Then I will warm you
by Te
July 24, 2005

Disclaimers: Nothing here is mine.

Spoilers: Various AU-ized ones for older storylines.

Summary: There is strength in adaptation.

Ratings Note: Not entirely kid-safe. Contains content
some readers may find disturbing.

Author's Note: Fifth in the Intimates series. In terms of the
timeline, this starts right around the middle of "A tighter
confinement" and "Maybe thousands of years." Like the
others, this won't make sense without the ones which
came before. Also, there's a bit of canon timeline stretching
in here which may or may not be noticeable. Notes on that
at the end.

Acknowledgments: To Betty and Jack for audiencing,
encouragement *and* patience. To Mael, tzikeh, and
Corinna for timely translation help.


Not yet, he says, but he can feel Oracle pulling back, pulling
*away*, and there's a part of him which doesn't -- can't --
entirely cope with that, despite the fact that it happens all
the time.

Tim knows, quite well, that he has been... conditioned to
their state of being. It's the nature of adaptability -- judging
by everything *he's* read. And while he can understand,
more or less, why *Oracle* wouldn't have expected such

It's problematic, on a number of levels.

After all -- he has *also* conditioned himself to Oracle's,
for lack of a better term, stability. And he isn't sure how he
feels about having the freedom to... doubt, however much
it implies about Oracle's attachment to his self.

He isn't sure how he feels about the attachment.

He isn't --

The scrape of Jason's -- Robin's -- boot against the brick
facing of the building they're on is a sound too regular
and *known* to be ignored. The part of him which Oracle
can see, right now (or could see, if she looked), is
undoubtedly small -- in motion even as Tim crouches right

He's *good* at stillness, and at remaining unseen. At this
point, it's much too late to try to run -- especially since
Batgirl would probably see it as her duty (or perhaps just
fun) to hunt him down. He doesn't need to make this any
*more* of a repeat of what...

He's met Jason *twice*, now. Oracle had -- she'd drilled it
into him more times than he could count, pointing out the
mistakes he'd made in the past when he'd followed Batman
and Robin -- and Batman and the *new* Robin -- just for
fun. All the ways he had been, in a way, *asking* to be
caught. All the mistakes, and --

"There you are."

"Here I am," he says, feeling like an especially dim parrot.

Robin moves across the roof -- closer -- with a gait he
probably doesn't realize is menacing. Probably.

There's violence in the slow, deliberate pace of his steps,
even though all the mask-feeds and footage Tim has seen
offer a Jason who doesn't stalk so much as *attack*.
Speed and brutality, as opposed to grace and precision --
or exactitude and brutality, for that matter, and --

"Where are you, kid?" The tone of Jason's voice is easy
enough -- calm enough, as these things go, but there's
suspicion in the way the mask is settled on his face.

"Right here. Just distracting myself."

"With... Oracle?"

In retrospect, the suspicion should have been entirely
predictable. "No," Tim says. There's something horribly
wrong in the fact that Jason knows. Something --

"Then with *what*, Avatar?" Jason folds his arms over his
chest. It's one of his most thoughtlessly intimidating stances,
highlighting as it does the thick, corded muscle of his
forearms and --

He's waiting. "With you. Actually." He *is* supposed to be
honest. Isn't he? Or was that only for Batgirl?

It makes Jason frown a little in -- Tim is almost sure that's
surprise. He's never seen it on Jason's face before, not
without a certain degree of apprehension (the availability
of uncensored mask-feeds has lost Tim the ability to
enjoy horror films on all but the most intellectual and
aesthetic levels), but it seems like it would fit.

When he surprises or intrigues Oracle, all he has to do is
wait for her to know... to know him. This is different. He
has to remember that. "I was... considering your movement
style and the way in which it relates to the way you fight."

And Jason -- actually steps *back*. The wrongness returns,
the confusion and... and *roil* of fitful things beneath his
surfaces. Because there's something childish in wanting to
be known. Something that doesn't -- shouldn't -- still
belong to Avatar. Even though there are perfectly valid
reasons why Jason's revulsion would be problematic.

Tim swallows. "I'm sorry. Did I... was it something I said?"

Jason stares at him for a long, difficult moment. It should
be hypocritical to resent the white-out lenses of Jason's
domino. It probably is.

"Robin --"

The laugh is -- surprising. "I'm pretty sure that's the most
syllables you've ever used at one time with me. I was
starting to wonder if you *could* really talk."

Well, they have only met twice. Only... Tim feels himself
shifting, embarrassed and embarrassingly, and there's
no real comfort in the fact that he knows his avatar is
making even more of a spectacle of itself.

"Or if you were just a -- heh -- meat puppet."

His cowl is armored but not, precisely, padded. He really
needs to avoid banging his head against things. "I -- er."

"Which is, actually," Jason says, reaching out -- for
*him* -- without anything resemble caution or pause,
"*one* of the things Oracle suggested I ask *you*

"Er," he says again, brilliantly, and watches his hand being
clasped in Jason's for long enough that he almost forgets
to stand.

"Apparently it's a joke between you two?"

"I... well. Yes, it is."

And it's not precisely a surprise -- even a little one -- that
Jason is looking at him with (im)patience, again, but...

"It's... not easy to explain. The joke."

"Well, I figured," Jason says, smiling a little. "Jokes never
*are*. That's kind of their point." The punch to Tim's
shoulder is brief, and relatively light, and probably won't
bruise. Probably. "But I think you can *guess* why I'd
kind of *need* you to try to explain this one. Avatar."

