See previous disclaimers.

When the Bough Breaks…

Summary: Tim believes that his partnership with Batman will be restored tonight. Little does he know that his mentor has other plans for him, Nightwing and Batgirl. The Conclusion.

AN: First of all, thank you for the great reviews Batwonderlove, ChiisaiLammy, LivEvil, silver, and Shahla, they really made my day.

ChiisaiLammy—I really want to thank you for that detailed review, it really helped! I just wanted to tell you that what you said about Bruce being too soft was a concern I had as well. That scene was a tough one for me to write, because I really had to try and get into his head…see how he'd react to what he was feeling. The original version I'd written out had him acting much colder, but in the end I decided I needed him to be a little distraught here. I think this hit him harder than Dick's departure. It was probably on par with loosing his parents so young. He was responsible for Tim, cares for him like a son, and then something so horrible happens. I needed him to be a little unraveled, since this was one of the darkest moments in his life. It also serves as a contrast to the distance he's shown since then. That flash of heart before he takes it all away. I'm probably going to take your suggestion though, make him a little harder in a reworking of that chapter, but I just wanted to give you guys a feel for where I was coming from with that.

Secondly, Bruce does something pretty bad (I think) in this chapter. Some of you might not agree with his course of action, but I felt that this is how it had to be. Either way, let me know what you think. Now on to the story:

Chapter 5: Clipped Wings

He did a back flip and then somersaulted through the air. Bracing his hands on the padded beam, he relaunched himself into a series of front handsprings. Landing in a crouch, he planted a palm on the ground lifted into a side kick and then a roundhouse-back kick-upper cut combo to close. "Still got it!" he said after coming to a halt.

"Nice moves, kid. But you left your face unprotected when you came out of the roll."

"Dick!" Tim leaped over the bars of the training area to meet Nightwing as he dismounted his bike. "What are you doing here?"

"Got a page from the boss," he said, putting his helmet on his handlebars. "Looks like the costume still fits," he said, indicating the red and black outfit Tim wore. "You been out?"

"Not yet. But I think tonight's the night. I've run all the drills, and did the last run in under five minutes."

Dick put his arm on Tim's shoulder as they walked to the upper level of the cave. "Under five, huh? That's pretty impressive. Looks like you're ready to get out there and start patrolling again."

"That's what I'm hoping." He looked down and scratched his head. "I hope Bruce feels the same way."

Dick knew that things had been tense between Bruce and Tim. While he hadn't talked much to Bruce, he'd been in touch with Tim through the ups and down of his rehabilitation. The boy had only been up on his feet for a month now, but he was training harder than ever. After months of rehab, Dick understood his drive. He needed to play hero again to revalidate himself. In his own eyes, and in Bruce's. "Still not talking about it?"

"Nope. But he hasn't really talked to me about anything in months. Nothing that really matters, anyway."

"Don't sweat it. That's just Bruce being…Bruce."

"I guess. But I wish he'd say…something…anything. I'm tired of being patronized."

"Yeah, tell me about it." Every time Tim had tried to talk to him about anything bat-related, Bruce had come up with some excuse, or crisis, or blow off. It was a situation Dick was all too familiar with.

"He hasn't…he hasn't said anything to you, has he? About when he's going to put me back in action?"

Dick shook his head. "He hasn't kept me up to date about anything for the past few months."

"Oh," Tim looked disappointedly at the ground.

"Hey don't worry about it, okay? We'll get all this sorted out tonight."

"Thanks Dick. For everything you've done this year."

"You don't ever have to thank me."

They reached the main platform and stopped in front of the large computer. Batgirl, also costumed, was monitoring various news programs and police channels on the large screens. She smiled at them, but continued her work.

Dick watched the screens too. Nothing major seemed to be going on anywhere. The newscasts were clean and the police channels dry.

"Looks like it's a quiet night." Tim said to him.

"Yeah, looks like it is." He folded his arms and reexamined the screens, trying to find anything he missed. There was nothing. "So why'd he call me back? There's obviously nothing serious going on."

"You're right. There isn't."

They all turned at the familiar deep voice. He moved out from the shadows (completely suited up) and stood before the three of them.

Tim sucked in a breath and straightened his spine. This was the first time he'd been in costume in a year, and Dick knew he was trying to make a good impression.

Batman looked at Tim briefly but then looked away, not acknowledging the youngest member of the team. "When I started this mission, it was a solo operation. I wanted to make Gotham a safer place to live. I wanted to prevent children from growing up without parents because of some punk with a gun. Along the way, I picked up the three of you. You trained. You got a costume. You signed yourselves to my mission. I liked to think it made some sort of impact, that the city was safer thanks to this work. But then a year ago, the Joker managed to break into my inner circle. He abducted Robin, tortured him—"

"We know what happened," Dick interrupted. "You don't have to narrate it to us like some police repo—"

"That's when I realized the hypocrisy in what I've been doing. How can I be responsible for protecting the city when I keep putting people in danger? Putting all of you in danger?"

