The photo of Greco Maroni sampling a two pound brick of cocaine is one of Tim’s better efforts if he does say so himself. A bit of expert dodging under the brim of Maroni’s pulled low cap casts his face in sharp, felonious relief and combined with the minute and a half of audio Tim recorded, detailing the purchase of five kilos set for tonight, he’s looking to go down for a solid ten years in prison.
The snag, Tim finds, is Bruce Wayne’s continued paranoia. There are three new layers of security on the Batcomputer, effectively locking out Tim’s remote-in tool unless he wants to plant a giant red flag on his location. Spoiler: he doesn’t.
Tim glances at the clock. The buy is going down at 11:00 pm and it’s already half past six. He doesn’t have the time to sneak into one of the computer labs at Gotham U, spoof the IP address through at least five countries, and exploit the vulnerability he’s identified in Wayne’s code.
Sighing, Tim contemplates calling the tip in to the GCPD instead. But Robin took a lead pipe to the face—twice—during the Bats’ last confrontation with the Maronis and he’s sure Jason is itching to get some of his own back.
It’s going to cut him someday, this affinity he feels for Robin and the rest of the Bats, Tim thinks as he slides the photographs into a manila envelope, careful not to leave fingerprints, and drops a cheap new flash drive with the audio file in alongside.
They use the evidence Tim leaves on the desktop of the Batcomputer, but no matter how accurate or helpful, it will always be suspect when they don’t know its provenance. Tim’s considered opening a line of communication under a pseudonym, something fanciful like Delphi or Harbinger, except Batman isn’t the world’s greatest detective for nothing and eventually Tim knows he’d slip up and it would all end in tears and hey, I’m your next door neighbor and I’ve been basically stalking you and your kids for almost a decade now.
Tim pulls on his coat and a pair of soft wool gloves that belonged to his father and turns out all the lights in his cold, echoing mansion before walking down the lane to Wayne Manor. The gates are high and imposing and somewhat ludicrous since the gaps in the large, stylized W are wide enough for Tim to slip through easily.
Tim drops the envelope on the front mat and is about to beat a hasty retreat when Ace starts barking. Fuck, Tim thinks, as the door swings open and Jason Todd peers out curiously. Fuck.
“Hey, kid. You selling Girl Scout cookies or something?”
Tim frowns. Perhaps the lens of his camera is somewhat rose-tinted. “I’m seventeen.”
“Really,” Jason says, looking at Tim skeptically.
Tim wills himself not to flush. It’s not even a lie. He can’t help that he still gets mistaken for fourteen. “Yes,” he says, clearing his throat. “Look, sorry this is kind of odd. Some guy gave me fifty bucks to leave this envelope for you.” There, now that was a lie.
Jason looks askance at Tim’s gloves. Tim wasn’t about to leave fingerprints even externally on the envelope but gloves shouldn’t be too suspicious considering the biting cold snap that’s just swept through. He blows out a deliberate breath and watches it hang in the cold air.
Jason bends down to pick up the envelope and Tim turns away, but not quick enough. Jason extracts the pile of slick photos and his eyes widen. His hand shoots out to catch Tim by the wrist. “Who gave you these?”
Tim shrugs. “Some guy,” he repeats, motioning vaguely back toward the street with his free hand. Too much detail from civilians is always suspicious.
“Some guy,” Jason drawls. “What did he look like?”
“I don’t know,” Tim says, frowning. “Normal. Thirties. Dark hair. Why? Is it something bad?” He reaches theatrically for the photos.
“No,” Jason says, pulling them out of Tim’s grasp, “It’s fine. Thanks,” and closes the door in his face.
Really, Tim thinks, as he stares at the brass knocker, that could have gone a lot worse.
There’s a photo of Maroni—not one of Tim’s, a police mug shot—on the front page of the paper the next day. He has a purpling bruise high on his right cheekbone and Tim can read it as Jason's revenge easy as a book.
Tim tucks the paper under his arm and hitches his backpack higher on his shoulder as he walks through the sliding glass doors of Gotham General. The tile squeaks beneath his shoes.
His father is getting his afternoon physical therapy when Tim enters the long term care unit. Passive range of motion, his arms and legs manipulated like a marionette, to stave off complete atrophy.
"Hey, Dana," Tim says.
"Hi, Tim. How's school?" Dana asks, flexing Jack's elbow.
Dana is Tim’s favorite PT. She talks to his father like he's still a person and has never said anything about the time she found Tim sobbing soundlessly into a pillow in the corner chair.
