Seven years ago…
When the sentinel woke up, after what felt like forever, he found himself lying on a comfortable bed in what looked like an old, but well kept apartment. It was a stark change from the cold, dark underground prison he and his charge previously lived in. Slowly, he swung his legs off the edge of the bed and walked to the open balcony doors. After his eyes adjusted to the brightness of the cloudless, blue sky day, he found himself looking out over man-made riverways being navigated by boats where streets and cars ought to have been.
“I wonder when Timothy last visited Venice, if he ever visited Venice before,” a woman’s rich voice said from behind him. The sentinel turned around to see a beautiful dark-haired woman of Arabian descent leaning against the balcony doorway.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said as he leaned back against the railing.
“Do you even remember where Venice is located?”
He blinked. He tried to dredge up a memory, a single, solitary fact from the depths of the captive’s former wide storehouse of knowledge, but found himself coming up empty. His frustration must have shown on his face, because the woman’s expression softened.
“Ra’s must have hurt you very badly,” she murmured. “If you can’t even recall a city as well known as the Queen of the Adriatic.”
The sentinel stiffened and gripped the metal railing he was leaning against tighter. “How do you know of the demon?” he asked, suspicion laced in his tone. “How do you know what that monster did?”
“I know enough,” she said gently. “I know his methods. I know his cruelty. I am, after all, the one who arranged your rescue.”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Talia Al Ghul,” the woman revealed. “I was once the demon’s daughter in name and blood, but not anymore.” She wrapped her arms about herself and looked almost… vulnerable? It was that appearance and her tone of voice which kept the sentinel from recoiling completely at the revelation of the woman’s identity.
Her dark brown eyes misted over as she glanced away, looking instead to the waterways beyond instead of at her guest. “I gave up everything for my father. My love… My child… My life… And in return he betrayed me, stripped me of everything I worked so hard to achieve, and cast me aside like garbage! It is now my life’s mission to return him that same kindness and generosity he showed me and my own.” Talia’s voice wavered with restrained emotion, grief tangled with anger borne from betrayal and suffering. It was something the sentinel could understand.
“So where do I fit into all of this?” he asked cautiously.
Talia gave him a reassuring, almost maternal smile. “It would take a while to explain, and I imagine it has been a long time since you’ve eaten a decent meal. Would you like to share breakfast with me?”
It had been a long time since the sentinel’s borrowed body physically ate anything. Though the captive had never been fed while he was being imprisoned and tortured, starving to death had been impossible when he was being killed and revived nearly every day. Hunger pains had never been an issue because there were other stronger pains to cope with that took priority. Still, he followed Talia cautiously as she led the way back into the interior of the apartment.
About an hour later, the sentinel had practically forgotten about his wariness towards Talia. Though he didn’t remember the old adage, the incredible food he’d just eaten did do quite a bit to endear his heart to the woman was also responsible for his rescue. Had fresh fruit, muffins, eggs, and sausage ever tasted so good before?
“How was everything?” Talia asked as she poured a small cup of coffee and handed it to him on a saucer.
“Delicious,” he admitted as he accepted the cup and took a small sip. Then, with a frown, he sighed.
“Is something wrong?”
“This feels like a dream,” he said. “I’m afraid that at any point now I’m going to wake up and be back in that awful place again.”
Talia set down her own cup of coffee and folded her hands in her lap. “When I spoke to Promise, your rescuer, she said you didn’t recognize your own name. She also said you spoke of protecting another person from being murdered. Would you explain what you meant by that?”
The sentinel stared into the pitch black coffee. “It’s… hard…”
She reached over to place a soft hand reassuringly over his. “What is your first memory?”
He drew in a breath and let it out slowly as he closed his eyes. “Darkness and pain,” he recalled. “Someone… close to me was hurting. He needed me.” Unconsciously he wrapped his fingers around Talia’s. “So I was there.”
“Who was that person?”
The young man frowned a little. “He was the one the demon murdered.”
Comprehension dawned on Talia’s face. “I think I understand what happened. I think I know who you are.” She smiled gently. “You’re Timothy’s guardian. You’re the one holding him together right now, when by all rights he should be in a million pieces.”
