As the sea develops pearl
by Te
February 7, 2005

Disclaimers: No one and nothing here is mine.

Spoilers: Assorted older Batverse storylines, in an AU
sort of way. Nothing newer than the ramp-up to Murderer.

Summary: In Gotham, there is the Oracle and then
there are her surveillance targets. There isn't really
room for anything else.

Ratings Note/Warnings: NC-17. Content some
readers may find disturbing.

Author's Note: Written for Timfinity, but really comes
out of a number of conversations with Basingstoke,
LC, Livia, and Houie. Title from Livia.

Acknowledgments: To LC, Livia, and Houie for
audiencing and many, many helpful suggestions.


At five a.m., Tim's computer chimes a quiet alarm which has
him out of bed and on his feet within moments.

It doesn't matter -- it's not fast enough.

There's no emergency, and the chime was quiet enough that
his parents -- if they were home -- wouldn't wake up at all.
Mrs. MacIlvenne, of course, sleeps on a different floor.

And the chime...

It's a short scroll to get back to the beginning of the
'message.' Oracle has nothing for him other than the day's
schedule. That's not the point.

The point is that the chime happened at all, and that, right
now, Oracle is staring at his mussed bed-head, and his
rumpled shorts and t-shirt.

Oracle is staring at *him*, and she knows he was

Tim closes his eyes for a moment, and doesn't bother to
wipe his expression clear of any of the things he knows are
there. It doesn't matter. She's already seen. The only
question is whether or not she'll want to know --


Why. Tim sighs and scrubs his fingers against the cotton of
his shorts to keep from scratching his ear. The tickling itch
from Oracle's sub-vocalization is far deeper than he can get
to, and playing with the small gold circle of his earring
would just give her annoying feedback.

He actually used to have something of a nervous habit of
playing with his ears, but having Oracle play the feedback
back *to* him, periodically, had been an incredibly effective

She's remarkably good at that sort of thing.

And she's waiting.

"I was up late with the databases. I -- I sent the
information." The slim gold chain with the circle's match --
and the mic -- is cool against his skin.

"But not why you didn't start working -- for *me* -- until
well after midnight."

There's a smile in her voice, because she knows exactly
what 'work' he *was* doing. After all, it's what got him
caught in the first place. In Gotham, there's Oracle, and then
there are her surveillance targets. There really isn't room for
anything else. In his mind (and, perhaps, somewhere
beneath his cerebral cortex), the mask spins and turns until
it's looking -- down -- at him, broad and clear and defined
against the relative blankness of this part of his mind, and
the perspective is just vertiginous enough that he can't
really be *sure* if its mouth twitched.

Both of them have been surprised by the side-effects of the
few, small enhancements he's been allowed.

He smiles to himself -- and for the cameras -- and strips.
The shorts go in the hamper, the t-shirt is good for one
more night -- two, if they're restful and there are no

"Stretch," she says.

He does.

His run is scheduled for five-forty-five.


He's showered and dressed by six-forty-five, and Mrs.
MacIlvenne is stirring. When he walks past her door, there's
the usual chorus of groaning sighs. She'll be in her robe by
seven, and the coffee will be on by seven-oh-two, unless
she decides to start pulling out things for breakfast first.

Either way, he has plenty of time.

(Do you?)

The voice isn't a real one, even by the somewhat flexible
standards he's been forced to use since that one particular
weekend with Oracle's lingering government connections.
It's just a voice, and a somewhat predictable one. It's
always harder to remain sanguine when he has blocks of
time which aren't rigidly defined.

The solution is, of course, to define them.

Assuming that he'll be expected for breakfast by seven-thirty,
this still leaves him time to begin work in his darkroom.

*His*, specifically. A gift from his parents upon their --
relatively -- safe return home from Haiti. Drake Industries'
security detail had been able to rescue them both, but his
mother has a bullet scar on her cheek, and his father has
prescriptions for two anti-depressants and a tranquilizer.

The gifts he's received from both of them since then have
been amusingly lavish.

He'd gotten an 'A' on his report on propitiatory sacrificial
rituals for History, though no one else had gotten the joke.

Almost no one.

The truth is, his decidedly unofficial afterschool job allows
him a great deal of freedom, and the information to use it
effectively. Oracle is... tolerant of his hobbies.

And he'd gotten what looks to be quite a few good pictures
in the last week.

"Your devotion to analog remains a mystery." Oracle's voice,
in the dark, in his ear. Voice-to-voice communication has
become something of a morning standard for them. Still...

"As does your devotion to radio," he says, and
double-checks the timers and alarms. "And I'm still better
with the old-fashioned cameras."

"Hmm." It's a laugh, and -- there. The mask is definitely
smiling, spinning to cover the whole of his vision -- no. His

Tim shudders, reflexively, and focuses.

"I'm going to need you to test an *actual* camera for me,
just the same."

Tim raises an eyebrow on the small stretch of mostly
invisible-to-him nothing which is his own avatar and
continues working.

"In due time."

Which means one of her other associates is inventing again.
Perhaps Kord. "Will I be spending the whole day at school?"
His schedule wasn't clear.

"As of now."

She leaves him, again, after that. The mask turns and dims,
leaving his avatar staring into nothing.


