Disclaimers: None belong to me.
Spoilers: Major ones for "War Games," "Identity Crisis,"
"Huntress: Cry For Blood," and the "Fresh Blood"
storyline in Robin and Batgirl. Multiple
smaller references to events in Birds of Prey
and older storylines in Robin.
Summary: There are always ties.
Ratings Note: PG-13.
Author's Note: I was rereading "Cry For Blood" earlier
and this sort of smacked me in the face.
Acknowledgments: To LC and Livia for audiencing,
and to Houie and Scriviner for many, many helpful
suggestions. All remaining mistakes, faults, and
ambiguities are entirely my own fault.
After informing Batgirl of his (general) plans and
(approximate) schedule -- which is, at this point, a
courtesy -- there's no one left who *needs* to
It's a Tuesday, after all, and Tim's only
responsibilities until Friday evening are the ones
he has given himself.
He thinks he should...
He thinks there should be something there for that,
something more beyond what has been shoved
away for a better (there is no better, there will
*be* no better) time. Something to give him
pause on the not-quite-commercial flight paid for
with Tim Drake's inheritances and trusts.
There is nothing, and he spends the few hours
It's Oracle, and her operatives, and so he doesn't
expect it to be easy. He's scheduled time to learn the
lay of the land physically, and, more importantly,
As expected, Oracle finds him.
Across the screen of his palm scroll the words, "This
is a surprise."
The virus is familiar enough that his pad hardly even
hums in protest. A routine invasion.
He wonders if the Bat-Computers miss it. It's an idle
thought, and it provides Oracle time to send, "Albeit
not an unpleasant one," followed by co-ordinates.
He's scanned six times that he can register -- and
undoubtedly multiple more that he can't -- before
he's allowed access. The base is new, but precisely
as secure as it should be.
He toggles the lenses down before he enters, and
can't quite question the aura of necessity the action
had even when he finds Oracle alone. Barbara.
"Robin," she says, "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
She means it. Barbara is an accomplished liar, but,
these days, saves most of it for Oracle. Perhaps it's
something to do with the nature of her team. Perhaps
"Robin...?" She takes a sharp breath, but her voice is
calm and low. "Did you... want to talk?"
"Yes." He does. "Another time. I'm looking for
This gets him a raised eyebrow, and the pursed
mouth of irritation which -- he's quite positive about
this -- isn't meant for him so much as for the suit.
Although it's entirely true that he doesn't actually
know anyone who approves of the way he tends to
seek out Huntress' companionship -- or understands
why. Even now, it feels more like their problem than
It's just that now that thought seems... perhaps not
less disloyal than merely less important. Either way.
"Is she available?"
The look he gets is the sharp, unconscious/un-self-
conscious measuring stare of the sort he'd generally
thought he'd left in Gotham, or at least behind
Batgirl's cowl in Bludhaven.
In the time that he's known her, it has always been
far more intense with Barbara. After all, he's never
seen her in a mask. Not really. He raises an
"Is there something I need to know?"
He hasn't, precisely, decided. "No," he says.
Barbara nods, slowly, and wheels the few feet back
to what appears to be a tertiary computer bank. She
types for a moment, and hesitates. "Not here, I
Barbara types again, and then rattles off an address.
If he's remembering correctly, they'll be squarely in
the middle of the sort of 'transition' neighborhood
with high enough traffic to create their typical
impression of 'privacy' and low enough major
criminal activity to give them time. Thoughtful.
"Thank you," he says, and turns for the window
which, of course, isn't there at all. And then he
turns for the way he'd come in.
He forces himself to pause.
"We all have reasons to leave, or try to. Sometimes
it's part of what makes us... who we are." She
doesn't say the word 'family.'
He closes his eyes behind the mask for a moment,
and then looks back over his shoulder. "I know," he
says. It's why he has no intention of staying *here*,
if he's in the mood to be brutally honest with
He's come to treasure those moods.
He keeps walking.
Huntress only makes him wait for ten minutes before
her boot-heels announce her presence. The boots
are, actually, quite similar to the ones she'd worn
when they'd first met -- well-armored and positively
studded with weaponry -- it's just that the newest
design isn't any more *practical* than the old.
"Huntress," he says.
"Boy Wonder. This is a shock."
He doesn't know where to begin. It's something he
should've spent more time considering.
After a moment, Huntress crouches next to him on
the roof and stares at him with Helena's softest
eyes. "Robin --"
"Don't. I have something I need to ask you."
