Disclaimers: Not mine.
Spoilers: A few tiny ones for the "Syndicate Rules"
storyline in JLA.
Summary: Tim wants, very badly, to live.
Ratings Note/Warnings: Really not even remotely
harmless. In any way.
Author's Note: A prequel to the CSA: Gotham
series. Starts well before the others begin.
Acknowledgments: To Jack for somehow convincing
me to do this, and to Jack and Petra for audiencing
and helpful suggestions.
"You don't seem surprised."
The sweat doing its level best to plaster Tim to his sheets is
managing to be uncomfortably hot and cold and once.
There's a part of his mind which is straining -- uselessly, he
knows, he *knows* -- for the sound of his father's
footsteps, the sound of his being alive --
There is nothing in Owl-Man's pose -- a casual crouch, his
legs easily straddling Tim's waist -- to suggest impatience.
The part of Tim's mind which suggests testing the limits of
this apparent freedom is as stupid as the part which is still
waiting for his father. Tim swallows. "I --"
"If you persist in being stupid, I have no reason whatsoever
to want you alive, boy. And? You'll have wasted my
"A punishable offence. I -- assume."
Owl-Man's teeth are very even, and very white.
That would be a 'yes.' "I... no. I'm not surprised." He
already knows that. He --
Tim wants, very badly, to live. He'll have time to suss out
the whys of that... later. Perhaps.
"I'm not surprised, because it doesn't seem -- unreasonable --
for you to show an... interest in... in the person responsible
for keeping my -- for keeping Jack Drake operating. In
"For keeping Jack Drake *alive*..."
Tim doesn't -- won't -- close his eyes. "It was never... going
to be permanent."
Another -- Tim supposes that's a smile. "No. It wasn't. So
tell me... boy. Why do I want you alive *now*?"
It's -- deliriously -- tempting to mention something about
'type,' but he has neither the physical beauty of the first
'Robin,' nor the physical... charms of the second. And he
wants to *live*. Owl-Man's armor creaks as he leans closer.
He doesn't -- he smells like nothing *but* armor. He --
"I'm." He wants to live. He. "I can be exceedingly useful...
There's so much light in Tim's head, all of a sudden, that it
takes a moment for him to register the pain. And then he
just -- keeps registering it.
It doesn't seem to be lessening, at all.
"You've never taken a punch in your *life*."
There's a distinct undertone of incredulousness in the man's
voice. "I --" It comes out garbled. Thick. There's blood in
his mouth. "I was too valuable -- for that sort of thing. I --"
Light -- no, pain. Pain. That...
That's pain. He has to remember.
"You aren't that valuable any longer. Robin."
Oh, he thinks, I'm going to --
The first thing he's aware of is that he is, in fact, alive.
There's a part of him which is wondering if he would
come to that conclusion so quickly if his father had been
a religious man, if he had any conception --
"That sound was two of your ribs cracking."
Any conception of -- of --
"I only broke three of your father's before he began to beg."
There's... he's. He's taking a beating. He's --
"The question becomes, Robin..."
How very novel. This is... The pain is --
"... shock? That would be painfully -- for you -- dull.
The pain is the world. The pain is his vision, his scent, his --
"-- you *are* in shock. I'm just not -- quite -- sure *what*
you are. Would you care to illuminate?"
Illuminate. Illu -- "Light. There's --" Pain is a sound. Pain
"You'll have to forgive me, Owl-Man. This pain is really --
really quite *stunning*," he says, and vomits. He doesn't
choke. This suggests that his head, at least, is oriented
toward the ground.
And Owl-Man is... that sounds like a laugh.
Had he said something amusing?
"This relationship isn't going to last very long if you don't
fight back, Robin."
He's... "I'm -- I'm s-supposed to fight back?"
The world closes around Tim's throat and lifts him -- no.
That's Owl-Man's fist. Or... he can't quite see -- his eyes
are swollen shut -- but it seems *likely* that it's
The interesting thing is that the pressure is something of a
relief for the *inside* of his throat. He'd been vomiting
quite a lot.
