Disclaimers: If they were mine, I wouldn't live in an
attic. I'd live in the attic of a really *big* house.
Spoilers: Many, many spoilers for older storylines
in various Bat-books. Spoilerish speculation for
future storylines in Robin.
Summary: Tim has some interesting women in his
Ratings Note/Warnings: R-NC-17. Content some
readers may find disturbing.
Author's Note: Four stories I've been wanting to
find a way to write for a long time. And one just
Acknowledgments: To Jack, Livia, L.C., Reilael,
Minim Calibre, and Bas for audiencing, helpful
suggestions, and hand-holding.
The thing about hunting down the world's best
fighters -- warriors -- and killing them, one by
one, is that one day you'll run out. Of the human
Assuming, of course, that *you* don't get killed.
Of course, if you're Lady Shiva, you don't really
have that to worry about. If you're Lady Shiva,
you don't have much to worry about at all. The
thought is... a desirable one. Something for Tim
to hold on to.
He doesn't have much.
There *was* a time when he didn't need much,
when he thought he had just about everything he
*could* have, but...
He was thinking small.
He knows that now.
Small and naive.
If he hadn't burnt his computer system -- literally
and figuratively, because it really *doesn't* pay to
take unnecessary chances -- there would be, for
any decent hacker to find, a whole *manifesto*
on the psychology, methodology, and *benefits*
to... no longer being small *or* naive.
It's entirely possible Oracle's systems had picked
up on his self-destruct sequence and retrieved the
It's entirely possible that someone -- her or Bruce,
most likely -- will immediately hunt down those
retrieved files when his... absence is noted. They
may have already done so.
Tim hopes they have. For both good and bad
The manifesto would serve as something like an
explanation, a little backhand for Bruce. This is
what you drove me to. This is *your* fault.
Tim would be lying if he said the prospect didn't
have some measure of appeal. People wouldn't
be petty so often if it weren't so *satisfying*.
Of course, petty people tend to get *caught*
more often than not, which is why it's a good
thing that the manifesto is far more of a red
herring than a letter of intent.
He has no desire to rule the world, or even
It was just time for him to *leave*. That nest, in
He knows he's young. He knows his limitations.
Nearly all of them. Bruce thought it was time for
him to learn more.
He's absolutely right.
It's just that Tim has no intention of having
*Bruce* as a teacher anymore.
The fight has moved from the square. East. He
waits until the sound of screams and property
damage dies down a bit before following. Shiva's
opponent isn't one he's personally familiar with.
He has his own files, of course -- partial
biographies, rap sheets, and the like. The simple
fact is that they aren't as good as Oracle's.
And Tim has no intention of calling *her* for
That part of his life is over now.
He swings through the square and catalogs the
damage, out of both reflex and necessity. When
Shiva had tossed the man -- he's almost entirely
sure -- through *that* window, the plate glass
had shattered impressively.
One woman will die if she persists in trying to
pull that shard out of her neck.
An old man -- apparently blind -- is stumbling
into traffic. A second visual sweep shows a smear
of fur and blood that was, presumably, his
There are others, many of whom are long past his
own ability to help.
The police, such as they are in this country, are
probably on their way. This isn't a job for Tim
Robin is in Gotham, where it belongs.
The thing is... Shiva has never been especially subtle
about either her work or her vocation. She wants
people to know exactly where she's been -- for
Shiva, that sort of recognizability is anything but a
It isn't all that different from the way Batman
benefits from his reputation among the criminal
element. Neither would appreciate the comparison.
Strike that. He isn't entirely sure how Shiva would
feel about the comparison, and as for Batman...
Well, he'd really only *thought* he knew the
Which is, perhaps, the point.
Batman needs a Robin.
Robin needs to trust Batman implicitly.
Tim hasn't trusted Batman in quite some time,
ergo, he shouldn't be Robin. And he isn't. He's...
he's Tim Drake.
He's nobody, swinging through the streets of this
city, catching his grapples on buildings that
crumble alarmingly, moving. Moving.
The thing about battling metahumans is that you
always make a mess. Tim knows this firsthand,
and he's almost never fought a meta who wasn't
absolutely sure that Tim wasn't trying to kill him,
her, or it.
That sort of fear breeds determination. That sort
of determination would make a hell of a mess in
a place where the architecture *wasn't* older
and more decrepit than Tim's dead great-
The only thing louder than the screams of the
collateral damage, the only thing more *piercing*,
is the simple, inhuman -- *human* joy of Shiva's
battle cries. He's one of the few people alive who
knows them this well.
He's almost entirely sure that most of them are
random. Some of them... are not. She's going to
go in for the kill soon, and she's entirely confident
of her success, despite the fact that the
metahuman has her by the throat, lifted
approximately three feet off the ground.
She's bleeding from more wounds than he can
count. Her left arm is broken in at least two
It doesn't matter -- the meta is going to die.
Shiva's left leg bending, stretching -- it's a feint.
The blow, whatever it is, comes from her arm.
Her *left* arm. The sound she makes is low and
wordless and awful, barely audible even with his
mini-directional. Whatever she did hurt precisely
as much as it should have.
She still lands lightly and gracefully enough.
The meta drops like the proverbial ton of bricks.
He hears it more than sees it.
All he sees is Shiva's eyes on him.
He makes his exit, back to his hotel. Shiva will
find him soon enough. The hotel is pleasant in an
entirely non-Western way. Five years ago, by the
records he'd studied, it had looked almost precisely
like a Hilton. Slightly less than five years ago it
was bombed to rubble.
The new owners had learned the lesson the old
ones had ignored, and Tim knows precisely how
short his lifespan would be if his makeup job was
less expert than it is, if he hadn't learned French
*in* France, ensuring his accent is anything but
He musses the bed every night. He keeps his
makeup kit in a waterproof container so that he
can bring it with him into the shower. He sleeps
on a bedroll on the floor that hides makeup
stains neatly and folds to fit into any
The safety precautions would be ridiculous --
*are* ridiculous, considering his objective -- but
he isn't here to be murdered by *fanatics*.
He doesn't have a death wish at all, really.
He showers, turns off the water, and dresses. He
applies the makeup to his hands, feet, neck, and
He steps out of the shower, puts on his shoes,
and sits tailor-fashion on the bed. And waits.
"You're far from home, little bird."
It shouldn't be possible for her to be *behind*
him, but then, he'd only set the sort of traps
that would keep average people out. "Yes," he
He can feel her moving, and it makes the skin
crawl on the back of his neck. His body is
telling him about the necessity for speed, about
how he only has one chance. He breathes and
Eventually, she slips out from behind him. She's
wearing a robe -- floor length -- over whatever
other clothes she has on. If she has a cast of
some sort on her left arm, he'd have to be close
enough to push the robe aside to see it. Close
enough to die.
Her hair is damp. It's entirely possible all she
did was change and shower. Her head is tilted
to the side, slightly. She's either honestly curious
or wants him to think she is.
He swallows. "Hello."
She laughs, briefly, and drops into an easy crouch
in front of his chair. "At first I thought the Bat
had sent you to follow me. Or perhaps the one
you call Oracle. Most likely the Bat, as Oracle
would not have sent such an... *unseasoned*
operative. The Bat is far more reckless with his
That's nothing but the truth. He doesn't bother
She smiles at him. "Of course, we have met
before when you clearly weren't expecting me.