There's a part of his brain -- terribly large and insistent --
which is being large and insistent about the word 'need,'
and the stress on it, and the fact that Jason -- probably --
wouldn't be able to tell if Tim just --

"Come on. I'm asking here."

And if there's perhaps a little too... *much* in Jason's voice
for something like this, then... Tim doesn't know. "We...
well, both of us have spent a lot of time with. Computers.
I tend to be a bit more analog in my tastes than Oracle,
however, and... er. Well, with the implants --"

Jason winces. "Right, okay. So you guys... joke. About this."

"The alternative seems... difficult. Like it would be difficult.
I mean."

"Heh... well." And Jason doesn't look away, even though
the tone in his voice, right now, is most like that of people
who *do* look away. (Kord, or Huntress, especially.
Sometimes Dinah.) "Correct me if I'm being *insane* here,
or something, but --"

"You think it should be difficult."

"No, I..." Jason laughs again, and runs a hand back through
his hair. It's a gesture Tim hasn't seen -- especially -- often,
but it's the same. His new gauntlets have more texturing
than (Dick's) the old ones, and his hair catches and
tangles almost audibly.


"No, wait, yeah. Yeah, I do. But... I guess if you're *gonna*
do shit like this, you might as well be able to laugh about

"I would have thought you would be familiar..." Tim bites
his lip. It doesn't seem like it would be a remotely good
idea to call certain aspects of history to attention, and he
could bury himself for the impulse that made him open
his mouth.

"What?" Jason's eyes are narrow. "What would you have
thought about me?"

There's a great... *deal* of subtext there. Not unexpected --
*only* Oracle would have reacted so positively to his...
hobbies. "It's nothing."

The laugh, this time, is mostly humorless.

Exasperated, Tim thinks. He needs to do better. He
needs --

"I think what's freaking me -- and Nightwing -- out the
most, here, is that you've been *here*, all this time... how
long *have* you been working with Oracle?"

And how much do I know about you? "Thirty-five months.

"Jesus --"

"I trained for quite a while, before I was allowed... out."

It doesn't seem to make Jason any more... plussed. "What,
did she keep you in a *box*? Come on, kid, how the hell
did you... I mean... shit." Another laugh, and Jason moves
forward again, the smirk on his face almost...

Almost inviting.

"How the fuck did we *miss* you?"

You were supposed to. "Well. I am small for my age."

"You... holy shit. You *do* make jokes."

"Oracle did mention it to you. I believe."

The narrow look this time is... *different*. He can't quite
tell how --  and Jason is tapping on his goggles.


"I'm trying to figure out what a smirk looks like on your
face, kid. Because it's *got* to be there now. Right?"

Jason's finger traces down and over Tim's cowl. Not slow,
or... not slow. There's actually a great deal of armor
below the goggles, less for protection -- if Avatar is close
enough to danger to require protection, Avatar *isn't*
doing his job -- than for the ways in which the stiffness
of the material hides contours. Irrelevant, perhaps, for a
Robin who already knows his face.

"Hm," Jason says, and his fingers aren't -- quite -- at the
right place to disable the alarms on his cowl, allowing it
to be pulled off.

He could help. He could -- Jason wants to see his *face*
again, and it doesn't matter why. It doesn't. But -- Jason's
fingers are still searching, casually. Tim can hear it easier
than he can feel it, and...

"Man, I shouldn't be surprised that this is hard to get up.
How did I do this before --"

"I'm human," Tim... 'blurts' is, unfortunately, the best word
for it. And before, Tim hadn't had time to *set* the locks
and alarms. "Really. I know it doesn't seem... I know it's."
He frowns -- he can feel himself do it behind the cowl.
"I'm human," he says again, weakly.

Jason's fingers are still on the side of his throat and his
mouth is still open, a little, before he swallows -- his
cape isn't high enough to hide it -- and pulls away,
leaving Tim's cowl in place. "Yeah, so the next time I
bitch you out about protocol you can totally kick me in
the nads or something." Jason's smile is rueful. "Sorry,

"It's... it's all right --"

"Really *not*," Jason says, stepping away again and
laughing more. "Jesus, it's not like I'd ever do that to
anyone but a damned supervillain."

"I'm not that, either --"

"Yeah, I *get* that. I do. Really." Jason scrubs a hand
through his hair again. "Mostly."

"I was just going to tell you. Er."

"Your name?"

And -- he *knows* Jason is joking, he does. It's just that
he's joking here, up close, and Tim had never really thought
he would... hear it. See it. "Tim Drake."

"I -- whoa. Really?"

Oracle had *said* it would be his choice. Of course, it would
probably be better if he could point to exactly when he'd
*made* the choice, with reasoning and logic behind him.

"Heh. She did say I should just ask you..." Jason shakes his
head. "Why am I surprised? She wouldn't have said it if she
didn't know you would, right?"

"It was... my choice," Tim says, and he doesn't need the
memory of Oracle's avatar's amusement to know that his
own, somewhere within, is especially small and
poorly-realized. Especially because it seems to be taking
Jason a long time to say anything.

At all.

He doesn't know how to fill the silence with anything but
his own... he doesn't know. Maybe, possibly, it's enough to
just tilt his head up a little. To will the facelessness of his
face into something which would, perhaps, imply...

"So... Tim."


"Well, I mean, what --"

It's difficult to be sure which happens first, even though,
logically, he knows that Jason must be reacting to whatever
feeling (or lack) he's showing with Oracle's... resurgence.
She's looking through him.

She sees --

Sees --

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

And he can *hear* Jason, it's just that... Hearing isn't the
problem. A moment ago Jason was *Jason*, and now he's
looming, impossible and a little disconcerting. He shouldn't
be so *tall*, or so close, or so... so...