"It's just. You'd seemed -- invested. In me *taking* a
beating." He had. There'd been real *feeling* in the man's
He hadn't imagined that. He's almost sure.
"I could... well. I don't have --" The world -- fist -- tightens.
Tim can't cough.
He can't breathe.
He's going to --
The pressure on his palm isn't painful in the least, which is
something so curious, so *new* that it makes Tim forget
how to breathe.
However, then he remembers that his throat is swollen --
inside and out -- and that he *can* still breathe, and that
there's something which isn't at all painful in his palm.
There's a whistle in the air which -- he knows now -- means
there'll soon be light and pain, and the something becomes
the hilt of a knife, and Tim gives the air an entirely different
whistle before --
His wrist is caught.
Owl-Man. Which means he has to stop and be hit. No.
He has to fight back. That's what...
The knife clatters out from between his fingers, which
makes no sense at all. He's known how to twist a blade
over his knuckles for --
"Hn. That might have worked better if I hadn't broken
those fingers, Robin."
"Ah. I'd forgotten."
That was -- another -- laugh. "Of course you did."
And then there's pressure on his neck. No -- "Ow."
"A needle? A *needle* makes you say 'ow?'"
He can do that.
When he wakes up, the pressure on his palm is a gun.
He manages to get his finger around the trigger, but it
takes so long to do that his only real option is using the
gun as a monumentally ineffective club.
And then there's another needle.
He can't tell what it is, but it swings, and whistles --
There's a needle, but he vomits so much from the gut
punch that he remains awake for quite some time.
It turns out that the thing in his hand was just a simple
It also turns out that he's naked, on a bed, and in... some
sort of cave? He can't tell.
He wishes he knew more about average healing times -- he
has no idea how long it must have taken for the swelling
on his eyes to go down. He --
"Still awake, Robin?"
He blinks -- the word is 'owlishly.' He nearly laughs before
he remembers that his father is dead.
You're not supposed to laugh when your father is dead.
Owl-Man is either several miles away or within arm's reach.
His cowl is off, he's sitting and reading a newspaper, and
he looks precisely as young as he is. It's really amazing
that someone with his lifestyle has no facial scars
He wonders if there was surgery.
And then the question of how far away he's sitting is
answered, because those stiff, bandaged fingers are his
own, and they're on Owl-Man's *face*.
"You're stoned beyond all human comprehension, aren't
Fingers. *Face*. Fingers.
"How long were you handling your father's wetwork?"
"He was terrible at it. He kept jeopardizing... some of the
prostitutes were *using*."
"Hn. As they do."
"And... Lucius, Jr. was very helpful when the two of us were
allowed to spend time together. Of course, his father has
been your primary lieutenant for years. You know Lucius,
Tim blinks, and it's actually quite painful. It's sickeningly
painful, and -- if he vomits, he'll be in more pain. The
thought has all the staggering emotional resonance of
actual profundity, and so... "Yes, I believe I *am*
"Hn." There's a slight scraping sound and Owl-Man is tilting
his head back -- away from Tim's fingers. Ah.
"I'm still... touching."
"You are. I would've thought you'd need more time to
recover, physically, before it was time to fuck you, but..."
Tim vomits -- on the floor *between* his bed and
"The name protected you."
"'Robin' will be protection of another sort, entirely."
"I... imagine so."
"Sometimes, it will be no protection at all, of course."
"The precise opposite, I would guess."
"That isn't why I needed to be sure you could handle pain."
"My working theory is that this had something to do with
your own... preferences."
"I'm going to be giving you many tasks, Robin. A *variety*
of tasks. However, your primary one will always be to make
sure I am *amused*."
"I've been told that I lack a sense of humor, Owl-Man. You
wouldn't happen to have some sort of... lesson plan, for
that, would you?"
"And yet you know, perfectly well, that I'm aware that
*that* was a joke, just the same. You're a complicated little
thing, aren't you?"
"Please don't. Please --"
"How very uncharacteristic to make a request you know is
pointless -- ah, no. You're playing to a type, aren't you?"
