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Family Reunion

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Chapter 1

Gotham; September 10th, 23:46 EST

She skipped down the hallway, humming a tune that only she could hear in her head. She lightly swung her baseball bat as she made her way to where he was no doubt waiting for her, a large bag slung over her other shoulder. She knew that he was probably growing annoyed the longer she made him wait, but she had a very good reason…or at least she believed so.

Her blond pigtails lightly bounced with her skipping; a grin plastered on her face. She knew that he was going to be so happy with what she’d been able to get for him. This was going to be the biggest plan that he’d ever come up with. She for one couldn’t wait to see how it was all going to play out. Gotham was going to be utter chaos…well, more so than it usually was.

Mistah J was an absolute genius.

He would be the love of her life no matter what happened to them, no matter who tried to tear them apart. They were like two halves of the same whole, two jigsaw puzzle pieces that fit together so perfectly. Making him happy made her happy. She couldn’t imagine a better life than this.

She happily skipped her way into the room to find her boyfriend leaning over a table, the palms of his hands flat on top of it as he looked over some plans that were sprawled out over it. “I’m back, puddin’,” she announced in a sing-song voice. “Did you miss me?”

“What took you so long?” he bluntly asked her without looking up. “Did you find what I wanted?”

Pushing aside the jab of hurt that sprung up inside of her, she came to a stop on the other side of the table opposite him. “Of course, I did, Mistah J,” she replied. “Would I ever let ya down?”

“You have before,” he stated, finally looking up at her.

“It’s not always my fault and you know that,” she insisted with a pout. “You know Bats gets in the way sometimes.”

“Well, he’s not going to see this coming,” he told her. “By the time he figures it out, it’ll be far too late to do anything about it.”

“I must say this is your best plan ever,” she agreed with a nod.

“Of course, it is,” he said as if it was plainly obvious. “I just wish that I had thought of it a long time ago.”

“Well, ya thought of it now and that’s all that matters,” she reassured him.

A sickening cackle filled the air as the Joker tipped his head back. “Oh, Batsy,” he uttered with a gasp of amusement. “I wish I could see the look on his face when it all goes down.”

“If this doesn’t push him over the edge, nothing will,” Harley told him.

“Oh, this will most definitely do the trick,” he agreed. “Where’s the stuff you got?”

“I set it over there,” she said as she pointed to the large bag she had laid down on a nearby chair.

“This is only the beginning, Harl,” he said with definite glee. “This is just the beginning.”

Underworld; September 12th, 05:04 EST

He sat on his heels in the corner of the throne room, a thick chain around his neck that only allowed him so much leeway. Lit candles throughout the room flickered and danced, never completely burning down as they cast an eerie glow about the extensive space.

His gaze constantly shifted, always searching as thoughts churned over slowly in his mind. Memories of a cherished past rose in his mind at any given moment, a life that he was no longer allowed to be a part of bringing up the harsh reality of his current existence.

He was consistently looking and waiting, biding his time until he could find a way of escape from this hell he found himself in. He was not going to accept this as his fate. He would not give up trying to find a way out of here no matter how long it took him.

He had forever to break free, but he refused to wait any long than absolutely necessary.

He’d memorized the lay out of the throne room from the moment he’d first been brought here and chained next to the throne like some animal. He wasn’t about to let Hades continue to threat him like this for much longer. Soon, he would get his revenge and Hades would lament the day that he had brought him here.

He tried to focus his thoughts on his wife and family, afraid that he was going to forget them—their faces, their laughter, the sound of their voices, the way his little children’s eyes would light up when he came home from work. They helped to keep him grounded every time he felt his sanity was beginning to slip from his grasp, but it wouldn’t help him forever.

He felt his mind vacillating the longer he was down here. The hold that Hades had had on his mind had been broken before he had brought him to the Underworld, but it was growing more difficult to remember details and names, memories already becoming blurred at the edges…fraying…becoming tattered and worn.

He couldn’t lose himself down here or he’d never escape.

He had no idea how long he’d been down here. It could have been days or weeks…maybe months. It felt like an eternity anyway that he looked at it. A deep ache lived deep inside of him now, replacing the sense of happiness and peace that his family had created within him.

The flames of the numerous candles in the throne room abruptly flickered, nearly going out before just as quickly righting themselves and telling him that Hades was approaching. In the next moment, the god of the Underworld swept into the room along with the shadow of someone following close behind him.

Batman kept his head lowered, portraying the obedient, submissive slave in order to buy himself time to plot his escape. Meanwhile, his focused gaze hidden behind the cowl kept a watchful eye on everything that was going on around him. While Hades believed that he held him under his control, his father-in-law still kept a constant watch on him as if to make sure.

“There’s my favorite son-in-law,” Hades boasted as he made his way to his throne, his deep baritone voice ricocheting off the throne room walls.

Batman internally bristled with Hades’ words of greeting but kept his expression stoic. He refused to reveal his hand until it was absolutely necessary. He bowed his head, remaining in place by Hades’ throne where he’d been left.

“The Detective is quite the specimen is he not?”

Bruce ground his teeth with the sound of Ra’s al Ghul’s voice, his anger rising. What was Ra’s doing here with Hades? Shouldn’t he be in the Pits of Tartarus right now?

“Yes, my daughter chose very well,” Hades agreed. “Unfortunately for her, Diana will never see him again. He’s a permanent resident of my realm from now on.”

Ra’s studied the father of his grandson Damian, wondering just how much control Hades actually had on him. Once he’d put on the armor, Hades’ power and essence had overwhelmed him, suppressing his conscious mind and making it difficult to remember what had actually happened.

His awareness didn’t return until he’d found himself in the Underworld with Hades, forever separating him from his daughter and grandson as well as the world that he had been fighting to save. Now, he just had to find a way to get out of here. He knew that if anyone could escape this imprisonment it would be the Detective. Unfortunately, he didn’t appear to be in any condition to do that at the moment.

“So, I must ask why you have brought me here,” Ra’s ventured, clasping his hands behind his back as he slowly wandered around the luxurious throne room.

“You were the only man able to reassemble my armor and release me from the Underworld,” Hades replied, pouring himself a glass of wine. “That takes a very powerful and intelligent human being to accomplish such an astounding feat.”

“That’s quite high praise coming from the god of the Underworld,” Ra’s humbly replied, hoping to garner special benefits while he was down here. He knew better than to try to go up against Hades. It was best to stay on his good side until he could escape his prison.

“So, tell me your story,” Hades requested. “I want to know what your plans were once you released me.”

Ra’s sat down in a chair near the throne, prepared to tell his story. He momentarily glanced at the Dark Knight, wondering what he was thinking. Was he fully aware of what was going on around him? Did he even recognize him?

Batman carefully watched the exchange taking place before him, hoping to find something…anything that he might be able to use to get out of here. There was no way that he was going to stay down here another minute longer than he absolutely had to.

If Ra’s happened to be his way of escape, then so be it. He’d do whatever was necessary to get back to Diana and his family. He had made a promise to her in France when they had gone to retrieve Hades’ belt that he would do everything in his power to come back to her and he intended to keep that promise.

Batcave; September 12th, 07:31 EST

“It’s been over four days,” Diana ground out. “I’m not going to wait another day to go after him. He’s already been down there for too long.”

“I know, Diana, but you have to make sure you’re fully recovered before going down there and taking on Hades,” Superman reminded her, standing firm despite the withering glare he was receiving from the fearsome Amazon warrior. “I’d go with you if I could, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for both of us to be gone to the Underworld. If something were to happen on Earth while we’re gone—”

“I know, Kal,” she told him, her frustration seeping to the surface. “I’m not asking you to come along. Artemis is coming with me. We’ll be perfectly fine.”

Superman released a low, slow breath as he considered his next words wisely. “Just…just be careful, Diana,” he softly said. “I’ve already lost one best friend. I don’t want to lose you too.”

“You won’t,” she promised him. “I’ll bring Bruce back…I swear on my life.”

“I know you will,” he agreed with a nod, his lips pursed into a grim line. “Just hurry. I don’t want you down there any longer than you have to be.”

“I don’t want to be away from my family for very long,” she confessed, rubbing her forehead. “Nicholas and Kaia are growing more and more anxious for Bruce to return home. Nicholas knows something is wrong, but he’s too young to fully grasp hold of what it could be. He keeps asking questions about where he is at. Kaia cries at night for Bruce to tuck her into bed. It’s breaking my heart, Kal. They both miss him so much.”

“They’re strong kids just like their parents,” he assured her. “Once you bring Bruce home, they’ll forget about the time that he was gone.”

“I hope you’re right,” she murmured, wrapping her arms around herself.

“I’ll check in on things at home for you while you’re gone,” he offered. “Maybe it would help if Nicholas and Kaia come over for a sleep over with Lara and Christopher for the weekend.”

“I don’t know…maybe,” she relented. “I’ll have to let you know.”

“So, when do you think you’ll leave?” he ventured.

“Tomorrow,” she decided. “I wanted to leave sooner, but Nick and Kaia needed me here. I can’t put it off any longer now, though. I’ve got to get him out of there. The thought of him being down there with my father makes me sick inside. There’s no telling what he could be doing to Bruce right now.”

“Try not to think about it,” he told her. “Focus on the fact that Bruce is a strong fighter like you. He won’t go down easily. He’s far too stubborn and cocky.”

Diana chuckled softly. “That’s true,” she softly replied.

“Have a safe trip and contact me the minute you leave the Underworld,” he instructed her.

“I will,” she said with a nod. “Thank you, Kal.”

“Any time, Diana,” he responded. “Good luck and stay safe.”

The computer screen went black, the silence filling the Batcave oppressive as she sat all alone in Bruce’s command chair on the platform. She slowly ran her fingers over the black leather arms of the chair, her thoughts consumed with her husband.

She missed the feel of him…his masculine scent, the way that he looked at her with such love and desire, his piercing blue eyes that seemed to see directly into her soul. She longed to feel him next to her in their bed, wanted his large muscular body wrapped around her and holding her to him in their own personal cocoon.

She rubbed her arms to ward off the chill of loneliness that had settled over her despite the fact her family was upstairs eating breakfast at that moment. Without Bruce here, she felt an overwhelming emptiness inside of her that only he could fill.

She knew it was her responsibility to find Bruce and to bring him back home to their family, to make sure the children had their father, the Batclan their leader, the Justice League their unspoken field general and commander. It felt as if the weight of the world rested on her shoulders.

While it felt oppressive, she wouldn’t have it any other way. There was no one that she trusted to get her husband back then herself. She and Bruce were partners in every sense of the word, and she would not let her partner down or go on in life without him.

The sound of her cell phone ringing drew her from her thoughts, forcing her to respond. “Hey, Shay,” she answered.

“So, you haven’t answered me yet,” she reminded her. “When do we leave for the Underworld?”

Diana released a sigh as she tilted Bruce’s chair back, bending her left leg and drawing it up under her. “Artemis is going with me,” she revealed.

“That still doesn’t answer my question,” she pointed out. “When do we leave?”

“Shay, I can’t let you go with me,” she tried to tell her, her eyes falling closed. She’d slept so little since her father had taken Bruce to the Underworld.

“Who said anything about letting me go with you?” she demanded to know. Her voice revealed her determination. “I asked when do we leave.”

Diana chuckled softly with her response. “Shay…”

“I’m not letting you go down there without me,” she insisted. “We took on the Underworld before, Diana. We can do it again and bring Bruce out with us.”

“I know, but I can’t ask you to go this time.”

“Okay, Amazon,” Shayera bluntly stated. “You’re either sleep deprived or you’re too busy thinking about Bruce to get what I’m saying. I am going with you whether you ask or not…whether you let me or not. It’s just a matter of telling me when we leave. I have a mace and I’m ready to fly.”

Diana couldn’t stop the smile from forming on her face as she glanced at the glass case filled with all the uniforms, her heart sinking with the sight of the empty space where Bruce’s uniform was supposed to be waiting for him. “I really appreciate it Shay, but—”

“No, ‘buts’ princess,” Shayera sternly said. “You need help. Artemis is great, but two of us with you is even better.”

“What about Rex and Isabella?” Diana asked.

“John’s mother is going to help watch them while I’m gone,” she informed her. “Now, I’m only going to ask one more time, Missus Wayne, and I expect an answer. When do we leave?”

Diana raked her fingers back through her raven mane, feeling guilty about bring Shayera into this, but her presence would guarantee their success and she couldn’t take any chances with Bruce’s life. “Tomorrow morning,” she relented. “Be here and ready to go by eight.”

“I’ll be there,” she promised.

“Thank you, Shay,” she softly said.

“No thanks are necessary,” she told her. “You would do no less if it was John. Now, I’m going to go polish my mace. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

“See you then,” Diana replied before hanging up.

Diana ran her thumb over the screen of her cell phone, a picture of her and Bruce looking back at her. She had caught Bruce unawares, snapping a picture in a rare moment of amusement. She adored the picture, but even more so the look of light and love that permeated his eyes as he stared at her. It was something that he’d only ever let show through at certain moments when they’d first married, and she had been able to capture it.

Standing to her feet, she tucked her phone into her jeans pocket, needing to get upstairs to take Nicholas to preschool before running a few errands. She lightly dragged her fingers along the top of the desk, anxious for the moment when she could come down here and find her husband working away on his computer again.

She had found him here more times than she could begin to count, threatening him with bodily harm if he didn’t come up to bed or if he didn’t get ready for an event they needed to attend. He would always give her his go-to response without even looking away from the computer screen.

She shook her head as a tender smile graced her face. She would be so exasperated with him sometimes, usually making them late to wherever they needed to be because of his dallying. Now, she would give anything just to have him here.

She forced herself to walk away, descending the platform and quickly making her way up the stairs and into the manor. Entering from behind the grandfather clock, she made her way to the kitchen, greeted by the sounds of her family chattering while they ate breakfast.

“So, do I get to go out with you tonight or what?” Damian asked, clearly disgruntled already this morning.

Diana smiled to herself. The newest addition to the Wayne family was settling in better than he had when he’d first arrived and yet it was definitely going to take some time to find full trust and acceptance. He was going to have to earn it.

“Maybe,” Tim relented.

“Maybe?” Damian questioned him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means maybe,” Tim repeated. “Bruce never said if he felt you were ready to go out on patrol in Gotham.”

“I think I more than proved myself when that crazy Amazon attacked the manor,” Damian grumbled as he poked at his scrambled eggs with his fork. “Besides, my father isn’t here, and you need the extra help. I even heard you tell Jason yesterday that you think Joker is planning something huge. You need me.”

“Fine, we’ll see,” Tim decided, looking up to find Diana entering the kitchen.

“I can help tonight too,” Diana offered as she took her usual seat at the table.

“You have too much to worry about right now without helping patrol Gotham,” Tim said with a shake of his head. “When do you think you’ll…”

Tim’s voice trailed off, his eyes falling on Nicholas and Kaia who were intently listening in with curious eyes. Diana’s hand fell on the back of Nicholas’s head, gently stroking his hair. “Tomorrow.”

Tim nodded his head in understanding, his grip tightening on his fork. “I wish we could do more to help you.”

“You all are helping more than you know,” she reassured them. “Making sure that everything is taken care of here is a huge relief. I know you’ll all take care of each other and the little ones. That means a lot to me.”

“How long do you think it’ll take?” Tim cryptically asked.

“I don’t know,” she confessed. “It could be three or four days, or it could be a week or more.”

“I don’t want you to worry about anything, Miss Diana,” Alfred told her, squeezing her shoulder in reassurance. “Everything will be looked after here.”

“I really appreciate that,” she replied. “Nicholas, hurry up and get your backpack.”

Nicholas frowned as he slid out of his seat. “I want daddy to take me to school.”

“Daddy isn’t here right now,” she told him. “I’m going to take you.”

Nicholas stamped his feet, his hands balled into fists. “I want daddy to take me.”

“We don’t have time for this, Nicholas,” she sternly stated. “Go get your backpack. You’re going to be late for school.”

“I don’t want to go!” he cried. “I want daddy!”

“Daddy is gone, Nicholas…he’s not here,” she angrily snapped, her patience having run out. Nicholas began to cry, tears running down his face as Diana knelt before him and gathered him into her arms, guild overwhelming her. “I’m sorry, little warrior. I know it’s hard. I know you miss your daddy. I miss him too.”

Nicholas laid his head on Diana’s shoulder as he cried, tears wetting her shirt as she held him close. Tim swallowed hard, trying to keep a tight hold on his own emotions, but it was next to impossible with how his little brother and sister were struggling with Bruce’s absence. They were too young to understand. All they knew was that they missed their dad and wanted him back.

Damian kept his focus on his plate, finding it more than difficult to watch the scene playing out before him. His own mother had left him, abandoning him in order to follow his grandfather’s sadistic schemes. He couldn’t help wondering where she was…if she even thought about him or would ever come back for him and now his father was missing.

Seeing how upset Nicholas was at that moment, Kaia began to cry, wanting her daddy too. Tim picked her up, holding her in his arms as he rubbed her back. “Hey, daddy will be back before you know it,” he reassured her.

Alfred bit at his bottom lip, knowing just how deeply Bruce’s absence was felt by them all. He had only been gone for four days and yet it felt like a year or more. He felt such deep heartache for Nicholas and Kaia. They were so confused by all that was going on. All they knew was that their father was gone, and their lives had been turned upside down.

Hopefully, Miss Diana would be able to bring him home soon for all their sake’s.

“Do you want to stay home today with me?” Diana asked. Nicholas nodded his head, tightening his hold on his mother as he buried his face in the crook of her neck. Diana rubbed his back as she stood to her feet. “Why don’t we all go to the zoo today and go out for lunch? Would you like that?”

“Me want to go,” Kaia said with a sniffle, rubbing her nose on Tim’s shirt. “Tim go too?”

“Yah, I can go too, but I need to change my shirt first,” he readily decided, looking down at the tears and snot on his shirt.

“Okay, go get your shoes on,” Diana told them, setting Nicholas down who ran to find his shoes.

Diana rubbed her face with her hands as they left the kitchen to get ready, Damian deciding that tagging along was preferable to staying home alone. She felt an unexpected hand on her shoulder, forcing her to look behind her. Alfred gave her a gentle, knowing smile as he wrapped an arm around her shoulder.

“I’m such a horrible mother,” she murmured, fighting back her own tears. “My kids are falling apart and there’s nothing I can do to help them.”

“Nonsense,” he sternly reprimanded her. “You are a wonderful mother. This family would be completely lost without you and even more so the little ones. They’re trying to make sense of something that makes absolutely none to them. All they know is that their father isn’t here, and they miss him dearly.”

Diana released a ragged breath as she slowly shook her head. “I miss him too,” she confessed.

“If anyone can find him and bring him home, it’s you, Miss Diana,” he reminded her.

“I hope so,” she replied, the corner of her mouth curling slightly. “Want to come to the zoo with us?”

“I was going to do some cleaning and laundry today, but I think it can definitely wait,” he readily decided. “Family time at the zoo and lunch out sounds like a much better idea.”

A full-fledged smile appeared on Diana’s face as she took his hand in hers. “The kids will be thrilled to have you along.”

“I think spending time with you and the family is just what they need right now,” he agreed. “I’ll go bring the SUV around to the front.”

“Thank you, Alfred,” she said.

He squeezed her hand before removing his apron and heading for the door, leaving her standing there all alone. She drew a deep breath, steeling her resolve. She felt completely torn between her children and getting to Bruce. They both needed her so much right now.

She knew she was going to have to allow the rest of the family to make up for her absence in order to bring Bruce home where he belonged. She just hoped and prayed that she wasn’t too late in getting to him.

Gotham; September 12th, 08:46 EST

Artemis sleepily stretched her body before curling back under the covers, burying her head in the pillow beneath her. She smiled to herself, thoughts of how last night had turned out replaying in her mind and creating a warm flush that seemed to pulsate through her entire body.

She had helped Jason with patrolling Gotham last night, returning to his home around four in the morning. What had started out as an innocent kiss goodnight had turned more heated, leading to her spending the night in his bed.

Being with him had been amazing, sleep just about the only thing they hadn’t done. Her lips curled into a devious grin as she considered a repeat performance of earlier this morning, making her more than anxious to feel him inside of her all over again.

Before she could finish that thought or begin to act on it, she felt the other side of the bed dip, a pair of warm lips caressing her bare shoulder. “Morning,” he murmured against her skin.

She sighed as she tilted her head, offering more of herself to him. “Morning,” she replied.

“Did you sleep well?” he asked as he pressed the length of his body against the back of hers, his hand caressing her side.

Artemis chuckled with his question, her amusement turning into a throaty moan of pleasure. “I don’t believe we did much of that,” she reminded him.

“Are you complaining?”

“Not at all,” she insisted. “In fact, I was just thinking that I’m tired of sleeping.”

“Oh, really?” he uttered with a hum, pausing to nip at her throat. “What exactly did you have in mind?”

Artemis swiftly rolled over, pushing him onto his back as she straddled him. She brushed a crimson lock of hair out of her face as she smiled wickedly down at him. Her hands came to rest on his muscular chest as she leaned in close.

“How about I show you instead?” she seductively teased.

“You can show me anything you want to, Red,” he told her with a lustful smirk.

She pressed her lips to his, taking her time kissing him senseless. His hands settled on her hips, hanging on for dear life. She had blown his mind several times since first making love a few hours ago and he was more than ready to do it all over again with her.

He could scarcely believe that she was actually here in his bed with him. He had wanted this with her for so long and now it was a reality. The worst part was knowing that she was leaving soon with Diana to go to the Underworld to rescue Bruce.

While he wanted Bruce back home where he belonged, he feared what could happen to Artemis while she was down there. He wanted to go with her and Diana, but he knew that he couldn’t. He needed to stay here and help Tim and Dick with Gotham.

Rumors had been running rampant the last few days through the streets of Gotham that Batman was gone, disappearing in the fight against Ra’s al Ghul and Hades. Crime had begun to skyrocket, testing the Batclan to see how much they could get away with.

Jason arched his neck, pressing the back of his head deeper into the pillow as she kissed and nipped at his chest. He swore he was going to do whatever he had to in order to keep her in his life. He had never known another woman like her, stirring feelings in him that he didn’t know he was capable of possessing.

He gasped as she began to make love to him, moving at a slow, methodical pace that was gradually building his pleasure to unbearable heights. He suddenly lunged forward, his arms wrapping around her as his mouth crashed into hers.

He flipped her onto her back, taking full control as he gripped her thigh. They shared the same breath as he made love to her, showing her how he felt about her even though he hadn’t been able to tell her yet. He just hoped she knew, could feel it in every kiss and every touch.

She threaded her fingers through his hair, pulling him in for another heated kiss that had them both coming undone. Jason collapsed on top of her, struggling to catch his breath. Regaining some semblance of control, he rolled off her, moving to his side to look at her.

“You had better make it out of the Underworld in one piece,” he threatened her, his hand coming to rest against the side of her face, his thumb caressing her cheekbone.

Her lips curved with his warning as she leaned in and kissed him. “I am a warrior,” she reminded him. “I do not fail.”

“I know you’re strong, Artemis, but you’re going into the Underworld to go up against Hades,” he pointed out. “It’s not going to be a walk in the park. You guys have no idea what condition Bruce could be in by the time you find him or what you’ll have to do to even get him out of there.”

“I know, but we will not give up until we’ve rescued him,” she swore to him. “I know you and Bruce have had your differences in the past, but he’s still your father figure. I promise you I’ll bring him home.”

“I appreciate that,” he admitted. “I just wish I could go with you.”

“No, you’re needed here,” she told him, hooking a long leg over his. “Tim and Dick need the help. Even I can see how restless the streets of Gotham are without Batman’s presence. I have a feeling you’re going to have a real fight on your hands while I’m gone. Besides, Diana’s little ones are going to need you to be there for them while we’re gone.”

“We can handle it all,” he reassured her. “You just worry about finding Bruce and coming back to me.”

The corner of her lips quirked as she gazed into his handsome face. “And why is that, Jason?” she coyly asked. “Do you like me?”

He couldn’t help the smirk that took over his face as his hand settled on her hip. “I guess…maybe a little,” he teased.

“That’s good because I kind of like you too,” she murmured as she pressed her lips to his once more.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

Watchtower; September 12th, 19:47 EST

“Diana, are you sure you don’t want to take more firepower with you?” Superman asked, concern etched deeply in his face as he studied her.

“No, Kal,” she stated, shaking her head with absolute resolution. “Artemis and Shayera should be more than enough help to get Bruce out of the Underworld and back home.”

