Standard disclaimers apply. Made for practice, not profit.
They sat in silence for the entire ride back.
Bruce kept his hands on the wheel, squeezing tightly, just short of crushing it. His jaw was bunched so much his teeth hurt. Even though the vehicle was on autopilot, he kept his eyes locked on the road, unable to look away. He knew if he did, his eyes would instantly fall on Tim. The boy that was physically just inches from him, and yet infinitely away emotionally. The boy he just wanted to scoop in his arms and not let go.
But Tim clung to Barbara instead, his face buried in the side of her neck. Since he broke into tears back at the asylum, Tim didn't once look at him. Not for the briefest glance.
Bruce cringed. A thought hovered at the back of his mind, half-formed and all the more gnawing for it. He pushed it away.
When they arrived, Alfred was already waiting on the ramp, a med kit ready in his hands. The old man watched them drive in with anxious anticipation. The car rolled to a halt and the engine died.
"Good God! " Alfred gasped at the sight of Tim, disfigured in the image of the maniac.
"I'll take care of him. " Barbara offered as she carried the boy out of the car. "You treat his knee. " She looked at the make-shift bandage on Bruce's leg, red with blood that soaked its way though the gauze.
"Right away. " Alfred took Bruce by the forearm.
Bruce jerked his hand away with a grunt of protest, nearly elbowing the old man on the chest. He hobbled over to the medical niche on his own, cringing each time he leaned on the bad leg. Alfred waved his head.
The old man worked silently and with great skill, his sutures so fine their scar would be hardly visible. Between Alfred's careful hands and his own mental training Bruce didn't so much as flinch during the treatment.
"Don't exert the knee for a few days and you will be fine. " Alfred said, packing the medical equipment.
Bruce didn't reply, just stared at a wall behind which Tim was supposed to be.
"He's calm now. " Barbara walked in. „I've washed him up and gave him his own clothes. He seams to be better. "
Bruce stepped down from the operating table. "Thank you. " He gave her a look of total gratitude. "For everything. "
Barbara nodded as he past her, walking into the main room. Tim sat in the big chair at the computer terminal, silent and still. As Bruce approached he pulled back, pressing deeper into the seat, a look of anger and frightened expectation on his face.
Bruce pulled the cowl off and cautiously walked up to the chair. "Hey, it's okay Tim. "
Tim curled into a ball, wrapping his arms around his knees.
"Its okay. " Bruce kneeled next to him. „It's me. "
The boy looked away, burying his face between his knees.
Bruce gently wrapped his big arms around the frail form. He could feel Tim shake with first sobs. "You're home now. You'll be safe. " He whispered softly. "Nothing's going to happen to you. I promise. "
Tim wasn't relaxing. Instead, the sobs turned to giggles. Bruce looked up, turning between Barbara and Alfred. By the looks of them, neither knew what was going on. Giggles turned to laughter. The stench of urea filled the air. Bruce pulled away from Tim in utter shock, his face pained. The boy's was hysterical again. His eyes, staring right through Bruce, were void of any expression.
Bruce covered his ears, trying to block out the terrible sound. The laughter echoed still, like a dagger plunged in his heart, twisting incessantly. He turned away and strode as fast as he could without breaking into a run. He moved without thinking, mind overwhelmed by laughter burned into his memory. His son's innocent laugh, his twisted one, his enemy's also. A counterpoint of laughter, merging until they were indistinguishable.
Bruce found himself in his room somehow, and the sounds faded from his mind, leaving him in silence. He looked at his hands, trembling like mad. He threw a glance at the mirror and saw he shivered from head to toe. His eyes were red and glazed with tears. Blood trickled from his cut lip and his nose threatened to run. A cold, sticky sweat beaded his face. Bruce was a mess of a man. A mess of blood, sweat and tears. He needed to clear his head.
Stepping into the shower, Bruce slid the glass door close, leaving the world behind. Still he could see his reflection in the smooth tiles, his body riddled with scars, his heart even more so. For a long moment he stood like that, facing himself.
Bruce twisted the handle all the way. Water came down strong and loud. As it struck him he broke into tears. He propped himself against the wall by the elbows, entire body shaking with violent sobs. His injured leg grew weak and buckled under his weight. He slid to the floor in a kneel, his forehead resting on the tiles. And than he did the one thing he promised himself never to do.
"Please, help Tim recover." He begged through the sobs, his words barely audible from the rushing water. "Make him better. Please let him come back, please. Bring my boy back; let me have my son again, please. I'll do whatever you want. I'll do anything. Please..." His words distorted into intelligible cries. Bruce, the dark knight detective, snapped like a twig. The man who could frighten the most terrifying villains wailed like a baby. Eventually his blubbering subdued into whimpers and than ceased altogether. Little under an hour after, Bruce dried up and wrapped a towel over himself. He stepped out calm but not feeling better and. Leaning on the sync he looked up at the mirror. His eyes were tear-swollen and he was empty, totally drained.
