♪ but you like the taste of danger
He froze, eyes flashing to the bed against the far wall. Conner groaned, mumbling something in his sleep, and turned over.
Tim released a shaky breath and put a hand to his face. When he was able to move again without feeling like his legs would fail him, he made his way to the door. Pulling on each layer of clothing with a whispered prayer for silence, he put his hand to the knob and turned it with an agonizing slowness. Opening it took another eternity all together.
Guilt hit the pit of his stomach as he stepped outside his best friend's bedroom; Tim bit his lip and glanced back.
His analytical mind couldn't cope with what they'd done and the way he felt. Conner had confessed to being with several lovers already—and how many of them had actually meant something to him?
There was no way Kon had meant it when he'd said he loved him.
Tim's stomach twisted a little tighter; then one of the Kents coughed in their room across the hall and the teenager's survival instinct whipped him into action. He was down the stairs before he could question his actions, or entertain alternatives. If it didn't end up being a complete disaster, he could always tell Conner he'd been called away for an emergency.
Either way, he'd be lying.
It was Batman's thorough teaching that made him think to grab his shoes from the mat by the front door.
It was the scared teenager that forgot everything else.
On the porch, Tim fumbled his phone out of his pocket, swearing softly when he didn't get an immediate signal. Trotting away from the house, the dew from the grass wet between his toes, he headed for the road. Occasionally, he flipped it open and checked.
He was a mile away when a single bar registered on the face. Relief was so physical, he nearly fell to his knees. Scrolling through his contacts, he found the one he was looking for and dialed with both hands.
Despite the difference in time zones, the voice on the other end didn't even sound tired. Tim swallowed hard; his hand clenched the phone.
“Hi, I know it's late, but...can you pick me up? I'm....” He glanced up, down the road flanked by fields and farmhouses, and knew from experience there wasn't a trace of civilization more than this for miles.
“I'm in Kansas.”
“Hey,” Dick said with a smile. He rested his arm against the door. “Need a lift?”
The teenager felt his throat tighten and managed a nod as he jogged to the other side of the vehicle.
“Thanks for picking me up,” Tim said as he got into the passenger seat . “You must have pulled a lot of strings to get here so fast.” He closed the door and let his head fall back against the seat.
The other man shrugged; Tim felt the long, searching look, but couldn't force himself to meet it.
“Can we go?” he asked quietly.
Dick's hand settled on the shift. His fingers tapped an uneven rhythm for half a second before he put it into gear. Fields of corn, cattle, and crops flashed by the window as he accelerated, navigating effortlessly through the gears.
“Aren't you worried about getting pulled over?” Tim asked. A look at the speedometer confirmed his suspicion. He watched it climb steadily past seventy and into eighty.
“Nope,” Dick said, easily directing the car with one hand, loose and confident on the wheel. “It's four thirty in the morning on a Tuesday. Drunks don't come out until Thursday, if they even worry about that out here. Besides--” he flashed Tim a smile as he fished between the seats. He tossed his badge to his passenger and Tim caught it jerkily.
“I'm a cop collecting a runaway.”
Tim traced a finger over the gold plate. “I didn't run away,” he said softly.
“You've got a funny way of saying you'll be out of town.” Dick gave him a sidelong glance. “Bruce was worried.”
“Bruce was annoyed I missed patrol,” Tim countered, pulling his legs up and resting his feet against the glove box. He set the badge on the dash and wrapped his arms around his knees.
“Ok,” the man agreed. “So I was worried.” He cleared his throat.
Tim blushed and stared out the window. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “Thanks for picking me up.” After a minute, he rolled his window down and took a deep breath of cut grass and livestock. Crickets kept up a constant symphony along the otherwise empty road.
“Hey, no problem,” Dick replied, adjusting his position for comfort. They passed through a dozen mile markers before he asked the question Tim had been dreading.
“You want to talk about what happened?”
The teenager's mouth went dry. He dropped one of his feet back down to the floor.
“I don't know,” he answered honestly.
“Ok.” Dick propped his free arm in the window and cradled the roof with his fingers. “Damn, it's quiet out here.”
“Yeah,” Tim said, scratching the side of his nose. “It's nice. Nothing like Gotham or Bludhaven, huh?”
Dick nodded and Tim noticed a soft smile on his sharp profile.
“Reminds me of the circus growing up. We'd pitch camp in fields like this, spend a week, then be back on the road again.” His hand pulled in to rest on his forehead. “The gypsy in me really misses that.”
Tim's other foot fell to join its mate.
“Are you really part gypsy?” he asked with genuine curiosity. “Because I always wondered. I could never find that kind of information on you and it's hard to tell.”
