"I don't care what your excuses are, Wayne! I want the truth. And don't pull any of that blissful ignorance crap on me. I know Tim was coming here. I want to know why!"
Jack Drake's voice echoed off the walls of the parlour, reverberating down the halls to the kitchen. Alfred gave an involuntary shudder as he prepared tea. Master Bruce would be hard pressed to explain his way out of this one. Arranging the cups, he picked up the tray and returned to the parlour.
"Tea is served." Three heads turned in his direction. Two angry. One grateful. "Would anyone care for cream or sugar?"
"I don't want any damn tea." Jack growled. "I want my son back."
"I told you, Jack." Bruce said easily, taking a cup from Alfred. "I didn't have anything to do with Tim's disappearance. I wish I had some information to give you. He's a great kid. Did you know he loved Alfred's tea?" He held up his cup. "Alfred brews a mean Earl Grey."
"Is that how you did it? You drugged his tea?" Jack was not to be put off. "You're skirting my questions, Wayne. Not once have you given me a straight answer."
"I already told you I don't have any idea where Timothy is. By the way, how's your car? I heard from the boys downtown someone did a job on it."
"It's totalled and don't change the subject."
"Okay." Bruce grinned cluelessly. "By the way, how was your trip to Jersey?"
"We weren't in Jersey." Jack snapped. "We were in New Guinea."
"That's odd. Why, I was just talking with the guys down at the Country Club and I could have sworn your name came up. One of the guys thought you might have known that Doctor that was blown up. What's his name? Marcus Demarti?" Bruce rolled his eyes heavenward and shrugged. "I wonder what possessed him to start a lab in New Jersey? Hey, isn't New Jersey known as the flower state?"
"I wouldn't know. We were in New Guinea. Not New Jersey." Jack said tersely. "And, yes, I did know Mark. We attended the same college for a year. But I haven't seen him in a while."
"S'funny, I coulda sworn I saw the two of you having dinner together a few months back." Bruce winked. "You weren't trying to cook up a business deal with him were you? That'd be bad for business. My sources told me there's a big investigation into the nature of his research."
Jack paled. "Your country club boys hear a lot of gossip."
"They do talk." Bruce grinned and winked. "Though I confess my best source of is a fiery redhead."
"Why was he here all those nights?" Dana demanded, bringing the conversation back on topic. She sat next to her husband, arm encircling his protectively. "What did you have Tim doing?"
"Oh, is that all you want to know?" Propping his feet on the coffee table, Bruce flashed his guests a bright grin. "Chess."
"Yes, chess." He pointed to a game board in the corner of the room. "I was teaching Timothy chess. He has a great strategic mind, not to mention a quick wit. We'd play for hours."
"Until two am?" Dana cocked a brow skeptically. "I doubt chess would enthral a teenage boy for that long."
"He couldn't get enough of it."
"Bull." Jack spat. "There's no way my son would sneak out of the house to play chess. He would have told me where he was going."
"He didn't want you to feel bad." Bruce sipped his tea thoughtfully. "Tim was afraid you'd think he preferred me over you. Your relationship was rocky. Tim needed an outlet."
"So you'd have me believe he snuck out of the house to play chess with you?"
"It's the truth." Standing, Bruce went to the chess board. "See? We were working on a game before his disappearance. I haven't put any of the pieces back. I'm still holding out that Tim's going to come home."
"No." Jack rumbled, features etched in stone. "No. You're lying. You were doing something else with Tim. All those nights... you weren't playing chess." Getting to his feet, he crossed the room to Bruce. Nose to nose, smoldering brown eyes glared into blue. "I can't prove anything. Not yet. But I will find out."
"The police--" Bruce began.
"Could give a damn." Jack growled. "Yeah, I know you've bought the department. How could you not with your son engaged to Gordon's daughter? While you may have the police commissioner in your pocket, I still hold a lot of influence in Gotham. I promise you this, Wayne. I won't stop until I find my son. I know you're involved with his disappearance. I can feel it. And I won't rest until I take you down."
