Gingerly, Neal shifted his legs over the side of the bed. Every muscle in his body ached, and his head felt as if it were stuffed with massive amounts of cotton. He honestly wasn’t sure if attempting to get to his feet was a good idea, but it was better than just lying in bed being confused.
At least, he thought so until he tried standing up.
A wave of vertigo washed over him as he stood and his legs buckled. Neal stumbled into a nearby dresser, holding onto it heavily for support. When he looked up, he found himself staring at the image of a man he didn’t quite recognize. It took him a few moments to realize he was actually seeing himself in the mirror. All the injuries, the bruises, the bandages. It made him wonder why the hell he wasn’t in a hospital. Gingerly, he reached up to touch the angry bruise discoloring his temple.
Immediately a sickening jolt of nausea washed over him as visions of his nightmare flashed within his mind’s eye.
“No… Not a nightmare,” he murmured. “It really happened.” He clutched the dresser even tighter as he struggled against the panic attack that threatened to well up. Neal took several deep breaths to try and steady himself. “No… Don’t think about it. Focus on something else… Anything else… Don’t fall apart now.” He closed his eyes, took another deep breath, purposefully slower than before, then opened them and looked around. Neal’s gaze found a door. He hoped it led to a hallway and not a closet. He needed to find out where the hell he was.
It was late. Elizabeth looked out the window at the night sky and the full moon that illuminated everything on the grounds outside Wayne Manor.
She glanced over her shoulder to smile at Alfred. “Please, call me Elizabeth. Don’t make me remind you again, Alfred.” She gladly took the cup of hot coffee the kindly old butler offered her. “I would hope that after everything we’ve all been through, that we can at least be on a first name basis by now.”
Alfred returned her warm expression. “As you wish, Elizabeth.” Then a more grandfatherly one crept up. “You must be tired though, dear. You’ve been up and about as long as I have today, and I know you haven’t been sleeping well.”
“None of us have,” she said sadly. “Not as long as Neal’s still unconscious up there.” She stepped away from the window and sat herself down at one of the chairs in the breakfast nook adjacent the kitchen. Then she looked over at Alfred. “It’s been over a week now. But as hard as it’s been for Peter and me to see him like that, I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it’s been for you and your family.”
The old man sighed and took a seat himself, palming his own cup of coffee thoughtfully. “For better or for worse, at least Timothy is home now,” he said. “Not knowing where he was all these years, if he was even alive or dead-” Alfred shook his head. “That was the worst part about enduring the years since his kidnapping.”
Elizabeth looked on Alfred with quiet admiration. “It’s amazing that you can be so strong in the face of all this.”
His smile was careworn. “It comes from decades of practice.”
“How’s the rest of your family holding up?” Elizabeth asked gently. “I know Dick has barely left Neal’s side since he was brought here.”
“If it weren’t for your husband needing Nightwing to help explain everything regarding Timothy to the FBI, he’d still be there tonight keeping vigil.”
Elizabeth sighed. “If we’re going to keep Neal legally out of prison when he finally does wake up, there’s a lot of red tape that needs untangling and paperwork that needs to first be filed, and then buried.”
“If you don’t mind me saying so, your husband did not seem at all happy about the amount of work that would be needed to keep Timothy out of trouble with the FBI.”
“If Peter had the stomach for keeping secrets of this magnitude and burying evidence from the general public and his associates at the Bureau, he would’ve joined the CIA, not the FBI,” Elizabeth explained. “My husband is a good, honest man. Hiding things from his superiors, let alone blatantly lying to them, will never sit well with him, and I wouldn’t want it to.” She sighed. “He’ll do it for Neal, though. Neal’s been through enough already.”
Alfred nodded sagely. “As for everyone else, they are enduring in their own fashions. Damien, so much like his father, has decided to go the workaholic route and has been out every night on patrol, with Jason of all people. The girls, Cassandra and Stephanie, are spending time tonight with Timothy’s old friends from the Titans, updating them on his condition. Selina has been out town on a deep cover mission the last couple of weeks, but she should be back tomorrow afternoon. Bruce…” At this, Alfred’s expression shifted.
