“So you were the one who rescued Tim from Ra’s Al Ghul?”
Dick sat directly across from Alex in the study of his hotel suite. There was no smile on his face. There was no friendliness in his voice. Despite the fact that he wasn’t in uniform, there was no mistaking that at this moment he was all business.
He was Nightwing.
He was a Bat.
And he was dead f-ing serious.
Alex nodded, her hands gripping the glass of water between them tightly. “Back then, I went by the name of Promise. I was once a member of the League of Assassins.”
Dick’s eyes narrowed. “I’ve been memorizing the roster of the League of Assassins backwards and forwards since the day Tim disappeared. I’ve never seen your name crop up.”
“That’s because I was never an assassin,” Alex clarified. “I was a bodyguard for my half-sister, Ra’s Al Ghul’s youngest daughter. Also, shortly after I rescued your brother, Talia and I faked my death so I wouldn’t be on the League’s radar. I haven’t been a card-carrying member since I became Alexandra Hunter.”
“There’s something I don’t understand,” Alfred said. Though the grandfatherly old man was all business as well for the moment, Dick knew he had to be just as confused, delighted, and conflicted as he’d been when he learned that Tim was alive but in a complicated situation. “Why would Talia Al Ghul want to help free Timothy from her father’s grasp?”
“It was all about the family business,” Talia told her son crisply in her high rise headquarters in Hong Kong when Damian posed a similar question to her.
“Really? What was Grandfather planning to do with Drake? Turn him into the heir Father always refused to be?”
Damian’s seemingly ageless mother chuckled humorlessly. “After all the damage and embarrassment Timothy caused your grandfather? Of course not. You know your grandfather better than that.”
“Then why is Drake still alive? Why didn’t Grandfather kill him?”
“Who says he didn’t?”
The teenager had come into the room with a script, with a list of questions to pose to his mother in order to find out the truth about what happened to the lost brother he barely knew. Those last four words out of his mother’s mouth derailed the train of thought he’d been riding as effectively as a slap in the face.
“Your grandfather was really, really upset with Timothy,” Talia said as she took a seat behind an ornate antique table of Italian design. “But he was still impressed with what he accomplished. That young man single-handedly crippled the League and set them back for years. His mind showed a brilliance that could potentially outshine even your father’s. Your grandfather thought that here was an opportunity to acquire the heir he always wanted to have.”
Damian noticed how his mother’s expression darkened. “But you just said that Grandfather didn’t want to make Drake his heir.”
“My sister told me that Ra’s had chosen a mate for her,” Alex said. The disgust she felt at the memory was written all over her face. “Stupid, deluded girl was so proud, so happy to finally get the chance to be daddy’s favorite broodmare.” Unable to sit still any longer, the brunette got up and started pacing.
“I take it you didn’t agree?”
“She was only fourteen!” Alex snapped. “And when I told her didn’t agree with Ra’s plans for her, she persuaded him to eject me from her side and from the League. Her last act of kindness towards me was that I was only cast out, not killed. Talia took me in not long after that.”
Dick leaned forward slightly. “What was her angle in all of this?”
“From what I was told, Talia and Ra’s had a huge falling out shortly before your brother dismantled the League. Because Damian chose to betray the family, and she was unable to produce another suitable heir through cloning, Ra’s decided to skip over her bloodline entirely and seek an heir from our shared baby sister.” Alex wrapped her arms around herself as she stopped pacing to look at Dick. “Talia was unhappy with that decision.”
Things were starting to become a little clearer to Dick. “So rescuing Tim from Ra’s wasn’t some random act of kindness from Talia. It was a strategic power play for future control of her father’s empire.”
“Mother. I have absolutely no intention of ever returning to the League,” Damian said with a stern glare. “I’ve told you this time and time again, and frankly I’m tired of repeating myself.”
“You say this now, but one day, sometime in the future, you will return. Mark my words, child.” Talia had pulled a sheet of parchment from her desk and was using a white peacock quill to write upon it. “And there was no way then, as there is no chance now, that I will ever let anyone sabotage your birthright.” She turned her dark eyes to meet her son’s gaze unflinching. “Not even your grandfather.”
“So what happened to Drake? There was no way he was going to just perform for Grandfather and produce heirs for him.”
Talia’s expression became even colder than before. “You asked earlier why your grandfather didn’t kill Timothy. The truth of the matter is that he did. Over and over and over again.”
Dick and Alfred both paled as a more somber and subdued Alex described what happened to Tim. “We’re not sure how long it went on for. It took us several weeks to find the right Lazarus Pit. It was in an underground compound in the middle of the Australian outback that hadn’t been used for about two centuries. Once I brought him to her, once she saw the state he was in, Talia knew exactly how Ra’s broke him. I’m not sure how, but she just did.”
Dick immediately rose to his feet and without a single word went into his bedroom and slammed the door shut behind him. Once inside, alone in the dark, he pressed a trembling hand hard against his mouth and squeezed his eyes shut. The mental images of the suffering his younger brother had been forced to endure, for weeks on end, were too much. The very idea that Tim… after having endured so much pain and loss up to that point… had been tortured by being murdered and reborn over and over again nearly triggered an anxiety attack.
If Ra’s Al Ghul had appeared before him at that precise moment, Dick would not have hesitated at all to kill the vile bastard with his own bare hands.
Damian had to swallow down the bile that rose up in his throat as his mother described what she believed happened to Timothy Drake while he’d been trapped in his grandfather’s clutches. He also worried for how Stephanie was handling the revelations just outside the locked doors. If he had known back in New York what he knew now, Damian would’ve never let her come.
“So, that’s what caused Drake’s memory loss,” he said once he felt certain he could speak without losing the contents of his stomach. “But why does he believe himself to be this Neal Caffrey?”
At this, Talia laughed softly. “Your grandfather sought to break Timothy and mold him into the perfect docile breeding stock for his future descendents. A thoroughly broken mind is so malleable, after all. When I saw the state Timothy was in when Promise brought him to me, oh the possibility that presented itself…”
“When I brought him to Talia, I thought she’d just kill him,” Alex admitted. “That was the original plan. She wanted to do it both in revenge towards the Batman for corrupting her son and Ra’s for casting her aside.”
Dick had returned to Alex in the common room after downing two straight shots of bourbon to calm his rattled nerves. He listened intently to the rest of her tale. “What changed her mind about sparing his life? We all know it wasn’t mercy.”
Alex shook her head. “Talia saw an opportunity, she said. She figured a living, but missing, Tim Drake would serve her purposes better than a dead one.”
“When Timothy vanished from his clutches, your grandfather honestly believed he’d been outwitted by the child one final time,” Talia laughed. “Timothy’s reputation for narrow escapes preceded him, it seemed. Your grandfather became as obsessed with finding him as your father and Richard. So I decided not to kill Timothy when a more intriguing option presented itself.”
Damian frowned. “What did you do?”
“Talia set it all up to look like an art theft that had gone horribly wrong in Prague,” Alex explained. “She invented the identity of Neal Caffrey, a young up and coming con artist who was working with partner named Alexandra Hunter. We were planted in a gallery that had been set on fire, and when Neal woke up, of course he had no idea who he was or where he was at. All he had in the world was me, and the history Talia told me to feed him.”
It goes back and forth between Talia and Alex, but we start to see where Tim Drake ended and Neal Caffrey began. One more flashback in the next chapter as we explore Neal Caffrey’s actual birth.