The first time Tim calls himself that, even he doesn’t quite buy it.
“You can’t be serious!”
The yell echoes across the cave, ricochets off the stalagmites, sends a flutter of wings rising from the corners. But it is nowhere near enough to convey the din of emotions pounding in his chest. His dad is dead and no scream is loud enough to drown out the buzzing in his ears.
“Oh, are you still here?” says a snide voice. Damian, dressed in his colors, wearing his name. The name Bruce had given him. “We’ll have to upgrade security in the cave, Batman. Keep out the riff-raff.”
Batman- Dick Grayson – doesn’t respond, doesn’t say a single word in Tim’s defense. Dimly, Tim wonders how he’d somehow lost his big brother too without noticing. Try as he might, Tim cannot keep the hurt out of his next words.
“How can you let him wear that costume, Dick? What earth are we on that you chose him over me?”
“Don’t be so sensitive, Drake” the gremlin continues. This time, Dick interjects with a sharp “Damian, shut up now.” But it’s too little, too late, Tim is already walking away from this twisted farce of what used to be.
“Sorry, Drake. You’re still part of the team, maybe the Batgirl costume is still available.”
That does it. Tim’s fragile control snaps in half. Damian’s snide emphasis on his last name could hardly be missed. Tim might not be Robin anymore, but that wasn’t the only name Bruce Wayne had given him.
“My name” says Tim, turning and putting a fist in the little monster’s face, “is Tim Wayne.”
He recalls the day he was adopted in perfect clarity (of course, he recalls most things with perfect clarity, he was a Bat after all). He remembers his stomach twisting itself into knots, anticipation and nerves and guilt playing havoc on his body as they approached the courthouse. He remembers the gaggle of paparazzi and reporters gathered around the steps, the flashing lights disorienting him and the taste of nausea curling at the back of his throat. More than anything, he remembers the reassurance of Bruce’s strong palm pressed between his shoulder blades and his steady presence at his back.
The spectators had screeched out all sorts of questions while the duo made their way up the steps.
“Mr. Drake, will you be signing your parents’ company over to Wayne enterprises?”
“Mr. Wayne! Will he be considered the heir to the fortune?”
“How do you respond to the rumor that-”
“Would you give him the Wayne name or will he be just another ward like Richie?”
He had run from the questions faster than he’s ever run from the Joker. He had reached the top of the steps in a jiffy, eager for the comforting presence of Dick and Alfred waiting inside, letting Brucie put on all the show the press needed. It had been stupid to let them get to him, especially when Tim had known this is what life under Bruce entailed. So he had made himself push the words away and put on his game face instead.
It hadn’t been until later, when they stood with pens poised over the papers, that Bruce had spoken again. His voice had been earnest and awkward, all traces of Brucie having been washed away.
“I wouldn’t mind it if you did, you know?”
Tim had looked up from the papers to meet that intense gaze, “Did what?”
“Take my name. No, I mean-” at this Bruce had looked away, shoulders hunched and unsure like they got when he was trying to get past Batman’s 50 foot-high emotional walls. “I would be happy if you did. But it’s your choice, nothing changes between us either way. You will always be a part of this family. I don’t want you to feel like I’m trying to replace your dad. Anything you want is good, Tim.”
Tim had considered that. The guilt that had been nagging at him since he had accepted Bruce’s offer returned in full force. What was he doing, disrespecting Jack Drake like this? How could he be considering having another family, another father when it had been mere months since his dad had died? Dick had taken years to call Bruce his dad, and Bruce still didn’t quite acknowledge Alfred for what he was. Hell, Dick hadn’t taken the Wayne name when he was adopted even a decade after his parents’ deaths!
But, the question from earlier had echoed in his head with annoying persistence, “Will he just be another ward like Richie?” Tim had known that wasn’t true, had known better than anyone what Dick meant to Bruce, so crucial to him in ways outside their alternate identities. Dick not taking the Wayne name didn’t change a single thing about the strength of their bond. But Tim wasn’t Dick, he had only been in Bruce’s life as Robin, a fanboy who had annoyed his way into the role (not chosen like the others were). A poor substitute for the Robin they had actually wanted back. This offer had been the first time Bruce had chosen him on his own, and Tim had wanted (needed) something concrete to bind him to the family, to hold a tangible proof that he was wanted here.