"Hey, hey, Jack. Don't be like that." Bruce held up his hands in surrender. "I know Tim's your son. Hell, if I were his father, I'd be doing everything in my power to get him back. But don't you think you're being a little paranoid?"
Jack didn't even blink. "No." Spinning on his heel, he headed for the door. "Come on, honey, we're leaving."
"Coming." Dana followed her husband to the door and stopped. Turning she caught Bruce's gaze and held it. Silently, she followed her husband out.
"That could have gone better." Alfred mused, returning to collect his serving tray. "My word sir, that was a heated discussion."
"He meant what he said." Bruce absently picked a chess piece from the board. Rolling it between his fingers, he marvelled at how easily a position could be compromised. "So did she."
"Madam was most verbal on her last visit."
"It wasn't what she said." Sighing, he returned the knight to its spot on the board. "It was the look in her eye. In both their eyes."
"What do you suggest sir?" Alfred didn't like where this was going. "Surely you're not going to..?"
"We create an accident. A botched robbery. Maybe a kidnapping." He ignored Alfred's startled gasp. "They find him somewhere. We make it look like he suffered a head wound. Or a drug over-dose. God knows, Tim has enough needle marks from the iv's. That'd make it easier to explain the coma."
"No. We shall not paint master Timothy as a drug addict. He deserves more than that. To paint an image of him so vulgar would be a great disservice to him. And to his parents. Do you honestly want their last memories of him to be tainted with imagined scenes of back-alley pay-offs and needle sharing? Would you do such a thing to Master Dick or Miss Cain?"
"No," Bruce admitted, "but how else can we--"
"Sir! I appreciate the severity of our situation, but I must protest! You are not doing this!"
"What choice do we have, old friend?" Bruce stared unseeing out the window. "What choice do we have?"
"Kon, what you mean no help Robin?"
Resisting the urge to pop his eardrum, Kon turned up the radio instead. After much complaining and nagging he and Cassandra had adjourned to the Young Justice resort. Considering Batman's mood and their current predicament, the resort was the farthest and safest place to be. "You want another Zesti?"
"Want you to answer question!" Cassandra batted away the offered drink. "Why not help Robin?"
"What's going on?" Wonder Girl, Empress, Cissie and Traya crowded the doorway of the kitchen, clad only in their pj's, holding magazines, movies and hair supplies. "This is a same-sex sleep-over, in case you forgot to read the memo. I already threatened to frag Slobo's butt if he dared show up."
Kon slapped himself in the forehead. "Damn," he mused, trying not to drool at the girls in their boxers and nightshirts, "I completely forgot." Could Anita possibly show anymore cleavage? One good bout of TTK and she'd totally...
"We making game plan." Cassandra interrupted his thoughts, successfully pulling his hormonal teenage mind back from the gutter. "About Robin."
"He woke up?" Forgetting her annoyance, Cassie hurried to the table. "How is he?"
"Not wake up."
"Oh." Cassie bit her lip. "Then what--?"
"We get report. About Robin. Marty say bad scientists did experiments on Robin. Why he not wake up. Kon and I find way to wake him up."
"Who's Marty?" Anita pulled up a chair beside Kon, completely ignorant of the direction of his eyes. "And what does this have to do with Robin?"
"Marty's a kid I met. He explained the report to us."
"Oh-kay." Anita stared between Kon and Cassandra. She crossed her arms as it dawned on her as to exactly where Kon was looking. "Why didn't you just get Kon to read it?"
"Kon not understand. Too many big words."
"Hey!" Ripping his eyes from Anita, he tried to look indignant as giggles flowed around the table. "I resent that."
"I told you to stay in school." Cassie giggled, gesturing for Cissie and Traya to have a seat. "But seriously, what did you find out about Robin?
"Psi energy?" Cissie looked to Kon for help. "What's that?"
"It's what they were syphoning from Rob. I guess everyone has this energy inside. If its syphoned, it can be used to create some pretty harsh weapons. Near as Marty could tell, they shorted Rob's brain, pushing him into a coma."
"So what are you planning to do about this? Can it be reversed?"
"Yes!" Cassandra protested. "Has to be. Robin need to wake up! Can't stay sleeping forever!"