Returning to his room he faced Leslie. He ducked his head in shame, avoiding her eyes and hiding his own.
"I left. " Bruce admitted. "I left the city on some job for the League. He kidnapped Tim while I was away. "
Leslie's face was a contradiction. Her mouth was tight with anger; lips pouted in defiance, brow slanted and eyes twisted in pain. Though she could hardly reach his face she slapped him hard. A pale impression appeared on his cheek, outlined in stinging red. Bruce didn't so much as blink. Than she reached out to him like she did when she first met him, when he was just a poor boy, lost and scared. Even though he was now the bigger of the two, Bruce still clung to her for support.
A long moment after, he pulled away. „Will he be all right? " It was more a plea than a question.
„I hope so. " Leslie answered. „But you better give him some space in the start. "
„I'll move in the tower's pent house. "
"No, the more normalcy we can give him the better. " She explained. "He'll stay home, and you will too, just make sure you conveniently just-miss each other between your chores. "
"I can do that. " He made a smile to hide his disappointment.
A knock interrupted the moment.
"Come in. " Bruce called.
Alfred appeared at the door, a look of apology on his face. "He's asleep. You can come and keep vigil if you'd like. "
"Be right there. " Bruce answered, a faint smile of gratitude gracing his face. It was the least he could do, but also the only thing Tim would let him at the time. Less and Alfred left so he could get dressed, and he did so quickly. He chose a black turtleneck and black pants, for right then he didn't feel very colorful.
As he stepped out of the room Bruce saw the front doors open. Richard walked into the lobby, rain dripping from his leather jacket and doused hair. The youth looked up, looking as guilty as Bruce felt.
„Is he -? " Richard paused as he noticed Bruce wave his head. "SHIT! " He wiped the chest of drawer clean. A thousand dollars worth of artifacts shattered on the floor. Bruce didn't care.
„Dick..." He called to the youth.
„I am, am I? " Richard looked up again. „A dick, right? I mean, I left him."
Bruce felt odd to hear his words echoed by the youth. „I'm the one who left him."
„With me. " Richard started up the stairs. „You told me to come back from Bludhaven and I though - He'll be with Babs for one night, so what. What could happen in one night?" Richard stood eye to eye with Bruce, but stared at his feet. „I left him..."
„I did. " Barbara stepped out of Tim's room. „I'm the one who really left him alone. Both of you left him to me. I'm the one that lost track of him..." Her voice grew quiet, veering on the edge of tears.
Richard put an arm around her. „It's okay Babs. It's not your fault." He looked at Bruce „It's none of our fault."
Bruce nodded to ease Richard, but deep down inside he didn't buy it. He was the adult, he was Tim's ward, he was responsible and he failed. Bruce left the two youths to comfort one another and entered Tim's room.
The boy, pale and thin from the ordeal, slept calmly, but not as carefree as Bruce remembered him to be. Bruce sat at the boy's side; his shoulders slumped under an invisible burden. He missed the days it was adorned with a mischievous grin. Only weeks away, they felt as if from a whole other life.
Tim stirred in his sleep and mumbled, his face twisting in fear and pain. Bruce took his hands in one of his and reached for the boy's head with the other. Gently he stroked his tussled hair and feverish forehead. He had to remind himself not to speak; for fear that the sound of his voice might be counter productive. Within moments Tim eased back from the nightmare.
Richard walked in without making a sound, just like Bruce taught him. Only the hall light told of his entrance. "Gordon is here. "
Bruce slipped his hand from Tim's. The boy turned to him, gripping his sleeve. Bruce crouched down next to him, leaning close until their foreheads touched. "I'll be back. " He risked a whisper and sealed his promise with a kiss on the boy's temple.
Tim relaxed again and Bruce tucked him in.
He walked to the door and placed a firm hand on Richard's shoulder. „Stay with your brother."
Richard nodded and walked towards the bed, never taking his eyes off Tim.
"Jim..." Bruce greeted in a deadpan manner.
"What happened? " Gordon was concerned. "Barbara called me but she didn't want to tell me anything."
"Come with me. " Bruce turned toward the study.
Gordon followed him in and took a seat at the small table. Bruce pulled a chip from his pocket and plugged it in the TV. He walked away as the recording came on screen. He took a seat at the desk, head in his hands, staring empty-eyed at the table surface. He never wanted to see the damn thing again, but couldn't stop it from playing itself out in his mind's eye.