So he’d breathed out “I would like that too.”
Something had cleared in Bruce’s eyes at the words, and the corners of his lips had edged into a small, fond smile. He’d given his shoulder a light squeeze before gently setting the pen down and inscribing the words “Timothy Drake-Wayne” onto the paper.
Tim’s vision had turned blurry as he’d read the words. He’d smiled at Alfred’s quiet congratulations, returned Dick’s exuberant embrace, and turned to find Bruce reaching out his arms. Screw you, he’d thought fiercely at his guilt as he was engulfed into the safety of those arms and sniffled against Batman’s chest. He wasn’t trading one family for another! Dick, Bruce, Alfred – they had been Tim’s family long before Tim had lost either of his parents. They had taken him in and offered him a purpose and a home when he was in desperate need of one. He had and would always love his parents, but the Waynes were his family too and it was about time he showed that to the world.
He’s out there somewhere. I know he is. I know I’m right. Bruce Wayne… Batman… is alive.
He might have taken the name, but Tim had never used it, not really. He had geared himself up to use that name at a couple of galas before, had even used it once to get himself kidnapped so that he could track the bad guys to their lair when Robin couldn’t. But those were times when he was putting on an act and using the name as just another tool in his belt. Somehow, he had never dared to use it more earnestly, it had felt fake and presumptuous even with Bruce’s wordless go-ahead. There was a great weight attached to it after all. So Tim had stuck to his birth-name, and told himself that it didn’t matter, having it on paper was enough. No need to complicate his social life by tacking it onto his introductions.
It isn’t until now, when he’s alone and floundering, that he finds himself latching onto that name like an anchor in a storm.
“Is there anything else I can do for you, Mister Wayne?”
“I’m fine. Thank you.” Except for everything, I’m perfectly fine.
Tim gets off the plane, breaks into a museum, causes an international incident and accidentally teams up with Ra’s al Ghul.
It’s only after he gets on the plane to Baghdad that he gets a reprieve to think about all he’s found out in the past couple of days.
Bruce is alive, just sent back in time. And Ra’s al Ghul is the only one who believes in me.
This felt like a bad joke, how did he end up like this? It used to be so clear where the lines were drawn. Back when he was Robin, there was no confusion, no compromises, no collaborating with immortal quasi-vampire demon heads.
That’s because Bruce was there to hold the demons at bay, he thinks, and if I accept Ra’s help, I have a better chance of bringing him back and making everything go back to normal.
Rationally, he knows that is true, but the war still rages in his head. Bruce wouldn’t approve, he thinks as the plane lands, but what did that matter now? Bruce is gone and Tim is lost. He moves past the baggage claim in the airport and flashes his passport at the officer.
The officer smiles at him and says, “Welcome to Iraq, Mister Draper.” Tim smiles back and steps out of the airport into the sun, coming face-to-face with the trio of assassins from Berlin. You’ve got to be kidding me.
Tim barely manages to get his hands on the birdarangs in his bag before a sharp “Freeze!” rings out. “Hands in the air now! Or we will shoot.”
He is surrounded by soldiers with a dozen guns pointed at him. They are apparently here for Alvin Draper regarding the museum debacle. So much for that alias. I shouldn’t have travelled so quickly after the museum job, I’m not thinking straight, making sloppy mistakes. I-
“There has been a misunderstanding Sergeant” says one of the unholy trio. He flashes a Wayne enterprises ID and introduces himself as Tim’s bodyguard. Anger sparks through Tim at the idea of this guy having hurt a Wayne employee in order to get that ID. But there’s nothing left to do but play along now. Slowly, he reaches into his bag and pulls out the passport with his real name.
“I’m supposed to meet with the head of Wayne industries here.”
He hates having to do this, there is a reason he’s been using aliases instead of Tim Wayne since Berlin after all. He hates dragging that name into this mess he’s in, when he’s becoming more compromised by the day.
“Bruce couldn’t make it, so he sent me.”
The officer frowns at that, “Bruce… Wayne? What are you to Wayne?”
