Contending with Shadows
by Constance Eilonwy
CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER
Rated PG (not for the kiddies, okay? But nothing graphic, either).
Author's note: This is an epilogue (of sorts) to Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. I saw the edited version of the film, but I know what the cuts and changes are, and so the mood of this derives in part from the movie "that might have been" as well as the one already released (which was pretty intense, even edited, IMO). I make one (quite logical) assumption about the city where Nightwing went "to establish himself." The edited version as well as the original script indicates that it took Tim Drake "one year" to either "come back to himself" or "return to sanity" (phrasing varies depending on which version you get to watch) and this story attempts to account for that frame of time in his recovery.
FYI, this is not in continuity with Thirteen Hours or The Summer of Her Discontent, two of my other Batman related fanfics. For the curious, my Batman related fanfiction divides into three continuities: stories that treat B:TAS and The New Batman Adventures as canon, a jumping off point, and ignore Batman Beyond and all (retroactively) revealed plot developments therein; stories set in the Batman Beyond continuity; and stories set in the comic book continuity. (Confused? Try living in my brain...it's all Dick and Babs' fault...;-) This one is in the Batman Beyond category.
Thanks to Laura "Ad Astra" Ackerman, for the beta reads, video fests, character analysis debates, and pasta.
All characters herein are the property of DC Comics/Warner Brothers.
"Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past me I will turn to see fear's path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."--Frank Herbert, Dune
Well isn't this the ultimate joke! The ultimate twist! The ultimate irony! You little turd, I'm the one who makes 'em laugh, who sets it up and delivers the joke. Not a punk like you, a juvenile delinquent in tights. I'm the master, got it? I give you the chance to deliver a punchline and you blow it off.
You think you won the last laugh. You think I'm gone now, don't you? You all think that I'm pushing up the daisies, gone to the choirs invisible, ceased to exist. But I'm not gone, kiddo, oh, no...not by a long shot. I'm just resting...
Everything was a confusion of mists and shadows, disjointed but familiar voices, faces that loomed in, heavy with concern, and then vanished again. He was too hot, and when he kicked off the blankets angrily, he began to shake and couldn't stop. The old lady came then...he knew her name, didn't he? She came and put a cool hand on his forehead, pulled the blankets back up, checked the wires and tubes that ran from his body as if he were some kind of science experiment.
Dr. Thompkins. That was her name. Her voice was roughened by age, but gentle and full of wisdom. As soon as she touched him, he stopped shaking.
"That's it, Tim," she said softly. "You're going to be all right." He saw her kind, wrinkled face, soft white hair pulled up in a neat bun, quite clearly for a change. She turned, speaking to someone else he couldn't see and added, "His color's much better." She touched the back of his hand, then walked away, her shoes padding softly on the carpet. "Pigmentation level's normal, blood pressure stabilizing. Physically, he's made a great improvement over the last six weeks. As for his other wounds...well, he's strong. But it's going to take time."
With effort he turned his head and saw two shadowy figures framed in the big, multi-paned window. He wondered where he was. The ceiling was too high, dizzyingly high, too far away to even think of touching, and there were fancy mouldings, and the furniture was all dark wood and rich coverings. It was nothing like what he was used to, in his dad's apartment...wait. Did he still live there? No, Dad was gone. Tim frowned. He didn't live there, he lived here. But where was here?
"So..." the other figure spoke. "He's going to recover?...He's going to be...all right?" That voice was familiar too, a man's voice, deep and also soft, which seemed odd to him, he couldn't recall why, but he wasn't used to the voice being so tentative.
"Yes. It's my prognosis that he'll recover emotionally as well as physically. Eventually." Dr. Thompkins, who was several heads shorter than the massive shadow standing before her, put her hand on his shoulder, looked into his face. "He's going to be okay, Bruce."
The silhouette of the man seemed to sag, and Tim heard a long breath, like the wind. "Thank you, Leslie. Thank you."
He stood in the alley, squinting as he tried to make out the features of the figure in the shadows beyond the trash bins. It was night.
The man stepped forward. He had dark hair and a slender build, dressed in old jeans and a plain white t-shirt. There was a familiarity about the eyes and the shape of the jaw, like looking into a mirror reflection of his own face, but different, and older.
Tim took a half, stumbling step forward. "Dad?" he whispered. "You...you're alive?"
