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Dead Man Walking

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“Thank you for taking the time to see me, Mr. Wayne,” Agent Tim Drake says with a polite smile as he accepts the cup of coffee the butler offers him. It's early on a Wednesday morning. Not so early that Bruce Wayne shouldn't already be at the office instead of entertaining government agents at home, he knows, so someone had to have tipped him off that he was on the way. He spares a moment to wonder who but, in the end, that's fine; Bruce staying on familiar ground for this talk is acceptable.

“Of course,” He says with a smile that is open and honest and a little bit flirtatious. Anything someone wants to read into it, really. Tim also knows that Bruce Wayne received a diagnosis of anxiety at a relatively young age and he's touted as a success story for overcoming the social aspects of it. “I knew your father. I felt it was only right I find a moment to see you.”

Oh, Tim thinks. He's playing the connection angle. Which really shouldn't surprise him. It's not as dastardly an angle as the man could have gone for; he hasn't been threatened or bribed yet, after all. It's trying to appeal to him on an emotional level. Of course, a lot of people knew Jack Drake. Bruce gets points for having actually gone to the funeral two years ago and trying this tactic. “I appreciate it,” He answers and sips the coffee. It's not awful. Not the strong, semi-gel form of coffee he's come to rely upon, but it will do the job. “I'm sure you know why I'm here, Mr. Wayne. And I'm sure you know that I already know the answers to most of the questions I'm asking you. You knew my father, after all, but he also knew you. I came to parties in this house.” Years ago. He feels sometimes like he was another person back then. But in his line of work he's seen people who were actually other people years ago so it doesn't feel like a very fair comparison.

Government agent. Department of the Unexplained. Technically off the books, though his director is petitioning every year for more legitimacy. He has the reassurance that if he ends up in any bizarre hostage situations in the line of work that the government will extract him. Beyond a better pay check, what more could he ask for?

“Then you also understand I'm protective of my boys,” Bruce says seriously. He's dropped the socialite act. Tim likes him better when he's genuine. He doesn't even think he is trying to be threatening now, but leaning forward with those broad shoulders and that bulk? He might be considered hulking for someone without the height and weight. Might be. Tim's been small all his life and trained extra hard because of it.

“I don't mean any harm to your sons,” Tim assures him. He really, really doesn't. He's met Dick a few times and always liked him. Jason had been something of a boyhood crush though he admired him mostly from afar. Damian is...well Tim doesn't wish him well but that doesn't mean he wishes him ill, either. He assumes you have to get to know him to like him and he has no desire to perform the steps required to do that. “But you're a smart man, Mr. Wayne. You know if you don't talk to me they'll send someone else. And another person after that. Sometimes not the nicest people show up.” He really doesn't want that to happen to the Waynes.

Bruce has to know that. It doesn't stop his frown from deepening. “Ask your questions, Agent Drake.”

Tim makes an effort to lean back, to look as harmless as possible. “It might be better if your son Jason was here. This is mostly about him, after all.”

“No.” It's a flat refusal. No elaboration. That won't endear him to any other agent that might follow up after him, but Tim lets it slide. Mostly because he suspects Bruce feels Jason is in no shape for visitors. Bruce's posture reads tenseness. Protectiveness.

Tim plows ahead anyway. “You adopted Jason twelve years ago? From the foster care system,” As though that's not a matter of public record.. “Was he orphaned?”

Bruce has no doubt been asked these questions a hundred times. “Twelve years,” he agrees. “He wasn't orphaned at the time. His mother had recently passed away and his father was incarcerated. His father died before being released which was when I was able to formally adopt him instead of foster him.”

"No other family?" But Tim knows this too. And he knows rich people have a way of making what they want to happen actually happen. 

Bruce seems like he can read his thoughts. "A paternal grandmother. Wanted nothing to do with her son or grandson. Two aunts and an uncle. Hadn't spoken to the parents in years. No one wanted him." He pauses. "Except me," he adds and Tim doesn't doubt that for a moment. Still, it isn't a social services interview. Sometimes there's a biological line running through these things. These extraordinary people. 

Jason Todd Wayne. Child of an addict and a petty, alcoholic criminal. Tried to pick the pocket of a billionaire and ended up adopted by him. It's a tabloid perfect story. Tim doesn't want to add anything else interesting to it. He doesn't want this to be what his bosses are looking for. 

Because Jason's adoption isn't all that interesting to them. It's what came after. "He was abducted at fifteen and, you were led to believe, murdered." Tim hates saying it. He had nightmares after the event itself and he relived them while he hunted through the file for any information. Prying into people's lives has a certain thrill for him. A certain excitement. Prying into a death, into a darkest moment, just makes him feel like shit. Especially when it's a kid. Even more so when it was a kid he once knew.