She doesn't recoil, or even blink very much. She is...
accustomed to them. All of them, nearly, in their own
There's nothing for it. "You killed your father."
Her eyes harden, but, otherwise, her expression
She's had time to grow accustomed to her own
thoughts, of course. And her own new fashion
"My father was killed --"
"By Tomaso Panessa. His confession mentioned the
Bertinellis by name, of course. 'A matter of family,
long overdue,' is, I believe, the pertinent quote. He's
a model prisoner at Blackgate."
"I don't know --"
"Helena," he says, and closes his eyes behind the
mask again until he can swallow. Until he can
breathe. "Don't. Please."
There's a long silence, and, eventually, the rigid,
brittle tension slips out of Helena's body and is
replaced with something older. "So did Big Daddy
Bat send you, or is this just another one of the
terrifying ways you fill your time?"
The question is noticeably -- and notably, for Helena --
passionless and lacking in bile. He responds in kind,
as best as he can, "Neither."
This gets him a snort, and something like a spark
behind her eyes. "Better answer needed, kid. If you
actually *want* the story behind it."
He has it. He wants it from her, just the same. Tim
nods. "You must have realized -- we're a family. Not
a club, not allies -- not really. Not all of us, anyway,
and..." Tim frowns, and tries again. "We keep secrets
from each other. All of us." We lie and we omit and
we *hurt* -- "There are things I was never supposed
to know about..." Dick, Bruce, Barbara, Batgirl.
"... about everyone, that I know, just the same.
There are things known about me."
Helena sighs, and scratches lightly at one of the
bullet scars on her abdomen. "And, of course, when
it comes to *me*, all of you know every last detail."
The abortive attempts to begin again as a teacher. A
certain parking attendant. A closet full of uniforms
which are either old or *equally* abortive. "More or
"In any event, yours isn't the only secret of this sort
I'm aware of. For whatever that may be worth."
The look he receives is... complicated, to say the
least. New cynicism and old hope and a dozen things
he can't -- quite -- parse. "You still haven't told me
why *you* want to know. No -- why you want to
He remembers the first time he'd been to her
apartment in Gotham. It hasn't been sold -- and
*isn't* on any public market. He remembers the
smells of fresh herbs and perfume, and the way the
darkness as he waited for her to return home had
felt something like... He isn't sure.
Familiar, perhaps, he thinks, as he reaches for the
solvent that will allow him to remove his mask.
He hears Helena take a breath beside him, but she
doesn't move, or startle in any other way. "Should
"Yes," he says, and takes it off, blinking at the
change in light. There are more stars out here, and
less of everything to which he's grown accustomed.
She reaches for him, but doesn't touch. Not even
with her gauntlets to stifle (some of) the intimacy.
She bites her lip, and frowns, and laughs. "I've seen
you before, I think, but I don't know where."
"I was doing my best to be unnoticeable, at the
time." Shakespeare, in the park, and Dana... Dana.
"My name is Tim Drake, Helena."
*This* she blinks at -- rapidly -- and he supposes --
"God. *God*. Oracle had those *files* up. Autopsy
reports and articles, and she shut them down fast
enough, but." She scrubs a hand back through her
hair, starts to rise, and stops. And crouches again.
"Dinah and I were speculating about whether or
not we'd be heading back east... if it was... a
"It was," he says, and wonders how much of the
Canary's 'speculation' was for Helena's benefit. And
if he'll ever be able to visit Arkham without visiting
Loring. Without needing to... "And it's closed."
The string of Italian sounds heartfelt, and manages
to be both unconsciously pious and consciously
obscene. There are no longer any religious icons
or ornaments in any of Helena's residences that
he's aware of. He waits for the blasphemy to
slacken, some, before asking,
"Does it answer your question?"
"Some psycho had your father murdered, and you're
wondering how I could..." The expression on her
face is stricken, pained. Obvious with her entirely
useless mask and every inch of exposed skin. Even
the muscles in her scarred abdomen are twitching,
"Something like that," is what he chooses to say.
The laugh is more of a bark than anything else, but
it's sincere. "So you *weren't* planning on asking
the easy ones, any time -- Maria, why am I trying
Because it's what we do, to a certain extent. He
can't quite say it aloud.
"Kid -- *Tim*, I..."
He waits, and watches her stare at the patch of rooftop
between her boots.