"Sapping my will to live," Tim says pulling out his twenty pound Econ textbook.
"Them's the breaks, kid," Dana sympathizes. She does ten more reps and then washes her hands and gives Tim the TV remote. "I'll see you next time."
Tim’s scanning for the History channel when he catches a glimpse of Bruce Wayne’s glib smile and flips back to the news. Wayne is cutting a blue ribbon with a pair of obnoxiously large scissors, his dark-haired children arrayed behind him. Cassandra and Jason look politely and less politely bored. Dick has an arm around the shoulders of the new kid who Tim has only had the chance to see in action once, snapping both of a suspect’s arms, before he was pulled off rotation for what Tim assumes were remedial we-don’t-kill-or-overly-maim-people lessons.
The scene cuts away and Tim draws in a sharp breath as the next story unfolds. Lex Luthor is standing at a podium, hands motioning for silence as he makes his announcement. The caption at the bottom of the screen reads LEXCORP TO PURCHASE DRAKE INDUSTRIES.
Tim feels something in him snap.
“Wake up!” Tim screams, shaking his father’s limp shoulders. Jack is pale beneath the sheets. He’s always so pale. “It’s been three years! Wake up!”
The only one who wakes up is Tim, four hours later, on a stretcher in the hallway, with a mouth full of cotton and a nurse checking his pulse at the wrist. She helps him sit up, gives him a cup of water and tells him, not unkindly, that he knocked out two orderlies before he got needle-jabbed in the neck with a syringe of Ativan.
Tim hacks into the electronic monitor logs that night. His father’s depressed brain activity didn’t so much as waver during the whole sordid episode.
Tim loves his father, but a part of him lets go, reaches instead for the memory of his mother and her steel spine, the cut of her smile.
Drake Industries owns 584.71 pounds of green kryptonite.
It was discovered during a research expedition in the Marianas Trench, delving for xenophyophores. There’s video footage of the find from behind a diver’s mask, bubbles outlining the frame. An eerie green glow surrounded by the dark of five thousand fathoms. It’s listed as an asset in the annual report, tentatively valued at seventeen million.
Tim knows exactly what Lex Luthor wants.
Tim swipes rainwater off the lens of his camera and adjusts the focus.
There's a 42-carat diamond on display at the Gotham Natural Science Museum across the street. It pains Tim that his life has come to a point where he's more interested in his board director's indiscretions with his mistress in the adjacent hotel.
Blackmail isn't the most elegant solution but Tim doesn't have a Lucius Fox. What he has is a high-resolution Nikon and an intense need to stall. There are twenty three days before the planned buyout.
Tim will never understand how his parents had the foresight to corner the market on pletarium six months before it became the most in-demand resource in the world and set up an R&D department that turns out cutting-edge cybernetic advances like clockwork but left Tim with a boardroom full of sharks and no control over his majority shares when they died—figuratively, in his father’s case.
Tim’s trust isn’t released until his eighteenth birthday and July can’t come soon enough. Frankly, Tim’s surprised his mother didn’t rise from the grave when Luthor made his announcement about taking over DI, but the lilies Tim leaves against her headstone every Sunday remain wilting and undisturbed.
Tim waits until Arnold’s hands are unhooking his mistress’ bra before he snaps the shot. Proof is only useful if it’s undeniable.
He’s packing his camera away when the soft fall of footsteps makes him freeze. Tim thinks he’d rather face the Joker than one of the Bats right now, with a memory card full of blackmail voyeurism and Crime Alley shots that scream your mystery surveillance asset hidden behind his back. Tim forces himself to look up.
Selina Kyle looks back appraisingly, dressed in a skin-tight black catsuit. "What are you doing out here, kitten?"
“Freelancing,” Tim hedges.
She snatches the strap of Tim’s Nikon, quick as a thief. “I don’t mind a little competition now and again but I hope you don’t have your eye on my prize tonight,” Selina says, turning on the display.
She flips through the photos slowly, without expression. Tim takes pictures of mobsters and violence, infidelity and greed, and he supposes maybe he should take them more starkly, vulgar, but he’s always preferred to let some of the shadows cling, to widen the shot to show the cityscape in the background, the high harvest moon. He’s not ashamed of them.
“You’re an artist, sweetheart,” Selina says, a little sadly, handing the camera over. “Go take pictures of something beautiful.”
She starts to turn away and Tim doesn’t even think about it, just sees the perfect curves of her profile and tips the lens up, snaps the shutter.
Selina laughs. “They must be lined up around the block for you.”