“He’s my adoptive father.”
The words work like a spell that even Zatanna would envy. Immediately, the tension clears, guns are lowered, the sergeant backs off and gives a signal of retreat to his team.
“Our apologies, Mister Drake. Draper must have gone through another checkpoint. You are free to go… and please, thank your father for me. Bruce Wayne is a great man.”
Tim gives him a Brucie smile and thanks him for the release. When he turns to the assassins, he lets the façade drop but follows them wordlessly. It’s as much of a truce as they’d ever get.
Tim knows Ra’s is trying to control and manipulate him, but he can’t bring himself to care. Bruce Wayne is a great man, the sergeant said, and he’s right. But I’m not Bruce. The time for indecision was over, Tim’s got to take a stand and stick to it. Even if it meant more compromises.
“Was it worth it, Timothy? Was it worth the compromise?”
The shadows shift around them, highlighting the unnatural pallor of Ra’s al Ghul’s face. They are standing in the Wayne tower, on the highest floor, the glass windows making up the wall give them a view of the glitter of Gotham nightlife. But neither of their eyes stray from each other. This feels like the climax of a B-grade action movie. Ra’s would doubtless not appreciate that comparison.
Ra’s’ green cloak billows behind him as he holds up the communicator. A cold smirk stretches across his face as he continues, “Was coming here to foolishly confront me worth sacrificing the lives of all those who your mentor held dear?”
There is a veiled accusation in his tone, as if it isn’t Ra’s himself who’s been trying to destroy everything Bruce had built, out of some petty need to retaliate against Tim. But that isn’t going to happen, not on Tim’s watch. No one can touch Bruce’s legacy while he is still around.
“See, that’s where you are wrong. I’m done compromising. Report.” He snaps. A cacophony of answers greet him- Superboy, Kid Flash, Manhunter, Batgirl, Man-bat, Huntress, Wonder Girl, Batman and Robin. The targets were all safe, Bruce’s loved ones secure now. All except Tim.
Ra’s charges him. Tim can’t beat him and he knows that. All he’s got to do is stall, stall long enough for Lucius Fox to finish his job. And hopefully Tim survives long enough to see that. Keep stalling...
Tim speaks with unrushed sureness, even as he exchanges blows with the Demon Head. “Your target from day one was Wayne enterprises, not the people. You’re not a blunt instrument, you’ve never attacked us like this before. So why now? Because Hush made it so easy.” Hush, who had been gallivanting as Bruce Wayne since Bruce’s death - a mockery of their father- would have signed over the company like it was nothing to save his own sorry skin. But he can’t, because Tim is in charge of Bruce’s legacy now, Bruce had reached out and given him the gift from beyond the grave.
“Two things happened today, Ra’s. The first is that I became an emancipated minor. The second-” Tim takes a breath at that, still overwhelmed by the magnitude of trust Bruce had shown in him, “is that as of now, I’m also the controlling shareholder of Wayne enterprises.”
As he continues speaking, outlining Bruce’s Will and request to pass on his position as CEO to Tim, he cannot quite keep the tremor out of his voice. Wayne enterprises was the lifeblood of the Wayne family, passed down the generations from one heir to another. It was their solemn promise of never abandoning the city, a beacon of safety and sanctuary in the rot of Gotham. It had been lovingly amended and improved by every generation to better serve the city. The presence of Thomas and Martha was still strongly evident in those halls. And Bruce had- had just bequeathed the heirloom to Tim like it hadn’t required a second thought. Like it was a foregone conclusion that Tim would live up to it. Like Tim had never not been a Wayne.
The revelation had done something to Tim. It had sparked a fierceness and conviction in him that was somehow completely different from the desperate mission that had been guiding him the past few months. It felt like Bruce had reaffirmed their bond from beyond the grave, beyond time, beyond the constraints of the universe. He had declared Tim family, now and forever. So Tim is done running, done compromising. He is a Wayne now, in every sense, and he would honor that name.
“Even if you kill me now, I’ve made sure he won’t be able to transfer anything to you. You’ve lost, Ra’s.”
Ra’s seems to sense the new resolve in Tim. No more compromises, no more chances to twist Tim to his favor. He glares and says, “Well done, Detective.”