It took some time to be sure that your presence
at my assignations wasn't accidental. But... it
clearly isn't. I haven't targeted any of the
metahumans your... family keeps an eye on."
"Indeed." A broader smile. "Your Oracle might
not even be keeping an eye on me at all."
Don't bet on it. She isn't my Oracle anymore.
"Possibilities are not my stock in trade, little
bird." Her hand is on his chin faster than he
It's a blessing, really. The wrong reaction would
leave him dead on the floor. Even through the
glove, Tim can feel the hardness of Shiva's
hand. The strength.
"You're going to get makeup all over this glove,
"Only if you rub too vigorously."
Another smile. "You know precisely how many
ways I can kill you right now, little bird."
"No. I can think of two dozen. You know far
more than that."
This smile shows teeth. "I've *missed* you,
"Good to know."
She lets go of his chin and taps his lower lip with
two fingers. He opens wide and gives her the run
of his mouth. He isn't wearing any transmitters,
but a body cavity search would only be prudent
on her part. She pulls out and wipes his spit on
"Time to bend over?"
She... snorts. "Why don't you tell me why,
precisely, you're hunting me." She leaves her
hand resting on his sternum.
You don't have to be the most dangerous
woman -- person -- alive to know how to kill a
man that way. He considers the speech he'd
prepared for this moment and discards it. "I'm
not... a little bird. Anymore."
"Mm. No. All of those *innocents* left to suffer
and die in my wake. I thought sure you'd try
to save the dog."
"I know you, little bird, and I've seen the way you...
work. Even assuming you decided to let me have
Monsieur Aizul for my own purposes, you were
more than capable of saving the lives of at least
half of the poor souls in that square."
Seventy percent. Seventy-three if he ignored any
injuries he gave himself in the attempt. "So you
*were* deliberately targeting innocents."
She raises an eyebrow.
He nods. The reason he isn't bending over right
now -- or dead -- is that he had already passed
the tests Shiva had left for him. Checking his
teeth was a formality. Or perhaps she'd just
wanted to. "I'm not a little bird anymore," he
Shiva stands. "So. This leaves only two questions."
What will I be, and... "Yes?"
"One, how long will the Bat allow you to run
"He has other priorities."
"Hm." She tilts her head at him again, and
brushes the hair off his forehead. "He has always
given you a particularly *long* leash, it's true,
but..." Her hand moves slow enough for him to
He tilts his head up, giving her room she doesn't
need to lock her hand around his throat.
Her eyes flare for just a moment before narrowing.
"One day he *will* call his little bird home." The
squeeze, when it comes, is gentle enough to allow
him to speak.
Another small, hungry flare. "You're going to tell
me *all* about what he did to anger you so much."
I'm not angry. He can't decide whether I'm his
partner or his tool. Neither can I. All of the
boundaries are falling apart. I spent several days
convincing myself to be an evil overlord, and I'm
not entirely sure I was wrong.
My girlfriend thinks it's a compliment that Batman
thinks I'm strong enough to be driven insane for
She's right. I'm not angry. I'm not -- "Here?"
He knows Shiva has seen at least half of that.
Perhaps even seventy-three percent. He's not
going to laugh. She laughs for him, and takes her
hand off his throat, offering it to him instead,
All right. *Not* here.
He takes her hand, and lets himself be led.
Shiva's going to kill him, one day or night or
another. Whether or not she teaches him
It's good to be sure of something.
"Why me?" It's not a real question, in terms of
something he's actually curious about, and
certainly not in terms of being a something he
expects a real answer to. Not from Batman.
Sometimes Tim just likes to throw little things
like that out, just to see what happens.
Batman doesn't bother to turn away from the
console. "She trusts you."
Tim snorts and does the pre-ride checklist on
his bike. "She doesn't trust any of us."
"She distrusts you *least*," Batman says, and
there's a smile in his voice.
"Right," Tim says and saddles up. He's not
actually going to tell anyone that he thinks of
getting on his bike as 'saddling up.' He puts the
helmet on and starts the engine. By the time
he reaches the hidden exit, the traps are down.
The assignment is a simple one. Oracle is
thinking of bringing Huntress in as one of her
operatives -- on a probationary level. Batman
knows this because Batman is... Batman.
Batman isn't going to second-guess Oracle to her
face -- or her mask -- because Oracle is...
Instead, he's sending Tim out to keep an eye on
Huntress because... because. Tim isn't sure
whether to be insulted or relieved that Batman
didn't bother to give him an actual -- read: fake --
reason for the surveillance.
He also isn't sure whether a) Huntress knows
there's a job offer in her future, b) Oracle knows
yet that Batman is second-guessing her through
*him*, or c) Batman knows that Oracle *will*
know. Or if he cares.
It's another night in Gotham, and, frankly, it's
times like these when Tim prefers the suburbs.
Still, Barbara doesn't use just *anyone*, which
means she has to be reasonably sure that
Huntress has become someone *worth* using,
and really, it's not like she's ever tried to kill
*him*, or even been more insane in his
presence than Batman. Why, she's never even
If anyone is listening in on his transmitters, they
will hopefully assume that he's just remembering
a particularly amusing joke.
He heads for Helena Bertinelli's apartment complex
and starts moving out in circles. The neighborhood
is familiar enough to any Gotham vigilante. Lots
of mobbed-up types, lots of poorly-repaired bullet
holes in the masonry, and at least three window
companies who do a thriving business because...
A large man in a suit goes flying through what
smells like a pretty decent restaurant -- Italian,
natch. Tim pulls his staff and gives the man a
solid tap before he can pull what would
undoubtedly be a gun and parks the bike.
He frisks the unconscious man and pulls two
handguns and a nice-looking sap. He dumps
the guns, keeps the sap, and --
Ducks. There goes another man in a suit. This
one is thoroughly unconscious already, and
his holster is already empty.
An enterprising sort could probably build him or
herself one hell of an arsenal if they had the
time, patience, and intestinal fortitude to go
through the Gotham sewer system with a
metal detector. He makes a note to do
something about that and jumps in through
the handily removed window.
Huntress is doing an excellent job maiming
people, so he just pulls a likely enough non-
"Christ, another one," the guy slurs.
"Yep. Those your teeth over there?"
"Yeah. What's it to you, punk?"
Tim smiles. "I could add to your dental bills."
Huntress has already beaten most of the bravado
out of this one. He folds nicely. "What do you
"A better after-school job. World peace. For now,
I'll settle for knowing what *she* wants."
"Don't all you freaks stick together?"
"Nah. I'm *Batman's* partner. He doesn't much
like Huntress." He smiles a little wider and drops
his knee on the guy's ribs. They don't feel
"All right, all *right* already. She was saying
something about a shipment of heroin coming
"For the Toretti family."
"I don't know *nothing* about that." And here
comes the bravado again.
Tim rolls his eyes behind the mask, drops the
guy, checks on Huntress -- she's fine -- and
pulls his newly-acquired sap. "The way I see
it, Huntress has already broken your teeth
pretty good. I'm thinking of shattering your
cheekbones. And your nose."
He gets a muley look for his trouble.
"Of course, I don't normally use a sap, so I
might hit you too hard and drive some bone
fragments into your brain."
