AN: This chapter is the least true to how I imagine amnesia would actually be. For narrative purposes, I hope that can be overlooked. And, of course, here's a shout out to homeforthelost for all the knowledge they've been able to offer me. :) You're awesome.

Comic references for those who are interested are Red Robin #1, #4, #12, and #26, Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying, and Identity Crisis #6-7.

Chapter Seventeen: L'alouette Rouge

Tile greeted him from below.

That wasn't what Tim had been expecting when he reopened his eyes, because all he could remember before had been black. But there was just white now, simple and cool beneath the soles of his feet. The tile flooring was too opaque to yield much more than vague reflections shivering on its surface, but the images were clear enough to make out a wisp of raven hair, enough to tell Tim that he was still himself. He'd never seen himself looking so casual before, though: Shorts and a black T-shirt weren't things he'd ever worn—not in memory. The red "S" on the front of the shirt looked oddly familiar, however.

After scrutinizing the symbol for another minute, Tim brought his eyes up.

Details were slowly filling in, pencil sketches that were being defined into something more, and time felt eternal here, meandering and pleasant like the confines of life and death couldn't exist. That wasn't a rational thought, so Tim knew that should've bothered him. Of course he could die here. Right?

For whatever reason, Tim wasn't sure—wasn't sure about a lot of things—and so he was all right taking in the small kitchen he was standing in, trying to piece together, to recall, to understand.

There were the normal things you've find in that kind of room: An oven and stove slept beside a sink while a white-faced fridge was tucked between a set of oak cabinets. The walls were coming in too, simple and unadorned, and Tim could make out a flight of stairs outside of the space, still vague and unfinished but slowly getting colored in. It didn't induce much more than curiosity. Yet somehow, it felt dangerous to investigate, like if Tim wandered too far, he might dissolve in the monochrome and never find his way back.

But here was fine. Like he'd been in this room hundreds of times before, had maybe even belonged here at one point among the comforting quiet of a settling apartment and the smell of—of—


A noise sounded, laminate bending.

It drew the teenager's attention. There was someone else here, he realized. He'd been alone a few seconds ago, but now, there was a boy sitting cross-legged on the floor. The child was arranging a pile of photographs, neatly lining the bottoms up with the tile grouting, and it didn't look like he'd taken any notice of Tim.

Tim noticed the boy, though.

More than noticed, really. More like recognized, because he'd seen that black hair and blue eyes and pale skin before. Because as much as Tim was seventeen then, he could still recognize himself at the age of nine.

It was all bordering on an out of body experience, and yet, Tim was getting the feeling that this whole thing—It was the opposite, that he was stuck inside his head somewhere that was broken from reality. Tim guessed he should've felt panicked. That would have been the expected response: alarm, disorder, confusion. There wasn't anything but calm, though, an emotion that wasn't fleeting but a part of him instead. This all felt normal, normal as tennis practice after school or hanging out with…with Ives. Right. Those had been normal at one point—same as this now. Some tired part of him repeated that that normalcy was true, over and over, so Tim watched and wondered and waited, a younger version of himself organizing photographs one by one while Tim pondered if this was a memory or something more intrinsic.

After a few minutes of silence, the teenager decided to try shifting his weight a bit. Tim's bizarre companion didn't respond, only pulled up another photograph to examine, so Tim felt it was okay to poke around. Getting too close too soon didn't seem like a good plan, however, so Tim settled for walking over to the fridge instead, the door face catching his eye. A separate collection of photos were pinned there with magnets. All of them congregated around the bottom of the door, indicating the display was a child's work. Tim couldn't fight a sad smile at the innocence of that, maybe even at the nostalgia, because he quickly realized the photos were all of the same two people, always a set of brown and blue eyes, the couple coated in desert dust. A thought rose like something getting washed up on sand, and Tim understood: He was looking at Mom and Dad.

"They're always gone."

Tim's eyes snapped to the side. His younger self was continuing to sort photos from his spot on the floor, but it still stood that the boy had talked. Tim hadn't been expecting that, having read this as some place that he couldn't interact with. But apparently, he could.

"They'll be back next week," the boy continued, eyes glued to the slip in his fingers. "I don't mind." He lined up another photo along the slowly-forming grid. Each picture was being treated like something delicate, something important. Tim had done a similar thing himself: arranged photos and newspaper clippings on the floor in an effort to understand. The need to investigate what the boy was trying to solve pulled Tim over to stand beside his younger self.

Dozens of images gazed up at him, copy after copy of a man in a black cape with piercing eyes. A grinning boy accompanied the man, one donning bright colors that looked even brighter by contrast. The smiling boy was in every last photo, always present, until the very last row: The boy was gone.


In the time it took for the name to come, his younger self had disappeared from his spot on the floor, leaving only the grid of photographs and a vague feeling that said Tim should check behind himself. The instant the premonition settled, Tim's eyes snapped over his shoulder, assuming he'd find the person from earlier but only meeting someone a few years older. Still himself. But now matching the bright colors from the photographs, a green mask present along with a gold cape.

"Don't you see? Batman needs Robin," the boy spoke, the words coming like they'd been said thousands of times. "He needs him to remember what he used to be—before his parents died."

