Time to have 'The Talk'

January 24, 2017:

Having revealed his true identity to Zatanna Zatara, Tim approaches Batman to discuss the fallout.



NPCs: Alfred

Mentions: Zatanna, Nightwing


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

As Batman's proteges go, Tim Drake has always been… Independent.

Given the similar way he approaches the Work, Tim has always been the sort to have his own missions, his own cases that he was juggling, even when he wore the red and greens that have since passed to the biological Son of Batman. As Red Robin, this has only become more pronounced, while he also tried to keep up his civilian life as a student at Gotham University, events keeping him from properly crossing paths with the Dark Knight for days or sometimes weeks at a time.

He remembers the first time he set foot in the Batcave, a boy of fourteen years who'd figured out too much and realised that knowing what he knew he needed to act; the one who came here by /choice/, rather than having been drawn into Batman's world because there was nowhere else for him to go, like Dick or Jason before him, or Damian after.

That's something he reminds himself, whenever things take a turn. You chose this, Tim Drake. You could've been normal. It's your own damn fault.

He's been away, in New York City, and he's been busy. His cowl is pulled back, left to settle at his shoulders like a hood, his dark hair a mess and his face pale, dark rings under his eyes. He's barely slept in days, and it shows… But there's always been something to do. Now… Now, he just needs to do this, and he can rest for a little while. He's pretty sure if he's not careful, Alfred will catch him and very politely throw him into a bed. No time for that, though. Not yet.

"Bruce?" Tim calls out, heading towards the Bat-computer. "Bruce, we need to talk."

Really, they have for a while.

Batman is half-leaning over the Bat-computer, transferring information to a portable data drive. A tedious affair, and often necessary for moving data from one machine to another. But Batman's legendary distrust of… everything, even extends to his machinery. It's a tool, but he never allows himself to rely on it. Never gives his computer more data than needed, never trusts it to network with other machines. Much work needs to be done to move even blaise information towards a research machine, or to add analytics to the surgical room. It's one more airgap that keeps the Bat Cave running smoothly and prevents trespassers from learning all secrets at once.

But the difference between paranoia and suspicion is just a matter of being proved right, and Batman has been proven right more than once.

He looks up at Tim and nods, shortly— a cordial enough greeting. Like Tim, he's in half his gear, hood and cowl hung up and the armored components of his suit held on hooks and ready to deploy at a moment's notice. Black underarmor, the sort that leaves no fiber and encourages clotting, clings to his skin. "Tim," Batman says, in his low rasp. A voice almost devoid of human emotion. "Is there a problem?" He keeps working, moving back to his table and working on a pair of parabolic arrays that are half dissembled— remnants of his and Spoiler's clash with The Turtle on the Gotham/Metro bridge. The Turtle's ray gun is in parts as well, the Dark Knight examining the tecnology before putting it up on the shelf with all the other associated trophies of a career in crime fighting.

'Is there a problem?' he's asked.

Oh man, where to start?

"Yeah… A few," Tim replies, cautiously. One had to be careful when dealing with Batman, he's found, because you never quite know /which/ Batman you're going to get. There are many constants to the Dark Knight, even absolutes, but there are still degrees. Especially down here, surrounded by the Work. Down here, the man who adopted him after the death of Jack Drake is far more likely to be subsumed by the Bat. Caution and care, then.

He wishes he'd gotten more than two hours of sleep before he came over.

"First, though, we need to talk about Zatanna. She told me about what happened, Bruce. She threw it in my face, actually, half expecting me to leap across the room and attack her." Which he knows now would've gone /extremely/ badly for him and his continued health, even if he'd been inclined to do it, and not completely gobsmacked by it. Racing to cover, to find an explanation that would calm her down. Anything but the truth, anyway. At the time, that hadn't been his to give away.

"I get it," Tim says, and the worst part is that he does. He understands, intellectually, why Batman did what he did. He doesn't agree with it, but he understands it. The importance of keeping the secret. "But I think you should tell her the truth."