"Sixteen," Bruce replies. "He'd just had a birthday."

He's not volunteering any extra information. It's a good tactic. Tim wishes he were a little less decent because he wants to expose something in this case. It's clear there are more than a few raw nerves. "I've seen the photographs of the autopsy," he confides. He tries to sound casual about it, like he hadn't been sick, like he hadn't almost passed off the task to his partner before deciding Kon didn't need that burned into his mind either. He'd had to detach. Disassociate. The body on the slab had no relation to the boy who had waved at him once on the way to school."With the damage done by the murderer, it would have been difficult to obtain identification."

"And it was." It's as close to a snap as Tim thinks he'll get. Bruce has been coached, but this is still a wound that Tim is prodding at. "Teeth smashed beyond a dental record. Fingers amputated or the prints burned off. His face..." Bruce trails off. Tim doesn't think anyone can fake that brief, haunted look in his eyes. It had been gruesome for him staring at photographs; what was the in-person product like? What was it like when it was your son? The man had been the one to find the body while he tried to drop off a ransom. Tim's listened to his call to the police right after, too. The way he had barely managed to choke the words out. 

"I'm sorry," Tim replies. "I'm trying to get through my questions as quickly as possible." Because he is, without a doubt, making Bruce Wayne relive what is probably one of the worst days in his life. "But it wasn't Jason," he continues. "Because two years later you found Jason in a state-run hospital."

Bruce nods, but his expression doesn't change. There's no joy at the reminder of the day his lost son was returned to him. "He had been in a coma and he was only then recovering. It was pure luck that my oldest son was touring the facility and recognized him." But, this time he goes on. "It seems the kidnapper only injured Jason. Badly. Enough to cause him to forget, but he escaped. When that happened it would seem the killer abducted another boy and passed him off as my son." 

He's found in his line of work that victims, and the relatives of victims, often find a truth to believe. It might be a partial truth. It might be a complete fabrication. It's something that they cling to, never the less. It's something that keeps them functioning and Tim can't fault anyone for that survival mechanism however much he wants the entire, brutal truth.

It seemed like it had been a miracle to find Jason Wayne alive. Tim's read at least forty of the articles that were written about this in the years that followed. "The body was gone when the police went to exhume it?" Tim phrases it like a question. 

Bruce frowns. "Unfortunately it appeared there had been some grave robbing soon after the burial. The groundskeeper covered it up instead of notifying the proper authorities. I'm unsure if it was your common vagrant hoping I'd buried my son with some jewelry or the kidnapper trying to conceal the fact he had killed a different boy.”

He knows he should let this go. He knows he should let Bruce Wayne believe whatever he needs to. The man is concealing a lot, certainly. "Were there blood tests, though? Hair follicle comparison? It appears that page of the autopsy report has been lost." Definitely purposefully. Money talks and if it can't talk then it buys a decent hacker to remove the offending material. "In murder cases, tissue samples are always retained. From the victim and from the attacker. Material under the fingernails for example-"

"What makes you think there were fingernails if there were no fingerprints?" Bruce asks, bitterly. "I saw the body, Agent Drake. Mutilated to the point a father wouldn't recognize if it was his own child. I'm certain the coroner did his job." He pauses. "Is that what this is about? An internal investigation that has made it all the way to the FBI?" He sounds skeptical. Also hopeful. A little obscene, really.

Bruce Wayne isn't stupid. Tim knows that from childhood and he knows it now. He's not someone to take nothing but a word on the death of his child. He's not a man of blind faith. He's also not a man who would have left the details and confirmation up to strangers.

Tim owes him the truth. What passes for the truth since he's not sure Bruce could know what they might be dealing with. "There have been some concerns about Jason's safety, Mr. Wayne. We believe the killer who abducted Jason is active again. I'm here to investigate-" 

"That was years ago," Bruce cuts him off. “I assure you, my son has the best security available. Surely even the government can manage to investigate something like that when it happens instead of nearly seven years later?"

Tim studies him but there's no flicker of doubt on his face. No indication he might know about anything happening now that would draw the FBI to his doorstep. "Nine years," he amends for Bruce. "Jason died nine years ago. You only found him seven years ago." 

Bruce's expression hardens. 

"There are rumors about your son, Mr. Wayne," Tim attempts again. "Rumors that have caught the interest of certain people higher up. You should know how ruthless the government is. "About Jason seeing his potential killer. Remembering his face. Some say the killer is coming back for him. Others are arguing that he had to be in league with the killer to escape.”

"Rumors," Bruce scoffs with a bitter, angry look. "There were rumors about you, too, Agent Drake. There always have been. Can you imagine if people put stock into every ugly rumor that circulates?"