No. He's seeing Jason through *Oracle's* eyes, as opposed
to his own, it's... It's feedback. Damn.

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

And nothing -- worse than nothing -- the feel of Oracle
pulling back, pulling *away* is like the sound of tearing
fabric, like losing a tooth -- several at *once*--

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

Jason, himself again, and so... so close. Honesty. His
choice. Or. He doesn't know. "There was -- there was
feedback. I have to --"

"Feedback?" Jason is reaching for his shoulder again.
"What --"

Now. Now isn't the time. Not even remotely. Oracle -- "I --
I need to go."

"Hey, *wait* --"

He can't. He -- Oracle didn't. She never -- Tim dives over
the side of the building, pulling his grapple and using it to
fly. He is, in part, conscious of the uncharacteristic way
he's moving, the lack of care...

But this is faster. And he needs to see... if the feedback
had affected...

He didn't, usually, receive anything but glimpses --
impressions -- of Oracle's emotional state. He knows how
much she usually gets from him, but... if he'd gotten that

Oracle, he says. Hopes.

*Moves*. He can't stop -- he can't *let* Jason catch him
again, not until he knows -- *they* know -- what had
gone wrong, to at least some extent. It doesn't matter
that he almost never *tries* to *really* call her unless
he's sure of his physical surroundings and stability. He --

*Oracle*, he calls, checking that the arc of his flight is
reasonably safe before allowing more of his attention to
shift to the space within.

The fact that Oracle had never -- to date -- failed to
answer one of those calls does nothing to reduce Tim's
relief that she hadn't *this* time.

She's here. And...

Oracle, are you. Are...

The green of avatar shifts and shimmers to something
more vague, more colorless for a moment before it...
moves. Laughter. My nipples, she says, gesturing
at the pointedly neutral shape of her torso, are
exclamatory. It's also entirely possible that my thighs
are wet.

Which... well. Tim has never actually *seen* her thighs,
but... well. That seems... distasteful, he tries.

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

He shrinks, shifts and moves -- mostly consciously. The
feet of her avatar are inviting in their own way.

And her solidity is more reassuring than he can put into


There is a part of him which has logged the evening in its
entirety. While it's true that he'll need to go over it with
care and attention, it's not something that needs to be
done just now.

There's something entirely right, if uncomfortable, about
the realization of their closeness, of just how *vulnerable*
Oracle is to his own weaknesses and emotions. He is a
work in progress, and the technology... is only as perfect
as the people who made it.

He knows, full well, that Oracle would not be wholly Oracle
were it not for him. He *understands* that the vagaries of
his personality, his willingness and, yes, *compatibility*
has, perhaps, played a significant role in shaping more
than just her avatar. Just as there would *be* no Avatar
without her.

It would be better if there was no... conflict in that for him.
He'd never wanted that sort of...

*Was* there a better word for it than power?

If Oracle were... closer to him right now than she is, she
would undoubtedly have an answer for that. The question
is whether or not it will be... the right one? Something like

Tim folds his hands over his stomach and waits for the
not-feeling of Oracle at the "back" of his mind to resolve
into something closer to... what it should be.

And he's not entirely surprised that, when it comes, it's
only just closer. In the space they share, Oracle's avatar
is looking back over the rudimentary and perfect sketch
of its shoulder.

If Tim were someone else, he might not notice how much
less *vivid* it is now than usually. There's nothing
especially *different* about it, even the fact that it's
registering as an 'it,' as opposed to a 'she.' It often does...
though it's possible that he should take the time to
consider the timing of those differences against his own
emotional state. And Oracle's.

And... if he were someone else, he wouldn't have this at

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

The words come quietly, fading into Tim's perception with
comprehension. She is... straddling herself, in a way. He
knows that if it were possible -- *when* it's possible -- for
him to move through the spaces as easily as she does, he
would find a sizable portion of Oracle's *self* in the
Clocktower. It's been, he says, a good day for fear.

The sound Oracle makes is only truly aloud in the tower
itself. Here, it expresses itself as a shiver in the virtual
space, a shudder of visceral distaste which isn't really
directed at him, but...

I have a theory about... us. About our -- relative --

There's a pause, and then a moment which can't, actually,
be measured with normal units of time in which Oracle
*solidifies*, and then she's there, leaving Tim to make
room within himself, and... consider the ceiling.

Why should there be anything remarkable about it?

We can discuss it another time. Your theory?

Brusque, clipped, but not cold. Not now. Hmm. Our
philosophies rarely clash, he says. Our priorities -- and
methods of prioritizing -- are similar enough that my
adjustment period... well. It seemed brief to me.

You've never given me reason for impatience.

And Oracle's... approval is not strange. She has always
been careful and honest and *clear* about the way she
feels about the job he's done. But. There's no part of him,
even now, capable of *not* reacting to it, and he can't
even make his avatar *move* across the space to
Oracle's own -- as opposed to just being there. His
mind -- and other, more difficult parts of himself -- is
considering the question of 'need,' and it takes a
moment to adjust himself so that their respective avatars
are separate things, again.


It's embarrassing as ever, and as... inevitable. He forces his
body to breathe, and his self to focus. Yes, he says. I. Have
you considered, at all, that the similarity of our... desires
might have played a role? In our -- relative -- compatibility.

Oracle's green, *bright* hand ghosts over the seamless
curve of his avatar's skull for an immeasurable moment
and then -- in.

