TWENTY

Disclaimer: I do not own Robin. I do not own any other DCU character either. (I do, however, own the original characters portrayed in this fic.) I am making no financial gain from this fic, now or ever. No copyright infringement is intended. Have I disclaimed it all? Ah, not quite: Don't bother suing me, it'd be a right royal waste of time.

TWENTY

PART FOUR

It was, on reflection, going to be easier said than done. Particularly with the Bat and, shortly afterwards, Nightwing hovering over him, concerned about his reaction to Kaze's death. He wasn't over it, not by a long shot, but he'd promised to survive. And part of that is going to be making sure no-one can endanger me in that way! Nobody at all can get that close. Ever again. Robin stared pensively at the laptop he'd 'borrowed' from the equipment room of the cave. He'd checked it thoroughly for bugs of any kind, and satisfied there were none, had started his project.

The project in question consisted of two parts, one simpler than the other, but both time consuming. And Robin didn't have much time. In six days, Jack Drake - for he didn't think of the man as his father, not anymore - would be returning to the US. By then, all had to be prepared.

The simpler part was the identity. Specifically, Robin's new secret identity. He'd already decided it would be one completely unlinked to Wayne or Grayson in any way. It would also be unlinked to the Drake family.

The hard part would be the public 'death' of Timothy Drake. It had to be done in such a manner that would leave no question in any mind, especially that of Jack Drake, that he was in fact deceased.

There was a further catch; the preparation had to be done without the Bat family knowing. At best, if he found out, Batman would insist on knowing my new identity. Given that he sold out my other identity, I don't want to trust him with it again if I can avoid it. At worst, if he caught on, he'd make me abort the plan. Make me go back to being 'Tim Drake'. Living in a restricting, and more importantly compromised charade with a father whom I don't even know any more, and who seems never to have made an effort to know me. Worse, having to pretend to be a person I nolonger am, and never can be again, with parts so similar they are the same, and parts so wildly different they're almost incongruous. Almost. Except I exist. I, the old-new Robin. A bundle of contradictions indeed.

No, 'Tim Drake' becomes the cover identity I will use with the Bat group and the Spoiler, an identity that will keep them secure in their 'knowledge' of me and off my back. My new identity, the one I'll live in when I'm not Robin, my haven from the Bat-family and especially the Spoiler, will be my little secret. Robin had a hunch it was a distancer, a spacer, that he was really going to need.

SEVERAL DAYS LATER

Creating the new identity was fairly easy, as was deciding where he should reside; Robin had scanned all the boarding schools still operating in the Gotham area and found one quite distant from any of Tim Drake's old haunts, but no further a commute from the Cave than Brentwood would have been. It was also roughly equidistant to the other school, so he'd be able to meet Spoiler or Batman on the roof of Brentwood without them being the wiser. Or so he hoped.

The new school, Bryleaf Academy, had other benefits; boarders were housed in single rooms, with four rooms sharing a central sitting area and bathroom. The rooms all had windows, and the dormitory buildings were tall. Also, as the school sat nestled next to an office building on one side and a church on another, skulking and rooftop access was unlikely to be a problem, despite the parklands that made up a large portion of the rest of the surrounds.

The final, crucial deciding factor had in fact been something rather mundane and very un-Batlike: the uniform code. While the school had a uniform (one based upon, and strongly resembling, the Japanese public school uniform for boys of a high-collared, waist-length black jacket over a white business-style shirt, coupled with straight black trousers and shoes), their only hair code was that anyone whose tresses ran to longer than shoulder length must have their hair tied back at all times. Robin figured that the long ponytail he intended to wear would not only allow him to keep his hair, but add to his overall disguise value. None of the Bat family, with the exception of Alfred, knew he retained that hair, and Alfred wouldn't talk.

Developing the new identity credentials on the borrowed laptop was simple. Loading them into the system would take a lot more work. And he wouldn't be able to do it from the Crays. Batman had designed and built the computer himself, well before Tim Drake became Robin. There'll be failsafes and data monitoring programmes hidden in that machine that I'll find only with difficulty. If I miss any of them, I hand Batman my identity, my plans, on a silver platter.

There was, however, an alternative to the Crays. A supercomputer every bit as powerful, every bit as connected and set up for hacking as any Batman possessed. And Robin had helped build it, had laid down nearly all it's monitoring programmes himself, and had helped design all of the others. Two days before Jack Drake returned, Robin paid a visit to the Oracle.

