Tim’s sure it had been autumn before he stepped into the graveyard. He glances over his shoulder to see how far the effect has spread, and the Rolls is parked next to a grungy snowbank, tire marks melting behind it into sleet. Alfred stands next to the passenger door, and his breath condenses into fog.
This is a weekly pilgrimage for Bruce, but as many times as Tim has accompanied him, Tim realizes that he can’t remember doing it in any season but winter.
He’s getting better at catching the holes in his thinking patterns, but when he tries to examine them, the only thing he finds is more blind spots. If only there were something outside himself that he could rely on for a stable reference, but his memories are too easily corrupted. A faulty system can’t be trusted to recognize a consistent one.
Tim tightens the winter jacket he knows he didn’t put on and crunches forward through untouched snow. The full moon casts crisp blue shadows over the gravestones, despite the fact that 5 minutes ago it hadn’t even been dusk. The traffic behind him is hushed, and the freezing wind carries away other noises of Gotham, isolating him in his own head. The mood is set; Tim will admit the world has a decent sense of atmosphere, though it runs more melodramatic than he’d prefer.
(something he could change, if he)
The stone he’s approaching is the centrepiece of the yard, although it bears no devastated angel statues or giant Christian crosses. It’s only a wide block of standing black marble, but it draws the eye unfailingly. Every other monument, carved life-sized soldier, child’s face drowning in decaying white chrysanthemums, these slip behind the periphery of Tim’s vision as though they were never built to be more than background details. As though there is only one *real* stone here.
Tim knows better, even if it is a constant struggle to *keep* knowing better.
(wouldn’t it be better not to have to fight so hard? and if he’s fighting his own brain, what prize is he trying to win)
He knows there are none.
The centre stone is polished to a black gleam, and snow refuses to gather in its carved shapes. There are no prayers or poem excerpts here, just simple, solid letters. Tim kneels to get closer. On the left: “Thomas Wayne, 1928-1975” and on the right, bordered from her husband by a lighter streak of marble: “Martha Wayne, 1946-1975.” The dates strike him for the first time as odd, but it's still nothing Tim hasn’t seen before. Dozens of times. More, perhaps.
It bothers him that he has no way of counting *how* many. He can’t judge how long he’s been here, or even whether a time-based estimate would be useful.
(the same moments, over and over until they’re all used up. best to trade in something fresh, something new, something)
There’s a single, perfect red rose lying beneath the names. Bruce has done his scheduled filial duty. The cold has preserved even the edges of the petals from wilting, so it’s a good thing for the picturesqueness of the scene that it’s winter...
It’s not winter.
Of course it’s winter. Look at the snow, look at the ice reflecting from the gravestones. Look at the woolen scarf Tim is wearing, packed away with his winter wardrobe in any other season.
It hadn’t been winter ten minutes ago.
Tim closes his eyes until the confusion settles down. He can see some of it vanishing into those invisible black holes in his thoughts; he’ll have to be careful of those. He settles on a lie to tell himself, as a compromise, if what passes as reality should threaten to overtake him again. Let it be winter *here*, in this graveyard, regardless of what might be happening elsewhere.
(sloppy at the edges, someone could make it so much better if they just)
For once, Tim is glad of the faculty allowing humans to hold two contradictory concepts in mind simultaneously.
He picks up the perfect rose in a black leather glove - far too thick to feel any prong of thorns - and rests it gently on Martha Wayne’s edge of the stone. White begins to catch on the petals, like a false flower in a snowglobe.
Tim digs into the snow at the bottom of the stone. It’s deeper than he would have guessed, judging by the level of the graveyard’s pathways, but if temporal reasoning is unreliable he can't expect spatial reasoning to serve him any better.
Tim pulls out handful after handful of white powder. It’s packed hard under the first few inches. The winter is *old* here; the snow hasn’t been shifted since...
(“Do you believe yourself the first to ask me these questions, Master Timothy?”)
Tim doesn’t know that either. But it fights him, all the way down: frozen water clinging to its secrets.
