The little sphere in his hands weighed little, with bright colored pieces that fit together in an intricate pattern. Tim narrowed his eyes. Pushing on one piece shifted another. He tilted his head to the side, studying the way the patterns fit together. His fingers exploring the edges of the pieces were marred with cuts and raw skin, especially around his nails. Footsteps in the hall, pacing back and forth. The steps rang in his head. “I can’t focus, Kon!” he screamed behind him, shooting a glare back there before focusing on the ball once more. He heard the other boy’s footsteps fade away, down another hall.
“You are not supposed to yell at the other kids, Mr. Drake,” said a high voice behind him. He heard her heels clamping across the floor and taking a seat across the room from him.
“I don’t want to talk today, Dr. Quinzel.”
He glanced at her, blonde hair in a ponytail, notebook perched on her black skirt, her lips and top both her favorite shade of blood red. “That’s too bad. I was hoping we could pick up where we left off yesterday.” She tilted her head, studying him as he had the puzzle moments before. He glanced at her badge, the one that gave her security access to every part of the Arkham Asylum for Troubled Youth. It would be so easy to steal it, to slip out. His mind was calculating every step it would take. “Tell me again about the paranoid thoughts?”
“I’m not paranoid,” he said, his thoughts snapping back to the moment. “It’s only paranoid if you’re wrong.”
“You know the drill, Mr. Drake. When you have these thoughts, you weigh the evidence…”
“You know the evidence,” Tim said, “You’ve seen the files, the articles, the pictures…”
“Pictures you obtained by stalking.”
“It’s not stalking,” Tim stood, eyes flashing. “Bruce Wayne is Batman.”
Harley Quinzel chewed the end of her pencil as she considered him, unmoved by his outburst. “You broke into his private estate. You hacked into the GCPD computer system. You ran an illegal background check on a butler. You recorded phone calls and took pictures.”
“I had to prove it was him.”
“You felt you had no choice.”
Tim sat back, crossing his arms. She was good. She almost pulled him in, again. “No. I don’t want to talk about this. I know my rights.”
“Mr. Drake, I am your therapist, not a lawyer. This is not about rights, it’s about making you well again.”
“I’m not sick. I’m right.” Tim tugged on his sleeves, pulling them down over his hands. “I’m right,” he said, curling his legs up onto the chair with him. “I am right.” He heard her give up, something in the shift of her breath. She would give him space, but she would come back. She always came back. “I am right,” he repeated again, letting the mantra settle over him. He had to hold on to it. A shriek rang down the hall. That would be Bart Allen, the boy who thought he was from the future. A girl, Harper Row, was sobbing in the main room down the hall. “I am right,” he said again. Being in a place like this, surrounded by truly sick people, it was almost enough to convince himself that maybe. Maybe he was wrong too. He closed his eyes tight and repeated the words as the world grew dark around him.
Tim’s eyes flew open. He felt the movement in the darkness, a slight disruption in the space around him. His hand shot under his pillow and then thrust out. A hand caught his wrist, as a green light filled the room. “Damn, where did you get that?” the hand twisted his wrist slightly to inspect the handmade shank. “Wow. Hardcore.”
Tim’s eyes slowly adjusted to the light, coming off a military grade glow stick held by another man, standing just behind the first one. “I know you,” he said, looking at the man gripping his wrist. Red helmet, leather jacket. “Red Hood…” His eyes went over to the other, blue and black skin-tight suit. “And you’re Nightwing.”
He could hear the smile in the Hood’s voice. “That we are. And hey, I am really sorry about this.”
“Sorry?” He felt a pinch on his neck and turned to see a woman dressed all in black leather. He had enough time to say “Batgirl,” before his whole world tilted sideways.
The next time he woke, he was lying on a cold bed in a large room full of more tech than he had ever seen. He sat up slowly, looking around before focusing in on the three people sitting in front of him. Nightwing was perched like a bird on a metal stool, thumbing through a manila folder. Red Hood sat to his left, watching him intently, and the silent presence standing to his right was Batgirl, the new one with the mouth hole sowed shut. His eyes went around the room again. A giant penny, a dinosaur statute, oddly a cow, and a display case full of old uniforms that did not show up in the day-to-day crime-fighting world anymore. An old Robin costume, and one for the former Batgirl.
“Awake,” Batgirl said, bringing his eyes back to her.
“That he is,” said Red Hood. Nightwing looked up from the file, and now all the eyes were on Tim.
“You all work with him. This is the Batman’s…lair.”
“Bad guys have lairs, this is more a…Batcave,” said Nightwing.
“It’s kind of a lair,” Hood replied.
“Cave,” he said. “So we’re outside of town.” He studied their faces, trying to get what he could through their masks. “Near Wayne Manor?” His eyes widened, “Under Wayne Manor?”
Red Hood exchanged a look with Nightwing. “I told you he was clever.”
“It’s true. I was right.” Tim let out a laugh that was half relief, half triumph. “I knew it. So that means you are…Dick Wayne,” he said pointing to Nightwing. “Oldest, the circus background before you were adopted and the acrobatics, it makes sense. So you must be…” he pointed to Batgirl, “Cassandra Wayne. His newly adopted daughter, the ASL and your silence…it fits. All the pieces fit.” He closed his eyes, “So the new Robin must be the youngest…”
“Damian Wayne, true-blooded heir,” said a young voice, as Robin walked over to stand beside Dick, arms crossed. “And for the record, I am very much so against this.”
Tim looked at him, then his eyes fixed on the last member of the crew. “Who are you then?” The man reached up and pulled off his red helmet, tucking it under his arm. Tim’s eyes widened. “Jason Todd? But you’re…dead.”
