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8:46 AM, New York City

Chapter Text

Bruce
Its 6 AM when I make it to the breakfast table, body painted with the usual bruises and worries of last night’s promises, most of which I don’t even remember. Damian, Cassandra and Stephanie are already eating silently when I approach. “Good Morning everyone.” I say plainly as I lower myself into my chair at the head of the table. Before any of them can respond I’m assaulted by bouncy flamboyant energy as Dick pops into my field of vision. “Good morning Bruce! Are you excited for our trip today?” I try to keep my face as stoic as possible but I’m so confused I can’t help myself. I raise a questioning eyebrow in response and his smile droops. “You didn’t forget did you?” And here come the puppy dog eyes. Where is Alfred when I need him? Then I have to remind myself that Dick is a grown man and can handle the truth. “I have no recollection of planning any sort of trip for today.” This is when Damian pipes up from his nearly empty plate of waffles. “It’s true father, last night you promised us a trip to New York today.” New York? When? My head swims with last night’s adventures “The Young Master is right Sir,” Alfred chimes in as he enters from the kitchen, setting plates in the remaining spots around the table. “Last night you promised all of the children a trip to New York today without the slightest tone of sarcasm in your voice.” All of the children?

I stand and follow Alfred into the kitchen while the table bursts into excited conversation. “When you said all of the children, who do you mean?” Alfred turns to me, an amused smirk meeting me like a slap in the face. “I mean all of them, Sir. Even Master Jason relented after much coaxing from Master Dick. In fact he should be down any minute for breakfast.” Down any minute? Something somewhere in my brain the words seem out of place. “Did Jason stay here last night?” I ask cautiously. Alfred, always knowing the deeper meaning to my words simply says. “Master Dick is very persuasive.”

Sure enough, not five minutes after I return to the table, which has grown with the addition of a beaming Barbara and a very subdued Tim, who is working on his first cup of coffee of many, Jason bursts into the room. Jason is a wildcard, always has been and I assume he always will be. He either is excited about something or is against it, so really it’s a tossup of whether Jason is going to be very helpful, or very violent. I glance up from my coffee to meet him and for a long few seconds he just stands there. It seems as though he’s waiting to receive everyone’s attention. He crosses his arms and waits, even though we all know patience isn’t his strongest virtue. Second by second the talking dies down, and pairs of tired eyes rise to meet his bulky frame. Just as the last pair is cast in his direction he throws his arms in the air revealing his “I <3 NYC” t-shirt and shouts “WHO’S READY?!”

The table erupts into cheers and applause, with the obvious exception of Damian and myself. Dick leaps from his chair and wraps his arms around Jason in what looks like a very strong, and extremely uncomfortable hug. Jason pushes him off with little bitterness, which I can appreciate and for just a split second, what could almost appear as a blink of an eye, all 7 of them are at peace with each other; that’s before Tim’s coffee gets knocked off the table and into Damian’s lap. A nuke of violence breaks out among them, Damian leaping onto Tim’s back with fury, whilst hurling the mug at Jason, which hits him in the head and shatters on contact. Jason crashes to the ground, bewildered, his head gushing blood. Tim’s flailing, struggling to wrestle Damian from his back as Jason gets frustrated with both the amount of affection he’s receiving and the amount of pain he’s in. He jumps back to his feet, swaying slightly before lunging himself at Damian, ripping him from Tim’s back and slamming him to the ground. Dick and Barbara are trying to pull Jason, who seems to be radiating hatred, off of Damian and Steph and Tim are fighting, for as far as I can tell, no reason.

I sit still in my chair, drinking my coffee with Cass, who has taken the vacated seat beside me. Why can’t I just take her to New York with me? I sigh heavily and rise from my seat, speaking only one word “Stop.” Everyone freezes. I glance at each of them. Dick with a fistful of Jason’s, now ruined, bloody T-shirt, Barbara holding one of Jason’s arms, Jason himself who is covered in way too much blood to be conscious pinning an amused Damian to the floor. Tim and Steph have a handful of each other’s shirt collars and have stopped screaming but still refuse to break eye contact. “Stand up and look at me. All of you.” They release each other and stand to face me, Barbara catching Jason when he starts to waiver. “All of you go upstairs and get dressed, be back down here in 10 minutes.”

They all begin to make their way upstairs, Damian rushing in front of them. Then Jason stops, makes a hissing noise, much like one you make when you accidentally prick yourself with a sewing needle, sways slightly, and collapses to the ground. We all just stare at him for a second, noticing the small dart protruding from the base of his neck. I bring my hand to the bridge of my nose, trying to fight the headache which is already beginning to germinate. “Cassandra go get Alfred please and take Jason down stairs to get stitched up.” She silently flows to the kitchen, and I turn my head up to where Damian perches at the top of the staircase. The others follow my gaze. “Damian, give it to me. Now.” He sulks down the stairs, and places the small dart gun in my hands with a scowl. “Give me the rest too.” He looks up at me in a state of shock, before reaching into his robe and pulling out 7 throwing stars. “Where were you even keeping those?” Dick yells. I keep my hand outstretched and we spend the next two minutes picking all of the weapons off of the small boy. “You’re grounded from Robin duties and all weapons for a week, and you have to apologize to your brothers.” He starts to object, but realizes it’s futile. “Yes Father.” He growls, and stomps his way up the stairs. As the rest of us make our way upstairs I can only think about how miserable and hour and a half drive with all of them is going to be.

Sure enough, 6 minutes later when I descend the recently polished oak steps I’m met with all 7 of them waiting by the front door, Dick holding up a drowsy Jason between him and Cass. I walk past them into the kitchen where I find Alfred making snacks for the road. “How’s Jason’s head?” He doesn’t even look up to answer me. “He will be fine Master Bruce, just some superficial cuts and a concussion. As long as he doesn’t fall asleep in the next few hours he will be right as rain.” He seals the last zip lock bag with one swift and precise motion. He places all of the goodies in a tote bag before turning to me “I have already prepared the van for the children. Please have an enjoyable time Sir, and I expect all of you back here tonight in one piece.” I take the tote bag he holds out to me, swinging it onto my shoulder and taking the keys in my other hand. I wish he was coming with us, I don’t think I handle them all for this extended period of time. I try for a weak smile and walk out of the kitchen.

When I get outside, Dick has Damian in a headlock, Tim and Barbara are arguing about who gets to sit with Cass, Steph is reassuring Cass that the argument is a good thing, and Jason looks as if he is going to either hurl or spontaneously combust. I sigh deeply and squeeze the back of my neck. I look back to Alfred, who followed me outside. He strides past me and quiets them with one flick of his wrist. “Damian you sit in the front.” The others growl at the young boy’s devilish grin as he slips into the passenger seat. “Stephanie, Cassandra and Timothy you will be in the back. That leaves you three in the middle row.” He points to Dick, Barbara and Jason. They all file in without question, muttering varying degrees of insults and groans of protest. I make my way to the driver’s side door and climb into the lush leather seat. I roll down the window to wave to Alfred as we pull away. He waves back and calls “Please have fun Sir!” He must have seen my pained expression because as he disappeared back into the house, I swear I could hear him laughing.

Chapter Text

The Car Ride

Barbara

As the journey begins everyone settles down, for at least a few minutes. Bruce, who is directly in front of me, wears a very nice pair of noise canceling headphones. Before putting them on he claimed it was work related but I doubt it. In all honesty I don’t blame the man, I wouldn’t want to listen to us either. Damian sits with his legs crossed Indian style, crouching over a sketchbook. Stephanie whispers a story to Cass from behind me, and I twist my head to find Tim already asleep. Jason is trying to read a book but between the headache and the bubbly idiot sitting between us, he can’t concentrate. So he’s settled for clenching his eyes closed and trying to refrain from punching Dick in the face. With Dick distracted it seems like a good chance as any to get some work done, so I pull out my laptop to finish my paper for my Religion class due in a few days. Just as my hand is about to lift open the screen, his voice stops me. “Whatcha doin’?” Well shit. “Nothing.” I try to hide the annoyance in my voice as I slide my laptop back into my bag. So much for productivity. “Do you want to play a game like on patrol?” He asks, eyes glimmering. “Yeah I’ll play. What about you Jason?” Please say you’ll play too, I can’t handle an excited Dick all on my own, I plead in my head. “No.” He says, almost growling. Figures.

For the next 15 minutes I played I-Spy with a full grown, crime fighting, man-child. Lucky for me Steph joined in after a few minutes, so I wasn’t alone. The most amusing part of it was when Dick would make sure Jason was awake about every 3 seconds. “Jay? Are you alive?” Jason’s eyes snap open and narrow at Dick dangerously. “Unfortunately, yes. Now leave me alone Dick wad.” And then his eyes slide shut again. “You’re not supposed to fall asleep Jay. You have a concussion.” This time he doesn’t even bother opening his eyes when he says. “Yeah, well, you’re not supposed to be so fucking annoying either, so I guess neither of us are getting what we want.” Cass even laughed at that. And even better, when the game sagged and Dick leans forward lifting one of Bruce’s headphones off of his ear and whispering “Are we there yet?” All of which made Jason writhe minutely with annoyance.

It wasn’t until Damian pulled out a thermos of sweet and sour chicken that Jason perked up. He sat up immediately, like a dog catching a scent, interrupting our 800th game of I Spy. Damian, who apparently has some sort of 6th sense, reaches into the bag at his feet and passes a container over his head to Jason, who barely has it in his grasp when all hell breaks loose. The seeming serenity of the van is shattered with a brick, raining sudden shards of chaos on its inhabitants. Dick starts screaming, and flailing his freakishly long arms wildly in every direction. Tim sits up with a start and without knowing why, begins screaming too, searching the air around him in absolute terror. Steph is yelling “WHAT’S GOING ON?!” at the top of her lungs, curling up on her seat frantically. I duck to avoid Dick’s propellers but Jason wasn’t so quick and gets caught with an elbow in the nose, immediately blood starts gushing everywhere, painting the thick leather seats a deep crimson. Bruce and Damian have both turned around trying to yell questions over the noise. Cass sits silently, seemingly unfazed. Jason is screaming profanity at Dick, who ignores him. Then suddenly Damian reaches up into the air and grabs something with his chopsticks. A bee.

“Grayson! Grayson!! Stop! I caught it!” Tim, Steph and Bruce all start screaming variations of: “Really!? A bee? It’s just a bee!” I cautiously sit back up and reach across to Jason trying to get his attention over the commotion. “Are you okay?” I swear I can almost see the heat waves shimmering off of him. His eye starts to twitch and he looks like he’s about to snap. He keeps his head tilted back with one hand trying to staunch the flow, with the other hand I see Jason going for the small pistol he always keeps in his waistband. I unbuckle as quickly as I can and fling myself across Dick’s lap reaching for the gun. Jason and I are wrestling over the firearm, Damian is teasing Dick with the bee, and Cassandra has Steph’s head in her lap and is stroking her hair soothingly. Tim is whining to Bruce “I already don’t get enough sleep and now there is blood everywhere!” Bruce is trying to scream over us to shut up. “Jason! Stop! PUT THE GUN AWAY JASON!” I yell. “HE HAS A GUN?!” screams Dick in response, which prompts Bruce to twist in his seat to yell at Jason “Jason put that gun away of so help me god I WILL TURN THIS CAR AROUND!!” the car swerves. That’s when we hear the sirens.

“Everyone try and stay calm” Says Bruce, who is trying to regain his own composure. I snatch the gun away from Jason and after double checking the safety, I shove it into my backpack. He shoots me a dirty look. The car comes to a stop at the side of the road and a young woman approaches. Bruce rolls down the window, immediately hitting her with his million dollar smile. “Is there a problem officer?” She’s just about to respond when she squints at Bruce, as if trying to place him. “Um… yeah, you were going 25 over the speed limit Sir.” She looks into the van, to find it a mess, of blood and young adults. Just as she’s about to say something else, Dick speaks, suddenly calm, from beside me. “Ma’am I am so sorry it’s just my brother here,” He puts a reassuring hand on Jason’s shoulder. “He has a very rare disorder that causes him very painful nosebleeds and we forgot to pack his meds, if we don’t get him his medication soon then he could have a seizure.” Jason, who is catching on, groans and contorts his face in mock pain, Dick pats his back soothingly. “My little brother here was just giving us some tissue, that’s why he’s unbuckled ma’am.” Damian reaches into the bag at his feet and offers a napkin to Jason, who takes it weakly.

The woman looks shocked, she’s obviously new and stumbles on her words. “Oh my well… How about I give you an escort to the nearest drug store and we’ll just call it a warning...” She frowns slightly, they don’t teach this sort of the thing at the academy. As she turns away Bruce says, quite loudly, to Jason. “It’s going to be okay Jay, just hang in there buddy.” I swear my face is red from trying not to laugh.

We start the car and speed off behind the young officer, everyone cracks up. Even Cassandra giggles a little. Bruce even lets his face twist in a small, amused smile. “Dick, thank you.” Dick stops laughing, gasps for just enough air to say “Sure… Dad.” We all start laughing again. “Jason, how is your nose?” Bruce continues, disregarding Dick’s response. Jason still has his head back, a napkin quickly becoming soaked through. “I’m still bleeding, like a lot. But it’s not completely broken so that’s cool.” That catches me off guard. It’s not completely broken… That kid’s got quite the pain tolerance. Sometimes I forget what extraordinary people my surrogate family are. As I clutch the stitch in my side I just let myself enjoy the moment, all of us laughing. The pain we’re experiencing is out of love and laughter, not danger. It’s moments like these, in which I could live forever.

Once we reach the Walgreens, get Jason a new t-shirt, clean up the van, tape up Jason’s nose, and buy enough candy to knock an elephant on its ass, we’re back in the car and settling down again. That’s when I check my watch and realize we’ve only been on the road for 43 minutes, that’s almost an hour left. Before Dick can even think of getting bored I reach into my bag and pull out my new Game Boy Advance, shove in a miscellaneous cartridge and lay it in his empty hands. Damian drawing, Jason reading, Dick playing a video game, Steph and Cass eating silently and Tim set up to his caffeine drip, all of us making it to New York alive seems more possible. I take a moment to appreciate the peacefulness, how nice it is to have all of my siblings sitting quietly around me. I lean forward and gently lift up one of Bruce’s earphones. “Thank you Bruce.” He doesn’t reply but he smiles, and that’s all the answer I need. And as time drags unforgivingly passed us we eventually make our way to the gleaming towers who stretch their spines into the sky.

Chapter Text

The Towers

Dick

            I’m so immersed in playing Batman: Chaos in Gotham on Bab’s new Gameboy, I almost don’t notice when we finally got to New York. I save the game, shut down the console and stretch across Jay’s lap so I can look out the window. He growls and tries to push me off but I’m determined to see the city as much as possible. “Don’t you understand personal space Dick head?” There’s not any real bitterness in his voice, he just seems tired. He’s probably just now starting to feel uneasy about spending a day out with the family he doesn’t feel he belongs in. I meet his scowl with the biggest smile I could muster, grab his book and point out the window. He reaches behind me for his paperback. “God dammit Dick, what are you 5?” He snatches it back from me and I roll my eyes. “Just look!” I point again. Reluctantly he does so, my heart does this painful little flutter and I get this surge of a feeling that has been sleeping in dust blankets for far too long. I feel like his big brother. The smile on my face grows, becoming genuine. Recently he’s started to be part of the family more. Going on patrols on with us, coming to dinner, staying the night when we’re out late, and now this. It’s a miracle really, something I never dreamt would happen.

            We drive through Broadway, all of us just taking it in silently. It’s so much cleaner here than Gotham, where the thick air weighs in your lungs like bricks to the bottom of the ocean. Here there are lights and colorful billboards sprinkled along the roofs, instead of villains and vigilantes. It truly is beautiful here. We park in a parking garage a few blocks away, laughing at Bruce, who can park the batmobile but not a van. Bruce takes the key out of the ignition, peels off his headphones, and twists in his chair to face us. “Okay so where are we going first?” Just as all of us start to speak our minds Bruce’s voice rises again. “One at a time!” Silence ensues.

 I personally want to check out Broadway, I’m a bit of a musical theatre nerd myself, and I have been hearing great things about Mama Mia and The Producers both of which were released earlier this year and have been getting great reviews. Bruce turns to Damian first. “What do you want to do?” Damian sticks his chin up. “I want to walk down Greenwich Street to look at the world trade center, it’s a beautiful piece of architecture.” Geez what a snob! “I want to walk down Broadway!” Says Babs. Speaking both of our minds. “Me too!” I chime in. “As much as it hurts me to agree with Demon Spawn, like physically hurts me, I want to walk down Greenwich, I’ve heard there is a great coffee shop a-” Tim begins before he’s interrupted by Steph. “Oooh coffee sounds good! I’m with Tim.” “I would like Broadway.” Says Cass wistfully, a finger of excitement plucking at her vocal chords. “It’s down to you Jason.” I say. He looks around from face, to eager face. “I guess Broadway doesn’t sound too bad.” Babs and I high five and I stick my tongue out at Damian, whose face is turning purple with anger.

            I didn’t hear it, I was too busy celebrating, but Jason certainly did. He sits up in his seat and looks at Damian with fire in his eyes. “What did you just say brat?” Poison dripping from his words. Damian narrows his eyes, speaking as if on top of the world. “I said, why should you be the deciding factor? It’s not like you’re actually part of the family.” The words were recently sharpened, and stick into Jason’s heart like darts to a dart board.

Bullseye.

Jason tries to not let the words mean anything. He doesn’t show it but I can see what they did to him. The words have the same effect on Jason as a fat joke has on an anorexic. They confirm what he fears most, not belonging. I shoot a knife like stare at Damian, everyone else in the car joins me. “That’s enough Damian.” Bruce’s voice speaks, not nearly as sharp as I think it should be. The van falls deathly quiet, the lightheartedness and joy, dimming ever so slightly. Jason glares down at his hands. Bruce speaks up again. “I actually need coffee so we will be going to Greenwich first, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to Broadway.” His eyes linger on Jason for just a split second before turning to get out of the car. The fire in my stomach grows, feeding my wrath. Why didn’t he say anything? It’s ridiculous the type of things that little beast can get away with. I can’t believe he’s getting what he wants after saying something like that to Jason. I look to Barbara, whose face is speaking what I’m feeling. We’re going to have a serious talk with Bruce sometime in the near future.

            We file out of the car and I can hear Tim and Steph talking in harsh whispers about the Devil child’s behavior. Jason walks just off to my right, counting the cracks in the pavement, his expression is unreadable even to me; meaning he’s built up his walls again. He can’t bear to be fragile, to be dependent on something that could be taken away from him. Dammit Damian. That kid must really be starting puberty or something. Bruce is walking in the front talking about stocks and theoretical prospects to Cass, who listens intently, nodding and offering small words of wisdom. Her and Jason already so damaged by this world, so strong yet so helpless, and the feeling that I can’t protect them makes my insides ache. But Bruce has the power to protect them, to keep them close and out of harm's way, and he does nothing.

