Tim awoke the next morning to find himself tangled in his sheets and covered in sweat. He couldn't remember his dream but he did know that he was a sound sleeper and that tangling himself in his bed linen was not his costumary behavior. Greeting him was a daylight view of the Gotham skyline with its concrete and mortar towers. He heard the buzz of the police helicopters overhead and the whine of police sirens in the distance and he could see the thick, black plume of smoke coming from Hub City. He noticed that off in the distance, a couple of the buildings looked as though they had been caught in some cataclysmic explosions. He shook the cobbwebs from his head and pulled himself out of bed.
After a quick shave and shower, Tim found himself dressed in casual wear and on the phone with the front desk asking for a cab. His meeting downtown was not until noon which gave him two and a half hours to take a little excursion to Bristol to visit an old friend. The vision of Gotham at night and him in the red costume next to the dark defender flashed through his mind and he felt a slight grin come across his face. It had been a long time, eleven years to be exact, since he had been that joking sidekick who accompanied the Dark Knight.
The phone buzzed and Tim answered, it was the clerk on the other end telling him his taxi had arrived. Tim hurried downstairs via the elevator and was in the cab before he knew what had happened. In the daylight, he finally got a perspective on how much Gotham had changed. The city, for lack of a better description, was an armed camp. He noticed a group of teenaged kids walking down the sidewalk with holsters on and loaded weapons inside. A storeowner sat outside his small shop with a shotgun resting in his arms while he listened to his CD player. A police Hummer sped by with an officer standing up manning a machine gun that was mounted to the roof of the vehical. Looking back into the cab, Tim noticed the taxi was as heavily armored as the limo and
the driver had a shotgun resting against the passenger seat. Between them was an inch of bullet-proof glass and a little sign that read Do Not Touch Glass.
The drive across the bridge to Bristol was marked by Tim witnessing the Gotham police chasing a teenager on rollerblades skating in-between traffic firing a sub-machine gun and laughing. A police Hummer finally got close enough to the kid to crunch him into a guard rail where the cops arrested him. The driver looked back at Tim and said, "Out of towner huh? Well, that kind of thing happens all the time here in Gotham, man. All the time."
Tim shook his head. Where was he? Why wasn't he doing something about this?
How could he let this happen? The cab pulled before the stately manor and Tim paid the driver through a little slit in the bullet-proof shield. He got out of the taxi and stood before Wayne Manor for the first time in quite a few years. Bruce had obviously kept his ancestrial home in excellent condition: the lawns manicured, the hedges trimed, the gates polished, the crawling ivy arranged perfectly along the brick walls, and the house in the condition it was when it was first built in the mid-eighteenth century.
He pushed the intercom on the gate and the soft voice of a woman answered, "Yes?"
"Uhhh, it's Tim. Tim Drake."
There was a long pause and then the woman said, "Hold on."
There was a buzz and the gate popped open letting Tim in. He walked down the winding stone path and up to the hardwood doors that concealed the enterance to the manor. The door popped open and a face Tim thought he never would see again stood before him. He didn't know what to make of it, but there she was in Wayne Manor wearing her college sweater and a pair of jeans. Tim was happily married and had a young son, but she still looked extremely good to him at that moment.
Stephanie Brown smiled coyly at Tim and then rushed to give him a crushing hug. His reaction was a bit delayed, but when he did come to his senses, he returned her hug with one of his own. It was a reunion between old friends, old friends who had shared more than most. There embrace ended and they stood apart from one another for a moment. Steph broke the silence by saying, "Well you just going to stand there, Boy Wonder, or are you going to join us inside?"
He had come here to talk to Bruce, so he had to accept Steph's invitation. He walked into Wayne Manor and she closed the door behind him. His first impression as he looked around was, "The damn place is still like a museum." His second impression was that he was home again. As he looked around at all the collectables, he began to ask more questions: where's Bruce? where's Alfred? why's Stephanie Brown at Wayne Manor? The two walked into the house and Steph guided him to the living room where
the big screen television was on and a bag of chips and bottle of soda sat on the coffee table. Steph took a seat on the couch and Tim took his seat on the arm of the recliner. He had planned to take this time to ask Steph his many questions, but she beat him to the punch: "How's Ariana?"