Then he kicks Tim out the window.
I did it, Tim thinks as he falls out the tower, glass pieces slicing into his skin and half his cowl torn off. I saved the people he loved. I saved everything he worked so hard to build. No compromises. His injuries make it impossible to reach the grapple gun, and the concussion makes it too hard to focus on anything, but he doesn’t care. He can’t stop smiling. He won’t say anything, he never does. But I know. I know that Bruce will be proud of me. Through blurry vision, he can make out the bright W at the top of the tower. Not a bad day.
The last thing he remembers is the taste of salt and the firmness of an arm wrapping around his torso.
“Batman” Bruce. Despite the less than optimal circumstances, his heart is in his throat and he can’t keep down the giddy joy at the sound of that voice. Bruce is here, really here. Of course, Bruce being here is causing a cosmic breakdown and if they don’t act soon he will take the entire universe down with them. Oh well. Gotta pick your battles.
Bruce looks like hell. He’s shrouded in a semi-futuristic maggot-like cloak, and one of his eyes is gleaming red. “Are you here to stop me?” he asks.
“The Justice League is waiting outside that door to put you down if we have to.” He can’t squash the desperate note in his voice as he continues, “Tell me we don’t have to. What is all that stuff crawling over you, Bruce? Where have you been?”
“Alone” says Bruce. “In the dark, with the bats.” Typical. “I’m trying to save everything. Everyone.”
That seems to be the cue for the Titans to barge in. Ugh, can’t Tim get five minutes alone with his freshly-out-of-time dad?
“That suit’s reading off the scale!” Vic says, “Bring him down! Let’s end this. Fast and clean!”
“NO! Wait!” Tim says, throwing himself between the Titans and Batman, back to Bruce. Like hell is he letting them attack him after all Tim’s done to get him back. “Just gimme five minutes before you… start breaking…” But his words are cut short as Bruce charges past him with inhumane speed.
Jesse Quick’s down before they can even move. Tim ducks behind one of the pillars in the hall. He can hear Cyborg shouting out orders, when he hears a robotic version of Batman’s growl remark, “Assess threat: cyborg: weaponized flesh/machine fusion. Initiate global systems fail.” Just like that, Cyborg is down. Huh, looks like Bruce’s picked up something nasty from the Vanishing Point.
This is bad, thinks Tim activating his comm and trying to reach Dick and Damian. He watches Bruce make quick work of Donna, Congorilla and Starman. The line doesn’t connect. “No word from Batman and Robin from Gotham then. The whole city’s in quarantine and the Joker’s on the loose after all. Looks like we’re on our own.”
He can hear Diana readying to battle Bruce. Shit! Tim jumps out from behind the pillar before she could charge him. Let me try to reach him, one last time. “My turn. Two minutes. Then bring in the big guns.”
“Who’s next?” says the nightmare cloaking Bruce, wearing his body like a grotesque puppet.
“Batman. It’s me.” Listen to me Bruce, look at me. “I knew you weren’t dead.” Tim pulls back his cowl, lets Bruce get a look at his face, wishes Bruce would do the same. “I knew it. When Darkseid shot you back in time, I was the one who knew that corpse couldn’t be you. I knew you’d leave messages if you could, and I knew you’d find a way back.” He injects steel into his voice. “I’m Tim, your partner, and you have to listen to me.”
Batman seems to have accepted that, he isn’t making any moves to attack Tim. [assess: red robin; no obvious threat] “Out of the way” growls Bruce, tendrils of darkness writhing around him, “There’s danger here. Ultimate danger.”
Tim holds up his hands in a placating gesture, so glad that he’s listening to him. “Yeah and it’s you. Darkseid made it so your trip through time would saturate you with something called omega energy…” He trails off, wondering how best to get through to Bruce.
“I prayed every night you’d come back to us,” Hunted the corners of the world, teamed up with assassins and wandered around all alone. “But something’s wrong, isn’t it, Bruce? What kind of technology is that? It feels creepy and you are lowering the temperature in the room.”
