A tighter confinement
by Te
July 16, 2005

Disclaimers: All belongs to DC.

Spoilers: Various older Babs storylines.

Summary: They are both, at base, human.

Ratings Note/Warnings: Not *quite* for the kinder.
Content some readers may find disturbing.

Author's Note: Third in the Intimates series.
Kicks off right after "That sometime did me seek,"
won't make any sense whatsoever without that one
or the first.

Acknowledgments: To Petra, Betty and LC for
audiencing, encouragement, hand-holding, and


Surprisingly, the clearest thought in her mind is the simple,
familiar pleasure in the effectiveness of Tim's training. His
blinks, when they happen, are neither too fast nor too slow,
and, most importantly, they're as unnaturally steady as
either of them have been able to... simulate.

The view of his bedroom -- and of Jason leaving it, of
course -- is brilliantly clear. The cameras in his optics...
(She had spoken to Jason. She had...)

The plans for the improvements on the boy's optics are
perfect enough to send to Kord for his estimates on how
long it will take for him to craft the necessary hardware.
Certainly, they're more than perfect enough to sell to
Waller, and when she thinks about what they'll be able
to *do* once Tim's vision -- *their* vision -- has been
modified --

Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that something so very
simple and irrelevant is the clearest thing, just now. After
all, and considering... considering.

The scroll of Tim's vitals has been nearly entirely gold for
at least five minutes now. Not in danger of moving to red,
but still far too high, far too... She needs to rein him in.
That much is clear.

She reaches for the toggle on her chair which will open a
radio channel and pauses. Hesitates.

The boy's vitals...

Oracle frowns, and plays the 'attention' chime for their
internal comm. Well... for her it's a chime. Tim has
never been entirely capable of describing how it feels for
him, and --

"Yes. Oracle."

His vitals spike and settle while she watches, as if she
needed any more confirmation than what's already in
the boy's 'voice.'

"I --"

"Stop," she says, and watches the boy go into the red on
two different measures before he settles, again, into gold.

"Ready," he says, after a moment.

They both know he's lying. At any other time, this would be
no real hardship. This *hasn't* been any real hardship --
it's one of the particular attractions and pleasures of the
boy. His own readiness for any given task -- or lack
thereof -- is nearly always irrelevant. It still is.

It's just that...

Oracle isn't entirely sure how to ask the boy how he feels,
just now. And she's reasonably sure it's necessary. Or will
be. Or --

There's a pounding, painless rhythm behind her temples
(and around her own implants). She resists the urge to
rub at it, and forces herself to reorient to the view of the
boy's bedroom, and the fact that it hasn't changed.

Jason had neglected to close the door behind him.

There are any number of things which have failed to
change, whether they should have done so or not, and --

And, according to her recordings and the evidence of her
own *eyes*, the boy hasn't so much as shifted position
for at least three minutes.


Oracle concentrates, shifting enough of her consciousness
into the virtual to make her own avatar -- and damn the
boy anyway for permanently imbuing that *particular*
word with far too much irony -- loom impossibly within
the boy's mind.

It's something she does only rarely -- a smaller, less 'vivid'
version works just as well -- and usually when Tim is
being especially obvious about feeling especially *secure*.
It's a tease, along the lines of turning off the lights when
viewing a horror movie you suspect may *actually*
frighten you.


It *feels* wrong to do it now, because she knows precisely
what it will do even before the alarms start going off and
the boy's red vitals begin scrolling *insistently*.

Still --

"Oracle --"

"C2C," she says, knowing from the boy's own reports that,
with her avatar apparently bursting through the walls of the
boy's self, it will resonate with something in the
disconcertingly nebulous space between rage and religion.

He's moving before he even begins gasping his assent,
heading back to his parents' home at speed, on the bike
Dinah had built for him herself -- with Oracle's own
modifications, of course.

She watches from within the boy until even her unnaturally
and unusually 'large' presence isn't enough to keep his
vitals in anxiety-mode. Once he's in the gold and green
again, she toggles the program which will slowly -- and
forcefully -- eject her out of the virtual (and away from the
boy) and back into her own body.

She uses that one no more often than she does her
expansion routine, really.

She rarely has to.

By the time the boy is stripping and washing for bed, Oracle
is in Barbara Gordon's body again, and beset by any
number of irritatingly physical demands and limitations.
Oracle grits her teeth and monitors the more traditional
audiovisual reports until the boy is in bed, and asleep.

The clock says the entire process had taken thirty-eight
minutes -- well within the parameters she'd set for such
emergency shut-downs, considering the distance and
the... stress of the circumstances.

Still, they can do better.

Both of them *will* do better.


There are modifications she has which Tim doesn't. The boy
is aware of the ones which allow her to monitor -- and
interface with -- the boy's own, of course. And she would
be... deeply surprised if he wasn't aware of the others.

It's just that he's never asked, and he almost certainly never

It had been enough to (pretend to) ignore the dozens of
different reports about advances in neurological therapies
and cybernetics the boy had silently (*watchfully*)
submitted along with the assignments she'd given him
until he stopped doing it. Even the most tiresome child
will respond to an absence of reinforcement, and the
boy has never been tiresome.

There is no one who has any right to know what lies
beneath her clothes, and certainly not beneath her skin.

("Only her cybersurgeon knows for sure," and Dinah had,
finally, released the lock of Oracle's hair and gone on about
her business.)

In any event, she has long since grown accustomed to the
solitude of her physical routine, to the shunts which must
be cleared, checked for decay or degradation, and
reinserted, to the minor robotic enhancements on her bed
and in her bathroom which allow her to most effectively
deal with those parts of her body which don't belong to
anyone, anymore.

She hadn't moved into the Clocktower until it was
completed to *her* specifications, until she'd gone over
the place from top to bottom four separate times, forcing
herself to return to her father's house until even the
slightest imperfections were dealt with. She'd been ready
to tear herself apart with her own teeth and nails before
it was done, and, by the time she'd moved in...

She had -- quite happily and thoroughly -- denied access to
everyone well beyond the needs of the Oracle solely for the
joy of being, at last, *alone*.

The hum of her computers, the whirr and click of machinery
as she repairs herself for another several days (the specs
on her wetware, dutifully written by Stone himself and
dutifully wiped from all systems but her own, strictly warn
about going without *some* form of renewal for more
than two weeks at a time, and she has yet to be forced to
test them. Redundancies are the safety of the solitary)...
this has all been *enough* for so long that she had never
even imagined a time when it wouldn't be.