“No,” Tim says, honestly. “Not really.” People look through Tim. Around him. He feels sometimes very much like a ghost. It’s useful but it isn’t flattering.
“Well they should be.” Selina takes the camera back and deletes the photo. “I like to be on the front page in print only,” she winks. The coyness fades from her face and she gives him a searching look. “Do you have somewhere safe to go home to?”
Tim has a safe place. He has a house with thirty two rooms. It’s just that they’re all empty. “Yeah,” Tim says, “Thanks.”
Selina hesitates. “Do you have a pen, kitten?”
Tim digs through his bag and surfaces a blue ballpoint. Selina uncaps it and scribbles an address in West Gotham onto Tim’s palm. “Just in case,” she says.
The space behind Tim’s eyes itches.
Tim already knows Selina’s name and where she lives but he doesn’t mention that because he’s aware it’s weird and invasive. He’s never dropped anything about Catwoman’s exploits to the Batcomputer. She doesn’t hurt anything but rich people’s wallets.
Selina pats him on the cheek and leaps away across the rooftops and Tim closes his fingers around the address, the evidence that someone cared, even if it was only for a moment.
He reads about the diamond heist over his coffee the next morning.
In the afternoon light, Tim takes his camera to the arboretum to snap pictures of the graceful calla lilies, the bright petunias, the swaths of creeping phlox. He sends Selina a photo of a heartbreaking ivory rose with a note written on the back.
Will you teach me to crack an S&G 6120?
“Careful,” Selina says. “Wait for the tumbler.”
Her voice is strangely muffled, coming in only through Tim’s right ear. His left is pressed to a whiskey glass against the door of a safe in the bedroom of Drake Industries VP of Sales.
The wall safe had been right out in plain view, not even the shoddy camoflauge of a painting hung over it. “Do you think it’s a decoy?” Tim had asked Selina doubtfully.
Selina shook her head. “Some people are just stupid, sweetheart.” She’d laughed. “I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised, considering he somehow made an enemy of you.”
Tim had ducked his head to hide his smile.
Click. 11 Tim records on his notepad. The combination is only three digits. If it’s the man’s birthday, Tim’s going to steal more from him than his prized antique pocket watch.
“Good,” Selina says. “Reset and test again.”
Tim doesn’t actually want the pocket watch. What he wants is Boyle’s board vote supporting an internal financial audit of Drake Industries pre-sale. Tim has similar plans for two other board members. He’d feel worse about ransoming back heirlooms if the original owners weren’t ransoming his own family legacy.
Click. 32. Thank God, Tim thinks. Although it’s still probably some family member’s birthday.
“8-11-32,” he tells Selina.
Selina smiles. “Lovely. Try every combination of those numbers, plus or minus one if none of them—”
Tim grins as the safe opens wide for him.
“An eye for beauty and an ear for safes. You’d make a wonderful thief,” Selina says, proudly. “But somehow I don’t think I’ll be seeing competition from you any time soon.”
“No,” Tim says, pushing aside stacks of hundred dollar bills until his hand closes around old hammered gold. “I think I’ll stick to moonlighting.”
The pocket watch is a handsome thing, the cover etched with scrollwork and ivy. Tim flips it open. It’s still keeping perfect time. On the inside is an inscription: For my son, William. Tim flips it quickly closed.
Tim has a hundred things his parents left him, but none of them are sentimental. That’s not the kind of family they were.
But he has a company with his name on the letterhead, and he’s not going to lose it.
The board votes a majority to halt the sale of Drake Industries until an internal audit is complete.
Tim can practically hear Luthor’s teeth grinding on the red tape.
Tim has enough dirt on his CFO to bury him, so it’s not hard to get the audit dragged out through mid July. For Tim’s birthday, he accesses his trust, puts on a suit and his father’s ruby tie pin, and steps into his mother’s 65th story office for the first time in five years. Lex Luthor is seated at Janet Drake’s polished mahogany desk, flanked by DI’s executive board and a dozen members of the press corp, and in that moment Tim hates him as coldly as he’s ever hated anyone.
“Gentlemen. Ladies,” Luthor says, uncapping his Montblanc and pulling the 1892-page contract and its three appendices toward him. “It’s been a long road to get to this moment.” He smiles unpleasantly. “I trust there can be no further concerns.”
“I have one,” Tim says, stepping forward.
"And who are you?" Luthor asks, voice dripping condescension.
"My name is Timothy Jackson Drake," Tim says bloodlessly, "and nobody's buying my company."