"Hey, Tim," his Dad said sheepishly, shrugging. "Sorry I had to ditch like that, but Two Face was after me and--"
"It's okay," Tim said, and ran towards him. "I don't care." He hugged his father around the waist hard, and after a hesitation felt his father hug him back.
They stepped apart. The senior Drake looked his son up and down. "You've changed," he said, frowning.
Tim looked down at his own body and saw that he was, in fact, in his Robin costume.
"Yeah, neat, huh? I'm Robin now. As in Batman and. We stop the badguys and protect Gotham and stuff..."
"You're working with the bat?" The older Drake stepped back from his son, face hardening. "Kid, he's bad news for us. Ruins things for guys like me. And now you're working with him?" His voice rose in anger.
"No, but Dad, it's better this way...and he tries to help people like you...he could help you, if you wanted to go straight." He took a step towards his father but the older Drake took Tim by the shoulders and shoved him away.
"Rotten kid, so you think you're better than you're old man. Pretending you're some kind of fancy junior crimefighter. Living in that big fancy house now." His father spat onto the sidewalk of the dingy, brick-walled alley. Somewhere an orange neon sign blinked on-off, on-off, on-off, shedding a strange light over his father. "You're only fooling yourself. You're not better than me, son. You never could be. Sooner or later, it was bound to happen. You can't deny who you are." His father leaned over, putting his face in close to his son's. "Murderer," he said.
And then Tim was running, running through the streets of Gotham. His father's word echoed after him like a distant police siren. Murderermurderermurderermurderer.
He stopped in the middle of the bridge over the river. There were no cars--it was as if he were the only human being left in the city, although the skyline twinkled cheerily in the distance. A wind howled around him and the night sky was full of stars. He could hear the lapping of the water against the pylons. The filigree of lights on the bridge suspension seemed too bright.
A slender shadow stretched down the middle yellow lines, a man walking towards him, getting bigger. Something flashed in the air, again and again--a coin.
Tim looked down and saw he was in his Robin costume and that he had a batarang clutched in his hand. He looked up again and saw his father standing before him in jeans and a dirty white t-shirt. He flipped the coin again. Tim blinked and when he opened his eyes again, Two-Face stood in his father's place, one half of his face smiling, the other, scarred half twisted in a sick mockery of a grin.
"Hello, kid," he rasped. "Always knew you had potential. Not like your old man. He was useless, a washed-out drunk. Father and son, two sides of the same bad penny." Two-Face chuckled.
"No," Tim said. He realized that his arm was raised, about to throw the batarang. He opened his fingers, and the metal weapon clattered to the cement at his feet. "No! I don't have potential! I mean, not your kind of poten...I'm Robin! I help people, I save them."
Two-Face chuckled again. "Sure you do, kid. Sure you do."
"I'm not a murderer!" his voice rang loudly on the empty bridge. "I didn't mean to do it! He was going to kill me...he...was going to kill Batman..."
"So you wanted him dead," said Two-Face, leaning closer just like his father had. "Always go after what you want."
"No." Tim clutched his head with his hands. There was a horrible ache in his chest. He couldn't stop crying. "No. It wasn't...me...it was what he made me into. Robin wouldn't have done it."
Two-Face began to chuckle; something Tim had said struck him as very funny, apparently. The chuckle became a laugh, and the rasping voice smoothed out, the laughter got louder, and broader...as Tim watched, horrified, it was no longer Two-Face standing on the bridge before him, but the man he'd watched die.
"Guess who?" The Joker said blithely, and kept laughing. Shocked out of weeping, Tim turned and ran, but The Joker appeared as if by magic before him. "What, leaving so soon?" he pouted.
Tim spun away, towards the pedestrian walkway, and ran along the side of the bridge. He skidded to a stop as The Joker appeared before him a third time, seated with his back against a pillar with his legs stretched out along the walk railing, relaxed and whistling as he examined his fingernails. "I might switch to green, what do you think?"
Tim stumbled back several steps.
"Stupid kid. You'll figure it out eventually," the Joker grumbled. "You won't always see me or hear me, but I'll be there, tucked away in the darkest parts of your mind. I'm a part of you, Timmy boy."
He woke up screaming, covered in sweat.
Obscene amounts of sunlight came streaming in through the big windows, into the room which he focused on and recognized in a flash, unlike how it had been a few weeks before, when he'd often wake up, unsure of where he was or how he'd gotten there.