"Keep dreaming." Kon grumbled and tipped his pop can to suck out the last of the beverage.
"Want him back!"
Cissie took Cassandra's arm and patted it comfortingly. "We all do, Batgirl. But sometimes, things don't work out like we want them too."
"No!" Shaking off Cissie's hand, Cassandra rose to her feet. "I not let Robin sleep. I wake him up!" She stared beseechingly at Kon. "Kon and I wake him up. Right Kon?"
"No." Kon said softly. He winced as Cassandra's face hardened. "There's nothing we can do. It's time... it's time we accepted that. Rob's not coming back."
"NO! I not accept that! Robin will wake up. He not leave me. He my friend. My best friend. Best friends don't leave and they don't give up!"
Before anyone could respond she was gone. Kon didn't bother going after her. Cassandra had mastered the art of disappearing just as well as the rest of the Batclan. An embarrassed silence settled over the kitchen. Shit, he didn't need this. Wordlessly, he got up and left.
Alone in the kitchen, the remaining occupants looked at each other. "So," Anita held up her nail polish hesitantly. "Um, anyone want to paint nails?"
Alfred Pennysworth stared at the sugary grains left in the bottom of his ice tea cup. Normally, he would not use a package to mix a drink, but after the trying events of the day, he found himself without the energy to both boil tea and then wait for it to chill in the ice box. The half empty canister of Good Host sat on the cupboard, a subtle reminder of what used to be.
His mind wandered to a time when a certain young man had entertained him with a tale of Robins past and who had proposed futures for Robins yet to come. A shy, yet determined boy hell bent on reuniting a family long divided.
Timothy had been an extraordinary boy made of a special mix of love, loyalty and wit that made him such a joy to be around. Why, he had been so enthralled with the young man, he'd broken down and bought the powdered swill the boy so lovingly proclaimed to be the summer Drink of Champions.
"The sugar keeps me going." Tim had said one day over tuna sandwiches. "Besides, everyone has a favourite drink. Dick loves Zesti, Bruce and Babs drink coffee. Heck ,even Batgirl takes a swig of rootbeer now and again. After all, we late-night vigilante types need a good boost of something to keep us awake for our day jobs!"
So Timothy won his case and the next day, there, in the cupboard above the sink sat a jar of powdered tea. The edge of Alfred's mouth corked as he studied the sugary sludge in his cup. The sugary mess coagulating at the bottom reminded him of the thickening mess he and the Master currently found themselves immersed in. If only Bruce would allow himself the luxury of grieving. If he allowed himself to feel, then perhaps he'd be more apt to defend Timothy instead of trying to sweep him beneath the rug with the rest of the dirt.
No matter what the Master decided regarding Timothy, he would stand strong against it. A butler only in title, he was much more than a simple servant. He was the father and guardian over his tiny family and by God, he would defend their dignity to the end.
Right after his nap.
Yawning, he pushed away his cup and went in search of a comfy chair. He would deal with Master Bruce after a quick nap. Vowing to sleep not more than a few moments, he settled into a worn comforter in the parlour and within minutes was snoring softly.
Cassandra Cain had been running for hours. It didn't just seem like hours either, it was hours. Two point three hours to be exact. Even as her feet protested the uneven dirt scuffing her polished boots, she ran. In an effort to put as much distance between herself and Kon, she hadn't slowed. But that wasn't why she was running. An odd sense of horror propelled her aching feet, forcing her to continue when she'd rather crumble to the ground and stay there until the next day.
The Young Justice Resort was a lot farther from Gotham when one was running rather than flying. After several miles in which she'd determined she was not getting any closer to her destination, she'd flagged down a passing trucker and hitchhiked the rest of the way.
Upon arriving in Gotham, she'd stepped out of the semi and started running again. Feeling vaguely out of control, she wondered why she felt the sudden urgency to visit Robin.
His steps made no sound as he moved about the darkened cave. Sticking to the shadows, he cradled the bundle in his arms as he manoeuvred to the small platform holding the much feared vehicle fondly known to Gothamites as the Batmobile.
