Bruce groaned as he tried to force his eyes to open against the bright light urging him out of unconsciousness. He had very little idea of where he was, very little idea of what he was doing, and Bruce pushed himself to his side in an effort to confront whatever was waiting for him.
As soon as he made an effort to move his body screamed it’s opposition and he was forced to fall back into the position that had felt so much better a few moments ago. He tried to collect his mind and remember anything that could explain where he was, but it all just came up to a blank. All he could remember was struggling against something, someone, and a bright light and he contemplated whether or not he was dead.
It didn’t take long for his eyes to adjust to the light and he was able to open them just in time to see a figure walk into the cave he found himself occupying. It was different from the one under the Manor, the wall looked untouched and the lack of squeaks coming from bats overhead left him with a deafening silence, but he tried to focus on the person he watched dig through some bags.
Soon he heard Tim’s soft voice cut through the silence and explain, “Superman’s on his way. He’ll get you to a hospital soon so they can look you over,” Turning to look him in the eye, he asked, “Do you remember everything?”
Not wanting to look any more weak than he actually was, Bruce forced himself to sit up. With a rough voice he probably wouldn’t recognize as his, Bruce said, “I think so. How long was I away?”
Rummaging through his pack for some more medical tape, Tim curtly replied, “You were in another time for a little over six months and you’ve been sleeping in here for about an hour.”
He quickly got to work rewrapping Bruce’s wounds and making sure there was nothing that had gone untreated or reopened in the few minutes he was outside. Bruce didn’t know if it was because of the darkness of the cave or something that had happened in the months he had been away, but he couldn’t help but notice the differences between the Tim he had left and the one before him. While he tried to imagine what could have caused such a drastic change, Bruce began to feel the weight of the awkward silence and had to ask, “What’s taking Clark so long? He should have been here by now.”
Tim look uncomfortable and he refused to look Bruce in the eye as he muttered, “He’s going to take some time.”
Moving to Bruce’s back so that the older man couldn’t’ see the hurt on his face, Tim said, “He doesn’t really believe me. He thinks I’m imagining everything.”
Bruce worked out, “He thinks you’re imagining me?”
Making sure his voice didn’t betray him, Tim explained with a forced lightness to his voice, “Yeah I’m the only one who thinks you’re alive. Everyone else thinks you died six months ago and that I’m crazy for looking for you.”
“They think I died?”
Finally done checking for injuries, Tim moved to pack up the medical equipment and added, “Yeah there was a funeral and everything.”
Just looking at the boy before him, Bruce knew the world he was going back into was much different from the one he left and he had to ask, “What happened while I was gone?”
Tim took a deep breath and forced out, “Dick is Batman right now. Well, he’s Nightwing wearing the suit and cowl. Dick’s been trying to get me to go to Arkham for a while, but I’ve fought him off.”
Shocked, Bruce repeated, “Dick wants to send you to Arkham?”
Finding it a lot harder to meet Bruce’s scrutiny than he had imagined, Tim tried not to sound hurt when he said, “Dick sort of thought I was crazy after I tried to convince him you were alive. He wanted to put me in Arkham so I could see a doctor, but I just left before he could do anything. I…He and I aren’t that close anymore.”
Bruce didn’t know how to respond, Tim looked tired enough that he might not be all that aware of what he was saying, so he tried to find a way out of the awkward conversation and offered, “Let me call Clark. He’ll hurry over when he hears my voice.”
Happy to be done with the conversation, Tim took out his com link before redialing for Clark and putting it to Bruce’s hands.
Immediately they heard Superman’s voice say, “Tim I’ll be th-”
Bruce cut him off asking, “Clark? Where are you?”
Before he could even finish the sentence, a streak of red and blue made it’s way to the foot of the cave and Bruce had to protect his eyes from the dust flying around.
Uncharacteristically scared, Clark asked, “Bruce?”
Smiling up at his old friend, Bruce let himself laugh as he said, “Yeah, I know. Six months has been a long time hasn’t it?”
Clark turned to face Tim and looked for some indication that he was seeing the real Bruce and as soon as he was given a curt nod, he encased him in a hug.