"Regrettable," Batman says— though he's unclear at first if he means that Zatanna told Tim, or that it happened at all. He settles into a perch on a stool and picks up a soldering tool, little wisps of smoke and heat rising as he tries to pry loose a microchip built into Turtle's kinetic decelerator gun. "I had no idea of the sort of power she has. What she can percieve— or how limitless she is in pursuing mystery," Batman explains. "Had my gambit worked, she would have awoken with no memories of the caves and a hangover. I vastly underestimated the power of the magical community. I suspect she created some sort of magical contingency that triggered upon her becoming incapacitated."

"Her father visited the cave last week to discuss the issue. Well— to reprimand me," Batman amends, a beat later. "You should watch the security footage and familiarize yourself with Giovanni's face and mannerisms. He's a powerful magus. High probability that someone attempts to fabricate a disguise based on his appearance to approach me or through me, you and the others," Batman says. 'The Others'— Batlings, of course, his brothers and sisters by adoption.

"What's the second thing, then?" he inquires, not looking up from the large magnifying loupe centered over the device.

For a long moment, Tim stares at Batman's back, before rubbing a black-gloved hand over his own weary face, and then through his dark hair, pushing the longish strands back out of his face. He'd certainly agree that it /was/ regrettable, and he would've personally hoped that Zatanna never got anywhere near the secret, but… Well, it's a bit late for that, now.

"She thinks Bruce Wayne is some kind of serial killer, which would actually make him the /second/ one to drug her since November," Tim continues, latched rather doggedly onto this point. "Imagine the trouble that could cause. If she goes to the police, or the press, maybe people don't believe her, or maybe Wayne Manor starts to get a lot more unnecessary attention. There's all sorts of people who would love to see Gotham's favourite son torn down, you know that better than anyone. I know… I know how important it is to keep the secret, but the better solution is to just tell her the truth."

Calling this a hard sell would be putting it lightly, he knows, but as with all things in life, Tim Drake has a plan.

"She could be a powerful ally, which is much better than having her as a powerful enemy… Contact her as Batman, meet her on her own turf, where she'll feel safe, take off the mask. She's not going to tell anyone, she's a magician, secrets are her nature. And then you won't have to worry about her… Dad… Reprimanding you?" Tim stumbles over this, bewildered. Her father was /here/?

His headache throbs, his fingers rubbing a spot in the middle of his forehead.

"Somebody who looked like him already tried to kill me, and a bunch of other people. We… We were trying to get Zatanna's blood back from an evil cult, that's trying to steal her soul for a Prince of Hell named Mammon, who also tried to kill me a couple of times. That serial killer from before Christmas, Kazinsky, was working for him. Giovanni Zatara was /here/?" Tim repeats, because holy crap. "Wait, how did he know what you did?"

"Higher probability that Zatanna thinks I attempted to slip her rohypnol or the like," Batman tells Tim— and with his back turned, it's impossible to tell from his voice how that determination might impact his emotions. Batman is one accustomed to others thinking ill of him. On some level, he perhaps can be counted on to rely on that.

To act outside the law and still crave public approval would drive someone insane.

"Which also raises the question about why she was at my house unescorted on a weeknight. And would bring furthur media speculation—"

He comes up short and turns to stare at Tim, eyes flat and utterly unreadable. He waves off Tim's question, a gesture meant to bookmark it for later, and pointedly looks right at Tim's face.

Two beats pass.

"You told her."

His flat tone makes it more accusation than question, eyes narrowing in an expression of supreme irritation at Tim as the World's Greatest Detective makes an intuitive leap.

Perhaps more the father at work than the detective, here, sensing his errant son's lapse and attempt to repackage it as a casual suggestion for Batman himself to take the plunge, absolving Tim of guilty.

The suggestion was hardly casual, or so Tim would argue. The idea had occurred to him not long after Zatanna had told him of the incident, but there just hadn't been the time to make his case, then. Too many fires to put out. Too many lives to save.

When he sees Batman looking at him, the unreadable stare of cold analysis, the World's Greatest Detective picking apart his behaviour, his expression, Tim straightens up, squares his shoulders, already getting ready for the fight he knows is coming. Bruce knows him, after all. Knows him better than almost anyone else alive, thanks to the untimely demises of the Drakes… And it's not as though Tim was his first son, either. Who knows what sort of things Dick Grayson got up to.

'You told her.'