The upload turned out to be ridiculously simple; Robin merely timed his arrival to occur a few moments before Nightwing's, and remained with the computer when Oracle wheeled off to let the other vigilante in and re-set her perimeter sensors. The three minutes or so that he was alone with the computer was all it took for the new identity to be uploaded into all the relevant government department records, and also for enrollment and fee-transfer to be acknowledged at Bryleaf. As an added bonus, Robin secured himself a room on the top floor of the dormatory building, facing the church. It would be a twenty metre leap - more accurately, swing - up to the steepled rooftop, invisible to viewers on all sides. Perfect! When the school reconvened in two weeks, there would be a new transfer student, one with good grades and absent (though wealthy - the paid school fees attested to that) parents.

Robin choked harshly, this is for you, Kaze. And for me. I will survive as I promised. I will survive 'any way I can'. Once again, Robin did not cry when he thought of his friend, though this time he did not scream either. Tears were a comfort he could not indulge in, a comfort denied him ever since the Doctor had . . . altered . . . him.

The disc was back in his utility belt, the traces of his hack wiped clean, by the time Barbara and the flirting Nightwing entered, to find him sitting on the opposite side of the room, innocently reading the newspaper.

The paper provided his second big break, and when Nightwing and Barbara went into the kitchen to make the three of them a late dinner, Robin got his third. It was his own hacking skill that made him his fourth.

A story in the paper covered a suspected arson fire in a supposedly empty warehouse on the Gotham waterfront. Except that Robin knew, via Gordon's update to Batman, that the fire had occurred in a warehouse used by drug runners to cut their product before it's final distribution to the dealers. Robin also knew that the warehouse had been far from empty at the time it had burned to the ground. When Gordon and his skeletally understaffed crew had arrived, the remants of the building had been filled with corpses. Gordon had managed to stop the story from making the newspapers, at least until tomorrow (Robin wasn't sure he wanted to think about how the Commissioner had pulled that off) to stop trophy hunters and other ghouls from raiding the site and destroying the evidence while it was inexpertly guarded, and before it could be properly documented. Said documenting had just started and was scheduled to continue the next day, when more of the temporary reinforcements Gordon had called in arrived. The replacement staff came from federal sources to keep Gotham patrolled while the city's own police officers healed.

Perfect! Every detective working on the case is going to be an out-of-towner who will likely return to out of town within a few days to weeks as Gordon's own staff come back. Further, with a little bit of judicious hacking, I can probably get this case reassigned federally, to, say, the DEA. Then nobody here can touch it!

Of the fourteen bodies that had thus far been discovered, thirteen had been confirmed to be the badly charred remains of males. Boys, probably, from the size and build. Of the thirteen, ten had had dental records run thus far, and eight of those had been determined to be teenage boys already on record. To be specific, two 'runaways', one 'abductee', and five who were just plain 'missing'. Looks like the druggers nabbed these kids off the streets, and put them to work refining their 'product'. Cocky of them, using local kids, knowing there were likely searches happening for them. Very cocky. Then the break. Another kid, also a runaway, had had genetic material on-file due to a paternity suite. A request had been sent by the police (along with samples from several of the as-yet unidentified bodies) to the institution that had done the genotyping, to look for a match. The boy in question had been gone for three years.

Taking the initiative, Robin hacked the institution's database. The genotyping had been done, though the results not yet communicated to the police. Sample number twelve was a perfect match for the lost boy, one Jonah Kedd, reported 'missing' three years, four months and six days ago.

Tim Drake has only been missing for eleven months. He'll fit right in. There's no genetic material of Drake on file anywhere, Batman made sure of that when I became Robin, and the Bat is nothing if not thorough. So, time for a little visit to the dentist. Deftly, Robin intercepted a set of police computer searches that were still running through the Gotham public health system's database. Someone must have plugged them in right before going home for the night, trusting the results would be ready the next morning. Gee, I'd hate to disappoint him.

Rummaging through the nearly completed search, Robin found what he was looking for. Perfect! A fairly close match of height and weight. Slightly taller than I am, but you'd expect an adolescent to grow in eleven months. Badly charred, to the extent that he's unrecognisable, though bone structure indicates caucasian. Dental work identified the corpse as one orphan, a certain Mickey Reckk. No family or friends. Currently posted as a runaway from Juvie Hall. Well, that's gonna change. With a few keystrokes, Mickey Reckk's dental file was empty. As far as the state was concerned, the boy had never needed dental care, and his whereabouts remained a mystery about which most were indifferent. A pity there's no centralised database of private patients.