But it doesn't actually matter that she still can't, that she
knows how much of an annoyance and *irritation* it will
be to give Helena her weekly dose of a voice to argue
with, to give Dinah her bi-weekly dose of physical
*presence*. It doesn't matter.

She doesn't know why she'd spoken to Jason.

She locks a pair of Kord's modified braces on her thinning,
softening legs and lets them 'walk' her back to the monitors
to check on the boy. There's no real purpose in watching
him sleep -- she has yet to figure out a truly effective way
to modify the boy's dreams -- but she does, just the

One of the other monitors offers a view of the boy's
housekeeper at her regular morning routine. Another
reminds her -- with a safe lack of necessity -- that the
boy's parents aren't due to return for another four days.

She waits until seven twenty-seven before dialing the
boy's 'family' number, and sets the voice synthesizer to
an 89% perfect mimicry of the boy's principal's
secretary, stressors set to medium.

She spins a story about the discovery of asbestos in the
Griffin-White library building, curt enough to edge
around the MacIlvenne woman's bland little exclamations.
She is, of course, quite sure that everything will be in
shape by Monday, but for now...

"Well, I'll just let the boy sleep in then!"

As if she'd ever had any control whatsoever over the boy's
sleep schedule. "That would be for the best, I think," she
says in the other woman's voice, and hangs up.

It's uncomfortable to tell such an easily-exposed lie, but,
between the phone call 'Mrs. MacIlvenne' makes to the
boy's school about a nasty little virus and the way the
boy's guardians range from the idiotic to the merely

No, it's not enough. There's no excuse for this kind of
sloppiness, even though the boy...

He'd been in shock. There's really no other word for it.
They've practiced so little with the mechanism of Oracle
actually taking over the *use* of the boy's body, for one,
and for another... Jason.

Chaos in little green panties. Well... thick green *tights*,
now, but the basic concept remains the same.

There's some appeal, some *temptation* in the idea that
the boy's reactions would've been closer to spec if she
hadn't allowed -- and even encouraged -- his obsessive
attraction to Jason, but the theory offers nothing to
explain her own actions.

It was one thing to acknowledge the simple *fact* that
using the boy to acquire Cassandra would, by necessity,
raise his level of exposure.

It was something else entirely for *Jason* of all people to
know Tim's face, and, of course, his modifications.

Had he already told...

No. The better question is how *many* people Jason had
already told.

It didn't matter that the others were no closer to having
unauthorized access to her than before. This was
*precisely* the sort of thing which could make some of
them decide to start *trying* again, and how had she
not considered that?

Why had it been so *easy* to just respond to Jason as if
he was still the boy with terrifyingly large amounts of
things to learn and she was still... was still...

Oracle swallows, and toggles the braces to sit her down
in her chair and release. She *isn't*, and she hadn't
needed the look in Jason's eyes to tell her that. She's
known that since the first time the drugs wore off
everywhere but below her waist. She's *known* that,
and she'd done her level best to tell the others that,
and, when they wouldn't listen...

She doesn't know why she spoke to Jason.

She knows, in every bone she can still acknowledge on more
than an intellectual level, that she wouldn't have spoken to
Dick. She is, quite simply, not *ready* for that, and not
even riding Tim's inevitable adrenaline and hormone rush
would've made her forget that fact.

After all... she *isn't* the woman she used to be, and she'll
never be that woman again. That woman never would've
looked at this pathetic excuse for a body as something
possible to escape, if only by decidedly unconventional

*That* woman... would've stayed a prisoner here, afraid
and hopelessly sad, just waiting for Dick to run back to her
from his alien supermodel and...

She doesn't know, she doesn't want to know, and, most
importantly, she doesn't *have* to know. Because when
she *is* ready, she'll walk (or run, or dance, if she wants
to) back to Dick and the rest of them on legs which, at
this point, are at least as much her own as the useless
things which haven't quite given her the excuse to have
them chopped off at the thigh.

And while it's true that she *hadn't*, actually, planned this
from the beginning, that she would've, perhaps, been
nearly as horrified (disgusted, terrified) as Jason at the
prospect the first time she'd allowed Tim into the
Clocktower if these things hadn't simply proceeded, one
step after another...

Once upon a time, she thought of reinventing herself as a
creature of surveillance and espionage, with a collection
of agents of varying strengths and weaknesses to do the
things her body couldn't.

Now... she's not so limited.

And neither is the boy. His vitals suggest that he's made it
safely out of REM and into something more peaceful,
though, of course, she still doesn't know how the boy will
*feel* when he wakes up.

There's a part of her which looks at Tim and wonders if
all of this might not have gone faster -- for both of
them -- if they boy had just had the good sense to be
born female. But that's the part of her which *always*
wants the easy answers, so... so.

He's asleep, and physically healthy, and the implants
within Oracle which are permanently programmed to
respond to the boy's own are... insistent, in their own
irrational and sentience-free ways.

Oracle rests.


The boy wakes almost naturally at precisely twelve
forty-three, triggering a fair amount of Oracle's own self out
of sleep mode. The rest requires a bit more (human) time,
but not as much as the boy does.

She's done so little with him, relatively. What *right* did
Jason have to be so damned moral? What gave *him* the
right to look at them like something nauseating,
something awful and worse than everything else the kid
had seen, and done, and --

The suddenness and strength of the emotion stops her,
*rocks* her a little. Which is a blessing, of course -- there
are few things better than shock and confusion to knock
out an unfamiliar and unwanted emotion -- but it's still

It's not the first time that Oracle has had  to wonder if
she'd allowed too much room for... feedback in their
respective implants. There are dreams she has, now,
which have nothing to do with her life or her daily input.
For the most part, this is something she saves for the
*least*-vital log of their lives, along with the other
irrelevancies and inconveniences.

The thoughts and the *intimacy*, necessary as it is. There
is no one who knows the boy better than she does, and
there's no point in pretending *that* doesn't go both ways.
It's the sort of thing which, perhaps, would be perfectly
familiar to people involved in long and reasonably peaceful
marriages and friendships -- intimate knowledge and
sympathetic reaction. That sort of --

She pauses, strapped into her work-chair and halfway back
to her favorite console. On the largest monitor, Tim is
turning sleepily onto his back, undoubtedly beginning to
work through the concept that he isn't where he's
supposed to be, given the date and the time.