"Robin," Tim breathed to himself, eyes tracing the silent "R" pinned to his younger's chest. Dick had mentioned it, that Tim had been Robin once, but to see it—That's what made it feel real.

Robin only tilted his head slightly, looking at Tim and yet seeming like he was seeing someone else there entirely. "I never thought of becoming Robin," the boy answered, although to whom, Tim wasn't sure, "but with Batman training me, I can do it. Batman has to have a Robin. No matter what he thinks."


Robin vanished like dust, leaving Tim alone as his attention turned to a phone on the counter top. He stared, counted. One second. Two seconds. Maybe he'd just imagined the name, but he was quickly proven wrong.

"Tim, it's Dick. I know you're there," the receiver crackled. "C'mon, Tim. Pick up. Pick up." Tim stared at the corded phone, unsure if he really should answer. (Something was telling him he shouldn't.) But his fingers hesitantly slipped around the handset, anyway. "Please, kiddo. I know you can hear me," the voice came again, crinkled and faraway, and Tim finally pulled the speaker up to his ear, a few fingers looping around the coiled cord as he answered.


"Tim!" The relief was expected, but Tim hadn't been anticipating how exhausted Dick would sound, like he'd been calling dozens of times—more than just the one instance Tim had heard. "Tim, I'm here. You're home, and everything's gonna be fine. I just need you to wake up, alright?" (Wake up? Wasn't he already awake?) "Tim?" Concern. "Tim, you still with me?" A few other voices echoed in the background, Tim struggling to focus on them, identify them among the shriek of something like bats, until a fuzz of static took over along with a new voice.

"You listening, Tim?"

The teenager flinched, blood running cold, and for the first time since Tim had opened his eyes here, things felt wrong. Something was happening on the other end of the line, and there was this strange feeling that Tim was moving, that things were streaming past him through a car window despite the fact he was standing still. Cool tile still nipped at his toes; hazy dreams still surrounded him. But something was wrong.

"Good," the man answered at the silence. "Then understand one thing: If you don't get here, it's not your fault."

Tim inhaled sharply, something clicking that this voice was familiar, that this conversation was familiar, and that there was only one person who could be on the other end.

"Dad…" Tim tried.

"I need you to know this, Tim. It's not your fault, okay? You didn't do this."

"But I…"

I don't understand.

"I love you, Tim. I love you just like your mother loves you. And what you do for all those people, it's worth it, Tim. Never question it." Dad's voice was quieting, panicking but trying to sound ready for what was going to happen. "It's worth it." A mantra. "It's worth it."

"Dad, we're almost…"

We're almost there. We're almost—We're…


Right. Two people. He and Bruce, and things would be okay even though they weren't; things weren't going to resolve, go back to being normal—if they'd ever been—because all that had happened the night after this phone call was Tim being pulled back by black cloth against red floors of this same apartment, this same room, and being told it'd be okay. Dad was gone but…Bruce wasn't, so it'd be okay.

It would.

"Tell Bruce to take care of you," Dad said, hoped.

(If only Bruce would be there.)

Something shattered, what Tim knew should've been door hinges screaming under a kick and bullets being discharged from a gun. He didn't remember there being glass. The phone was dead, nothing more than fizzling coming through the speaker like twisting geometrics, so Tim looked for something that'd fallen in the room he was in, something else to account for the splintering noise.

It didn't take long to find it: A shattered picture frame sat on the floor at Tim's feet. Stern, ice-blue eyes stared back from behind the broken glass, a focus there that Tim somehow knew, understood.

"He's alive."

Tim's gaze flickered up from the old portrait, one that he'd seen at Wayne Manor. The one that changed everything, because—

"Bruce is alive," a shadow reiterated from the corner of the room, a slip of crimson with an emblem cresting the black. A golden bird. "He's out there somewhere. He's all I have and he has to be alive."

The statement processed, images rising like tides of himself standing in Prague and Berlin, buildings built like tombs and hopeless lights shining because Tim didn't belong there. He belonged in Gotham, belonged among steel and statues, but Bruce was out there.

Because somewhere, there was a carving, one that meant nothing but conversely meant everything. Because there was a world of difference between being lost in time and being dead, a nuance that pulsed with electricity and potential and hope.

"We find him…don't we?" Tim asked emptily, because he already knew.

"We do," white eyes answered from the corner. "But Bruce isn't the one who's lost anymore. Is he?"

Tim paused, expecting a sign that said the question hadn't been directed at him and instead at space or someone from memory. The figure in the corner didn't move, however, waited. He was asking Tim.

"I guess not," the teenager offered, still wary of his doppelganger in the corner. There was a silent understanding growing that this person had access to everything Tim had been before, like it'd be so easy to know it all—to know more than just the whispers of memories slipping through cracks. But…

Do I want to know?

"It's your choice," the figure posed suddenly. "I can't promise all happy memories. Robin, Red Robin, all of us came from tragedy, but through all of that pain and insanity, one thing's always stayed the same with us: Mysteries are something we can't leave unsolved for long."

Tim watched the figure for another moment, measuring his breaths. It was a mystery. That's what this all was: himself. Everything. But do I want to solve it?

"There's only one question left."

Do I want to…

A gold crest flickered.


"Do you want to know who we are?"