“Why the hell would you say that? Do you want him to leave again?” I’m alerted to Tim’s abrasive whisper from behind me. I turn my attention his way, while pretending not to notice. I look over at Babs, who is also listening intently. “That’s none of my concern Drake.” Damian’s voice spits back. “None of your concern? He’s your brother Damian and he’s been through more hell than any of us can imagine and as much as he hates to admit it, he needs us.” Stephanie reasons. “Tt.” There’s that sound. I hate that sound. “He’s not my brother! And neither are you! None of you are!” Damian hisses. “Legally he is batbrat. Bruce adopted him, he adopted me too!” Retorts Tim. “Tt. Papers don’t make you family.” Spits back Damian. He rushes away from them and I can hear Tim trying to persuade Steph that murdering the youngest will only do more harm than good.

            I grab his shoulder as he tries to pass me. Out of all of his “siblings” I’m the one he respects the most, not like that’s saying much. “Damian-” I try to reason with him but he cuts me off. “I didn’t mean it ok? I don’t know why I said it I just said it! Now let go of me Grayson!” He twists away from me, rushing ahead to walk in the safety of Bruce’s shadow, a large arm reaching out to encircle his nimble shoulders. I glare at the picture for a moment, the way Bruce keeps some of us at arm’s length. Just opening that door in my mind causes filing cabinets of theories burst open and spew their contents in my head. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Asks Barbara from my left. I nob, that kid says he doesn’t know why he said it, but I know, and Babs knows, and deep down he knows it too. As much as I want to be a responsible adult and handle this situation with grace, I also want to beat the shit out of Damian and Bruce and give them a PowerPoint presentation about how stupid they both are. It must be hereditary.

            When we finally get to the coffee shop, Babs has to stop me from ordering, saying that I already have too much energy and for her sake I should skip out on my usual cup of Joe. I reluctantly agree, it’s still only 8:27 AM and I want my morning coffee. But I would rather go a few hours without caffeine then deal with an angry Barbara. Everyone orders, we all laugh at the barista’s face when Tim orders a triple red eye. I laugh even harder when Damian orders a coffee and is given a baby hot chocolate instead, I looked over at Stephanie who has a wry smile planted firmly on her face. Good one! I think. If there’s one thing that gets Damian pissed it’s being treated like a child, which is funny because he is one. Jason has seemed to have painted his mask back on because when I glance over at him he’s flirting with the barista with the utmost of confidence, and after getting the pretty ginger’s phone number, he and Steph do their secret handshake.

            When Bruce and I finally heard all of them out of the busy New York coffee shop, Jason finally picking up Tim and throwing him over his shoulder like a sack of highly caffeinated potatoes. We make our way to the World Trade center by 8:36. Barbara and I wait behind with Bruce while the others go to check out the twin towers. “Bruce we need to talk about Jason.” I begin. His face immediately erasing the smile and returning his usual rock hard expression. “What do you mean? Jason is fine, look at him!” We turn to where Bruce’s gaze lie. Jason has Cass on his shoulders, spinning her till she nearly falls off from laughing, he’s beaming but the light behind it is dim, the ocean in his eyes slightly murky. “What Damian said to him really made an impact Bruce.” Barb continues. “Are you old guys coming or what?” we hear Steph yell from the doorway to the North Tower. “We’ll be there in a minute, you guys go on ahead.” I respond. The clock ticks by.

 8:39.

“Please you two, can we not talk about this right now? Let’s just try to enjoy ourselves, okay?” “No Bruce we can talk about this now!” I hear casual footsteps, small talk. I step into the conversation, locking the door behind me, throwing Bruce the key.

8:40.

 The words begin to fly like a startled murder of crows in heavy winds. Phrases twist and contort in anger. Voices caught in the moment, unsure. The topic blows out of the water, snapping my small fishing rod, too big for me to handle on my own. But Barbara’s hand reminds me I’m not alone, not this time.

 8:41.

 Someone is laughing. I grab Barbara’s arm forcing her to take a step back. She speaks in harsh whispers, small shards of glass that get lost under your skin. Someone takes a family picture. With her by my side I can finally say what I’ve kept locked away for so long. Fists tighten.

 8:42.

 “You let that kid get away with anything!” She yells. His eyes heat in fury, he must know we’re right somewhere in that freakishly thick skull of his. The light changes, the traffic stops. Is it courage or blind rage that gives me the strength to face him?

8:43.

Now I’m the one in his face, blood racing, pumping the anger through my system. “I’m doing my best!” I laugh, it’s bitter and tastes like bile on my tongue. A distant roaring in the sky, something easily ignored.

8:44.

 “Oh really? Let’s be honest with ourselves Bruce, Alfred raised us, he raised all of us.” I step closer, too close, I feel the hurt he masks in intimidation. Time and betrayal all racing, racing, racing through my mind. “I’m trying Dick.” The words blunt, bitter, poisonous. Jason holds a door open for a woman weighed down with files. Litter blowing, carefree in the wind.

8:45.

“Well how about for once in your life you try to be a Dad?” I don’t need to shout the words for them to create the desired destruction. Emotion flickers across his eyes before he hides behind the curtain again. The wonderful wizard not all that he seems. Then doubt. Did I say too much? Barbara’s hand on my wrist. The sound of children playing. I’ll never be able to take it back. The roaring is louder, there is screaming. What if I made a mistake?

 8:46.

And right on cue, my world falls apart.

Chapter Text

Tim

            My life is relatively tame in the grand scheme of things, I have a routine, I have a pattern, and people who love and look out for me. Now… Now I’ve been reminded just how fragile all of that can be. The last thing I heard before the screaming, and the crumbling masonry, the panicked stampede of people, was “How about for once in your life you try to be a Dad?” I turn my head to where Dick and Barbara stand, opposite of Bruce. I was about to say something when the plane hit, when it fractured the lenses in which I see the world. Everything is a disjointed mess of fractured glass, heat and fear.

 

            I reach for Damian’s shirt collar, throwing him out of the way of the showers of glass. There is so much screaming and my ears ring. Jason is yelling at me to do something. He’s already bleeding, how can that be possible? “What?” I seem to shout but I can’t even hear myself. Suddenly he has his hands on my face, slapping me gently, pulling me back into the chaos of this cold September morning. “I need you to go into that tower,” He turns me to the tower that remains intact. “I need you to take Damian and get as many people out of there as possible, but as soon as this other tower starts to look like it’s coming down I need both of you to get the hell out of there! Do you understand?” I nod or say something along the lines of “Uh huh.” Because next thing I know, me and Demon Spawn are watching Jason, Cass and Steph disappear into the flaming building.

 

            I look back to where I just saw Dick and Babs and Bruce, but I can’t seem to locate them in the throng of panicked people. I grab Damian and I follow orders, something I’ve always been good at. I run up the stairs, leaving Damian in the lobby to usher people outside, I stop at every floor yelling, “Evacuate the building! It’s not safe!” Then I just step back as the flood of people surge around me, like a stone in a river. The minutes surge past me, flying faster than I could ever had thought. About half way up I get this twisted feeling in my stomach and race back down the stairs only to be stopped by the sight of a young man, curled into himself and murmuring softly. I approach him with caution, not wanting to frighten him anymore. “Sir? Sir are you ok?” I place one of my shaky hands on his shoulder. “Sir we need to get out of this building now!” He looks up at me, tears planning trenches along his cheeks, “My wife works on 95th floor in the North Tower.” He turns his head to look out the window and points into the black hole of smoke and destruction. “Right… right there. She works by the window so we can see each other. Right there…” His voice breaks off into muffled sobs.

 

My eyes stayed glued to the fire on the tower across from us. Today was just supposed to be a regular Tuesday. Bruce got us out of school, Dick got out of work and we came here to have fun, to have a good time, to bond. And now it’s actually gone up in flames. I grab the man’s shoulders and haul him to his feet. He doesn’t resist, he just lets me lead him to the stairs, and guide him through the rush of terrified people, running from what they are incapable of facing. I take one second to look out the window at the opposite tower. Where are Jason, Cass and Steph? Are they ok? Are they alive? What would I do with myself if they died? Why can’t I seem to move? But that wasn’t an issue for long, planes can be very persuasive when it comes to stationary objects, like myself.

 

The building shuddered and heaved from the impact, sending most people sprawling to the floor. I sway slightly before regaining my balance, then immediately rush down the stairs as fast as possible. I have to get to Damian, he’s my little brother. Although he’s the vain of my existence, I love him and it’s my job to keep him safe. I jump the last few stairs, squeezing my way past people, sliding into the lobby, scanning the room frantically. “Damian! Damian!” I’m yelling, hands cupped around my mouth in an effort to make my voice be heard. Someone slams into my shoulder, sending me crashing to the ground, I try to get up, to regain my footing but there are too many boots, too many bodies crushing down on me. I curl in a tight ball and try to ignore the impossible circumstances.

 

“Drake? Tim?” Damian. I open my eyes and try to push my way up again, steel plated boots come down hard on my ribs, cracking my facade. “Damian?” I croak out weakly. Seconds pass and I feel a small hand on my shoulder, it yanks me up harshly and I wince. He lets concern slide across his face for a fraction of a second, before re-establishing his frown. Feet planted firmly on the ground, balance regained, Damian turns back towards the stairs. I stop him with a hand on his shoulder. “Damian, what are you doing? We’ve gotta get out of here now!” I pull him back towards me, he pushes back fiercely. “There are still people in here Drake, what are you? Stupid? We have to save them!” “Damian, Jason Said tha-” “I don’t give a shit what Todd said! We save people that’s our job!” That’s it, I will get this child out of here if I have to drag him out myself. “How do you expect to save people if you’re dead Damian?! Think rationally for once and let’s get the hell out of here. Because we are going to live god dammit, we are going to live through this so get your ass outside NOW!” He’s taken aback from my outburst, but frankly I don’t give a shit, so I grab the little monster and pull him along with me into the September sun.

 

We stumble out into the street, already congested with emergency vehicles. I look around for anyone, for Dick or Barbara, for Jason. I hope they’re aren’t still in that tower. The smoke is so thick and heavy it starts to blot out the sun. The world starts spinning in nauseating ellipses and I find it hard to keep my stomach at ease. All of the chaos, the commotion, it's indescribable.

 

Someone grabs me harshly by the shoulder and pulls me, and Damian, out of the stream of people and behind a fire truck. I look up into those sea blue eyes and they offer more security than I usually seek in them. “Timmy, are you two okay?” His mouths moves and we nod mutely. “Jason, Cass and Steph went into the North Tower Dick, I don’t know if they’ve come out yet.” He drags a hand across his scalp, and breathes in heavily. “Ok, ok… ok.” He looks up at the North Tower and suddenly his mouth goes slack and hangs limply from his head, agape. I look up too to find something falling from the sky, then there is another, and another. People. Jumping from the fire, leaping by the fistful to the cruel concrete hundreds of feet below them. I keep waiting for the parachutes to open, or for their grappling gun to go off, so they can swing to safety. None of that happens though, as they embrace the wise street below with a splat.

 

“I need you to stay here, both of you. I’m going to go find the other three, keep an eye out for Babs and Bruce I can’t seem to find them.” And before either of us has the mind to protest, he’s gone. I rest my head back against the truck in defeat. I want to go help I want to be the hero, but they don’t need a hero, they need a miracle. I keep and tight grip on Damian’s hoodie, so afraid that he’ll slip away, that he’ll go pull a Jason and do something reckless. Then he does just that. “I have to do something Drake.” he spits as he swiftly unzips his hoodie, wriggles free and takes off for the south tower. “God Damnit!” I hiss the words as I take off after the little bird. He’s so stupid! What is he thinking?! I step inside the lobby when the building groans. Damian stands just out of reach. “Damian, let’s go...Now.” I hold out my hand to him. He glares back at my request. “Jesus fuck Damian, come here right now!”

 

I take an angry step forward and the world around me makes this odd sound. Almost reminiscent of the sound a shoulder makes when it’s put back in the socket, but at the same time the sound a rock slide. The building’s coming down, I know it, I know its coming down and it’s coming down now. “Damian!!” I reach forward again, not wanting to lose the safety of the doorway. The young bird is frozen the building begins to collapse. I scream out again “DAMIAN!” Someone from behind me screams my name. Barbara? He won’t move he can’t. He’s paralyzed in fear. I lunge forward. The supports sway. I snag his wrist. We're almost to the door. The lights crackle out, the only light is from the front windows and doorways. I can almost touch it!

 

 Then we all… fall… down...

Chapter Text

Fire Speaks Its Own Language

Stephanie

 

            “No! Stephanie stop!” Jason’s hands wrap around my shoulders, ensnaring me. I twist in his grasp to face him. “The building… its gone Jason it's… it's just gone!” He opens his mouth to respond but no sounds come out. I look to his eyes and find the words trapped there, I read them from his pupils. No, I told them to get out. They have to have gotten out they’re not stupid. They got out right? Right!?  I shake my head in bewilderment. Yes, yes… he… they got out. Yes… Yes… I turn to look at Cass, hundreds of words flying in no discernible order behind her irises. I shake away the rattle in my bones, and in my frenzy give Jason a solid slap on the face and send him soaring back into reality. His hand goes reflexively to his cheek and looks at me with an empty gaze, his mind pacing behind it, trying to formulate a plan. I instantly regret the action, Jason still has a concussion from this morning, and when the first plane hit he caught a door with his face and blood oozes patiently down his right temple.

           

I peel his remaining hand off of me and face Cass, she’s already tucking the chaos in her mind into cluttered, strong filing cabinets, locking the doors quickly against the thrashing anxieties inside them. I grab her wrist and pull her from where she had lost her balance when the South tower fell. Dazed and hollow the three of us stand for several long seconds, deaf to the screams, blind to the flames, incapable to comprehend it all. I turn back to Jason who is slowly, but surely, climbing back to the surface world. “Any ideas? Or should we all just try to save as many people as we can?” He blinks hard and stands to his full height. He forces a broken smile across his face, trying desperately to hide the fear and exhaustion beneath it. Putting on the older brother facade he says, “I bet I can save more people than you can.” The joke lightens the weight in my gut ever so slightly. I smirk back “Bet.” But the playfulness never reaches my eyes.

           

I start up the stairs when Jason’s arm blockades me. “What?” I try to get passed him again, thinking about all of the time that we’re wasting fighting over this. “It’s too dangerous up there Steph, you and Cass should take the lower floors.” The words could’ve almost sounded like a suggestion. “You’re the one with a concussion Jay! I can handle myself.” I try to squeeze out of his grip one more time but he pushes me back and stands in my way, I look back to Cass but she’s already busied herself on the floors below. Dammit. I really could’ve used a distraction. “You’re in no shape to be going up there Jay, just let me do it!” Suddenly he’s boiling with rage, his already huge frame seems to double in size. He takes a menacing step closer and I find that I’m almost afraid of him. I cross my arms in my anger when he begins to shout. “God dammit Steph! Please just go downstairs with Cass and try not to get killed! I know you can handle yourself but so could Tim and Damian and they might be buried under a fucking building right now! So for FUCKS SAKE JUST GO!”

 

My arms fall to my side and tears walk on my eyelashes as if tightropes. I want to shout something back but what? What could I possibly say? He’s right after all. “They made it out.” It sounds like a demand, quivering in both strength and weakness. I let the words haunt the air as I bound down the stairs to the panic below.

 

I’m met with empty halls, granted I’m somewhere on the 70th floor but its oddly empty, occupied only by the already dead. Floor to floor is like this, I make my way down the tower stopping occasionally to free those who are imprisoned by their fear. I rush to them coaxing them ever so firmly out of their terror, all the while falling deeper into mine. I’m able to keep myself relatively blind to the horrors around me, I keep my head down and save as many as I can. Then I hear the crying. I’m a few stairs from the serious damage when it starts. I’m in the stairway, I can feel the heat whispering to me, hissing at me in mockery as it devours the building. I hear Cass’s catlike footfall on the steps behind me. Jason closes an office door to my right. He looks woozy, a little like someone whose brain is turning to mush. I look up to where the sound emanates. It pulls me too it.

 

I look around once more before running into the heat. “Stephanie stop!” Ignore it, push closer to the beckoning of the flames. I push closer into the heat and it draws the moisture from my pores. The smoke is thick and germinates in my lungs, making it difficult to breathe. The crying is beginning to fade. Panic, fear, desperation. I reach forward and the fire licks my hand reflexively pulling it close to my body. Jason is upon me, coughing weakly and pulling me back out of the flames. I push back one last time before the beam collapses.

 

I feel the fluidity of my wax-like skin under the influence of the fire’s language. The weight leans squarely onto my stomach. The nerves in my skin melting away. I see Jason to my left with a segment of ceiling, not consumed by the ebb and flow of the glowing embers, crushing down on his rib cage. His wrist is twisted at the joint, sprained most-likely. He lays mostly still, trying to breathe around the grinding of his ribs. The small cut on his hairline from before, evolved into a 4-inch gash across his forehead. Cass, was at the top of the stairs when the sky fell, and stands disoriented, nursing an already blackening eye. She maneuvers to me immediately, and begins to remove the shards of sky from my torso, trying in desperation to put out the blaze that whispers to me in its foreign tongue.

 

I know I should be feeling the pain, but I don’t. I smell the burning of flesh and know that it’s mine, is it mine? Yes. I can see it eating away at me. There is something I do feel, I can feel the tears making trails through the ash on my face. I feel the burn in my throat, I’m aware that I’m screaming. I feel like I’m bleeding out, but from where? I don’t know. I feel the heat. Jason and Cass throw their bodies across mine, trying to suffocate the flames. Cass moves to my head and cradles in in her lap ever so gently, she wipes my face and brushes the embers from my hair. “Shhhhh.” She coaxes, but she’s not the only one coaxing me, the darkness does too and the fire as well. It fights Jason back sternly, burning away at his shirt and his hands, turning the white streak in his hair a muted grey.

 

I want to go with the fire, it promises to take away the pain. It speaks to me in its own language. “Stephanie, please keep your eyes open.” Cassandra whispers shakily from above me, so I do. I force them to absorb the light of the fire. The warmth recedes from around me and the fragments of sky removed. Jason moves to my side, taking my non-damaged hand in his charred fingers. “I’m going to pick you up now Steph. It’s going to hurt like a bitch… just hang in there.” his eyes gleam with moisture and his hands are shaky on mine. I want to tell him that I feel like something’s wrong, that it’s not just the shock that is freezing my vocal cords in place. I can’t, I can’t move, I can't breathe. He looks at me, and we share the truth between us. I’m dying, I can feel it creeping closer, dulling the pain. He gets his arms under my knees and shoulders and he hoists me up to his chest. I gasp, the charred skin, tearing in places. He screams through clenched teeth, and I can feel his broken ribs grinding against mine.

 

I remember the times when I was in these arms. They’ve always been safe to me. The memories crash down on me, one after another, never giving me the chance to catch my breath. The time Jason carried me back to the manor when I twisted my knee, bringing himself to come face to face with Bruce when they were still on bad terms, to get me home safely. They’re strong arms, muscular and warm, and safe, painted with the scars of his past.