Tim is... right there, and --


Was it possible that the need -- the *compulsion* -- to
speak to Jason hadn't been her own?

Onscreen, Tim is rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Inside,
however, the Avatar's avatar is already seated at her own
avatar's 'feet,' deep in psychologically digitized impression
of thought.

Oracle waits. Tim's input for this sort of thing has often
been --

There's a certain temptation to treat the question as a
philosophical one, you know. Identity and self. That sort of

When I'm interested in philosophy...

You'll tell me. I know. It's just... can you understand
why I'm unsure of what gives the question meaning
*beyond* the philosophical?

Yes. But I'm not you.


Onscreen, Tim is smiling -- slightly -- at the camera. Oracle
laughs. Slightly. It's good to see you're feeling well enough
to do your impression of 'brat.'

You rebooted me, Oracle. I'll need to go over the logs
to be precisely sure what made you *need* to reboot

Oracle nods, mostly to herself, and slips in a little deeper.
The space they share which has nothing to do with either
of their bodies, no matter how problematic, or how full
of *potential*. From here, it's easy enough to effect the
casual networking they've both had a great *deal* of
practice at perfecting, though it had taken her an
annoyingly lengthy amount of time to reach the boy's
level of facility at sharing precision-edited 'video' clips.

Ah. I'd gone into shock.

Care to speculate on why?

Onscreen, the boy scrubs a hand back through his hair
and slips into a restless, distracted, but still entirely
efficient version of his usual morning exercise routine.
I wasn't prepared to see... to see Jason again. So
quickly. I wasn't prepared for his... emotions. I wasn't
prepared for you to speak to him *through* me. I
wasn't prepared for his... for him to leave quite that

Which, in themselves, wouldn't be enough to --

It's *Jason*, he says, and the boy's avatar winks
and folds into nothing even as the boy himself glares, with
something like impatient defiance, at the nearest camera.

Come back.

He does, even while Oracle watches the glare fade out of
the boy's eyes. At her feet again, facing her with nothing
but the blank and black of his cowl and goggles. Oracle
reaches out before she thinks about, forgetting for a
moment that reaching in *this* form has entirely different

Or perhaps not forgetting at all. Perhaps that's just an
excuse for the way she can feel the boy, and know him,
and rifle through him once the fingertips of her avatar
breach the skull of his own --


Apprehension, anger -- no, frustration and fear. The
*accuracy* here is, as ever, addictive.

You knew I wanted to be his friend.

She knows a lot more than *that*, but there's no need to
peel the boy's mind back *for* him. Not this time. And...
there's a familiarity here which goes beyond the fact that
she's known this about him -- known this obsession, if
not the others -- since before she'd ever heard his voice.
His voices.

I've... tried to keep the feedback to a minimum.

She knows. She would've known that without being able
to see (drink, taste, feel) it within him.

It's just --

There are limits.

The technology is there to make me better, not

The smirk in his inner voice bleeds onto her own face,
mostly with her own permission.

There's no point to this, not really. There's nothing here she
couldn't deduce on her own, nothing she can't *reason*.
She pulls back, taking a breath and flexing her forearm to
ease some of the tension she's never aware of until... after.
And sighs.

"Now that I've been... reminded of last night, I had started
forming my own theories about why you decided to, well,
*out* us to Jason."

It's rare for Tim to initiate radio contact. Nearly unheard of
when Oracle is already receiving real-time video. Enough so
that Oracle toggles the boy's own monitor so he can... so
he can see her, if he wishes. "I'm listening."

"Wasn't he the only one you lacked... emotional
entanglement with? Relatively."

Oracle blinks, clenching her fists to keep from shutting off
the video feed, even though Tim is only looking at the
camera. "You... have a point."

Tim nods, mostly to himself. "Relative anonymity, relative
lack of intimacy, relative... safety. There are any number of
studies --"

"Which I assigned you to read..."

"-- which suggest that the subconscious, id -- whatever
you'd like to call it -- is far more likely to... lay traps, when
we feel safe."

Oracle nods, forcing herself to make an accepting sort of
noise when Tim still refuses to turn around and look at his
own monitor.

"But, well, again -- speculation seems almost irrelevant. As
opposed --"

"To planning for the fallout. Yes. I *did* have some
thoughts in that direction, Avatar. Unless you wished to
share your own first...?"

He reaches back to turn the monitor off, removing the
amusement and affection she'd been so very careful to
offer. And then he tilts his head even further up, and lets
the impression of intellectual surety fall off his own face.

What's left is naked with hurt, and fear.

When she reaches out, this time, there's no danger

And no effect. There's a certain sort of irrationally
ritualistic *rhythm* to this, a sense of something being
offered beyond everything she already *knows*, now,
about he feels.


"I'm afraid I hadn't gotten beyond the part of my plan
where I... wallow, somewhat, Oracle. He's angry with
you. He thinks *I'm*... disgusting."

Perhaps Stone will do the world a favor and figure out a
way to turn people into functional sociopaths, as opposed
to this... mess.

"So... no. I don't have anything... useful. To offer."

Oracle considers asking the boy what he needs. If they
were... together, she would've already done so, she
thinks -- considering the way that the question just feels
more urgent the longer she goes without saying
*anything*. It's something she would've done years ago,
some *comfort* she would have offered -- and had offered,
at least once, with Jason.

Some serial killer or another had left him emotionally
wrecked. Part and parcel of the life, to some extent. And it's
not -- she's almost entirely positive that there are some
older -- and *old* -- impulses that still retain some degree
of merit. However, it would be impossibly imbecilic to
ignore the boy's little ritual, pointed and deliberate as it

At the moment, he has less use for the meat puppet in her
than she does. Oracle toggles the voice synthesizer back
to active.

"Avatar," she says, and watches the calm, hard blankness
bleed into the muscles of the boy's face. "Finish your
exercises. The route for today's run in your files."


And... what? She hadn't, actually, planned to give the boy
anything to do today beyond recovering from the reboot.
He *needs* to do that. It would be foolish to give him
anything *important* to do.

But what else is there?

"Report to the Clocktower when you're done," she says,

Tim takes advantage of the camera to salute her playfully
in a way which even manages to be somewhat sincere.
"Avatar out."

