Confidence Lost - Chapter 32

Peter knew something had changed the moment Neal and Dick emerged from the secret door concealed by the grandfather clock in the parlor. The frantic panic that Dick had been exhibiting earlier while searching for Neal was gone, replaced by an infectious happiness that seemed to be radiating off of him in waves. Neal too, despite the fact that he was still nowhere near well enough to be moving about on his own, seemed extremely happy himself, although also a little dazed. He didn’t even seem to notice Peter or Elizabeth at first when they stepped into the parlor, his focus resting mainly on staying as upright as possible.

“Neal!” Elizabeth exclaimed with a look of relief.

The injured man turned to look at them. “Elle… Peter…” he said quietly.

Elizabeth moved forward to get a closer look at Neal. She smiled warmly at him. “Gave us a bit of a scare there. Are you alright?”

He nodded. “I think… I’m better than alright,” he said as he glanced around himself, a look of wonder on his face. “This is home? I really am… home?”

Dick’s eyes began to tear up again, though his brilliant smile showed no signs of fading. “Yeah, Tim. You’re finally home.” Then he looked to Elizabeth. “Sorry we can’t stay and get you caught up right now, but if I don’t get Tim back to bed, Alfred will skin me alive,” he said with a laugh.

The pair of brothers had barely left the parlor when Alfred and Bruce both emerged from the cave’s entrance. Peter noticed that they looked happier as well. It didn’t take much more for the federal agent to put two and two together.

“Neal remembered who he is?” he asked.

Bruce nodded. “He remembers. Exactly how much of his past we can’t say for certain, but-” he said with a contentment he hadn’t felt in years. “-he at least remembers his family.”

***

The good news spread quickly among the Bats, League, and Titans. While Peter and Elle helped Dick get Neal back to his room, Alfred and Bruce contacted their friends and family about Tim’s updated condition. From Earth to the Watchtower, heroes the world over were celebrating. Though the ones who were outside of Gotham’s city limits knew enough to let the Bats have their prodigal son to themselves and restrained their desires to immediately visit, those who were there felt no such compulsion.

The only warning they got in Neal’s room to the arrival of more visitors was the thunder of running footsteps before the door burst open suddenly and two unmasked, uniformed girls (one in all black, the other in purple accents, and both sporting bat insignias on their chests) filled the door frame. Neal, Peter, and Elle were all startled by the appearance of the two women, though Dick seemed to have expected them.

The elder brother did not stick around for the heartfelt reunion between Tim and the girls who were the closest things to sisters in their lives. As Cass and Steph shared their affections with a quite speechless Neal (much to Peter and Elle’s amusement), Dick noticed a movement from the shadows of an oak tree just beyond the window. Quietly he slipped out of the bedroom as the three visiting Titans began to slowly filter to join the girls. A few minutes later, he was up in the branches of that oak tree himself.

“You do know you’re both welcomed to come in, right?”

“Please, golden boy. Maybe for the runt because it’s still his home, but we both know that’s not the case for me.” Jason Todd, his face hidden behind his red helmet, leaned against the trunk of the tree as he glared at Dick.

Despite his relative good mood, Jason’s tone and words irritated the former acrobat. However, Dick steeled his resolve and refused to snark back at him.

Not tonight.

“How is he?” Damian’s quiet voice cut through the budding tension between his two eldest brothers. The youngest of them had focused his gaze completely on the scene taking place beyond the bedroom window, where Batgirls and Titans sat on the edge of his other brother’s bed, the lot of them speaking with smiles lighting up their faces.

Dick regarded Damian calmly. “He remembers. Not everything, but enough to know who his family is and the fact that he’s home.”

“But how is he physically?”

The eldest Wayne son turned his attention to the window himself. “Tim’s still not completely recovered. I doubt Leslie will clear him to move about on his own for awhile.” He looked at Damian again. “You should come home, D. Bruce and Alfred both know you’ve been staying with Jason since Tim returned. So have I. Even though we’ve been preoccupied with Tim, that doesn’t mean we haven’t noticed or worried about you.” Dick sighed. “I know you and Tim never had the most pleasant relationship when you were younger, but-“

Damian nodded. “I know.”

“Wait? What?”

The teen looked at Dick. “I know things are different now. I’m not the same person I was when I was ten. I know he’s not the same person either. It’s just…” He glanced off to the side. “…I want to apologize to him for the past, but I’m not sure I know how.”