"So, is that, like, a circle of life or something?"

Tim is half-surrounded in that casual, half-conscious way all
football players learn at birth. Crowded against a locker and
surrounded by testosterone. He's reasonably sure Oracle
has films along these lines.

"I mean, dude, what's up with your jewelry, anyway?"

It isn't the largest one who reaches for his necklace -- just
the most irritating one. The boy's mother is on Tim's father's
new -- and enhanced -- personal security detail. The boy
has her eyes, jaw-line, and impressive ability to avoid
original thought.

It's too bad you're not dressed.

Oracle's avatar is looking out at the world from a position
suggesting 'behind Tim's eyes.' It's an accurate enough
depiction, though one which requires him to take a bit to
restructure his perspective until he's not 'looking' at her
back. After a moment -- a relative one, as the boy is still in
the process of reaching -- the avatar becomes whole.
Complete, disturbingly angular, green, and entirely sexless,
it reaches forward (outward), toward the boy.

And sighs, quietly.

When the avatar has a body, sounds like that one seem
more correct in ways Tim isn't at all sure how to describe.

Meat puppet, Oracle says, and doesn't electrocute
the boy.

Without Tim's suit, after all, she'd be electrocuting him, as

The brush of the boy's warm, rough fingers against Tim's
throat is a shock, but something of an expected one. He's
pulling a little too hard on Tim's chain, and his friends are
leaning in, almost as one.

It's an impressive display of group dynamics.

"So... what's the *what*, man? I mean, it's kind of *girly*,
isn't it."

At the lack of an audible question mark, the other boys
bunch and shift.

Someone is about to call him a fag.

Tim smiles, and brushes the boy's hand aside, and then
crosses his arms over his chest and leans back against the
lockers (like Robin Jason Robin) as if he feels entirely casual
and secure in his somewhat undersized masculinity. "Girls
like it," he says, and lets the memory of Oracle's pale,
spidery -- and *actual* -- fingers on his throat make his hips
thrust a little. "*Women* like it."

The boys blink stupidly at him for long enough that Tim is
forced to consider whether an explanation of the concept
of 'metrosexuality' would help or hinder, but --


The sentiment is echoed repeatedly, and followed up with
laughter and several claps on the back.

He'll have to prove his point sooner rather than later, but he
has breathing room again, and...

He's scheduled to visit the Clocktower later.

Oracle's avatar is a perfect sketch of green, defining the
limits and scope of the blankness with himself. Emotionally,
it has all the *lack* it could wish, which could mean that
she's left him again, or...

Anything, really.

He doesn't shiver until none of the boys are watching him.


There's an apartment in the name of a man who'd died from
the Clench, and whose records were lost in the Quake.

It's his own, and the best place for him to do both Tim
Drake's homework and the more casual and dull aspects of
his work for Oracle. For reasons of her own (and it's not as
if Tim *hadn't* done the wiring and bugging himself, to her
precise specifications), Oracle rarely joins him when he's
here, unless there's something she needs him to do.

Perhaps she feels he needs his own space.

Perhaps she simply has other things scheduled between the
hours of three and six p.m.

It's a curious question, but not one he's felt the need --
yet -- to investigate to any great degree on his own. The
simple fact of the matter is that the best possible way to
get Oracle to take a greater degree of interest in him is *to*
investigate things on his own, and...

There's something to be said for privacy, however illusory.

Tim finishes the brief book report on The Martian
Chronicles at three-fifty-two.

At four, precisely, he begins the exercises Oracle had chosen
for him today. They're a little frustrating, because they're
designed to give him as little additional bulk as possible,

She knows him.

His second run of the day is scheduled for five p.m., and the
route will leave him tired and a bit filthy.

Before he leaves, he calls Mrs. MacIlvenne on the
less-encrypted line, and informs her that he's studying at
the Midtown branch of the Gotham Public Library, and that
she shouldn't wait dinner.

She tells him to find a nice girl to study with.

He checks the knots on his trainers, smiles, and tells her
he'll give it a shot.

Unsurprisingly, the route Oracle had chosen for him is a
very *precise* one. Along with two extensive construction
zones which require him to do a great deal of dodging,
leaping, and general *working* in order to keep his pace, it
also takes him through Grant Park.

Nearly all of the foliage has turned, and Tim makes a point
of looking around far more than he normally would.

And leaving the jogging path to choose something of his
*own* route. One which demands... mobility.

Oracle doesn't say anything, but he can feel her in a way
that's entirely irrational, and has far more to do with the few
older pictures he has of Batgirl and Dick than it does with
anything else.

Meat puppet, the false voice offers.


It's after six when he gets back to the apartment, and so it's
perfectly right that both of his active monitors have shifted
to pale, green blankness.

When he moves within range of four of the living area's
cameras, the monitors shift to show his media player. The
playlists have four files. Each.

He moves --

"Shower first," Oracle says. Her avatar is entirely absent.

The monitors...

Her avatar is there, and complete, and tapping one
triangular foot.

Tease, he thinks, too loud and too honestly.

And strips down.

Between Oracle's instructions and his own willingness to get
his own hands dirty, bloody, and generally tortured, they'd
managed to modify his shower. The water comes from
*directly* above, and so it only takes a bit of care to avoid
smudging -- or splashing -- the cameras in the taps.

