“Officer Grayson,” Dick looked up from where he was tying his boots, “Could we have a word?”
Two detectives were standing in the doorway of the locker room. He easily identified them as Montoya and Allen.
“Of course,” Dick nodded, “How can I help?”
“In private.” The words were firm.
Dick noted the small undercurrent of tension. There was something going on. Something he didn’t know about. Something that was making the pair of detectives uncomfortable.
Outwardly Dick shrugged and pliantly followed them to an interrogation room.
“What is this about?” Dick asked, “Do I need my Union Rep?”
“No. We just want to ask you a few questions about your brother.”
“Jason or Damian?” Dick returned immediately.
“Timmy?” The name threw Dick for a moment, “No, Tim’s the good kid. He doesn’t get into trouble. There’s no reason for you to be looking at Tim. Whatever he’s been accused of… Whoever accused him… It’s not true. Timmy doesn’t cause trouble.”
“And the others do?”
“Pretty much.” Dick shrugged, “Jason has issues about his background. Feels people look down on him. Then there’s the whole PTSD thing which I will not go into. Damian… Looks down on people. Feels he is superior. That generally leads to trouble. Tim… Tim… Tim doesn’t cause problems. Sure, he doesn’t get on with the others brilliantly, but that’s not his fault. They start the fights. He just refuses to let them walk over him.”
“Do they fight a lot?”
“Not so much anymore.” Dick tried to remember the last fight and nothing was springing to mind, “I think they’re getting over it. Getting more tolerant of each other. Which is a good thing.”
“Getting over what?”
“Is this really relevant?” Dick turned the conversation back around, “What do you want to know about Tim?”
“When did you last have contact with him?”
“Texted him last week.”
“Virus on my computer. He’s good with them. He fixed it.”
“You’re dating Barbara Gordon, couldn’t she fix it for you?”
“Technically yes. But I’d made her angry, so she was the one who infected it. It would take a lot of grovelling to get it fixed quickly, given what I’d done to upset her. Tim’s quicker than making up to Babs. That takes a lot of chocolate and Rocky-Road ice cream for some reason. And sometimes it’s Mint Chocolate. And woe betide me if I get it wrong. And then there’s the multiple ‘just-because-I-love-you’ massages. Tim’s easier.”
“Are you sure it was a week ago?”
“Fairly sure. I can check if you’d like.”
Curious Dick pulled out his phone and quickly accessed his texts. He knew there was nothing that could be incriminating in them. He wasn’t stupid. He’d been doing this long enough that he knew how to play the game.
But he was still confused. Why the interest in Tim? Why the questions? Things weren’t making sense.
“Wait,” He stared at his phone, “That can’t be right.”
“What is it?”
“It’s been two months. I wouldn’t leave it that long. Surely I invited him to movie night or something since then.”
He looked up at them, his eyes narrowing. He knew he was letting more than a few shades of Nightwing colour his expression; a few shades of Batman too. However, he didn’t care right then.
“I think I’ve been extremely patient so far. What is this about?”
“You’ve heard about the bodies in the warehouse district?”
“I’d ask which ones, but I think I know the ones you mean. The ones not yet linked to any particular gang in the old food warehouse. I heard rumours about a mass murder.”
“That’s the one.”
“What’s that got to do with Timmy?”
“There was some blood found at the scene. It wasn’t in CODIS, but there was a familial match. The blood was from a first degree male relative of Jack Drake.”
Dick felt the blood drain from his face. His words caught in his throat. He wanted to deny what he was hearing. But couldn’t find the breath to speak.
“As far as we can determine Jack Drake only had one brother, who died before Wayne adopted Tim Drake. His father died over twenty years ago. So that only leaves…”
“Timmy. How much blood? Where was it? You’re not talking about a body, so I presume he wasn’t amongst them.”
Dick’s brain was racing, making plans to find Tim and check that he was safe. Tim had to be okay. He just had to be.
“According to the forensic people his blood was older. By a few days. Also, the locations and the splatter indicate that he was being held prisoner and tortured.”
“No.” The word managed to come out of Dick’s throat, even while it felt like he was being strangled.
Still in progress. Might be a fair wait for the next chapter, but I wanted to gift the first chapter for Christmas.
Merry Christmas everyone!
And Happy Holidays if Christmas isn't your thing.
Happy New Year to everyone!
I don't know when I'll next update this, my muse has gotten distracted. But I'll try to keep at this.
It had to be wrong. It just had to be. No one got the drop on Red Robin. It just didn’t happen… Besides Tim would have called for help. There would have been a comm message.
Maybe Jack had had an affair. Dick wouldn’t put it past the man. Maybe Tim had a half-brother running around somewhere.
All Dick had to do was find Tim and prove his theory.
Because it couldn’t be Tim. It just couldn’t! Dick would have known if Tim was in danger.
“Do you know anyone who would want to harm Timothy?”
“No. No one. Tim’s a good kid. He works hard. He isn’t dating anyone. He doesn’t make waves. Doesn’t cause problems. You’ve got to be wrong. Tim’s safe at home.”
“And where is home?”
Dick opened his mouth and then closed it again.
Where was home for Tim? He wasn’t at the Manor. Dick would know. He would have seen Tim at some point. He couldn’t actually remember the last time he saw Tim at the Manor. So Tim couldn’t be living there. Alfred, for one, wouldn’t allow Tim to hide away in the Manor and never be seen.
Dick’s next thought is for the old Brownstone, but he instantly dismissed that one. Tim had had one of his rare emotional reactions to the place and sold it as soon as he had disposed of the fake uncle. Tim wouldn’t be there; not only did he not own it anymore, but he couldn’t walk through the door.
The old Drake Manor was inhabited by a very nice young family, so Tim couldn’t be living there.
That only left one place left that Dick could think of.
“The Wayne Penthouse.” Dick stated.
“He’s not there.” Montoya leaned forward, “We checked. No one’s living there. You don’t even know where he lives? What kind of brother are you?”
Dick couldn’t answer that. He didn’t know what the answer was. Only he was sure it wasn’t positive. He was desperately casting his mind back, trying to remember the last time he saw Tim without a cowl or a domino on. And to his horror he couldn’t remember.
It couldn’t be after he had caught Tim falling from Ra’s kick. It just couldn’t!
“We’re going to interview the Manor’s inhabitants.” Montoya declared, “You are to stay here and not communicate with them until we give you leave. Do we need to confiscate your phone?”
“No.” Dick shook his head, “Just… Be gentle? I don’t know how Damian will react. He’s… He’s prone to extreme reactions. He doesn’t know what is an appropriate level of response to anything. And he tries to hide anything he deems as a weakness.”
“And Jason?” Allen asked.
“I doubt he’ll be there.” Dick shrugged, “But if he is… Don’t be surprised at the swearing. And he might not believe you. He doesn’t… He doesn’t trust cops.”
“Not even you?”
“He trusts me as Dick. Not as Officer Grayson. He’s seen far too many crimes get ignored to fully trust cops. Don’t take it personally.”
“Strange,” Montoya remarked, “You know all these details about them. But I doubt you know the first thing about Timothy Drake.”
“Photography is his passion,” Dick’s gaze narrowed slightly rising to his feet in anger, “Has been since he was a small child. He prefers to develop his photographs himself. Prefers film to digital for his art. He says it is purer. Brings him closer to his subject. His most prized possession is a photograph of him with my first family, taken the night they died. I hugged him and promised to put on a show just for him.
“He’s smart. Smartest guy I’ve ever met. Miles ahead of even the best minds in science and industry. I’ve only ever played him in chess once. Once was enough; he wasn’t even paying attention and he massacred me. Loves engineering. Wants to know how things work. Anything. A car. A plane. A radio. A computer. A person. He likes to know what makes things tick.
“He has a habit of dating dangerous women. Every single one of his girlfriends has had danger in their shadows. Pretty certain he’s still a virgin. He respects women too much to love them and leave them. I think he’s searching for the right one. Complete opposite of me. I’ve had more hook-ups than some women have shoes.
“If you ask him he’ll tell you his favourite book is Red Rabbit by Tom Clancy. But really he alternates between Pratchett and Eddings. Depending upon how he is feeling. He occasionally strays into the Dirk Pitt series, but never for too long. Finds them a little farfetched in large doses.
“He’s a nerd. Loves Star Trek. But prefers Picard over Kirk. And while he enjoys the reboot, he’s still loyal to the original series and the Next Generation. He can’t stand the prequels of Star Wars. And quite honestly would rather burn “I, Robot” than watch it. Calls it an insult to Asimov.
“He’s a history buff. Both generally and of Gotham in particular. He wants to visit virtually every castle he passes in his travels. And he has the charm to usually get in, even if it’s not open to the Public.
“His father’s loss devastated him. His mother not so much. Not because he cared for her any less, but because at that time they were distant figures he didn’t know very well. He only really connected with his father after Jack lost most of his money. He once told Jack that he’d gotten injured trying out for Football, when he’d really got it playing with his friends. When Jack called him out on it, Tim said he hadn’t thought that Jack would check, because he never had before.
“I know lots about Tim.”
“When why didn’t you know he was missing?”
Dick sank back down into the chair.
He wanted to grab his phone again and start calling people. Call Bruce and find out what he knew. But he had no expectation of privacy. While he wasn’t being officially detained, he knew that he wouldn’t be allowed to leave the room, so anything he said or did would be monitored.
However, that didn’t mean he couldn’t make steps towards finding Tim. He started plotting his next few moves, anything to get ahead on the hunt.
Just on the off chance though…
“Hi, this is Tim Drake. I can’t come to the phone right now, but please leave your name and number after the beep and I will get back to you.”
“Tim… It’s Dick… I need you to call me. I need to know you’re alright. I need… I need you… God! I’ve been a lousy brother haven’t I? I don’t know where you are or what you’re doing. But you’re okay. You’re always okay…… You’ve got to be okay. I don’t know…. I don’t know what I’ll do if you aren’t okay……… Please… Please be okay. Just… Just hang on. Wherever you are… Hang on. I’ll find you. I swear it.”
Dick hung up the phone. It was bad enough that he wasn’t able to leave the interrogation room. He refused to let them see that he was begging his brother to be alive. To respond to his messages. He wasn’t going to let them see him cry. And he knew that was a possibility. He had cried after Jason’s death. He had cried after Bruce’s death. He had cried after Damian’s death. There was a very real chance that he was going to cry from this. He would not give the other officers the satisfaction. And he knew they were watching.
He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction, because he knew that the ones who would most likely be watching would be those who viewed him as a little stuck up prince, due to his family. He wouldn’t let them mock him further. Inwardly he hoped that they would at least give Tim’s case the attention it deserved.
Dick didn’t really care if the whole Batman secret came out, so long as Tim was alive. So if the police detectives managed to find Tim, he wouldn’t care one bit that it was them and not him.
That being said, he wasn’t going to hang around and wait for them to get started. He knew that the family wasn’t involved, so he could skip that step. And move straight to the important stuff.
Besides, he had only been told not to call the Manor; he pressed a speed dial on his phone.
It was answered quickly.
“Babs,” Dick breathed, “I need you to find Tim.”
“What do you mean?” Barbara frowned, “He’s at the Manor.”
“I can’t remember the last time I saw Tim at the Manor.” Dick replied, “I mean I honestly can’t remember. And now, I don’t know where he is.”
“Why don’t you just call him?”
“I have. I got his voicemail. And the police have his DNA on torture implements at a crime scene. The wrong end of torture implements.”
“Who? Who was hurting him?”
“We don’t know. I don’t know. And I don’t know how long they had him. I don’t know if they still have him. I don’t know where he is. Or how he is. And I need to know, Babs. I have to know.”
“Working on it. When did you last see him?”
“I can’t remember. Seriously, I can’t remember. Can you?”
“Well… No. I mean, I’ve seen him in passing. Not spoken to him.”
Dick translated that in his head; Babs had seen Tim as Red Robin on her cameras, but hadn’t established a comm link with him.
“When?” Dick pressed, “I thought I’d texted him last week and it turns out that it was two months ago.”
“I’m not sure.” Babs hedged, “A month maybe? I don’t know, Dick. He’s not been reaching out for a long time. I’ve not really spoken to him since he helped me fix up the Clock Tower after I returned to Gotham.”
“When did we let him drift so far away from us?”
“I… I don’t know. I didn’t even realize it was happening… Do you have any further details?”
“Nothing that the police don’t have. And I don’t think they gave me everything either.”
“You’re still in the station, aren’t you?”
“Yes. They’ve gone to the Manor to talk. Didn’t want me getting in the way.”
“They suspect it’s a family affair.”
“Anything we need to worry about?”
“No. Babs, can you ask around?”
“Already doing so. But you might get more success if you ask yourself.”
“Planning on doing so, as soon as I can. What I want to know is how we didn’t notice. And I’m not liking the answers that I’m coming up with.”
“What are those answers?”
“I’ll tell you later.” Dick didn’t really want to discuss it, but he was starting to have suspicions.
The door opening caught his attentions and he quickly said goodbye as he saw his partner standing in the doorway.
“Up you get, Grayson.” His partner declared, “I’ve got orders to take you home.”
“Straight home, I presume, Quill.” Dick sighed, “No possible diversions?”
“The detectives don’t want you interfering with their interviews. Straight home Grayson. And you get to explain to me exactly how you managed to screw up this bad. God, you talk about your brothers as if they were everything you ever needed. And you manage to lose one? And you didn’t even notice?”
“I know. I screwed up. Just… Just things kept happening.” Dick ran a hand through his hair, “Can… I need to find Tim. I need to bring him home. I need to apologise to him.”
“You need to wait. The detectives are working on it. I’m taking you home.”
“Okay.” Dick sighed, “But I’m not going to stop until Tim comes home.”
They were silent until they got into the car.
“Talk, Grayson. How did you miss this?”
“Tim’s the good kid. He’s always been the good kid.” Dick sighed, “Never gets into trouble. Jay and Dami need help. They need a lot of help. I’ve been so focused on making sure that they’re confident of their place in the family… Tim just… Just slipped between the cracks. I didn’t worry about him, because I didn’t think I had to.”
“That’s a pretty poor excuse.”
“I know. But you don’t know Tim. He’s… I wanted him as my brother years before Bruce adopted him. Even before Bruce took me in. He was such a cute kid.”
“Hold on, you knew him before?”
“The last night at the Circus…” Dick tailed off, before restarting, “Before the show, we were glad handing. He asked for a photograph with us. Me especially. I promised him that I’d do the performance just for him. He was such a sweet kid. I asked my parents if we could keep him. He even looked like he could have been my brother. I’d wanted a sibling for a long time. And there he was, the perfect little brother.”
“And now you’ve lost him.”
“Like hell. I’m going to find him. He’s coming home. And then, I’m gonna fix this. I’m going to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
“How? How do you lose a kid like that? The perfect kid?”
“Do you know Megan Elliott?” Dick seemed to be changing the topic.
“The cancer kid on fourth?” Quill frowned, “Yeah. I know her.”
“What’s her sibling called?”
“She’s got a sibling?”
“Yeah,” Dick nodded, “A good kid. Doesn’t cause any fuss. Doesn’t make waves. Helps out as much as they can. Can you tell me the name? Or even the gender?”
“Exactly. When you’re focused on one thing, you can exclude everything else. It’s like the old video of the basketball players and the gorilla.”
“Okay, I get it.” Quill sighed, “What is the Elliott kid’s name anyway?”
“Tyler. He’s ultra-protective of her.”
“So that’s what it was. You all just focused on Damian and Jason?”
“Pretty much. And I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for that now. God, what have I put him through? What have I let him be put through?”
Dick had both hands fisted in his hair. His mind was conjuring up images upon images of what could have happened and what could be happening even then.
“Hey,” Quill tapped his shoulder, “Montoya and Allen are good at their jobs. They’ll find out what happened. The only way you could be more certain about that would be if you had the Batman on the case.”
Well, that situation was going to change; Nightwing was on the case. So was Oracle. And the rest of the Bats would be following shortly.
And like hell any of them were going to stop until Tim was safe and sound and back where he belonged!
“Detectives,” The butler greeted them as he opened the door, “How may we assist the GCPD today?”
“We need to talk to Mister Wayne and all the residents of the Manor. Including yourself. Immediately.”
“It involves serious business then, Detectives, I would presume. May I enquire as to the urgency and the duration of these discussions? Young Master Damian is currently at school. If the discussion is urgent then I can collect him. If the discussion is overly long I will be late in collecting him from school.”
“We have a police car collecting him as we speak. He should be arriving shortly.”
“Very good, Sir, Ma’am. I shall inform Master Bruce that you are present. If you would follow me, I shall bring Master Bruce to the Green Drawing Room.”
“Is Jason Todd currently in residence?” Montoya inquired.
“Yes, Detectives. I presume you wish for him to also be in attendance?”
“Absolutely. We said everyone and we meant it.”
“Then I shall insure that he is awake and presentable, Detectives.”
“We also need you to be there.”
“I presumed so by your insistence as to everyone, Detectives. If you would wait here. We shall join you shortly.”
The detectives looked around the room. It was clear to see why it was referred to as green, although the colour was broken up by pictures and a small bookcase.
“Quite a few books here. Wonder how often any of the spines get cracked?”
“Nice view as well,” Montoya motioned out the large windows, towards the elegantly manicured grounds.
“Todd still asleep? Wonder why? What kept him up all night?”
“What are you suggesting?”
“Late night parties? Involving god only knows who and what. The Waynes generally manage to keep themselves out of the gossip rags; unless Wayne himself is out and about. But that doesn’t mean they don’t get up to things. All this money? You can’t tell me they’re completely on the straight and narrow.”
“Detectives,” A cherry voice greeted them from the doorway, “What brings you here today? Are you here selling tickets for the Benefits’ Gala? Because I thought that wasn’t for another six months.”
“Mister Wayne, have a seat.”
“Call me Brucie. All my friends do. Is Dickie alright? Has something happened to him?”
“Grayson is fine. Take a seat.” Montoya attempted to reassure.
She had spotted the real fear behind the jovial smile. Despite Bruce Wayne’s obvious lack of intelligence, he really did care for Grayson, that much was clear.
“Father, what is going on?” A young, but arrogant voice demanded from the doorway, “I was removed from school without prior warning. I am missing my art class.”
“Have a seat, brat.” The lower Gotham drawl was a jarring contrast to the lightly accented upper class tones of the previous speaker, “They ain’t gonna talk until we’re all seated. Might as well get this over with.”
“Indeed, Master Jason. May I suggest you take your own advice?” The butler had returned, “Master Damian, I am sure that the detectives would not have interrupted your education for anything less than a true situation.”
“If you would also be seated,” Montoya motioned, “We would prefer it.”
The butler seated himself quietly.
“This ‘bout Dickie-bird?” Jason pressed, “He okay?”
“Grayson cannot be harmed.” Damian’s voice was tight, clearly trying to hide fear.
“He is fine.” Montoya replied, “Officer Grayson is back at the precinct. We came to talk to you about Timothy Drake-Wayne.”
“Drake?” Damian frowned, “Why what has he done?”
“When was the last time any of you spoke to him?”
“I don’t remember.” Jason drawled, “Cut to the chase, detectives. What’s the matter? Why are ya asking about him?”
“There’s no easy way of saying this,” Allen took a deep breath, “We have evidence that indicates Mister Drake-Wayne has been kidnapped.”
“What?” Every single bit of tomfoolery was gone from Brucie’s voice and body language, “Who? When? Where is he?”
“Currently we don’t know.” Montoya replied calmly, “We are still investigating.”
“Who has my son?” Brucie had completely changed.
Montoya and Allen both blinked at the change. The multi-millionaire was radiating danger and threat. For all his foppish ways, it seemed Bruce Wayne really cared about his boys.
“We don’t know.” Allen stated, “We’re working on it. At the moment we’re trying to establish a time-line. Find out when he was taken.”
“You don’t even know that?” Damian sounded outraged.
“Not yet.” Montoya shrugged, “Currently all we have is evidence of kidnapping.”
“No, ya don’t.” Jason frowned, “Because if that was all ya had, you would at least know when it happened. You have evidence of something else. Either his death, which I doubt, because ya would have led with that. Murder’s easier to explain than kidnapping… How much blood?”
“Are you sure you wish to discuss this with the youngster in the room?” Allen queried.
“I have encountered worse.” Damian rebutted, “I have seen death before. In several incarnations.”
“He can handle it.” Jason agreed.
“Detectives,” Bruce returned to the heart of the matter, “What has happened to my son?”
“Evidence indicates that he may have been tortured.” Allen confessed, “At present all we have is DNA evidence.”
“Blood.” Jason was blunt, “How much?”
“Enough that it is likely that Mister Drake-Wayne will be very weak at present. And in need of medical care in the near future.” Allen elaborated.
“And ya want to know if one of us did it.” Jason continued, “I mean, we’re pretty good suspects. I’m known for not liking him. Damian, pretty much the same. Bruce would never hurt Timmy. And Alfred… He’d protect this family with every last breath in his body. And that goes for Timmy too. Ya’re not just establishing the timeline. Ya’re investigating us to see if we could be behind it. Whether it was our hands or our money bankrolling it.”
“You believe we would consider that a possibility?” Montoya pressed.
“Absolutely.” Jason agreed, “I don’t trust cops. And I know that the first suspect in something like this is the family. Particularly when we didn’t report him missing. And I last heard from Timmy about a month and a half ago.”
“Who initiated contact?”
“I did. It’s always that way. I’m always the one that starts it. Even if I don’t realize that I started it. If I’m in trouble. If I need help… He’ll come.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’d rather not discuss it.” Jason countered.
“I’m afraid that is no longer an option.” Allen fired back.
“In which case, I’d rather talk in private.” Jason announced.
“That’s acceptable.” Montoya agreed, “We were intending on it any way. We’ll start with you. Then the butler, Brucie and finally Damian.”
“His name is Alfred.” Jason got to his feet, “Follow me. Alf, I’ll take ‘em to the library. Seems as good a place as any… Don’t reckon I’ll need it, but might be worth putting the lawyers on standby.”
“I understand that you and Mister Drake do not get along.” Allen opened the interrogation.
“So I’m a suspect.” Todd shrugged, “I get it. I do. But I wouldn’t do that to Tiny Tim.”
“I’m trying not to physically attack him anymore. I did in the past. I’ll admit that. But I’m getting better. I got help. Timmy got me help. Help I was willing to take, ‘cause Timmy found the right way to help me. I owe him a lot.”
“We have heard rather different stories.”
“You would. We don’t publicize it. Timmy understands why I was so angry with him. It wasn’t really his fault. But I blamed him. It was easier to be angry at him than anyone else.”
“Long complicated story, and not important right now. What is important is that Timmy is missing. And ya don’t know where he is. And I don’t know where he is.”
“Do you know anyone who would want to hurt him?”
“No… Well, the brat might, but this isn’t his style. He wouldn’t torture Timmy and he wouldn’t delegate. There might be people in business who would have an issue with Timmy. He’s CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world. For some people that’s enough.”
“Why didn’t know you notice he was missing?”
“I don’t interact with him on a regular basis. Sometimes I’ll go weeks ‘tween seeing him.”
“And the rest of them?”
“Part of me thinks that is my fault.”
“I didn’t like him. I made it very clear. But I was on the outs with all of the family. Everyone knew it. Bruce and Dick have worked so hard to bring me back into the fold. And I fought them most of the way…”
“Street kid. I fought them the first time too. Only now I’m older and wiser and more stubborn and more wary. Trust me, the things I saw while I was presumed dead… It makes Gotham look tame. Anyway, I was fighting them. And they were focused on me. And on Damian, ‘cause he hasn’t had the best upbringing.”
“Let’s just say his mother is a bitch. She always planned on him. Bruce’s willing participation was not something she would have deemed a necessary part of Damian’s conception.”
“You mean she…”
“No-one’s ever said. But I know the woman. She’s ruthless. She wanted Damian to be born. And she wanted him to be perfect. Therefore, he had to be Bruce’s. And she always gets what she wants.”
The two detectives exchanged a glance; this had been a more intriguing conversation than they had been expecting.
“Did you know that Drake was missing?”
“Personally, I haven’t interacted with him for nearly six months. I knew his friends didn’t know where he was. I knew they were looking for him. They got desperate enough that they phoned me. And trust me, that means they were pretty desperate. That was just over a week ago.”
“And what did you do?”
“Nothing. I didn’t think there was a problem. Not the first time he’s taken off on his own. I figured he’d turn up when he was ready. Besides I didn’t want ta tell Bruce and the others.”
“Because that was right at the point I was starting to realize that they really did want me back. That they actually cared. That I hadn’t been replaced. And I knew that if they knew Timmy was missing… They’d focus more on him than on me… And I didn’t want to be second place ta Timmy again. So I kept my mouth shut…… And now I have ta live with that. If I had had the slightest, and I do mean the slightest, inkling that Timmy was actually in trouble… That he was being hurt… I would have said something. I would have done something. I would have gotten him outta there. No matter what the cost.”
“How long have you known?”
“Like I said, a week? Maybe two? Certainly no longer. Give me a moment, I’ll get you an exact time frame.”
He started scrolling through his phone.
“Nine days.” Jason was firm, “They called me nine days ago. I didn’t think anything of it. They’ve never contacted me before, but as I said…”
“You didn’t consider it anything to worry about.”
“A young boy, alone in the world… And you didn’t consider it anything to worry about?”
“Timmy’s gone to Afghanistan on his own before. And Europe before he finished Freshman year. There’s no need to worry about it… At least there never has been before.”
“You weren’t worried, because nothing had ever happened before?”
“I wasn’t worried, because Tiny Tim’s been walking the streets of Gotham since he was a tot. I reckoned nowhere was more dangerous than he’d already been. I thought he could handle himself.”
“Is there anything else you think we should know?”
“Nothing I can think of. Or at least that I’d be willing to tell ya. I presume ya’ve checked his apartment.”
“You know where he lives?”
“Of course,” Jason shrugged, “Ya don’t?”
“So far we haven’t found any records for his accommodation.”
“Look, finish up with the others and I’ll take ya there.”
“You could just tell us the address.”
“He’s got a pretty tight security system on the place. I know my way through it, but I couldn’t explain it.”
“Why would you know how to get through his security? You said you weren’t close. And that you actively tried to keep away from him. And actively kept others from interacting with him.”
“No. Not actively. More passively. I just didn’t tell anyone about things I knew. And yeah, we’re not close. But right now, I wager I’m closer ta ‘im than Dick or Brucie. ‘Sides I like ta know where people are. I like ta know if there are places where I can crash if I need ta. Timmy would never deny me a place on his couch. Provided that I didn’t try ta kill ‘im. I’ll get ya in. But I won’t leave it open for the future. I won’t do that ta ‘im. I won’t make his safe space dangerous.”
I'm trying to write Jason with a bit of an accent. Not sure how well I'm doing. Feedback would be helpful.
“How may I help you, detectives?”
“When did you last hear from Mister Drake-Wayne?”
“That would be approximately three months ago.” The butler replied, “I have reached out to him on numerous occasions since them, including four days ago. However, I have had no reply, detectives.”
“You didn’t press any further?”
“I have found that attempting to press Master Tim into something that he does not wish to do is generally a pointless activity. However, detectives, if I continue to make sure that he is aware that I am interested in establishing contact he will eventually cave. He is too kind-hearted to ignore me for long. I anticipated that he would contact me at the very latest next month, when my birthday occurred.”
“Do you know of any enemies?”
“While I know that his position as CEO lends itself to enemies, I cannot image Master Tim having any personal enemies, detectives. He has always come across to me as a soft-spoken young man, more prone to using words to get the result he desires than actions. He is a born diplomat and negotiator, capable of making everyone believing that they have gained the best outcome possible. Even as a young man he was capable of such feats, talking down bullies from their targets without seeming to be overly interested.”
“How did he do that?”
“He is capable of seeing multiple sides of a situation, detectives. He can also see potential outcomes of events and can phrase things so he can gain the optimal outcome, Sir.”
“He manipulates people?”
“That would be one way of phrasing it. However, I would remind you that everyone has free will and the option of choosing a different path to the path Master Tim desires, Ma’am. All he uses are words and he never lies in the words that he chooses. In fact, Master Tim rarely lies at all; at least to me.”
“Is that your opinion of him? That he is a manipulative young man?”
“I am appalled that you are interpreting my words that way, Ma’am. Master Tim is a compassionate young man, who cares more for others than he does for himself. A young man who would willingly sacrifice everything he is for the sake of another, even a stranger. An intelligent and bright young man, who is capable of so much good in this world. Yes, he is capable of deception, but he will only do it in the cause of protecting people. He forgives all too readily offences against himself, in my humble opinion. However, offences against those he cares for are not so easily forgiven. In addition, simply because he forgives, does not mean that he forgets. He does not trust easily a second time. I fear, I may have betrayed that trust, and I doubt I will be able to win it back so easily.”
“What do you think you did?”
“I do not know. However, I do know in retrospect that I have not given him the support he needed. I also have not commemorated his last birthday in the manner he would expect from me. I fear he may believe I have forgotten him, Sir.”
“Do you believe that anyone in this house could have harmed him?”
“While I acknowledge that they have had their differences in the past, Sir. I do not believe that any of them would cause such harm now.”
“I have noticed that you refer to each of the members of the Wayne family by their full first name, but Mister Drake-Wayne you use a nickname?”
“Master Tim finds his full first name something that displeases him. I have seen him flinch when I utilized it. I make a concerted effort not to use it, in order that he does not associate me with whatever bad memories his full first name evokes.”
“Do you know what caused that?”
“I am afraid that I am not able to illuminate you any further.”
Montoya and Allen exchanged glances; clearly Alfred was too loyal to the Waynes to give any further information. It was possible that he wasn’t even capable of believing they would harm each other.
“I don’t know where Timmy is.” Brucie declared, “And none of my boys would harm him. Have you talked to Lucius? He might know of a ransom demand or something.”
“Do you know of any enemies he might have?”
“No. Timmy’s a good kid. He doesn’t make enemies. He works hard. Harder than I ever did. Lucius loves him. He’s a brilliant CEO. The Board don’t have any issues with him.”
“Nobody who would do anything like this. I mean, Stephanie and he used to date, but they’re just friends now. There was Ariana, years ago; they broke up and stayed friends. Also Zoanne, they tutored each other for a while. But it never went very far. There was Darla, I think she was linked to the Mafia, but that was a long time ago; and I think she got shot by a stray bullet. There was Greta, many, many years ago; thought I think that was a one-sided crush on her part. He didn’t think of her that way.”
“That’s… Impressive.” Allen blinked, “I wouldn’t have expected you to remember anything quite so detailed.”
“Detective Allen,” Brucie turned a slight glare towards him, “I may be a lush and a fool in the eyes of the world. But I do care for my children. I know about their friends and particularly their romantic liaisons. I have to check, because they can be leverage points against us. I keep records of the romantic liaisons I have. However, I am more personal when it comes to my children.”
“But you don’t know of any enemies?”
“What about Tamara Fox? Weren’t they engaged at one point?”
“Not officially. That was an ill spoken remark by a harried young woman in front of a media representative. There was no official engagement. It was all a show.”
“And could Tamara Fox have reacted badly upon realizing that Mister Drake-Wayne had no intentions of going through with her statement?”
“No chance. She never saw Tim that way. Besides, she’d never hurt Tim. Tim doesn’t have enemies. He never did. He’s not that sort of person. Everyone likes Tim. He’s going to be a great man one day. Please… Find my son. Bring him home.”
“Do you know of anyone who would try to hurt Tim to get at you?”
“If they were going to, they would have sent me a message by now. I don’t know who could have Timmy. I don’t know why they would take him. But I want him home safe. Please… Please bring my boy home.”
The amount of desperation in Brucie’s voice wasn’t something that could be easily faked. Montoya doubted that Brucie had the ability to simulate the emotion needed.
“You believe I had something to do with Drake’s disappearance.” Damian stated rather than asked.
“It is well known that the two of you had issues with each other. It has been extensively reported.”
“In tabloids and news outlets barely worth the name.” Damian was dismissive, “I currently have no interest in the removal of Drake from this family.”
“Is that because you know he will never come back already?”
“Sir, I must protest!” The butler spoke up from his corner where he was observing, “Master Damian would not get involved in something like that.”
“If I desired Drake’s death I would make it as clean and as quick as possible.” Damian declared firmly, “However, I am not involved. I desire no harm to come to Drake. It is not in my best interest to harm him. While I have, in the past, desired his removal from the family, it is not my current desire. Indeed, I would prefer it if Drake would become a greater part of this family; however, I will not force him in that direction. Nor will I allow him to return while there is a chance that he might become discarded in the manner he has been already.”
“You deem him to have been discarded?”
“Correct. I believe he has been forgotten by most members of the family. While I originally did not object, by the time I realized the value Drake provides to the family it was too late. I could not bring him back by my own actions. He believes that I am happier the way things are and will not return at my request.”
“What changed your mind?”
“I confronted him about his position as CEO approximately eight months ago.” Damian started.
Then he paused, clearly trying to figure out what he wanted to say.
“Look!” Timothy snapped; some small part of Damian was pleased at having made the usually soft-spoken and even-tempered teenager lose his famous cool.
“I get it. I get it! I don’t have a place in the family. I know that. But someone has to be CEO. And the Board won’t throw me away just yet. Answer me this Damian, if I am not in charge, who will be?”
“I am the rightful heir.”
“You are also just a kid. Maybe not in experience, because God knows you’ve seen things that most kids your age haven’t. And you’ve done things that they haven’t. But you’re still a kid. The Board looks at you and they see an arrogant, outspoken child! They won’t let you run the show at the moment. For all that you are the true heir.”
“Tt. Then the Board should reappoint Father.”
“The Board dismiss Bruce as a fop. A fool. An idiot. We know the truth, but the rest of the world, they only know Brucie. Who, quite honestly, is so overplayed by Bruce it’s a miracle they ever let him foster Dick, never mind the rest of us. As far as the Board is concerned Brucie had been a puppet dancing on his master’s strings as CEO. And the puppet-master was Lucius Fox. Now, he’s good at what he does. Runs the company like a dream, has a Midas touch; but there are many members of the Board who deem him an upstart. He’s not one of them. They were more than happy when he stepped down and made me CEO. Not because I am Bruce’s adoptive son. But because I’m not him. They deem me to be more controllable. Someone they can direct and shape. I cause fewer scandals than Brucie and am deemed to present a far better image in the Press.
“Don’t even try with Dick or Jason. Jason, they see as beneath them, because of his heritage and his manner of speaking. They don’t see how much he has achieved to overcome all the obstacles in his path. And Dick’s a common cop as far as they are concerned. If he as a detective, then yes, they’d be more interested in him being in charge than me. More because of the fact that he is charming than anything else. I’m good at what I do, but it takes a lot more work for me to build the type of contacts that come easily to Dick. God, if he had any interest in running the business, he’d be putting other companies out of business all the time. He’d charm them so much that they’d lie down and let him walk all over them. He’d be worse than Luthor. Him and Lucius together? Dream. Team. Trust me on that.
“But the Board won’t fire me or let me stand down in favour of you, at this time. You’re too young. Too inexperienced. If I stand down, without a named replacement, they will replace me with one of them. And then you won’t get the CEO position until you’re at least forty. Trust me on that. At least while I stand as Regent for you, the position is waiting for you. I’m just the stand in. The Replacement. The Interrex. The position will wait for the Prince. Take your time over it. I’m not going to usurp you. There’s no point for me to do that. The Board will go your way in time.
“So grow up. Be a child! Learn. Grow. Study. Broaden your mind. Get a degree. At least a Bachelor’s. But you’re smart enough for a Master’s; be a shame to waste your mind. Particularly with your work ethic. Whatever you want you work at it, until you get it. You could study at any university and study any subject. The Board would give you the CEO position when you were finished. I mean literally. Your graduation day would be my last day as CEO. I’m serious on that. I don’t see this as a long term thing.”
“What is to stop you from destroying the company? You are certainly capable of it. You could destroy my legacy.”
“And why would I do that? I destroy it, and the Board will fire me. I destroy it and when I’m looking for my next job, I’ll be lucky if I get a job stacking shelves in a Mom and Pop store. I have to keep the company going. For my future. If I walk out of this job with the company thriving, I can pretty much walk into any job I want after that. I have to show I have the experience and ability to do what is necessary.
“That’s the logical reason why you should believe me when I tell you I’m not going to ruin the company. The illogical real reason why is simple. I may not be part of the family, but I still care for all of you. If the business is succeeding you have the funds for the best equipment… For the best protection. I am keeping you all safe, by helping the company to grow. And I still care. As stupid as it is. Even though I am not part of the family, I still care. And I don’t ever see myself as stopping caring. You need me, I’ll be there. No matter in what capacity you need me; I’ll come when you call. That is something you can take to the bank!”
“Because even if you don’t think of me like that, you’ll always be my brother to me. And I will do whatever it takes to keep you safe.”
“What if someone else steps forward to take the job?”
“Bruce, I’ll step down. Dick, the same. Jason, I’d fight. He doesn’t really know how to lead a group of people as a superior without sex or violence. Actually, I’d probably pay to see Jason up against the Board.”
“What is your plan?”
“Tt. You have a plan. You always have a plan. What is your plan?”
“I increase the profitability of the business. I can already see some new directions and improvements we can make in current projects. Maximise income, while minimizing expenditure, but not at the cost of the rank and file employees. You come into the business regularly. We get your face known. You don’t come in and work with the managers though. You’re the mail-boy, the tea-boy, the kitchen staff.”
“That is beneath…!” Damian started.
“It’s necessary!” Tim cut him off, “Currently you have a bad image amongst the employees. They see you as an entitled brat. A miniature Brucie, but without any of the positives. If you want the best out of the company, you need to be loved. They need to like you. So, we have to work on that. That means a lot of getting your face out there. A lot of Community Projects. Not just ones where you turn up to cut the ribbon or dig the first spade. Ones where you are there from start to finish. Where you put in the hard graft. I’m thinking Habitat for Humanity and ASPCA. We turn your image around. Make them love you.”
“Why? Tt. You don’t need love to rule. Grandfather does not need to be loved by his people.”
“No. He doesn’t. He rules by fear. I’ve seen it. He assigns ninja to ensure his investment in people. But he doesn’t watch the point of betrayal. He watches their wives. Their children. Fear is not a good way to rule. Particularly in a situation where you do not have the force to back up your threats. You have money and power, but there will always be someone stronger than you. Someone who will find a way to get around your protection. Who will counter your fear. Fear cuts deeper than swords, but it is not fatal. And people will rise against you. But if you are loved? They will follow you to the ends of the earth.”
“Tt. You are certain of this? It seems silly. Typical of your Western culture.”
“Your culture too. Consider this Damian, I will give you two names, and you will tell me who has had a greater impact upon the world and why.”
“Tt. Simple enough.”
“Saddam Hussein and Diana, Princess of Wales.”
“Saddam Hussein has inspired much violence and changed the political map of the Middle East. Princess Diana was never in a position to do such. Clearly Saddam Hussein is the victor in this contest.”
“I wouldn’t say that. Did you know that Princess Diana was a teacher before she was a Princess? She married into her position. And later, she and Prince Charles divorced. Upon the divorce, legally she was no longer a Princess. And yet, she is still called such, even to this day. Even though, legally the position is held by Prince Charles’ current wife; Camilla. It is so strongly associated with Diana, that Camilla instead uses the title Duchess of Cornwall. She was no longer residing at Buckingham Palace when she died, but she was so loved by the people that they left over ten tonnes of bouquets there, over sixty million flowers in her memory. There is a charity in her name to continue her work. Even now her name is still spoken with love. Who mourned Saddam’s demise? Not very many. Those who go out and commit violence in his name? They do for their own sakes. For their own fame. It is more about them than him. But with Diana, it is all about her.”
“You want me to be Diana not Saddam?”
“Absolutely. People work better for a boss they like than for one they hate. If they hate you, they will be more likely to leave the company. We just need to change your image.”
“Change my image?” Damian growled; eyes narrowing in anger.
“Change your narrative.” Tim explained further, “Right now you’re an entitled kid who came from nowhere and is the owner’s son. We change your narrative. We keep as close to the truth as possible, but we change details.”
“Such as?” Damian challenged.
“You were born a Middle Eastern Prince. Your Grandfather is the head of the family and very traditional. His oldest legitimate child is your mother and he has no legitimate sons. Thus, making you his heir. Unfortunately, there was an attack on the family and your mother, fearing for your safety placed you in your father’s keeping. A father who was unaware of your existence until that moment.”
“Tt. So far I do not see anything that is changing my narrative.”
“Once the danger was past, your mother went to reclaim you, only to learn that you had embraced some of your father’s ideals.”
“Again no change.”
“This caused your mother to disown you. Disinherit you.”
“I fail to see what you are doing apart from airing my dirty laundry, as Grayson would say.”
“This has caused you to lash out at people. You are afraid of getting too close to people, because if your own mother could treat you like that, what would other people do? You’re not arrogant. You’re scared of getting hurt again. You’re not dismissive. You’re trying not to get close. You’re not entitled. You’re hurting. You’re scared and trying not to show it. Because you were taught to never show weakness. But if people want to see you… The real you, they just need to see how you treat animals. How you care for creatures that cannot hurt you and simply return your love. You’re rallying against the culture you were raised in and the one you find yourself in now. It is such a big change that you’re finding it hard to adjust and you’re trying not to let anyone see how out of your depth you are. You’re also struggling to find your place in a family where Bruce adopted children. He chose them; you aren’t certain that he would make the same choice with you. Which is why you lash out at me. We play the whole Big-Ego-Hidden-Depths trope to the max. It won’t take much acting from you. And it won’t take much from me either. You won’t even have to change how you act towards me. We’ll make me the focus of your anger.”
“You believe that will work? What will it require?”
“You volunteering on a semi-regular basis. You decide how much, when and what for. Though I would recommend the animals at first. Photos will get out. Trust me on that. All you have to do is be yourself around animals. I’d suggest kittens or puppies. That would really help sell your image. But also horses would help.”
“Royalty rides horses. Showing your competency in that area will help spread the story. I have a few twitter accounts under false names that will help put your image out. I make a few comments here and there about how frustrating it is that your mother completely sacrificed your personal life, and thus your development of social skills, in order for you to learn things far beyond your age. Which was all done in an attempt to impress her father. You spend time with Dick learning those skills that she neglected in her belief that you would never need them.”
“You believe rumours and pictures will make me more… More likeable?”
“Yes. A lie will run around the world, before the truth has got its boots on. Give it a while of doing things like that… Maybe a few candid shots of you volunteering at a children’s charity… People will start asking about the apparent change. They’ll start asking me.”