"You don't fool me! You freaks don't kill."
"*Batman* doesn't. Chances are? He'll blame
her. He *likes* me." Tim smiles sweetly. Having
a reputation as the Boy Catamite isn't *all*
"Jesus fucking Christ. Cops oughtta run *all* you
freaks outta town --"
Tim pokes the guy in the mouth with the sap.
"Okay! Okay! Shipment comes in tomorrow night.
Some dock in the forties. That's *all* I --"
"Who's doing the pick-up?"
"Nobody knows that --"
Tim gives him another poke.
"Ow! Nobody *knows*! Toretti isn't giving the
assignments until the last minute, so *nobody*
Well. Toretti *is* supposed to be a smart one.
Tim punches Mr. Helpful not especially hard, but
having the sap in his fist at the time means he
goes out nicely. He checks on Huntress -- still
fine -- and collects a few more handguns.
When he gets back in, Huntress has a slightly
older guy-in-a-suit up against the wall. Hanging
there by the crossbow bolts in his shoulders.
That's gonna leave a mark.
Still, if he's remembering Batman's files correctly,
the man is Tony "Thumbs" Picalo -- a Toretti
enforcer, having moved up from leg-breaking
sometime before Tim was born and having any
number of "missing" persons under his belt over
And nothing Huntress is doing to the guy is
fatal, anyway. He shrugs internally and collects
the rest of the weapons all the unconscious
people on the floor don't really need anymore.
"What is he," Picalo pants, "your freaking
Huntress doesn't answer. Tim smirks over his
armload of weaponry. He's going to have to ask
Alfred what he uses to get the stink of cordite
out of the uniforms. Maybe Febreze. "She pays
well. Good benefits package," he says, and
heads back out into the street.
He really has to work to get the machine guns
down the drains. He can hear Picalo screaming
like a bull being gelded.
He checks the police band on the way back
inside the restaurant. No one's called in anything
in particular. Unsurprising for this neighborhood.
It's not like any of these guys will actually be
*arrested*. Tim zip-strips the casualties anyway.
At the very least, he can ruin their days a little
When he's done, he joins Huntress with Picalo.
She's scowling at the bolts in the guy's shoulders
like maybe she just hasn't twisted them the right
Picalo is sweating and making various
expressions that Tim has long since filed under
'tough guy in pain, sub three.'
"I take it he hasn't been forthcoming?"
She narrows her eyes. "Save it, Boy Wonder."
Yep, everyone's just thrilled to see him tonight.
"He may have mentioned that Toretti is keeping
the information you're looking for especially
close to the vest."
Picalo twitches, and then groans. It's a fake
groan to cover his reaction. Huntress notices it,
too. Her scowl gets more pointed.
"Or he may not have." Picalo really *isn't* the
type to talk, which would explain why he'd
survived in the Gotham 'families' for so long.
Huntress' information about the mobs is
*precisely* as good as Batman and Oracle's
own, where it isn't better.
Which means there's no way in hell that *she*
didn't know she'd have trouble getting Picalo
to say anything.
She looks at him, clearly waiting for him to
He's not here for that, and whether or not he
could take her -- call it sixty-forty for it, she's
better than she used to be -- he isn't
particularly in the mood for an intra-vigilante
fight tonight. He raises an eyebrow enough for
it to be obvious despite his mask.
She narrows her eyes and rips out one of the
bolts, leaving Picalo to take care of the other
on his own.
He follows her out and up and down again. Her
bike is precisely as flashy as her car used to
be. She pauses before getting on.
*His* bike could get here in five minutes. Less
if he programs the remote to follow even
fewer traffic laws. "If you wouldn't mind."
She smirks at him. "Polite little boy. Hop on."
He does, and holds on.
"Tighter than that, Robin. I don't drive like an
Or a schoolteacher? He holds on tighter.
Huntress' new suit is making him glad that
*his* suit includes gloves. And armor in all
sorts of places.
Unsurprisingly, they head for the waterfront. She
parks the bike only about a quarter of a mile
further into the potential hot-zone than he would
have done, and they hit the jump-lines again.
In the warehouse below them, immigrants who
are almost certainly not legal gut and clean fish
for the morning's markets. Huntress uses her
binoculars to scan their perimeter. He does his
own scan -- purposefully being less thorough
than he normally would.
When he switches his lenses back to normal,
she's giving him what could only be described
as A Look.
"Am I stepping on your case?"
"So you're just here to ride my ass."
Tim blinks. "I wouldn't put it *that* way..."
She snorts. "None of you would. That's the
problem. *One* of them, anyway."
Tim thinks about it. A portion of the truth is
good enough for now. "Batman wanted to know
what you were up to."
"And he sent you."
"He thinks you like me." Lots of violent and crazy
people react better to the Robin suit than they
do to the Batsuit.
When she raises her eyebrow, her mask makes
every nuance of the expression visible. Her
new uniform is frankly impractical in any
number of distressingly attractive ways.
"Don't worry. I've already done my best to
disabuse him of the notion."
"Hm. What else did you get out of Marky?"
Presumably, the gentleman with the impending
massive dental bills. "Somewhere in the forties.
The people doing the pick-up won't know until
they're summoned, and won't know where
until they get here."
She crosses her arms beneath her breasts. "I
suppose you think beating on dockworkers until
they talk won't be the best use of our time."
"Other than as therapy? Probably not. I was
thinking we'd just look for the most suspiciously
clueless 'master and see which ship he's most
suspiciously clueless about."
"And we find this paragon of ignorance...?"
Tim smiles. "Judicious application of violence
Huntress' smile shows teeth, and it looks like
she wants to say something else, but in the
end, all she does is swing down toward the
forty-block. Tim follows. There are any number
of reasons to let her take point, not least of
which the fact that it's easier to get a feel for
her moves when she doesn't need to react to
anything *he's* doing.
Though half-drunken, out-of-shape dockworkers
are hardly the best test.
Still, it says something that she's not
showboating, and the only sounds she's making
are a handful of curses and battle cries. He
uses his staff on everyone she leaves behind.
This time, she *doesn't* leave the bruisers as
her potential information sources.
Either she's playing for her audience, impatient
for answers, apologizing, some combination of
all of the above, or something else entirely.
Either way, the kid she picks as her pigeon pisses
his pants and gives them a name.
Tim uses the ancient -- and filthy -- computer to
give them an address. A rather tony one, which
suggests that Mr. Berelli is certainly on
*someone's* payroll. They take her bike, again.
Her suit is ripped. He can feel the tear under
his gauntlet. Much more damage and their
evening's work will be rated R for more than just
They park two blocks away. Tim gets off the
bike, Huntress doesn't.
"I presume you want to stake the place out
before busting in, Robin?"
"Seems like a plan."
She smiles at the bike. "You've never been an
especially talkative Boy Wonder, but this is a bit
ridiculous, don't you think?"
He gives her his blandest expression. "Maybe
I'm just moody tonight."
Another capital-L Look.
"We all have our issues, Huntress."
"Mm-hm. You're studying me. You always have,
every time we wound up working together. But
now you're being serious about it. What's
You. Maybe. He gives her one of Dick's more
insouciant grins. "That would be telling."
The look she gives him this time is lower-cased
and glittery. "You could always just *ask*
whatever questions you have for me."