He looked at his belongings strewn about the room, the stereo, cd's, books, posters, model sets, the computer and the pinball machine, the mural of the archer on the wall. Familiar. His room at Wayne manor.
Hurrying footsteps came. He heard Barbara's voice, calling him.
"Tim? Tim are you okay?" she ran in, someone else hard on her heels.
What was it about her, that always made it all right, and not foolish or babyish, to cry? She sat on the edge of the bed and held him until the sobs stopped their shattering path through his body. Exhausted, he sagged back against the pillows. His skin felt clammy.
Barbara went into the bathroom and he heard running water for a moment. Tim shut his eyes, wishing his heart would stop pounding, wondering if the other person in the room could hear it too. The other person. Tim snapped his eyes open.
"Hi, Tim." Dick Grayson pulled a chair over next to the bed and sat as if they were just hanging out together at a Gotham Knights game.
It was oddly comforting. So far, Dick was the only one who didn't look at him as if he might break into pieces at any moment.
Barbara returned with a wet washcloth and wiped Tim's neck and face clean of sweat.
"Wh...what are you doing here?" Tim asked, his voice hoarse and weak.
Dick shrugged and gave Tim a lopsided half-smile. "Well, I figured it was time for my usual visit." He and Barbara exchanged a concerned look. "I've been in an out for a while...I couldn't come back the last two weeks, I'm sorry, working on a really tough case. I told you I'd come back. Don't you remember?"
Tim shook his head.
"It's okay," Dick said, waving a hand, brushing it off, but his eyes giving away the concern he felt.
"I'll let you boys talk alone," Barbara said, handing Dick the washcloth, giving him a long look as she did so. Dick's eyes followed her as she left the room, and then he turned his attention back to Tim.
"So...lot of yelling going on in here for a sleeping person. Want to talk about it?"
Tim rolled over on his side, facing away from Dick. "No," he said flatly.
They waited in silence together. When Tim finally turned back, Dick had his feet propped up on the nightstand and he was quietly flipping through a sports magazine.
"How are you feeling?" Dick asked, putting the magazine aside.
"Better, I guess," Tim said dully.
"So, Leslie and Alfred taking good care of you?"
There was a long pause. Tim began to twist the edge of the sheet in his fingers convulsively.
"He's mad at me."
"What?" Dick said sharply.
"I messed up. I did what none of us are ever supposed to do. Ever."
"I wasn't strong enough. I should have fought him harder."
Dick reached out and closed his fingers tight around Tim's arm. "Barbara told me what happened that night. You didn't mess up, Tim. Even with everything he did to you, you still resisted."
"But he won," Tim said bitterly. "I killed him."
"No!" Dick gestured vehemently with one hand, palm flat in finality. "He didn't win."
"Yes he did, he made me into what he wanted me to be, and I killed him."
Dick sat back as if the strength had gone out of his body. "Not on purpose. He tortured you," Dick said, anger showing through in his voice. "You're just a kid. No court in the world..."
"But there is no court," Tim said.
"You know that's to protect Bruce's secrets."
"'Just a kid,'" Tim said bitterly, and his jaw clenched. He gave a little laugh that made Dick stare at him sharply. "Dick, you were Robin for a long time. You were the best, but I worked to be almost as good. I trained. I listened. I learned. And you know that being 'just a kid' is never an excuse with him, never, or he wouldn't let us out on the streets with him."
"He doesn't want an excuse. He blames himself for what happened."
"Then why doesn't he come see me?" His voice scratched from his throat. "If I didn't mess up, why doesn't he come and tell me?" He stared at the ceiling, trying to lose himself in its smooth cream-colored blankness.
"Because he's not like that," Dick said evenly. "He doesn't say what he's really feeling. It doesn't mean he doesn't feel it." He blinked and added wryly, "Did I just say that?"
Tim kept staring at the ceiling. "I don't want to talk about it anymore."
"Tim..." Dick touched his shoulder, and Tim flinched away like a small animal, turning over and curling his knees up to his stomach.
"Go away," he said.
Tim heard footsteps as Dick started to leave the room. "Dick?" Tim said softly.
Dick answered instantly. "Yeah?"
"Didn't mean it," he said, feeling horribly tired. "Just don't want to talk right now."
"I understand. You should sleep."