"Look, that's ridicu—"

"This isn't a debate, Dick. I've called you here for one reason." He stopped, and if Dick didn't know any better, he'd have thought it was for dramatic effect. "You're all fired." Batman turned his back to them and walked towards the center of the cave. The room hung in silence, save for the clicking of his boots against the ground.

Dick was the first to break it. "What? We're fired? Like this is some payroll job that you hired us for?"

"This is a job, Dick. It's a high-risk job, and unfortunately, you don't understand the risks. None of you do."

"Of course we understand the risks. We're not kids anymore."

"That's exactly what you are. Kids who think you're playing hero. Swinging from buildings. Saving the day. But this is the real world. Things don't always end happily. And I won't have anyone dying for a mission that wasn't theirs to begin with." He kept his voice flat and continued walking.

Tim, who'd been silently studying the floor, suddenly moved, running to intercept the older man. "Look, I know you're doing this because of me," he said, tugging on the large black cape to halt it. "I messed up. I got caught. I broke. But I promise that won't happen again. I've been training in here by myself. And Dick's been teaching me some of the stealth maneuvers he learned in Asia. I'm ready. I swear I am!"

Batman turned and looked down and the boy, still holding his cape. "Take off the costume, Tim. Playtime is over."

"Batman, please, don't take this away from me," he pleaded again. "This year has been hard, but I've learned from it. And I'm ready to be Robin again."

The older man stared at him for a second, then pulled a small device from his utility belt. He pointed it at the computer and clicked a small button. All the monitors blurred before being replaced by the black and white image of a few beakers and test tubes. The screen panned over to an upright bed. It took the rest of his companions a second to realize what they were watching.

Tim's eyes went wide, and the cape slipped through his fingers. "No."

The image focused on the bed—a restraining bed—with a boy strapped to it. A pale smiling face pushed itself onto the screen.

"Oh my god," Barbara whispered, covering her mouth with her yellow-gloved hands. "Bruce, what are you doing?"

Dick wasn't so quiet. "Turn it off," he yelled as the face laughed silently and disappeared off-screen again. The boy in the restraints was struggling, but suddenly threw his head back in pain. The multiple screens ignited with the electricity in the picture, and the light vibrated into the darker cave.

Tim sank to his knees, closing his eyes and clutching the sides of his face with his palms. "Stop it," he said with a shaky voice. His palms fisted into his hair. "Why are you doing this?"

"Damn it, Bruce, I said turn it off!"

Dick started towards the two. Batman looked down at his current apprentice, raised his hand and clicked the button again. The screens went blank off the Joker and Robin's smiling faces. The hand dropped to his side. "You aren't ready. And you never will be."

Dick skidded to a halt in front of Batman and a cowering Tim, and after a quick internal debate, helped the boy up instead of clocking his former mentor.

"It's over, Tim," Batman said, holding his palm out. "Give me the mask."

Tim stood and shrugged off Dick's help. With a quivering hand, he pealed the mask off his face, balled it up in his fist and then put it in the open palm. His newly uncovered eyes were glassy. "I'm sorry," he said before running up the stairs and back into the manor.

Batman closed his hand around the mask and pressed his lips into a thin line. He dropped his arm and his cape covered it. He looked at Dick, who was staring at the door Tim had retreated through. Nightwing would be the next to hang up the costume.

"You cold, heartless bastard." Dick's voice was low, and his gaze remained on Tim's wake.

Batman didn't say anything, but the slits in his cowl narrowed. "It's for his own good. And yours."

Dick looked back at him. "You want to retire me, too."

There was no response. He studied the man before him. As a kid he'd felt nothing but adoration for the symbol of the bat. It was a noble cause, it was a hero's cause, and it had given his life purpose after he'd been orphaned. He'd hero-worshipped Bruce, the man who saved his life, and wanted nothing more than to be just like him when we grew up. They'd had their ups and downs through the years, but he realized that he'd never lost that adoration for his surrogate father.

Until now. "I can't believe I ever respected you," he told him quietly. "I can't believe I used to try so hard to please you. To make you proud of me. I used to think you were great, Bruce. But now I can finally see the truth. You're as psychotic and perverse as the lunatics you hunt down. It makes me sick."

"You can see whatever you want, Dick. In the end, I'm doing what's best for you."

"Just like you were doing what's best for Tim? Was watching himself be tortured good for him?"

"I did what I had to do to make him give this up."

