After my initial greeting, there was a long moment of silence…
It was the kind of long that meant one of two things with Bruce, depending on how he approached you. If he kept his mask on, it meant you screwed up somewhere on the job, and he was getting ready to dress you down. The long silence was tactical, psychological warfare, to get you sweating about everything you've done in the last forty-eight hours to try and figure out where you might've slipped up before he even opens his mouth. However, if he decided to take his mask off, then the silence was a sign of his own hesitation, because he wasn't going to talk to you as "Batman," but as "Bruce Wayne."
In the back of my mind I was sort of hoping for the dressing down. A small part of me went,"Aw crap,"when he started to pull his cowl away from his face.
"Tim," he said. "We need to talk."
With a sigh, I went ahead and removed my own cowl. If there were any cameras in the area, he'd already have them taken care of. "About what?" I asked with an air of forced indifference.
Any thoughts I'd been entertaining about treating this father-son moment with an appropriate amount of mostly silent brooding went out the window. "What about her?" I asked, trying to stifle the defensive tone that wanted to creep into my voice.
"I know what happened between you two tonight."
I stared at him blankly, a small feeling of dread coiling in the pit of my stomach. "What do you mean?"
"At some point tonight you 'lost' your cowl. When that happened, the com link was turned on."
"Sh-t," I said ineloquently as I buried my face in my hands. "Sh-t, sh-t, sh-t, sh-t." Though I couldn't see for myself, I was certain that I was probably turning a shade of red to match my uniform. "Who heard?"
"Barbara and Stephanie," he confirmed. "The com patched in straight to Oracle. They told me because they were worried about you."
Learning that Babs had heard my ordeal wasn't that bad, all things considered. Learning that Steph had heard, though… If dying of embarrassment were possible, I would've been six feet under already. However, since dying wasn't an option, all I could do was laugh.
"Great. So my ex got to listen to me personally torpedo my relationship with Tam. Wonderful. Just wonderful."
"Tim," Bruce started, but paused as he tried to figure out what exactly to say.
"You don't have to say anything, Bruce," I said. "I know what I did was for the best. She's better off without me. I did the right thing."
That wasn't the kind of response I would expect from Bruce. "How can you say that?" I asked incredulously. "You, Batman, of all people?"
Bruce sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "If I were talking to you as Batman right now, then I might be inclined to agree with what you did tonight."
"I don't understand. If you're not talking to me as Batman right now, then who are you?"
His expression softened. "Right now, I'm talking to you as your father."
Over the last couple of years, I'd noticed a change in Bruce. Dick has as well. It used to be that the side of him that was "the dark knight" was his real persona. His identity of Bruce Wayne was nothing more than a mask, an illusion, an act. Of course, even now the side most people see on television or in gossip magazines is still the fake one. However, the man unmasked before me right now… I know that this man is the real Bruce Wayne.
"So what does my father have to say?"
Dealing with emotional issues, especially in regards to relationships, was never a strong suit of his, so it takes a moment for him to find the right words for what he wants to express. He chooses them very carefully.
"He wonders… why wanting to be with someone you love has become the wrong choice for you."
"Bruce, you heard what I said to Tam."
He nodded. "Yes I did. Now I want to hear the truth." Settling in for the long haul, my father took a seat on the arched back of the gargoyle whose shadow I was hiding in. "Tamara made a very good argument, which you never really addressed."
I leaned my back against the cold stone gargoyle and listened to the sound made by Bruce's cape as it was tossed around by the wind. It was a comforting sound.
"Why, Tim? What made you decide now was the time to push her away?"
"I've been having nightmares," I finally admitted. "For the last several months now. And before you ask, no, I haven't crossed paths with the Scarecrow recently."
"What kind of nightmares?"
"They're of the night my father died… Well… Sort of…"
Years ago, when I first became Robin, I had both my mother and father. They were alive, well, and had no idea that I'd figured out the real identities of Batman and the original Robin in my spare time. First my mother was murdered, then my father. The main difference between the deaths of my parents is that while my mother was killed outside of the country and I was in no position to stop it, I was literally minutes too late to save the life of my father. I was the first one to find his still warm body lying in an endless pool of his own blood in the middle of our home.
Bruce doesn't say anything. He knows. He remembers that night. He was there with me. Instead, he waits for me to elaborate, which I do.
"The nightmare always starts off like it did that night," I said quietly. "I'm in the car with you, and we're speeding through Gotham. But instead of hearing my dad's voice over the com link, I'm hearing Tam's. The criminals who have her or are chasing her are always different, but the end of the nightmare is always the same." I couldn't repress the shudder as I remembered some of the psychopaths from my dreams. "Two-Face… Zsasz… Hush… Scarecrow… Croc… Bane… Ra's…"
I nodded. I wasn't sure if I could've mentioned the Joker by name. The nightmares involving him were always the worst. Though I would never(could never)admit it to Bruce, waking up from those particularly horrific visions meant suddenly regaining consciousness in the process of having massive panic attacks.
"I'm guessing the nightmares have been getting worse lately?"