It's difficult to imagine, sometimes, how the boy *could* be
better for... this. All of it, including the parts which only
make it into logs in the interest of honesty and

Oracle gives herself a moment to ride the
subliminal/emotional aftershocks of the boy's physical
exertion, just long enough to imagine she shares the slight
cramp he has in his left foot, and then pulls back as far as
she can.

Onscreen, the boy stiffens... and recovers.


There's actually some physical discomfort involved in
putting in the old communicator -- there's rarely been
any need for her to use them, after all. Once it *is* in,
though, and set to the channel Bruce doesn't keep nearly
secure enough...

It doesn't matter that it's barely after one in the afternoon,
and it doesn't matter that the thing is silent.

If she says anything at all, Bruce will get the message on
the 'cell phone,' she'd given him two years ago... or
whatever he'd modified the thing into since.

There's *connection* here, and the sort of vulnerability...
the sort of vulnerability she's forced herself into, really.
Thankfully, it's a sort which has nothing to do with *Bruce*.

She switches it to the second channel she's not supposed to
know, and wishes, not for the first time, that she'd ever
managed to come up with even a bad excuse for sending
Avatar to... supplement the manor's surveillance. She's
blind when limited to the Bat-communicator, and barely
*not* deaf.

She didn't, actually, require any further degree of disability.

Still, she doesn't *have* to talk yet, this way, and after she
sets the thing to notify Jason he has a... message, all she
has to do is wait. And probably not for very long, relative
levels of discipline --

"Robin here. What's up, B?"

Really not. Just. There has to be some rationale for turning
on at least *one* of her synthesizers for this --

"B --? Shit, lemme get the trace going --"

There isn't. "It's not Batman, Robin."

Jason blows out a breath, sending out a small and primitively
predictable rush of static.

Oracle winces. She doesn't even know where the boy
*is* --



"What -- why --" Another breath. "What can I do for you?"

"A favor," she says, closing her eyes against the flood of
information coming from her monitors that has nothing
whatsoever to do with *this* conversation.

"I'd say something about how you *had* to be fucking
kidding me if I didn't remember that you'd lost your sense
of humor somewhere along the line."

"After the Joker started stripping me and taking
photographs is, I believe, the current theory. Though I still
manage to amuse people, in my own way."

"Jesus -- just. You used to fucking -- look, what do you
need me to do, B -- Oracle. Just tell me."

Predictable reaction. "Tell me who you've already informed
about... Avatar and I. --"

"Avatar. Fucking Christ. I suppose I should be grateful that
you gave him an *accurate* code name --"

"He named himself. Two, *stop* informing people, for now.
There's a difference between the sort of attention I can
deal with and the sort of attention he should be *forced*
to deal with --"

"Do you *seriously* expect me to believe you actually care
about your little fucking... *meat* puppet?"

It shocks a laugh out of her, possibly even *horrifies* a
laugh out of her, considering how croaking and *wrong*
the sound is to her own ears.

"What -- are you *laughing*? At *that*?"

Oracle swallows, painfully, and breathes. Focuses. "You
could, if you wished, ask Avatar himself to explain the joke
to you sometime. I'm quite sure he'd find the experience...

"You know, I used to think it wasn't possible to feel your
brain *break*. Oracle -- fuck, do I seriously have to call
you that? For *this* conversation?"

"On your communicators? Yes. And I didn't think there
would be any purpose in offering you one of my own."

Jason's laugh seems just as painfully surprised as her own
had been. It's... gratifying on a number of levels. She used
to laugh with Jason quite a bit, relatively. And the pain
had been a given, then. If... different. Still.

"Robin --"

"One, I told Nightwing, who would've wound up hunting
your boy down if I hadn't. He still might, but at least this
way he'll make an effort not to."

If there was one person who *shouldn't* have found out
from anyone who wasn't her or the boy himself... "You
told *Nightwing*?"

"You can't *tell* me there's anyone out there who needed
to know that more. You can't tell me you don't *know*

The point is moot. Move on. "And the rest?"

"No one else. There's no one else who isn't Batman, and I
can *ask* Nightwing not to spread that little bit of *joy*,

Of course there's only Bruce. She'd... she isn't sure why it
seemed like there were potential hordes. "Of course. I... I
always expected Bruce to know sooner or later."

Jason snorts humorlessly. "You *think*?"

There's a temptation to point out that Batman is anything
but infallible, that Jason of all people should *know* that,
but --

"Look, I'm on board, okay? But you've gotta do something
for me... B."

Interesting compromise. "What?"

"Stay the *fuck* out of BG's head."

"I --"

"I *mean* it. She... she doesn't need that shit."

"I was going to say: I have no intention of offering... BG
any modifications. If nothing else, there's a chance it would
interfere with her... natural talents."

"God, I -- no. Fine. Just... fine. Anything else?"

It's strange, in a way. Only Dick had spent more time than
Jason had trying to convince her that he was ready,
willing, and able to talk with her about anything, at any
time. Everything changes. "No. Did you have anything
else... you wanted to ask?"

"Do you *have* a few months?"

Oh, Jason... "Not right now, no."

This snort is... a little better than it has any reason to be, all
things considered. "Right."

"Oracle out --"

"Wait --"

She really doesn't have to. There's no reason to,


"I'm still here."

"Wha --" Jason laughs. "Let me guess -- *your* kind of
comm would've let me know that."

"Among other things." There's something almost
transgressive about using this tone of voice with... well,
anyone but the boy. Even though --

"God, you almost sound like *yourself* --"

"Robin --"

"Yeah, and then I remember that the last time I saw "you,"
you were playing fucking *possession* games with... just.
Does he even *have* a name?"

"Several," she says, because it's easier than fighting back
the smile.

"You *know* what I mean --"

"You could ask him, if you wanted to. He might even tell

Jason is silent for long enough that Oracle opens her eyes

The fact that the boy is midway through his run and at his
optimum heart rate doesn't provide her with anything
useful for *this* conversation --

"That's twice you suggested I talk to your boy. Are you
trying to tell me something?"

-- except, perhaps, tangentially. "Other than the fact that
the current state of your interaction leaves much to be
desired from an operations standpoint --"

"You want me to *work* with him?"

"No. But we both know desire often doesn't have very much
to do with the work." It's entirely true... for what it's worth.

"Fine. Unless you decide to move him somewhere else, I'll
probably be seeing a lot of him, I guess."

Or he'll see you. Oracle makes a non-committal noise, and



"Why... why *now*?"