The look on Luthor’s face is priceless. Three flashbulbs go off simultaneously. Tim hopes someone got a fantastic picture to run alongside the beautifully scathing copy he knows Lois Lane will turn out.
Objectively, Tim can see why no one gave him much thought. He’s generally kept out of the press and his last noteworthy episode was having a mental breakdown in his father’s hospital room. It doesn’t exactly scream will take you to the fucking cleaners if you touch my parents' company.
Tim’s always preferred subtlety. He sets a copy of his portfolio in front of Luthor—proof that he can back up his statement—and walks right back out the door.
Half of the reporters trail Tim to the elevator and he jabs the door close button in their faces. By the time he reaches street level, it’s clear that they’ve already managed to spread the news. There’s a tiny sea of reporters in the lobby and they converge on Tim like sharks on chum.
“Will you be taking over for the interim board director of Drake Industries?” one man asks, shoving a tape recorder under Tim’s chin.
“How do you think your parents would feel about this?” another says.
The camera flashes are bright in Tim’s eyes. He doesn’t blink.
"Do you have anything to say to LexCorp or any of the other companies that have expressed an interest in absorbing DI?" a blonde in a punishing-looking pair of high heels asks.
This is the important question and Tim stops, waits until everyone is listening to say, “When my father wakes up, he’s going to find that he doesn’t have a wife. But he will still have a company. The next person that wants a piece of Drake Industries should remember that I’m Janet Drake’s son.”
Tim has always had his mother’s looks, her cold eyes and sharp smile. He can see it on the front page of the Gazette as easily as if he were taking the photo himself. A few of the reporters standing closest to him actually take half steps back.
Good, Tim thinks. That’s exactly what he wants, everyone to step the hell back.
Tim knows antagonizing Lex Luthor wasn’t exactly his safest move but the point is really driven home by the bullet to the shoulder. Tim dives and rolls and comes up running, more bullets following him and lodging in the façade of the building behind him.
He makes it to the alleyway and crouches behind the dumpster as bullets strafe the side. People on the street are screaming. Tim wonders if he can make it up the fire escape before the shooter reloads. Probably not. His best time is twenty two seconds and that’s without an injured shoulder.
There’s a thrum in the air and the sound of boots hitting pavement. Tim is honestly a little flattered that Luthor has apparently sent an entire tac team after him, but then he hears Robin say, “Hey, asshole,” and punch someone in the face.
When Tim peers cautiously around the dumpster, Kid Flash is tying the gunman’s arms behind his back and Jason is holding his AK-47.
Nightwing is looking at Tim. “Are you okay?” he asks.
“Conner,” Dick admonishes.
“Forgive me if I’m not thrilled about saving the guy whose company is hoarding six hundred pounds of a substance that’s only purpose is to kill Superman and me,” Superboy says sarcastically.
Tim frowns. He isn’t surprised that Lois Lane’s exposé caught onto the fact that Drake Industries is the sole known owner of a substantial block of kryptonite, but it’s not like they’re making bullets out of the stuff. It’s locked in a lead-lined vault twelve inches thick with a revolving 20-digit alphanumeric passcode known to exactly two people and it’s being used in a clinical trial to treat pancreatic cancer with a 64% success rate.
“Would you rather I have let Luthor have it?” Tim snaps.
Superboy glares at him. “I’d rather no one has it.”
“Kryptonite can’t be degraded in less than three thousand and forty six years,” Tim says. He’s done the chemical analysis himself. “I suppose you could dump it back in the ocean or throw it out into space and hope no one else finds it, but statistically that doesn’t seem to have worked out very well.”
Superboy blinks. He joined the ranks of supers pretty recently. Tim’s not sure how caught up he is.
Jason smirks. “You sound just like Batman.” He turns to Superboy. “I know it’s not my ass on the line, but I’d vote for the new kid over the devils we know.”
“Security on it is tight,” Tim assures them. “I could tell you where it’s stored. Although, the more people that know, the less secure it is.” Batman probably already knows anyway.
“It’s fine,” Superboy says. He still looks irritated. “For now,” he adds.
“Guys,” Kid Flash says, “I think he’s, like, shot.” He points at Tim’s aching shoulder. The blood hadn’t been very noticeable against the black fabric of his jacket, but it’s starting to spread and the wetness is visible in a way the color isn’t.
“Shit, kid,” Jason says. “Come on, we’ll get you to the hospital.”
Tim thinks that would be good. He could stand for some morphine and he can visit his father while he’s there.