"Dick..." he kept his eyes on the ceiling, not wanting to think but needing to know.
"Are you leaving? Going back to Bludhaven?"
"Not right away, no. I thought I'd stick around Gotham for a while, keep an eye on you."
"But not to stay for good."
"No. Not to stay for good. But even after I go back, I'll come visit often. Bludhaven's not far away. As commutes go, it's not bad."
Tim closed his eyes. Eventually, he heard the door close softly.
Ah, a boy's mind, what a fascinating, messy, delightful place. It's rather chaotic in here. Alas, it isn't developed enough for what I need. Not yet, boyo. Not yet. But it will be someday. And in the meantime, I'll be waiting...it's the ultimate joke, isn't it lad? Here I am hiding in plain view right under the big bat's nose...well, maybe under your nose...well, somewhere behind it...ha ha ha...you know what they say, a bird in the hand and all that. Poor boy, everyone believes you won the good fight, when all the time it was only the next play of the game.
There, yes, fight against it, go right ahead. Try to make me shut up. You're only hiding from yourself, Timmy boy. From what you really are.
He awoke trembling. It was dark, and moonlight shone through the window, casting an elongated grid-like pattern across the carpet and over his bed. The door was half open.
Closing his eyes, he swallowed down the bitter taste in his throat. Get out of my dreams, he thought. Get out of my mind. You're dead. I killed you. Shut up.
There were voices, drifting up from downstairs. Arguing.
Head swimming, Tim sat up and swung his legs out of bed. Gingerly, he stood up. The room pitched to and fro. He grabbed the bed post and squeezed his eyes shut until it settled. The carpet felt solid between his bare toes.
Out to the landing. He felt dizzy again, and reached out to steady himself, upsetting a small vase on a table. Light radiated upward from the rooms below, shining through the banisters. Tim knelt in his pajamas and clutched the wood tightly, resting his cheek against the cool painted surface.
"You can't do that to him, Bruce, if all this hasn't killed him yet, that will."
A deeper reply, indistinct.
"You don't get it!" Dick's voice was loudest, most clear. He sounded angry beyond anything Tim had heard him be before.
Alfred's concerned tones broke in, hard to make out. "...not the time...in the morning..."
"No, Alfred, you're not letting him worm his way out of this one. Bruce, listen to me. He has to keep being Robin. He needs to be Robin, like I did. You can't take that away from him, not now."
Another indistinct reply.
Dick's response was hard to make out this time but it sounded like a swear word.
Tim crawled along the landing so he was closer to the top of the steps. The study doors were open downstairs, and now he could hear a little better.
"...no choice," Bruce was saying. "...can't risk..."
Can't risk me messing up again, Tim thought, as the bottom fell out of what was left of his world.
"Tim Drake!" Leslie Thompkin's voice came sharply from down the hall. "What are you doing out of bed?"
He pulled himself to his feet, took a staggering step toward her. The hallway rocked beneath his feet. Still conscious, he sagged against Leslie, and felt her arms catch him, surprisingly wiry and strong. He mumbled something.
"What, Tim?" She smoothed the damp hair from his forehead.
"He's going to take it away," Tim mumbled. "No more hero time. No more Robin."
"Shhh," said Leslie, holding him. "Let's get you back to bed."
"I'm not a hero anymore," Tim said, as she helped him along the hall, back to his room.
"Yes, you are," Leslie said, putting him in bed, pulling the covers over him. She said it sharply, as if she really meant it, without the placating, humoring tones adults sometimes used with kids. "You are a hero, Tim Drake. And don't you ever forget it."
She didn't leave the room this time; she was sitting in a chair by the window, reading a medical journal by the light of a tiny desk lamp, when he fell asleep.
No more hero time, kiddo, that's right, you're starting to get it. You belong to me now, sonny boy. Soon, it'll be time for something else.
You all think I'm gone, buried beneath the loony hatch.
But I'm not gone, I'm waiting, here in that dark
corner of the bright mess in your teenaged brain. You'll
forget I'm here. You won't hear me laughing, while you
try to put your life back together. It's the ultimate joke,
the ultimate gag, just think, I'll be immortal.
He woke up with his cheeks damp but with no memory of actually weeping. No one had heard him. It was early morning, the sun thin and weak. He drifted in an out of a doze until the sun was higher and someone came.