Elizabeth caught the look. “How’s Bruce doing?”
Alfred closed his eyes. “He’s been trying to convince himself that it’ll be enough if Timothy is alive and well, even if he doesn’t remember his past or his family.”
“Would that really enough, though?”
“If it was your son, would it be enough?”
Finally remembering that she had a cup of coffee cooling in between her hands, Elizabeth took an absent-minded sip, then stopped and looked at Alfred with a strange expression. “This is decaf,” she said accusingly, an amused smile tugging at the corners of her lips.
The old man smiled a little. “I had to try. At least one of us should get some sleep tonight. I doubt Timothy will be waking up anytime soon.”
Neal navigated the long hallway slowly, but purposefully. As he walked silently on bare feet, leaning against the wall for support when it felt like his balance would fail him, he wondered if he wasn’t still dreaming. Though he was certain that he’d never been in this mansion before, everything just felt so familiar. The sensations of deja vu were maddening. There was also a slight chill in the air that evening, even inside the massive manor house, and idly he wondered if there was a housecoat somewhere in the room he left behind. The only things he had clothing him were the bandages around his midsection and a pair of flannel pajama bottoms. However, he was in no mood to return to the room, not when he was trying to get away from the memories that had surfaced there.
He finally reached what he figured was the midpoint of the mansion. Neal reached the end of the hallway and came to an expansive foyer which connected both wings of the building together, and brought the first floor together with the second via a grand staircase. At the top of the stairs, nestled on a wall right between the east and west wings, was a large portrait that appeared to have been painted a good number of decades ago.
Neal stared long and hard at the two figures in the portrait. Though he was certain he never met the man and woman before in his life, there was an eerie sense of familiarity as he looked into their faces.
That man’s hard strong jaw…
That woman’s clear blue eyes…
Of all the members of the heroic community, there were no three people, outside of Tim’s immediate family, who had been closer to him all those years ago. Since learning of their best friend’s return, the trio made it a point to volunteer first when the call was made for assistance in watching over Gotham City. For the majority of the week, the three of them worked in conjunction on their own, only occasionally crossing paths with Robin and the Red Hood, both of whom were eerily subdued and less confrontational than they usually were at the sight of Tim’s old friends. There was no reflexive snark from the younger, and no arrogant posturing from the elder.
It spoke volumes about how serious Tim’s condition must have been. The three of them hadn’t yet worked up the nerve to try and make a personal visit to Wayne Manor. Despite being adults now, and having worked with every member of the Bat clan over years to the point where everyone was on a first name basis, approaching Batman’s private home uninvited was still a daunting prospect. Wayne Manor was the Bats’ sanctuary, and the number of heroes outside of the family who could come and go from that place as they pleased could be counted on one hand with fingers left over.
So it was a great relief when Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain, Batgirl and Black Bat, intercepted the trio of Titans on their nightly patrol.
“Tim’s condition is finally out of the woods? That’s incredible news!” Conner exclaimed as the five of them sat among the gargoyles on the rooftop of one of the tallest church steeples in Gotham City, relaxed and unmasked.
Stephanie nodded. “There ended up being three different toxins on the dagger that he’d been stabbed with,” she explained. “And by the time he was brought home, he’d lost a lot of blood and his condition was too critical to be given all the antidotes at once.” She wrapped her cape around herself like a blanket, trying to ward off the invisible chill that came with the memory of how bad he’d looked that first night in the Cave.
“The only thing Dr. Thompkins could do was spread out the antidotes one at a time over the entire week once they’d gotten him stablized.” Cass picked up solemnly. “For the first few days, it didn’t even look like Tim was responding to the treatments.” She closed her eyes. “Everyone was worried sick.”
Cassie had moved to comfort Steph, and Bart placed a reassuring hand on Cass’s shoulder. “But he’s doing better now, right?” he said hopefully.
Steph nodded again. “Yeah. About two days ago his fever finally broke and the toxins were finally starting to leave his system. He seemed to be sleeping more peacefully too, last time I saw him tonight.”
“Has he woken up at all yet?” Cassie asked curiously.