 

Just focus on his heart beat, make yours match. Then everything will be okay. Then I’ll be able to tease him after his date with the pretty ginger from the coffee shop. He’ll blow it for sure, we’ll laugh and go out to lunch to discuss it, just me and him like we… like we… used to. Like we used to… I guess.

 

Cass’s hand grips mine, fear radiating through her fingertips. What’s going to happen to her when I go? She can handle herself technically, but without me to translate, to keep her company… to remind her what it’s like to be part of a family. That day when it dawned on her, like the sun rising over the docks. When the warmth of belonging hit her right in her core. She looked to me, like a child does a mother before jumping in the pool. Her smile was so bright it could’ve brightened the entire world on its own. What will happen to that smile if I’m not there to maintain it? Will it fall? Will it disappear altogether? Please… Please just don’t leave her alone.

 

Rainy days training with Dick. His laughter echoing peacefully through the gymnasium. Him teasing me gently and smiling fondly, cheering me on every step of the way. Someone I can talk to, someone I can depend on.

 

Barbara is the big sister everyone wishes they had. Long nights with our feet dangling precariously hundreds of feet from the bustling streets below. Talking about who would win in a fight: Cass or Bruce. Obviously Cass was the winner in our books. Hours of perfect, blissful, comforting silence. More beautiful than a watercolor sunset over the endless sea.

 

Showing up unexpectedly at school for a parent teacher conference, and later endless hours at a grimy diner, ordering milkshake after milkshake. Welcoming me into this collection of extra puzzle pieces that wouldn’t belong anywhere else. Bruce. Thank you.

 

Tim. Tim. What more can I say? My heart skips painfully in my chest at the thought. More painful even then the jostling of my broken body. And I feel myself begin to sob. All I can manage to think about is his hands, how they feel when they’re entwined with mine. Goodbye Tim. Take your time.

 

 Afternoon tea with Alfred. Reading to Damian on a specifically tough night last February. Jason teasing me after a rarely awkward patrol with Tim. All of us in the car this morning in that one surreal moment, when we were all silently enjoying each other's company. My heart begins to throb painfully, beating faster, too fast, skipping beats in its unnerving rhythm. There are hands on my head on my neck, panicked words jumbling in the stifling air.

 

I hear nothing but the whispering of the fire as I’m ripped away. I want to hold onto the thump thump thump of his heart, I want my heart to beat in unison. But melodies die all the time, and so do people.

Chapter Text

Damian

 

            Minute particles of dust spin endlessly, trapped in a dizzying waltz in the small stream of light by my side. Other than that pinpoint of gold, there is only darkness and ash, a fallen giant swaddled in destruction.

 

       I lay still for what seems like quite a long time. Taking the opportunity to count my breaths, to remind myself that I’m still alive. With every exhale the dust particles swirl in the shaft of light and threaten to choke me. Burning sigils into my lungs, causing my eyes to water. I try to sit up but something weighs on my left arm, crushing it under its weight. It is then when the panic consumes me. I whimper trying to pull my arm free in frustration, causing a shard of pain that races up from my fingertips to my shoulder and the limb bends at no discernable joint. Trapped in shock I manage a strangled scream, the pain hitting me like a freight train would a Jenga tower, sending me toppling to the misery below.

 

            With my other arm, I manage to push the debris away revealing what’s left of my appendage. My breathing transforms into a type of breathy laugh, trapped somewhere between sobbing and complete hysteria. Staring at the shattered limb I’m seized by uneven breathing, my body twisting and contorting under the mercy of my breathless cries. I squeeze my eyes shut letting the tears fall fast and free. Ever so gently I lift the limb and painstakingly zip it into my hoody. I close my eyes and attempt to compose myself, unsuccessfully. Gasping for oxygen in the smoke filled, ash littered air. Disrupting the dust, still dancing in their small shaft of light.

 

            “Damian?” The word is weak, almost incomprehensible, it seems to bounce off of the jagged corners of the space. I quiet my hysteria and listen again. “Dami- Damian?” My eyes widen in a sickening concoction of guilt and relief. It’s Drake! He’s alive somewhere in this wasteland. Damian you fool! My subconscious hisses at me. You self-absorbed fool! It’s moments like these where I’m reminded how much of a child I actually am. I’m a self-obsessed child who only thinks of how he can save himself, and it’s sickening.

 

            “Drake?” My voice breaks and at this point I don’t bother trying to hide the emotions that cling to the word. “Tim? Are you here?” I close my eyes and small bulbs of emotions drip from them without embarrassment. “Tim?” The word but a broken whimper. Sobs shudder through my body and I find myself gasping again for air. “Damian… Dami where are you?” I jolt up suddenly, ignoring the jostling on my useless mess of shattered bones. So I wasn’t imagining it, he’s here, he’s actually here and he’s alive!

 

            Using my arm that still remains intact I push myself up and crawl on my three working appendages through the jungle gym of rubble. “Tim where are you? I need you to continue speaking so I can locate you.” “I-” Coughing erupts from somewhere to my left, wet and resonating deep within him. “I’m over here.” I snap my head in the direction of the voice and feel my way around the jagged rock. “How are your chances of survival?” “Um…” He speaks again and I adjust my search. I hear his breathing increase in speed and intensity, and when he speaks again I can hear the tears he’s holding hostage in his throat. “Not great.”

 

            My heart skips painfully in my chest at the sound. It’s true that Drake and I didn’t have the best relationship, I hated him at times, but now… now I don’t know what to do. I just want him to live so maybe we can work it out later, somewhere that’s warm and well lit. Then it strikes me how fortunate I’ve been these last few years. I’ve had a family, Titus and the butler Pennyworth, all of which apparently love me, and I’ve… I’ve disregarded them without a second glance and now we may all die.

 

            My hand is met with something different than the cold concrete, a warm hand. I grip it tightly and it returns the gesture without hesitation. I follow the limb to the rest of his body only to discover that most of it is buried under the rubble. “Damian?” “Who else would it be Drake?” It comes off more bitter than I intend it too and bite my lip instinctively. But Drake merely breathes out a small laugh before the nerves in his body reject the movement and he whimpers helplessly at their mercy. “Status report Drake.” I try to keep myself calm, useless as that may be. Mother once told me that in times like these when someone is d- injured, it’s best for them to stay as calm as you can manage, although at the time I can’t manage much.

 

            He takes another shaky breath, with each one his face contorting in pain. “Well, my shoulder is dislocated, most if not all of my ribs seem broken, I think I might be bleeding internally-” His speech cut off by a wince. “My head is bleeding from somewhere and- and I-” His voice is thick with tears again, trying to push past them to spare his ribs the task of sobbing. “I can’t feel my ri- my right leg. So it’s either crushed or its-” He bites his lip and blinks the tears from his eyes, to stroll gently down his grimy face. “Or it’s not there anymore.” He closes his eyes and breaths as deeply as he dares.

 

            Then his eyes, that seem to glow hazily in the muted grey light, turn to mine. “How about you Little D?” I swallow hard. He’s injured badly, and there is nothing I can do about it. “My right arm is crushed pretty uh… pretty badly. Good thing I’m ambidextrous.” Tim manages a blood stained smile in return, and we spend the next few minutes in silence. My thoughts racing, pulling out file after file in my mind on how to fix this, but I can’t, I- I can’t fix it.

 

“Why did you say those things to Jason, Damian?” I’m caught off guard by the question and it takes me a second to recall what he’s talking about. “I don’t know.” I mumble absently. “Yes- yes you do.” He clenches his teeth and hisses quietly as the rubble shifts on top of him. He’s right, I do know. I knew the second I said it the true meaning shielding itself behind the words. “I just don’t trust him to stay… but I want him to. I just don’t- didn’t think he...” My voice trails off, and my eyes moisten again. “Didn’t…” Tim repeats the word, tasting and deciphering it. “You think he’s… dead?” The words are so small they feel like needles in my chest. “I don’t know Drake.” I release his hand and crawl back over to the shaft of light.

 

“What are you doing?” I ignore him, his question will be answered soon enough. I unwrap my pride, tie my ego within it and throw them both to the side. “HELP US!!! WE’RE DOWN HERE!! HELP!” “Dami-” “PLEASE HELP!” “Damian-” “SOMEBODY, ANYBODY HE’S- HE’S DYING PLEASE.” I’m once again left gasping for air, drowning in my own raw emotion. “Dam’n” His words start to slur and I rush back to his side. “Drake? Tim? I need you to stay awake, for the first time in history I’m asking you to stay awake!” He doesn’t respond. “Tim? Tim!?” I slap his face with as much force as I can muster. His eyes fly back open and he swallows the blood that has begun to venture from the corners of his mouth.

 

“Dam’n?” “Yeah?” “You know when Jason is drunk or having a nightmare, and he talks about his coffin, how… how it felt?” “Yeah. Why?” Of course I already know why, he feels like he’s in his coffin, that he’s gonna die down here, and I will not allow that to happen. Though I ask the question anyway. He swallows hard again before answering, looking teary eyed into the rocks above his head. Wet trails write stories through the dust down his face and neck. He bites his lip, it trembles despite this. “I think I finally know what he’s been talking about and it’s- it’s awful. I can’t believe he’s able to hide it away so… so far away.” The childlike weakness of his voice breaks me in a place I didn’t know was able to. The fracture causes tears to stream freely from my eyes.

 

His body starts to spasm and I feel myself reaching out for him, for his face. “Tim? Please don’t go.” The words shake just as this building did before it crumbled, I assume it signifies the future crumbling of my own walls as well. “Th-they’ll be f-f-fine wit-without me.” His breathing begins to slow and I find myself trapped in the dizzying slowness of it all. “Tim! You’re being preposterous! Don’t you remember what happened to Father when Jason died, you said you were there, that you saw him after! That’s what’s going to happen if you die. Please! Pl-please.” small squeaks, shudders running through my body, gasps for air that I use to quickly in my chaotic sobs. “Please! PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE!” Screams echoing through the cavernous space. “Tim open your eyes this instant!!” But his eyes aren’t even closed, they’re open and glassy and empty, and as the light drains from behind the teal orbs, the light drains from this cold September Tuesday as well, taking with it my warmth.

 

I’m frozen in those teal eyes, watching the last of a brilliantly colored slideshow flips behind them. Then they fog over entirely. His body stills, his hands start to go cold. His genius mind, ever as obnoxious as it could be, gone silent. The small specks of dust still spinning in their shaft of morning light.

 

And suddenly I’m on top of him, his face in my undamaged hand. “DRAKE FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIFE COULDN’T YOU HAVE JUST LISTENED TO ME??” His eyes stare blankly passed me, but I continue shouting the rage and grief and confusion and unfairness of it all boiling over in every way. Pushing and pulling my mind to the breaking point. My hand’s in a fist now containing my anger inside it. “WAKE UP DRAKE! WAKE UP!” I pound the fist on his chest. “FOR ONCE LISTEN TO ME WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UP!!” I pounding harder now, faster, with all the strength I can muster. His body takes the impact without more than a hollow bong from where his heart used to beat. “YOU STUPID, RECKLESS, SELF ABSORBED FOOL!  ALL YOU EVER DO IS MESS UP! YOU’RE A FAILURE DRAKE! YOU MESS EVERYTHING UP FOR EVERYONE!” I’m shaking uncontrollably now choking on the ash littered oxygen that occupies the small space. “YOU’RE MY BROTHER YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO HELP ME GROW UP!! YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO LEAVE ME DRAKE!” The words ricochet back and hit me squarely in the chest. My words turn to ice and quiver rapidly in the stale air.

 

“You’re not supposed to leave me.” I fall into his chest and let myself whimper into the smoke stenched fabric of his t-shirt. And as I cry I’m taken aback by how loud a silent heart can be, the absence of sound, it’s deafening.

 

“I want my Dad.”

 

 Silence.

 

“I want my Dad.”

Chapter Text

Crushing Future Plans

Barbara

 

Any minute I’m going to wake up and all of this… this madness, and pain, and smoke… it will all just have been one really fucked up dream. Any minute now. Any minute.

 

“Barbara! Over here I think I’ve found Damian!” I drag my eyes off of the North tower, the tower that I know holds three of my sibling’s captive, and turn to Dick who is crouched by the smoldering remains of the South tower. I jog over, weaving my way in and out of ash encased people. Dick crouches, with a tear stained face, by what used to be the entrance. Making my way to his side I squat down, my eyes meeting his, hungry for answers. “A few minutes ago I heard some sort of yelling from this direction and I think it came from down here.” He points to a specifically menacing pile of rubble, one that looks like it shouldn’t be touched.

 

I open my mouth to respond but I’m seized yet again by the ash that has invaded my lungs. My eyes still sting from the South Tower collapse, when the cloud seemed to appear out of nowhere and the whole thing just, it just went down! It disappeared into a cloud- no into a wave of debris that enveloped the streets like a fucking tsunami. “Babs? Are you even listening to me?” I look back to him, halfheartedly dragging my palm across the dirt on my face.

 

            There’s this small figure that is lying about 30 feet away from me, blanketed in both dust and someone’s disregarded sweater. From the size, it’s probably a young woman, mid-twenties most likely… my age. I wonder what her name is. I wonder if she has a family, I wonder if she also has 6 crazy not-technically-siblings siblings, 5 of which might actually be dead right now. I wonder what her fears were. Did she ever get a chance to fall in love, or was the only falling she did off this building? How long have I been staring?

 

            “It’s not safe, I need you to step back, the other tower is still extremely unstable.” I snap my head away from the faded green sweater, and the person beneath it. A very bedraggled police officer is trying to pull Dick away from that monster of fallen rock. “No, no you don’t understand, you see my brothers are actually down there and if you don’t mind I just- I just need to get them out. I ne- I need to get them out!”  The police officer shakes his head sadly as he continues to drag Dick away. “No, no, no, no stop! Let go of me! They’re down there! They’re down there!” I can’t bring myself to help him, I can’t even bring myself to wipe at the tears on my face.

 

            It’s then when I hear something else. Something faint and far away, someone small and scared and angry, words cloaked in rage. I would recognize the voice anywhere. “I hear something.” I absently hold my hand up behind me, in a reaching gesture. I lean into the rubble that radiates heat and smoke, and asbestos. I lean my ear to the rock, supporting my weight on my knees, repeatedly pushing my hair away in frustration. I turn back to Dick, some small bead of energy that was hiding deep within me, unearthing itself. The police officer is standing inert, his head hanging in exhaustion while Dick, who is puddled on the ground, struggles to catch his breath in the abrasive, air.

 

            I say it again, louder this time. “I hear something.” Suddenly he’s beside me, his ear were mine had previously been. His eyes light up, yet they darken, and I can’t expel the energy it will take to decipher its meaning. The voice in the rubble stops abruptly and we lean in closer, tuning all of the other sounds of the world out, focusing all of our energy on the small sound buried deep under what used to be a building.

 

            “What’s he saying? Can you hear it?” Dick was closer to the building when it collapsed than I was, effectively damaging his hearing. I hold up a hand to him in answer. He sits down on his heels and waits anxiously, rocking back and forth on his knees, chewing on the dry skin of his lips, drawing blood. And then I hear it, a small whimper hundreds of pounds of rock away, it keeps saying the same thing, over and over and over again. I sit back, acutely aware of how exhausted I am. “It’s Damian, I know it is.” Dick leans forward to me, his eyes hopeful. “How do you know Babs? What’s he saying?” I really don’t want to repeat the words, because I feel the same longing deep in my heart too, I don’t want to say it because it hurts. “He’s saying, I want my Dad.”

 

Both of us seem frozen in time for a minute, mouths slightly agape, minds racing to formulate some sort of logical plan. Nothing. The North tower makes an angry growl as the supports groan and we’re shocked out of our daze. “Okay, let’s dig him out!” I almost seem to leap at the words. Dick pauses and it’s then I realize the way he holds his right hand. I feel the frown forming on my face before I have the mind to stop it. “What happened to your hand?” he doesn’t resist when I reach out and snag his wrist, pulling his hand not quite gently enough out of his shadow. It’s not pretty that’s for sure, and I feel my stomach churn unpleasantly as I gaze down at the mess in my grasp.

 

The skin itself is swollen, and inflamed, red and angry to the touch. The fingers are all pointed and twisted in different directions, some of them merely hanging on by their ligaments. There is what I assume used to be window glass, wedged into his metacarpals effectively rendering his hand useless. A clear and putrid smelling fluid boils up from under the skin and oozes down the length of his sausage sized fingers. Blood creeps curiously along every inch of what used to be his hand. “Dick what the hell happened?” I whisper absently as I take off my sweatshirt. I put the fabric between my teeth and rip it into long strips. “When the tower collapsed I tripped and fell and caught some falling debris by accident. It doesn’t hurt though, the glass must have severed my nerves…” His voice trails off, and I can tell he’s trying to hide how scared he is. I wrap the hand tightly, scooping up his fingers and folding them gently into the fabric. With that dealt with I turn once again to the rubble.

 

I lean as far as I can without putting any weight on the building’s skeleton. I muster all the strength I have and shout as loud as I can. “Damian? Buddy are you down there?” It’s quiet for a while, and even though the air sends spikes of ice through my skin, sweat drips from my face and down my back. “Gordon?” The voice is so broken, but despite this my face bursts into a radiant smile and I release the breath I wasn’t aware I was holding. “Yeah Dami it’s me! It’s me Dami! We’re gonna get you out okay?” “Is...Is Father there?” I look to Dick whose smile falls off his face as if made of ice. We speak silently between us for a moment, panicked words cutting through the static of the day. “Are you still there?” There are tears in his young voice, tears I’ve never seen before. “Yeah buddy we’re still here.” Dick answers sweetly.

 

“That’s it I’m digging him out right now.” I turn back to the rock when Dick puts his good hand on my shoulder. “Not until we know about Tim. If you go in right now and Tim is buried somewhere else you could cause the rubble to shift and…” His eyes finish the sentence for him. Okay… Okay. I can do this! I can stay calm. Just one step at a time Babs. You got this. “Damian, what about Tim?” “Tim’s… he’s gone.”

 

You know that feeling when you’re just sitting in bed and then all of the sudden you remember something you have to do, and there’s this weird jolt of adrenaline that tingles through your whole body and you start to freak out? Imagine that, but instead of a jolt of electricity, it’s a fucking wrecking ball and you go flying around a hamster ball made of barbed wire. Except - Except it’s all in slow motion, like watching wax melt and your mind can’t process the information so you just try to run away but, nope! You can’t run away because you’re trapped in that hamster ball of barbed wire and you just keep getting knocked down every time you try to escape.
           

I look up to find that I’ve fallen onto my back, my ears ring and I’m not sure why. I feel something wet on my face. Is it raining? Dick sits a few paces away, clutching his chest as his heart shatters beneath the surface. I feel the pain lurking in the back of my mind, giving me a second to process. No. No. No. Push it away Barbara we need to get Damian out, we need to get Damian out… We need to get Damian… and Tim. Yes. Both of them. I push myself up, numb. Uncomfortably numb, but better than the alternative. I crawl past Dick, ignoring him, blocking him out. Numb.