Dick placed a reassuring hand on his youngest brother’s shoulder. That Damian was even contemplating apologizing to Tim, of all people, was a testament to how much he’d matured over the years. Though he knew he never said it enough (or maybe too much for Damian’s tastes), Dick was proud of the man he was growing up to become.

A ratcheting up of the tension next to the tree trunk drew Dick and Damian’s attention. It didn’t take long to see what caused Jason to shift into an unconsciously defensive posture. Through the window, they could all see that Bruce and Alfred had finally joined the extended reunion.

“He… Bruce… Looks happy…” Jason muttered quietly.

Dick, not for the first time, wished that Jason didn’t wear the helmet. He wished he could see his face and gauge the younger man’s expression. “Why wouldn’t he be happy?” Dick posed the question gently.

Beyond the window, the younger generation of crime fighters slowly cleared from Tim’s room at Alfred’s insistence. Peter and Elizabeth as well appeared to give Neal a few parting words before they too exited. A minute later, it was just Tim and Bruce alone. Tim looked exhausted, but content. Bruce had such a warm expression on his face as he spoke with his son.

His arms folded across his chest, though his expression was still a mystery, it was clear that Jason had not taken his eyes off of the window. “Would he have been that happy if I…”

Jason had spoken so softly, neither Dick nor Damian could catch all that he said, though the eldest could’ve sworn he’d heard a tinge of regret in his tone. “What did you say?” Damian asked.

“Nothing.” Finally Jason tore his eyes away from the window, his voice sounding strained. “Just nothing.” He pulled out his grappling gun and aimed it for a copse of trees where he and Damian had parked their motorcycles. “I’m heading back to finish patrol.”

“I’ll join-“

“No. You’ve been holding me back long enough the past week.  Stay put. You belong here, kid.” Without another word, the Red Hood vanished into the shadows of the night, leaving Dick and Damian far behind.

***

It took a week before Neal and Damian finally met face to face. The unplanned reunion took place quite on accident… or more likely through some subtle manipulations by Alfred. Neal had been enjoying a quiet breakfast on a balcony overlooking the grounds one morning, savoring the feeling of finally being released from bed rest by the good doctor as well as having an engaging conversation with Selina Kyle.

Even though it had been at least a good two years since she’d hung up her goggles and whip, the former original Catwoman still tried to stay up to date on the comings and goings of her previous less-than-legal profession. She’d known of Neal Caffrey’s career for years, though in all that time she’d never seen a photograph of him or even fathomed that he and Tim Drake were the same person. After initially kicking herself for the oversight, it didn’t take long for the two of them to start bonding on a level that never would’ve been deemed feasible seven years ago.

“Seriously?” the dark haired woman said astonishment.

Neal’s smirk was completely unrepentant. “Unless a reason ever arises where they need to examine the rubies under a microscope, I don’t think anyone will ever discover that the duchess’s favorite pendant is currently made of synthetics.” He grinned into his coffee.

Selina shook her head with a chuckle. “And how long has it been since the switch was made?”

“About five years now, I think. It was one of the last jobs I’d pulled in Europe before coming back to the States.”

“You certainly were a piece of work.”

Were?” Neal laughed. “I still am a piece of work. Just ask Peter.”

Selina laughed, then leaned in close and her voice lowered to a conspiratorial volume. “So… Whatever happened to the real rubies?”

Neal’s eyes gleamed with undisguised mischief. “Now that would be the million dollar question, wouldn’t it?”

Before she could press for further information, curiosity gnawing away at her as she eyed his smug, impish smile, Alfred knocked on the door to the balcony.

“Please pardon the intrusion,” he said politely as both Neal and Selina quickly set aside all the shop talk. The old butler set down a third coffee cup next to theirs as well as another set of dishes and silverware.

“Is Bruce or Dick joining us?” Neal asked curiously.

“Neither,” Alfred said before stepping aside and allowing a clear path between an uncomfortable looking Damian and the breakfast table.

“Alfred, I don’t think-“

“Sit, Master Damian,” Alfred insisted. “I will return with breakfast in just a moment.” Once the old man was satisfied with the teenager’s reluctant movement onto the balcony, he nodded to the other two occupants before heading back into the manor, closing the twin glass doors behind him.

