The OutsideTheLines
Feature of the Month

For September, 1999

"Bravado"

By Matt Nute

DISCLAIMER: All characters are property of DC Comics, and are used with neither permission nor for profit, so keep the attorneys in the stalls. The song quoted is by Rush, from the album "Roll The Bones". Cool song.

ARCHIVING: As usual, just ask. Feedback can now be directed to nutesfist@aol.com.

ADDITIONAL: Go pick up ROBIN. Support good comics.



If we burn our wings flying too close to the sun
If the moment of glory is over before it's begun
If the dream is won —
Though everything is lost
We will pay the price
But we will not count the cost
Ten years from tomorrow...

"This is WGCY, Gotham City's number one news source. Tonight's top story - three more metahuman criminals were taken off the streets today, two of them pronounced dead on arrival at Gotham Mercy Hospital.

"The deaths of Stallion and the Electrocutioner bring the body count to an even two dozen in this now month-long spree of vigilantism blamed on Gotham's once-legendary protector.

"Tonight, we bring you the expose - Batman: Avenging Angel, or Vigilante Murderer? Only on WGCY, at ten and eleven."

////Click\\\\

The living room sank into dim relief as the glow from the television faded. Slowly, the remote was placed on the end table, a remorseful sigh echoing from the walls. Quietly, the man seated on the couch before the extinguished screen leaned forward and stood. Striding silently across the room, he looked out his window onto the sunset peace of the suburban street.

For all the chaos in the big urban sprawl that was its "parent", Gotham Heights was an idyllic suburb of Gotham City, lacking the conditions that made the dark metropolis the hellhole it had become.

This is a peaceful life now, the man thought to himself. I have earned this.

Yet, as he poured himself two fingers of scotch into the crystal glass, his hands shook. It was not fear for his own safety, or that of his family. No, Gotham Heights was safe. Nor did he fear for Gotham City, for like any large entity, it would recover and survive. Gotham had endured plague, earthquake, and decades of crime.

He feared for the Batman.

He feared for Bruce Wayne.

He feared for the man who was his mentor, his friend.

Tim Drake tossed the drink down his throat, feeling the alcohol burn his tongue as he swallowed. Swearing to himself, he turned to the hallway, heading for bed. He hadn't entertained these thoughts for years. Not since the day he'd hung up the red and green of the Boy Wonder. Not since the day he had put Robin to rest, abandoning the crimefighting life of a superhero to the mundane world of a husband and would-be father.

At first, Bruce had been skeptical. But Tim had persisted, restating that his intention had never been to be Batman's successor, only his partner. And once there was no need for Robin, he had promised to give up the life of a young superhero.

After seven years of fighting by the Dark Knight's side, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, riding shotgun in the Batmobile until dawn, Tim Drake felt he had done his part. Weeks would go by without the Riddler leaving conundrums in the wake of a new robbery or Poison Ivy being dragged in for some eco-terrorism scheme.

Tim Drake had smiled, realizing that Robin was no longer needed. When he had put that life aside, Bruce had given his blessing. Months later, the Batman vanished from Gotham as well. Coincidentally, Bruce Wayne became even more of a public figure, running for Mayor once, however unsuccessfully.

Inwardly, Tim Drake suspected that Bruce would never be truly happy outside the mantle of the Caped Crusader, but the truth was clear. Batman and Robin's times had passed. They had done their duty, and done it well.

Almost a year passed before the Joker returned to Gotham. And instead of finding the Batman there to thwart his every move, he found instead another adversary, in the first Boy Wonder. Dick Grayson, Nightwing, had moved his base of operations from the harbor town of Bludhaven to the dark urban canyons of Gotham.

With years of experience behind him, Nightwing was every bit as effective as his predecessor. And yet, despite Bruce's insistence that Dick take up the identity of Batman, Dick Grayson was, as always, his own man. Nightwing was the city's new protector, not Batman.