In retrospect, sleeping with a knife taped to his lower back
wasn't the best idea he had ever had.
After all, he'd developed *those* reflexes in the days of his
friendship with Lucius, Jr., and sleepover knife-fights.
A hand on the wrist demanded --
Demanded the sort of pointless, brutal, and brief fight which
merely made the inevitable...
More entertaining for Owl-Man.
Entertainment is survival.
Perhaps it was a good idea, after all.
Passivity isn't difficult to fake. Sometimes it's not fakery, at
all -- Owl-Man's insistence on giving him a firm grounding
in hand-to-hand combat is, after all, honestly exhausting.
Passivity, however --
"If you're going to take this like a beating, Robin, then
there really isn't any point to my failing to give you one."
Passivity is problematic.
"I would like some pornography, Owl-Man."
"Is it your birthday, already?"
His birthday is in July -- that was a joke. Tim smiles.
Owl-Man snorts. "Do you have any *inkling* of how
gruesome that is?"
"Well... yes. Which brings me back to my request."
Owl-Man crosses his legs and steeples his fingers. He's
wearing the glasses with the thin, platinum frames and an
exquisitely-tailored suit. Power Woman had, perhaps,
expressed a sexual preference for businessmen recently.
The effect is far more aesthetically pleasing than the month
during which the woman had affected a taste for men with
Or perhaps the past week of... business had left him tired
of the armor. It's an interesting enough question, and a
decent enough way to fill the time in which he is being
"Ah," Owl-Man says, at last. "You're interested in improving
your sexual performance." The smile is nearly disarming,
since the glasses catch the light and hide the man's eyes. "I
should've guessed you'd take that in the most literal way
Tim shrugs. He's better at that than smiling -- the motion
requires the same sort of looseness that many ready
positions do. "There are any number of facial expressions
in pornography -- especially, I'd imagine, in pornography
of the quality you have access to. All of them --"
"Perhaps I'm amused by your quirks."
Tim blinks. Considers. "If I'm successful, then those quirks
would belong only to you."
"They already do."
"And whoever sees -- any part of -- my face. Or will you
redesign the uniform?"
The look he receives is entirely unreadable -- the glare on
the false eyeglasses is simply impossible -- and lasts for
quite a while.
"Hn." Owl-Man removes a slim remote from his breast
pocket and presses a button. The safe which opens in the
wall behind him is small, and had been entirely
camouflaged. The only thing in it is a disk.
"Impressive. The disk...?"
"Access codes. I had, in fact, been saving it for your
birthday. I suppose I'll just have to think of something else."
"Access... the computers?"
Something in his voice -- his face? -- makes Owl-Man
almost start. In any event, the examination he's receiving
now is rather more *interested* than before. Rather less...
"I..." Tim swallows, and stills himself.
"You'll find everything you need, I think." There's a question
in Owl-Man's voice, but it's not one Tim can quite translate.
"Thank you, Owl-Man."
He retrieves the disk and leaves. He can feel Owl-Man's
attention even more... powerfully than he usually can.
Perhaps it's familiarity.
The financial files are gratifyingly similar to the models he'd
inferred and predicted back in the days when it had seemed
possible to run his father's side businesses entirely outside
of and under Owl-Man's radar.
He'd made very few mistakes, really.
The interesting thing is that none of the mistakes he had
made would've led to his father being... discovered.
He hadn't even considered the possibility that Owl-Man
would simply *assume* that his father had been
misbehaving, and... Hm.
There are tapes, of course.
The chase, the -- shamefully -- brief beating, the begging.
Tim blinks. His father had been... skimming?
His father had been --
All of his work, all of his *care*, and his father had been
shorting the *take*?
He doesn't --
He doesn't know what this feeling is. It's a *feeling*,
though, and it's...
He freezes himself as best he can, and then runs for the
costuming area. There are mirrors, and -- there.
His eyes are wide. His pupils are actually somewhat smaller
than they should be, considering the ambient light. His
nostrils are flared. His teeth are -- some of his teeth are
He's angry. He's very --
It takes a while to blank his expression again.