No, he really couldn't. He doesn't let his grin slip.
"Where would be the fun in that?"
She rolls her eyes and steps off the bike, tugging
at the tear in her suit. "My kingdom for a safety
"Tape might be safer than that. For now."
"Is that so, Robin Stewart? I don't *carry*
bandages." She stalks off toward their quarry.
And, well, of course not. He *does*, but he's also
observing the Huntress in her natural habitat
Wouldn't want to contaminate the experiment.
He gasses the watch-dogs. They take the roof.
Infra-red gives him a picture of a great big
brownstone, chock full of... a lot of nothing,
Two females that don't move like fighters, one
large male who *does*, one smaller male that's
probably Berelli, because he isn't moving at all.
"Well?" Huntress sounds no more impatient than
is probably usual for her.
"Upper floors clear. I can't get a read on the
"Until we're *in* the house. Let's *go*. Tomorrow
is a school day."
He can't argue there.
He uses his laser to cut a fist-sized chunk out of
a window, unlocks it, opens it, and moves aside.
"You know, Robin. The first thing I'm going to do
when I figure out who you are is call your parents
in for a conference."
"And if I don't have parents?"
He says it lightly, but it stops her. Really, there
are few words more loaded, more *fraught* for
their little society than 'parents.'
He could feel guilty, or he could think about his
own dead mother, or he can do neither and
gesture a bit more forcibly at the window.
The women turn out to be what's probably Mrs.
Berelli, the wife, and Mrs. Berelli, the mother.
Tim gasses them both. Huntress catches them
before they can hit the floor too hard, which is
good, because it means she's ducking when the
bullets start flying. The large male is a
bodyguard with, apparently, suspiciously acute
And a hard head. The batarang Tim bounces
off it barely slows him down. Possibly an
undocumented meta. He tosses a few more,
mainly as a distraction to let him dodge
bullets at will.
A lot of his friends are metahumans, and
mandatory registration would undoubtedly lead
to fascistic horror, considering the current
administration, but he can't say it wouldn't make
his life easier in some respects.
Huntress bolts the guy in the knee. And the
other. There's definitely something to be said
for projectile weapons.
"Robin! Make sure --"
"I'm on Berelli," he says, and takes off, watching
Huntress attack out of the corner of his eye.
He catches Berelli heading down to the basement.
The reason he wasn't moving becomes instantly
clear. He's mobile, but not very. His feet are
swollen and he's panting from pain and exertion
before Tim ever touches him. Perhaps gout.
"Too many rich foods, Mr. Berelli."
He knocks the gun out of the man's shaking
hand, zip-strips him, and closes and locks the
basement door. Just in case.
Berelli wheezes something about a lawyer.
Tim leads him back toward the kitchen, where
the banging and crashing has settled down to
cursing. *Huntress* cursing. He finds her
restraining the potentially meta-goon, who is
unconscious and bleeding on the floor.
"Maria! Ma!" Berelli jerks almost -- almost --
hard enough to get out of Tim's grip.
"They'll be fine, Mr. Berelli," he says.
"Maybe," Huntress says. Her suit is, at this
point, one good yank from being non-existent.
She definitely doesn't dye her hair. He really
should focus. He's the... good cop, right.
He shoves Berelli toward a chair. "They'll be
fine if you tell us what we want to know. I'm
pretty sure Huntress took her medication
"Fuck off, Boy Wonder."
"Though she might not have. It's hard to tell
sometimes. She's excitable. You know how
it is." He shifts his stance until he has his back
to Huntress, and Berelli has a good view of
him, Huntress, and the spreading blood stains
under Mongo the Not Good Enough.
He watches Berelli's eyes as his gaze flickers over
the tableau they've left him. He watches Berelli pant
and sweat. He smells like illness and age.
Huntress growls and shifts behind him.
"I'll tell! I'll tell!"
He does. Dock forty-three, approximate arrival
three-forty-five p.m. He doesn't know who the
couriers will be, but he knows there'll be four of
them, and that they'll arrive in a truck with Fat &
Fillin' markers. Assuming, of course, that Berelli
doesn't make a phone call.
"I'm going to plant a few bugs, Huntress. Berelli
will probably find some of them, and we won't be
able to *stop* him from making that phone
Huntress stands beside him, and grabs Berelli by
the hair. When she cocks her hip, Tim can hear
more fabric tearing. "But we can certainly ruin
his day afterward, Robin."
He pastes on his Scarily Efficient Boy Wonder
face. "Very true."
He does, actually, plant a few bugs.
A few in obvious places, a few in almost-obvious
He isn't, actually, carrying the equipment
necessary to effectively wire the whole house --
even assuming they weren't on a schedule --
but really, Berelli's no Picalo.
He's going to assume he's being watched for
When Tim's done, he kills a few more minutes
checking the computer in the den, but there's
nothing even passworded. This isn't a criminal's
system, and the only thing interesting he finds
is what he's going to hope is the wife's journal,
considering the excruciating detail put into Mr.
Berelli's prowess at cunnilingus.
He would've thought you'd have to have better
lung capacity to be good at that sort of thing.
He shrugs internally and joins Huntress again.
She isn't even *trying* to hold the suit together.
Berelli, to his credit, only has eyes for his
"When you are."
They leave the way they came in. Tim wonders
how fast Huntress will have to drive before the
remains of her suit blow off entirely.
Maybe they'll smack him in the face.
She smells like clean sweat, cordite, and other
people's blood. She feels...
"Where am I dropping you?"
"Somewhere near that restaurant you destroyed
will be fine."
"Mm," she says, and starts the bike.
He isn't entirely surprised when they wind up
back in her neighborhood. She parks the bike
in a garage that's empty save for what he's
pretty sure are Helena Bertinelli's more official
vehicles, and he thinks about making a comment
about the sort of cash she could make if she
allowed other people to use all of those neatly
He thinks about taking his leave, instead. He
could walk out and call the bike to come get
him once he's out of eyeshot.
He doesn't need to be out of eyeshot for that.
He really should let go.
He lets go. And steps off the bike.
"Good-night, Huntress." There. That was almost
She smirks at him. "Aren't you going to help
me with my uniform?"
"I don't think you need any help." She really is
just *straddling* that bike. A part of him is
fully aware what an imbecilic thought that is.
Not a large enough part.
"No," she says. "I don't." She steps off the bike
and stands over him. Her boots aren't heeled,
but the sole gives her another inch of height.
She was already much taller than he is. "So...
I'll just be --"
"You know, Robin, I'm not actually sure how
old you are. But you're pretty obviously a
teenaged boy in *some* ways."
And you're a teacher. "I don't think this is the
Idea, he was going to say. He was definitely
going to say that, and maybe even sound
convincing, but speech is intensely difficult
when your tongue is being sucked on by one
of the few supposed good guys who honestly
This is really more Nightwing's territory.
And he'll say that just as soon as he feels like
being forcibly emasculated. Or when he feels
like stopping this.
Whichever comes first.
She's got one hand in his hair, and the other
pushing on his belt, pushing it up because
she's trying to get to his shorts, and he could
help -- stop -- her. And he will. Just as soon
as he gets *his* hands out of her hair.
Both... hairy places... on her body and he's
definitely blaming this on adrenaline and
criminally impractical uniform design and
she's wet and she makes a *sound* into his
mouth -- something like a growl -- and
shoves him back.