Cass shook her head. “No. Not yet, but Dr. Thompkins says that it may still be too early for that.” Bruce Wayne’s sole adopted daughter turned her gaze up to the night sky, focusing on the moon thoughtfully. “She says that the more rest he can get right now, the better. The poisons did a lot of damage. It’ll take time for him to recover fully.”
“So there’s no way of knowing yet if he remembers any of us, is there?” Conner said, giving voice to the question that had been plaguing the three Titans since they learned that Tim was alive and exactly what he’d been up to in the years since his disappearance. “It’s hard to imagine him as this ‘Neal Caffrey’ person. Just the thought of him being a criminal…”
“Honestly,” Steph murmured hesitantly. “I think that’s probably part of what kept him alive and safe all these years.”
“What do you mean?” Bart asked.
“Well think about it! Everyone- the family, the Justice League, Titans… Hell, even the League of Assassins- Everyone who’s ever been looking for Tim were searching for a hero. No one even considered the possibility that he would ever cross the line to the other side. It was unthinkable.” A strange look crossed her unmasked face. “Becoming a criminal ultimately saved his life.”
“I did some research online about Neal Caffrey,” Cassie admitted. “He was more than just ‘a criminal’. He was one of the best.”
“But that’s all behind him now, isn’t it?” Bart asked. “I mean… He was working for the FBI when Dick and Damian found him. Doesn’t that mean that he’s back on the side of law and order now?”
Conner turned his gaze in the direction of Wayne Manor. “I guess we won’t really know for certain until he wakes up.”
When he moved from the foyer into what looked like a parlor, the first thing that caught Neal’s eyes in the moonlit room was the glint of metal framed photographs on the mantle above the fireplace where a small fire was still clinging to life within it. As the flickering flames invited him in, Neal walked over and started studying the pictures on display.
The photographs were obviously a collection of both friends and family. Men, women, children, and teenagers. Some were formal portraits, complete with pristine suits, elegant gowns, and annoyingly stiff postures. Others were photographs of a more candid and casual variety. These were the ones which drew Neal’s attention the most.
With an unsteady hand, he reached up and pulled down a photograph which contained two figures. A boy who looked about thirteen or fourteen years in age was slung playfully over the broad shoulder of a young man sporting a long ponytail who looked to be in his early twenties. Both bore startled expressions on their faces, as if they’d been caught completely off-guard when the picture was taken.
“Leggo of me, Dick! Put me down!”
“Gotta say uncle first, Timmy!”
“Ha! Your bad luck, then. I can do this all day.”
“Wait? What’s Alfred doing with my camera?”
Startled, the picture tumbled from Neal’s fingers and landed with a soft thud onto the carpet beneath his feet. He felt an ache from deep within his chest that had nothing to do with his injuries, and he brought his now empty hand to his head.
“What’s going on?” he muttered to himself. “What the hell was that?”
Damian was certain his Alfred would ground him for life if he knew what he was doing. However, at this particular moment, he didn’t really care about the consequences as he took the offered cigarette from Jason as they sat on a rooftop adjacent a suspected meth lab they’d been keeping an eye on the last few nights.
“You shouldn’t really start smoking,” Jason said as he lit up his own cigarette before offering the lighter to the current Robin. “It’s a b*tch to quit if you let yourself get hooked.”
“Like you’re one to lecture me on starting bad habits?”
As Damian lit his own cigarette, Jason just glared at him from behind his red domino mask. “Y’know what, f*ck you, baby bird. Teach me to give a d*mn about you f*cking up your health.” Damian didn’t rise to Jason’s baiting, so the Red Hood just watched in sullen silence as the teenager took a long slow drag. From his expression, the younger vigilante obviously disliked the whole taste and experience of smoking, but that didn’t stop him from doing it. Finally, with a grimace, Jason spoke up once more.
“What the h*ll’s been eating you lately?” he asked, frustration edging his tone.
“Why do you think anything’s eating me?”
“Maybe it’s the fact that you’re so h*ll bent on staying away from home that you’ve been crashing at my place since they brought Tim back?” Jason’s eyes narrowed. “And there’s also the fact that I’ve caught you several times looking like you wanted to ask me something, and then you clam up, get all moody, and go take out your frustration by making sure some crook spends a week in the hospital.” He took a long drag off his cigarette. “It’s really starting to bug the crap outta me, so if you’ve got something to say, then spit it the f*ck out.”