Tim counted a few more breaths, waiting, debating—like an answer would spring up if he only stalled long enough. The only thing that came was more questions and more uncertainty: Would something about the darkest part of his past consume him? It could, but would not knowing consume him anyway? Tim didn't know. There was no way to, but knowing and not knowing—It didn't matter. It didn't, because Tim couldn't run from this, from the very core of himself and his past and his life.

"Fearing what you don't know will only slow you down."

And that left only one thing to do, one word to say.

"Sometimes, you've just gotta be bold."


Tim stilled cautiously, waiting for something to feel different. Something did, he guessed, a sort of uncanny quiet spreading like frost on glass. His doppleganger was gone, too, and Tim felt he should've done the same because even existing now seemed as though it could break the earth in two. Nothing happened, though. Just unsettling silence marred by the sound of his own breaths. He almost feared he'd be stuck there forever.

That was when, suddenly, the quiet melted, air itself turning liquid and rushing away faster and faster. It felt like reality was falling and rising simultaneously, like being trapped in the jolt of an elevator right before it comes to a stop. And that—That was exactly what happened next: Things jerked to a stop.

Tim wasn't sure when he'd been knocked into a kneel, but that was how he found himself next, eyes trained around the bend of a steel crate. He flinched at the unfamiliarity of the new environment, at the red emergency lights flickering on steel walls and the black cape weighing down his shoulders. It sounded like metal was grinding somewhere, screeching iron and turnings' sparks echoing in the distance. A sharp panic of how he got here struck Tim's chest, and it must have shown on his face.

"Red Robin."

Tim's eyes whipped to his side; he wasn't alone, a younger boy hunched beside him with a serious if not indignant expression on his face. Tim could only make out his form when the lights flashed crimson, but he was there, white eyes boring into him intently.

Damian, some part of his mind processed. We're at Crane's lab from two months ago.

"Not getting cold feet, are you?" Damian drawled, eyebrow raised above his mask. A few cuts were drawn into his face, not enough to bleed noticeably but enough to know that he wasn't in his best shape; something whispered that it was rare to find even a fleck of dust on him. "If you are," Damian continued, "perhaps we should switch roles. I'm more than capable enough to hold off a few people while you get assista—"

A crash of footsteps and howls cut off the sentence, the pair waiting on bated breath for the din to die down again. It was painfully obvious that it took more than "a few" people to make that much noise.

"No. You'll have a better chance of getting through the vents," Tim murmured, mind dissolving into the memory as if living it for the first time. "Crane must've known we were coming. I'll make an opening, see if I can't find the control room or something, and you get out, alright?"

Damian looked unconvinced, but to Tim's surprise he was at least considering the plan. He'd gotten better since working with Dick, more calm and level-headed. Or maybe he was just tired. They were running out of options, and it felt like the atmosphere was thickening into something molten, the heat of it making movement seem less an imperative and more an impossibility. Tim could hear its effects in the heft of his brother's breath, could see it in the pallor of his skin.

"Someone must have tampered with the heating units," Damian observed thickly, the same thought at the front of Tim's mind. He could already see his own body temperature displayed digitally in his lenses. It was hitting dangerously high, already having crested one hundred degrees, and Tim suspected heatstroke wasn't far off if they lingered much longer.

"Robin—" Damian glanced up at the name. "—We don't have much time."

"…Very well," the boy acquiesced hesitantly. "I agree to your plan, as foolish as it may be. But if we are to do this, then…" Another flash of red cycled across his face, all narrowed eyes and what might have been an ounce of concern. Eventually, though, Damian straightened himself as if sloughing emotions off altogether. "I am going to be honest with you," he started, business-like. "You're the last person I'd wish to die beside."

Tim suppressed a groan. "This isn't really the time for—"

"So, I have a request," and Tim was taken aback by the determination in the words, by the faint streak of worry in his younger's face. "Don't die."

The appeal was unexpected to say the least. It left Tim at a loss for words, now taking in the person beside him with calm surprise. Part of himself was questioning if he hadn't misheard, wasn't just confused because that can happen with heat exhaustion, he'd heard. "Yeah," Tim breathed out in the end. "Yeah, same to—"

The moment was killed by something shattering a ways away, like a pipe bursting only determinately larger. Tim could tell Damian was running the numbers too, trying to piece together what had happened (Pressure shift from the temperature change, Tim figured.), but ultimately, it didn't matter. Because the noise drew a crowd, and it signaled their time was up.

"Now!" Tim barked, bolting from safety.

His ears barely picked up the whicker of Damian's cape behind him before Tim was instantly swarmed by a clump of figures, so close together and erratic that they seemed amorphous. Tim could recognize some of them from the GCPD's missing persons lists, now gangly-like and gaunt-faced. Crane's guinea pigs. Hurting them too much was out of the question. But still—He flipped one over his shoulder, side-stepping another—they weren't rational, weren't predictable. With all of the drugs pumping through their systems, using any kind of anesthetic gas was out of the question as well.

The fact still stood, though: Tim had to buy time.

A calculating spin of his staff sent two figures spiraling into the wall—a thud, the pair collapsing to the floor. It allowed Tim one precious, all-encompassing second. Long enough for a smoke bomb to find its way into his hand.

