The reaction rippled through his family. Tim released a soft, horrified woof of a breath, like it’d literally been knocked out of him. Dick tensed, his hand tightening on the boy—-and not a moment too soon, either, because the boy coiled up and lurched at him.
“Is this another of your tests?” He snapped, blue eyes livid. He twisted, trying to get Dick to let him go. “You’re joking. You must be joking. You—-I swear, I did all that I could do! Ask them—-ask any of them! I tried to find you! I kept vigil! I did all that you asked of me! You left me behind!”
Bruce’s throat tightened. “Dick, is he—-” He swallowed thickly, his tongue still coated. “—-yours?”
The boy went limp, strings cut; he sagged, like Dick was suddenly the only thing holding him up. He shut his mouth with a click of teeth, eyes widening.
“Christ, Bruce,” Dick said, his voice flat and soft with horror.
“Master Bruce, perhaps you require more rest,” Alfred said quickly, a blatant attempt at damage control. The three dark-haired boys were staring at him mutely.
The owls had taken something from him, hadn’t they? They’d been successful. They’d changed him—-snipped and clawed and tore until they’d proved their immutability by altering his story. That’s what the maze had been about—-what the whole thing had been about. They’d ran him until his brain had jostled in his skull, memories and identities scattering like glass marbles.
He’d lost them. Memories. Marbles. Birds snatched up bright objects to line their nests, and owls stole nests, and Gotham was their new roost, and Gotham was his, so they’d plucked out his marbles and used them to line their stolen city. He hadn’t survived. He’d been regurgitated, necessary parts consumed.
Bruce’s chest throbbed, his overtaxed and poisoned heart struggling with the rush of adrenaline.
“You’ve forgotten me then, have you?” the boy hissed, folding in on himself. The hatred in his voice was scalding. “Of course. You don’t want to remember me. You never did. I’ve done everything you asked of me, but it’s never enough! You’d erase me, too! You’re no better than her!”
“Richard,” Alfred started to say, but Dick cut him off with a nod and a mutter of, “I’ve got ‘im.”
Dick scooped the boy up, holding onto him tightly. He fought, straining and hitting Dick with painful-sounding thumps of fists meeting flesh. It wasn’t the ineffectual, open-palmed slaps of a child having a tantrum—-the boy was hurting him, lashing out with bruising strength. Tim tried to grab his arm, but he caught an elbow to the nose for his efforts. He swore—-Tim swore?—-cupping his hand to catch the blood. Alfred moved from the side of the bed to help mop up his face, his features pinched.
“You daft old man!” The boy howled, his chest heaving. Dick pinned his arms to his sides, but he continued to scream and struggle. “You ass! I hate you! I hate you! I wish you would have stayed dead! I liked you better when you were dead!”
Wow, it’s interesting to read this fic over, considering the way that canon has progressed in the year since I wrote this. I wrote this one-shot in response to Batman #5, as a “what if?” kind of story. This was “what if the Owls’ goal of taking the city/the Batman’s story was more metaphorical?”. Bruce was released from the maze, but not before the Owls could poison him and turn his brain into coleslaw. Writing from Bruce’s POV isn’t something that I do often, but it’s always an interesting experience. This one was especially interesting, because Bruce was pretty heavily drugged, but his brain never stops. Even when he’s barely able to discern up from down, Bruce makes very specific observations of his surroundings. He focuses on the details, and will sometimes ignore the flow of spoken conversation in lieu of examining what their body language has to say. Throughout this story, he’s trying to figure out what is missing, but all he is seeing is the red flags.
I can’t remember precisely where I drew the line for his memory recall, but I think that it was all memory formed after Damian came into his life—-hence the erasure of his “story”. Without the memories of what he saw on his transcendental time travel adventure, all Bruce has is the wear, exhaustion, and age that he sees in Dick and Tim. All he sees is what they’ve gone through—-what he has put them through—-and the knowledge that this somehow ties into the Owls and the Mission that they’re trying to take from him.
I know that Damian is the main focus here, but the things that Bruce notices about Tim were the ones that made me the saddest when I was writing it. The Tim in Bruce’s memories has been through hell, but he hasn’t lost it all yet. The Tim he wakes up to is almost as much of a stranger as the angry boy in the turtleneck, but at least he knows his name.
I think I have a half-finished follow-up to this somewhere in my slushpile. Instead of handwaving it all better, I found myself thinking that it’d be interesting if Bruce never regained those memories. What would his relationship to Damian look like if he could start over with him? How would he treat him if he got to know him as Robin—-the boy that he’s growing into, under Alfred and Dick’s joint care—-instead of as Talia’s nasty surprise, the violent boy that’d killed the Spook to impress him?