He needed to be quick. Alfred's naps were becoming increasingly erratic. The elderly man could sleep for one hour or one minute, depending on his mood. Given the past weeks excitement and continued uncertainty, he doubted the duration would last longer than a few minutes.
Opening the passenger side he gently laid his bundle against the seat and with an almost paternal gesture, ruffled the dark head before fastening the seat belt around the blanketed figure. "It'll be over soon buddy." He whispered before retreating to the drivers side.
"Master Bruce!" The aged voice he had been dreading to hear chirped insistently over the car's radio. "Whatever are you doing?"
"I'm taking care of business." Revving the motor, he was gone from the cave before Alfred was able to ascertain the significance of his words.
"What do you mean, he took Robin?" Cassandra, now changed into her Batgirl attire, hovered over Oracle's shoulder, a distinct grimace forming over her masked lips. "He can't do that!"
"He can and he has, Miss Gordon." Batgirl winced at the hoarse voice crackling over the comlines. "The master has taken it upon himself to settle the situation regarding Master Timothy's parents."
"And what exactly did he propose we do?"
Batgirl wondered if she shouldn't be listening to this. Barbara's tone was becoming more clipped with each passing moment while Alfred's grew more haggard. She might not understand what was happening but it didn't take a rocket scientist to know it was bad.
"Alfred, tell me!"
For a moment all the two women could hear was the crackling silence of the line. Then Alfred's voice carried over, quiet and sad. "To take care of him."
From her seat, Barbara gasped and covered his mouth. "You don't mean--?"
"No, nothing so final, but no less vulgar. He has set up a scenario. A horrible one, which will completely sully Timothy's memory."
"Scenario?" Finally deciding to say her piece, Batgirl snatched the headpiece from Oracle. "What kind of scenario? Robin not going to die!"
"No, no, my dear. He..." Alfred faltered. Clearing his throat loudly he continued. "He will make it appear as if Timothy were using drugs and simply over-dosed."
Ignoring Barbara's outburst, Batgirl held onto the head piece. "Why he do that? Robin not use drugs."
"I know, my dear. But under the circumstances, what with the coma and the marks from the IVs, he felt it would be most appropriate--"
"Not appropriate! Wrong! All wrong!"
"Damn straight." Fully recovered, Barbara snatched back her headphone. "And I'm going to damn well tell him so."
"He is not answering." Alfred warned. "You would be best to track him."
"Then that's what I'll do." Barbara typed away at her keyboard. A moment later she threw aside the board. "No good. All his tracers are deactivated and I'm getting bogus locations on his pager."
"What about Timothy's tracker?" Alfred asked. "Surely his internal tracer is still working."
"Good idea." Batgirl stepped aside to watch Barbara work. After several unsuccessful attempts she again gave up. "Nope. That's gone too. I wonder how he extracted it? I mean, it was imbedded in Tim's arm."
"It is not ours to reason why."
"But yet we're to do or die." Barbara finished. "Hmph. He's certainly proving that tonight."
"Then all we can do is hope and pray."
"No." Batgirl couldn't believe they would all give up so easily. "I save Robin. I find Batman."
"How?" Barbara reached over to lay a gentle hand on her arm. "Bruce, he's the best in the business. If he doesn't want to be found, we won't find him."
Shrugging off the hand, Batgirl turned away. "He not best anymore." Flinging open the rooms window, she glanced at Barbara. "I am."
Having said that self-assured proclamation she disappeared into the night.
Jack Drake cradled his fourth martini of the hour, watching the liquid swish and swirl in the cup. When his fascination with the liquid waned, he turned his delirious attention to the window. It was dark now. Dark as pitch. Dark as night. Hehe. Of course it was. It was after eight. Timothy should have been home by now, safe in his room instead of alone in the darkness. Or buried deep within the earth or bobbing at the bottom of a lake or pond. Maybe his son was laying in an alley somewhere, keeping the roaches and rats company. Maybe he... maybe he would walk through the front door any minute now and see the mess his old man was in and laugh.
"What's the matter Dad? Come on, you know me. I always come home eventually."
And then they'd laugh at the absurdity of the entire thing and after the laughter had subsided he'd ground Tim into next year for making him worry.