Damian took one more drag off his cigarette, then exhaled slowly as he worked up the nerve to ask the question that had been nagging at him for over a week. “What is it like to be brought back to life by the Lazarus Pit?”
It wasn’t a question Jason had been expecting, but now that he thought about it, he figured he should have. That didn’t mean he was going to enjoy answering it, though. Answering it meant mulling over memories he wished he could leave buried in that dark corner of his mind where he left all his most unpleasant experiences.
“Do you want to know the reason why it is people go a little psycho violent when the Lazarus Pits first bring them back to life?” he asked with deathly seriousness. “You want to know the pits’ dark little secret that no one who ever comes back ever wants to talk about?” Jason met Damian’s curious gaze. “It’s that when you come back, you’re forced to relive every excruciating detail about how exactly you died.”
Damian choked a little bit on his cigarette.
Jason sighed as he contemplated the glowing embers in the end of his own cigarette. “On top of that, no one who’s really dead ever truly wants to come back.” His eyes went distant behind his mask. “I don’t remember being dead. I do remember being dragged back to life. I remember struggling against it. I didn’t want to come back, but I had no choice.” He took a shaky drag off his cigarette. “It wasn’t my f*cking choice!”
The two of them were silent for a long time after that. The meth dealers didn’t seem to have any intention of returning to their lab that night, so Damian kept himself busy by listening to the police scanner channel on his comm link while Jason chain smoked through the rest of his pack.
Neal backed away from the photographs. He felt as if he were losing his mind. Out of nowhere these memories were rising up, but he had no idea when or where they came from. They involved people he knew he never met before…
…At least, he didn’t think he ever met them before.
The vertigo he’d been suffering returned with a vengeance, and he stumbled backwards until his back met something tall, hard, and filled with metallic components that rattled when he struck it. Startled, he looked behind him.
It was a clock. A large antique grandfather clock.
Neal turned slowly, but his eyes never left the clock. The clock was so familiar. There was something about it that nagged at him, though. The clock was not an ordinary timepiece. He didn’t know how or why, but he knew that there was something different about it. Something important.
“The clock…” he whispered to himself as he tentatively reached up to open the glass case. His fingers experimentally touched the hour and minute hands. “…has a secret?”
“What time is it? How long was I out for?” Dick said with a barely stifled yawn as he sat in the passenger seat of Peter’s car. They were on their way back to the manor after an extremely long day in New York City at the FBI offices. He stretched out as best he could and glanced for the clock on the dashboard.
“We’re about ten minutes away from Wayne Manor. You passed out the moment we left New York city limits.”
“Seriously? I don’t even remember falling asleep.” He rubbed his eyes. “Man… My whole sleep schedule is completely messed up. I should be wide awake right now.”
Peter glanced at Dick curiously out of the corner of his eyes. “I’m guessing this is usually when you and your family goes to work?”
Dick nodded with a wry smile. “Yeah. Depending on the kind of hell Gotham has waiting for us, those of us on patrol will be out on the streets till at least three or four in the morning.”
Over the course of the week, as Neal’s condition slowly started improving under the watchful care of Dr. Thompkins and Alfred, Peter’s initial anger and frustration with Batman and his family had dissipated. As he watched their behaviors over the week as he and Elizabeth stayed with them, he could see that above all else, everything they did for Neal they did out of the love for him.
“I still can’t believe how everything turned out,” Peter said. “I can’t believe the lengths to which those people went… in everything… Just for power and control.”
“I wish I could say that people like them are few and far between,” Dick responded. “Unfortunately, it’s those kinds of people that make my family’s work and the work of the Justice League necessary. No offense, but normal federal agencies like the FBI or even the CIA just aren’t equipped to deal with that level of megalomaniac, death-dealing, power-grabbing on a regular basis.”
“Do you think Talia will try to stir up trouble with Neal again, now that she seems to have gotten what she wanted?”