It's tempting -- in a way she's reasonably sure *only*
Avatar would find as humorous as she does -- to suggest
Jason ask *that* question of the boy, too. But. "I suppose
I wanted to talk to you," she says, instead. "Oracle out."


It's... possible that it would have to be this way between

It's probable that she should have predicted it.

She'd had no reason to order the boy back here, not even a
small one -- the periodic visits she demands just so she can
see the boy, and be seen. Known, physically, for all the
times she will -- in the future -- leave him her own damaged
carcass as surety for the use of his own.

The fact that she has yet to actually *let* him have the
thing (as opposed to simply pushing his self 'down' within
his mind) is irrelevant. They both know that, eventually, it
has to happen.

Some situation when Avatar's body will need Oracle's mind
at even less of a distance than usual, if only for its own

Other things.

There is no one who needs to come to terms with her body
*more* than Tim, and he's performed at that task -- as
with all others -- admirably.

It isn't time for another... dose, as it were.

There isn't even any maintenance she could have him
learn, unless she was ready for him to learn to do the
things her body needs. Frankly, neither of them are.

So. It had to be like this: the boy's gracefully cautious prowl
through the Clocktower as if it's as much enemy territory as
the Gotham night, her own failed and failing efforts to be
*anyone* but herself, if she can't -- quite -- manage

If she was another sort of person, the specter of his
disappointment would be a concern. Since she isn't -- even
now, when she can't seem to fight back any of the
tediously messy emotional tangle which she's helped to
heap on both of them -- there are other concerns.

"How do you feel," she says, feeling the words on her
tongue as she says them. Owning them, as much as she

The boy's look is only incredulous for a moment before it
fades into a rueful smile she'd find charming if it wasn't a
replica of her own.

"You can't, actually, avoid doing that, can you, Tim?"

He winces, perhaps at the sound of his own name. "When
I was younger, I would stare at your photographs -- all
of your photographs -- and try to make my face match
your expressions. Yours were always easier... though I
imagine it would've been different if I'd managed to
acquire any *real* photos of Batman."

She lets her own smile out. "Of course. Have you ever
given any thought to how this might have worked if you
were less..." She shrugs, fearing and wallowing in the

The smile on the boy's face changes to something far more
appealing -- a tight, twitchy thing which flutters with
several entirely different and conflicting brands of honesty.
"I can't help but feel that it's helped to have such...
compatible interests." He stops meeting her eyes soon
enough and goes back to marking the room, quadrant
by quadrant.

"Would you like me to provide more shadows?"

"I'd *like*... for you to go back to believing you know what
you're doing with us. For us. To us," he says, and frowns
into the space someone else would use for a shrug, or
some other pointless motion.

The boy has never lacked the *ability* to be pointed. "I
imagine this... crisis of purpose must be somewhat
disconcerting for you."

He looks at her, quiet and... pleading? Requesting?

The reflex to seek clarity is too strong, and too quick. She's
her own avatar again, just that fast.

And Avatar is right there, at her feet. Just that fast.

She shakes it off and shifts in her chair, waiting for the boy
to come back. When he does -- frowning more deeply, and
at the floor -- she says, "it could be worse, you know. I
could be making you call me 'Barbara.'"

The boy shudders once, all over, and generally gives the
impression of someone who doesn't laugh. Ever.

He'll never make... friends with Jason that way. "Come
here. Avatar."

Straddling her lap, shifting to rest his weight on her dead
thighs, again to stop doing it. Reflex, routine.

She cups the boy's face with both of her hands until he
focuses on her, and then curls her fingers inward,
scratching at his cheeks with her fingernails in a move
she'd only ever done --

"Oracle. Please."

-- virtually. "I can't decide if it's better or worse that I
can't decide which of us this... *doubt* belongs to --"

"It's *yours*, Oracle," he says, almost hissing with all of
the emotion he's just waiting to *bleed* into her -- no.

"You have *nightmares* of me tearing you apart and
stitching you back together again, *Avatar* --"

"And I... I've had wet *dreams* of wearing your old uniform.
I'm conflicted, not... *doubtful*."

"You are, among other things, Avatar, *perverse*."

"You *like* me that way," he says, and strips down to the
nudity of his own terrors again. "Don't you?"

He hadn't even requested the chance to shower after his
run, offering her all the teenaged male *humanity* she
could ever ask for. He hadn't --

"Oracle... *please*."

He hadn't ever asked for anything but *this*, and the
chance to become that much more useful, and that much
closer to perfect. And if he had his own reasons for it, his
own agenda...

It was, of course, what made him perfect in the first place.

And perhaps... comforting? It bore examination.

She slips within, between, forming herself as she moves.
She isn't surprised to look down and see herself
strong-legged, long-haired, and *young*.

She isn't surprised -- or even especially impressed -- that
Avatar manages to time his own arrival for after she
fixes herself into something masked, smooth.

Don't forget inhuman.

How could she?

The boy comes when she crooks her little green talon,
solidifying her with every simulated step, making her
larger, making her whole and complete and separate
from the body she doesn't really need, from the
memories of the body she hadn't had the opportunity to
*use* nearly enough.

He demands and pleads for and *makes* her into the
image *and* the truth of the thing she'd used to shape
his problematic dreams in the first place. Of course.

One could, if one were unkind, comment on how pathetic
it is to demand that things never... change.

Well, he says, kneeling at her feet and leaning
toward her touch, I *am* a work in progress.


The first thing she's aware of is the low, burning ache in
her quadriceps from the run *she* didn't take and the
carefully uncomfortable position she's maintaining. It
would be more comfortable if she were touching... herself.

The second thing she's aware of is that she feels no need
whatsoever to cry.

The third is that she has an erection.

She looks up to find the boy smirking mildly at her from
behind Barbara Gordon's eyes.

She laughs in a mostly flat tenor. "Satisfied?"

"Trying, desperately, not to think about the fact that I have
breasts, actually."

She reaches with the boy's thin, clever hand and strokes
the nipple which isn't, at the moment, her own.

"Oh --"

"They've been very kind to me over the years, Avatar. I
think you'll grow accustomed to them."

"Over time?"

She blinks, and licks the taste of what is undoubtedly Mrs.
MacIlvenne's coffee from the backs of her new front teeth.
She has a slight overbite, now, which, she knows, adds a
mild pout to what is now her upper lip. The boy, for his
part, is stroking the wheels of her chair with both hands.
"With practice," she says, and slips back, and in, and...