Superboy scoops Tim up bridal style. Before he kicks off the ground, Dick digs a Bat comm out of his uniform and tucks it into the pocket of Tim’s jacket. “Luthor’s not exactly known for giving up gracefully,” he says. An understatement if Tim’s ever heard one. “Call if you need us.”
“Thanks,” Tim croaks. He doesn’t intend to use it, ever, but it’s a nice thing to have, the illusion of not being alone.
Tim can feel all the eyes on him. Luthor. The Bats. The board. The press. It’s irritating. Tim has been invisible for a long time and now it feels like a spotlight is pointed at him constantly.
Poison Ivy is experimenting with hemlock again and Tim had barely managed to slip out to track her down near the Gardens. The photos had been hard to take with one arm in a sling. He’s hoping for better ones tonight.
He’s barely dropped any surveillance to the Batcomputer in the last few months with all the drama around Drake Industries. That’s a glaring arrow pointing towards him when his secret identity is under constant seige by the world’s greatest detective.
Tim thinks maybe he should stop with the photos, pick a college and get on with his life, but his finger keeps slipping on the shutter button. The Waynes aren’t his family but it’s still hard to let go.
There’s a muffled spitting sound, a silenced shot Tim recognizes a few seconds after pain blooms in his right shoulder, almost exactly where his current wound is. Tim grits his teeth. Again? he thinks vengefully at Lex Luthor. Tim was just about to get his sling removed.
A body slams into him and bears him to the ground. Tim almost tries to reverse the pin into a throw before he recognizes the Robin uniform. Jason. “Ow,” Tim says, deadpan.
“Sorry,” Jason says, rolling off him. “I couldn’t tell if they were going to take another shot at you. I don’t understand what the fuck Luthor’s game is at this point.”
“I think it’s just spite honestly,” Tim says. “He’s obviously not trying to kill me. If I die, he still won’t get my company. I had an exclusion clause about LexCorp written into the charter and my shares would split between half a dozen charities on the contingency that they don’t sell them to him or his subsidiaries; he can’t buy them.”
“This is your geninue reaction to being shot again?” Jason says.
“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say,” Tim says. It sucks and it’s embarrassing. He feels lightheaded and irritated and embarrassed.
“Maybe that you’ll invest in a bodyguard or something?” Jason says. He sounds weirdly freaked out. Like someone he cared about got shot and not just Tim.
It occurs to Tim that Jason may have been tailing him. He was always one of the harder Bats to track.
“I appreciate you looking out for me,” Tim says, brushing dust off the sleeve of his jacket. “Really. If I need bodyguards, I’ll hire bodyguards. Poison Ivy’s developing a new toxin, some asshole named Zod is planning to terraform the planet, and there’s an intergalactic conflict in Alpha Centauri. You guys have bigger things to worry about.”
“How the hell do you know all that?” Jason asks. He’s holding a pressure bandage steady against Tim’s wound. Tim doesn’t remember him taking it out of his utility belt. There’s a lot of red soaked into it.
Tim’s trusty Nikon is on the ground, the lens shattered. Jason reaches out to touch the glass.
“I follow current events,” Tim says.
“Fine,” Tim allows, “I follow certain members of the League and analyze current events.” Although, honestly, half the time he doesn’t even need to. Blue Beetle’s Twitter is like the WikiLeaks of the JLA.
Shit, TMI, Tim thinks as Jason’s face shows a dawning realization. He must have lost more blood than he thought. He only dropped the photos of Ivy and her latest toxic-green flower on the Batcomputer this morning. It’s not common knowledge.
"I'm what?" Tim asks, watching Jason start to blur.
"The photographer who leaves all the surveillance footage. Batgirl picked the name for you," Jason says. "God, I'm so stupid. Of course you are. You literally hand delivered those Maroni photos."
Tim chooses this moment to strategically pass out.
As it turns out, this was a poor strategic decision.
Tim wakes up on his back, staring up at stalactites. A bat swoops through the air and Tim sits bolt upright with a gasp of surprise that turns to pain. His entire right shoulder is swadled in gauze.
There's the sound of a polite throat-clearing to his left. "Would you care for some tea, Mister Drake?" Alfred Pennyworth asks. He pours out a china cup's worth from a silver tea service while Tim gapes.
"Thank you," Tim says automatically, taking the cup with trembling hands. He's in the Batcave. The Batcave.
"Very good, sir," Alfred says serenely. “I'll fetch Master Jason.”
And now Tim is alone in the Batcave which is just a recipe for disaster. Tim heaves himself up off the chrome operating table. He feels obscurely comforted that they have an operating theater down here for emergiencies; a lot of his pictures of the Bats include blood and injuries.