His best bet was behind him, entwined in the pattern of Damian's barely-there footsteps, in the idea that word would get out to Bruce and Dick. They had to make it, he repeated, rolling the pellet to his fingertips. They would.

And yet, all it took was one sound to cut that yarn of hope mid-spin.

Because a gunshot wasn't a sound that belonged here: None of Crane's people had guns. A rush of panic hit shrieking that Damian was in trouble, said Tim would never be able to forgive himself if something happened to the kid. It took only one moment for the smoke bomb to hit the floor and one more for Tim to break free from the group. The rest of everything bled into red flashes blurred by heat and dyspnea and gunshot fire. Instinct continued screaming that he had to make it to Damian, couldn't stop now. The reason why hit the moment his mind registered a line leaving his hands and catching his younger brother's ankle scarcely a second before it'd been too late. Tim was tugged against the railing of the landing he was now on, sight snapping down to face the morass of machinery waiting below. Directly beneath, a gigantic CNC lathe was carving around chunks of metal, going too fast to be safe while an army of metal spools spun off in popping sparks. Damian had one arm pulled up over his head as effete protection, the other keeping his cape from getting caught in the whir of the machine. He was barking out something that Tim couldn't process over the noise, face broken in something uncannily akin to horror.

It only took a moment to learn why.

"Looks like today, I get to kill two birds with one stone."

Tim recognized that voice, that cackle bubbling up. The blood drained from his face in realization (He shouldn't be here.), but his attention was already turning in slow motion. The barrel of the gun processed first, the burnish of a Beretta M9. Then a face twisted into a grin, talc skin flickering deadly red in the light, and Tim knew it was over. He knew that better than his own name.

It remained a weird feeling, even after four-years-worth of it—to be a second away from not being at all. Tim had been there hundreds of times and it was the same then. Those are the moments that undo people, undo grudges and morals and lines in the sand.

Because as much as Tim had been avoiding him for weeks now, as much as he was still torn over Harkness and if killing ever had a part in their roles as vigilantes, every piece of him prayed right then that Bruce would get there in time. If not for him, then for Damian, because the thought of seeing that disappointed gleam in Bruce's eyes again, that look that said, "You've let me down," and hit some primal core of Tim's being—He'd rather die than be on the receiving end of it again, not for this. Not for failing to save instead of failing to kill. And so, when Tim swung the line as hard as he could, hoping and praying Damian would land somewhere safe, two words carved lines into his mind.

Please come.

"What are you going to do now, little birdy?"

Please come.

The pull of a trigger.


Please co—

And that was where it was supposed to have ended. Tim knew it, had prepared himself for that outcome and made quick peace with life as it was.

But that was the thing: It wasn't over.

Tim blinked once. Not out of surprise, but the calm, slow type. Half there. Time had skipped again, his vision now blurry and thick, laced with spots of light and an overall fog that made it difficult to focus on anything. Wherever "here" was, there was a general smell of decay, ferruginous—a shipping yard, maybe. Some place near the ocean with brine in the air and smog that settled on his skin. The smells weren't strong, per se, but after days (weeks?) of stale air, the effect was enough to do him in, like he was one breath away from slipping back into a blackout. Then again, there were times where that idea wasn't unwelcome.

Right now, for instance.

"Looks like Bats never did come, did he?" Joker mused from where he loomed a few feet away, all slick hair and slick words with a strychnine sting. The man was leaned against the interior wall of what Tim hazily gathered was a transport van. The open back doors were the only source of light, casting odd shadows over the man's face and brightening his eyes, laser-like. Tim didn't force himself to meet them. That was never a good place to be, looking into the eyes of a killer, so Tim did the only thing that felt natural anymore: watching, not thinking. Waiting.

It left his vision blurred around the boutonniere on his captor's suit jacket, a simple white camellia. It'd been getting harder to focus on anything else lately, anything past the heave of his shoulders with each exhale and the glow of petals so wintry that Tim considered he might get snow blight if he didn't look away. It wasn't like it mattered, he supposed. In some ways, going blind would've been a solace.

"You know I really thought Bats would come," Joker was still saying, like the thought was his favorite thing to bring up when Tim was there; he said it often enough. "But sometimes you just can't trust men with a mission. And Batsy, well… He's a man with a mission." Joker tilted his head consideringly for a moment. "Actually, when it's put that way, it's no surprise why you're still here. People who don't make the cut—Deadweight like us. We don't matter to those kinds of people, Timmy. Can I call you Timmy?"

Tim didn't budge. His mask had been gone for days by then. Joker didn't seem to care much about his identity, however, didn't care about the potential of knowing Batman's or Nightwing's or anyone's. It'd ruin the game to think about it too much, Tim guessed.

"Did Batsy promise he'd protect you?" Joker laughed mockingly, taking steps closer that Tim said didn't bother him but did. "Promised he'd die before letting anything bad happen to you? Too bad, really. Last I checked, the Bat's still kicking and you're…" Green eyes raked him up and down, implying a "here." A "forgotten." "Now, I'm no gambling man, but I think if our favorite commissioner was here instead of you, Bats would've been here days ago. After all, Gordon flips on that handy signal of his, and the Dark Knight comes a-running." Joker was close enough by then for one of his hands to grip at the back of Tim's neck, the crawling touch burning into the tip of a carved insignia in his skin that Tim knew by heart as Bruce's, the marks still ruddy and fresh. He'd seen the symbol in the clouds all his life. "Funny," Joker mused, glib grin on display. "Looks like the symbol doesn't work the same for you."