There is nothing imbedded this brain which would let her
pull the boy into their shared virtual space, and only a
metahuman could do it with simple will.

She waits, reassuring herself with the angular green of her
own avatar, and doing her best not to measure the time
it's taking for the boy --

I could probably use more modifications. In... that
body, he says, wheeling closer with viscerally familiar
muscle movements until he spills and shifts back into the
crouching and comfortable shape of the boy.

Her boy. "So you could," she says aloud in two different
voices, using the sound to snap herself back into her
own body.

The boy gasps and nearly falls from her lap. Oracle catches
him and holds on.


"That was... vertiginous."

"Practice will improve both of our performances."

He smiles almost drunkenly, and brushes the palms of his
hands over his own chest until his nipples are small, hard
spikes beneath his t-shirt. "One would hope. Oracle."

She keeps him until sunset, indulging herself in a leisurely
examination of every injury he's received on the street,
and of all the places which still remain bare, pale and pink
with all of that potential harm. For most of it, she allows
him to relax in one of her other chairs, to brace himself on
the carefully locked wheels as she spreads him open.

In one way and another.


At ten o'clock, Oracle gives up entirely on finding useful
*and* non-taxing work for the boy to do tonight, so she
pulls him off espionage duty at Central (there are few
things more practical in Gotham than the gossip of
police officers) and sets him to shadowing Batgirl as best
he can.

There's really something remarkable about how well the
boy responds to certain of the more obviously useful forms
of humiliation.

She could wish for the ability to communicate with
Cassandra in private, but she was honest with Jason when
she said that she was worried implants would hurt the
girl. Still, it's impossible not to imagine what the girl
could provide with a direct link, without the need to
search for words, the insights into the boy she could
offer *alone*...

It's beyond no use, really. She'd put the question to Kord
*and* Stone long before she had any real reason to hope
she *would* have the kind of access to the girl she does
now, of course.

As to everything else... six of the eight tracers she'd had
Karen plant on this *particular* cycle of Nightwing's nearly
a year ago are still functional. He'd made it back to New
York a few hours ago, and is busily making and re-making
a grid over the Lower East Side. It's just off-balance
enough in shape to be irritating, but at least he's there...
instead of here.

Batman has, for the eighth night in a row, managed to
pick a section of the city to patrol as far away from Cass'
demesne as possible. Oracle would be suspicious... if she
didn't know precisely how many of the man's own tracers
are still in Cass' uniforms.

It's something of annoyance that this makes it necessary for
Cass to keep all but one -- *clean* -- uniform in the
Clocktower, especially when considered against the fact
that the man absolutely knows, at this point, where she's
living. It is, in fact, an exercise in the avoidance of
fate-temptation, superstitious and paranoid. And yet.

She has yet to cure the boy of his childlike... *faith* in
Batman, his belief that Batman -- and, of course, in the
man behind the mask -- came near enough to infallibility
(perfection?) to be worth the terms. There are so very
many dangers in opening the boy's existence to the
presence of Robins. It's the sort of thing...

She doesn't know, but.... If she had been told, years
before, that she would eventually collect a veritable
*stable* of operatives, associates, and even casual
'family,' hysterical amusement would have been the best
reaction the hypothetical questioner could have expected.

And she knows *Bruce* well enough to know that it would
have been the same way for him, once upon a time.

And yet.

Here they both are.

The fact that their differing... recruitment priorities has, as
of yet, kept them out of *direct* competition for human
resources is no comfort. At her most cynical, she still
doesn't believe the way their teams have split --*almost*
entirely -- on gender lines is anything but accidental --

And *yet*.

And the alarms are insistent about informing her that Robin
is, well, *incoming*. Converging rapidly on Batgirl's
territory, yes, but also on Avatar. She'd all but *goaded*
him into seeking Avatar out. By rights, she should have
also programmed her systems to have different criteria
*for* alerts --

Why had it been so temptingly *amusing* to allow her boy
into contact with Robin in the first place? How had she
failed so *miserably* to realize just how many
consequences that would have? Avatar *needs* to be in
contact with Batgirl as much as possible -- she is Oracle's
last, best hope of curing Avatar of his illusions about
Batman -- but she should have known Avatar, without
orders to the contrary, would of *course* bend over
backwards to help Robin stay in contact with the girl.

For reasons of his own.

Oracle slips preemptively into the shared space and waits
to be needed -- or not -- as the case may be. Avatar is
immensely difficult to find, but this is expected.
Physically, he's making his sixth attempt of the night to
remain unnoticed by Batgirl. Emotionally...

She finds the boy's own avatar in the deeper absences.
He's pulled -- consciously or not -- a deeper quantity of
shadow here, and -- yes.

Obstacles. Interesting.

Their space is crowded, 'smoky' and black until Oracle
deliberately reminds herself of the artifice and regains
the ability to 'see.' Like this, the 'obstacles' become
impressively well-scaled representations of the
neighborhood Avatar and Batgirl are currently moving

The thought makes it impossible for her to *not* use her
memory to paint the sky in the proper colors, to --
almost -- *smell* Gotham.

It's almost surprising to see that her own avatar remains...
itself. Almost.

The boy represents *himself* as little more than the outline
of a sketch. He's a mouse, a cat, an abstract of stealth,
and --

Caught, for the seventh time, at twelve fifty-eight a.m.

There is no true visual representation of Batgirl here, of
course. There is nothing holding the boy's avatar still until
it regains size and definition. Still, he is there.


I haven't quite managed to convince her that this isn't
a game of tag.

It is. For her.

Point... taken.

Has she injured you?

Not much, he says, avatar in motion. As he moves,
Gotham melts out of existence until there is only the two
of them. Beyond my pride.

You have pride?

It's a minor injury, and 'light' flashes across the
boy's avatar's goggles in an impression of sharp laughter.
Her Avatar.

And Batgirl?

I... don't have the words for it, actually. See for

She reaches as he leans, avoiding the -- reassuringly
minor -- flood of impression and emotion until she can
seat herself within, and turn, and see --

"Oracle," the girl says, crouched in a position
which Oracle would've found uncomfortable when she
was whole. Oracle hadn't -- consciously -- done anything
to shift the way the boy's body is settled.

As you can see, it would've been... overkill. The
boy's self is settled very comfortably... as these things go.