“When do you leave?” Flash asked, appearing nervous in the wake of the dangerous mission his friends were about to embark on.

“Tomorrow morning,” Diana revealed. “We’ll leave for Themyscira from the manor and then down into the Underworld.”

“We will gladly do whatever you need us to do while you are gone,” J’onn reassured her. “We’d be happy to check in on Alfred and your family for you as well if it would help ease your mind.”

“Thank you,” she replied, touched by their support. “I truly appreciate it, J’onn. I believe Dick, Jason, and Tim have things under control in Gotham and Donna and Alfred can manage the children.”

“I still don’t like this,” Wally grumbled, crossing his arms against his chest like a sullen child who wasn’t getting his way.

“Wally, none of us like this,” Superman said. “Diana’s going and that’s the end of it.”

“I won’t let Bruce stay down there any longer than necessary,” Diana told him with steel like resolve. “My children need their father…I need my husband…and Gotham needs its protector.”

“I know, Wondy,” Flash replied with a sad smile. “I just…I can’t stand the thought of you guys not coming home.”

“You do remember who is going with her, right?” Shayera said with a scowl. “Artemis and I aren’t about to let anything happen to Diana and we’re sure as hell not leaving the Underworld without Bruce.”

“I can handle myself,” Diana reassured her friends.

“We know you can, Diana, but we’re still worried about you,” Clark told her. “We want you all to return safely.”

“Can you tell us anything about what you might encounter down there?” John asked, worried about his wife’s wellbeing.

He’d never stand in the way of her going with Diana or try to dissuade her from helping their friend. He knew that she needed to go. If she hadn’t insisted on accompanying her, he would’ve gone with Diana to get Batman back. Bruce was one of his best friends and he wanted him back just as much as everyone else. Still, he couldn’t help worrying about what they were going to encounter down there.

Diana drew a deep breath, releasing it slowly as she chose her next words. “It’s not going to be easy,” she began, her forehead creasing with thought. “Hades isn’t going to let us just waltz in and take Bruce away from him. My father will likely throw up many obstacles to block our journey, but my biggest fear is for Bruce.”

“What do you mean, Diana?” J’onn asked, sensing her statement went far beyond fear for her husband’s wellbeing.

“The longer he is down there the greater the chance of Bruce losing himself,” she revealed with a haunting tone.

John’s dark eyes narrowed with concern. “Lose himself how?”

“He’ll begin to forget things…forget about himself and his life here on Earth,” she told them. “He’ll forget who he was, what he did, and how he got to the Underworld. Soon, he won’t remember any of us.”

“What? He can’t!” Wally exclaimed. “He loves you too much, Di. There’s no way he’d ever forget you or his family or even us. I’m mean we’re all family here too. We’re all too important to him to just forget about us.”

“It’s not intentional on his part, Wally,” Diana clarified. “It’s the dark powers of the Underworld. It’s to help ease a person’s transition into death.”

“But he’s not dead!” Wally cried. “We’re his family. We’re all important to him.”

“Well, some of us are more important to him than others,” John said with a frown, his glance indicating Diana.

“You know what I mean,” Wally responded with a huff of annoyance. “We’ve all been through too much together for him to just not remember us.”

“I’m going there to bring him back before that happens, Wally,” Diana reassured him.

“What about you, Shayera, and Artemis?” John asked. “Will being down there affect you the same way?”

“No, we will be entering the Underworld through the gate beneath Themyscira,” Diana informed him. “While Bruce didn’t die, Hades personally took him to the Underworld himself just as if he had died.”

“This is just so messed up,” Wally groused.

“I’ll do whatever I can to help if Bruce returns with memory loss,” J’onn informed her. “I might be able to resurrect what he lost.”

“Thank you, J’onn,” Diana said with a nod of gratitude.

“Okay, if there’s nothing else to discuss, I guess we’ll dismiss for now,” Clark said, feeling as though they might never see their friends again. It was an unsettling feeling that made him almost physically ill.

Diana stood from her chair only to find the scarlet speedster wrapping his arms around her and squeezing her tightly and making it difficult to draw a breath. “Please…come back to us, Wondy,” he softly said, his voice thick with emotion. “And bring Bats back with you. We need you guys.”

She smiled affectionately as she patted his back. “I will…I promise.”

Wally suddenly released her, leaving in a red blur as he raced out the conference room door without another word. Diana knew he was having a hard time with it all, but she wasn’t really doing much better if she were perfectly honest with herself and everyone else. She felt as though she was barely holding herself together at times, but she knew she had to.

Too many people were relying on her, her family needing her to be the anchor…Bruce needing her to come rescue him from her father right now.

She shuddered to think what Hades was putting him through at that moment, but she didn’t have time to dwell on it for long as J’onn enveloped her in his arms. “Please, be careful, Diana.”

“I will,” she said as she returned his embrace.

John and Shayera each took turns hugging her and showing their support. “I’ll transport to the manor bright and early,” she told her.

“I can’t thank you enough, Shay,” Diana replied.

“There’s no need to thank me for anything,” Shayera told her with a frown. “You would do the same for me if the situation was reversed.”

“I promise I’ll watch her back and bring her home to you,” Diana reassured John.

“I’m not worried,” he gruffly maintained with his typical Marine swagger.

“Whatever,” Shayera huffed with a roll of her eyes. “He’s only lectured me at least half a dozen times about making sure that I make it home in one piece along with every single feather.”

“Just being protective of my wife,” he claimed, leaning in and kissing her cheek.

“Come on,” she told him, taking him by the hand. “We need to get the kids tucked into bed.”

“Thanks, guys,” Diana said as they exited the conference room, leaving Diana all alone with Superman.

Diana turned towards him to find the typically strong Man of Steel looking for all the world as if he’d just lost his best friend. Tears stung her eyes as he immediately charged at her, wrapping her up in a bear hug that would’ve crushed a lesser woman, but she was no ordinary woman.

She returned his embrace, burying her face in his chest as the tears began to escape against her will. She quickly pulled away, wiping the drops away in embarrassment. “I’m sorry,” she murmured.

Clark just as quickly captured her hand, keeping her from walking away from him. “Diana, you have nothing to be sorry for,” he told her. “You and Bruce are my best friends. We’re family. If you’re hurting, I’m hurting too.”

“I just can’t lose him, Kal,” she softy confessed.

“You won’t, Di,” he reassured her. “You’re going to rescue him and bring him home.”

“I just hope he’s still my Bruce when I find him,” she said with a haunting look in her eyes. “I don’t know what I’ll do if I bring him home only to have completely lost him in the end.”

“We’ll just have to help him regain his memories,” he told her. “J’onn is more than willing to work with him to regain whatever he loses. Maybe there is something that Zatanna or Dr. Fate could do to help too if it happens.”

“I don’t know,” she replied with shake of her head. “I just wish I had a better idea about what my father is planning to do with him.”

Clark pursed his lips as he studied her. “I wish I could go with you.”

“You can’t,” she adamantly stated with a shake of her head. “You would lose all your strength in the Underworld without the sun’s rays. Besides, the world needs you here in case there’s trouble.”

“Just make sure you all come back safely,” he said.

“I will,” she promised with a forced smile that never reached her blue eyes before turning and walking out of the room.

Clark sank into a nearby chair as he stared at the door she had just left through. This was beyond dangerous, beyond anything they’d ever gone up against before. They had all believed that facing Ra’s al Ghul adorned in Hades’ armor was the worst they’d ever had to face.

Now, he was beginning to rethink that notion.

Gotham; September 13th, 02:19 EST

Red Robin studied the street below him, his eyes narrowing as he watched a couple walking down the sidewalk hand in hand. They paused to share a kiss, causing a faint smile to tug at the corners of his lips as thoughts of Cassie began to drift through his mind.

They’d gone out on a date tonight, both knowing that his time was going to be limited over the next several days depending how long it took Diana to rescue Bruce. He was more than willing to do his part and fill the shoes of his parents until they returned. Thankfully, Cassie was very understanding and more than willing to do whatever was needed to see him through this difficult time.

He honestly didn’t think he’d be able to get through this right now without knowing she was there for him. Just knowing she was by his side gave him the strength that he needed to do what he knew he needed to. With any luck, this would all be over quickly, and life could go back to normal…or as normal as things got for his unique family.

They weren’t exactly the perfect picture of a typical, all-American family, but it was his family and he loved them dearly. He knew that he wouldn’t have his life be any other way. He never would’ve guessed when Bruce had taken him in that Wonder Woman would someday become his mother, Troia his sister-in-law, or Wonder Girl his girlfriend.

He had a good feeling that things would be looking up for them once they got Bruce back. Damian was starting to be a little more tolerable and with time would probably even be liked by everyone as long Talia never came back. Jason and Artemis were a couple, though he was a little concerned about how volatile those two could be together.

The toddlers were as mischievous as ever, but it was to be expected. They were four and almost three, not to mention the offspring of Bruce and Diana. He could only imagine what Dick and Donna’s twins were going to be like as toddlers. He knew they were going to be a mighty force to be reckoned with.

“Nightwing to Red Robin.”

“What’s up?” he asked.

“Gotta admit it’s gonna take some time to get used to your new code name,” Nightwing told him.

Tim smirked. “If an old dog can be taught new tricks, then I’m sure you can learn too.”

“Hey, just because I’m older than you, it does not make me an old dog,” Nightwing stated in no uncertain terms.

“You have to admit you’re getting up there, bro,” Tim countered. “You were the first Robin after all and now Batman’s on Robin number four. Not to mention, you’re going to be a father in a few months. That makes you old.”

“That has nothing to do with it,” he bit out. “How are things on the south side?”

“Quiet for the moment, but it won’t last.”

“Why not?”

“It never stays quiet in Gotham for very long,” Red Robin pointed out.

“True, bro.”

“How’s the new Robin doing so far?”

“Not…bad,” Nightwing cryptically replied.

Red Robin chuckled softly, imagining how well Damian was listening to Dick’s orders and instructions. “That good, huh?”

He heard Nightwing release an almost imperceptible sigh before responding. “Just need to work on a few things,” he told him, trying to be tactful about it.

“Skills or obedience?”

“Mostly obedience,” he admitted. “Skills are very good…probably a lot better than I was when I first started out as Robin.”

“I was better than you when I first became Robin,” Tim teased him.

“I highly doubt that,” Nightwing countered.

“We’ll just have to ask Bats when he gets home,” Red Robin decided.

“If they make it home,” Nightwing amended.

“They will, ‘Wing,” Tim insisted, his voice hard like steel. “You know mom isn’t going to let him stay down there. I almost feel bad for Hades if I didn’t hate him so much. Mom’s going to make him wish he’d never left his home.”

“I know,” Dick confessed. “I’m just worried about how hard Hades is going to make it for them to get out. He’s not going to let them just walk right out of the Underworld even if Diana is his daughter.”

“Mom can take down Hades,” Tim resolutely stated. “No one gets in her way when it comes to protecting members of her family and especially Bruce.”

“You’re right,” Dick agreed. “I’m just afraid of what this will do to Donna if Diana doesn’t make it back or isn’t able to bring Bruce home. They share a strong emotional connection. She can feel everything that Diana feels. It’s not going to be good for the twins if she completely falls apart.”

“Donna is strong too,” he reminded him. “Besides, we’ll all be there for the both of you. You guys aren’t alone. You’re stuck with all of us whether you like it or not…even Jason and Damian.”

“Good thing I kind of like you guys,” Dick softly replied, trying to keep his tone light but failing miserably as his emotions seeped into his voice. “I just don’t have a very good feeling about all of this.”

“You’ll feel better when we return home to Alfred’s fabulous breakfast in the morning,” Tim reminded him. “It’s only gotten better over time.”

“I am going to love staying at the manor for the next week,” Dick agreed. “Don’t get me wrong. Donna is a good cook, but no one compares to Alfred’s cooking.”

“I’ll be sure to let Donna know that.”

“She already knows, and she wholeheartedly agrees with me.”

“I’m sure she does,” Tim replied. “She’s eating for three.”

Nightwing groaned, causing Tim’s stance to grow rigid. “I gotta run,” Dick told him. “Robin just took off after a couple of hoods. Later.”

“Later,” Tim said before signing off, a large grin plastered on his face.

Tim was more than relieved that Dick had volunteered to partner with Damian on his first night out. While he liked to think that he had the patience to deal with his new brother, he had to admit that it was pretty thin at times. He was fierce when it came to his family and the fact that Damian was making it so hard on everyone did not sit well with him in the least.

Taking out his grappling gun, Red Robin fired it across the street, knowing that he needed to continue his sweep of the area. There were rumors running rampant that the Joker was scheming again, various pharmaceutical companies being robbed of varying drugs.

He internally shuddered to think of Joker getting anywhere near Diana again. When he’d heard that she’d had a run-in with him that had ended with her paralyzed it had made him sick. Any encounter with Joker was a bad day, but he’d hoped that his mom would’ve been able to avoid being introduced to him for a while longer.

Joker now knew of her existence among the Batclan, making her another target in the psychotic clown’s book. It was bad enough that Batman had been his obsession for so long, but Joker had extended that circle to include anyone connected to Batman in any way, shape, or form.

He hoped they could get their hands on him before Bruce and Diana returned home. It would be a nice reprieve to not have to worry about what the Joker was up to when they got back. They could just focus on recovering from their most recent ordeal without having to leap directly into the next catastrophe.

“Red,” Nightwing hailed him. “We just spotted Joker in a green van at the corner of Sixth and Park. He’s heading your way now.”

“On my way,” Red Robin responded, feeling a surge of determination. With any luck, they’d be able to end Joker’s pharmacy looting spree tonight before Diana even left for the Underworld.

Swinging past a street light, he landed on the balls of his feet, racing down an alley where his Batcycle was waiting for him. He leapt onto his cycle, taking off down the narrow street and coming out the other side just as a bright green van flew right past him.

Red Robin took off after Joker and his gang, catching a glimpse of Joker’s face in the sideview mirror of the vehicle. Joker waved at him, no doubt releasing that infamous cackle of his, but the sound was drowned out by the roar of his Batcycle as he chased them through Gotham.

He ducked down, leaning into his cycle as one of Joker’s gang members threw what appeared to be a rubber chicken. It exploded the second it hit the ground, forcing him to serve to avoid the attack. Three more rubber chickens were flown in his direction as the Batmobile came screeching around a corner at a high rate of speed at that moment, nearly taking out a fire hydrant.

Dick slammed on the gas to catch up with Red Robin, prepared to back him up and keep Joker from getting away. Rubber chickens exploded around them, one of the gang members leaning out of the window of the van with a modified rocket launcher.

“Crap,” Damian mumbled under his breath from the passenger seat as they shot at the Batmobile in an effort to stop them.

“Don’t worry,” Dick reassured him. “Your dad built this thing to be like a tank.”

The launcher fired with a resounding boom, a large rubber chicken slamming into their windshield and exploding upon impact. Damian ducked, stunned to find the windshield completely intact once the smoke cleared, Red Robin closing in on the van.

“We need to get closer!” Robin told Nightwing.

“This isn’t the first time I’ve done this,” Nightwing snapped. “Just hold on.”

Nightwing swerved to avoid more explosives being fired at them, a death grip on the steering wheel. Chasing Joker through the streets of Gotham was dangerous to say the least, worry about any innocent people getting tangled up in the chase always a constant fear in the back of his mind. Thankfully, cars were getting out of their way.

“Why don’t you fire at him?” Robin demanded to know.

“I can’t risk hitting Tim,” Nightwing stated.

“Can’t you get closer?” Robin suggested. “I can climb out and—”

“Hell no!” Nightwing growled. “You’re staying put.”

Damian scowled darkly, his elbow coming to rest on the passenger door frame, his head propped up with his fist. This was definitely not how he had imagined his first night patrolling Gotham to go. With any luck, the van would crash he’d finally get to see some real action.

Wayne Manor; September 13th, 06:32 EST

The Batmobile pulled into the cave just as Tim parked his Batcycle, Dick and Damian exiting the car with scowls. All three heroes approached the main platform exhausted from the long night of crimefighting and chasing. They spotted Diana sitting in Bruce’s chair wearing the same clothes she had worn last night before they’d left for patrol.

“Have you slept at all?” Dick questioned her with a frown as he cleared the last step leading up to the platform.

“I’ll sleep later,” she quickly dismissed the question. “How was patrol? I heard you spotted Joker.”

“Yah,” Tim confirmed as he dropped into a nearby chair with a yawn. “Chased him all over Gotham before finally losing him by Robinson Park.”

Diana scowled as she remembered her first encounter with the Clown Prince of Gotham. She was anxious for a rematch with the psychotic clown that was more than determined to take Batman down. She wasn’t going to standby and let him hurt the people of Gotham let alone her husband or her family.

“I wish we knew what he was up to with these drugs he keeps stealing,” she said more to herself than the others, her brow furrowing as she considered it.

“We’ll get to the bottom of it and we’ll stop him,” Dick reassured her. “You just worry about staying safe and bringing Bruce back.”

Diana shook her head as she turned Bruce’s chair back to face the computer system. “I won’t be able to stop worrying about all of you while I’m gone.”

“Well, we’ll all be worrying about you guys too,” Tim reminded her.

Diana turned back around to face her sons, concern veiling her face. “I want you boys to be careful while we’re gone,” she told them. “Joker is no doubt up to something big again. You know that he’ll try to target Batman, or anyone remotely connected to him.”

“We’ll be fine,” Damian reassured her from his position next to his oldest brother. “Dick doesn’t let me out of his sight for more than thirty-seconds anyway so I know I’ll be perfectly fine when you come back.”

The corner of Diana’s lips quirked slightly. “How was your first night out on patrol?” she asked him.

“Great if I can get my handler to lengthen the leash a little bit,” Damian uttered with a scowl, casting a sidelong glare at Dick as he crossed his arms against his chest.

“Hey, I’m not going to let anything happen to the new protégé on my watch,” Dick adamantly stated. “Besides, Bruce would kill me if I let you run rampant on your own and something happened to you.”

“I can take care of myself,” Damian maintained with a rather scary Batglare that could rival the man who originated it.

“We all know that you can, Damian, but everyone needs someone to watch their back for them,” Diana reminded him. “Even a Meta needs backup sometimes.”

“I still think you guys are being too protective,” the grandson of Ra’s al Ghul claimed.

“Maybe you should be thankful that we all care enough about you to not just throw you to the wolves and let them devour you,” Tim pointed out. “You don’t want to come face to face with the Joker your first week out with no one there to watch your back.”

“You don’t want to come face to face with Joker ever,” Dick added.

“He’s the worst of the worst,” Tim bit out. “Joker’s the one who killed Jason before your grandfather resurrected him in a Lazarus Pit. He also shot our close friend Barbara. She’s paralyzed in a wheelchair now. Then, there’s all the horrifying things he’s done to Batman over the years.”

“That’s why I’m keeping you on a very short leash, Damian,” Dick resolutely stated, an unmistakable edge to his voice. “I refuse to let Joker hurt any more of my family.”

“Anything else going on in Gotham that I should know about before I leave?” Diana asked as she stood to face them.

Her stance and the authoritative tone of her voice coupled with the determined blaze in her eyes gave all three of them pause. It was as if Bruce himself was standing before them asking for a sit rep or a breakdown on how patrol went.

Their father figure was definitely rubbing off on her although Dick was fairly certain they were merely witnessing the Amazon in the woman…the warrior about to head off into a deadly battle. Her mindset was ready focused on the dangerous task that laid ahead of her, the wife and mother suppressed in order to do what only she could do.

And they had no doubt that she would.

“Just the usual gang activity,” Tim reported, looking a little tenser than he had when they’d first arrived home. “I did have a little chat with one of Batman’s informants. There might be some trouble brewing with Riddler. He’s going to see what else he can find out and let me know.”

“Be on your toes at all times,” she instructed them. “The Riddler is dangerous in his own right. Don’t let Joker distract you from other dangers.”

Dick placed a reassuring hand on Diana’s shoulder. “Diana, we know,” he reassured her. “This isn’t the first time we’ve tangled with Riddler and it definitely won’t be the last.”

Her shoulders slumped slightly as she drew a deep breath, releasing it slowly through her nose. “I know…I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I didn’t mean to sound like you guys don’t know what you’re doing. You’ve dealt with Gotham far longer than I have and you’ve been trained by the very best.”

“It’s okay,” Dick told her with a grin. “You don’t have to try to be mom and dad while Bruce is gone. Just focus on getting Bruce back and we’ll do what we do best.”

She nodded her head in acknowledgment, her lips pursing. “I know you will,” she replied. “I trust all of you. I just hate being someplace where I can’t be there if you need me.”

“We’ll call in Supes if things get that bad,” Tim reassured her.

“Please do,” she said with a pleading note to her voice. “We all know how your father is about asking for help or letting outsiders into Gotham, but we’ll both be gone. I’d rather have you call Kal for backup than try to struggle through on your own and end up in worse trouble. I don’t know what I’d do if anything ever happened to any of you.”

Tim took her hand in his, squeezing it firmly. “We’ll be fine, mom,” he told her. “We’ve been doing this for years.”

“Okay, enough worrying,” Dick interjected. “I’m starving and you have to leave soon. Let’s go eat breakfast.”

“That’s the best thing I’ve heard all night,” Damian said with a scowl as he left the platform in a hurry.

“Partnering with me wasn’t that bad,” Dick told him as he followed him.

“It wasn’t that good either,” Damian countered, his voice growing distant as they headed towards the stairs that would lead them up into the manor.

“Hey, I can make it very unpleasant for you if you keep it up,” Dick shot back. “Have you ever tried running on top of a train before?”

The rest of the conversation was nothing but a distant murmur as Tim stood to his feet, shaking his head in amazement. “You’ll probably be glad to be away from here for a few days,” he said. “I’m sure Damian will have a lot more to complain about in the coming days.”

A faint smile graced her lips as she began to follow Tim off the platform. “I’m sure you, Dick, and Jason can handle him.”

“Well, Dick and I can, but I’m not so sure Jason will be able to,” he decided. “I have a feeling we’re going to find Damian strung upside down, bound and gagged in the training room if Jason has his way.”

Diana couldn’t help but laugh at the image that popped into her head. “You’re probably right.”

“Hey, please don’t worry, mom,” he told her as they came to a stop before the stairs. “We’ll be fine. We’ll take care of Gotham and we’ll watch over Nick and Kaia.”

She smiled softly, her eyes sparkling brightly. “I know you will, but that never stops a mother from still worrying. Besides, I don’t know how long we’ll be gone. I’m hoping it’ll only be for a few days, but it could potentially be a couple of weeks or more and I don’t know when I’ll be able to communicate with any of you.”

“We’ve dealt with Bruce being gone for an extended period of time before,” he reminded her. “We’ll make it work.”

She couldn’t help the surge of pride she felt as she gazed at the young man that Tim had grown into. He was filled with such confidence and strength. She knew that Bruce deserved the credit for the majority of it, but she liked to think that she had a little influence in his maturation.

“I’m going to get the kids up and dressed,” she told him as they ascended the stairs. “Artemis and Shayera will be here soon.”

Tim groaned as they entered the manor, a thought suddenly occurring to him. “Ah, man,” he grumbled. “I totally forgot about Artemis going with you.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Jason is going to be a pathetic mess with her gone,” he pointed out as they entered the main foyer. “Can’t you just take Jas with you guys?”

“Sorry, but he needs to be here to help out with covering Gotham.”

“It’s not like he’s helped much for the last week,” Tim said. “He’s been too busy with Artemis.”

Nicholas ran past them at that moment still dressed in his Green Lantern pajamas. “Daddy home yet?” he asked, hopeful expectation in his bright blue eyes as he looked around for his father.

Diana leaned over and picked him up, kissing him on the cheek. “I’m sorry, little warrior,” she replied. “He’s not home yet. Remember…I’m going to help him and bring him home?”

Nicholas laid his head on his mother’s shoulder, clutching his bunny to his chest. “Don’t go, mama,” he softly said. “Stay wif me.”

Diana swallowed hard, feeling her heart breaking even more than it already had. “I’m sorry, Nicholas, but I have to. If I don’t go, your father won’t be able to come home.”

Nicholas wrapped his arms tightly around his mother’s neck. “I go with you,” he mumbled against her neck. “I can help you and daddy.”

Her eyes fell closed as she struggled to keep the tears building behind her eyes at bay. “I need you here,” she told him as she rubbed his back. “I have a very important job for you while we’re gone.”

“What?” he asked, pulling back to look at her with curiosity in his eyes.

“I need you to help Alfred take care of Kaia for me,” she revealed. “She’s too little to go along with us so I need you here to help watch over her. Do you think you can do that for me?”