It's not true, Tim repeated, almost said it aloud. They'd moved him multiple times, used lead shielding on the doors because not even Superman could see through lead. It meant caution, meant someone was searching. Tim breathed that truth, but still, it'd been days, perhaps weeks. Months. It was setting in that…maybe he was on his own.

"Why don't you just kill me already?"

An expression of faux sympathy crossed Joker's face, the kind people get when they've stepped on a dog's tail and are trying to explain that they didn't mean any harm. "Now why would I do a little thing like that?"

"Because," Tim replied thickly, eyes glued to snow petals with a deadened sort of focus, "you're planning to do it sooner or later."

Joker recoiled with faint surprise—maybe even offense—before squatting down directly in front of the teenager. Tim could feel the man's eyes trained on him intently before Joker pursed his lips in something akin to agreement. "You know, after all these years, I like to think of us as friends. And I hear friends are supposed to be honest with each other, so..." He nodded blasély. "Yeah. I'm gonna kill you. I promised you I would years ago, and if I'm not a man of my word then—" A shrug. "—I don't know what I am. But what I really don't understand is why you would think that I'd want to make your death so…purposeless." The man flourished his hand in disgust, as if disregarding the idea with the gesture. "If I wanted that then I wouldn't have shot you with a phony round at Crane's place, now would I? After all, that's the one thing I regret about the second birdboy." Emerald eyes snapped closed, clearly milking each word. "Not being able to savor Mr. Bats' face when he realized he was too little too late. Hoo, how I wish I could'a seen that one: Batsy and his little, charred bird."

At the mention of Jason, Tim found himself able to pull off a glare, one of the few he'd had spite enough to manage. It was the solid, cold type Bruce had mastered, and he hoped it served some form of justice to Jason, wherever he was.

"You're insane."

Immediately, a hand was gripping the underside of his jaw, not tight enough to make it difficult to breathe but strong enough to make Tim look the man in the eye. He held the stare for a moment, locked with green eyes sparking with wildfire and burned copper. It was the look of someone who lived on that demented adrenaline rush of pushing someone over the brink and pulling them back for the sole purpose of doing it again. Tim loathed how quickly his determination withered in the face of it; he was the first to look away.

The silence afterward must have only been a second long, but the pause that filled the air felt like it lasted hours upon hours. Then, suddenly, all tension vanished, like someone had snapped and disbanded it, and Joker was cackling with his head thrown back. The laugh died in mercurial fashion, an instantaneous change. "You know Harvey, right?" Joker asked casually, releasing his hold and leaning back on his heels.

Tim didn't answer.

"Yeah, those people in Arkham," Joker whickered, nodding jerkily. "Now those people are crazy. I've done time there, so you can trust your Uncle Joker on this." He leaned forward again in earnest. "The thing is, though: The more time you spend with those…crazy people, right? The more you realize they've got a point. Take good ol' Harvey, for example." A quarter appeared in the man's hand, a children's magic trick Tim knew the secret to, and yet Joker flashed it all the same with a hint of crazed pride, as if he'd surprised even himself with the feat. "He really likes these coins. Likes these pairs of things, and one time, it hit me they're a lot like people. The coin is us, see, and on one side we've got sanity, and on the flip side—" The coin flicked around. "—we've got insanity. But you've gotta remember: We are the coin. That's the joke, kid. There are two sides to us, and we can't ever see which one we land on. Are we sane or not?" He leaned closer still, the proximity of it enough to make Tim flatten himself even more against the wall behind him.

"We just don't know, do we? So, we've got sane people claiming they're sane, and those people in Arkham—they're all just loons claiming they're sane too. But no one really knows for sure." He held up a finger in exception. "All but for those lucky few who've slipped into crazy town and know it. Cause only insane people have been on both sides of the coin; they're the only ones who can tell the difference." The man swiftly twisted his head to the side, so close to Tim's ear that he was barely even whispering. "So, in a world where we worship this piddle called 'truth,' what you call 'crazy' isn't all that crazy. Why, by spreading some chaos, your Uncle Joker is really doing a civil service, just like you Robin boys do." Tim didn't acknowledge the comparison, and Joker's expression slipped into comedic disappointment. "Eh, I didn't expect for you to understand right away. Personally, I always thought firsthand experience worked best in this case, living on the flip side, if you will."

An unnatural episode of laughter took over again, always when it was least expected like a Jack-in-the-Box or a push off a cliff. A pop sounded like a cap snapping off a pen, but Tim was too focused on everything other than the man in front of him, on rerunning memories like home movies. Home. Home, home, home. Focus on the silhouette of Titans Tower in the evening, on high school lockers clanging opening, and talking with Alfred over breakfast. Tim managed to lose himself in the thoughts for a moment. Just the one.

