Tim looks up. "I don't know if I… If I could do those things."
"Assume success," says Bruce unencouragingly. "Describe how it's achieved."
Tim works on the assignment for two weeks. He can't take it home to work on: his reference books and research have taken over a corner of the cave. It's too dangerous to work on it at school. It takes him three days to come up with a plan he's sure of, and another half week to iron out the details. He writes it up, and then realizes he's left a flank unprotected and has to take out three pages and re-write them. When he gives the paper to Bruce, Bruce turns off the microscope light and turns on another desk light, then settles in to read with a red pencil twitching in his fingers.
It feels like an only slightly milder version of his not long ago audition for Robin. Bruce doesn't give him any indication with his facial expression, but before he's even flipped the first page he's already making marks on the paper. When Bruce says, "what's your source for the dispersion of the gas grenades?" Tim's almost startled enough to show it.
"Uh… Jane's Police and Security, 1995." He manages to fight the end of the phrase from sliding up into a question.
"Needs a footnote."
Silence, while Bruce scans, scribbles, flips. On page eleven he says, "Any reason you didn't take advantage of Anderson's pitching arm? He was scouted in college."
Tim knows telling Bruce he didn't know about that isn't a valid excuse. He could have found out. "No. That would have shaved a few seconds off."
Bruce grunts and keeps reading. Finally he hands the paper back and returns to his work. Tim is afraid that if he reads it right there he'll dissolve in tears, or shout at Bruce, or whine, so he takes it across the cave and reads it sitting in the corner behind the pommel horse.
When he gets assignments back from teachers, they usually have a few minor corrections and scrawled comments like interesting! Good Work! Keep it up! Bruce has neatly pencilled all his comments in the margins: risk unacceptable. Have you considered low ceiling? This figure incorrect. Rewrite. Source? Sloppy. Unclear. And those are just the ones he understands. He has to slink back to the bookshelf and look up all the proof reader's marks."
But Bruce hasn't written, "Failed. Hostage dead." He goes and finds the Jane's in order to put in the footnote, and thinks about how he could widen the margin if he could take advantage of Anderson's pitching arm.
Scenario: Superman has been exchanged with his double from an alternate dimension who is intent on conquering earth. You become aware of this when he kills Lois Lane and holds the staff of the Daily Planet hostage for a meeting with Earth's leaders, demanding their surrender.
Describe how you will achieve the following: a) protect civilians, b) incapacitate, contain, or kill alternate Superman, c) retrieve earth's proper Superman. Prioritize in order given. List materials used, describe deployment, estimate worst and best case scenarios, and develop contingencies. Use essay format.
"What—How do I…"
"All known information on Superman is in my files. Acquaint yourself with the subject before you begin this one."
"But we don't—"
"If the future of the planet is at stake? Remember. He's not a human being."
Tim spends the evening reading. It's a big file. Not as big as he wishes, because eventually he runs out of reading material and has to examine the problem.
He never thought being Robin would mean… Life or death, of course, but not… They don't. They just…
He doesn't start work on it. The assignment hangs over his head, and he feels guilty for neglecting it, guilty for thinking about it. Bruce doesn't ask him if he's making progress.
He can't allow himself to think about the goals Bruce has set out, but the problem still gnaws at his mind. Obviously, if the last objective was addressed first, then the rest wouldn't be a problem. But Bruce hasn't given him enough information to approach it from that angle.
Finally, driven to it by the growing, looming spectre of it, he writes the best report he can. His plan ends with the false Superman captured, but leaves him alive, and can't guarantee his imprisonment. He gives it to Bruce anyway.
Bruce gives it back to him with all the sentences in passive voice underlined in red.
Scenario: Gorilla Grodd has seized control of Young Justice Headquarters, and has taken control of Superboy, Wonder Girl, Arrowette and Secret using mind control implants.
Describe how you will achieve the following: a) individually neutralize Grodd's offensive resources YJ team members), b) avoid compromising secret identities, c) avoid disclosing YJ weaknesses and abilities, d) Apprehend Grodd. Prioritize in order given. List materials used, describe deployment, estimate worst and best case scenarios, and develop contingencies. Use essay format.
"I can't— You can't ask me to do this."
Bruce raises an eyebrow. "You either trust me or you don't. The scenario isn't implausible. The past is an indicator of the future."
When Tim hands it in, there are no missed footnotes. Bruce can't complain about his formatting. He has excised every passive voice sentence and he watches Bruce read the whole thing. When Bruce gives it back to him, he says nothing. There are only two marks on the paper, one crossing out "should" and replacing it with "will" and the other a smudge.
Tim shreds the paper. He knows Bruce won't forget anything he wrote.
Describe how you will a) protect those at risk, b) defeat Batman. Prioritize in order given. List materials used, describe deployment, estimate worst and best case scenarios, and develop contingencies. Use essay format.
He looks at Bruce when Bruce gives him the assignment, but doesn't say anything. Bruce's expression reveals nothing. He leaves the paper in his locker and goes home.
This should be the paper that takes him the longest, but when he puts pen to paper he realizes what he's writing. He rips it up, burns it, gets out a new piece of paper and writes down his answer.
Without advance warning.
Bruce smiles when he reads the paper.
Author's note: This was nearly called "When you're a Bat, you're a Bat all the way." petronelle is to blame.