"Will your thigh bruise?"

He doesn't have a lot of experience in that sort of thing, yet,
but... "I don't think so."


"It will be cold enough to make wearing the suit under my
clothes practical again, soon," he offers irrelevantly. "It'll be
more... protection."

He has a distressing tendency to offer irrelevancies when
washing his genitals for an audience.

"I've... had some ideas about the goggles --"

"But nothing concrete," she says, cutting him off.


"Lift your head."

He does, offering his throat to the cameras.

"Hm," she says again, but doesn't elaborate.

Two hours left, and he's... he still has the *files*.

Tim switches the water to cold, and Oracle's avatar smiles
while his own remains blank, and somewhat withered.


Six fifty-seven and his heart is pounding, and the bowl of
soup he'd heated up for dinner is cooling rapidly, and he's
watched the first set of files twice.

Mask-feeds. Specifically, *Batman's* mask-feeds. He has
watched Jason beat four different men bloody and

He has watched Jason fly, and listened to him whoop and
curse in Batman's ear.

Jason has new boots. Still green, but far closer to something
worn by an infantryman than, well, an elf. By his estimates,
there'll be nothing left of the original Robin suit by the time
Jason turns eighteen. Which makes sense. Intellectually.

The last file is the shortest, and offers only Jason smiling at
(him) Batman, and tossing a handful of broken teeth from
gauntlet to gauntlet.

He should've had the *entire* shower in cold water. He's --

"Ah, ah, ah..."

Tim clenches his hands into fists.

"On the armrests."

He obeys.

"Second monitor."

He turns, and Oracle begins the playlist. And it's...
From the height, the angle, and the fact that the motions
are far smoother than most humans can manage without
extensive film training, he knows he's looking at Cyborg's

He has no idea what made the man film Dick working out
in -- yes, it's the Tower.

He doesn't care.

It's entirely possible that he could've gotten photos -- or
even video, though it's not his medium of choice -- of the
Jason scenes Oracle had selected. This...

He has no (right) access to anything like this. Not on his

The next file is a continuation of the last. As is the one after

He has no right, but *she* does, and she...

"I like to keep my operatives happy," she says, and Tim
clenches his fists.

On the armrests.


He makes his way through the last of the hidden-to-
everyone-but-him security checkpoints by seven-fifty-nine.

At eight, on the dot, the door opens.
He doesn't get to visit the Clocktower very often. It had
taken the better part of a year to get the *first* invite, long
after the day he'd woken up with Power Girl's hand around
his throat and his bare feet dangling above his bed.

He still isn't sure what Oracle had said to the woman -- the
other half of that sort of conversation is, of course, silent for
everyone but a metahuman -- but he can make guesses.

He'd been caught -- most probably on his first, abortive
attempt to crack Batman's computer systems -- and he'd
been measured, and now...


The only light comes through the clock-face, and from the
assorted computer equipment. All of the monitors out here
are offering only Oracle's latest screensaver:

A blank-featured and vaguely male figure, black and grey
and turning, moving, watching.

His avatar.

He waits, and, after a moment -- it's eight-oh-two -- the
avatar points toward her actual office.

He goes.

It's no lighter in here, not really. The lamplight is too warm
for that, and is countered by the fact that there are only
two active monitors.
Oracle doesn't turn, or stop typing.

Tim waits.

At eight-oh-seven, she stops typing, and exhales, and
stretches. There's an obvious tension in the back of her
neck, and her arms are long and pale and --

"You're going out tonight."

It wasn't scheduled, and he'd been hoping --

"But... not yet."

She turns her chair and gestures him closer. Sometimes, he
sits at her feet with his head against the soft, perfect
stillness of her calf while she works, or reads, or explains
the week's projects. Tonight, she catches his hands and --
she's in one of the broader chairs. Less maneuverability,
greater... flexibility for occasions like this.

He sets his knees on either side of her thighs. Her
expression is distracted, or...

It can be difficult to tell, sometimes. It's going to be a long
time, he thinks, before he's accustomed to the greater
degree of expressiveness in her actual face.

The smile, at least, is entirely correct -- sharp, small, and
essentially private, even when she brushes one strong,
rough -- he knows this -- hand over the crotch of his jeans,
making him twitch and clutch her shoulder for balance.

She squeezes the hand she's still holding and raises an
eyebrow at him. "You're far too well-behaved for a boy your

He's been hard for hours, and he has no way to respond.

"It's almost disappointing, really," she says, and -- squeezes

He gasps. He's going to start shaking soon.

"But you *still* aren't perfect."

He never will be. Still. He does his best to look only
questioning, despite the fact that she's still *in* him, and
always will be. She knows exactly how he feels, and what
he's thinking, and everything else. But... there are

She cocks her head to the other side, and her smile gets a
little sharper, and more direct. "Today. At school."

The boys. And --

"You were thinking something about... hmm." The
expression on her face is entirely meditative, and entirely
false. She's squeezing him rhythmically now, his hand and
his dick.

He's shaking.

"Ah, yes. Something about how you'll need to *prove*
yourself to your predatory little school-gang --"

They really aren't his.