Maybe they're just kissing. That happens,
sometimes. Even to him.
"Take your gauntlets off. They're
He takes his gauntlets off.
She grins at him and there's no reason whatsoever
why he didn't block that leg-sweep, or at least
*dodge* it. There's absolutely no rational reason
why he should let Huntress -- *Huntress* --
straddle him in her parking garage and yank his
shorts and tights and jock down and -- "Oh,
Her new mask *does* add a certain something
to her smirk. She gives him a squeeze and then
grabs both edges of the tear on her suit. And
"No one lives here but me, Boy Wonder. And
you knew that."
"I'd say something about the cat getting your
tongue, but why don't we leave that bitch out of
"Mm-hmm." She pulls a condom out of the bodice
of her suit. "You just focus on moaning
He does, because while he *could* say something
snide about a vigilante who doesn't carry
bandages, but *does* carry condoms, he's also
really sure that wouldn't be the most pragmatic
use of his -- "oh, *fuck* --"
"So you *do* know a few bad words," she says,
and *flexes* around him. "That's promising."
"Glad you approve." Really, really, *really* glad,
and she laughs.
And *rides* him.
His mask-feed is still on. She *has* to know he
has one, and she *has* to know someone might
be *watching* this and the way she's looking
at his face... she knows.
She so completely, totally... knows.
The noises coming out of his mouth are incredibly
Tim makes a command decision not to care.
And moans. A lot. She seems to appreciate it.
After he comes, she straddles his face.
She definitely appreciates the moaning then.
He makes it back to the Cave before dawn. If he's
honest with himself, the ride back was, at best, a
blur. It's entirely possible he'd ridden through a
riot. Or over one.
The important thing...
He's not sure what the important thing is.
He finds Bruce at the console, typing...
something. There's a tension in the line of his
shoulders that he isn't going to ask about. Tim
strips and heads for the showers. When he's
clean and in street clothes, Bruce is still at the
console, but he's turned the chair around.
And is looking at him.
"She'll make a good operative. Suggest to Oracle
to have Canary suggest -- *suggest* -- that
Huntress wear a sturdier. Uniform. In fact, it
would probably be a good idea to encourage
Canary to become Huntress' confidante. They're
both invested in having a certain... flair to their
work. Canary can show her how to do it while
still not getting herself or anyone else killed."
"Mm." A brief pause. "Anything... else?"
Tim looks at Bruce.
Bruce looks right back.
"No," Tim says. "Though you might consider
sending Nightwing next time."
"Mm," Bruce says.
Right. "Good morning."
Tim heads upstairs. Alfred will drop him off near
home, he'll sneak in, he'll catch two hours of
sleep before school, and everything will be fine.
"Something amusing, Master Timothy?" The
expression on Alfred's face is gently questioning.
Tim swallows down as much of the laughter as
he can. "Just a joke. I heard. Tonight."
Alfred raises an eyebrow at him.
Tim gives Alfred his best Robin-is-a-normal-and-
"Indeed," Alfred says, and puts on his chauffeur's
He was trying. Really. Really, really trying. It's a
good thing not to be Robin anymore. No one
shooting at him, no Bruce actively trying to twist
his brain into new and interesting shapes, several
nights worth of sleep, no staff twisting and
singing in his hand, no wind rushing through his
hair as he --
It's a *good* thing.
And so he was trying, and doing really well at
trying -- being awake in school and letting
Bernard come over and give Dana a makeover
and *everything* -- but, well. Hostage situation
at Central *and* a partial breakout from Arkham
*and* Oracle was still missing and it's just a
shame to know precisely how to sneak out of
your parents' brownstone and never use that
And it would be nearly criminal not to take
advantage of the garage Bruce had bought
*just* for him to store his -- regrettably stripped
down -- bike.
And it would be downright insane not to...
All right, so he isn't really trying anymore, and
rationalization is *beneath* him, and the Cave
smells so much like home that it makes his
He carefully files 'disturbingly powerful reaction
to the smell of bats, computer equipment, and
motor oil' under 'Things To Deal With Later'
and heads for the console.
Nightwing's feed shows him still en route from
Bludhaven. Batman's feed shows people being
injured, as does Batgirl's. Good enough.
Steph's -- *Robin's* feed shows the large behind
of some woman in a skirt and close metal walls.
She's leading people out of Central through the
vents. Good call, presuming that they hold.
He checks the monitor and calls up the security
cameras and sees... a lot of cops down. He tries
not to recognize them. The next screen shows
nothing. And the next, and the next, and the
next after that. The last two show static-y
images. A lot of people moving, a lot of people
armed. No audio.
He switches back to checking the feeds.
Nightwing is still twenty miles out.
They don't need him. They could *use* him.
"I can't say I'm surprised to see you here, Master
He whirls around and then focuses on not
looking as guilty as he feels. "Alfred. I was
"Of course." It's amazing how much amusement
and skepticism Alfred can pack into two words
and a -- slightly -- raised eyebrow.
"It's just..." Tim gestures at the monitors.
"Duty has a habit of calling whether or not we're
supposed to be listening for the phone, Master
"Heh. That, too." He runs his hand over the
nearest keyboard. The keys feel so *right*
against his fingers.
Which is mind-bogglingly ridiculous, because it's
a *keyboard*. It's *supposed* to feel good
under your fingertips. Probably not this good.
He files that thought away, too.
"I don't suppose Bruce kept... er."
"A spare uniform?" The eyebrow goes up a little
farther. "I have no doubt. Master Bruce, as I'm
sure you're aware, discards nothing. However,
your old uniforms -- and Master Dick's, and
Master *Jason's*, for that matter -- have
always been secreted away beyond my
Tim raises his own eyebrow.
Alfred coughs. "I lack the combination to that
That's infinitely more believable. And problematic.
Of course, *Stephanie's* spares are... right
She's a little taller than he is, but not much.
Their builds are similar. Her *feet* are smaller,
but his motorcycle boots are... suitable enough.
"Oh, I *see*. Have you given any thought to
how you'll deal with the matter of Miss
Tim blinks. It's true. The tunics are made to fit
perfectly over Steph's chest. And Steph's chest
has always been... well. On the other hand, the
Cave has an extensive selection of items for use
in the aid of disguise.
Alfred sighs. "Indeed. I don't suppose your father
has disposed of his gun collection?"
"We'll just neglect to mention this to him, Alfred."
"Of course, young sir."
And really, it's not especially challenging. He'd
never spent as much time in this *sort* of
disguise as Dick had, but learning how to do it had
been just another part of his training. He's willing
to bet those times when Dick had to go out in
*Barbara's* old uniform were much more
Never mind the lack of comfortable saline
falsies -- Barbara's uniform involved *heels*.
Of course, Barbara's uniform also involved
*pants*. Still, the skirt is short enough to move
around in, and armored, and since the *tights*
are nowhere near as armored as his used to
Alfred helps him with his wig. Steph hasn't worn
her hair like this in... ever, but he really doesn't
want his parents seeing a dark-haired Robin on
the news while he's conspicuously absent.
"Is my headband straight?"
"And my lipstick?"
"Quite fetching, I'm sure. Do be careful."