There was a thick, uncomfortable silence between the three of them until finally Selina rose from her seat. “I just remembered, I need to call Bruce and see if he’ll be free for lunch this afternoon. Back in a few.”

And then there were two.

Damian and Neal sat opposite one another in awkward silence for another minute more. Neal casually sipped his coffee while Damian seemed to concentrate on looking at anything other than him.

“I know we didn’t start off on the right--"

“I’m sorry!”

When they spoke, both intent on finally breaking the silence, their words collided at the same time, startling both of them into finally meeting each other’s gazes. Neal, setting his coffee cup down gently on its saucer, inclined his head in a silent motion signaling that Damian could speak his mind first.

After taking a deep breath, the teenager let the uncomfortable words slip from his mouth. “I… don’t know how much of the past you remember between the two of us. Most of it… All of it I suppose was pretty bad. I was a pretty f*cked up kid back then, but that really isn’t an excuse…” Damian sighed. “After you… disappeared… when I was older, I learned more about who you were and what you’d endured before I came into Father’s life.”

Neal attempted to interject something, but Damian raised his hand to stop him. “I treated you horribly for all the wrong reasons, and I want to apologize… for everything.” The teen’s eyes cast themselves downward, and everything in his posture, demeanor, and tone radiated a sense of regret. “Perhaps… If I hadn’t been such a little b*stard when everyone thought Father was dead, when Richard made me his Robin, you wouldn’t have gone off on your own. You wouldn’t have left and gotten tangled up with Grandfather and you wouldn’t have-“

“Stop it.”

Damian looked up to see Neal staring at him with a serious expression. It was a look that was all Tim Drake and not Neal Caffrey. Then his face softened. “I’ll accept your apologies, Damian, but I don’t want to you to blame yourself in any way for what happened to me all those years ago. That wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t Dick’s. It wasn’t Bruce’s. If anyone in this family has any blame to shoulder for what happened to me back then, it was my own stupid self for not considering my own safety when dealing with your grandfather seven years ago. However, I refuse to let those kinds of regrets and what-ifs eat away at me anymore because, ultimately, if anyone was responsible for what happened to me, it was Ra’s.” Tim’s gaze darkened as he thought of Damian’s grandfather. “That monster tortured me, tormented our family for years, victimized countless innocents for longer, threatened my friends, murdered the woman I loved, and used her doppelganger to manipulate me further.” His eyes slid closed. “I wish I could’ve killed him myself, but I’m glad that bastard’s dead.” He sighed. “However, it’s time to move on.”

Damian listened to Tim quietly. It was surreal conversing with his estranged adopted brother like this. The young man had been expecting some semblance of anger or animosity directed towards him. The fact that it sounded like Drake was trying to reassure him confused Damian.

“You… don’t hate me?”

Tim smiled a little, in a way that reminded Damian a lot of Dick’s “Silly rabbit, Trix is for kids” smile. It was definitely a Neal smile. “You were ten, I was seventeen, and seven years puts a hell of a lot of water under the bridge between the two of us.” He then stretched out his hand across the table toward his younger brother.

Damian eyed the hand suspiciously before shifting his gaze upward.

“Clean slate,” Neal offered, hand still outstretched. “It’s not like either of us knows the other one anymore anyways. So let’s start over from scratch.” The older man smirked. “This time without the beatings.”

“Tch! You provoked over half of those blows,” Damian grumbled as he finally shook his brother’s hand.

Neal shrugged. “Baiting you turned out to be more entertaining than I thought it would be. The bruises and dental work were completely worth it.”

***

For almost a month, Neal stayed in Gotham City. Of course, once Dr. Leslie Thompkins got word that he’d woken up, she set down a number of rules in stone involving visitors and how much he could exert himself during the course of a day and night. The first couple of weeks was a surreal experience for the former con-artist/former teen vigilante. His memory, though still spotty, was becoming more and more complete with every day that passed and every person he met.

Of course, with the return of good memories invariably came the bad ones.

It didn’t take long for for the first nightmares to surface. Though Neal tried to keep the fact that he was sleeping poorly a secret, in a house full of Bats and a very observant Alfred, it was practically impossible. Sleeping pills from Leslie helped, though he refused to talk to anyone about the visions that plagued his dreams.