“It was a near thing, but I pulled through,” Jason said. “Joker almost took me out of the equation, so then it made sense for me to disappear for a while.”
“So, you faked it.”
Jason nodded, “I wasn’t happy about it at first, but I got benched. Gave me time to be more ready before I started back in the field.”
Tim shook his head back and forth as if to clear off the cobwebs of his life at the Asylum. All of it, all of his theories were real. He was not crazy. “I knew it. The way you fight, the synchronicity of it. The silent communication. You weren’t a team or some assembled vigilantes. You are a family.” His face clouded. “What I don’t understand is. Your father had me committed for what I knew. Why bring me here now?”
Dick pulled off the Nightwing mask, revealing the young man beneath. Tim now saw the troubled expression. Dick wrung his mask in his hands. “When we realized what you were doing, that you were getting so close to the truth, we knew we had to do something. But what? It’s not like you were a criminal or even the cops. You were just a kid. And we didn’t act fast enough. Then you got caught, and all your evidence came out.” He looked into Tim’s eyes, his expression pleading. “You have to understand. He only did what he had to, to keep us all safe. If you were just arrested for the stalking and the hacking, your evidence would hold up but if you were…”
“Considered paranoid schizophrenic and obsessive?”
Dick cringed. “We never wanted this for you. But Bruce, he would do anything for this city.”
“Even ruin my life.”
Dick glanced at Cassie, then to Jason, but Hood had his eyes still fixed on Tim.
“So, why bring me here now?”
“Because,” Jason said, “You should not have to suffer just for being right.”
“I thought we should leave you to rot,” Damian said, crossing his arms. “After all, you caused enough problems for this family. Do you know how much work it has been to distance ourselves from the rumors you started?”
“It was never my intention to tell anyone,” Tim said.
“But you were sloppy. You got caught,” Damian said.
Jason raised a hand, “Enough.”
“Why did you look into us?” Dick asked.
Tim shrugged slightly, tugging at his shirt sleeves. “I…I see patterns. I just do, and I can’t let them go once I see them. I had to know.”
Dick frowned, “The thing that always bugged me about your case was how you got caught. You were clever, we didn’t even realize you were stalking us at first.” Tim cringed at the word, but Dick kept on. He lifted the file. “So, I was reading through this, trying to get answers. I get that the paranoia, the schizophrenia had to do with the case Bruce made. I always assumed the police caught you hacking their systems, but that’s not what’s in here.” He lifted the file. Tim saw on the other faces that no one else knew what was in the file. “It says you tried to kill yourself. Why? How could that have been faked?” He narrowed his eyes at Tim’s sleeves. “Did you?”
“No. It was Joker.”
Dick and Jason exchanged looks. “The Joker?”
“He attacked me.”
“Joker attacked you…before your hearing…when you were on house arrest?” Dick said. “How did no one find out about this?”
“Why would he attack you?” Jason said.
“He made it look like I hurt myself, I don’t know why. Maybe he didn’t want Bruce’s secret out either? Some kind of obsession thing?”
Tim watched the men exchange looks again and then saw them both staring at his hands. He tugged his sleeves over them. “You of all people know what he’s capable of,” Tim said, looking to Jason.
“Usually that is not subtlety,” said Damian.
“What do you plan to do with me?” Tim said, rubbing his arms against the chill of the cave.
“Right now, just keep you here until we figure this out,” Dick said. Tim watched Cass walk away to one of the workstations, she came back a moment later with a blanket and a mug of coffee, offering it to him. He pulled the blanket around him and then accepted the mug, letting it warm his frigid hands. “You stay. We talk.” Tim nodded slowly.
Dick lowered his voice, “Jay, I know you feel connected to this kid but…what if he really is…unstable.”
“His evidence was good, Dick. Scary good.”
“But he did stalk us, and break into the manor,” Damian said.
“We’ve been making a huge leap of logic,” Dick replied, “We’ve been assuming that since he is right, he is not cr…unwell.”
“Dick,” Jason said, slowly as if explaining to a child. “The only reason the world thinks Tim’s crazy is because we told them he was wrong. Because we made it seem untrue, he seems to have been obsessively stalking an innocent man. That kid believed he was being followed because we were following him, maybe the Joker even was too. He wasn’t actually paranoid. It was all true.”
“Do we actually know that Bruce faked his illness?” Dick said. “Did he tell any of you he was doing that?”
“Bruce, sharing his plans? Imagine that.”
Dick shook his head, “We all just assumed when Bruce pushed for the psychological testing it was to protect us. We assumed, but what if it was true?”
“And the accusations about the Joker seem even less likely. was no extravagance to the crime, no signature. We have never seen the Joker have that type of restraint” Damian said.
“And his arms,” said Dick.
“You can fake a suicide,” Jason replied
Dick closed his eyes, as if pained. He held up the file and pulled out a picture. It was a police photo, a close up of Tim’s arms when they brought him in. “Those cuts could still be faked, maybe he was drugged first, so he didn’t struggle,” Jason said.
Damian leaned over, “There are older wounds.”
“If the Joker made the new ones, who made the old ones?” Dick said.
“You’re saying you believe he really did try to kill himself?” Jason said, slowly.
“Both,” Cass said, as their eyes shifted to her, she expanded, signing them the rest of her thought, “Two things can be true.”
“He can be a good detective,” Dick said, “And unstable.” He looked into each pair of eyes and then turned, watching the boy sitting on the med bay bed, nursing a cup of coffee. “If it was true, Bruce is going to be furious.”
“Father will be furious either way,” Damian said.
“So, what do we do now?” Jason asked.