent of burning tires, and then the dry, cool air of the Cave.

And then himself, sweating and needy, locked into this so deeply, lost to it and buried. Drowning in another pair of blue eyes.

"Tim," he says, and thrusts much too hard, every part of him thrumming at the feel of Tim's moan, at the way he's choking it off and the way Tim's eyes are narrowing against everything he's feeling.

Or everything Bruce is.

He comes with a moan, and Tim swallows convulsively, and then with steady rhythm. And presses his tongue up hard before sliding off.

The glimpse of it -- pink and bright between Tim's lips -- is enough to turn the weakness in Bruce's knees into a buckle. Tim steadies him reflexively, and then strokes the outsides of Bruce's thighs, lips tightening on themselves, against the expression of... what?

And there's something about the new/old question -- or perhaps just this moment -- that feels like too much. Bruce drops into a crouch, still holding Tim's head tight enough that the boy can't jerk away, and leans in, breathing against Tim's mouth.

Smelling himself.

Bruce presses his tongue against the roof of his mouth and gets just a little closer, until their mouths are touching. "I'm thinking of a certain clich -- "

Tim stiffens and relaxes. "I don't make wishes."

The wave of feeling is tidal, impossible. Familiar. "Everyone does, whether they... plan to, or don't."

This close, Bruce can feel Tim's smile against his mouth. "I wouldn't be me if I accepted just anything. Not anymore, Bruce."

"You wouldn't be you if you could." Because you make yourself every day. Adaptive and brilliant, ruthless with the world no more than you are with yourself. Flexible beyond the definition of sanity. Terrifying and beautiful.

Tim pushes back against Bruce's hand until he loosens his grip again, leaning back just far enough to take in the whole of Bruce's face.

And to show Bruce the bald, sharp skepticism on his own. He had heard everything unspoken. None of them had ever been as good at that as Tim.

"No?" Tim asks, and he doesn't have to say the word 'naive.'

("You really believe all of that, don't you?") "No," Bruce says, and takes a soft kiss, deliberately closing his eyes for it.

When he opens them again, Tim's are, of course, open as well. And then Tim frowns, and stares down at the floor between them. "I can't be... that."

Bruce could ask for specifics, and he could ask how Tim could be so sure. He could ask what had happened to make Tim believe he ever had to be someone so ruthlessly attuned to the needs of others. Bruce's own.

The fact that it would be criminally disingenuous is only slightly more awful than the fact that it dovetails terribly neatly with everything Bruce had never said or done about the boy's parents.

He settles for tugging on Tim's hair again until he meets Bruce's eyes again. "I find myself thinking similar things very often, Tim."

Tim gives him a narrow-eyed smile. "A lie or the endurance of ignorance?"

"Why don't you decide?"

Tim tilts his head back and watches him through his lashes for a long moment before twisting free and standing. Bruce watches him stretch, watches him take in the Cave. Watches his gaze linger on the Case.

"You would've liked him," Bruce says before it gets swallowed back under everything else he should've said far too long ago.

Tim nods slowly, and Bruce knows Tim believes him. And that it will increase the weight the boy feels, the nagging sense of something unfinished.

He isn't sure which part of him that serves a purpose for, and he doesn't want to think about it. He watches Tim walk toward the showers, instead.

And follows.

end.

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Fandom:  Batman
Title:  Following smoke and remembering fire
Author:  Te   [email]   [website]
Details:  Standalone  |  NC-17  |  *slash*  |  39k  |  07/10/04
Characters:  Bruce, Tim, Jason
Pairings:  Bruce/Jason, Bruce/Tim
Summary:  The direction of a push does not perfectly predict the path of a fall.

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