Finally Tim tugs out the last piece of snow and sits back. The full moon - and no, Tim can’t remember the last time the moon hadn’t shone full over Gotham - the full moon reflects onto the black marble like a spotlight. The inscriptions for Thomas and Martha Wayne are dark shadows in the surface, and beneath them, with an equal lack of adornment:
There is no sharp intake of breath, no moment of shock. This is, after all, exactly what Tim expected. But now that he knows the artifact exists, there’s a question of what to do next. The obvious thing would be to show Bruce. This is *his* truth, and Bruce has been more overwhelmed than usual with the responsibilities of his Mission.
Of course, if Tim is right about this world being tied to Bruce’s unconscious psyche, there’s no way to know if his battles are true existential threats or merely an attempt at distracting himself... most likely from following the same logic that had lead Tim *here*.
And how often *had* Bruce been where Tim is kneeling now, before letting himself forget? Impossible to guess.
Still, Tim can’t shake the feeling that if he does show Bruce his name, carved expertly into black stone, this time will be different. There’s an anticipation building in the mood of the city, waiting for things to come together... or come apart.
(“Master Bruce is getting so tired these days, Master Timothy.”)
(“Hmm. I’ve noticed he’s been more injury prone of late.”)
(“Indeed. And if he can’t fully defend himself, I fear what will happen when he’s forced to defend Gotham.”)
(“If you think Bruce needs a... vacation... have you spoken to Dick about providing cover for his absence?”)
(“Master Richard is an excellent fighter, but there are aspects of the job he’s not equipped to understand.”)
Above Tim, the Bat-signal flares on. It lands on a grey winter cloud, and it’s almost like having two full moons in the sky. He can hear the siren clearly, despite the distance and the wind.
(physics should be more than mood dressing, and all it would take is someone who wants a more sensible world. he could change Gotham)
(“I see. And what do *you* understand, Alfred?”)
(or it could change *him*. swallow him from the inside and keep him for its own. isn’t that what he’s afraid of?)
(“I understand that Gotham needs a Batman, Master Timothy. As do we all.”)
This isn’t the first graveyard Tim visited today. The Drake plots are on a hill seventeen blocks over, much farther from the heart of the city. Tim's body is buried next to his mother, although he’s been spared the ignominy of sharing her plot and headstone. He wasn’t able to find his father’s name among the nearby markers; Tim hopes that means Jack Drake survived the kidnapping in Haiti.
As last experiences go, it wasn’t a pleasant one, but it’s already growing fuzzy in Tim’s mind. He doesn’t fight to keep it. What he holds onto is the touch of grass against his bare hand as he brushes it from under his name, revealing the “1977 - 1990.”
Tim doesn’t feel like he’s been in this strange afterlife for over twenty years, but that’s the trap, isn’t it? Events contract and stretch, and they blur together, and the dates don’t mean anything. Sometimes Tim catches a hollowed stare in Bruce’s eyes, and if he’s a boy wearing the mask of a man, he’s also a man who’s been stuck under a black cowl for far, far longer than 36 years.
(but it would be different, wouldn’t it, if he knew? if he was in *control*)
(and how long would that be true)
Tim has never wanted Bruce’s job.
He’s done a lot of good work as Robin, but the thing about being Robin is that when you’ve outstayed your purpose, you’re allowed to *leave*. Tim doesn’t know what’s behind the final door of the afterlife, but he’s sure it isn’t a gloomy, clingy echo of a city.
Tim pushes the pile of evacuated snow back in front of the gravestone, making sure to cover everything below the top two names. He dusts the white flakes off the rose and places it on top of his recreated snowdrift. When he gets up and studies it, it’s like he’s never changed anything at all.
Above him, the Bat-signal is still on, calling out Gotham’s need. Tim turns his back on it, heading towards the car. Alfred will be disappointed with him, he thinks, but it’s nothing they won’t get past.
The wind blows cold around Tim’s face, and he retreats slightly into his scarf. It’s taken him a while this time around, but now Tim has new boots and a hat Dick knitted himself as a gift, and he’s finally getting accustomed to the winter.