"-- later. Something about how you'd be coming here

"I. Didn't mean..." She makes a soft sound, a pleased
sound. It may be the fact that his lies are as good as her
own -- well meant, and with an element of truth -- or it
may be the sound of his voice. He is, after all, already

"Please," he says, for emphasis, and she twines her fingers
with Tim's own and -- still *squeezing* him, working him
through his jeans -- tilts her head back.

"Come here."

He leans in for the kiss, which is brief, and dry, and
chaste -- on his mouth. The one for his *neck*, on the
other hand...

Is something else. Something --

*Biting* him, sucking --

"Mmm," she says, and it's *amused*, and she doesn't --
she --

"Oracle, I -- oh -- oh God --"

She scrapes her *teeth* over his pulse once, twice, and --
no one's tongue should feel that strong, that *sharp*.
(Would Jason's?)


He comes gasping, bucking into her hand and completely
incapable of tearing himself away from her *mouth*.

She sucks for another full minute.

The hickey is going to be... somewhat spectacular, actually.
Tim steadies his breathing, and thinks about finding a
change of shorts. Oracle, of course, has a small wardrobe
of clothes in his size in her secondary closet. Right next to

She releases him with a lick, and slides her free hand up the
center of his chest before pushing. She's still holding his
hand, which means she only wants him to lean away, as
opposed to move.

He does so, and waits.

"You're retrieving a new operative for me tonight. You
haven't *met*, but..."

The thin -- and false -- skin beneath her ear glows faintly as
she triggers the implant which, in turn, triggers the main
monitor off power-save mode and into a large, full image
of Batgirl. Tim blinks.

"Mm-hm. She's been having some problems working with
Batman just lately, on which the man himself refuses to

"She's... yours, now?"

The corner of her mouth turns up in a smile. "She will be."

Tim nods. "Where will I find her?"
"I suspect she'll find you. You're going to be entirely honest
with her. Mention the benefits of working for *me*, but
don't stint on the bad side. She'll sense it if you do, and
resent both of us for it."

Tim nods. There isn't a great deal of information on Batgirl's
facility with 'body language' to which he's been given access,
but there's enough. "If she won't come?"

Another flare from her implant, and Batgirl's psychological
profile comes up -- no. Her *complete* profile comes up.
The parts which had been elided are now highlighted. Oracle
squeezes his hand again, gently. "What do you think?"

It's a test, of course. However, Oracle had him studying
uncensored files on the various Arkhamites before she ever
let him *visit*.

And the fact that much of the highlighted information
includes the word 'father,' cannot be entirely coincidental.

"The phrase 'he doesn't want you,' with a subtext of

Oracle smiles at him in reality, and in avatar form. The
avatar is capable of smiling with its whole body, and of
triggering... feelings. She's pleased.

He's raw.

And also curious. Because, really, several of the pictures
*he* has are of Jason interacting entirely positively with
Batgirl. With *Cassandra*. As near as Tim has been able to
tell, people who Jason cares about are some variety of
*golden* in terms of Batman -- Bruce. And there've been
no signs of fallings-out, and... "What happened?"

"Mm." Another flare, and the report scrolls, enlarges, and
highlights the section on what they know about Batgirl's
childhood with David Cain.

The very *small* section.

"He trained her to be an assassin, among other things. I
wouldn't be surprised if Batman found something
uncomfortable about her."

It doesn't matter that both Oracle and her avatar are staring
at him impatiently, inside and out. It doesn't matter that
both of them are some degree of amused and disgusted
with him. There is still -- there will *always* -- be a part of
him which rejects her view of Batman. Because she's...
she's just not *right* about him, all the time. She... Tim
looks at her, deliberately meeting her eyes through the
lenses of her glasses. She goes too *far*.

Oracle responds with another flare, and the monitor

Dick. Tumbling, smiling, flying, *smiling* --

"Try to avoid projecting your entirely understandable...
good *will* too far, Tim."

You know. Like Bruce does in terms of *Jason*.

Tim frowns. He really would've liked to get more
information on 'the Spoiler' before she'd disappeared so
completely from the Gotham vigilante network -- from
*Oracle's* network. He'd gotten some wonderfully
clear -- and vivid -- pictures of her with Jason --

She really wasn't your type.

He looks at her, ignoring the glare on her glasses as
much as possible. "And if it turns out Batman had good
reason to push Batgirl away?"

She tilts her head to the *other* side. On anyone else, it
would be laughter. Her avatar is holding its own sides. "Do
I have to answer that?"

Yes. No. Of course she doesn't. Because if Batgirl shouldn't
be *someone's* operative, then Bruce would've benched
her, or fired her. As opposed to... whatever he'd *actually*

Or, perhaps, he was too soft to do it on his own,
and --


The smile freezes on her face, and the flare behind her
eyes is entirely human. She lets him go. "Suit up. I expect
you back here by ten-thirty."


He's covered -- armored -- from head to heel, but it's the
same material in Jason's tunic. It's... comfortable in more
ways than he can quite express, and doesn't restrict his
movements very much at all -- though, judging by the films
he's seen of Jason, he's willing to bet this would be a very
different story if he actually got injured out here.

The original shorts are gone, but Jason's tights are made of
far lighter stuff.

