Title: An imitation of nature
Author: Propaganda
Recipient: Te
Featured character: Justin Thomas
Summary: He knows he's good at watching.
Rating: for adults only
Author's notes: Thank you so much to monkeycrackmary and derryderrydown for their helpful audiencing. Extra cupcake to Derry for the speediest beta job in history. In this story, Tim is seventeen and Justin is fifteen.
E-mail: goodpropaganda@gmail.com
LJ name: notpoetry

He's given a lot of thought to being a hero.

There is so much he doesn't know. He pays attention in classes, gets if not straight A's, at least close to, and reads any book he can get his hands on. But there is still so much...

Robin. Robin seems like he knows everything. Justin...Justin is not sure if he wants to be Robin for the sake of being Robin, or because Robin is Batman's partner, or even because Robin is, presumably, next in line for the cape and cowl. He's not sure where the distinction is.

He considers himself lucky to live in what the newspapers call the Age of Heroes. There was a time when every boy (and some girls) wanted to be Superman. And when the Justice League was formed, girls wore lassos swinging from their hips and boys sprinted down the street, racing each other, yellow lightning bolts printed on the backs of their red t-shirts. But they got older, the younger siblings picked up the hero worship, and it was no longer cool to point at the Bat-signal lighting up the clouds and shout, "Batman!" They moved on.

Justin was never one of them.

He's been working on the costume for close to six years, modifying and perfecting it. The style of the hand-sewn Grey Ghost costume his mother had made for him years ago is nothing close to practical for crime fighting. He feels a pang every time he removes another component from the original costume to suit his purposes, and it's no longer as close to reality as he would've liked, but none of the Bats seemed to choose form over function in designing their costumes. Justin's sure that even Batgirl's heels have some practical purpose.

He's proud of this new version. The light grey's been replaced by something just bare few shades above black; the original color stood out too much, even against Gotham's sludgy backdrop. The hat is just too floppy to even look good, so it's gone entirely. The cape tended to strangle him when he climbed trees, he found, but replacing it with a long trench coat reinforced with kevlar seems to stay close enough to the spirit of the original while allowing for practicality.

Practicality is everything in this business.

Justin doesn't find it odd that he's already thinking of himself as a vigilante, already considering himself part of 'this business.' So what if he's just patrolled his own block, and even then only twice? So what if he hasn't trained physically aside from climbing the tree and crawling in through his second-story window? He knows what it means to be a detective. He's studied Batman and the Grey Ghost ever since he was little, and watching all the television shows six dozen times apiece certainly counts as studying. He's very good at watching.

His mother picked a nice area for them to live in, really. Not a whole lot of crime, relatively speaking -- good for the family-oriented residents, bad for the crime fighters out looking to make reputations for themselves. Then again, Justin's pretty sure he's the only crime fighter out looking for anything in this particular area of Gotham. If Batman and Robin have swung through here at all, he hasn't seen them. And he's been watching.

He knows he's good at watching.

It's the Friday night of Easter weekend. His mother's out with a few of her friends, gone to eat dinner and see a movie, back late enough for his purposes. Justin had dutifully received his kiss on the forehead and the reminder to do his homework before he watched any television or played on the computer. She hadn't told him not to go out, probably expecting that he'd spend this Friday night just as he's spent every other: in his room, quiet.

He doesn't mind having few friends at school. It means there's no one to call him up and ask him to come out when all he wants to do is stay at home and work on his costume, or flip through magazines in search of pictures of Batman and Robin. His mother still buys him the magazines and newspapers, but does so with a roll of her eyes that he's resented since he was young.

But he loves her, and obeys her, and is everything he thinks a good son should be. And so when he pulls on the costume and ties on the domino mask, when he climbs out his bedroom window and scales the branches of the tree until he can leap over to the roof of his building, when he stands on the edge and looks down at the ground four stories below, he is being a good son.

The original boots he'd bought had made a clacking noise on the asphalt when he ran, so he'd special-ordered a pair from China made with crepe-rubber soles that made less noise than bare feet. There is no noise but the swish and flap of his trench coat, the shh-shh of his pant-legs rubbing together as he paces the edge of the rooftop. "I am darkness," he can't resist whispering. "I am the night --"

"You sure aren't Batman," says a voice.

Justin lets out a yelp and nearly falls off the roof. A hand reaches out and snags the front of his suit, hauling him back until they're a good few feet from the edge. "Jeez," grumbles the voice, "no need to kill yourself."

Justin's too busy staring at the hand grasping the front of his suit to answer. Black gauntlet, bare arm, red sleeve -- he follows the arm back to the body it belongs to, and finally lifts his head to meet Robin's eyes. The white lenses of the mask are tilted up, and the boy's smiling at him, a sharp smirk. Justin has seen this exact expression on Robin's face, in pictures where he's swinging away from a zip-stripped, bloodied thug. He suspects it's Robin's default smile.