But something shifted in his lower peripherals then, a flash of familiar red that his brain registered long before the syringe sting in his thigh. Tim's gaze snapped down in spite of himself, a subdued panic flickering across his face despite years of training and experience. Three mls. Chemical smell. Fear Toxin-esque. Tim was familiar enough with the feeling as he watched red flood into his skin.

The emptied needle was tossed aside in the next instant, the clatter a death sentence. Tim could already feel himself slipping away.

"Don't get me wrong," Joker beamed, sympathetic words not matching his face. "It's been oodles of fun, kid. Wish we could chat forever. It's just you did have a point earlier: I've got bigger guano to fry. Nothing personal." The fatal euphemism didn't go unnoticed, partially welcomed at this point, but the implication of other people...

"What…do you—"

A new man appeared in the back of the van, a pair of stoic brown eyes and a grim expression. "You know what to do," Joker sang with a whistle, ignoring Tim completely while springing to a stand. "Sprang River should do the trick nicely. The generic 'no one will find him' kind of place. Should be easy enough to get the real party started." He patted his henchman's cheek flippantly before whisking himself out of view.

Tim hadn't been thinking clearly for days, certainly wasn't now with three cc's of who-knew-what circulating, but still, something didn't click there. What did Joker mean by "real?" Was capturing him… Was it not the plan all along?

Tim sluggishly ran the numbers, stumbled back to the last memory that was certain.

Crane's threat to release Fear Toxin was where his mind stopped, the thing that had led to him getting captured. It was something Joker had no doubt orchestrated, but Tim… He'd just assumed that had been the sole reason for the ploy, to get a dig in at Bruce, capture one of the Robins and finish them off. But now—

Now, Tim wasn't sure.

Because there was this feeling draining out his blood that this had just been one wild goose chase to keep Bruce busy. Dumping Tim off the mid-river was no spectacle, not an M.O. Bruce would be looking for, and if it took weeks for everyone to figure that out, weeks that allowed Joker to do whatever it is he wanted, then….

A streak of panic.

I'm only a distraction.

"Hey!" Tim barked after Joker's long-gone image, feeling eaten alive by the sudden adrenaline in his chest like a bad LSD trip. Focus. Play it up and learn as much as you can. "What happened to not doing it quick, huh? Some lame game you're playing, resorting to cheap mob tricks."

Joker reappeared behind the van, waggling a finger in playful condescension. "Don't play that game with me, little bird. Honestly, I'm surprised you haven't figured it all out by now. And I thought you were the smart one." The man clicked his tongue patronizingly. "Here's hoping you birds swim better than you detect. Adieu." The starting notes of a whistled "Alouette" filled the air before two doors swung shut and all sound died, tossed in shadow.

Tim balked in the direction of the closed door for another moment.

He's planning something else.

"Care to explain what your boss meant by that?" Tim asked with forced calm, attention clipping to the henchman now standing across from him. He could hardly make him out in the dark quiet, but Tim was familiar enough with this one. A brick of a guy. Simple features aside from his brown eyes chipped with hazel. He wasn't much of a gloater, Tim could tell, hard to get intel from. The observation didn't help any to slow the way Tim's heart was pounding in his chest, the sweaty palms, and the tingling sensation worming its way into his quads and calves like his muscles were atrophying right then and there. Crane's toxin had been given intramuscularly, meaning he had a conservative fifteen minutes until the serum got in full swing. A precious fifteen.

Logic. Facts. Calm. Breathe.

"Guess your boss didn't think you were valuable enough to know the whole plan, then," Tim goaded, eyes vetting the shadows for anything of use. He came up empty on both fronts. There were no boxes, no loose parts. Nothing. Even Tim's supervisor observed him with tangible blankness, unperturbed. The only thing that gave was the van engine roaring to life, the interior juddering as the wheels started to pull away.

"I'm surprised you haven't figured it all out by now."

Tim didn't know what that meant exactly, but he knew what it implied: There was more going on here, things that could kill people, his friends, his family. It didn't matter to Tim if it was just him getting hurt, him with switchblade metal in his back and him alone in dark spaces for days. But someone else…

Forgotten instinct was kicking in that dying wasn't an option, like a light switch or a trigger-pull at the start of a race. He had to get out of here, had to tell someone. There was no other way.

Think. There has to be something here.

Four walls. No adornments. The person in front of him had a gun on his hip, he remembered, maybe a knife somewhere too. It was already proven that the man wasn't prone to being provoked, though, and someone else had to be driving as well. Even if the teenager started something, backup would only be a minute away. Tim didn't like those odds, not with the way his skin was growing more feverish by the second, and even then, there were still two pairs of handcuffs on him, one around his wrists, the other around his ankles. Hoping for a universal key was out of the question; he'd have to pick them somehow.

Now-shaking fingers double-checked the locks for what felt like the thousandth time. They weren't anything too complicated. All he needed was a sliver of metal. Just one piece would do, something thin and malleable but not too brittle. That was it.

And that was also the very thing he knew he wouldn't be able to find.

Tim leaned back again, fingers searching the wall behind him. Nothing. His legs were starting to shake too at this point, or maybe he was just imagining that they were. His head was getting fuzzier and fuzzier, harder to think, and a pothole joined the fray, the shaking of the van yielding a burning headache, as if someone was holding a clothing iron to his scalp.

Breathe. Focus.