Six months ago, the Joker had finally decided to put an end to the stalemate. Incensed and insulted at the perceived snub from his arch-enemy, and the opposition of the former "Hot- Pantsed Half-Pint" being more of a joke to the Clown Prince of Crime, the white-faced maniac had done the unthinkable.

Twelve innocent civilians died when the Joker unleashed his toxic "laughing gas" at the opening of the new Children's Burn Ward of Gotham Mercy Hospital. Nightwing had responded to the Joker's open challenge, facing certain death with bravado. Ironically, the Joker chose to face his pursuer alone and unarmed, in the abandoned chemical plant that had "created" him years before.

Nightwing expected treachery, as his mentor had trained him. But all the training in the world could not have prepared him for the silent crack of a sniper's bullet from the shadows.

In a split second of blood and bone, Dick Grayson died alone in the shadows of cold concrete.

The Joker's madness had not stopped there. With a veritable army of escapees from Arkham and Belle Reve prisons behind him, he had traced the radio transmitter in Nightwing's costume to a secret location in the slums of Gotham.

Barbara Gordon had been the first Batgirl, until two bullets from the Joker's revolver shattered her spine, but not her spirit. As the cyber-sleuth Oracle, she ruled the ether of telephone lines and data streams, acting as coordinator and information broker to Gotham's heroes, as well as the Justice League.

Sequestered in her lair, protected by webs upon webs of secrecy and security, she never expected the rictus grin of the Joker to greet her at her own door twice in her lifetime.

Two more bullets shattered more than Oracle's spine.

The news was like a galvanizing shock to the city, more so to Bruce Wayne. After years of readjusting to the life he had left behind the day his parents were killed in Crime Alley, his past came back with a vengeance. The two people he saw as his children had been slain, again two of his loved ones had been taken from him.

That night, the Batman reclaimed the streets of Gotham. But not the same Batman.

Years before, when the villain known as Bane had broken the back of the Bat, another "hero", by the name of Jean-Paul Valley, had been chosen to wear the cape and cowl of the Batman. But in his other identity of Azrael, conflicting mental states had driven him to become more of a killing machine than a protector of the innocent.

It was this Batman that Bruce Wayne would become. Donning clawed gauntlets, and wielding vicious blades in the place of Batarangs, the Dark Knight became even darker.

Blood flowed in the streets of Gotham as Batman waged his war of vengeance against the Joker and his cohorts. And in his rage, Bruce had set aside his vow to never kill, not even in the face of seemingly exhausted options.

Killer Croc. Mr. Zsasz. Two-Face. Villain after villain were cut down like so much wheat before the reaper's scythe. The Batman had ceased to act as a mere vigilante, and had now become judge, jury, and executioner.

The Joker chose to meet his arch-foe man to man, expecting the Batman's legendary sense of honor to allow him an advantage.

It did not. Bruce Wayne coldly met his enemy's stare, matching madness with madness, even as he held his lifelong foe's heart in his hands. The Joker's stain had finally been washed from the world, and to any observer, the scales of justice would seem to be balanced. An eye had been taken for an eye.

Yet, it refused to stop. The Batman had gone over the edge, and there was no stopping now, any more than an avalanche could be stopped once it had begun. Mister Freeze. Ra's Al Ghul. The KGBeast. The Penguin. More blood flowed. More lives lost. Gotham had become a charnel pit. Ordinary citizens had become a superstitious, cowardly lot, afraid to walk the streets after dark, and at times, in broad daylight.

And then today. Two more dead at the hands of Bruce Wayne. No, Tim Drake corrected himself mentally. Bruce isn't doing this. This isn't the man I knew. This is... something else. In his mind, he began running through a list of possibilities. Was Azrael wearing the costume again? Not likely, since Jean-Paul had "exorcized" the Azrael personality two years prior.

And this viciousness was beyond even the Huntress' thirst for vengeance. Even if she hadn't been seen in the past four years. The peace Gotham had enjoyed had forced most of the costumed vigilantes into retirement, or sent them elsewhere.