Slowly, slowly Tim exhales a breath, his eyes sliding shut. He feels the sense of guilt, the same sense he's felt since that rooftop conversation. How hard has he fought to keep the secret? How many people has he pushed away for the sake of it?

"She was dying, Bruce," Tim says, quietly. Pushing away the guilt, the exhaustion, the anger, the conflicted emotions trying to tear out his guts. Walling them off in a tiny corner of his mind. "They'd stolen her soul, her life, her magic, leaving her on the edge of fading away completely. She was dying, and she confronted Red Robin, half-suspecting I was working for the people who /violated/ her," his anger was coming back, remembering what had been done. Remembering how she'd looked, as though at any moment she would dissolve into nothing. The heat slips into his voice, raising it. "If she didn't trust me, I couldn't /help/ her, so, yes. Yes, I took off my cowl, and I showed her my face."

"Then you made a necessary tactical decision to save the life of an ally," Batman tells Tim, slipping off the stool and moving to stand in front of Tim. Hands loose at his sides, he still scowls down at his young ward, the boy he'd raised and helped develop into the man he now had become.

"There are times that is necessary. If you had led with that, I would not be upset. Attempting to gaslight me into validating your actions is not necessary," Batman chides Tim, flat-toned. "Either what you did was necessary and is therefore, defensible, or you acted /improperly/ and you're attempting to justify your behaviour post-hoc."

Certainly more the father's upset, than the Batman's.

His expression softens, just a touch, and he shakes his head minutely. As often it does, his gaze transfers to Damian's empty costume case, the youngest Robin out and about— as he usually is.

"You've never been much for girls," Batman tells Tim, his tone not as growlingly surly as normal. "Focused on school and studies. I didn't have the problems with you I had with Dick, or Jason," Batman remarks. "So perhaps this is a gap in your knowledge that I should shoulder some blame in creating."

He gestures vaguely at the round table nearby, under a pool of light from overhead. "Let's sit and talk a little."

The caped youth is torn between his own anger and his gnawing guilt because, well… Batman's not /wrong/. He was trying to use his earlier idea as a way to cover up his own choice, precisely because he wanted to avoid this. To tie everything up in a neat little package, with nobody the wiser. It seemed like a better solution to him, but that's Tim Drake all over, isn't it?

Sure he knows what's best for everyone else. Certain that when /he/ manipulates people, it's benevolent. That it's different.

Tim scrubs his hands through his hair with a quiet grumbling sound, his righteous anger getting derailed by the unmoving, resolute determination of the Dark Knight. Even without the cowl and the whole business, he's a difficult man to yell at, and Tim's exhaustion has him far from at his best.

"You… Want to talk about girls?" Tim says, with no small amount of disbelief in his tone. "I don't… What's that got to do with anything?" he wonders, growing flustered. Normally, he wouldn't let himself get this emotive, either, but well… It's been a rough few weeks.

"I should think that's patently obvious," Batman says, wryly. "Women complicate things. They have a way of making logical issues seem completely irrelevant— to encourage you to bypass the head for the heart. You think you're the first person on earth to make an ill-informed decision when it comes to women?" Batman asks, moving to a chair and settling into it, shoulders resting against the high back. He touches the intercom. "Alfred, if you're still up— can you bring some food down? Something light for me, and a meal for Tim," Batman requests.

And despite the late hour, Alfred's crisp tones come back smartly. "Yes, Master Bruce. If you'll spare me a few minutes, I can bring down a light salad and some finger-foods."

"That'll do nicely, Alfred, thank you," Batman says. Turning his blue eyes back to Tim, he steeples his fingers in front of of his chest, a habitual posture of contemplation. "I was a little younger than you when I met Damian's mother, Talia," Batman reminds Tim. "She was beautiful, dangerous— very charming. I thought I was ahead of her. Playing her and Ra's al Ghul, trying to learn their secrets without becoming one of them. Ra'as never succeeded in converting me to the Society of Assassins, but Talia— Talia came closer than anyone else," he admits, candidly. "She did this despite me knowing how dangerous she was, /knowing/ that she was likely playing me. I ignored all the warning signs, all the alarms in my head, because she was brilliant and beautiful and made me feel strong and clever. That's where the real danger is, Tim," Batman says, earnestly. "Not in seducing you with sex, but seducing you into believing you are the man they claim to see you as. It's hard not to want to live up to that image."