He isn't sure why Alfred is rubbing the bridge of
his nose like that. He has other things to worry
He leaves his bike and takes one of the ones that
*haven't* been stripped of everything interesting.
It's black, of course, but he's reasonably sure no
one is going to be paying that much attention.
And he has sincerely missed the purr of a
Bat-built engine between his legs. Of course,
there's no place on Steph's suit to stash a staff,
but it fits snug between his side and the belt,
and he really desperately needs to feel less happy
about riding into an urban war zone.
Because, really, the *reason* why none of them
are hunting down the escapees is that far, far
too many of them are helpless not to converge
on a Central in chaos. He kneecaps Zsasz
without leaving the bike, but by the time he
comes around for another pass, he has a knife
to a woman's throat.
He ditches and the bike falls and stalls. Half an
hour without ruining a Bat-paint job. Possibly
a new record.
"I heard Bats had taken to adopting little girls.
I didn't think they'd be this cute." Zsasz does
an impressive job of humping his hostage even
with a busted knee.
And then Tim thinks about Zsasz saying
something like that to *Steph*, and doesn't do
much thinking at all.
He zip-strips the guy and leaves him to the
tender mercies of his former hostage. He's
pretty sure that's allowed.
The bike is fine. He keeps moving.
And fighting. Three different people hit on him,
but he's pretty smudged up and rank with
smoke and gunpowder. There probably
would've been more if he was clean. When he
catches up with Nightwing, he has to work a little
harder, as Dick doesn't fight nearly as well while
He makes a note to e-mail Gannon Malloy some
of the less incriminating of the incriminating
photos in his collection and keeps moving.
By the time he actually *gets* to the main
building, it's all over but the maiming Batgirl
and Batman are far more qualified at handing
out than he'll ever be. He helps the paramedics,
He's not entirely sure how many of them notice
that there are two blonde, apparently female
Robins helping them find injured people, though
sooner or later someone is going to notice the
way one of them keeps stumbling and staring
whenever she passes the other.
He senses a Talk in his near future, and files
that away for later, too.
His wig itches. He'd have to give some serious
thought to lining the thing's scalp with something
that breathes more if he was ever going to do
Which he isn't.
At all. No matter how perfect an alibi it will be to
be able to tell his Dad "no, of course I wasn't out
fighting crime last night. Robin's an incredibly
stacked blonde girl who absolutely isn't Steph. At
His file is getting much too full.
By the time everything looks like it's mostly
under control, Tim can feel the approaching
dawn in his bones. If vampires didn't actually
exist, someone would have had to make them
up just to describe the feeling, the exhausting
*ache* of it that lets you know that seeing the
sun is just going to make you want to sleep.
The way it feels perfectly right *and* perfectly
wrong, simultaneously. He's missed the adrenaline
He finds a handy shadow and enjoys it for a little
while, checking to make sure the remote to make
sure the cycle he'd borrowed is still in one piece.
Steph's approach is more than loud enough for
him to hear it. He's definitely not going to tell her
about it tonight.
He nods and follows her. The roof of *Central*
looks pretty well-populated. They swing a little
Her landings are even better than they were the
last time they flew together. It's been too long.
He files it away.
She glares at him.
She glares a little more.
He considers making a joke.
She snorts. "You know, when I bitched you out
for wanting to quit before, I really didn't expect
this to be the way you came *back*."
"I couldn't get to any of my old uniforms."
She waves a hand. "I figured. I'd never wear my
hair like that, you know."
She snickers and pokes him in the chest. "Do I
even want to *know* what you've got under
And... hmm. "Probably not, no."
She gives him a long, thorough look. "I was actually
a little offended when the suit B -- Batman designed
for me came with a *skirt*, but I have to admit...
it totally works on you."
Tim grins. "You don't look so bad yourself."
"Heh. Would it just be *too* homoerotic if we
made out like this?"
"Compared to all the sparring you've done with
Batgirl? Compared to the fact that Nightwing --
who approves of my lifestyle choice, by the way --
wore panties for ten years?"
She giggles and throws her arms around his neck.
"You didn't *have* to wear my lipstick."
"I'll buy my own for... er." He's not doing this
again. He really isn't. "S -- Robin..."
"Uh huh. Shut up."
It probably says something important that kissing
Steph is the most awkward-feeling thing he's
done tonight, but he chooses to believe it's just
because he'd done a particularly good job of not
letting any of the targets get close.
Steph's pretty close.
"Mmm," she says, and presses closer still,
rubbing her chest against Tim's falsies.
He considers pointing out that the level of
homoeroticism is increasing dramatically, and
then he just kisses her.
Steph gives him a nose kiss before pulling
back. "You taste like lipstick. Hm."
"You taste like lipstick pretty often, Girl Wonder."
She grins at him. "I like that."
He knows. And she hadn't wanted to hear anything
about how beautiful she looked when she was
pregnant, but... "You're really gorgeous like this."
Her grin turns into a smirk and she twists out of
his arms. And fixes Tim's hair. "Yeah. I totally
And then there's a hand on Tim's shoulder that
absolutely *isn't* Steph's, but there's a hand on
Steph's shoulder, *too*, and... Bruce.
He convinces his heart rate to slow down with a
massive act of will. Steph doesn't look like she's
doing much better.
"Er," he says, and looks up. One of the ears on
the cowl is gone. Probably shot clean off. It
wouldn't be the first time.
Bruce is smiling. A little. At both of them.
"Um." Steph isn't -- quite -- squirming. "Hi,
Batman. We were just --"
"Good work tonight, Robins."
And then he jumps off the roof.
"Well," Tim says. He doesn't really have the words
that come after that.
He really doesn't like the sound of that 'Hmm.'
Not even a little. Really. "Look --"
Steph smirks at him and presses a gauntleted
thumb to his mouth. "I really think you're going
to need a deeper shade of red for your
"But this one matches the tunic so nicely. Er."
That wasn't what he wanted to say.
The smirk fades off Steph's face really, really
quickly. "Matches the... tunic. Um, T --"
He kisses Steph again. There's no reason for
self-defense not to be as pleasant as possible.
He'll deal with everything else... later.
There are sixteen screen names on this buddy filter.
Fourteen of them are people who go to his high
school. One of them is his own screen name. One
of them... isn't.
It's the non-official filter, though he should
probably stop thinking of it that way... a month
It isn't as though he isn't coping with life away
from the suit. He's actually doing better than he
would've thought, and it definitely helps that the
human body is, actually, *designed* to sleep at
Still, of the fifteen people he could be chatting
with right now, only one of them has his
attention. The other fourteen probably don't
even know he's monitoring -- casually -- their
He could at least chat with Ives.
He will when he signs on with his *other*
TDrake06: I'm still thinking about your question.
He isn't, but online situations often demand a
certain degree of subterfuge. Even officially.
Derby57: Think faster. Or, actually, don't. The
point, in situations like these, is to type the
first thing that comes to mind.
TDrake06: You're assuming I'm interested in
Derby57: Aren't you?
He is, actually. Just not his own. The '57' could
very well refer to five feet, seven inches. The
'Derby' brings to mind the word 'Roller.' The
idea of coincidence falls apart considering just
how many blind alleys tracking Derby57's IP
address has led him down so far.
He doesn't actually expect to get anywhere at
*He's* not that good.
Derby57: Tick tock.