He knows his body is shuddering, a little, on the thankfully
thick and sturdy mattress, but it's irrelevant to the flood of
familiarity, of his *self* as Oracle searches for --

There. A memory of Dick from one of Cyborg's surveillance
tapes. He would like to ask about the arrangement the man
has with Oracle... sometime when he isn't watching (again)
Dick smiling, tumbling. In flight.

Yes. It's... he has to focus. I... *hadn't*, he says, been
considering the question of sexuality, but... there's any
amount of literature... studies which suggest that it's

He's almost flailing, a little. And no matter how
understandable it is, it's still better when Oracle's hand
ghosts over his own avatar's goggles, forcing him to
either reorient himself to the fact that all of this is
relative and illusion... or to be blinded. Consumed in
green and... some degree of safe.


We are both, at base, human.

Tim smiles, and knows his body is doing the same... if
less relevantly. Thankfully, you're working on that.

Oracle's avatar hums and vibrates beside and above him
in laughter, and she blinds him until he sleeps.


He wakes, aware that his sleep had been dreamless, that
it's the weekend and so it's probably quite late in the
morning --

Put your traveling shoes on. Avatar.

-- unless, of course, he has work to do.

Oh no, it's nearly noon. I had, actually, planned to let
you sleep until one or two.

Aware inside himself, in their space, that his body hasn't --
quite -- mastered wakefulness enough to move, Tim
focuses. Avatar's form is... no more spiked and angular
than usual. Still, there's *something*.

Haven't we had enough of the numinous, yet?

That 'we' had to be entirely on purpose.

Mm. Adapt or die. And prepare for upload.

And he has one of those 'moments' in which he can think
'checking my systems isn't fast enough?' before the
schedule is there, bright and clear.

He'll meet Huntress' flight at GCX, check and report on her
status and availability for further work -- in his own
judgment -- and then, assuming he feels she's able,
they'll check in for another flight, this one to Atlanta,
and... interesting.

Just 'interesting?'

Tim waits for Oracle to... seek clarification, but she doesn't.
There's amusement under the irritation. Very interesting.
And disconcerting.

I'm sending you after a girl your own age, not a

As I said. Disconcerting.

You should be grateful, little Avatar. The alternative to
this little recruitment mission -- and your only option
should you fail -- will be your placement on the new
collection of Teen Titans the *other* Titans are busily
planning until you manage to get it *right*.

Outside, Tim's stomach lurches enough that he can feel it
entirely. He doesn't know *what* his avatar is doing,
but --

Yes, I understand. Teenagers are *terrifying*.

Oracle -- you -- no. No, there's no point. Who will I be?

Avatar. This is night-work... for now, anyway.

Understood, he says. He'll wear as much of the suit as
possible under his clothes. The urgency is --


I was going to say 'obvious.'

Oracle's avatar stares -- almost -- blankly at him for a
moment before beginning to pace, to *stalk* around the
space they share. I fully expected to have, at least,
another several weeks for this. I'd left the girl alone for
a *reason*... The avatar flickers with a sigh.

I... presume the information arrived while I was sleeping?

Yes. I had *also* planned to send Dinah with Helena,
but... it will, perhaps, be for the best, this way.

You think this... Cissie will react positively to my age?

Hardly. Considering her background, your age may be a
hindrance. Upload commencing.

He waits, forcing himself not to slip back into his body
enough to brace, and -- there. Overbearing, potentially
psychotic mother. Questionable paternity --

Oh, she's Ollie's, all right. A blood sample, at this point,
would frankly be gratuitous. Note the bone structure.

Tim lets his avatar nod.

Thankfully, he's dead. We don't need more

Before he can even truly begin to think 'she's really that
valuable?,' the answer is there. Aside from the insanity of
going against a supervillain on her first mission --

'Potentially psychotic' is really a generous description of
the mother.

-- there's the raw talent. A JLA report, filed by Max Mercury.
Peak athleticism, the fact that she had been, also,
considered an Olympic hopeful, before dropping out for
mysterious reasons --

You'll get there. I do *try* to make the information...

Byte. Hmm.

Keep going.

The talent is clear, the... will, less so. The mother had
pushed her into the vigilante life, after giving her the sort
of training which made that of the Robins seem almost
limited. The girl has been trained for as much social
interaction -- and, amusingly, lay psychiatry -- as... he
had. Interesting.

You will, almost certainly, remind her of aspects of
herself she may very well find uncomfortable.

Except, of course, that I chose this.

Yes. Ready?


As always, the continued uploads make things... easier. He
knows his body, at this point, is almost entirely quiescent.
As for the rest of him... hm. And you're quite sure you
shouldn't send Batgirl?

Oracle strokes over Tim's goggles, blindingly, distractedly,
affectionate. Cassandra lacks the socialization required
for a mission of this sort, despite their similar...

Tim lets his avatar nod, again, and then sits it back on its

Process at will.

How sure are we that she killed those men?

Eighty-fifth percentile. The psychiatrist was popular.
It's possible that someone else would feel the need to
re-enact her murder on her murderers.

Less so, of course, when considered with the method, and,
of course, the precision. The murderer had managed to
track the men through the woods, and to reproduce the
conditions of the Money woman's demise with admirable

And did so within two days of the murder itself, and
left practically no clues beyond the caliber of the bullets
used, and, of course, the skill inherent in the ropework
and tracking.

Tim looks within himself until he can access the police
reports... yes. The local police still feel they're looking for
an older man with military training. It's... impressive. In
some very difficult ways.

No, I'm *not* sure we'll want her on a permanent
status -- or even a temporary one. But she's undeniably
skilled, has failed to kill anyone else in the intervening
months, and... well. You have another several minutes
before you'll need to begin packing. *Why* am I sending
you and Helena?