 

I reach out to the pile, dragging off the smaller pieces, dragging off whatever I can. If he’s close enough to hear me then he’s close enough for me to dig him out. There’s no sounds, no pain, no smoke invading my lungs. Just a mound of rock, separating me from my little brother. “Barbara?” Bruce? I turn my head to find Bruce kneeling beside me. His clothes are dirty and torn, blood travels slowly down his temple. Anger prickles beneath my skin, it races up my spine and it’s all I can do not to beat him to the ground.

 

I stand harshly, a low growl escaping my lips “Where and the hell have you been.” His expression changes rapidly, 100 different emotions I don’t have the time to analyze. “I got trapped in the surge of people.” He says the words fast, breathlessly, something I’ve never heard out of Bruce’s mouth before. “Where’s everyone else?” He looks around anxiously. Dick pipes up from my left, speaking as calmly as he can manage. “All we know about Stephanie, Cassandra and Jason is that they went into the North tower before the collapse, we haven’t seen them yet. Damian and- and Tim- um… are under there.”  

 

I don’t have the time or the patience to listen to them, I block them out again and resume digging, I’m making some serious progress. I’m about waist deep, head first when I reach a cavernous space. Dick and Bruce have been yelling at each other and me for the past 5 minutes but I’m doing my best to ignore them both. “Dami?” I reach out, pushing more rocks out of my way, the mound shakes slightly and I freeze. Someone is trying to pull me out by my feet, but I kick back hard, from the sound I assume it hit whoever it was squarely in the chest. “Damian?” I reach out again, wiggling deeper into the fallen beast.

 

I find someone’s hand, it’s warm, and squeezes me back. “Dami?” I ask as softly as I can, I only get a squeeze in response. I pull the hand closer to me trying to back my way out of the rubble, then I put my hand in the wrong spot, I push on the wrong thing, I do something differently. The concrete quivers above me and I try to pull back, to calm whatever I have disturbed, but it’s too late. A large slab loses its balance and falls towards me. My eyes widen, no sound will escape my vocal chords, someone above me screams my name.

 

The crack, the sound, it’s indescribable. It landed squarely on my back, crushing something when it did so. I can still feel the hand on mine, squeezing me back hard out of fear. I evict tears from my eyes and they fall into the dust below. It’s not about the pain I feel, it’s about the pain I don’t feel. Any minute I’m going to wake up and all of this… this madness, and pain, and smoke… it will all just have been one really fucked up dream. Any minute now. Any minute.


Chapter Text

How I Wish I Could Scream

Cassandra

 

Her golden hair dances, like the fire does, now stained with blood and ash. It follows her like a ghost as Jason stumbles down the stairs. Every few steps he glances over his shoulder at me, almost like he’s expecting me to disappear. “C’mon Cass stay close.” his words breathless, and aching with the grinding of his ribs. I step closer, reaching out and grabbing ahold of the back of his t-shirt out of the childlike fear that the situation evokes.

 

Around and around and around we go, down floor by floor, then the building settles suddenly, the supports trembling under the weight, flaming debris from the floors above raining down spitefully. Jason crouches over, ushering me closer to him, shielding me with his own body. A large beam sails through the air from my left and I can feel Jason’s muscles tense. The beam catches on the rails several floors down, and lodges itself between the metal, catching other smaller pieces of debris, building a wall, a cage, a fiery blockade.

 

Jason stands up again, a snarl escaping his throat. “Fuck.” We make another hard left, spiraling down and down and down the tower. I keep a close eye on Steph’s lax body in Jason’s arms. Then she makes a noise, a sort of anguished cry, but quiet and breathy. Something you wouldn’t hear unless you were really listening. Then the soft tension in her brow fades completely and Jason stops dead in his tracks. He looks down at her, his eyes painted this strange panic, something I can’t sound out. I look back to her hair, soft and flowing gently, completely oblivious.

 

It pools to the floor as Jason sets her down gently, frantically asking her questions, grasping her face between his badly charred hands. He lowers his head to rest on her chest, his ear pressed firmly to her angry skin. For an instant everything is still, my mind races numbly unable to formulate my thoughts into words. What’s happening? Is Steph going to be okay? Can we leave now? Are we going to be okay? Where are the others? Is there an enemy to fight against? I don’t understand.

 

Silence.

 

His head bolts up from where it was resting on her chest, he’s moving too fast, he’s testing his sprained wrist, liquid leaks from his eyes and I find I’m lost somewhere between blissfully ignorant and painfully aware. He catches my concerned glance, “She’s going into cardiac arrest. I need you to come over here and hold her mouth open and hold her nose closed.” I comply without a thought; I know what cardiac arrest means. I gravitate to her head, lifting her chin to open her airway. Jason positions himself over her ribcage and starts. “One, two, three, four…” Each number more breathless than the one before it.

 

He looks to me and I blow air into her lungs and he continues counting, his face a mixture of anger, panic, fear, sadness and pain, and it’s then when I remember about his injuries. The concussion, the broken ribs. I blow again, he does more chest compressions, I blow again, and he does more. It continues like this for longer than I care to admit.

 

“God Dammit Steph!” Jason’s cursing now, screaming out in equally painful and angry cries. “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon.” I blow again, the voice in my head starting to convince me it’s helpless. The tears prickle quietly along my waterline. I ignore them. The minutes stride past, and I know there is only a matter of time until… until… “Stephanie god dammit! Are you really so lazy you can’t handle pumping your blood on your own? C’mon Steph! Stephanie!” No. She’s gone. I know she is. I can feel it, she’s just beyond reach, just in the shadows. Fingertip length away. I release my hold on her, we have to let her go right? Isn’t that the right thing to do?

 

Every cell in my body screams at me to stay put, to keep fighting. Is that what I’m doing? Am I fighting for her? No. Failing her more likely. Jason cues me again. His eyes a wild cage fight of emotions. “Cass!” I simply shake my head minutely, I take my hands and wipe the tears aggressively from my eyes, suddenly angry. “What are you doing? Cass! We have to keep doing this or she’ll die!” He looks so confused, not daring to believe that I’m right, that she’s…

 

“Cassandra? Are you going to help me or not?!” His voice rises again, a voice that would make the average person cower in fear. Safe in the knowledge that he couldn’t hurt me if he tried, especially in his current state. I reach forward and grab his non-injured wrist firmly. “Jason.” I don’t recognize my own voice, it’s swollen with emotion, and choked with smoke. “No.” He shakes his head furiously, and tries to wretch his hand away weakly. “Jason.” I say again.  He refuses to meet my eyes, his grey orbs glued to where her heart should be beating.

 

Then I’m distracted by an ever growing crimson bloom on his torso. I find myself again at a loss for words, I pull on his wrist, trying to get his attention. He doesn’t even react. His eyes glazed over either in shock, or in pain. Maybe it’s just a scrape, something he aggravated. Or he ripped some stitches from an old gash that’s maybe just a few centimeters deep, something that is barely even a problem. But what if it’s not? What if it’s something really bad that I can't save him from? What if he dies too and I’m stuck here all alone in this falling tower and then there I am again, all alone, just like I was before they found me and took me in. No. I can’t. C’mon Jason! Say something! Jason look at me! Do something! Do anything! I reach out for the maroon mark but he pulls away drunkenly. “Stop Cass... Just stop.” He tries to pull away but he folds into himself crying out softly at the protest of his ribs. I reach for him again, but he bats my hand away. Jason you have to let me see what’s wrong! I will him to her me, but with the roaring flames and the terrified people, not to mention how far away his mind is at the moment, he’s unreachable. Just like Steph… Unreachable.

 

Still grasping his wrist tightly, I scoot my way around Steph’s head to his side. I look into his eyes to find them vacated, his mind light years away, his body shutting down in the turmoil. My hands migrate to his shoulders and I shake him in my panic, I shake him again, way too violently given his condition. He tries to retreat numbly but I hold firm, keeping him cemented to the spot. My mind races in silence, tearing open pages of books long forgotten, trying to force its way into a conclusion. This much I know: We’re somewhere near the 19th floor. I’m relatively uninjured, maybe a fractured orbital socket. Jason is very badly injured and is stuck somewhere in the vast abyss of hysteria. Steph is- is dead. The building is coming down and we’re too high to jump.

 

Whelp… That actually wasn’t helpful whatsoever! I watch as my hands start to tremble, and I become aware of how tightly I’m gripping his t-shirt. I let go suddenly and stare down at my trembling hands, there is blood on them, and I honestly couldn’t tell you where it came from. My lips move. Jason! Jason!! There is no sound escaping them. Oh god, no. What is happening to us? Jason is one of the strongest people I have ever met, for him to break down like this is- was impossible- was unfathomable! I shake the thoughts from my head and pull his shirt up without thinking twice.

 

It’s truly horrifying to look at. He’s leaning against the wall now, staring blankly behind me. His body must be in shock. What if he’s bleeding internally? No. Can’t think about that now. The skin around what I can only describe as a stab wound is already angry and purple, encrusted with ash and fragments of rock. How these particles ended up here I have no idea. The area is charred and the involved tissues bubble in distaste. That must be why the wound only began bleeding now, the burns cauterized it, and when he was doing CPR it must have torn back open. It’s only then I take another look at his shirt, the inside of it had somehow melted to the skin, and now chunks of flesh cling to it. The fabric itself is filthy, singed and now covered in sweat, blood and whatever other fluids this putrid hole in his flank is excreting.

 

My stomach churns, not out of disgust, I’ve inflicted much worse wounds then this myself; it churns because I’m… I’m afraid. Over the time since Jason and I met, we’ve become pretty close. He didn’t treat me like an unstable nuke like the rest did, he didn’t treat me like a child. He gave it to me straight, he took me under his wing immediately, without making it a big deal, because he knows how it feels. How it feels to be all alone, to have no one to turn too, to not belong, to be pushed into a world completely disoriented and traumatized. I’ll never be able to tell him how grateful I am for that, the difference it made.

 

Not knowing what to do I just shove the dirty fabric back at the gory thing in hope of staunching the flow of blood. I push at it with both hands flinching slightly when his ribs make a sickening crunch. The crunch snaps him out of his daze, and he wakes with a start, as if straight out of a nightmare. Probably doesn’t realize he’s waking up into one. He jolts upright and kicks me away reflexively. Then doubles over in an agonized wail. Then he stills for a long time and I, not knowing what else to do just… sit there and wait. I pull my knees up to my chest and listen to the grinding of his bones at he tries to slow his breathing. “... Cass?” His voice rough and unstable. I don’t answer and he lifts his head just enough to see me through his curtain of blood soaked hair. “Sorry I kicked you.” Well that was the last thing I was expecting to hear, I was thinking more along the lines of what happened? Or a very elaborate string of curses. But no, he’s apologizing. Of all things, he’s apologizing.

 

I shrug slightly and then point to where this injury lay. He follows my finger, raising a skeptical eyebrow when his eyes land on the bloody splash. He lifts his shirt gingerly, growling between clenched teeth. Staring down that the grotesque thing for a few seconds in silence. At first I think that he’s freaking out again, then he simply drops the hem of his shirt and says “...huh… weird.” He struggles to his feet and leans heavily against the wall. “So… you wanna get the hell outta here or…?” I allow a small smile to creep its way onto my lips. I nod and he smiles back tiredly. “Great. Me too.” He looks back down to Steph’s body and I follow his lead. Heart constricting painfully at the sight. “Grab her, we’re going home.” He pushes himself off the wall and starts back down the stairs, down to the fiery blockade, something we’ll have to address soon. But for now I let my mind think of something else.

 

Home.

 

Home sounds nice.


Chapter Text

Dick

 

“God Dammit Dick! We don’t have time to discuss this!”

 

“Then tell me Bruce! Why the hell did you bring it up?!”

 

Then that batglare. Always with the batglare. Then that pile of rubble swallowed my best friend and what’s left of two of my baby brothers and the day got even worse than it already had been. While keeping my gimp hand to my chest I vaguely remember digging with my other hand and then Bruce screamed something along the lines of “Stop it’s unstable!” and so I ended up here somehow, sitting Indian style rocking my injured hand slowly. I’m vaguely aware of how stupid I look but I also don’t give a fuck.

 

Slowly but surely I come back to my senses. The sirens. The heat from the fires. The cold September wind. The fast beating of my heart. How the cloud of smoke nearly blots out the sun. The pain in my hand. The numbness of my brain. I stand, unsure of what to do, I have tunnel vision, focusing on the soles of Barbara’s sneakers. I stumble back to the mound, the panic rising over the static in my brain. “Barbara? Can you hear me?” I look up to meet Bruce’s anxious eyes. He puts a hand on my shoulder and for the first time in a long time speaks to me softly. “Dick, that’s the third time you’ve asked her that…” What? Is it? Wait… I assumed that given my training in stressful situations I would be able to handle this with ease, but there’s something very different about this. The lack of control I think. That sounds like something a sane person would say.

 

“Yes I can still hear you Dick.” answers a tearful voice from the rubble. Barbara. “Oh… I’m just triple checking…” Bruce steps back and turns to a team of fireman, and begins talking in his batman voice. I try to focus on something else… I settle on trying to make Babs feels better, which, if I’m being honest with myself, is impossible. But I’ve always loved a challenge. “Hey Babs?” “What??” Note: In times of great stress Babs is a little snappy. “How are you holding up? Is Dami still with you?” “Yes he’s still with me, and not great in case you haven't noticed!” I hear her start to hyperventilate and I find myself at a loss for words. “I… Don’t know what to say Babs. I know that’s really unlike me but I don’t.” We’re both silent for a while, both just trying to stay breathing. Then out of nowhere a fond smile creeps its way onto my face. “You know if Jason was here he would say that hell was freezing over or some snarky remark like… that…” Jason? I wonder where he is. No. Focus on Babs. “Yeah you’re right, he probably would.” she responds in a strained voice. “Dick something is wrong, like something is really wrong.” I chuckle slightly. “Yeah Babs I can tell, you’re half buried under a mountain of rub-” “No.” She interrupts. “Dick I- I can’t feel my legs.”

 

The smile falls immediately from my face. And my mind finds itself caught in a riptide. It’s being pulled down under the water again and again, gasping for explanations but finding only dark water. In my struggle I’m reduced to a child, shivering in the cold September winds, helpless and afraid. “Bruce?” I whimper, cradled in the unfairness of it all. He doesn’t hear me, and I feel the darkness seeping closer. “Bruce?” I try again, deafened by the sounds of the big top, the sound human bodies make when they fall from the trapeze. “BRUCE!” I awake back in reality, and he whips around to face me, a million expressions racing across his face. I find that I’m on my knees and I think about standing but I don’t have the energy.

 

He walks over and bends down to meet my distant expression. “Dick, what’s wrong?” My throat constricts painful and I find it suddenly hard to swallow. “Barbara - she can’t…” I look back to the soles of her shoes. “Her legs. She can’t feel her legs.”

 

After that I stopped fighting, I just let myself break a little, let the smoke seep through the cracks. My mind slips through and I find myself several years in the past, warm and safe, the smell of fresh stain and antiseptic. Cookies, cookies that have gone cold, forgotten. Then… Then I remember, and the room turns cold.

 

I was injured after a mission with the Titans, Terry had said that he saw somewhere that Jason had been killed. I managed to get myself over to the computer and hack into Bruce’s files and sure enough, there were the words: JASON TODD: DECEASED. I just screamed, I didn’t know what else to do, I had no other way to voice the pain I felt. I was never a good enough brother, I was never around enough, I never loved him enough, I was never good enough for him. He deserved so much more.

 

Now here I am, sitting on the couch in the study, wringing my hands, wiping my eyes, trying to swallow the emotions I feel. Then Bruce walks in as if everything is as perfect as could be and it’s all I can do not to leap down his throat. But I keep calm, I let the tears show, and I ask him how it happened, and the fact that Jason was trying to save his mother just makes the whole situation 100 times worse. I sink as far back as I can into the well maintained leather and spend the next hour or so just sitting, staring, and trying to formulate some kind of explanation.

 

Bruce didn’t join me in my silence, he left just mere seconds after telling me what happened, not able to face himself he put on his cowl and disappeared violently into the night. It was Alfred who walks into my line of vision, and distracts me, tells me of how well Jason was doing in his classes, how his face lit up when he saw the library for the first time. How he loved Jane Austen. How excited he was to meet his Mother.

 

A special kind of pain was born inside me that day, one that flares up gently every time I look at Jason, one I didn’t think would ever be more painful than it was that day. Yet here I am, immobilized by that same pain, because this time, 3 of my siblings might die, and you know what? I’m not sure if I would survive that. So I just sit here, and let myself be frozen by the fear and the pain and everything else that fits the boxing gloves.

 

7 firemen and Bruce drag Babs out of the rubble, pulling her out slowly and as gently as possible, they waste no time strapping her to a gurney and rushing her off a few blocks away to the makeshift medical center. Next comes Damian, eerily silent as he’s pulled from the darkness. There are tear and blood trails down his face, and he holds his arm to his chest. His face, expressionless. Bruce takes him from the arms of the fireman, and falls to the ground with him in his grasp. He stands Damian up and wipes his cheeks with his thumbs, ruffles his hair and folds him to his chest. If I hadn’t known them I would think they were just a normal father and son, ones that show love for each other regularly.

 

After they take Damian away with Barbara it takes them several minutes to free Tim from the rubble. Then they drag him out… When they drag him out. Something inside me loses all of its strength and I collapse into myself again. I’m vaguely aware of the anguished cry that rips itself from my heart at the sight. Greif plucking with ice cold fingers over my vocal chords, painting the young corpse with jagged cries. His eyes, lay open. A fine layer of fog conceals the fierce blue that lived beneath. One arm drags dislocated from the socket. His chest collapsed in several places and his -- what used to be his pelvis and left leg is crushed almost beyond recognition.

 

They lay him on the ground by Bruce’s feet, and if I were capable of movement I would be right by his side, but I’m not. I’m stuck to the spot as if nailed down. So I watch from a distance as Bruce’s knees collapse, and he gathers Tim in his arms and weeps. At first I think the grief has gotten to me, and I’m seeing things but yes, there he is, the dark knight, weeping.

 

Then I weep too.

Chapter Text

Jason

            I stumble down the stairs, Cass at my heels. Just ahead is that fiery barricade and a small pocket of panicked people. It just can’t be easy can it? No, of course not. I make a mental note to give the universe a big fuck you when I have some down time. I stop a few floors above the small group and the fire and put a hand on Cass’s shoulder. “These people are in the midst of freaking the fuck out okay?” She nods, and I continue. “So we need to try to keep them as calm as possible if we want to be able to work together. Fear breeds chaos and we don’t need any more chaos. So if anyone asks about… about Steph-” A lump forms in my throat and I push it away. “Just tell them she’s unconscious. Okay?” She swallows hard and nods again, her eyes becoming glossy. “Okay.” I give her shoulder a reassuring squeeze and set off back down the stairs.