Duplicating it takes even longer.
But he does.
"Did you find what you were looking for?"
"Yes, Owl-Man. Once I realized my search parameters
needed to be... refined."
"Hn. I would be disappointed that it took you so long if I
didn't know you had distracted yourself, first."
"Distracted -- ah. Well. The question of what, precisely,
had occurred with my father had been nagging me."
"You had no part in his... monetary peccadilloes."
"If I had... well."
"Show that attitude around Lucius, sometime. Please. The
pride he takes in his forensic accounting capabilities would
make the inevitable infinitely diverting."
"Did you want him dead?"
"Hmm. Show me what you learned, Robin."
"I lack the flexibility of one predecessor. The other..."
"The other was, among other things, a hustler when I met
him. You? Were a pimp."
"My father --"
"Was useless. You're not."
"I -- Owl-Man --"
The quality of the video is, of course, the best.
Almost eerily so.
If the cave's acoustics weren't as decidedly non-standard
as they are, and if he narrowed his eyes to hurt his own
peripheral vision, it would be incredibly easy to believe he
was merely... looking through a window.
The burst of laughter is as startling as... as every other
outburst of its sort in these files. The boy appears to be
his own age, if taller. He's sweating, stripped down to a
pair of simple running shorts and fingerless gloves.
When he moves, it's explosive and stunning. Inhuman,
really -- no.
He has never attended a circus, but these things are not...
he's heard of this. And Owl-Man has taught him a few of
the more basic moves the boy is using. Not inhuman.
The smile remains on his face -- unwaveringly -- as he
The boy's facial muscles must have been phenomenal.
"I'm not in the mood for imitation."
"Am I... I practiced. Did I --"
"Save it for the streets, Robin. Or Ultraman. He *was*
fond -- hn. The idea disgusts you."
"He isn't -- human."
"No, he isn't. Don't worry. I'm quite sure that once the alien
gets to know you, he'll lose all desire to molest you."
"Ah. He's very different from you, then."
"You *are* an acquired taste, Robin."
The crack of the back-handed punch echoes impressively --
Surprisingly, considering the number of beatings Tim has
watched from this very spot. Undoubtedly, it has something
to do with the fact that this isn't -- hadn't been -- a beating,
at all, or even a spar.
On-screen, Owl-Man's cheek is reddening.
The scowl on this boy's -- Jason's -- face is so intense Tim
has to pause it in order to make his own face do the same.
And then he restarts it.
"Just -- just fuck *off*, Tom. I'm not in the mood."
Tim feels his hand slip up to his throat. His pulse is
pounding. He realizes, with a sort of idiot shock, that he
hasn't the faintest clue about the *exact* circumstances of
the second Robin's death.
"Aren't you, Jason?"
"I'm not your goddamned *whore*. I was no one's whore
when I was on the streets and -- *shit* --"
This expression, at least, is easier. His own face knows
precisely how to pull into a configuration of fear, anger,
and self-loathing. He almost never needs the mirror when
he's watching Jason footage.
"What, you think it's fucking *special* that I'm hard? I'm a
goddamned *teenager*, T-Tom -- fuck, *no*, dammit,
There's a great deal of tension showing in Jason's throat.
He isn't just letting his head fall back, he's -- he's
*fighting* against the way his head is falling back, and --
This, too, feels familiar.
"Oh, you -- you goddamned fucking --"
This, too --
"Suck me, then. *Suck* me, you psycho fucker --"
The moan has no context, no place --
Until he lets his hand fall between his legs. Until he knows
"I hate you, I fucking *hate* y-you -- oh *fuck* --"
He understands completely.
"Robin. On your knees."
"Hn. You're getting better every day."
"I mean it -- don't -- don't you fucking --"
"How long did it take to learn to shape your mouth around
profanity with any degree of facility?"
"I swear to fucking God, I'll bite it *off* --"
"And even some improvisation. Jason, for what it's worth,
never bit me anywhere but my hands and shoulders."