Keeping in mind to avoid his injuries, Clark squeezed Bruce and babbled on, “I can’t believe it. I honestly can’t believe it. I thought…Oh god, I honestly didn’t think I would ever get the chance to see you again. I thought you were gone forever.”
There was a brotherly moment between the two and Tim stood to the side so that he wouldn’t’ interrupt, but after a while he had to say, “Superman, it would still be great if you could take Bruce to the hospital. I was able to treat most of it but it would be better if he saw a doctor.”
Before he knew it he was the only one left in the small cave. Superman had carried Bruce out of the cave and to what Tim assumed would be Watchtower Medical Ward. As soon as he was alone, Tim started packing up a few of the stray equipment scattered around the cave while he thought about whether or not he should start calling the others. He had been telling the truth when he told Bruce that he didn’t’ talk to Dick anymore, but that didn’t mean he shouldn’t inform them that he was back. At the very least it wouldn’t’ hurt to call Alfred as the two of them were still on speaking terms and he could disseminate the information to the others.
Before he could decide on a plan, the blue streak returned and his work was undone as stray equipment flew everywhere.
Looking just as messy as the rest of the cave, Clark asked, “Tim, do you want me to take you to Bruce? I can fly you up.”
Not wanting to ruin what would probably be a touching moment between Bruce and his old friends, the teenager assured him, “It’s ok. There’s some stuff I have to finish up anyway so you don’t have to worry. I’ll find my own way back.”
Clark didn’t really believe him, South America was a long way from Gotham, so he quickly packed up everything he could find and organized it in Tim’s bag before hooking the boy in his arm and flying him out to the Watchtower. Tim sighed at the feeling but he knew to expect as much from the boy scout.
Sitting in the waiting room, no one really knew what to do. Of course they were all excited, Bruce was back, but the group of superheroes were lost as to what they were supposed to say to someone they had called crazy for the last six months.
Tim had been able to inform everyone of Bruce’s return but there wasn’t much he could, or wanted to, say to anyone in the room. Sitting against the wall closest to Bruce’s room, he kept his distance from Dick in particular. He only ever talked to inform the doctors about Bruce’s state when he pulled him into their time stream for a few moments before he opened his laptop to begin writing up a report.
At first Tim didn’t bother taking a seat, he was prepared to leave as soon as he got the green light from the doctor, but he had been asked to stay behind for any questions that the staff might have in dealing with this strange situation and he promptly took a seat on the floor and turned his attention elsewhere.
Across the room, Dick stole glances at Tim. He was trying to find his little brother inside the new suit, but Tim acted as if he was the alone in the room and ignored any contact outside what was absolutely necessary.
Unable to bare the silence any longer, Dick tried to sound jovial and asked something he had been thinking about ever since Clark had called the Manor to inform them that Bruce was in fact alive. “Timmy, how exactly did you find Bruce? What happened?”
Tim glanced in his direction for a moment before he returned his gaze to his computer and explained, “I’ve been looking into it the moment he was declared dead and it really wasn’t that hard with a little help.”
Creasing his eyebrows under the mask, Dick asked, “Help? From who?” As far as he knew there weren’t any members of the league who had believed Tim so it was important for him to know who he should thank for helping his little brother find Bruce.
Tim sighed, preparing himself for the strong reaction that was sure to come, and answered, “Ra’s.”
That got the attention of everyone in the room. They were all well aware of the Demon’s past and how dangerous he could be and the fact that one of Bruce’s children would work with him was unthinkable.
Dick mirrored everyone else’s reaction but tried not to be too harsh when he asked, “Ra’s al Ghul? Why him?”
“He was the only one who believed me,” Tim said dismissively. This was probably the least important part of the whole situation and it didn’t really matter if it meant Bruce was back.
“That doesn’t mean you should have gone to him for help.”
Tim didn’t like that he had to defend himself a few moments after he had just brought Dick’s father back, but he said, “I didn’t really go to him, Dick, he found me and offered some help I couldn’t really refuse.”
Shaking his head unbelieving, Dick questioned, “Why was he looking for you?”
Tim sighed, “He wanted me to be his heir and he thought that helping me find Bruce would somehow help me join him.”
Closing his laptop and giving him a tired look, Tim said, “I know, Dick, I know. After I was fully recovered and had the information I needed I left.”