The last thing he wanted was to burden the people who cared about him with the images of what they were unable to stop seven years ago.

There was also one more thing adding to his growing discomfort with living at Wayne Manor, though it had nothing to do with the past and more with what waited for him for the future.

***

Peter and Elizabeth had long since returned to New York, once Neal’s health had stabilized. The FBI agent must have had a massive stack of case files waiting for him on his desk because it was over three weeks before he returned to Wayne Manor for a visit.

In fact, he had one with him when he arrived.

“Seriously, Peter?” Neal said with an amused smile. “Bringing your work with you on a social call? Are you that inundated at the office?”

The agent sighed, as if he had a feeling he was going to soon regret the words that were going to come out of his mouth. “This case is one that requires your unique… perspective.”

“Oh really?”

“There’s a con-artist who’s making pretty non-subtle waves in New York the last few weeks. We’re sure he’s a copycat, though, but I need your help to figure out his next move.”

“Alright. So who is this guy trying to emulate?”

“You.”

The case file vanished from Peter’s hand in the blink of an eye. Neal’s eyes, alight with interest and curiosity, devoured the information contained within the folder ravenously. Then, after a couple of minutes of reading, Neal’s expression shifted and he slowly closed the folder.

“What’s wrong?” Peter asked.

“It’s just… Well… I don’t know…” The younger man’s blue eyes stayed focused on the FBI seal in the middle of the dark folder, an emotion akin to longing coloring his gaze.

Peter unconsciously made himself more comfortable on the sofa they were sharing. He had a feeling he was going to be there for awhile. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Neal glanced around himself, as if trying to make sure that they were both alone in the study. Then he sighed. “What do I do, Peter?”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know what to do.” Neal spoke hesitantly, as if dragging each word was an almost painful endeavor. “The other day I was talking with Mozzie over speakerphone, and Damian overheard the conversation. After I got off the phone with Moz, Damian asked me when I was going to start using my real name.” He leaned back on his side of the sofa and turned his eyes to the ceiling.

Peter started to get a hint as to what was troubling the man next to him. “And what is your real name?”

Neal looked at him. “I don’t think I honestly know anymore.” He straightened up in his seat, leaning over so he could rest his elbows on his knees. The more he spoke with Peter, the easier it was getting to say what was on his mind. “It’s natural to hear my family call me Tim. When they call me Neal, it sounds wrong in my ears.”

“But…”

“BUT, when you or Elizabeth or even Mozzie tries to call me Tim, that doesn’t sound right either. When any of you do that, I automatically feel like correcting you.”

“I’ve noticed,” Peter admitted.

Neal grimaced. “I think, to my family, my identity as Neal is just that. Something like another secret identity, like the kind used for going undercover, something that can be discarded and set aside when the mission is completed.”

“But it’s not really like that for you.”

Neal is who I was… I am…” The grimace deepened. “I was?” He pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. “Yes, I know that aspects of who I am weren’t developed naturally, that another person planted those traits into me, but--“

Peter placed a firm hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “But for seven years, nearly a full quarter of your life, you were Neal Caffrey. Completely. You had no reason to believe you were anyone else.” The agent looked at him with a fatherly expression. “Though it may not feel like it to anyone besides yourself, Neal is as real to you, and as important to you, as Tim.

Neal looked at Peter, grateful for the older man’s observation. “I… can’t just throw away the last seven years of my life. Yes, it was a criminal’s life, and yes I did a lot of things that now…” He tore his gaze away from Peter guiltily and back to the case file on his lap. “…now I don’t feel quite so proud of. But it was my life. It’s a big part of who I am right now.”

“And who are you right now?”

“I… don’t know.” He stared at the folder. “I’m pretty sure my family, especially Bruce, Dick, and Alfred, would like it if I reclaimed my name as Timothy Drake-Wayne and decided to stay in Gotham City.”

Peter nodded. “They do have the resources to make that happen, if you wanted--“

“But I don’t know if I want that!” Neal admitted. Then he looked up at Peter quickly. “I don’t mean that I don’t want to spend more time with my family! Now that I have them back, I don’t want to lose them ever again. They… They mean the world to me.”

“However..?”

Neal sighed. “However… I don’t feel like I deserve to receive a Get Out of Jail Free card just because of my family. Especially knowing that I’ve done things over the years that goes against everything they’ve ever stood for… That I once stood for.” He stood up and made his way to the table with the collection of family photographs, picking one up.