Nicholas nodded his head, his arms wrapping around her neck again as he hugged her with all his might. “I watch Kaia, mama,” he agreed.

“Me watch me,” Kaia announced with a scowl as she ran towards her mother.

“You’re too little, Kai,” Nicholas told her as he looked down at his little sister.

“Me not little,” she insisted, holding her arms up to her mother.

Diana leaned down, sweeping Kaia up into her other arm. She held her children close, savoring the moment. She didn’t know if or when she’d be able to see them again or hold them like this. It created an unbearable ache in her chest that nearly stole her breath.

“I want you two to be extra good while I’m gone,” she instructed them. “Take care of Peanut and Ace and go to bed when you’re told to…no throwing fits.”

“Otay, mommy,” Kaia promised her, throwing her arms around Diana’s neck and kissing her cheek.

“Always remember your daddy and I love you both very much,” she told them, doing her best to swallow past the lump that had lodged in her throat.

At that moment, Jason and Artemis walked in holding hands. Nick and Kaia wiggled out of their mother’s arms, anxious to see the new arrivals. “Sorry we’re late,” Jason apologized as he picked Nicholas up, giving Diana a sheepish grin.

Diana just shook her head in amusement, the corner of her lips quirking. “It’s okay,” she reassured him. “I just need to say goodbye to Alfred. Shayera should be transporting down in a few minutes. I’ll give you two a chance to say goodbye.”

“We’re fine,” Artemis told her with a smirk. “We’ve been saying goodbye all night.”

“I did not need to know that,” Tim stated as he walked towards them with a plate of eggs and pancakes in one hand and a fork in the other. “Come on, Nick and Kaia. Your breakfast is getting cold.”

“Let’s go eat,” Jason agreed, carrying Nicholas as Kaia ran behind them towards the kitchen.

Artemis studied Diana for a long moment, sensing the emotional storm that was brewing inside of her. “I will not fail you,” the Bana-Mighdall Amazon promised her. “We will bring Bruce back.”

Diana bit her bottom lip, drawing a deep breath as she nodded her head. “There is no other acceptable outcome, Artemis.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Underworld; September 13th, 08:03 EST

“Diana, what is it? What’s wrong?” he finally asked after several long, tense moments. “Are you alright?”

Bruce forced himself to keep his feet firmly planted where he was when everything inside of him was aching to pull her into his arms and kiss her senseless, to force her to stay with him forever. Even though dressed in a simple dark blue dress that hung to mid-thigh, her long dark hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, she was still the most beautiful woman he’d ever known.

“I’m alright,” she nervously replied, doing her best to get the nerve up to tell him what she had come here to say.

“Diana…”

“Bruce…I’m pregnant,” she finally blurted out with a breathless rush.

Bruce stood there staring at her in shock, his mind trying to process what she had just said. Diana fidgeted with the tie of her dress, waiting in fear at his response. Even though they had shared their dreams of the future, neither of them had ever expected something like this to come so soon.

“I…I’m so sorry, Bruce. I don’t know how this happened…well, I mean…I do know how it happened. I mean we’ve been quite intimate countless times over the last six months and I…” she jabbered nervously, stumbling over her words. “I just…I mean…”

Before she could utter another word, Bruce’s mouth was suddenly on hers, his hands slipping up into her hair as his tongue tangled with hers. Taken aback by his reaction, it took her a moment to respond to his passionate kiss. Her arms quickly snaked around his neck, drawing him even closer still to her.

Breaking the kiss, Bruce pulled back to stare into her eyes. “Are you sure?” he breathlessly asked, his gaze roaming over her face searching for answers.

“Yes…definitely,” she nodded. “And if I wasn’t positive, the morning sickness would be a dead give-away something was up.”

A large grin broke across the Batman’s face as he stared at her, his lips descending on hers again and stealing the breath from her lungs. He could scarcely believe this was really happening. He was going to be a father…Diana was carrying his child.

No scenario that he had ever concocted in his dreams could ever come close to the exhilarating feeling of this incredible moment, the reality of their love for one another and what they had created together.

Pulling back, he pressed his forehead against hers, fighting to catch his breath. “I can’t believe it,” he softly said. “I have never been so happy in my whole life.”

Diana stared at him in wonder. “Are you sure?” she asked, worry still clouding her blue eyes. “I was so afraid that you’d be upset, that you wouldn’t want this right now.”

“Upset?” he repeated in confusion. “Diana, the woman I love with all my heart is carrying my child. How could I possibly be upset?”

Batman awoke with a start, gasping for breath. He blinked several times as he tried to focus his vision and his mind. He quickly looked about him only to remember where he was at that moment. He wasn’t at home where he should be sharing his bed with her. He wasn’t where he belonged. He was an alien in a strange world…a prisoner of Hades in the Underworld.

He rubbed his mouth and chin with a gauntleted hand as a furious curse escaped his lips, knowing that he was beginning to lose parts of himself down here. He sat up from his spot on the hard floor next to lord Hades’ throne, stretching his back and neck with a soft groan.

Sitting up, he held his head in his hands for several long minutes just trying to put the pieces together, trying to create an image that made sense to him…one that was true…one that was an accurate picture of his life. He knew the dream he’d had wasn’t just a simple dream. It was a memory of when Diana had first told him she was pregnant with his son.

It was one of the happiest days of his life learning that Diana was carrying his child. He had been so worried that she was going to break things off with him when she had first contacted him about coming to see him in the cave only for her to reveal that they had made a baby together.

Nicholas…they had a baby boy they named Nicholas Alfred Wayne. He remembered his birth…how Diana had struggled and how J’onn had saved their son’s life. He remembered holding him in his arms and looking into his beautiful little face, his blue eyes and dark hair so like his and Diana’s. His son had an inquisitive mind like his father and a tender heart like his mother.

Nicholas was three years old, wasn’t he? No…that wasn’t right. He shook his head as he forced himself to focus his thoughts and to remember. He had to remember. There was no way that he was going to allow himself to forget the people that meant the most to him in his life.

His son was four years old now and had recently started preschool. He smiled to himself as he recalled that day. Diana had had a hard time that first day that they took him to school. While it had been difficult letting him go, he felt that he’d handled that day pretty well, Diana not so much. It had been far more difficult for her.

Bruce pulled his cowl back, rubbing his tired eyes with his thumb and forefinger. The edges of his mind and memories were beginning to fray, images becoming blurry along the periphery. He needed to get out of here before he no longer knew himself or the people he loved.

Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the image of Diana. She was his touchstone, his brilliant north star. She centered him…gave him back the faith and hope that he’d lost so very long ago. He felt a sense of peace wash over him as he focused on her face, her dazzling smile, and those impossibly blue eyes of hers that shined with a beautiful light that came from within her heart and soul.

And she belonged to him…always.

It still astounded and amazed him even now, even after this long together. Eight years of knowing her, five years of marriage…two children together and three adopted sons. Then there was his son with Talia. David? Daniel? No…Damian…Damian Wayne.

Even after all they had been through and endured and fought together for, he couldn’t believe that their life together could end this way. It couldn’t. He wouldn’t allow it. There had to be a way of escaping this hellish prison he found himself in.

His greatest fear was that Diana was going to try to come down here to rescue him. She needed to stay at home with their children where it was safe, not worry about coming after him. He greatly feared what Hades would do if his daughter came to his domain in hopes of bringing him home.

He needed to get to Ra’s. As much as he loathed the thought of it, working with Ra’s al Ghul might be his only hope of escaping from the Underworld. Maybe together they could find a way out of here and return back to the world of the living…back to his family.

Bruce swallowed past the sudden knot in his throat as he thought about his family. He desperately missed them. He needed them. The only thought that brought him the least bit of comfort at that moment was the fact that they were safe from Hades. If this was the price that had to be paid in order for that to happen, then he would gladly pay it every damn time.

He pulled his cowl back over his face, prepared to do some exercises. He refused to let his mind succumb to the effects of the Underworld and his body was no different. He needed to stay in top physical shape if he was going to fight his way out of here. He just needed to find his moment of escape.

The chain around his neck and ankle was the least of his worries. He could’ve freed himself from his restraints the second he found himself shackled to Hades’ throne, but he was biding his time. He needed to know what Hades’ ultimate plans were, making sure there was no way he could get to his family ever again.

He began doing pushups at a rapid rate, his mind buzzing with various ways that he could escape the palace. He had a feeling that escaping Hades’ palace would be the easiest part. Making it to the River Stix would be a whole other matter that he feared would take an eternity.

Once he arrived there, he had no idea what he would have to do to get out of here. The gate to the Underworld located beneath Themyscira was sealed and guarded. He knew he didn’t have the firepower he needed to get through that gate. If Hades couldn’t escape through it, he wasn’t certain that he’d be able to, but he wasn’t about to let that stop him from trying.

There had to be another way…another gate…another chance for him to get out of here. Finishing his pushups, he sat up, his intense gaze wandering around the expansive throne room. There were several maps and regions of the Underworld displayed on the walls. Maybe there would be something in here that would give him the information that he needed.

He closed his eyes as he sat on the floor, wishing that he could send some sort of message to Diana to let her know that he was all right and not to come after him. He would come to her as soon as he could. He would never give-up, never stop trying to find his way back to her and his family.

“Wait for me, princess,” he murmured to himself. “I’m coming home to you.”

Mediterranean Sea; September 13th, 16:32 EST

Artemis glanced at the Amazon warrior piloting the invisible jet, wondering how she was holding herself together with all that had happened. It was impossible to miss the heavy strain that she was under as well as the way it had settled into her bunched shoulders.

She could practically feel the current of emotions storming inside of her at that moment like a live wire, creating an almost suffocating tension that permeated the interior of the jet. It only seemed to be growing stronger the closer they got to Themyscira.

“Are you sure you’re up for this, Diana?” Artemis finally asked her.

Diana frowned as she turned a bewildered look on her friend. “What do you mean?” she demanded to know. “I am an Amazon warrior, the Princess of the Amazons. Of course, I’m up for this…I have to be. It’s my husband we’re talking about…the father of my children. Why wouldn’t I be ready for this?”

“Okay…okay,” Artemis replied, holding her hands up in front of her to show that she meant no harm with her question. “I’ve just never seen you quite like this before.”

“What? On the verge of strangling her father?” Shayera interjected from behind Diana. “I’ve seen her like this before. The last time was when Sienna Conti wanted Diana out of the picture so she could have Bruce all to herself.”

“Don’t remind me of her,” Diana snapped, tightening her grip on the controls of her jet. “I swear that woman came from the very Pits of Tartarus.”

“Do you think we’ll run into her while we’re in the Underworld?” Shayera wondered out loud.

“I hope so,” Diana muttered. “I wouldn’t mind doling out a little retribution.”

“Wow,” Artemis said with a low whistle. “A woman was actually stupid enough to think she could get rid of Wonder Woman and take her husband for herself? No wonder she’s dead.”

“I didn’t kill her,” Diana clarified with a scowl. “That was courtesy of another Gotham villain.”

“I know you’re worried about Bruce, but I’m sure he’ll be fine until we can get to him,” Artemis attempted to reassure her. “Bruce is resourceful and he’s a fighter. He won’t go down very easily.”

“I know, but that’s partly what worries me,” Diana stated. “He doesn’t know when to stop and let someone help him. He’ll keep pushing himself until he drops or dies.”

“That obstinacy is what has helped to keep him alive this long, Di,” Shayera pointed out.

Artemis studied Diana a moment, sensing something wasn’t right. “What else is it?” she pressed. “I know there’s something more upsetting you besides Bruce. Is there something that you’re not telling us?”

Diana pursed her lips as she shook her head. “I don’t know for certain,” she began, releasing a worried breath before continuing. “It’s just a bad feeling that I have.”

“About what?” the Bana-Mighdall Amazon asked.

“I’ve tried contacting mother several times over the last few days and I haven’t been able to reach her,” she revealed. “I’m assuming that war broke out on Themyscira and damaged the communication system Bruce set up for her there, but I’m worried there could be something more.”

“So, you have no idea what has happened there?” Shayera asked, worry lacing her voice.

“No, I don’t,” the princess confessed. “I have no idea if the war is over…how many of my sisters were lost in the battle or if my mother is even still alive. We could be walking right into the heart of the battle for all I know.”

“Have you petitioned the gods?” Artemis asked.

“Yes, but I haven’t received any answers as of yet,” she replied with a heavy heart.

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Artemis reminded her. “You know very well the gods can be fickle…showing up one day with all the answers you want only to completely ignore you the next time.”

“I know, but it doesn’t make any of this any easier,” Diana ground out. “We have no idea what we could be flying into. What if they’re all dead…Themyscira completely destroyed?”

“It won’t be, Di,” Shayera interjected as she leaned forward in her seat. “Your goddesses wouldn’t allow the entire Amazon nation to wipe themselves out and destroy paradise. They’ve been protected by them for thousands of years for a reason.”

Diana’s jaw tightened, her blue eyes narrowing. “You’re right, Shayera,” she finally relented. “I’m just letting my worry get the better of me. I’m sure everything is fine. I’ll just feel better once I can see my mother and talk to her.”

“Well, you’ll get to see her soon because we should be coming up on Themyscira in a few minutes,” Artemis added.

Diana nodded, drawing a deep breath in an effort to calm herself. She released it slowly through her nose, momentarily closing her eyes to center herself. She needed to get a hold of these emotions storming wildly inside of her, lassoing them into her iron-grip and channeling that energy into finding her husband.

She just prayed that her mother and sisters were all right. She couldn’t handle anything else right now with Bruce in the Underworld with her father, enduring only Hera knew what. She immediately shut down the horrifying scenarios that began to run rampant in her mind about what was happening to him. Dwelling on what she could do nothing about at that moment would only drive her crazy.

“It never ceases to amaze me how the island just magically appears when you’re landing,” Shayera muttered in wonder. “It’s like you’re trying to land in the middle of the ocean for the island to suddenly appear.”

“Okay, be prepared for anything,” Diana warned them as she landed the plane. “I have no idea what we’re getting ourselves into. We may have to fight our way out of here if it’s as bad as I fear it could be.”

“We’re good, Diana,” Shayera reassured her. “We’ve got your back.”

“No one is going to stop us from getting into the Underworld,” Artemis agreed as she unbuckled her seatbelt and stood to her feet. “Besides, I’ve been itching for a good fight.”

“That’s what happens when you spend the whole week in Jason’s bed,” Diana replied with a roll of her eyes as she picked up her sword. “You begin to lose your edge.”

Artemis had the decency to appear somewhat guilty but just barely. “I have not lost my edge at all. Sex is somewhat like sparring,” she maintained with a huff, annoyance dancing in her eyes. “I told Jason that we should’ve made an appearance at the manor, but he can be very persuasive when he doesn’t agree.”

Diana held up a hand to halt any further conversation on the matter. “You are my friend and Jason is my son,” she reminded her. “I would prefer not to hear about your sex life.”

“You started it,” Artemis shot back. “Besides, according to Jason, you and Bruce are worse than a couple of rabbits.”

Diana scowled as she turned a dark glare on her fellow Amazon. “What exactly did he say about us?”

Shayera attempted to stifle a giggle as she exited the invisible jet. “You two are hilarious,” she said. “And we already know how bad Bruce and Diana can be. They can’t keep their hands off each other.”

“We are not that bad,” Diana ground out, turning to glare at her two friends. “Now, can we just focus on why we’re here?”

“At least she’s a little more relaxed,” Shayera whispered to Artemis from behind the Amazon princess.

“Why do you think I brought it up?” Artemis murmured in response.

“You know I can hear you two,” Diana reminded them as she finally set foot on the shores of Themyscira.

She was too overwhelmed to speak any further as her frantic gaze swept across her former island home. There was devastation as far as her enhanced eye could see, so many buildings destroyed…so many trees and gardens nothing more than a wasteland now.

A strangled sob stuck in her throat as she slowly approached, each step she took feeling as though she was being dragged closer to the ground that she drew closer. The sheer heaviness of her breaking heart was almost more than she could bear.

“No…no…” she repeatedly murmured.

Tears blurred her vision as someone in the distance came to greet her. The sword in her hand subconsciously slipped from her fingers as the tears finally broke free. “Mother?” she whispered as Hippolyta ran towards her.

“Diana!” the queen greeted her, immediately pulling her into a fierce embrace as she crushed her to her. “It’s so good to see you, my sun and stars. I’m so happy to know that you’re safe.”

Diana numbly lifted her arms to return her mother’s embrace, doing her best to keep the rest of the tears she felt building up inside of her at bay. She was an Amazon warrior first and foremost. She would not lose control like this before her mother and sisters. Still, the shock of it all was almost more than she could possibly bear after all that she had already been through.

“What…what happened, mother?” she finally choked out.

Hippolyta reluctantly released her hold on her, taking her hand in hers and squeezing it. “It’s a long story, but it’s over, Diana,” she replied, suddenly noticing Artemis and Shayera standing behind her daughter. “Artemis…Shayera…what a pleasant surprise this is. Please, come with me to the palace. I’ll have the kitchen prepare a meal for you after your long journey.”

“But…mother…” Diana began, her voice trailing off as she took in the devastation of her former home.

“Now, Diana,” Hippolyta gently said, erasing the tear tracks from her daughter’s cheeks before cupping her face in her hands. “It’s over and we’ll rebuild. The important thing is that you’re here. We have much to talk about.”

“More than you know, mother,” Diana softly confessed as she turned incredibly sad eyes on her queen.

Hippolyta instantly grew pale with the horrifying look on her daughter’s face. “Diana, what is it? Is it the children? Did something happen to one of them? Where’s Bruce? Why is he not with you?”

Diana swallowed hard, steeling herself against the pounding of her heart. “He’s in the Underworld, mother,” she revealed. “Hades took him to the Underworld with him when we finally sent him back.”

Hippolyta gasped in shock, her hand moving to cover her mouth as she tried process what she’d just learned. “I’m so very sorry, my sun and stars,” she replied, taking her daughter’s hand once more. “Come with me…all of you. We’ll discuss plans to rescue him while we eat. I’m afraid it’s going to be a bit more difficult than you know.”

“Why?” Diana asked.

“I’ll tell you everything soon,” the queen assured her. “Just come with me.”

Diana drank in the vast destruction of her homeland as she followed her mother, her heart hurting more than she had thought was possible. There was barely any place that didn’t display the telltale signs of a battle. She could feel tears knotting in her throat again as they passed by various beloved spots only to find them destroyed or buried in rubble.

Artemis’s periodic gasps of shock only added to her own sorrow. Her simmering rage was growing exponentially with her crushing anguish. She would love nothing more than to personally deal with those responsible for this utter madness. Her mother had done no wrong and yet Themyscira had paid a steep price.

This civil war…this battle between sisters would no doubt be felt for many years to come. They would eventually be able to rebuild and repair the damage, but there would forever be a scar on the hearts of those who had survived it…those who called this island home.

Various sisters’ faces and names flashed through her mind as they approached the royal palace, leaving her to wonder if they had been involved in the attempted coup. Was Airlea still alive? Melantha? Had Melete turned against the queen? What about Vasiliki or Theophania?

Diana’s steps grew almost as heavy as her heart as fear clawed at her insides, threatening to tear her apart at the seams. She was already frantic over Bruce being in the Underworld without having to deal with this as well. As she took in the battered palace before her, she knew she was going to have to find a way.

Parts of the palace where she had lived and grown up was in shambles, various sisters working hard to clear away the mounds of rubble, but the work was labor intensive and appeared to be endless at this point. Rebuilding could take years and even then, it might never be the same. The scars of battle would not only be felt but visible as well.

“Mother…” Diana murmured as she tried to absorb it all, slowly shaking her head in disbelief and horror.

Phillipus emerged from a palace entrance that was partially blocked by rubble. Seeing Diana, Artemis, and Shayera, she quickly made her way to them. “Princess, it is good to see—” Phillipus began only to be silenced when Diana suddenly pulled her into a fierce embrace that nearly knocked the very air from her lungs.

“Phillipus,” Diana greeted her, squeezing her eyes closed against the wealth of emotions swelling inside of her like a tidal wave. “I’m so glad to see that you and that you’re all right.”

Phillipus stiffened, but reluctantly returned the princess’s embrace, glancing at Queen Hippolyta in confusion and no small amount of discomfiture. “We did not know that you were coming,” she replied, disengaging herself from the princess’s embrace before pulling away.

“Bruce is trapped in the Underworld,” Diana revealed. “We’re going down there to rescue him.”

Phillipus quickly looked at Hippolyta, her brow furrowing with an indescribable expression that didn’t go unnoticed by Diana, Artemis, or Shayera. “What is it?” Artemis asked with a frown, glancing between Phillipus and Queen Hippolyta. “What aren’t you telling us?”

“I think you better see it for yourself,” Hippolyta replied with a sigh.

Wayne Manor; September 13th, 18:01 EST

Kaia couldn’t contain her giggle as she ran through the manor, squealing as Nicholas came running around the corner. He fired his water gun at her, water spraying her in the neck and back. She laughed even harder as she attempted to avoid getting hit by ducking but failing miserably.

Ace ran around the corner after them, barking as he chased the children down the hall. Kaia attempted to hide under a library table in the hallway only for Nicholas to unleash a focused attack on her. She squealed as she ducked again, holding up her hands and trying to avoid getting drenched.

She crawled out from under the library table with wet ringlets plastered to her head and face. “Ni-Ni!” she screeched excitedly, holding her hands in front of her face in a futile attempt to ward off her brother’s attack. Unfortunately, she was already drenched from Nicholas’s Super-Soaker water gun.

Kaia giggled and squealed as she ran into the entertainment room, running straight for one of the couches. She quickly climbed up onto it, breathlessly running across the coach cushions as Nicholas chased after her. She turned and looked over her shoulder to find Nicholas gaining on her, forcing her to leap from one couch to the next.

Landing on the arm of the couch, Kaia fell face first into the pile of pillows, struggling to get back up again. She quickly scrambled back up onto her feet, running across the second couch cushions. She was breathing hard partly from running and partly from laughing so hard as she tried to escape from her brother’s pursuit. She ducked and rolled with surprising skill, leaping off the couch and onto the floor.

“She’s like a freaking gazelle,” Jason decided with his arms crossed against his chest, standing in the doorway beside his brother watching the whole chase. “Did you see how she tucked and rolled? No one taught her how to do that. That’s pure instinct.”

“Must have gotten it from me,” Dick readily replied with a smirk.

Kaia looked behind her to find Nicholas running across the couch cushions she’d just leapt off of. She suddenly found herself being swept up into strong, sure arms, causing her to shriek with delight as she found herself being tossed up into the air.

“What are you two up to now?” Dick asked as he caught Kaia, holding her firmly in his arms.

Jason bent down to corral Nicholas only to be squirted squarely in the face. He closed his eyes as water dripped from his nose and chin. “What the—” he began only to be squirted again.

Nicholas laughed as Jason lifted his t-shirt up to wipe the water off his face. “I got you too!” Nicholas proudly proclaimed.

“What on earth is going on in here?” Alfred asked as he rushed into the room, spotting Nicholas with his water gun. “Master Nicholas, you know you’re to keep your water gun outside.”

“Sorry, Pappoús,” Nicholas said, frowning as he handed his water gun over to Alfred. “We were just playing. I was Uncle Arthur.”

“You can play with it outside,” Alfred reminded him. “Now, you need to go wash up. Dinner is almost ready.”

“Come on, peanut,” Dick said. “Let’s go get some dry clothes on you.”

“No,” Kaia pouted. “Me like to be wet.”

“I know you do, but not in the house,” Dick told her.

“What about the baf tub?”

Dick chuckled as he carried her upstairs to her bedroom. “The bathtub is the only place in the house you can be all wet, Kai.”

“The potty?” she asked with a contagious giggle.

“Definitely not the potty,” Dick adamantly declared as they entered Kaia’s very pink bedroom. “Don’t you want to paint your room a different color?”

“Me like pink,” she insisted with a frown as he set her down on the changing table.

Dick began to remove her wet clothes, finding her diaper equally wet. Laying her down, he began to change her diaper as well, an idea forming in his mind. “What other color do you like?”

“Purpo,” she thoughtfully replied.

Dick adamantly shook his head, a scowl adorning his face. “No way…no purple,” he outright told her. “Your dad would have a stroke if he came home and found your room the color of Joker’s suit.”

“Who?” she asked with a confused look.

“Never mind,” he murmured. “What other colors do you like?”

“Gween.”

“Moving on,” Dick said with a groan as he pictured Joker’s bright green hair. “What about blue?”

Kaia wrinkled up her nose. “No…not boo.”