"There's nothing I can say that wouldn't be an
"I came fully prepared for your answers to be personal
ones, Helena --"
"No. *No*," she says, and stands for real, this time. She
doesn't look real when she turns her back. The purple
is too bright, the white piping too broad, the hair too
She wears more makeup than she used to -- and it's
more skillfully applied. The perfume is different.
"Helena, I need you to --"
"You don't need *anything* from me. I never thought
that I'd get away with it, and I *didn't*. Invite to the
clubhouse -- to the *family* -- rescinded, right?"
"Unofficially," he says. The suspicion -- the *fact* --
has, after all, never made it into any of the reports
he could access. And Bruce simply isn't as *good*
as he is.
When she laughs, she's real again. He's never heard
her laugh in a way that didn't sound, at base,
fundamentally troubled. "I killed my father -- my
biological *father* -- in cold blood. He was
responsible for the deaths of my real family. My..."
She shakes her head. "It isn't why I did it."
He suspected as much. Still. "Why, then?"
"You tell me," she says, low and rough. Her back is
"He knew your secrets, and held your life in his hands.
He proposed to make you a... perhaps a bodyguard?
More likely, judging from what I've learned about
Cassamento from other sources, he planned to exact
some lengthy, illegal, humiliating revenge."
"He hated me for existing. Because my survival
wasn't..." She looks at him, at last, and her smile is
rueful and faintly unsteady. "I got to find out why I
was spared, Tim. It was a *mistake*. The assassin
was meant to spare my *mother*."
Tim nods, more to give the pieces time to fall into
place than out of acknowledgment.
"I have nothing to give you, Tim."
"You killed your *father* --"
The punch isn't entirely unexpected, and it's far closer
to a practiced slap than a real blow. "I have *nothing*
to give you," she says again, but doesn't twist her
wrist out of his grip, even though he knows she could.
He squeezes, lightly. "For most of the time Batman
was training me, and well into my earliest days as
Robin, my father was in a coma --"
"I read that, I --"
"For most of *that* time -- nearly until he woke up --
the assumption was that his insurance from Drake
Industries was paying for the upkeep of a vegetable.
He was dead, for me. To me."
She's searching his face, his eyes, but she doesn't
"I was relieved," he says, and watches her start to
frown. "I had a new home. I had a purpose. I had...
I had Batman."
It's better to watch her mouth twist. That familiar,
sharp curve of baffled hurt, of...
"He wasn't my father. He was *better*."
"What. What are you saying, Robin?"
It's strange to have something which feels this clear
without offering anything resembling language or
rationality. But not very. "Do you have regrets,
"That I didn't do it with my own hands. That I...
sunk to his level."
Yes, she would think of it that way. "Would you have
done anything else differently?"
"Called you, you mean?" The laugh doesn't quite
make it out of her body.
And the reminder that she could have called
Nightwing, as well, doesn't quite make it out of his
"What would you have done, Robin? Really." The
question is gentle.
"Erased his records. Burned them, if necessary.
Gotten you a new identity, a new life. Removed the
question of your jeopardy from the equation.
Possibly dosed Cassamento with something
non-fatal to everything but brain cells."
She smiles at him, equally gently. "Unacceptable."
"Pride isn't --"
"*Identity*, Robin. We're talking about *identity*.
Is Tim Drake really that different from --"
The smile gets wider, for a moment, and then fades
as she (finally) touches the skin beneath his eyes.
Her gauntlets are scratchy on the damp,
always-sensitive skin, but her touch is light enough
to endure it. "It isn't the question you want to ask,
anyway," she says, after a moment.
No. It isn't. He waits, and doesn't let himself --
"It isn't your fault that he's dead. Even though I
killed my father in a way you might have
considered using to kill your own."
Think. He swallows back the bile.
"Even though *your* father didn't deserve it, and
even though... you don't think I was wrong. Not
really," she says, and this laugh only deserves the
definition because she's Helena, and he's Tim,
and they know each other.
"I never did," he says, because he can.
He watches Helena shake, and treasures the
mood, once again.
The jet is ready for him when he arrives at the
airport, and the pilot smells faintly of latex. It's a
gift, or perhaps an offering.
After his sixteenth birthday, Alfred's *true* disguises
always involved a great deal more cologne, as a
matter of course. It isn't a surprise to see him.
Necessity had given him Barbara, and Bruce had
given him Batgirl.
He's sure Dick will show up, at some point, or
another. There are always... ties.