He can't think of anything intelligent to say, but that doesn't keep him from blurting, "What are you doing here?"

Robin untangles his hand from Justin's costume and looks at it like he wants to wipe it off on his tunic. "Not a whole lot," he says casually. "Watching you about to make an idiot of yourself, mostly."

Justin can't help but be a little hurt. "I wasn't going to make an idiot of myself," he says defensively, but Robin's already waving a hand in dismissal.

"Sure you were. Anybody in a costume makes a fool of themselves first time out. You were going to try and hunt down some muggers to kick, or an old woman to help across the street or something." He pokes Justin in the chest with one stiff forefinger. "I'm gonna tell you, in the state you're in, you're gonna do more damage to yourself -- or the old lady -- than you would to any mugger or whatever."

"In the state I'm in --?" He can't believe he's having this conversation. It's like a surrealist's wet dream: two teenaged boys in costume, one dressed as a 1940s private dick, one wearing nothing so much as a bright red target, standing on a rooftop in a quiet neighborhood and arguing about muggers. He's not sure if he wants to laugh, or maybe shove Robin away and jump over onto the next rooftop.

Robin leans back and rubs at his chin, like he's a tailor trying to figure out how to sew up the mess that Justin's made. "You're out of shape, your costume doesn't give you nearly enough freedom of movement, and if this were a hot summer day you'd be melting into a little puddle inside that thing."

"Batman wears black," Justin says stupidly. Where is this conversation going?

"Batman also has heating and cooling coils built into his suit."

"Really?" Justin suddenly wishes for a pad and pencil. "Where does he get them? What sort of technology does that? Is it one suit with the heat and one suit with the cold?"

Robin stares at him. Justin meets the blank eyes nervously. "You," Robin says slowly, "are a real piece of work."

Says the kid standing on my roof and calling himself Robin, Justin doesn't say, because it's not like he can throw stones. "What are you doing here?"

Robin spontaneously does a handstand. It's Justin's turn to stare. "I told you," Robin says calmly, as if he were right side up and he and Justin were sitting across from each other at the kitchen table, having coffee. "Watching you make a fool out of yourself."

"That's mean." He's immediately ashamed at the whine in his voice. Robin somersaults out of the handstand and puts his hands on his hips.

"All right, kid --" and that stings, isn't he older than Robin? "-- if you want to go and break your wrist the first time you throw a punch, go for it. I won't stop you." Robin turns and strolls to the edge of the rooftop, makes as if he's going to jump over onto the tree, but then he turns suddenly. "By the way, you're missing a picture from the May 18th copy of the Gotham Chronicle. From about twelve years ago," he adds.

Does everyone feel like they're a mile behind you when they talk to you? He licks the dryness off his lips. "Oh. I -- wait. You...know about my collection?"

Justin can't actually see Robin's raised eyebrow, but he knows it's there. "Call it what it is, kid. It's a shrine."

"I'm older than you."

"And I don't go to high school. You think that matters?"

"Matters -- about what?"

"You think you can do this," Robin says suddenly. "You think -- okay. Hit me."

Justin feels his jaw go slack. "What?"

"Hit me. I want to see what you can do." Robin spreads his arms out wide and widens his stance. "Come on. I won't block it. You get one free shot. Hit me."

Justin looks down at his fist, then back up at Robin. The boy smirks at him and Justin grits his teeth against the sudden flood of shame and reels back, then forward, throwing his fist out in front of him.

"Shit!"

Robin squats down next to him on the roof and takes Justin's hand in both of his own, running his fingers gingerly -- gently -- over the knuckles. "That crack? Was your first and middle fingers breaking. Way to go."

Justin's face is hot under the cloth domino, and he's swallowing hard, the pain in his hand overwhelming and intense. He can feel the chill of the asphalt through the thin material of his pants. Robin lets Justin's hand go after resting it on the rooftop, his motions surprisingly caring, and looks Justin in the eye. Justin swallows again, but not from the pain. "What. What did I do wrong."

Robin laughs, loud and strong. "Everything. I've never seen such a terrible punch. I'm surprised you didn't dislocate your elbow. Also --" he bangs on his chest and Justin hears the thud of kevlar and armor. "I'm practically a walking tank, dude. You're wearing leather gloves. Of course you broke your fingers."

Before he can stop himself, Justin's reaching up with his other hand and pressing his palm against Robin's chest. "Wow," he says faintly, and strokes down. His fingers drag over the material of the tunic until they catch on the ties keeping it together. He hooks his forefinger over one and looks Robin in the eye. "Teach me?"