The mute girl who had taken the new identity of Batgirl had gone as far as the Orient, fighting crime in the Far East. The thief-turned-reluctant-hero known only as Catwoman had left Gotham for the greener pastures of Opal City. Ted Grant, the aged superhero known as Wildcat had retired with dignity to live out his final days with his surviving family, whereas his fellow Justice Society member, Alan Scott, the first Green Lantern, had died last year in his beloved Gotham.

And the only "protector" the city had appeared to be a murderer.

Tim shook his head. He wasn't a detective. Not anymore. He taught English Literature to high schoolers now. The closest he came to fighting supervillains these days was reading Beowulf to freshmen classes.

A noise from the kitchen snapped him out of his reverie. To his credit, and a small amount of amusement, he felt his muscles tense, in ways they hadn't for years.

It's not the Scarecrow, he reminded himself, It's only your wife.



When the dust has cleared and victory denied
A summit too lofty, river a little too wide
If we keep our pride --
Though paradise is lost
We will pay the price
But we will not count the cost



"You've been watching the news."

"Nothing much going on."

"You're an awful liar. You're watching him."

"Stephanie, I'm not... no. That's Gotham. We're Gotham Heights. That stuff doesn't happen here."

"Tim. Hello? I'm not buying it. You want to do something about this. I can tell. You can't just let this lie, can you?"

"I am letting it lie, Stephanie. I have my own life now. I'm not... I don't do that anymore."

"You can't even say it, can you? You're not Robin anymore. And I'm not the Spoiler. We're just Tim and Stephanie Drake. Happily married, just coincidentally ex-teen heroes. For god's sake, Tim, we sell Amway. We are NOT superheroes."

"I didn't say we... I was. I'm not."

"But."

"No buts, Steph. I'm not involved."

"All right."

"Right."

"All right, I said."

"I said you're right."

"Of course I'm right. I'm your wife."

"Of course you are."

"Jesus, you even sound like him."

"I do not."

"Sure you don't. Eat your dinner. It'll get cold."



As the sun rose, Tim was already awake. Even on a Saturday, he rose at an early hour to take his morning jog through the neighborhood. Today, though, his running shoes lay unlaced at the foot of the bed, his door remained locked. Instead, Tim sat at his bay window, looking out to the skyline of Gotham City, barely visible in the dawn's haze.

He had dreamed of that skyline, swinging from jumplines, dropping into alleys, feeling the air against his face. He hadn't even dreamed of being Robin again, not since his wedding day. That life was behind him. He had a wife now, and God willing, a child on the way someday.

That was still an unspoken wall between Tim and his wife. The child she had birthed in her teens had been given up for adoption, as Stephanie had been unwilling to raise a child without a father. She, too, had grown up without a father, hers being the costumed criminal known as the Cluemaster. She had become the masked avenger dubbed the Spoiler solely to confront her absent father, and in doing so, had met and fallen in love with Robin first, and years later, with Timothy Drake.

But those days were all long past, although the bitterness remained. Stephanie never spoke of the baby, and on the occasions when she did mention her father, it was with bitterness for Arthur Brown. And so the subject remained unbroached.

Despite their problems, though, Tim Drake loved his wife. With all his heart, above all else. Enough to turn my back on this? he asked himself. And with guilt, he realized that he couldn't give himself an answer.

"Honey?" the muffled voice came from the covers. Tim smiled to himself.

"Morning."

"You didn't go for a run?"

"Maybe I wanted to stay with you." Tim responded, a little too quickly. Stephanie's head emerged from a mass of covers, blonde hair mussed and tangled from a restless sleep. Her eyes narrowed, then lowered with a sigh.

"You're thinking about it."

"Steph, I can get through to him."

"You're kidding."

"If anyone can, I can."

"Forget it. Let Commissioner Montoya deal with him. Let the police, the National Guard, hell, the Justice League deal with him! Tim, this isn't some neighbor who forgot to return a rake, this is a killer!"