“Recovered? Recovered from what?” Tim really needed to learn to keep his mouth shut. In only a short few minutes he had gone from bringing Bruce back to having to face Dick’s scrutiny once again. Considering how things had ended the last time, Tim wanted to get through this as soon as possible.
Stuffing his laptop in his bag to avoid looking at Dick, Tim muttered, “I…I lost my spleen.”
Dick leapt out of his chair and exclaimed, “What the hell, Tim. You should’ve come to us.”
Tim rose up from his seat to look him in the eye and say, “I didn’t really have the option now did I?”
Taking a step back and trying to defend himself, Dick promised him, “It’s not like I wouldn’t’ve helped you, Tim.”
Tim scoffed off the declaration and asked, “You mean your friend in Metropolis, the therapist? Or are you talking about how you wanted to put me in Arkham because you were sure I was crazy to think Bruce could still be alive.”
Dick put himself in front of Tim so his focus could be entirely on him and tried to think of something convincing but all that came was a choked out, “Tim…”
Ignoring his older brother, Tim through his bag over his shoulder and said, “Look, I need to be somewhere.”
Dick tried to argue, “Somewhere more important than your family?”
“Fam-?” The confusion on his face broke Dick’s heart but he couldn’t find anyway to defend himself.
Tim softened his scowl when he saw the distress on his face, but he still took a step out with, “Look, I need to go Dick. I just…I need to go. If you have any question you can text me.”
He turned around and gave everyone in the room a half hearted wave. All Dick could do was watch him walk away a second time and hope Bruce would have some idea of how to win him back. The other heroes in the room were silent, not knowing what to think about the argument that had just taken place before them but knowing better than to get involved in something that had very little, if anything, to do with them.
Dick refused to look anyone in the eye as he took his seat and only perked up when the doctor announced that Bruce was ready to take in visitors. Walking into the room and seeing the small smile that crept up on Bruce’s face when he saw him, Dick felt happy that Tim had ignored everything he’d said, but he couldn’t help but think he should have been there with them.
Tim felt like a little child waiting in Bruce’s office in Wayne Tower for what he expected to be a harsh scolding. Apparently, his conversation with Dick a few weeks ago had left much to be desired in terms of what he had been up to in the months that Bruce was away.
Too soon for him, Bruce walked into his office and immediately took his seat. He looked much better than the last time Tim had seen him, definitely covered in far less bandages, but Tim wasn’t exactly sure what was expected from him.
Glancing down to the papers on the desk for a brief moment before looking up, Bruce smiled. “Tim, thanks for coming.”
Quick to get to the point of the meeting, Tim assured, “It’s no problem, Bruce.”
“Was the trip over okay?”
Bruce nonchalantly asked, “Did you take an airplane?”
“Airplane? No,” Tim answered a little confused. There was no reason for Tim to take an airplane when he only lived a few minutes away.
“How about a helicopter?”
“I drove over, Bruce,” Tim said a little too loudly. He wanted to get to the point of the session quickly so he could go home. He could tell this was going to be one of Bruce’s lectures where he went through everything Tim had done wrong so the quicker they could get through it the better.
“That’s because you live downtown right?” Bruce feigned a thinking look while knowing Tim had already caught on.
Not wanting to get into a large fight, Tim tried, “Bruce, is thi-”
Cutting him off and stepping out from his desk and using his height to intimidate the boy, Bruce explained, “I’m asking because downtown Gotham is only a few minutes away from here and we never see you anymore. I thought you’d either moved to a different apartment or they’d moved downtown Gotham farther away. Are either of those things true?”
Looking down at his feet, Tim muttered, “No, sir.”
Crossing his arms and glaring down at him, Bruce continued, “And what Dick told me was true right, that you’d gotten help from Ra’s?”
Once again, Tim gave him a quick, “Yes.”
Leaning down, Bruce chided, “Timothy, when you put your head down your hair falls on your face and I can’t see you and I can’t hear you anymore.”
Dramatically lifting his head to look him in the eye, Tim repeated, “Yes, Bruce. Dick told you the truth.”