"And you thought that by pushing Tamara out of your life, you could somehow protect her from being harmed by our enemies?"
"I thought so. Logically, it made sense."
"You don't sound quite as certain as that."
I bit my bottom lip before responding. "I believed I was doing the right thing when I first told Tam that we couldn't see each other anymore."
"So what happened?"
I felt the color rise in my face again.
"She… sorta... um…" I muttered before taking a deep breath and spitting out the rest of the explanation as quickly as possible. "..grabbed-me-by-the-cape-tackled-me-and-pulled-my-cowl-off." I cringed. Saying it out loud sounded just as pathetic as it did in my head before I opened my mouth.
Bruce sat there in silence for a long moment on the gargoyle. I couldn't bring myself to look at him, for fear of what I'd see in his eyes. Then I heard a rare noise that made my ears burn the moment the sound reached them.
It started off with a really decent attempt at a suppressed snicker. Unfortunately, it quickly fell apart from there. I let it go for a few minutes, but then got annoyed with my father.
"Bruce!" I complained, blatantly ignoring how much my voice sounded like a whining teenager at that moment and glared at him as best I could.
"Heh-heh. I'm sorry, Tim," he said as he caught his breath. "It's just… The thought of Tamara bringing you down…" After one last chuckle, Bruce had calmed enough that I was finally able to continue with my explanation of the earlier evening's confrontation. By the end of my story, my father had a contemplative expression on his face, and I felt no less uncertain of my actions than I did when I first landed on this rooftop.
"I did do the right thing, didn't I?"
He looked at the distant horizon thoughtfully before closing his eyes. "Do you remember the crisis with Darkseid several years go?"
"Of course I do. How could I ever forget? Everyone thought you were dead, except me."
"Well, though I didn't actually die, right before Darkseid's Omega Sanction beam hit me, I did have one of those moments where your whole life flashes before your eyes. Do you know what I saw?"
I gave him a quizzical look and shook my head.
He smiled wryly. "A lot of what-ifs."
"They weren't about my life as Batman," he clarified. "But about my life as Bruce Wayne. What if I had allowed myself to become closer to women I loved? What if I had been more a father to you and your brothers when you all were younger? What if I'd actually worked to create a worthwhile life for my real identity, instead of just wearing the mask of the shallow wealthy playboy?" He chuckled morosely. "What if I actually took more of Alfred's advice to heart over the years?" Bruce sighed as he rubbed the back of his neck. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that in that moment where I was allowed to take stock of everything I'd accomplished in my life, while Batman had left a lasting impression and had done a lot of good work, the same couldn't be said of Bruce Wayne."
There was a bitter edge in Bruce's voice, and though I felt like I was on just the verge of understanding what he was trying to say, the clear meaning eluded me. "I don't understand," I said hesitantly. "As Bruce Wayne, you've had Wayne Enterprises do a lot of good for the city—"
"For the city, yes, and the rest of the world," Bruce interrupted. Then he looked at me pointedly. "But not for my family. Not for myself or my own legacy as the man, the individual, behind the mask."
His expression softened, and for the first time in a long while, I could see the years that had grown on my father. Bruce wasn't a young man anymore. I'd always known that, but I suppose it never really sunk in how old he was until that moment. Deep lines etched his face, and even in the moonlight I could catch glints of silver strands starting to pepper his dark hair. I startled myself a little when I suddenly realized that I didn't even know what his actual age was.
"You asked me if you did the right thing with Tam tonight," he said, interrupting my train of thought before I started computing numbers in my head. Then he shook his head. "I can't say one way or the other if it was the 'right thing' or not. When it comes to relationships, I really am probably the last person you should be asking for advice. You'd be better off talking to Clark or one of the Allen men. What I can tell you, though, is that I don't want you to make the same missteps I did and end up where I am now." Bruce placed his hand on my shoulder. It was warm, comforting, and strong. "If a chance for happiness outside of the masks and the missions presents itself to you, as your father it's my wish that you seriously consider taking it. Don't let fears and doubts derail something that could bring great joy to your life."
Bruce's words washed over the ache in my heart like a salve. "Man," I murmured as I leaned back against the gargoyle, eyes closed. "Now I really wish I'd come to you first, instead of trying to figure all this out on my own." I almost smiled as I felt my father's hand pat my shoulder reassuringly before it lifted to take a call that was coming in from Oracle. While he spoke to Babs in hushed tones, I sat thinking about Tam and what I should do next. Did I want to try repairing the bridge I'd taken such pains to burn tonight? Could I ignore my nightmares and set aside my fears to embrace a future with her? Would she even want to see me after what I put her through tonight?
Unfortunately, the Fates decided to take the choice out of my hands. Bruce… no, Batman came up and interrupted my train of thought. "Get your cowl on! We need to move, now!"
The tone broached no argument, and I was on my feet and had my mask on immediately. "What's going on?"
"Dick and Damian were on Croc's trail," he said as he pulled out his grappling gun. "He took a hostage before escaping into the sewers." Batman looked at me grimly. "He's got Tam."