“Because the Press knows that getting a straight answer out of Brucie is a waste of time. He’s not aware of what’s going on around him. He probably won’t have even noticed the change.”
“Father is far more aware than you are giving him credit for.”
“Bruce is. Brucie isn’t. It’s the difference in a mask. Batman isn’t the only mask he wears. Brucie is as much a mask as Batman. Only more people are fooled by it. The Press don’t trust Brucie. They know he’ll tell them anything they want, but they’re never sure it’s real. Because who would give a drunken fool valuable information? So they’ll ask me as the public face of the Wayne family.”
“What will you say?”
“Not a lot. I will let them infer a great many things. I will play up the angle of being your hated older adoptive brother. Long suffering and frustrated at your actions towards me. That’ll give a reason for why I’m not living at the Manor. I’ll stress that you adore Dick and find Jason tolerable.”
“Why not tell them the story you want them to tell?”
“Because if I do that, they won’t believe it. Give them too much, too easily, too soon they’ll think it’s a cover. Hiding some bigger secret. I’ll keep as much back as possible. They’ll fill in the blanks on their own. That way they’ll think they’re uncovering great secrets.”
“What if they want to know who my grandfather is?”
“There’s several thousand Middle Eastern Princes. They’ll never be able to narrow it down. And even if they try, I’ll just counter every suggestion. You may end up as a Prince of a Nomadic Desert Tribe. One completely off the records.”
“That would be acceptable. You will stand down when the time comes?”
“Absolutely. Hopefully by that time I will have expanded the company further and replaced the Board with people you can work with, rather than the power hungry vultures currently in position. I will do whatever I can to make your life easier in the future. You need me I’ll come. You call. I’ll come. Call on me as your Iolaus, as long as daylight lasts.”
“And you will help me slay the Hydra?”
“I will do whatever you require.”
“Then we have a deal.”
“We made a deal.” Damian finally found his words, “I would study to take over the position. He would act as my Regent until the time when I was ready. He swore that he would not make me a Prince in the Tower. I have no need to antagonise him.”
“You expect us to believe that?”
“It’s the truth. I have nothing to do with this. Anything that has happened to Drake is not in my best interest. So why would I wish him harm?”
“Do you know of any enemies he may have?”
“None that I am aware of. However, Drake does not keep me informed of such things. I would suggest talking to Fox. He would have a better idea of the enemies obtained through Wayne Enterprises.”
“Any personal enemies?”
“Again, none that I am aware of. However, Drake would not inform me of such things. I would recommend talking to his friends. I do not have the privilege of being classed as such.”
“You are coming across very differently to how we were expecting.”
“That is to be expected. What is reported in the media is often very different to reality, particularly when it comes to the personal lives of celebrities.”
“Even Grayson thought you still disliked Mister Drake-Wayne.”
“Grayson has been more focused on Todd to notice my current lack of antagonism towards Drake. This has been aided by Drake’s reduced exposure to the family. Grayson has not been able to observe my interactions with Drake; thus he is unaware of the situation change.”
“Do you know who his friends were?”
“I know their names. However, I will not give you their contact details. I will ensure that they are aware of your investigation and anyone who believes they have any pertinent information will contact you.”
It was clear that Damian wasn’t going to provide any more information; and they weren’t really in a position to force anything out of him.
Jason shifted in his seat slightly as he directed the detectives to Tim’s place. He really wasn’t comfortable in the back of a police car. Unmarked though it was, it still brought back way too many memories for him.
“Where are we going?” Montoya asked.
“Nearly there.” Jason replied, “Take the next left.”
“This doesn’t seem to be the sort of place a rich kid should be.” Allen remarked.
“Funny,” Jason snorted, “Used ta be quite swanky round here. Before my time, of course. Turn right, then pull up at the end. Ya can park in the street. Should be alright. Your car’s not too flashy. And it’s better than it used ta be round here.”
“Really?” Montoya blinked, “I never worked this beat.”
“Yeah,” Jason nodded, “I used ta sleep in that side alley. Don’t look like there’s anyone sleeping there now.”
“You slept rough?” Allen almost turned to look at him, before remembering the road.
“Yeah,” Jason shrugged, “Wasn’t that in your files on me? I slept rough and then got put into a school for troubled kids. Turns out the headmaster was trying ta train criminals. Might as well have called him Fagin. When that got shut down, Bruce took me in.”
Allen pulled the car to a stop, directly outside a fairly large building. Certainly larger than anything else on the street.
“Crime Alley?” He remarked as he got out the car, “Seriously? He lives on Crime Alley?”
“It used ta have a different name.” Jason stretched as he got out the back seat, “Used ta be called Park Row.”
“But why here?” Montoya asked, “This doesn’t make any sense.”
“It makes perfect sense.” Jason replied, “If you know Timmy. Besides this place is important. At least ta us… Give me a moment, I just need ta open the door.”
He walked confidently towards the big building, before kneeling down to look at the lock.
“Do you have a key?” Montoya blinked, “Because you aren’t acting as if you do.”
“I have a key,” Jason replied, “Timmy’s security system on the other hand… Well, I prefer unlocking it from this height.”
“Because it means that if Timmy’s home, he can’t kick me in the groin again.”
“Again?” Allen coughed, “You mean he’s done it before?”
“Little lesson,” Jason snorted, “Timmy’s small. But that don’t mean he won’t fight. It also don’t mean that he won’t fight dirty! I swear he got taught fighting by a woman. Because he will do whatever it takes to win a fight… If he wants to win.”
“So whoever is holding him…?” Montoya tailed off.
“They don’t play fair.” Jason nodded, “And they ain’t amateurs. Amateurs would have underestimated Timmy. He’s just a business man after all.”
Jason pushed the door open, only rising to his feet once the door was open sufficiently to allow him entrance.
“Intruder alert. Intruder alert.” A computerised female voice announced, “Please state your authorisation code. Intruder alert. Intruder alert.”
“No man is measured by the love he gives to others but by how much he is loved.” Jason spoke clearly and precisely, his accent disappearing for a moment.
“System deactivated.” The computer declared, “Welcome, Jason Todd.”
“Unusual pass phrase.” Allen remarked.
“From a book,” Jason shrugged, “One of the Brother Cadfael series. I think it was a dig at me at first. A quote from a series I don’t particularly like, nor consider good literature. In my opinion it is no better than most murder mystery series. However, Tiny Tim enjoys it. Anyway, welcome ta Casa del Timmy.”
The two detectives looked around. Jason watched them.
He watched as their eyes skipped over the hidden nocks and crannies of the place. The hidden catches and switches that led to a world the detectives had never seen before. That hid weapons and computers. That hid secrets that many people would die and kill to know.
He watched as they dismissed the decorative swords on the walls. The display of Legolas’ dual knives ignored as simply a homage to the film trilogy. Few would consider testing the keenness of the blades to discover that they were not only sharp, but potentially deadly. Perfectly balanced for fighting, and able to fit perfectly into Timmy’s grip.
Equally the replica of the sword from the Legend of Zelda had an edge, and the matching shield was designed to complement it. There were others hanging from the walls in strategic locations. Including a Klingon Batleth, something that Jason was still trying to figure out how to permanently borrow. He didn’t recognise where some of the weapons came from, but knew they were all things that firmly established Timmy’s geek credentials.
They didn’t overpower the décor, but certainly they were a visible presence in the space.
Turning, he smiled as he noticed a new addition to the collection. Gandalf’s staff stood in the shadow of the door.
Jason had no doubt that the replica could be used by the missing hero to fight as well as any bo staff.
Timmy knew what he was doing, and he had created a home that was fully armed, and yet easily dismissed as harmless. Indeed, even the owner would be dismissed as harmless, because how could such a geek be dangerous?
Jason knew the truth though. Timmy was very much crouching geek, hidden badass.
“This is a pretty impressive pad for a kid.” Allen whistled as he looked around, “Wayne money, I presume.”
“Drake, actually.” Montoya corrected.
“I thought his father went bankrupt.” Allen frowned
“According to the files I found, he did.” Montoya nodded, “But they’d shuffled a large amount of money into a Trust Fund for Tim and other things like that. Tax dodging, I think. However, when Mister Drake had no money of his own…”
“He couldn’t touch Tim’s.” Allen laughed, “Ironic.”
“Yeah, sounds ‘bout right.” Jason agreed, “Timmy never told me where he got all the money from. But I know Bruce didn’t foot the bill. The brat would have caused way too much fuss if he had. Woulda demanded his own place. Plus, I’m not a hundred percent sure Bruce knows where this place is. Not sure he’d approve of it either.”
“Not fond of all the weaponry?” Montoya waved a hand.
“That wouldn’t be the problem. If Timmy wants to decorate with replica movie props, Bruce couldn’t give two hoots. But converting this building? That cuts a little too close ta home.”
“What do you mean?” Allen frowned, “I mean I can see this used to be a theatre. But it’s a good conversion.”
“Also the place that the Waynes were attending ‘fore they got killed.” Jason reminded, “I like what Timmy’s done with the place. But Bruce lives little too much in the past with regards ta it. I ain’t sure how he’d take Timmy replacing the place that has the last happy memories of his parents for him. Tainted though they are by what happened only moments later… I’ll let ya investigate as ya will. I’m taking the couch.”
“You could leave us here and go home. I’m sure your family will be missing you.”
“Like Hell I will.” Jason snorted, “I know Timmy well enough ta know that he don’t really like people in his space. ‘Specially strangers. So at the very least, I’m staying here, so that when he comes back he don’t completely slaughta me. I won’t get in your way.”
Jason slumped on the sofa. He wasn’t worried about the detectives finding, accessing or activating anything hidden around the place. The code he’d used locked down all of them. None of the panels would open until a different code was used. One Jason didn’t actually know.
Jason had thought Timmy was being paranoid setting up a security system like that, one that Jason had partial control over. But it was coming in handy.
Slumped on the couch, Jason let his fingers sneak into the nocks and crannies of the couch. It was a habit he still had from childhood, looking for dropped change. He didn’t find any, but his hand closed around what seemed to be a strap of some kind. Jason quickly released it and let it be. No need to reveal any secrets to the detectives.
To be honest Jason didn’t expect the detectives to find anything of any use. It was clear to him that whoever had grabbed Timmy had managed to catch Red Robin. And it would be the Bats who brought Timmy home.
“What do you know?” Bruce cut straight to the chase, as Dick came down the stairs into the Cave.
“Probably less than you do at the moment,” Dick shrugged, “Given that you’ve got the report open. I don’t know anything that’s not in that. Last contact I had with Tim was two months ago. I don’t recall anything more recent. I’ve got Babs looking for more details.”
“My last communication was nine weeks ago.” Bruce put in, “Jason might have more information. He went with the detectives to show them Tim’s home.”
“His home is here.” Dick snapped.
“Is it?” Damian challenged.
“Of course it is!” Dick returned.
“When did he last come here, Grayson?” Damian asked, “When did he last eat here? When did he last get a medical here? When did he last sleep here? This hasn’t been his home in a very long time.”
“When did you last see him?” Bruce redirected the conversation.
“Nine weeks ago.” Damian shrugged, “However, Drake sent me some information regarding a case six weeks ago.”
“You didn’t know he was missing.” Dick wanted confirmation.
“If I had known, I would have looked.” Damian stated firmly.
“Would you have told us?” Bruce frowned slightly.
“Tt.” Damian chuffed, “Depends if you had asked.”
“Any information you can give us?” Bruce tried again.
“I do not know anything, Father.” Damian replied, “This is nothing of my doing. Nor do I believe it has anything to do with Mother or even Grandfather. Neither of them would keep him in Gotham.”
“True enough.” Dick agreed, “But… Why didn’t you tell us about Tim drifting away?”
“Why should I?” Damian challenged, “By the time I realized the importance of his role in the family, he had already drifted so far that I could not bring him back. He would not believe anything I said about his importance. Besides, if I brought him back and you abandoned him again… We would never get him back a second time.”
“He chose to distance himself.” Dick reminded.
“I would not phrase it that way.” Damian returned, “Drake left after your failure to communicate with him and my failure to realize what Robin meant to him. He may have left to find Father; however, he never fully came back from that incident.”
“He said I was his brother.” Dick protested.
“He lies to Batman.” Damian countered, “It is something he is particularly proud of. A fact I was told by the Titans. Can you not comprehend the idea that he would lie to you? Particularly given that you were attempting to get him psychiatric help not too long previously? I would not be surprised if he feared you placing him in Arkham.”
“I wouldn’t do that!” Dick was outraged.
“Tt. Why not?” Damian’s voice was calm and steady, “You did place Todd there. If I recall correctly, it was Drake who got him out.”
If he recalled correctly? Dick knew that Damian never stated anything he wasn’t absolutely certain about. The worst part was that Dick couldn’t really argue with him. Everything he was saying as to the facts was true.
And it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that Damian was right about Tim’s view of everything. He certainly wasn’t wrong about Tim leaving them completely if he felt left out twice. Tim certainly subscribed to the belief of “Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me”.
“Do we have any trackers in his gear?” Dick addressed Bruce.
“None that I can activate.” Bruce replied, “Alfred, did you have any input in the Red Robin costume?”
“I am afraid not, Master Bruce. I have not properly interacted with Master Tim since he left to locate you.”
“I’m going to investigate the crime scene, tonight.” Dick declared, “Hopefully I can turn up something the police missed.”
“Damian and I will check Tim’s base for information on his current cases.” Bruce stated.
“Do you know where his Nest is, Father?” Damian challenged once again.
“No.” Bruce admitted, “However, I strongly suspect that you do. If not, I am certain that Jason does, as he accompanied the detectives to show them Tim’s house.”
“I know the location of his Nest.” Damian stated, “I do not know how to access without Drake though. I have never actually entered his Nest, only the home above it… At least not consciously at least. I believe he may have brought me there when he was tending my injuries four months back.”
“Something I never properly thanked him for.” Bruce sighed, “We need more information. Dick, contact the Titans. See what information they can add to the situation.”
“Of course.” Dick agreed, “I thought you would have already started on that, though.”
The questioning tone in Dick’s voice was obvious.
“I was attempting to track Tim through the developments in those cases, which have his particular touch. In particular the action against the League of Assassins, which do appear to have been Tim’s ongoing focus for quite some time.”
“How are you doing?”
“I can find traces of his work up to approximately a month ago.” Bruce stated, “He also hasn’t swiped into the WE for the last month.”
“Pretty good indicators that he’s been missing for a month.” Dick nodded, “But how did we not notice, B? I mean… It’s Timmy!”
“I know.” Bruce’s voice was sombre, “I know. I just hope that this is all a misunderstanding. That Tim got away. That he’s safe.”
“He would have come to us.” Dick reminded.
“Would he?” Damian challenged, “I am not certain that even if we can recover him, that we will be able to bring him back into the family. I doubt he will trust us again. Certainly he has never trusted me.”
“Master Damian,” Alfred interrupted, “If you are heading out on patrol tonight, it is best that we ensure you have proper sustenance.”
Dick knew that Alfred was simply getting Damian out of the discussion. He was fairly certain that Damian not only knew, but was only going along for the promise of cookies that he could get out of the aging butler.
Damian’s words were cutting to the quick. The youngster clearly wasn’t pulling any punches. And Dick slightly despaired.
If Damian could see fractures in Dick’s relationship with Tim, then it was more than likely that Tim saw huge gaping chasms. The intelligent teen always had had a habit of seeing the worst case scenarios when it came to his own personal relationships. Of always seeing the bad side, rather than the good, which was where Dick preferred to live.
Sometimes Dick wondered if that was why Tim was able to forgive hurts against himself so easily… The kid had been expecting people to hurt him. So why wouldn’t he be able to forgive? He had always known the blow was coming. But that didn’t mean that he forgot. And he certainly never forgave hurts to those he cared about.
One day Dick was going to fix all the mental issues that Tim had gained, due to his parents. But that was for the future.
First of all was the far more important job, of getting Tim home.
“You believe he escaped?” Dick pressed.
“This is Tim we’re talking about.” Bruce reminded, “He is far more capable than people generally expect.”
“If he’d escaped we would have a multi-page report on the system, explaining who, what, where, why and how. Along with their capture. Not their deaths. Multiple bodies were found at the scene. None of them Tim’s, but…”
“Tim hasn’t been sending me reports for a while.”
“What? Why not?”
“I don’t know. They started coming in batch lots, which made sense. He was writing multiple reports at once. Then the reports started being smaller. Containing only the most pertinent details… Then no reports at all. I haven’t received a report from Tim in over six months. I don’t know if Babs has. I suspect she has been receiving something, because I occasionally get useful pieces of information on the system, that helps in searches. But…”
“But you can’t be certain.” Dick nodded, “Hold on… Babs? You got anything?”
“Not at present, Boy Wonder.” Her voice was light, “I’ve been going through old records. Last time Timmy dropped intel into BI, he hacked in. And that was five weeks ago. Useful data on a Poison Ivy bust he did.”
“His last day at WE was a month ago,” Dick informed her, “So that tracks. He took down Ivy? Damn. I didn’t realize.”
“I’m trying to go through the old comm data to find when he last spoke with any of us as Red Robin. So far I’m not getting much.”
“We suspect that he hasn’t made much contact with anyone since my return.” Bruce put in, “Certainly it dropped after the Captain Boomerang incident.”
“Why?” Dick frowned, “He did brilliantly. Stepping in to save the guys life. After everything? I was so impressed with his maturity.”
“He orchestrated the whole situation.” Bruce explained, “Captain Boomerang was only in danger, because Tim put him there. The fact that he changed his mind at the last minute and saved his life is inconsequential.”
“No.” Dick snapped back, “It’s pretty fucking huge, B. Captain Boomerang could have chosen a different path at any point and it wouldn’t have led him to his death. Tim was waiting and then changed his mind despite the fact that Captain Boomerang could have avoided the consequences. He chose to save the guy’s life. Think about it… Superman had to literally hold you back from killing the Joker. Tim plotted and planned, like he always does. He had it all laid out and running to plan. And then he stopped himself. You’re an adult and after that one attempt, you stopped yourself. You started blaming yourself rather than the Joker. Tim stopped himself and then went back to blaming himself. Because, believe me, he’s blamed himself for Jack’s death ever since the man stopped breathing.”
“It was still attempted murder.”
“From what I remember and what you’re saying, there’s not a court in the world that would try him for anything more than Attempted Manslaughter. And not a jury that would convict him. You tried worse.”
Dick knew that he was speaking the truth. He also knew that sometimes Bruce held people to an impossible standard. It was understandable what Tim had done. And the fact that he had chosen a different path, albeit at the last moment, was a testament to his character.
The silence was broken by a familiar tune. Dick hummed along to “The Daring Young Man” as he dug his phone out of his pocket.
“Hey Jaybird.” He chirped, “You got anything?”
“Ya know why Timmy woulda have a gun?” Jason cut straight to the point.
“Who found it?”
“Where was it?”
“In his closet. In a shoebox. Need ta talk ta him about better gun security… Why is that important?”
“Was it loaded?”
“Was it loaded? Dickie, is there something I should know? Seriously? Why does the baby bird have a gun?”
“It was his father’s. Are they listening?”
“Not right now. Why?”
“Tell me… Was it loaded?”
“No. But the bullets were stored with it. Why’s that important?”
“I can’t prove it. And I don’t know for certain. But I suspect that at least once in Tim’s life, he has held that gun to his own head. And contemplated pulling the trigger.”
“You never told me that the kid had been suicidal.” Jason’s voice was hushed.
“It was a while back. He’d basically lost most of his anchors.”
“Parents. SB and KF. And BG, before she was BG.”
“What sort of time frame?”
“Apart from his mum, all in less than a year.”
“Ouch. Ya say ya ain’t sure?”
“No. He called me. There was an edge to his voice. God! I haven’t thought about that in ages!”
“Ya think it could be related?”
“How? I rather doubt he would be behind his own torture.”
“True. But there’s always passive suicide.”
“Not his style. He’d never leave questions unanswered. Nor risk our exposure. No. This is a kidnapping. Besides the whole suicidal thing? That’s long over. He’s not in that place anymore. Are the police gone?”
“Don’t think they’ll be much longer.”
“You staying on afterwards?”
“See what you can find. B and Little D are planning on checking his Nest tonight. But they don’t know how to get in.”
“Done it before.” Jason replied, “I’ll meet ‘em later. Goin’ ta check a few contacts first. What about ya?”
“Crime scene. But I’m calling Gar first.”
“Find out what they know, huh? Best give them a heads up that the cops will want to talk to them.”
“Good point. Catch you later?”
“Yeah, once I’ve checked this place out, I’m heading ta the crime scene.”
“Meet you there.” Dick hung up.
“A gun?” Bruce challenged.
“Like I said, it was Jack’s.” Dick shrugged, “I didn’t know he still kept it.”
“Not anymore.” Dick refuted, “He’s better now. After all he got three out of the five back. Besides if he was going to… He would have done it before he realized you were still alive.”
“Then why were you worried about it being loaded?”
“Because… Because… Because my mind still goes there. Goes back to that time when I’m fairly sure I talked him out of it. Without ever talking about it. God, I don’t think we ever talked about stuff like that. Fuck!”
Dick ran a hand through his hair.
“Look, B… Tim’s not in that dark place anymore. I’ve seen that he’s not. I saw him smile… Really smile – with Kon. God, I haven’t seen that smile because of me for a long time.”
“We’ll find him.” Bruce laid a gentle hand on Dick’s arm.
“But how many pieces will he be in? You and I both know that torture breaks everyone eventually. And they’ve had him for how long? Four weeks at the outside. God! I hope it wasn’t four weeks. But it could be.”
“He could have gotten away.” Bruce reminded.
“Then where is he?” Dick braced his hands on the console, not looking at his mentor, “Then where the hell is he, Bruce?”
Sorry it's so short. But the chapter wanted to end here.
“Titans Tower. Sorry, there is no one here who can take your call at the moment. To leave a message for Super Boy, please press 1 then the hash key. To leave a message for Wonder Girl, please press 2…”
“Cut it out, Gar.” Dick interrupted, “I’m not in the mood.”
“Hey, former fearless leader!” Garfield’s voice was artificially chirpy; after many years you bet your ass that Dick could tell the difference, “What’s hanging?”
“When were you going to tell me that Timmy was missing?” Dick cut straight to the chase.
“How’d you find out?” Garfield deflected.
Dick could just picture the former teen sitting in the office chair… No, he’d be lounging on it. Legs over the armrest, back up against the other one. Presuming that he wasn’t in monkey form… Again.
“DNA at a crime scene. On the wrong end of torture implements… When were you going to report him missing?”
“To whom?” Garfield’s voice had a verbal shrug in it, “No one’s checked up on Tim for quite some time, Dick. When he came back as Red Robin… He said that no one was to contact the Bats regarding him… About anything! Rave and I just shrugged. Figured you’d check up on him shortly and we’d hint about it. Then you’d fix it. After four months and way too many close calls for my liking, we realized you weren’t ever gonna check up on him. I mean, you didn’t even check up on him after bomb explosions… We agreed not to contact you.”
“We took a vote. All of us… Well, except for Tim. We decided that if you had left Tim to fall or fly, you’d taken yourself out of the picture. Not like he’s the first Titan not to have a mentor.”
“He’s my little brother, Gar.”
“Not that you’ve exactly been proving that recently. This is the first time you’ve called me since Batman died. Probably even longer, but I can’t recall a better time-stamp. The first time any Bat has checked up on Tim since he became Red Robin… Probably even earlier. You said it yourself, when you got the Justice League to back off, we need to handle things on our own. We didn’t ask for help, because we didn’t need it.”
“How long has he been missing, Gar? And don’t deflect this time.”
“He hasn’t checked in for four weeks. We’ve been looking for three.”
“Why didn’t you start looking immediately?”
“Because he doesn’t make it every weekend. Sometimes he doesn’t make a weekend he said he would. Something comes up. But if he said he would make one, he never goes a full week without contacting someone. This isn’t the first time he’s gone off the grid. We have protocols and plans.”
“And those plans don’t include us.”
“We tried once… Long time back. Couldn’t get through to you. Left a message. We got Tim back before you returned the call… In fact, you never did. We never told him we had called you. We didn’t damage your relationship with him. You did that all on your own.”
“I just want to find him. I want him home safe.”
“We’ll find him, Dick. We don’t need your help. And when we find him, we’ll make sure he’s safe.”
“He’s my brother.”
“You know, I never thought you’d be the kind of guy to toss a toy to the side, because they had a brand new shiny toy to play with. Shows what I know.”
“It wasn’t like that!”
“Then where were you? Because after the Insurgents… All the rest of us got looked after. People cared that we were hurting… And not just the physical wounds… The mental ones were even more devastating. But Tim? He had no-one. Not one of you so much as checked up on him. And Rave checked the records, so I know that’s the truth. We’re damn lucky that Bunk decided that he needed something from his room. Otherwise Tim would have been alone for nearly a month, while the rest of us got help in piecing ourselves back together… And we’ll piece him back together this time. No matter how many pieces he’s in. He doesn’t need you anymore, Dick.”
“Gar… I thought we were friends.”
“We are. Friends are the ones who tell you the truth. Even when it hurts. Dick, I am not trying to be cruel here. I’m just telling you the way I see it. Rave would be blunter, if she’d talk to you at all. Bart keeps telling Tim just to leave Gotham completely. Kon’s not far behind on that train either. Nor is Cassie. And Miguel? He doesn’t even know you. So he just tries to support Tim as much as he can.”
“Where have you checked?” Dick cut to the important details, “We can cut down on searching that way.”
“Bart’s checked Paris top to bottom three times over. Kon covered Hong Kong, just in case. We’ve done San Francisco thoroughly. But where was the DNA found?”
“Bart did a run through all of his safe houses and saw nothing. He’s done it three times, once a week, since we started looking. I tried to get Vic to trace his phone, but he couldn’t.”
“Couldn’t even turn it on.”
“But that means… Destroyed.” Dick breathed out.
“Not necessarily.” Garfield countered.
“I know.” Dick shook his head, “Without a battery or in a Faraday Cage. But what are the odds that Tim let his phone run out of battery?”
“Low, I give you.” Garfield shrugged, “But he had been potentially missing for a week at that point… There’s a chance.”
“He’s my brother, Gar. I have to find him.” Dick reiterated.
“I’ll pass the intel onto the other Titans.” Garfield avoided the topic, “Warn the Batman that we’ll probably be doing a sweep through Gotham tonight. Checking every plausible location.”
“Okay.” Dick conceded, “I’ll tell him. But Gar… If you find him. Tell me?”
“If I can.” Garfield replied, “I might get outvoted.”
The pair said their goodbyes, before ending the call.
“And?” Bruce asked.
“They knew.” Dick sighed, “This isn’t the first time. And their estimation is four weeks also. They’ve checked all of his usual haunts. They’re going to check them again tonight. I didn’t object. They’d do it anyway. Save the fights for the battles we need to win.”
“They didn’t contact us? That was part of the deal with Tim being a Titan.”
“They don’t see us as his mentors anymore. Tim told them not to contact us. And they stuck with that.”
“Something to be discussed at a later date.”
“Up here, Big Bird!” Red Hood called out, as Nightwing was inspecting the warehouse floor.
“What have you found?” Nightwing started to leap upwards, to where Hood was perched on the roof beams.
“This looks like a camera housing.” Red Hood pointed to a piece of plastic that didn’t belong on the metal bar.
“Someone was recording it?” Nightwing breathed, “And then removed most of the evidence.”
“Reckon they didn’t think the cops would check up here.”
“They were right. I can’t see anything they missed down on the floor. The pictures they took were pretty accurate.”
“And they sure don’t paint a good picture, Dickie-bird.”
“I know. And the camera… That says whoever was doing this…”
“They were just pawns.” Hood finished, “Minions. There’s a boss behind this. Who was watching.”
“Who, most likely, killed his own men.” Nightwing reminded, “Who could still have Timmy.”
“Not sure.” Hood frowned, “Why would he kill his own men?”
“Maybe they learned something they shouldn’t. Maybe he escaped. I don’t know. I just know Timmy wouldn’t have killed them.”
“If he escaped where would he go?”
“I would hope to us… But I don’t think he would anymore. Not after what BB told me… We need to know who was here. What did they want?”
“He’s Red Robin. Ain’t that enough?”
“I don’t think so.” Nightwing frowned, “Think about it. Any of the usual suspects would either just kill him. Or find out who he is, then kill him.”
“And the gangs would just kill him.” Hood agreed.
“Let’s check the freezer.” Nightwing pointed at the old walk-in freezer that had been abandoned, “Five will get you ten that they used it as a cell.”
“No bet.” Hood fired back, even as they dropped to the floor.
The two of them paused at the open door to the freezer.
“Not very large.” Hood remarked, “I’ll watch the door.”
Nightwing didn’t verbally acknowledge the remark, he simply nodded his head as he entered the enclosed space.
He looked around at the foreboding metal walls, supressing a shudder at the idea of being locked in there. A tiny patch of colour caught his eye.
He moved quickly to the far corner and knelt down to confirm his suspicions. There was a small quantity of blood in the corner, right in the crevices of join between the floor and the walls. Clearly an attempt had been made to clean up.
“Hood,” Nightwing rose up, “Could you shut the door?”
“Luminol?” Hood queried.
“Of course.” Nightwing held up the tiny spray can in one hand, “I’ll get pictures.”
Hood carefully shut the door and leaned against it.
Inside Nightwing covered the walls and the floor as evenly as possible, before taking a look at what had been washed away.
His fingers hovered over what was almost certainly a Robin’s R, situated between a S Shield and a Lightning Bolt. A Double W was on the opposite wall, alongside a Double B and a single B.
“Your friends.” Nightwing muttered, “You were thinking of them.”
Above the R was the Red Robin symbol.
“Where’s the message?” Nightwing looked around, “You did all this so they wouldn’t notice. So where’s your message?”
Then something caught his eye, just more symbols on the wall. But these ones were lower and more carefully placed, although they were more rough in their formation.
“S Shield,” He muttered to himself, “And that’s Tornado’s. Green Arrow. Aquaman. Deformed me. Green Lantern. Deformed Batman. Arsenal. Okay, it’s your message. But what does it mean?”
He quickly took photos of everything, along with a small blood sample, but he was certain he knew what it would come back as. Even if he’d believed it was all a coincidence up till that moment, the symbols had convinced him.
His heart sank though at some of the other evidence he could see. Either Tim had almost bleed out on the floor, or they hadn’t even allowed him to relieve himself in dignity.
The little traces of evidence as to the cruelty that had been inflicted in a thousand tiny ways were there.
Nightwing tried to treat it all as just another crime scene. Just another day in the mask. But it wasn’t and it never could be. He could even see tiny blood stains around the door, where Tim had clearly tried to force his way out of his prison.
Had Tim known they weren’t looking for him? Or had he believed they were searching for him? When had he given up hope? Or was he still hoping? Was he free? Or was he still trapped somewhere else?
With his heart somewhere in the region of his boots, Nightwing tapped lightly on the door.
“You okay, Big Wing?” Hood greeted him almost immediately.
“Not really.” Nightwing muttered, “There’s not a lot of space in there.”
“Hey, he’s tough.” Hood chided, “You know he is. He fought me, after all. Don’t count him out just yet.”
“Four weeks.” Nightwing reminded, “Four weeks and the bodies were only found two days ago. And he’s god knows where.”
“He’s a fucking badass!” Hood fired back, “He fights like he breathes. He never gives up. He has a fucking vicious streak that rivals my own. The only reason I’m not dead is that he don’t want me dead. The same for the brat! He’s a survivor! He walked the streets of this goddamned city long before he got out of elementary! This? This is nothing to him! He’s gonna be fine!”
“He’s still human. And I don’t know if he could survive something like this.”
“Don’t count him out yet.” Hood repeated.
Meanwhile, the two detectives were continuing a long day, at Wayne Enterprises.
“Miss Fox,” Montoya took the lead, “Can you explain why you haven’t reported Mister Drake missing?”
“I didn’t know he was.” She replied quickly, “I haven’t seen Tim since I left to go on holiday a month ago. It’s my first day back today. I only got back from Hawaii yesterday, and I was trying to readjust my body-clock.”
“A month in Hawaii? That is a very long, very expensive holiday.”
“It was a thank you.” Miss Fox shrugged, “I spotted a legal loophole in a contract. It would have cost us over a million dollars at the low end. Tim was furious that the legal department hadn’t spotted it. However, he was grateful that I had. He paid for the holiday to Hawaii. Put me up at the Four Seasons Hualalai. Everything paid for.”
“You didn’t contact him at all during that time?”
“I sent him a text when I arrived at the hotel. I sent him a text when I arrived back in Gotham. He didn’t respond to either.”
“You weren’t worried?”
“Tim doesn’t reply to texts unless it is necessary. And I don’t send personal texts to him that require replies. It’s an odd system, but it works for us.”
“You call him Tim?”
“He’s not a Wayne. He dropped that part a good while back. And referring to him as Drake upsets the Board. They still remember Drake Industries. Calling him Tim means that no-one objects. Besides my father and Mister Wayne have been very close for a long time.”
“And you were once engaged to him.”
“Publicly yes. Privately no. It was a rushed decision on my part to announce a lie, in order to cover up something going on in the business. I was reamed out by my father and my boss. Yes, they are the same person, but not the same people, if you understand me.”
“I think I do.”
“I had to attend multiple sessions on how to deal with the Press. I was trying to distract the world from the fact that Tim had just been emancipated and made CEO. Taking the place of a quite frankly, at the time, unstable Mister Wayne. Those of us who were aware of his instability were doing our best to keep it out of the Media. I panicked. I’d spent some time with Tim in a one-on-one setting. So, it was partly believable. From what I heard, Tim’s reaction when he found out was highly entertaining.”
“Do you know of anyone who had a grudge against Mister Drake?”
“That depends what you mean by a grudge. I know that he was disliked intensely by several other CEOs, because he wasn’t a pushover. Several people have been fired since Tim took control, due to their own failings, but it isn’t unheard of for people to blame the CEO. A few members of the Board aren’t keen on him being in charge. There’s a few protesters who don’t believe we are doing enough to help protect the planet and animals and basically anything they can protest against. Neither Master Wayne nor Master Todd-Wayne are particularly fond of him.”
“His own brothers?”
“I rather doubt any of the three of them would claim that Tim was their brother. I’ve always had the feeling that Tim feels he let Master Todd-Wayne down and that he fears that Master Wayne is right.”
“Let him down how? And right about what?”
“I am not entirely sure why Tim believes that he let Master Todd-Wayne down. However, I do know that he used to look up to him very much. Set him on a pedestal almost as much as Master Grayson was at the time. As for Master Wayne… Spend a few minutes in his presence where the topic is Tim and you will understand Tim’s fears. I will say no more on the matter.”
“We have done so, though I doubt the outcome was what you would expect.” Montoya shrugged.
“Do you believe that either of them could be behind Mister Drake’s disappearance?” Allen pressed.
“I would like to say no. However, I do not feel I can. If I knew more information I could be more certain. What I can say, is that if either of them were involved… It would have been directly. There’s a certain attitude they have. They wouldn’t want anyone else to be able to take the credit. It would be down to them alone. I presume you have evidence of foul play?”
“We have evidence of torture.”
“Then neither Master Todd-Wayne or Master Wayne are involved.”
“How can you be so certain?”
“They want him out of the family. They don’t want him tortured. I wouldn’t say they would object to him being hurt in the leaving of the family. However, they wouldn’t consider torture to be necessary. In fact, I believe that both of them would deem it to be rather distasteful; as, in their cases, it would be torture for torture’s sake.”
“You are certain about that? You haven’t personally interacted with them.”
“There’s the little Tim has told me about them. However, I’ve learned more about them from talk around WE than you would think. Master Wayne is generally deemed to be a quite emotional young boy, who doesn’t quite realize that he needs to temper his arrogance. A boy who is so scared that he can be easily replaced he tries to push away anyone he sees as a threat. Though I have heard some softening towards him in the last year or so. Several people remarking that he’s a sensitive boy trying to hide it with arrogance and ego. Master Todd-Wayne… Tim respects the hell out of him, pardon my French. Master Todd-Wayne sees him as an intruder. Someone who forced their way into the family and then didn’t leave. I think there’s a grudging respect on Master Todd-Wayne’s part now. However, that’s purely based on things Tim has said in passing.”
“Has there been any contact that you are aware of? Any threats? Any ransom?”
“Threats would be filed with the Security Department. I’m not aware of any that were to be taken seriously. Ransoms coming to me? Unlikely, I don’t have the ability to authorise anything that could be deemed suitable for ransom. You would be better off talking with Mister Fox.”
“Would he have informed you of anything regarding a ransom?”
“I don’t know. Possibly. However, if he believed it could cause harm to Tim… He wouldn’t. Mister Fox… Dad, has always been rather fond of Tim.”
“Do you know why?”
“Tim is… He’s smart. I think he reminds Dad of what Mister Wayne used to be like.”
“Used to be like?”
“Look, the Bruce Wayne you know isn’t the man he always was. Go back far enough in his history and you’ll find out that he used to be a very smart man. Top of his class. Then he went away on a trip around the world… He never came back the same.”
“I’m not sure. I think he saw something. Something that changed everything. Something that made him what he is now. A man determined not to acknowledge his own intelligence. Because I know it is still there. Every so often he lets out a tiny glimpse of it.”
“I think you’re seeing stuff that’s not there.”
“May be.” Tam sighed, “But that’s my opinion. However, I believe I am not going to be of any more use to you.”
“Do you know what Tim’s schedule was for your holiday?”
“I can print you a copy.” Tam moved to her computer, “Bear in mind his schedule is very flexible. And I only get details for the WE business. Some sections will be blocked out and I can’t tell you what he was planning on doing at those points. Not because I don’t want to… But because I don’t know. All I know is that I have to plan around those blocks, or ask him to change them if I really have to… And he doesn’t talk about them. Ever. I don’t ask. He doesn’t say.”
It was the work of a moment to print out the schedule.
“Why is it in different colours?” Montoya frowned looking at it.
“That’s how he arranges it.” Tam shrugged, “Different colours correspond to different things. But I don’t know the system. I can tell you that the black with yellow writing never gets moved. Never. The rest? He can be flexible on.”
“He booked the weekend after his last sighting down as black with yellow writing.”
“And the last appointment on the Friday was a lunch meeting, but there’s no mention of where or with who.”
“I normally put those details in.” Tam stated, “That must have been a last minute booking with Tim entering the bare details. He does that occasionally. All I can say is that there was no appointment on that day, at that time when I left for my holiday.”
“Thank you for your time, Miss Fox.” Allen decided to call the interview quits; there was nothing else they could learn at that time.
“Give me a moment,” Robin instructed Batman, “I am not certain if this will work.”
“When did you last come here?”
“Approximately three months ago,” Robin replied, “I needed his assistance with a group of technologically advanced criminals. However, I was only permitted into the house above, rather than his actual Nest.”
“And you didn’t approach Oracle?”
“Oracle was unavailable at the time.” Robin shrugged, “Besides, it has often been suggested to me that the best way to build a relationship is to find mutual interests to participate in together.”
“Crime fighting is not normally deemed a suitable activity.” Batman muttered.
“So far it seems to be satisfactory for us.”
“Brat,” Hood’s voice came over the comms, “In yet?”
“I am having difficulty with the lock.” Robin reported, “Red Robin has not yet entrusted me with the opening mechanism. Have you any advice?”
“Which entrance ya trying?”
“I only know of one. The one he utilizes for his motorcycle.”
“That’s locked down like Fort Knox when he’s not there. I don’t know how ta get past. Ya ever entered from the other side?”
“Not while conscious. As I have informed you previously.”
“Right, can ya get in without setting off the alarms? Not through the front door.”
“Tt. I have done it before.”
“Get inside, and I’ll try ta direct ya.”
“You do not believe I will be able to follow your directions?”
“That’s not the problem. I don’t know if the system will accept ya, and not Timmy.”
“Would it accept yourself?”
“I’ve only ever used it when he led me in. I don’t think so. And he once mentioned a pressure sensor. You’re closer to his weight.”
“It could be more sensitive.”
“Then be smart about it.” Hood snapped, “You know his weight. You know your own. Make up the difference. Move it!”
It didn’t actually take Robin long. There wasn’t much difference between the two of them in weight. The spine reconstruction and Damian’s heavier muscle mass making up a good portion of additional weight that most people wouldn’t have expected from his small size.
“Go to his Dark Room.”
“I do not know what that is.” Robin had an almost imperceptible frown gracing his face.
“Where he develops his photographs. You don’t know what a dark room is?”
“I do not see the point of film photography. It is an antiquated format of image capture.”
“Timmy considers it an art form. ‘Sides it is no less out-dated than your paintings. Anyway, find the Dark Room. If ya need directing…”
“I have found it.”
“Both of ya go in. And shut the door. Do not hit the lights or the switch by the door.”
“Lock the door using the wheel. There’s a light switch behind the door. Flick it.”
“Hook on the door with the apron on it. Pull up.”
“The wall behind me has opened to reveal a bookcase.”
“Good. That’s Timmy’s diversion. Now turn on both taps. To full.”
“The bookcase just split to reveal a staircase. I take it that Drake’s Nest is at the bottom.”
“Correct. Fair warning, he’s got a wicked security setup on his computer. Watch yourself.”
“Where is the pressure sensor?”
“Don’t know. Just go first.”
“Tt. Typically useless.”
“Hey, I got you in brat! You’d never have managed it on your own.”
Robin led the way down the staircase, Batman following close behind.
The Nest was pretty much as they expected; organised and uncluttered.
Robin moved towards the lockers against the wall. The first two contained Red Robin outfits, each one complete and intact; albeit of different types. There were two variations of the outfit. Mentally, Robin catalogued them as the Gotham and Titan outfits, the first locker was green and the second was red. The third locker was yellow in colour and contained only a partial suit. The fourth locker, black, consisted of clothing that could be used to alter a body’s appearance; most notably from male to female.
A clothes rack was situated nearby, with hangers clearly ready to receive clothing of a formal or professional nature and keep them clean and neat. It was in front of a door. Robin opened the door and realized that the rack could be pushed in to keep it safely out of the way. However, the room was already containing a shelving unit. Multiple plastic boxes were on the shelves, in three colours: red, blue and purple.
Robin emerged from the storage room, there was nothing there to help solve the current situation. He easily spotted Batman inspecting the Forensic equipment set up near the computer.
Robin made his way over to the designated garage space. Where once upon a time he would have expected to see the Red Bird, there was a motorbike. There was also a mechanic’s station, clearly used not only to repair the bike, but also build specialist equipment, such as the Wings.
“I can not find anything to indicate that Drake is currently working on a case.” Robin declared after poking around further.