“Red?”

“Purpo,” she decided.

“How about light purple…like lavender or violet is very nice color,” he agreed. “Maybe we could paint your room for you while your mom and dad are gone. It would be a huge surprise for them when they come home. I know they’ve been talking about upgrading your bedrooms now that you’re getting older.”

“Me like it,” she said as he sat her up, carrying her over to her dresser to find her some dry clothes.

“Should we paint Nicholas’s room too?”

“Yah, but me first,” she told him.

“Okay, I bet we could get Aunt DD to help you find a new bedspread to match your violet room,” Dick suggested, kneeling on the floor before her as he pulled a Wonder Woman t-shirt on over her head.

“I think she would like that very much,” Donna agreed. “It would give me a chance to look for things for the nursery.”

Dick looked up to find his wife standing in the doorway, a look of adoration shining in her bright blue eyes. “What do you think?” he asked her as he helped Kaia slip on a pair of shorts. “It might help get the kids’ minds off their parents for a while and give them something to look forward to.”

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” she readily decided as he picked Kaia up and carried her to Donna.

Donna took Kaia into her arms, kissing her on the cheek as Kaia threw her arms around her aunt’s neck. “Me getting a new woom,” Kaia told her. “Me can’t wait till mommy and daddy see it.”

“They’ll be so surprised when they get home,” she agreed as she ran her fingers through her niece’s raven curls in an effort to tame the wet strands.

“Me miss them,” Kaia softly said, laying her head on Donna’s shoulder.

“I know you do, Kai,” she gently told her as she rubbed her back, gently patting it. “We all miss them very much, but your mom and dad will be home before you know it.”

“Come on, trouble,” Dick urged her, tickling Kaia’s ear. “Let’s go eat. I’m starving.”

“No, you twouble.”

Donna set Kaia down, swatting her gently on the bottom. “Run downstairs,” she told her. “Alfred’s waiting on us.”

Kaia took off like a shot, running down the hall. Donna turned to Dick, capturing his lips in a passionate kiss that took him by surprise. It didn’t take him long to respond, though. His hands settled on her hips, gripping her firmly as he tilted his head and deepened the kiss.

Retreating, Dick struggled to catch his breath. “Not that I’m complaining but…what was that for?” he asked, pausing to kiss her once more.

“Because I love you…and you’re just so good with Kaia and Nicholas,” she replied. “You are going to make an amazing father.”

Dick grinned, more than pleased with her response. She always made him want to be a better man in every way possible. “And you’re going to be an awesome mother.”

His hand moved to cup the swell of her belly, thrilled with how much she was showing at thirteen weeks. He didn’t know if he was going to be able to wait until his children were born, but he knew that he had little choice in the matter. Although, Diana did go into labor early with Nicholas. Maybe Donna would too.

Donna kissed him once more before taking him by the hand to lead him downstairs to dinner. “I can’t help wondering what’s happening on Themyscira right now,” she confessed.

“They probably haven’t even started on their mission yet,” Dick replied. “They most likely just got to Themyscira a little while ago.”

“I know, but we have no idea what’s been going on there,” she told him. “Diana and I haven’t been able to reach mother all week.”

“I’m sure they’re fine, Troia,” he tried to reassure her, kissing her temple. “Diana will let us know something as soon as she’s able.”

“Whatever we find out…whatever happens, we have to make sure Nicholas and Kaia are taken care of, Dick,” she stated with resolute determination in her voice. “They have to be our first priority no matter what.”

“I agree, but Diana and Bruce will be fine,” Dick attempted to comfort her. “They’re be home in a few days, and it’ll be just like nothing ever happened.”

“I sure hope you’re right,” she murmured with a frown, not feeling quite so optimistic at that moment.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Themyscira; September 13th, 21:33 EST

“Hera…no,” Diana gasped sharply as hot, angry tears stung her eyes, threatening to spill over as she stared at the sheer destruction that stared back at her. “This…this can’t be happening.”

“I’m so sorry, Diana,” Hippolyta softly said, her heart breaking for her daughter and the pain that she was obviously going through. “We haven’t even had a chance to do anything about this part of the island yet. We’ve been working to repair the damage above ground before even thinking of starting down here.”

Shayera and Artemis stood to the left of Diana, Hippolyta and Phillipus to her right as they studied the mass of rubble that completely blocked the entrance to the cavern where the gateway to the Underworld was hidden. The destruction was at least fifty feet deep…likely far more, but they wouldn’t know for certain until they began working to remove it all.

Raw fury tore through Diana as sure a bolt of lightning, scorching every inch of her. Even if they worked day and night, it would take weeks to get through all of this rock. Bruce didn’t have weeks. She feared that he was already beginning to feel the effects of being in the Underworld. How long could he last before it would be too late to save him?

She bit at her bottom lip as her mind raced with ways to get around this. There had to be another way into the Underworld, one that didn’t involve dying. “Mother, do you know of any other gates to the Underworld besides this one?”

“I’m afraid this is the only one that I know of,” she regretfully replied, shaking her head as she thoughtfully considered her daughter’s question. “We’ll need to consult the ancient texts to see if there is another gate or we’ll need to petition the gods for the information.”

Diana drew a shuddering breath as she stared in disbelief at the unimaginable obstacle that stood in her way of getting to her husband. She’d never dreamed when they’d left Gotham this morning that this was what they were going to be greeted with when they reached Themyscira. There was no way in Tartarus she was going to sit back and let Hades take her husband away from her.

“We need to get this rubble out of the way as quickly and as efficiently as possible,” Diana stated with steely resolve and authority. She wasn’t the Queen of Themyscira, but she was taking charge. “We need someone to go to the temple and study the scrolls and ancient texts to see if there is another gate to the Underworld that we don’t know about yet…one that we may have missed from previous studies.”

“I’ll assign a couple of sisters to that task right away,” Hippolyta agreed.

“In the meantime, I’m going to petition the gods for some answers,” Diana announced, her hands on her hips. “Hopefully, they’ll be a little more willing to talk to me now that I’m on Themyscira and circumstances have become that much more dire.”

“I wouldn’t hold your breath if I were you,” Artemis grumbled under her breath. Everyone turned a stunned eye on her, causing her to shrug a shoulder. “What? They can be unpredictable. Am I wrong?”

“They may be, but we don’t say such things out loud,” Phillipus hissed with a frown.

“Let’s get to work,” Shayera said, palming her mace. “We’re burning daylight.”

“Please, come to the palace and eat something first,” Hippolyta suggested. “I’ll have several Amazons get started on this mess and then you can join them once you’ve had a chance to eat.”

“I’m not hungry,” Diana evenly stated, turning on her heel. She glanced back over her shoulder to speak without pausing in her step. “I’m going to the temple to pray.”

Hippolyta turned to follow her, Artemis placing a hand on the queen’s arm to halt her. “Let her be for now,” she suggested. “This has been very difficult for her and it just became that much worse. Just give her a little space.”

Hippolyta nodded in agreement, releasing a disheartened sigh as she watched her daughter walk away. She could see how deeply all of this was affecting her. She should have done more…should have found a way to stop Circe before she could destroy the island.

“It’s not your fault, my queen,” Phillipus said in a subdued voice.

“I know, but it feels like it is,” she softly replied as her worried gaze roamed over the destruction that still marked her home. It could take years to completely rebuild Themyscira. “I should have done more to avoid the war. Then, we wouldn’t have this obstacle standing in the way of getting into the Underworld and rescuing Bruce from Hades.”

“The war was not your fault,” Artemis adamantly stated. “We’ll find a way through this rock and get to Bruce. We will not let Hades win.”

“Well, there’s no time like the present,” Shayera said, raising her mace as she flew in to attack the rubble as if it were a living, breathing enemy.

Shayera began slamming her mace against the large chunks of rock, causing tiny shards to fly in all directions. Artemis smiled to herself as she followed suit, deciding that she liked the Thanagarian’s mindset when it came to attacking an obstacle. Hit it hard and hit it fast.

The Bana-Mighdall Amazon attacked the rock with a fierce vengeance that rivaled Shayera’s, equally determined to get to the Underworld. Phillipus immediately went to work as well as Hippolyta waved over more Amazons to help clear the entrance to the cavern below.

The Queen feared what they were going to find once they got past all of this rock. Would they only find even more rock or possibly a gate that could never be opened? She raised her chin, banishing those thoughts from her mind. She wouldn’t allow herself to dwell on such things.

She knew if anyone could find a way around this in order to save Bruce it was her Diana.

Underworld; September 14th, 14:56 EST

Ra’s al Ghul walked through the grand palace of the Underworld that was now his home, his hands clasped behind his back as he made his way towards the vast library. He was more than anxious to see what more he could learn about his situation and if there was any way of escape.

While he had been granted certain privileges by lord Hades, he didn’t intend to make this his permanent home. He still had much that he needed to accomplish, and he very well couldn’t accomplish any of it from the dismal depths of the Underworld.

Entering the library, Ra’s found that it had seen better days as thoughts of Talia crept into his mind. He wondered if she’d been able to make it to their rendezvous point with Ubu. Hades had assured him that she was alive, her soul not traveling to the Underworld. Ubu must have been able to get her out of Gotham after Hades had attacked her.

He’d had a front row seat to Hades’ deeds when the god of the Underworld had fully taken over his body, watching in rapt fascination but not able to deter him from doing as he willed. Hades had been able to make Batman his personal slave at first, but Ra’s wasn’t entirely convinced now that he still was. He knew the Detective far too well. It could be nothing more than a very convincing performance on his part, biding his time until he could make his move.

The corner of his lips quirked as he thought about possibly working with the Detective to escape the Underworld together. It was a tantalizing thought, one that he was going to have to seriously consider. He knew that if anyone could find a way out of here it was Batman.

Their chances of escaping would be far greater if they worked together rather than attempting it alone. He also had no doubt that Batman’s wife would not remain on the sidelines waiting to see if her husband was able to escape. The Amazon was likely on her way here now.

Walking past countless volumes of books laying scattered all over the room, Ra’s paused before a book that came in contact with the toe of his boot. Tilting his head slightly, he crouched down to lightly run the tips of his fingers along the spine of the tome before finally picking it up.

Straightening up, Ra’s began to flip through the pages of the ancient volume. It appeared to be a book containing ways to master the mind. Deciding that it could come in handy, he tucked the book under his arm before continuing his exploration.

It appeared some sort of a fight had taken place in this library, but no one had bothered to take the time to put it all back together again. Of course, time was inconsequential down here, nonexistent while the world of the living continued on without their participation.

Stepping over various piles of books and pieces of broken shelves, he allowed his intent gaze to continue its search for anything that could prove helpful in his pursuit. He had a feeling if there was anything down here that could provide any information about how to escape the Underworld Hades would have already studied it.

If the god of the Underworld couldn’t escape, he wasn’t certain how he would be able to execute it. That, however, did not deter him in the least especially knowing that he had the skill and genius intellect of the great Batman on his side if he could coerce him into joining him. He had a very strong feeling that it wouldn’t take much encouragement.

He was certain the Detective was more than determined to return to his Amazon and the family they had formed…a family that included his grandson Damian. He thoughtfully stroked his chin as he thought about his grandson and what it would take to get him back with them where he belonged.

He was concerned that Damian had grown attached to the Wayne’s. He didn’t want them unraveling everything that he had already been able to instill and accomplish so far with his grandson. He was being groomed to be the eventual leader of the League of Assassins and he wasn’t about to let anything stand in the way of that vision.

“Ah…I see you’ve found my glorious library.”

Ra’s turned around at the booming sound of Hades’ voice. He smiled pleasantly as the god of the Underworld approached him. “I was just looking for some reading material,” he revealed. “I don’t want my mind to begin to slip.”

Hades chuckled softly as he wandered around the books lying scattered on the ground. “You have no need to worry about that, my friend,” he informed him. “I have protected your mind. You won’t lose your memories like my son-in-law will.”

“I appreciate that very much,” Ra’s replied with a grateful nod. “Losing my faculties is a rather frightening prospect. It’d like very much to avoid it all cost.”

Hades grinned broadly, an amused gleam in his dark eyes. “I suspected as much,” he divulged. “You’re a very cunning, very intelligent man. You were able to find almost all the pieces of my armor. It’s a very impressive feat that you accomplished. No one has been able to do that in thousands of years.”

“It took some extensive research, but it paid off…at least for a short time,” Ra’s decided.

“It paid off indeed,” Hades agreed. “If only my daughter and her husband hadn’t interfered along with her friends. We might have been able to accomplish so much together.”

“Alas, we’ll never know just how much,” Ra’s said, his voice thick with regret.

Hades swept his arm out before him as his gaze fell on the destruction that surrounded him. “I must apologize for the mess in here,” he stated, changing the subject. “I’m afraid I haven’t gotten around to putting things right in here since that interfering little fool Faust tried to take my throne from me.”

“How could someone be so bold?” Ra’s inquired.

“My daughter and her winged friend actually came to my aid and assisted me in getting my throne back.”

Ra’s frowned as he considered what Hades had just told him. “I must admit that I am quite surprised that the Amazon would help you. She was determined to force you to return to your prison down here.”

A fond smile tugged at Hades’ lips. “Yes, my daughter is very determined,” he agreed. “It’s something that we both share. I’m afraid her assistance wasn’t exactly her idea. The gods saw fit to send her to aid me in regaining my throne and restoring balance to the Underworld.”

“And the interloper?”

“Don’t worry about him,” Hades replied, holding up a hand. “Faust got what he deserved. I made certain of that. He’ll never make that mistake again.”

“I can certainly appreciate the very tight-grip you hold on your realm,” he said with great respect. “I too hold a very tight rein on my organization.”

“I greatly admire that,” Hades thoughtfully stated. “Well, I will leave you to the business of finding something to read. Maybe I’ll order my son-in-law to repair the damage in here and restore my library. It seems like a very good task for my new slave.”

“Do you despise him because he is a mortal man who won the heart of your daughter?” Ra’s inquired, his eyes alight with curiosity.

Hades thought for a long moment before responding, a devious smirk dancing on his lips. “I actually don’t despise my son-in-law at all,” he confessed. “I just want to make him suffer for his audacity in opposing me and keeping me from seeing my grandchildren. If I can’t see his children, then neither can he.”

Ra’s mind began to spin with new ideas and plans that were taking shape in his mind. “I imagine any offspring between Batman and Wonder Woman would be quite formidable to deal with and nearly impossible to overcome.”

“Just like their grandfather,” Hades said with a boisterous chuckle. “I shall see you later, my friend.”

Ra’s watched as Hades walked out of the library, leaving him all alone once more. He stared at the doorway the god of the Underworld had just passed through, lost in his thoughts. Hades was a very interesting god, one that surprised him at every turn.

When they had been joined as one, he had been amazed at the sheer cunning and craftiness of the Greek god. He was definitely someone not to be trifled with nor did he want to get on his bad side, or he just might end up like the Dark Knight.

Continuing his search of the ramshackled library, Ra’s gaze narrowed as he spotted a book lying all alone, partially obscured by a piece of shelving. It caught his attention because it seemed to be all by itself whereas the other books seemed to be grouped together.

He made his way towards it, crouching down to retrieve the lonely tome. He tossed the piece of shelving aside before retrieving the book. He brushed off the layers of dust and debris that the fight with Faust had created. His lips curled as he noticed the title, his eyes brightening.

This book could prove to be very useful…very useful indeed.

Gotham; September 15th, 01:18 EST

“Check over there,” Nightwing ordered his partner as he drew his escrima sticks, his steely gaze sweeping over the area.

Robin gave him a dark scowl of disapproval, not particularly accepting of the fact that he was being ordered around. He wasn’t exactly accustomed to being someone’s sidekick or taking orders like this. It prickled his pride, but he grudgingly complied as he drew a couple of Batarangs.

Nightwing frowned as he watched Damian walk away. He had a very bad feeling they were walking directly into a trap, but there was little he could do about it at that moment. They were already in the building. He waited until Robin rounded a thick cement post, hoping he remembered his training and didn’t get himself hurt or captured. He had enough to worry about right now without adding anymore to it.

Tightening his grip on his escrima sticks, he slowly began to make his way through the dark building, the only light coming from the flashes of lightning from the thunderstorm outside that was besieging the city. “I’m coming in from the west,” Red Hood announced in Nightwing’s ear.

“It’s about time,” Nightwing grumbled in response.

“Hey, give me a break,” Red Hood retorted. “I was taking care of a couple of thugs over on Elm trying to hijack a pickup truck.”

“Glad to see you helping out for once,” Nightwing shot back.

“Gotta do something to keep myself occupied while Artemis is away,” he quipped. “Now, what have you found?”

“Nothing yet, but I don’t have a good feeling about this,” Nightwing revealed.

“Did O tip you off about this place?”

Nightwing peered around a piece of equipment, his eyes narrowing with the shifting shadows. “Yah…and she’s rarely wrong.”

“There’s always a first time for everything,” Hood said.

“Not her…not this time,” he told him.

“Why? What did you find?”

“You’re going to have to see it for yourself.”

“I’m headed to you,” Hood replied. “Don’t move.”

“Don’t plan on it,” Nightwing muttered in stunned disbelief, his hand going to his commlink. “Nightwing to Robin.”

Several moments passed by without a response causing Nightwing’s concern to rise. “Nightwing to Robin…respond.”

Dick’s panic was beginning to spike as several more moments passed before finally receiving a response. “What do you want?” Robin snapped.

“You are to respond right away when you are called,” Nightwing angrily ground out.

“I was doing what you told me to do,” he reminded him.

“I need you over here,” he stated. “Track my signal. We’ve got a body.”

“Finally,” Robin huffed in obvious annoyance. “I was beginning to think this was a complete waste. I’m on my way. Robin out.”

Nightwing grumbled under his breath as he slid his escrima sticks into the straps on his back as he silently crept closer. He crouched down next to the body to find it was a young man…probably in his early twenties, but it was somewhat difficult to determine due to the amount of torture he’d obviously endured.

It was one of the most gruesome sights that he’d encountered in quite some time and that was saying a lot after what’d dealt with over the years between Blüdhaven and Gotham. It looked as if it was a fresh kill and dump and he had a sneaking suspicion he knew who was behind it.

Hearing a gagging sound behind him, Nightwing turned to find Red Hood walking towards him. “What happened to this guy…if that really is a guy?”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” he told him with a frown as he turned his attention back to the body. “Whatever happened to him it was pretty ugly. He was beaten and tortured before being dumped here.”

Red Hood came to stand beside him, his hands coming to rest on his hips as his gaze wandered around the room. “And I assume it’s his own blood that was used to write those words on the wall.”

Nightwing looked to where Hood was pointing to find a message waiting for them. “Ha! Ha! Ha! This is just the beginning,” he read out loud, groaning. “There can only be one person behind this.”

Red Hood studied the body, catching sight of something. “What’s that laying beneath his left hand?”

Reaching across the body, Nightwing carefully lifted the left hand, picking up a Joker card. “I had a bad feeling it was Joker’s handiwork,” he spat out with derision.

“How did you know?”

Nightwing slowly shook his head. “Just a gut feeling.”

“Well, I guess you don’t need me here,” Hood decided, rubbing his hands together.

“Where’s the body?” Robin asked as he made his way closer.

Red Hood stepped aside, revealing the horrific sight. Robin was somewhat surprised to feel a sense of anger burning through his veins at the heinous act lying on the ground before him. It had to have been committed by a sick individual.

“Search this area for any clues that Joker might have left behind,” Nightwing told him.

“Joker did this?” Robin asked.

“Yah,” he informed him. “He left his calling card behind.”

“I’m going to search the area for anything else,” Red Hood interjected as he walked away, leaving Damian with Dick to handle the messy work.

“None of us will think any less of you if you’d rather join Red Robin on patrol,” Nightwing reassured him, his tone gentle as he gave him a way out of being here. “This can be pretty rough to handle.”

“I’m fine,” Robin insisted, lifting his chin in stubborn determination. “I’m not a child you know. I’ve seen death many times before. This isn’t new to me.”

Nightwing watched as Robin began to methodically work his way around the large room like he’d taught him to do, feeling the weight of responsibility of helping his younger brother deal with this if needed. He remembered how horrifying those initial cases had been when he’d first donned the Robin costume, accompanying Batman on some of the most horrific murders in Gotham.

He’d had nightmares for days after, but Bruce had helped him learn to cope with it…to focus on the clues and the task of finding the killer. He had taught him to remember that finding justice for the victim and the victim’s family was of utmost importance. He also recalled the overwhelming sense of pride that had filled him knowing that he was working to make a difference in the lives of the people around him by protecting the city and bringing a murderer to justice.

Dick couldn’t help but feel a subtle wave of nostalgia as warm remembrance washed over him. As much as he had resented Bruce at times…despite their difference, he couldn’t deny the fact that Bruce had instilled a real drive to fight for justice, to fight for those who could no longer fight for themselves. He’d taught him so much, helping to shape him into becoming the man that he was today.

And now, he had the chance to teach Damian those very same things while Bruce was gone.

Turning his attention back to the body lying on the floor before him, Dick had a nagging feeling this could turn into one of the biggest teaching moments that they’d ever encountered especially if Bruce never returned home. The thought caused his throat to tighten as he set to work finding out what the Joker was up to this time.

Themyscira; September 15th, 05:35 EST

Diana’s head was lowered in supplication as she prostrated herself before the alter that burned her sacrifice. She’d been here for hours pouring her heart out to her goddesses in hopes that one of them would provide her the answers that she so desperately needed right now in order to save Bruce from this nightmare.

So far, she had received no answers, the never-ending silence deafening and only adding to the panic that had become her constant companion since the moment her husband had vanished right before her eyes with her father. She hadn’t been able to hardly breathe since that moment.

She could feel her anger deepening and expanding in her chest, blossoming through the rest of her body. Why was this happening to them? All they had ever done was fight to preserve justice and right wrongs and this was how they were rewarded?

And now when she needed them the most, her goddesses were ignoring her continuous pleas for help. Deep down in her soul, she knew that she had no right to question their ways or allow her anger with her father to extend to her goddesses, but she was angry with everything and everyone right now.

She wanted a chance to face her father and unleash every ounce of hell he had put her and her family through because of all this. She could feel tears beginning to burn in her throat, fighting to escape, but she refused to allow them to fully form.

She was a warrior raised from the moment she drew her first breath and she would face this hellish nightmare with the same courage and strength. She refused to return home without her husband with her. Her children needed their father and she needed Bruce. They had so much more life to enjoy together, love to share and memories to make. She would never give up on him until her very last breath, knowing that he would do no less for her.

“Rise, Diana.”

Startled, the Amazon princess raised her head to find the goddess of love standing before her, tears instantly filling her eyes. “My lady Aphrodite,” she softly gasped. “I am truly honored that you have chosen to show yourself to me.”

“Diana, no need for such formality,” she gently said, extending her hand. “You fight daily in our name and make us proud.”

“Thank you, lady Aphrodite,” she replied, her chin falling to her chest as those pesky tears slipped down her cheeks. “I apologize for my tears, but my heart is breaking. My father Hades has taken my husband to the Underworld with him and I cannot reach him.”

“I have heard your prayers, my friend,” the beautiful goddess reassured her. “Unfortunately, I am unable to provide you any information regarding the dark hero who is your husband. The happenings of the Underworld are beyond our knowing.”

Diana lowered her head once more. “I understand, my lady,” she sadly choked out.

“While I we cannot meddle with the doings of the Underworld, I could send Hermes on a mission to check on your husband for you,” she offered her with a cunning smirk.

Diana’s head snapped up as an appreciation of renewed hope bloomed inside of her where despair had taken root. “You would do that for me?”

“Of course,” Aphrodite confirmed. “You have done much in our names and honor us daily with your works, Diana. It is the least that I can do for my friend.”

“If there is any information you can give, it would be greatly appreciated,” Diana replied. “The gate to the Underworld that rests below the island is currently blocked by stone. We’re working to remove all the destruction, but it’s taking a lot of time…time that I fear my husband does not have. Do you know if there are any more entrances to the Underworld?”

“Yes, there are four others,” the goddess revealed, her hands clasped before her. Her expression was somber at best, her eyes ablaze with regret as she pursed her lips. “I am afraid I cannot disclose those locations to you. Hera feels that it is something that you will need to find for yourself. This is a test for you, one that the gods are watching intently.”

Diana swallowed hard, using the backs of her hands to erase her tears. “I understand, my lady,” she softly said. “I will not stop until I bring my husband home where he belongs.”

