Too Deep To Breathe
by Rea

Alfred Pennysworth shifted from foot to foot in a gesture most unbecoming of a proper gentleman's gentleman such as himself. All things considered, he wouldn't have been engaged in such an unbecoming gesture except for the fact his youngest charge was missing; kidnapped by the one person sworn to protect him.

For the past several hours he had been out of contact with Bruce. Both his efforts and that of Miss Gordon had been in vain. Somehow, the Master had disengaged the devices which would have allowed him to be located and rerouted his communicator so getting a proper reading was impossible.

In a desperate attempt to locate Timothy, he had picked up the phone to dial the local police. Fortunately, Oracle had been monitoring the line and intervened before he could connect. Properly upset over his momentary lapse of judgement, he had retired to the Batcave where he now fidgeted, waiting for the Master to return.

He wondered what he would do when Bruce did return. Never in his wildest dreams had he entertained the possibility of Bruce's past musing to become a concrete reality. Bruce wasn't as cold as that, was he? The empty infirmary spoke volumes.

A cold anger swelled in his chest before passing through his body, causing his limbs to shake with a fury he had never known. In all his disagreements with how Bruce ran things, and yes, there had been disagreements, he had never felt this rage.

Timothy was a child, a defenceless child at that. In his current state he was unable to either care for himself, nor speak in his defence. It fell to Alfred to speak for him.

"And I've failed you." He mused sadly, "I, your voice of reason, have failed."

Staring around the cave, Alfred had never been more disappointed in Bruce than he was now. "I raised you better than this." he said to the empty room. "I know your life has never been easy but I stayed with you, bearing the hardships as they came. Comforting you when you could see no end to the dark tunnel. I was with you through it all. Your pillar of strength and at times your conscious." Falling to his knees he beseeched the man not present. "How could you do this? How, Bruce?" To his dismay a stray tear escaped his eye. Wiping it quickly away, he regained his usual regal demeanor. "No more, Bruce. No more. I have sanctioned your behaviour in the past, but no more. I am afraid, my dear boy, that you must face the repercussions of this alone."

Rising, he went upstairs to pack his bags.

Jack Drake was not a man to fear easily. He supposed it was due to the fact he was an only child. If he had ever bothered to share this revelation with his wife, she might have called him spoiled. As it were, he retained the notion he was blessed with a sort of bravery borne of endless setbacks and upsets.

Strapped to the chair in his study, he felt it vaguely ironic he was to die in his own home with his wife sleeping directly above him. Assuming, of course, she was still there and not at a Motel 8 obtaining divorce papers. Or maybe, the pragmatic part of him mused, she's already been killed. He took comfort in the fact, if that were indeed the case, at least he'd be joining her soon.

Alone in the dark, he wondered if he would be given the courtesy to see the face of his would-be killer. His assailant was young. The voice, when it chose to speak, tended to crack when provoked to a higher octave.

A slight shift to his right let him know he was no longer alone. "What do you want?"

"Enlightenment for starters. Revenge certainly." Jack felt, rather than heard, the voice shrug. "Maybe a little reconciliation. Though to be honest, I wouldn't hold my breath over it. I mean, you haven't even recognized me yet which, considering who I am, is pretty sad."

"I know you?" Jack was surprised. Nothing about the situation brought forth even a fragment of familiarity. "Show yourself."

"No. That would be too easy. The rule of thumb in business is to never lay out all your cards at once, remember? That is what you always used to say, wasn't it?"

"Something like that."

"It's a sad state when you can't remember what you've said, Jack. Perhaps an early retirement is what you need."

"I've been preoccupied." Jack said in an attempt to turn the subject. "My son is missing and I've just had a fight with my wife."

"The lovely Dana Winters. A beautiful person." Paper rustled. "However did she agree to marry you?"

"Just lucky I guess."

"I've got your wedding album. There are a lot of pretty pictures."

"My son took some of them."

"Your son. That's something I meant to ask you about."

Jack felt his blood run cold. "What have you done to him?"

"Oh, nothing." the voice assured. "I was just noticing something, that's all."

"What?" Jack strained against his bonds. "If you hurt him, I swear to god--"

"Why are there so few pictures of him?"