“I concur.” Batman nodded, “All his files seem to indicate long term projects. Nothing that would have come to a head at the beginning of the missing period.”
“It would appear that all of his uniforms are accounted for.” Robin added, “I counted three Gotham suits and two for the Titans. One more suit appears to be in repair.”
“There’s one of each in the Batplane he ‘borrowed’.” Nightwing declared walking into the Nest.
“Along with a Robin, Nightwing and Red Hood suit.” Red Hood agreed, “Only they ain’t sized for us.”
“A Batman suit as well, I presume.” Batman asked.
“Of course not.” A new voice almost spat the words, “Don’t you know anything?”
“Course they don’t.” A second voice joined in, “If they did… We wouldn’t be in this mess.”
Superboy and Kid Flash stood in the doorway to the Hanger.
“He’s not here.” Kid Flash declared looking around.
“We knew it was a long shot.” Superboy sighed, “He’s not been here since I last was.”
“Why not?” Red Hood cocked his head to one side, “Seen ‘im in one ‘fore.”
“During the Battle of the Cowl.” Kid Flash nodded, “We know. But it wasn’t something he was looking forward to. Batman… Batman isn’t a path he wants to tread.”
“We don’t need to tell them anything.” Superboy glowered, “They don’t deserve it. If they don’t know, they don’t need to know.”
“We have the right to know.” Nightwing stepped forward.
“You gave up that right a long time ago.” Kid Flash snorted, “If you don’t even know why Robs doesn’t want to be Batman, you haven’t been part of his family for a long time.”
“We’re leaving.” Superboy declared, “There’s nothing here for us. We’ll just have to make sure all the locks are changed before Robs comes back.”
“And fumigate.” Kid Flash returned, “Don’t want any Bats or lice left behind.”
“That goes without saying.” Superboy cast a glance at the Bat-Clan, his intent was perfectly clear.
“Back up, Clone Boy,” Hood spoke up, “Ya known ‘bout this since the start… Who isn’t ‘hind this?”
“We’ve got no evidence for or against anyone.” Superboy returned, “Though the Church of Blood isn’t a suspect. There’s no motive for them. It’s not something the Fearsome Five would do. Not public enough. And N.O.W.H.E.R.E. wouldn’t keep him in Gotham.”
“Ra’s wouldn’t either.” Kid Flash shrugged, “Though we haven’t ruled out the idea that he might have grabbed Rob before the police found where he was being held.”
“Raven and Beast Boy are checking that possibility out.” Superboy waved gently, “Bunk’s doing San Fran again, in case he made it to us. And WG is covering New York.”
“We’ll cover the usual routes between here and San Fran on our way back.” Kid Flash declared, “If he got away, he would be heading for us.”
“The police will want to talk to you.” Nightwing called out to their backs as they turned away, “As Tim’s friend.”
“We’ll contact them.” Superboy was blunt.
“Do you know Drake’s password?” Robin motioned at the computer.
“Nope.” Kid Flash fired back, “If you want to try hacking it, go ahead. Vic reckoned it would only take a couple of centuries brute force.”
“If it helps,” Nightwing tried again, “He was thinking of you.”
“No,” Superboy fired back, “It doesn’t. We still haven’t found him. But we are going to find him.”
“And when we do,” Kid Flash stated, “We’re not letting him come back here, until he’s ready for anything.”
The two of them left in moments.
“They really hate us.” Hood muttered, “Still surprised they called me. Why’d you try for the password, brat?”
“I do not know his password,” Robin replied evenly, “I presume that the computer will have more information as to what Red Robin was working on. However, I am not confident in my ability to hack in. Particularly given that I am not certain what language the password is in.”
“What do you mean?” Nightwing moved over to the computer, where Robin was standing.
“I mean, there are five keyboards attached to the computer.” Robin elaborated, “Each one for a different alphabet. I can not be certain which language was used. Certainly he could utilize different letters from each set in order to increase security further.”
“English, Cyrillic, Pinyin, Hebrew and Arabic.” Batman pulled each one out in turn.
Hood noticed in idle interest that the keyboards were stacked one above another until they were pulled out, then they rose to the level required for typing, and it was impossible to pull out another until the first was returned to it’s original position. It would probably make switching between alphabets a relatively slow procedure, but not impossible.
He also doubted that Tim needed to pull the boards out to work on them; certainly not for password input.
“Let me try.” Nightwing stepped forward, “I’ve used his computers before.”
Nightwing’s fingers flew across the English keyboard.
The computer’s declaration of a failed password was disappointing, but not unexpected.
“It was a long shot.” Nightwing sighed, “Hold on, I’ll connect Oracle up.”
“Why?” Hood frowned, “Come on, Oracle’s good, but Vic’s half machine.”
“It is still worth a shot.” Nightwing argued, “Have you got a better idea?”
“No.” Hood muttered, “Never was trusted enough. Ya were once though?”
“I set it,” Nightwing sighed, “But it was just for a file. I hoped…”
“You hoped he kept it the same.” Batman laid a gentle hand on Nightwing’s shoulder.
“It was an in joke.” Nightwing breathed, “Something only the two of us would get.”
“Okay, boys.” Oracle’s voice came over, “I’m hooked up. I take it you want me to get into this thing?”
“You need to take into account the potential for multiple alphabets.” Batman stated, “There are Cyrillic, Hebrew, Arabic and Pinyin keyboards, as well as the expected English.”
“Well… He has never been in the habit of making things easy.” Oracle’s voice was tight, “Why would he start now?”
“Vic estimated it at a few centuries work, apparently.” Nightwing put in.
“Brute force, probably.” Oracle agreed, “But I doubt it’s a random password. Tim never does anything without a plan. Not even passwords… Besides I doubt even Timmy can remember a seventy eight random letter password.”
“What?” The cry came from Hood and Nightwing at the same time.
“That is an unusually long password.” Batman frowned slightly, “Are you certain about the length?”
“Don’t question me with regards to computers, B.” Oracle snapped, “The only reason it’s so long is that the system hasn’t been accessed in over two weeks. There are multiple levels of security. The base password can be voice activated. But if it’s not used in six hours a secondary password sets in. Then after twenty-four hours another password engages. A week engages another level of security. This level kicked in yesterday. From what I can see there’s an even longer password set to kick in after two more months.”
“He doesn’t take chances.” Batman muttered.
“He does not take chances anymore.” Robin stated, “This level of paranoia was most likely caused by my actions.”
“Most likely, yeah.” Nightwing sighed, “Not your fault though. That file…”
“Was a reasonable precaution.” Robin interrupted, “My mother managed to control me. I interpreted it not in the manner it was meant. However, I will concede that Drake’s words did not help the situation. I also should not have retaliated in the manner I did.”
“You tried to kill him, didn’t you?” Hood snorted.
“Yes.” Robin agreed.
“Back to the Cave.” Batman instructed, “This is something we will discuss later, Robin. Nightwing, Hood, did you discover anything pertinent at the crime scene?”
“Someone was watching.” Hood replied.
“Timmy left a message.” Nightwing added, “Although I confess I have no idea what it means.”
“We’ll look at it at the Cave.” Batman reiterated, “Straight back. No side tracking.”
A chorus of nods and agreements, before all four of them set out.
Back at the Station the detectives were going over their findings.
“I don’t know how Drake has time to breathe, let alone sleep!” Montoya hissed.
“What have you found?” Allen asked.
“He’s CEO at WE.” Montoya started to list, “He’s Majoring in Business, with a Minor in Art History. But he’s also putting credits towards an Engineering Degree and a Forensics Degree. He’s top of his class in all fields. He spends time in the R&D department at WE on a regular basis. Why’s he doing all this? He’ll kill himself with the stress.”
“I can explain the Business degree.” Allen shrugged, “Damian Wayne has attempted to throw Drake out of WE on six occasions that I have found records for. There are some very nasty proposals that have been put to the Board regarding “Drake’s future with the Company”. That’s a direct quote. On at least four occasions there has been a mention of Drake’s education being lacking for the position.”
“Who does he suggest take control instead?”
Montoya opened her mouth to respond, even drawing in the air she would need. Then she closed it and let her hand hang in the air, not quite sure how to reply to that.
“I know.” Allen nodded, “He doesn’t seem to get the hypocrisy there.”
“He’s acting like every stereotypical rich kid that you love to hate all compressed into one tiny little package, isn’t he?”
“Not so tiny. Nearly Drake’s size according to records. He’s going to grow up big. And if someone doesn’t kick the entitlist bullshit out of him quickly, he’s going to end up a criminal. One with enough power and money to get away with serial murder. I don’t believe the codswallop he was feeding us back at the house.”
“Any of the other brothers try anything? Or even Wayne himself?”
“Not with the Board. And strangely there’s been no new motions for over a year.”
“Got a message back from Forensics, they got Drake’s voicemails. All of his registered cell ones anyway.”
“Lots of messages. Including a very recent one from Grayson. The rest seem to be his friends. Two main callers are a Bart and a Con. Bart talks very fast. Possible people to interview. Both of them were worried about him.”
“Did you get anything from the sister? What’s her name anyway?”
“Cassandra. And no. I actually got the impression that she likes Tim a lot. She just spends most of her time in Hong Kong. And she doesn’t keep the best of contact with people.”
“She’s not got very good English.”
“Ah, what is her native language then? Chinese?”
“I don’t think so. She came across as… Bright but disabled.”
“Might explain why Wayne shipped her off to China. Someone like that is good have around when a kid… Gives a good image, but when older… Becomes a nuisance for people like Wayne.”
“I’m not so sure. She… I think it’s just language she has a problem with.”
“Anyway, she can’t be involved. I don’t see any motive for her. Not like some of the others.”
“No way Cass would be involved.” A voice joined them, “Detectives, I understand you wanted to talk to me. I’m Con. Conner Clark. Tim’s friend.”
“How did you know we wanted to talk to you?” Montoya frowned.
“I was contacted.” Conner shrugged, “Look, I’ll be blunt, I don’t know much about what has happened to Tim. But I want… No, I need to find him. Tim’s my best friend. My rock, when everything is falling down around me.”
“Montoya,” Allen looked up, “Take him somewhere private.”
It didn’t take but a moment to find a spare interrogation room.
“How did the two of you meet?” Montoya frowned, “I’m sorry, but it seems unlikely given your backgrounds. You’re not a rick kid.”
“My cousin is Clark Kent, a reporter for the Daily Planet. I was spending a weekend with him, when he got told he had to go to a Charity Gala thing. Can’t even remember what it was for. Clark couldn’t find someone to babysit, and I told him I didn’t need a sitter, but he wouldn’t agree to that. He decked me out in a borrowed suit and dragged me along. Despite it being a Metropolis thing, Mister Wayne was there. And so was Tim. We were basically the only two kids there. All the others were much older. We met. We clicked. We kept in contact.”
“Okay. Why didn’t you report Tim missing?”
“We didn’t know we could.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“We’re not his family officially. Although Ma and Pa would adopt him tomorrow. We thought only family could report him missing. And technically Tim wasn’t missing.”
“But you were worried? You were looking for him? We’ve heard the voicemail messages.”
“Yes. But Tim’s not exactly unknown for going off on his own at the drop of a hat. And not making contact for a long while. I mean… There was the whole therapy business…”
“Yeah. You heard how Mister Wayne went a little off the rails a while back?”
“Well, Tim started making some statements about the same time. Crazy sounding statements. Dick wanted Tim to see a therapist. Tim didn’t want to. Said he was right. Dick managed to persuade some of Tim’s friends that he wasn’t. They tried to talk Tim into seeing a therapist. Including my girlfriend… Tim just disappeared on us. Didn’t reappear for some time… The thing is… He told me that he’d see me on the weekend. And usually if he changes his mind at the last minute he gives me a heads-up. Or messages me after whatever business disaster he’s had to deal with has died down… Only he never did. So we started looking.”
“Our friends. Me, Bart, Cassie, Gar, Rave, Miguel.”
“Why didn’t you contact his family?”
“What family? Last time Dick contacted any of us it was to try to talk Tim into therapy. I don’t even think the guy knows that Tim lost his spleen. I don’t trust him with my friend. I don’t trust any of them with Tim… I’m not sure I trust anyone with Tim.”
“Especially myself… Look, I’ve hurt Tim. I know that. The thing is, he forgave me. I don’t know why. I didn’t deserve it. But he’s my best friend. The one person in the whole world I can trust to be on my side. No matter what. And sometimes I haven’t liked the way he’s got my back. But he’s never betrayed me. I don’t think he even knows how. It’s the three of us. Tim, Me and Bart. Best Bros. For Life.”
“So what have you tried to find him so far?”
“We’ve checked his usual websites, see if he’s updated anything. Checked his home. His usual haunts. Been round those several times. Just in case we missed him. I’ve checked in with his Uni. Tried to use Clark’s contacts. But I don’t think he realized what I was asking. I was trying to be obtuse about it. Didn’t want it to become a big news thing. Tim hates that.”
“Do you know if Tim had any enemies?”
There was a pause.
“I don’t know of anyone who would harm Tim. He’s like the nicest guy there is.”
“What about his family?”
“Bart keeps telling Tim to just walk away. I mean he can. He’s emancipated and everything. Even has the money to do so. We’ve offered him space with us until he finds somewhere else to go. But until the Waynes tell him to go… He won’t. And yeah, they’ve ignored him. And they’ve used him. But Tim doesn’t understand how family works. So he’s happy with what he gets… I think. He certainly doesn’t complain. He’s let them push him out of their day-to-day lives. But he still wants to be useful. So every time they need him, he goes. He does what they need. Because even if they don’t love him… He loves them.”
“He’s told you that?”
“No. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen him pick up his phone and ask “What do you need?”. Then he drops everything and does it. I used to think that Dick was the best big brother in the world. Now, I’m not entirely sure that he isn’t the worst. He turned all of his focus onto Damian. And dropped Tim like he was yesterday’s news. They don’t have to hurt Tim to get him out the family. They just have to inform him that he’s not wanted.”
“I rather believe that Damian has been doing that for them.”
“Telling him to leave the company? Tim would do that, if someone, who was actually legally allowed to, told him that they would take over. Tim’s just waiting for Bruce to say he’s ready to take it back. He even told me once, that he’s got all the paperwork ready. It just needs a signature.”
“That seems a little… Extreme. You must be exaggerating. Everyone knows how family works.”
“Detective, you have access to a lot of records. Go back to the day Tim was born and calculate the amount of time Mr and Mrs Drake spent in Gotham from that day to the day they were kidnapped. Then tell me how Tim was able to form his idea of family.”
Montoya decided to shelve that for a moment.
“So you have no idea what could have happened to Drake?”
“No. And I wish I did.”
“Hold on,” Her mind whirled, “Drake doesn’t have a spleen? How did that happen?”
“Never got the full story.” Conner shrugged, “I just know it happened in Iraq. During the time he dropped off the grid when Mister Wayne went kinda crazy and when Dick was trying to get him to go to therapy.”
“What do you know about it?”
“I know that he has a scar. It isn’t pretty. So I don’t think it was an operation in a hospital. And I know he wasn’t ill. Apart from that… He doesn’t talk about it. Just takes antibiotics regularly and gets his flu shot every year. It’s a condition. He manages it.”
“So he could be seriously ill?”
“If he isn’t able to take his medication? Possibly. I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. I just know what Tim tells me. Bart knows a bit more. He actually went away and looked it all up… I did too, but I’ve forgot all but the highlights, which Tim hit anyway. Bart’s got an eidetic memory.”
“Who is Drake’s doctor?”
“I don’t know. We don’t talk about stuff like that.”
“Who would he have talked about that with?”
“None of us. Yeah, if he was run down, we’d badger him about taking better care of himself. I’d bring some food and Bart would cook… He’s a good cook. And the others would do what they could. Cassie can’t cook for anything. But she’s pretty good at chess, so she gets Tim playing that and watch sci-fi stuff with him. Rae talks philosophy with him. Talks round in circles. I can’t follow it half the time. But it calms his head down. We do what we can. I don’t know what happened out in Iraq. But I know he has nightmares sometimes. We can’t do anything really. All we can do is be there. And we dropped the ball. We should have found him by now.”
“You should have gotten the police involved.” Montoya reprimanded gently.
“Which police?” A shrugged response came back to her, “We didn’t know where he had gone missing. We didn’t know if he’d left Gotham or not. Besides, we didn’t think friends could report him missing. Not when we don’t see him every day. And, as I said, this isn’t his first time going off the grid.”
“And you weren’t worried those other times?”
“Of course I was worried! We all were. But he always came back. Talking about this deal or that issue he’d sorted out. Tim has always been an overachiever. Even when I first knew him he was smart.”
“He’s my oldest and my best friend. Bart comes in a close second. As I told you, it’s us against the world if need be. When we were younger someone once said we were like a single mind. Bart was the ID. I was the Ego, and boy did that that fit back then. Tim was the Super-Ego. Bart’s gotten better with his impulsive nature. And I’ve managed to grow up a bit more. Tim though? He’s not really changed. Still thinks five steps ahead on a bad day, and into double digits on a good one. But that’s Tim. Once he’s set his mind to a task, he’ll complete it to the end, unless there is a really, really good reason for him to change his mind. Quite honestly if Tim told me to walk off a cliff, I’d probably do it without asking why.”
“That’s blind loyalty.”
“No. That’s putting my loyalty in the hands of someone who would do everything in his power to make sure that I come back alive and unharmed. Even at the cost of himself.”
“That seems awfully precise. You’re just kids.”
“Tim’s never been just a kid. He’s got Gotham in his blood, in his bones. No one from Gotham is ever just a kid. Tim is tough. And he’s helped me through tough times in my life. Bart too. If I ever need a place to stay, Tim would offer it to me. Without thinking twice. And it wouldn’t be the spare room. I’d get the best of the best. The best he could offer me.”
Teenage exaggeration, Montoya decided. But whatever it was, Conner wasn’t involved in anything dangerous.
He also didn’t know anything useful. Nothing that they hadn’t gathered from other sources, apart from the spleen thing.
I really, *really* hope that no one is watching my googling at the moment. Some of the questions I'm asking Google... Well, I wouldn't want anyone to get the wrong idea about me. But accuracy is something I try for in some areas of my writing.
Still, looking up pictures of injuries is not a good idea. Seriously, I'm glad I've got a strong stomach.
Stephanie was waiting for them when they arrived back at the Batcave. She was clearly agitated and barely waited for Batman to get out of the Batmobile before she moved.
The sound of the slap startled a few of the bats roosting in the darkness of the cave.
“Why didn’t you tell me Tim was missing?” She spat.
“Because we didn’t know until today.” Nightwing stated, even as he removed his mask, “Besides Babs told you. And we told her.”
“But you didn’t tell me!” She retorted.
“We’re still trying to figure it all out.” Dick breathed softly, “When did you last see him?”
“Not really sure,” She shrugged, “We don’t talk or hang as much as we used to. Since he found out that I faked my death, things have been more than a little awkward between us. He’s not comfortable with me. I send him texts about random stuff all the time… He just doesn’t usually answer.”
“And how much of that is your own guilt?” Jason put in.
The way she looked away was answer enough. It wasn’t just Tim who was having trouble re-establishing their friendship.
“I haven’t managed to get him to come for waffles for a long while.” She whispered.
“If it helps at all,” Jason spoke up again, “He’s got a Captain America waffle iron.”
“Kinda does.” She managed a wan smile.
“Tt,” Damian interrupted, “Stop your whining and whinging Brown. Maybe your pathetic eyes might spot a clue that we have been left. A message addressed to you.”
“Doubtful, but I’ll try.” Her smile grew in strength slightly.
“As far as we can tell, he’s still alive.” Bruce declared, “Until proven otherwise, this is a Rescue Operation.”
“And our first clue is what Tim left in the warehouse.” Dick held up the small camera.
“Babs,” Jason put in, “How’s the hacking going?”
“Slow.” Babs returned, “First I have to write a program that accounts for multiple alphabets.”
“Multiple alphabets?” Steph frowned.
“Drake utilizes multiple keyboards on his computer,” Damian answered, “Including Arabic, Cyrillic, Hebrew and Pinyin.”
“Okay,” Steph paused for a moment, “The Arabic makes sense, I think we all know that he’s performing a one-man war against the League of Assassins. And Cass is in Hong Kong, so I’m not too surprised at the Pinyin. But the other two?”
“At least one of the Titans is Russian,” Dick put in, “Not one of the core team, but…”
“But Tim would seek to be able to communicate in their own language.” Bruce smiled slightly, “He is always seeking to establish a basis for communication.”
“But Hebrew doesn’t make sense.” Steph countered, “It’s a language used in one Country and by one Religion.”
“That’s not the only thing that doesn’t make sense.” Dick retorted, “Babs, you getting this image?”
“Clear as day,” Babs returned, “You sure that was the message that Tim left? Seems just to be a collection of hero emblems.”
“Unusual selection though.” Bruce almost chided, “Arsenal not next to Green Arrow? It’s a message. We just need to translate it.”
“Okay,” Jason snarled four hours later, his accent thick and heavy, “When we get Timmy back, somebody needs ta have a word with ‘im about making ‘is clues easier ta decipher!”
“He’s never been particularly blunt when it comes to things.” Dick muttered, “Always has to go round in circles. Or behind people’s backs.”
“Calm it, boys.” Bruce chided, “He couldn’t leave us anything obvious, otherwise his captors would have destroyed it.”
“He could have picked an easier password.” Babs put in, “But I know why he didn’t.”
“I’ve finished going through the mission logs.” Steph added, “There’s nothing clear in any missions where any of the named heroes were involved that could link to this situation.”
“Father.” Damian’s voice was soft and shaking; for that very reason alone he commanded all of their attention.
“What is it?” Bruce moved immediately to Damian’s side.
“I was looking at our logs. Trying to see if Drake had left us another message there.”
“And?” Dick took up a position next to Damian, “What is it, Little D?”
Damian didn’t answer, instead he unplugged the headphones he had been using and pressed a key.
“Marcia?” Tim’s voice came out over the speakers, “I need help. Please. Send someone. I’ll even take Cousin Oliver. Please. I can’t… I can’t move. I barely made it this far. They’ll be right behind me. Please. I know you can trace this. Someone? Anyone?”
The line went dead.
“When was that?” Dick demanded, “What was that?”
“It came on the Emergency Line,” Damian stated, “Four days ago.”
“Where were we?” Jason hissed, “I was with Kory and Roy, that thing in Ecuador.”
“The Birds were active in Europe.” Babs stated, “I was on the plane.”
“Justice League operation off planet.” Batman sighed.
“I was with Babs.” Steph breathed.
“Damian and I were in New York, following a drug lead.” Dick’s voice caught in his throat, “He was there. He was right there asking for our help… And none of us were there to help him. Why did we leave Gotham alone? Why did we leave Gotham unprotected?”
“Because we thought that Tim was around.” Bruce replied gently, “We thought he was in place to take over while we were gone. None of us realized that he was the one who needed our help.”
“I didn’t even tell him that we were leaving Gotham.” Dick sighed, “If I had…”
“Don’t go there.” Bruce instructed firmly, “That path only leads to pain.”
“Least it explains why they were killed.” Jason put in.
“What?” Steph frowned.
“Least it explains why the henchmen were killed,” Jason repeated, “Timmy got away. He escaped. So the big boss killed them.”
“But they were right behind him.” Dick reminded, “They probably caught him.”
“Don’t count Timmy out,” Jason reminded, “He got away. Even all busted up!”
“Then where is he?!” Dick demanded, “He called here! He called for me!”
“He called for Marcia.” Damian spoke softly, “I do not know anyone by that name.”
“It’s a nickname,” Dick confessed, “For me. An old in-joke the two of us have. I’m Marcia. He’s Cindy.”
“And Cousin Oliver?” Steph questioned.
“Damian.” Dick muttered, “I think Jason is Jan, but I’ve never discussed it with Tim.”
“Okay, that’s a little bizarre.” Steph blinked.
“What happened with the system?” Babs pressed, “That thing is meant to be set up so that all calls on the Emergency Line get forwarded to our comms, no matter where we are or what we are doing! Along with the location.”
“This mighta somethin’ ta do with it.” Jason remarked, holding up a cable that was chewed through, “I think yar fucking cat has a lot ta answer for, Damian.”
“And with that cable broken,” Bruce breathed, “It doesn’t report an error to the computer.”
“Stupid cat!” Dick snapped.
Damian bristled at the insult towards his beloved pet, but didn’t voice his objection.
“Gentlemen and ladies,” Alfred spoke up from the stairs, “If I might suggest that you’ve been awake for long enough. It has been a long day. If I may suggest that you will be able to more to help Master Tim if you are fully rested and nourished.”
Five sets of exhaustion filled eyes turned towards him.
“Oh my,” Alfred’s own eyes flicked towards the display, “Master Tim was turning towards religion in his captivity?”
“Why do you think that?” Bruce blinked in surprise.
“His message.” Alfred motioned to it, “Though I am a little surprised as to his choice of religion.”
“What do you mean?” Dick demanded, “There is nothing to do with religion in that message. It’s about Heroes.”
“Master Tim once confided in me that he did count himself as a member of any particular faith. In fact, he classified himself as Agnostic with leanings towards Agnostic Theist; if only based on his interactions with Miss Cassie. However, he also stated that if he were to follow any religion, he would subscribe to his mother’s family’s faith of Judaism.”
“Alfred,” Bruce interrupted, “You said you saw a message?”
“Saint Anthony.” Alfred motioned at the screen once again, “A Catholic Saint is a rather odd message for Master Tim to leave behind.”
“Saint Anthony?” Steph turned to the message.
“Master Tim has, of course, used the traditional abbreviation for Saint.” Alfred continued, “However, his message is very clear.”
“Letters not symbols.” Bruce muttered, “He hid the letters in the symbols. Oh Timmy, you always were too smart. You out thought us all. We thought you would overcomplicate it.”
“And instead he kept it simple.” Dick smiled slightly, “Okay, next question. What does it mean?”
“The full title,” Alfred stated clearly, “If I remember my lessons correctly, is Saint Anthony of Padua, Master Richard. He is also most famously known as the Patron Saint of the Lost.”
“Not helpful.” Steph snapped, “We already know he’s lost.”
“Father,” Damian inserted, “There is a Project Padua at Wayne Enterprises. It is not a Project I am supposed to know about, however I overheard it being discussed by two scientists. When I mentioned it to Drake, he was upset that I knew about it. He told me not to talk about it, that it was beyond top secret. However, it was not anything to do with our Night Jobs, so I did not need to worry about it.”
“Babs?” Dick turned to the computer.
“Already on it, Boy Wonder.” Babs was blunt, “Project Padua is a DARPA Contract. Classified as Eyes Only inside WE. Although it could be classified differently for DARPA. The Project is developing a device known as Lily Stalk. Someone was having fun with the names, because Saint Anthony is often portrayed with one. It’s basically a tracking program.”
“Ya mean Timmy told us howta find ‘im?” Jason was eager to voice exactly what they were all thinking.
“No such luck,” Babs was clearly reluctant to puncture their hopes, “It’s reportedly still a prototype. Still in development. The concept though… This isn’t just something the government would be interested in… This is Bat-level tech. I’m impressed. If this was active… There wouldn’t be a place on this earth that could hide our Timmy.”
“Then why leave a message about it?” Dick frowned, “There’s no point.”
“No.” Bruce breathed slightly in fear, “Barbara, has the Project been hacked by anyone other than you?”
“Not successfully,” Babs reported, “But there’s been multiple attempts. Dating back before Tim got snatched… Oh god. They grabbed Tim.”
“Tt. We already knew that, Gordon.” Damian chuffed.
“No, kid.” Jason hissed, “We found out Timmy was missing. We didn’t know who they took. They didn’t catch tha Red Robin. They nabbed Timmy. They didn’t get tha Hero.”
“They took the civilian.” Steph’s voice was barely more than escaping air.
“And Tim’s such a fucking idiot,” Dick hissed, “That he won’t fight with everything he’s got. He’ll keep the secret above all else. Oh god… He’s let them hurt him.”
“Nah,” Jason shook his head, “Don’t think like that. Timmy’s smart. He held back ‘till he could get away! He knew what ta do. He’s fucking smart! It works in his favour. They need him alive!”
“Then why hasn’t Lucius received a ransom demand?” Steph countered.
“They don’t need to send one.” Babs answered, “Tim is the CEO. He has the access they want.”
“They just need to get him to use it.” Bruce agreed.
“Gentlemen and Ladies,” Alfred spoke up, “Sustenance and Slumber are required if you intend on utilising your deductive prowess in the future.”
“We can’t stop now, Alf!” Dick protested.
“No,” Bruce countered, “Go upstairs. Eat, shower and sleep. Preferably in that order. Alfred is right. We can pick this up in the morning. Damian, I will make your excuses with school for the rest of the week. Dick, you need to decide if you are going to work tomorrow or not. Jason, you have been running on far too little sleep ever since you came back Ecuador, and I doubt you got enough sleep there. Steph, you are welcome to stay the night as well, but you will sleep. Barbara, I cannot dictate to you, however you know the dangers of hacking while sleep deprived.”
“I’ll shut down for the night,” Babs conceded, “Once I have alerted the Birds. If nothing else having Black Canary and Huntress on the hunt means more sets of eyes looking for our lost Bird.”
“Good.” Bruce smiled, “We will find him. And we will bring him home.”
Alfred watched as all of his younger charges climbed the stairs up to the Manor.
“Master Bruce,” He turned to his oldest charge, “You also need rest.”
“I know.” Bruce pulled on his gloves, “But my son is out there. I can’t leave him alone for any longer.”
“You will be of little to no use to him if you are too exhausted, Master Bruce.”
“One more hour,” Batman promised, “I am just going to check the rooftop Tim called from. Then I will come back and rest. I promise.”
Alfred watched in silence as the Batmobile screeched out of the Cave.
“You fear what you will find on that rooftop, Master Bruce.” Alfred murmured, “Else you would let the others come with you. I pray you are wrong.”
Jason’s eyes narrowed as he followed Dick up the stairs to the bedrooms. Damian had gone before them; almost retreating with Titus into his bedroom.
Dick wasn’t headed for his room. Or rather he wasn’t headed for his room now. He was going into the room he had lived in for many years.
“Arrgh!” Jason heard a muffled scream.
He dashed into the bedroom. It was bland. A guest room. Nothing distinctive.
Unless of course, you counted one Dickie-bird face down in the pillows, screaming his head off.
“Get a grip!” Jason snapped, “You ain’t helping!”
“He was asking for me.” Dick snarled back, “Me. Not you. Do you have any idea how rarely Baby-Bird asks for help?”
“Ah got an idea.”
“He never told us he was spending Christmas alone. We literally had to trick him into coming over, so that he could spend time with us. I promised myself I wouldn’t do this again.”
“Screw up! I screwed up with you. I blamed you for things that weren’t your fault. I took my anger at Bruce out on you. And I never forgave myself for that. I should have been there. I should have been there in Ethiopia. I should have been there for you!”
“I wouldn’t’ve wanted ya. I weren’t inna good mind then.”
“So? I could have helped. I screwed up with you. And I know it. Known it for years. I didn’t even get to your funeral. Although that was because Bruce didn’t tell me about it for weeks. I swore I’d never do that again. I’d never put someone else at risk because of my anger. Because of personal stuff. Bruce didn’t want Tim. Not at first. God! Tim had an uphill fight the whole fucking time! Tim was my second chance!”
“Okay!” Jason reeled back, “That’s not a good thing. I know I call him Replacement. But you’re making him sound like he is one!”
“Oh God no!” Dick reared up, “He was so different to you. Even from the start. You were confident and sure. He was nervous. He used to hang back after each training session to spend time in the Cave on his own. One time I spied on him. He spent about ten minutes talking to your costume about how he would never be as good as you. But that he’d do his best. He’d keep Bruce safe… For you.”
“I’m starting ta think he weren’t right in the head back then.”
“Blame his parents. The rest of us do. But I can’t blame them for this… I screwed up. I left him. Alone and hurting. He wanted me! And I wasn’t there for him. I should have been. I swore that I wouldn’t let him fall! I swore!”
“You didn’t know.”
“I should have! I should have realized he had fallen off the grid! That he was drifting away from us!”
“He could ‘ave tried to…”
“No! He wouldn’t! Tim was different to the rest of us. He had parents at the start. For all that they didn’t fucking deserve the title. They never noticed him. Tim didn’t even have to lie to them at first. ‘Cause they weren’t around to notice what he was up to. And when Jack was fucking around… He might as well have not been. Took years for him to notice the bruises weren’t from Football tryouts!”
“A bit dim?” Jason ventured desperately.
“Didn’t play the blindest bit of attention to Tim. What kind of dad blows off his son on zero notice to make out with his Personal Trainer? That’s the king of family Tim’s used to! I should have seen this coming!”
“You couldn’t ‘ave known.”
“I should have! When Jean-Luc was running things Tim never said a bloody word!”
“What? When was Jean-Luc in charge?”
“You don’t know about Knightfall?”
“Bane broke Bruce’s back. Bruce got Jean-Luc to take over while he recovered. Jean-Luc… Went kinda crazy. Fairly certain he killed a few people. But I’ve got no proof on that. I know he tried to kill Tim a few times. Threw him out of the Cave… Things got pretty bad. And Tim never once asked me for help. Or even told me what was going on. And he was not doing well at the time. Bruce wasn’t around. And his own parents were kidnapped!”
“Never heard ‘bout that.”
“Guess no-one thought to bring you up-to-date on all the old stories. But that’s the thing… If Tim didn’t ask for help then… Him asking for help now! That’s a big thing. And I betrayed his trust. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there.”
“So what?” Jason shrugged, “You screwed up? Won’t be the first time. Won’t be the last. And at the very least you’re in a better position than me… I knew he was missing.”
“What!?” Dick reared off the bed, “You never said…”
“I didn’t think it was anything serious. I mean, it’s Timmy. How many times has he dropped off the radar and no-one noticed. Or if they noticed, no-one cared. The Titans called me. But I didn’t say anything. I didn’t care.”
Blocking the blow that came for his head was second nature. It was the work of a moment to twist and take Dick down.
He knew that normally he wouldn’t have managed to overpower the older man so easily. However, anger and exhaustion were giving him an advantage.
“He’s our brother!” Dick snarled.
“He’s your Second Chance.” Jason returned, “He got everything I wanted. The big brother. The father figure. Everything I had he got… And more. So yeah, when I realized that I had your attention rather than him… I wasn’t going to point you in his direction. If you went of your own accord, that would be different.”
“I was never as good as you. You always were the Golden Boy. Then I died and Timmy came along. And he got a fresh slate. Never compared to you. Not like me. I was never good enough. But he was.”
“You think we never compared him? We never had to. He always compared himself to you. You were his benchmark. But even if we never said it… We thought it. And he knew that. I once overheard him throw it in Bruce’s face. And he could never get it right. Either he wasn’t enough like you or he was too much like you. At least I was still alive. You could see that I’m still human. That I’m not perfect. You were dead. All your good points were perfection.”
“He still got you.”
“That was because I screwed up, not you. That’s on me, not him.”
“But I still wanted you attention rather than you giving it to him. I knew you’d go looking if you knew he was missing. I just… I just wanted your attention for a few more days. I never… I never thought…”
“I know. You may not like him, but you’d never wish him harm like that.” Dick tapped out of Jason’s hold.
“Don’t like him? Have you any idea the number of times he’s pulled my fat out of the fire? Or the times he’s helped me out, without asking for anything in return.”
“Helped you out how?”
“Intel mainly. Fixed my computer once. Still don’t know what he did to it. Runs faster and better than it ever did before. He gets me gear sometimes. I don’t ask for it. It just turns up. Sometimes I hadn’t even told him what I was working on. But he just knew. He did it for me. And the brat. Reckon he watched out for you and the rest too… Just didn’t let on.”
“Sounds like Timmy.”
“Why’d you come into this room, anyway? It’s not yours anymore.”
“No… But it is Timmy’s.”
“Seriously? You gave him your old room? You really aren’t doing yourselves any favours. He stepped into your boots. He stepped into your room. Like I said, I may call him it… But you’ve been treating him like it.”
“I… I know… I expected… This room was filled with his stuff… And now it’s empty.”
“You really want him back?”
“How can you ask that?”
“Then make him a room for him. Not you. Not me. Not the brat. Make him a room that is his!”
“Okay… But we find him first. You’re taking me to his place tomorrow.”
“For what? There’s no clues there.”
“Because even Timmy can’t remember a seventy eight letter password without help. We’re gonna find that password.”
The rooftop was less than a block from the warehouse.
Batman landed lightly in the shadows. For a long moment he did nothing but observe. Silently watching and cataloguing everything he could see.
There were the usual structures: the air-conditioning units; the entrance to the stairs; and everything else. There was also the usual detritus that a building gained over time.
Ghosting silently over the broken bottles and plastic wrapping, Batman moved towards the rusting fire-escape. Without a grapple-gun it was the logical method for someone to use to access the rooftop; especially if they were attempting to avoid detection.
A dried blood stain on the retaining wall marked where someone had leant for a while. Batman studied it and the scuff marks on the ground. A fairly basic phone lay nearby, blood staining the numbers.
Squatting down, Batman could almost perfectly position his missing son into the space marked out by all the tiny signs. He could picture Tim climbing up the fire-escape, seeking shelter and refuge until he could be extracted.
Exhaustion had forced the youngster into sitting down; exhaustion caused by his wounds, still bleeding and extensive. One leg wasn’t fully functional and so had been stretched out in front of him. It wasn’t a position he could have easily risen from. It was likely that Tim would have preferred to have perched on the retaining wall, but either feared being spotted or didn’t have the strength to stay upright.
He knew what he hoped for, but also knew what was most likely.
A single boot tread could be made out in the dirt. It wasn’t Tim’s, too large. And Batman had already managed to pick out bare feet on the rooftop, stained with blood. Tim hadn’t been shod when he had escaped.
Once Batman had photographed extensively and collected samples of virtually everything, he rose to his feet. He collected the phone; he knew he was hoping in vain for some clue from it, but he had to try.
He moved towards the edge of the roof, to start the journey home, when he stumbled.
“Clark,” He murmured, “I need you.”
Normally he wouldn’t ask for help. Not even when he really needed it. But sod his principles! This was his son he was talking about!
A rush of air and his closest friend was standing in front of him, in full regalia.
“What is it?” Superman asked, “I can’t see any danger.”
“None here.” Batman was blunt, “Get me back to the Cave. I’ll explain there.”
The arms around his shoulders and knees were familiar, as was the shoulder his head was leant against. The key points of his body supported and protected against the speed.
Mere moments later they were both in the Cave, Bruce leaning against the computer console as he pushed his cowl down.
“Bruce,” Clark looked at the dishevelled man, “What’s the matter?”
“Tim,” Bruce choked out, “He’s missing.”
“You sure?” Clark frowned, “He could just be undercover somewhere. On a case. You know what he’s like.”
“GCPD found his DNA at a crime scene.”
“On torture implements. And in a make-shift cell.” Bruce continued, “Someone took my son and tortured him, Clark. And I don’t know where he is. Or how he is.”
“I thought… Kon called me last week. I didn’t… I didn’t take him seriously.”
“He asked for help and you didn’t do anything.” Bruce’s voice was two shades away from accusing.
“It’s Tim!” Clark fired back, “You know what he’s like. He’s always got some plan or investigation or something on the go. I thought it was something like that. I mean this isn’t the first time he’s gone off the grid. When he was looking for you… We couldn’t find him for months. Then he just turned back up. Calm as you like.”
“Not this time.” Bruce’s voice was tight, “This time involves blood and pain and hurts. And they don’t have Red Robin… They have Tim. My little boy. My little detective.”
“The civilian.” Clark’s voice caught in his throat, “He’s defenceless. Who has him, Bruce? I’ll get him back. I swear.”
“We don’t know. We didn’t even know he was missing till the police told us. I let him stray so far from home that I didn’t even know he was gone! He could be dead and I wouldn’t know.”
“No. I won’t believe it. Tim’s resourceful. He’s a fighter. He never gives up. The kid is waging a one-man war against the League of Assassins. Have you checked if they have him?”
“Ra’s wouldn’t keep him in Gotham. And he’d never give Tim the chance to run for it.”
“Tim got away? Why don’t you ask him what happened?”
“Because he got away, but someone got him before we could.” Bruce fired back, “Not that it was hard. He’s badly injured, an issue with his leg, by the marks he left behind. And we didn’t get his message until four days after he got away.”
“You fear he got captured again.”
“With good reason. There was a boot print on that rooftop. Wrong size for Tim. The blood I am almost certain is Tim’s. As are the fingerprints I expect to find on this phone.”
“But you’re checking just in case.”
“Of course.” Bruce nodded, “I’m setting the tests to run.”
“Then you are heading to bed, I presume, Master Bruce.” Alfred’s voice came from the staircase, “Your sons are already asleep.”
“I won’t object.” Bruce sighed, “But get me up in the morning. I want to check out Tim’s office. Best to do it during office hours. As Brucie. Also can find out more about Project Padua. If we can figure out who might want it. We might figure out who has Tim.”
“I’ll set the Watchtower to look for him.” Clark promised, “There’s nowhere they can keep him hidden from us.”
“No.” Bruce’s voice was barely audible, “There’s far too many places.”
“Then we’ll search them all. You have my word, Bruce, we’ll find him. We’ll bring him home.”
“Mister Wayne!” Tam jerked as he walked into the office, “I… I didn’t… I didn’t know you were coming.”
“My son is missing.” Bruce replied, “Where else would I go?”
“Home, Bruce,” Lucius spoke from the doorway, “Home where the police can contact you if they find anything. You don’t need to be here. I’ve got things under control. Rest assured, everything is in good hands.”
“I know that, but…” Bruce tailed off.
“Come to my office,” Lucius motioned, “I’ll tell you what I know. Tam, you hold down the fort here. Standard press statements, you know the drill. Deflect.”
“Reduce. No comment.” Tam recited, “Confidence in the GCPD. Expecting Mister Tim home in the near future.”
“Good.” Lucius nodded, “Don’t forget your training.”
“I won’t. Not this time. Not even for Vale!”
“Good. This way Bruce.”
Lucius led Bruce to his office; after instructing his secretary not to disturb them for a few hours he locked the door and sat down.
“Has this got anything to do with the Family Business?” Lucius immediately cut to the chase.
“I don’t think so.” Bruce replied, “It looks to have be related to Project Padua.”
“Padua?” Lucius’ eyebrows rose, “Tim didn’t tell me that he’d briefed you on that one.”
“He hasn’t. Damian overheard something about it.”
“That would explain the memo and reprimand that Tim sent out regarding project security and secrecy.”
“What can you tell me about it?”