Tim was counting out the seconds and guessed he must've only had ten minutes left before he was reduced to a delirious mess. If this was the experimental toxin from Crane's lab, too, then Tim really had no clue what to expect.

Ten minutes, he kept telling himself, tied himself to it like a prayer. Have to find something.

The vehicle swung to the right as if on cue, the tight kind Tim had to brace himself for. It took another moment for him to regain his faculties, his head spinning and spinning, but he was certain something small had skittered into the side of his thigh. There wasn't anything else in here, he was sure, half-wondering if he wasn't just imagining the sensation.

And that's when the shape of the new object clicked in his brain.

He pinned the item there without a second thought, careful not to catch the pointed part because the longer he thought about it the more certain he was of its identity. The thick plastic of the barrel, what had to hold three mls, and the tapered feel of a Luer lock...

The syringe!

Tim almost crowed in success, hit with a paradox of optimism and anxiety that was near-crippling.

He had a chance.

He had one chance.

The teenager carefully maneuvered his hands around his back to snatch his nascent hope from his side, splaying a finger against the length of the needle. An inch and a half, it felt like. Short, but he could make it work.

Legs first, Tim quickly decided, working his cuffed hands forward underneath him so they were positioned right in front of his feet. The chains racketed the quiet, but with the involuntary shakes gripping him, it thankfully seemed ordinary. Unthankfully, it made fashioning a tension wrench out of the needle that much more nerve-wracking. If it broke off in the lock, he was done for.

Keep it together, he reminded himself, pressing the tip of the needle into the lock and slowly bending it at 90 degrees. I can do this.

The metal tensed, the uncomfortable moments of waiting to apply more pressure lasting an eternity. The entire time his eyes were glued to the silhouette of his supervisor, borderline paranoid. The man hadn't caught on yet, he was certain. Tim just had to keep it that way.

Eventually, he could feel the needle permanently fixed at a perpendicular. It almost seemed anticlimactic to finish off the lock around his ankles, the retreat of the metal surrounding his boots an amazing feeling. The euphoria was enough to make him go mad, or—

Maybe that was what was happening. His head was still ridiculously light, fizzing like carbonation, and he wasn't able to feel his skin anymore, as if it had all burned away and left him with his muscles exposed to the searing air.

He was running out of time.

Tim's fingers slipped around the now-freed shackle, his best bet for a distraction. The pair of cuffs around his wrists were still grating, but he could work on those mid-sprint. The trick was getting out while he still could sprint.

One shot.

He gripped the cuffs tightly, gearing his muscles.

That's all I've got.

And so he waited, searched for that one instant. It felt eternal, but slowly, painfully, the silhouette in front of him shifted weight. Off-balance. Unprepared.

That was it.

Tim swung his arms as hard as he could, rocketing the cuffs toward the wall on the driver's side. It collided in a deafening roar, rattling Tim's head and what he was hoping was his caught-off-guard supervisor's. If he was lucky, it'd stun him for a split second. That was the opportunity Tim was counting on to launch himself toward the exit.

The action was far from graceful, his unused legs screaming from the strain, but Tim managed to skid into the van's back door and fumble with the handle. Joker's henchman was shouting for the driver to stop, but it was too late: Tim had already spilled out onto the road.

A clumsy somersault on the concrete was enough to get the teenager going, booking it in whatever direction seemed promising. Bullets were riddling the space right behind his feet, but he already had a sizable lead. Had to keep it up.

It wasn't long before the sounds of gunfire had died away, and the second pair of cuffs were off, tossed along with the syringe in a direction different from the one he was going in. Where exactly he was headed, however, Tim still wasn't sure. His eyes were flying over shops and street signs, quickly recognizing this to be an abandoned part of the Bowery. The night was pitch, a fact his dark-adjusted eyes were thankful for, and as much as he half-tumbled around a maze of tight alley turns, he didn't see anyone out. Just spires of lamplight and his panicked reflection in store windows.

He had to get somewhere safe. The sooner the better, his body kept telling him. Nothing was really hurting anymore (first time in forever). That was more concerning, though, because his mind and muscles were feeling distant instead, not obeying him. Tim's hand found its way to a wall for support, another to his pounding ribs. He was aware his escape stunt had reopened the scab around his back, the night-cooled chill of blood kissing his spine. The wound was bleeding scarily heavily, forcing him to stop and secure the tattered remnant of his cape around his torso; he didn't want to leave a trail for someone to follow, because…people had been following him…right?

He found he couldn't remember.

That realization was unnerving at best. Memory was beginning to feel like a slippery slope he wasn't prepared to climb.

Tim convinced himself that fact made it more crucial to get to a safehouse, glancing around again once he tightened the knot of his makeshift bandage. No one was to be seen, thankfully, but his doubling vision was making it hard to decipher where exactly he was. He'd lost track of the turns he'd made—an unusual thing for him. Fortunately, a familiar piece of graffiti informed him where he was.

He wracked his brain, dug through piles of mental maps, but there were no safehouses nearby he could recall, not for another mile he didn't have it in him to make. At this point, he just needed somewhere. Anywhere.

And that's when an idea occurred.