 

            I get the crowded landing and glace around quickly. I see five people, one of them a badly burned fireman, three of them seem relatively unharmed and the last one has her arm tied tightly to her chest with lose fabric. I cringe eternally, looking at the three intact people and seeing that all of them don’t seem to have an ounce of muscle on them, while the woman with the broken arm is considerably bulky.

 

I move to approach them, suddenly aware of how much pain I’m in, my knee falters and threatens to give, Cass quickly maneuvers to my side and I use her shoulder as a support. My vision blurs considerably, and even with Cass beside me, my body threatens to crumple to the ground. My compromised wrist throbs and the hole in my side burns white hot. I blink, shake my head. I feel foreign hands on my arms, holding me steadily upright. “Hey are you alright buddy?” asks a voice from my left. “Sir, maybe you should sit down for a while.” Asks another. No! I can’t sit down because if I sit down I won’t be able to get back up! I look to Cass who seems to read my mind. “Just give him a second. This will pass.” She explains coolly.

 

All five people scan us both for a moment and we’re all still. The woman with the hurt arm looks to Cass and asks sweetly. “Honey, is she okay?” Pointing to Steph. Then it all floods through my head. My siblings, my responsibility. The adrenaline begins to slowly push the dark spots of my vision away, slowly letting me ignore the pain. Cass is taken aback by the question, and looks up to me in an emotional panic. I manage a nod and she reads the words behind it. Remember what I said. It’s okay, just tell them. “No, she’s hurt badly.” Cass responds tears prickling in her bloodshot eyes. I blink hard once more before gently pushing the strangers off of me and loosening my hold on Cass’s shoulder. They step back wearily, arms outstretched in case I lose my balance again.

 

“Hey man are you sure you’re okay?” The fireman asks me. He’s sitting on the floor in what I can only assume is excruciating pain. “Yeah, I’ve just got a few busted ribs and sometimes it just catches me off guard. I’m Jason by the way, these are my sisters Cass and Stephanie.” The woman steps up first and extends her functioning hand in greeting. “Hello, I’m Gabriella,” she motions to the Fireman “That’s Tony and those three are Randall, Jefferson, and Emma.” They all wave and I greet them with my winning smile. Gabriella turns back to me expectantly. “So, you got any ideas?”

 

            I let out a small breathy laugh in response and she smiles slightly. “I don’t think there’s any chance of moving that.” I begin and point to the billowing flames. “So that only really leaves two options. Either we go out the window…” I glace behind me at the 12 story fall and push past the knot in my gut. Gabriella speaks up from Tony’s side. “What’s the other option?” “Well it’s not so much an option as it is the inevitable.” I look back to her. And she nods stoically. “The tower falls and we all probably die.” I shrug microscopically. Jesus I’m so exhausted.

 

            There’s an eerie silence, only occupied by the roar to the flames and the distant sirens 120 feet below us. The tower creaks in impatience and send chills racing down my spine. A small voice squeaks from behind me. “Then we have to go out the window. We can’t just wait here to die.” I turn to look at and find that it’s Jefferson that spoke. He’s small, maybe 5 ½ feet tall, with a skeleton like build. I look down to his loafers, his once finely pressed khakis, the white and blue button down that probably cost more than he’d like to admit. His hair is still combed over neatly, yet sweat gleams on his face. I look at this small man, standing as strongly as he can manage, being as brave as he could ever be, and I admire that.

 

            I let myself smile. “Well then. What are we waiting for?” And just like that, the space brightens. I ask the others to go look on the higher floors for any sort of rope and Cass and I turn to the window. Cass sets Steph on the floor as you would a sleeping child, whispering something sweetly to her as she lowers her down. The action make my insides ache. Cass turns back to me and after merely glancing at the window states “I can kick through that.” I shake my head. “Let me do it.” She glares at me as if I’m the dumbest creature she’s ever had the displeasure to encounter. “You are already compromised Jason let me do it.” “Exactly!” She pauses and I continue eagerly. If it can keep her from hurting herself then I will, no questions asked. “I’m already compromised. It’s better for one of us to me more compromised then for both of us to be compromised. I already can’t do much right here, but you still can, it’s only logical to keep you as strong as possible.”

 

            She swallows hard, soaking in the facts, chewing them slowly. Then, visibly unhappy about her conclusion nods. I let out a small sigh of release and approach the glass. It looks thin enough to shatter with one solid kick to the center of the pane. I ready myself, take a deep breath and kick.

 

            The first sound I hear is the crunch of my ankle. Then the shattering of glass and finally the ripping of fabric. I feel Cass’s hands gripping the back of my jacket to keep me from going through the window. She yanks me back out of what I can only imagine is panic and I land with an agonized thud several feet away. My body quivers violently and I feel like I might vomit. My ribs grind with each breath I breathe and it takes all I have not to pass out right here. My head pounds so forcefully it shakes my vision. I feel my leg growing wet and I curse vibrantly in my head. Cass is by my side, snapping her fingers in front of my face. I try to respond, to blink but I’m frozen. “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry…” she whispers to me as she makes her way down to my leg.

 

            I recognize the unmistakable feeling of glass getting pulled from my skin and I want to flinch, to move away somehow, but my body lay inert on the floor, eyes staring stone like above me. She rips the bottom seam of her shirt off and ties it around the throbbing in my leg. Oh shit. Shit! Shit! Shit! My ankle. God fucking dammit!! The room still spins but I manage to blink my eyes. The ringing my head subsides and I learn the Gabriella is a veteran and is talking Cass through how to set my ankle. I squeeze my eyes shut in anticipation. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fu- CRACK.

 

            I shoot up straight, temporarily forgetting the blazing fire it set to my ribs. A sort of guttural, primal, scream of anguish explodes from my throat. “Shhh shhh shhh.” Cass soothes. The sound cuts off and my vision swims. “Jason. I’m just going to need you to take a few deep breaths. You’re ok but that window cut you up pretty badly, it turns out it was reinforced. Your ankle is broken and has just been set. Okay? Jason can you hear me?” Gabriella’s voice fades in and out as she talks to me. The others have returned and are talking about a fire hose. “The water is cut off, it’s useless now.” Responds Tony hopelessly. “But could we use it to lower us down maybe? Does that sound like something that would work?” inquires Emma. ‘I don’t know, maybe if-” Randall begins. “Yes.” melts hoarsely from my throat.

 

            “What?” questions Gabriella from beside me. “Yes.” I cough again. “Yes what?” Asks Emma tentatively. “The fire hose. Yes. It- it’ll work.” I clear my throat and shake my head in a daze, vaguely aware of the questioning looks cast my way. “It will?” Asks Emma, a tinge of self-praise in her voice. She elbows Randall gently and whispers in victory “I told you.” Cass has her hand on my heart, something she does when she’s trying to calm someone. I meet her eyes and find them strangely quiet. She nods and helps me unsteadily to my feet. Huh… I don’t remember asking her to help me up. Inserts itself into my inner monologue. I shake my head one last time to clear the stubborn black spots that have invaded my vision. Leaning heavily against the wall I reach out “Hose please.”

 

            It takes some time but the 7 of us eventually tie two harnesses into each end of the hose. I slip one end around my waist and the other around Jefferson’s thighs. “Don’t panic, just sit in it like you would a swing and once you get low enough start calling out for help.” His whole body started to shake violently as I spoke and I put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay. We got you.” Jefferson maneuvers to the window sill and sits with his feet dangling down. The other 5 of us who are able, stand in a line, the hose wrapped around our writs. Ready. He edges off of the sill and I’m taken aback by how light he is. We slowly ease him down until I have my good leg pressed against the sill holding his weight steady.

 

            Emma watches from the sill and when he finally catches someone’s attention he drops the rest of the 7 stories into what was described to me as “A non-bouncy trampoline with a target on it.” and that was good enough for me. Tony speaks up telling us it’s called a life net, and we all cheer. Whilst dragging the hose back up we elect Tony to go next. He’s the heaviest and the more people we have to lower his down the better. Next we lower down Randall, than Gabriella with Steph and then Emma.

 

            “Alright Cass, step in.” She waivers, wiping her eye with the back of her hand. “But Jason, what about you?” The question catches me off guard, the truth is I haven’t even thought about me. My strong-guy act falter and I find it hard to tell her the truth. Honestly, I probably won’t make it. “Don’t worry Cass, I’ll think of something. No way would I leave you alone with those guys.” I smile and I can tell she knows I’m lying but is choosing to believe me despite that. She wraps her arms around me, and we stay like that until the creaking of the building tears us apart.

 

            She steps in and with one small wave, climbs off the sill. Down and down and down, she goes. Just about 8 feet of hose left when the tie around my waist begins to slip. Bile rises up through my throat, and I fumble with the tie. Holding her with one hand I try to tighten it but my grip slips and the hose tears through my grasp. I snatch it back with both hand and register the smell of rope burn and the screams of panic from the crowd below. I take a deep breath and try to continue lowering her down. Fist over fist.

 

            But then the tower jostles violently and I scramble on my one leg, desperately trying to keep my balance. I slip, fall face first. I’m unable to catch myself and land with a crash on my side. The blinding pain in my chest causes me to momentarily go numb. I can feel the grip on the hose loosening. I fight for control over the pain, but by the time I grab ahold again its gone slack. I test the weight again and again in panic, but she’s not there.

 

           She’s just... gone.

Chapter Text

Bruce

 

            Its 6 AM when I make it to the breakfast table, body painted with the usual bruises and worries of last night’s promises, most of which I don’t even remember. Damian, Cassandra and Stephanie are already eating silently when I approach. “Good Morning everyone.” I say plainly as I lower myself into my chair at the head of the table. Before any of them can respond I’m assaulted by bouncy flamboyant energy as Dick pops into my field of vision. “Good morning Bruce! Are you excited for our trip today?” I try to keep my face as stoic as possible but I’m so confused I can’t help myself. I raise a questioning eyebrow in response and his smile droops. “You didn’t forget did you?” And here come the puppy dog eyes. Where is Alfred when I need him? Then I have to remind myself that Dick is a grown man and can handle the truth. “I have no recollection of planning any sort of trip for today.” This is when Damian pipes up from his nearly empty plate of waffles. “Its true father, last night you promised us a trip to New York today.” New York? When? My head swims with last night’s adventures “The Young Master is right Sir,” Alfred chimes in as he enters from the kitchen, setting plates in the remaining spots around the table. “Last night you promised all of the children a trip to New York today without the slightest tone of sarcasm in your voice.”

 

I stand and follow Alfred into the kitchen while the table bursts into excited conversation. “Are you sure Al? It’s a Tuesday!” He nods and smirks under his moustache. “I’m just telling you what was said Master Bruce, it’s up to you to follow through… or not.” I run a hand through my hair. I definitely don’t have the energy for New York today, let alone a long car ride with apparently “all of the children.” Shit, that means Jason’s here, and he’ll either have no recollection of this just like me, or be completely outraged and I won’t see him for several weeks. I weigh my options. “Have you already called their school?” I inquire. Alfred shakes his head “Not yet, because I knew you would change your mind.”

 

I reenter the dining room and find it has grown with the addition of Barbara and a very subdued Tim. They all greet me with hopeful eyes and I open my mouth to crush their dreams (which, according to Tim is my purpose in life.) when I’m stopped by the sight of Jason bounding down the stairs sporting an “I <3 NYC” shirt. I sigh inwardly. Shit. Before he reaches the table I begin my spiel. “I’m sorry but no, we are not going to New York today.” I continue over the moans of protest. “I don’t know what I said last night but it’s a Tuesday and you guys have school and work and we have patrol tonight, so maybe we can go some other time.”

 

Jason freezes at the door, rips his shirt off aggressively and hurls it to the ground. As he storms off to the front door I can catch his snarl “Figures.” He storms out, slamming the door behind him. I bring my hand to the bridge of my nose. Tim growls from my right. “I told you Dick. It’s his purpose. You owe me $50 bucks.” I shake my head and retreat back up the stairs.

 

“Hurry! She’s gonna fall!” The screams of a nearby firefighter snap me out of my day dream. I look up to see Cass hanging from her hands from that fire hose. Why? Why didn’t I just make us stay home today? I could have just made us stay home today.

 

I look around me, and can’t help thinking… How? How did all of this happen in the span of who knows how long, Dick might end up losing his hand, Barbara is paralyzed, Tim and Stephanie are… are dead. Damian might never speak again, Jason as far as I know is alive but badly injured, and Cassandra is dangling from a fire hose 70 feet above the ground. I try to take a deep breath but the air seems devoid of oxygen. Then… Then the building shudders and the hose begins to drop, Cassandra is losing her grip. I move closer instinctively. No. No she’s up too high still, no she’s not in position. No. No. No. She loses her grip and falls feet first. I can see her trying to maneuver herself onto her back to land in the life net. The crowd takes a collective gasp. I’m running now, trapped in some delusion that I can catch her. I’m so close, I’m so close.

 

            She lands in the center of the life net, on her outstretched left leg. The tendons snap and the joint bends backwards completely. My mind wants to shut down at the sound of her wails, but my legs keep moving, and moving, and moving. They lower the net and I collapse to her side. One of her eyes is dark purple and swollen shut, while the other flutters in agonizing confusion. She’s screaming, she’s grasping the edges of the net as if her life depends on it. I try to speak but find my words locked behind despair. Medics rush to her side and lift her ever so gently onto a gurney. She must know I’m there because she reaches out for me, and I take her hand, hungry for human contact.

 

            “Sir? Sir? Are you her father?” One of the medics asks in a frenzy. “Yes. Yes I- I am, yes.” The medics nod and they set her down and blur through my vision. “I need you to keep hold of her hand, we’re going to have to set this leg and it’s going to be very painful.” coughs one of them. I nod numbly and enclose our entwined hands in my other. She looks into my eyes, and when they set her leg, it’s like my reality shatters. Shards distort the sounds, the earth shattering scream that erupts from within her. I just hold her hand firm, her grasp threatening to snap tendons. I feel myself talking to her but I’m unable to catch the words I’m speaking. I’m supposed to protect her. It’s my job. It’s my job to protect all of them, and now- just look for yourself.

 

            My mind jumps to several years ago, the first time Dick got hurt on patrol. I was petrified, I hadn’t been that scared in a long time. But after so many, cuts and broken bones, the feeling dulls. But I’m supposed to protect them, and their suits, their suits are supposed to protect them too. How much damage would have been prevented if they had their suits I wonder? I designed them to keep us all safe.

 

            The armor has to be light enough to move, to fight, but strong enough to protect. But sometimes… a great too many times… it’s not strong enough-- I’m not strong enough. I wasn’t strong enough for Barbara, who may never walk again. I wasn’t strong enough for Damian or Cassandra, who have been broken one too many times. I wasn’t strong enough for Tim or Stephanie … two more casualties, two more funerals, two more graves. And I wasn’t strong enough for Jason. Willful Jason, who ignored danger, who spat at risk. Who was never frightened enough. I’ve always wondered… Always… Was he scared at the end? Was he praying I’d come save him? And in those last moments when he knew that I wouldn’t… Did he hate me for it? And now, when he knows I’ve let him down again… Will he forgive me for that too?

 

            Cass goes quiet and I step tentatively back into reality. I give her now lax hand a reassuring squeeze, attempting to let go to let the doctor’s work, but she clings to me. I look back to her face, half of it swollen and angry, there is blood and tear trails down her cheeks. Her whole body shivers yet is glistening with sweat. I take off my jacket instinctively and drape it over her small frame. “Bruce?” she quivers. “Yes Cassandra?” I ask as sweetly as I know how. “It’s Jason.” My blood runs cold and I feel my stomach begin to churn. I think back to that day in Ethiopia, the fires, the stench of burned fabric and blood. His small 15 year old body draped in my arms, already cold to the touch. I swallow the memory away. “What about Jason?” She meets my eyes with a solemn wisdom, a bittersweet intelligence that I can feel tearing her apart. “He’s dying.” and they tear her from my grasp.

 

            The words resonate in my ears. “He’s dying.” But I choose to be ignorant, I chose to not believe her. No, I know she’s right. According to what the others have said about him, he’s lucky to be alive right now. Right now… Is he alive right now?! I sprint back to the side of the life net. I peer through the haze of smoke and milky light, his name already forming on my lips, when I see him lean out the window and pull the hose back out of sight. I release the hold on my lungs and let hysteria paint my face with a bittersweet smile. He’s alive. He’s alive.

 

For now… Anyway.

Chapter Text

Jason

 

            I sit on the sill, my feet dangling carelessly above the tragedy below me. I feel myself beginning to break, I feel the walls crumbling leaving me cold, and exposed. Why? Why now am I beginning to break? Because… answers the voice. You’re alone this time. I realize its right. It’s answered a question I didn’t realize I was asking. Last time, I had my mother I was focused on her safety, not my own. This time, I’m alone. Last time I didn’t have time to dwell on my situation, I thought I was going to be saved. This time… This time I know I can only save myself. But can I? Can I?

 

Down in my hands lay my Nokia, the Manor’s number on the screen. I place the receiver to my ear and count the rings until he answers. One, Two, Three. “Hello?” His voice shaky, fearful and struggling against all odds to keep its composure. “Alfred?” My voice cracks, the sound deep and guttural, warning of the endless tears marching across my face. “Master Jason! Thank heavens you called! Where are you? Are you still in New York? Is everyone okay? It’s all over the news! I’ve been worried sick all day!” “Alfred I-” my words fail me.

 

 When I talk to him it’s like I’m a child again, I take a deep breath and continue as calmly as I can manage. “Alfred, I’ve called to say goodbye.” I clear my throat in an effort to push my emotions away. “I don’t know how many of the others are alive-” My voice begins to shake. “And- and I need to say goodbye, just- just in case I don’t- in case I can’t make it down.” I force myself to the end of the sentence. “Master Jason I need you to stay calm. There has to be a solution!” “I thought I would have more time…” I rub my eyes with the heel of my hand. “I’m so sorry Alfred. For everything. I’m so sorry.” I crumple away from the window down the wall. Trying desperately to just disappear. He says something else to me, his voice also thick with grief. He coaxes me to take a deep breath, he tells me everything will be alright, just like he did all those years ago.

 

The words reduce the protective walls I’ve built up around myself. The words take me back to that grace period before my mother died, when she would hold me and she would cry and she would ask me why she’s still with him, why she bears it. She tells me she misses home, she tells me about it. Her old room, her mom, her dad, how safe she felt when she was there. And I realize, how much I miss home, and then I’m 12 again, walking the streets of Gotham on one of those particularly lonely and painful nights when nothing seemed to go right.

 

The quivering of the building drags me back into this grey tinted nightmare. “I- I… I want to go home Alfred… I want to go home.” I try to breathe the way Alfred is coaching me too but I’m overcome by a coughing fit that releases an agonized scream from my battered ribs, blood dribbles down my chin. “What about Master Bruce? Can’t he help you?” The questions tears at tender memories, that day in Ethiopia. I control my breathing, my expression goes blank, the emotion draining from my body almost as quickly as my energy. “He’s not coming for me.” “But Mast- Jason. My boy, I need you to listen to me-” “Alfred?” “Yes my dear boy?” He’s crying now, I can hear him trying to hide it, trying to stay strong… for my sake… For me. “I love you Alfred. And thank you… For everything.” I breathe in shakily and out again, I hear him doing the same. Alfred, my constant support, my safe place, my… best friend. “I love you too dear boy, and it was my pleasure.” I smile and end the call.