It's... amusing to think that he'd recover from a bullet to the
thigh faster than someone who can break bones without

It's the sort of thought he only really has like this, with his
peripheral vision straitened by the goggles, and the world
itself something only vaguely perceivable. The sweat under
his own arms is far more important than the stats he's
getting on the actual temperature and wind-speed.

The silence in his head is... disconcerting.

Especially since it continues long after he thinks *that* out


It's not like Oracle is with him *all* the time, even when
he's tracking down hard data for her, or planting bugs in
places she can't reach.

The fact that he's reasonably sure she's not with him now
as a sort of punishment is... it makes it worse.

She *knows* how it feels to be out here, especially since
the only orders he has are to 'get found.' She understands
the importance of order itself, and his own weaknesses,
both in terms of this and... and *Batman*.

She can't expect him to just... she doesn't believe in
Batman (Robin), or anything else as far as he can see.
*He* needs more than that, in order to function, and
surely functionality is the most important thing? And
anyway, he's *sure* that if she'd actually just *told*
Batman how... how *disappointing* it had been (surely
it had to have been) to find herself on the outside,
separated, *away* --

Projection, offers the voice which isn't his, or hers. Or
maybe it is, this time. Maybe it doesn't matter. He
can't imagine what it must've been like in the days
after Batgirl and before Oracle.

In the days when Batman and Robin were still...
Batman and Robin.

He can't and he... he doesn't want to.

And he won't 'get found' if he just crouches on rooftops.
At all.

He moves, tracking the routes he's been given for Tim
Drake's daily runs. The maps Oracle had uploaded for him
on Batman, Robin, and Batgirl's patrol routes make things
even more... something.

His most recent runs had, actually, taken him around the
edges of Batgirl's usual areas -- very, very different from the
ones frequented by Batman and Robin separately and

Which part, of course, he'd already known.

And it makes sense on a number of levels, really. This is an
area with a great deal of petty street crime, at the semi-
random nexus of four rival gangs' territories. A place
demanding far more physical skill in its vigilantes than
finesse. Or, well, speech. It's just --

"What are *you* supposed to be?"

It's just that his *heart* is in his throat, because it's Jason --
*Robin* -- and he's not supposed to *be* here -- he's not
even supposed to be on-duty tonight and he's *not*
supposed to see *him*.

"Wait, lemme guess -- the Amazing Condom. No, wait,
Goggle Boy The --"

Tim jumps, awkwardly. The first fire escape jars him a little,
even through the boots. The next two are better.

"Aw, wait, it wasn't *that* lame..."

The last two are better than that, but not good enough.
Jason is *following* him. The alarms were sent the second
his heart rate increased, but Oracle is silent and this --

Well, he's trained for this. He's *been* trained for this, and
he was, in a way, raised *to* this. He stalks, he watches,
and he *evades*. The dark greys of his suit make him
blend even better than *Batman*, and he's spent four years
avoiding notice by Jason.

Longer for Bruce and Dick.


The maps are up in the blank space where Oracle *should*
be, a three-dimensional flood of carefully-labeled
representational reality, and he's just a little grey dot, just a
moving space in the darkness, silent and small.

If he had Robin's latest access codes, he could do a better
job of placing Jason wherever he is behind him, but... Tim
has studied him. He knows the way Jason moves and he
knows his habits and he knows that the only thing *he's*
done to capture Jason's attention is run.

Which may be enough to make him give up, if he can just --

Slam face-first into a wall of Batgirl.


Looks to me like you're doing fine, kiddo...

Which -- she has a *point*, but --

Jason skids to a stop in the mouth of the alley. "Hey, cool,
you caught Condom Boy."

"That is... his name?"

Batgirl's voice is surprising. Higher-pitched than he would've
thought, *younger*. It doesn't matter that she's barely older
than Jason, that he *knew* that. That she sounds like it is...

Is a hand, broad and strong on the back of his neck, barely
missing pressure points.

"Well, I'm *pretty* sure it isn't, but he hasn't been exactly

He doesn't *have* a name. Not really. He's just... just...

If you call yourself 'Meat Puppet,' you could probably
make Jason laugh again.

It's staggeringly tempting, not least because a laughing
Jason would, perhaps, be less likely to do things like spin
him -- painfully -- out of Batgirl's grip and slam him -- also
painfully, though less so -- against walls.

"So talk, kid. Or... hunh. I guess you *could* just be really
short." Jason reaches with his left hand -- the right is firmly
around Tim's throat -- and tugs, mostly idly, at the material
of the cowl under Tim's jaw.

"Can't talk?"

Jason frowns for a second, then snorts. "Well, *you* know
how to test that."

Which sounds incredibly -- "Oh fuck, *ow* --" He bites his
lip behind the cowl. Whatever Batgirl had just done to his
ribs made his armor look laughable, though it probably won't
cause permanent damage.

"Well, that answers *that* question. No excuses. Who are
you, and what are you doing in our city?"

It's his city, *too*. And he's... he's...

He really doesn't want Batgirl to do that again.

Nerve-strike. I'll teach you later.

Which he'll *appreciate*, but for now... for now Batgirl is
looking at him extremely curiously, and Jason is shifting his
hand against Tim's throat like he's about to *squeeze*, and
he could really use some help.

