Alfred rushed to the door as soon as he heard the bell echoing through the foyer. He had been mindlessly pacing behind the door for the last half hour, not wanting to risk missing the doorbell ring.
The house was mostly empty, he had pushed most of the occupants out on an errand run so they could have some privacy, but now the silence only made him feel more anxious. For the past few months the silence had almost became deafening for him and reminiscent of the years following the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Last time he had been unable to stop Bruce from himself, the way his life became about nothing other than the mission, but this was his chance to do more for Tim.
Standing behind the front door, Alfred forced himself to calm down before greeting his guest. As polite as ever, he welcomed Leslie to the Manor. “It’s nice to see you Dr. Thompkins. Please come in.”
“Hello, Alfred. It’s nice to see you too.” Unlike most of the people that passed through Wayne Manor, she didn’t take any time to admire the architecture or establish any small talk before getting to business. “How are you feeling? Any changes you’ve been noticing in the past few days?”
“I’m fine ma’am. How are you?” Alfred asked politely while still ignoring her question.
Alfred mechanically nodded to show that he heard her response before ushering her deeper into the house. Leading the way to the more residential parts of the Manor, he couldn’t help but ask, “Did you see anyone you know on your way here?”
Leslie never imagined Alfred being as paranoid as the rest of his family, but she knew better than to be too surprised by anything in their company. In the time she had been in with the family she had seen many times over that they loved to ask questions. She quickly went through her short journey from her clinic in Crime Alley to the driveway of the Manor before she answered, “Um, no. None.”
Leslie thought Alfred looked far too pleased by a simple answer, but she didn’t want to focus too much about it. This was a stressful time in Gotham and it would sense for them to be more on edge than usual.
When he saw Leslie give him a questioning look as they passed the library where she took most of the family’s meetings, Alfred explained, “I’ll lead you to Master Tim. His bedroom isn’t too far away.”
She tried to clear up, “Timothy? I thought I was here to talk to you? That’s what you said over the phone.” Lack of information was common when working for bats, but lies from Alfred were a whole new level of paranoia.
Alfred didn’t have the modesty to look ashamed for the deception. “Master Timothy doesn’t know I called you and I couldn’t have you mentioning to anyone that you were coming for him. Considering the responsibilities that he has accumulated over the past few weeks, I wanted to save him from the media frenzy that would surely come with with the knowledge he was taking private meetings with a doctor.”
It didn’t surprise her that Alfred would try to protect Tim, but she had to ask, “Is he still acting compulsively? Is he still going out at night?” At his hesitance to respond Leslie had her answer and she tried not to sound too astounded when she said, “He has always recovered faster than I would think healthy, but this is just as concerning.” Sighing, she realized, “He’s going to need a lot of help, Alfred.”
Alfred sighed, looking far closer to his age than he usually did, before he made the final turn and paused in front of what Leslie assumed to be Tim’s room. “In his own special way, I do think he is grieving and I’m hoping you can be the help he needs, Dr. Thompkins.” Hand gripping the handle on the door, Alfred said, “Master Tim should be.”
Stopping Alfred before he could open the door, Leslie asked, “Before I go talk to him, why exactly did you call me? What changed?”
Tim ignored her for an hour. He sat by the desk looking through books on ancient syntactics and semiotics without even acknowledging that he was in the middle of a therapy appointment. His room was a mess of papers and maps that covered most of the floor, but it seemed to work for him.
Leslie took the time to study Tim and quickly saw that his face had become more defined. She could tell that he wasn’t eating much anymore and understood why Alfred was so worried about him. Even outside of the weight loss, Tim’s skin looked paler and his nails looked as if he had been chewing on them constantly. There were a few bruises that were a stark contrast to his pale skin, she knew there were more that were hidden, and she could only assume that they came from mistakes from patrolling at night. He didn’t look anything like the Robin that dropped by her clinics looking to help if nights were too slow.
Leslie wasn’t shocked by the lack of communication either, he had studied under Batman for years after all, but she couldn’t wait on him to feel comfortable forever. She would have to get back to her office in a few hours to prepare for the regular junkies that came out looking for help in the morning and she would like to make some progress with the teenager before she would have to help. She was starting to regret not forcing Tim to stay in touch when things had started falling apart but there was no reason to wait any longer.
Thinking back to their many past conversations and what she regretted never mentioning before, Leslie asked about Jack. She cleared her throat as a small warning for Tim before bluntly asking, “Your father used to hit you, right?”