The corner of Aphrodite’s lips twitched with mild amusement and understanding. “If anyone can perform such a feat, I know it is you, Diana,” she told her. “Please, do not lose hope. You are not alone in your quest to release your husband. While Hera has forbidden us to aid you, we will always be here to give you strength and wisdom and hope.”

“Thank you, my lady,” Diana said as she bowed her head once more. “It is far more than I could hope for.”

Aphrodite gently placed her hand beneath Diana’s chin, lifting her head up to meet her intense gaze. “You are very strong, Diana, and so is your husband,” she reminded her. “You chose your mate wisely. He is truly a remarkable man. Do not underestimate his abilities or his intense desire to return to you.”

Diana’s lips curled as fresh tears brimmed in her eyes as thoughts of Bruce flooded her mind. “I love him very much,” she confessed. “He is my heart and soul…my very life.”

The goddess of love’s smile was dazzling as the noonday sun as she gazed at the Champion of the Gods. “I know feels no less for you. You two share a love that is unbreakable. Remember that when things look bleak.”

“Thank you, Lady Aphrodite,” Diana managed to choke out, overcome by the wealth of warm emotions brimming inside of her. It gave her renewed strength and determination, an overpowering hope that she would see Bruce soon.

“You’re more than welcome,” the goddess replied. “I will appraise you of what Hermes finds as soon as he returns.”

“I would appreciate that very much.”

Aphrodite gently erased the tracks of Diana’s tears from her cheeks. “Now, go save your husband, princess.”

“Yes, my lady,” Diana said, feeling as though she could conquer the whole world with the hope that Aphrodite had given her. She momentarily closed her eyes, drawing in a deep breath in an effort to calm herself once more.

Opening her eyes, she found herself all alone once more. She quickly got to her feet, her fingers instantly curling into fists as she turned to leave the temple only to find her mother coming towards her. “Diana, are you all right?” the queen asked as she approached.

“I am fine,” she reassured her with a smile. “Aphrodite visited me, mother. She’s sending Hermes to the Underworld to check on Bruce for me. She also revealed that there are four other entrances to the Underworld. There are other possibilities if we can’t make it through the rubble in the next couple of days. We just have to find out where they are located.”

“That is such a relief,” Hippolyta agreed as she released an emotive breath of relief as she pulled her daughter into a tight embrace. “I’m so sorry you’re having to endure all of this especially after all that you’ve already been through.”

“It’s all right, mother,” she insisted. “I will succeed in getting Bruce back. It’s only a matter of time.”

“Come, my sun and stars,” Hippolyta told her as she released her hold on her, taking her by the hand. “You must be exhausted. You’ve been in here praying for hours. I finally convinced Artemis and Shayera to take a respite from their work. I have ten Amazons working on it as we speak.”

Diana tightened her hold on her mother’s hand in appreciation. “Thank you, mother. I’m going to get something to eat and then go help them.”

“Diana, you need to rest,” Hippolyta countered.

“I’ll rest when Bruce is home with me where he belongs.”

Looking up, Diana spotted Antheia walking towards them with a basket in hand as the morning sun rose over the horizon behind her. “Antheia!” Diana exclaimed, running to greet her. She wrapped her friend in a warm embrace, relieved to see that she had survived the civil war. “I’m so happy you’re all right.”

Antheia halfheartedly returned the princess’s embrace, tears shimmering in her eyes as she pulled away. “It is good to see you too, princess.”

Diana’s hands came to rest on Antheia’s shoulders as a frown formed on her face. “Antheia, what is it?”

The Amazon averted her eyes, finding it difficult to meet the princess’s intense, scrutinizing gaze. “It’s just been very hard lately,” she softly confessed.

“I’m so sorry, Antheia,” Diana told her, her voice choked with raw emotion threatening to break lose as it clawed its way up her throat. “I wish I could have been here to fight with you.”

“You should have been,” Antheia suddenly responded with a burst of anger, her green eyes alight with fury and resentment. “It’s partly because of you that we had to fight that war.”

“Antheia…it…it wasn’t my fault,” Diana attempted to tell her. “I was fighting Hades in Gotham. I had to keep him from trying to destroy the world. He took my husband from me.”

“And I lost my best friend,” Antheia revealed as tears streamed down her face. “Calliope is dead because of you…because you weren’t here to stop this war…because you went to Man’s World and married a mortal man and bore his children. I supported you…was happy for you…Calliope and I both were. We fought to protect the queen and the choices you made for your life and look what it cost us!”

“Antheia…” Diana gasped, rendered speechless by her words.

“Calliope is gone, and I’ll never see her again this side of the Elysium Fields,” she continued on, her breaths convulsing and shuddering as her grief consumed her. “Go back to your home, Diana. You’re not needed here.”

Diana watched in shock as one of her closest friends dashed away before she could respond. She felt as though she’d just been gutted, her heart splintering for the pain that her sisters were enduring. It was her fault no matter how anyone looked at it…no matter how anyone tried to justify it.

She had brought this derision and division upon her island home. This war was the product of her choices. She had been able to reconcile it at home in Gotham, away from where all the turmoil had taken place, but being here in the midst of the tumult and devastation only served to reopen the wounds that had yet to heal.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

Underworld; September 15th, 15:19 EST

Batman sat silently on his heels by the throne of Hades, his gauntleted hands resting on the tops of his thighs as the god of the Underworld spoke with Thanatos. He was biding his time and trying not to lose his mind in the process. He could feel his grasp on his faculties beginning to relax. He couldn’t allow that to happen. The stakes were too high right now.

He needed to make his escape soon. He couldn’t help wondering, though, where Ra’s al Ghul was. He hadn’t seen him in a couple of days making him wonder what the mastermind was really up to now. He was no doubt trying to find a way of escape himself.

He was not staying down here any longer than he absolutely had to, and he was certain Ra’s felt the same way. Despite becoming cohorts with Hades, Ra’s would never stay here if he could find a way out. He had too many grand plans and schemes that still needed to be accomplished and he very well couldn’t accomplish any of them trapped down here in the Underworld.

Bruce’s cowled gaze followed every movement, nothing beneath his notice. Not even the casual way that his father-in-law was absentmindedly stroking the top of one of Cerberus’s heads or the way that Thanatos impatiently tapped his left foot as if wanting to be anywhere but here.

He felt that every little detail could later prove important in his escape plans…and he would be getting out of here one way or another. While he knew that time was irrelevant down here, he couldn’t afford to wait too much longer. His mind was growing fuzzier with every passing day…or night. It was so hard to tell anymore. Memories of his life was blurring around the edges as if curled by the passage of time, growing dimmer despite his best efforts.

He refused to forget everything that he held dear to him. His family…his wife was his whole world and he wanted them back. He knew what it was like to grow up without his parents. He wasn’t about to let his children grow up without him being there, his wife going on in life without him being there by her side.

He attempted to silently recite the names of his children, growling to himself for forgetting his daughter’s name. He couldn’t remember it for the life of him, his anger flaring hotly. He started with Dick, stumbled over Jason, pictured Tim’s face but couldn’t recall his name. Nicholas was even more difficult to summon in his mind, Kaia a nameless little girl with raven pigtails and blue eyes just like her mother’s. Damian was a mystery to him, one that he couldn’t unlock.

His fingers slowly curled into angry fists. He couldn’t forget his family. It would completely tear him apart if he couldn’t remember them. Thoughts of his beautiful wife drifted through his mind, creating a sense of peace and longing in the depths of his soul.

Diana was never far from his thoughts, always lingering there at the nooks and niches of his mind waiting to comfort him and bring him a measure of reassurance. She was forever his anchor, the calming center in the midst of the fierce storm that currently surrounded him.

He found himself wishing that he could see her now. He longed to touch and kiss her…to hold her and make love to her. He missed the warmth of her smile, the lilting sound of her voice and her intoxicating jasmine scent that stirred things inside of him that no one else ever could.

Batman’s attention abruptly shifted as a servant rushed into the throne room, somewhat breathless from his task. “My lord,” he said, immediately bowing his head before the god of the Underworld.

“What is it?” Hades demanded to know, a frown adorning his face as his hand stilled on one of Cerberus’s heads.

The servant lifted his head minutely, gazing at Hades through his dark eyelashes. “Hermes, my lord.”

“Hermes?” Hades mumbled, his eyebrows knitting in confusion. “I wonder what he wants.”

“He did not say, my lord.”

“Send him in,” he commanded.

The servant bowed his head once more before rushing off to usher Hermes in, the white slits of Batman’s cowl narrowing minutely. Bruce couldn’t help wondering what had caused the messenger of the gods to come to the Underworld to see Hades.

He didn’t have to wait long as Hermes flew into the throne room, landing before Hades’ throne. “Nephew,” Hades greeted him, regarding him with a wary look. “What brings you to my realm?”

“Actually, Aphrodite sent me,” Hermes replied, his gaze falling on the Batman chained beside Hades’ throne.

Hades’ eyebrows rose almost imperceptibly as he studied his nephew. “Why would Aphrodite worry herself about the goings on of the Underworld?”

“She sent me to check on your new guest,” Hermes admitted, a twitch of amusement on his lips. “Evidently, Princess Diana has been relentlessly petitioning the gods for information about her mate.”

Bruce’s heart lurched in his chest, nearly stuttering out of rhythm with the mention of Diana. He had no doubt that she would be unyielding in trying to get to him. It caused him to fear for her safety knowing that she would do anything to try to save him from his current situation. She was stubborn and relentless at best, but even more so when it came to those she loved.

Hades chuckled as he reached for his golden chalice. “Ah, my stubborn daughter,” he replied, pausing to take a drink of his wine. “I have no doubt she’ll try to enter my domain in an effort to rescue her husband.”

“She’s trying to, but the gate to the Underworld that rests beneath Themyscira is completely blocked by a hundred feet of rubble,” Hermes revealed. “I’m afraid the civil war on Themyscira was quite devastating.”

Bruce’s chest tightened with the news, worry for Hippolyta and Diana’s sisters rising. He was somewhat relieved so know that the entrance to the Underworld was blocked, keeping Diana from attempting to enter the realm of the dead. He didn’t want her down here at all. He would find a way to get back to her.

“Interesting,” Hades softly said, nodding his head thoughtfully as he considered this newest information. “I’m sure my daughter is doing everything in her power to find the other hidden gates to the Underworld.”

“Right now, she and her friends are trying to get through the rubble,” he relayed. “Hera has seen fit to keep the other gates a secret from the princess.”

Bruce released a barely perceptible sigh of relief. As long as Diana was sifting through rubble, she was safe on Themyscira instead of trying to fight her way through the Underworld to get to him. His throat painfully constricted with the thought of her, knowing all too well the depths of her love for him and how willing she was to risk her life in order to get to him. It never ceased to amaze him even now.

“Good,” Hades murmured.

“Good?” Hermes asked with a confused expression. “Don’t you care your daughter is greatly suffering?”

“She deserves everything that she’s going through right now and so much more,” Hades uttered with a sneer, standing to his feet as he gazed down at his son-in-law. “I was almost hoping she would come for her husband. I had some grand plans for my daughter starting with a warm welcome by The Hydra.”

Batman internally cringed with the thought of what Hades had in store for Diana. He stared at Hermes as if silently willing him to send a message to Diana to let her know that he was fine and to not try to come after him. He would find his own way out of here without jeopardizing her life to do it.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t tell Hermes any of that with Hades standing right there.

“Uncle, the princess is your very own daughter,” Hermes reminded him.

Hades snorted in amusement as he began to pace, Thanatos stepping aside and out of the way. “Please,” he sarcastically bit out. “When has anyone in this family ever gotten along for any length of time? Someone is always stabbing someone else in the back when they’re not looking. Besides, Diana refused me what I wanted and helped to send me back here.

“You can tell her that I am greatly enjoying having my son-in-law here with me in the Underworld. If she wishes to see him, she is more than welcome to come down here at any time to visit him…if she can find a way down here that is.”

Bruce felt a sudden icy chill race up his spine with the way Hades invited Diana to visit him down here. The invitation was laced with venom and unspoken threats. Bruce knew that Diana’s truce with Hades had been tenuous at best when she and Shayera had come down here to help him regain his throne. Now, that fragile truce had all but been obliterated.

Hermes slightly bowed his head in acquiescence. “As you wish, uncle,” he replied. “I’ll pass on the message to Diana.”

Hermes glanced at Batman, trying to decipher some sort of message or secret sign that he could pass on to Diana. Seeing it, Hades grinned wickedly. “Please, Bruce,” he said. “If you have a message you’d like to send to your wife, go ahead. I won’t stand in your way. Tell her whatever it is you like.”

Bruce swallowed hard, pushing down all the things that he ached to say to her. “No, my lord,” he evenly stated. “I have nothing to say to the princess. She need not worry about me.”

Hades chuckled something dark and obnoxious before taking a long drink of his wine. “See? He loves it down here,” he mocked.

Hermes gazed sadly at the Batman, feeling bad for Diana. She was his friend and he hated to see her hurting like this. “I will take my leave then,” he told him, casting one last glance at the Batman before leaving.

Hades’ mocking laughter could be heard echoing through the throne room and down the halls as Hermes flew away, Hermes’ heart heavy for what his friend was going through now at the hands of her father and his uncle. He hoped to bring her some good news, but he didn’t think things could be any worse for her or her mate.

Wayne Manor; September 15th, 18:16 EST

“Are you sure it’s a good idea to redecorate the kids’ rooms?” Tim asked as he placed some corn on Nicholas’s plate.

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Jason asked as he forked a piece of meat. “It’d give the kiddos something else to think about for a few days.”

“He has a point,” Donna agreed, glancing at Nicholas and Kaia who were play fighting with their forks. “All right, you two. Time for eating, not fork fighting.”

Dick chuckled as he put some potatoes on his plate. “You’re going to make a great mom, Troia.”

Donna rolled her eyes as she reached for her glass of iced tea. “I’ll tell you Nicholas and Kai are great practice for what’s in store for us in a few months. They’re full of more energy than all of us combined.”

“Oh, they’re not that much trouble, Miss Donna,” Alfred interjected with a smile as he brought a refilled bowl of salad to the table.

“That’s because you have the patience of a saint, Alfred,” Donna told him. “It must be from all your years of raising Bruce and then each of these three boys. It’s a wonder you haven’t gone crazy.”

“Hey, we were a complete joy,” Jason retorted.

Alfred’s raised eyebrows indicated his feelings to the contrary, but he remained silent as he exited the dining room. Damian, however, did not. “I highly doubt that,” he commented. “I’ve been here long enough to know that you three had to have been a nightmare to deal with.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Tim said with a frown. “I think I had to be the easiest to deal with.”

It was Jason’s turn to roll his eyes as he snorted his disagreement. “I highly doubt that.”

“Well, it definitely wasn’t you,” Tim shot back. “I’ve heard horror stories about you, Jas.”

“I was just…rambunctious,” Jason ultimately decided.

“Oh, is that what they call felons these days?” Dick teased with a smirk.

Jason shot him a glare. “I’m sure I was better than you two.”

“I think I’m better behaved than all of you combined,” Damian stated.

“That remains to be seen,” Dick replied, reaching over and helping Kaia get the tines of her fork into her meat. “Here you go, peanut.”

Kaia giggled as she somewhat awkwardly put the end of her fork in her mouth. “Me feed Peanut?”

“No, no table food,” Dick reminded her. “Kittens don’t like people food.”

“Ace does,” Nick excitedly revealed, a proud grin on his face. “He ate my broccoli for me.”

Dick groaned as he looked over to see all the broccoli gone from Nicholas’s plate. “Nick, remember what your dad said? No feeding the dog from the table.”

“Yah, but he’s not here,” Nick pointed out, his little face scrunched in confusion. “So, it’s okay, right?”

“I’m afraid not, Master Nicholas,” Alfred chimed in as he kneeled down and scooped the puppy up into his arms. “Come along Ace. Your presence in the dining room is no longer required.”

“Okay, back to redecorating the kids’ rooms,” Donna said. “How do we even know Bruce and Diana are okay with it?”

“I heard them talking about it a while back,” Dick replied. “They wanted to update their bedrooms because they’re getting bigger, but they were too busy trying to stop Ra’s.”

Damian frowned with the mention of his grandfather, the conversation around the dinner table becoming a distant hum. He’d be lying if he said that he didn’t think about his mother and grandfather. It was a concern that haunted him relentlessly throughout the day and followed him into his dreams. He couldn’t help wondering where his mother was or if she was even still alive.

Diana had told him that when Hades had possessed his grandfather, he had attacked Talia when she tried to save him. She didn’t know what had happened to her after that, but Damian had his suspicions. If he knew anything about his mother and grandfather, it was that Ubu had no doubt been nearby during the battle. Ubu would’ve done whatever it took to get his mother out of there if she was in danger.

His grandfather, on the other hand, was trapped in the Underworld with his father. It caused inexplicable sorrow to grip his heart. He felt as though he had lost everything. While the people surrounding the dinner table was his new family, he still longed at times to have his old family back.

Nothing seemed right anymore…hadn’t felt right since the moment he’d first arrived in Gotham and met his father. Things here weren’t necessarily wrong, but he was having a hard time adjusting to all the changes and the fact that he may have lost his father and grandfather forever.

“Damian, we could do your room too while we’re at it,” Dick announced. “We could decorate it anyway you want…make it your own.”

“Sure…why not,” Damian muttered as he glanced around the table to find everyone looking at him.

“You want purpo too?” Kaia asked.

Jason choked on his ice water, nearly spitting it out on his plate. “Purple? Are you trying to give your dad a heart attack?”

“We agreed on light purple, didn’t we Kai?” Dick corrected her as Kaia nodded her head in agreement.

“I want to be there to witness the look on Bruce’s face when he sees it,” Jason snorted in amusement.

“I’m sure he’ll be fine with it,” Tim interjected. “Nick and Kaia have Bruce wrapped around their finger. He’ll go along with anything they want.”

“What color do you want, Nick?” Donna asked.

“I don’t know,” Nicholas said. “Maybe yellow and blue.”

“Like your dad’s vintage Batsuit,” Dick commented with an approving nod of his head. “I like it.”

“Wait,” Donna said, holding up a hand to halt the conversation. “Bruce’s first Batsuit was yellow and blue?”

“Well, it was more gray and blue with yellow accents,” Dick explained as he thought back on it.

“That doesn’t sound very terrifying,” Damian commented.

“It evolved from there,” Jason added.

“I want blue and yellow like daddy,” Nicholas decided.

“Okay, a vintage Batman room for Nicholas and a light purple room for Kaia,” Dick decided. “Do you want a Batman room too, Damian?”

Damian rolled his eyes as he shook his head. “No, I’m good.”

“Your loss,” the first Robin said with a shrug. “It’ll be good practice before we have to decorate the nursery.”

“We have to find a bigger place before we can even have a nursery to decorate,” Donna pointed out with a frown.

“When Bruce and Diana get back, we’ll hit the house hunting hard again,” he promised his wife.

Donna sighed as she reached for another dinner roll. “That’s good because soon I’ll be as big as a house.”

“You won’t get that big, Don,” Tim reassured her. “Probably more like apartment size.”

“Gee, thanks for the encouragement, Timmy,” she groused as she tore into her dinner role.

Tim chuckled as he dunked, barely missing getting hit by a piece of dinner roll. “I’m only teasing,” he told her. “You’ll be beautiful no matter what.”

Dick scowled as he glared at Tim. “Hey, no hitting on my pregnant wife.”

“I’m only complimenting her,” he defended. “Besides, I have my own girlfriend.”

“You should invite Cassie over for dinner with us sometime,” Donna suggested.

“Yes, because I’m sure I want to subject her to all of you and the horribly embarrassing stories you’ll tell her about me,” Tim retorted, wrinkling his nose in disagreement.

“We better get ready for patrol earlier tonight,” Dick announced. “Joker is obviously planning something heinous and we need to get on top of it quick before it escalates.”

“I agree, but where do we start?” Jason asked.

“He’s already hit all the pharmaceutical companies in Gotham and we still don’t know what he’s using all those stolen drugs for,” Tim reminded them.

“We need to finish sifting through all the evidence from the body that we found,” Dick said, turning to find two sets of little eyes staring at him. “I, ah, mean…the uh…yah.”

“What body?” Nicholas asked, his eyes filled with worry. “Are they okay?”

“Way to go there, father-to-be,” Jason muttered with a chuckle. “Scar the poor kids before they reach kindergarten.”

“Oh, everything is fine, kiddo,” Dick tried to reassure him. “We were just kidding.”

“Perhaps you should continue this discussion downstairs,” Tim suggested with a frown.

Dick glanced at Donna, noticing the worried expression on his wife’s face. “Are you okay, Don?” he asked.

Donna looked up sharply, suddenly realizing that everyone was looking at her. A forced smile formed on her face as she tried to push away the unexpected feelings welling up inside of her. “It’s nothing,” she said. “I’m fine.”

Grabbing a couple more dinner rolls, Jason stood to his feet. “Well…let’s hit it then,” he said. “It’s going to be another long night.”

“Yah, and no Artemis to keep you company,” Tim teased as he followed his brother out of the dining room.

“I can’t wait to meet Cassie,” Jason quipped. “I have plenty I could tell her.”

Donna shook her head in amazement as Dick and Damian followed the other two out. She looked at Nicholas and Kaia who still appeared somewhat confused by everything. “Let’s go play a game while they go to work.”

“Me want to pay Candyland,” Kaia announced.

“That’s no fun,” Nicholas decided. “Let’s play cops and robbers.”

“You are most definitely your father’s son,” Donna replied with a laugh as she lifted Kaia out of her booster seat. “Let’s compromise and play Go Fish while we watch a movie.”

Both kids readily agreed as they dashed out of the dining room, Donna following behind with a worried look on her face. She absentmindedly rubbed the swell of her belly as she considered all that was happening as well as the sensations that she was feeling.

She didn’t want to tell them that she could feel how Diana’s heartache was only intensifying over time or that there was also an overwhelming sense of grief accompanying it.

Themyscira; September 15th, 18:55 EST

Diana paused to wipe her brow with the back her arm, trying to keep the sweat and dirt from running into her eyes. She turned a frustrated glare on the minimal progress that they had made since they’d started. She wished she had Kal’s heat vision so she could just blast away the rock that kept her from getting to Bruce, but she knew even that wouldn’t be enough to make that much more progress.

She glanced at Shayera who had paused to take a drink. She didn’t appear to be fairing any better. She was covered in sweat and dirt, bits of rubble in her hair and wings, but she appeared fully determined to see this through to the end despite the fatigue that clung to her.

They’d been working at it for hours and, while they had made some good progress, it was still not nearly enough to get them anywhere close to the hidden gate to the Underworld. It could take a couple more weeks at this rate to reach it.

Diana moved to sit on a large boulder, leaning forward to hold her head in her hands. Exhaustion weighed her down, but not nearly as much as the deep ache that made her heart feel like it was locked in a vice. It made it hard to breathe.

“Why don’t you go take a break, Di,” Shayera suggested, her hand on Diana’s shoulder.

Diana looked up to find her friend standing next to her, worry swimming in her eyes. Diana took Shayera’s hand from her shoulder, squeezing it in appreciation before releasing it. “I’m all right,” she tried to tell her. “I just can’t help thinking there has to be an easier way to get through this mess.”

“I could call John to the island to use his ring to try to blast through it,” Shayera proposed.

The Amazon princess released a ragged sigh as she stared at the complete disaster that awaited their attention. “The problem is that we don’t know how stable it is. If we move too much too fast the entire above ground structures could completely collapse.”

Shayera huffed, blowing a lock of hair out of her face. “I hate to say this, but I don’t think this is the answer, Diana,” she softly said. “We’ll keep working at it for as long as it takes, but I’m beginning to think that we should focus our efforts on finding the other entrances.”

“I agree, but my sisters haven’t been able to find anything yet in the ancient scrolls and texts,” Diana said, raking her fingers back through her hair. Bits of rock and rubble fell from her raven locks, raining down around her. “I don’t even know for sure where to start.”

“We’ll figure it out,” Shay reassured her. “In the meantime, I guess we just keep hammering away at this rock pit.”

“All right,” Artemis said as he approached. “Go get a bath and something to eat. You two look horrendous.”

“You don’t like my new look?” Shayera questioned her as she showed herself off. “I thought the rubble and dirt in my hair and wings was a good look.”

Artemis gave her a skeptical look, a single eyebrow arching. “Think again, bird girl. You two look like you’re about to drop. Let some fresh arms and legs in here for a while.”

“I’m not stopping,” Diana adamantly declared as she stood to her feet, determination burning like twin flames in her eyes. “Go ahead, Shayera.”