Because Huntress' morality with regards to revenge is
flexible enough to, perhaps, make the girl less... skittish.
Because I represent a tangible alternative to her life and


Perhaps the better question would be why we're being
sent, at all. After all, the Titans want her enough for you
to have been notified... by Cyborg?

At some point, I'm going to have to figure out what to
do about the fact that using this information in *this* way
will... put me against the Titans' agenda. For the first
time. But that's not the question *now*, Avatar.

Yes. The Titans, presumably, lack the breadth of information
on the girl you have. This is something which won't last, of
course, and... they would turn her in. They would
*encourage* her to turn *herself* in. And this is
problematic, because...


Because you haven't had the opportunity to decide for
yourself whether it's something which needs to happen.

Mm. Good boy.

There's a part of him which wants to ask when -- not if --
his work will take him to Arkham, or to wherever else the
Joker would be in reach. It is, occasionally, difficult to
avoid. He knows that *she* knows that he... wants to

'Not yet' is a good enough answer for now, I think.
Now go get ready. Avatar.


The first several times he'd been sent to meet Helena as a
civilian, he'd tried any number of internal and external
disguises and roles. The training he'd done with Canary,
and with the people she and Oracle chose for him to
learn more from than just, say, basic robotics,
hand-to-hand combat and evasion tactics, and how to
use projectile weapons...

Well, the 'more' had always been a matter of exposing him
to different personality types, different *social* models...
with the expectation that he would watch, and learn, and
have them available for his future use.

While he has, to date, done little with this skill beyond
ghosting through various parties and clubs to pick up
whatever information Oracle herself may have missed --
and there are times when he resents his size, and
obvious youth. What he is prepared for is not the same
as where he has 'daylight' access -- it's still a point of

He knows precisely how little disguise work Oracle had
done when she'd been Batgirl, and how little the Robins
themselves have done. He knows himself well enough to
know that it *is* a strength.

But with Helena...

Oracle had never precisely forbidden him at practicing his
skills on Helena -- with Dinah, of course, it would've been
pointless -- and she's never had to. There are only so
many times a person can hear "and who are *you*
supposed to be?" without giving up and waiting for new

Still, there's something of an attraction to this, not entirely
different from the feel of climbing water towers and
crumbling balustrades in nothing more secure than
dark-colored sweats and sneakers in order to get the
*best* picture.

Tim Drake enjoys moving past Helena Bertinelli in
concealing crowds of high school children in order to
retrieve whatever Huntress couldn't simply transfer to
Oracle. And he enjoys picking her up from airports,
allowing himself to be conspicuous in a crowd of
limousine drivers. He draws her name in purple block
letters -- outlined with black -- and waits for the moment
in which her walk changes from 'Helena Bertinelli' to
something far closer to Huntress' stalk -- and then
changes back again, while her eyes flash amusement and
a desire to slap him.

From what he can tell, it seems to be affectionate enough.

"And why, Mr. Drake, am I getting the deluxe treatment

"Well," he says, slowing his walk to remind her to keep
hers non-vigilante, "it's less deluxe than a bit marathon.

The look she gives him is that usual mix of curious,
disturbed, and angry.

"We have another job. Possibly."

Helena narrows her eyes at, apparently, the escalator and
straightens her bag on her shoulder. "Important enough
for you not to take this back to... our employer right
away? He does realize that I had to get *scolded* by...
back in Metropolis for this, right?"

It amuses Oracle, he knows, that Helena thinks of her as
male. Probably in precisely the same way it amuses *him*
at those times when 'underaged girl' is less conspicuous
than 'underaged boy.' A certain cynicism.

"I don't care if he *is*... who he is. I will *not* be treated
like an incontinent puppy."

He really is going to have to get the logs of that.

Perhaps for your birthday, Oracle says.

Getting there, he says, and steers them toward the
Nathan's kiosk.

"And how do you know I'm hungry?"

Tim gives Helena his best smugly knowing grin, and
orders her usual: Hot, with extra relish.

Helena snorts -- sniffs, really -- tossing her hair *just* a
bit. "You presume far too much."

"Not as much as our friend in Metropolis, I hope?"

"He's *not* --" Helena hisses between her teeth, glaring
at the clerk for long enough to make his hands shake as
he takes Tim's money. "He isn't my friend," she says, and
lets Tim lead her back toward the concourse. "And doesn't
Daddy have some... Special K for emergencies? And don't
you have *homework* you should be doing this

She's in, he says to Oracle. Aloud: "Most people seem to
get along fairly well with him. And I'm sure... Daddy does.
Also, I was planning to get some reading done in between
reckless acts of vigilantism."

Bad Avatar.

Oracle may have a point. Helena's *stopped* in the little
strip-maze to the check-in desk and is staring at him.
"Helena --"

"Listen to me, fanciullo. I don't care *what* you're...
*allowed* by our boss. I will *not* take you into a --"

"Easy," he says, holding his hands up until Helena can
see the seriousness in his eyes. "It's just... human
resources, this time."

"Human...?" A brief look of confusion. "We're *recruiting*?"

Tim nods and begins walking to the check-in counter
again. After a moment, Helena follows. "I'll give you the
information to take somewhere private... hm."


There's going to be an unfortunate power loss to the
security cameras in the ladies' room closest to your gate
in approximately fifteen minutes.

Noted. "You're going to be powdering your nose in fifteen
minutes, apparently."

Helena sniffs again. "That... communication. It's... it's

"So's your hair color. And Dinah's, for that matter. And if
you slap me, we'll probably get detained."