Social situations have a momentum to them, created by conventions and expectations; Tim knows this, and he knows it quite well, but there's a difference of magnitude between his knowledge and Bruce's expertise, which results in the younger man slowly getting tugged along by that momentum towards the table, sitting down across from the Dark Knight.

There is a kind of fixed horror on Tim's tired face, brought out by his worry about how this conversation is going to go. What if Batman thinks he doesn't know how sex works? Is he about to get the sex talk from the World's Greatest Detective?

Inside of his head, Tim starts hoping for the earth to crack open underneath of him and just swallow him. His dark blue eyes watching Bruce, but one of his gloved hands is half covering his own face, the other forearm resting on the tabletop. The request to Alfred for food does make his stomach growl quietly, the body's treachery a natural enemy of someone who's spent the past several days largely ignoring his actual physical needs, but the horrible existential dread of what might follow keeps Tim from thinking too much about eating.

Fortunately for his hopes of not dying of embarrassment in the middle of the Batcave - one of the lowest ranked on his list of potential causes of his own death - Bruce isn't concerned with informing his college-aged ward about the mechanics of where babies come from, but the potential dangers that come along with those sorts of connections.

Tim's expression turns more somber, dark blue eyes lowering to the tabletop. Women complicate things. He knows that.

"It's not… Zatanna is my friend. She was my friend when she thought I was just a normal guy, and she's my friend now that she knows. I don't think she sees me as anything else than what I am, Bruce."

Not even what he'd rather she saw him as.

But it's better that way.

"I thought I could fix it," Tim says, sadness creeping into his voice. "That I could make it okay, and she wouldn't look sick any time someone mentioned you. It was important to her too, I could tell… You're her father's legacy as much as she is, right? Zatara taught you, and she said that you saved him. Got him away from the bottle, gave him motivation and purpose again."

"I'm not saying she isn't your friend," Batman corrects Tim, gently. "Or that she wasn't in dire need. But look objectively at what you /just said/," he remarks, tapping the table twice for punctuation. "'She sees me as I am'. 'I could fix it'. 'I could make it okay'." He spreads his fingers, palm up in supplication, and his blue eyes focused on Tim's face despite the young man's abashed posture.

"This isn't the logical, dispassionate approach I would have expected of you," Batman tells Tim, and not unkindly. "In hindsight, look at how you handled the decision to approach her. Would it have worked to introduce yourself as a friend of Tim's? Or as an ally of Batman's?" he presses. "She saw both of us in action the night of the gala, and she's been in Gotham long enough to know that we have a well-founded reputation for vigilantism. Did you exhaust all your options before revealing your identity? Or did you make an /emotional/ leap to a course of action that connected you to Zatanna more intimately?" he inquires, one brow lifting.

"Giovanni will always be a father to me. He's a good man— a man I look up to. But he's not infalliable, and make note of this— where Zatanna's concerned, he is not remotely rational. There's little doubt in my mind he'd burn Gotham to the ground if he thought it'd save Zatanna."

He taps twice on the console and brings up a picture of Zatanna's dossiere on their local file. "I ran Zatanna's personality through a battery of tests. Hale PCL-R, Young MRS, Kiersey— she rates at the higest percentiles for potential narcissistic pathologies connected to manic bipolar disorder and psychosis as a result of schizophrenia," Batman tells Tim. All test batteries that Batman has explained to his wards, part and parcel of understanding the human mind. "And look at the correlative data. She shows up in Gotham after being gone for over a decade. No one locally recognizes her face because of the age discrepancy. In the space of a few weeks she has relationships established with almost every member of our little family, along with a well-known Russian assassin, various street thugs, and other criminal elements— and out of the woodwork crawl a bevy of supernatural agents apparently out to get her."

He turns back to Tim. "All this information's been in her dossiere for weeks and I know you've had access to it. So we return to the question— knowing that there is an extremely high probability that Zatanna Zatara is unbalanced at best or criminally insane at worst, what prompted you to reveal your most perilous secret to her? Was it the best, most rational play? Or was it because you're attracted to her and you want to feel close?"