“If you’re not going, I’m not going,” Shay replied, lifting her chin defiantly as she raised her mace.

“You’ll just slow me and my team down,” Artemis retorted, pointing her thumb over her shoulder at the ten Amazons itching to get to work. “Go, Diana, and take bird girl with you.”

“That’s bird woman to you, red,” Shay teased her with a mock glare.

“Fine,” Diana relented, knowing that Shayera wasn’t going to stop until she did. She’d promised John that she’d look after her. “I’ll be back in an hour.”

“No, you won’t,” Artemis shot back. “You’ll come back in the morning. Hopefully, we’ll be to the opening to the underground tunnel by then.”

Diana pursed her lips, knowing that arguing with Artemis was like arguing with Bruce. It was a futile endeavor and an absolute waste of breath. “I’ll be back in a few hours,” she agreed.

“I don’t want to see you here before sunrise.”

“We’ll see,” the princess muttered in annoyance. “Come on, Shay. I’m sure mother ordered the kitchen to save us some dinner. We’ll swing by there before heading to our rooms.”

“That sounds good,” Shayera decided. “I want to check in with John to see how things are going and how the kids are doing. Hopefully the house is still standing.”

“I was hoping to check in with Dick,” Diana admitted, rubbing her tired eyes with her thumb and forefinger. She’d been working on removing the rock from just before sunrise to long past sunset.

She swallowed hard as she thought about her family, wishing that she could see her children…to hold Nicholas and Kaia in her arms. Being gone for two days felt like weeks, Bruce being gone for over two weeks felt like an agonizing eternity.

“I’ll also have John ask J’onn to research possible locations for the other hidden gates to the Underworld,” Shay added. “You never know what a Google search can do for you.”

A halfhearted smile lifted the corner of Diana’s lips. “That’s a good idea,” she agreed. “I might check in with Zatanna to see if there is anything the magical world might know.”

“That sounds like a good plan,” Shay said with a nod as they entered the palace. “See? We’re getting somewhere, Di. Don’t lose heart yet.”

“There’s no way in Tartarus that I’m giving up on…my husband,” she replied, her voice hard like steel that abruptly faltered on her, forcing her to pause to draw a shuddering breath. “I love him too much to let him go without giving everything I have. It’s still difficult not to lose hope when we keep hitting one roadblock after another.”

“You know after the Thanagarian invasion and everything that went down after that between John and me…” Shayera began only for her voice to trail off, the unexpected wealth of emotions threatening to overwhelm her and taking her by surprise. Despite the passage of time, the wounds of the past still brought back so much heartache for her. “I thought I’d lost my chance with him forever after that. It took a lot of soul searching and finding out who I was for me to find my way back to humanity…to the League and John.

“I felt like I was running into one wall after another, but despite all the pain and hardship, I never gave up hope that John and I would somehow find our way back to each other. I have to admit, though, coming back to find him with Vixen didn’t exactly raise my spirits any.”

Diana chuckled softly in response as they entered the kitchen. “I can imagine,” she replied. “It was quite difficult having feelings for Bruce in the beginning only to see him at charity events and galas with a different beautiful woman on his arm or knowing that Catwoman was just waiting on a rooftop for a rendezvous with him while he was on patrol.”

“Men,” Shayera muttered with a roll of her eyes, trying to lighten her friend’s spirits. “The things we go through for them, but they’re worth the pain and heartache.”

“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him,” she confessed as Mila handed each of them a plate of food that she had saved them. “Thank you, Mila. I’m starving.”

“Anything for you, princess,” Mila responded with a smile. “I know you’ll find your way to your mate.”

“I appreciate that,” Diana softly said with a grateful nod before turning to leave. She was anxious to return to her room to get cleaned up and get a little sleep before heading back out again.

“You’ll feel better once you eat and get some sleep,” Shay told her. “I know I will.”

“I can’t thank you enough, Shay,” she responded. “It really means a lot.”

“Nothing to thank me for, Di,” she reassured her. “You would do no less for me.”

Pausing before Shayera’s room, Diana gave her a small smile. “Get some sleep.”

“See you in the morning.”

Diana nodded before heading to her room. Entering, she set her plate down on a small table before quickly stripping off her clothes. She was in dire need of a bath and nothing sounded better to her at that moment than soaking her tired muscles in hot water.

She headed for the bathing suite that was attached to her room, finding a steaming bath awaiting her. She smiled to herself, more than thankful for her sisters perceptiveness and anticipating her needs. She sank into the hot water with a relieved moan, her thoughts immediately settling on her family.

She touched her commlink with her right hand, needing to check in on them. “Wonder Woman to Nightwing.”

It didn’t take long for Dick to answer. “Diana! How’s it going?”

“We’ve run into some unexpected obstacles,” she revealed, trying to keep the constant waves of panic from reaching her voice. “The war on Themyscira was quite devastating. There is a lot of destruction that caused a cave in that is blocking the entrance to the gate of the Underworld.”

“You’re kidding?” Dick said with a gasp of shock. “Donna’s going to be upset when she hears that.”

“We’ve got teams working night and day to clear the rubble, but it could take a week or more to finally reach the gate and that’s if the tunnel is still stable. Removing the rubble could cause another cave in, taking the above ground structures down with it.”

“Oh, man,” Dick softly said. “What are you going to do?”

“I’ve petitioned the gods for help, but we also have several Amazons reviewing the ancient scrolls and books for information about other gates to the Underworld,” she informed him.

“I know if anyone can find a way to get to Bruce it’s you, Di,” he assured her.

“I won’t give up,” she told him. “I will get him out of there.”

“Well, don’t worry about things here. We’ve got it all covered,” he tried to reassure her.

“How are Nicholas and Kaia? Is Damian giving you trouble?”

“Nick and Kaia are their usual mischievous selves, but they’re fine,” he replied.

Diana groaned as she tilted her head back against the edge of the bathtub. “What have they done now?”

“Nothing major,” he told her. “Just a water gun fight…feeding Ace from the table.”

“Well, don’t be afraid to put them in timeout or make them go to bed early,” she said. “What about Damian?”

“He’s his usual stubborn annoying self, but he’s doing okay.”

Diana couldn’t help but chuckle, Damian’s retort coming through loud and clear through her commlink. “How are things in Gotham? Joker still causing problems?”

“Yes, but we’ve got it handled,” he swore to her. “In fact, we’re in the process of tracking him down now.”

“Please, be careful…all of you,” she instructed him. “I might not be your real mother, but I’m going to mother your whether you like it or not.”

It was Dick’s turn to chuckle, his tone tender as he responded. “No one ever outgrows needing a mother.”

“I’ll check in with you again soon,” she said. “Contact me if you need to.”

“Will do. Nightwing out.”

Diana sat up, taking a piece of loofah and beginning the task of scrubbing away the grime and dirt of the day. The corner of her lips quirked, wishing Bruce was here with her to help with the task. Sharing a bath or shower with him was one of her favorite times spent with him, something so intensely intimate about it all. She loved taking turns washing each other, the feel of Bruce’s fingers running through her wet hair and over her body.

“Soon, Bruce,” she murmured to herself as she grabbed a nearby cup to wet her hair. “We’ll be together again soon.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

Themyscira; September 16th, 01:43 EST

Diana clutched her pillows tightly in the midst of a restless sleep, Bruce’s name a continuous murmured plea on her lips. Her fingers dug deeper into the pillow as if holding onto it…onto Bruce…for dear life. Her breathing grew ragged as she lurched towards her father to save her husband, desperately trying to grab hold of Bruce to keep him here with her where he belonged.

“No!” she cried as she sat forward in her sleep, her pillow being torn apart in her hands. The contents exploded as the material was rend in two, white feathers floating in the air like falling snow.

Her chest was heaving as she frantically looked around her room to find herself all alone…just the same as when she had finally fallen asleep just a scant few hours ago. With an enraged growl, she tossed what was left of her pillow onto the floor before moving to sit on the edge of her bed.

She was irate with herself for not trying harder to save Bruce from her father. She should have done more, fought harder…tried anything and everything. She should’ve offered to take his place in the Underworld instead of just letting her father disappear in a blinding light with her husband.

But he was gone now, and it was all her fault. Her family was suffering because she hadn’t been able to save him. She couldn’t help but feel the crushing weight of guilt over what had happened, the sense of loss clinging to her like a cloak that she couldn’t begin to remove or discard. It was something that only having Bruce back safe with them could ever erase.

She rubbed her face before raking her fingers back through her long hair. Lifting her head, she was stunned to find Hermes standing in her room. “Hermes,” she grumbled in annoyance, flopping back onto her bed with a huff of frustration. “You better be here with good news because you just scared me half to death.”

“Sorry, Diana,” Hermes said with an impish grin as he sat down on top of a nearby table. “I do come with news about your mate.”

Diana instantly sat up now that she had confirmation that he had been to the Underworld and had actually seen Bruce. Her sapphire eyes narrowed dangerously. “How is he? Is he all right?” she asked with bated breath.

Hermes reached over and picked up a handful of grapes still left untouched on her dinner plate from last night’s dinner. “I saw him,” he confirmed, popping a plump grape into his mouth.

Diana growled angrily, throwing one of her pillows at him. “Start talking, Hermes, or I’ll be throwing more than just my pillow at you next time.”

He held up his hands in defense, one hand still gripping the purple fruit. “Hey…hey, have a little patience, cousin,” he chided her. “I’ve just returned from a very long trip. Let me catch my breath and get something to eat.”

Diana leapt to her feet, her chiton falling to her knees as she stalked towards him. “I want to know about my husband,” she ground out with barely restrained fury, what little patience she still clung to fracturing even more with every second that passed by. Pretty soon it would snap completely and then all hell would break loose.

Stuffing a couple of grapes into his mouth, his eyebrows furrowed with concern. “I saw him, Diana, but I don’t think you want to know any more than he is alive…or as alive as you can be in the Underworld.”

“Just tell me, Hermes,” she pleaded with him. “I have to know no matter how bad it may seem.”

He released a reluctant sigh, averting his eyes to the sight of the sun just beginning its ascent on the distant horizon. “He is a slave of Hades,” he grudgingly revealed. “He is chained beside Hades’ throne like a dog. He’s no longer himself. He appeared to be completely under your father’s control.”

Tears instantly brimmed in her eyes as her eyelids fluttered closed. She wrapped her arms around herself as she drew a shuddering breath. “You couldn’t detect anything in him that might have told you that he knew what was going on?”

Hermes slowly shook his head, feeling the full weight of his cousin’s sorrow. “I’m truly sorry, Diana,” he replied, his hand coming to rest on her shoulder. “He didn’t show any emotion the entire time I was there…not even when Hades and I talked about you. Hades even asked your mate if he had anything to say to you and he replied that he had no message for the princess.”

Diana tightened her hold on herself, a tear slipping free and sliding down her cheek. It was all a ruse. It had to be. It was the only logical explanation that her heart and mind could even begin to accept. She couldn’t be losing him already, couldn’t allow her father to keep her husband forever.

She knew Bruce better than she knew herself. He had to be acting like Hades’ slave in order to buy himself some time. He could escape those chains if he really wanted to so why hadn’t he yet? Was he really under Hades’ controlling influence again or was he just trying to hang on until she could get to him?

Even if he was beginning to lose his memory, he wouldn’t lose his instincts or his skills. His first impulse would be to bide his time in order to learn everything he needed to know before trying to escape his chains. He would want to know his enemy before trying to stop him.

She stopped her pacing and lifted her head to look at Hermes who was still picking at her untouched dinner from last night. “You said that Bruce told you he had no message for the princess?”

Hermes nodded his head as he thoughtfully chewed, confusion passing over his face. “Yes…why?”

“He called me princess,” she softly murmured to herself.

He didn’t call her Diana or Wonder Woman. He didn’t just answer no to the question. He specifically called her princess. He was sending her a message, letting her know that he was all right. He was playing Hades game until he could find a way out of there.

Her arms fell to her sides, her hands curling into fists as she straightened her shoulders, lifting her head in utter defiance. “I’m going after him,” she stated.

“How?” Hermes asked. “The passage to the gate below Themyscira is completely blocked. It could take weeks to get through that mess.”

“There are other gates to the Underworld hidden around the world,” she replied with a confidence that she wasn’t exactly feeling at that moment, but was determined to press on, nonetheless. “I just have to find one of them to get to Bruce.”

Hermes watched as she moved about her room, gathering her clothes. “How are you going to do that? I’m sure they’re just as hidden as the one here.”

“I will find a way whatever it takes…unless of course you care to divulge what you know,” she said, pausing to look over at him still sitting on top of her table, a threatening glare that her husband would be proud of taking over her face.

He felt himself shrinking beneath her penetrating gaze that seemed capable of tearing apart the sinew and muscle in order to peer directly inside of him for the answers she so desperately needed at that moment. “You know I cannot go against Hera’s wishes no matter how much I want to, cousin,” he reminded her. “She wants you to learn this one on your own. Think of this as a test because that’s pretty much what Hera called it.”

“Then, what can you tell me?” she snapped as she hurried into the ensuite to change.

“You’re putting me in a really difficult position, Diana,” he whined, swinging his feet back and forth as he continued to pick at her barely eaten supper. He looked for all the world like a grumpy child condemned to a task he wanted to avoid at all cost. “Hades is my uncle after all and if he somehow manages to find out—"

Diana’s head suddenly peeked around the corner, her blue eyes glaring daggers at him. “Really? And you don’t owe me for covering for you with Aphrodite?”

Hermes’s head fell back with a groan as he stared up at the ceiling, weighing his options. “I knew you were going to throw that back in my face one of these days,” he groused. “I just didn’t expect it for at least another century or two.”

“We’re talking about my husband,” Diana spoke with urgency lacing her voice. “Even as licentious as you are, I know you believe in love. Besides, you always told me I could count on you if I ever needed you and I need you, Hermes. Don’t let me down now.”

“Diana, you’re killing me,” he grumbled. “Tugging at my heart strings like this is just so cruel.”

Diana stepped out from her ensuite dressed as the Champion of the Gods. She quickly ran her fingers through her hair, trying to tame the somewhat unruly curls. “So, will you help me, or do I need to tell Peitho about your little fling with—”

“All right! All right!” he cried, throwing his hands up in the air in exasperation. “If Dite wasn’t so gorgeous, I wouldn’t be in this mess right now.”

“Come,” she told him. “We have a lot of work to do.”

Hermes hopped off the table; his forehead creased with confusion. “Where are we going?”

“The Temple of Hera,” she informed him, grabbing him by the wrist and pulling him through the door to her room. “I have an idea.”

Wayne Manor; September 16th, 04:27 EST

Dick’s chin fell to his chest as he silently closed the door to Nicholas’s bedroom. The lump that had formed in his throat refused to budge, forcing him to take a moment to collect himself. It was breaking his heart watching what Bruce and Diana’s absence was doing to his little brother and sister.

They were too young to fully understand what was going on and yet old enough to know that something was seriously wrong with their parents. They understood that Bruce and Diana were needed on a mission, but they seemed to also sense that this wasn’t a typical mission.

The stakes were far higher, and they appeared they had picked up on that fact even if they didn’t know what was going on. He should’ve guessed that they would sense that. Bruce and Diana were their parents after all, both extremely intelligent and possessing a keen sense of awareness.

Releasing the door handle, Dick ran his hands over his face as he made his way towards his old bedroom. Opening the door, he found his wife lying on her side propped up on her elbow. “Is he all right?” she asked.

“Yah,” he murmured, making his way to his side of the bed and crawling in beside her. “He had a nightmare.”

Donna immediately curled up against him, her head coming to rest on his chest. His hand automatically moved to caress her growing abdomen. The corner of his lips curved as he kissed the top of her head, his eyelids falling closed with a sigh of contentment.

“About what?”

“Monsters tried to take his parents away,” he revealed.

“He’s really having a difficult time with them being gone,” she replied as she absentmindedly stroked his chest. “Were you able to get him back to sleep?”

“Yah, I rubbed his back until he fell asleep,” he reassured her, his fingers absentmindedly playing with her raven locks.

“Poor little guy,” she softly said. “How was patrol tonight? Were you able to find any leads on the Joker?”

“No, nothing,” he replied with a frown. “He’s working extra hard to cover his tracks. I’m afraid he’s not going to reveal what he’s up to until he’s good and ready. By then, it could be too late.”

“I’m sure you guys will figure it out,” she assured him. “Is Damian any easier to get along with on patrol?”

“Not tonight though I think he might have learned his lesson,” he stated.

Donna sat up to look down at her husband, concern brimming in her eyes. “Is he okay?”

Dick chuckled softly, pulling her to lay back down against him once more. “He’s fine although he’ll have quite a shiner when he gets up in a few hours.”

“What happened?”

“Tim and I broke up a gang fight,” he informed her. “Damian decided to do his own thing instead of listening to me and ended up with a black eye for his efforts. He’s a very good fighter, but his arrogance is going to get him killed.”

“Well, maybe he has to learn the hard way before he’ll get it through his head that he needs to listen to you,” she replied. “Have you heard from Diana?”

“During patrol last night,” he admitted. “I’m sorry, Don, but it’s not looking too good. There’s a lot of destruction on Themyscira because of the civil war. The tunnel that leads to the gate to the Underworld is completely blocked by rubble. They’re having a very hard time clearing it all.”

“I should’ve gone with her,” she told him, feeling guilty for not being there.

“You couldn’t have done anything,” he reminded her. “You’re pregnant with twins. Besides, we need you here with us.”

She closed her eyes in an effort to stop the tears she could feel building. She hated the emotional rollercoaster being pregnant had put her on. It was a nightmare to deal with at times, a constant struggle to keep her emotions under control. She absolutely hated not being able to stay in control.

“I know I’m pregnant, Dick, but I still can’t help feeling horrible for not being there,” she retorted. “She’s my sister. There’s got to be something that I could be doing to help.”

“You already are helping Diana in very important ways,” he assured her. “She can focus on rescuing Bruce without having to worry about Nicholas and Kaia.”

“Or you three troublemakers,” Donna added, poking him in the ribs and earning a grunt.

Dick grew tense beneath her as he lifted his head to look down at her. “The three of us?”

“Yes,” she responded, gently patting his chest. “Diana wanted me to look after the three of you and Alfred as well. She might not be your real mother, Dick, but she really cares about the three of you and Alfred.”

“You know Diana is the best thing that ever happened to this family,” he admitted. “She not only saved Bruce from a life of utter loneliness and despair, but she brought us all together like a real family. She’s like the glue that holds us all together.”

“She’s pretty amazing, isn’t she?”

“She’s a regular miracle worker,” he readily decided.

“She’ll do it again for Bruce,” she reassured him. “She won’t stop until he’s back home where he needs to be.”

“I know,” he replied with a sigh. “Have you been able to feel anything from Diana?”

Donna shifted her position a little, not really wanting to answer the question. “It’s been okay.”

“Donna, I know you,” he pressed her. “I know that your souls are bound to each other and I saw the look on your face last night at dinner. You’re feeling her pain, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” she reluctantly admitted. “I honestly don’t know how she’s holding it together, but she is. She’s determined to get Bruce out of the Underworld. I definitely wouldn’t want to be in Hades’ shoes right now. She’s on the warpath and she’s not going to give up no matter what happens.”

Dick stroked her hair, knowing how deeply this was affecting his wife as well. “Just don’t let all of this upset you.”

“Too late for that,” Donna murmured.

“I think I need to help you relax then,” Dick ultimately decided, his hand on her abdomen slipping down her body.

Donna gasped as his hand found the apex between her thighs, his fingers beginning to create amazing sensations that caused shockwaves to shoot through her body. She tilted her head back against the pillows as Dick shifted onto his side. His mouth latched onto her throat as he continued to torment and tease her, thoroughly enjoying every single whimper and moan that he could elicit from her. Knowing he was the one bringing her pleasure only served to turn him on even more.

“Have you been thinking of names for our babies?” he asked her, nibbling on her earlobe.

Donna began to squirm as she struggled to form coherent thoughts and sentences, but it was near impossible with what her husband was doing to her with his hand and mouth alone. She felt a different kind of tension filling her entire body as she arched her back.

“You…you want to…talk about…names…now?” she breathlessly gasped out the words.

He grinned wickedly against her breast as she moaned his name, begging him for more as she clutched at the sheets beneath her. All her thoughts and worries began to disappear in the wake of her husband making love to her, her body responding to his touch…his kisses, bowing as he finally slid himself inside of her.

She couldn’t begin to imagine anything ever happening to him. The thought of Dick being taken away from her like Bruce had been taken from Diana made her ill to her core. She instinctively wrapped her arms around his neck, her legs firmly around his waist as she clung to him.

She just prayed her gods would protect him as she lost herself in the blinding pleasure building inside of her, knowing she’d never love another like she loved him.

Watchtower; September 16th, 07:27 EST

John Stewart stood before the coffee machine in the commissary as if in a complete daze, his eyes half open and his brain in a sleepy fog. He had been standing there for several long moments just holding his coffee cup, not moving and not filling his coffee cup. It was as if he was in a trance.

Flash zipped through the comm, veering between tables and coming to a stop beside him. “What’s up, GL?” he enthusiastically inquired, clapping him on the back before reaching around his best friend to grab a cup.

John turned his head to look at him and just blinked as if trying to comprehend who was actually talking to him and what he was saying. “I’m not sure,” he groggily said with a shake of his head.

Flash frowned as he intently studied him, finally noticing the fatigue that clouded his eyes. “What’s wrong with you, dude? You look terrible.”

“Gee, thanks for the compliment,” John groused as he finally put his coffee cup beneath the nozzle and pushed the button, watching as the dark liquid poured from the machine and into his cup.

“No, it’s just that you’re not your usual peppy self this morning,” he amended, filling his cup with a latte concoction of some sort.

“Rex has a cold,” he replied. “Poor little guy is so congested he can hardly breathe when he lays down. I was up all night with him.”

“Ah, my poor little man,” Wally woefully said. “Does he need Uncle Wally to come visit him?”

“He’s at home with my mom, but Bella is in day care if you want to see her.”

“YAAY! I’ll go see my Bells later this afternoon before my monitor duty shift.”

“Have fun,” John warned him with a grimace. “She’s teething.”

“What a rotten time for Shayera to be gone,” Wally said with a frown.

“I think she timed it on purpose,” he griped.

Wally slung an arm around his friend’s shoulder, pulling him in. “It’s not her fault that Bats was kidnapped by his father-in-law and dragged into the Underworld against his will.”

“I know,” he confessed. “Still, it’s a mighty strange coincidence.”

It’s okay, buddy,” he reassured him, patting him on the shoulder. “Your mom and I got your back. You’re not alone in this. I’ll come over tonight and help you with the kids.”

John took a drink of his coffee, grimacing as the hot liquid slid down his throat. He slowly shook his head as he turned to face Wally. “I seriously don’t know how that woman does it, Wally,” he said, his tone one of wonder. “She makes it look so effortless. She can totally handle both kids, plus me and her League duties and still look so beautiful. I was up with one kid all night and I feel like I’ve been sucker punched by Sinestro.”

“Women,” Wally muttered with a shake of his head. “You can’t always live with them, but we’d be totally lost without them.”

John couldn’t help but chuckle with Wally’s words of wisdom. “I don’t know about the can’t live with them part,” he told him. “She’s pretty amazing even when her temper flares.”

“You’re so whipped,” Flash replied with a laugh.

John leveled him with a threatening glare. “It’s called being in love with my wife,” he corrected him with a growl.

Flash held his hands up in front of him as he took a step back. “Hey, what do I know? I’ve never been married.”

“And you never will at the rate you’re going,” he shot back.

Flash’s face contorted into an expression of mock hurt, his hand coming to rest against his chest as they headed towards a table with breakfast in hand. “Hey, what is that supposed to mean?”

John gave him an incredulous look. “Are you serious?” he questioned him. “You can’t keep playing the field, going from one girl to the next. You need to start thinking about finding a good woman and settling down.”

Flash plopped down in the seat across from John, looking utterly forlorn. “I just haven’t found the one, GL,” he replied. “I know she’s out there somewhere. I just can’t seem to find her.”

“Well, you sure do your fair share of comparison shopping,” John told him, taking a bite of his eggs.

Flash wiggled his eyebrows at him, a grin adorning his face. “Hey, I can’t help it that the ladies love me,” he countered. “I’m a chick magnet.”

“It’s that kind of mentality that keeps you single,” he pointed out. “Women want a real gentleman, not a player.”

“There’s nothing wrong with playing the field until I meet the right one,” Wally decided. “It gets a little lonely sometimes. I mean all you guys are married and happy with families. Even J’onn has a girlfriend now. I’m the last passenger on the Singlesville bus.”