"It *might* be worth it," she says, and shuffles through her
shoulder-bag until she finds her ID. "I trust there'll be
some explanation of why we're working together for this?"

"Really yes, Helena. But, well, there's also the idea that if
she finds one of us horrifying, she just might like the

"Or flee screaming from the both of us, I suppose."

"Ever a possibility."


Helena sleeps like a teacher, hands folded over her
abdomen, head tilted forward just a little, eyes... closed.
It's necessary to check, since the position almost
guarantees that, if you're also wearing glasses, the light
will hit them in just the right position to cause a glare.
The perfect remedy to a study hall, Tim imagines.

No one would ever be able to be *sure* she wasn't
watching, and when you add the fact that she's a very
light sleeper...

You might, actually, look slightly older in the right pair
of glasses.

He'll look into it.

Just not for Helena.

The mockery is terrible.

Hmm. And here I thought you appreciated the
attentions of a woman who has no intention of ever
touching you sexually.

Nothing compares to you.

Oracle laughs, again. Not shifting any closer, but...

Will you be joining us?

Almost certainly, at least as a... spectator.

What *is* the plan if she tries to kill us?

See if she goes for a bow or a gun first. Analyze.

It really had been intelligent of the girl to use a gun on
her psychiatrist's murderers, though somewhat... incorrect
for a crime of passion. Even passionate revenge.

You'd prefer incompetence?

I'd prefer less sign of sociopathy.

Hm. Something I'd left out of the original uploads, in
deference to the time constraints. Pull your blanket up
over yourself.

He does, waking Helena --

"Mm. Good boy." And she ruffles his hair, lightly, before
closing her eyes again... just in time for Tim's body to
spasm under the blanket. If he hadn't had the window
seat, he might've become obvious to a stewardess.

As it is...

"What -- Tim, are you all right?"

"Just... Nn... downloading."

The string of curses is long and heartfelt, but it's mostly
in Italian and quiet.

Small mercies.

"*Warn* me when you're going to do... *that*, Tim."

She has, at least, seen it enough times to not be entirely...


Small mercies, yes. "My apologies, Helena. Could you...
give me a moment?"

She pauses, midway through reaching for him, then glares
and continues, brushing his hair off his forehead before
checking his pulse and heart rate. Her fingers are hard
on his chest, but not in anything like an aggressive way.
Curious. And then she curses again, leans back, and
gestures for him to continue.

The word you're looking for is 'maternal.' It's really
quite... cute.

But Oracle, *you're* my wire cage mommy.

Perhaps I should remember that the next time you're
making those intriguingly desperate sounds?

For a moment, Tim isn't sure whether he's glad or not that
he remains alone within the virtual space. It would be
illuminating -- and probably rather awful -- to see what
effect a sentence of that kind would have on his avatar --
reflected, of course, in the properties of Oracle's own.
But... moving on.


The new information is a series of photographs, clearly
labeled. The first one is instantly recognizable as the
uniform the girl had been forced to debut in. The heels
alone... there isn't even any *rudimentary* treading.

Keep going.

More uniforms, staying with the theme of Versace Goes
Commando, But Not In That Way. But also... *Dark*
Arrowette? Who labeled these?

The mother. The outfits were all found in one of the
girl's trunks when DCF took over her case. Mercury
acquired the files for the League.

Hm. Your theory is that she was, in some way, divorcing
herself from the Arrowette identity for more reason than
just the necessity of not making the killings too...

Mm-hm. Try to find out where she got the gun training.
I have nothing on that, at the moment.


And I'll be leaving you now, for a time. Smooth Helena's
feathers. She's worried about you. Oracle out.

The 'leaving' is, of course, a relative thing. Oracle's
presence is something like a dormant bundle at the back
of his self, or perhaps the center. And Helena is --

"Is there anything *I* need to know?"

-- nothing like patient, of course. "Well... you read the files.
What's your impression of the girl?"

Helena's expression turns rueful for a moment. "She's
either a dangerous psychotic... or just like me."

She slaps him when he snorts. Lightly.


Tim can't decide whether it's surprising or not that the girl
was never taken out of the school where her surrogate
mother had been brutally murdered. It manages to be
both morbid and faintly absurd to watch her move across
the campus: Dorm, library, gymnasium, athletic fields.

The student center is, of course, at the center of the
complex... and the girl never gets within fifty feet of it.

Impressive degree of obsession... and understandable.

The question becomes even more boggling when one
considers that the girl is enrolled at *this* school. He
hadn't had enough time during the day to collect all the
information he would've wished, but a) Cissie King-Jones
is *not* a scholarship student, and b) judging by the look
of the campus, Tim would be decidedly shocked if the
tuition ran to less than fifteen thousand per year.

Someone is paying for her to remain at the place of her...
most *recent* childhood trauma. Mercury, perhaps. He'll
need more information on that.

Of course, the fact that the place *is* so expensive means
that there are plenty of trees with good vantage points for
them to lurk in. Added to the lack of ambient city light... it
could be worse.

"Tch. If I had a week, I'd know everything we need to,"
Helena says from the branch above and to the right of
Tim's own. "*Without* needing to resort to... this."

"We don't have a week. And what's wrong with this -- oh.
It's a school."

"Got it in one, fanciullo."

She has an impressive number of ways to say that.

"*Why* don't we have a week?"

"We're racing against the Titans, actually."

Helena pauses -- it's something she does with her whole
body, really.

Before meeting her, Tim never would've imagined anyone
like her could survive -- and thrive -- in a place like
Gotham. Only Robins get to be... loud.