Tim can't help but think about what Batman is saying, even if perhaps he'd rather not. Evaluating what he'd done that night on the rooftop, the choice he'd made to reveal his identity. It had been no choice at all, hadn't it? Even if he'd just left, she could've easily followed him… And if she hadn't trusted him, he wouldn't have been able to help when it was most necessary, and now she, and Constantine, and Jessica Jones would be dead, and Hydra's plans would've come to fruition.


Or was it because he was scared, because he was tired of lying to her?

Because he, yes, wanted to be connected to her more intimately?

Dark blue eyes track inexorably towards the screen, towards the dossier he had in truth avoided reading, wanting to not pry, wanting to simply deal with another human being on that normal level. The fact that neither of them were particularly normal, however, doomed that inevitably.

"If this is a test, I'm not really in the mood," Tim says, because he knows - he knows that Batman will test, and interrogate, and push until he knows exactly how something or someone ticks. New behaviours mean new variables mean new tests. Tim knows, because he does the same thing, if perhaps not quite so vigorously as the Bat.

"I stand by my decision to tell her. You're right, I shouldn't have tried to trick you into telling her yourself to cover up my choice. I should've told you immediately… But I don't regret doing it. Zatanna is a good person, like her father. She's someone who places herself in danger to help people, who put saving other lives ahead of any other concern even when she was on the verge of death."

"That's my assessment of her as well," Batman tells Tim with a short nod. "But that also correlates to a Messianic complex, which is consistent with high levels of psychopathy," Batman remarks. "She's assuredly not a sociopath. She has an excellent sense of empathy and personal relationships. But the possibility of her having strong psychopathic clinical tendencies— you can't ignore that," Batman warns Tim.

"I'm not trying to test you, Tim. I'm trying to help you understand why I did what I did. I'm trying to help you benefit from my experiences in the past. I don't want you to discover a son eighteen years later," he says. "Or to get your heart broken. Because this life— this doesn't lend itself to happy relationships," Batman reminds Tim. "It's not a job that you can do part time. So if you're serious enough about Zatanna that you're ready to reveal who you are to her, then you need to take a hard look at where your priorities in life are."

At that moment Alfrd emerges from the lift, in a bathrobe and pajamas, and carrying a tray full of hot tea and snacks. Batman lifts a brow at his butler. "Alfred, were you in bed?"

"Just reading a book and having a cuppa," Alfred tells Bruce, smiling paternally and shaking his head. "Wasn't any bother at all to heat up some water and bring a snack down. 'allo young master Tim, how are you?" He glances at the console displaying an image of Zatanna, and reads the situation in Bruce's features and Tim's embarassed mien.

"Ah. Havin' the talk about ladies, eh?" He pats Tim's shoulder. "C'mon by my room and we'll talk about it a bit, young Master. Maybe I've some insight I can offer beyond sleeping with a knife under your pillow."

Bruce spreads his fingers skywards in silent question at Alfred, giving him a pointed look. Alfred just smiles winningly at the master of the estate. "I'll work a month for free if that wasn't one of the next bits of advice you had," Alfred tells Bruce.

Batman starts to speak, then shuts his mouth and narrows his eyes at Alfred. But something like a smile tugs at the corner of his mouth. "Well said, Alfred. Go to bed, we shouldn't need anytihng else this evening," he tells the butler.

With another smile for Tim, Alfred bows slightly and shuffles back towards the elevator.

Their life doesn't lend itself to happy relationships.

Well, Tim certainly knows /that/, given his… Complicated past with the Spoiler, and all. He'd like to view himself as older and wiser than he was then, but of course he's still a teenager, still barely an adult, despite all the things he's seen and done in the past several years.

He's stricken, albeit briefly, with the terrible mental image of bringing another Damian Wayne into the world, though he supposes that in this hypothetical case it would've been a /magical/ Damian, that smug little face sitting below a top hat, as Tim's rather sleep-deprived brain decides to run off with his imagination. As if one Damian wasn't more than enough to be getting on with.