The question stopped him cold. "Pardon?"

"Your son. The boy you claim to be so concerned over. Where is his album?"

"I'm sure there are pictures of him in some of those books."

"That's not the book I mean."

"I don't understand."

"His baby book," the voice said patiently. "Where is his baby book? Surely you kept a record of him. Of his first steps. His first word. Since you don't seem to have one, I'd like to make the observation that if you didn't keep a book, then your son wasn't wanted. Perhaps he was just an 'accident'. In which case, there would be no reason to take photos. Or for that matter, take any interest in him at all. Am I right, Jack? Am I?"

Jack spluttered helplessly. He wanted to tell the voice to go to hell. To tell him to get out. To tell him he knew nothing of this family. His tongue wouldn't let him. It seemed to be melded to the bottom of his mouth in silent agreement. "We were just starting out, Janet and I."

"Yes. You must have loved her dearly, for I see there is an album with her name on it. There are several in fact. But none of your son."

"We travelled a lot." Jack said lamely. "It wasn't right to cart him from one place to another."

"And leaving him with a nanny is better?"

"He wasn't always with her---"

"That's right. You sent him to boarding school as soon as they'd take him. How very responsible of you. When the kid becomes too much of a burden you ship him away, leaving you free to jet around the world while still appearing to be a caring, loving parent. Tell me Jack, when you were off jet-setting, did you ever call or send a letter? I know he received the occasional postcard, usually after you'd come and gone." The voice leaned forward, so Jack could feel his breath hot on his neck. "Would you like to know some gossip?" A hand moved to Jack's chin, moving it up and down. "I knew you would. Your son used to take great pains in writing to you. He'd spend hours writing a single letter. He'd agonize over each sentence, choosing the right words, checking for spelling mistakes and grammar."

"I didn't know." Jack whispered. "I've never received any of his letters."

"Of course not. You were never in one place long enough to receive them." The voice chuckled darkly. "Off he'd go to the mailbox, clutching his letter to his chest like a precious treasure. Then he'd wait and wait for a response. Try and imagine what it felt like to have each and every letter you've ever written returned to you unopened, always with the same message: Unable to Deliver. No forwarding address. That must have hurt. His little heart must have broken tenfold when he realized his parents didn't care enough to leave him a forwarding address."

Stunned, Jack sat there. He'd never known Tim had written. He'd naturally assumed the boy wouldn't care about such things. Leaving a forwarding address had never entered his mind.

"Quite the heartbreaker, huh?" The voice was smug with all the adolescent fervour of a kid who'd just bested his competition. "A rather sad and pathetic tale, that one. All those unread letters. Tsk. I'm not even going to tell you the hurtful message that was written on the one he burned."

The situation he'd previously branded as bizarre had turned into a episode of "This Is Your Life!" Whoever this kid was, he knew how to press his buttons. And the more he pressed, the more vulnerable Jack became.

"What the hell do you want from me!" he spat in sudden a bout of rage. "What? Tell me!"

"Shhhh." A finger was pressed to his lips. "You'll wake Dana. As for my request, I want only the truth. Such a simple thing, yet to so many it is a plight wrought with painful self-actualization. I could maybe reduce the pain... do you want to know where Timothy is?"

All the blood drained from his face. "Timothy's alive?"

"In the vaguest sense of the word. Let's just say he's taking a nap. A very long nap."

"You... you killed my son?" In that instance, all his fears came crashing down upon him in a suffocating tide that pummelled him with an uncaring fist. "Oh my god... Timothy..."

"You really are a dense old man, aren't you?" The voice sneered, making Jack want to wrap his hands around its neck and squeeze the life out of it. "Did I say he was dead? Did I say I killed him? Don't be so freakn' stupid. I said he was napping, not worm food."

"But... a long sleep," Jack didn't dare allow himself to hope. "You said..."

"The truth. Now it's your turn." The chair it was sitting on creaked as it was spun. A foot brushed against the armrest of Jack's chair, narrowly missing his arm. "Tell me. Admit to me what you couldn't tell him."

"Where is my son?"