Yes. "Report," she says, in Avatar's voice, and Batgirl gives
her an admirably complete -- if impressively brief --
summary of her night's work.

Oracle hasn't yet shifted her assignments from the
Bat-general 'patrol,' but... perhaps there's no need to give
the girl room to adjust, after all.

She seems remarkably... adaptable.

Indeed. First, though. "Avatar's performance?"

"It always leaps left when caught." The girl cocks her
head. "When it *knows* it's caught."


There are worse pronouns. Well, no, there aren't,
actually. Though I'm pretty sure she doesn't mean it as an
insult, per se.

Something to consider. For now. "H -- Avatar will work on

The girl nods. "It needs more weapons, too."

A Batgirl after my own heart.

Oracle smiles with the boy's mouth. "I'll keep it mind.

The girl nods sharply, tumbles, and leaps from the building.
Her form is perfect, and the street sounds completely cover
the flap of her cape.

She really does *only* use it to break up the outline of
her body. *Are* there any other cape-users who do

Not that well, she says, taking a moment to brush the boy's
gauntleted fingers over the surface of the rooftop. Her
own were thinner, of course.

Everything was, back then. Or so I've observed.

Oracle smiles on her own face, miles away and irrelevant,
and slips back into the virtual space.

Shall I continue tailing her?

No. You're going to have company in approximately four
minutes... if Robin continues approaching cautiously.

I... Robin?

I believe he's been using glimpses of Batgirl to track you.

Impressive. And. Oracle. Why is he... do you...
Within, the boy's avatar visibly freezes before shifting into
something neither of them are supposed to believe is
'normal.' My assignment?

Keep your head. He may -- or may not -- ask you for more
information about your identity. It's... your choice as to
whether you tell him anything, or anything honest.


She thinks it's possible that if they were different people
that the answer would be more complicated. It's also
possible that it *is*, and she just isn't... well.

The boy is waiting.

Because he'll know if it isn't your choice, and will almost
certainly choose to act accordingly.

'Let my Avatar go?'

Hmm. Oracle out.

Not --

Too far? If she slipped closer again, she could be sure, but
the boy's vitals are steady enough, and he isn't, actually,
calling her *back*.

When she thinks about it, Jason is, actually, the best
possible choice for this sort of thing. The least attached
to memories of the woman she used to be and, more
importantly, the one *most* likely to both appoint
himself the ambassador between her... family and his
own and do a reasonable job at it, if only for Cassandra's

No. The one most likely to -- actively, if necessary -- run
interference between them.

She *should* become used to the idea of Robin being
something more than just another point on her Gotham
grid as rapidly as possible, and it *is* better for all
concerned if Robin... if *Jason* has reason to think of
them positively.

She considers, and rejects, an order to Avatar to 'play nice.'
While Jason's experience with the boy has been limited,
he would surely become problematically *aware* of any
attempt on the boy's part -- however practiced -- to play
a role.

And there is no benefit to berating herself for not having
him play one in the first place. No.

Onscreen, Avatar crouches in the shadow of a handy water
tower, with only the toe of his left boot visible to a casual
observer. Robin is on the next building. She resists the
urge to slip back in -- the usual audio with the video from
the temporary wall-cam the boy had planted *will* be
enough -- and deliberately turns her attention to Helena's
mask feed.

The woman makes a terrible spy but wonderful muscle.
There may or may not be any useable information in the
warehouse Helena is approximately twelve minutes from
blowing wide open -- Oracle's calculations place the
likelihood at just over eighty-one percent -- but, either
way, they'll know momentarily.

Onscreen, Helena pauses visibly, then pulls the material of
her cape a little further into view -- around herself. It
could be simple and reasonable paranoia -- her purples
and blacks stand *out* more in Metropolis -- or... it might


Helena relaxes, slightly, hand and cape falling out of the
picture. "Thought I felt a little surveillance. Two more
charges to go. I think I *miss* shoddy Gotham

"It has its benefits," Oracle offers as noncommittally as the
synthesizer will allow.

The view shifts to Helena finishing the task of setting the
timer and Oracle hears her snort. "Right. And you're
checking up on me *why*?"

The woman has never quite accepted that once she came
under Oracle's... observation, she left Batman's as much
as humanly possible for someone based out of Gotham.
It has been... useful, to let her keep this impression.

"No, wait, just *because*. No, I didn't kill anybody tonight,
Daddy Oracle. Does Metropolis even *have* any organized
crime to speak of?"

"Beyond the metahuman and alien-supported? No."

"Intergang. Right. Hm. Am I gonna have time to --"

"No." Not without better weaponry, at least.

"You know, I *might* have just been going to say
something about getting a bite to eat."

Oracle lets the smile bleed a little into her voice. "Except
you weren't." There's some question as to whether or not
such things have any real effect --

Helena's hand comes back into view. Specifically, her
middle finger.

-- but not much question. "You really aren't my type."

"Blah blah. Same courier once I get back with the goods?"

"Almost certainly."

"*Almost*? What kind of danger are you putting that boy
into now?"

It's enough of an excuse to switch her attention to the
other monitor, where... yes. Avatar isn't running, and
there's nothing in Robin's body language to suggest
threat, as opposed to consternation. Perhaps she
should've ordered Batgirl to stay near, if only for
commentary purposes. They are... talking.

"Hey, I'm *talking* to you --"

"So you are."

"You *know* it's not right to use the kid for this stuff, no
matter how smart he is. I have *boots* older than he is.
I'm *wearing* boots older than he is. I'm wearing boots
*heavier* than --"

"You seemed to enjoy teaching him the finer points of
single and double-strike assassination techniques on the

The responding splutter manages to be both incredulous
and obscene. "You didn't say you were watching --!"

To you...

"And those don't *have* to be fatal --"

"Of course not. Huntress."

"And if you're *going* to keep sending him out there, he
*ought* to know --"

"It's all right, Huntress. I'm fully aware of what a gratifying
student Avatar can be."

Oracle's grasp of Italian isn't nearly good enough to
translate Helena's response beyond the educated guesses
she can make based on tone and vehemence.

"Find me something interesting, Huntress. Oracle out."

" -- the hell we *need* a kid, a *boy* for anyway --"

She cuts the audio and leaves the video, giving the woman
the opportunity to gesture her way through the two and a
half minutes left before she makes a mess in Superman's
backyard and decides to forgo sending the alien the direct
heads-up she had planned, leaving a notification on the JLA
logs, instead.