Dick’s expression darkened. “Talia al Ghul may be many things, but an idiot is not one of them. Tim has a very large family, and I don’t just mean everyone in Gotham right now. The Justice League… The Titans… We’re all pretty close knit. She has to know that she’s stirred up a hornet’s nest with this whole fiasco. If she’s smart, I suspect she’ll be lying low for at least the next year or two. She’ll need that time anyways to do whatever restructuring she needs to with the League of Assassins now that Ra’s is truly dead. Even so, we’ll be keeping our eyes and ears out for her and her people. She will not get away with what she’s done to Tim.”
Peter believed him when he said that. It made him feel a little better. Dealing with people like the League of Assassins was well above his pay grade. Much as he wanted to bring people like Talia to justice himself, he knew he couldn’t without bringing considerable risk to his own family. Speaking of Talia reminded him of something that he’d been meaning to ask Dick. “Is it true that Alex left to go back to Talia?”
Dick nodded. “We think so. Kate… That imposter Kate… We believe was once her half-sister. They’d been estranged for years, since long before Tim became Neal, but when she was told about what happened the night Tim was brought in, she insisted on going to see her fate for herself.”
“Aren’t you worried about what Talia might do to her? She did betray her after all.”
“We did try to stop her, but she made it a point to slip out of the mansion while everyone was preoccupied with Tim. Honestly, we have no idea where she is right now.”
A few minutes later, the two of them pulled their car into the garage adjacent to Wayne Manor and made their way inside.
“Thanks for your help today,” Peter said to Dick as the younger man began to head up the stairs to check on his brother. “I really appreciate everything you’ve done.”
Dick smiled a little and shook his head. “It’s the least I could’ve done. You saved Tim’s life. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to truly repay you for that. But we’ll do what we can.”
“Hun! You’re finally back!” Elizabeth came out of the dining hall with Alfred following close behind. She went straight up to her husband and gave him a welcoming peck on the lips. “Took you guys long enough.”
Peter hugged her warmly. “There was a lot to do, but it’s done now. Neal should be ok with the Bureau, no matter what happens from this point on.” He tilted his head curiously as his wife tried to stifle a yawn. “You look exhausted love. Why didn’t you go to bed? You didn’t have to wait up for us.”
Elizabeth frowned. “I wanted to wait up, but somebody-” She glanced back pointedly at Alfred. “-kept giving me decaf instead of normal coffee.”
Peter chuckled. “Thank you, Alfred, for at least trying to get her to get some rest, but I’ll take it from here.” He offered Elle his arm. “Let’s go check in on Neal first, and then we’ll get to bed.”
Before they could even make it halfway up the stairs, though, Dick came thundering back into the foyer, eyes wide and expression frantic. “Tim’s gone!”
“What?” Everyone said in unison at the startling news.
“His bed is empty. The window’s still locked from the inside, but the door was ajar. I think he woke up and is wandering the manor.” He looked at Alfred pointedly. “How long has it been since you last saw him?”
The old man was in a slight state of shock and it took a moment for him to think of an answer. “I believe it was about an hour ago, Richard,” he said. “He was still fast asleep, and so Elizabeth and I went into the kitchen for coffee.”
“Sh*t! He could be anywhere by now,” Dick said as he raked his fingers through his hair. “I’ll go back and check all the rooms in the upstairs west wing. Peter? Can you and your wife check the rooms in the upstairs east wing?”
“Sure. Of course we can.”
“I’ll alert your father,” Alfred said. “He’d said he was going to try and patrol some tonight. He might still be in the Cave getting ready. I’ll go check.”
“Good, good,” Dick said anxiously. “If anyone finds anything, get on the manor’s intercom system and let us know.”
Bruce had intended to go out on patrol that night. For him, because of his duties at the Watchtower even before Tim’s discovery, it had been almost a month since he’d last spent any significant time personally safeguarding his city. That was a bit much, even for him. Being away that long always made him antsy for the Gotham skyline.
However, despite his initial intention of going out, he was partially suited up when he realized that he couldn’t. Going out on patrol would mean leaving Tim for several hours, and that stopped him dead in his tracks. So for the past half hour, dressed in his complete uniform save for his cowl, gloves, and utility belt, Bruce sat brooding in his chair in front of his massive workstation.