The hardcopy of this guy's notes are kept at Gotham General, in the medical records section, dental subdivision. How convenient that Tim Drake's dentist operates from an exclusive practice just two blocks from the place. I think it's time for a little late-night breaking and entering. But I'm not solo yet, so how to get my babysitter to play along? Play. Hn. I wonder if Nightwing would care for a game of tag.

Robin heard the clatter of knives and forks being set out on the kitchen table, and rapidly clicked a few keys into another quick, subtle slice. This time into Oracle's world-wide 'jungle grapevine'. In a few hours, Ra's Al Ghul would be making a mysterious appearance in Beirut, along with a newly missing nuclear warhead. Or at least, he'd appear to be, digitally, in a series of small clues that only Oracle would possibly be able to piece together. Outside of the computer world that Oracle ruled, of course, the Demon would be heaven knows where and the warhead nonexistant. But until she and the Bat figure that out, Batman will be out of town and across the globe, frantically tracking a genocidal maniac with a nuclear arsenal. Nightwing too, if I'm lucky. Due to the poor assosciations of Robins and Beirut, I'll be sitting safely in Gotham, meeting my father. Or so they'll think. I'll have to figure out some way of covering Oracle so she doesn't find out about Timothy Drake's death. First things first, though. Dinner, and then a dental file switch.

As it turned out, Nightwing was more than willing to give Robin a five minute lead on a game of 'Tag'. The boy was supposed to have been re-memorising a map of Gotham, and this would be a good opportunity to both test him out and get his mind off Kaze. The head start Nightwing gave his 'little brother' was more than ample time for the current Boy Wonder to give Nightwing the slip, get to the hospital and empty Mickey Reckk's file, break into the other dental practice (The 'high tech' locks and alarm system were, to Robin's mind, a total joke) and enter Reckk's dental notes and X-rays as his own. A few more falsifying touches (Including the shredding and incineration of Tim Drake's own dental records) and the swap was complete.

A little over an hour later, Nightwing 'ran down' a fleeing Robin, catching him as he doubled back towards Babs'. Though the boy wonder had remained out of his sight for the hour, Nightwing laughed when, as he thought, Robin grudgingly agreed the older vigilante had never been far behind him. Robin was not inclined to disabuse him of the notion.

They were still at Barbara's, each lingering over a coffee that Robin had prepared, when Babs sounded the alarm; while they'd been 'out on the town', her sources had picked up the trail of Ra's Al Ghul, as well as leaked reports from the US department of defence concerning a missing nuclear warhead. It was not, she reported, a fake or a drill.

"Near as I can tell, he's headed for either or Beirut or Palestine. I've notified Tall Dark and Scary. Short Pants, you're on your way to the Middle East." The redhead said, as she pushed away from her computer and stretched. Robin hid a smile in his coffee cup. Then Oracle turned to face him with a slightly uncomfortable look as she relayed, in a carefully reworded way, the other part of the Bat's message. Yeesh, the man has no tact. Fancy saying"I can't take him with me. Not for this, not there. Yet don't trust him enough to leave him on his own. Not since we've had only one patrol, and not since his friend died like that. Not yet. He might do something stupid or rash. But I'm not going to take him off-duty either. That'd destroy him fast. I want Alfred to come with me to act as liason and help co-ordinate our efforts, so Robin will be attached to you until this is over. For indoor duties only." Despite her discomfort with Batman's assessment of the situation, as she watched this new, different-yet-same Robin, Barbara uneasily had to conclude that the Bat had a point.

"Robin, you're to stay here with me and help me track Ra's Al Ghul and the warhead by computer. I'll need your back-up for this."Well, not really, but it doesn't hurt to say so, since he has to stay anyhow.

"He is? But-"
"Acknowledged." The look Robin gave her, overriding Nighwing' angry protests, told her that he knew exactly what was going on, both in her mind and Batman's. Then he broke eye contact.

Just as well, Robin thought to the dregs of his cup, that I poisoned her this evening. By tomorrow she'll be too unwell to man the computers for the Bat, and certainly too unwell to check the local news net. Still, before she gets ill, she'll have enough time to firmly place Al Ghul in Beruit.