"Answer my question. Then, if I feel like it, I'll give you a clue." Shivers rippled down his spine as it laughed.

"I don't know what you want me to say." Jack whispered.

"I think you do." It countered.

Feeling a wetness encompass his eyes, Jack looked within him. He walked along the deadened edge of his soul, searching for that which he must bare. Uncertainty plagued him as he walked the corridors of his mind, peeking in rooms long forgotten, dredging up pain he'd long ago locked away. At last his endless wanderings brought him to a bland beige door with the words: Do Not Open etched across it in black paint.

His hand trembled as he reached for the knob. Pooling his resolve, he turned it.

A black-haired boy in a blue school uniform sat at a desk, unadorned save for a notepad and pen. The pen, the boy held in his hand as he meticulously scrawled words across the paper. Jack slowly went to him, stopping a few inches behind. Tilting his head, he stared at the paper, trying to make out the writing.

"It's been a long time." The boy said suddenly causing Jack to jump. "I mean, it's been so long. Why now?" Inquisitive blue eyes stared curiously at him. "Not that it really matters. It'll only be for a while. Where are you going next? Is Mom going too?"

"No." Jack said hoarsely, "I'm flying solo."

The boy nodded, as if this response was completely expected. "So long, then."

Jack watched the boy return to his writing. "I don't have to leave right now."

"Sure you do." The boy answered, not turning. "You always have someplace to be. Somewhere to go. Something to buy. It's okay, I understand. Those are your priorities. When you're involved in such a competitive business, you have to have priorities."

"Yes." Jack whispered. "Those are my priorities. I'm ashamed to admit you weren't on the list."

"Why?" The boy put his pen aside, careful not to accidentally mar his paper. "Why wasn't I?"

"I don't know."

The boy's face fell. "But... but you should know. I realize you haven't added me to your list yet, but... am I that unimportant?"

"No," Jack reached over to take the boy's hand. "You are important."

"To who?" The boy questioned, eyes glistening. "I try. I try so hard to make you and Mom love me. I work hard at school. I win awards. I even got a job where I can help people. Yet... you still don't care. For a while I thought you did. After you woke up we were inseparable. Then all of a sudden... it changed. You sent me away again. You didn't give me a choice. Like always you wouldn't listen." The boy held out his hand beseechingly. "I could never tell you where I'd go all those nights Dad, not because I didn't want you to know, but because I couldn't trust you to understand. I still don't think you'd understand." Straightening in his chair, the boy picked up his pen. "If you'll excuse me, I have to write another letter that will never be read."

Jack could do little but to shake his head helplessly. What could he do? Nothing. Getting to his feet, he felt heavy with shame. His son didn't trust him. And why not? It wasn't as if he had done anything to warrant that trust. Or love. With a gait unsteady he walked to the door.

The boy didn't say goodbye. Jack paused at the threshold, observing the great care the boy took in writing his letter. A letter that would never be read. A letter that should be read. "I'll read your letter."

"Pardon?" Looking up from his work, the boy blinked at him. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"

"I'll read it." He was across the room in two steps and in one fell swoop had plucked the letter from the desk. "Let me read it."

Moving to the bed, Jack took the letter and began to read.

Dear Dad,

I wish we could go back and start over again! When I was a kid I used to pray that you and mom would stop travelling. Forget business and just settle down. We'd be together, the way a family ought to be. Now, I have my wish. I'm going to be with you all the time. And its tearing me apart.

Funny, how once you never seemed to care, at least you never showed you did. And now you want to run my life. Do you really think we can start over? I've no idea who you think I am, Dad, but I'm not that boy. I had to fend for myself for a long time. I've changed, Dad. I...

Jack didn't need to read anymore. Throwing the letter aside, he rose and pulled the surprised boy into a fierce hug. "I love you, Tim. I love you so much."

"I love you too, Dad." The boy burrowed his face against Jack. "I meant to burn that letter. I never had any intention of sending it."

"It's okay." Jack ruffled his son's hair. "I didn't deserve it. I didn't deserve any of your letters. I was never there for you. Ever. I... I'm sorry, Tim. I was a bad father. I still am a bad one."