“You’ll find someone special, Wally,” John reassured him. “You’ll be getting married and having kids of your own before you know it. In the meantime, you get to learn from the master how to deal with children.”

“The master?” Flash repeated. “You look like you tangled with Darkseid.”

“But I survived it,” John said with a smile, lifting his coffee cup with pride. “Thankfully, I have coffee to keep me awake until I can catch some sleep this afternoon.”

“Green Lantern…Flash…Stargirl…S.T.R.I.P.E…report to Transport One,” Mister Terrific’s voice boomed over the sound system.

“You better refill that cup of coffee,” Flash said with a nod. “Looks like you’re going to be needing it.”

John’s shoulders sank as he looked at his partially eaten breakfast. He quickly downed the last of his coffee before dashing out of the commissary with Flash hot on his heels. He could hardly wait till he could hide in his quarters this afternoon and get some sleep before taking on his two children again this evenin.

He never would’ve guessed raising children could be just as trying and exhausting as battling the evils of the world.

Gotham; September 16th, 08:06 EST

“Harls! Harls!”

Harley Quinn rolled over onto her back, blearily looking around her room in an effort to figure out what was going on. They had worked late into the night, her head only hitting the pillow about three hours ago. She groaned as she looked at the red numbers glaring back at her. It was far too early to be summoned like this.

“Harls!”

“Ugh,” she groaned as she dragged herself out of her makeshift bed.

She quickly began searching for her clothes, pulling on her tank top as she used her toes to blindly search for her panties. Snagging a pair with her toes, she bent over and grabbed them, slipping them on before looking for the rest of her clothes. Whatever had Joker yelling at such an ungodly hour had better be worth it.

She scowled to herself as she tried to tame her unruly pigtails, leaving the room in search of her partner and lover in crime. She made her way to their work room, her stomach rumbling in response as a reminder that she hadn’t eaten since some time yesterday.

She attempted to stifle a yawn with her hand as she wandered into the room, spotting the object of her affections standing with his back to her. He was leaning over one of the worktables, studying something or other that had captured his attention.

Approaching him, Harley noticed he had several textbooks laid out before him. “What’s up, puddin’?”

Without a sound or warning, Joker whirled on her, backhanding her hard across the face. She cried out in shock and pain, her hand instantly covering her cheek and the blossoming heat she could feel rising on her skin. Tears welled in her eyes as she studied him, wondering what had brought on his anger with her.

“You are to come when I call for you,” he growled, glaring darkly at her. “Do not make me wait next time.”

“I’m sorry, Mistah J,” she tearfully apologized. “I…I was asleep when you called for me. I got dressed and came as quickly as I could.”

“Well, it wasn’t fast enough,” he angrily groused. “We’ve got too much work to do for you to be sleeping.”

“I thought you were coming to bed,” she explained, rubbing her cheek in an effort to ease the sting.

“I was, but I had epiphany, my dear Harley,” he told her as he turned his attention back to the books and papers scattered before him. “It’s absolutely brilliant. I never cease to surprise myself sometimes with my pure genius.”

“What is it?” she asked, warily moving to stand beside him before the table, afraid that he might suddenly hit her again. She knew she deserved it for not hurrying like she should’ve, but it still hurt, nonetheless. “I don’t see it.”

“Of course, you don’t see it because you’re not looking in the right place,” he spouted, shuffling papers and shoving others off the top of the table.

She cast a sidelong glance at him, unconsciously taking a small step to her left and putting a little distance between them. She didn’t want to take any chances. She could already feel how tender her cheekbone was, another bruise no doubt in her future.

Finally finding what he was looking for, Joker placed a copy of Gotham’s newspaper dated from yesterday on the table in front of her. “That’s what we’re going for,” he said, repeatedly jabbing at a picture displayed on the front page of the paper.

Harley’s eyes narrowed as she leaned closer to the table, studying the picture looking back at her. “You’re going after the mayor?” she asked.

“No! No! No!” Joker yelled, throwing his hands up in the air in exasperation as he turned away from her. “Not just the mayor, Harls. We’re going after all the big wigs in this gritty, grimy little town.”

“But I thought we were going after—”

“We still are!” he exclaimed. “My primary focus has not changed and will not change. I’m just expanding my vision. If we’re going to go to all this work, then I’m going to make it worth my while. We’re gain control over the whole damn city. They’ll be my puppets to manipulate. I’m going to make them prance and dance and do my every bidding.”

Harley looked up to see Joker spinning and dancing in circles with his arms raised, his eyes closed as if picturing his dreams coming true in his mind’s eye. His lips were curled with glee at the corners as he hummed along to a tune that only he could hear.

“So, how ya gonna do that?” she questioned him. “We don’t have the time or equipment to get to all those peoples.”

“Patience, Harls, patience,” he told her. “We just need to perfect the process and then we’ll just start taking them one by one.”

Harley scratched her head in confusion as she tried to make sense of her lover’s plans. “Won’t Bats know that something’s up when all the big wigs start disappearing only to reappear?”

Joker stopped to look at her, his gleeful grin morphing into a frustrated frown. “Harls, have you no vision?” he exclaimed in stunned disbelief. “Bats will have his hands full with what we have planned for him, remember?”

“Oh…right,” she replied with a nod as the pieces finally fell together in her sleep deprived brain, laughing at the image that popped into her mind. “He’s not gonna know which end is up when he gets his surprise.”

“The problem is Batsy has been far too quiet lately,” Joker thoughtfully pointed out as he stroked his chin.

“Rumor on the streets is that he was killed in the battle with that al Ghul character,” she informed him, trying to stifle another yawn.

“Bah,” Joker snorted with a huff. “I know my Batsy and I’d certainly know it if he was plucking harp strings on the other side of the Pearly Gates. He can’t be killed. He’s probably just recuperating from the fight. You know he’s not as young and nimble as when we first met, and our bromance blossomed.”

“Can I go back to bed now, Mistah J?” she asked, yawning.

“We have too much to do to think about sleep,” he told her with a frown as he stalked back towards the worktable.

“Like what?”

“We’re going to need ten times as many supplies as we have now,” he replied, the palms of his hands coming to rest on top of the table as he gazed down at his plans.

Harley couldn’t stop the groan from escaping as she dropped into a nearby chair. “Puddin’, can’t I get a little more shut eye first?” she pleaded. “We been working nonstop for weeks.”

“Fine,” he uttered with a huff. “Go back to bed but be prepared to work even harder tonight. I want this genius of a plan to become a reality soon and I’m going to need more test subjects. The last one you brought me turned out to be a real dud.”

“I promise I’ll bring you a real gem tonight,” she reassured him, jumping out of her chair and running towards him.

Harley threw her arms around him, kissing him passionately. Joker pushed her away after a few moments, clearly not in the mood. “We have no time for that,” he said with a scowl. “If we want to draw in our ultimate prize, we’ve got to be prepared for everything. You know Batsy won’t take too kindly for coming after one of his own.”

“He’s gonna freak,” she said with a squeal of delight. “Why don’t we just go after Batman?”

“You can’t go after the big fish, Harls,” he told her. “Haven’t I not taught you anything after all this time? The best way to torment and terrorize Batsy is to go after those he cares about and it’s obvious that he cares a lot about the newest member of the Batclan—Batwoman. Oh, to see his little batty face when he finds out we’ve taken his woman.”

Joker’s sadistic laugh echoed throughout the storeroom, bouncing off the walls and reverberating in their ears. Harley couldn’t help but laugh too, knowing this plan had to be foolproof if they were going to destroy Batman…and what better way than taking away what he cared about the most in the world?

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

Underworld; September 16th, 11:33 EST

Batman couldn’t believe that Hades was idiotic enough to let him keep his utility belt. While he’d been feigning being under his father-in-law’s mind control, he still couldn’t help but feel that Hades was either too arrogant or too foolish for not taking away anything and everything that he could use to aid him in his escape.

Deciding he couldn’t wait any longer for Ra’s to make an appearance, Bruce removed the lock pick he kept hidden in his gauntlet. He quickly set to work on freeing himself, knowing that he couldn’t afford to stay here much longer. He was already beginning to forget things about himself and his life. He wanted to get back to the world of the living before he lost much more.

Faces were familiar but becoming nameless, places that held so many special memories and feelings were growing foreign to him. He hated it with every fiber of his being. He had always prided himself on his aptitude and sharp mind, his ability to think and reason and remember everything that occurred in his life.

Losing his mind…losing himself…was one of his greatest fears in his life. It vied with the never-ending fear of becoming just like the monsters he did battle with every night in Gotham. He refused to allow either of those things to happen to him.

The shackle on his left wrist easily popped open with little sound, the right following just as quickly. He went to work on the shackle and the thick chain around his neck, anxious to remove the pride-crushing metal from his body. He would love nothing more than to bind Hades with these chains, but he couldn’t allow himself the luxury. He was already on borrowed time.

The thick metal around his neck snapped open, slipping off to land on the ground behind him with a clank. He took a moment to stretch out his neck muscles that had become stiff from his prison. Moving his legs, he began to pick the locks on the chains around his ankles, pausing when he heard movement.

“Ah, Detective, I was right about you.”

Batman sneered as he continued to work on the locks, freeing his legs in a matter of seconds before standing to his full imposing height. “Right about what?” he darkly rasped.

“I had a feeling you were faking being Hades’ slave,” Ra’s astutely replied, his hands clasped behind his back as he began to pace before his nemesis. “It was a sham to buy yourself time…to wait until Hades had fully let his guard down.”

“What do you want?” Batman demanded with a dark glower. Ra’s was either coming with him or he would deal with him here and now.

“I’ve actually been waiting for you to decide when you were ready to escape this captivity,” he calmly answered, pausing to pick up a small statue to inspect it.

“So, you’re coming with me?” he deduced.

“Well, I refuse to stay here for all of eternity,” Ra’s icily stated as he placed the statue on its podium. “I have too much to do, too much to live for to surrender and give up my life now.”

“Are you sure you want to leave?” Batman questioned him as he stepped away from his spot beside Hades’ throne.

“Yes, why wouldn’t I be sure?”

“You and my father-in-law have become quite close…far closer than he and I have ever been or ever will be,” he dryly responded. “I’m surprised you would want to leave now that you’ve become best friends with the god of the Underworld. I would’ve thought you’d want to try to usurp his authority and steal his throne.”

Ra’s al Ghul’s head fell back as a deep, baritone laughter spilled freely from his lips. “Detective, your sense of humor was always a bright spot to me.”

“I don’t have time for this,” Batman spat out. “I’m going now with or without you.”

A single eyebrow arched in shock as he stared down the Dark Knight before him. “You were actually considering taking me with you?” he questioned him. “I’m touched.”

“I’m not going out of my way to bring you with me and if you slow me down, I’m ditching you,” he bit out.

Ra’s eyes narrowed slightly as he thoughtfully considered his words. “You need me, don’t you?”

“I don’t need you or anyone else to help me get out of this hell hole,” Batman uttered with a sneer as he stalked towards the double doors of the throne room. “Now, you either can tag along or I’m leaving you here.”

“Already beginning to lose your faculties, are we?”

Batman froze in his steps, his hand extended to open the door. “No,” he flatly stated, but he knew that his momentary hesitation had cost him the upper hand. Ra’s knew.

“You can pretend all you want that your mind isn’t beginning to slip away from you, but I know that it is,” he told him. “Hades already told me the effects of the Underworld on the mind. Fortunately for me, Hades felt generous enough to shield my mind from the effects.”

“Good for you,” Batman ground out as he opened the door, pausing to glance back over his shoulder at Ra’s. “Hope you enjoy your stay here.”

“Wait!” Ra’s called after him, quickening his step to catch up to him. “I’m going with you.”

“Now who needs who?” Bruce questioned him.

“Face it—we need each other right now,” he pointed out. “Your mind is crumbling and we both know that our chances of survival are much higher if we work together than trying to escape on our own.”

“Fine,” he stated. “Let’s go.”

“After you, Detective,” Ra’s said, his lips curving in satisfaction as he followed him through the doors of the throne room.

“Which way now?” he asked.

“To the left,” Ra’s informed him. “Going to the right will take you deeper inside the palace where Hades spends most of his time.”

“So, you’ve been exploring in your free time.” It was more of a statement than a question.

“Thought it might come in handy when you finally decided to make your move.”

“Then, you should lead the way,” Batman decided, stepping aside to let Ra’s pass. “Just know if you lead me into some sort of trap, I won’t hesitate to slice your throat.”

Ra’s glanced over his shoulder to notice the deadly sharp Batarang gripped tightly in the Detective’s gauntleted hand. The point of it glinted in the torchlight that lit the gloomy hallway. The eco-terrorist merely snorted in amusement before continuing down the corridor.

“You must have already forgotten that I am not so easily intimidated,” he replied with a smirk.

“I haven’t forgotten as much as you think that I have,” Bruce retorted, constantly looking behind for any signs of trouble. “I still remember all the trouble and chaos that you’ve created over the years.”

“Do you remember my daughter, Talia?”

Bruce’s brow furrowed beneath his cowl as he hesitated in his step. “Talia…” he softly said the name. “I do know her…had feelings for her at one time.”

“You should know her,” Ra’s said as he paused at a hallway that crossed their path. He glanced around the corner before continuing on. “You and my daughter have a son together.”

“Damian,” Bruce murmured, an image of his son popping into his mind. He felt a warm rush of love overwhelming him as he thought about his son, but something didn’t seem quite right about it all. “Damian is my son, but Diana is my wife.”

“Yes, you are married to the Amazon princess,” he confirmed.

Bruce silently repeated Diana’s name over and over again in his mind, fearing that she was going to vanish from his life or that he’d never remember how much she had come to mean to him. He was terrified by the thought of forgetting her. He was already beginning to forget his children. How long would it be before he forgot the woman who was his whole world…before forgot his entire life?

He shuddered just thinking about it. “How many children do I have?” he asked, wanting to confirm that Ra’s was willing to tell him the truth.

“You have two biological sons and a daughter plus three adopted sons,” Ra’s told him.

Five sons and a daughter. That was right…wasn’t it? A daughter…he had a daughter.

"You're doing great, Diana," he encouraged her. "Soon, we'll have a beautiful little girl in our arms."

"Bruce…some…something isn't right," she murmured.

His gaze immediately narrowed, his heart pounding a little harder with her words. "What is it? What's wrong?"

"I…I don't know…" she said with a shake of her head. "I feel so lightheaded. It…it's so hard to breathe."

His hand went to her face that was growing paler by the second, her breathing becoming more ragged and erratic as her eyes fell closed. "Diana," he growled. "Stay with me!"

Brushing her damp raven hair off her face and behind her shoulder, he found a bullet hole a couple of inches beneath her collarbone. Blood was oozing onto her white dress and spreading quickly. One of the bullets had gotten past her bracers.

Diana looked at him through her eyelashes as she fought to stay awake. "What…what is it?" she asked, her brow furrowing with worry.

"You've been shot," he growled, white-hot rage searing through him along with cold fear.

"What?" she gasped. "No…no, I…I would've felt it."

"The contractions and the adrenaline of the fight kept you from feeling it," he replied, looking behind him to see Robin and Nightwing coming towards them. "Where's Leslie?" he demanded.

Neither knew what was more frightening at that moment as they approached – the terrified expression on Bruce's face or how terrible Diana looked. "She's stuck in traffic," Nightwing informed him. "There was a four-car pile-up that has traffic backed up for a couple of miles at least."

"What happened?" Robin asked, stunned to see Diana like this.

"She's been shot," Bruce ground out. "We have to get her out of here."

"Bruce…" Diana murmured. "I…I have to…push."

"Hold on, Princess," he gently told her despite the firestorm of emotions raging within him, turning his attention back to his partners. "We're going to get through this together. I just need you to stay with me, Princess. Keep your eyes open…focus on me."

"You…you were right," she softly admitted with a faint smile, staring at his handsome face filled with such worry.

"About what?" he asked as he checked her again. "You're almost there, Princess."

"Tonight," she replied, gasping as she clutched her knees again. "You were right."

"Can I record you saying that so I can use it in the future to remind you of this the next time you disagree with me?"

"I'm pretty sure I'll never…forget this…" she told him, sagging against the wall, her eyes falling closed.

"Open your eyes, Diana!" he sharply ordered her, his hands covering hers on her knees again. "You're not allowed to leave me, remember? You promised me, Princess. Don't you dare break that promise you made to me."

Diana smiled softly at him, fighting for each breath she drew. "Never," she whispered before releasing a cry of pain. "We have forever together."

"It's time to push, Diana," he told her.

Diana fought to remain conscious, knowing that she had to bring their daughter into the world before she could finally close her eyes and sleep. The feel of warm lips moving against hers forced her to open her eyes again.

"You can do this," he murmured against her lips. "I'll be right here the whole time."

Leaning forward, Diana began to push, gritting her teeth as she gripped her knees. Every breath she drew was not nearly enough, creating sharp pains in her chest, but she was determined to safely bring her daughter into their family.

"Okay…good, Princess," Bruce encouraged her as she sank back against the wall. "The head is crowning. Just a few more pushes and she'll be here."

Diana panted heavily, her chin falling to her chest as her eyes fell closed. She just wanted to sleep now, finding it harder and harder to keep her eyes open. She just wanted to lay down, for the pain to stop and to be able to finally hold her daughter.

"Diana!" Bruce yelled her name. "Don't you dare leave me, Princess! You are an Amazon damn it…a warrior! Now, fight like one!"

His chest was clenched so tightly he could hardly draw a breath. He was gaining a daughter and losing his wife at the same time. He knew that targeting the fierce warrior spirit that lived within her was the only way to get her through this until he could get her the medical treatment that she so desperately needed right now.

"Bruce…" she weakly said his name, her strength waning.

The fight with those men on top of being in labor had drained her considerably. Her mind was spinning…swimming, Bruce's voice beginning to grow distant as she clenched her teeth. She pushed again, her heart pounding and her head throbbing. Her limbs felt like jelly, her body reacting on pure instinct now with the natural process of childbirth.

Bruce's heart swelled with utter joy as his baby girl finally entered the world, the beautiful little life that he and Diana had created together finally in his arms. He never knew such pure happiness until Diana…their children.

"You did it!" he cried, holding up their wailing daughter who was very unhappy at that moment. "She's here, Princess."

He mentally shook himself as memories of his daughter’s birth flooded his mind, furious with himself. He had to be stronger than this. He had to remember everything. He had an iron-like, formidable will. He needed to fight the effects of the Underworld with everything that he had if he was going to escape with his memories intact.

“Which way now?” Batman questioned him as he glanced back over his shoulder.

“Are you done testing me to see if I’ll tell you the truth or not?”

“Which way?” he bit out, his anger taking over.

Ra’s merely smiled in response, shaking his head with a patience Batman was not feeling at that moment. “Patience, Detective,” he replied. “You can count on me to get us out of Hades’ palace.”

“We’ll see about that,” he murmured, adjusting his grip on his Batarang, the white lenses of his cowl narrowing.

Themyscira; September 16th, 15:00 EST

“Are you sure about this, Diana?” Hermes inquired as he looked around him at the mess they’d already made.

“I have to admit I’m feeling pretty skeptical about this,” Artemis agreed.

“Honestly…no, I’m not sure, but we’re quickly running out of options,” Diana confessed, blowing a raven curl out of her line of sight as she glared at the ancient text before her.

“What made you even think of this?” Shayera asked her.

“Actually, Hermes did,” the Amazon princess admitted as she looked up at them from her position on the floor. She straightened up to sit on her heels, pulling her hair out of her face and over her shoulder.

Hermes looked at Diana in disbelief, reclining on his side on one of the alters. “What did I say?”

Diana impatiently waved her hand in the air as she turned her attention back to her book. “Doesn’t matter now,” she dismissed it. “The answer has to be here somewhere.”

“I don’t know, Diana,” Artemis interjected. “We’ve been going through books and scrolls for hours.”

“I thought your mother had Amazons already going through the ancient texts looking for the information?” Shayera asked with a frown, her hands coming to rest on her hips.

“They are, but they’re in the library that houses the majority of the texts,” Diana explained. “They weren’t sent to Hera’s Temple where these texts are kept.”

“Oh…that explains it,” Shayera muttered with a roll of her eyes as she turned her attention back to the book in front of her that was thousands of years old.

“Texts and books that reference Hera are kept in her Temple,” Artemis continued, Shayera and Hermes staring at her in astonishment. “Hey, that’s all I know, though. Further explanation needs to come from the princess.”

Diana released an exasperated huff, sitting back on her heels again. Now, she understood why Bruce hated having to take the time to explain himself all the time. “Hermes told me that Hera wants me to learn from this…to consider it a test,” she clarified. “If Hera wants to test me, then Hera must have the answers that I’m looking for.”

“And what if this doesn’t work?” Hermes asked, casually flipping through a book as if he was looking through a fashion magazine.

“I’m going to petition Hera to allow me trade places with Bruce,” Diana announced with a steel-like resolve.

“Diana!” Shayera yelled, taken aback by her answer. “We’ll be no further ahead. We’ll still have to find a way into the Underworld in order to rescue you.”

“No,” she adamantly stated with a decisive shake of her head. “You will not come after me nor will you allow Bruce to. I forbid it.”

“She’s lost her mind!” Shayera exclaimed more to herself than anyone else as she threw her hands up in the air. “The anguish of Bruce being in the Underworld has pushed her over the edge.”

“I know exactly what I’m talking about, Shay,” Diana insisted, her tone sharp and her gaze fierce. “I can endure being in the Underworld far more easily than Bruce can. Besides, I can handle my father and whatever he wishes to do to me.”

“So, you’re just planning on staying down there forever? Leave Bruce as a single father to raise your family?” Artemis demanded to know, clearly agreeing with Shayera. “He’s not going to just sit by and let you go like that. He’ll never give up trying to get you back.”

“No, I’ll find my own way out of the Underworld,” she reassured them. “My gifts will protect me from the effects of the Underworld on my mind. I also know the Underworld better than Bruce. I’ll be able to fight my way through it.”

“I don’t know about this plan of yours, cousin,” Hermes chimed in, sitting up on the alter he’d been lounging on. “Hera isn’t going to just let you take your mate’s place if she wants to test you through this.”

“What better way to test me than to be sent to the Underworld?” she questioned him.

“But what about the price required?” Artemis asked her. “There’s always a price when you’re dealing with the gods.”

“Or blackmail,” Hermes muttered under his breath in annoyance as he shot Diana a dirty look.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to get Bruce out of there and away from Hades.”

“What if Hades banishes you to the Pits of Tartarus?” Hermes pressed. “What will you do then? I can’t come help you.”

“I won’t need help,” she stated. “I can fight my way out of Tartarus.”

“I don’t like this one bit,” Shayera groused with a scowl as she began to pace back and forth. “This has disaster written all over it. Hades wants to punish you for interfering with his plans again. I highly doubt it’s going to be a happy family reunion for you two.”

“I don’t plan on it,” she bit out with unmistakable disdain for her father. “I would love nothing more than to get my hands on Hades for what he has done.”

Artemis crossed her arms against her chest as she leaned against the edge of a table. “And taking Bruce’s place is going to solve everything? What about your children, Diana? What about Bruce? He’s going to need you to help him regain his memories and you know that he won’t go on in life without you. You two need each other.”

Diana stubbornly shook her head, her lips pressing into a thin grim line. “J’onn has already said that he’ll work with Bruce on recovering his memories and my children need their father. I have a greater chance of surviving the Underworld than he does. I will not lose him because I failed him.”

Shayera’s eyebrows knitted in confusion. “How on earth did you fail him, Diana?”

Diana dipped her head as she averted her eyes, her teeth raking over her bottom lip. “It should’ve been me that Hades took to the Underworld with him, not Bruce,” she confessed. “I should’ve fought harder to save him, should have done more…done things differently.”

“Diana, you were badly injured,” Shayera reminded her. “You had just allowed Bruce to nearly beat you unconscious in an effort to get through to him. You could barely stand let alone fight your father to keep Bruce from being taken.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Diana softly replied. “I love him more than my own life, Shay, and I’ll give it up if I have to in order to save him. I should’ve done more to keep him here.”

A few suffocating moments of silence passed before Hermes finally spoke. “Okay, come on, girls,” he said. “We’re not going down this path so chins up…end of discussion. Let’s just concentrate on finding another gate so we don’t have to talk about this ridiculous plan anymore.”

“It’s not ridiculous,” Artemis countered as she turned her back to them. “It’s just…what a person does for the one they love.”