This, of all things, is not a tactic Tim expected Bruce to take. He doesn't normally seem to go for personal insults. The Drakes, for all their money, had never had enough societal influence to protect themselves from rumors. One of the first and only fist fights Tim had gotten into was because a kid was repeating a story he'd heard from his mother about Janet Drake sleeping with the gardener.

It's not that rumor Bruce means, and Tim knows it. "I think there's a difference in rumors about my sexuality and rumors about him coming back from the dead. I just need to know if you think any of the rumors involving him might be true.

"Are the rumors about you?" Bruce counters viciously. 

But Tim only shrugs. "A little. I'm bisexual." He's crossing a personal line here and he knows it. His superiors had sent him in hoping for some personal connection to get them what they wanted but he doubts any of them anticipated things going quite this way. "Funny how the long-persisting rumors sometimes have a grain of truth." Bruce looks taken back by his candidness. Good. Tim set his coffee cup aside and began to gather his things. He tucks his notepad back into his messenger bag and withdraws a business card to leave on the desk, despite already having given him one. "Thank you for the interview." 

He knows Bruce wasn't talking about only the rumor of Tim Drake being gay. He was talking about Stephanie Brown. About Tim's long-ago fiancee and her disappearance, supposedly, so Tim could live out of the closet. Or something. Tim actually wasn't sure how the rumor had evolved, but he knew that he'd been invited to every Wayne function afterward as a kind of show of solidarity.

Bruce stands with him and shakes his hand. All politeness now as he shows him to the door to his home office that probably puts most legitimate offices to shame. "I'll take what you said under advisement, Agent."

Tim nods, hovering in the doorway. No one is around outside to overheard him; he makes sure of that. “What do you think happened to your son, Mr. Wayne?" He questions softly as he steps out. 

Bruce's voice is soft behind him. "I don't know." 

~*~*~

Kon is waiting for him at the cemetery. It's not the one where Tim's parents are buried, thankfully, or he'd feel obligated to stop by and say hello. The camera strap around his partner's thick neck has tangled in the collar of his dress shirt. He'd really missed his calling as a photographer and hournalist instead of an FBI agent. Their shared love of the hobby had drawn them together in the Academy in the first place. It had only been natural that Director Lance had assigned them together afterward. At least, only natural when no one wanted to work with Tim and he got a reputation as an essential black cat of not only his department but everyone else's.

"Nothing much here anymore," Kon informs him without being asked. He's always good like that. A mind-reader in the non-psychic way. "Coffin was exhumed seven years ago, give or take. No body inside. Groundskeeper who failed to report a disturbed grave was fired. The guy here now says that it was a middle aged guy with a back problem. Not malicious, just lazy. He didn't think enough of the ground was disturbed for a whole coffin to be removed, so he covered it back up and decided the ground had sunk." 

"But the coffin wasn't removed prior to that," Tim muses as he looks at the staked-out patch of dirt and weeds. "Just the body." There's not much to examine here any longer. The Wayne family still owns the empty plot. Everything but the root of the gravestone has been removed (professionally, not by the weather) and Tim idly wonders if anyone is going to be buried here in the future.

Kon nods, flipping through his own legal pad. "They had to fill in the area twice. Hole in the coffin that kept letting dirt in and making the ground cave in. They didn't know what they were dealing with since this is a nicer cemetery. Better coffins don't just collapse like that." He squints at the paper, even with his dark sunglasses protecting his eyes from the glare of the sun. "Theorized that a claw hammer was used. Slammed in and then pulled out, which was why the splinters were pulled toward the outside." 

That, too, is something they've seen photographs of. The only photographs that exist are grainy, clearly covertly taken during the brief exam of the coffin. It had been incinerated soon after. But poor quality as those shots were, Tim could believe someone had taken a claw hammer to it. "What'd you find out?" Kon asks him as they stroll along the graves. It's a pretty day. Tim's struck by how peaceful the graveyard is, and he remembers reading that the Victorians used cemeteries for recreation before public parks were easily accessible. He's a fountain of morbid knowledge like that. He'd like to think it came with his job trying to explain the unexplained, but he'd started collecting bizarre facts as a teenager.

"Not a lot," Tim admits, running fingers through his already mussed hair. He needs to get it cut. It's long enough that the fringe falls in his eyes. "Learned Bruce Wayne loves his son. He's not going to throw him to us to interrogate." It makes their job a hell of a lot harder but he's also relieved. He's glad that particular rumors about Bruce and his affection for Jason are not true. The man lost a child he loved. Nothing more, nothing less. "But I don't think even he believes the story about mistaken identities and miracles." 

"Who would?" Kon asks with a shrug.

They head back to the town car, company issue, that he drove to Wayne Manor after dropping Kon off. "I'm starving,” Kon comments as they buckle in. Safety first. “Wanna pick something up before we go back to your monastery and flagellate ourselves?"