"I -- hnngh -- you -- hate you, hate you so goddamned --"
"Or is it... ah. Have you discovered empathy?"
"Nn -- nn --"
"Yes, Robin. It *is* traumatic."
It's -- light.
It's a break. It's --
It's a *break*, it has to be, because a moment ago... a
moment ago he isn't sure where, precisely, that part of
himself which is making itself known *now* was.
Now... now, he's right here, and the mats are cool and not
especially soft under his bare feet, his sweatpants are
tangled around his ankles, his neck *hurts* from the strain
of not letting his head fall back, and --
"You're laughing. You're... Robin --"
And he's laughing, helplessly, terribly. He's...
"Hnngh -- Owl-M-man -- I -- I... fuck, your *fingers*, don't,
I -- I can't --"
"You *can*. You..."
The rest -- whatever it is -- is lost in a growl, lost in his
*mouth*, and the kiss is rough, hungry --
Predictable. There are reasons the man keeps walking --
walking *fucking* time-bombs around. He likes it. He
*needs* it. Tim has to hold onto that. He has to --
"Oh *fuck*, oh -- *God* --"
He has to -- oh please no he has to -- he has to --
"Shh, you're perfect. You're -- hnn. Your father didn't
"And the tears -- perhaps we can -- nngh -- blame them on
a delayed grief reaction...?"
"You're still shivering."
Tim checks. He is.
"Hm. I had been *wondering* what it looked like when you
actually did go into shock."
"It's -- it was a reasonable. Question. Owl-Man."
"Your -- your arms --"
"Are around you, yes."
"Are you... amused?"
"Deeply," Owl-Man says, and drags Tim further onto his lap.
It's warm. It's very --
There's a hitching, whining sound. He doesn't --
He wishes he didn't know what it was.
"B-but -- if it's a-a-amusing -- nn." The hold around him is
"All of it is. All."
He wants... he wants to live.
When he wakes, he has something in his hands. He --
Gun-butts. And... when he drags his thumbs over them, he
can feel... He opens his eyes.
The bed is Owl-Man's. The guns are...
Each gun has an 'R' carved into the butt.
The guns are his. And, on the table beside the bed, there is
He *had* redesigned it. There's something more
'postmodern Western' about it than 'heavily-armed
Caribbean whore,' though the colors are essentially the
The mask will tie on.
The holsters will cross his hips.
There are no immediately obvious suggestions as to what
he's to do with his hair.
There's a thought in his head which is almost too... too to
deserve the name. It's a small thought, but it's growing
larger, more important with every second. It's --
He passed a test.
He passed a test, and Owl-Man *approved* and now he
would get to be -- to be --
He hadn't. He'd... *pleased* Owl-Man. There was no test.
He isn't --
("You're the best son a man could have, Timmy.")
*No*. It's not that. It was never --
"Put it on."
He doesn't want to vomit. He -- no. He *wants* to vomit.
He wants to... he wants to want to vomit. That's --
"Let me see you, Robin."
That's what he has to hold on to. He wants to live. He
wants to live, and -- *he* wants to live.
"Are you afraid?"
He can and will sacrifice a great deal for that. He *has*
Owl-Man breathes. It isn't -- quite -- a sigh.
Tim spins the guns on his fingers and sets them down. And
begins to dress.
He has sacrificed... a great deal. He has *surrendered*...
"Pull the boot-knife -- perfect. Now, the other."
No. He has surrendered nothing more than he ever has,
than he ever did. Certainly nothing more than he
surrendered the first time he realized his father's survival --
and his own -- depended entirely on his own skills.
Owl-Man ties the mask on himself, twisting the ties into a
tail which tickles -- gently -- the back of Tim's neck.
He has surrendered nothing. And, one day, he will kill
Owl-Man for ever making him believe otherwise. And for
ever making him wish to.
Owl-Man drags the backs of his knuckles over Tim's cheek
in a slow, possessive caress. "Smile."
He does. His facial muscles are growing stronger by the