Thinking of Tim made his stomach twist up into knots, aggravating his ulcer fiercely in the process. Though he was glad that his son’s recovery was finally making some decent progress, it worried him absolutely sick to think about everything that could be, might be, would be once he finally woke up.
In the quiet of the Cave, above the sound of the bats’ chirps as they flew around overhead, Bruce heard the door leading into the upstairs parlor open up and close. Footsteps began to descend down the stairs. He sighed and slowly pushed himself up out of his chair.
“Don’t say it, Alfred. I already know,” he said as he began to reach up and tug at the mechanism holding his cape in place. As he did this, he began to turn towards the stairs. “I just don’t seem to have the heart to go out on patrol these days, at least not until-” Bruce froze as he got a good hard look at the man who was now staring at him from the stairs. It wasn’t Alfred.
It was Tim.
Bruce’s eyes widened in shock. Tim was awake and had made his way into the Cave through an entrance precious few people knew about. What did that mean? Did it mean that Tim woke up remembering his past? Did he remember his family?
His internal questions were answered with heartache. “Where am I?” Neal said warily, his eyes never leaving the man in the dark uniform and cape. The younger man’s uneasy blue eyes darted around himself anxiously. “Why am I here? Who are you?”
For a moment, Bruce was unsure of how to answer him. If Tim didn’t remember who he was, he didn’t want to force the truth onto him. A lot of damage had been done to his mind and his memories. He didn’t want to hurt Tim any more than he’d already suffered through. “You’re in my home, Neal” Bruce finally said, forcing himself to call his son by his current name. “You were hurt very badly over a week ago. Agent Burke and Nightwing brought you here so that you could receive medical attention.”
Though Neal was reassured by the mention of Peter being part of the reason he was in this place, something else nagged at him instead. Hearing his name said by that man sounded all wrong. Why did it sound all wrong? This cave… That man… That insignia on the chest of his uniform… It was all so familiar. He knew what they were, but he couldn’t put a name to any of it, and it was making his head spin. With a grimace of pain, he grabbed his head with his good hand as the strongest wave of vertigo yet washed over him. He tried to take a step to the right, so he could lean against the wall railing for support, but his foot ended up slipping instead. For a moment, the only thing he was certain of was that he was falling.
And then he was stopped, caught by a pair of large, strong arms that seemed almost to appear out of nowhere.
Bruce had moved without thinking. As soon as the vertigo hit his son, he was half-way to the stairs. With him there, there was no danger of Tim falling and hurting himself any further. He would do everything in his power to keep his safe. As soon as he caught Tim, he slowly eased the younger man down so that he was sitting on the step. “Easy there,” Bruce said reassuringly. “It’s ok. I’ve got you.”
Those words… That voice… So familiar… Too familiar… A word… A name danced just out of Neal’s reach, and it was driving him crazy. “I think I know you,” he stammered out uncertainly. His eyes focused on the insignia of the Bat on Bruce’s chest. He reached out hesitantly, as if he wanted to touch it, but drew his fingers back before actually making contact. “A word- No, a name? What is it…?”
It tore Bruce apart inside to see his son struggle like this for an answer. He reached out without even thinking to stroke Tim’s hair in a reassuring manner. “My name is Bruce,” he said gently. “And I’m also B-“
Neal’s eyes snapped open as something finally clicked in his tumultuous mind. That name, “Bruce”… It connected to something important! Something that managed to survive the devastating mental damage inflicted so many years ago.
Bruce’s voice died in his throat as he stared at Neal in shock. He’d been so hell bent over the past week on preparing himself for the worst, that his son would never recognize him, that he hadn’t even entertained the possibility that the best case scenario was even an option. The stunned silence was just long enough, though, to allow the slightest needling of doubt to creep up into Neal’s expression.
“Aren’t you?” For a moment, Neal wondered if maybe he was really, truly losing his mind.
Then the moment passed. Neal gasped as he was pulled into a tight embrace.
“My son,” Bruce said hoarsely as he clutched his beloved returned child close to him. “My son!”