Bruce dropped his confused act and immediately yelled out, “What were you thinking? Well I’m sure you thought very hard about you choice before anything, that you got some advice from your brother and friends before turning to someone who tried to kill you.”
Unable to look him in the eye, Tim turned his gaze back to the floor and choked out a weak, “Bruce-”
“Pick your head up, boy!”
Tim yelled out, “I was doing the best I could, Bruce. No one believed me but he did and it got you back didn’t it?”
“There is much more to it than that. You knew it would make me and Dick feel guilty and that’s cheap,” Bruce stressed with a finger in his face. He wanted Tim to feel just as guilty as he should have been, Ra’s was not the kind of person he should be associated with, if that meant having to scold him, so be it.
Tim promised him, “I didn’t do it to make either of you feel guilty, Bruce,” but he was scoffed off.
Bruce turned away from Tim, leaving him to stare at his back, while he said, “Well you didn’t do it to make us happy either.”
Now it was Tim’s turn to rise out of his chair. “I don’t know how to make you feel happy, Bruce. For that you’d have to talk to Dick.” He didn’t like having his objectives questioned, especially when everything he’d done in the past few months had been for the same person who was admonishing him as if he didn’t care.
Not wanting to go anywhere near that topic, Bruce decided to end their discussion. All Tim could think was that he wasn’t interested. “Okay. Let’s drop it.”
Moving behind his desk, he sat down and began reading over his papers. As Tim turned around to leave, Bruce remembered, “Dick’s running a movie tonight and he would want you to stay over.”
Tim tried one last time with, “I can stay over if you want me to.”
Still not looking up, Bruce dismissed him immediately. “Yeah, okay.”
No longer giving a damn, Tim left his office and didn’t bother saying goodbye.
As soon as he was gone, Bruce’s secretary came in and announced, “Mr. Wayne, your next appointment is waiting.”
Letting go of a breath he didn’t know he was keeping in, Bruce replied, “Okay send her in.”
Just as she turned around to inform his appointment, he cut in, “Shelby?”
“Yes, Mr. Wayne?”
“Give me a moment, please.” Shelby understood immediately and gave him a small smile. It wasn’t often that she got to see her boss lose a little face or hear his voice crack, but it almost always had something to do with his family.
She said, “Of course, Mr. Wayne,” before closing the door behind her and giving him some privacy.
As soon as he was alone, Bruce turned around and tried to take in everything Tim had said in their short meeting. Of course he couldn’t bring himself to be upset with the boy. His ‘death’ had been a hard time for all of his boys and he knew that there was very little he would do bring them back to him. If was being honest with himself, he was almost pleased at the fact that Tim would go through such lengths, put himself through so much trouble, for him but then again he could never say Tim was a bad soldier.
Finding herself once again at the Manor, Leslie knocked on the door of Bruce’s office before she heard him welcome her him.
Stepping out of his chair to shake her hand, Bruce greeted, “Good evening, Leslie.”
Giving him a small smile, Leslie said, “Good evening, Bruce.”
Stalling to build up the courage he needed, Bruce said, “I’m sorry to have called you in with such little notice.”
“It’s no problem,” she replied curtly. Leslie didn’t want to be rude, but it would be best if they could begin getting to work as soon as possible.
Pulling out a seat for her while he walked around the room, Bruce asked, “Is there anything I should be worried about, Leslie? Any reason I should still be in recovery?”
Just as she would any patient, Leslie said, “Nothing as far as I could tell. Although you did lose a lot of blood it doesn’t look like there was any damage. Your broken bones are healing properly, there is no reason for any more sur-”
Giving her a fake smile, Bruce asked, “You’ve been looking after Tim?”
Bruce repeated, “You’ve been looking after him while I was gone?”
Quick to defend herself from something she didn’t know, Leslie said, “I’ve been making appointments with him regularly if that’s what you’re asking.”
Finding himself acting like Luthor the few times he had been in a room with him, Bruce crossed his arms and said, “I’m asking if you told him that running around with people like Ra’s would help him get me back. I’m asking if you’re the reason he hasn’t been talking to his family. I’m asking if you told him, ‘Timmy, it’s your doctor, the person who’s supposed to look after you, and I think your brother is bad for your health and you should find someone else to run to.'”