The Batmobile is in a bay to Tim’s left, surrounded by the half dozen cars and bikes the rest of the Bats use, and he skims a hand over the hood as he drifts over to stare up at a giant statue of a T-Rex. But it’s the Batcomputer than Tim really wants to see, the true physical mass of it, not just the immaterial ones and zeros of its code and the servers he pings.
It’s massive. Fully half of one wall, with eight adjacent monitors giving off the faded glow of sleep mode. Tim only ever sent data, he never tried to pull anything from it. He wonders how much processing power it has, how many case files, what kind of folder structure they use. Is information stored by dates or villians or who took lead on the case? Tim reaches for the power on button.
“Stop,” someone says—Bruce Wayne says—and Tim freezes.
He retracts his hand and turns around. It’s Bruce Wayne standing in front of him, not a black caped and cowled Batman. Wayne is wearing a black turtleneck and grey slacks. He looks like a normal person.
“Bruce!” Jason calls across the cave, his voice echoing. He runs down a harrowing flight of steps and stops beside them. “Could you maybe not scare Tim to death? He’s already fainted once today from blood loss.”
“I’m fine,” Tim says. “Sorry,” he adds, for Wayne, and he means it in a lot of ways. Sorry I was about to open your computer without permission. Sorry I’ve been dropping you files without permission for the last decade. Sorry for following you and discovering your identity and your mission and not having much to offer in return. Sorry.
“Sit,” Wayne says. He pushes one of the computer chairs over to Tim and Tim falls back into the soft worn leather of it. He wonders what it would be like to sit in it for real case work, with all the cameras and comms and files at his fingertips.
“How does your shoulder feel?” Wayne asks. “Have you been getting physical therapy for it?”
This is your first question? Tim thinks a little hysterically. I’ve illegally hacked your secret computer network fifteen times and you want to know if I’m okay?
“It’s fine,” Tim says. “I have a regimen.” Dana helps with the exercises sometimes when Tim is visiting his father at the hospital. She calls it her two for one special. But usually Tim does his stretches alone at the kitchen table.
Tim imagines he catches a flash of disappointment in Wayne’s eyes, but Wayne just nods. “Good.”
“Tell us about being Oracle,” Jason says. “How did you figure out we were the Bats?”
Finally, the real questions. “I always liked Batman and Robin,” Tim says. “I got my first camera when I was nine and I needed good subjects so I tried to follow you and Dick,” he tells Wayne.
Wayne makes a jerky movement with his hand, then tucks them both neatly behind his back. “You followed us through Gotham. At night. And your parents never noticed?”
“My parents weren’t around a lot,” Tim shrugs. “They were busy people.” Busy and then gone. Tim feels like he barely knew them. “But they took me to the circus once,” he says. “That’s how I knew Dick was the first Robin. I saw Robin do a quad flip, and the only person who could do that was Dick Grayson. It wasn’t hard to connect him back to you since he was your ward.” The only Bat Tim had trouble with over the years after was Barbara Gordon. Her link wasn’t quite so direct and she was always careful.
“Did you ever tell anyone else who we were?” Wayne asks.
“No,” Tim says. “I know how to keep a secret.” And it’s not as if he had anyone to tell anway.
“Why did you send us the surveillance photos, Tim?” Wayne asks. It’s not the kind of interrogation Tim always feared when he was finally found out. Wayne’s voice is very gentle, like Tim’s a horse he might spook. “Why did you take them? Penguin. Scarecrow. Two-Face. They’re dangerous people.”
Tim turns his face away. He took the photos because he never learned healthy boundaries. Because he likes to know what’s going on in his city. Because he wanted to be part of something that didn’t belong to him. “I just thought they might help.”
“They did help,” Jason says. He’s looking at Wayne with some kind of prompt in his eyes that Tim can’t interpret.
“You’re very good at intelligence gathering, Tim,” Wayne says slowly. “But it’s dangerous. Especially without training.”
“I take judo classes and I can run fast if I need to,” Tim says. “Usually I just make sure no one sees me.” He’s managed to elude the Bats this long and they’re the most situationally aware people in Gotham. Tim doesn’t see what the problem is.
Wayne’s eyes go to Tim’s shoulder wound.
“That’s not the same,” Tim says. “I knew I was putting that target on myself.”
Wayne looks the opposite of reassured.
Fuck, Tim thinks. He is screwing this up. He’s had years to plan how to spin things if he got caught and he is still screwing it up.