TDrake06: Am I boring you?
Derby57: You will be.
TDrake06: So you know the future. What *is*
the word for someone who can do that?
Derby57: Prescience isn't one of my talents,
No, it really isn't. Considering how she'd spent
several weeks as a 'guest' of the government
a few weeks back.
TDrake06: What are your talents?
Derby57: You're still avoiding the question.
TDrake06: All right. I'd prefer it if you were
male. Tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed. Built.
Call me on that, he thinks. I dare you.
Derby57: Have a type, do you?
TDrake06: Sometimes. What would you
Derby57: My last lover looked quite a lot like
As do several million people currently walking
the *planet*. He should've been more
Derby57: It didn't work out.
You don't say.
TDrake06: Poor dear. He must've been a
bastard. Cheated on you, maybe?
Derby57: Maybe. ;-)
Really, he'd like to ask. Why is she doing this.
What is she getting *out* of this? At his least
charitable, he wonders if his 'family' is just
floundering without him around to be the
straight man. The *target*. He knows it
doesn't really work that way.
After all, they have Steph now.
TDrake06: So I take it you *don't* want
someone who fills those particular physical
requirements too closely.
Derby57: Repeating oneself is best saved for the
imbeciles in your life, I find.
TDrake06: Have many of those?
Derby57: Too. But to answer your question... I
haven't entirely decided. Perhaps a blond(e).
Someone cheerful. Open. Young at heart.
He narrows his eyes.
TDrake06: Too 'young at heart' and you'll wind up
Derby57: I'll take that under advisement.
You *do* that. He honestly used to think of
Barbara as the sane one, the *safe* one. A safety
that had nothing to do with her paralysis and
everything to do with what she had done with it.
A life beyond capes and masks, beyond beating
and maiming people on a nightly basis, beyond
mind games for the sake of themselves.
He looks forward to the day when he can look
back two or three years and not see a child he
wants to strangle for the child's own good. Oracle
*defines* masks and paranoia. Oracle has ruined
more lives than Batman ever will. And Oracle...
Derby57: You seem adrift, Mr. Drake.
TDrake06: Do I?
Derby57: You're online as often as I am -- and
you're not getting paid for it.
Derby is a 'computer consultant.'
TDrake06: I have a lot of homework.
Derby57: Please. Does anyone really believe that
children use the internet to help with their
TDrake06: Enough of them do for *my* purposes.
Derby57: Mm. Still. Have you considered an
afterschool job of some sort?
He wonders if anyone ever became a supervillain
because their mentors and/or partners made them
consider homicide one too many times.
TDrake06: Are you offering?
Derby57: What are *your* marketable talents?
TDrake06: You'd be surprised.
Derby57: A mystery wrapped in an enigma
wrapped in a... high school student. I find myself
TDrake06: Perhaps if I dyed my hair?
Derby57: Ah, so you *aren't* a blond.
TDrake06: Not this week.
He feels himself smiling and it makes his stomach
roil. This isn't supposed to be fun. This isn't
supposed to be...
He doesn't expect to get anything useful out of
'Derby.' He doesn't expect to get the truth, and
he isn't entirely sure what he would do with it
if he did. 'Derby' had hunted him down, and
seems content to poke and prod at every sore
spot he has.
Derby57: There's a certain power in disguise.
'Content' is the understatement of the century.
'Content' is... he wonders if he's going to vomit.
TDrake06: I can't do this.
TDrake06: Talk to *you*. Like this. I have a
phone number. I have a phone. Right here. If you
still have those cameras planted in my house, you
can probably see it right now. Look at me.
Pointing. I can tell Dana you're my new girlfriend.
I honestly think she'd be relieved. I can... I don't
know what I can do, frankly, but it isn't this.
There's a pause. A long pause.
TDrake06: Thirty seconds and I disappear. You
know I can.
He makes a point of being ostentatious about
taking his hand off the mouse and moving his
wrist into view.
Derby57: You've already done a remarkably good
job of disappearing, Tim.
TDrake06: I'm right here.
Derby57: In your bedroom, in your parents' house,
and you haven't done a thing about the nails your
father put in your window-frame.
Nails. Well. He covers his mouth to keep the
sound of his laughter down to a manageable level
until he gets control again.
TDrake06: It seemed prudent to leave them there
for the time being.
Derby57: And I presume it seemed prudent to
leave *yourself* there, too? It's been three
months, Tim. Just how long *were* you grounded
TDrake06: Until college. Although I'm not entirely
sure I'm not supposed to take correspondence
Derby57: The United States Military invests
several hundred thousand dollars in the training
of every individual soldier. The United States
Military is made up of misers and fools.
TDrake06: So you're calling in what's 'owed?'
Derby57: Maybe I just miss you.
TDrake06: Stick with the dollars and cents,
Roller Derby. It's more in character.
Derby57: Fine. You owe us.
TDrake06: I gave you all years, and blood, and
more near-escapes from death than anyone
Derby57: I never thought you were afraid of a
little hard work.
A little... Tim licks his teeth, and counts to ten.
TDrake06: All right, Derby. You've got me.
You've given more than any of us. Perhaps your
father could teach mine a thing or two about
turning a blind eye to the rank *insanity* of our
lives, and I can pick up my 'afterschool job'
where I left off until someone puts a bullet in
Derby57: Fuck you.
TDrake06: Isn't that what we were leading up
to? A little cyber to sweeten the deal and twist
my head around a little more? Go on, Derby.
Be Dick for me. I'll correct you if -- when -- you
miss on the characterization.
Derby57: Just tell me one thing, Tim.
TDrake06: I'm listening.
Derby57: Tell me you wouldn't rather be having
this conversation -- or any other -- with my voice
in your ear while you beat the living shit out of
all the bad, bad people you can pretend have
our faces. Or maybe *your* father's.
Tim breathes. Slowly. Carefully.
Derby57: After all, if you can't lie online, where
can you lie?
TDrake06: Apparently, in your employ.
Derby57: How about that.
TDrake06: Go make the world safe for truth,
justice, and the pathological liar way, Derby. I
have a family to be with tonight.
Derby57: It must be nice to be able to afford
to tell one family to fuck off.
Tim turns away from the monitor and faces the
small, almost entirely unnoticeable hole at the
northeast corner of his ceiling. He takes a
breath and lets everything show on his face.
"I know you can read lips at least as well as I
can, assuming you don't have an audio feed.
"I don't want to lose any of you. Not even... not
any of you.
"I *do* miss being... who I was. And I do owe
you. All of you.
"I'll make you a deal. You figure out a way to
make this work that doesn't involve screwing
my *actual* family over any more than I
already have, and I'm in. Until then...
"I think the nails add a certain ambience."
When he turns back to his computer, 'Derby'
has signed off.
Ives is still online, though.
He signs on as TimD06.
They completely fail to rip each other to shreds,
or even play any mind games with each other.
He doesn't get bored.
There's a vast difference between what you want to
have happen and what you know *will* happen.
The thought is a blatantly obvious one, and always
has been. When he was a child, and even when he
was a teenager, he put a great deal of time and
effort into pretending the difference wasn't so
great when he wasn't ignoring the question entirely.
That sort of denial and willful ignorance tends to be
a shameful and even dangerous in his line of...
work. Still, it had kept him alive, and some
reasonable facsimile of sane. It had helped to get
him *here*, and so he can't entirely chastise
himself for it.