"You're not, Dad." The boy protested through hiccuping sobs. "I'm... I'm a bad son. I was so absorbed in myself I never let you in!"

"Shhh." Taking him by the shoulders, Jack fixed him with the stern glare. "I don't ever want to hear you say that again. You are not at fault here, Timothy, I am. I didn't look after you the way I should have. Dana was right. I was never here when it counted and now..." His voice hitched. He swallowed several times before continuing. "Now it's probably too late. I think I've lost you."

"No." The boy sniffed. "You haven't lost me. I've been here the whole time, it just took you a while to see me."

"I love you." Pulling his son into one last hug, Jack closed his eyes, mentally recording the entire scene and tucking it into the deepest recesses of his heart. "I always will."

When he opened his eyes, he was back in his study. His mysterious captor was nowhere to be seen, not that he'd ever caught of glimpse. Stretching, he discovered the ties binding him to his chair were gone. Brushing the tears that still fell over his cheeks, he sniffed a few times. It was odd, but he felt better. Though it sounded cliche, he felt as if a great weight had been lifted.

Jack never held stock in dreams. He preferred to attribute them to a bad meal or stressful event. In this case, alcohol. Never-the-less his dream with Timothy had left him with a brighter outlook. At long last they had reconciled. His son may never return, but on some level at least, he'd been able to set things right. All that was left was to reconcile with Dana.

As he rose from the desk his eye fell to his empty martini glass on the desk. Sighing, he reached for it and stopped cold. Tucked neatly beneath the glass was a brown letter. The letter Mrs. Mac had given him this morning. On top left hand corner of the letter was a sticky note.

Here's your clue.

He felt a sharp intake of breath as he slowly peeled the sticky note from the envelope, revealing the return address. The address was that of Mark Demarti.

Woven threads and forgotten memories intertwine to create what we call dreams. What happens when you can't wake up? What if your entire life is one long dream? If you're conscious of the unreality, then are you still dreaming? Does your conscious awareness of what is around you make it real? Can it become your life? Or do you simply remain a passenger forced to ride the tram to station after station, never able to disembark?

Or is the dream world the reality? Is what I create in my mind the real world and everything else the illusion? I used to know. In fact, a minute ago I was aware. Aware of the cosmic forces that make up time and space. I was almost aware of my body. The one I used to have.

For one fleeting second it was within my grasp. Then something happened. I'm not certain what. So now, I'm aboard the tram, setting off to another destination. Maybe I can disembark at the next stop...

Cassandra Cain was not amused. In fact, she was livid. The source of her ire was out patrolling the city, completely immune to the shouted curses and fist shakings she was currently giving him. For a girl who had obtained the gift of speech less than a year ago, Cassandra certainly knew how to swear.

"Stupid, freakin', @#$@%! Batman!" She screamed from atop Oracle's clock tower. "You suck. Is suck like Spoiler! Is suck like Kon! You suck most!" Sinewy arms raised themselves over her head, one clenched into a fist, the other flipping dear old Bats the bird. "You suck! Suck!"

"Cassandra!" Oracle shouted from within the apartment. "For heaven sakes, I'm as angry as you, but yelling about it, won't help. He can't hear you anyway."

"He hear." Cassandra said smugly. "I leave my head piece on."

"Oh." Wheeling herself away from the window, Barbara Gordon returned to the guest room, previously Cassandra's bedroom, to check on her young guest. No one had been more shocked than she, when Cassandra suddenly climbed through the window carrying Tim. She hadn't bothered to ask how Cass had found him. The newest Batgirl was as mysterious as her boss. She hadn't bothered to ask what had happened either. The syringe Cassandra had handed to her before shouldering past to the bedroom had told the tale.

"Bastard." Leaning over, she tucked the sheets more firmly around Timothy. "What the hell was he thinking?"

"Not thinking."

Oracle jumped. "Don't do that."

"What?" Cassandra asked innocently, flopping on the bed beside Tim. Pulling back her cowl, she regarded her friend with worried eyes. "Robin okay? Not hurt Robin?"

"Aside from trying to freeze him to death, he's fine."

"Good." Spooning up, Cassandra threw an arm over Robin's chest protectively. "I not let anyone hurt Robin. I stay. I look after him."