Wayne squats down in front of Tim’s chair so he’s looking him straight in the eye and puts a hand on Tim’s good shoulder. It’s solid and warm and Tim feels the treacherous spring of tears in his eyes. All Tim ever wanted was for someone to look at him like he had value. But he could never even get anyone to look at him. His ability to be invisible was always his best feature. Ironic.
“You’re welcome here any time, Tim,” Wayne says, and then he stands up and walks away, leaving Tim alone with Jason.
“Why does he care about my physical therapy?” Tim asks, confused. “I can still take photos with the sling on if they help. They’re just a little lower quality.”
Jason waves a hand. “That was a classic Bruce attempt at bonding,” he says. “If you didn’t already have a schedule set up, he would have asked you to come over here for PT.”
Oh, Tim thinks. He could have had the perfect excuse to visit and he’s already wasted it.
“You still can, you know,” Jason says, looking at him closely.
“Sure,” Tim says, numbly, but he knows he’ll still be sitting at his kitchen table every night instead, alone.
Tim doesn't actually feel that he needs bodyguards. He has a brown belt in judo, a 50,000 volt taser and blackmail on half the Gotham criminal underground. Regardless, he probably should have left Luthor's holdings alone. Or at least invested in some of the Bat-grade Kevlar produced in the Applied Sciences division of Wayne Enterprises.
"Do you have a death wish?" Jason asks seriously after Tim breaks down and uses the call signal Dick gave him. He's been trapped in one of the Drake Industries labs by an enforcer for over six hours while working on a robotic arm with a built-in grenade launcher for Arsenal who Tim feels deserves something nice and not potentially booby-trapped by Lex Luthor.
"I'm logically expanding my company."
"Logically expanding your company would be opening a new office in Shanghai, not purchasing a LexCorp subsidiary and further antagonizing Luthor," Jason huffs. "You didn’t think the worldwide news coverage of his failing to take over a company because of an eighteen year old was humiliation enough? There was an SNL skit last week. It was pretty brutal.”
“He should have considered all the players on the board,” Tim says without pity. “Frankly, I’m appalled, considering I used his takeover of LCorp from his father when he was twenty two as one of my inspirations.”
“Flattering,” Luthor says, through the intercom. Tim hates that he has yet to figure out how Luthor has managed to hack DI’s internal intercom system. “But you might have also taken the lesson that after I took control of the company, I left it at that. I didn’t add insult to injury by seizing any of his personal ventures.”
“If you didn’t want someone else to buy Ferris Aircraft, you should have controlled more than 49% of their stock,” Tim says, ruthless. Also Luthor shouldn’t have tried to take over his family’s company. Or shot him. Twice.
“Aim for the kneecaps,” Luthor says lazily and Tim barely dodges, sacrificing a computer monitor and getting shoved into an open office in front of Jason.
“They weren’t even a part of your corporate strategy!” Tim yells furiously when the gunman pauses to reload. “You were under-utilizing them!”
“Jesus Christ,” Jason says, kicking over the desk and pushing Tim down behind it as the machine gun spray starts back up.
"So," Tim says awkwardly, five minutes later, after Jason has draped him in a snug-fitting Kevlar vest that Tim suspects Alfred of tailoring for him, wedged the door closed with a bookcase, and called for backup. "Thanks for coming."
“Sure.” Jason tightens a strap on Tim's vest. “No offense, but you kind of seem like you could use some friends.” He looks Tim flat in the eye. “Some family.”
Tim swallows, loud in the sudden quiet. He’s imagined sometimes, what it would be like to be across the wide stretch of green lawn, to be inside Wayne Manor. Something about the lit windows has always looked warm. But it was just a harmless fantasy, he never really meant to intrude.
“Bruce met you once and he’s already chomping at the bit to adopt you,” Jason says.
Tim feels his breath rush out so fast he has to check that he hasn't taken a bullet to the chest.
“Or foster you. Whatever you’d be comfortable with,” Jason continues. “I can tell you from experience, it’s not half bad. I mean, Dick can be overly enthusiastic and the brat is going through some kind of phase with knives and Bruce is Bruce—”
Tim knows he should be saying something but he can’t make his throat work.
“Okay, I’m aware that I’m not selling it well,” Jason says, like it’s something he has to sell to Tim, like Tim hasn’t wanted so desperately to be even an edge piece of Jason’s family that he took any in he could get. “But trust me. Everybody tries at least. That’s not nothing.”
“That’s not nothing,” Tim echoes. It’s more than he ever hoped for.
Tim thinks his father would understand. Tim tried too, for a long time. He’s just so tired of being alone.