“It’s.. from the end of time. End of everything” Bruce says, and blood starts running down his nostril, the technology was wrecking the very human body bearing it. But his voice is little more Bruce and less Batman when he says, “I know you… Tim.” He says it like he’s tasting the name. “This equipment is overloading my nervous system… Tim… Robin.”
It sends a jolt through him, being called that name again after so long, from Bruce nonetheless. “Red Robin. Damian’s Robin now. Dick is Batman. Everything changed.”
“Damian?” Batman asks.
“Bruce, the Omega effect took your memory. But you’re Bruce Wayne and you wear a disguise to frighten people okay? You’re Bruce Wayne!” He emphasizes the name, trying to provoke a recognition, trying to get a glimpse of his dad.
“… Not yet..”
“If something’s wrong, you got to let us help you. We can’t lose you again.” Please, don’t leave me again. He reaches out a hand, “Partners, Bruce.”
“… Partners”, Bruce repeats, the tech flickers and lifts from his face momentarily. Tim catches a glimpse of the familiar steel blue eyes and his heart stutters. “Batman… Batman and Robin…”
Diana’s voice cuts in sharply. “It began to emit Omega radiation the second you appeared.” She says, holding up the shroud they had lifted from the Batgod leavings. The message is clear: Time’s up!
Tim makes himself step back, the force of his failure half-choking him, “I’m sorry. We have to stop you, Bruce. I’m so sorry.” He pulls his cowl back on, letting Diana take the lead now. There was no place for Tim Drake-Wayne here, only Red Robin.
He drifts in and out of focus as Diana gives the Sparknotes version of Darkseid’s plan (“blah blah to turn Batman into a cosmic bullet saturated with Omega energy and making him destroy the world blah”) to Bruce, attempting to levy on him the severity of their situation.
Bruce listens surprisingly well for someone who has an Apokalytpic parasite crawling all over him. When she’s done, he holds up his arms and asks her to wrap her lasso around them. There is an un-Batmanlike desperation in his voice when he says, “Maybe I’ll finally remember who I am.” Diana complies.
The rope glows. Bruce’s eyes finally clear.
“I worked it all out to save everyone. But I had to forget so the hyper-adapter would have nothing to go on. I tricked it into coming to this day, this moment. I’m Bruce Wayne, now it knows. I need your help, Diana”
Tim moves forward at those words. “He’s telling the truth.”, confirms Diana. “ But there’s something else isn’t there?”
“What is it?” Tim asks taking the shroud from Diana, “What’s that weird double echo? I’m getting hardcore deja-vu.”
“Protect yourself Tim”, she says, then the infestation over Batman engulfs him. [Hyper-adapter infestation complete]. Diana pushes Tim back, “Go, I’ll deal with this. The technology’s possessed.”
“I can’t leave him like this!” Tim protests. His argument is broken off as everything around them turns into a blur of shattered fragments. “What is it? What am I seeing? Is that what Time looks like?”
The thing that was Batman lunges forward. “Darkseid’s vengeance is due.”
Diana blocks him and shoves Tim behind her. “I told you to get to safety, Timothy!”
“And I told you I’m not leaving him!” Not now, not after so much, when he’s so close. I can’t lose him now. “He survived Darkseid. We can’t let him down now.”
The moment is interrupted by a deafening crash. The time sphere descends into the hall, fresh out of Vanishing Point. Green Lantern, Superman, Booster Gold and Doctor Hunter are encased safely within it. Thank god!
With them, comes pandemonium. Clark shoots out of the Sphere faster than his eyes can follow, slamming Bruce down and wrangling at the parasitic technology engulfing his best friend. The other heroes gather and collectively manage to somehow force the Hyper-adapter off Bruce and into the Time Sphere, all hinged on Batman’s convoluted plan of using the Time Sphere to contain the technology.
“Is it done? Did it die?” Booster asks.
There is a beat where no one dares to breath, then the Time Sphere self-destructs and Bruce starts to shatter with it.
“… What’s happening… to me?” he says, on the floor, on his back, convulsing in time with the splintering Sphere. The heroes rush around him, reaching out to help but rendered helpless by their own incomprehension.