"Ariana? She's fine, just fine. We have a son now...he just turned a year four weeks ago. I...I got a picture here in my wallet." He fished through his wallet and produced a little boy sitting among stuffed animals with a huge grin on his face. He handed the picture to Steph and she smiled and noticed how cute he was.
"What's his name?"
"Joey..Joseph. Joseph Timothy Drake."
She returned the picture and the two sat in silence for a moment. Tim took this time to read Steph and he noticed that although she appeared to be all smiles and enjoying her self, she really was upset at his visit to Wayne Manor.
"Look," Tim began. "I just got in last night and I was hoping to see Bruce. Is he in?"
Steph snapped out of her daze and replied, "Yeah..yeah! Come on, I'll take you to him. He'll be glad to see you."
The two left the living room and headed down the winding hallway that led to the study at the far end of the manor. Tim was looking around and noticing very little had changed about the manor in the eleven years he'd been gone save the presence of Stephanie. While he had the oppertunity, he asked, "How long...how long have you been living here?"
"Oh...I'd say about a year and a half. Bruce invited me to move in with him until I got on my feet. I guess he needed the company after Alfred died."
Tim stopped in his tracks shocked by the news that he had just recieved. Alfred dead? When did this happen? Tim knew that Alfred was all the family Bruce had left in the world and that the death of that man would have surely devastated him. Tim shook his head and Steph turned to face him. "What happened," Tim asked.
"Oh, you didn't know did you? Alfred...Alfred had a massive heart attack two years ago and died. Bruce says he went just like that."
Tim was taken back by the fact that Alfred was dead. Now he really wanted to see Bruce and see how he was doing now that his "father" was dead. The two made their way to the study and Steph tapped lightly on the door.
"Yeah," the scruffy voice from inside bellowed.
"Bruce, it's me. I got a visitor who wants to see you."
"Who is it," Bruce cleared his throat quickly and Tim could hear some shuffling inside.
"Tim," she said with a smile. "Tim Drake."
There was a long silence from inside and Steph had to tap on the door once more before Bruce replied, "Let 'im in."
She opened the door and Tim stepped into the semi-lit chamber. The study was cluttered with newspapers and computer printouts. Surrounding the walls were a series of bookcases filled with volumes collected by the Wayne family over the generations. Seated before the computer in the study was a middle-aged gentleman with a thick mustace and black hair streaked with white. His face was lined and weathered and he had a slight scar on his right forehead. The man wore a scarlet rob with the initials BW embroidered on it in gold and Tim could see a silk pajama peeking under the rob.
"Long time, no see Bruce," Tim entered the room and closed the door behind him.
Bruce grunted a reply while Tim carefully picked his way around the stacks of papers so that he was standing before the desk. Bruce's eyes were still focused on the glowing computer screen and Tim could tell his former mentor was doing little to hide his displeasure with Tim's visit.
Tim continued," I just got into town last night. Charming little city you have here. Care to tell me what happened?"
Bruce was silent.
"Okay," Tim stroked his chin and went on," how 'bout we start easy? Why's Steph living in Wayne Manor?"
Bruce was silent.
"Look. I'm sorry I left Bruce. But you don't pass up the opportunity to go to Harvard University. I had to follow my life, I had to follow my dream. I never said I'd be Robin forever."
Bruce looked up and said, "I never asked you to be Robin forever. I never asked you to pass up Harvard."
Tim looked around and said, "What happened to Gotham Bruce? Why is that city a war zone?"
Bruce was once more focused on the computer screen when he said, "Mayor Bullock happened to the city."
"Mayor Bullock? Harvey Bullock is Mayor?"
"Yeah," Bruce said. "He's Mayor and he runs the show. His show dosen't include masked vigilantes."
"Never stopped you before."
Bruce replied coldly, "I've got my reasons."
Tim was becoming upset with Bruce and his coldness. He stood up and came around the desk so that he was behind Bruce. "Since when do you give up?!?
There is no excuse! You're Batman!" Tim grabbed the chaired and pulled it around, finding Bruce's reasons.
Bruce's legs were covered by a blanket and there was a large bag attached to a tube that ran under the blanket. Tim gulped and Bruce shook his head and said, "I told you I had my reasons."
Tim was shocked by this revelation. He was at a lose for words and there was nothing he could do about it. He stepped back and leaned against the bookcase, almost in a state of shock, but feeling the horror more than anything. There was much more he had to learn, and he would learn it soon enough.