That was enough to get his focus. He nearly dropped out of his seat before he could rebuild his composure and looked at her stunned. With gritted teeth and furrowed eyebrows he demanded to know, “What are you talking about?”
She repeated the question, making sure to stand her ground and break through his shell. “Your father use to hit you when you were younger?”
Tim turned back to his book so he wouldn’t have to look at her as he muttered, “Yeah,” just loud enough for her to hear. She could pick up on his silent plea to end the conversation there.
Leslie wanted to, she really wanted to stop antagonizing him right there and find a better way to help him, but she had enough experience to know that going easy on him would get him nowhere. Over the past few years she had watched as Tim learned to compartmentalize his feelings and her beating around the bush, especially from someone with her responsibilities, would not help in getting him to open up.
Leslie tried to probe a little farther, wanting to be absolutely sure before she prodded further with more emotional questions. “Like a spanking? A tap whenever you did something wrong?”
Tim wanted to dismiss the issue, not seeing the reason to bring up the ancient past, and made sure to show his frustration when he questioned, “He hit me. Why does it matter to you?”
Ignoring his question, Leslie clarified her understanding of the situation. “He used to punch and beat you.”
“It was a complicated relationship,” Tim said just low enough for her to hear.
Leslie could easily recognize that Tim still loved his father despite their past. She couldn’t find it in herself to be surprised. Tim had never been able to turn his back on people, even when it would be in his best interest. She’d seen it when he was a fresh Robin carrying in the criminals who had tried a few minutes ago to kill him, she’d seen it when he refused to answer her question about bruises that formed where she knew his armor was too strong to penetrate, and she could see it now when he still couldn’t bring himself to feel ill will towards someone who had spent the better part of his life hating and abusing him.
She had only met Jack a handful of times, but it was obvious that he tried to keep distance between the two of them. The saddest thing for her was that Tim had always looked as though he was used to it, like he didn’t expect anything else from his father.
Looking at the boy’s back she offered her opinion ever since she had first met Jack. “It was because you were smarter than he was and he couldn’t get over it.”
Tim spun around in his chair and glared at her with his eyes glazed over with not yet fully formed tears. “This is crossing the line, Leslie. I’m not a kid anymore and you can’t…you just can’t treat me like one.”
At the very least he wasn’t trying to keep on a face anymore, he wasn’t trying to act like he was ok. Leslie wasn’t interested in talking to Timothy Jackson Drake-Wayne, the smart young business man inheriting an empire or Robin as he tried to keep Batman from seeing any of his business. This was Tim, growing more like the bat every single day and in need of an emotional outlet that she hoped she could give him.
Leslie let him have some time to process just how he felt on the matter and knowing he was only staring at the page in front of him, not actually reading any of the words. After letting him settle for a few minutes, she began again.
This time not giving him the courtesy of a warning, she stated, “It can’t be easy being you. Growing up like you did, without the support or emotional stability a child needs, it can’t be easy.”
Tim was past trying to hide the fact he was annoyed and tried to force her to drop the conversation. “I told you-”
“I don’t mean that. I meant, you know, being inside your head.”
Tim was in disbelief. “What’s wrong with my head?” A part of him wondered if this was all just a test, a sick joke to make him feel like an idiot, but he knew Leslie wouldn’t do that to him. A few other people wouldn’t hesitate to, but he hoped Leslie wasn’t one of those people.
“I don’t know.” She had some ideas and professional opinions, but even then she didn’t know for sure.
“Of course not.” Tim appreciated the honesty, but he couldn’t help but want the discussion to end.
She gave him a moment, not long enough for him to get back to his work again but long enough for him to stop thinking about what they had just discussed. She assumed that he hadn’t told anyone about the abuse, it wasn’t in his nature to put his own problems before others, but it was something he needed to learn.
When she began again, she made sure to hit the right pressure points, the ones she had been building up to.
“They keep moving the goal post on you, don’t they?”
Tim sarcastically asked, “Who’s they?”
Leslie nonchalantly started listing, “Your father and Bruce. Maybe Alfred and Dick without meaning to. They keep moving the goal post. First you had to get all As, go to a good school, and graduate as valedictorian. Then it moved even farther with completing Bruce’s training, becoming Robin, helping Batman and trying to be a worthy sidekick much less a good one. Forming and leading Young Justice, reforming the Titans, getting accepted to good schools. Now you have to find Bruce, run Wayne Enterprise, and keep the city clean as a Robin without Batman. Everyone just keeps moving the goalpost on you.”