Tim can’t bear this any longer. “This is not fair! You throw the Joker at him, FINE! Killer Croc, Bane, empty-handed! Don’t-”, his voice breaks on the word, turns into an ache. Bruce arches back in pain, his gaze focusing on Tim for just a second. “Don’t make him fight Gods on his own. He fought his way back and you have all these powers… DO something!”
Clark throws him a pained look, seeming equally tortured by the sight of his best friend in mortal pain. Diana, ever the practical one, takes Bruce into her arms, “He struck down a god. Such hubris on the part of mortals can’t be suffered. Batman must die.”
What the actual hell?
At that, the Robin in him blindly pitches forward to defend B. But he’s snapped back by Hal’s stupid arms closing around him. He shouts and struggles as Diana lifts Bruce up bridal style, and takes him to the decontamination pool and promptly dunks him in. Clark rushes to help, holding Bruce underwater.
Logically, Tim knows that they are trying their best to cleanse the dark god’s curse. But his hysterical mind cannot process things like logic when his dad is being drowned. Every second Bruce doesn’t move is another second Tim is losing.
He thrashes against the arms holding him back, screams himself hoarse, yells all sorts of demeaning insults at the heroes surrounding them.
Bruce’s heart stutters to a still. Clark and Diana keep him down with forced calm, expelling the radiation from his body clinically.
Tim chokes on his panic as his vision betrays him and blurs, depriving him of what could be the last sight of his dad. His instincts are going haywire, his head is pounding and he cannot think, cannot breathe, cannot let himself consider the grotesque possibility of- of-
Bruce doesn’t move.
Tim is not even holding himself up any longer, Hal’s restraint has turned into a loose embrace at this point. He is half-conscious of attempts at comfort being directed towards him by the hero entourage. He couldn’t bring himself to move his eyes from the still form of the person whose arms were once his only refuge from the world. This can’t be happening, please let me wake up, please let this end already.
At the corner of his eye, something catches his gaze. The only thing that could snap him out of his stupor. The tattered cowl of the shroud. The cowl which meant terror for criminals and safety for children.
He shakes Hal’s hand off and snatches it up. Holding the cowl which brings with it memories of curling up in a dark cape on chilly nights, of Kevlar-clad shoulders taking on all his burdens, of being held in an armored cocoon protecting him from a bazillion bullets. Dick’s voice echoes in his head, “This is how we honor the Wayne name.”
And suddenly, he knows what to do.
“Listen to me! I know how to bring him back.”, he says. The sudden confidence in his manner brings all the eyes to him. “Tell him Gotham’s in trouble.” He holds up the shroud, takes sure strides to the Trinity crouched in the pool and shoves the fabric at them, “And tell him he’ll need this. Come on, Bruce!”
After, as the entire Justice League and Titans pile into the Javelin to set course for Gotham, the heroes don’t hear Batman and Red Robin’s breaths hitching as the duo embrace in the back. They don’t turn their heads away to give the two privacy to hold onto each other. They certainly don’t blink away saltwater from their own eyes.
This is Batman after all, and no one can do him the disrespect of suggesting he can’t handle the aftermath of a forced cosmic suicide-bomb incident all on his own.
The shine of the bright mid-morning sun hurts his eyes. For once, Gotham is all gleaming and shining under the clear sky. No black clouds or spontaneous rainfall. Thank god, or Alfred would have killed me for ruining this suit.
Still, that doesn’t stop his crankiness from dialing up to eleven. The bright glare and the surrounding cacophony do no favors to his sleep-deprived mind. Sleep that he had lost from chasing around The Condiment King - of all supervillains – all of last night with Damian and Dick. He’d gotten in a couple of hours sleep before hurrying over to the construction project on Park Row. This would be his last chance to check in on this project for a while after all. He’ll be off flying to Montreal for a W.E meeting in the afternoon and then to handle Batman Inc. business after.
Tim wishes his jam-packed schedule would allow some more room for this particular project, he hasn’t been able to devote it the attention it deserved. The plan was to restructure the old theatre in Crime Alley into a new residence for Tim.
When Tim had heard a couple of weeks earlier that the theater where Thomas and Martha Wayne had breathed their last would be under demolition soon, he didn’t stop to think before buying it. It also hadn’t quite felt right keeping it as it is. This was once a theater that was well-adorned and visited. Leaving it like some cursed tombstone plunged into disrepair didn’t sit well with him. Like the tragedy it bore witness to had sucked the life out of the building and doomed it. He didn’t need Babs to point out the metaphor for him.