Swivelling his tipsy frame towards the door he waited. Five, ten minutes passed and no Tim. Of course his son wouldn't be there. He'd been gone for a month already. An entire month. And so had Jack. They'd been gone together. Only in different places, with different people.
"We're both magicians." Jack giggled through his martini. "The Disappearing Drakes."
The laughter quickly turned to choked sobs that rattled his frame.
He was a failure. He'd failed his son and today, he'd failed Dana. For all his bravado about confronting Wayne, he'd crumbled. He'd left there empty handed save the horrid knowledge that Tim loved Bruce more then him.
Yeah, he'd put on a good show. His performance of rants and rages had been a sell-out. Except it hadn't helped. Wayne had stayed calm through it all, his playboy persona never once faltering, never once giving even the slightest clue that he knew of Tim's whereabouts. Deep down, Jack knew it was because Wayne had known just how hollow those threats were. His threats lacked commitment-like everything else in his life.
Dana had hit the nail on the head in the car. He was a father only when it was convenient. He was a husband only when it suited him. Janet, god-rest-her-soul, had been in the same position. Yes, he'd brought her along, but more as an ornament at his side than an equal. Was it any wonder they'd fought so much in the months prior to her death?
And Dana, darling Dana. What ever could she have possibly seen in him? He'd eventually drive her away as well. She'd probably packed her bags and left already. And why not? He hadn't done what he'd promised to do. He hadn't found Tim. Hadn't called the police to tell them of his suspicion. He had in fact, told her to leave the Wayne's alone.
"Dana, the man doesn't know."
"He does! They both do! You promised to investigate this! Why are you retreating now? You promised me Jack!"
"I was wrong, Dana. I thought I was right--"
"But now you're slinking away with your tail between your legs. Did you honestly buy that pathetic chess story? Do you truly believe Timothy was so hard done by as to prefer a complete stranger over his own father? You're better than that, Jack."
"Am I? All I know is that my son spent a great deal of time at the Manor. He avoided home like the plague, doing one disappearing act after another so as not to deal with me! I admit I'm a hard man to talk to. I let my emotions get the better of me. Timothy probably did need a neutral place to vent his frustrations."
"So say the fantastic mister Wayne." Dana had spat. "From the way you reiterated, I didn't think you believed him."
"I was trying to intimidate him. To see if I could fluster him enough so he'd slip up. But obviously the man doesn't know--"
"So everything you said over there was a lie? If it was, you're a good showman, because I believed every word. Every threat you made had me trembling. But then you do perform well, don't you? What's the real deal with Mark? Why did Bruce suddenly mention New Jersey?"
"I don't know how he found out." Jack shouted. "Investing with Mark was a mistake Dana and I swear on Janet's grave I didn't know he was doing anything illegal. Christ, I'm still not sure what he was doing. All I know is that I spent a month being grilled by the FBI, the CIA and god knows what other government group! I'm lucky they believed me. The last thing I need is a jail sentence. Bankruptcy was hard enough."
"What about Bruce? How could he possibly know so much about Demarti? Don't tell me the country club has connections to the secret service! Jack, do you think he's one of the investors?"
"Leave the man alone, Dana. He's nothing more than a puppet for Luscious Fox. And Luscious isn't a gambler." Jack made a sweeping motion with his hand. "He flies the straight and narrow. No, Bruce is innocent."
"You could have fooled me." Dana wrapped her arms around herself. "Like I said, you were convincing."
"I was just trying to scare him. To see if he knew something. He doesn't. He doesn't know a thing."
"No! Timothy's gone, Dana. We have to accept that fact and move on."
"That's your answer to everything, isn't it? Move on. Forget about it. Let me tell you something Jack, I won't move on and I sure as hell won't forget. I am going to continue to investigate this. If you want to lay here like a beaten dog, then do it. But don't expect my sympathy or support."
She'd left then, leaving him to drown his sorrows in alcohol.
"I'm a failure." he whispered to his martini, turning the cup over with trembling fingers. "A complete and utter failure."
"Yeah," A voice hissed moments before something hard hit him from behind, "you are."