“I suppose… I am.”
“Such a remarkable young man. No wonder my father has such a strong interest in you.”
There was silence for a little moment as he drank his coffee. “The demon won’t stop hunting him, will he?”
Talia shook her head. “I’m afraid not. However, that’s why I’m here.” She got to her feet and walked over him, placing her hands on his shoulders.
“What do you mean?”
“What if I offered you a chance to live a life free from my father’s clutches?” she asked in a silken tone.
He tilted his head to look up at Talia. “I’m listening.”
“Timothy Drake was a young man who lived his life with a strong moral fiber,” she purred into his ear. “Trained by one of the world’s greatest detective. A born leader. Loved and respected by many in the extended community of crime fighters.”
The sentinel furrowed his brow in confusion. “What are you getting at?”
Talia gave him a sly smile. “Right now, my father is spending all the resources he has looking for a broken hero. What better place to hide a hero, then in a career criminal?”
He looked at her in shock. “I don’t know about that,” he said. He might not have had any of Tim Drake’s memories, but the idea of actually becoming a criminal still repulsed him on a visceral level. “What about his… my family? Friends? Aren’t they looking at hi—me?”
Talia frowned. “If they had the power to protect the one they loved from the demon, would Timothy have died at all?”
The sentinel’s throat went dry as Talia’s words seemed to strike a chord deep inside him. At his silence, the daughter of the demon continued. “Would he have even been captured? How many weeks passed before Promise found you? How many months? How many lives did Timothy lose waiting for a rescue from them that never came? How much suffering did he have to endure before his broken heart and mind created you to save himself?” She squeezed his shoulders in a comforting gesture. “If Timothy did return to them, could you really trust that they’d be able to protect him? That’s what you’re here for now, isn’t it? To protect him? To keep him safe? To make sure he isn’t murdered again?”
“If I did this? If he—I became a criminal…” He closed his eyes. “I wouldn’t be able to see my family again, would I?” He sighed and buried his face in his hands. “Can I have some time to think about this?”
“Of course.” Talia said gently as she patted his shoulder. “Take whatever time you need. If you need me, I’ll be in room down the hall.”
After leaving her guest’s room, Talia found Promise sitting her own, reading a document on her laptop. “Have you got it all memorized yet?”
“I’m getting there,” Promise said as she twirled a lock of hair between two fingers. “It’s a lot to take in. Miss Alexandra Hunter seems to have lived quite an interesting life with Mr. Neal Caffrey.”
“Make sure you know Neal’s Gotham history inside and out,” Talia instructed sternly. “That will be the key to how successful this is.”
Promise looked up from the laptop screen. “Is this really necessary? Letting him have bits of his actual history from Gotham City?”
“The most believable lies always have at least a grain of truth in them,” Talia clarified. “Linking fiction with fact will make his subconscious less inclined to reject it outright.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier just to kill him? That was your original plan, right?”
Talia smiled slyly at Promise. “Easier does not equal better. Trust me, Promise. In the long run, this plan will yield far, far better results.”
“That’s if he agrees to go along with it,” Promise reminded her. “How can you be certain he will agree to any of this?”
“Oh he will,” Talia said with unwavering certainty. “Because, in the end, this guardian persona’s main priority is to protect him from further harm at the hands of my father. I’ve already planted the seeds of doubt regarding the reliability of his allies and family from his old life. I’m certain that the guardian doesn’t even knows who they are anymore. If the memories were intact, there would’ve been no questions regarding their abilities.” She had a look of self-satisfied contentment on her face as she relaxed on a chaise lounge.
“Right now, we are the only people in the world who that young man feels he can trust. And besides, after everything is said and done, once Timothy Drake has become Neal Caffrey, the torture he suffered at my father’s hands, the guardian persona, his rescue by you, and his time here with us in Venice will be just another set of lost memories.”
After being rescued by Promise, Tim was transported to Venice where he “meets” Talia for the first time. The manipulative witch then starts to weave her web around the unsuspecting survivor. Talia is a schemer, just like her father. Even back then, she’s trying to plan things at least ten steps ahead.