"Morning," Dick said cheerily, setting a tray down on the table by the bed. "I talked Leslie into letting you have breakfast with me. Look, Alfred made our favorite, blueberry pancakes."
"I'm not hungry," said Tim, sitting up.
"You look a hundred percent better," Dick said. He sat on the edge of the bed. "Maybe you should go outside today, get some fresh air." He polished off a pancake in two bites. "I sure miss Alfred's cooking. So, what do you say?"
"I don't really feel like it." He poked at the food on his plate without interest.
"That's okay," Dick said with an easy shrug, but Tim heard the pain beneath his voice. "You just need time, right?"
"So, we stay in today, we play some monopoly, maybe some pinball..."
"We could watch a movie."
Tim swirled the tines of the fork in the maple syrup, making patterns.
"That tears it." Dick got to his feet. When Tim looked at him, his eyes had darkened. "I know what Leslie's instructions are, but this is too much." He balled his linen napkin up in his fist and hurled it at the wall as if expecting it to make a satisfying crash, then leaned down, palms flat on the mattress, so he could look Tim in the eye. "Please. Tell me what you want. Tell me what I can do to help you."
The fork clattered to the plate.
"I have to tell you something. Something bad. I've got to tell someone."
"You can tell me anything," Dick said seriously. He sat down.
"What happened...with The Joker. I didn't really want to hurt anyone, not even him. I swear it."
"I know, Tim, I know."
"No, wait." Tim held up a hand, then clenched it into a fist. "I was scared of him. I hated him. He tortured me, he turned me into something else I didn't want to be. So when I...killed him..." he took a deep breath. "I was glad. And now...I still am," he finished in a whisper.
"Well, say something!" Tim exploded into the quiet. "Tell me I'm awful, I'm evil, I'm a terrible person for feeling glad for something like that."
"I can't," Dick said, bleakly. "He was a psychopathic killer who loved no one and nothing. He did awful things to you. He cost me and Bruce, too. He's killed people. He would have killed Bruce. I hate him too. For a lot of reasons, but now mostly for what he did to you. Maybe I wish I'd done it myself," he said roughly, looking down at his hands. Then he shook his head. "You're not a killer, Tim. You were pushed beyond the limit of what anyone could expect to stand."
"Yeah," Tim said huskily. "I guess." He looked down at his pancake, picked up the fork, took a bite. It didn't seem to have much flavor. He put down the fork. "I hate going to sleep," he said, pulling his knees up and hugging his legs.
"Why?" Dick asked softly.
"Because he's there. In my dreams." He squeezed his eyes shut, and he could see him, wide, wide grin, laughing. "He won't shut up," Tim continued, his voice starting to shake. "I can't make him shut up, he's there, laughing at me, and he's dead, I killed him, he's dead but he won't shut up HE WON'T SHUT UP! I KILLED HIM! BUT HE WON'T SHUT UP!"
It was so funny. How could someone be dead, how could you see someone die with your own eyes but still hear them in your head, laughing at you.
"STOP LAUGHING AT ME!" Tim yelled, fists flailing at air. He leapt from the bed, punching at nothingness. Dick was on his feet, momentarily frozen, shocked.
The Joker was dead, but he wasn't. It struck Tim as quite funny indeed. He started to laugh, softly at first. Even as he started some lucid part of him knowing he should stop it, that this was not joyful laughter or healthy, that laughter was not what was needed.
Dimly, he felt hands take his shoulders, gently but with a firm grasp, as Dick held him, restrained him, with difficulty. He heard Dick yelling for Leslie.
"See?" Tim said weakly, catching his breath between giggles. He turned his head and looked into Dick's eyes, saw the worry and pain inside them. "See, he's right. I am like him now. Everything's fu-fun-funny..." his voice shook apart into laughter again.
"Oh, god, Tim. What did that bastard do to you?"
Leslie came running in, followed by Alfred.
"I'm sorry," Dick was saying. "I'm sorry, I just wanted him to open up, talk to me. I didn't mean to upset him. I'm sorry..."
"Tim," Leslie knelt before him, "calm down. It's all right. You're with friends." She reached into her doctor's bag and pulled out a syringe. She pushed the plunger, preparing it for use as a thin stream of liquid shot into the air. "Hold him still," she told Dick.
Tim felt the sharp prick of the needle. The laughter subsided into giggles as he gasped for breath.