A wave of emotion threatened to drown Neal as, surrounded by his father’s strong arms, flashes of memories realigned themselves into place within his mind:
…The excitement of discovering, for the first time, that Bruce Wayne was Batman…
…The pride of being gifted by him with his first Robin costume after months of training…
…Bruce, still in uniform, holding him close the horrible night his real father was murdered, just like he was holding him tonight…
…The happiest night of his life, when Bruce told him that he wanted to adopt him…
Neal’s vision blurred. “I remember,” he said softly as his voice choked up and the tears began to fall. “Oh God, I remember you! Bruce, I remember!” His last words dissolved into sobs of relief.
Bruce finally allowed a smile to grace his emotionally exhausted features. It felt so wonderful to be able to hold his son in his arms again. He noticed a slight movement from the corner of his eyes, and he lifted his head just enough to see Alfred, the old faithful man who had been like a father to him and grandfather to his children all these years, silently watching the two of them. A trembling hand had been placed over his mouth as his kindly wise eyes glistened with unshed tears.
“Alfred,” a familiar voice came from the top of the stairs before the person who owned it descended down them. “We’ve looked everywhere upstairs. Tim’s nowhere to be found,” Dick said with worry. “I wonder if somehow he made his way outside. Did you catch Bruce before he went on patrol.”
The old man wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “No, but someone else did,” he said with a small smile.
Confused, Dick followed the line of Alfred’s gaze, and drew in a sharp breath when he saw Bruce and Neal on the stairs. At the sound of the new voices, Neal calmed down enough to lift his head to look and see who was there. Just like before, everything about their respective appearances looked familiar, but their names danced just out of reach…
Or at least, only one of them did.
Neal’s eyes met Dick’s and held them curiously. “Dick?” he said rolling the name over his tongue. The familiarity was there, but he still couldn’t quite place it.
As Bruce slowly got up and stepped back to give both his sons some space, Dick hesitantly moved forward, hope warring with uncertainty across his face. “Do you remember me now, little brother?”
Suddenly, Neal remembered the photograph above the mantle. His memories began to reshuffle themselves as before and much to the relief of everyone there, recognition dawned on his face. He didn’t even have to say a word. He couldn’t. His throat had tightened and the most he could do was nod.
Emotions overwhelmed Dick. A bright smile lit up his face as he knelt down to wrap his brother up in a tight hug. “I’ve missed you so much, Tim,” he whispered.
Neal felt dizzy for reasons that had nothing to do with vertigo. Had he ever felt so completely, unconditionally loved like this before?
A clearing of someone’s throat drew their attention once more. A recomposed Alfred was regarding Neal with gentle, but firm scrutiny. “Ok. That’s enough of that for now. If you three wish to continue with this long-overdue reunion, it will take place upstairs with Timothy back in bed where he belongs.” The old man fixed both Dick and Bruce with a chastising glare. “Or have you forgotten about the broken arm, fifty-three stitches, twelve pints of blood, and five vials of antitoxin he’s had to endure over the past week?”
While the two older men looked properly chastised, Neal stared at Alfred in confusion. “Antitoxin?”
Dick got to his feet and offered Neal a hand. “I’ll explain later. Alfred’s right. You really need to be back in bed.”
Neal leaned heavily against Dick once he was back on his feet. The emotional roller coaster and sudden memory blitzing he’d just endured had taken it’s toll and exhausted him. As he and Dick got within arm’s reach of Alfred, though, the old man reached out and tenderly stroked Neal’s cheek.
“Welcome home, Timothy.”
“Home.” Neal echoed. The feelings he’d felt while exploring the manor earlier suddenly made sense. He smiled gratefully at Alfred. “It’s good to be home,” he said before Dick continued to help him up the stairs.
Ugh… This story has made a liar out of me. I had originally intended for this to be the last chapter of the story, but no. Certain characters which shall remain nameless decided to run away with the plot and spread out the ending over two chapters, not one.
Although, looking back over the chapter that has just been written, I can’t really complain too much about the way things ended up for Chapter 31.
In Chapter 32, we shall finally discover what Neal/Tim finally decides to do with his life now that the truth about who he is has finally be realized.