Tim whirled. "You don't think I know that? There's over twenty bodies in under a month, people that Bruce and I used to put behind bars, but now they're being put on slabs."

"He's insane." Stephanie's voice was quiet, reserved.

"Steph," Tim began. "Dick is dead. Barbara is dead. Everything he thought he'd left to carry on is gone. You don't know him like I did. Batman is all Bruce had to live for."

"You don't see it like I do, Tim." Stephanie's voice was tinged with tears. "Everyone who gets involved is dead, don't you see that? Can't you see? Getting involved with this will get you killed. Dick Grayson is dead, and I'm sorry. But you can't bring him back, any more than Batman can by this... this massacre."

Tim clenched his fist, unconsciously digging his fingernails into his palm. "Steph, I know him. Especially now, more than ever, he will not stop. He. Will. Not. Stop."

"Not until they're all dead? What then?"

"Them. Or him."

Silence hung in the air. Finally, Tim knelt and began to lace up his running shoes.

"I'll be back."

Stephanie gave no reply, merely wrapping her arms around her knees. Tim bent over to kiss her on the forehead, but she pulled away, refusing to meet his gaze. With a sigh, Tim turned and left the bedroom. Seconds later, the sounds of the front door opening, closing, and locking echoed through the empty house.

Through the tears and the curtains, Stephanie Drake watched her husband stretch, then begin loping athletically down the sunlit street. She raised a hand, pressing it against the glass.

"Come back." she whispered. "Come back to me."



"This is WGCY, on location from Gotham Mercy Hospital, where the latest of Batman's ‘victims' in this onslaught of vicious justice is still in critical condition."

"Maybe it's not such a bad thing." Stephanie retorted to the television as she cracked eggs into the frying pan before her. "Who was it, anyway? Poison Ivy? The Mad Hatter? You know what they say about making omelettes..." She cracked another egg with a flourish. "Stupid newscasters."

The television continued its drone. "The GCPD has been silent so far on the reasons behind this month-long killing spree, but public opinion believes the Batman's actions to be motivated in part by the recent death of the costumed hero known as Nightwing, whose identity has been requested to be kept secret, even to the news media, by order of Police Commissioner Renee Montoya."

"At least someone's got some respect." Stephanie muttered. Although she had never admitted it to her husband, she too found herself occasionally dreaming of her nights swinging from the heights of Gotham City.

The ringing of the phone startled Stephanie, who picked it up after the second ring. Please don't let it be something happening to Tim, please God..., she prayed.

"Hello?"

"OhheyStephit'smeisRobImeanTimincauseIonlyjustheardcausewe'vebeenonRannforthepastthreemonthsan-"

Stephanie sighed, "Bart, Tim's not here. And you CAN slow down a bit, I'm not as fluent in speedspeak as I used to be."

A long breath came from the other end of the line. Bart Allen had been one of Tim's closest friends and teammates during his days as Robin. Once the youthful speedster known as Impulse, Bart had grown up, assuming the role of Keystone City's protector, the Flash. The last Stephanie had seen of him had been her wedding reception, where Bart had vibrated through the crowd of guests to catch her thrown garter.

"So anyway... the League had me call to offer, you know, about Dick and Babs. Tough news, huh?" Bart continued on, seemingly oblivious to Stephanie's attempts to speak.

After a few moments of babbling about space travel, the boredom of Watchtower monitor duty, and the poor quality of freeways in Southern Africa, Stephanie cleared her throat into the phone.

"Um, Bart, Imp-.. Flash."

"Nah, Bart's okay for you, Steph. Not like it's a secret anyway, I figured since Wally let everyone know who he was, we had a press conference last week and-"

"So.." Stephanie interrupted, "I'll let Tim know you called?"

"Um... sure."

"Thanks, Bart. Give my love to Carol and the kids."

"Will do. See you sometime, Steph."

"Take care, Bart."

"You too."