He takes the co-pilot seat, and uses the first hour
of the flight to familiarize himself, slowly, with the
workings of a plane with no weapons, no shielding,
and nothing remotely interesting beyond its clean,
When he's content that he *could* fly the
machine -- fairly well -- should the need arise, he
says, "How are you, Alfred?"
"Quite well, Master Timothy. Shall I trample over
the rules of courtesy and fail to ask you the same?"
Tim leans back and closes his eyes. "It doesn't
The sniff is sharp, but it isn't a sigh. Or even an
eyebrow. And, after a moment, "Did you find what
I have *nothing* to give you. "I think it's a question
No. Not even remotely. Still... there are things he
can say which are nearly true. "Does absolution
have meaning when offered by a sinner?
Correction -- an *unrepentant* sinner."
"Hm. I daresay the question *should* be, 'does
absolution have meaning.'"
Tim smiles, a little. "I like her, you know." He'd
chosen her, as Steph had chosen him.
This time, Alfred gives him a sigh. "Your continued
inability to fail to find yourself in her company has
been somewhat telling."
As he'd chosen Steph, in turn. "I figured."
Alfred is silent for several minutes. They're flying
east, into the night, and Arthur Brown is long dead
through no one's fault but his own, and Bludhaven
will be waiting when they land. For him. For Robin.
And the weight of everything Alfred isn't saying
increases by the mile. He waits.
"Tim... there is a reason why many cultures place
stringent limits on the more explicit signs of
mourning. There are many reasons."
He wants to laugh. It's enough of a shock that he
considers vomiting for several moments, before
deciding that it would just make patrol even more
unpleasant than it normally would be. "Are you
suggesting my grief has shifted to brooding, Alfred?"
Alfred raises an eyebrow. "I would never dream of
suggesting you weren't capable of doing both
simultaneously, young sir. You have *always* been
something of a prodigy, after all --"
"Please don't." Please.
"You brought up the subject of theology," Alfred
continues, steady and clear. "I do not think the fact
that I've become concerned about the state of your
*soul* is irrelevant."
It's a slap, and it's a welcome one, in all honesty.
There's a reason why it's a traditional method of
snapping someone out of useless, counterproductive
Tim opens his eyes, and looks at Alfred. "We're all
"And illusion preserves innocence as well as guilt."
"You're speaking of the nebulous --"
"'True, I talk of dreams,'" Alfred says, and smiles in
a way which is only partially for Tim.
Nightmares, Tim doesn't say, because it's petty.
And because it isn't -- entirely -- true.
They don't say anything for the rest of the flight, nor
for the trip back to Tim's apartment. Alfred changes
his jacket and hat for the drive, and removes the
false mustache from his mask.
Tim leaves him at the curb.
Batgirl meets up with him, silent and perfect, just as
he's about to move in to start a bar fight.
Theoretically, he's come for information, but he won't
get it with any degree of ease or regularity until
he -- *they* -- have just a few more nights like this
Lean, armor-covered muscle at his back and blood
on his gauntlets. The stink of cheap alcohol on his
cape and the necessity of using his other senses to
catalog Batgirl's movements:
The meaty thuds of her punches, the dig of her hip
against his spine as she spins, the scent of her
sweat -- unchanging throughout the duration of the
When they're done, the few people they'd managed
to leave conscious don't have enough to offer.
It isn't unexpected. It *is* frustrating.
When they return to the rooftops, Batgirl places a
hand on his shoulder.
Tim doesn't raise an eyebrow behind the mask. He
doesn't have to.
The curve of Batgirl's smile beneath the cowl is
visible in the fleeting pass of clouds from over the
sickly, yellowed moon. It's gentle and accepting.
He can't decide if it would be better or not if he
could think of it as incongruous, or at least
undeserved. They're all killers, every one.
"Welcome," she says. "Home."
A WEIGHT of awe,
not easy to be borne,
Fell suddenly upon my Spirit--cast
From the dread bosom of the unknown past,
When first I saw that family forlorn.
Speak Thou, whose massy strength and stature scorn
The power of years--pre-eminent, and placed
Apart, to overlook the circle vast--
Speak, Giant-mother! tell it to the Morn
While she dispels the cumbrous shades of Night;
Let the Moon hear, emerging from a cloud;
At whose behest uprose on British ground
That Sisterhood, in hieroglyphic round
Forth-shadowing, some have deemed, the infinite
The inviolable God, that tames the proud!
-- "The Monument Commonly Called Long Meg and Her Daughters, Near the
River Eden," by William Wordsworth