Robin laughs again and wraps his fingers around Justin's wrists, lifts it away from his chest and holds it, fingers strong and tight. It feels like if he squeezed any harder, Justin's wrist would snap just as easily as his fingers had. "Not a chance," Robin says, and bends Justin's wrist back suddenly before standing up. Justin yelps and falls onto his back, clutching his wrist to his chest. "I didn't break it," Robin says. "I didn't even sprain it. Get up. I want you to try again."

"No way," Justin gasps. "You crippled me." He knows the betrayal he's feeling is stupid, that it makes no sense because Robin -- Robin doesn't even know him, so how can he betray him? But it's there, and it burns hot and angry in the bottom of Justin's stomach.

Robin snorts. "C'mon, one more time. I might fight back, though."

The pain in his wrist is already abating and the throb in his fingers is dull and steady. Justin climbs to his feet and faces Robin, curls one hand into a fist and the other into a loose approximation of one, and raises them in front of his face. "Let's go." He's proud that his voice doesn't shake, because part of him is absolutely sure he's going to die.

But Bats don't kill, and Justin is a hero.

And he's going to spar with Robin. Couldn't they just have been friends?

He leaps at Robin, swinging his leg up and around, aiming for Robin's chest, but before he even sees Robin move, there are hands around his ankle and he's twisting, falling, the asphalt knocking the wind out of him as he thuds to the ground. He can hear Robin laughing and then there's a heavy weight on his chest, Robin's thighs tight to either side of his torso as he straddles Justin's waist. This is an odd fighting move, Justin has half a second to think, before Robin leans down.

"I won't teach you," Robin says, his face so close to Justin's that Justin can see the places where the mask is starting to peel up off his face.

He squirms and tries to buck Robin off him -- he's so much smaller how can he weigh so much? -- but Robin grabs onto his wrists and pins them to Justin's sides. "Why are you doing this," Justin says, breathless and -- he's not angry yet, but his temper has a long fuse.

But he can't -- he can't -- get angry at Robin. Not even...it's not anger, it's jealousy, because Robin is right where Justin wants to be: with the Batman. Always.

"Batman likes keeping an eye on you," Robin says. "And I keep an eye on Batman. And I do what he says. Mostly," he adds after a moment, and a grin flickers across his face. "He told me I shouldn't talk to you, and I think this kinda breaks that rule." Robin's bending down and Justin arches his neck at the first touch of Robin's mouth, squeezes his eyes closed to keep from staring down the line of Robin's neck, at the place where his cape's collar pulls away just slightly from his skin. He can feel Robin's lips moving as he says, "But I like breaking rules."

They've been watching him. They've been here, in his neighborhood, probably right outside his window and he never knew --

"Justin?" Robin says, and presses down on his wrists. "Are you mad?" As if he were asking him if he'd like to get a soda after school. Justin can hardly think thanks to Robin's mouth, dry and chaste but there, millimetres away from brushing his skin --

"No."

Robin laughs, low and quiet and the kind that usually accompanies an evil-doer on television. Then suddenly he's shifting, pressing against -- against Justin's hips, and Justin gasps and jerks and scrapes his cheek on the asphalt because --

"How about now?" Robin pushes his hips against him, pushes his groin against him.

Justin sinks his teeth into his lower lip and thinks that this probably explains a lot about why the boys at school won't meet his eyes in the locker room. "No," he mumbles, and it feels good but wrong and he wants to scramble away and press back against Robin all at once.

"Open your eyes," Robin says, and then his hands are off Justin's wrists and pushing at the trench coat, spreading it out and away from Justin's body. Justin does and watches him, the intent look on his face, the slight twist of his mouth that Justin thinks just might pass for a smile.

A smile from a Bat, anyway.

He knows his own face is wearing an expression of shock, and possibly a small amount of terror, mixed with a healthy blush. Robin's hands have made short work of the buttons on his jacket -- altered from double-breasted to single-breasted to allow for greater freedom of movement and also apparently to make removal easier -- but he's struggling with the tiny buttons on the white Oxford underneath, the thick gauntlets getting in the way.

"Here," Justin says, because Robin's mouth is tightening and Justin worries that this means he's going to rip the shirt off and it cost him two months' allowance, and lifts his good hand, undoes the buttons single-handedly.

Robin makes a frustrated noise when the Oxford falls away and there's a white undershirt beneath it. "Jesus, it's like having sex with a Russian nesting doll."

Having. Sex. Justin bites his lip and pretends he never slept with his Batman and Robin action figures held against his chest, and it helps when Robin pulls off one gauntlet -- with his teeth -- and slides his hand up under Justin's t-shirt, sweaty palm skidding over Justin's ribs. "Oh," he gasps. Robin bares his teeth in a grin and pinches Justin's nipple.

Justin's brain is shrieking at him to stop and think and run, but it's not loud enough to drown out the insistent ache in his groin, or even the pain in his right hand. Robin's still thumbing his nipple, but most of his attention is focused on undoing the fly on Justin's pants. His knuckles brush Justin's erection every time he moves and Justin's beginning to suspect he's doing it on purpose, tormenting him, dragging this out as long as possible. And then Robin makes a frustrated noise and moves, his hips dragging over Justin's thigh.