So instead, he took it as his own. This place had once given birth to Batman, now it would be Red Robin’s nest. He was keen to stretch the wings of his new hero identity. The thought was somehow freeing. Red Robin did not have Robin’s squicky-goodness mantle to live up to, and the idea of discovering what kind of hero he would be outside of that filled him with excitement.
And I did it without a major wardrobe disfunction, take that Dick!, he thinks, gleefully picturing Dick-Robin’s scaly underwear and Nightwing’s showgirl wings.
Babs and he had been teasing Dick about that part of his life just last week at the family night. “At least my identity transformation did not come with a mullet.”, Tim had said. Steph had agreed with that and added that his transformation had in fact made his hair prettier. Dick had taken great offense at the implication that anyone in the family could be prettier than him. There was a great deal of bickering which culminated in two brothers devolving into a noogie battle to decide who was prettier. The tussle had only ended when Bruce was called in to decide once and for all who was the prettiest of them all.
Bruce had given them all the Batlook and pointed wordlessly at Cass. They looked at Cass. Cass smiled. No one had dared to counter.
“Mr. Wayne!” calls the engineer in charge. Workers buzz around Tim like bees in a hive. He shakes away the warmth of the memory and makes himself focus on the blueprints being rolled out for his perusal. The tricky part was making the plans for the underground base his home needed to have for the Nest. It was proving quite tedious to work that into the plans without feeling like he’s waving around a sign saying, “Look, I’m your resident vigilante!”. He mm’s and ah’s as the engineer - Dave, he recalls - prattles at him, waiting for the Bat reinforcement to come in already.
Ugh, Tim thinks shielding his eyes as they catch the abominable sunshine again, it’s like we are in Metropolis. He can almost hear Kon calling him a vampire at the back of his mind.
Tim can’t help but revel in how… painless the thought is. For the first time in a year, the thought of Kon doesn’t bring any pain or grief with it. Because now, his last memory of Kon isn’t the broken and battered body of his friend in a crater, instead it’s the warm hug he’d been engulfed in just a few days ago.
“I believe you”, Kon had said, without an ounce of doubt when Tim had professed to him his belief of Bruce being alive. Everyone from Dick to Cassie to Steph had declared him delusional with grief, Kon had only needed one statement from Tim to throw his all behind it. While that wasn’t enough to purge the hurt wrecked on him by the disbelief of his other loved ones, it did resurrect something in him. This was what Tim had been missing all these past months. The unconditional and unwavering support of his best friend, one of the only people he could always trust to trust him.
“Tim! You look dapper!”
And of course, this was the other thing he had been missing.
Bruce Wayne is striding towards him casually, his presence already causing a ripple in the crowd around them. Even after all these days, the sight of him causes a prickle in Tim’s eyes that has nothing to do with the sun.
“Finally”, Tim says to Bruce, ignoring Dave springing upright and spluttering greetings at the Gotham Prince. Bruce greets the man with a nod, before leaning in to press a kiss to Tim’s hairline, looser with affection in his public persona. “You were supposed to be here an hour ago!”
“That explains why I had to hit the snooze button ten times!” Bruce exclaims, “Sorry kiddo, it had been a late night.” Tim supposes he can’t nurse much anger at the man. After all, B had been busy with the League last night. Time travel had apparently upped Batman’s already borderline insane paranoia levels, and he’d been building security protocols like no one’s business. Thankfully, he balanced that out with family time most of the days lately. A feat that would have been impossible to imagine before.
“I suppose I could be convinced to forgive-”, Tim starts, magnanimously.
“Good try”, Bruce interrupts dryly, “but I’m still not going to let you mess with Dick’s shampoo for a prank. The manor will not survive another prank war.”
“Oh come on, the last one wasn’t even that bad!”
“I had to bail them out thrice from prison”, Bruce says long-sufferingly to Dave. “My hair was inexplicably purple by the end of the week.”
“That was Steph! You know you’d brought that on yourself when you’d offended her eggplant sensibilities.”