There was one place a block from here, an abandoned apartment complex scheduled for demolition. Tim only knew of it because he kept tabs on a certain family member, just to be on the safe side. He never thought he'd ever use the place himself, but now...

Please don't be there, Tim prayed as he forced himself forward, imagining how ticked Jason would be that he knew of the place. The man was out of state last he knew, but one could never be too sure. Then again, Tim was willing to bet Jason hated Joker more than he hated Tim; even if Jason was there, the man'd probably help him out.

Tim still wasn't sure, but the sound of footsteps closing in around him spurred another shot of adrenaline that helped him move quicker. He hurriedly tossed himself around a corner, repeating Jason's address in his head over and over because, for whatever reason, he was terrified he'd forget it. Thoughts were becoming more coagulated, solidifying into shapes he couldn't distinguish anymore, and more disturbingly, there were times he'd catch his reflection and swear he'd seen someone else standing behind him.

"Come on, Tim," he hissed, forcing another step forward as he clutched his abdomen. His diaphragm felt like it was dissolving in acid, lungs flaccid in his chest. "You can make it."

"Are you sure?" Tim whirled around at the sound of Bruce's voice, hope dead at the caustic tone. The man looked inhuman, nightmarish, the black of his cape masking his eyes in a demonic way. "You let even me down, remember? Are you sure you won't do the same for yourself?"

Tim stared for only a second, fighting off the urge to take a step back. There was a familiar twist in his head that said reality and nightmare were mixing, that he couldn't trust himself anymore.

His fifteen minutes were up.

Another figure sprouted up out of a sudden mist, the burst of movement like an attack. "Bruce is dead, Tim," the new form uttered coldly, the sentiment ringing and ringing. The sounds split the pavement around them in an unnatural way, like the whole world was breaking into pieces. Tim observed the spectacle, mortified, but forced himself to battle his way through the haze and chaos. He repeated the address over and over, but the words were already in his head: "You were his Robin, Tim, and you let him die. You failed."

Wrong, a part of him argued. Bruce was alive, but he didn't know how or why. He... He couldn't remember.

Who was Bruce?

There was this feeling, too, that he had to tell someone something, warn someone, and the urgency of the premonition continued pulsing through his veins. It was enough to keep Tim upright when he stopped at the side of a dilapidated building, the paint on the outside splintering and cracking like the entire building was turning to ash right in front of him. He managed his way up the fire escape steps with his eyes snapped closed, trying to fend off the images dancing in front of his eyes and on his skin. His skull was splitting open, drumming with each thready pulse.

Two more steps. One more step...

Although he couldn't recall how he knew, the instant Tim laid eyes on the chipped window of an apartment, he recognized that was his stop.

The window groaned open enough for Tim to collapse on the wood floor on the inside. The fall ripped the air from his lungs, eyes still swimming with familiar figures he couldn't put names to anymore.

"You're a failure."

"Not worth it."

"Don't need you."

"Shut up," Tim hissed, pushing himself up, because as much as passing out was ideal, he was aware he had to treat the marks on his back. He doubted there was an emergency com system set up here yet, meaning he had to stop the bleeding himself. No one else was here.

The room spun around him the moment he moved to stand, Tim not sure if it was from the hallucinogen or hypotension. He managed to stumble to what he hoped was the bathroom and set into a pattern of tearing through the disgusting drawers of the vanity in search of medical supplies. The whole thing was empty, even the medicine cabinet that Tim would've ripped the door clean off of if not for its stubborn upper hinge.

At some point, he didn't even know what he was looking for anymore, using the task to just keep conscious because he couldn't remember how he'd gotten here or for what reason. His vision was shot, just splotches of fuzz and heat, and his hazy reflection in the mirror was starting to look less and less like himself. The blanched skin was still similar, but the face was growing pointed, a hook nose with yellowed teeth and green hair. He couldn't even recognize the person there.

"Didn't I tell you, kid?" the strange reflection grinned. "Your friends—They don't need people like us. We're just dead weight."

"We're gone because of your mistakes."


"Better off without you.

"Shut up," Tim gritted out again, bent over the sink to keep himself from passing out altogether. "Shut up. Shut up. Shut up."

He felt like he was on fire, choking on panic, his muscles shaking out of his control. There was only one thing keeping him together in this strange place he suddenly didn't recognize, one voice he remembered vaguely but wasn't sure he wasn't just imagining.

"So, I have a request..."

The voices quieted.

"Don't die."

The thought helped crowd out the thousand things battling in Tim's head, the doubting and the degrading, the things that said "you don't matter" because there was someone out there that thought he did. He couldn't put a face or a name to the voice, but there was one person in the world who was counting on him. That was enough.

"I can't die here…" he worked out, words caught in his throat. He had to make it back, back to wherever home was. He had to…

He struggled to push himself up. His feet supported him on motivation alone for just a moment, but it wasn't any use. Tim's vision went instantly blank like a TV screen shut off, something in his head droning and droning like a tripped alarm. He was aware of his knees buckling, a subdued panic of falling. He was slipping back, trying to catch himself on the backsplash of the shower wall only to have all feeling dissolve. Everything was slipping past him. Even the manic laughter from the mirror drained away, ink paint drizzling off a canvas, and all he could think was that he hadn't made it.

He hadn't made it home.