Robin is humping his thigh and undoing his zipper and all Justin can do is moan.

"Stay with me, Justin --" and then the hand on his chest is gone, and his pants are being yanked down around his knees. Robin snorts and says, "At least you're only wearing one layer of underwear," before that's gone to bunch around his knees as well.

Justin squeezes his eyes shut, his ears burning hot with something between shame and arousal. He's not, not, not thinking about the number of times he's jerked off to fantasies of Robin, the guilty press of his own palm shameful enough in itself. But then something touches his face and Justin's eyes fly open to see Robin stroking a finger over his cheekbone, something almost concerned flitting across his face.

"Everything okay?" Robin asks. He sounds like he just watched Justin stub his toe.

Justin swallows and nods. "Yeah," he grates out. "Everything's...just fine."

Robin grins. "Good." And then his hand -- the hand wearing the gauntlet -- is wrapped around Justin's penis and stroking.

Justin gives up. Let's go of the fact that he's on his back on top of his apartment building, wearing a Grey Ghost costume and getting a handjob from ... Robin. Who's biting his lip and still humping Justin's thigh. The material of the gauntlet is the perfect balance between rough and smooth, and it makes Justin jerk his hips up to meet Robin's hand on the next downstroke.

"Good," Robin moans, and Justin clenches his teeth to keep from crying out, and shifts his leg just so. Robin drops his chin to his chest and speeds up his hand on Justin's dick at the same time he moves his hips faster, and suddenly Justin realizes Robin's moving his hand to the same rhythm as he's moving his hips.

"Please, Robin," and he doesn't care that he sounds like the soundtrack to the one porn movie he's ever downloaded, and then only because it was marked "Batman Robin Rooftop" and he thought it was something entirely different. "Please you're -- you're so hard --"

Robin chokes out a little laugh and raises his head. "That's...that's actually my jock you're feeling."

Justin swallows and bangs his head back on the asphalt. "Doesn't that hurt?"

"In a -- oh, fuck --" Robin's voice is high and breathless, and he squeezes Justin's dick. Justin moans and shifts his leg again, and Robin shudders and makes a choking noise. "-- in a good way, really."

"Oh, jeez --" and Robin's thumb catches on the underside of the head of Justin's dick, and Justin cries out and comes, spurting into Robin's hand.

By the time his legs have stopped shaking and he's pulled himself togther enough to get his pants on, Robin's stood up and is looking at his hand rather askance. "Sorry," Justin says awkwardly, but Robin gives him a sharp grin and drags his tongue up the center of his palm. Justin feels his stomach clench and he lets out a quiet whimper.

"Batman likes it when I do that too," Robin says casually, and then his other hand is grabbing the front of Justin's undershirt and hauling him to his feet.

"I. Uh. Batman?" Justin wonders if everyone sounds this stupid after they've come the hardest they've ever had in their entire lives.

Robin just gives him another fleeting grin and looks down at his hand, still wrapped in the undershirt, the rest of Justin's costume flapping loose around him. "Didn't the night start out this way?" he says.

"Uh," Justin says, then remembers Robin's shudder. "I. Did you."

Robin stretches his arms up over his head. "Yeah. It's gonna make the trip home uncomfortable, but I'm used to it." Justin chooses not to contemplate the implications of that statement. "You've got nice legs, kid. Go bike riding more often."

"I'd like to," Justin starts, and then Robin's mouth is on his, and he can taste himself, can taste Robin underneath it.

One of Robin's hands brushes the back of Justin's head, and the mask falls away into Robin's hand just as he gives one last bite to Justin's lower lip and steps back. "I think I'll keep this," he says. "As a souvenir."

"Okay," Justin says stupidly. Robin gives him a lazy salute with the hand holding the mask and strolls towards the edge of the roof.

"Tape your broken fingers together. They'll be fine in a week or two. And remember, Gotham Chronicle, May 18th." Justin nods and Robin leaps off the edge of the roof, catches onto a branch and starts climbing down. "See you later," he calls, and then he's gone. Justin's mother accepts his excuse that he fell off his bike as explanation for the scrape on his cheek and his broken fingers. He hides the Grey Ghost costume in the back of his closet and spends his time trying to track down a twelve-years-old copy of the Gotham Chronicle.

His mother hands him a letter one day as soon as he's home from school. "There's no return address," she says, slightly nervous, but Justin pounds up the stairs to his room and slams the door before ripping it open.

A yellowed slip of paper falls out into his hand, and he doesn't even have to see the date to know what it is.

Justin grins and pins it up in his collection, then sits down and starts drawing a new design for the Grey Ghost costume.

Maybe this one could have some red in it.