A/N: The flashback from Return of the Joker has stuck with me even years later. It spoke to me, even when I didn't like Tim's character. I wanted to explore it, but not in the context of Batman Beyond. So I have simply ripped it from the Batman Beyond continuity and placed it square in the middle of the general continuity that I like to call "Earth of Musical Robins"because I love the Robins-each and every single one of them.
In other words, Tim Drake was captured and tortured by the Joker in the general continuity. Tim succeeded in killing the Joker, but his recovery didn't proceed as planned. No Tim. No Joker. And the timeline diverged from there. Jason Todd reunited with Batman. Steph never became a Robin (although she's off being a superhero elsewhere). Bruce was lost to time. Batman Beyond never happened. Etc.
Warning: I almost forgot, but there's implications of suicide in this. It's debatable on purpose, but either way, death didn't take. I still wanted to warn for it to be safe. Sorry for the delay.
Tim knows only a frantic moment of not-breathing, and he tries to hold onto it, but there were these hands that he couldn't escape. One painfully gripping a handful of his hair, and the other locked around his wrist. Then there is oxygen and a man in black.
He expends the new oxygen in a wordless scream of rage. The blows he manages to deliver with his free hand and both feet don't seem to faze his rescuer as the man drags him back away from the water. Tim is shaken once. Twice, and his eyes focus as his traitorous body drew another breath.
Tim takes in the evidence of subterranean dwelling. He takes in the green pool, and the odd fabric of the sleeve his rescuer is wearing instead of armor.
This isn't Gotham Bay.
"No," his rescuer murmured quietly into his ear, locking Tim back against his chest with one arm. Tim realizes that he has stopped struggling in pursuit of the greater mystery. "Not Gotham."
His rescuer isn't Bruce.
Tim wants to laugh, but he can't. He won't. The laughter is wrong, it hurts, and Tim can't breathe through the urge he won't indulge. It's like drowning all over again. He cannot laugh, and he cannot stay silent under this pressure.
The immediate nerve strike is merciful in its own way.
Tim regains consciousness in a room that he doesn't recognize. It isn't the medical facilities of the Bat Cave, his room at Wayne Manor or the Drake home, and it isn't the hospital room that he feared.
Fighting his way free of the pillows and covers, Tim almost tripped over the sprawled form of the man below. His rescuer is sleeping on a pallet beside Tim's bed, and to Tim's dismay, the man begins to stir.
Tim tries to run, but is sent sprawling instead. Too late, he sees the long length of cord that binds his ankle to the no-longer-sleeping man. His rescuer is crouched now, having awoken too swiftly to make proper sense of a room with no threat.
Tim isn't a threat.
"Timothy," the adult begins cautiously after a long moment of silence. "Do you know where you are?"
Tim pointed at his throat. It is both his only defense and best offense.
"I am aware you do not speak," his rescuer responded, irritation coloring his tone. "I believed your intelligence capable of nodding or shaking your head. Tt."
Slowly, Tim acquiesced with the suggested shake as he stands. He wasn't familiar with his location, and it was doubtful that he was even in America anymore, let alone Gotham. This man was dressed strangely and the noises outside were unlike those he had always known.
"You are in Egypt," his rescuer offered, "in one of the more private al Ghul residences, to be precise. Are you familiar with the Lazarus Pits?"
Timothy knows of Ra's al Ghul. He knows the significance of the Lazarus Pits, and he is not terribly surprised when his rescuer continues.
"Timothy, you have been dead for approximately nineteen years."
The number is still a bit daunting. Timothy sits down on the floor once more, and stares up at the very tall man now standing above him.
"It is somewhat complicated," his rescuer acknowledges. "Come. Let us eat, and I will tell you more." He holds out one hand, and Timothy notes the scar of a bite wound that ends abruptly above the wrist. There are no scars from the wrist down—no marks of any kind.
Tim takes the hand.
His rescuer is named Damian.
Damian leads him to the large windows and a spread of covered dishes. Some Tim recognizes. Some he doesn't, and follows his host's lead. It is odd to eat on the floor, but it keeps Damian more or less on Tim's level as they speak. Damian doesn't look so much like Bruce when he isn't looming over Tim.
"I am the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul," Damian continues between mouthfuls. "I am third in the line of Batman, having been the fourth Robin some time after your death."
Three Batmans . . . Tim had known he was replaceable, but Batman?
"My father died when I was ten years old, roughly six years after your time." Damian is watching him closely, and Tim keeps his gaze on the food. "He never took another Robin. I served under Grayson."
"Grayson returned to his preferred role as Nightwing as soon as I turned twenty-one, and although he considers himself a placeholder . . . the acrobat was a formidable and respectable Batman." That sounded painful to say. "I strive to uphold the legacy of Batman as my foster brother preserved it for my sake."
Tim doesn't want to hear about Dick. He isn't entirely sure he wants to be hearing about Batman, but it is part of the story. Batman is always the center of the story.
"Becoming Batman was not enough for my mother," Damian is still watching Tim, although the elder tries to pretend that his regard is for the fruit in Tim's hands. "My parents have always been . . . competitive."
Tim can sympathize; he had three.
"In all the things my father has done, he has failed only once. In order to surpass him as my mother wished, I would need to overcome that stumbling block. It is to this end that Talia al Ghul recovered your body and placed it in the Lazarus Pit."
The fruit burst in Tim's hands from sheer pressure.
He tries to unlock his stiff and sticky fingers. Then Damian is there—the dishes swept aside so his host can kneel before him and clean the remains of the fruit from Tim's hands. Belatedly, Tim shakes his head so that Damian glances upward.
"Tt," his host makes that sound again, and wipes a trail of the juice from his own face. "I would not have condoned my mother's actions. The pit has its nightmares, and I rather think you have plenty of your own." Cautiously, Damian pries apart Tim's fingers, folding them carefully in his own regardless of the mess. "But I was not informed. I am not the detective my father was, and I only arrived in time to pull you from the pit."
Tim keeps shaking his head. That's not it. That's not it at all, and the pressure in his throat is building again.
And Damian remains crouched on one knee before him, but somehow the older man understands.
"My father failed you, Timothy. I will not do the same."