Dick's teeth flashed white against the predawn darkness as he smiled. “What? You don't think I look the part? I need to start wearing my hair long again?”
The teenager grimaced. “Oh, please don't. I'll just take your word for it—really.”
The man chuckled. “Yeah, I am. On my father's side. Entertaining nomads all the way back. I guess the circus was a logical progression for people who can't keep still.”
“So how did you do it?” Tim leaned forward, watching the bugs flit in and out of the hazy yellow headlights.
“You mean once Bruce took me in?” Dick frowned. “It was hard at first when I didn't know he was Batman; I thought I'd go nuts in that big house by myself, especially when he was never around. I even tried running away once or twice, but he always found me.”
“I don't think anyone can hide from Bruce,” Tim said with a low laugh.
“Bruce?” Dick snorted. “I meant Alfred. I could have been halfway to Timbuktu and old Alfie would cut me off at the pass with a ham sandwich and a thermos full of hot tea. I don't think Bruce ever even realized I was gone.”
Tim gave another soft laugh. “Yeah, I guess that's true.” He glanced down at the hands in his lap. “I almost called him tonight,” he admitted.
Dick nodded. “And he would have come, too.” He glanced beside him to Tim's somber profile. “But Bruce would have wondered what he was doing with the jet at that hour.”
Tim sucked in his lower lip and made a small sound of agreement.
The man settled back in the driver's seat and sighed, amused. “I guess that makes me the only one crazy enough to drive you across a half a dozen states in the middle of the night.”
“It'll be light out soon,” the teenager offered, then winced. “I'm sorry, Dick.” He looked up apologetically. “I really appreciate you doing this.”
“Hey, it's what I'm here for, right?” he said with a grin. “Pull a few strings with a couple of people who owe me favours, rescue Robin from the middle of nowhere Kansas—it's all in a night's work when you're in our line of duty.”
“How'd you get out of work for the next two days?”
Dick's expression was sincere, though he only took his eyes off the road for a moment for Tim to see it.
“I told them there was an emergency and my brother needed me.”
Tim shut his eyes and sat back. “Your brother,” he repeated under his breath.
The man arched a brow. “Is that a problem?”
“No,” Tim said, shaking his head. “Not at all.” He stared out the window and saw the flash of amber as an animal shied away from the side of the road when they passed.
“It sucks not being able to fly,” he stated with a heavy sigh.
“Oh, trust me; I know,” Dick said with a sardonic laugh. “Makes life all sorts of interesting, doesn't it?”
“If you really want to call it that,” Tim grumbled.
Dick shot him a quick glance. “Conner fly you out here?”
The teenager nodded. “Yeah.”
“You guys get into a fight or something?”
“Not exactly,” Tim replied, wiping his clammy hands on his denim thighs. His tongue felt thick in his mouth. “I slept with him.”
The teenager crossed his arms over his chest. “You don't sound surprised.”
Dick thumbed his lower lip; switching hands on the steering wheel, he scratched his right leg through his jeans.
“Well, you're a warm-blooded teenager. I figured you'd do something eventually.” He shot a quick look at his quiet passenger. “He didn't hurt you, did he?”
“No,” Tim said firmly. “He didn't.” Sighing, he stared out the window and watched the first hint of dawn colour the horizon a lighter hue. “At least not more than I expected.”
Dick's right hand found a home on the shift. He cradled it with his palm and tapped his fingers across the ball. Headlights from another car glittered in the distance.
The muscles in Tim's forehead were tight and he wondered if the onset of his headache had to do with lack of sleep or the direction of their conversation.
The man cleared his throat. “Were you safe?”
Tim's eyes closed. “Yes,” he murmured.
“Good.” Dick exhaled. “That's good.”
“Have you always used protection?” Tim asked him. His tone was harsher than he intended. Even if Dick noticed, he didn't flinch. Maybe the man understood his aggression better than he did.
“No,” the acrobat replied, briefly meeting his gaze. “And worrying about it was the most hellish six months of my life. I'm glad you don't have to experience that like I did.” He sighed. “We should have had this conversation before. I'm sorry.”
“Don't apologize,” Tim muttered. “It's not your place to worry about me.”
“Yes, it is,” Dick countered. The hand on the wheel lifted in an abrupt gesture. “I should have talked to you about this before--”
“Before what?” the teenager demanded. He shifted in the seat to look more fully at the driver. “It's not like Conner seduced me, Dick. I knew what I was doing. I just...” he sighed. “I just didn't expect to feel so guilty about it.”