“You mean when I tried to gently dissuade her from wearing a purple-frilled gown to a black-tie event?”
He looks to Dave for support. Dave, the traitor, gives Bruce a pitying look. Then, he seizes the chance to finally direct their attention to the blueprint he’d been wielding. Bruce accepts the segue with grace, already starting up on his ideas for the construction.
It’s close to noon before they wind up. Bruce had reiterated that he’d liked what he saw. He’d suggested some ideas to the designer for the elaborate underground garage (the Nest). As Tim takes him around the house and they achieve some semblance of privacy, Bruce gives him some good suggestions about linking an underground access to the city’s unused tunnels. Doubtless, he had every tunnel mapped out in his head.
They walk around the site bouncing ideas off each other effortlessly. Tim is tugging at his tight collar as they round the site and arrive at the front. Bruce slows down and Tim turns to look at him. There is something unreadable in his too-blank face.
He had never gotten around to asking Bruce if he was okay with this! I am rebuilding the site where his parents died and I didn’t even ask him. In the past few months, Tim had gotten used to being the enactor of the Wayne legacy, had even started acting as the W.E heir in full capacity. When Bruce had returned, he hadn’t commented on any of it. Hadn’t mentioned Tim taking up his name with such gusto, hadn’t questioned all the decisions he’d made for the company in his absence. He’d just gone along with it, without a second thought.
When Tim had mentioned the rebuilding project to him, Bruce had just considered it for a moment and then replied, “This can work”.
Not will. Not should. “Can”.
Tim had let it be then, but now, the words yank at him. All of a sudden, his old insecurities rear up, warning him of imminent rejection.
Before he can summon the words to confront Bruce however, his secretary strides up to them and reminds them of their flight. It appears they’d gotten quite carried away with the project and were running late. There is a great deal of hustle as they rush to the car and settle themselves in for a stomach-turning ride to the airport.
Tim is staring out the window as the Park Row theater disappears from his view, dimly hearing Bruce beg his secretary’s pardon for stretching the time at the site beyond their plan, he comments that there was a lot to cement there.
Tim can barely pay attention as he watches the streets speed by. He is blinded by a dizzying array possibilities all of a sudden. What if Bruce really had meant declaring him as the W.E heir as a simple temporary strategic move? What if it really was presumptuous to suddenly be parading around as a Wayne, making decisions about things so close to the family?
If Bruce was uncomfortable with the reconstruction, what else had he been silent on?, he thinks as they finally reach the airport. His body feels wooden as he gets out of the car and follows Bruce into the airport.
Suddenly, Tim cannot bear the three-piece designer suit he’s wearing. He feels like a phony. He wants to yank it off and swap them with dorky shirts and baggy jeans. That’s what Tim Drake used to wear!
But Tim can’t exactly do that while walking up the ramp to the flight, so he curbs the instinct and forces calmness into his demeanor. In the jet, he takes his seat opposite Bruce, unable to meet his eyes. They silently sit back and endure the take-off. He fixes his gaze to the window, watching Gotham be reduced to a speck under him. Better that than looking at Bruce.
Of course, that kind of avoidance barely lasts long against the World’s greatest detective.
“Tim?”, Bruce asks softly, “You okay? You seem a little distracted.”
Tim makes himself look at him – no need to raise even more flags- ready to offer up some excuse with practiced smoothness. But the words die in his throat when he looks at Bruce. At the metallic eyes that turn so soft when they look at him. At the face he’d thought they had all lost just a few months ago.
“Is this okay?” Tim asks. Then rushes to elaborate as Bruce’s eyebrows furrow, “The project- turning the Park Row theater into the Nest. I- With Thomas and Martha. I mean, I’m sorry I hadn’t asked you for permission before, I understand if you want to stop it. I mean it means so much to you and I’m just a-”
“Tim”, Bruce interrupts. He reaches forward to cup Tim’s cheek with a rough, calloused palm. Tim doesn’t think he’s imagining the tremor in his voice or the glistening in his eyes. “You will bring honor to their memory.” He says, fiercely.
This time when Bruce leans in to press a kiss to his forehead, there is no trace of Brucie in the action.