“Not a great deal. Tim’s got the project locked down tight. I know that it’s still in the development stages. But not much more than that. They were stalled about four months back, but then the block cleared three months back. I don’t know how it got fixed. To be honest I didn’t ask. I was just relieved that it seemed to be moving.”
“Do you know about potential applications? Or possible industrial espionage?”
“Tim was suggesting that it could be used to track shipments of weapons. The actual trackers, from what I understand, are very small and easily hidden. Some of the scientists were considering if they could be used to track terrorists. I am not aware of any industrial espionage. But as CFO such things wouldn’t be brought to me.”
“Do you know what Tim was up to on his last day here?”
“No. As I told the police, Tim runs a pretty tight ship. He did tell me that he has a Lunch Meeting and then he was leaving for the weekend.”
“Why didn’t you tell me he was missing?”
“Because I didn’t know he was. I thought you knew where he was. Come on Bruce… It’s not like your sons haven’t gone for long stretches without checking in with me before. Maybe it was a little different this time, because Tim’s the CEO… But he’s got things organised so that it doesn’t matter if he’s away. To be honest, most people think he just took a holiday and timed it with Tam’s so that he didn’t have to put up with a different PA. Lord knows no-one else meets his standards.”
“What about his last Lunch Meeting? Do you know anything about it?”
“Not really. I believe it was a last minute thing. Else Tam would have known about it. Tim probably meant to produce a full report afterwards. He usually does.”
“Is there anything you can remember that might help?”
“No. I’m sorry Bruce. But Tim’s had me working on other projects. Long term things. It’s taking quite a bit of my focus.”
“Anything I need to worry about?”
“No. It’s mainly expansion and revising the Board of Directors.”
“Why? The Board works.”
“The Board works, because Tim and I have tight control over it. Tim spends quite a bit of time doing backstage work to get everyone moving in the direction he needs. If they had their way, I’d be gone and so would Tim. But they’re willing to put up with Tim at the moment and focus on getting rid of me. They think Tim’s controllable… They’re going to be surprised.”
“So Tim’s working on the Board.”
“His goal is to replace them with younger, more innovative minds. Preferably increasing the female and ethnic ratio.”
“Well, the Board is primarily older, white males.” Bruce conceded, “Is there anything you can tell me that might help?”
“Technically I can’t tell you anything.” Lucius sighed, “Tim is an emancipated minor. You are not legally responsible for him… However, as owner of the company you have access to relevant information that might interfere with the running of the company.”
Lucius opened a drawer and removed a file from it. Bruce claimed the file and flicked it open.
“Tim’s medical records?” Bruce frowned, “I know his records inside and out.”
“You should read that.” Lucius repeated, “It won’t help you find him. But it might help when you do.”
Frowning Bruce took another look at the file. Then his heart stuttered.
“Acquired Asplenia? Please tell me that doesn’t mean what I think it means.”
“He lost his spleen? Yeah, it means exactly what you think it does.”
“When… When he was looking for you. I don’t know how, exactly. Tam knows more, but she won’t say. All she has ever said is that the ninjas took it.”
“Ninjas?” His heart froze this time.
“I don’t know all the details. But from what little I managed to piece together; when I sent her to find Tim and bring him back, she found him in his room. Injured, along with a woman. Then the ninjas came and took all three of them. Tam never saw the woman after that. But she didn’t see much. She disappeared off the grid for three months. Then came back to Gotham. Shaken, but unharmed.”
“Ra’s Al Ghul.”
“I couldn’t say. Tam didn’t see much. Ninjas. An opulent room, that was basically her prison. An Albino. Tim. And violence. But only at the end. They didn’t touch her.”
“A hostage for Tim’s behaviour.”
“The only conclusion I can draw.”
“God!” Bruce ran a hand through his hair, “Nothing like that got into any report that I ever read… I’ll take that up with Tim later. The key thing is finding him.”
“If there is anything I can do to help. Just tell me.”
“I wish there was.” Bruce sighed.
“Okay, so this is our timeline,” Crispus pointed to it, “He swiped out of WE at twelve fifteen on Friday. Apparently headed for a Lunch Meeting. Have you got a trace on his car?”
“No point.” Renee sighed, “It’s still in the garage at WE. Where he is known for leaving it for months at a time. He might have walked.”
“Did I hear you mention cars?” Romy asked wandering past.
“Just in passing.” Renee shrugged, “It’s a bit of a surprise that a CEO owns a Honda Civic, even if he is under the drinking limit. Why do you ask? Linked with your case? A murder, right?”
“Solved it yesterday. No, I was thinking about a Cold Case. Caught it ‘bout a month ago. Murder, again. Victim was Jacob Spencer. Car mechanic. Found in a parking garage. He was all dressed up.”
“Fancy meal out?”
“No. Looked more like a chauffeur. But we couldn’t find his car. A Rolls Royce Phantom.”
“You tried Josie?”
“Probably ought to. It’s just weird. The whole case.”
“He ran a classic car restoration and mechanic shop in the suburbs. According to his staff, he very rarely chauffeurs anyone himself. But there’s one guy he does, Chen Rong. Usually books in advance, but he called Spencer, on his personal phone, and the guy dropped everything to transport him. Had less than two hours notice.”
“I presume you traced the call?”
“Dead end. Burner. But there was something about the guy that just didn’t sit right…”
“Montoya!” Crispus called her attention back to him, “You got anything from that footage?”
“Nothing useful.” She sighed, “Drake exits WE, turns right and disappears off WE’s cameras. Traffic cams catch him from there. He walks nearly a block, disappears into a dead zone, then disappears. He never emerges.”
“Must have gotten into a cab or something. I don’t see a CEO walking to a Lunch Meeting. Doesn’t give a good image… Besides you’d notice him on another camera.”
“Any luck with the restaurants?”
“Anyone who is willing to talk about their clients didn’t have a reservation for Drake for that day. Those who won’t talk claim client confidentiality.”
“That sucks. Anything we can try?”
“I’ll get the captain to try and lean on them.”
“Let me ask Fox. He might have some contacts.”
“Good idea. Might as well make his status work for us.”
“God!” Dick looked around, “Tim is such a geek!”
“And that’s new?”
“Not really. Okay, let’s check his study.”
Dick scanned around the room, two walls covered in bookshelves, a desk tucked under a window and photographs occupying most of the fourth wall.
“I’ll take the desk and the photos.” Dick declared, “You’ll do better with the books.”
“Don’t get too excited if you find a tablet. He keeps one around for games.”
It didn’t take Dick long to find three tablets, all stashed in the drawers of the desk. He put them to one side, to look at the passcodes later.
“That’s wrong.” Jason frowned.
“What?” Dick looked up.
“These books, they’re filed wrong.” Jason pointed, “This is the Sci-Fi section.”
“Even I know that Asimov wrote Science Fiction, Jay.” Dick spared a glance, “Invented the Three Laws of Robotics. I don’t see a problem.”
“He wrote mostly Science Fiction.” Jason created, “This is a mystery collection that he wrote.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“Alfred’s a fan. Says he relates to one of the characters.”
“You don’t like mystery books. I remember that. You’re a literary snob. You don’t even like Agatha Christie or Ellery Queen. And you won’t touch ACD.”
“I just have taste. Something you never got.” Jason sniffed, “But I remember this. I got ill once and refused to do what Alfred said. He told me that if I was going to behave like a small child he would treat me like one. Complete with bedtime story. He chose one of the shorts in these books. ‘The Driver’ it was called. He chose it ‘cause I hate mystery stories. And ‘cause he knew I would like it the best out of all of them.”
“Well, it’s not like Tim to miss file things. Check the books.”
“On it. I am not reading these things though. Any joy for you?”
“Three tablets. An old film camera. Notebooks. Mainly filled with school stuff. A few draft essays, though why he’s drafting them on paper, I don’t know.”
“Any interesting topics?”
“‘Discuss Recruitment and the Related Legislation’,” Dick started, “‘Depictions of the Female Form often Support or Challenge Attitudes Towards Women within their Cultural Contexts.’. ‘Explore the History of Forensics, with a View Towards it’s Impact on the Criminal Justice System’.”
“Sounds like he’s doing some serious studying. I’ve got a bookmark in this book, ‘The Banquets of the Black Widowers’… Alfred said Timmy was Atheist, right?”
“Agnostic, but pretty much.”
“Then why’s he using a religious bookmark?”
“Why’s he left a bookmark in it? Timmy doesn’t usually put a book back until he’s either finished it, or given up. I presume it was in use.”
“Marking a story. The book’s full of short ones.”
“Check the Bible… If he’s got one. I’m getting nothing here. Would be more helpful if he had a computer.”
“He uses a laptop. Usually takes it everywhere with him. Which Bible? I’ve got a Bible, a Quran, a Hadith, a Shruti, a Tanakh, a Talmud, a Tao Te Ching, a Tipitaka and a whole host of other stuff. Most of this is in the original language. Either he’s a major polyglot…”
“Or he’s up to something. As per usual. Well, try the actual Bible. It was a Bible bookmark, right?”
“A Psalm. I’ll try the Bible first. Then the Tanakh.”
Dick moved over to the wall of photographs.
“Good to see he kept this up.” Dick smiled, “At least he’s still got a hobby.”
“Those are professional shots.” Jason remarked, “And historical things.”
“Nope. They’re his.” Dick returned, “He was good enough to be a pro, back when he was taking shots of us. Haven’t you seen his collection?”
“I knew it existed. Wasn’t in a hurry to look back at my days in the pixie boots and the scaly pants.”
“Pity. He’s got a good eye. These are all his work. I’m sure of it.”
“Even the historical one?” Jason motioned at an old picture.
“Check her wrist,” Dick snorted, “Her watch is modern. Even if the car and the clothes are old.”
“It’s a Pontiac Redbird.” Jason corrected, “Of all the Pontiac Birds, it was probably the prettiest. But I doubt that’s why the kid wanted a picture.”
“Nostalgia.” Dick nodded, “That’s what we called his car… Redbird.”
“Vanity licence plate,” Jason noted, “‘Psm 78’. Probably could even trace the owner if we wanted.”
“Anything of note in the Bible?” Dick asked.
“He’s been practicing his Hebrew?” Jason shrugged, “He’s written some Hebrew next to the start of each Psalm, as far as I can tell. But nothing long enough to be his password. And it’s against every Psalm. So there’s no indicator for us. Nothing useful in the Tanakh. I think the bookmark was just a mistake. Maybe a cleaner put it back on the shelf and misfiled the section.”
“Alfred would never do that.”
“Yeah, but Alf ain’t never been here. Look around, this is Tiny Tim’s home. Just as it’s always been… Full of stuff. Empty of people. Just pictures on walls.”
“At least they’re good pictures.” Dick tried to joke, “Bit confusing…”
“What do you mean?” Jason frowned, “Landscapes and odd shapes. I’ve seen worse at the Modern Art Museums.”
“This one,” Dick pointed, “Babs brought one like it for her Dad for Christmas. Only it’s meant to say a word. That one doesn’t.”
“I’ve seen that guy before.” Jason moved to a different picture.
“How can you tell? It’s just a hand.”
“No, but that’s a very distinctive bracelet.” Jason stated, “Hold on.”
He moved to the bookshelves and pulled out a photograph album.
“Here.” He flicked over a few pages.
“He’s never the focus of the picture.” Dick frowned, “It’s always the car that’s the focus. But from what I can see, he’s what? My age?”
“Between the two of us I’d say. Male. White.”
“Physically fit. Probably a Classic Car Restorer.”
“Where do you get that?”
“None of the cars in the pictures are complete. They’re all missing stuff. There’s tools in the background and in his hands.”
“But classic cars? You can’t recognise what’s classic and what’s crap!”
“No. But there’s no way a normal mechanic would be rebuilding a car from the frame up. That leaves Hero or Classic Car Restorer. I know all the Heroes and all the gear builders on sight. Even from the limited angles on these, I know I don’t know him. Add in the other pictures on the walls being of car parts or classic cars…”
“Seems Tiny Tim has two hobbies. Photography and Classic Cars.”
“Never knew he was into classic cars. But it makes sense. He’s a history buff and likes knowing how things work. Any names written on those photos?”
“Nothing useful. All seems to be License Plates. And what use is that going to be? Tracing cars that have nothing to do with Timmy. He just took photos of them.”
“He obviously spent quite a bit of time with this man. But I don’t know him.”
“Unlikely, given that he wouldn’t bring a case up here. Never mind put it on his walls.”
“And we still haven’t found his clues regarding the password.”
“They’ve got to be here somewhere.”
“Babs,” Dinah looked at the red-head, “Are you okay? You’re a bit off today.”
“Tim?” Zinda frowned, “That’s Red Robin, isn’t it?”
“Don’t worry.” Helena laughed, “That lad is tough. He’s probably off investigating somewhere.”
“I’ll put money on the League of Assassins, again.” Dinah put in, “Kid has a vendetta against them.”
“No.” Babs shook her head, “His blood has been found on torture implements.”
“How long has he been missing?” Helena was instantly focused, “And where was the torture chamber?”
“A month. And the Warehouse District in Gotham.”
“Shit.” Helena breathed, “I hadn’t… I hadn’t realized I hadn’t seen him… Sometimes he drops me intel.”
“What do you need?” Dinah was blunt.
“I need this to be a bad dream. I need this to all be over… I need to know he’s safe.” Babs buried her head in her hands, “I can’t find him. I don’t know where he was. Or who he was with.”
“Well, what was his patrol that day?” Helena put in, “I know Bats keeps everything organised.”
“Tim has always been independent.” Babs sighed, “He was patrolling solo long before anyone else was. We didn’t realize that he had stopped reporting in to… Anyone. We don’t know what he was working on… But they didn’t… They weren’t tor… tort… Hurting Red Robin… They grabbed Tim… Off the streets as far as I can tell.”
“Who?” Dinah demanded, “Tell me who and I’ll go get him. No matter where, Babs. You’ve got us. Tell us where. We’ll bring him back.”
“We don’t know.” Babs choked, “He got away five days ago. But he hasn’t come back. We don’t know if he got grabbed again or what. But my little brother is missing.”
“Then we get him back.” Zinda swore, “You’ve got your Birds, Oracle. Let us fly.”
“We’ll find him.” Helena announced, “Wherever you need us to go.”
“Just say the word, Babs.” Dinah agreed, “And don’t worry. He’s tough. Really tough. He’s a fighter. He’ll hang on until we find him.”
“Okay, brat.” Steph looked at the youngest Wayne, “What do you know?”
“Tt. What makes you think I know anything, Brown?”
“You knew about Project Padua. Bruce didn’t. That tells me you’ve been in WE more often than he has.”
“I have been working there for part of the school holidays. If I am to rule, I must first learn what it is I am ruling.”
“Okay. Then how do we find out who Tim was having lunch with?”
“It is not on the schedule. I need to check his paperwork.”
“Then let’s go. Bruce can check with Fox. We’ll deal with everyone else.”
“I will not wait on you. Keep up, Brown.”
The pair made their way into Tim’s office, using the Bat-Clan secret entrance.
“Let’s start.” Steph started looking around the room, “I’m sure Tim has got a system.”
“I do not know it.” Damian stated, “Drake does not show me his paperwork.”
“The police will have looked through the paperwork. We need to figure out how Tim got invited.”
“It would have been a telephone invitation.” Damian stated, “The police will have checked the electronic mail as well as the postal.”
“Then Tim would have made a note about it.”
“Tt.” Damian turned away from the desk and moved towards the bookcase, “You can look for that if you want, Brown. I will pursue more profitable avenues of investigation.”
“You’ve bugged the office.” She sighed.
“Of course. However, I am unable to broadcast to a source, due to the high level of security. I have not felt the need to download recently.”
“You mean, you haven’t visited. Why bug the place, anyway?”
“I have to keep an eye on my investments. While Drake is competent, barely, at his job it is best that I know everything going on. Unfortunately, I have been busy with other investigations so I have been forced to leave the business in his hands.”
“Well, what did it record?”
Damian removed a small device from underneath the small table in the corner. He quickly linked it up to a computer and plugged in a set of headphones. Steph sighed, realizing that Damian wasn’t going to let her listen until it was done.
Instead she started looking around the office. She could easily tell that she wasn’t the first to do so. Tim would never allow such disarray in his office.
She started pulling the papers into piles. Just neatening things up really. She wasn’t going to try and sort them.
Looking through the drawers she found a notebook. Well, it didn’t look like a notebook. It looked like a Cosplay Prop. But she’d played enough Zelda to be suspicious.
“Bingo!” She smirked when she opened it.
The first few pages had technical drawings on them, Steph didn’t recognise what they were of. She flicked past them, looking for more useful information. A single torn page was one of the two things she was looking for, and she found it.
A pencil and some quick rubbing, she was looking at Tim’s handwriting.
“Cus. McC.” She read aloud, “Damnit Tim! Why couldn’t you write longhand?”
She tore the page out anyway. The evidence would still be there for anyone else to find. If they knew to look.
“Tt!” Damian knocked his headphones to the floor, “He knew.”
“Knew what?” Steph frowned.
“Drake knew that I had bugged his office. He turned off the device when he did not want me to listen.”
“What did he let you hear?”
“He had a lunch meeting. It was booked for Cussler’s with another CEO. I did not recognise the name. It was Mister Myers.”
“Tim jotted down a shorthand. The first must be Cussler’s, but the second… Hold on a moment.”
Steph pulled out her phone, and hit a speed-dial.
“Steph, what have you found?” Babs spoke quickly
“Cussler’s. Lunch meeting. A CEO Myers. Company might start M. C. C. Not certain on that.”
“McCaffery Enterprises.” Babs came over the loudspeaker, “That’s a start. I’ll find out when it was set for. And who was going.”
“How long will it take?”
“Got the details… That’s unfair.”
“Five of them verses Tim? This was a set up.”
“They grabbed Tim?”
“Tt. If Drake allowed a collection of businessmen to capture him, then he does not deserve to be counted as a hero.”
“I doubt they grabbed him. I can see who was going. No, they were trying to stuff him legally. They were trying to take advantage of him. They had the CEO, CFO and legal people.”
“I would hope that Drake did not sign any documents.” Damian huffed.
“That’s presuming he even got to the meeting.” Steph reminded.
“Looking at what I can see, he did.” Babs replied, “But I can’t see anything more than that.”
“We’ll go check it out.” Steph declared.
“No.” Babs countered, “I’ll get the Birds to check it out. You’ve got eyes on you. If you disappear off the radar for too long, the police will get suspicious. Best you head back to the Manor.”
“Have the police got anything new?”
“Nothing to narrow down his location. I think we’ve managed to overtake them.”
“Tt. That is to be expected.”
“Keep us updated.” Steph finished the call.
She then quickly started dialling again.
“Good afternoon, thank you for calling Cussler’s. How can I help you today?”
“Hi,” Steph bit her lip, “Um, this is a bit embarrassing. I work at Wayne Enterprises. My boss, Mister Wayne, the CEO, is looking to have a lunch meeting somewhere and he told me to organise it at that ‘wonderful place’ he went to last month. Only he didn’t tell me where he went. And I can’t figure out his handwriting. His PA is still on holiday. I’m just the temp. If I screw this up I’ll be fired. Please, did he go to you last month? I think he said it was a lunch meeting with McCattery, McCallery…”
“There was a table of six reserved for McCaffery. Young Mister Wayne was present. You may wish to check if he is recalling the place where he ate the salmon dish.”
“Thank you. Is there anything else I could use to help jog his memory?”
“The other members of the table kept forgetting that he was underage, and thus unable to drink. A fact young Mister Wayne kept reminding them of. Indeed even if he was able to drink I would have not approved of the wine.”
“Why not, Sir?”
“One should never drink such a full-bodied wine as the 1997 Cabassaou Bandol Domaine Tempier with such a delicate dish as salmon.”
“Thank you so much.” Steph even managed a little catch in her voice as if she was holding back tears, “I’ll check with Mister Wayne and then I’ll get back to you if it was Cussler’s he meant.”
“Happy to be of service.”
Steph hung up triumphantly.
“Well, he made it to the lunch.” She grinned at Damian.
“How did you know that he would assist you?” Damian frowned.
“It’s called being female and young.” She shrugged, “If you know what you’re doing, you can usually find an angle. He was probably the Maître d' or Sommelier. Slightly arrogant and stuck-up. He wanted to prove he was superior to me. So I made sure he could.”
She headed towards the back exit once again, texting Barbara as she did so.
Damian paused for a moment, to plant a new listening device, before following her.
“What are you looking at?” Diana asked, spotting Clark at the Watchtower’s main station.
“The League of Assassins ones.”
“Why? Bruce keeps those updated.” She leant up against the chair he was using.
“I just wanted to check… Have you realized just how much time Tim has been saving us?”
“Because he seems to enjoy taking down the League every week or so… It’s quite handy. Someone keeping a lid on Ra’s Al Ghul. Makes him easier to deal with.”
“It’s hundreds of hours.”
“Why are you looking at that? It’s not really important. It’s just handy.”
“Because I was hoping to find a clue.”
“A clue to what?”
“Where Tim is.”
“What do you mean? He’s in Gotham… Or San Francisco. He’s been spending quite a bit of time there… According to Cassie.”
“No. He’s not. Didn’t Bruce tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
“Someone’s kidnapped Tim. They’re torturing him.”
“Who?” Her voice lowered in tone.
“He doesn’t know. No one knows where he is. He got grabbed about a month ago. Bruce doesn’t know who or where. There’s just abandoned torture implements with Tim’s blood on them. And a failed escape attempt.”
“He’s not reappeared anywhere. Bruce has checked all of the safe-houses in Gotham. And I know the Titans have checked everywhere they can think of. Plus, he apparently had a bad leg. So he can’t move quickly.”
“No. That’s got to be wrong. Cassie would have told me.”
“You sure? Kon only asked me to look a week ago.”
“Why didn’t you say anything then?”
“Because I didn’t think it was anything serious.”
“And now you know it is.”
“I swear, Diana, Bruce was nearly in tears. I haven’t seen him like that since Damian… And before that Jason’s…”
“It was that bad?”
“Diana, this is Tim! His son! And they’re human. Not like us.”
“They never have been. They’ve always coped. We’ve never coddled them.”
“Bruce wouldn’t let us… But that doesn’t stop me from worrying about them.”
“He is capable. They are all capable. Bruce trains them well.”
“They are still human. What we shrug off could kill them.”
“They know the risks. They are good soldiers in the battle.”
“But they’re not soldiers.”
“Timothy knew what he was getting in to. He was the first hero who became a hero, after the death of his predecessor. He knew the risks.”
“Don’t you care?”
“I care for him as a fellow warrior. However I will not diminish his achievements or his bravery by coddling him or deciding that he was unaware of the risks he would face. I do not wish him to die, but what you are doing isn’t helping.”
“I’ve got every system looking for him.” Clark motioned at the computers, “I’m trying to figure out where to look in person.”
“I presume Bruce has Gotham.”
“Then we split up the rest of the world. If we involve the Flash, we can check the world in minutes.”
“And still miss him… But it’s a better plan than anything else. The computers will continue looking for him on any cameras, and update us if they find anything. If that fails… I don’t know… I’m not sure Bruce will survive losing another son.”
“Okay,” Jason sighed, “Let’s just do a recap here. Tim has been missing for over a fucking month. We’ve been looking for four fucking days.”
“Don’t remind me.” Dick murmured from between his arms.
“We still haven’t found his clues to crack his fucking password.”
“Honestly, a seventy-eight letter password is more than a little ridiculous!” Babs put in.
“He was last seen leaving Cussler’s at about 2 in the fucking afternoon.”
“Tt, at least the Maître d' has a good memory.” Damian added, “The security cameras there are not worth a fraction of the price they paid for them.”
“Cussler’s guests have a certain expectation of privacy.” Bruce sighed, “Security is not usually something they expect the restaurant to provide. Certainly not at that time of day. I would normally insist on taking bodyguards. However, Tim isn’t comfortable with bodyguards.”
“It’s a high class restaurant.” Steph frowned.
“But just on the outskirts of one of the worst areas.” Dick returned.
“Gentrification.” Babs sighed.
“Are we sure that McCaffery isn’t involved?” Dick managed to lift his head to look at Babs.
“Checked their system, records and everything else.” Babs declared, “Dinah was very keen to get involved. And don’t talk to me about Helena… I practically had to hold her back from going and interrogating everyone involved. Zinda wasn’t helping either, she was offering to replace their drivers. But both electronic and physical files match… They were up to something. But no violence was intended. Browbeating was the worst thing they had planned. Tim managed to duck and dive out of it. Even the attempted alcohol consumption.”
“He wasn’t driving his crappy car. So we don’t know how he got there.” Jason carried on listing.
“Unlikely he walked.” Steph stated.
“He was taken for the fucking Padua Project, which would find him if it was fucking working!”
“And it’s Tim who made it work in the first place.” Bruce muttered, “Finally managed to dig through all the reports and find the document that proved it. He’s been spending time in the R&D department helping them out.”
“Tt, that would explain why he was not comfortable with me working in that department.” Damian sniffed.
“And we are going to talk about that at some point.” Dick muttered, “Not sure how happy I am that you are working already.”
Bruce laid a gentle hand on Dick’s shoulder to end the argument before it began.
“He’s been a busy little bird,” Jason continued, “CEO duties, R&D time, his scholastic studies. And who knew he had an interest in Art History?”
“I would have put money on Photography.” Dick stated.
“He has some kind of relationship with a man, none of us know about or can even identify.”
“I’ll get there.” Babs swore, “No one can hide forever.”
“What odds are we giving that this man was involved in Timmy’s kidnapping?” Jason queried.
“I am not prepared to make a judgement at this point.” Bruce shook his head, “We don’t even know how close the two of them are.”
“And we don’t know anything about him.” Dick felt anger burn within him for a moment, “Tim used to tell me everything.”
“Tt… Do not sully yourself stating such a falsehood, Grayson.” Damian fired back, “Drake has always kept things to himself. He is more of my father’s son than he ever was his own.”
And that one stung. It was the truth. Something that Dick had often thought about. Of all of the Bat-Boys, Tim was the one who was the closest in nature to Bruce. Even Damian didn’t have Bruce’s taciturn nature; his was more brusque, more defensive.
Bruce lived in the shadows. He was the Night.
Tim lived in silence. So what did that make him?
Dick knew that he had always been the Flying Robin. Even before the idea that there would be another Robin had even existed. Even in his earliest of days.
Jason had always been the Fighting Robin. Fierce and bold and brave. It had been part of the reason Dick had had a hard time accepting his new brother. He had been scared that he was being replaced by someone better than him. Because Jason had always had the potential to be a better fighter than Dick. It was only the anger that Jason had never been able to shake that stopped him from achieving that.
Nobody knew what Damian would be remembered as. It was not as clear as the others. He was changing little by little every day. He had once been an angry youth. Almost as angry as Jason had been. Now he was outwardly cold, but it was just a wall of ice protecting his very fragile heart.
Tim… Tim had always, always been the Thinking Robin. Clever. Intuitive. Smart. Capable. Self-sufficient. Unwilling to ask for help… Or perhaps unable. Even a baby crying in their crib stops crying when no-one comes to help. Even a baby learns silence, when noise does not help.
Had he caused this? Had Dick not been there enough? Had he not shown Tim that he could be relied upon?
Okay, maybe he had kinda sucked at being Tim’s big brother recently… But everyone screwed up now and again…
But wasn’t that what Tim was used to? To being the favoured child and then ignored for months at a time?
Dick had actually gone and researched the amount of time Tim had spent with his parents before their deaths… Scarily Janet hadn’t even spent a single year in the same city as Tim before her death, in total! Jack didn’t fare much better, even with his extra few years of life.
Tim was used to being put on the shelf and ignored when he wasn’t wanted or needed…
He probably thought it was the same way with them… With him!
It was just… There had been so much to do! Jason had been weakening in his stance of hatred. And Dick was going to do whatever it took to bring Little-Wing back home.
Damian had needed help adjusting. The changes he had had to go through had been disturbing and troubling. He had needed a steady presence and companion through the emotional upheavals.
Bruce had been reaching out to Damian and Jason. His efforts at reconciliation with Jason and compassion with Damian occasionally clumsy. Needing Dick to help him realize where he was going wrong and how to resolve it.
Babs had been dealing with some PTSD flare ups, along with keeping the Birds out of trouble. Which shouldn’t have been a full time task, but it pretty much was. Dick had been helping her with the PTSD and doing whatever grunt work she desired to help the Birds. Besides, although she considered Tim her younger brother, he was quite firmly in her mind catalogued under “Dick’s People”. Thus unless she had a reason to worry, she didn’t go hunting him out.
Steph was still uncomfortable around Tim. Uncomfortable because of her guilt. She knew that she had hurt Tim badly all those years ago when she faked her death. And so she didn’t go out of her way to encounter him. She wouldn’t shy away from him, if they crossed paths. But if she suspected he was avoiding her, she wouldn’t force a confrontation. Of all of them she had noticed that she hadn’t seen Tim in a while, but had thought he didn’t want to see her. So she had said nothing. Instead sinking slightly into a low mood, which Dick had tried to chivvy her out of, without knowing the cause.
Everyone had needed Dick to some degree or another. And he had given himself to all of them…
Meanwhile Tim… Tiny Tim had needed Dick. But hadn’t said anything. He had just let everyone forget him.
Tim had just… Slipped through the cracks.
Until he was painfully brought to their attention once again.
And it hadn’t just been the Bat-Clan… Every single hero, outside of the core Titans, hadn’t noticed Red Robin’s disappearance.
“We’ve scoured Gotham twice over.” Jason continued listing, “The League and others have searched the world and we still can’t fucking find him!”
“To be fair,” Steph muttered, “We still could have missed him.”
“It was a rough search.” Babs agreed, “There’s hundreds of places he still could be.”
“And to top it all off,” Jason carried on, as if he couldn’t hear them, “He’s missing his fucking spleen! That’s the flaming cherry to this entire fiasco! How come we didn’t know he had lost his fucking spleen?!”
Babs had found out about the spleen thing, when she had hacked into the Police Database, to keep an eye on the case. She wanted to make sure that the Bats had up-to-date data at all times. Any development she wanted to be made aware of at the earliest opportunity.
She hadn’t been expecting that titbit of information to be tucked away in an interview file.
To be fair, it had blindsided all of them.
“It is perfectly possible to live a full life without a spleen, Master Jason.” Alfred put in.
“Yeah,” Jason nodded, “But considering Timmy’s current situation? It ain’t a good thing.”
And that was a truth they all acknowledged.
The Desk Sergeant looked up as he heard crutches approaching. Looking up he could see three teenagers approaching the front desk. One of them with a pair of crutches jammed up under his armpits, clearly due to the casted leg. The other two hovered in the background, clearly wanting to help, but also nervous about doing so.
“Good morning, Officer,” The boy on crutches addressed him, “Could I speak to the Detectives investigating the Drake case? I have some pertinent information for them.”
“One moment,” The Sergeant turned away.
He quickly made his way to where Montoya was looking over case files.
“Montoya,” He interrupted her, “There’s three kids up front. One says he’s got information for you. On the Drake case.”
“A lead?” Montoya looked up hopefully.
“Possibly,” The Sergeant returned, “But I wouldn’t give it much credence. The other two kids look really nervous. Could just be a prank.”
“The case was dead before we got it.” Montoya shrugged, “I’ll take anything. Even a prank.”
“Well, they’re up front. It’s the kid on crutches. Do you want me to tell Bullock?”
“He’s out on another case. I don’t want to call him back if it’s just a prank. I’ll figure out how legitimate it is, then call him in.”
She rose and wandered over; if nothing else it was a distraction from the endless case files which were going nowhere.
She scanned her eyes over the trio of boys; she recognised one of the them. It was Conner, he gave her a sheepish smile and ducked his head, before returning his gaze to the central boy. The other boy resembled the few pictures she’d seen of Bart Allen. She was starting to get a feeling that this lead wouldn’t be another dead-end.
“I’m told you might have some information for me?” She addressed the central figure.
“Detective Montoya,” The voice was hoarse, but familiar, even if she couldn’t place it, “I’m glad you were assigned to this case, it makes everything much easier.”
“Why?” She frowned.
“Because you should recognise me,” He raised one hand to brush his long hair back out of his face, “Tim Drake, at your service.”
It had been quite some time since Montoya had seen Timothy Drake. Even then it had been a fleeting glimpse at some gala, probably a Charity one for the police. In fact, in every picture that Montoya had managed to obtain Timothy Drake was dressed in either a suit or a school uniform. There were no pictures where he was just a kid.
The teenager in front for her had longer hair and was dressed in a fashion that wouldn’t get him a second look at pretty much anyone in the poorer areas of Gotham. The hoodie was old and tattered, even patched in a few places, the khaki shorts were clearly cut-down trousers repurposed for summer use.
However, despite the clothing choices, she could spot the resemblance to the photographs. The hair was longer and there were some visible healing injuries on his face, alongside a few fading scars. She wasn’t certain, but she was fairly convinced that he’d lost some weight as well; even if the clothing hid it superbly.
“Rumours of your demise have been exaggerated I see.” She smiled at him.
“So far,” He returned, “I apologise for causing you such trouble, but I only found out about your investigation a few hours ago. Conner and Bart were kind enough to provide transport for me.”
“Let’s take this somewhere more private.” She motioned, “I’ll need a statement, you understand.”
“Of course.” He smiled at her.
For a moment, she was struck by the similarity between his smile and Grayson’s; even if they weren’t blood related, the smile was so familiar. However, she then looked closer. Grayson’s smile always reached his eyes, it was clear in every part of his body that he was smiling.
Tim’s wasn’t like that. It only showed as wide on his face for a moment, before being pulled back and hidden. His body language was neutral, and his eyes had never shown the smile that his face had shown. It had been a lie. A very well crafted one, but a lie none-the-less.
His eyes told the truth though. There was pain in them.
Montoya knew, just knew, that this wasn’t going to be a simple case of a misunderstanding and a poorly timed holiday.
“Detective Allen will be joining us as soon as he gets back to the Precinct,” Montoya stated, as she settled into one of the Interrogation Room chairs, “Do you mind if we start before he gets here?”
“I would prefer it, actually.” Tim was blunt. Strangely his back was ramrod straight; his facial features were relaxed, but his body screamed tension.
She knew she couldn’t keep her emotional distance from him. He seemed so fragile; she’d seen how the other Waynes were and could easily see how Tim could be so easily ignored. He wasn’t loud or bold like the others. He was coming across as very quiet and thoughtful; reserved would be the term her old English teacher would have used. He seemed to be quite able to fade into the background of any situation. Part of the reason that she’d asked to talk with him without either of the other boys; something he’d easily acquiesced to, which made her suspicious.
“Mister Drake.” She began.
“Please,” He interrupted her, “Call me Tim. I… I don’t… I can’t be called Mister Drake… Not right now. Please.”
A touch of desperation in the tone alerted her to a potential trigger. She wasn’t going to push it.
“Tim then,” She smiled, trying to radiate calm and peace, “Can you tell me what happened? From the beginning.”
“What do you already know?” He countered her.
“You’ve been missing for some time; how long we can’t determine. The last person who remembers seeing you was Mister Fox approximately five weeks ago. You told him you had a lunch meeting, however, he doesn’t know where or who with. You stated that you’d be going home straight after and then going out of town for the weekend.”
“It was at Cussler’s,” Tim easily mentioned the exclusive Two Michelin Star Restaurant, “I was meeting with McCaffery Enterprises. It was basically a ‘Meet-And-Greet’. A sounding out of each other’s sides. Trying to see if there could be co-operation between our two companies.”
“Your Honda Civic wasn’t found on any traffic cameras for that day.”
“I didn’t use it. Going to these sort of places, you’re expected to show a certain type of class. The suit and general appearance isn’t enough. The car you drive is very important. However, the amount it would cost to insure me to drive anything other than a fairly beat-up old car is not worth the occasional outing. Besides I like my Civic and I hate the usual Learners’ Permit jokes that come out. So I have an arrangement with Jake.”
“Jacob Spencer. He’s a mechanic. Restores classic cars. Has a shop in the suburbs. We met years ago. Classic Car Show. Kept in contact ever since. We’ve got a standing agreement. When I need a chauffeur with a posh car, he’s the guy I call.”
“Do you trust him?”
“Implicitly. He’s been there for me through some rough times in my life. I wouldn’t have passed English Literature or History if it wasn’t for him.”
“He drove you to the meeting?”
“Yes. We were talking on the way. Discussing Architecture.”
“A real Renaissance Man, your Jake.”
“Not really. He loves Art. Architecture is Art we live in. Literature is Art with words. Cars are Art we drive. His passion is Art. You should hear him talk about Food or Music. Art we eat and Art we listen to.”
“What happened at the meeting?”
“There were five members of the McCaffery board there.”
“Five? And no-one else on your side?”
“No. I was given the impression that it was a one-on-one meeting. Usually I would have brought Tam. But she was in Hawaii, so I had gone alone. It did raise my suspicions that there were so many of them.”
“How did the meeting go?”
“Badly. They were trying some dodgy dealings. Their plan seemed to get me to sign an agreement which would prevent WE from developing our products into anything that could encroach on their territory. Which covers a lot of areas. We would also have to pull out of certain areas where we have been extremely profitable in the past few years.”
“They thought they could get away with that?”
“Apparently. They’d brought a lawyer to try and convince me it was all legit. But I have a policy where I don’t sign anything that hasn’t passed through the hands of my lawyers and that I’ve spent at least two hours pouring over, just in case. Particularly after last time, when Tam caught it.”
“Cautious. Businessmen are ruthless. If one of them could find a use for my soul they’d try to get me to sign it over. I’m young in the business world. That makes me fresh meat in their eyes. Blood in the water.”
“What did you do?”
“Humoured them. Prevaricated. Played up the unsure, innocent, naïve CEO. I’ve gotten quite good at it.”
“And you just left at the end of the meal?”
“Pretty much. I’d discretely recorded the conversation, just in case. And I think they knew it was a long shot. They were more resigned than anything. I’d asked one of the waiters to tell the valets to tell Jake to come pick me up.”
“He’d waited the whole time?”
“He usually does. Give Jake a good book and he’s gone for hours. It’s why I don’t text him, but send a person to tell him. He really can ignore his phone if he’s wrapped up in something.”
“I got into the back of the car. Privacy divider was up and the windows are tinted. I wasn’t in the mood to talk. As much as I get on with Jake, after a meeting like that I like silence to get my head in the game. I was writing up notes from the meeting, who and what and where and everything. I downloaded the recording and saved it. I realized the journey was taking longer than it should have. I looked up thinking that Jake had decided that I needed to spend some time at his shop. It’s a good de-stress. Only I wasn’t anywhere that I should have been. I tried to talk with Jake, but I got no answer. That was when I realized it wasn’t Jake.”
“You’re certain about that? He could have been bribed or blackmailed.”
“Jake’s not that kind of guy. Never has been. He doesn’t care about money. And he wouldn’t give up a friend because of violence. Not against him. Not against anyone else.”
“Not even if they threatened you?”
“No. Jake would have grabbed me and legged it. He would have taken out anyone trying to hurt me. The only way they got control of that car was if they restrained him or killed him… Do you know if they killed my friend?”
“I’m afraid not.” Montoya stated, although the name rang a bell, “I’ll find out though. What happened next?”
“I shut my laptop down, while I tried to phone for help. They must have had a signal jammer, because I didn’t have service. The doors were locked and the controls for the privacy divider weren’t working. All I could do was watch and try to figure out where we were. It was in the warehouse district. However, I couldn’t give you more details.”
“Did you see who was driving?”
“Not right then. Not until the car stopped. It was inside a warehouse. I tried to fight, but there were too many. They made it pretty clear that no-one would be able to find me. That the only way I was leaving was if I co-operated.”
“What did they want?”
“WE has a contract with the DoD. We’re working on some DARPA contracts. They wanted access.”
“You don’t work in R&D.”
“I’m not employed there. But I often pop down to work alongside them. And I’m the CEO. I have access to everything. At first they were focused on getting into my laptop.”
“I take it they failed.”
“I know that my laptop is a potential weak point in the WE security system. So I have a thirty character password. A deadlock on it, so if it doesn’t connect with one of three wi-fi spots in forty-eight hours it locks you out unless you get the right password, which is different from the other password, and you only have three goes to get it right. Get it wrong and the hard-drive wipes itself, writes over itself about twenty times, so you end up with a laptop that has no operating system, never mind anything actually useful.”
“How difficult is the password to crack on that setting?”
“Well, it’s over a hundred and seventy characters, so I wouldn’t bet on anyone managing to brute force it. And it’s not really predictable.”
“How do you remember something that long?”
“There are methods. I ended up using something along the lines of an old story I read, years ago. Sixty Million Trillion Combinations, I believe it was called. Once I refused to give them my password, they just stuffed me in an old industrial freezer and I presume they tried to hack it. I could hear them swearing as my system kept them out. They didn’t give up though. They really wanted that information. After what I presume was two days they tried me again. That’s when things got not so nice. Up till then they’d basically ignored me, just chucked me a few bottles of water when I was thrown in there.”
“What did they do?”
“What I presume is the usual, based on the stories and films I’ve seen. Fists and cuts. I tried to fight back. I tried to run. They broke my leg for that.”
Montoya was slightly impressed that Tim was managing to stay so detached from the situation. It was clearly a coping mechanism.
“At what point was that?”
“Day four or five,” Tim shrugged, “I’m not entirely certain how long they ignored me at first. I should have waited longer. Waited for their attention slip more. I just took the first chance I saw. It was stupid. I was stupid.”
“No. You did what anyone would do.”
“I was stupid. I should have waited. I should have waited. I couldn’t run after that. I didn’t have a chance to run. With only one leg, I couldn’t run. I thought I was going for freedom. Instead I just trapped myself. They avoided my arms… Well, my hands anyway.”
“How long did it go on for?”
“I’m not certain. The initial beating was only a few days. It wasn’t all that bad. Even combined with food and sleep deprivation. I’ve done worse to myself when I’ve pulled a couple of consecutive all-nighters. Although I do usually have more caffeine. I think it was seven or eight days of sleep deprivation. Certainly no longer. I was still fairly lucid. I think that annoyed them.”
“What happened next?”
“They got more serious. I think there were two torturers. They kept arguing about what was the right method to use. One liked passive methods, using my body against me. He liked dumping water over me, throwing me back in the freezer and turning it on. The other was all violence. Knives and bats and fists. He didn’t always do it himself. But he was always there. He always directed it though. The two of them didn’t get on. Violence said that Passive was giving me time to recover. Passive said that Violence was giving me something to fight against. Giving me an enemy to defy. They argued a lot.”
“They let you hear it?”