"Do I *want* to know why we're trying to keep this girl
*away* from the one group of people in this business
with any chance of dealing with her?"

He thinks about it. "No, probably not. Or... hm. Let me
think about that for a while."

Helena growls, quietly, and not precisely *at* him. "She's
going to stay in her room after that last workout. She
seems exhausted enough to try to sleep."

Tim nods. "Good that she has a single. Scale down to her
window from the roof?"

A grunt of assertion, and they move together. There's a
disturbing degree of exposure, but since it comes from
the fact that they're in the middle of nowhere -- and
thus not likely to run into anyone other than raccoons --
it's livable. The roof of the girl's dorm is easy to get to,
her window somewhat more challenging. The girl on the
floor directly above Cissie's own is still awake, and
seated right by the window.

They wait, but, in the end, they have to push off each other
enough to swing to the sides of the window in question,
tack their lines so they won't swing back into the girl's
line of vision, and drop.

And the girl is waiting when they do. Unarmed in any
visible way, but definitely waiting.

She opens the windows for them, sits on the bed, and...
waits longer.

Up close, she is even more obviously bone and muscle, at
the point where 'pared down' butts up hard against
'dangerous lack of spare tissue.' Any degree of privation
and she would begin digesting her own muscle.

Depression. Unsurprising, in retrospect.

"*Christ*, I'm going to start carrying sandwiches in my

Helena is, as ever, to the point. But... "How did you make

The girl looks him over with an obviously trained eye
before saying, "Your stealth movements are designed for
urban environments/obstacles. Anyone looking for
incorrect motion would've spotted you."

Tim nods. Logical. "Theories on why we're here?"

For an answer, she bends over and pulls a shoebox from
beneath her -- neatly, perfectly -- made bed. She opens it.
Within is, undoubtedly, the .38 she'd used to perforate
her shrink's murderers. "Security here is atrocious," she
says, in a voice which lilts with what Tim is absolutely
sure is only an approximation of humor. The addition of
'music' to a voice is so rarely honest.

The frown on Helena's face is a confirmation. "You
should've tossed it, girl. They'd never catch you if you did."

It's true. There aren't many killers who remember to wipe
down the shells beforehand.

The fake smile fades back into the bones of the girl's face,
leaving... exhaustion? Confusion? "'They?'"

Ah, the latter.

Helena smirks and leans against the girl's bookcase. "We're
not here to bring you in, girl."

Those would be -- probably -- whichever Titans get sent
here to retrieve her. Tim settles back against the wall
and watches.

And records.

Of course.

"How long have you been waiting to confess, anyway?" It
would be interesting to find out whether or not Helena is
aware of how little *Huntress* is in her manner, just now.

The girl's fingers clench -- slightly -- on the shoebox before
she sets it beside her. "You, at least, are one of the good
guys, Huntress. I don't know *him*, but... why *are* you

"My question first, Arrowette."

"Don't. Call me that." She sets the box beside her on the
bed, leaving it open. "My name is Cissie."

Helena throws him a brief look, but it's unnecessary. He
would have to be blind not to catch *that*. "How long,
then, Cissie?" More Helena by the moment.

"Since I finished packing away my blood-stained clothes. I
had to bag them, of course. The smell would've been...

Helena nods, slowly and deliberately. "Under the bed?"

"The closet. Why are you here?"

"Well, I'd thought my pint-sized colleague here would do
the explaining, but... you've caught the attention of our
mutual employer."

"Oracle," the girl says.


Helena's shift suggests that she feels the same. "Yes.
You've *also* caught the eye of the Titans, but Oracle
seemed to feel we should get here first, and --" Helena
shifts, again, and frowns.

I've instructed Helena to pause.

Good, he says, and watches the girl... she doesn't, quite,
draw in on herself. It's more like she absents herself from
the shared plane of reality to go back within her own
mind. Perhaps it's prejudice, but there's something about
that --

I wonder what...

-- which makes Tim feel somewhat wary of his original
impression of 'crushing guilt.' As opposed to fatalism.

"You... Huntress." And the girl is back just that quickly,
focusing on Helena. "There were always rumors about you
available to anyone who would pay attention. The lack of
sanction from Batman, and your... retirement from the
JLA in the aftermath of the earthquake."

Helena nods.

The girl frowns. "But you went to work with Black Canary,
who everyone knew worked with Oracle... you have to
realize that there was an implication of renewed sanction,
of some sort."

Helena snorts. "Anything but, girl," she says, and smiles.
"But it's been a very *useful* impression."

Really, he'd like to know --

Ask her.

"Where do you get your information, Cissie?"

"My mother trained me to read between the lines of the
various news stories. And the metawatch blogs are fairly
wide-ranging in their purview."

Tim nods, fighting back a mild sense of chagrin. "It's
been... quite a while since I monitored them."

This smile is more of an impression of released tension
than anything else, but it's a real one. "You don't have
to anymore, I'd imagine."

"Neither do you, Cissie," and Helena moves from the
bookcase to crouch in front of the girl, and take her face
in one gloved hand. "So why do you? For that matter,
why haven't you turned *yourself* in? How many
partially-complete uniforms are *also* locked in your

"I --"

"You're guilty, aren't you? You've murdered two men. Or
are there more?"

"*No*, just --"

"Admit it, Arrowette --"

"I said don't *call* me that --"


I'm watching.