"We don't have the right equipment." Oracle sighed. "We'll have to call--"

"Not go back to Manor!"

"Not the manor." Barbara agreed. Adjusting her glasses, she began a mental tally in her head. "We need supplies though. IVs, IV fluid, monitors... we need to call Alfred. He can set us up." She jumped as her cell phone was shoved under her nose. "Impatient, are we?"

"Just want Robin to wake up. Want it to be like before."

"Cassie-- honey--" Her condolences were shrugged aside with a firm shake of Cassandra's head. "Sweety, I miss Tim as much as everyone, but it's not likely--"

"I see file!" The angry girl declared. "I read what they do to him. Bad energy did this. Bad energy scare Robin so bad he go to sleep instead of fighting. He be okay and going for cheeseburgers with me if stupid Kon not open big mouth!"

"Cassie, what happened... it could have happened to anyone."

"Wish it not happen to Robin."

"So do I." Barbara whispered. She brushed angrily at the tears threatening to fall from her eyes. "I'm, um, I'm going to go um..." She gestured vaguely in the direction of her office. "I'm going to call Alfred, okay?"


Nodding mutely, Barbara wheeled herself from the room.

He felt as if he were going insane. Every which way he went, he could hear it. A high-pitched keening wailed piteously into his ears. As he scoured the city for late-night predators, he heard it. With each punch and kick he delivered to those who believed themselves above the law it was there. It drowned out the sirens of police cars and the screams of the accosted. Each step he made was echoed by a hiccupping sob, every breath he took accompanied with a sniff.

The part that unnerved him was the answer formulating in his head. Each time his mind dared to whisper it's hypothesis, he'd focus on something--anything else. Batman prided himself on his deductive reasoning and logical skill. He'd built his reputation upon his uncanny ability to conquer the mysterious and unknown with forensic know-how and old fashioned leg work. He was able to unveil even the most devious and manipulative of plots by simply pointing out the minute details other, untrained eyes missed. So why couldn't he solve this puzzle?

"Because it hits too close to home," Bruce Wayne whispered. "You know what this is."

"It's implausible," spat the Batman. "Focus on your patrol. We have a city to protect."

"You can't ignore this forever." Bruce Wayne insisted. "He won't let you."


"What does he want from me?" he whispered, as he bound a pair of would-be burglars to a parking meter. He lapsed into silence as his hostages regarded him strangely. The more brazen of the two, a young man with a goatee and an Afro, snickered. A quick glare using "the look" silenced him. "The police will be here soon." he informed them, more from habit than fact. The continous wailing kept him from hearing the sirens.

Leaving them, he resumed his patrol of run-down housing projects and gang terrain. Opaque eyes scanned the streets for signs of mischief. When nothing more amusing than a pair of teetering drunks pushing another drunk in a shopping cart presented itself, he withdrew to the site of Wayne Enterprises. Climbing to the top, he gazed out over the city. His city. Yet tonight, he couldn't help but feel he was losing it.

The cries plaguing him cast themselves to the wind, billowing around his cape. They fanned their anguish across his face before angling a well-placed punch to his jaw, as if begging him to join in the tears.

"I can't." he whispered to the wind. "Batman doesn't work that way. I don't work like that."

The wind dropped in fervor. A soft lull caressed his shoulder in question.

"Why? Because, it's the way it has to be. I'm not an average person. I'm not about stability. Batman doesn't have loved ones. There are no expectant children at home. No anxious wife waiting for me. My line of duty forbade it. I've built a legacy in Gotham. The Batman is a creature of the night. A patroller of the streets. An enforcer of the law. I go where law-enforcement won't. I deal with scum they can't. I am the law yet I am beyond it."

The wind howled its disagreement, beating its fists against his chest.

"I am what I am."

The wind wrapped itself around his throat like a noose. Screams filled his ears as the noose tightened, yet he made no move to defend himself. Perched above his city he fought for each day of his life, the Batman welcomed the cold rage of the night.

"I will not apologize." He gasped. "I am what I am."

The noose tightened, cutting off his air. As the world winked out, he swore he saw the wind cry tears from blue eyes.

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