Leslie didn’t like being scolded like a child, but she put her anger aside as she promised, “No, Bruce. I never did that.”
Sarcastically Bruce said, “Yeah.”
Feeling his refusal to take the conversation seriously very characteristic of how he treated Tim, Leslie tried, “By the way, Bruce, it’s not the doctor’s job to keep kids healthy, it’s the parent’s.”
Bruce didn’t like what he was accused of and diverted the discussion with, “Why haven’t I been able to get him to like me? I’m asking you.”
“I don’t really think that app-”
“I’m asking you.”
Dropping all formality as she had with Tim, Leslie said, “I think you’re wrong.”
Bruce was adamant. “I’m not.”
Shaking her head, Leslie assured him, “He worships you.”
“He’s mad at me,” Bruce said feeling he knew better.
“Well you’re mad at him.”
Remembering just why he had brought her out here, Bruce said, “Yes I am. I come back after six months and where the hell is he?”
Coming to his defense, Leslie said, “He’s been here, Bruce.”
Now it was Bruce’s turn to shake his head and say, “Not like Dick. Not like the league.”
“You frighten him.” It was the only way Leslie could think of explaining things to Bruce, the only he might understand how hard Tim tries to win over his approval.
“No I don’t!” It was something Bruce never wanted to think about. He only ever scared people, mostly criminals, who wanted to hurt others, especially when it came to his kids.
Imagining herself as a proxy for whatever defense Tim needed, Leslie begged Bruce, “Look at yourself. You begin shouting as soon as you find yourself having to face a difficult truth.”
“We’ve known each other for six years. He’s seventeen. He can deal with a loud voice.” There was no reason for Tim to be afraid of anything Bruce could do, it’s not like he would ever hurt him.
“You have been the king of whatever room you walked into ever since you two met. All he has ever tried, all he has ever wanted, was to make you proud and that thought that you might not be satisfied with what he does scares the hell out of him.”
Bruce dismissed her explanation. “It never seemed to frighten Dick.”
It didn’t take a doctor to break apart that argument but Leslie did it anyway. “Well kids are different, they’re not the same. You’d be amazed, you’d be stunned at how quickly kids realize they are never going to be anywhere near their father’s favorite.”
Staring down at her in a way that was reminiscent of the Bat, Bruce said, “That’s not true.”
“That’s not true!”
He was practically frantic as he argued, “No, no, no. I will bare with Darkseid and Ra’s and Joker and whoever the hell else comes in my way, but I will not let anyone come in and say I love Tim less than Dick.” Bruce turned his back to her, repulsed by the idea that she was putting in her head.
Finding his declaration to completely empty considering Tim’s past, Leslie glared at his back and asked, “How can you say that?”
“What do you mean?”
“How can you say that knowing what we do about his past?”
Turning back to look at her, Bruce questioned, “Leslie, what are you talking about?”
She looked back at him, at the perplexed look on his face and complete worry in his pose, and she had to ask, “Bruce did you know?”
Confused, Bruce thought out loud, “About what? Ra’s? I didn’t now he wanted Tim to be his heir if that’s what you’re asking.”
Leslie shook her head and pressed on, “No, about Jack. Did you know?”
Still confused, Bruce couldn’t think of anything special about Jack. He had fathered Tim and died, but that’s all he could think of. He found himself asking again, “Know what, Leslie?”
Leslie dropped her arms to her side. All these years she had thought Tim and Bruce had worked out an understanding, something to help with Jack, but knowing that the boy didn’t turn to anyone was too much. She knew it meant that she was responsible for not ending it, for not begging Tim to find help, and falling into her chair all she could say was, “Oh my god. You…Bruce…Tim… Oh my god.”
Understandably concerned, Bruce rushed over and asked, “What? Did something happen?”
Leslie shook him off with, “It’s not my place to say.”
Unlike all those years ago there was nothing she could do to help, nothing she could do to help that little bird. Whatever resolution he made with Bruce had to be on his terms and no one else’s, that was the only support she could give him.
Helping her up, Bruce said, “Thanks for your help, Leslie. Thank you very much,” before he walked her out to her car.
Watching her drive away, he couldn’t help but think of how much he had failed his son and how much work there was still left to do.