 

I scoot my way over to the handrails of the stairs, hoisting myself up I look down at my phone on last time, opening my voice mailbox I play the single message that lives there. “Hey Jay it’s your big brother! Timmy and Dami and Cassie are here too and we all just want to say…” His voice drops down to a whisper. “One… two… three.” 4 voices scream into my ear, pure joy, minus Damian, ringing into the air. “HAPPY BIRTHDAY JAY!!” There is laughter and a painful sense of longing digs its claws deep into my chest. “Alright Jay I’ll let you get back to your brooding, but Happy birthday little bro! Please come visit us soon!” I let myself smile and let the phone fall into the fires below.

 

I tie one end of the fire hose to the rail and the other end around my hips in a slip knot. I test the hose once, twice, it’s just going to have to do. I hobble back over to the window sill, slowly easing my way onto it and maneuvering my legs to dangle limply into the charged air. Relying completely on my charred, rope burned hands and my compromised wrist, I lower myself into my self-made pulley. Holding my breath, waiting for myself to slip, waiting for the hose to snap, waiting for something no not go right. But nothing happens, I slowly release my breath and look around in awe. Ha! It’s working! That’s a first.

 

A fistful at a time I inch my way down the tower. My arms start to tremble and I manage to transfer some of the stress to my abdominal muscles. That works for a little while until the strain on my ribs becomes too much and the bleeding from my side ramps up again. I stop, try to catch my breath. My whole body trembles and the world spins spastically. My ears ring and I feel my eyes begin to water. I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. I’m not strong enough. I decide to look up at the sky, even with the smoke, it’s still more beautiful than the body painted sidewalk below me. The blue sings sweetly, breaking through the ringing in my ears. I take a deep breath, close my eyes and grab another fistful.

 

After several more molasses coated feet of hose I meet my eyes in the reflective edge of the tower, staring deep into this ragged face that shares my mind. What has become of it, it’s broken, and bloody and mistreated. Can I return it? Can I start fresh? Sorry, each purchase is final, each body is permanent but subject to alteration. This body, aging at half the pace of its family, this body healing slightly faster. This body sewn with the stench of murky green water. I take in a deep breath just to remind myself that no, I’m not in the pit. No, I’m not drowning.

 

I tear my eyes away only to see that I have only 12 or so feet of hose left. It occurs to me that I hadn’t thought about what comes next. I look back to my reflection, hungry for answers, and in my broken mind find Roy Harper instead. “Wow. Quite a pickle you’re in here huh?” He looks down at my fall and whistles. I’m at a loss for words, my head murky with a layered concussion. He looks me over, almost as if he’s reading information. “Jesus fuck! You’re seriously fucked my man.” He looks at me with sincere distress. I swallow hard and open my mouth to respond when the building sways.

 

I look up to find the few supports that remain intact, shivering under the weight of the upper floors. The sight reminds me of a jenga tower that’s one breath away from toppling over completely. I look back to Roy and he answers me without even hearing my question. “I don’t know man! I mean you’re right. If you wait here then the tower falls, probably on top of you and even if it doesn’t you’re tethered to it. If you fall, even from the very end of the hose rope thing, you’re so badly injured that the fall will probably kill you anyway. If you land on your back, which you should, then you risk your broken ribs puncturing your internal organs…” He drags his hand across his forehead and I continue painstakingly down the worn canvas of the fire hose.

 

“Okay Jay, you have to do it. You have to jump.” I hear him yell at me but when I look back up to meet his eyes I only find my own. The confusion is enough to make my pounding head spin once again. I reach for more rope and find that there is none. My grasp slips momentarily and I cling to the canvas desperately. I look down, it’s still like a 70 foot drop. “Jason!! Jason!” I look around frantically for the voice, tightrope walking between sanity and lost cause. I look down to find a small person in black clothes, it waves its arm and holds a megaphone. There is a small group of firemen holding the life net. I see the chaos that still buzzes around the towers base.

 

“Jump.” Says the voice. I shake my head meekly. This is seriously fucked. I didn't sign up for this bullshit.

 

“Just jump Jason, You have your grappling hook secure yes?” His voice growls. I nod, wiping my clammy palms on my sweats. In the gym in the cave, Bruce has me training on height related tactics before throwing me out into combat. “Then jump! What are you afraid of? Worst case scenario I’ll catch you. C’mon Jason!” I swallow hard. “Okay, okay I’m gonna do it. I’m not scared of some stupid rooftop! “Ready… Set… Go!” I jump.

 

I close my eyes. Ready… Here goes nothing. Set… I’m gonna do it, I’m not scared, I’m not scared. Go! I let go.

 

I’m flying! I’m actually flying! “Woo Hoo! Bruce look at me! The boy wonder! I’m flying” I laugh, pure radiance. I catch a glint of a smile as I swing through the air. “Yeah! Yeah you are Jason!”

 

I’m falling. The air cradles my broken body and I find myself looking at the sky again. Look at me, I’m flying. Look, I’m flying.

 

The grappling hook catches and I swing just mere inches over the mats. I’m laughing.

 

The tower quivers again and I relax into the promise of unconsciousness. The sky opens up just off to my right and I can see the piercing blue that peeks out from behind the smoke, and ash and ruin. Look at it, it’s smiling at me.

 

I’m almost there! I glance over to see if Bruce is watching me. I’m gonna do that cool flip that Dick taught me last week, he’s gonna be so proud. Almost there, almost there.

 

            The sky hides away once more, and there’s nothing left to see. It’s dark and grey and cold. Nothing left to see, I close my eyes.

 

            “Ta da! Perfect landing!” I’m beaming, I did something right. Bruce smiles and strides towards me. “Didja see that Bruce? Didja see me? Huh?” I’m bouncing now, like a child. “Yes Jason I saw. I saw you.”

 

            Look Bruce, can you see me? Can you see me? Can yo-

Chapter Text

Alfred

 

            It had been a difficult day to say the least. After Mater Jason’s very unnerving phone call, I spent the next several hours calling everyone I thought to contact. At 10:28 the North tower collapsed, a mere 14 minutes after Jason had called me. It wasn’t until 12:27, that Leslie called, informing me that all 8 of them were being brought to Gotham General by helicopter. “Do you know anything about their conditions?” I manage to ask frantically, keys already in hand. I hesitate only to load up Ace and Titus before pulling away rather violently from the front door. “I don’t know anything for certain yet but Alfred… it’s bad.” “I’m on my way.”

 

            The hospital was in pandemonium, everyone buzzing with panic. Doctors and nurses bustling around seemingly without direction. Lines that stretch the length of the hallway behind the phones, linoleum stained with more tears than usual. I edge my way through the throngs of people, becoming aware that I’m holding my breath. I release it and in the seconds before becoming completely hysterical remind myself: They need me to be strong, they need me to be calm and composed. So I shall be just that.

 

            “Alfred! This way!” I look towards the sound of the voice to find Miss Leslie standing several yards to my left waving her arms frantically. When I approach her I see clearly the messy bun atop her head, the dark circles, and the wrinkled lab coat. “They just arrived, come with me, I’ll need your help.” She clears her throat and leads me up to the roof where the helicopter has just landed. I look around to find only 5 teams of doctors standing by with gurneys at the ready. Two other gurneys sit off to the side, each with a nurse. The sight twists itself deep into my gut and I find it hard to swallow the feeling away.

 

The doors open and the air explodes into panicked electricity. First one out of the chopper is Jason. Two EMTs clamber out alongside him. One holding up a bag of fluids and the other applying chest compressions. 3 surgeons rush to his side and assist the gurney into the elevator, all the while talking medical gibberish that makes my eyes water. Leslie has a hand on my shoulder, squeezing it every so often. More for her sake than my own I suppose.

 

Out of the chopper next is Barbara, at the sight of her my body visibly relaxes, she looks relatively fine. Then the feeling wells up again when I see the neck brace, the panic engraved on her face, the head of orthopedic surgery rushing to her side and shouting, “Nobody touch her! No use aggravating her spine unnecessarily!” and with that they hurry away. I ache to follow them, but Leslie’s hand holds me firm.

 

Nearly simultaneously Cassandra, with her entire leg swaddled, and Damian with his arm taped with cardboard are unloaded and rushed away without so much a second for me to see them. I meet Damian’s eyes for only a split second, but it’s long enough to see how empty they have become. Dick follows, in tears. His hand is held tightly to his chest and I barely have the strength to speak. I open my mouth to call out to him but his cries render me mute. His wails fade as the elevator doors close. I look back to the chopper as Bruce emerges, bewildered and encrusted with ash. He makes a beeline for me, conspiracies already on his lips. I catch his shoulders, speaking calming phrases over his jumbled speech. I assist a team of doctors as they force him into a wheelchair and whisk him away.

 

I look around, utterly trapped in confusion. The world around me spins faster than I thought possible. “Where are Timothy and Stephanie?” I manage to ask. Leslie, whom I’ve never seen emotional, brings her hand to her mouth and shakes her head mutely. I follow her gaze as they unload two small black body bags from the chopper, and set them gently on the remaining gurneys. My heart constricts painfully and I find I’m not in control of my body. I seem disjointed from it, the day fracturing into sharp shards of memories. The remaining EMT approaches Leslie and they speak in hushed tones, frequently sending worried glances my way. But it makes no difference to me, I can’t hear them. The world around me buzzes in static, and I find it hard to fit the pieces together.

 

I turn back to Leslie, thirsty for information. “Ok so here’s the deal. Jason is in critical condition and has been rushed to the OR. Barbara is getting an MRI for her spinal fracture, and the other three are being evaluated by an orthopedic surgeon. Now all of them, Bruce included, will be set up in a room to tackle the smoke inhalation, dehydration, shock, and their asbestos exposure. As for Stephanie and Tim…” She swallows hard and rubs her collarbone nervously. “They will be sent down to the morgue. You’ll be able to see them before they’re sent to the Manor’s cemetery if you like.” I nod vacantly. “Yes. I would very much appreciate that.”

 

She continues to speak at me but her words fade into static, and am acutely aware of how cold I am. She gives my elbow a reassuring squeeze before leading me mutely back down to the lobby. I make my way down the dynamic hallways, my mind feeling as if it’s been nuked. I try in vain to catch my breath but find it futile. Outside of Master Bruce’s hospital room I listen to him converse with the doctors inside. I guess converse is the wrong word, more like demand information from them. A small knowing smile slides quickly across my lips, then disappears once again.

 

I wait patiently outside the door until the doctors leave, they give me a reassuring glance and hurry along their way, leaving me in their wake. I begin towards the door but find myself frozen mere inches from it, remembering the first time Master Bruce was infected with the fear toxin. I wasn’t able to handle that alone, will I be able to handle this? What am I to say? I shake the notions from my thoughts and advance into the room. It’s one of the many small private rooms that Leslie usually sets side for us. Inside is one small bed, facing a TV and a surprisingly comfortable arm chair angled beside it.

 

Master Bruce sits amongst disheveled sheets, his head lay in his trembling hands. Under the cannulas and the oxygen mask I come to find his nose concealed with gauze. Several IV ports occupy his right hand and as I tentatively step forward I realize him whispering to himself. “Maybe it was just dumb luck... no… no because the pentagon…. What if the two incidents were connected? terrorist group maybe?” Some things never change I suppose. I walk to his bedside and speak as calmly as I can manage. “Master Bruce? Are you alright sir?” He jolts upright, meeting my gaze with bloodshot eyes and a rare tear stained face. “Alfred! Thank god you’re here.” He says breathlessly. He pushes his feet off the bed and turns to face me, frantically running his hands through his damp hair in a frenzy.

 

It takes me a moment to absorb the shock of his current state, he’s absolutely frantic, an oddity to say the least. “Alfred have you heard anything about the kids? Jason? Have you heard anything about Jason? What about Cass, or Barbara? Are they okay? Are they alive??” He spits out the words in a jumbled unorganized mess. I place a hand on his shoulder, trying to steady him. “Master Bruce I’ll need you to get a grip on yourself before I tell you anything.” He starts to slow his breathing, like a child on the verge of hysteria. I maneuver to the other side of the bed and occupy the armchair, rather ungracefully. I bring my hands to my face and try to wipe away the exhaustion, unsuccessfully. I sigh deeply before beginning, “All I know is that Jason is in surgery, Barbara is getting an MRI and the other 3 are being looked at by an orthopedic surgeon.” I taste the words carefully before laying out from him to take in. He seems to have sobered and nods slowly.

 

He wipes his eyes with his thumb and forefinger before asking, “What has been done with Stephanie and Tim?” That knot in my stomach is back. I swallow hard and grasp my trembling hands together. “They have been taken to the morgue and can be seen sometime today before taken to the cemetery.” I meet his eyes, he’s crying again, silently, just letting the tears makes their way down his cheeks. He doesn’t seem to notice. I reach into my lapel and offer my handkerchief. He takes it solemnly and runs his hands over the lace borders. “I failed them Alfred.” He whispers to the fabric. “No Master Bruce, you have no blame on your shoulders. Every single one of them thought on their own accord and did the best with the situation they were given.” I rise to my feet, taking his chin in my hand, just as I’ve done since he was a lad. He doesn’t resist when I lift his gaze to meet mine. “You did all you could sir.” “But Alf-” “There's no bother arguing with me sir you should know that by now.” I smile gently before sitting back into the chair. “Get some sleep now sir, they're going to need you as they recover.” He nods vacantly and settles into his pillows, being overtaken by the aftereffects of the whole ordeal, he drifts away within minutes.

 

I close the door silently behind me, letting my gaze linger for only a moment before turning to Leslie. “How’s he doing?” She asks gently. ”Oh he’ll be back to his normal brooding in no time at all.” I tease lightly. We both welcome a small smile. “Alfred I hate to do this to you but both me, and the staff that are handling all of their cases think it would be best if you break the news to each of them. All of their wounds are severe and will take a long time to heal, some of them might never heal. I think its best they get that news from someone they know loves them.” She extends a folder to me. “This is all of the information we have on them so far, Jason is still in surgery but he’s a fighter, I’m sure he’ll pull through.” And with that she hurries away. Leaving me with a loaded nuke resting in my palms.

 

Outside of Master Dick’s hospital room I can already hear him crying. I ready myself and slip through the door. “Alfred?” He asks through the tears. He lies propped up on several pillows, staring at a blank television screen. He sobs openly, his one hand hangs suspended from a sling, wrapped protectively and braced against movement. I glance at the folder in my hand before answering him. Richard J. Grayson: Right hand: multiple fractures to the carpals, metacarpals, and the proximal phalanges. Damage to the paratendinous bands, palmaris longus tendon and a nick on the median nerve. Restoration surgery scheduled for 9/11/01 2:45 PM. I close the folder silently, tucking it behind me before striding over to his bedside.

 

“Alf?” He chokes out. “Yes chap?” I dab under his eyes with my spare handkerchief. “He looks up to me with big sea blue eyes and whispers “Where are they?” I try to remain impassive but I can feel the crack forming in my facade. “Whom are you referring to?” He shakes his head, and I feel myself reaching out for him. My hand finds its way to his forehead, pushing the damp strands of hair out of his eyes. “As of right now…” I begin. “Everyone is just as they were. Except Jason-” “Jason? Is he ok? Is he- he awake? Were we- were we too late?” He butts in, his words hiccupping violently with sobs as he speaks. “Jason as of now is in critical condition but alive, he’s in surgery as we speak.” Dick relaxes visibly, squeezing his eyes shut.

 

I move to the chair, his eyes snapping open and following me cautiously. I know he’s scared to be alone, where his thoughts can get the better of him, but I won’t be leaving anytime soon. “Do you think he’s gonna be okay? What if he- e doesn’t make it Alf?” His voice breaks off in a strangled gasp. “You mustn’t worry about Jason, he’s far too stubborn to give up now.” Dick gives a small breathy laugh before nodding in agreement. “Master Dick I also have news about you sir. About your hand.” I say, rather matter of factly. “What- what is it?” He manages between hiccups. “You have some damage to your median nerve, that’s why you can’t feel any pain. You also have some ligament damage and several broken bones. Today at 2:45 they’re going to take you into surgery to put in some pins. It’s going to take a long time to heal and you’ll need to be patient.” He nods along, trying to calm his gasping sobs. I see him begin to lose against his emotions, his eyes water and he looks to me in fear.

 

I’m on my feet in an instant, sitting gingerly on the edge of the bed. “Master Dick, do you remember learning to fly on the trapeze?” The questions shocks him out of his panic. He nods and I smile gently as I continue. “It took a long time to master did it not? And it hurt, you would fall sometimes wouldn’t you? You would get scared and doubt yourself entirely, would you not?” He nods slowly, remembering. “But you had help didn’t you?” I prod. “Yes. I had my parents and my other friends from the circus who helped me, and the elephants.” He smiles fondly at the memory. I take his undamaged hand and grasp it with both of my own. “This is just like that. You’ll have to learn how to use it, and when you falter, I will be there, and so will Master Bruce. The others will help the best ways they know how as well. We are a family are we not?” I ask. His smile grows. “Yeah, we are. Yeah. Yeah, we are.”

 

I leave him with a smile and a rather chatty young nurse. I promised to be back with good news but based on the file in my hand… there isn’t much of it. I flip to the next page in the file, Barbara’s. My eyes spin across the words and I find myself immediately in need of a chair. I reach out for something to stable myself, finding nothing, I slide down the walls to the floor. I can feel another piece of myself breaking off, and it takes everything in me not to fall apart right here on these white tiles. I look back to the page, hoping beyond reason that they had magically changed. They had not.

 

 I drag myself to my feet as graciously as I can manage, running a hand across my tired face. Outside her door I clear my throat several times, coughing away some non-existent thing to give her just a few more moments of blissful ignorance before I tear apart her world. Through the window I see her laying in a type of foam brace, her whole body kept still. Even with her entire body laying inert I see her eyes flashing around the room in a panic. She picks at the peeling skin on her forefinger with her thumb. Her chest heaves with silent distress and I’m distracted by how much I don’t want her to know, how much I wish she could stay as she is, as unideal as it might be. It’s better than the alternative.

 

“Miss Gordon how are we feeling today?” I ask as nonchalantly as possible. She visibly relaxes and smiles. “Alfred. It’s nice to hear your voice. Is my father coming?” The question startles me for some unknown reason. “Oh, silly me it must have slipped my mind, I’ll call him right away.” I turn to leave but stop myself, knowing that once that door closes it I won’t be able to bring myself to open it again. “Actually I must tell you something first my dear.” I clasp my hands in front of me, walking into her line of sight. They got the results of your scan back... I try to say but my tongue is made of sawdust. “What is it? Alfred what’s wrong? Is it Jason? Or Cass? Are they...?” “No! No. They’re fine, they’re fine.” Perhaps fine is too weak of a word. They aren’t in any since of the word fine, none of them are. “It’s me isn’t it?” Her eyes bore into my skull. I nod sternly and swallow hard. “It’s not good news I’m afraid.” I sit by her bed and gingerly take her hand.