“They didn’t know I did. Sometimes when they hit me I would be dazed. I’d seem unconscious. But I was still aware of what was going on. I’d fake it for as long as I could. Just to make the pain stop for longer. And when I was in the freezer, sometimes I’d press my ear against the wall to try and listen to them. I figured anything I heard was useful.”
“You expected to be found.”
“Yes. I knew someone would be looking for me. I just had to hold on. I was hurting. But I was managing to stay optimistic. But then the Boss got impatient.”
“There was a Boss? Not one of the two torturers?”
“Yeah. I don’t know his name. Don’t think I ever saw him. I just remember Passive and Violence used to say “He’s getting impatient”’; “He’s not happy”; “He thought it’d be done by now”. There was definitely a Boss. And he got impatient. He sent Phobos. Everyone was scared of him.”
“I doubt it’s his real name. Name of the God of Fear in Greek Mythology… I had a module on Mythology once.”
“Stop this nonsense!” Allen barrelled in, “You ran off on holiday and broke your leg. And now you’re covering your backside.”
Montoya knew what Allen was doing; it was a set-up they’d used many times before. Allen would be antagonistic and generally the “bad cop”, while she was the “good cop”. Admittedly they didn’t usually use it on witnesses, but she knew Allen wasn’t a fan of the Upper Class.
“What would you accept as evidence?” Tim asked calmly.
“A doctor’s report. Chosen by ourselves. And we sit in on it.” Allen declared firmly.
“Set it up.” Tim stated, “My only conditions are that no Waynes are informed about it and that my two friends are present.”
“Why?” Allen demanded to know.
“Because they know me better than you. I have triggers. A lot of triggers now. Some that even I’m not aware of. And they’ll know if you step on one. They’ll stop things from getting bad.”
“Is that a risk? We’re trained police officers.”
“And I’m a Gotham kid born and bred. I may have grown up in a fancy house for most of my life, but that doesn’t make you immune to the violence on the streets. I know how to fight. And you both should know that the worst creature to fight is one you’ve backed into a corner.”
It didn’t take long to organise a doctor. Quite literally they just went to Gotham’s Central Hospital and asked to see one. There wasn’t a disaster going on, so it didn’t take long.
Tim was perched on a hospital bed, as a doctor fussed around him. His two friends watching from the side-lines.
“Well, the leg is most certainly broken.” The doctor declared quickly, “Every scan agrees. But there are a large number of other fractures showing up on the x-ray. Some going back many years. You would have only been a child at the time.”
“Abuse?” Montoya queried gently, “We have discovered that your home wasn’t a normal household.”
“Not abuse.” Tim shook his head quickly, “As a child I had a fascination with Batman and Robin. Particularly Robin. I wanted to take photographs of them. I would sneak out the house at night, go into Gotham’s darkest places and wait to try and capture them on film. It wasn’t a safe hobby. I’m quite lucky I got off as light as I did.”
“Seriously?” Allen stared, “Why would you do that?”
“I was a kid. I wasn’t thinking.”
“Did you ever get a photograph.”
“Not a single one.” Tim sighed, “At least not of Batman or Robin. I got some pictures of the Arkhemites though.”
“We should have heard of such pictures. The developer would have reported it.”
“I develop my own photographs. Always have done. I prefer it. I can get the style I want.”
“He’s actually really good.” Bart put in, “They look professional. I’ve got one of his landscapes on my bedroom wall.”
“Ma put hers in the sitting room.” Conner agreed, “Beautiful shot. He could make a living out of it, if he wanted.”
“Guys,” Tim looked embarrassed, “It’s just a hobby.”
“What about the more recent breaks? The ones that still predate your disappearance?” The doctor pressed, “Your arm for example.”
“That was me.” Conner admitted sheepishly.
“Not his fault,” Tim was firm, “Someone slipped something into his drink. He was kinda out of it at the time. I just got in the way.”
Montoya and Allen exchanged a look; they’d seen expressions like Tim’s before. Usually on the really good liars amongst the abuse victims. The ones who actually believed the lies themselves. However, it was Conner’s expression that was interesting; he clearly blamed himself, despite Tim’s words, so perhaps Tim wasn’t so far off.
It was Bart’s look that clinched it though. The tightness in his eyes, the tension in his body. He knew exactly what had happened, and while he wasn’t blaming Conner, he certainly wasn’t going to let it happen again.
“Very well,” The doctor conceded, “You must have been very lucky with that bullet wound on your hip. There’s no related mark on the bone. That could have been much worse.”
“I was lucky.” Tim smiled, “What about my leg?”
“I can see the signs of a very bad break, which also started to heal wrong. So it was rebroken and set properly. You will not be able to remove the cast for at least four months.” The doctor stated, “You should have sought medical attention immediately after the break. Then you wouldn’t be in this situation. It could have knocked a month off your healing time. As it is, you might still require surgery. Usually a misaligned bone is repaired with a rod or a plate and screws. A cast might not be enough. I would recommend that you spend as much time as possible off that leg.”
“He will.” Conner and Bart chorused. Judging by the glare that Tim levelled at them, he was not on board with the plan, but that didn’t seem to matter to them.
After a short glaring competition Tim sighed and deflated a little.
“Now that the x-rays are done,” the doctor continued, “I would like to look at your ribs. Top off.”
Tim had steadfastly kept an old cotton shirt on during the examination. Refusing to swop it out for a hospital gown. Neither of the two detectives really blamed him.
“It’s not pretty.” Tim stated, “Phobos had a fair bit of fun.”
“What do you mean?” Montoya frowned.
“Phobos likes fire. Likes making sure you can’t get away from his memory.” Tim had awkwardly risen to his feet.
He turned his back to them.
“He found it amusing that I had taken and then dropped the surname Wayne. Called me their servant. Their pet. Their slave. Said I needed to be marked as theirs.”
Montoya watched as the soft cotton shirt was lowered down Tim’s back, and slowly bandages were unwound; no-one dared to step forward and help, there was a tone in Tim’s voice that rejected any and all help.
The reason why quickly became clear. There were burns across his back, still in the early stages of healing. At least Second Degree if not Third, by her inexperienced estimation. In some places it could never have formed First Degree burns, due to a lack of skin to burn. Lash marks and bruises could be made out. No wonder he has sat so upright. Montoya was reminded of cases of abuse she had responded to in the past. The markings were similar, albeit smaller. A whip of some kind had been used; the marks were far too thin for a belt. The skin had been literally flogged off his back in places. Gauze littered the floor, previously held in place by the bandages.
There was not enough skin to tape the gauze in place.
Montoya felt her stomach churn as she took in the markings. Redness, swelling and yellow pus showed clear signs of infection. She could almost imagine the heat radiating from them.
The burns themselves were infected, yellow filling places where flesh ought to be.
The worst part was that it looked to be forming letters.
“How did he manage that?” Crispus’ voice shook slightly in shock.
“Two different lengths of brands. I had to watch him heat them up.”
“What does it say?” Montoya breathed.
“Wayne.” Tim’s voice was quiet; barely audible in fact.
“And the flogging underneath?” Crispus managed to hold down his nausea to ask.
“I did say that Violence didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t talking.”
“And the cuts underneath the burn?” The doctor queried, even as he started drawing an antibiotic into a syringe.
“The Boss turned up. I didn’t see his face. I was so out of it in pain that I couldn’t take in his voice. Only the words. He liked the brand. He suggested scarification. More words. But I don’t know what they decided on. I passed out from the pain, part way through.”
Montoya couldn’t help herself, she moved closer and tried to make out the words; looking for the deeper wounds amongst the cuts
“Bruce, Dick, Jason, Damian, Titus.” She managed to make out; many years of reading Harvey’s bad handwriting paying off.
“He even put the dog on there.” Tim’s voice was only a few degrees away from hysterics.
Montoya could see and hear the pain in Tim. He was hurting, and not just from the physical pain; the emotional pain was clear.
The doctor crept closer, obviously intending to inspect the wounds. The wounds clearly needed tending, and so it made sense. The syringe nearby to deliver bolus dose of antibiotics.
The tension in Tim’s shoulders increased as the first light touches made their way across his back. Given the injuries it was only to be expected that Tim would find having someone behind him unnerving.
However, neither detective was prepared for the reaction when the doctor caught a particularly bad spot.
Suddenly Tim moved.
Later, Montoya would reflect that she hadn’t been fully able to follow Tim’s movements. Despite the splint the boy had moved like lightening. She had been too much in shock to react either.
All that was left was the aftermath.
The doctor was on the floor, clutching at his right shoulder, while the associated arm hung limply.
Bart stood in front of the detectives, his arms spread wide to stop them from moving any further into the room… Towards where Tim and Conner were.
Tim was backed into the corner; his badly injured back pressed hard against the painted plaster. Only the grace of the fact that he was in a corner relieving some of the pain, in Montoya’s opinion. In his white-knuckled grip, he held what had once been an IV stand. The top and the bottom were both missing now, leaving only the light-weight metal pole.
Light weight though it was, it no doubt could cause pain, if used properly. Judging by the grip that Tim had on it, Montoya wasn’t certain that Tim didn’t have the training.
Conner, though, seemed to have no fear of being harmed. He had both of his hands pressed against Tim’s cheeks. Forcing the smaller boy to look him in the eyes.
“Tim. Tim. Tim! Listen to me! You’re not there! You’re not there!” Conner was desperately trying to break through Tim’s panic.
He was far too close for Tim’s staff to be of any real use, though Tim was still lashing out as best he could.
“He’s not hearing you.” Bart put in, “Kon… You need to do something. He’s going to hurt himself. If he hasn’t already.”
“I know Imp!” Conner fired back, “You think I like this?”
“We could help.” Allen put in.
“He doesn’t know you.” Bart shook his head, “Not like he knows us… We’re the closest thing he has to family. Leave this to us.”
Conner closed his eyes; Montoya thought it was from pain, due to a particularly strong strike from Tim. However, then she saw his posture. It was resignation.
Then the boy turned his head to face them.
“If any of you talk about this ever I will end you!” He declared.
Despite his voice never rising above a pleasant speaking volume, the fury and determination in Conner’s eyes verified that he was speaking the truth.
He turned back to face Tim; took a deep breath.
“I didn’t know what you were going through, I thought that you were fine.” Conner began to sing.
His voice wasn’t bad. And the song seemed to be getting through to Tim. If only because the frightened boy couldn’t imagine his captors singing to him.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this!” Bart breathed, “Disney? Seriously?”
Conner clearly heard Bart, but ignored him, to continue singing.
The two detectives couldn’t see Tim very clearly from their position, so they weren’t aware of exactly when Tim’s mind returned from wherever it had retreated to.
“Kon?” Tim’s voice was gentle and cautious, “What… Where… Who did I… Oh, God!”
A twist of the body and Tim started to heave. Clearly trying to empty his stomach of its contents. However, judging by the clear liquid leaving his lips, he didn’t have anything to empty it of.
Conner shifted to support his smaller friend, his hands staying clear of as many injuries as possible. Bart moved to hold back hair, and position a bin to catch as much as possible. A gentle hand rubbed the back of Tim’s neck, clear of the majority of the wounds.
“We got you, Timmy. We got ya.” Bart murmured, Montoya having to strain her ears to catch the words.
“Did I hurt anyone?” Tim asked.
“Nothing serious.” Conner shrugged, “Bruises mostly. Don’t worry about it.”
Montoya watched as Tim was wracked with heaving once again. Although she couldn’t see him clearly from her position, with his two friends blocking a lot, what she could see caused her heart to sink.
“I can count his ribs.” Allen murmured.
“You can count his vertebrae.” She returned, “They starved him.”
“Are you okay?” Allen addressed the doctor.
“Minor bruises. I’ve had worse from druggies before now.” He shrugged, “Although the nerve strike was new. He was just desperate. I’ve seen it before. I’m sure you have too.”
“Yeah,” Allen nodded, “Just never expected it from him. He’s a rich kid.”
“A rich, traumatised kid.” The doctor countered, “I’m going to recommend a psychiatric assessment. But I doubt he’ll take it.”
“Why not?” Allen asked.
“Our best psychiatrists are in Arkham. And I’ve heard that the Wayne’s have a bad history with Arkham. They won’t go there. Plus, despite the oaths, some psychiatrists would only see him as a payday. Either from himself or from the media. I’m not blind to the faults in the profession. I know a few who would quite willingly sell out a rich kid. A Wayne? That would be enough money to retire on.”
Allen knew it was true, as much as he hated to learn it. It certainly didn’t surprise him.
“Do you have any alternative suggestions?” Allen tried.
“I might give those two boys some leaflets on PTSD. But that’s about it on the mental front. I’ll give him a prescription for some strong antibiotics and painkillers. As well as one for dressings… There’s not a lot I can really do.”
After a few minutes the three boys straightened up and Tim returned to the hospital bed.
“Is it okay, if we take some photographs?” Montoya asked gently.
“Don’t… Don’t let Alfred see them?” Tim countered, “I couldn’t… I couldn’t deal with that.”
“Not the other Waynes?” Allen frowned.
“Doesn’t matter what you do, they’ll manage to find them.” Tim shrugged, “It’s just how they are.”
“But Alfred?” Montoya tailed off.
“He hurts when we hurt. I won’t do that to him. He’s never been anything but kind to me… Despite everything.”
“Everything?” Allen queried, “What was everything?”
“Let’s just say I wasn’t always the best of kids.” Tim shrugged.
“What happened after…?” Montoya tailed off; her attempt to distract from the camera being poor, at best.
“I’m not entirely certain. I have a compromised immune system. And my wounds got infected. Next thing I really knew for certain was when I was in a bed. I’d been rescued.”
“By who?” Allen was surprised.
“Pru… Prudence. Don’t ask me her last name. I’ve never known it.”
“Who is she?” Montoya pressed.
“There was a time when I had major argument with Dick. He thought I needed therapy, and wasn’t shy about telling me or getting my friends to try and lean on me.”
“I know Cassie tried.” Conner put in, when eyes flicked to him, “I wasn’t involved. Nor was Bart.”
“I went off the map for a while.” Tim continued as if he hadn’t been interrupted, “Started investigating different avenues for WE to go down. As part of that I went to Iraq. It’s not safe for a young businessman to be alone in Iraq. So, I hired bodyguards. Three of them. Owens, Z and Pru. Pru didn’t like me. The others I got along with. One night I wanted to see the stars. So we went out into the desert. That was a mistake. We got attacked. Owens and Z died outright. I lost my spleen. Pru her vocal cords. We were left for dead. I managed to get Pru into the jeep and we got to safety. Pru felt she owed me one. That I saved her life.”
“Even though it was your enemy who crippled her and killed her friends?”
“That’s just it. It wasn’t my enemy. It was theirs. There was a group that decided the best way to prove they were the best killers was to go after the best killers.”
“Then why go after bodyguards?”
“Because their organisation doesn’t just provide bodyguards. Sometimes they provide what you need bodyguards from.”
“So she came to rescue you?”
“Yeah. I don’t know who the doctor she used was. I don’t know where she was keeping me. But she knew I was missing. She found me. She saved me.”
“She could have filed a missing person’s report. She could have informed us.”
“Yeah, Pru wouldn’t do that.” Tim shook his head, a small smile on his lips, “I don’t know her story. But I do know she doesn’t trust many people. Certainly not after Iraq.”
“Could she have killed your captors?”
“Certainly. Would she? I don’t think so. Do you have any more questions?”
“You didn’t check in with anyone?”
“Pru didn’t let me have any tech. I couldn’t call anyone. When she deemed I was capable enough to cope on my own, she took me to a park and gave me a phone. I called Kon. I knew he’d come.”
“I’ll always come.” Conner swore, “Any time. Any place.”
“That goes for me, too.” Bart added, “You’re ours Timmy.”
“I contacted Bart,” Conner took over, “We told Tim about you. He insisted we come straight to the police station.”
“Could you describe the men who held you?” Montoya asked.
“Here.” Tim pulled a bunch of papers out of a bag he had with him, “This is everyone I remember, with the names I overheard for them, and the identities I gave them.”
“You’ve used police identity-kits. Where did you get them?” Montoya blinked in surprise.
“My uncle works for the Keystone City Police Department.” Bart shrugged, “Tim asked me to bring some kits. He did them on the way here.”
Conner and Bart had taken over the job of bandaging Tim’s back, once the photographs were taken. Tim seeming more at ease with their hands than the doctor’s.
“Is there anything else?” Tim inquired politely.
“We may need to ask you some questions later. Please make sure you are available.” Montoya stated.
“I’ll give you my number.” Tim started scrawling on a piece of paper, “I’m going out of town to recover. I don’t think it’s a good idea to be on my own while I’m limited in mobility.”
“Where are you planning to go?”
“In country.” Tim replied quickly, “I’d rather not state any further. I know what pressures could be brought on you to locate me. This way, you can’t say what you don’t know.”
“Who are you avoiding, kid?” Allen demanded.
“The Waynes.” Tim shrugged, “Bruce always gets a little strange when he nearly loses someone. I’ll be honest, I forced my way into the family in the first place. And it hurt when they… I wouldn’t say pushed me out… But forgot me. I can’t let myself get that invested again. You know the saying: “Better to have loved and lost”?”
“Yeah.” Montoya nodded.
“I’m not sure I agree. But I’m not willing to let myself get hurt again. Bruce and Dick will try to cling to me. Jason and Damian won’t want me around. There’ll be fights. Better if I’m not around to cause the conflict in the first place.”
“Do you know where Prudence is now?”
“No. I never do. She drops in. She goes away. That’s how things work with us. I don’t even know if I’ll see her again. She might consider us even now.”
“We found a number of dead bodies in the warehouse where you were held prisoner.”
“So Kon said. I don’t know what happened. Either I was locked up or delirious. I got sepsis. I’m more prone to infections these days. Are there any other questions?”
“We’ll contact you if there are.” Montoya declared.
“I need to check you further.” The doctor put in.
“Why?” Tim frowned, “You have all the evidence they need. There is nothing left for you to gather.”
“I need to check lower.” The doctor countered, “There could be damage that you have not informed us of.”
“And why would I not inform you of it?” Tim challenged.
“Shame.” The doctor responded quickly.
Conner and Bart froze, both of them turning towards Tim in absolute horror. Both of them managing to follow the suggestion the doctor had made.
“No.” Tim shook his head, “There was no rape.”
“You cannot be certain. By your own words, you don’t remember much towards the end.”
“I would have remembered that!” Tim snapped, “And while I don’t remember faces, or words, or actions… I remember pain. I remember hands on my skin. And stone under my hands. I remember metal beneath my knees. They never went that far. And I will not allow you to investigate further, just to disprove your own theories. The worst that happened to me, was my back. And the ensuing septic shock.”
Tim started towards the door, his back stiff and straight; before pausing at the threshold.
“One last thing, detectives,” He spoke softly, “Please find out what happened to Jake. Find out who hurt him. Who stopped him from coming to me. He’s a good man. A good friend. He didn’t deserve whatever they did to him.”
“He means that much to you?”
“Jake was there for me in some pretty dark times. And he did a lot for me. If you need me, call me.”
Tim continued hobbling out the room, quickly being joined by his two friends. It was slightly amusing watching the pair of them try to offer help without actually offering help.
It was also heart-breaking, given what Montoya had seen.
“I always knew Wayne was going to ruin one of those kids one day.” Allen muttered, “I just never thought it would be like that.”
“Not just him.” Montoya agreed, “Grayson bears a good portion of the blame.”
“Did you see how he flinched when I walked in and accused him of lying?”
“Yes. He’s known violence before. That was an old flinch. That wasn’t new. He covered it too well.”
“I never thought he’d be the damaged one.” Allen sighed, “I thought he’d just be another rich kid going from rich family to rich family.”
“Well, doesn’t mean he’s not damaged. I don’t know if he can bounce back from this.”
Tim had settled himself in his office chair.
“Okay,” Kon looked at Tim, “Just how much of that was bull?”
“‘Bout fifty, fifty.” Tim shrugged, as he rustled through the papers on his desk, “Bart, can you ask Tam for a laptop for me?”
“Here.” Bart held out a laptop in a case, “She had one prepped to your specs.”
“Good.” Tim nodded, “I can set up the rest.”
“What didn’t you say?” Kon returned to the topic.
“I got out on my own.” Tim shrugged, “Pru found me passed out on a rooftop. Not the first time I’ve done that. Probably won’t be the last.”
“No… You call me next time.” Kon was firm.
“I was about to.” Tim confessed, “I just… I passed out first.”
“Not surprising.” Bart put in, “You can’t have been in a good condition. I haven’t see you that bad before…”
“This bad.” Kon confirmed, “You really got away?”
“Yeah. One of them… He wanted me to himself… I was fairly out of it, but I was aware enough to realize it was my best shot.”
“Tim…” Kon’s voice was low, “You said they didn’t…”
“And they didn’t. Doesn’t mean they didn’t talk about it. Doesn’t mean they didn’t try. But you really think I was going to let them?”
“No.” Bart sighed, “You’d fight. No matter what. And we’ll be there for you. No matter what.”
“Yeah. We’ve got your back… We don’t work without the SuperEgo.” Kon added, “But you are not going back to the Perch. Not in this condition.”
“Wasn’t planning on it.” Tim returned, “I knew you guys would never let me. So I’ve got a plan.”
“Of course you do.” Bart grinned, “You always do. Nothing to do with the Bats?”
“They don’t need me. They don’t want me.” Tim was blunt, “And until I’m capable again, it’s best I stay away. Safer. Besides I can run pretty much everything from computers, until I’m up to it. Natch.”
“Natch.” Bart agreed.
“Tim,” The door opened and Lucius Fox was standing there, “I heard you were back.”
“Tam told you.” Tim smiled, “Is there anything you need me for, Lucius?”
“No. I just wanted to check you were okay.”
“I’m as good as I can be.” Tim returned, “Is there anything on the books?”
“Nothing you need to concern yourself about.” Lucius shook his head, “Tam’s set you up with a new laptop?”
“I’ll send you all the files to update you on what’s happened. Do we need to take any security measures here?”
“Lock down the security on Padua. If necessary put a security detail on every person involved. Or even sort out hotel accommodation, so that they’re safe. They want this system bad. I want it finished as quickly as possible. Then we can get it out of here and to the DoD. Then it’s safe.”
“How long do you think it’ll take?” Lucius frowned, “It wasn’t up for testing last time I looked.”
“It wasn’t far off.” Tim shrugged, “I’ll check on the details once I’m set up.”
“That’s okay then. You focus on getting better though Tim. You’ve been looking rundown for a while. Get your rest. You need it.”
“I’ll be fine Lucius. You hold down the fort here. You need me, call.”
“I will.” Lucius stepped forward and pulled Tim into a loose hug, “Anything you need, you tell me. You’re important to me. I missed you. I was so worried about you.”
“I’m okay. Don’t worry about me, Lucius. You know I’m a survivor.”
“You always have been. That doesn’t mean I don’t worry about you. Again, you need anything you call me.”
“I will.” Tim agreed, “I’d best be going, Lucius.”
“You need to get off your feet, of course.” Lucius smiled, “Look after him, you two. I’m entrusting him into your care.”
“We understand.” Kon and Bart chorused.
“Good.” Lucius shrugged, “Take care, Tim. I’ll see you soon.”
“Got everything Tim?” Kon asked.
“Everything from here.” Tim stated, “Just need to pick up some changes of clothes, check in with my home computer and I’m set.”
Montoya and Allen were still filing the reports from the hospital visit when they heard hurried footsteps across the bullpen.
They looked up to see Grayson descending upon them.
“Where is he?!” Grayson demanded.
“Due to confidentiality,” Montoya was terse, “All I can say is that he is safe and he is where he has chosen to be.”
“He’s my brother.”
“And that is why I can tell you that he is safe.”
“He’s just a kid!”
“He’s an emancipated minor. That makes him autonomous. And before you protest that, remember that you let him become CEO of a Fortune 500 company. You never objected before.”
“But he’s hurt!”
“And he knows that. He also knows that you know that. And he’s choosing to stay away from you. I think that says a lot about the sort of relationship you have with him.”
“He’s my little brother. I love him.”
“If that’s how you treat someone you love, I’m glad you don’t love me. Piece of advice, Grayson, let him go. You’ve damaged him enough. He’s learned enough not to come crawling back for whatever scraps of affection you’re willing to toss him.”
That blow hit. Montoya watched with satisfaction as Grayson visibly flinched; his eyes showing pain, embarrassment and shame.
“He’s still my brother. I want to know where he is.”
“We don’t know.” Allen put in, “He wouldn’t tell us where he was going. Only that he’d stay in country.”
“And you let him go?! He was tortured! He was hurt!”
“He was upright and mobile.” Montoya returned, “Besides he had two friends with him. Conner and Bart.”
Some of the tension left Dick’s body. He knew that the pair wouldn’t allow any harm to come to Tim if they could help it.
“Tell me he’s safe.” Dick pleaded, “Tell me he’s alright.”
“He’s alive… He’s safe, for now. But I don’t think he’ll ever be alright. Not anymore… I don’t think he was alright even before all of this… You damaged him, Grayson. Unfortunately I don’t think you were the first to do so.”
“What are you talking about? Timmy wasn’t damaged. A little strange. Always. But he’s Timmy. He rebounds from everything.”
“Not this. Give him what he needs. Right now, he needs space. Leave him alone. Let him go, Grayson. Let him be his own person. Not whoever you think he should be.”
“Go home, Grayson.” Allen put in, “You’re done for the day. And in my opinion? You Waynes never deserved Tim. He’s given you everything and you gave him nothing. Don’t go mourning what you never appreciated.”
Dick found himself standing in shock in the middle of the bullpen. People milling around him.
“Romy,” Montoya turned to her fellow detective, “You still got that Cold Case file we were talking about the other day?”
“Think I’ve got a lead. Ties in with our case. He was the chauffeur.”
“Drake was Chen Rong? He’s not even Chinese.”
“Go figure. But he said he was good friends with Spenser.”
“Wonder if he knew about the aliases?”
Oh, like Dick was going anywhere now! He had a name and a link to Tim’s abductors. Dick moved across the bullpen and pulled himself into the shadows. He knew that anyone who saw him wouldn’t think he was trying to hide, but that it was equally unlikely that anyone would actually notice him.
“Yeah, turns out that Jacob Spenser was a doctor. PhD not MD.”
“Uh-oh.” Eyes flickered towards the looming building in the distance.
Fair was fair. Arkham Asylum had the largest concentration of PhDs in the whole of Gotham by population. They were just mostly crazy.
“No!” Romy laughed, “Nothing like that. Turns out he had multiple doctorates in Art, History and Architecture. From what the guys at the University told me, he was like five of the top ten experts in his field. First guy to be called to authenticate a new painting. But the one guy you didn’t want to call. He could just look at a painting and tell if it was a forgery. Never wrong.”
“Drake did say he was an Art fan.” Montoya snorted.
“Jacob Spenser wasn’t even his real name!” Romy snorted, “He was Jacob Stone from Oklahoma. Son of a construction worker. Took his mother’s maiden name when he left.”
“Why’d he leave?”
“Considering we found records giving him an IQ of 190… His father thought he was an idiot. With nothing to contribute but his brawn.”
“Ah…” Montoya blinked, “Drake declared that he was the reason he passed English Lit. or History.”
“Considering everything else, we were betting on the father being oblivious.”
“Genius intellect. Ignorant parents… You sure he wasn’t an Arkhemite?”
“Nah. Made enough money legitimately. And didn’t seem to have any twisted tendencies. Worst thing he ever did, as far as I can tell, was write one published paper where he only referenced papers written by his other aliases. Unless you got anything?”
“No. But he got along with Drake. Met at a Classic Car Show.”
“Go figure. Apart from that, he got in the occasional bar fight. But nothing serious. Most people described him as a touch simple with a good heart. Bit of a womaniser. Loyal to his friends. Generally reserved, didn’t give much of himself away. Few sightings of him with a younger man. Most people assumed it was his brother.”
“Most likely Drake.”
“Most likely. Problem is that most of our background work is useless for you. This case is focused on Drake.”
“But the forensics might help us. Plus we have photo ID kits to work with. Hopefully they won’t all come back to the dead bodies in the warehouse.”
“And we have an alias.” Allen put in, “Phobos. Torturer. Likes fire.”
Dick stilled. He could connect the dots. Tim had been burned. Most likely badly. They needed access to the medical file.
“Okay,” Romy nodded, “You run with that. I’ll get the files from storage. Let’s play snap. See what matches.”
Dick slipped out of the room. He had all the information that he was likely to get right then.
And he’d also left a few bugs behind. Just in case.
“He’s okay?” Jason’s whole body was filled with tension as he looked at Dick, “You saw him, right?”
He wasn’t the only one. Each of the Bats was just as tense and desperate for answers from the oldest Robin.
Even Alfred was letting some of his nerves show through his usually impeccable veneer of calm and English Stoicism.
“No.” Dick shook his head, “He had already gone when I got there. But he was with Kon and Bart. So we know he’s safe. As to okay… I don’t think so. Montoya and Allen were talking as if there was some permanent damage. Not just physical. But mental as well… I don’t know if he’s still our Timmy… Or if he will ever be again.”
“Tt. That is presuming he is still ours.” Damian pointed out, “Drake has been ostracized from this family for so long that he may not wish to return.”
That was a truth that none of them wanted to acknowledge. A possibility that none of them desired, but still had nightmares about.
“I did get a name for the man in the photographs.” Dick declared, “Jacob Stone. Although he’s been working under the name Jacob Spencer. Murdered about the time Tim got grabbed.”
“On it!” Babs announced, “I’ll get the Birds to check him out. Just in case he helped set Tim up. Although looking at the notes from the interview, Tim didn’t think so.”
“Follow that lead,” Bruce instructed, “We’ll work the case from this end. Anything useful in the notes?”
Dick knew what Bruce was fishing for… Details on exactly what had happened to Tim.
“Nothing on Tim’s condition.” Babs replied, “Just a reference to a Medical File. Most likely being kept on paper at the moment. I’ll need someone to actually retrieve it. There is one odd thing… Tim apparently made reference to a story: Sixty Million Trillion Combinations. Apparently, it was how he set an even more ridiculously long password than seventy eight letters.”
“Oh my,” Alfred’s voice was almost reverential, “I certainly never considered that to be Master Tim’s method. However, it most decidedly makes sense.”
“Alfred?” Bruce turned to his pseudo-father.
“Master Jason,” Alfred turned to the former street-rat, “The book on Master Tim’s bookshelf that contained a bookmark, was it The Banquets of the Black Widowers?”
“Yes.” Jason nodded.
“Did you perhaps peruse the story marked by the bookmark, Master Jason?” Alfred pressed.
“No.” Jason frowned, “Why?”
“I am of the belief that it would have been the aforementioned story.”
“Alfred,” Bruce interjected, “Clearly the rest of us are missing something. Could you please elaborate?”
“The Black Widowers is a series of short stories, Master Bruce,” Alfred explained, “Each being a self-contained mystery. The Sixty Million Trillion Combinations is a story where, as one of the characters puts it, the Black Widowers have to be the Wise Men of Nebuchadnezzar the Second. They have to deduce how a password was cracked, but are not told the password. The password in that situation was fourteen letters long, hence the name of the story.”
“And did they?” Steph demanded.
“Indeed they did, Miss Stephanie,” Alfred announced, “The password was an Acrostic. Taking the first letter of each line of a sonnet.”
“A sonnet being fourteen lines long.” Jason breathed, “So what poem is seventy eight letters long?”
“A Psalm.” Dick realized, “They vary in length. And the bookmark was a Psalm.”
“None of the Psalms are seventy eight lines long, Dickie-bird.” Babs replied, “However, Psalm Seventy Eight is Seventy Two lines long.”
“Then the Hebrew written beside the Psalm in the Bible,” Jason sighed, “Would be what comes first. He even referenced in on his wall! The personalised number-plate.”
“He gave us all the clues.” Dick breathed, “We just failed to put them together.”
“You mean I did.” Jason corrected, “I missed the first clue. I didn’t read the book.”
“We all knew which book had the marker in it.” Bruce pointed out, “We all could have checked out the contents. The fault does not lie with you, Jason. Laying blame does not help right now. What matters is making sure that Tim is alright. Finding the people behind it. And making sure it never happens again.”
“I don’t know where he’s gone.” Dick stated, “He wouldn’t tell the detectives.”
“We have a lead.” Babs countered, “Name: Phobos. Torturer.”
“Likes fire.” Dick’s voice was hollow.
“That’s pretty specific.” Jason pulled on his jacket, “Reckon I’ll hit the streets. Should be able to rustle some intel up.”
“Anything else?” Bruce pressed gently, easily seeing the distress of his eldest.
“Nothing I gathered.” Dick shrugged helplessly.
“I’ve got a few things.” Babs interjected, “Tim’s claiming a Prudence rescued him.”
“She is in the employ of Grandfather.” Damian stated, “I do not believe that she would rescue Drake without direction from him.”
“You might be wrong.” Steph frowned, “I’ve seen her before. Bald. Not much of a voice. She may be part of the League of Assassins, but she came to warn Tim about the threat against all of us. And she came with her guns empty. Her loyalty isn’t just to the Demon’s Head. Somewhere along the line, Tim got a portion of it… Though I don’t know why.”
“While searching for me,” Bruce spoke softly, “Tim spent a good portion of time amongst the League of Assassins.”
“Voluntarily?” Jason fell back into a chair in shock.
“Tam was a hostage to his good behaviour.” Bruce elaborated, “But I don’t know many details. Tam hasn’t explained further. It may have traumatised her.”
“I wouldn’t blame her.” Jason snorted, “That vipers nest isn’t somewhere for a civilian to be.”
“Given the information we have already collated,” Damian put in, “I am dubious that Prudence rescued Drake. He may simply be using her as an explanation for conveniences sake. Certainly the police will be unable to confirm or deny his story.”
“I’ll retrieve the medical file.” Dick declared, “Might give us an idea as to how mobile Tim was at the time of his escape.”
“I will check Drake’s home for his residency. While I doubt he will be present, there might be information as to where he has gone.”
“I’ll check his safe houses.” Steph declared, “Babs can help me find them all.”
“Keep in contact.” Bruce instructed, “You too Jason.”
“Will do.” Dick nodded.
Jason shrugged in response. Damian huffed.
It wasn’t uncommon for the Kents to find strays turning up on their doorstep. Ever since they took in a baby from the fields, it was second nature to them (in Martha’s case it had been the case even before then).
They were quite used to their son and grandson (no matter how Clark viewed it) turning up with a friend in tow needing feeding, watering or sheltering. Whether that was for a moment or a while or longer.
They would never turn anyone away.
Certainly not this time, with a far too thin boy. With large bags underneath his eyes. Crutches underneath both arms. And a look in his eyes that made Martha and Jonathan shiver, because of how haunted it was.
He didn’t need the two boys standing either side of him to persuade them to open their arms and their hearts to Tim.
They both knew that Tim was special to both Conner and Bart. He was their oldest and truest friend.
“I hate to impose on you, Mr and Mrs Kent,” Tim spoke very formally, “But I find myself in the situation where I have been advised to reside with someone for the near future. While I expect that the Titans Tower would be sufficient…”
“Nonsense!” Ma Kent interrupted, “You need help, you have it. Any friend of Conner is welcome here, at any time. And it’s Ma and Pa Kent. Or Martha and Jonathan, if you prefer. Come on in, lad. Take a load off. I’m sure you shouldn’t be putting too much weight on that leg anyway. I’ll get you something to drink. Lemonade?”
“I’d prefer apple if you have it, please. Or orange.”
“Fresh apple juice coming right up. Conner, could you tidy the guest room? Jonathan, give him a hand.”
“Sure thing, Ma.” Conner dashed away, followed by Jonathan at a slower pace.
“I’ll head out.” Bart declared, “See you guys later.” He dashed off, leaving a dust cloud in his wake.
“Now sweetheart,” Ma Kent placed a glass down in Tim’s reach, once he was settled in the living room, “Is there anyone I could or need to contact for you?”
“The only people who really care where I am know.” Tim shrugged, “Those who need to know I’m safe either already know or will know shortly. And those who might need to contact me, know how to do so.”
“What about Alfred?”
Tim froze at the name.
“I… I can’t…” He tailed off before regaining his conviction, “He has enough on his plate without me butting in. Best he looks after the Waynes. I can take care of myself.”
“You’re a Wayne too.”
“I haven’t been one for a long time. It was all just a formality, after all. They couldn’t let me keep wandering around unchecked. Not when they knew that I knew. Far too dangerous. And I filled a hole until it could be properly filled.”
“You don’t believe that.”
“Why shouldn’t I? It’s the truth after all.”
“All sorted.” Conner interrupted.
Ma Kent turned to glare at him, but Conner just shook his head. The interruption may not have been when she had wanted, but it had been best placed for Tim. Conner wasn’t going to let his best friend down again. He was looking out for his friend, first and foremost.
“Let’s get you some rest.” Conner stated, “You need sleep to heal.”
“I need to catch up on my workload.” Tim countered, “I’m behind. Fox needs me to catch up as quickly as I can.”
“Tim, sweetheart,” Ma Kent smiled, “You need to rest to heal. Mister Fox is a very intelligent man. I’m sure that if there was anything urgent, he would have informed you.”
“And he didn’t.” Conner put in, “Come on Tim. Get some sleep. Heal. Get stronger. Everything will be waiting when you get up.”
“I’ve missed a month!” Tim exclaimed.
“You could have lost the rest of your life!” Conner snapped, “Please. For my sake? I was worried about you Tim. We all were. All the Titans have been looking for you. We even braved Gotham for your sake.”
Tim visibly wilted.
“You didn’t… There was…”
“You’re my friend. My Robin. Our Robin. Our leader. Our friend.” Conner was firm, “We were worried. We were scared. We feared you were dead… Please… For our sake?”
“Okay. Okay!” Tim snapped, “But I’m fine.”
“Yeah,” Conner nodded, “Fucked up. Insecure. Neurotic. Emotional. You’re FINE alright.”
Conner continued to grumble as he helped Tim up the stairs. Martha didn’t fail to notice that although Tim was moving his legs, he was bearing only a fraction of his own weight. Conner was giving him his dignity, while not letting him suffer.
It only took a few minutes for Conner to return. A flit of his eyes indicated the kitchen, before the three of them entered it.
“Conner,” Jonathan breathed, “What happened to him?”
“I can’t betray his confidence.” Conner countered, “But this… It wasn’t on the job.”
“Then what happened?” Martha sighed.
“I can’t say.” Conner sighed, “But I would expect nightmares. Flashbacks…”
“PTSD?” Jonathan queried.
“To the extreme.” Conner agreed, “And he won’t admit anything. Because he doesn’t. I’ll come back to change his dressings. Or Bart might, I… We’re still working things out. This has… This has happened really fast. Twelve hours ago, I didn’t even know he was alive. I hoped he was… I believed he was. But I didn’t know. Then he calls me. Just my name. That’s all I needed… That’s all I’ve ever needed from him.”
The two adults exchanged glances, as Conner rubbed a hand over his tired face.
“We know you’re close, Conner.” Martha started to comfort him.
“I have to ask…” Jonathan started.
“No!” Conner exclaimed, “God, no! That would just be weird! Tim’s my best friend. He’s got my back, no matter what. He’s like a brother. I’d like him to be a brother… Is there such a thing as adult adoption? Because he needs it. Besides, I’m dating Cassie and so not going there. I don’t know what Tim’s orientation is anyway. Default says Straight… But I’m not certain. It definitely comes in the category of Complicated.”
“We wouldn’t judge.” Martha reminded.
“I know.” Conner smiled, “But I’m not. What Tim and I have got… I’m not sure it has a label. We’re closer than brothers. Same as with Bart. We’re more than just friends. It’s not the same as soldiers. I don’t know how to explain it. But it’s not the same as with others. I’m nowhere near as close to anyone else as I am with those two. Even with Cassie, we’re not as close. And she gets that… But whatever it is we have… It’s one hundred percent Platonic.”
“Okay.” Jonathan nodded, “Do we need to contact anyone about the wounded bird we have upstairs?”
“No.” Conner snapped, “The Bats have only been looking for him for a few days. The Titans? We’ve known he was missing for a month! And we were looking long before the Police got involved. He’s not… He doesn’t… He’s better off here. With people who care about him. I’d’ve taken him to the Tower, only we’d end up leaving him alone when we headed off to school each day. This was safer… I know you’ll be here. You’ll take care of him. The way he needs to be taken care of… But will never say. Because he’s not used to other people taking care of him.”
“We’ll take care of him.” Martha promised.
“And promise me,” Conner breathed, “Promise me that you won’t tell the Waynes where he is. I don’t trust them. Two out of four have tried to kill him at some point or another. And the other two… Didn’t do anything to stop it.”
“We won’t say a word to them.” Martha declared, even as Johnathan opened his mouth to protest, “We promise.”
“Thank you. I love you.”
“You haven’t said that for…” Jonathan blinked in shock.
“A long time, I know. Just… I’m glad I have you. And not someone like them. And I don’t say that enough.”
“But we know you do. And that’s enough for us.” Martha smiled, “Get going, Conner. You don’t want to miss out on your own rest or fall behind on your school work.”
“And don’t let Bart do it this time.” Jonathan reminded, “He’s good but we’d rather you failed as yourself than passed because of someone else.”
“Besides,” Martha laughed, “His handwriting is very different to yours.”
“I know, I know.” Conner snorted, “I’ll see you later. Tim’s asleep. I won’t disturb him. Don’t open his door when he’s asleep. Not even just to check on him. He sleeps light.”
“That’s to be expected.” Martha smiled, “Go. We’ll keep you updated.”
“Bye. Love you.” Conner smiled, moments before he dashed away.
The couple sat for several long moments.
“We’re really not going to tell Bruce?” Jonathan asked softly.
“We made a promise.” Martha replied.
Then she smiled.
“However, Alfred’s not a Wayne.”
“Wayne Residence. How may I assist you?” Alfred spoke crisply, hoping against all hope that he caller was the one person in the world he wanted to hear from.
“Alfred,” Martha’s warm voice reached his ears, “I just called up for a chat. And to try and steal that cookie recipe of yours.”
“You know I believe in keeping family recipes in the family, Martha.” He replied smiling slightly, despite his disappointment.
“Not even if I inform you that I have someone here who would very much appreciate them. And has been missing them for quite some time?”
“He’s safe?” Alfred breathed, “Master Tim is safe? He’s with you? How is he?”
“Safe. Hurting.” She sighed, “He doesn’t want to disrupt the family. He doesn’t count himself as family.”
“I suspected as such.” Alfred responded, “I have been remise in my duties. I have not let him know how special he is. How much I love him.”
