New York City… Five minutes later…
Neal wondered how long it had been since someone had beaten him up while he was handcuffed to a chair in a small private room. As a now familiar fist connected with his jaw again, he figured it really hadn’t been long enough.
“Well kid, props to whoever taught you how to throw a punch,” Neal said in a cocky tone. “I think you knocked one of my fillings loose.” Lifting his gaze, he smirked at dark haired teen glaring balefully at him, enjoying it immensely when the boy’s eyes narrowed with growing anger.
“I’m asking you for the last time. How did you get into the vault?,” he snarled.
“That was the last time?”
“Good.” Neal was impudently silent and relaxed in his chair as the teen’s rage smoldered impatiently.
Neal looked at the boy innocently. “Well what?”
“How did you get into the vault?”
Neal tsked. “You just said you were done asking questions. Kids today. Their minds just aren’t what they used to be. I blame the internet.” That got him another blow to the head. “Ow… Ok… I think that one actually knocked the hamster off the wheel.” He chuckled. For whatever reason, baiting this kid was really entertaining, even if it meant he’d be stumbling out of this place with a concussion and a few loose teeth. He spat out a bit of blood from the brand new cut on the inside of his mouth onto the floor.
“Tell me what you’re doing here!” The kid ordered. “And I want the truth!”
Neal laughed outright at that. “Y’know, I’d love to tell you the truth, but I don’t think you’d believe me. You’d just hit me again.”
“Alright.” Neal took a measured breath and said in a perfect deadpan voice, “I was ordered by the FBI to break into this gallery for the purpose of stealing as many pieces from it as I could.” He grinned, unable to resist jabbing at the angry kid one more time. “I’m your daddy’s tax dollars at work.”
He was steeling himself for the furious teen’s drawn back fist when the door to the security room slammed open and a commanding angry voice cut through the air.
“Damian! What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”
The boy froze and turned to look at the newcomer. “Richard! I caught this thief in the—”
“I don’t care! This is not Gitmo! We do not handcuff suspicious people and beat the tar out of them before calling the authorities!”
“Oh, I’m sure he’s not handcuffed anymore, are you Neal?”
Neal grinned as he noticed the other man who’d come into the security room with the stranger. “Ah Peter. You know me so well.” He raised a hand to wave in greeting, revealing that the cuffs that had been restraining him were completely undone and dangling harmlessly from his thumb. “How are you?”
“Just fine thanks. You seem to be in good spirits.”
The con artist snickered. “The kid’s got a nuclear temper, a practically non-existent fuse, and he baits easy.”
“I noticed. Couldn’t resist pushing his buttons?”
“They were red and flashing.”
Peter rolled his eyes and offered Neal his hat. Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, Damian was getting a severe lecture at the hands of his older brother.
“You mean he was telling the truth?” Damian exclaimed incredulously.
The older man nodded, his arms crossed over his chest as he glared at the teen. “Yes. Bruce personally requested that the FBI arrange a test of the security here. Obviously, it was a test that sorely needed. There’s just one more week before the gallery opens, and we need security to be absolutely air tight.” He sighed and raked his fingers through his hair in frustration before he started to turn away from the boy and back to Peter and Neal. “I’m really, really sorry about that, Agent Burke. My younger brother can be impulsive to fault, and he’s got a hair-trigger temper to boot. I wasn’t expecting him to be here till tomorrow, so I hadn’t told him about the test. I hope your partner’s alright.”
Neal answered for Peter. “Oh don’t worry about it. This has been the most fun I’ve had in several months, although I think I really did lose a filling.” He looked at Peter. “I do have dental coverage, right?”
If Dick Grayson was going to say anything more in apology, the words died as he got his first decent look at Neal Caffrey since entering the room. He studied Neal intensely before his blue eyes widened in surprise.
“Hmm?” Neal and Peter both glanced behind them at the still open door to see if someone had just come in or passed by.
“Tim! Tim it’s you!”
Suddenly Neal found himself pulled off balance. He was so stunned that for a moment he couldn’t do anything but just stand there stock still while Dick hugged him.
“Ummm… Peter? What’s going on?” he asked uncertainly.
