Present Day… New York City…
“May I have a word with you in private?” Alfred said calmly as he placed a hand on Dick’s shoulder.
Dick nodded and got to his feet. “We’re not done here,” he told Alex. “Don’t leave this room.”
She shrugged. “Not planning on it.”
It took only a minute for the two men to make their way to the secret command center where they conducted all their covert operations when visiting the Big Apple. Once the soundproof door was closed, Dick turned around just in time to get a hard slap across the face. It wasn’t the strongest slap he’d ever received. He doubted the stinging blow would even bruise. Knowing whose hand was behind the slap, though, made it hurt far more than any he’d gotten in the past.
“How long?” Alfred growled in a low tone. The grandfatherly figure of their family had this way about himself where the angrier he was, the quieter his voice got. As he confronted the eldest of Bruce Wayne’s sons, his voice never rose above a whisper. “How long have you known that Timothy is alive? Does Damian know? Is this why the two of you have been acting so peculiar the last few days?” The wounded tone in the old man’s voice cut Dick to the quick.
“I’m sorry,” the younger man said remorsefully. “It’s just… I was just…”
“Just what? Jesus Christ, Richard! Why haven’t you told your father? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Dick swallowed hard, then quickly explained how things had unfolded, first with meeting Neal Caffrey at the security test at the gallery, then discovering his real identity with Damian and Barbara’s help. Alfred’s eyes narrowed as he listened to the long laundry list of Neal’s suspected crimes over the years. Finally, Dick wrapped up the summary with what happened earlier that night with the sniper attack at Neal’s apartment.
“So you were afraid that Tim had become another Jason,” Alfred observed. Dick hadn’t voiced his fears as directly as that in his summation, but the old man knew how to read between the lines.
He nodded. “I was.”
“But is he?”
Dick shook his head. “No. He may be a con man and a thief. But he is nothing like Jason.” He looked at the aged butler remorsefully. “I really am sorry for keeping you and Bruce in the dark, Alfred.”
The old man drew in a deep, measured breath, then released it slowly. “I understand, Richard. I’m still not happy about it, but I understand why you did what you did.” Alfred crossed his arms across his chest and leaned against the wall. “What are you going to do now?”
The younger man turned his gaze towards the closet where his uniform was waiting. “I need to suit up and find out who the hell was taking pot shots at Tim. We still need to take record of what Alex knows. She has more history with him to reveal, including an incident in Copenhagen I’m curious about.”
“Something happened in Copenhagen. Official story is that a job they were both on went south. She ended up in the hospital. He ended up back in New York. My gut’s telling me there’s more to the story than just that.”
Alfred nodded. “I can continue interviewing the young lady. Barbara’s been monitoring it and fact checking. If something of interest is discovered, you’ll be the first to know.” He looked pointedly at Dick. “What about Tim’s safety?”
Dick shook his head a little. “For tonight, I’m pretty sure he’ll be fine. He’s going to be holed up in the FBI offices with the Agent Burke. Tomorrow, I’m not certain. Burke was talking about sending him back to prison earlier this evening, for Tim’s own safety.” Dick reflexively winced as he said this, knowing full well that Alfred would not like that.
“I should say not!” the old man exclaimed angrily, the distaste clearly written all over his face. “Memory loss or no, Timothy belongs with his family! He’ll be better protected with us than in the New York version of Blackgate!”
A light bulb went off in Dick’s mind. “Better protected,” he echoed, then repeated. “Better protected with us… With us…” He clapped Alfred on the shoulder. “That gives me an idea!” He opened up a web chat with Oracle. “Babs! How hard would it be to get the FBI to transfer custody of Tim-” He grimaced and shook his head a little. “-Neal Caffrey over to the Justice League?”
Barbara’s green eyes lit up. “Ah… I don’t think it’d be too hard. It’s just a matter of pushing the paperwork with the right people with the right amount of urgency. The only sticking point I can see is the reason why the League would need to take custody of Neal. He hasn’t committed any crimes that would even show up as a blip on the radar of Justice League jurisdiction.”
Dick shook his head. “You’re going about it wrong, Barbara. You’re looking at the situation only from the view that Neal Caffrey is a criminal. Tonight, he was a target.”
Alfred saw clearly where Dick was aiming. “Half-truths. The Justice League needs to take custody of Neal Caffrey for his own protection, because he’s an active target of the League of Assassins.”
“But we don’t know that the League of Assassins were the ones responsible for the attack tonight.”
“But Ra’s Al Ghul is still hunting for Tim, and Tim is Neal, so…”
Barbara thought about it, clearly mulling over the possible wording of the paperwork that would need to be filed. “This could work… We wouldn’t have to explain why the Assassins are gunning for Neal, just that we know that they are… They’re definitely out of the FBI’s league, and even the CIA is reluctant to work cases involving them without our back up.” She looked at the two men through the computer screen. “This could work.”
“Alright then,” Dick said as he made a beeline for his uniform. “We know what we need to do. I’ll go out and run my own investigation. See what the FBI might’ve missed. Probably spend the rest of the night afterward keeping an eye on Tim from a distance. Alfred will continue talking with Alex, find out more about what happened to him over the years. Babs will convince the FBI to give Neal Caffrey to us, and keep an ear open for when Damian and Steph are on their way back from Hong Kong.”
“There is one more thing that you need to-- No… You will do tonight, Richard.”
Dick looked at Alfred.
Alfred looked at Dick, sternly.
“I understand,” Dick said, his head bowed. “I’ll call him tonight and let him know everything.”
Dick looked at Alfred curiously.
“Do not let your father know what Ra’s put Timothy through.”
Dick swallowed hard the lump that rose up in his throat and nodded. He then started suiting up while Barbara and Alfred went to take care of their tasks.
A return to shorter chapters, but the plot moves along in the present and in New York City. Alfred knows and understandably, he’s upset at being kept out of the loop, especially considering he’s been in NYC as long as Dick has for the gallery preparations. Plans are set in motion by the Bat-family to force Neal into their custody. Time to circle the wagons, so to speak. Additionally, Dick has to make a long overdue phone call. Alfred has ordered it so. It’s not often that he pulls rank on his boys, but under the circumstances he feels very justified.
Onto Chapter 22…