“I thought that was the case.” She agreed, “He won’t come back. Not yet anyway. He’s still hurting.”
“Take care of him for me?”
“As if I would do otherwise. You need to tell him you love him.”
“Unfortunately, if I do so now, he will suspect it is due to his current circumstances.”
“And if you don’t he will think that you don’t care at all, Alfred… That boy needs someone. He’s hurting. And not just the physical.”
“How bad is it?”
“I don’t know… But he believes that he is a replaceable part. A stand in until something better came along. Always temporary. Never permanent.”
“Never.” Alfred’s voice was filled with anger, “He is my grandson. No matter what he may believe.”
“Then you had best find a way to prove it Alfred. All of you. You’re going to get no help from Tim’s friends. My grandson won’t let us tell the Waynes where he is.”
“However, I am not a Wayne.”
“Exactly. You kick those boys into gear. If they don’t, they’ll lose him. Forever.”
“They are aware of that fact.”
“No, they’re not. That boy just came into my home on crutches. His back is too tender to lean back in a chair, so something happened there. He’s tense. Like he expected me to just turn him away. I’ll keep him here for as long as I can. However, I doubt it will be as long as I’d like. He’s already stated that he would be just as happy at the Tower.”
“Over my dead body.” Alfred’s tone was just a shade away from lethal, “He would not get the care and attention he would require to recuperate there. He would also involve himself in cases long before it would be advisable.”
“Agreed. His two best friends are apparently going to organise all of his dressing changes.”
“Which implies that he has wounds that require dressing.” Alfred latched onto her meaning.
“I will attempt to get him to let me sort it out.”
“I would not anticipate success in that endeavour. Master Tim has always been exceedingly private in nature. He would rather suffer pain than ask for help or allow another to see him in pain, if he could prevent it.”
“He’s not come up against a determined Kent before.”
“He has faced down Conner.”
“I’m not Conner. I’ll take good care of your boy, Alfred. You just make sure he knows that he still has a home to go to when he’s ready.”
“Drake is not at his residency.” Damian reported bluntly, “I also could not locate any data regarding where he has chosen to recuperate. However, I did access his computer. There was nothing useful on the system. He has no information regarding his kidnapping.”
“Not on that system.” Babs put in, “I’ve got everything he gave the police. But I’m willing to bet half of it was baloney. No way Tim just waited. He’s too smart for that. He knows more than he’s told them. He just hasn’t told anyone else yet.”
“Anything from his friend?” Bruce pressed.
“Nothing useful.” Babs shrugged, “The Birds took his place apart. He knew nothing about our Night Work. But he was a good friend to Tim. They’ve known each other for a while; it looks like Tim’s been restoring cars and selling them through Jake’s company. Reckon it was a hobby.”
“Tim always has liked figuring out how things work.” Dick muttered, “Equipment, cars… People.”
“You get the medical report?” Bruce looked at Dick.
“Yeah.” Dick held up a camera, “I didn’t really look at it, but what I did see… Well, it’s not the worst I’ve ever seen, but…”
“It’s Tim.” Steph countered, “All his safe houses are empty… How bad is it?”
“I don’t know. Give me some time to upload these. Then we can take a better look.”
“The case files for Jacob Spencer are of little use.” Bruce redirected the conversation, “Stabbed. Some defensive wounds. He knew what was coming. He just couldn’t stop it.”
“According to the Birds,” Babs put in, “Jacob was a fighter. Bar room brawler. But he didn’t consider himself an amateur. He was a smart guy. Really smart. Just never showed it to anyone… Except, maybe Tim. There were a few signs in the place that Tim knew just how smart Jacob was. I can’t track when they first met, but looking at things they’ve known each other since before Jack died… May be even back when Tim was retired.”
“Drake has worked hard at keeping Spencer private.” Damian remarked, “My mother has extensive files on all of us. There was no mention of Spencer in any of them.”
“Sometimes,” Bruce sighed, “We all need a place to go. Somewhere safe. Somewhere where we can just be ourselves. Clark has the Fortress. I have always tried to make this our safe place. With varying degrees of success.”
Each of them nodded. Even Dick had to acknowledge that there had been times when the Manor had not been his first port in a storm. Had not been his refuge from the world.
“I had always believed that Tim’s safe place was his home.” Bruce spoke softly, “That despite the emptiness of his house, it was home, because it was filled with happy memories. It seems that I was blinded by Tim’s family status.”
“You mean the fact that he weren’t an orphan.” Jason drawled.
“Precisely,” Bruce agreed, “I believed that any family was better than no family at all.”
“You should have learned from me.” Jason retorted, “Mine sold me to Joker.”
“I didn’t know that.” Bruce admitted, “I had always believed she was tricked.”
“No. She sold me.”
“I am sorry.” Bruce murmured, “No one deserves that… And no one deserves what Tim got.”
“You went back and looked.” Dick sighed, “What did we miss?”
“A lot.” Bruce stated, “Jack wasn’t typically violent. But… He was definitely negligent. And borderline abusive. All those little things? Things we thought were just a bad day or one-offs? Those were the days he slipped enough for other people to notice.”
“Which one?” Jason frowned, “Tim or Jack?”
“Both or either.” Bruce declared, “It’s all there in black and white. Just nobody ever looked.”
“Nobody ever does.” Jason sighed, “Not until they have to.”
“Going back to the topic,” Babs redirected the conversation, “I doubt Tim had that as his safe place… Jacob knew nothing about us. Nothing about Tim’s Night Job. So Tim couldn’t use it as his harbour…”
“Because Jacob didn’t know everything.” Dick realized, “Okay. Well, that just makes me wonder where is his safe place. But we’ll figure that out at some other point.”
“None of his other Safe Houses are inhabited.” Steph put in, “But I wasn’t expecting anything.”
“Jason?” Bruce turned to face him, “Did you find anything?”
“Phobos is a rumour on the streets.” Jason sighed, “Everyone agrees he exists. The name and the MO were distinctive enough to point me in a direction. I’ll need to run down a few more leads to see if I can locate him. What I did find out… Not brilliant.”
“Details.” Bruce demanded.
“He’s an Out-of-Towner.” Jason reported, “Some say New York. Others say New Jersey. He scares quite a few people. But for all that fear… The usual henchmen… They reckon he’s thick. Dumber than dirt. That he won’t last long.”
“He thinks we’re myths. Legends. Fairy-tales. Or if we do exist, our reputation is vastly exaggerated.”
“He is not scared.” Damian stated, “We will teach him to be scared.”
“The problems we’ve got is that no-one knows his real name,” Jason started tick off on his fingers, “No-one knows what he looks like. No-one knows who he works for. But they all agree on one thing… He has a boss.”
“And they’re even more scared of his boss.” Dick sighed, “Makes sense.”
“I do not follow.” Damian frowned.
“What kind of person can keep a monster in line?” Steph explained quickly, “Do we have anything on his boss?”
“New to the circuit.” Jason stated, “Ambitious. No name yet, but I’ve got people looking. Word is that he’s trying to establish himself. Deliberately recruited Phobos, because he’s not from Gotham. No old ties to other Gothamites. Don’t know what his gig is. But everyone agrees that he’s focused… Not even sure it’s a He.”
“Basic mystery.” Dick was over by the computer downloading the pictures, “Anything else?”
“Has money. Don’t know how much. But certainly more than he would if he was starting out from nothing. Either he’s done some work before, or he has another source of financing. Came onto the scene about six months back. Been working quietly to establish a base on which to build.”
“Managed to stay off our radar.” Bruce acknowledged.
“More by luck than judgement,” Babs countered, “We’ve had a string of high priority cases. Arkham has had more than a few escapees in the time. Jay, you manage to link this boss to any particular crimes? Something that I can start working on?”
“Nothing.” Jason shook his head, “Rumours and whispers at the moment. I might manage to get more over the next few days. I’ve put feelers out. Some of my CIs should get back to me fairly quickly. Even if all they know is nothing, it’ll allow me to eliminate sectors.”
“Pass everything you get on to me.” Babs instructed, “It’ll allow me to follow leads. At the moment I’ve got all the crime in Gotham to correlate to narrow down this Boss.”
“Sure thing, Babs.”
“Oh God,” Dick’s voice was no more than a whisper, “Oh God.”
Everyone turned to look at him.
Dick was ashen, one hand over his mouth, his cheeks bloated behind the hand; his eyes wide and watery. Unshed tears held back by sheer force of will. His throat was desperately swallowing.
“What is it, Dick?” Bruce moved to his oldest son’s side; his arms going to brace the younger man’s shoulders.
Dick waved a hand at the screen, even as he moved to throw up in the nearby bin.
“He might have to retire from the field.” Dick whispered, “His leg is so badly injured… The physio is going to be long… I don’t know if he’s going to bounce back from this. And that’s just one injury… Then there’s… His… His… Oh, God!”
“Don’t you dare count Tim out!” Babs snapped, “The Field is not the be all and end all. He is still alive. That’s the important thing. Everything else is secondary. Besides, he survived the Clench. I wouldn’t put anything past Tim… Ever!”
“May be this time he won’t manage it…” Dick tailed off, “You look at what I’m looking at… The burn… Oh God. They… They branded him.”
Bruce reached past Dick and closed the screen.
“Everyone upstairs.” He instructed, “Babs link to the kitchen. We need to discuss this as a family.”
“You read it?” Dick asked, “You need to read it…”
“I will.” Bruce promised, “But if it can reduce you to this… Then I need to…”
“You need to read it first.” Jason muttered, “Damn controlling…”
“I will not lie about the injuries.” Bruce was blunt, “But there is no need for everyone to see the pictures… I still keep logs of injuries. I just keep the pictures of them secured.”
“And then you use them to drive yourself deeper into depression when you’re in a fowl mood.” Babs sighed, “My back was never your fault. It had nothing to do with you. It had nothing to do with your choices.”
“But this is.” Bruce countered.
“No.” Steph shook her head, “It’s on all of us. Any one of us could have realized. Just none of us did.”
“Kitchen.” Bruce repeated, “Not down here… This isn’t a discussion for down here. We need Alfred cookies for this.”
Bruce settled himself in one of the kitchen chairs, as he quickly read through Tim’s medical report. Around him the rest of his family, minus one, bustled as they settled themselves. Alfred was pouring rounds of hot chocolate, even as Dick flinched a cookie from the cooling rack, instead of the plate on the table.
“Alfred,” Dick frowned, “Why are you making Timmy Cookies?”
“Timmy cookies?” Jason blinked, “These are Alfred cookies.”
“No.” Dick shook his head, “They are Alfred’s Timmy Cookies. Dick Cookies are Triple Chocolate Chip. Jaybird Cookies are Mint Chocolate Chip. B Cookies are Vanilla Chocolate Chip. Steph Cookies are Caramel Chocolate Chip. Dami Cookies are Pistachio Chocolate Chip. Babs Cookies are Chocolate Fudge. Cass Cookies are Peanut Butter. Timmy Cookies are Brown Sugar Blueberry. These are Timmy Cookies. Where’s Timmy, Alfred? You wouldn’t cook these if you didn’t know.”
“I have been reliably, if circumspectly, informed that Master Tim is currently residing in Smallville.” Alfred caved, when all sets of eyes were trained upon him, “Mrs Kent, additionally, informed me that Master Tim has no desire to contact any of us. He believes we do not care for him and she was instructed not to communicate with any Wayne.”
“Then why did she tell you?” Jason frowned.
“I am a Pennyworth.” Alfred reminded, “I am part of this family. However, I am not a Wayne.”
“Tt.” Damian sniffed, “Loophole.”
“I’ll take it.” Steph grinned, “Least we know where to fetch Timmy from.”
“No.” Bruce interrupted.
“What?!” Everyone exclaimed.
“We have to!” Dick protested, “It’s Timmy! He’s hurt!”
“And if we take him from where he feels safe right now, we’ll only do more harm.” Bruce countered, “Besides, no one knows where he is. He’s safe there. We can use the time to find Phobos and his boss. Take them down and deal with everything. We go after Tim now, he’ll think we just feel guilty. Tim never accepts words. He’ll never accept what he deems to empty words and empty actions. A show. We try approaching him now… He’ll never believe.”
“And if we do nothing?” Dick challenged, “He’ll believe we don’t care. That we never cared!”
“We do. We always will.” Bruce countered, “But we can’t force anything. Right now, Tim’s hurting. Badly. And it’s not just the physical. The emotional and mental will be just as bad, if not worse. We need to give him space. Space to sort himself out.”
“But we need to show him that he is important to us!” Dick argued.
“Now is not the right time.” Bruce chided, “He’ll believe it is guilt. Find another way, Dick. We need him to understand that he is wanted and needed and loved and cared for. But if we try to pressure him now, it won’t help our case. We’re going to have to be very careful… And Dick? It’s going to be the hardest for you.”
“What? Why?” Dick stared.
“Because you’re the one he trusted the most.” Jason sighed, “You’re the one who betrayed him the most. Once bitten, twice shy. He won’t let you close for a long time.”
“I’m just as bad.” Steph muttered, “He still hasn’t really forgiven me for the whole faking my death thing. We’re still… Rocky.”
“Don’t look at me,” Babs put in, “I love the kid and all, but… Well, I sent some of the Birds looking for him just after we all thought he was crazy and he knows I normally take Steph’s side.”
“Ironically Jason and Damian may find it the easiest to bring Tim closer to us.” Bruce returned.
“There’s always Cass.” Dick suggested, “She hasn’t hurt Tim. Not that I’m aware of. Not without a damn good reason.”
Both Bruce and Alfred nodded at his words. Mind manipulation was always catalogued as a good reason in their books.
“Tt.” Damian snorted, “She is not good with words.”
“And that’s probably why Tim might still trust her.” Bruce agreed, “She relies upon actions. And Tim trusts actions over words. They always were a good pairing. Good partners.”
“Then why isn’t she here?” Jason frowned.
“She said that she would check China.” Dick stated, “Apparently there’s a gang there that Tim’s dealt with in the past. She thought they might have targeted him.”
“She went after them.” Steph nodded, “Good call. She could have been right.”
“How do we fix this?” Dick asked, “How can we prove to Tim that we’re serious?”
“We find the people who hurt him.” Bruce stated, “We find out why. We find out everything. And we give Tim proof that we care about him. Things that aren’t just a show for other people to see. Personal things. Think long and hard. Find something that means something to him. The important thing is to give Tim time to heal.”
“But make sure Tim knows that we still care about him.” Steph countered.
“Give him time.” Bruce reiterated, “Tim needs time to heal.”
“We give him too much time and he’ll pull his mask back on.” Dick reminded, “Then we’ll never manage to convince him.”
“It’s a balancing act.” Bruce agreed, “But right now he doesn’t need the stress. We’ll only do more harm.”
“What are his injuries?” Jason frowned, “The way you’re acting… This is bad.”
“Dick’s right,” Bruce breathed, “These could potentially mean his retirement from the field. But they didn’t just injure him. They set out to humiliate him and psychologically wound him. I doubt they meant to, at first. But he’s stubborn. Runs in the family. So they tried to break him. Scarification was attempted. Whether it takes is another thing entirely. Tim denied he was raped.”
“But you suspect.” Dick whispered.
“I do not believe this is a topic for the kitchen table.” Alfred reprimanded.
“Alfred, we need to know.” Jason countered, “Tim’s gonna have all kinds of traps in his head after that. I know I did. Still do.”
“So we watch out for his back,” Dick remarked, “Don’t focus on his scars.”
“You’re not going to see them.” Bruce corrected, “They focused on his back. He might be touchy about names. Ours particularly.”
“Why?” Damian frowned, “That makes little sense, father. Names have never been particularly important to Drake in the past.”
“Be very careful if you call him that.” Bruce reprimanded slightly, “It looks like they made a big thing about the fact that he wasn’t a Wayne.”
“He is.” Dick snapped back, “He is.”
“Not in their eyes.” Bruce replied, “And possibly not in his. We’re going to have to be very careful.”
“What did they do?” Jason asked bluntly, “No beating around the bush, B.”
“Starved him. Drowned him. Broke his leg. Let it heal wrong. They had to rebreak it to fix it. Whipped him. Burned him. Branded him… With our name. Then they carved our names into his back. Even included Titus… But forgot Alfred.”
“Then we are dealing with ignorant thugs, Master Bruce.” Alfred was indignant, “They do not count me as a part of this family. Ranking the hound as higher in status than myself.”
“And they put Tim at a similar level.” Steph breathed, “God, that’s not going to be good. Tim’s not got great self-esteem at the best of time.”
“Are you blind Brown?” Damian snapped, “Drake has power, influence, wealth. Why would he have poor self-esteem?”
“Because of everything he perceives he lacks,” Jason sighed, “Even as a kid I knew my mother loved me. I doubt Timmy even got that.”
“He never fit in at school.” Dick agreed, “Always too smart. Always on the outskirts of anything. He’s intellectually superior, but socially…? Well, Jason’s better at making friends.”
“He always has been a bit clumsy about it.” Steph put in, “He was worse when I first met him. Robin was where most of his social confidence came from.”
“But how do we tell him that we love him, when he doesn’t really understand?” Dick asked.
“We’ll just have to find a way.” Bruce shrugged, “There’s always a way.”
Martha had to give Tim credit. Despite his casted leg, the stairs were no obstacle to him. He also had a focus like no-one else she’d ever met… Well, except for the boy’s father.
“Lucius,” Tim smiled, “I think we’re over extending in that area. Is there any way to pull back temporarily? Wait until the revenue stream is more established?”
“I agree. We don’t want to poison the market for future ventures. I’ll sort it out for you.”
“Anything else I need to be aware of?”
“Damian turned up yesterday to work.”
“He’s still doing that? What section is he working now?”
“Catering. They had him working the canteen on the fifth floor. Bussing tables and such like, seeing as how he’s not got the Food and Hygiene Qualifications.”
“Okay. Looks like he took my advice seriously. Working from the bottom up. How’s it going down with the employees?”
“As you expected, they were a little nervous and cautious at first. But word’s getting around. They’re starting to trust him a little more. They’re starting to like him. This recent escapade, has certainly cracked his idea that he’s perfect. So he’s really starting to show some humility. Real humility. Not the fake stuff he’s been using up till now.”
“What did he do?” Tim sighed.
“Flooded the kitchen using the Hobart.” Lucius laughed, “Because he didn’t listen to instructions. They made him clean it all up. Which he did without complaining. Your plan is working.”
“Which one?” Tim smiled, “The one designed to turn Damian into a functional human being or the one designed to make sure that every employee loves him?”
“You’re doing well, Tim. The footage of the canteen is hilarious though. More than one Board Member is chuckling away. They don’t deem Damian a threat.”
“How did that get out?” Tim frowned, “I didn’t want Damian to be embarrassed, Lucius. Find out who released the footage and I want them reprimanded.”
“On it. But it has helped Damian’s image.”
“I know it will be.” Tim agreed, “But I’d rather it was word of mouth. Besides I was planning on releasing something like that myself at the right time. Find out which Board Members find it funny. I want to know who I need to target first.”
“I’ll rank them by reaction.” Lucius declared, “There’s a few moving onto Damian’s side. I know you don’t like the fact that the footage got out, Tim, but it was a good thing.”
“But it was uncontrolled.” Tim countered, “Besides when Damian finds out… It’ll break what little trust he has towards me. If I’ve taken steps… If I’ve been trying to control the fall-out… It might not destroy it completely.”
“You’re doing a great job, Tim.”
“No.” Tim shook his head, “I’m adequate. I just need to keep everything under control. I’ll set up Damian’s kingdom so that it’s ready for him. But I need time. Six or seven years to get it all perfect.”
“I know.” Lucius agreed, “I’ve seen the plans. I know what you’re doing. And I’m behind you one thousand percent, if this is what you want to do. You know my opinion with regards to it. But I’ll support you in the direction you want to go.”
“This is the way things have to be, Lucius. I won’t make the same mistake twice. Is there anything else?”
“No, Tim. Just… Just think about it. Okay? My opinion. You have options.”
“No. I do not. I’ll check in tomorrow. Speak to you then.”
“Get well soon, Tim.”
The connection was cut.
“You really do care for him,” Martha smiled as she placed a glass of apple juice and a plate of cookies next to him, “You’re a good brother.”
“No,” Tim shook his head, “I’m just Damian’s Regent.”
“You care.” Martha chided, “I know a brother when I see one.”
“Can you be a brother if only one part of the pair sees the other that way?”
“Then yes, I’m a brother. But it’s safer if I don’t think that way. Then I won’t slip up when I talk with them.”
Martha noticed the use of the plural. This was more than just about Damian.
“Why not let things slip? It would get your feelings out.”
“When one has a weak point, you do not point it out so that someone can stab you in it.”
“And why would they stab you? Surely they would protect it for you.”
“That’s never my luck. Love is something I give. Not something I get.”
“That’s not true.”
“If my own mother and father could not love me, how can I expect anyone else to?”
“They did love you.”
“You never even knew them.” Tim countered, “I like to think that my father was fond of me. And that my mother liked me. But I don’t know if they actually did. Or if it was all simply a show for other people to see. It certainly wasn’t for my benefit. Because very little of their care went on behind closed doors.”
“If they didn’t love you, they wouldn’t have had you.”
“There is a certain level of Class, Breeding and Wealth where women are deemed to be little more than Breed Stock or Chattel. My mother was of that Class, Breeding and Wealth. However, she was also intelligent enough to realize it. She knew that she would be subject to my grandfather’s reign until she married. If he died first, she would be expected to obey her younger brother in all things. So she decided to get married. Her criteria for a husband was one that was Wealthy enough and of good enough Class to satisfy her father; Wealthy enough to ensure that she could live the life she desired; weak-willed enough so that she could control him, rather than the other way around; and a man she could come to care for given enough time.”
“That explains her marriage, but you. She loved you.”
“I’m not entirely certain that my mother knew how to love. I said women are viewed as Breeding Stock. As long as she had not produced a male heir for my father, she would be subject to condemnation and gossip. She had me to complete her duty. Then she would be free to do as she liked, without anyone looking down on her for her choices. All she had to do was attend a few Charity events, Galas and such like; build a few schools and hospitals and dig a few wells in the countries she visited and no-one so much as made a peep about her lifestyle choices. I was a strategic decision. My life for her freedom.”
“That’s not true.”
“She told me so. I think I was three at the time. Certainly it was before the Circus. My mother never loved me. I was simply a piece on a chess board. The more I impressed other people the higher her social standing was and the more she could get away with. The more she could get away with the less time she spent in Gotham. The less time she spent in Gotham the happier she was. The happier she was the more I felt that I was being a good son. And the more I felt I was being a good son, the closer I believed she would be to actually start loving me.”
“And your father?”
“I think he cared in his own way, but I was never the son he wanted. He wanted a sporty, athletic, outgoing son. A jock. What he got was a geek and a nerd. He didn’t know how to love me. I was so far away from what he expected that he didn’t know how to love me. I guess I was always broken.”
“You are not broken!” Martha snapped immediately, “That they didn’t let you know that they loved you, is on them not you.”
“It’s not that they didn’t let me know, it’s that they didn’t.”
“No parent cannot love their child.”
“Mine managed. Don’t fret about it. It is simply the way things are. I don’t think my grandfather really loved my mother either. Love isn’t a common commodity at a certain level.”
“This is unlike you.” Martha frowned, “According to Conner you are a very private person.”
“I am.” Tim nodded, “But you raised an Investigative Reporter. I’d be foolish to assume that curiosity was developed purely on his own. You’re a true Yenta. You want everyone to be Perfect and Happy and Shiny… Well, I’m not. I’m not Perfect. I’m Broken. But I’ve learned how to live with my broken pieces. I’m Happy the way I am. Don’t try and fix this. This is how things are. And how things will continue to be. This is my life. Let me live it the way I want.”
“But it could be so much better.”
“And it could be so much worse. Don’t interfere. I’m here because Kon and Bart both think I need someone nearby. But I’d be just as happy on my own. I’m here for their sakes. Not mine. And if you try to interfere again, I’ll leave.”
“I haven’t interfered.” She tried to argue.
“These are Alfred’s cookies.” Tim held one up, “I know them. I know them very well. He doesn’t give the recipe out. I barely got him to agree to leave me the recipe in his will. He made these and sent them here. You told him I was here. Kon forgot to include Alfred in his embargo. Who ran them over? Clark?”
“Wally.” She admitted.
“Hmm.” He blinked in surprise, “Dick must have called in a favour. Leave things be, Mrs Kent. I’m not something you can fix.”
She turned and went to leave the room, still reeling from everything Tim had said.
“You don’t need fixing,” She murmured pausing in the doorway, “You’re not broken.”
“Yes, I am.” He whispered back, just as quietly, “I always have been.”
“He thinks I’m a busybody.” She muttered to Jon as they lay in bed that night.
“He’s sort of right.” Jon shrugged, “What? Martha! You know it’s the truth. You always have been. You want to fix the world. It’s part of what attracted me to you. You’re a good person. You want to make things better for everyone.”
“And that’s wrong?”
“No! But sometimes people don’t want help. You know that the first step is accepting you have a problem.”
“He knows that it isn’t normal. He just thinks that he’s broken. He just doesn’t want any help.”
“You can’t force someone to let you help… Do you remember Rebecca? When she was dating that jerk Steve?”
“Yeah. I told her he was bad news. I still can’t believe she stayed with him so long, before she realized that he wasn’t good for her.”
“She stayed, because everyone was telling her to leave him.”
“What? That makes no sense.”
“She wanted to prove everyone wrong. She always was stubborn. She stuck it out, partly to prove everyone wrong. And partly because she didn’t want people telling her that they told her so. She didn’t want help. But everyone was trying to force her to get it.”
“And I was one of the most pushy about it. I didn’t realize…”
“You never do. You always want to protect people, even from themselves. It makes you a little blind to their desires. You’re like a Fairy Godmother, trying to give everyone what you think they need. What you think they want. And you’re usually right.”
“But sometimes I’m wrong?”
“Sometimes. What you need to do is give a person what they know they need. Ask if they need help. And just be there if they say they don’t and you can see that they really, really do.”
“What do we do now?”
“We give Tim space. He came here for sanctuary. Whether or not that’s how he thinks of it, that’s what this place it. What it has always been. A place for people to recuperate and rediscover who they really are. We love that boy and we care for him. But we don’t force him to do anything he does not wish to do.”
“And when Alfred asks?”
“We tell him that Tim is safe and that we are respecting his privacy. When Tim leaves we tell him that. This is their problem Martha. If we interfere in the fixing of it, Tim will always be wondering if it got fixed because they wanted to fix it, or because we made them fix it. Any interference only lessens the worth.”
“It’s not fair. It’s not fair, Jon. That boy has a heart big enough for the entire world. I can see it. But he’s hurting. And you’re telling me I can’t help?”
“I’m saying that it’s not our help that he needs. And you know it’d be both of us. You lead, I follow. Remember?”
“I remember. I just…”
“You want to fix the world. You always have. You gave that part of yourself to Clark. Even when he was just a kid. And I love you for it. But you can’t fix this. You shouldn’t even try. They need to fix it.”
“Otherwise it won’t be fixed. I just…”
“You hurt for him. I know. I do too. But he’s tough. And they’re not stupid. Bruce and his boys? They’ll figure this out. You just have to have faith… Prayers wouldn’t hurt though.”
“Welcome back Cass.” Dick pulled her into a hug, as she entered the Cave.
“You sad.” Cass stated, “Guilty. Scared.”
“And you’re not much better.” Dick remarked, “Your vocabulary is suffering.”
“Tim is…” Cass frowned for a moment, “Special. Little Brother.”
“You thought you had a lead?” Jason remarked, “Can it help?”
“No. Torture… Not them.”
“Who?” Damian put in, “They might still be involved.”
“Daughters of Acheron.” Cass managed carefully.
“I’ve not heard of them.” Dick frowned.
“I think I have.” Bruce turned to the computer, “Here. Small report from Tim. Mentions that the Daughters of Acheron captured him in Paris. Cass rescued him.”
“Was part of plan.” Cass nodded, “I killed him.”
“What?!” Multiple voices screeched.
“Part of plan.” Cass sniggered, “Assassin competition. Final level. Blood unlocked entrance. Faked. Tim smart. My turn. He killed me before.”
“Tim never mentioned that part of the plan.” Bruce was scrolling through the report, “I presumed the Daughters wanted to win as well.”
“Winning not first goal.” Cass’ eyes flicked away from everyone, “Daughters not nice.”
Dick noticed her body language. It was practically screaming. Something was very wrong. Cass was holding something back. She was keeping a secret. Something to do with Tim.
“Cass,” He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, “What aren’t you telling us?”
She tried to turn away from him, but Dick held fast. Everyone knew that if she wanted to get free she could easily do so. But she wanted his comfort.
He ushered her to a chair, but she refused to sit.
“Up.” She managed to get out.
Dick easily translated and let her get changed, so that they could all retreat upstairs. Cass chose the small sitting room, where Dick preferred to relax as it had more of a family feel than some of the other rooms.
“What was Tim keeping from us?” Bruce asked gently.
“Daughters wanted Damian.”
“Tt.” Damian sniffed, “That would be an inefficient way of capturing me.”
“No.” Cass shook her head, “Daughters not want you. Daughters want a Damian. Not our Damian.”
There was a long pause as everyone tried to think around Cassandra’s words.
“No.” Bruce breathed, “No, Cassandra. Tell me that’s not true. Not Timmy.”
“What?” Damian frowned, “I do not… I do not understand.”
“God, no.” Dick froze, “Please, Cass… Tim wouldn’t.”
“Daughters take. Daughters not ask.”
“How far did they get?” Jason put in, calmer than the rest; although Damian was still confused, “We need to know.”
“He was dressed. She was not. He joke. How we got Damian. No clothes off him.”
“That’s good.” Bruce sighed in relief, “That’s good. God, what have I come to? That I’m considering it a blessing that my son was almost raped?”
“Key word there being almost.” Dick retorted, “I’m not trying to diminish what happened, B. But at least he doesn’t have that burden. I wouldn’t want that.”
“Sometimes the near misses are just as bad as the actual hits.” Jason pointed out, “Look I’m not disputing that it’s a good thing that he wasn’t actually raped. But it’s not a good thing that they got as close as they did. No offence Cass.”
“I think it might do us some good to do some research on PTSD.” Alfred put in, “Help us to understand what we could be dealing with.”
“That’s a good idea.” Bruce agreed, “Some research would help us.”
“Fuck that!” Jason snapped, “Timmy needs people there for him. If you want him to be part of this family, we need to go and be there for him! You heard that recording from his office, same as I did. He’ll be having flashbacks and nightmares. Even if it was only nearly. Even if it never actually happened… It’s still there. Inside his head. And it’ll only get worse the longer he’s alone.”
“He’s not alone.” Dick argued.
“Yes, he fucking is! Ma and Pa Kent are great people and all. But they’re not his fucking family! I’m not even sure that we are! But we’re the closest thing he’s fucking got! He needs us right now. Kidnap? I know he could deal with. For fucks sake, I’ve messed with him before now. And that’s messed with his head… But I’d wager he’d rather I was there than no-one was! Because what he’s gone through… Torture? He’d handle that like a fucking boss! No shit there. I had him beat. Had his blood on my hands and he knew he was going to lose. He had no more fucking cards to play. But when I asked him if he thought he was good enough… He said yes. That’s what I’ve never told him. That little word… That’s why I didn’t kill him. God, I went there to kill him. I went there to fucking beat him into paste. Had it all set out. All planned. But when it came down to it… I couldn’t kill him, because he… He reminded me of me. All fire. All fury. Determination. Guts. I couldn’t kill him. Not like that. Not while he wasn’t able to fight back. It made me too much like the Joker… Like the Joker when he was killing me… I didn’t want to feel like that again. But he needs someone. Someone who understands. Ma and Pa Kent are good and all… But they’ve never dealt with the darkness the way we have.”
“Give him space.” Steph fired back, “Tim knows what he needs. If he needs us, he’ll say.”
“No. He will not.” Damian shook his head, “Drake does not believe he has any right to ask anything of us on a personal level. I am doubtful that he would ask for assistance on a professional basis, unless there was no other option available. He will endure through this on his own. He will not burden another with his pains. That is not his way.”
“You can’t know that.” Steph argued.
“He right.” Cass put in.
“Consider the evidence,” Damian retorted, “Drake gave each of us one chance. He went looking for Father, when we all believed he was dead. Each of us told him that he was wrong. Not one of us believed him. He was alone.”
“No.” Bruce shook his head, “From what I’ve managed to piece together there was one person who believed him… Ra’s Al Ghul.”
“Oh God.” Dick muttered, “That’s why he was there. I basically drove him into Ra’s arms.”
“Explains.” Cass nodded, “Ra’s likes Tim.”
“What do you know?” Jason frowned.
“Daughters. Leader. Half Sister Ra’s.” Cass replied, “She wanted child.”
“He was nearly raped by Ra’s Al Ghul’s sister?!” Dick gulped.
“Half.” Cass countered.
“Grandfather would not ever acknowledge such a woman as his sister,” Damian declared, “Half blood would make her unworthy. She may be of his father’s blood, but she is not his legitimate offspring. Therefore, she would not be deemed suitable to continue the line further. Certainly, she would not be deemed suitable to associate with myself, a true child of line. Although, she might have been permitted to serve as a maid or a nurse. Grandfather takes his debts seriously, a child of his father, even illegitimate would be offered a way to provide for themselves, unless they acted against the legitimate line.”
“Proud.” Cass pointed out, “She proud. Not bow head. Sensed… Getting one better. Better than Ra’s.”
“We’ll look into that.” Bruce nodded, “I want to know exactly what Ra’s wants with my sons. He seems to have taken an unhealthy interest in Tim.”
“I could investigate, Father.”
“No.” Bruce cut that suggestion off, “I don’t want you anywhere near them. I don’t trust them with you. I will never trust them with you. They were willing to sacrifice you to Ra’s insanity. I won’t risk you. I won’t risk any of you.”
“It might be too late for Tim.” Dick muttered, “I know that Tim has fought Ra’s. Sword to Bo. I won’t say Tim won… But he certainly didn’t lose.”
“He was kicked out of the window.” Damian was dismissive.
“The fight was on more than one level, little D.” Dick returned, “Tim had everything else covered. Ra’s never meant to kick him out the window. It was anger that drove him to that. Anger that Tim had out thought him.”
“Which puts him at risk.” Bruce nodded, “So I need to know how much risk there is.”
“And you want to do that before we reassure Timmy that we still care?” Jason challenged.
“Ra’s won’t risk angering Superman.” Bruce reminded, “He’d risk going after Tim, if he was pretty much anywhere else. But in Clark’s home? No, he won’t touch Tim. He knows how protective Clark is about his parents.”
“That still doesn’t solve the problem.” Jason snapped, “Timmy needs to know we care.”
“Right now, he’s asking for space.” Bruce countered, “We need to respect that.”
“Fuck this shit!” Jason snarled, even as he stormed out the room, “If you don’t want him back, B, just say. Don’t do this half and half shit! Let him go! Or keep him! Don’t keep him dangling. He doesn’t deserve that. No-one deserves that.”
“He is right, Father.” Damian fixed Bruce with an unwavering stare, “You need to make your intentions clear.”
Then Damian turned and marched out the room.
“You hurt him. I’ll hurt you.” Steph declared, “I may have hurt him before… But you have the potential to destroy him. I won’t let you do that.”
She followed the others.
“Tim. Brother.” Cass made her feelings clear, “Love. Family. Protect.”
She darted forward touching both Bruce’s forehead and chest, giving Bruce a firm gaze, before darting after Steph.
“You have a careful balancing act to perform here, Master Bruce.” Alfred’s voice was only a shade or two away from a reprimand, “I would recommend that you not fail.”
Alfred then smartly left the room.
“You know,” Dick’s tone was slightly shell-shocked, “If I didn’t know what was going on, I’d think you were receiving Shovel Talks.”
“Shovel talks?” Bruce frowned.
“A-and you don’t know what those are.” Dick sighed, “Let’s just put it this way. That sounded way more like you’re dating Tim than being his dad… But I do have to agree with them. I’m not losing Tim.”
“Would it help you to know that I have a plan?”
“Depends upon the plan.”
“First we get intel. Then we move from there. I have no intentions of losing Tim, Dick. I love him just as much as the rest of you. It’s just that he’s the good son…”
“He’s the one we’ve never really had to worry about.” Dick muttered, “Damn it! When did I stop watching out for him?”
“It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. The sticking out nail that gets hammered in… Tim… Doesn’t. Never has. I don’t think he knows how to.”
“Oh, he knows.” Dick laughed bitterly, “Just every time he has… We haven’t given him the time he needs. We haven’t been there for him. He’s learned that he isn’t important enough. That he’s just a stand in. Just a patch job, until a full repair can take place… We taught him that. We didn’t mean to. But we did.”
“Once we have the intel we need, we can teach him the truth.” Bruce reminded, “We just need intel. So, we know how bad things are.”
“So, what’s the plan, B? It doesn’t matter what questions Alfred asks Ma Kent. Tim keeps his secrets close to his heart. He won’t tell her about nightmares or flashbacks. About triggers or pain. Anything useful he’ll keep tucked away.”
“That’s why we’re not going to rely on gossip… Dick, you need to leave the room.”
“Because what I’m about to do is underhanded, devious, and likely to really, really upset both Alfred and Tim, if they find out. Better you don’t know, so that I’m the only one in trouble then.”
“I don’t think I want to know.” Dick threw his hands up, “But you promise you’ll share the data? Help put together a plan?”
“Of course. Go and calm the others down. I’ve got this… I swear to you, Dick. I’ve got this. I’ll get the intel we need. Then we can plan with calm heads and all the information we need… You know as well as I do, that we can say all the words we like. Tim only believes actions. It is our actions not our intentions that he will judge us by.”
“Agreed. And understood. Just don’t take too long. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to hold Jason back.”
Bruce waited until Dick had closed the door behind him, before he moved. He retreated to his office, careful not to bump into anyone else. Sitting behind his desk, he picked up the phone and quickly dialled a number from memory.
There was a moment of ringing, then the phone was answered.
“Bruce?” Clark’s voice shook slightly, “I take it there’s news?”
“He’s alive.” Bruce ran a weary hand over his face, “He’s alive…”
“Be right there!”
Bruce barely had time to register the dial tone, before Clark was in the room. He quickly covered the space to where Bruce sat.
Clark removed the phone and replaced it on the charger, before wrapping an arm around Bruce’s shoulders.
“Okay, I know something is wrong.” Clark spoke clearly, “How can I help? What do you need?”
“I need information. I need to know how to convince Tim that I love him. That we love him. That he is an important and vital part of this family. Not just the business. Not just the Job…”
“That he’s your son. And you have wanted to call him that since the day you met him?”
“Not quite the day.” Bruce confessed, “It took a few months. I… I wasn’t in a good place after Jason. I tried to keep my distance. Let Alfred and Dick take the lead. I didn’t want to kill another child… Kill another man’s son… I didn’t realize that he was more mine than he ever was theirs.”
“What changed your mind?”
“When he decided that my life was more important that wearing the Suit. That I was more important than becoming Robin. And I’d fought with him over it, not that long before. He was full of fire and fury at me. Because I denied him. He was everything that Jason was. But then… Then…”
“Then he wasn’t.”
“He didn’t even put on the Suit to rescue me. He didn’t want to ‘Disgrace’ it. He held Robin up on some sort of pedestal. An ideal. He saw Robin as a Symbol. That’s when I finally realized what sort of person he was… The sort of person he still is.”
“He’s not me. He’s not Dick. He’s not Jason. He’s not Babs. He’s not Alfred. He’s… He’s Tim. A thinker. A planner. A Chess Master. But someone with the right kind of heart. He was willing to give up Robin to save my life. For the chance to save my life. Then he didn’t even try to talk me out of the decision. He accepted it. He plots and plans… But always with the betterment of others as his goal… Except for once…”
“He almost manipulated Captain Boomerang to his death.”
“Can’t really blame him for that… He didn’t try to kill him directly?”
“Then, it’s understandable… You didn’t even try manipulation when you went to kill the Joker.”
“Tim will do anything for a friend… Or family.” Bruce ignored Clark, “He gives. He gives everything he has… And everything he is. And he asks for nothing in return… Unfortunately, he has often received it. And I am to blame for that.”
“We all bear some of the blame… I didn’t take Conner’s fears seriously.”
“You are not his father!” Bruce snapped, “I am. And I haven’t let him known that he is loved. That he is wanted. That he is precious to me.”
“Then go tell him.”
“I can’t. Words don’t mean anything to Tim. He’s heard them all before. Actions are what Tim needs.”
“Then go show him.”
“I need intel first. I need to know how bad it is.”
“You mean you don’t already? Thought you would have the police file… I presume there is one?”
“Oh, Tim’s gone to the police. But he didn’t tell them everything. He didn’t tell Conner or Bart everything. He won’t tell anyone everything. I need to know more. So that I know how to help.”
“And you Bats can’t just talk it out.” Clark sighed, “Why me? Why do you need me? I’m no good at intel gathering… Your words, not mine.”
“In this situation, you have an advantage. You can gain access where I cannot.”
“Tim is in Smallville. To be precise, he is on a farm in Smallville.”
“Conner took him home.” Clark breathed, tension leaving his body, “He’s safe there, Bruce. You know that.”
“But I need to know more. Go home for lunch. A Sunday meal. That won’t be too suspicious. You can get me an up-to-date view of his health.”
“Ma would tell you anything you need to know. Anything you want to know. She loves you, like another son. You know that.”
“She can only tell what she knows. Tim will hide things from her. You will be able to see exactly how much damage he has sustained. At least physically.”
“You’d need J’onzz for mental.”
“Unlikely to be productive. Tim has a very strong mind. He has natural mental barriers. And my training only enhanced them.”
“Sucks when your lessons are used against you, doesn’t it?”
“It simply means that I need to utilize different tactics. Now pay attention, these are small audio/visual devices…”
“I am not bugging my parent’s house!”
“I am not asking you to bug their bedroom.”
“Can’t you Bats just talk?! I mean this is a little extreme Bruce. Talking is an acceptable communication method, you know.”
“Tim doesn’t want to talk to us. He doesn’t feel that he is part of the family. I gave him too much space.”
“When Dick was growing up, how many times did you all joke about me coddling him? All the DaddyBats jokes? Yes, I heard them… I held onto Dick so tight that he became desperate to be free. He finally ended up storming out. We didn’t talk for months. Despite Alfred’s attempts. And Dick’s anger at me was partially taken out on Jason. Who didn’t deserve any of that. Even if things got better, the rocky start was all my fault. This time, I didn’t want that. When Tim came along, I gave him more space. I thought it was better that way. That I had learned from the past. But I gave him too much space. He doesn’t believe we care. He thinks it’s guilt that is causing us to reach out. I could have stopped that… By keeping him close. I went too far the other way.”
