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Choose - Lose

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They stood side by side, shoulders angled outward, faces on the horizon. The wind rose, lashing stinging grains of sands against their skin before dying down again.

The offer still hung in the air. No one moved.

Tim looked to the empty space where the time traveler had stood, a forgettable man with a forgettable face in a forgettable shabby brown suit, and had made his unforgettable offer.

You can save him.

They had all been struck still and mute, the implications drowning them like a fresh wave of quantum sickness.

You can save him.

A fix. A true fix with a permanent solution. Not a dream. Not a hallucination.

Bruce, face bare, t-shirt wrinkling in the wind, had sucked in a sharp breath.

The forgettable, slender finger that had been pointing at Jason had swung to Tim.

But you will lose him.

The breath had choked in Bruce’s throat, like the aborted scream of a murder victim.

Choose.

The traveler arced one arm back, an open gesture toward the camp on the horizon, a warehouse on its perimeter. People moved about, no larger than flies.

In the air, a chopper whined. In the distance, a truck rumbled. A small, caped figure hurried across the dunes.

The traveler disappeared.

They stood shoulder to shoulder, a father and two sons. Three futures beneath Damocles’ dangling blade.

Tim could feel the numbness spreading up from his fingertips. They could save Jason. One of them or all of them. Just a sprint down the hill. A fist to the jaw of an unsuspecting clown. It would be done.

But you will lose him.

Tim’s place with Bruce was bought with blood. Paid for by the death of another boy. Without the sucking, gaping void of Jason’s absence, there was no role for Tim. There would be no grief for Bruce. No reckless rage to tamp down. No despair to fight back. No place for a lonely boy from down the hill. No reason to make the walk to the Manor’s front door.

Beside him, Bruce swayed. Forward, as if to step, as if pulled beyond his control. Then backward, rocked by the horror, repelled by the choice.

Beyond, Jason stood still as granite. Frozen. Hard. Petrified by the glare of Medusa. But Tim could hear him breathing, a ragged panting that rasped across the sands.

The numbness hadn’t yet made it to Tim’s heart. It gave a twinge of surprise that they hadn't moved.

Was it up to him again, then? To push Bruce into action? To do what must be done?

Tim stared down at the toy block of a warehouse, at the figure drawing ever closer. He wouldn’t die. He wouldn’t have to take Jason’s place, to be beaten and blown apart.

He would wake, alive and whole, in his own bed. He wouldn’t even notice the hole where his heart had been.

He would lose everything. Bruce. Alfred. Dick. Jason and Damian. Steph and Cass. He would never know Robin, prime or Red. He would never know the Titans. Every kind word. Every movie night. Every nod of approval and clap on the shoulder.

His parents would still die. He would wake up alone, in a stranger’s house. He would never know.

He would live, but he would lose.

The numbness was past Tim’s elbows, spreading up to his shoulders.

He looked again at the faces he loved.

Their eyes were on the distance.

Bruce had gone white. Jason had gone green.

Tim pictured them as they had been. Whole and together. Broken and apart.

He pictured a headstone covered in a lawn of young grass. He pictured a memorial case in a Cave dark and empty.

You can save him.

Tim looked down the hill. The warehouse door was swinging shut.

The numbness crested over his heart, burying him.

He would lose everything.

Tim took a step forward. Then another.

A hand encircled his wrist, held him fast.

The trigger callus scraped against his skin.

“Come on.” Jason’s voice was thick, heavy as the pull on Tim’s wrist. Heavy as the arm draped over his shoulder. As sure as the hand he extended to Bruce. “Let’s go home.”