"Give this up?" Dick's breathing became more ragged and his fists clenched. "You arrogant self-righteous…" Instead of finishing his sentence, he brought his arm back in a flash, and let his fist fly towards Batman's jaw. The older man staggered backward slightly, but didn't fall. He wiped at the blood that had begun to trickle down the corner of his mouth.

Barbara was at their side in an instant. "Dick, stop! What do you think you're doing?" She grabbed his arm, which was posed to strike again.

"What do I think I'm doing?" he asked her incredulously. "What does he think he's doing? Tim's been in therapy for months! And for what? To have everything he's worked to rebuild be destroyed by him." He pulled his arm away from Barbara, but made no move to attack again. "He trusted you," he told Batman accusingly. "We all did. And you know, you were right. We shouldn't have trusted so blindly."

"Dick, stop," Barbara begged.

"No Barbara, I won't. We've cut him slack for so long, but now he's crossed the line. Maybe someday Tim will forgive him for all this, but I never will. You're nothing like the person you claim to be, Bruce. I don't want to be a part of your perverted mission anymore."

The trickle of blood had trailed all the way down to Batman's square jaw, but he made no move to wipe it.

Dick started him down, still breathing hard. When he couldn't look at the older man anymore, he turned his attention back to Barbara. "I'm leaving. For good. Are you coming with me?"

Her mouth fell open at his question. "What?"

"After everything he's done, everything that's happened, you can't want to stay here." He held out his hand to her, palm up. "Come with me," he asked, softer.

"Dick, I…" she (unconsciously) moved away from him. Closer to Bruce. "I can't. I have to stay here." She put her hands gently on Batman's arm. He made no move to reciprocate, but the indication was clear. "My place is here." It was now Dick's turn to gape.

"You…and…" He quickly closed his mouth, steeling himself from the newest revelation of the night. "You really had this planned out, didn't you Bruce. In the end, it'll all work out for you."

"Dick, this isn't his fault. That's not what he's doing."

"Stay out of this!" He turned on her, and the sudden outburst made her recoil slightly. "He can talk for himself, you don't need to do it for him! God Barbara, you're so blinded by…I don't even know what to call this? A crush? Lust? Love? You can't see what's happening right in front of you. Are you going to be so willing to stand beside him when he tries to take your costume away, too? What's going to happen when he decommissions Batgirl?"

She stared at him, her eyes wide and wet (they were always teary these days), and the only response she could give him was a whispered "I'm so sorry."

He looked back to Bruce, expecting an apology, triumph on his face, sadness—something. But he got nothing but a blank stare in return. It shouldn't have surprised him.

He had to leave. He was feeling a thousand emotions at once now, and he just needed to get away from this little cave of horrors. He moved backward, closer to his bike. "I guess you win, Bruce. Forgive me if I don't stay around to bask in your victory." He turned and quickened his pace to his motorcycle. Mounting and securing his helmet, he kicked the kickstand and gunned the accelerator. He'd have to contact Alfred and Tim, say good bye. Maybe Tim would even want to leave with him.

The bike sped to the exit, and the rock face slid open as he rode out of the Batcave for the last time. They didn't try to stop him. And he didn't look back.

***

Epilogue: Broken

He closed the last display case, and initiated the airtight locking mechanism. Stepping back, he surveyed the displayed suits. Four reminders of the best and worst of times. And after years, he'd finally gotten them all where they belonged: behind glass, not on the streets.

His old Batman suit, outdated and depreciated in the left most case, had been upgraded to the sleeker black one he now wore. It was quite a remarkable feat of technology, giving him almost superhuman like powers. While he hadn't been fond of the idea initially, the suit had grown on him, and it proved more useful in his battles with the rest of the League. He'd hung up the old cape and cowl, acknowledging that it was a change that needed to be made.

The Robin suit, standing next to the Batman suit, had been on display the longest. Despite the circumstances under which it was retired, he'd felt it necessary to honor the former boy wonder. Tim was now attending Brentwood Academy on scholarship (a Wayne Enterprises scholarship, although Tim didn't know this). His attempts to continue fighting crime had been easily thwarted; the Teen Titans had been disbanded by the Justice League, and soon after, Tim had retired on his own accord. He'd live out his life sans costumes, even if normalcy had to be forced on him.

The Batgirl outfit had found its way to the display more easily. Barbara had called it quits (on everything) without much prompting from him. Her initial insistence on staying by his side against his wishes had worn away through the years, as had any friendship they possessed. He'd last seen her as he retreated from a crime scene. She was cuffing a bank robber that he'd tied up for the police, silver GCPD badge pinned to her left breast.

And the last suit, the one whose owner hadn't officially resigned…

Well, that story was something he chose not to think about often. There was too much history, too much complication, too many words, both said and unsaid. It was a distraction he didn't need. There was a job to be done. A mission to be completed. More lives to be saved.

The End