“It’s not good for a person to keep setting goal?” Tim asked.
“Probably is,” she agreed, but not without adding, “But it’s tricky for someone still trying to find a father to love him more than he hates him.”
He didn’t want to satisfy her with his reaction, she’d gone far too out of bounds for him to drop things that easily. Ignoring her response, he said, “Well, I think it’s better to keep pushing myself. At least I’m not like most people, always wishing for something but never actually trying for it.”
“Yeah, but that’s most people. That’s not you, that’s the other people, the ones who feel stress.”
“I feel stress.”
Leslie shook her head and explained, “Not like others. You’re different. You think you’re destined for something great, maybe like proving that Bruce is still alive, and you have an opportunity to show everyone.”
“Yeah. I think I can bring him back.”
She knew she’d gone far enough and instead pivoted the conversation to something else, something just as important. “That room I passed down the hall on the left, whose was it? It was right across the hall from the master room.”
Appreciating the much lighter topic, Tim easily answered, “I think you’re talking about Dick’s old room. He sleeps there at night. Well, nights where he can get sleep.”
“Right.” She let him be confused with the situation before commenting, “This is a hell of a curve you’re getting graded on now. Dick was Bruce’s first son, the one that started his family. No matter how much you might like to think otherwise, he was someone you had to compete with for Bruce’s love.” She could see that he was waiting for her to say something new, something he didn’t already know, and she loudly sighed before saying, “Now what have you done, Tim? A productive career as Robin, a decrease in the crime rate to one of the lowest it has ever been, and taking over Wayne Enterprises?”
She could only imagine what Tim must have thought about her now. His face went from unexpressive to tortured in the span of a few seconds and she knew he was close to crying.
“That’s wasn’t easy,” Tim said defensively. He felt backed into a corner, still not wanting to look the least bit emotional, but it hurt her too see him like this. She moved off the bed, to his side, and took his hand, just now noticing the bags under his eyes.
“It’s wasn’t easy,” Tim repeated desperately. His voice was failing and his pleas weren’t working. He couldn’t get her to believe him and he wasn’t too sure that he believed himself.
Cementing her place by his side, Leslie looked him straight in the eye, not wanting him to forget anything she said. This was her final push and she had to make sure she didn’t miscalculate anything she said.
“I think you’ve spent the past few years trying to win Bruce over and see you like a son. I think Dick, he does what he wants even if it makes Bruce angry. He knows that Bruce loved him and couldn’t find it in his heart to hate him no matter what he does. I think you always wanted that. You wanted Bruce to be the father you never had, a father that loved you more than he hurt you, but then you had to face the fact that you settled for him simply acknowledged you. You settled and now you don’t have anyone.”
He gritted his teeth and talked with in a low grumble before he argued, “You don’t know anything. I’m not trying to get Bruce to love me like he does Dick.”
“Good, because that’s never, never, happen. He’s dead and you can’t change how things ended. You can’t change how he felt.”
Finding that he didn’t have enough energy to fight her anymore, Tim rested his head on her shoulder and tried to make himself appreciate the silence while he had it.
She had gotten what she wanted. For the first time in who know how long Tim wasn’t forcing himself to find clues that weren’t there and if she was going to get incredibly lucky he might even get some sleep.
In any case, there was nothing more for her to do and as she rose from her place at his side, Leslie informed Tim, “We’re done for the night.”
“What?” Just as he was beginning to feel comfortable around her she was leaving.
She grabbed her bag and coat before placing a hand on his shoulder. “I’ve been here for 2 hours, Tim. We’re done for the night, but we can make this a regular thing.”
Speaking primarily as a friend concerned about his health, Leslie put a hand to his cheek feeling just how tired he was when he leaned in. She let herself smile before saying, “I want to help you, Tim, I really do. You need to learn to take care of yourself and more than anything you need to let Bruce go. It’s too much baggage for someone to take on by themselves. He’s dead and nothing is going to change that.”
Tim closed his book and followed her out of the room, right on her tail. “Leslie. I know he’s still alive. I just know it.”
“Look, Tim, you have my number. I want you to drop by the clinic once a week.” Leslie stressed, “You aren’t taking care of yourself and it’s my job to make sure you’re healthy.”
Tim shook his head, finally letting his tears fall while he tried to explain to her, “He’s still alive, Leslie. I know it.”
“I want you to start taking care of yourself before you even start thinking about Bruce.”