I wouldn't want to go too *far*...

*Oracle* --

"He is... listening. To something."

Jason nods, and taps at Tim's ears through the cowl. The
gauntlet scrapes against the fabric --

Oh, don't worry, I'll just turn the volume down.

"He's probably got a comm under there. The question is
*who* he's listening to. So are you gonna answer or does
BG get mean?"

"Oracle. I..." He's not supposed to... he hasn't even been
introduced to *Batman*, yet. He'd spent the entire
aftermath of the Quake as far away from the Clocktower
as he could get while *also* avoiding his parents'
suspicion *and* every single metahuman Oracle had
called in to help who *wasn't* supposed to know he

He's not supposed to tell *anyone*, but --

I'm sure I'll find a way to make you suffer for that,

The fact that the words are accompanied by her distinctly
amused avatar doesn't actually help, and --

"Funny, you don't *look* like a hot chick in fishnets."

"Alfred could help. With that." Batgirl moves like she's
laughing with her body, in a way entirely different than the
way Oracle's avatar does.

Jason snorts. "Man, I just *bet*. Anyway." He shakes Tim a
little. "Gimme a reason to buy that."

"Your name is Jason Todd. Hers is Cass --" The rest is, quite
literally, choked *off*.

You might have started with something a *bit* less likely
to make a mask get twitchy.

He's under just a little bit of *stress*, here, and also he
can't *breathe*, and he knows exactly how many pounds
of pressure have to be exerted before anyone *could*
choke him in the suit, and clearly Jason has been using the
grip-strengtheners. It would explain why the gauntlets were
the first thing about his uniform to change, and --

Calm down.

He's calm. He's --

"-- telling the truth," Batgirl says.

"Well, fucking *duh*, but --"

"About the Oracle."

Jason frowns, and squeezes one more time, hard enough to
make little explosions go off behind Tim's eyes. But then he
lets go, and Tim takes a moment to let his feet get
reacquainted with the ground and not vomit.

"Okay, so explain to me why you know *us* and we don't
know *you*," Jason says, kicking -- lightly -- at Tim's shin.

Oh, Jason.

Tim takes another moment to stand up straight again, and
also breathe. And cough. "She has her reasons. She doesn't
often share them with me."

Jason -- it's a *scowl* now -- crosses his arms over his

There's a question Tim hasn't asked, save for obliquely,
about why Oracle had never accepted the overtures
Jason had made to come back to the Manor, to the *Cave*.
He knows they were made. The fact that he has footage of
two such attempts is just proof that there were many, many

And Oracle doesn't answer the question this time,

Batgirl just... Tim frankly isn't sure whether she's
watching him or not. It's the sort of thing to make him
wonder how people feel when they look at his goggles,
and the black-out lenses behind them. Then again, the
only people who ever have are Oracle and Dinah.

Dinah has a tendency to ruffle his hair *and* give him
entirely nonsensical advice about his... relationship with

Another -- light -- kick. "I still want a name."

Tim Drake, he doesn't say. And Oracle's avatar is kicking its
*feet* in laughter. Her... hunh.

Oh no.

"Avatar," Tim says, offering his hand. "Good to... be
strangled by you."

You didn't.

He really did. Batgirl cocks her head, and he *knows* she's
looking at him now. And Jason isn't scowling so much as
raising his eyebrow behind the mask. And not taking his

"Avatar of *what*?"

'Of whom' would, perhaps, be a better question. He puts
his hand back down at his side.

You know, I *have* a suit designed to make you appear
female to the casual observer.

He isn't surprised. And he isn't answering any more of
Jason's questions tonight. "I'm here for Batgirl," he says,
*to* Batgirl. He can feel Jason still looking at him, and it
makes every part of his neck that isn't sore feel...

Especially the suck-mark.

He doesn't let himself look back. "I have... a job offer for
you. From Oracle."

"Hey, *hold* on, I'm still trying to figure out why she isn't
with *us*, anymore!"

Which would, of course, explain why Jason is *here*,

He always was a bit... unpredictable.

Of course. He still isn't looking at Jason.

Your restraint is admirable. Avatar.

"Batgirl -- *Cass* -- what's going *on*?"

"He doesn't want to work with me," she says, blank and
final and -- yes -- a bit bleak.

"Oracle does," and Tim shifts a little, just enough to move
himself slightly between her and Jason. "I've been
authorized to bring you back to base, and to answer any
questions --"

"Back *off*, kid, this isn't about you --"

But Batgirl catches him before he can hit the wall again, and
says, "Yes. It is."

"Cass --"

"I will not... leave you."

The look Jason is giving Batgirl is absolutely fascinating, a
mix of confusion, frustration, fear, and genuine anger. There
are undercurrents, and a part of Tim wants, very badly, to
insist that it has something to do with that abortive trip to
Ethiopia, a dead American nurse with a certain superficial
resemblance to Jason, and all the changes the Robin suit has
undergone since then. It's a theory, and a tempting one.
More tempting because that's one of the few areas of
Jason's existence he *doesn't* have full reports on.

I didn't, actually, edit that file.