Tim hyphenates. Tim Drake-Wayne. He practices his new signature until the -Wayne sits comfortably. He’s still Tim Drake, just extended now.
Aside from something between a symbolic legal guardian and a father, Tim gains three brothers, one sister, one probably soon-to-be sister-in-law, a quasi-grandfather, and an entire plethora of supers.
“Roy wants to meet you,” Jason says. “He loves the new arm and he wants to know if you can add a flamethrower mode.”
“Sure,” Tim says, bemused. “But you don’t actually have to tell people about me. I’m not even mission approved.” He doesn’t see why the Justice League would be interested that the Bats have a new support team member. Tim’s keeping the Oracle call sign—“I told you it was a good name,” Barbara had said proudly, elbowing Dick in the ribs—but he doesn’t have a uniform or patrol clearance yet.
Bruce had practically had a heart attack when Tim asked if he could go out on patrol with Jason one night. “You’re not ready,” he’d said. “Go practice with Damian.”
As if any street thug in Gotham could be as brutal as Damain and his daggers.
Jason rolls his eyes. “When Bruce says you’re not ready, what he means is he’s not ready for you to go out yet,” he clarifies. “We all got this at the start and he relapses into it any time someone gets hurt.”
Tim rotates his shoulder. It’s almost fully healed and Luthor hasn’t tried anything new since Bruce adopted Tim and made it extremely clear that hurting Tim in any way was patently unacceptable.
“I mean, you realize you don’t have to wear a mask to be part of the family though, right?” Jason says.
Tim shrugs noncomittally. It feels like shirking not to go out and do his part when everyone else does. He handles a lot of surveillance and documentation, and Alfred’s teaching him how to help with maintenance on all the gear, but it’s not the same.
Jason groans. He looks Tim directly in the eye. Everyone has clearly figured out that Tim responds to that. Tim wonders if they had a family meeting: How to Handle Your Newest Brother. He wishes they would have one about Damian but Tim suspects no one but Dick has yet figured out much of anything about how to handle Damian.
“Okay, sorry, let me rephrase,” Jason says. “Statement: you don’t have to wear a mask to be part of the family.”
“What else would I do though?” Tim asks.
“You’ve been doing half of our surveillance work for years,” Jason says. “You could keep doing that. You could go to college. Run your company. I don’t know. What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know,” Tim says. He already has more of the things he wants than he ever expected.
“Well, we all just want you to stay alive and make sure you’re at Sunday dinner. That is literally the bar in this family,” Jason says. “You could even miss dinner occassionally but Alfred would be disappointed.”
Tim knows Jason’s joking but Alfred’s disappointment is nothing to joke about.
Tim had never expected to live at Wayne Manor, expected the adoption to be honorary at best, keep-your-potential-liabilities-closer at worst, but before the ink on the paperwork was even dry, Alfred had led him to a room on the second floor, in the family wing, and opened the door.
“What’s this?” Tim had asked, his heart pounding strangely in his ears as he stared at the cases of new film on the dresser, the neatly made bed with a duvet that looked exactly like the one in his bedroom at home. He ran his fingers lightly over a framed photograph of himself and Cass watching Star Wars on the couch in the den. Tim had always been behind the camera. He’d never really had pictures with himself in them before.
“Your room, Master Timothy,” Alfred had said. “I do hope you’ll let me know if there’s anything that would increase it’s comfort for you.”
“But, I—,” Tim had started to demur but the look of gentle reproach on Alfred’s face had changed his course, “—I love it.” He hadn’t spent a night at his old house since.
“I’m not going to disappoint Alfred,” Tim tells Jason.
Jason nods. “I know. You’re not going to disappoint anyone is my point. Hell, Bruce would probably be thrilled to have a kid that isn’t throwing themself at danger every night.”
Tim doesn’t think he’s going to be that kid. He wants to throw a batarang and punch Black Mask in the face. He wants to go to space. He could probably get some great photos in space.
But the picture Tim really wants, he takes that night, in the fading evening light. The whole family, Tim’s family, crowded on the steps of Wayne Manor. Tim puts his Fujifilm camera—better than his repaired Nikon digital for wide shots—on a tripod and sets the timer. Ten seconds for him to run across the wide green lawn, to turn his back against the warm lit windows and have Dick hook an arm around his shoulders, Cass tuck slightly into his side.
“Smile, gremlin,” Jason says, and Damian’s face screws up into an even worse scowl, and Tim laughs just as the flash goes off.
He doesn’t have to see the negative to know it’s the best picture he’s ever taken.