Alfred stood still and straight in the doorway, his face thinner and more somber than usual, watching as Tim slumped to the floor and curled into a ball.
Kneeling by Leslie, Dick started to pick Tim up but he started to struggle again. "No...you're just going to put me back to bed. I can't go to sleep, weren't you listening? Can't sleep...because he's there, waiting for me..." He heard a grunt as his fist contacted with Dick's ribcage. He didn't mean it, even as his feet kicked out, catching Leslie in the thigh.
"Alfred," Leslie spoke the single word, looking up at the butler of Wayne Manor tiredly, their eyes meeting. There was apparently an understanding between them, for Alfred shook his head.
Tim struggled harder. He felt Dick's grasp tighten. "No...won't sleep..."
"Sedation isn't working," Leslie said. "I can't increase the dose, he's too young, and he's got enough chemicals inside him as it is. If this keeps up he'll hurt himself, or one of us."
Alfred left the room. After a moment he came back, holding a white garment hanging from one hand as if it were something distasteful he'd found on the roadside. The straps swung as he walked. "Dr. Thompkins...Leslie, please, isn't there some other..."
"Now without increasing the dosage--"
Squirming from Dick's grasp, Tim rolled to his feet and ran for the full-length mirror. He had to see the mirror. If he did, he could destroy what was inside him. Tim got a glimpse of himself, thin and pale, eyes huge and shadowed, before the reflection changed, growing taller, gaunter, with green hair and white skin, the mockery of a circus clown.
Dick grabbed him from behind and Tim used a trick Batgirl had taught him, thrusting up with palm flat, catching Dick on the chin, and grinding his heel down into the top of Dick's shoe at the same time. Dick's grasp on him was lost again, and Tim leapt forward, grabbed the baseball lying on the chair. He hurled it with all his might into the mirror.
The reflection shattered with a musical crash as he felt himself being lifted off the rug, Dick yanking him back out of the range of the spray of glass shards.
For the moment, the demon went silent. Tim stood, unprotesting, and Alfred slipped the strange white jacket onto him, put his arms in the sleeves, as if he were a toddler being readied for a snowy day. Alfred's fingers fumbled, shaking, as he buckled the straps. When it was done, Alfred knelt. He took Tim's face between his hands and looked hard into his face.
"My poor child," he said, as if those were the only three words he had ever uttered.
"Alfred?" Tim looked up into the butler's kind, worn face.
Suddenly he remembered who he was and where he was, and what he had just done. His eyes slid to Dick, who was gingerly rotating his ankle. When Dick saw Tim looking at him, he instantly stopped. Tim turned back to Alfred, and knew in a flash what Alfred was to this house, why it was so comforting to have him there.
"Alfred...I'm sorry..." All the laughter was out of him now, leaving him drained. Tears began to slid down his cheeks. "Help me."
"I will, Master Tim," Alfred said, holding him. "We all will."
Tim sagged, exhausted, crying silently.
The demon stayed silent.
You can't have me. They won't let you. I won't let you.
Silly boy, don't you see? You're already mine.
Tut-tut, living in a state of denial, are we?
I'm stronger than you. You can't hurt me anymore.
I'm not listening to you anymore. Go back in your dark hole,
you pathetic clown, and stay there.
He awoke with a gasp, to find it was night, still and peaceful. The drapes were open to show the moon, looking as if it were tangled in the top branches of the tree outside his window. He no longer wore the straightjacket.
Someone sat in an armchair near the bed, swathed in shadows. It was a man. He assumed it was Dick or Alfred.
As Tim stirred, the figure leaned forward, watching him.
"Bad dream?" the deep voice asked, is if he, too, had known their darkness and how to fight them.
"It's over. It was just a dream." The figure sat back. "You need rest. Go back to sleep, Tim," he added, with a gentle command.
Letting out a long breath, Tim obeyed. He closed his eyes. His breath grew less ragged, more regular. He began to drift.
He dreamed that a large hand reached out, that fingers brushed the damp hair back from his forehead, that he heard a voice speak, very softly: "You're safe now. I won't let anything bad happen to you ever again."
Tim Drake slept.
You think I'm gone, but I'm not. You think it's over, boy, but it's not. You may have put me away in the dark hole for now, but I'll always be here. I can wait. Th-th-th-that's not all, folks!
This is only the beginning.