"You don't feel any remorse for what you did. You haven't
repented. This... *evidence* is just so you can *tell*
yourself --"

And he *is* watching, but he still misses the strike that
knocks Helena's hand off the girl's face and he
isn't -- quite -- fast enough to keep the girl from knocking
Helena back. But the gun is in his hand and pointed at the
girl's head before she can reach for it herself -- her bows
are, actually, nowhere in sight -- and Helena has one of
her crossbows primed, set, and aimed at the girl's left

"Calm down," he says, in his best Avatar voice.

The effect is almost certainly dampened by Helena's laugh.
"Good to see you've still got a little *blood* in your veins,
piccola amazzone."

Though she has stilled again. "Unlike my victims?"

Helena smiles a little wider and safes her crossbow. "You
tell me."

"Some people... deserve to die."

It's distinctly curious to listen to the calm voice and *see*
the glare. He wonders if the girl's mother had wanted to
give her something other than a half-cowl.

Not everyone is suited for dominos.

"Some... some people deserve to *die*," she says again,
"but *heroes* aren't allowed to know that."

Tim safes the gun, tucks it into his largest belt-pocket, and
smiles behind *his* cowl. "Who told you *that*?"

Helena laughs again, easily and perhaps a little too loudly
for a girls' dormitory at one in the morning. The girl --
Cissie -- looks distinctly shocked.

Someone's awfully... sanguine.

Adapt, he says, or die.


The bed-and-breakfast is in the Laura Ashley School of
Terminal Preciousness, but it suits the community. He
checks in as Melanie Dean, notifies the clerk that his
older sister Elizabeth will be joining him after her meeting
with the Admissions staff, and assures the woman that
yes, he *does* think he'll enjoy attending Elias in the fall.


He hadn't precisely planned on staying the night, but, then
again, he hadn't had to. Cissie's clothes are an adequate
enough fit, and perfect for his assumed role.

And you were always sore about me not letting you
bulk up.

For some reason -- I must have been delusional, really -- I
felt my masculinity was being endangered.

Curious indeed... little Bird.

Just don't let me forget to pack my safety razor again,
Oracle. It's unsanitary to use someone else's.


Oracle's satisfaction is palpable. The feel of her
behind/within him is filling and *light* -- if not warm. It
makes him... hm. He isn't sure.

Oracle comes into him, reaching even as her avatar forms.
You're aroused.

I held a murder weapon. I aimed it at a killer's head. I
succeeded in my mission. I'm a flat-chested, mostly hairless
girl lying on a duvet which could double as the LSD-laced
vision of a field of wildflowers. In retrospect, it seems

You were clearly just distracted by the fact that you're
wearing another girl's underwear.

Tim winces. All right, I'm better now.

Oracle's avatar shivers and grows with the laugh that...

Tim skins off Cissie's underwear and goes to wash them.

Dick always told me that 'adrenaline' made for an
excellent explanation. And excuse.

I think I'll stick with perversion. Is Helena still with Cissie?

I've been told, in so many words, that there are times
when emotional support trumps discretion.

And you let that stand? You *are* feeling magnanimous.

Perhaps even triumphant. I decided to explain -- some
of -- the situation to Cyborg while the two of you were still
en route. He agreed with my assessment of the girl as not
really Titans material... for a very reasonable price.

Tim nods to himself and begins his second washing of
Cissie's panties. And... wait. Price?

I *did* say I'd find you work in New York eventually,

What will I be doing?

A brief lecture on practical cybernetics.

*He* can do that. *You* can do that on remote --

Believe me, I did mention that. His words: A kid for a

And... it's not that he doesn't understand. There's too
much value in both Cissie's potential as a Bird and
Cyborg's continued good will as both agent and surgeon.
But. What good will he be if everyone knows about his

One, that was never going to last -- especially not with
the Bats knowing who you are.

We've been so careful for so *long* --

Two, your value was never entirely in your role as
hole card. I shouldn't have to remind you of that.

Tim winces.

Three. Avatar... what makes you think I have any
intention of letting you do this as *yourself*?

Tim blinks, focuses, and considers.

You've endured a great deal of exposure over the past
several days, Avatar. I'm fully aware that this will, to a
large extent, make things worse. However... I'm also fully
aware that you've been feeling somewhat stifled, in terms
of your disguise-work.

He wonders if he'll be able to fool Arsenal into thinking
there's *another* nameless Oracle underling.

Your mission, Avatar, is to make absolutely sure that
Roy *isn't* sure. Anything else... is extra credit.

Well... all right. When am I doing this?

Your call, from what I understand... though you may
want to wait until you find out precisely why Jason
broke into your apartment tonight. I know *I'm*

I... just ripped Cissie's panties.

It's fair to assume she wasn't expecting you to return

Oracle... I... I assumed Batgirl would explain. Why I
had to leave. Maintenance of our link, and... and it's
entirely possible that her explanation had boiled down
to 'Oracle.'

Close. The logs report that her explanation was 'Oracle
needed It.' It's fair to assume Jason found that...

Tim nods, and swallows. Did he...

Throw the panties away, get under the covers, and let
Mommy Oracle upload you some bedtime viewing.

You really are disturbing when you're... buoyant. In case it
had escaped your notice.

Oracle slips in just deep enough that her mask fills the
entirety of Tim's internal 'vision.' And then the mask smiles
at him in a deep and viciously sharp 'v.' You like me
that way. Avatar.


Note: For the purposes of this series -- and because there
really isn't anything to *stop* me -- I've decided that "The
Killing Joke" happened somewhat longer before "A Death in
the Family"...would have happened. Also, Ollie hasn't gotten
himself resurrected yet, obviously, but whether or not I
fudged that is somewhat hard to tell. Comparative
timelines = hard.


fanciullo: "infant"
piccola amazzone: "little amazon"

.Acquainted with shifting change.