Before Peter could say anything, Dick pulled back a little so that he could look Neal eye to eye. “It’s me, Tim. It’s Dick. Oh God, I can’t believe it’s really you! Where have you been—”
“I’m sorry,” Neal said uncomfortably as he tried to worm himself out of the other man’s grasp. “But my name is Neal. Neal Caffery, and we have never met before.”
“Neal,” Peter’s voice had a suspicious edge to it. “You don’t have an alias named Tim, do you?”
“I assure you, Peter, I don’t-“
Dick looked stricken as he shook his head. “Alias? No. It’s not an alias. Your name is Tim. Timothy Drake—” The older man's expression and tone of voice took on desperate edge as he gripped Neal's arms tightly.
“Dick,” Damian interrupted his elder brother with what seemed like an uncharacteristic gentle tone. “It’s not him. He may look a bit like Drake, but he isn’t.” The teenager turned a critical eye to Neal. “I think you’d better leave. Whatever report you have to make on the gallery’s security flaws can be delivered to my brother tomorrow.”
Neal gingerly slipped out of Dick’s slowly loosening grasp, a heavy feeling settling in his chest at the expression in the older man’s face. It was an expression akin to one he’d been seeing a lot in the mirror ever since Kate’s death. “I’m sorry. I’m not who you think I am.”
Dick swallowed hard and tried to recompose himself. “The name Tim Drake really means nothing to you?”
Neal wished he could’ve said yes. The expression Dick wore was so downhearted. It seemed such a wrong look for him to wear. “I’m sorry.”
The older man sighed heavily. “I’m sorry too. I just… You look just like him, if he were…”
Peter touched Neal’s arm. “C’mon Neal. We need to head back to the bureau.” He then looked at Grayson. “I’ll be back tomorrow with the security report and we’ll go over the details of everything then. Have a good afternoon, Mr. Grayson.” He inclined his head to Damian. “Mr. Wayne.”
After Neal and Peter had left the room, Dick sat down on one of the chairs and buried his face in his hands. Damian placed his own hand on his brother’s back in a comforting gesture. “Are you alright?”
Dick shook his head. “I could’ve sworn it was him, D. In my dreams, when I see Tim as the age he’d be now if he were… here, he’d look just like that man.”
“It’s been seven years. We all searched for him, and no one looked harder for him than you. Not even Father.”
“I was the one who lost him.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“Yes it was!” Dick’s head jerked up and he gave Damian a pained look. Then his sighed, got to his feet, and started heading towards the door.
“Where are you going?”
“Out,” Dick said simply. “Don’t forget to lock up when you leave.”
Damian didn’t say another word. He just watched as his brother left as quickly as his feet could take him without breaking into a dead run. The seventeen year old teenager sighed.
The sudden loss of Tim Drake seven years ago had been hard on everyone in their network of family and friends. It had been especially devastating on Dick and his father, Bruce, who were each tortured in their own ways by the lack of knowledge about Drake’s ultimate fate. Without a body, though, there was no way to confirm that the Red Robin was actually dead. Because of that, there was always a sliver hope that maybe, just maybe, he had survived his lone confrontation with Ra’s Al Ghul and lived on even today.
Damian never let himself believe in such fairy tales, though. He knew his grandfather’s methods and he always figured the chances were better that Drake was dead and had been left to rot in some obscure corner of the world where no one would ever find him.
At least, that was the most merciful fate Damian could imagine happening to his least favorite brother, had he been captured by the League of Assassins.
Still, even though he was completely certain that the man he’d caught in the vault earlier was NOT Timothy Drake, Damian couldn’t help suspiciously eyeing some of Neal Caffrey’s blood that had been spat out on the floor during the beating he’d given him earlier.
Chapter 4 has now come and gone. Damian discovered the intruder in the vault and took prompt action to both subdue and interrogate him. Unfortunately for him, Neal is an adept evasive button pusher. Then finally we have the recognition mentioned in this story’s preview that will ultimately shake up the worlds of everyone close to both Tim Drake and Neal Caffery. This is only the beginning. There is definitely more to come.