////Click\\\\

Stephanie cursed as she smelled her omelette burning, flipping the pan to jar the singed breakfast loose into the trash can. Peripherally, she heard the voice of the reporter on the television continue.

"Hospital officials have just released this news; as of 9:45 this morning, the death toll in the Batman Murders has risen to twenty-five with the death of Arthur Brown-"

Stephanie's hands went limp, dropping the frying pan to the floor.

"-the costumed criminal dubbed the Cluemaster, known by most as a poor imitation of the Riddler, who also has been a victim in this vicious rampage. More from Gotham Mercy Hospital in our twelve-o-clock segment, now back to Jeff in the studio..."

Stephanie found herself on her knees, without any memory of falling to the linoleum floor. She felt the cold plastic face of the dishwasher against her forehead, and heard the unbidden sobs from her throat.

Her father was dead. Killed. Murdered.

He was a criminal, Steph told herself. He had this coming.

He was my father.

He was an asshole.

But he was my father.

Half an hour later, Tim Drake's key turned in the lock. Stephanie had not stopped crying, nor did she, until Tim had taken her to the couch, and held her in his arms for hours.

In the darkened living room, Tim Drake held his wife tightly to his chest. Thoughts and emotions rushed through his brain like a hurricane. His wife's tears were like daggers into his soul.

"Why can't someone else be the one?" she sobbed quietly. Tim closed his eyes. Even before he had decided, she had already resigned herself to the inevitable.

"I... I don't know. Because there is no one else." Tim whispered, gripping her tightly. Stephanie looked up, her eyes meeting his. In that moment, everything in Timothy Drake's life that had ever meant anything to him was laid before him, in the span of a second.

Here was his wife, his life. A world where he risked nothing more than any other mundane civil servant, but had everything to lose. And in the name of what? Not justice. Not truly friendship anymore. Not even duty.

But it had to be done.

Tim stood slowly, standing tall. He looked at his wife, then cupped her chin in his hand.

"I'm sorry."

"I know." was the only reply.

"I have to do this." he whispered. The response was equally quiet, yet heavier than lead.

"Robin can't stop Batman." she intoned, as if it were an unwritten law, as immutable as gravity.

"Then I won't be Robin." Tim replied. Stephanie's eyes grew wide with a mixture of puzzlement and fear as Tim picked up the phone and slowly dialed.

"Wayne Manor." came the shaky voice from the other end of the line, a voice reminding Tim of antiseptic bandages, tuna fish sandwiches, and late night camaraderie.

"Alfred."

"Master Timothy?"

"Alfred, I need something."

"Of course, Master Timothy."

"You..."

"I am well, Master Timothy. Shall I presume to meet you by your usual place? It is still there, you know."

"Of course, Alfred. And Alfred?"

"Yes, Master Tim?"

"It's good to hear your voice again."

"As it is to hear yours, Timothy."



Sun set over Gotham. The streets were silent, choked with anticipation and not a small amount of tangible terror. The city was in an iron-clad grip, not of a plague, not of an earthquake, not even of a world-conquering supervillain. The city was held in the hand of it's once-lauded champion.

Atop the headquarters of the Gotham City Police Department, a switch was thrown. The dark storm clouds above were illuminated by a beam of searing yellow light, casting a perfectly round image against the black and gray. The immortal symbol of the bat spread across the night sky, once a beacon to call for help.

Tonight, it was a signal that help had come.

Tim Drake pulled the black cowl over his face, his jaw set in stone.

Tonight, Batman would take his city back from Bruce Wayne.



And if the music stops, there's only the sound of the rain
All the hope and glory, all the sacrifice in vain
If love remains --
Though everything is lost
We will pay the price
But we will not count the cost.



And in the suburbs of Gotham Heights, one light burned brightly in a bay window. Stephanie Drake sat, wide-eyed, staring out into the night.

"Come home to me," she whispered.

The End

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"Bravado"
©Matt Nute
September, 1999R

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©David D. Amaya
OutsideTL@Hotmail.com

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