An hour later, as a Waynetech private jet prepared to leave, the Bat got the Demon's precise location from Oracle. Batman and Nightwing were on their way to Beruit. An hour after that, Oracle started vomiting and took to her bed. Robin, naturally, rose to the challenge and took over finding information and feeding it to the away team. As far as Batman and the others were concerned, he did an excellent job, though it took him nearly twelve days to determine that Ra's was in fact nowhere near the middle east, and that the warhead was a computer-only model created for digital war-games by the State Department. Still, as the Boy Wonder himself said, that was why he was Robin and not Oracle.

After twelve days, the shocking discoveries made in the Gotham warehouse, both of the bodies, and that one of the corpses was that of Timothy Drake - poster boy for the re-opening of Gotham - were old news to a cynical, desensitised public. Particularly since the case became exclusively the very hushed domain of the DEA. When Batman returned on the thirteenth day, the findings nolonger even rated a mention in the papers, as Superman had just saved the American continent from space debris again. (Robin hadn't planned that, but he certainly appreciated it's timing.)

On the forteenth day, Jack Drake and his lovely new wife Dana, along with their baby daughter, left Gotham for good. Having returned there a fortnight previous only to be told his son had been 'merely' missing for the better part of a year, but was now confirmed dead, the senior Drake had been shattered. Further raising his distress was the discovery that the boy's room in the palatial Drake home had been devastated by a fire nearly ten and half months earlier. All the child's possessions, as well as all family photos, had been destroyed. After the house's gutters clogged, resulting in a leaking roof, the few pictures of him and the boy that had resided in the living room had been water damaged beyond recognition. (The retrievalists were very thorough.) The final straw had been the inattendence of his one good Gotham high society friend, Bruce Wayne, at the memorial service Drake had arranged six days after his return to Gotham. The man had been out of the country, according to Lucius Fox. Vacationing in sunny Hawaii, Wayne could not be contacted.

Washing his hands of Gotham, Jack Drake moved himself, his new family, and his assets to metropolis. As well as these, the man took an abiding sadness with him. Unlike the other items with which he started his new life, this stayed at his side every hour of every day, as silent and omnipresent as the laughs and tears of the son that he'd lost. Smiles and frowns that he'd missed or taken for granted, certainly never actually seen, so involved in his own life had he been. Smiles and frowns that he'd never have another chance to see.

As far as Batman was told, Drake had opted to leave his son in boarding school, while moving on to bigger and better investments elsewhere after becoming disenchanted with Gotham. Though glad not to have lost Robin, he never forgave the man.

In the meantime, the exclusive Bryleaf Co-Educational Academy gained a new transfer student. A fragile-looking, wild-haired boy, he soon established himself as a good pupil. A boy that always always smiled, he was a very good listener who often had time for others, his high ponytail bouncing or swinging behind him as he responded to a classmate's conversation. Though quiet, he became quite well-liked. It was not until ages after the Bryleaf students and staff had accepted him as one of their own, that anyone realised they really knew very little about him. Only his name, for certain: Van. Van Casey. Vingt Kaze.

"Vingt Kaze." A homage to a friend. An affirmation not of self, but of the chance to find self. To survive, and eventually to grow. A struggle undertaken individually, without the knowledge or help of Batman or indeed anyone else, except a tall, grey-haired English gentleman.

END PART FOUR

NOTES:

1. Before all and sundry point out that Ra's Al Ghul is knocking around seducing Black Canary, and hence that it seems highly unlikely that Oracle wouldn't be keeping close tabs on where he is and what he's doing, I hasten to point out that I didn't know about the whole Canary-Demon thing until a few days ago when a friend of mine mentioned it in an email. I opted to post this chapter as-is anyway coz, hey, it's my little AU and here the whole romance isn't happening. Or if it is happening, it's still not enough of a sure thing these-two-are-attached-at-the-hip-and-ain't-it-cute thing to make it possible for Barbara to track Ra's' every move through Canary.

2. For the whole Beiruit issue, and specifically Batman's reluctance to take Robin into that area of the world (especially when tracking a madman), I refer interested readers to the events of the story arc "A Death in the Family".

3. The whole dental records etc. on computer for public patients is fictional, merely a plot device. At least, I think it is.

4. As always, respectful homage is intended, copyright infringement