Tim's used to the debasement of the apartment he keeps in Gotham as well as how his obsession over the cases he's working could be thought of as unhealthy. He even as a wall, like a serial killer, where he can tack up all the clues and what binds them together. Cracking a conspiracy theory was what got him transferred to a department of his choosing (this one) but he's always had to be careful not to be too talented. 

The apartment was inherited; something his father had used for business contacts. Tim only has to pay the taxes on it and it's as good as anywhere to go for little getaways that he calls vacations and Kon calls aggressive self-punishment.

Kon drives. Tim is lost in his obsession enough that it would probably be dangerous if he were behind the wheel. "A kid gets kidnapped. For what? " He questions. 

"Money," his partner answers, ever the practical side. Ever trying to keep Alice from jumping down rabbit holes. "Ransom money."

Tim nods. So far so good. Everything makes sense in this universe and in most others. "And the kidnapper beats the kid. Or at least induces some head trauma. But he gets free. Runs for it. So instead of cutting his losses, the kidnapper kidnaps another kid. One that looks enough like him to fool his father and the police and the coroner." He fishes an ink pen out of his pocket and chews the end of it. Kon watches warily; enough ink pens have exploded in his vicinity that he knows to be on guard. "He doesn't send any more photos or videos of this kid as proof of life or to lay a false trail though, he just kills him and leaves his body. Why?"

Kon steers the car into a little drive-thru. Tim makes a face; he's not a fan of fried chicken but by letting the other man drive he's given his consent to whatever culinary craving he has at the moment. If he orders a side of biscuits, he's probably stressed and missing home. "He wanted to kill someone. Or he wanted to fake the kid's death." 

Possibilities Tim's considered when they first began looking in to this case. "Because at that point there was no reason to kidnap another kid. Wayne would have brought the ransom money anyway. There was literally no reason to get a replacement at that point just for the money." He pauses while his partner orders, feeling the beginnings of a headache. Kon is apparently feeling likewise because he gets two sides of biscuits and a thing of gravy.

Tim needs to talk to Jason directly. He needs to have information right from the horse's mouth. He's asked Bruce to have Jason call him. He's asked Jason's secretary to have him call him. He's going to have to resort to other means."The kidnapper brutally murders a boy and mutilates the body to hide the identification," Tim repeats. "Leaves him so Wayne only finds him after the ransom money is there. He doesn't get any of the money." 

They pull up to the first window and Tim absently hands Kon the company credit card. "Doesn't make sense," he agrees. "Can't be a simple ransom job. He wasn't desperate for the cash. He wanted someone to suffer." 

“Exactly.” Tim knows his face has lit up. He knows it by the wary look his partner gives him but he continues. "There are magical types that feed on pain and suffering. The way that kid died? It would be a feast for something like that. Making his dad suffer? Dessert." He's hedging on unapproved territory, here, and he knows it. Kon has seen a lot of weird things in his time with Tim. Tim's exposed him to a lake monster and psychics and low-key magical humans. Demons is pushing it. "It must ruin it to have things flipped. To have your victim come back to his family."

He falls silent as Kon is handed his food at the next window, accepting the large paper cups of soda without complaint and settling them in the cupholders. "What are you suggesting?" Kon asks, glancing over his shoulder. "We're just here to follow up, Tim. Make sure that the nine year anniversary isn't going to lead to Jason Wayne getting killed. By a serial killer or otherwise."

"Just," Tim snorts. The killer, if it can be called something so basic, is active again. Mutilated bodies. Children usually. Left where parents can find them. Lured away and killed, sometimes with a request for a ransom but other times no contact at all. “I think it's a demon.”

Kon, to his credit, does not drive off the road like that time he had suggested a werewolf was responsible for the disappearance of neighborhood pets. “Why would a demon want ransom money?” He asks, practically. Tim can always count on him for that. Cruel impartiality. He doesn't care if Tim is his partner and if they are so in sync with one another that they should probably be married; he's forever going to doubt. He's always going to call him on his bullshit.

“Exactly the correct question,” Tim answers. “It doesn't. It's just learned our ways. It's trying to draw suspicion off its ultimate goal.”

He reviews his notes on the way back to his place, reading Kon a little information on demons and on the victims, ignoring the way it feels like the chicken is burning through the packaging and into his lip. He's going to eat the chicken and hate himself, but he's starving and Kon's not going to leave him alone until he eats. They've been partners long enough he's aware of how this plays out. “I think this thing is going to come back for Jason Wayne,” Tim confides. “I think that it set the cosmic balance off to have Jason alive and well and his father content with that.”

Kon glances at him. “Why do you think that?”

“I don't know,” Tim admits. “Educated guess? I have a feeling.”

Kon groans. He knows how feelings usually play out, too.