As Tim is considering this, though, the moderating influence of Alfred settles onto the situation like a warm blanket, the younger man looking up at Alfred as he asks after Tim's current state, trying to hide his tiredness, his embarrassment, without much in the way of success since Alfred does indeed notice the picture of Zatanna, and pats him on the shoulder, offering his own insight.

With a quiet groan, Tim Drake sinks lower on his chair, as though he were contemplating just sliding under the table and settling there instead. The smile he gives the departing Alfred is a bit weak, but it's genuinely meant, the tray of food reminding him that he hadn't eaten since leaving Constantine's apartment.

"I'll be careful," Tim says finally, a statement which before tonight might've been taken as the case without him ever having to give voice to it. Tim Drake, always careful, always cautious. "But you don't really have to worry, she, uh, she shot me down."

It's better that way, he reminds himself, pulling off his costume's gloves and reaching for something to eat.

Bruce pours tea for both of them and takes a pair of the small snacks— honeyed ham in small flour wraps— and transfers them to his plate, pulling a napkin to drape on his lap.

"Can you tell me honestly that when she said 'no', on some base level, you didn't want to prove her wrong?" Batman asks. "That some core part of you was tempted to do or say /anything/ to convince her that you were 'worthy'?"

"If not, then you're doing better than I did at your age," Batman admits candidly, adding a little milk to his tea.

"On to damage control, then," Batman remarks. "I assume that you didn't out my identity, or anyone else's." He mulls the tea, stirring milk and honey into swirling dissipation inside the steaming water. "I unfortunately think that for the moment, Bruce Wayne is persona non grata with Zatanna Zatara," Batman remarks. "You might suggest that I was protecting the passageway as part of your secret— which is true enough, if a somewhat incomplete statement," he muses. "That may plant a seed that bears fruit down the road. If she proves herself a reliable enough ally in the months ahead, it might be a tactically beneficial arrangement to introduce her to the Cave as a whole. But that will take a lot of time and a consensus from the entire family. It's not just my secret to protect," he remarks.

"Nor is it yours to give," he adds— a subtle, suggested warning should Tim decide to take it upon himself to bring Zatanna to the dark caverns under the Manor. "Not without everyone else agreeing to it."

"It was after I took off the cowl," Tim elaborates, experiencing a curious sort of relief at actually being able to /tell/ someone this. The number of people who know about his secret are quite small in the grand scheme of things, and the number of those who he could bring himself to tell any of /this/ to even smaller. Goodness knows what /Dick/ would tell him in the way of advice.

"I knew that she didn't see me that way, that it was a bad time. But I was scared… I was terrified that we wouldn't be able to save her. I just wanted to be sure that she knew how I felt, in case I never got another chance. Maybe part of me hoped that she'd find me more interesting now that she knew about me."

It was Red Robin she'd needed, not Tim Drake, he'd told her.

He was wrong, she'd answered back.

Already, even tired and distraught, he finds himself reflexively moving into the patterns of the Work, when Bruce brings up damage control. He shakes his head a little; he didn't bring anyone else into it, at incautious as he was, but he's not sure how long Zatanna would remain fooled, anyway. She was clever and inquisitive, after all.

"Yeah," he agrees, knowing that Batman is right in this. The secret is about more than any single one of them, even the Dark Knight himself. That was the point of Red Robin in the first place after all, wasn't it? A different look, a different name, that had been used before by someone on the other side of their war. Something that wouldn't be tied back so easily to the others.

"I don't think the car would be enough to impress her anyway," Tim adds with a kind of grim humour, munching on his own food.

"Probably not," Batman acknowledges.

They sit in silence for a few minutes then, enough points made, finishing their meal in companionable silence. Batman collects his tea onto a coaster and rises, patting Tim on the shoulder where Alfred had, too.

"You've got good instincts, Tim. Don't be afraid to listen to them. Just… when it comes to women, take some hard-won advice and don't let them be the ones to ultimately /make/ the decision, hmm?" he offers. "But I trust your judgement. Do what you think is best."

He ambles off towards the workbench.

"And if you're going to impress her with anything, take the jet. Just make sure you gas it up when you're done," Batman says, in his dryest of tones. A joke? Hard to say, as he settles back in at the workstation to resume the work he'd started.

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