Helena will undoubtedly find it therapeutic to vent at
someone she can see until the next time Oracle feels the
need to communicate with her. Or perhaps she'll just find
the alien's physique diverting enough to cheer.


Oracle sets her systems to notify for Kryptonian-specific
proximity, and...

And it's one-forty-seven. Batman's mask-feed offers nothing
more illuminating than a view of a drug deal in the last
moments before being broken -- literally -- down. There's
nothing else.

No -- there are, as always, any number of things she
*could* check on. Dinah's on her tenth day of leave
without report, which almost guarantees that she's found
something -- or someone -- problematically diverting of
her own. And while it's true that Karen is still shunning
her company (well... communication) for that of the JSA,
it's long past time for her to start *doing* something
about that.

The woman had no great affection for Tim, Helena, or
even Dinah, but... she hasn't yet met Cass. She could...

Robin is *still* talking to the boy.

Oracle toggles the audio despite herself, just in time to hear
Jason start laughing. And he's -- Oracle switches from the
temporary wall-cam to his mask-feed and... yes. Jason is
close enough, now, that nearly all of the tricks Helena had
taught Avatar would be viable.

The boy is doing well.

"So... Tim."

So he *had* decided to share his name. Interesting.

"Yes?" The boy's tone is expectant, and nearly mild.

"Well, I mean, what --"

Oracle switches the audio off and slips inside, instead.
Onscreen, the mask-feed stiffens enough to let her know
that *Avatar* is registering her presence. He opens their
'eyes,' and --

It's a mistake. Or --

It was a mistake for her to be here, to be this *close* --

"Tim...? What -- wait, is that you, Babs?"

The "feedback" is miserably, drowningly intense, overriding
the Jason she *knows* with something insistently male,
vital, dangerous, inviting -- *Tim* --

I -- sorry -- I'd been... you'd suggested I be...
emotionally honest with him, and...

She pulls -- *rears* -- back, yanking herself into her own
body and (hopefully) emotions, forcing herself to keep her
eyes closed for long enough for the...

The boy called it vertigo. She hadn't, until now, considered
it an entirely appropriate descriptor.

Oracle breathes, and forces herself to wait a moment longer.

And then she toggles the audio.

" -- Christ, you look like somebody just hit you with a
*tazer*, kid --"

"There was -- there was feedback. I have to --"

"Feedback? What --"

"I -- I need to go."

"Wait --"

Oracle opens her eyes just in time to catch the mask-feed
of the boy going over the side of the roof.


Radio? Virtual?

*Oracle* --!

Intellectually, she knows she chose to shift in. It still feels
like being yanked bodily into a *fire* -- no.

The virtual space is as clean and clear as ever, as the boy
can make it. And she is green, and angular, and -- it feels
like a lie.

Oracle, are you. Are...

He wants to ask if she's all *right*. She laughs, despite
herself, and it's something like shaking herself back into
form. Her avatar solidifies into something nearly real
enough. She looks at the boy's form, carefully blank and
small. My nipples, she says, are exclamatory. It's also
entirely possible that my thighs are... *wet*.

The flinch is expressed with a shimmer of reality. That
seems... distasteful.

Disconcerting works well enough. You've been holding out
on me, Avatar.

The boy shrinks, shifts, moves, and then *becomes*,
again, at her feet. I think... I believe it's more accurate
to say I've been holding out on myself. Jason is... is.


Oracle --

I'll recover from the indignity, I assure you.

Another flinch.

She snorts. You're done for the night, and, I think, so am I.
Take a route over the docks before you head home...
unless you want Jason to pick up your tail.

I... affirmative.

*Do* try to avoid Batman.

Yes, I... yes.

She makes a show of settling herself comfortably toward
the default 'back' of their shared space, pulling a rather
throne-like chair from the boy's memories of something
or another, sitting her avatar down -- something she
rarely *ever* does, here -- and crossing its legs.

Thank you, the boy whispers, and focuses on
rabbiting his way back home.


At three-seventeen, Oracle is done with everything her
body requires of her. There's a comfortingly vituperative
message from Helena about the 'nosiness' of Kryptonians
that she has no intention of responding to. And the boy...

The boy is waiting, alone, three of the eight cameras in his
bedroom trained on his form on top of the covers of his
laughably luxurious bed.

One day the boy will have to share it with *someone*
solely to give it validation.

His room at his parents' house is filled with such things, of
course. The accoutrements of the child of vague and
vaguely guilt-ridden parents.

She is simultaneously aware of her body and of herself, still
lodged not-far within the boy. It's a casual straddle of
being, fragile and rare because of it.

And because the only reason to *be* in two places at once
is to combat the fear of losing both.

It's been a good day for fear.

She hums, aloud, and watches/knows the boy feeling and
hearing it. It's not a pleasant sound.

I have a theory about... us, the boy says after a
moment. About our -- relative -- compatibility.

An answer to the question she hadn't -- quite -- asked
earlier. Perhaps she should have. As it relates to tonight,
I suppose?, she asks, and then she's inside without a
thought, without a hesitation. Through the boy's eyes,
there's nothing whatsoever remarkable about the high,
spotless ceiling.

Should there be?

We can discuss it another time. Your theory?

Our philosophies rarely clash. Our priorities -- and
methods of prioritizing -- are similar enough that my
adjustment period... well. It seemed brief to me.

The self-deprecation in the boy's 'tone' is mild, casual and
calmly familiar. Oracle's avatar nods. You've never, she
says, given me reason for impatience.

The boy's avatar forms close enough to her own that
there's no way for her mind to define their boundaries for
a moment -- long enough for the avatar to rest against the
leg of her own.


Yes. I. Have you considered, at all, that the similarity
of our... desires might have played a role? In our --
relative -- compatibility.

Oracle lets that particular bombshell sit for a moment while
she reaches *in* until she finds -- there.

Dick, tumbling. Flying. Smiling. Compelling, as always.

Yes. It's... The boy's avatar shrinks -- slightly.
I... *hadn't* been considering the question of sexuality,
but... there's any amount of literature... studies which
suggest that it's something...

Oracle strokes her palm over the boy's avatar's goggles,
blotting out the virtual in a motion he has informed her is
somewhat soothing.


We are both, at base, human.

Thankfully, you're working on that.

Oracle laughs, and covers the boy's goggles until her
systems inform her that he's asleep.


.Maybe thousands of years.