The best psychiatrists in the world -- the ones who
are smart enough to never even try to work in
Gotham, where psychiatry is equally as dangerous
a profession as police work and cab driving --
have written whole treatises on the matter.
The worst, most self-destructive coping
mechanisms are often just that -- the mechanisms
a sick or injured mind creates in order to keep the
body alive during times of immense stress.
In that light, a little denial is far less dire than some
of the alternatives.
Of course, the coping mechanisms he uses now are,
by necessity, quite different, but the concept
remains the same.
Batgirl announces her presence, as usual, with the
deeper quality of silence she brings. And then she
scuffs her foot on the floor, deliberately, to let Tim
know where she is. He turns away from the
She pulls off her cowl and smiles at him.
There's a streak of white in her hair that has more
to do with an acid attack than age. The age is in
her eyes with her smile.
When he was young, he never would've considered
that anyone would *want* to go by the name
'Batgirl' once they hit their twenties, unless they
suffered from some horrible blend of vanity and
Cass doesn't need any other names, and she has
always used 'Cass' more out of courtesy to the
rest of them than anything else.
She shakes her head, which Tim has long since
learned means 'nothing you need to work on,' as
opposed to 'quiet patrol.'
She slips her right arm out from under her cape.
At some point before announcing herself, she'd
removed her glove and pushed back her sleeve.
The bandaging job is expert, of course. The
blood stains are dark.
"Early in the evening," he says.
She doesn't bother to nod.
She tilts her head in thought for a moment before
shaking it. He'll wash it and use the organic
sealant. Depending on her mood, she'll either let
him rebandage it or sweep away into the shadows
to do it herself.
Rhythm, routine, mechanism.
She points at him. What did you tonight?
The thing is, he'd still been Robin -- the *first*
time -- when Cass had developed both verbal
language and speech. She can speak perfectly
well, and her grasp of idiom is more than
It's a choice.
Once upon a time, he'd spent time wondering
whether to be insulted or relieved by the fact
that she rarely spoke to *him*. He's had time
to figure a few things out.
"Mostly the applied use of fear against troubled
youth. Another visit out to Arkham with the
security measures I've designed. They're going
to ignore those, too. Dick is slightly closer to
being able to buy the property. The Birds are
going to *make* it possible. Figure three weeks
to a month before we start playing forepeople."
Cass points to herself and then back at him.
"You don't actually think I'm going to leave it in
the hands of people who *don't* belong to us,
Her eyes crinkle.
Tim grins back.
She holds her palm parallel to her face, and
moves it down.
She raises an eyebrow.
"None. You'd know if I was lying."
She looks away for a moment, before tapping her
forehead twice, and then her chest.
Routine and ritual and mechanism. He pushes
out of the chair and wraps his arms around her.
She smells like she always has -- leather, sweat,
and blood. A wisp of hair from her ponytail
tickles his nose. He nuzzles it aside and presses
something like a kiss to her ear.
After a moment, she hugs him back.
"I miss him, too."
There are a lot of ways to answer that. She's
thinking of the Bats on their chests. With his boots
off and hers on, they're touching as much as the
rest of them.
"Do," he says, and squeezes her a little tighter
until he can feel her breathing regulate. And then
he lets go, and stands still while she searches
his eyes, his mouth, the line of his shoulders and
He looks her in the eye. "I'm not dying tonight,
Cass. One night, but not this one. And after
me... there'll be another."
Her smile is rueful, and more than half a frown.
He gives her his own. "I'm working on that, too."
She raises her uninjured arm and taps her wrist. It's
bare, but that isn't the point.
He raises his own hands in surrender.
She points to the console.
He sits back down.
And goes back to the search.
Within a few moments, she sits down tailor-style
next to his chair. They aren't touching, quite, but
it's still comforting. He'd stopped trying to add
one for her years ago. And stopped being serious
about trying to some months before that.
After a while, he'd really just been curious to see
how many *different* ways she could find to
There were -- and are -- better uses for Bruce's
Dick had taken precisely as long to get used to
being Bruce's primary heir as could be expected.
They'd all had to pretty much *sit* on him to
get him to do the business side of being the
heir even a fraction as much as Bruce ever had.
And that was *after* Pistolera had shot out both
of his knees.
Dick had been...
None of them have given enough time to Dick.
There's something more than a little sick about
the fact that Tim's reasonably sure Dick hadn't
actually noticed the neglect on anything like a
It serves the mission.
The Batsuit in the case between Jason's and
Steph's would undoubtedly approve. Tim spends
a lot of time telling himself he doesn't, too. Just
Cass jabs him in the thigh.
"Noted," he says, and opens the files he's been
working on for... he can admit that it's been too
He can admit that the Caves are too empty, and
that he's Batman, and that Batman needs a Robin
the way Bruce Wayne had to have an heir. If
nothing else, Cass needs to know that there will
always *be* a Batman, and he needs Cass to
feel... secure, if not happy.
He doesn't really think Tim Drake needs a
He hadn't been especially fond of teenagers
when he *was* one.
It's entirely possible that there's a measure of
conflict here. Just a little. He swallows back the
smile that wants to be on his face.
Between him, Dick, the Birds, and Cass, the
putative teenager will be the most highly trained
potential psychotic -- he sighs.
She doesn't jab him again.
He can feel her eyes on him.
And really, what happens if he *does* wind up
needing the little bundle of hormones and
potential homicide? What happens when he, she, or it
dies before *he* gets to do so?
His Batsuit has nothing in common with Bruce's
outside of the color, the Bat, and the general shape
of the cowl. It weighs a ton just the same. Except
when it feels more natural than his skin.
He can't afford to need anyone else. He... he
"We haven't even decided whether or not Robin
should be a meta."
The next jab is going to hit a pressure point.
The search programs he's designed for this
purpose have nothing -- and no one -- new to
add. He attaches the files and mails them to
Dick and the Birds.
He prints out a hard copy for Cass.
"I'm not going to choose. You... I trust you. All
Cass puts her hand on his thigh. He can't feel
the heat of it through her glove and his armor,
but he can feel the strength.
He puts his face in his hands.
After a while, she moves, and spins the chair
around. And straddles his lap. He allows
himself a few more moments to press his
fingertips against his eyes before letting his hands
fall to his sides. He looks into Cass' eyes.
She cups his face and kisses him, ungently. She
never closes her eyes for this, any of it. It makes
perfect sense, of course. She wants to be sure
that everything she does is desired.
He lets his own eyes close.
Once upon a time, he wanted to know if she'd
ever done this with Bruce. If this was just one
more thing whoever wore the suit when *he*
got himself killed had to look forward to. It only
sounds cheap and sick.
Cass' relationship with the Bat is actually
deeply, *meaningfully* sick.
He doesn't want to know anymore.
Ignorance allows him the freedom to occasionally
lie to himself about it. Conflict and lies and
secrets and Tim Drake has a beautiful brownstone
he never actually sleeps in, and Batman and
Batgirl have a half-dozen Caves full of watchful
She strips her top off and presses his face
between her breasts, over the invisible Bat, over
The mechanism of need.
He breathes in the smell of her sweat and kisses
her there. I love you, too.
She stands up and walks toward their bed.