Jim recognized it as a video record of the night's patrol, made by a camera from his friend's cowl. Standard SWAT procedure.
It started out relatively harmless, a gigantic jack in the box with a strait jacket on. But the crossed out eyes were foreboding. Things turned bad in the demolished asylum: the aerie, out of place lullaby, the innocent looking home, and than..
"Tim? " Jim watched in disbelief, not that he couldn't fathom it, he didn't want to.
It got worst. "Family memories? What the - ? Oh no, no he's not going to- "
The rest of the recording Jim watched with a gaping mouth, each scene worse than the last. The TV pinged at the end of the recording. For a while they just sat in the silence.
"He was right." Bruce spoke out of the blue. „I'm a coward. I should have killed him years ago." His eyes were hard and cold.
"No." Jim answered. Even now, there was certainty in his voice.
"Why not? " Bruce glared at his partner in crime fighting, leaning into the big chair. „It would have spared people a lot of grief. "
"It would have sent you over the edge. " Jim warned. „You would have ended up in jail, or dead. "
"It would have spared Tim. " Bruce replied.
Gordon had nothing to say to that.
"Even when he showed me the video there was hope. Tim was alive. We would get him out of there, help him recover. It would take a while, it would not be easy..." His voice trailed off. „But than he gave Tim the gun, and there was no hope any more." He fisted his hands to stop them from shaking. It didn't work. „Whoever Tim shot, he would be a killer. Ultimately it was both of us. Tim broke and fired at me, than shot Him for doing the breaking. "
„Get some sleep." Jim ordered in his police voice. "You'll need strength to be there for him. "
The well intended remark struck a nerve and stung worse than any insult. Bruce rose from the desk and turned to the large windows, turning his back to Jim. "Tim can't look at me any more." He admitted. "He just... falls apart. "
Confused, Gordon frowned.
For a moment Bruce was quiet. "I've become his worst nightmare. The father who failed him, left home for bigger things, left him to fend for himself and didn't come back in time to save him form the monster." Bruce slammed his fist against the support pillar between the windows. "The father he failed, who's secrets he gave away and on who he pulled the trigger. "
Bruce swallowed hard. „He hates, despises even fears me. And when he sees me, he feels the same for himself, because I remind him of what he did. " Bruce leaned his forehead against the window. "I'd do anything to take the blood off his hands..."
Gordon was at a lost of words. He walked up to Bruce and placed a hand on the man's back, in a small gesture of support.
"He won, Jim. " Bruce muttered under his breath. He's dead and still he won."
Jim pat his back. "I'll give a press release. " He reminded that life goes on. "Tim Drake, adoptee of Bruce Wayne, was rescued from his kidnapers, who were killed during their conflict with the SWAT. " He summed it up.
Bruce turned to face his friend, perhaps even his father figure. "Thank you. "
With that, Gordon saw himself out, his daughter leaving with him.
Not long after the Gordons have left, a cry pierced the gloom. Bruce raced upstairs despite the burning protest of his knee. He didn't even feel it. As he arrived at the doors he caught a glimpse of the situation.
Tim thrashed on the bed, yelling unintelligibly in his dream while Richard tried to shake him out of it.
Before Bruce could do anything, Alfred closed the door right in front of him. He was shut out, cut off, and not by his choice. It felt unreal, like time itself distorted. Bruce had a strange epiphany then.
In his gut he knew a different kind of doors closed, and did so forever. Tim would be fine, of that he was sure, but he would never be part of the boy's new life. And as the odd moment phased out of time, so it phased back, and Bruce was again assaulted by Tim's yells.
Bruce paced up and down the hall like a caged animal, frustrated by his helplessness and his uselessness.
He ran down the stairs and out of the house, ran across the manor grounds as far away from the cries as he could. He ran oblivious to the wind that grew stronger, oblivious to building storm. The anger and the pain and the frustration all mixed inside him, boiling like the clouds above him. And when rain and lighting exploded over the city he exploded with it.
"Why are you doing this to me!? " Bruce shouted at the sky. "What do you want from me!? Did you send him? Is that why he had no past!? Why he just papered out of nowhere!? Is that it!? Why did you do it!? Why did he took everything form me!? My loves! My son!!! Did you take my parents too!? Did you!? Who are you anyway - God!? The Devil!? Are you the city!? What, you want my utter loyalty? I can't have anyone else!? No conflict of interests, ha? Is that why everyone I come to care about gets screwed!? Is it!!? Answer me you filthy coward!!! "
Only thunder boomed above him.
"Damn you! You suck!! I hate you!!! " Bruce screamed from the top of his lungs until there was no more breath in him.
The thunderstorm ceased but the clouds remained looming.
"I'll resign from the League. " Bruce sighed. "You win..."