 

She bites her lip and blinks away the tears in her eyes. “Say it.” She demands quietly. I take another deep breath before continuing.  What I’m about to say is going to destroy her, it’s going to change her entire life. Why? Why did I have to be the one to tell her? “Barbara dear I need you to prepare yourself please.” I warn her. Her eyes water almost immediately and her hold on me strengthens. Though after a few deep, grounding breaths she blinks the tears away and turns back to meet my gaze. I take the opportunity to re arrange her sheets, push her brilliant orange hair from her eyes. She has no idea. After getting some ice chips into her I finally settle and let the words fumble out. “You’ve completely shattered your L2-L4 vertebrae.” I give her a moment to process before continuing. “What that means is that you have what they call “complete paraplegia”. Your legs are paralyzed, and they always will be from now on.” Our grips tighten on each other’s hands, holding fast, desperately trying to anchor ourselves in a world that has a tendency of falling apart.

 

For several minutes we sit like that, with just the sound of her ragged breathing. I occasionally lean over, gently wiping the tears from her cheeks. I tell her it’s okay to cry, that right now, she isn’t batgirl, she’s Barbara, and Barbara doesn’t have to be strong. She answers in silence. It’s only until I’m alerted by commotion outside her door that I release my hold on her. Opening the door I’m met with a terrified and disheveled medical intern, and a teary faced commissioner. The hospital must have called him as soon as Barbara was stable. “Commissioner, she’s in here.” I open the door stepping aside to allow him to pass. He floods past me to Barbara’s side, enveloping them both in muffled sobs. I make eye contact with Barbara as she tries to compose herself. “I’ll be back to check in on you soon.” She smiles, and I return the gesture before slipping out of the white walled room, closing the door behind me.

 

In the solitude of the hallway I allow myself to break. I let a few tears fall precariously from my eyes before wiping them dry once again. I must be strong. I must. Inside the folder I find that Cassandra and Damian have already made their ways into the O.R. and the news somehow lessens that weight on my shoulders. Then the word remind me. Jason. “Sir? May I help you with something?” Asks a woman with tired eyes and a bun that was probably perfect several hours ago. I look up to find I’ve made my way to a nurse’s station. I look around, dazed for a moment before shaking it from my head. “Yes, my grandson was airlifted here from New York around an hour ago. He’s in surgery and I was just wondering if I could get an update.” Her tired expression shifts to a gentle smile that soothes me almost immediately. “You just have a seat and I’ll check for you, okay?” I nod politely and collapse into the nearest chair.

 

Several minutes pass, with me simply trying to fight off the questions running rapid in my head. I finally fend them off when she approaches me. I blink away the nightmares meeting her hazel eyes with controlled eagerness. “He’s still in critical condition, but they are working as hard as they can.” She gives me that smile again and I read the subtext behind it.

 

It’s touch and go. We don’t know if he’ll make it.

Chapter Text

Alfred

 

There is something that has come to my attention, these last few hours I’ve been in the hospital. Each one of these wayward birds, with their brilliant personalities, and unreasonably tragic backstories, they are a part of me. And whenever I see them like this, laying broken and fragile amongst white sheets, I break as well.

 

The morgue is cold, brightly lit yet darkness clings in the corners. The small space overflowing with lost souls, found, yet forgotten in the collapse. Away from them are two pristine metal tables. Atop them lay two children, tucked in with stark white sheets against the cold. With their faces concealed anyone else wouldn’t be able to tell who was beneath each sheet, given they’re both 5’5”, with quite similar builds. In fact Master Damian would constantly tease Timothy about this and it infuriated Miss Brown. She would often wear lifts in her shoes just so she could be taller than Timothy. I helped her pick them out. Not many people would be able to tell who was who, but I can. I can tell.

 

The medical examiner gently pulls back the sheets. The already frigid air seems to drop another 15 degrees in a matter of seconds. The gloved stranger slowly wipes their hair out of their faces, reminds me of the presence of a nearby chair and backs out of the room. My eyes land on Timothy first. His hair, recently rinsed, is smoothed back to expose the gash that runs the length of his part. Small precise stitches peek out shyly from the dark hair, still slightly stained with ash and blood.

 

One of his shoulders bulges unnaturally from the socket, colored deep purple. With a shaking hand I pick up his chart, read the words written neatly inside. The ruptured spleen, the collapsed rib cage, a shattered pelvis, a broken femur, tear stains down his cold cheek. The file falls back to the table, and I can’t recall letting go of it. I fumble behind me, finding the chair and falling into its strength. Just look at his face, so young and… broken. I stand, unsteadily, and approach him, noticing his left eye still remains partly open. The once brilliant blue eye fogged over entirely.

 

Delicately, I close his eye completely, finding it suddenly very hard to breathe. I clamp my hand over my mouth as I stroke his hair, letting myself wail in my solitude. The action transporting me back in time to several years ago, young Timothy had come down with the flu and lay immobilized in bed. In a moment of complete frustration and discomfort he began to cry. So I did what I am doing now, I smoothed back his hair from his eyes, simply letting him know that he’s not alone, that he will really never be, not as long as I live. Who’d ever thought they’d be the first to go.

 

Leaning down so only he could’ve heard me I whisper, “Never will I ever understand why your life was cut short young sir, but I can only be grateful that you will never again experience the heartbreak I am witness to now.” I plant a kiss gently on his forehead and turn away from him, letting him know in some way that I forgive him and I forgive myself. Letting him know that I forgive us both.

 

I turn next to Stephanie, her golden hair, dulled by the flames. Burns send tendrils of angry skin from under the sheet, reaching around her shoulders and ending just shy from her face. Eyebrows still arched in defiance, lips haunted with her signature sly smile. It takes everything within me not to sit down by her side and slowly, meticulously begin to treat her wounds. Since I cannot, I settle for dragging the chair over to her side, occupying it and enclosing her least charred hand in both of mine. Slowly, as not to wake her, I reach down to her feet where her file lay.

 

Inside her file I find nothing but more pain. A collapsed lung, a gash running the length of her thigh, and burns so severe that her nerves became fused together. I squeeze my eyes shut to try and block the sight, but fire burns brighter in the darkness. Underneath in shakily written pen I see that she has rib and chest damage consistent with… consistent with CPR. They tried to save her, and they couldn’t, how do you recover from that? Snapping the file closed I place it back where it originated, on the foot of the table. I turn back to Stephanie, heart breaking for the hundredth time today.

 

It’s hard to imagine a house without her laughter ringing through the halls, the sound of her relentless teasing. Jason and Richard mocking both her and Timothy before going out on what they denied as a date. And although I know its fiction, I want so badly for it to be wrong. I want so badly to go back in time to when she was presumed dead, when she had shown up, bright purple with a wicked grin, back into all of our lives. Though I know its fiction, I wish for it, I wish for it with all that I am.

 

In my grasp her hand grows increasingly stiff, and I look up to find I’ve been sitting here with them for over an hour. I stand, brush the wrinkles from my waist coat and dry my eyes. Planting one last kiss on their foreheads, wiping away their hair one last time, tucking them in just a little tighter, giving their hands a reassuring squeeze, I leave the morgue with their ghosts in tow. Forcing myself to be at peace with the fact that I shall never lay my eyes upon them again.

 

Outside the door I give a fresh faced intern a curt nod, and follow his lead back upstairs, stopping outside of master Damian’s room. He hands me the large file with all of their information, telling me that both Cassandra and Damian are out of surgery and awake. Before I could ask about Jason he runs off. I advance into Damian’s room, exhaustion weighing on me as I make my way to his bedside. His right arm is concealed by a rather large cast that stretches from his shoulder to his fingertips. It sits motionless, propped up on several pillows. Inside the folder, I find that he shattered his arm from the humeral head to the styloid process. Below it in large print are the words: Awaiting psych evaluation. I slam the words closed, suddenly angry. He has not gone mad, he simply is… processing. Yes, he’s processing what happened to him, that’s all. That’s all.

 

“Master Damian? How are you feeling?” He doesn’t respond, it’s almost as if I hadn’t spoken at all, and for a second I wonder if I had. Walking into his line of vision I ask him again. “Young sir?” But there is nothing, he doesn’t even blink. I reaching out for him when he moves for the first time, he flinches away from me. The action splinters something deep within me, tearing me into delicate fragments of my past self, forever changed. My eyes water immediately and he seems to notice, his eyes softening for only a split second before resuming his cold stare. It’s all I can do not to fall apart right on the spot, but for both of our sakes I tape myself back together and retrieve a small book from my lapel. A small book that was granted to me by a young Jason Todd, a well-loved pocket sized addition of Lord and the Flies, with his mind spilled like black coffee in the margins.

 

“The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way towards the lagoon.” I begin, trying desperately to clear the emotions from my throat so I can the read the book correctly. I shall try my best. I open my mouth to continue when Damian stirs. He shakes his head slowly. “What is it young sir?” I inquire. He just continues to shake his head. “Do wish me to stop?” His head continues shaking. “So you wish me to continue with the novel?” The question causes him to pause but then he resumes his head shaking. I try to think back to any other times I have read to young Damian, he’s always been rather restless, he always wants to interject with opinions. Opinions, that’s it. “Do you wish me to read you what Master Jason has written in the margins?” I ask slowly. His head, which seems to be trapped deep within despair iron fist, nods slowly, as if unsure.

 

I take that as a yes and flip through the pages to find one of Jason’s responses. “Ah, here’s one. This is in response to the quote: ‘I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men, they are far superior and always have been.’” I smile fondly before continuing. “Master Jason responded with: ‘true words to live by, in all honesty I won’t be surprised when women run the world one day, actually I can’t wait.’” I trace the faded pencil marks with my thumb, feeling the tension in the room relax just the slightest bit. “Shall I continue?” I don't wait for a reply before leafing through the next few pages to discover another piece of the young man’s mind. “‘Sucks to your ass-mar!’ - Hah! That’s funny.’” the young boy wrote.

 

The more Master Damian and I traveled into the depths of both the book and young Jason’s mind, the darker it became. When I encountered the quote: “The world, that understandable and lawful world, was slipping away.” and his solemn response in reference to his times of great rage and fear, I found myself without oxygen. I looked up to find Damian’s eyes have gone glossy, possibly marveling at how much he and Jason are alike. I close the book instinctually and tuck it back into the safety of my pocket. Remembering something I stand, “I have quite the surprise for you young Sir, I shall return shortly.” Without waiting for the reaction I won’t be receiving, I leave.

 

As I weave my way through the chaos-littered halls, I find myself transported back in time. The youngest sir had just inquired a cow, and was in the process of convincing Master Bruce to let him keep said animal. “Damian… No.” Master Bruce managed between exasperated sighs. I glance over to find both Timothy and Jason, hands clasped over their mouths to keep quiet. Damian stands opposite them, one hand on his hip the other resting on the animal’s large head. Bruce raises his eyes to meet the bat-shaped mask on the cow’s face. Shaking his head he whispers to himself, “Why? Why me?” The animal lets out a guttural moo, promoting Jason to lean over Bruce’s shoulder and say “Look Bruce! It said your name.” and the cave erupts into a chorus of “Brooooce” for a long 10 minutes. The memory fades and leaves the ghost of a smile on my lips.

 

Eventually I make my way to the crooked grimace of the parked car, allowing myself a small smile as I gaze among the two sleeping dogs inside. I open the door and quickly fasten Titus’s leash to the service dog harness we have him wear when Master Damian insists on taking in inside public buildings. Leaving Ace in the car to nap a few hours longer, Titus and I walk side by side through the bustling hospital lobby and back to Master Damian’s door. We stop outside the room briefly, giving myself the chance to lower my expectations before entering. Polished shoes and paws alike, clicking quietly upon the floor as we make our way to his bedside.

 

The young sir’s reaction was more than I could’ve hoped for, it’s almost as if the happy wag of the enormous dog’s tail wipes the clouds from the boy’s thoughts. Damian looks to Titus and a smile blooms upon his face. With his one good arm outstretched he beckons to the gentle giant. The beast merely stepping up onto the bed, curling up against him instantly, and falling into a deep sleep. The boy nestles down amongst the fur, stroking the dog’s gigantic head a look of content on his ash stained face. I sink back into the armchair, simply watching the two of them like I have many times before. Then the boy freezes, looking around frantically. I rush to his side faster than I could register the movement. Grasping his face gently, in an attempt to steady him I try to speak soothing words to him but my throat has gone dry. The boy pushes me away and the dog on his chest stirs peacefully. I snatch the boy’s flailing arm and hold it to my chest. “Damian. Damian.”

 

He meets my eyes, and a strange look glides across his expression, as if he’s just now realizing who I am. “Alfred.” he whispers, reminding himself quietly. “Where’s Tim?” He croaks, his eyes watering heavily. I guide his hand back to Titus’s head and he clutches to the giant’s collar for support. “Master Damian you remember what happened to Timothy.” I tell him calmly, he looks so much his age it catches me off guard. He nods slowly, not quite letting himself come to except the truth. “He’s died.” The boy says, tasting the words delicately as he releases them. I nod and the boy once again goes still. Body and mind not sure they have the strength to tackle the act of mourning a sibling. I don’t force the issue and decide it’s best to let him rest as I continue my rounds. I stand to leave but his quiet whispers catch my ear. “How do you expect to save people if you’re dead Damian? Think rationally for once and let’s get the hell out of here. Because we are going to live god dammit, we are going to live through this so get your ass outside now!” and as I close the door it dawns on me that those were Timothy’s words, and the boy has acquired his father’s habit of placing the blame of any and all tragedy deliberately on his shoulders.

 

I find Cassandra still under the influence of her sedation when I make my way into her room. On her page in my chart I read: Dislocation of the left knee, tearing of the Iliotibial connective tissue, and the patellar tendon. Bone bruising and a fractured patella. Fractured orbital socket. The report makes me flinch involuntarily, she’s going to go through possibly the most hellish recovery of them all, well it depends on how bad off Jason is I suppose. Settling into the identical chair, I’ve occupied countless times already today, I sit back and watch her breathing, almost afraid to look away should it stop.

 

Several minutes into my stay with Cassandra she begins to stir, I approach her side, clasping her hand, warming it in both of my own. Her eyes flutter open and the first emotion I am able to read is confusion. She glances around the room several times before silently asking me where she is and what has happened to her. With one hand I drag the chair to her bedside and perch on the edge of it. “Miss Cain you were in the North Tower in New York City. You fell and hurt your leg rather badly. You’re at Gotham general now, you were brought here by helicopter. Do you remember?” I explain cautiously. She nods but still emits confusion. Then she turns to me, a sudden fire in her eyes. “Stephanie! Jason!” She cries out, tears springing from her eyes. “My dear girl you know of Stephanie.” I whisper to her. Her hold on my hand tightens and she starts gasping. “You tried to save her didn’t you?” I ask. She turns to me and nods so vigorously I’m afraid she might hurt herself.

 

I grasp her face in both of my hands and her mouth moves as if she’s trying to speak but can’t formulate the correct words to do so. “Jason! Jason!” She nearly yells, her absolute panic hitting my like a wrecking ball in the chest. “He’s still in surgery my dear.” I’m trying so hard to soothe her but she’s frantic, a wild buck pacing in its stall before it’s branded. “Else?” She demands in her frenzy. Else? I ask myself. She must be asking about the others. I conclude. “Master Richard has badly injured his hand, Miss Gordon is- is paralyzed from the waist down, Master Damian has a broken arm, and Master Bruce is relatively unharmed.” I can’t tell her about Timothy, look at her, she’s falling to pieces in front of my very eyes. No. I must, she deserves to know. She has the right to know. I swallow hard and release a shaky breath. “Timothy has passed.” I say rather matter of factly, barring myself from the flood emotions that come searching from me. She pulls me too her, burying her head into my chest, falling apart in my grasp. I hold her tightly, under some kind of illusion that I can hold her together.

 

For a long 15 minutes we sit like this, clinging to each other in desperation, then she suddenly stills, her cries die away and her hands go to the bundle on her leg. She feels along the length of the cast and turns to me expectantly. I open the folder and hand it to her, watching as her milky eyes scan the words. She frowns down at the words and looks back to meet my gaze, her eyes again filling with tears. “No dancing?” She asks quietly, her tone similar to that of a puppy afraid to be struck. “Not for a while.” I inform her. Readying myself for her tears again I’m surprised by her steady and strong composure. “One day then.” She assures us both. “One day.” I nod and wipe the tears that stream from the eye not hidden behind white gauze. “One day.” She whispers to herself. “One day.”

 

Settling back into my chair I pull the same book from my lapel, knowing how much she loves the cavernous spaces of Master Jason’s mind. Pulling gently at the bookmark that Cassandra and I made together. “Even the sounds of nightmare from the other shelters no longer reached him, for he was back to where came from, feeding the ponies with sugar over the garden wall.” And as I begin to read we fall into this rhythm, something familiar and soothing and for one split second, what could almost appear as the blink of an eye, everything is at peace.

 

There is a knock on the door and both Cassandra and I turn towards the noise expectantly. An exhausted nurse sticks her head in to meet my eyes. “Are you the grandfather of Jason?” She asks wearily. I swallow past the sandpaper in my throat and nod. “Yes, yes I am.” She steps into the room, giving Cassandra’s frightened expression a kind smile. She wipes her brow with her trembling hand, sleeves stained crimson up to her elbows. I find myself unable to look away from the dark splotches, trapped in their depths. “It was touch and go for a while, we lost him on the table more than once, but he’s strong. He fought through it. He made it out of surgery. He’s in recovery with his father waking up now as we speak. You may go see him if you like.” She smiles, hands me a file, and closes the door on her way out.

 

Something inside me brightens, the crushing weight on my shoulders lessening if only a small amount. A genuine smile plays on my face and I find myself in the warm embrace of laughter. Cassandra joins me and soon the small room, once darkened by uncertainty is glowing with the sweet sound of relief. Here we sit, clutching our stomachs laughing, welcoming the feeling, letting it push the grief away if only for a moment.

 

After the laughing subsides, Cassandra finds herself overwhelmed by the relief of Jason’s surgery and gives in to a deep sleep, wrapping her tightly in its arms. I push her hair from her face, and with a smile planted firmly on my lips, I leave her to rest. Outside of her room I open Jason’s case file tenderly. Squinting my eyes to read the smudged words that live among the parchment. Minor subdural hematoma-repaired. Bruising on the parietal lobe. Skin grafts on forearms and on left side of torso. Tear in the hamstring tendon-repaired. Fractured talus. Strained Achilles tendon and sprained medial ligaments. Sprained wrist. 7 broken ribs. Punctured lung-repaired. Severe blood loss.