As opposed to the others. He's willing to stipulate that
Batman keeps more secrets about the boys who've been his
Robins than he does about just about everything else. Even
from Oracle. Which just makes it all the more tempting,
really. A secret, as opposed to merely ignorance.

But Cassandra had been living in Wayne Manor until very
recently, and every bit of information he's begged or
stolen... it could simply be a matter of family.

Other people tended to take that sort of thing very seriously,
after all. Perhaps especially people who've lost other family
members through tragic means.

Oracle doesn't seem to have anything to say to that, which
is a different sort of intriguing. He wonders how the
Commissioner is doing.

And, really, Jason's expression -- and the one he can just
barely discern on Batgirl's face through *her* cowl, and
the fact that the two of them are *still* just staring at
each other -- would probably be even more fascinating
if Batgirl and Jason weren't doing an excellent job of
dislocating both of his shoulders. Tim clears his throat.

Jason tightens his grip.

Batgirl loosens hers.

Life is about balance, suggests the voice which doesn't
belong to anything but the more confused portions of
himself, and Tim reaches up to cover Jason's hand with his

And gets another scowl.

Don't hate me. "It's not like you won't know where to find
her," is what comes out of his mouth. It's only slightly less

And Jason doesn't respond with anything but silence, before
simply walking away.

He knows he's been watching too long when he can feel
Batgirl's attention on himself.

It's entirely possible that you wouldn't have had to stare
at all.

A good point. Still...

"You're... talking with the Oracle now?"

She really does sound very young. Tim nods. "I have certain
enhancements which allow us to be in contact at all times."

"You are... her body."

It isn't a question. It's just extremely disturbing.

Oracle's avatar raises an eyebrow.

But doesn't disagree.


It's eleven by the time he gets Batgirl settled in her new
apartment -- she doesn't have much in the way of
luggage -- next door to his own.

Considering the fact that he'd wired most of the building, it
really isn't a surprise that he has a neighbor, now. Or, well,
an *official* neighbor. He's reasonably sure that there are
no other operatives *here*.


He drinks tea with Batgirl in a not-entirely-uncomfortable
silence, and lets her stroke through his hair until she can
find the scars. They're quite small, and Tim had been able
to hide the shaved patches by giving Tim Drake a brief
fetish for baseball caps followed by a timely (if unflattering)

"You chose this," she says. It's only a question because she's
looking at him so intently.

Because she's *reading* him, and -- And is, undoubtedly,
reading his discomfort as well, right now.

Her expression doesn't change. Chances are, she's used to

And he's supposed to be entirely honest, and Oracle hadn't
amended that, yet, and... she doesn't amend it now. "It
didn't feel like I had a choice. Not really. It still doesn't."

When Batgirl frowns, she looks even younger.

"You're confused?"

A nod.

"She caught me doing something I shouldn't have been
doing." Not without training, or permission, anyway. "The
*choice* I was given was to stop... or continue, under her

The frown is gone in an instant, replaced by something
which looks terrifyingly like understanding and happiness.

"Batgirl..." He doesn't know what he wants to say, not
really. Something about the peculiar delight Power Girl
had taken in making him twitch before she'd stopped
working for Oracle entirely. Or maybe just something
along the lines of how Batgirl's smile makes her look
approximately ten. "I --"

"Like Batman," she says, and the corners of her eyes
crinkle in a smile while she finishes her tea.

At eleven-thirty, Oracle will check on Mrs. MacIlvenne to
make sure she isn't doing anything but watching Jay Leno,
or perhaps snoring. If she isn't, Tim will either have to call
home and provide reassurance (an occasional necessity),
or actually *return* home.

This has yet to happen, but it helps to be prepared. There's
a bike in the parking garage which he is, at this point, only
supposed to use for emergencies. There are times when
he wishes he had a few more emergencies.

In any event, he has *time*, and he doesn't have enough
tea to fill it with, and Batgirl is done with his hair.

He wonders if Oracle will change her name.

I gave it to her.

It doesn't seem like it's the point, somehow.

Oracle's avatar steps into being, and wavers alarmingly for
an instant -- he can feel Batgirl looking at him -- but the
waver is, of course, purposeful.

This Batgirl is one he's never met, even in photographs, and
her smile isn't sharp at all. It is, in fact, breathtakingly
*soft*. It's... Barbara. He wonders if Dick had ever seen her.
*Really* seen her. He hasn't lived in Gotham for years --

Probably not.

-- and the visits he makes are to Wayne Manor. Tim
wonders, mostly idly, if there's... overture footage of
*that* sort he's missing.

Oracle ignores him, and, after another moment, the
woman becomes taller, and leaner, and darker. Her hair
is far longer than he's ever seen on *any* images of
Batgirl, past or present, and --

And perhaps I'll merely change her *clothes*.

Tim blinks, and tries to imagine it. Had Batgirl -- *this*
Batgirl -- ever even *worn* high heels? It doesn't seem
like something Cain would think to teach.

Men are so short-sighted.

Batgirl -- he will, perhaps, be somewhat better off if he
begins thinking of her as 'Cassandra' -- merely watches
him, patient and disconcerting. This makes sense, as
well, he thinks.

For a girl for whom *all* verbal conversations are, perhaps,
familiarly opaque.