“If I return to New York, it’ll be awhile before I’m able to return to Gotham City, won’t it?”

“You know it will.”

“What do I do, Peter?” Neal asked. He looked over his shoulder at the still seated agent. “Can’t you just flash your badge and order me back to New York?”

Peter smiled a little and shook his head. “I could, but I won’t.” Before Neal could protest or ask why, he stood up and moved to the younger man’s side. “Even though you weren’t aware of it, for most of the last seven years your life choices have been influenced by forces bent on either your self-destruction or using you as a pawn to destroy someone else. For the first time in years now, you have an opportunity to make a decision free and clear of those influences.” He looked pointedly at Neal. “This is your choice about the rest of your life. You need to make it on your own.”

Neal felt Peter’s hand clap reassuringly on his shoulder. Then, as he kept his eyes focused on the images of his family, he listened to the agent make his way out of the room while his thoughts churned within his mind.

***

Six months later…

“Admit it. You missed the fingerstripes.”

Nightwing, dressed in an updated version of his blue-accented armored uniform, stood opposite Neal on the rooftop of the New York City FBI headquarters and grinned. “I really did.” Then he smirked at his younger brother. “If you want, I can always ask Alfred to fabricate a version for you.”

Neal held up both hands. “I think I’ll pass. Much as I appreciate the protection body armor provides, I’ll stick with suits.”

A gust of wind cut across the rooftop and jerked Neal’s hat from his head. It tumbled backwards onto the rooftop and stopped only when they hit Peter’s legs as he stepped through the doorway. The federal agent tucked an envelope under his arm before kneeling down to pick up the hat. Then he made his way to the brothers.

“I believe this belongs to you,” he said as he offered the hat to Neal. Then he grabbed the envelope and offered it to Nightwing. “And this is yours.”

As Neal replaced the hat atop his head, Nightwing took out the files and skimmed them with great interest. “This is great,” he said as he flipped through the folder. “This is just what we need to nail down Luthor’s operations here in NYC. The Justice League can’t touch him with anything right now, but pressure from the feds on his more questionable business ventures could keep him from starting any mischief here.”

“Thank Neal. He did all the leg work on this one,” Peter said as he shot the man in question a sour look.

Nightwing caught the look from the agent and turned his attention to his brother, suspicion lining his own face now. “What did you do?”

Neal feigned innocence with the masked vigilante. “Nothing illegal.”

“Neal…”

“Tim…”

“Seriously! Total gray area. I double-checked the law.”

Behind his mask, Nightwing’s eyes narrowed at his brother. “How gray?”

As Dick and Tim bantered back and forth, Peter gave them some space, moving backwards towards the rooftop entrance, to where the shadows cast by the building housing the stairwell were darkest.

“How’s he doing?”

Peter didn’t have to look behind himself to know who was speaking to him. “Better. Far better, though he still has his moments. The stunt he pulled to get that information wasn’t technically illegal, but still…” He sighed.

“Still an improvement?”

“Still an improvement.” Peter agreed. “I think the fact that his brother has moved his base of operations here to New York has helped considerably.” He watched as the seriousness of the conversion between two men in front of him dissolved and a more casual, light-hearted demeanor returned. “Family has become very important to Neal. It’s given him a reason to work at being a better person.” Peter finally glanced back into the shadows. “He wants to make you all proud.”

“We are,” the voice said softly. “I am.”

“He’s got about three years left of his work-release program,” Peter said solemnly. “After that, he’s free to do whatever he wants, to be whoever he wants to be. He could choose to go back to Gotham and take back the name he left behind, or he could stay in New York and continue his work here with us at the FBI. Or maybe he’ll surprise us both and do something completely different. Three years is a long time, and lots can happen between now and then.”

From the shadows, the man behind Batman’s mask nodded. “No matter what happens, no matter what path he decides to take, he won’t be facing the future alone. His family and his friends will always be there for him.”

“Yes,” Peter said with a smile. “We certainly will.”

----------------------------------------------------

Author Notes:

It’s done. It’s finally done.

The last chapter of Confidence Lost is finally written. The story is complete.

Again, everyone, thank you so very much for reading my story. I hope you all enjoyed the ride.

The End

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