“No. You’re a great dad. You always have been.”
“I screwed up. This is all on me. So, I have to fix it. He’s my son. I love him. I need him to know that. Actions are more important than words to Tim. So, I have to use the right actions. I need to know how to fix this. To do that, I need information. I need to know, Clark. And I have no other way to get the information. How far would you go for Kara?”
“You’re going to guilt me into this, aren’t you? Come on, Bruce! I can’t do it. I can’t bug my parent’s house. Can’t you get Barbara to hack into his computer and use the camera to check up on him?”
“And somehow in your mind that’s better?” Bruce stared.
“Well, it’s not worse. And I’m not involved.”
“No, it’s worse. That also allows us access to Tim’s personal files. Things that he keeps secret for a reason. Anything bugs pick up could be seen or heard by a person. Rummaging through his files? No.”
“You’ve already tried.”
“Babs has. Tim keeps his internet security very tight.”
“Understandable. But I’m still not bugging my parent’s house. I’ll give you a report on what I see and hear. But I won’t bug it. Not even for you. And that’s my last word on it.”
“Fine. Then I want you to visit at least weekly during Tim’s convalescence and give me full reports on his health. And I mean everything.”
“Okay. I’ll do that. I’ll see if Lois can come as well this Sunday. She usually gets away with more intrusive questions than I do. I’ll report back to you soon, Bruce… It’s going to be okay. You’ll succeed. I know you will. Tim cares too much for all of you to stay apart for long.”
Clark flew away.
Bruce leaned back in his chair, a smile on his lips.
A knock at the door caught his attention.
“You done being sneaky and evil now?” Dick put his head around the door, “Only Alfred has food and wants us all to eat.”
“I’m done, for now. Clark is still as easy to play as ever.”
“Horse trader?” Dick cocked an eyebrow.
“What did he end up agreeing to?”
“Weekly visits and full reports at the very least.”
“One day, he’s going to catch on to what you do.”
“Doubtful. He hasn’t spotted it yet.”
“True. But I wouldn’t count him completely out. If nothing else, I’d expect Lois to catch on at some point.”
“Depends on whether she’d tell him. I’m half convinced she uses the same tactic occasionally.”
“Now that I wouldn’t put past her. She is a very smart, very capable, very sneaky woman… Just your type. Why haven’t you dated her yet?”
“I did, once. A very long time ago. We weren’t going to work out. That was clear very early on. So we made an amicable split. She spun it into a good news report actually.”
“Sounds like her.”
“Clark!” Ma Kent smiled as she opened the door, “And Lois! How nice to see you. Are you joining us for lunch?”
“If we’re not intruding, Mrs Kent.” Lois replied easily.
“How many times do I have to tell you, it’s Martha. And no, you’re not intruding. You could never intrude. Come on through. We have quite a full house for lunch today. I hope you enjoy roast beef.”
Clark was preparing to act surprised when he saw Tim. But then he didn’t need to act. He wasn’t expecting Conner to be there too.
Although, in retrospect he probably should have. After all, if it was Bruce, Clark knew that he wouldn’t have missed a meal with his parents and time with his friend for anything.
What was truly shocking was Tim’s appearance.
Oh, he was trying to hide it. Clark could spot traces of make-up, not properly blended into the skin, that no doubt were hiding deep bags under the eyes, given the location of the smudges. Puffy eyes were visible with a keen eye, albeit enhanced by SuperHuman abilities. Red eyes were being controlled by eye drops.
Tim wasn’t sleeping… Or if he was, he wasn’t sleeping enough or well.
Then there was the almost imperceptible trembling of his hands. He was controlling it well, but the tension in his arms betrayed him.
The flicking of his eyes between various people could easily be taken for a Bats caution or curiosity… But it lingered too long over the various exits, potential threats and things that could become weapons.
He sat too stiffly in the chair. As if his back hurt. Tiny creases in the corners of his eyes. Far too relaxed face… He was trying to hide the grimace his body wanted to do in response to the pain he was in.
Clark focused his hearing and easily made out a slightly raised heartrate from the former Robin. No doubt the careful breathing, Clark could also make out, was an indicator that Tim was maintaining a meditative state in order to control his heartrate and breathing as well as he was. Clark had heard a rumour that Tim had the ability to slow his heartrate down to a level where it was virtually imperceptible, and he could be believed to be dead. Merely a story he had thought.
He was starting to believe.
There were a thousand and one little signs of Tim’s pain and exhaustion and insomnia. And possible PTSD.
Clark wasn’t sure. The eyes that flickered around the room, almost constantly could simply be a sign of Bat-Paranoia. Of checking in with everyone. Of checking possible escape routes and weapons, should anything happen.
But there’s a furtiveness in those eyes, beyond what he’s used to seeing in Bruce’s. As well as a touch of fear.
A leg, in it’s plaster cast, was displayed almost defiantly on a footstool. The once white cast already festooned with signatures and pictures. Clark could make out most of the current Titans’ marks.
And all of this Clark spotted in the first few moments. Including the narrowing of the eyes as Tim took him in. One hand retreated automatically behind his body, before Tim made a conscious decision to relax and it remerged empty.
Conner’s actions were just as betraying. A narrowing of his eyes. A tension in his body. A shift of his posture, moving forward on the sofa that he shared with Tim. Sliding forward, so that less of Tim could be discerned. A twisting of his torso to angle slightly towards Clark, but also presenting his back to Tim.
If Clark didn’t already know about the protective nature Conner had towards Tim, he would have been blind to miss it now.
More worryingly there was tension in the air. And it seemed like it had been there for a while. Conner was shooting furtive glares at Ma and Pa; alongside looks of betrayal.
In return there were more than a few sad gazes and silent entreaties for forgiveness from the adults.
Right then, Clark was wishing that he’d agreed to bug the house. Because if this is what he saw in the first minute? Then there was a lot more going on behind the scenes.
“Mr Kent,” Tim nodded in welcome, “I was not expecting you to bring Miss Lane to dine with us today. Miss Lane, it is good to see you again.”
“I’ve told you before, Tim,” Lois smiled, “Call me Lois. You’ve been through the wars.”
“In recovery now.” Tim returned simply, “Mr and Mrs Kent have been kind enough to agree to host me, during this portion of my recovery.”
That veneer of politeness… So polite so as to be positively insulting… Clark knew that meant Tim wasn’t happy. However, how far it would go, he didn’t know.
“Your disappearance has been making front pages.” Lois remarked, “I hadn’t seen anything about your rescue.”
“I haven’t spoken to any other members of the Fourth Estate.” Tim replied easily, “It is possible that the GCPD believe that keeping my safe return under wraps beneficial to their investigations.”
“That is likely.” Lois shrugged, “However, given that fate has thrown us together, would it be possible for an interview? Release dependant upon the whims of the GCPD, of course.”
“Fate?” Tim quirked an eyebrow, “Nothing so ethereal as that, Miss Lane.”
“I assure you, Mister Drake,” Lois returned, “I had no knowledge of your presence here.”
“Perhaps.” Tim conceded, “However I doubt your escort was.”
“That’s on his conscious, not mine. I came to enjoy some spectacular home cooking and friendly conversation. If that is all I get out of this, then fair enough. But I wouldn’t turn down anything extra… If you can’t talk about the kidnapping, then maybe a puff piece? There’s a rather amusing video going viral at the moment, featuring your little brother…”
“That got out?”
“And then some. There’s memes.”
“I knew I should have kept a closer eye on that. Okay, this is not going to be fun when Damian finds out… Assuming he hasn’t already…”
“Well I haven’t heard any screaming or death threats from Gotham’s direction.” Lois shrugged, “Nor have I heard of anyone being cut up into small pieces by a katana, so either he’s taking it very well, or he doesn’t yet know.”
“You are a very dangerous woman, Miss Lane.”
“No more than you, Mister Drake. Although I believe any further discussion on this topic would be detrimental to the digestive process. Shall we eat before we retire to discuss the world in which we both move?”
“It would be discourteous to allow the food to grow cold. May I escort you?”
“As best you can, I won’t let you take my arm though. You use your crutches.”
“Your consideration is appreciated.”
It seemed strange to Clark, that the two people in the room who weren’t related were getting on the most civilized. There was increasing tension amongst everyone else. He wasn’t even sure why Conner had issues with him, but it was clear that he did. In fact Conner seemed to have lumped him in with his parents.
It would be nice to know what crime he had committed if he was going to be punished for it.
Ma and Pa clearly knew what they had done, and they were slightly ashamed of it.
The tension didn’t abate during the whole meal. Lois and Tim carried the bulk of the conversation, discussing the food, politics, celebrities and even discovered a mutual love of Australian MasterChef, as well as Ninja Warrior. The others managed to provide polite remarks, but it was clear that their attention and heart wasn’t in it.
“So, how far along the course of Ninja Warriors do you think the Bats would get?” Lois challenged at one point.
“Depends on which one.” Tim pondered for a moment, “Both Batman and the Red Hood would have difficulty with some parts of Stage One, seeing as it is the stage most focused on agility. Both of them favour strength over agility and so would be at a disadvantage. However, they would do better on the Second Stage where strength is more of a primary focus. Nightwing, on the other hand, would find both the First and Third Stage relatively easy, but lacks a lot of the force that the previous two have. So he might find the Second Stage more challenging, but I believe he would manage to power through… It would be interesting to see a Superhero Ninja Warrior competition.”
“There would have to be allowances of course. Otherwise Superman could just fly over everything.”
“It might be interesting to do an unpowered course. See how the superpowered heroes cope without their powers against their unpowered colleagues.”
“Oh I would pay to report on that!”
“Certainly would work.”
The meal was over, Lois and Tim still going strong. Now comparing the differences in attitudes of the contestants in MasterChef USA to MasterChef Australia; and how the shows set up contributed to the differences.
Clark caught Conner’s eyes and tilted his head. The pair of them quickly extracted themselves from the conversation and headed outside.
“Conner,” Clark started the discussion, “What have we done? You’re angry. And I don’t know what we’ve done to upset you.”
“They told the Bats.” Conner declared.
“I asked them… I begged them to keep Tim’s presence here secret. And they promised. But they didn’t keep it. They chose you over me. Just as they’ve always done. You’re the true son. I’m just the clone. The failed copy.”
“No. Not that. Never that. You’re their son. Just like I am.”
“No. Else they would have kept their word.”
“Did they both promise?”
“Then maybe Pa told.”
“No. It was Ma. I know it was. Besides they’re like that old couple in the joke.”
“An old couple had been married sixty years,” Conner started to recite, “A young couple asked them how they had managed it. The husband replied: “When we were first married, we agreed that I would make all the major decisions, and she would make all the minor decisions.” Then the wife continued: “And in sixty years of marriage there has never been a need for a major decision.”.”
“Ah.” Clark blinked, it sounded about right actually.
“Ma promised for both of them. And then Ma broke that promise.”
“How do you know that? Did Tim tell you?”
“No. He didn’t need to. Dick asked Wally to run some cookies over. Wally let it slip to Bart, who told me.”
“They could have figured it out.”
“Not that quickly… I mean, I never expected to keep it secret forever. I knew that as soon as you came for a visit, you’d probably tell Bruce. But they promised and they broke that promise.”
“But if you ever expected it to stay secret…”
“That’s not the point! I trusted them. And they betrayed that trust. And now I can’t trust them. I hadn’t asked for much. If they’d invited you over and released it that way… I wouldn’t have objected… But they didn’t. They deliberately broke their promise. They didn’t just betray me…”
“I gave my word to the Titans… My word that Tim would be safe here. That the Bats wouldn’t find out from me or from Ma and Pa. I never put such a burden on you. I knew you’re a good friend to Bruce. I knew you’d most likely tell him. I’d certainly do that for Tim, so I could hardly expect you to put Tim before Bruce. But Ma and Pa? I trusted them. They broke that trust. And they broke the trust the Titans have in me.”
“I’m sure you’re wrong. They still trust you.”
“They trust me. But not my word. They trust me to have their backs. They won’t trust someone I say to trust.”
“I’m sure they…”
“Ma and Pa are the two people in the world I should know the best. But they picked you and your friends over me.”
“And if they had kept quiet? They would have been picking you over me.”
“No. They wouldn’t have been picking either of us. There were ways around the promise. Inviting you over for a meal… I could have lived with that… But they deliberately broke their promise not to tell a Wayne by telling Alfred.”
“He’s not a Wayne. It was still working around the promise.”
“It was breaking the Spirit of the promise. While keeping the Letter.”
“And inviting me wouldn’t have been breaking the Spirit?”
“No! That would be putting the burden onto you. I left the loophole… I left the loophole hoping that you wouldn’t tell. That you’d understand that Tim needed space… They took… They took so much from him, he needed control back… I hoped that you’d feel guilty enough not to tell, because I asked you for help finding Tim and you did nothing! You said you would help. But you didn’t do anything.”
“I didn’t think he was really missing.”
“You thought I was lying?”
“No. But you know what Tim’s like. He’s always going off to investigate this and that.”
“And how many times have I asked you for help in finding him?”
“Only the once.” Clark admitted slowly.
“And you didn’t think that if I was asking that I hadn’t checked everywhere? I asked you for help… Two weeks ago… Tim underwent torture for an extra week because you didn’t believe me.”
“You dismissed me. You ignored me. I hoped that I could use your guilt to keep quiet about Tim’s location… But that’s pointless now… If I had any other option, I’d take him away right now. But we don’t. Because if we leave Tim anywhere without people to look out for him, he’d be back at work in an instant. And we don’t have anywhere else to go. Cassie can’t take him in, her mother doesn’t have the space or the time to take care of him. It’s too frantic at the Flashes; he’d never get a moment’s rest, what with the twins and the rest of them going at a thousand miles an hour on a slow day. Gar and Raven don’t really have a place, he’d end up at the tower and he’d go right back to work. Bunk doesn’t have the space either, so this was the best option… Until Ma and Pa told… I thought this was the safest and best place ever… Now it isn’t. It’s just the best option available.”
“Bruce and the others just want to fix this.”
“Fix it? Fix it?” Conner laughed, “Trust is like a vase. Once it’s broken, you can fix it. But it’ll never hold water again.”
“Kintsugi.” Clark countered.
“Kintsugi. It’s a Japanese art. They repair something that is broken with gold or silver or platinum. Honouring the break, acknowledging its existence. But making it better and more valuable than before.”
“That’s pretty and all. But that’s got nothing to do with this. They can’t fix it. Because Tim isn’t broken. There’s nothing to fix. Their relationship with him? It isn’t broken. Because it never existed.”
“Don’t.” He shook his head, “I always had you held up to me as this perfect person. This true Super Hero. You’re human. You have flaws… I always knew they had to exist. I just didn’t think they would be this big.”
“Don’t. Just don’t. We’ll wait until Tim is better… Not healed, just better enough… Then we’re moving him. And this time, we’ll make sure you can’t find him. He doesn’t deserve this.”
“This scrutiny. This putting of his life under a microscope. This analysis. This checking to see if he’s still a hero… He will always be a hero. No matter what. You have no idea how strong he is.”
“I know Bruce.”
“And I know Tim. If you trust me about anything, trust me about this… Tim is not Bruce. He’s a lot stronger than you realize. He doesn’t deserve this. He doesn’t deserve any of this! You know he wasn’t even surprised that Ma and Pa broke their promise? He knew it was coming… Because he has never had an adult in his life he could count on. Not his parents. Not his housekeeper. Not Bruce. Not Dick. Not Barbara. Not Red Tornado. Not Cyborg. Not you. Not anyone. The only real family he’s got is me and Bart.”
“Bart and I.” Clark automatically corrected.
“Doesn’t matter. It’s us three. Always has been. Brothers. Friends… God I don’t know what we really are. But we’re what he’s got. And we’ll be there for him. Until our last breath and beyond if we can manage it. We won’t betray him. Not like everyone else… Go away Clark. And take your meaningless platitudes with you…”
“That boy is hurting, Clark.” Lois murmured as they flew back.
“I know. I saw the signs… They weren’t gentle on him.”
“That he can handle… It’s the emotional hurt that’s tolling on him. He’s just a kid… And he’s shouldering an adult’s burden… No, several adults’ burdens. He’s a CEO. A Hero. A Mentor.”
“A Mentor?” Clark interrupted.
“Yes. He’s the leader of the Titans. Even if it isn’t official. He has got so much going on… I’m surprised he hasn’t burnt out. Then you add in the death of his friend.”
“Who?” Clark felt his gut sink; he hadn’t heard of a death in the community.
“No-one you’d know. A civilian. But one Tim was close to… He’s hurt and there’s only Conner and Bart there for him.”
“He has Ma and Pa.”
“Who put other people before him. He doesn’t trust them with his secrets. And if he doesn’t trust them, they can’t help him heal.”
“What about Bruce?”
“And where is he?”
“Exactly. Tim takes that as validation that he doesn’t matter.”
“Then I’ll tell Bruce to go.”
“Then Tim will take that as guilt and fulfilling your expectations… I don’t actually see a route for Bruce to win here. Not while Tim is with your parents.”
“He loves him. I know that.”
“I believe it too. The problem is that Tim does not. And he has a great deal of evidence for his side. Along with logic that isn’t faulty, just… Misconstrued… I don’t know if Bruce can fix this.”
“He can do a lot of things that seem impossible at first.”
“Tim’s locked his heart away. He loves all. Trusts few. And does wrong to as few as possible. He won’t trust them again easily. Trust takes years to build. And it only takes seconds to destroy it… And this wasn’t a matter of seconds.”
Blood dripped from the Red Hood’s knuckles.
Not his own. He had just landed a beauty of a blow to a small group of drug smugglers.
It was a way of getting his anger out.
And Jason was furious! Tim had been in Smallville for nearly a week, and not a single Bat had tried to contact him yet.
B hadn’t allowed it. Was instead waiting on a report from Superman.
“Hey, Little Wing.”
“Shut the fuck up!”
“Look, I know you’re worried. I am too. But he’s tough. He’s going to be fine.”
“Who you trying to fucking convince? Me or you? Because, yeah. He’s tough. He’s going to recover. But he’s not going to be fine. He’s not gonna be part of this family. Not if we keep leaving him on the outskirts like this. He should be here. With us!”
“And we can’t drag him. He’ll just pull further away. If we try to hold onto him, he’ll slip through our fingers.”
“And by not holding on he’s leaving us anyway!”
“We need a plan.”
“We need to fucking act!”
“Come back. Let’s end patrol here tonight. Supes should be giving his report soon. Then we can figure out what we need to do.”
“Fine.” Jason snapped.
He would listen, then he would make his own plan. He had no intention of losing Tim. Even if everyone else did.
Jason found Damian settled on the floor outside of Bruce’s study. A sketchpad ostentatiously placed in his lap and Titus pressed up against his side. However, it was notable that the page open was blank, and the pencil in Damian’s hand wasn’t touching the paper.
“Father has expressed his desire to converse with Kent on his own.” Damian’s words were clipped.
“Guess he’s going to be fucking disappointed then.” Jason reached out for the doorknob.
“It is locked.” Damian stated, “Kent will arrive within the next three minutes.”
Guess that explained why Damian was sitting outside the room. Defeated Jason turned away from the door. There was more than one way into the room. The door was virtually impenetrable in the time left.
On the other hand, there was that exceptionally large chimney. Which although the office wasn’t accessible through it from the roof… Jason had found an entrance into the flue shaft many, many years ago…
(Jason didn’t want to think about how many, because that brought up too many memories with holes in them. Things he couldn’t quite fully remember. Things that the Pit had never let him regain. Going near them brought the Pit close to the surface and then he only needed to get a little angry… and he was gone.)
Jason wedged himself inside the flue, close enough to hear, but not too close to be heard… At least not unless Clark decided to… Cheat. Which he generally didn’t in someone else’s home. An invasion of privacy, Clark called it.
Eyes completely closed, so as to increase his focus on his hearing; Jason waited.
“Bruce.” Clark returned the greeting, “Tim’s securely with my parents.”
“What do you already know?”
“Don’t mess me about, Clark.”
“Broken leg, messed up back, insomnia, PTSD, chronic pain… Do you want me to go on?”
“Anything he told you?”
“He doesn’t trust me. Doesn’t trust my parents. I’m not entirely convinced he trusts Conner. He’s certainly not telling Conner everything. Though I’m not sure if that’s distrust or trying to protect him. Conner doesn’t trust me either now. I failed him. And now he doesn’t trust me.”
“You didn’t look for Tim.”
“I didn’t look for Tim. And now I’m paying the price. What little I got, is that Tim’s healing physically. Mentally it’s going to take a lot longer. And Tim doesn’t trust any adults at the moment. Quite honestly I’m not sure he can. Lois managed to get more out of him than I did. Although that was probably because he knew that I’d been sent. And that Lois was just an invited guest… She doesn’t think he can trust you again. You broke his trust and now he’s working the principle of once bitten, twice shy.”
“Fool me once, shame on me.”
“Fool me twice, shame on you. Exactly. Bruce, you’re going to need to do something drastic and soon. I don’t know how I’m going to get Conner’s trust back. I don’t know how to help you with Tim. Ma and Pa are now trying to stay out of it. Don’t rely on getting information from them… I was tempted to just bug Tim’s room, after I saw him… He’s running thin. I don’t know how much he’s got left to give. But it can’t be much. You raised him tough. You raised him strong. But even the strongest has to give.”
“You didn’t bug his room?”
“Conner would have checked it. And I think Tim would have too. He’s being polite. A guest in someone else’s home. But he’s not thinking of himself as anything other than a guest and an unwanted burden. He won’t open up to anyone there. I don’t think he knows how to anymore. He’s close to burning out. And I don’t know how to help him… Or even if I can.”
“Just give me any information you can.”
“I don’t see how you can win here, Bruce.”
“This isn’t about winning!” Bruce snapped, “I am not beating anyone. This is not some competition! This is about looking after my son!”
Jason managed to restrain a flinch. That was pure fury in Bruce’s voice. Anger that Clark was deeming it to be a game.
“I have screwed up over and over again, Clark. But I love my sons… I love my children… All of them. From Dick to Damian. Covering Babs and Steph and Cass as well. My marvellous daughters. It’s just… I screw up with the boys far more than the girls. Dick, I failed to realize his nature to fly free and held him too tightly. Jason, I failed to recognise his anger and failed to help him through it. I practically gave him to the Joker. He died because of me! Damian, God I don’t know where I’m going to screw up with him. Though you can count on me doing so. It’s not like I’ve got a good track record. So far I’ve only managed minor screw ups. Dick’s protected me from the worst of them; God knows how bad it would be if I didn’t have him around… And Tim? I tried not to let him into my heart. He was another man’s son. And I don’t care what his relationship with his father was like… I would give almost anything for just one more second with my father. So how could I steal another man’s son, when he was still alive? But Jack never realized what he had. And I couldn’t stop myself from loving Tim. He was so different from Dick… And from Jason… But just the same. He had the same fire, the same determination, the same heart! He became my son… Maybe he always had been. Maybe they all always had been my children, just waiting for me to find them.”
“How did you screw up with Tim?”
“I didn’t realize that Tim was the different. I stifled Dick and Jason. Causing one to hate me. And the other to walk to his death.” Bruce’s voice caught on the last word.
“That wasn’t your fault.”
“You weren’t there. You don’t know. And yes, it was. Something I will never forgive myself for. I swore that I wouldn’t do that again. So, I gave Tim plenty of space. Gave him room to spread his wings and fly on his own… Long before I let the others do so. Not because I trusted them less, but because I knew that if I didn’t… I would be preventing him from growing into the man he would be. The way I interfered with Dick and Jason… They all deserve to be the people they have the potential to be. And I couldn’t mess with that. But because I tried my hardest to supress my instincts to hold him close, I pushed him away… And now he thinks I never wanted him. He thinks I don’t love him. When it is a knife to my soul that I can’t be there for him right now! That I can’t bandage his wounds. That I can’t take away his pain. That I have to keep my distance, because if I try to pull him close right now… He’ll believe it is guilt talking. Rather than the love I have for him. I need every detail so that I can do this right! I screwed up by reacting rather than planning. I will not make that mistake again.
There was grief, and guilt, and pain, and sorrow, and love in that tone. A thousand emotions.
But only one intention.
Apologies for the delay in posting. My right hand woman at work has gone on holiday... She does about a quarter of my work! And no-one else can do it apart from the two of us. So I've been flat on my back from exhaustion.
I hope this chapter doesn't disappoint though.
Tim was working on his laptop when a Skype call came through.
“Damian?” Tim blinked, “What do you need?”
“I require your assistance, Dra… Timothy.”
“Please don’t call me that. What do you need?”
“I… I was told that it was impolite to refer to a friend or colleague by their surname.”
“In some cultures, yes. However, at the turn of the Twentieth Century in the UK it was extremely common for men to refer to their closest friends by either their surname or a nickname, often derived from the surname. This was due to the common usage of surnames as an identifier in British Boarding Schools; so it was also an indicator of being of upper class. You may choose to address your friends in whatever manner you see fit, providing that they also agree with the designation. However, I personally am uncomfortable with the use of my full first name. I would prefer it that you either address me by my surname or by my preferred nickname. What is it that you require?”
“I need to know how better to interact with people.”
“In what capacity?”
“I do not see a need to make friends with my educational peers; however, I do not wish to stand out as a loner amongst them. I have seen the results of being perceived as weak. I am of the belief that Father would disapprove of my rectifying the misassumptions of a bully. So I desire to not be perceived as alone and thus defenceless.”
“You need to know how to make allies.” Tim clarified.
“That would be suitable to my purpose.”
“Dick would be a better person to approach in this matter. He is the Social Butterfly of us.”
“I do not wish to become such a creature. I am satisfied simply with the creation of allies.”
“First I need to know about the kind of people you wish to ally yourself with.”
“What details are pertinent to your inquiry?”
“General age. Are they a group already? If so, what is their common interest? Why this group? Current social status? Are they the popular kids or the bullied? How do the other students refer to them?”
“They appear to be loosely allied with each other. But I believe this is due to mutual wariness of other cliques in the school. They are referred to as Geeks… Or Nerds.”
“Ah… First of all, Geeks are not necessarily Nerds. Geeks have a keen interest in a hobby of some kind. A Nerd is more academic in their hobbies; and those hobbies are more likely to have an academic bent. A preferable turn of phrase would be Boffin or Professor. More respectful as well.”
“Understood. How would you advise I approach them?”
“First you need to know their hobby. Any clues that you’ve noticed?”
“One of them has a t-shirt with the phrase “Arwen is a Horse Thief” on it. It seems to be his favourite.”
“Ah… Does any of them wear a ring on a chain around their neck? It would be a gold ring, but a silver chain.”
“You have some bonafida Tolkien fans. Probably into other stuff as well. But that’s a good place to start.”
“The author of a book series that later got turned into films. The books were better than the films, which the t-shirt reiterates. Pointing out a discrepancy between the books and the films.”
“How should I approach them?”
“First we need to get your knowledge of their specialist subject up to speed. We’ll cover Tolkein so that you have your icebreaker. Then we’ll look into other subjects as needed. You can’t fit too perfectly. Otherwise they might get suspicious.”
“Nothing is ever perfect. They might suspect a mole.”
“No. Only criminals would do that. But they might think you’re faking it. Trying to set them up for a prank or something along those lines. We can reduce that by finding things that you can enjoy to portray to them. I can already think of a few you might enjoy.”
“How would I best learn about this Tolkein?”
“As I said, the books are best. I would recommend reading them… Or using Audiotapes. You could put them on while you work on your art. I would suggest that reading is better, as the books come with maps that help put things into perspective.”
“You mentioned a film series?”
“Yes. You would need to watch them. Although I have to warn you, they are very long. Very good, but very long. The full series is over twenty hours long; consisting of six films.”
“I would need a guide through the series. Someone to inform me of pertinent information. Would you be willing to do so?”
“I’m invalided at the moment. It would not be advisable for me to return to Gotham in my current condition; I also promised Kon and Bart that I would not leave for a while.”
“I believe that by utilising Skype we would be able to overcome this obstacle.”
“You sure you wish for my assistance in this matter? Dick or Jason or Babs or Steph could help.”
“You are my best resource in this matter. They do not have the knowledge you possess… Besides, I would rather they did not know about this.”
That was embarrassment Tim could see in Damian’s eyes. Shame that he was having to ask for help. Shame that he couldn’t manage something as simple as making friends without assistance. For all that Damian claimed that he didn’t need friends… He wanted them.
Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted was the most terrible form of poverty. And a poverty that Tim knew well. While Damian projected the image of being a solitary creature by nature… He wasn’t. He desired company of some kind. Why else would he attach himself so closely to his pets?
“Okay.” Tim conceded, “When would you like to start?”
“I have time now.”
Tim’s mind flashed to all the things he had to do. All the tasks he needed to complete. Everything he wanted to check up on.
Then he looked at Damian’s hopeful face. Despite all of his years amongst the League of Assassins, Damian had never learned deception. Merely masking of his emotions. And Tim was very good at seeing through such masks.
“Okay,” Tim smiled gently, “First thing you need to know, is that we’re not going to watch them in the order they were filmed. It is better to watch them in the order of the books. So we start with An Unexpected Journey.”
“What language are they speaking?”
“Sindarian. It is a constructed language.”
“Is it a complete language?”
“It has a vocabulary and grammar. It is as complete a language as any.”
“Is it possible to learn?”
“With time and patience.”
“Do you speak it?”
“He is too kind. It is not wise to leave behind someone so filled with anger and hate.”
“It is interesting to note that in the original story Gollum bet the ring in the Riddle Game and parted ways amicably with Bilbo. However, in order to ensure continuity between the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Tolkien rewrote the chapter. First edition copies of the Hobbit contain the original story, which was explained to be a lie that Bilbo told.”
“That does not excuse his actions.”
“Tauriel is a movie only character. But I don’t feel she detracts from the series significantly. Additionally it never states anywhere that all Elvish Warriors are male.”
“A female warrior… I approve.”
“A foolish King to be so enamoured by gold and jewels.”
“Perhaps, but everyone has a weakness.”
“This character is called Figwit.”
“That is a strange name, even considering the other names in this world.”
“It was created by fans. It stands for ‘Frodo is Great… Who is that?’ Apparently the phrase that ran through a fan’s head when she first saw him.”
“He was called Lindir in the first film.”
“Well remembered. Yes. Due to his popularity he was brought back for successive appearances.”
“And this is the Trope Namer for ‘Kneel Before Frodo’.”
“I do not know that word… Trope.”
“A Trope is a literary stereotype. A common pattern in stories, whether literary or visual. Such examples would be ‘Disguised in Drag’, which is used in at five separate stories of Scheherazade. Or ‘The Corpse Stops Here’ which is basically the entire plot of The Story of the Hunchback.”
“I follow. How many Tropes are there?”
“Far too many to count.”
“What is the significance of this particular one?”
“It is the action of an entire crowd bowing to one character, who up until that moment wasn’t perceived as important to the scene previously. It is usually for one of two reasons, either the character is ‘King Incognito’ and has just removed their disguise; or they have performed a heroic act and saved the kingdom, and the King is kneeling to them, thus everyone else does so out of courtesy.”
“This being an example of the second.”
“Precisely. In Mulan, there is another very good example.”
“People recognise these Tropes?”
“They may not know the names. And they may not consciously recognise them, but they recognise them.”
“That was an interesting series. I can see why some of my peers are fascinated by it.”
“How far are you through the books?”
“I have just completed the Fellowship of the Ring. The books are significantly slower to progress through.”
“Yes, Tolkien was good at that. You are progressing well. Do you have a plan as to how you are going to approach the group?”
“I have failed to identify the best angle to utilise.”
“I would suggest combining it with your art. Shows a softer side. Draw one or more of them as an Elf, a Hobbit or even a Dwarf. You could take the other option and draw one of their bullies as an Orc or a Goblin, but I’d advise against it. You’d make an unnecessary enemy, even as you made allies. You are a gifted artist. Something I suspect you have been keeping hidden from your school-aged peers.”
“You are correct in your assumption. You believe that my creative endeavours would endear me to these people.”
“Yes… It’s a Trope.”
“I do not follow. You informed me that Tropes were literally devices. Creative devices that occurred regularly in media.”
“Yes. However, humans like to find patterns in their lives. We compare what we experience to what we have experienced before. Whether in reality or in fictional media. If people see a pattern they recognise they assume the rest of it is true. For example, when you started occasionally volunteering with the animal charities, you invoked the Trope ‘Pet the Dog’, which implied that you weren’t as nasty as you were initially appearing. That lead to the Trope ‘Jerkass with a Heart of Gold’ and the ‘Rule of Empathy’. I used Tropes to make people like you.”
“Utilising patterns that they had already established, albeit potentially subconsciously, and projecting those patterns onto me.”
“Precisely. The artist side of you will invoke the ‘Bruiser with a Soft Centre’. A strong character, who appears intimidating, but turns out to be kind and protective to those he cares for. Give yourself a few years and some growing, and it’ll be the ‘Gentle Giant’ Trope we’re invoking. Or potentially the ‘Troubled, but Cute’. Or even the ‘Genius Bruiser’. I’m assuming that you’re going to take after Bruce’s build rather than Talia’s. There’s already leanings in that direction.”
Damian accepted the comment with a touch of pride.
“Is there a place where I can research Tropes more thoroughly? I had not anticipated them being useful for interactions in real life.”
“There’s a website. I’ll send you the link.”
“What other facets of popular culture do you believe I should investigate? In order to flesh out my appreciation of them, so that I may portray the character required to ally myself with my peers.”
“There’s a few I’d suggest. Although some I’d like to suggest, but I believe you might perceive them to be beneath you initially.”
“Tt. It would be foolish to dismiss something, before investigating it fully. Particularly something a trusted ally had suggested.”
Tim blinked for a moment at the last sentence. That… That was not something he had ever expected Damian to state.
“Okay, I’d suggest some Japanese Manga, although you may prefer the Anime versions. Particularly Yu Yu Hakusho and Bleach. However, I wouldn’t suggest watching either of them around Jason. I don’t think he’d appreciate it. Particularly the Yu Yu Hakusho.”
“What wouldn’t I appreciate?” Jason’s voice cut into the conversation, moments before his face appeared on Tim’s computer screen, “And why not?”
Jason was headed to his room. Hair still wet from the shower he’d had after a training session. Bruce and Dick had been planning for nearly a week now. Jason had pretty much left them to it. After all, he didn’t know Timbo all that well. And despite the fact that he wanted Timmy back as part of the family; he knew that he had a pretty high chance at mucking it up, by stepping in some unspoken trap.
As he wandered past the brat’s room, he heard voices. Damian was talking to someone. But Jason knew where everyone else was. And none of them were in Damian’s room with him. It couldn’t be a friend… Damian didn’t have any.
He slipped into the room.
Damian was sitting on his bed, with his laptop open and in front of him. Conversing with someone.
Jason had no illusions that Damian wasn’t aware of his presence. But didn’t want the other participant in his conversation to be aware of him. So was carefully ignoring him.
It only took a few words from the other end of the Skype call for Jason to realize who Damian was talking to.
And more importantly what Damian was up to.
Jason kept his mouth shut. He wasn’t going to risk closing down a line of communication. Even if the topic of conversation was just plain weird.
However, when his name was mentioned, Jason couldn’t hold back.
“What wouldn’t I appreciate?” Jason cut in, moments before he moved into position to see Tim, “And why not?”
While Tim blinked in surprise, Jason assessed the younger vigilante. There were large bags under his slightly bloodshot eyes and his skin was pasty, but not as bad as it could be. The tightness in his expression could be due to either pain or surprise, and Jason was betting on a combination of both.
“Yu Yu Hakusho.” Tim stated after a moment, recovering quickly, “The main character reminds me of you. But there’s other things going on, that I don’t think you’d appreciate.”
“Is it violent?”
“A bit. Nothing I wouldn’t feel bad about showing most kids Damian’s age or younger. Give Liam a few years and I wouldn’t be mad about her seeing it either.”
“Tt, of course I am above such trivial things.”
“Then show me.” Jason instructed, “Let me make my own mind up.”
Tim tensed for a moment, before bringing up a video.
“And so it all begins. This boy's name is Yusuke. He's 14 years old and is supposed to be the hero of the story...but oddly enough, he's dead.”
Jason felt his hackles rise with the utterance of the line, not two minutes into the show; but he forced his anger down. He would not confront, yet. The comparison was obvious.
And yet, he couldn’t believe Tim would make that sort of connection. It seemed unnaturally cruel from the teen.
Then as the episode developed, Jason saw other things that allowed him to emotionally connect with the main character. He was a punk, with a bad reputation, who didn’t really care about things like that. Throw in the alcoholic mother and Jason was easily able to get where Yusuke was coming from.
“What happens next?” Jason demanded as the episode finished, “What sort of ordeal does he have to go through? Does he come back to life? Does he become a zombie?”
“Okay,” Tim blinked, “I didn’t think you’d like it.”
“Why not?” Jason challenged.
“It’s popular literature. It’s Anime. It’s Manga… You’re a Classicalist. You prefer the Classics. You read Shakespeare Plays… For fun… I’ll watch the things, but I won’t read the plays unless you force me to.”
“That way they have the interpretation I see.” Jason defended himself, “Rather than the interpretation of others.”
“You compare and contrast the works of the Bronte sisters. You state that ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is not the greatest of Austen’s works. And is promoted to the detriment of her other works. You even critic the dramatizations and rank them compared to how close to the original text they actually are! I’m fairly certain that it would be brilliant entertainment for the rest of us to watch you watch ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’.”
“I do not follow.” Damian frowned slightly.
“He’ll be screaming at the tv the whole time. Upset at the interpretation. It was fun enough watching Jake, and he focused more on art.”
“Jacob Spencer?” Jason put the name in gently.
“Yeah.” Tim’s eyes flicked away from them.
“You are aware that that was not his real name?” Damian pressed.
“I knew.” Tim shrugged, “He was Jacob Stone by birth. He was hiding… From his father. That’s part of the reason why we got on. Neither of us meet the expectations our parents had for us. He was way too smart. He could just look at a painting and tell you if it was a forgery or not. He was always right. All the testing in the world, couldn’t beat him.”
“What was he like?” Jason asked gently.
“Fun. Smart… Genius level smart. You’d have liked him. He believed that Christmas wasn’t Christmas without a bar fight. And he never missed a year.”
“Sounds like my kinda guy.”
“You would have gotten on well. He loved the history of art. And had a wicked sense of humour. It didn’t take much to persuade him to write a paper under one of his alias where he only referenced papers by his other aliases. I was trying to talk him into writing a paper as himself. Not Jacob Spenser. But Jacob Stone.”
“He did not want to receive the credit he deserved?” Damian was confused.
“Jake never liked anyone knowing about his intelligence. He was big and strong. He was a jock. His father ran the family business, oil rigging and construction. It was expected that Jake would take over. But he couldn’t… He was too bright to do that. He had this way with history… He could really bring it alive. I’ve always loved history. But I focus mainly on the people. Not on dates and locations. He could link everything together in a way that made sense to me. He used to walk through museums and tell me about the art, explaining how it fit into the cultural, historical and sociological situation of the time.”
“He would take you to Gotham Museum of Art?” Damian blinked.
“No. Jake would go do authentications around the world. Sometimes he’d let me tag along. I’d be his younger brother, a cousin, a nephew, a student… Whatever fit with his alias. No one ever questioned it. I’d help him set up decoys so that no-one could trace his origin point.”
“Sounds like a cool guy.” Jason smiled.
“Drake,” Surprisingly Damian’s voice had a touch of tenderness about it, “You’re tired. Get some sleep. I will speak with you tomorrow.”
“Night, Damian. Night, Jason.” Tim agreed before cutting the connection.
Jason barely waiting a heartbeat, before turning to face his youngest sibling.
“And just what was that? How long have you been talking with him?”
“Every day since Kent brought his report to father.” Damian returned calmly, “While Grayson and father are meticulously planning, I decided to try and establish a line of regular communication. We have been spending up to four hours a day watching and discussing popular culture. In particular focusing on the works of Tolkien.”
“Why would he agree to do that?”
“I may have alluded to an attempt to establish an alliance with some of the Geeks in my school. Drake is educating me in popular culture. I chose the works of Tolkien, partially as they are popular with the Geeks, but also because I had researched enough to know that they are particularly long. Thus I have been able to prevent him from working for at least two and a half hours a day. This, combined with his work ethic, has caused him to neglect his own health; in that he is not sleeping the requisite number of hours a night.”
“Thus leading to sleep deprivation and the loose tongue he just displayed.” Jason remarked.
“That was not my original intention. Although it has the potential to be useful. I was attempting to provide time during which he could relax. I was anticipating him dozing during the films.”
“He wouldn’t do that. Not if it could potentially benefit you. Why did you start this? Beyond an attempt to get him to sleep more… A losing battle, by the way… At least without drugs being involved.”
“According to my research the best methods of repairing a broken relationship involve active listening and communication. In addition, participating in activities that the other person enjoys is also recommended as a good bonding experience.”
“You’re trying to make friends with him.”
“The first overtures of friendship were made by Drake. I was a foolish, arrogant child who failed to realize what I was being offered. I gave him nothing but scorn and violence. He has learned not to offer such things to me again. I receive offers of allegiance. Offers of servitude. However, I receive no offers of friendship. Any such offers must originate from myself.”
“But he’s too cautious to accept them.”
“He does not believe they are my true intentions. I have learned much since I left the care of my Mother. I should not have rejected the overtures. I believed they were a method Drake was utilising to put me in a subordinate position to himself. When in fact they were a method of establishing a relationship where he would enable me to grow into my true potential. I could have learned much from him by now, had I realized his true intentions, rather than my biased perceptions of him.”
“Yeah. I made that mistake too. Probably for the same reason you did. Talia told me about my Replacement. I built my whole perception of him around her words. Which was pretty dumb of me. I knew she was manipulative. I should have known better.”
“Mother also coloured my beliefs about Drake. I previously believed that she believed him a threat to my position as Father’s Heir. Now I am reconsidering that belief. Perhaps she knew even then he was a threat to her position.”
“What do you mean?” Jason’s voice grew suddenly cold.
“While I find it difficult to believe that Grandfather has a Half-Sister still roaming the world, I know she would not be interested in Drake, unless Grandfather was interested in him. Unless possessing a piece of him would be to her advantage.”
“A method of one-upping Ra’s.”
“Why would Ra’s be so interested in Timmy? They had little interaction that I am aware of.”
“I do not know. That is what worries me.”