Dick's face registered confusion, crinkling his handsome profile. “Guilty? You shouldn't feel guilty for having sex, Tim. Did he—”
“Conner didn't do anything,” Tim interrupted before Dick could make the predictable deduction. “I convinced him to sleep with me. Because...” he faltered and swallowed. “I slept with him because I wanted to know what it was like. I used him. And he...he said he loved me when he...you know...when he finished.” Groaning, he put a hand to his head. “Why did he say that? He never says that about the people he sleeps with.”
The man smiled. “I know it's a long shot, but maybe he meant it? I wouldn't be surprised if he had feelings for you, Tim.”
“He can't love me, Dick,” the teenager said. He shook his head and his voice softened. “He can't love me because I don't love him.”
Dick's chuckle lacked humor. “That's not going to make a lick of difference, Timmy.” He adjusted his rear view mirror then let his hand drop. “The way we feel about people rarely affects the way they feel about us.”
Tim stared at his rescuer for a long moment without blinking.
“I know,” he whispered.
Dick glanced down, then swore softly. Tim sat back.
“We need gas. I borrowed the car from Wally and he warned it might be low.”
Tim frowned. “Why does Wally need a car?”
“He doesn't,” Dick agreed with a grin. “That's why I was able to borrow it.”
“Ok...” the teenager nodded at the billboard that rose on his right. “There's one. It's past five; they should be open.”
“If they take credit, it shouldn't matter if they're open or not.”
Tim snorted. “It's Kansas, Dick.”
“Touche. I don't know how Clark survived out here.”
Tim propped his arm on the window edge and rested his chin in his hand.
“They can leave whenever they want. It's not like they're trapped.”
Dick put both hands on the wheel and turned the car off the highway, following the signs for gas.
“Do you feel trapped, Tim? At home—or maybe as Robin? I know Bruce can--”
“It's not that,” he denied sharply, then sighed. “It's nothing like that.”
“Alright,” Dick murmured. His voice was soft and Tim cringed to hear the hurt he tried to hide. Pulling the vehicle under the bright lights of the fill-up station, he cut the engine and popped the door. “I'll be back in a minute.”
“Sure,” Tim muttered as the man got out of the car. He watched in the side view mirror as Dick twisted off the gas cap and went through the motions to pay at the pump. Biting his lip, he furrowed his brow as his mouth went dry again. Taking a deep breath, he put his hand on the door and opened it slowly.
Dick glanced up with a ready smile as he exited the automobile. “Good news, Timmy. They've embraced the twenty-first century.”
Tim nodded with a smile that was more like a wince. “That's great.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets and shifted his weight. “Look, Dick, I--” He glanced up and lost the ability to speak. Dick's eyes were too blue, his features too handsome, his hands too strong, his stance too confident and self-assured.
“I'm in love with you,” he confessed quietly.
The man tilted his head; setting the pump to shut off automatically, he straightened, his hands at his waist.
Tim exhaled shakily and almost laughed. “I've been in love with you since I was eight years old.” He swallowed and almost choked. Glancing away, he stared at the cracked pavement of the old service island. “I just never knew how to tell you.”
For a long, undefinable moment, there was just the sound of crickets and the steady thrum of gasoline. When it clicked off, Dick made no move to replace it.
“You're...in love with me?” he repeated softly.
Tim nodded. “Yeah.” Finding his misplaced nerve, he met the man's confused expression. “I had sex with Conner tonight because I knew you wouldn't sleep with me if I was still a virgin.”
Dick's eyes widened. “Tim, I--” he gestured, at a loss for words. His brow furrowed. “What even makes you say that?”
The teenager gave him a level stare. “You're too concerned for me. You worry about me. If you thought you were going to hurt me, you'd never touch me.” He managed a small shrug. “So I took the variable out of the equation.”
The man opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. He crossed his arms over his chest as a shadow passed over his eyes.
“Then calling me out here tonight? Was that some kind of ploy to get me alone?”
Tim shook his head. “No. I didn't predict this--I really didn't think that I'd feel this way.”
“We're not math equations!” Dick exploded without warning. Tim's breath caught as his crush maneuvered gracefully around the gas hose, suddenly before him.
“You can't play with people's emotions like this.” His mouth tightened. “I really thought you needed me.”
“I do need you, Dick,” Tim said, his voice unstable and uncertain in a way that scared him. “That's what I'm saying. I don't want to be your brother. I want--”
“You want me to sleep with you?” Dick snapped. “Is that it?”
Tim looked up into the man's fierce and passionate eyes and felt eight years old all over again, staring at news clippings and photographs and old, brightly coloured circus posters.
“Yes. No. Maybe.” His teeth caught his lower lip and his expression was pained. “I don't know, Dick. I just know I want to be with you.”