Before he leaves her, he pulls a red wax pencil from one of
his belt pouches and, after a moment's deliberation, draws
an 'R' on her window. It's not as if Batgirl is likely to just
*call* Jason, after all.

She smiles approvingly.


It's twelve-thirty-four, and he's suited-up to the waist, and
naked below. The desk he's sitting on isn't one of Oracle's
favorites, which means that there are several perfectly clear
inches between all parts of him and her equipment. Even
with his knees bent to his chest and his toes curling over
the edge.

This is going to stop mattering very soon.

"I'm actually not sure how familiar Batgirl is with escrima
sticks, or staff-work in general," Oracle says, idle
everywhere save for her right hand.

"It doesn't seem like... like the tool. Of an assassin."

The smile lines at the corners of Oracle's eyes are the only
sign that she's reacting to his... distress.

Oh, I don't think that's really the word for it.

Aloud, she says, "Not in the cultures Cain seems partial to,

It's less of a thrust than a sharp rocking motion. If she
weren't holding the stick at *that* angle, it wouldn't be
doing much for him, really.

As it is...

As it is, he has to whimper before he can remember how to
form *words*, again. "She could... teach me a lot."

"If I let her."

True. And... and --

"Pay attention," she says.

Inside, in the black, her avatar is cupping his avatar's face,
pulling it out of the shadows of indifferent perception,
pulling it *close*. He thinks of the sharp, impossible points
of Oracle's 'fingers,' and feels himself sweating --

-- *bleeding* --

Don't be so unimaginative. Fingers. Her *fingers* --

The bluntly rounded edge of the stick circles and jabs at his
prostate --

-- reach inside, push inside his avatar's head until its eyes
are tight, until the goggles fall off into nothing, until --

-- he's groaning with every thrust, until his arms are shaking
with the need to let him just *collapse*, until she's --

-- all the way in, and all of his greys and absences --

-- so full, so *taken*, and it doesn't matter that the escrima
stick is slimmer than Oracle's smallest toy, that --

-- she *can't* do this to him, that --

-- that --

My --

"Avatar," she says, and Tim jerks, knocking a pile of dusty,
old-fashioned books to the floor and sobbing, coming. Again,
and for her, and the only color behind his eyes is green.


At one-seventeen, Oracle remotely shuts off the ringer on
his house phone for long enough for Tim to call and leave a
message full of clear, sincere apologies and vague
references to a friend's couch, movies, and a group project
which does not, actually, exist.

He'll almost certainly be back at his own house in time to
erase the message and make his bed look slept in, but it
pays to be thorough about these things.

When Oracle raises her arms to remove her sports bra, the
hair beneath them is the same surprisingly bright color as it
always is. She leaves her leggings on -- she usually sleeps in
them -- and gestures for him to join her on the bed.

Her nipples are somewhat large for the size of her breasts,
the aureoles a dusty, dusky rose-brown.

She likes it when he bites.

She laughs when he sucks.

She comes, shuddering and making a soft humming sound,
after he's found just the right rhythm of tongue and teeth
for her right nipple -- and fingertips and nails for her left --
and held it for just under seven minutes.

He kisses each nipple once, because he can, and lets her
roll him onto his side, away from her.

She bites the back of his neck, lightly, and says, "You'd be
a very popular boy if I gave you a longer leash."

Do you think about doing this to Jason?

Possibly, he thinks. And also of course.

I can't decide if I want you to think more or not.

Inside, the somewhat more rounded (pleased) than usual
avatar presents a slow-spinning image of a short, stocky,
smirking boy in the original Robin suit. He has a harpoon
gun in one hand, and he looks incredibly young.

Despite the fact that it was only two years ago, and that
Jason then was *still* taller than Tim is now.

He smiles to himself, and thinks of the flash of Dick's small,
brown nipples he'd gotten when Dick's t-shirt flew up during
that training session Cyborg had filmed.

She laughs, inside and out.

Perhaps I'll find something for you to do in New York,
one day.

Tim closes his eyes, and smiles a little wider.


At five-oh-three, Tim pulls a turtleneck out of the closet
which will let him get out of the house without too many
winking, 'sly' questions from Mrs. MacIlvenne. The t-shirt
he'll wear beneath it will, of course, get him the precise sort
of winking, 'sly' questions at school he needs to maintain his
image and cover.

The picture Oracle gave him for his wallet is of Dinah in an
extravagantly red wig and far too much makeup.

She assured him Dinah would be amused.

At five-oh-six, Tim slides into his own, cold bed and
deliberately rolls around. He's wired, exhausted, and his
body wants him to stay right where he is.

If he does, he'll be asleep within minutes, and when Mrs.
MacIlvenne calls him for breakfast he'll be a zombie.

There's some database work he could do, of course. There
*always* is.

Or, he could check his film, and break the cameras down for
a good, thorough cleaning.

Or, he could check to see which files Oracle had re-edited
without telling him since the last time he'd checked, four
days ago.

Or you could just lie there like a good boy.

He doesn't want to sleep. Not until he's home from school,
and can get at least a few hours, anyway.

Who says I'll let you?

It's an excellent point.

Tim pulls the covers up, and rests, and waits.


.That sometime did me seek.