This is where I admit that I have very little idea where this story is going. I seem to be using it as catharsis for a lot of thing in my life right now. So I apologise if some chapters end up rambling without significant plot development.
“Keep the communication going.” Jason instructed, “I’ll see what I can find. And open my own line of communication. Hopefully between the two of us, we can fit a few more pieces of this puzzle together.”
“You are not going to inform Grayson or Father?”
“No. So far they are all talk, no action. We make sure that Timbo will be our brother. Our family. They’ve screwed up. Let them fix their own mistakes. It won’t work if they don’t.”
“I know. We also need to get him to take better care of himself. He still isn’t sleeping enough. It is possible to OD on caffeine. It takes a lot. But it is possible.”
“We cannot restrict his caffeine intake. It would require allying ourselves with the Clarks. Something that would put us in opposition to Drake at the present moment in time.”
“No. I know. But what we can do is ensure that he has healthy meals ready at his place. I’ve got a few other ideas. But best you don’t know, so that it all looks natural.”
“I will focus on strengthening our relationship. However, I will also investigate into the relationship Drake has with my Grandfather. I know Grandfather, he does not stop until he has what he wants, or he knows that it has been forever taken out of his reach.”
“That doesn’t bode well. Get what details Timmy will give you. But hunt around for anything else. I don’t want this biting us in the ass later.”
“Tim,” Martha looked at the boy currently working on her couch, “Would you care to join us at Church tomorrow?”
“I’m not Christian.”
“You don’t have to be. The Fellowship is good. You’d get to talk to someone other than us and your business contacts.”
“And Conner.” Tim smiled, “I suppose I could do with the change of scenery.”
Discretely Jon let out the breath he had been holding. He wasn’t sure if it was meddling, but he knew it wasn’t healthy to work as much as Tim seemed to. He wasn’t actually sure if Tim had insomnia, but Tim was certainly treating the Land of Nod as a foreign enemy country not to be associated with or messed with.
Something that Jon did not deem to be a healthy situation.
On the other hand, the Priest was rather prone to long, rambling Sermons that could easily put people to sleep. So it was worth a try.
“Alfred,” Jason wandered into the kitchen, “Can you help me produce Microwave Meals?”
“Master Jason,” Alfred’s voice was cold, “As long as I reside in this house, no one will be forced to resort to such means.”
“I didn’t mean the supermarket things… Look, we all know that eventually Timmy will go back to his home… The Theatre. And he gets so caught up in his work that he forgets to eat. And if he does remember, he grabs whatever he can find. If I’ve noticed that… Then you sure as hell have. What I want to do is stuff his freezer and fridge with easy food. Food that he only has to stick into a microwave or an oven to get something that’s actually good for him.”
“I believe I understand your point, Master Jason. You have a good idea there; it would certainly be beneficial for Master Tim’s recovery if he were to continue receiving proper nourishment.”
“Exactly. Can you help? I’ll get them into place. If they came with simple instructions it would probably help. I’m not entirely sure Timmy can boil water.”
“Master Tim is more competent at basic household tasks than you would expect, Master Jason. The difficulty is persuading him to put the time required into them. I would also like to reduce his caffeine intake where possible; at least temporarily.”
“Why?” Jason frowned, “Timmy drinks coffee. Never with sugar. It’s probably healthier than the Energy Drinks that Dick prefers. And Bruce drinks coffee every day.”
“Except on those days when he is recovering from an injury, Master Jason. A fairly recent article has managed to prove a negative correlation between caffeine intake and wound recovery.”
“I didn’t know that.” Jason stared, “But you won’t get Timbo to put down his coffee mug… Send me the article. I might have more success.”
“Master Jason? Am I to presume that you have established communication with Master Tim?”
“Not technically. I was merely present while communication took place. Don’t ask me any questions, and I won’t tell you any lies, Alf.”
“Understood, Master Jason. I will forward you the article. I hope you find it as enlightening as I did.”
“I’m sure I will… Do you have any ideas of what good food for Timmy would be?”
“Chicken Noodle Soup is known to have restorative properties. It is also easy to freeze and still equally nutritious and tasty after reheating. Also Master Tim has always preferred lighter meals than yourself and Master Bruce.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your preference is for red meat, as is Master Bruce’s; in particular steaks; although you favour bread and chips, while Master Bruce prefers Dauphinoise Potatoes. Of course, you are aware of Master Damian’s current vegetarian predilection. Master Dick, his habit of devouring cereal at every point in the day aside, enjoys stews. Miss Barbara is not particularly picky with regards with to her main courses, but has strong opinions on desserts. Miss Stephanie favours what she regards as traditional American. While Miss Cassandra enjoys Italian; although she has never verbally expressed an opinion with regards to food, except that there is sufficient of it to satisfy her. Master Tim leans towards chicken and fish as his preferred proteins. Overall Master Tim tends towards lighter meals, tending towards a Mediterranean Diet in most respects.”
“Which might explain why he weighs a buck twenty soaking wet. I’m amazed he can put anything decent behind a punch some days. He needs to put on weight… Don’t caffeine increase the body’s metabolism?”
“Indeed, well remembered Master Jason. In particular it favours the utilisation of fat as an energy source.”
“Problem is, he’s addicted… And some days it’s probably the only thing keeping him going… You realize he’s juggling too fucking much, right Alf?”
“You understand that asking him to put anything down will be deemed as an implication that he is incapable of doing the task?”
“Fuck.” Jason slumped against the counter, “Yeah, he would. And that would just push him further away. This would be fucking easier if he weren’t so… So Timmy!”
“Were he not, he would not be the person we are fighting to regain.” Alfred reminded, “We cannot change him. Else he will not be Master Tim anymore. We are the ones who need to change. In our thoughts and actions.”
“We need to stop taking him for granted. I fucking know Alfred. I just… I wonder if he’s gone too far for us to wrap around him. He’s drifted further than I ever did.”
“Dead is very far, Master Jason.”
“Which is why I’m fucking qualified to make that statement! I may have been violent towards everyone… Damn near killed Timbers. But I wasn’t trying to stay away. I was throwing my existence in your faces every fucking moment! I wanted you to know I was there. I wanted you to know I existed. I was spending so much time making damn sure I was in your thoughts… The first of your thoughts, every moment of every day… Timmy… Timmy’s just fading away. I fought. I raged. I screamed… Timmy hasn’t even tried. That’s what hurts the most… No…”
“No, what hurts the most is the fact that I knew. I knew he was missing and said nothing.”
“What was your reasoning, Master Jason?”
“I didn’t believe he was in any danger. I didn’t really care. I didn’t want anyone to focus on him instead of me.”
“You were jealous, Master Jason. It is a natural reaction. Unfortunately it had unexpected consequences on this occasion.”
“Yeah, and isn’t that just my life? I do something for me and I screw up. I got myself killed…”
“You are not responsible for that fiasco!” Jason jerked back at the vehemence from the usually softly spoken butler.
“Alfred?” Jason breathed.
“Forgive me, Master Jason. However, you need to know that you did nothing wrong in that entire situation. You are not responsible for the fact that others betrayed you. You are not at fault for believing you could trust the very person who brought you into this world. You were cruelly betrayed by someone who could not see what a gift you were; both to them and to the world! You are my precious grandson, something I do not remind you of often enough. I mourned you. I love you. As much as I love all of my grandchildren and my son. Blood does not make family. A fact you should well know.”
“Blood is thicker than water, Alfred. Bruce has his blood son. And the son he chose. The rest of us? Me and Timmy? We’re the replacements. The unwanted. The undesired.”
“Master Jason, you have the quotation wrong.”
“What?” Jason blinked in surprise at the apparent non sequitur.
“*The full quotation is ‘The Blood of the Covenant is thicker than the Water of the Womb’. Thus the saying actually states that blood shed between fellow warriors binds them closer together than mere genetics. Blood does not make a child. It does not create love. I thought my heart was complete when Master Bruce was born. I loved him. I will not say that I loved him as much as his parents did. However, I grew to love him more. I never believed that my heart could accommodate another… Until Master Richard came to this house. Within the first day he had carved out equal space in my heart. Though I do not know how, for Master Bruce had taken up the whole of my heart up until that moment. Yet, my love for him did not diminish. Nor did it diminish when you came and stole your equal share. Master Tim quietly laid claim to his portion; slower than the others, but with no less success. Master Damian did not demand his space, but I surrendered it to him anyway. While Master Bruce has difficulty expressing his emotions, I know that he loves all of his children equally. Sometimes his focus is on one or other of you; however, he tries to give all of you the attention that you deserve.”
“He’s just not always successful.”
“No. Unfortunately, he is not. He focuses on what is making the most noise; which means that he misses the quiet important things. If it helps at all, I still have to remind him about his own birthday; to say nothing of anyone else’s. Although he never forgets the anniversary of his parent’s death, nor your own.”
“I don’t know how to react to that.”
“You don’t have to, Master Jason. Just simply know that I love you. I always will. I may not always approve of your actions; however, I will never reject you.”
“You don’t hate that I didn’t say anything about Tim being missing?”
“No. I can understand why you did not. I do not approve of your actions. However, they are excusable, Master Jason. They are understandable. We never did reassure you that you were a valuable part of the family. Not in a way that you understood.”
“No. And you couldn’t get Timmy to understand either. Dick seemed to get it.”
“Master Richard has always been capable of accepting love in all it’s forms, no matter how it is expressed.”
“He speaks the universal language of love.” Jason snorted, “I still don’t understand how he’s on such good terms with all his ex’s.”
“Master Richard is a special kind of person, he’s charismatic in a way that very few people are. Yourself, Master Jason, are particularly good with people from disadvantaged backgrounds. You understand them in a way that no-one who has not experienced their situation cannot. From someone else, it could come across as patronising. However, you don’t patronise at all.”
“Although my sarcasm is fully developed.”
“Indeed, Master Jason. Did you have any suggestions for suitable meals for Master Tim?”
“Roy’s got these microwave bowls and mugs with lids… He does cans of soup in them.”
“I think I can produce something more inspiring and nutritious than canned soup.”
“Just who do you think you are?!” The words were spat at Tim.
“Tim,” Tim replied evenly, “And you are?”
He didn’t even set down his glass of lemonade as he adjusted his gaze upwards to meet the face of an angry teenager.
Heavy set and broad shouldered. Dressed in leather and a scowl. Tim quickly identified him as someone that Conner had occasionally complained about. Eric. The local jock, bad-boy, heart-throb.
Aesthetically Tim could see the potential attraction for girls. But the attitude, so far, was a warning sign.
“You been bothering my girl?” The question was more of an accusation than an inquiry. Punctuated by a heavy hand slamming into the stone wall just past Tim’s head.
Work is getting a bit better. Although I think we almost sent the Apprentice into a Nervous Breakdown yesterday.
He's used to having three constants:
2. Always needing to do the same task (I won't say what it is - but it's not making Tea or Coffee)
3. Us being three days behind.
Yesterday we caught up. He's not used to that.
“Your girl?” Tim spoke softly, “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
To be honest, Tim had already figured out six different ways to take the bully down without badly breaking cover. But he was curious and wanted to see just how far Eric would go.
How far people would let Eric go.
That and Tim was really confused. He certainly hadn’t been bothering any girls. He’d spent the entire service, sitting relatively quietly; alternating between listening and reading the Bible.
“Christina.” The name was almost spat into Tim’s face.
Tim blinked, as he collected his thoughts.
“A very pretty girl.” Tim replied calmly, “I wasn’t aware that she belonged to anyone other than herself.”
“She’s my girlfriend!”
“Then that would make you her boyfriend.” Tim returned politely, “You are very lucky that she has chosen you.”
Tim wasn’t entirely confident in his ability to talk his way out of the situation. He didn’t know enough details. He didn’t know enough about Eric and didn’t have the time to learn.
“And you were hitting on her!”
Not again, Tim mentally sighed. He’d missed someone flirting with him again. And she had been upset. So she’d set her boyfriend on him.
Tim was merely a piece of meat to entertain her.
Casting his eyes past the jock, Tim managed to see her. Standing on the edges, watching with gleeful anticipation. This was Tim’s punishment for not flirting back with her.
Judging from her eyes, Tim would have gotten beaten up, no matter what he had done. This was her form of entertainment. This was a game to her.
Tim wondered just how much of Eric’s reputation as a bully was down to Christina’s meddling. And how much was what had attracted her to him.
“No.” Tim stated evenly, “She asked me if I wanted something to drink. I cannot move very easily at the moment, so it was only logical to accept her offer to fetch me something. I apologise if she interpreted my friendliness as flirting. However, I have no interest in her as anything other than a friend at present.”
“Are you saying that she’s not good enough for you?”
“I currently have a broken leg. Are you so determined to beat someone up that you will target a stranger with a cast and crutches?”
“Are you so pathetic that you’ll hide behind them? Either you were hitting on my girl or you don’t think she’s good enough for you!”
“Or I could be focusing on my healing for the moment. Not just physical, but mental. I don’t have the emotional capacity to start a relationship at the present moment. It would not be fair on any would-be significant other to start a relationship where I carry so much unsorted baggage. A friendship would be a far more sensible place to start.”
“So you’re all screwed up in the head are you? Freak!”
“Possibly, yes. Are you going to hit me? Or are you going to walk away? Trust me, I am so many different kinds of injured right now that an honest to god bruise is going to be a refreshing relief.”
That got a reaction. Eric reared back. It seemed that he did have some limits.
“I am currently being held together with sticking plaster and thread. Almost literally.” Tim continued, “I have a broken heart and a broken soul. I have so many sharp edges I should come with a warning label. Just leave me alone. I am no threat to your relationship. Although I would ask you to take a good hard look at it. Looks to me like she’s manipulating you.”
Eric took a step back and then another. Then he clearly seemed to realize the image he was portraying. He turned and stalked away, as if that had always been his intent. As if he had done everything he had intended to do.
Tim’s gaze flicked to Christina. She wasn’t happy. The momentary scowl on her face was clear to see, before she wiped it away for a fake smile. Tim quickly categorised her as dangerous. She liked violence and she liked to watch. She was the King on her little chessboard and enjoyed watching other people dance to her whims and fight at her command.
And Tim was sure that she had her sights set on him. Her reasons, he wasn’t sure about, but he was betting towards him being a stranger and not attracted to her being the top two possibilities.
“I was expecting that to end in violence.” An older woman sat down next to Tim.
“I have always had a fast tongue.” Tim smiled back at her.
She was old enough to be his mother, if not his grandmother; depending on when she started.
“Are you alright, son?” She asked him gently, “Eric is not known for being kind.”
“Kind, no. But I also don’t think he has a reputation for being cruel either. I’m Tim.”
“Josephine. Eric is known for being tough. A bully, also.”
“I’d ascribe more of his actions to Christina. I don’t know why she chose me as a target…”
“She was flirting with you. You didn’t respond.”
“She was… Flirting?”
“You didn’t notice?”
“I’m… I’m not good at spotting flirting aimed at me. All of my exs will agree to that.”
“All of them?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“How did you end up dating them, then?”
“You know… I’m still not entirely sure. I think I just drifted into the relationships. I certainly wasn’t a good boyfriend. I was inattentive so Ariana cheated on me. And I didn’t listen when she tried to tell me. Zoanne… There was a spark… But it died. I could have fought to keep it alive, but I didn’t. Steph… She threw a brick at me.”
“I hope that was when you broke up.”
“Oh, no. That was before we were dating. She thought I was following her. She didn’t live in a good part of town. I ended up helping her through her pregnancy.”
“Not mine. I wasn’t even a suspect, as she put it. But he wasn’t going to hang around. So I helped out. She needed someone.”
“And yet you still broke up?”
“We were too different. We kept too many secrets from each other. It wasn’t a good break-up actually. But we’re friends now. Though we’ll never date again.”
“And you aren’t dating anyone now?”
“You’re curious, aren’t you? I suppose you would be. A stranger in town. Someone new. Got a daughter or a niece you’re thinking of setting me up with?”
“You don’t know anything about me.”
“You’re staying with Jon and Martha. They’re good people. You’d be the right age to be a friend of Conner. And he’s a good kid. So you must be a good kid too.”
“You don’t want me dating anyone.”
“Why not? You didn’t resort to violence. You talked your way out of that whole situation.”
“Loving me isn’t easy. I have sharp edges, I have missing parts.” Tim stated bluntly, “I’m not the kind of person you love. I never have been.”
“You can’t mean that. Everyone is loved by someone.”
“Not me. Look Josephine, I appreciate you wanting to make the stranger welcome. But I don’t like people meddling in my business. It has never meant anything good for me. People only ever want to use me. I accepted that a long time ago. I’m not staying long. I’m not someone you want your… whatever involved with. Just leave me be. Focus your attention on Eric. He needs more help than anyone in this town.”
“Eric’s a bully.”
“I doubt it is by choice.”
“We keep hoping that Christina will redeem him. She’s a good girl.”
“She has a love of violence and a sadistic streak.”
“She’s the Vicar’s daughter.”
“I have often found that the professions of a parent do not dictate the nature of a child. She’s dangerous. A vicious mind behind a pretty face.”
“You just don’t know her. She’s a beautiful soul.”
“I wonder who you’ll blame when she gets someone killed.” Tim remarked, “I wish you good day, Josephine. Mind how you go.”
He rose to his crutches and made his way out of the Church. He didn’t fail to notice the calculating gaze of Christina that was fixated on him for a moment.
“How did you find the service?” Jon asked gently, as joined Tim at the pick-up.
“Confusing.” Tim shrugged, “I don’t understand enough to understand the reasons.”
“The reasons?” Jon frowned.
“Why does a Font have eight sides? Why was the predominant colour today green? I know purple is used. Why does Saint John have an Eagle? Why does Saint Laurence have a grid?”
“Symbology.” Jon realized, “You want to know why things are the way they are.”
“The more I know, the more I can understand and the more I can use what I know.”
“Knowledge is a tool. I enjoy learning for learning’s sake. But I enjoy being able to use it just as much. You never know when a little snippet might be relevant.”
“You must be hell to play Trivial Pursuits against.”
Tim broke into the first honest smile that Jon had seen on his face.
“You know, that’s what Conner always says. He always tries to get on my team.”
“There’s that smile.”
“A real one. Kid, I know I don’t have any right to interfere. And I certainly don’t want you to take this the wrong way… But I’d rather see a real smile than a fake one. And if it isn’t real… Then don’t put it on. I like being able to see what you’re feeling. Even if that’s nothing at all… Even if it’s something negative.”
“I’m not sure I can do that. No one’s ever wanted me to show what I feel… Certainly not the negative stuff.”
“I’m not No-one. I’ve never been to sea. And I’m not all that fond of sheep… Plus my archery is terrible.”
“You’re a closet Geek, aren’t you?” Tim snorted.
“I just liked Mythology as a kid. Thought you’d get the reference.”
“Thanks. I think I needed that.”
“Kid, you need a lot more than that. You need to laugh more.”
“Not been all that in my life to laugh at… By the way, Christina? She’s dangerous.”
“I don’t know yet. But I’m thinking at least low level Sociopath. Possibly Psychopath. I don’t know. I’d need to know more. She could be a Sadist or just cruel. But she’s dangerous. She’s the kind of person to organise violence, stand back to enjoy it, before putting the blame on someone else. She’s smart enough and manipulative enough for that. It wouldn’t surprise me if she’s done it already. Maybe nothing big, but…”
“But there’s someone out there who got hurt because of her.”
“I believe so… Just… watch yourself. I don’t know how far she’ll go.”
“I understand… Don’t tell Martha… She might try to fix things.”
“I think I agree with you on that one. She is a bit of a fixer.”
“She means well.”
“We judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.”
I find it interesting that all of you thought my antagonist was Eric... He's just a lackey and a patsy.
Tim stretched moments after Damian cut the Skype link. He was stiff from being in one position for too long, but the healing skin on his back didn’t appreciate the stretch. He could feel blood soaking into the bandages and knew that he’d broken the fragile skin once again.
It was a repeating cycle. But Tim knew it would eventually get better. At least this time it seemed that he’d only broken the skin in one place rather than multiple. His back was healing, albeit slowly.
Then a new call came through. Tim frowned at the screen, before accepting the call.
“Hey Timbo.” Jason smiled.
“What do you need?” Tim asked, by rote.
“Will you be my Oracle?”
“Is this a ‘Will you be my Robin?’ thing? Because I remember how that ended.”
“Yeah, I was not exactly sane back then. Look, you want to get the guys who hurt you. I know you do. I would want the same. But you can’t do the job at the moment. I don’t care how good you are with computers, you need boots on the ground. And the longer you can’t walk the beat the colder any leads get. You need a partner… I guess what I’m saying is… I’ll be your Black Canary, if you’ll be my Oracle.”
“Will you wear the fishnets?”
“Fuck you, no! Is that a yes?”
“I have conditions.”
“I figured you would. I have some of my own.”
“I need to have eyes and ears on you at all times.”
“Most of the time. I have some sources I need to protect. Even from you.”
“I can concede that. But my sources also need protecting. You don’t tell anyone about them.”
“Sure. That seems fair.”
“We keep in constant communication. Any suspicions… Any details… Anything… You tell me.”
“Of course. I need to take advantage of that big brain of yours. No one knows more about this case than you. I doubt you told the police everything. And you certainly didn’t tell B or Dickie-bird. And you wouldn’t tell the Demon either. What are your other conditions?”
“You don’t tell anyone we’re working together.”
“That’s fair. Neither the Demon nor I have told anyone about our contact with you. We don’t plan on it either. And I ain’t telling the Demon about this. What else?”
“It’s redundant to say it, but no live rounds in your guns.”
“Wouldn’t expect anything less. But thank you for saying it’s redundant.”
“Sometimes I’m going to give you strange instructions. I need to know that you’ll follow them.”
“I might ask why, but I trust you.”
“Then we have a deal.”
“Agreed. What tech do you need to watch over me?”
“Get into my Nest. I’ll direct you from there.”
“Okay. I’ll call you from there?”
“No need. I’ll know when you get there.”
“I trip an alarm?”
“Everyone who goes in there trips an alarm… By the way, you told Damian how to get in there, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. We were worried.”
“You were looking. So you checked my places… At least the ones you know about.”
“Of course you have more.” Jason sighed, “You’re a fucking sneaky bastard.”
“It’s kept me alive this long. You go to my Nest. We’ll move from there.”
The Red Hood crept into Red Robin’s Nest, his eyes scanning for the indicators that told Tim he was here, but he couldn’t see anything.
“Welcome to the Nest.” Tim’s distorted voice came over the speakers, “You took your time.”
“Had to make sure I wasn’t followed. What are we calling each other during this team up?”
“Just stick with Red and Hood. Works for me.”
“Whatever you say Baby Bird. Where’s the tech?”
“Workbench. Everything is filed. See what you can get to work with your gear.”
The Hood moved to the workbench and took a moment to look at it. He didn’t want to disturb the organisational system currently in use.
Fortunately Tim believed in labelling. Everything was easy to find. Hood quickly retrieved a bone-conduction earpiece.
“Good choice.” Red remarked, only moments after Hood slid it into place, “I’ll link up.”
“Of course you’ve got fucking cameras in here. Nice job hiding them.”
“Thank you. What about eyes?”
“Can’t you just patch into the camera in my helmet?”
“I didn’t want to presume. And you don’t always wear the helmet.”
“We’ll figure it out as we go.”
“What intel have you got for me? Where do you need me to go?”
“I don’t need any of my contacts right now. The key detail is finding Phobos.”
“I’ve been trying, kiddo. So far, no luck. All I’ve got is that he’s not from Gotham.”
“He sounds like Matches.” Red supplied, “Nasal twang and all.”
“So New York or New Jersey. That’s a start.”
“Light skin. Very light.”
“Did you see his face?”
“No… But I saw his arm.”
“Yeah, that’s not really going to help in a line up.”
“It does when he has a tattoo.”
“What of? Because I can get my contacts running on that. Assuming it’s not a common thing like a heart or ‘Mom’.”
“It’s an eye of fire.”
“Eye of fire?”
“An eye with the iris on fire. On the wrist. His left wrist. He’s also left handed.”
“Don’t tell me you figured it out from the writing. I know that’s almost impossible to tell.”
“No. But he was in the corner of my right eye while writing.”
Hood stopped for a moment as he figured it out. It made sense.
“That is certainly something I can give to my sources. We’ll get this fucker Red. I promise it.”
“What’s on the cards for tonight?”
“Standard patrol. I’ve got no cases currently on my books. And I want to get my sources on the hunt. The faster they start looking the faster we can get results.”
“I’ll carry on with my searches online.”
“B, N and O searched what they could. They didn’t find anyone who had a reason to be going after you.”
“And I’m sure they checked everywhere they thought of. But there were a few threats I never logged.”
“Overheard. At events and galas. Words passing in the street. Nothing I could really trace. Most of them from reading between the lines.”
“Okay. You trace those. I’ll work the streets. You have overwatch.”
“I’ll open the front door for you. You can take a bike if you want.”
Hood cast a glance over at the bikes. One was very clearly Red Robin’s and another was obviously a civilian bike. However there were two others with no obvious markings, while still incorporating armour.
He quickly straddled one and started the engine.
“Anything I should be aware of?”
“Standard set up… Just avoid the blue button.”
“Do I even want to fucking know?”
“Probably not. Just don’t touch it… Ever… Like seriously.”
Hood looked at the button warily. He suddenly didn’t want to know what the button did. If Tim was nervous about it. Then it wasn’t a good thing. Which did beg the question of why it was there in the first place.
“Let’s get this show on the road.”
“Mrs Kent?” A voice called out from the front door, “Are you in?”
“Christina?” Martha emerged from the kitchen wiping her hands on a towel, “What are you doing here, sweetheart?”
“I feel bad about what Eric did on Sunday. I came to apologise and brought cookies for Tim. Is he in?”
“He’s working at the moment.” Martha smiled, “But that was kind of you.”
“Working? Oh, I suppose he can’t fall behind on his schoolwork. But isn’t it a little late in the day for that?”
“It’s not schoolwork. It’s business.”
“Isn’t he a little young for that? I mean I’m just about old enough to do Saturday work at the local shops.”
“It’s a family business. His father was ill a while back. Tim stepped up to take some of the strain off.”
“Not the first time I’ve heard that story. Although it’s usually the farm.”
“Well, family run businesses do have a lot of things in common. Everyone sometimes has to pitch in.”
“I guess so, Mrs Kent. I never thought about that. But surely the end of the day has come and gone?”
“Some international business thing. I didn’t really ask, and Tim wouldn’t tell even if I had.”
“Big company then.”
“Very much so. I know Tim was talking with the CFO when I last dropped off a drink. I’ll tell him you came by. He’ll probably be another few hours yet. And I know you need to be home for supper.”
“Thank you, Mrs Kent. I’ll see you later… Tell Tim, I look forward to seeing him again?”
“Of course dear.”
“Oh, and the cookies are double chocolate chip. Always the best when you’re not feeling well.”
“I’m sure he’ll enjoy them.”
It was strange having a voice in his ear. Red wasn’t like Oracle. There wasn’t a constant stream of information. Just details filled in. Intel that just made things easier.
Like a chase:
“If you take a left at the next turning you can cut him off.”
“He’s going the other way!”
“But his usual territory is the other way. He’s trying to throw you off the track.”
“So I’m getting ahead of him?”
“She’s on parole. Ten years if she goes back. And she’ll lose custody of her kid.”
“Agender… Check the chest area, it’s too padded.”
“I don’t even want to know how you know that!”
Certainly Hood had no objections to that last titbit. Seeing as it finally explained how a good quantity of drugs had been moved between different hideouts. And while the Hood would fight a woman seriously, he did draw the line at seemingly molesting them.
Normally he would get Kori or Batgirl to sort it out. But that always took time.
But that wasn’t the important thing. Even with the extra intel, Hood still hadn’t gotten any further on investigating Tim’s case. In fact, anything that Red had fed him since that first day had been nothing to do with the case.
It had been a full week and nobody was talking. This Phobos still nothing more than a whisper on the wind. Not even the Ladies of the Night had anything on him.
What made it worse was the fact that Tim didn’t seem upset by that fact. Nor was he sending Hood on odd errands or to visit any of his mysterious contacts.
He suspected that Tim was giving a little bit of trust and seeing what happened. Once bitten, twice shy…
Only Tim hadn’t been bitten once. He’d been bitten over and over and over again.
“Hood, I need you to visit someone.”
“Of course. Where do I need to go, Red?”
“That’s a bit of a trek to find Phobos.”
“It’s for another case. Something cropped up.”
“Okay. I’m your Black Canary. What do you need?”
The phrasing was deliberate. Neither Hood nor Jason had failed to spot Tim’s automatic question. The four words that defined his very being at the moment. Flipping them, gave Tim back some of the power that he had had taken from him.
“There’s a resident at a juvenile psychiatric home. I believe she has information that I need.”
“I’m not good with loony bins, kid.”
“Understandable. I just need you to talk to her. I don’t actually believe she’s insane.”
“Am I busting her out?”
“No need. She gets discharged in a week’s time. I just need this intel before she disappears.”
“Let’s just say she’s got reasons not to be found again. And I don’t have any reason to keep her on edge.”
“Okay. I’ll head out. What’s my cover?”
“Concerned family member to the staff. Interested party for the resident. She’ll keep your secret. It’ll only make her sound crazy if she tells anyone.”
“You’re not helping here. Just tell me where to go… And what to ask.”
“Depends on her answers. I’ll be listening in. I’ll direct you from there.”
“B,” Dick was slumped on the top of the bookcase in the Manor’s office, “This is taking too long.”
“We can’t rush it. We rush it and we’ll ruin any chance of fixing it.”
“What if we’re ruining it by not doing anything?!” Dick waved his hands frantically, “I missed his birthday, B. His birthday!”
“I know. I did the same.”
“The only person who actually remembered was Jason. And his present for Tim was a bunch of data to catalogue… The worst part is that Tim probably thought it was great.”
“Tim needs space and time to heal. We will get nowhere if we pressure him.”
“And we’ll get nowhere if we don’t do something!”
“We have invaded Tim’s personal space. His life has been laid bare for us. We have violated him just as badly as his torturers.”
“We were trying to help!”
“And you believe that our intentions change our actions?”
“Well… No. No, they don’t. But…”
“Give him time to come back to Gotham. Then we can approach him. When we can’t trap him in place. When he has the ability to walk away.”
“And what if he walks away?”
“He won’t. It’s not Tim’s way. If he feels penned in, he closes off. He fights to get free. If he knows that he can leave at any time, he will stay fast and make you to be the one to leave. And he’ll watch you do it.”
“He always has done the opposite to what I expected. Kept a secret when I expected him to tell. Stay silent, when anyone else would have yelled. Stayed when I expected him to run.”
“Run when you expected him to stay. Searching for me.”
“Saw the truth in the lie that everyone believed. Always coming from a different angle to everyone else. Listened when I thought he wouldn’t…”
“Huh?” Bruce frowned.
“Time travel incident. I never told you about it. Was locked in my memories until long after the event happened in the now… I didn’t even know about Jason and I threw it his face.”
“Impressive. How did he react?”
“He calmed down. Listened more… But looking back… If I’d known… I never would have said it.”
“You didn’t know.”
“But he did… And he’ll never blame me, but I still regret it.”
“Then we make things better. We explain our decisions to Tim. We stop assuming that he understands our points of view… He doesn’t. Because he doesn’t have the same frame of reference that we do…”
“He’s missing love. That’s what our research states… He doesn’t understand family.”
“Bonds of love are not part of his context. He sees relationships as a give and take situation. He believes that everyone wants something from him. And the worst part is that he’s actually right!”
“What?!” Dick protested, “I don’t want anything from him!”
“You want a brother… You want your little brother back…”
“I guess. But that helps him too. Makes things right.”
“You know things will never be as they were.”
“I know. But it could be better.”
“It could be. But it will take a lot of work. From all of us. Initially from us. We have to prove that we mean it. And keep proving it.”
“So first we explain…”
“And then we’re there for him. No matter how many times he pushes us away. We’re there for every call he makes. We invite him to every event. Even the things we would just expect him to turn up to.”
“Like Christmas dinner?”
“And birthday meals. Nothing big. Nothing public. We make sure that he knows this isn’t about putting on a good show.”
“So Movie Nights and everything else?”
“The invites have to be obvious and clear. No tricking him. We make it evident that it’s his choice. Each and every time. I don’t care if we invite him to something every single day for a month and he never comes. We keep inviting him.”
“It’ll be slow going.”
“Nothing worthwhile ever happened quickly… Except your fostering… God! I have no idea how Lucius managed to organise that so fast.”
“We take it steady. We take it slow.”
“And we try lots of different things. Movies, supper, lunch, coffee. If he’ll only do short things with us, then we do short things. If he’ll only do things where he doesn’t really have to interact, like the cinema…”
“Then we do that. Whatever he’s comfortable with.”
“We’ll need to be patient. We’re trying to undo years of damage. Not just our own. There is no quick fix. Dick, this will never go back to how it was. Accept that. And try to make our future better than the past.”
“Got it Boss!” Dick mock-saluted.
Jason tried to supress a shudder. He had too many bad memories of Arkham to be completely comfortable in another lunatic asylum. No matter what the name on the door was.
His main source of comfort was the tiny earbud that linked him back to Tim. Tim had gotten him out of Arkham. He wouldn’t leave Jason to rot in this one.
“M. Z. Nine. Twenty-two. Omega.” Jason started to recite under his breath, “M. Z. Nine. Twenty-two. Omega.”
“I’d never leave you there.” Tim’s voice was gentle in his ear, “You don’t need this sort of treatment. You’re going to walk out of there… Besides, if I left you there you’d organise a riot and break out before bed check.”
“Please,” Jason smiled, despite himself, “Like it would take me that long.”
“I don’t know,” Tim had a trace of amusement in his tone, “I think it would take you a little bit of time to get out of the straight-jacket and padded-room before you started. Then there’s getting all the crazies going in the same direction. Trust me, not easy.”
“And how would you know that?”
“You’ve never tried corralling a bunch of thirteen-year olds. They’re just about as crazy as it gets. Especially when they’re driven by their hormones… To this day I don’t think Cassie’s told Conner why she stopped glaring at Cissie and started being best friends. That’s assuming he even realized why they were fighting in the first place.”
“Why were they fighting?”
“Cassie had a crush on Conner and Conner was interested in Cissie.”
“Love triangle? How come you got all the fun teammates?”
“I thought you were fond of Kori and Roy?” Tim teased.
“Yeah. They’re good people.”
“Look, you have any trouble just say ‘Manners maketh man’ and I’ll get you out of there. I promise.”
“Hey, I could have gone with ‘Oxfords not Brogues’.”
“Where are you getting these from?”
“You’ve not watched… No, you wouldn’t have… It came out during your…”
“Sabbatical?” Jason suggested.
“No… The anger part… Look, get through this, and I’ll tell you the name of the film. You should enjoy it. There’s a lot of violence, swearing and dogs.”
“It makes sense in context… It’s a film that I certainly wouldn’t watch around Lian… And would watch around kids Damian’s age either… I don’t think Damian should watch it, but more because I think it’d give him ideas than anything else.”
“O-kay. Intrigued now. How long do you think this’ll take?”
“Depends how talkative she is. I’ll be listening in.”
“I remember. Don’t sweat. I may prefer the violent method most of the time, but I’ve done this kinda thing before.”
That caused Jason to pause. Tim knew that… That implied that he’d been keeping an eye on the Red Hood.
Jason wasn’t sure if it was fear, apprehension, satisfaction or appreciation that caused him to feel warm inside.
“I’m here to visit Jacqueline.” Jason told the nurse, “Friend of the family.”
“Have a seat,” He replied, “I’ll see if she’s up for visitors.”
Jason settled down. There weren’t any other visitors.
“Bit quiet here.” He murmured.
“Most patients only get visitors at the weekend. If they get visitors at all. Don’t worry, you’re a little unusual, but nothing that’ll stick out. Give them a week and they’ll have forgotten about you.”
A nervous-looking girl came into the room. She glanced around before sitting down opposite Jason.
“Why are you here? My mother disowned me when she got remarried. She’s paying me a good amount of money to never contact her or the family again. So who are you and why are you here?”
“Who I am doesn’t matter. A private investigator. I’m investigating Christina. My research brought me to you.”
“Tina.” Jaqueline replied quickly, “I always called her Tina. She thought it was a bit silly a Priest’s daughter being called Christina. Only thing worse would have been if she’d been a boy called Christian.”
“Okay, yeah, that is a little ridiculous.” Jason snorted, “What can you tell me about her?”
“She’s dangerous. She’s a rose. Pretty flower. Pretty scent. Vicious thorns. And no-one notices the thorns until it’s far, far too late. I thought she was my friend.”
“I was the undertaker’s daughter. Mother was stretched thin running the business and trying to look after me. Da died when I was really little. Mother was so busy keeping a roof over our heads that she didn’t pay me much attention. Didn’t help that I’d always been a Daddies’ girl and his spitting image. She was relieved when I became friends with Tina.”
“How old were you?”
“Oh… Four when we became friends. Everyone loved Tina. She was pretty and smart and sweet. The perfect little princess. No-one saw the cruelty in her eyes… I wanted to be a vet. I’ve always loved animals. I wanted to be a vet and be the best in the country. No… The world… And Tina locked onto that.”
“What do you mean?”
“It started off innocently enough. We’d play vets. Using toy animals. She was the nurse or the owner and I was the vet. Then she pointed out that I couldn’t tell what had gone wrong with the toy if I didn’t look inside. She’d even brought me a knife to ‘help’ me.”
Jason stared as Jacqueline made air-quotes around ‘help’.
“So I started cutting the toys open. I always sewed them back together. Because that was what a vet did. They put animals back together and made them well again.”
Jason felt a chill run through him. He was fairly certain this story wasn’t going to end well.
“By the time I was seven, she would bring me animals. I thought they were dead. Roadkill, she would tell me… I suppose I didn’t want to know… They weren’t dead. She’d used my mother’s sleeping pills and muscle relaxants to knock them out. Then she would watch me take them apart. I think she found it entertaining.
“When I was nine, she told someone. Only she put her own twist on it. That she had caught me torturing animals. I ended up locked up here.”
“Didn’t you tell them? What she did?”
“I told them. She told them her story… They believed her. Not me. It was my hands. I got written off as psychotic. Paranoid. Delusional. My lawyer decided that crazy was better than incarcerated.”
“And yet you got both.”
“I get out of here in less than a week. My record is being expunged. I’m getting a new name. I have a million dollars waiting for me. And I’m going to disappear. Make sure that Tina can never find me. I have a plan. And it involves never seeing her again.”
“What about your mother?”
“She disowned me, remember? She remarried after I was locked up. A rich guy. He’d been making moves towards her for some time, but she’d always rebuffed him. Without me there… Well, she has kids she’s proud of now. I’m pretty sure that Tina’s kept an eye on them. Wouldn’t surprise me if she’s blackmailed them.”
“How dangerous would you say she is?” Jason veered off script.
“Very. She’s got manipulation down. And she’s always been pretty. Unless something went wrong since I last saw her. She knows how to use people. I don’t think she’ll have gotten any better.”
“You’re very lucid for someone in here.”
“Been cheeking my meds for the last three years. I know how to fake just sane enough to stay here, but not have my dosages changed.”
“My partner admires your dedication.” Jason relayed, “He has found your initial bank account and has supplemented it, to thank you for your time today. I hope you succeed in vanishing.”
“Thanks. Just… Stay clear of Tina.”
“Don’t you want her locked up?” Jason frowned.
“I’d love it. I just know she’s too smart to be easily caught.”
“I’ve got someone smarter in my corner. And if Tina’s appeared on his radar… Well, I don’t rate her odds.”
“I hope you’re right.”
Jason watched as she left the room.
He didn’t speak to Tim, until he was back at his motorbike.
“Timmy, do you know where this Tina is?”
“Do you believe Jacqueline?”
“Yes. This Tina is a villain in the making. Do you know where she is?”
“I have her under control.”
“Timbo… She’s not going to be under control unless she had no-one she can manipulate.”
“I can handle this.”
“Yeah, I know Tim can handle this. I know Red Robin can handle this. But Tim Drake? With a busted leg? With a battered soul? I’m not sure you can. Not alone. I’m your Black Canary. You send me where you need me.”
“Where I need you is Gotham. I can handle this. Oracle doesn’t need anyone to protect her.”
“I know. Just… Stay safe kid. I’m worried about you.”
“Since when?” Jason could hear the bitterness in the laugh.
“For some time now. I just didn’t tell you about it. And particularly since I figured out that about half of my animosity towards you was created by Talia… She was trying to get me to kill you… She set Damian on you as well. Why does she have it in for you?”
“What makes you think she does? That’s just your interpretation.”
“I spent some time among the League. I still have a few contacts. Fewer than I used to. Not many assassins live to cash in their 401K. Even fewer ninjas. But they have confirmed that you’re not Talia’s favourite Robin. Even discounting Damian.”
“Think about it logically Jason. It’s nothing personal on Talia’s part.”
“Not personal? She wants you dead.”
“No. She doesn’t. Not really. Think about it. What is Damian?”
“Bruce’s son. His biological son. His heir.”
“The default inheritor of the Wayne wealth… Dick would never step up to being the head of Wayne Enterprises… I’d never be in the running… You’re the only one who would… You’re a threat to Damian’s future.”
“I was the only one of the Robins who could step into Bruce’s shoes.”
“And B doesn’t care about blood… You’d be the natural successor. That explains a lot. But not why she’s started gunning for you a lot more recently. Not overtly. But people are aware of it.”
“I’ve heard the same rumours.”
“Of course you have insider information from the League… But why has it stepped up?”
“You sure it has? Maybe it’s just Talia finding a different route now that you and Damian aren’t actively trying to kill me.”
“I’m not so sure. She hates you… Rumour has it, she’s keeping it from Ra’s.”
“I doubt you can keep anything from that man.”
“Look, Tim… I know we’re not close or anything. I’d like us to be, but we’re not. But if you need me… For anything… You call. I’ll help. I don’t trust Talia. I don’t trust Ra’s. I think you’re in danger from them. I know you can look after yourself… But they only need to lucky once. I don’t believe you when you say that this hatred of Talia is all down to you being a threat to Damian’s place as Bruce’s son. But I’ll take it for now… Just… Be careful. I do care about you.”
There was a long silence.
“Come on.” Jason smiled wanly, “Let me get somewhere secure and you can show me that film of yours.”
“You’re not coming to me.” Tim was firm.
“No. But you can show me the same way you showed Damian the Lord of the Rings.”
Please be patient with this story. I am taking November off for NaNoWriMo where I will be attempting to write an Original Fiction.
Once that's over, I'll be back on this. Hopefully with a little more regularity.