 

“I’m fine!” calls a young voice. “No you’re not. Alfred, to the med bay please?” Master Bruce summons. I stand from my stationary in the study and walk calmly to the grandfather clock, pondering on what young Jason has gotten himself into this time. When I open the doors, I’m met with a rather bloodied bird and a pensive bat. “Alf I’m fine, I just need a rag and some duct tape, really!” The young boy pleads. Bruce pulls me aside and speaks in a hushed whisper. “He took a knife to the shoulder, he’s lost a lot more blood than he would let you believe. Patch him up please?” His eyes hide worry and I pretend that I’m blind to it. “Right away Master Bruce.” And with a swoosh the young man has hurried away. Jason calls after him in anger “Careful there Bruce! It was almost like you were worried about my safety!” I allow myself a heavy sigh. “You should try to refrain from patronizing him young master, you know he cares.” I express coolly. The young boy frowns. “Not sure I would know what that feels like.” he says to himself, rather matter of factly. The words haunt the air as I ready his sutures.

 

His voice fades back into grey wallpaper and the helium in my gut seems to vaporize, the heaviness returning. I cling to the smile though, not letting it hide away just yet.

 

I reach his door with uneven steps, stopping when I notice a tense conversation spiking just beyond the door.  Leslie’s voice, muffled, crawls its way through the single glass pane. “Now give him a little time Bruce, he might be a little confused at first.” there’s a heavy sigh from the bedside before I hear the unmistakable growl of Master Wayne. “Okay… okay.” He repeats the words to himself quietly until the figure in the bed jolts awake, the sudden movement greeted with a quiet cry of pain and several strong hands gently holding his shoulders. Through the glass I watch the unmeasurable amount of panic wash over his face, bloodshot blue eyes scanning the room in distrust.

 

I try to force my stationary feet to advance to his side, to embrace him as tenderly as humanly possible and never again let any of them go. Ever. But alas here I stand, frozen to the spot as young Jason gathers the pieces of himself in his gauze wrapped arms, careful not to let any of them slip from his grasp. He takes several painful shuddering breaths, looking up into the ceiling to keep his glassy eyes from shattering to his soot darkened face. His one stable hand clasps the rail of the bed with such intensity I’m afraid it might break.

 

Bruce is by his side, seemingly trapped in a loop of uncertainty, stuck between reaching to comfort the boy and hiding his face in his hands. Slowly but surely, with soothing words from Leslie that didn’t make it passed the two of them, his heart rate slows and his grip relaxes. Leslie steps back adjusting his morphine drip. “Jason I want you to listen to me okay?” She begins sweetly. “You’ve been through a lot today and I need you to say something okay? Can you speak?” Jason, who has been fixated on Bruce’s face anxiously, glances at her briefly before resuming his stare. Bruce looks up to meet his gaze, and the boy’s face contorts in confusion at Bruce’s tear stained face. Jason clears his throat and opens his mouth to speak, a hoarse whisper escapes and he winces. He clears his throat again and manages “Who are you?”

 

In this exact moment it feels as though I’ve lost my grip on the cliff of reality, and I fall. Out of my peripheral vision I see Master Bruce in the same turmoil I’m experiencing, his face frozen in what I can only read as complete and utter terror. I put a hand to my chest, thinking for some unbeknownst reason that it will relieve the pressure. Leslie stumbles on her words slightly in the electric air. “Jason you- you just had a major surgery and might… it might take you a minute to- to remember everything.” Bruce reaches out weakly, “Jason?” he whispers, and the sound breaks something deep within me. The boy who seemed to be trapped in his own fear suddenly breaks out into a weak smile and croaks out, “Ha! I got you.” All three of us release our breath in a sort of dry laugh, trying to right ourselves in this tops turvy day we’re all witness to.   

 

Bruce rocks back in his chair, pushing his hands over his eyes for a moment before looking an amused Jason up and down. A strained whisper escapes him “That’s not funny.” The boy smiles a small, innocent smile “There you go again, underestimating me.” he shakes his head before a painful grimace overtakes his expression. “Jay I learned pretty quickly to not to underestimate you.” replies Bruce tiredly. “Oh yeah?” Jason laughs a small rattling laugh, but there isn’t any bitterness behind the words. Then the young sir turns his head to Leslie and asks calmly, as if asking the weather. “Leslie? Why can’t I see out of my right eye?” Bruce jerks in his chair, forcing himself to stay as calm as he could manage. “Jason you had a subdural hematoma and some swelling in your frontal lobe, that put some pressure on your optic nerve but there is no damage to the nerve itself, so as the swelling goes down your vision should return.” “Okay great, just checking.” Jason replies.

 

The comment gives me reason for my smile to return. “I don’t mind a little darkness,” Starts the young bird, “ it reminds me of home.” he smirks slightly and before he can even think of the next thing to say his eyes shoot open and the beeping of the heart rate monitor quickens. His voice scratches out the almost inaudible words, soaked in dread. “The others. What happened to them?” Leslie and Bruce share a look and I decide I can’t stay and watch him fall apart. Out of them all Master Jason and Timothy were the closest to actual brothers, his death will destroy him. I hasten away to collect Ace from the car, who will soon be a much needed comfort. As I weave my way down the grief drenched halls, and make my way to door his anguished cry washes down the hallway. It’s hardly audible, but the palpable grief nearly knocks me out of my shiny leather shoes.

 

The phone rings persistently in the kitchen and I rush to catch it before the machine. A flash of red passes me and nearly runs straight into the door frame missing it by millimeters. The young boy snatches the phone and waits anxiously. “Dick? Yeah it’s me… no he’s in the dining room… did you get it? Great! Just in time! Ok I’ll see you in a few.” I walk calmly into the kitchen and when the boy replaces the telle back on the receiver and turns around he nearly jumps out of his skin at my presence. “What are you up to Master Jason?” I inquire innocently. He wipes his hands on his jeans nervously. “Um… I was just talking to Dick. Ok, catch you later Alf!” and with that he hurries away. Not in the least phased by is strange behavior I continued my daily chores only to be stopped several hours later by a locked study door. Behind the polished oak I hear persistent whispers followed by a hushed “Shut your hole!” I knock impatiently and the lock slides out of place, the door opening with a creak. The room is pitch black and in search for the light switch the room bursts with light and confetti. In front of me are four happy faces, Masters Bruce, Jason and Richard, and Miss Gordon. “Happy Birthday Alfred!” They shout. And I laugh, really laugh, for the first time in a while.

 

They’ve continued the tradition Jason set for nearly every year now, excluding the year in which he passed of course. After hearing of it, Timothy took it on himself to assure its happening.

 

Outside by the car I lean heavily against it, willing my lungs to cooperate. Never in my life have I had a day such a horrid as this one, it’s all too much for me to handle. Opening the door I put our spare service animal vest on Ace’s back and he sits patiently by my side for me to grasp my composure. I reach desperately for it but it dissolves like smoke through my trembling fingers. I watch it fade into the tear darkened sky, not to return to me for several days I suppose. The days to follow promising to not be any easier, ensuring long hours of rehab and tears, self-doubt and grief, each room in the manor growing persistently colder with each passing minute. Holding tightly to Ace’s leash we walk small steps back into the lobby.

 

Once inside our ears tune into a distant alarm indicating of a code blue somewhere in the hospital. I try to ignore it, I try to let myself believe it’s someone else’s tragedy and not my own. Down the hallway to my family’s rooms the alarm only grows louder, pulling me impatiently to it. I begin to run, not even aware of where I am running to, but the sound of the alarm lands me outside a familiar door. I’m cemented to the spot, trapped within my own hamster wheel of turmoil. Three nurses restrain Master Bruce, pushing him feverishly out into the hallway, “What happened?! He was fine! He was fine!!” He yells at them in frustrated grief. Once outside the room they close the door to bar him from reentering. Through the crisscrossed glass, I watch in awe, doctors, nurses, surgeons, interns, working as one organism. The boy on the table has been stripped of his bed sheet, his gown cut open to reveal the cuts and bruises I let myself forget. Jagged rib ends dancing beneath the skin’s surface.

 

“Charge to 200!” they scramble, ready themselves for the charge. The boy’s chest rises and falls in time with the mask over his face, breathing for him. “Clear!” the child convulses slightly, his body jolting from the energy tightening around his heart. His head lolls back down to the mattress and they continue compressions. His wounds reopening under the stress, oozing what little blood he has circulating out to stain the crisp white sheets.

 

Ace whimpers anxiously at my side, and I feel the desire to join him. To fall on all fours and merely whimper, because what else can I do? Master Bruce, who had been leaning against the door silently, begins to wail. The Bruce Wayne that has been hiding for so many years breaks free and wails just as he did on that horrid night, the night he was orphaned. He stands and stumbles towards me, clutching my arms. “Alfred. Tell me he’s going to make it.” He demands shakily, and for a moment I truly believe I’ve lost him too, then I peel my eyes from the frantic team before me and look to him. The desperation is palpable, radiating off of him as heat would a generator. Tears leak steadily from his eyes, falling to the ground with each shuddering breath he takes. I open my mouth to speak, but what am I to say? If I say that the will survive and he does not, what becomes of me? How could I expect him to forgive me?

 

My voice trembles as I speak. “Young Jason is a strong man, if he wishes to fight… he- then he will.” What the words mean I could honestly not explain, but they seem to help in Master Bruce’s panic, soothing him if only for a second.

 

“Charge to 300!” The team scrambles again, the young man’s chest, a once strong and well defined specimen collapsed in more places in one from the doctor’s efforts. His past painted in blood and abandonment, draped on crimson sheets, once again broken and alone. “Clear!” The boy’s body jolts again and I will my eyes to close, to blind myself from his ragged body being torn farther and farther apart. Slowly I force them shut, both hands white knuckles on Ace’s leash we wait, and we pray.

 

“Charge again!” “But Dr. Tompkins-” “I said charge again! I will not give up on him and neither will you, now CHARGE AGAIN!!” I squeeze my eyes shut, reaching out to clutch Bruce’s shoulder. The machine powers up, too slowly. “Clear!” the sound of his body falling back onto the gurney, then nothing. We wait, long seconds pass and the monitor still blares. I open my eyes to find myself in a brightly lit room, there are no discernable walls or edges, just...space. I venture forward, the sound of my shoes echoing through the cavernous space. I’ve been here before… There is a sudden change of light and the moon shines down gently onto a Gotham rooftop. When I go to look off the edge I see no city, no pollution, merely a warm light grey mist. “Alfred?”

 

I turn around at the sound and find him, Jason. He stands beside what I can only describe as a telephone tower, it teeters dangerously in a ghost like wind, it seems to reach all of the way up to the moon. He stops climbing and looks down at me, venturing down a few feet to see me clearer. He moves stiffly, in obvious pain but I don’t see any physical harm on his body. He speaks again, louder this time, “Alf?” Just as I open my mouth to respond the roof shakes violently and Jason loses his grip landing hard on his back. I rush to his side, easing him up to a sitting position. He gasps hard for breath and as he struggles the moon dims significantly. “Every time--I fall---It gets--darker-” He manages between gasps. It hits me then what this is, somehow I’ve made it into Jason’s limbo, where he fights to stay alive. I sound out the facts carefully, tasting them, “So to survive means climbing to the top of this tower… and to fall means to die?” He nods, still clutching his chest. I stand hauling him to his feet, but his knees give way underneath him and he inches closer to the edge as if something pulls him to it.

 

I left his chin so his eyes meet mine. “You must climb my boy, you have a family and a whole world waiting for you. You must climb Jason.” I coax him. “You don’t understand Alf, I’ve been climbing, for what feels like weeks this tower and myself have been falling apart piece by piece. I just don’t think I can do it Alf.” he recounts shakily, “Don’t say that Jason, I know you can do it. I know it.” I’m desperate now, the force that’s pulling him to the edge grows stronger and I pull desperately against it. “I’m just so tired Alfred. Haven’t I done enough already?” he looks over the edge “It would be so easy to just let go.”

 

I pull us both to the base of the tower, taking his hands and locking them around a support and letting go. I step back, watching him grasp to the cold metal. My eyes begin to burn and I get lost in the felling, I get lost in the looks of desperation as he clings to life, fighting so hard it makes my muscles ache just to watch him. “This is your choice Jason, it is your life and it’s not up to me to choose its path, although I wish it were. I wish it were with all that I am son.” The moon flickers and his grip slips. I can’t move to save him. It’s not my call. A foreign wind blows his hair from his face, revealing the tears that occupy his cheeks. I steady my breath and continue. “I just want you to know son, that whatever happens, we will always love you Jason, you never have to doubt that. And I will always cherish our meet ups on father’s day. Our late nights in the library drinking tea. Sunday morning chess. Helping me in the kitchen. The way you can always brighten my day just by being around. You. You Jason. None of that will be for nothing.”

 

He slips again and cries out for me, his voice and my heart breaking in unison. “Alfred… I’m sorry. I- I don’t think I’m strong enough.” The shards of my heart get caught in my throat making it hard to speak. “Jason… It’s okay, it’s okay. You don’t have to be strong any more. As much as we all want you to stay. It’s- it’s okay to let go. You’ve been brave and strong and broken… all at once, you don’t have to be strong anymore. Ja- Jason it’s okay. It’s okay.” I want to reach for him, to tell him to fight it, to tell him to climb, but I can’t… I simply can’t. He has to know- he has to know that it’s okay, that he doesn't have to be sorry anymore. He looks to me, then to the top of that tower, his arms trembling with fatigue. And in those last moments before I’m forced back into reality, he smiles… and tearful, broken smile, but a smile all the same.

 

His face fades back into the dim hallway, and I’m again standing adjacent his door. The persistent blaring of the monitor. His skin growing colder by the second, and I just hope beyond reason that he’s strong enough to reach the top.


Chapter Text

Bruce

Ten years later

 

            “Today’s the day.” I announce solemnly “The grand opening of the memorial.” I face 3 headstones, and they loom gently back at me, still glistening with morning dew. I run a hand roughly over my face to control my emotions. Ten years… Ten whole years and I can still see their faces clear as day, meeting me with radiant smiles that turn my stone cold heart to mush. Running my hand over the polished rock I give myself a moment to close my eyes and feel the day. The cool September air, a gentle breeze, the sun just risen from bed. Behind me I hear shoes trodden on grass and whoever it is puts a firm hand on my shoulder. “Are you ever going to take that damn thing down? I mean are you just saving it for when I die… again?” I open my eyes to find Jason’s smirk. I allow a small laugh. “Yeah, something like that.” “Good to know. Now hurry up, we wanna get there before rush hour.” He calls over his shoulder as he heads back to the manor.

 

            I watch him go, his limp still slightly visible even after all of this time, the skin on his wrists and forearms covered in a patch work of scarred skin. It’s been a long road to recovery for him. That day, ten years ago, I really thought I’d lost him. Leslie shocked him 5 times before he started beating his heart on his own. 9 days on a ventilator before he woke up, and after that… years of rehab. Let’s just say I’m glad that we have friends who can watch over Gotham during times like that, the Red Hood didn’t dawn his helmet for a good 20 months after waking up. It was- is really hard for him, he hates waking up every morning just to look at his hands and be reminded of every awful thing that happened that day. But he never shut down, never gave into the pain, and there was a lot of it. I mean he had his moments, but we all did. We all found our strengths in different places, I found mine in all of them, helping them heal. Barbara and Damian grew unexpectedly close, along with Dick. And Jason and Cassandra became almost inseparable, and have been ever since.

 

            I follow him down the well-worn path from the cemetery, to find the car already loaded up. I climb in and with a wave from Alfred we’re off. The drive isn’t so different than the first time, there is laughter and pranks, snide comments and regular insults, but as we enter New York City Limits the pressure in the car seems to change. Each one of them grows suddenly quiet and begins their nervous twitch, they all have one. Something they do when they think about what happened. Barbara beats on her legs gently, Dick holds his hand to his chest, a far off look in his eyes. Jason merely puts one hand on his chest, closes his eyes and counts his heartbeats. Cassandra bounces her left leg to no discernible rhythm, and Damian cradles his arm and rocks so minutely you can hardly tell he’s doing it.

 

We park and all help Barbara into her wheelchair, the boys arguing over who gets to push her until they realized she’s already left them behind, and doesn’t need anyone to push her wheelchair, she was plenty capable of doing it herself. I smile at the sight, the 5 of them more like siblings as time goes on. We walk down the bustling streets, not having returned since that day. Now the sidewalks are adorned with blinking lights and buskers on every corner. We turn onto Greenwich St. and spot it, a beautiful memorial to all 2,996 strangers who died, and two we loved.  They start off towards it and I wait behind for a moment, simply watching them in awe, they were mere children when they endured this and now… now the youngest is 22. I watch as they get smaller in the distance, my children, not that I can take any credit for how strong, bold and intelligent they all are. Me? I’m just along for the ride, just an innocent bystander. I’m just glad I got to watch them grow up, change the world, make me proud a million times over, become who they were always meant to be. All but two that is. All but two, that never got the chance.

 

I stride toward them to their sides pausing only slightly at the sight of it before advancing. I look back to find Damian frozen to the spot. “Dami?” Asks Dick from beside me. “C’mon man, its fine see? Open space, safe. Safe.” Coaxes Jason from my left. Still Damian remains glued to the spot. “Damian if I can walk down the aisle then you can walk up to this memorial. Plus you have functioning legs so it should be a piece of cake.” Adds Barbara. “Hey hey hey! Wait just a minute, Dick and I practically carried you down the aisle, all you had to do is stay upright.” Says Jason. “Boy was that a long ceremony, I don’t think my arms have ever been so tired.” pipes up Dick. They laugh, much to Barbara’s dismay. “Not the point guys!” she starts, turning to face them.  “He’d never seen me upright before, we met after the incident! I thought it would be cool.” She retorts. “I thought it was cool Babs.” Says Damian quietly. She smiles back and beckons for him to follow them, and just like that he’s freed from his fear and walks up to her side.

 

Cassandra stifles a laugh with her hand and and signs something quickly to Jason, who bursts out laughing. “You have to tell Babs!” He roars. She signs something back at him and he shakes his head. “Uh uh, no way in hell and I risking saying it to her! You say it.” She sighs. “Ok.” She mumbles and rushes to Barbara’s side signing the same thing to her, but slower. Her mouth falls open and she slaps Cassandra’s arm, who dances away in giggles.

 

We reach the base of what I could only describe as a fountain, names etched down the walls in neat rows. “Alright everyone. Fan out.” I say and lean down to read the names closest to me. With all 5 of us reading every name carved upon this memorial, I thought it would be a piece of cake to find what we’re looking for. Wow was I wrong. 20 minutes pass before one of them speaks up. “I found Stephanie.” She declares through a strained voice. “Cass don’t move, everyone else keep looking for Timmy.” Shouts Dick, ignoring the looks of pity cast in out direction. It’s me who finds Tim’s name, carved delicately on polished rock. My heart jumps to my throat at the sight, catching my words. “Found him.” I manage. And it begins.

 

Every year we all drive up to New York City on September 11th. One by one we say our piece to each of them, honor their sacrifice, their bravery, their selflessness. Every year we visit them, until one by one, we join them.

 

 

END