Hermes sat up a little straighter as he stared at the Bana-Mighdall Amazon. “When did you get so sentimental and romantic?”

Artemis shrugged a shoulder, a frown appearing on her face as she finally turned towards them again. “I’m not,” she defended herself, her stoic expression firmly in place once more. “I’m just saying that is what Diana and Bruce would do for each other. Ra knows I’ve lived with them long enough now to predict what they would do for one another.”

“Don’t let her fool you, Hermes,” Diana said with a soft chuckle. “Artemis is in love.”

A sour expression quickly replaced the frown on Artemis’s face. “I am not in love,” she insisted.

“Oh, really?” Shayera said with a grin. “So which Wayne heartthrob did you fall for? Can’t be Dick. He’s happily married and Tim’s a little young, but not out of the question. Wait…don’t tell me it was the resurrected one?”

“What if it is Jason?” Artemis shot back defensively.

“It is!” Shayera crowed with amusement. “I bet you two could start fires just being in the same room together.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Artemis demanded.

Shayera held up her hands to show she meant no harm. “Nothing…nothing at all,” she swore. “I just think you both have very strong personalities that would cause instant combustion…in a very passionate way of course.”

“Can we please change the subject?” Diana interjected, cringing. “You’re talking about my son and my friend.”

“Hey, I’m just saying I think they make a good match,” Shayera told them.

“Thanks for your stamp of approval,” Artemis retorted.

Shayera chuckled as she returned to her book. She liked poking and teasing the red head, but it was time to focus. If Diana was hell-bent on taking Bruce’s place in the Underworld, there was nothing on heaven above or earth below that would ever change her mind. She could hardly blame her though.

If it was John, she would do no less.

“I think I found something,” Artemis suddenly announced, her brow furrowing.

“What is it?” Diana demanded as she stood to her feet.

Artemis’s lips slowly stretched across her face, her green eyes brightening as she looked up at Diana. “How do you feel about a trip to Greece?”

“Opa!” Hermes cheered, throwing his book onto the floor and jumping off the alter.

Gotham; September 16th, 23:48 EST

“This is so boring,” Damian complained, his head propped against his fist, his elbow leaning against the passenger window of the Batmobile.

“I never said that patrol was a constant source of excitement,” Dick told him. “Sometimes it’s a sit and wait game that feels as if it’ll never end.”

“Well, it’s boring,” he groused again with a pouting expression. “What are we doing here anyway?”

“This is the first pharmaceutical company that Joker hit,” Dick explained. “We’re watching it to see if he comes back around again.”

“Why?” he asked. “Doesn’t he already have what he wants?”

“Not necessarily,” Dick continued. “It’s been enough time that this company has had time to restock what was stolen. If Joker needs more, this is the place he’ll come to first.”

“We don’t even know what he’s up to, though.”

“If we can catch him or some of his lackies, we might be able to find out what his plan is.”

“Oracle to Nightwing.”

Nightwing leaned forward to push the button on the console of the Batmobile, Oracle’s face appearing on the small screen. “What’s up, O?”

“Finally got the autopsy report back on that DOA you guys found last night,” she revealed with a grim expression.

“Whatcha got?”

“Antonio Ramirez,” she replied. “Twenty-year-old cocaine junkie…been living on the streets for the last year at least. Missing for the last week. Made for easy pickings since he’s high most of the time. Autopsy shows that Joker really worked him over but good.”

“How bad?”

“Lacerations, electrical burns, needle marks both old and new,” she informed him. “Several broken bones including his jaw and both hands, bruises from head to toe, a head contusion…”

“What’s COD?”

“Cause of death is drug overdose,” she said. “If that hadn’t gotten him, the severe blunt force trauma to the head would’ve done the trick. Poor kid didn’t stand a chance.”

Nightwing released a frustrated huff of air. “Do you have the tox screen yet?”

“Nope, not all of it,” she uttered with a shake of her head. “The drug that killed him was insane doses of LSD.”

“LSD?” Dick repeated more to himself than her. “What is Joker up to?”

“Wish I could tell you, but whatever it is, it ain’t pretty,” she replied. “This guy was used as a test subject or Joker wanted information from him.”

“I wonder what kind of information Antonio would’ve had.”

“Maybe he was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Oracle suggested.

“See what you can find out about this guy and let me know,” Dick requested.

“Already on it.”

“Thanks, O,” he replied. “Nightwing out.”

“She’s hot,” Damian commented.

Nightwing cast a sidelong glance at his brother, his lips curving into a frown. “Careful,” he warned him. “She used to be my girlfriend.”

“So, what happened?” Damian asked. “You wanted an Amazon like your father?”

Dick snorted in response as he turned his focus back to the pharmaceutical. “Not quite,” he replied. “It’s a long story. We just decided that we’d be better off as friends.”

“So, you screwed it up, huh?”

“Yah, pretty much,” Nightwing confessed, suddenly noticing something. “Heads up. We’ve got a white van approaching. Nightwing to Red Robin.”

“Got a hit?”

“Got something,” he responded. “A white van just pulled up…and Harley just got out with some of Joker’s gang.”

“Kind of tied up now with a jewelry store robbery,” Red Robin responded. “You’ll have to call in Hood.”

“Nightwing to Red Hood.”

“Just heard,” Jason answered. “I’ll be there in two.”

“We’re going in,” Nightwing told him, ending the transmission. “Well, you wanted some action. Looks like you’re going to get it. Just try not to get another black eye.”

“Funny,” Damian bit out as he opened the car door. “It wasn’t my fault.”

“Sure,” he muttered, pulling his escrima sticks out as they crossed the street. “Just remember to duck this time.”

“Just worry about yourself and not me,” Damian shot back, more than determined to prove himself.

Nightwing just rolled his eyes as they surreptiously slipped through the shadows of the street, keeping a close eye on the door that Harley and her henchmen had just used to break into the building. He couldn’t help wondering what Joker wanted this time that they hadn’t gotten before.

“Stay behind me,” Nightwing told Damian who merely glared at him.

“Stop treating me like a child,” Damian hissed.

“You are a child,” he pointed out with equal irritation.

Approaching the door that was hanging open, Nightwing peered inside to find the hallway dimly light and no sign of Harley Quinn or Joker’s men. He silently entered with his sidekick reluctantly in tow, making their way down the corridor.

The sound of Harley’s singing echoed through the hallway, leading him in the right direction. None of the goons accompanying her seemed inclined to silence her or hide the fact that they were there. It was pure arrogance or complete stupidity.

At this point, he was leaning toward stupidity though Harley Quinn was far from dim-witted unless it involved Joker. When it came to the sadistic clown, she had blinders on that kept her from seeing the reality of the violent, dysfunctional relationship that she was in with him.

He could feel Damian practically vibrating from behind him, anxiously awaiting the fight that loomed on the horizon. He knew that Damian felt he had something to prove, but he just wanted to make sure he safely returned home every night with as little injury as possible.

“Hurry!” Harley ordered. “We need to get in and get out just like Mistah J said.”

Nightwing spotted Red Hood coming down the hallway from the other direction. They silently nodded at each other, both anxious to catch Harley and hopefully get something important out of her though trying to get the full plan from her would be next to impossible.

Nightwing allowed Red Hood to take the lead, ready to back him up while trying to keep Damian out of it for as long as possible but knowing that wasn’t likely. The kid was a hothead and very impetuous to say the least. Trying to hold him back was proving to be difficult.

Red Hood moved into position, filling the doorway. “Harley…long time no see, babe,” he greeted her.

“Hiya, Red,” she gleefully replied, propping her signature baseball bat on her shoulder. “I been working. How about you?”

“Oh, you know…the usual,” he casually responded. “How about you tell me what you and your boyfriend are up to before things get nasty around here?”

“Now, what would be the fun in that, cutie?”

“Thought I’d give it a try for a change,” he told her, twirling his gun in his hand which always made Nightwing a little nervous. “Are we going to do this the hard way or the really hard way?”

“You know I like it really hard,” she quipped with a giggle before launching herself at Red Hood.

Holstering his gun, Red Hood swiftly moved into a crouching position, flipping Harley over his shoulder as she lunged at him. She squealed as she flipped, righting herself as she landed on the balls of her feet. “That was fun,” she flirted. “Let’s do that again, handsome.”

“Harley!” one of the goons yelled. “We got the stuff. Let’s move!”

“Sorry, love,” she told Red Hood, blowing him a kiss. “I’d like to stay and play some more, but Mistah J is waiting for me.”

“You aren’t going anywhere, Harley,” Nightwing stated as he moved to stand in her way.

“Ah, pooh,” she pouted. “You’re always such a downer, ‘Wing. Who’s the kid with you? A new Robin to play with? Hey there little birdie. I’m Harley.”

“I’m not a kid,” Damian spat out, taking off in a dead run towards her as Nightwing reached out to grab hold of his cape, missing him by centimeters.

“Oh, he’s a feisty one,” she commented. “Too bad I can’t stay. I’d love to get to know you, kiddo.”

Harley swung her bat at Damian who ducked this time, coming up with an uppercut punch that rattled her teeth. “How’s that for a kid?” Damian yelled at her as she stumbled backwards.

All hell broke loose as Joker’s men began to attack Red Hood and Nightwing. Batarangs flew through the air, taking out a couple of Joker’s goons as Harley ran for the bag of goods that they’d been able to gather. She was anxious to return to her man to show him what a good job she had done for him.

“Sorry, boys, but I gotta run,” Harley called as she slung the bag over her shoulder, waving goodbye to them.

“Robin!” Nightwing yelled as he fought off two of Joker’s men. “Stop her!”

Damian threw a bola at her legs, Harley leaping at the last second and vaulting herself over a table. Infuriated, Robin attempted to follow her only to be grabbed from behind by one of Joker’s thugs. He kicked his legs an in effort to break free, his teeth latching onto the hand that held him secure.

“Hey!” the thug cried out, releasing his hold on Robin as he shook his hand.

Robin didn’t waste any time, throwing an elbow into his gut as he stomped on his foot with all of his strength. The thug yelled as he doubled over, Robin taking advantage of the situation by slamming his fist into his face. Blood gushed from the thug’s busted nose as Robin finished him off with a series of punches that took the guy by surprise.

He groaned as he collapsed onto the floor, blood still leaking from his nose. Robin didn’t waste any time grabbing his arms and placing handcuffs on him. Without another look at his partners, he took off from the room, chasing after Harley Quinn.

He could hear the click of her boots against the linoleum floor as she ran through the pharmaceutical lab. It seemed to echo all around him as he raced after her, more than determined to stop her. He pulled out a Batarang, ready to throw it the second he spotted her.

Reaching the door they’d entered through, Robin stopped dead in his tracks as he watched the white van take off, tires squealing as she made a sharp right and disappeared around the corner. He cursed under his breath, shoulders sagging with the knowledge that he’d failed. He’d just let her get away and their best chance at finding out what Joker was really up to.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

Detroit; September 17th, 07:11 EST

Wally West was completely dead to the world, sleeping soundly on the couch and snoring softly with his right arm draped over his eyes. Helping John out with the two kids had proven to be a real eye-opening experience, one that had made him begin to question the notion of having kids someday.

Between Rex’s cold and Bella’s teething, it had proven to be almost too much for two of the Founders of the Justice League. How in the world could two little kids be so much work? It was beyond his understanding as he had collapsed in exhaustion onto the couch a handful of hours ago.

The feel of a small hand against his face began to stir him from his deep slumber. “Just a few more minutes, mom,” Wally sleepily mumbled between snores.

A few more slaps to the cheek got the scarlet speedster’s attention, forcing him to remove his arm from his eyes. One eye popped open as he looked to his left to find little Bella standing there beside the couch, her black curls sticking up at odd angles as she sucked furiously on her pacifier.

“What do ya want, kid?” Wally groggily asked.

She lifted her arms up to him, her intentions clear despite her lack of words. “Didn’t I hold you enough last night?”

She grunted at him with a glare that her mother would be proud of, throwing her arms up in the air again. “Why can’t you wake your dad instead of me?” Wally grumbled.

Bella growled low in her throat as she began smacking his arm with her little fist. “You know if we gave you a mini mace you’d be just like your mother,” Wally told her.

She put her arms up again, wanting to be picked up and clearly not about to give up on her demand any time soon. Wally sighed as he reached over, lifting her up and settling her on his chest. “You sure are a stubborn little kid.”

Bella just grinned at him with her pacifier in her mouth. She leaned forward to grab his red hair, tugging on it. “Hey!” he said, pulling her hand away. “It’s a good thing you’re so cute. What are you doing up anyway and how did you get out of your crib?”

She took her pacifier out of her mouth, holding it out to Wally as an offering. “Nah, I’m good,” he replied, wrinkling up his nose with the slobber that dripped from it onto his t-shirt. “I think I’ll hold out for some pancakes for breakfast.”

She shrugged her shoulders, putting her pacifier back into her mouth. She tried to babble something in response, but it came out all garbled. “Sorry, I don’t speak toddler,” he told her. “You’re going to be a lot of trouble now that you’re almost in your terrible twos. I almost feel bad for your parents, but they did this to themselves. Where’s your brother?”

Bella held her hands up, letting him know she didn’t know. “I bet you’re hungry too,” he said. “Want Uncle Wally to make you some pancakes?”

She nodded her head as she laid down on his chest, snuggling into the crook of his neck. A sense of warmth and adoration invaded Wally’s entire body as he gently patted her back. “You are just too cute for words, kiddo,” he told her. “You’re going to break all the boys’ hearts when you get older. Too bad your dad isn’t going to let you date until you’re at least forty years old.”

“Try fifty…if she’s lucky,” John said as he entered the living room with his son in his arms.

Wally sat up on the couch, holding Bella against his chest. “Hey, how did she get out of her crib all by herself?”

“She’s a regular Houdini,” John replied with a frown. “We’ve tried everything to keep her in it and she always manages to find a way out of it.”

“You should put her in one of those dog kennels,” Wally suggested as he stood to his feet.

John glared at him as he carried Rex into the kitchen. “She’s a baby, Wally, not a puppy,” he stated. “I’m not putting my daughter in a dog kennel.”

“You could totally do it up right,” Wally told him. “Put some little pillows in there…a blanket and some of her stuffed animals. It’d be perfect.”

“Not gonna happen,” John growled. “No matter how you try to pretty it up it’s still a dog kennel. Now, do you want oatmeal or cereal?”

“Bella and I want pancakes,” he announced.

John turned a skeptical eye on his best friend. “Bella said that?”

“Yep,” Wally confirmed. “I said pancakes and her whole face lit up. That means she wants pancakes.”

“I don’t know if we have time for pancakes,” John replied as he looked in the fridge. “We have to be on the Watchtower in half an hour.”

“We can totally make it work,” Wally reassured him as he put Bella in her highchair. “Your mom will be here soon to take care of the kids. It’s plenty of time for a good, nutritious breakfast.”

“Yah, I’m sure my mom will love cleaning up the mess we make in the kitchen,” John said.

“Step aside, GL,” Wally instructed him, lacing his fingers and stretching them out until his knuckles cracked. “Let the Flash handle breakfast while you go get showered.”

“Okay,” John reluctantly agreed as he put Rex in his booster seat, “but you’re going to be the one to tell Shayera if you burn down her kitchen.”

“I got it…I got it,” Wally dismissed him with a wave of his hand. “Just hurry. Breakfast will be on in five minutes.”

“I must be some kind of crazy to leave him alone in my kitchen with my kids,” John muttered to himself as he exited the kitchen to get a quick shower.

“I heard that!” Wally yelled over his shoulder as he pulled a mixing bowl out of the cupboard only for it to slip out of his hand. He caught it just before it could hit the kitchen floor, narrowly keeping it from shattering into a thousand pieces. He quickly looked around, making sure John hadn’t snuck back into the kitchen. “Don’t tell your dad, kids.”

Rex and Bella just watched in fascination as Uncle Wally used his super speed, the pancakes cooking in the skillet in no time. Picking up a spatula, he began flipping them into the air to show off his culinary skills, twirling in circles and catching pancakes with the skillet behind his back…except for one of the pancakes that accidently stuck to the ceiling.

“Whoops!” Wally muttered, staring up at the pancake clinging to the ceiling. “We’ll just pretend that didn’t happen. Maybe your dad won’t notice it.”

Rex and Bella giggled at Wally’s antics as John returned, a bath towel slung over his shoulder. “Hey, I’ve got to hand it to you,” John said as he sat down at the table with his kids as Wally placed the pancakes on each of their plates. “You really know what you’re doing. I guess I worried for nothing.”

“I told you,” Wally said, holding his skillet held out triumphantly, the pancake on the ceiling suddenly falling directly into the frying pan.

John’s eyes fell closed with a grimace as he shook his head. “I’m not even going to ask.”

“Probably best if you didn’t,” Wally agreed as he glanced back up at the ceiling.

Wayne Manor; September 17th, 08:04 EST

Damian sullenly made his way down the stairs, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his hoodie. A scowl was fixed firmly on his face, one that he was determined to keep there for as long as humanly possible. He was furious over what had happened last night with Harley Quinn, his pride taking a crushing blow that he still hadn’t recovered from.

He found himself more than determined to track that whack-job down and make her pay for humiliating him like that in front his partners. He’d been out to prove himself as a capable successor to the mantle of Robin only to have been outsmarted by a psycho chick with bad hair and a baseball bat.

He swore to himself that what happened last night with Harley Quinn would not happen ever again. He would sneak away and track her down himself if he had to. He wasn’t about to let Dick and his overbearing, overprotective attitude get in the way of proving himself. With any luck, he’d be able to slip away during patrol tonight to do a little investigating on his own and capture her by himself. Maybe then his brothers would take him seriously instead of always looking at him as just a kid.

Damian glowered at a ball that Nicholas had left lying on the floor in the hallway, giving it a solid kick that narrowly missed an antique vase sitting on the library table as it slammed into the wall behind it before finally disappearing into the entertainment room. He grumbled under his breath about little kids and their toys before heading into the kitchen.

“Master Damian,” Alfred brightly greeted him. “You’re the first one to make it down for breakfast. Might I interest you in some waffles?”

“I don’t care,” he muttered as he plopped down in his usual seat, his elbows coming to rest on top of the table, supporting his head with his fists.

Alfred smiled to himself as he placed a glass of orange juice before the newest member of the Wayne family, an unnatural amount of patience flowing through his veins as he knowingly returned to his skillet. Heaven knew that he’d learned plenty from raising Damian’s father.

“So how goes the crime-fighting business?” he inquired. “Is it everything that you ever dreamed it could be?”

“It’s okay,” he groused without lifting his head, his glare focused on the juice glass before him as if it had somehow wronged him.

“That good?” Alfred pressed on undeterred by the young man’s noticeable hostile mood. He’d dealt with far worse in the form of Bruce Wayne, a difficult endeavor at best and a potentially dangerous one at worse. “Might I inquire what occurred last night that has brought about such a sunny disposition in you?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he muttered.

“I see,” Alfred patiently replied as he finished the waffles, adding a generous helping of blueberry sauce before bringing the plate to the table. “I’m sure you’re doing a fine job. I know it must be very difficult to adjust to the unusual climate of Gotham’s criminal underworld. I’m afraid it’s quite distasteful and more than a little disturbing to say the least especially if it involved the Joker and Harley Quinn.”

Damian glared at the plate before him, the smell of the delicious waffles tickling his noise and causing his stomach to rumble in rebellious response. He had told himself he wasn’t going to eat, but Alfred’s cooking had an annoying way of changing his mind. He reluctantly picked up his fork, stabbing at the delectable dish with the tines.

“It’s fine,” he snapped, keeping his head down. “It’s not that hard to get used to. I’ve seen worse.”

Retrieving his cup of tea, Alfred slipped into the chair beside him. “It took Master Richard and Master Timothy a little time to adjust, but Master Jason seemed to take to it like a fish to water. I believe his former life as a street criminal contributed to that,” he revealed. “It can be quite upsetting, though, especially if you cross paths with the likes of the Joker or Harley Quinn.”

Damian visibly stiffened with the mention of Harley Quinn, his lips twisting into a sneer. “She’s crazy,” he bit out between bites of his waffles.

Alfred released a sigh, realizing that his first meeting with Miss Quinzel must not have been a good one. Of course, it rarely is when the girlfriend of the Joker is involved. She was dangerous and terrifying in her own right. “I’m afraid that is true,” he agreed. “Unfortunately, the Joker has had a big hand in making her who she is today, though I believe she already possessed some of those tendencies.”

Damian huffed in response, not really wanting to talk about it, but when it came to Alfred, the younger Wayne usually found himself divulging things that he’d sooner keep to himself. “I ran into her last night,” he confessed. “It was my job to stop her and I failed. She got past me.”

“That Harley Quinn is a slippery one,” the British butler readily decided. “You would not believe the number of times she slipped away from your father and brothers. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times that she managed to elude capture. She’s caused more than a few headaches around here.”

Damian perked up with the revelation, lifting his head to finally look at Alfred for the first time since entering the kitchen. “Really?”

“Oh, dear me yes,” Alfred scoffed with a frown. “The Joker and Harley Quinn have caused Master Bruce and your brothers more trouble than you can begin to imagine—frequently evading capture, running amuck in Gotham and wreaking havoc, taking innocent lives for kicks. I wouldn’t beat myself up too much if I were you. It was the first time that you’d even seen her. You had no idea what you were going up against.”

He shook his head, his shoulders slumping. “Grandfather always taught me to know your enemy,” he recited to him. “Always be prepared for anything and never underestimate your opponent. I failed my grandfather and his training…I failed my team last night.”

Alfred put a comforting hand on the youngster’s shoulder, his voice taking on a gentle tone. “The only person who thinks that you are a failure is you,” he reassured him. “No one in this family would ever blame you for Harley Quinn escaping. Just give it some time. You’ll be showing your brothers a thing or two before you know it.”

Damian silently nodded his head as he shoved a bite full of waffles into his mouth as Dick entered the kitchen. Alfred stood to his feet, giving Dick a pointed look. “Master Richard,” he greeted him. “I hear you had a very eventful patrol last night with Miss Quinzel.”

Dick glanced at Damian who refused to make eye contact with him, his head down and his focus solely on his breakfast. Damian hadn’t said a word after Harley Quinn had gotten away, returning to the cave and going directly upstairs to bed. Dick had decided to let him be, intending to talk to him today.

“Yah, it was kinda rough,” Dick admitted as he slid into his seat. “Damian did a great job, though.”

Damian’s head shot up in complete shock, his mouth hanging open. “Whatever,” he snapped. “I failed. Harley Quinn got away because of me.”

“It was not your fault, Damian,” Dick told him with a shake of his head. “I shouldn’t have put you in that position in the first place. It was my fault for doing that to you.”

“Why?” Damian shot back. “Because you don’t think I’m capable of handling her or myself?”

“No, that’s not it at all,” Dick stated, taken aback by his outburst. “It wasn’t fair of me to throw you into that situation because you don’t know Harley like the rest of us do. She’s as bad as the Joker is, sometimes worse in some ways.”

“I still should’ve been able to handle her,” Damian countered, refusing to let go of the sense of failure that ate away at his pride.

“Maybe yes, maybe no,” Dick told him as Alfred placed his breakfast before him. “Now, you have to decide what you are going to do about it. Are you going to pout and let your anger and guilt get to you or are you going to use it to drive you to get better?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Damian decided, shoving his plate away. He jumped to his feet and stormed out of the kitchen.

“That went well,” Dick grumbled to himself as he grabbed his fork.

“Just give him a little time,” Alfred suggested. “He feels he needs to prove himself to this family…that he deserves to be here and be out on the streets of Gotham like the rest of you.”

“He’s expecting too much too soon,” Dick said with a shake of his head. “It was only his fourth night out on patrol. Not to mention, it was Harley Quinn. She’s definitely not your garden variety psychopath that we deal with in this messed up city.”

“I guess then it’s up to you to help Damian understand that,” Alfred told him.

Dick released a frustrated huff. “I wish Bruce was here to handle him.”

“Handle who?” Tim asked, entering the kitchen with Kaia in his arms, Donna following behind with Nicholas.

“Me want booberries, Pappoús,” Kaia announced as she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes with her fists.

“I have your oatmeal and blueberries right here for you, Miss Kaia,” Alfred replied, setting her bowl down on the table.

“You and Nicholas are definitely Alfred’s favorites,” Dick told her as Tim put her in her booster seat. Kaia giggled as Dick reached over and tickled her ear. “I don’t remember getting exactly what I wanted for breakfast when I lived here.”

Tim chuckled as he took his seat. “Whatever,” he countered. “I heard you pretty much ruled the place.”

“I don’t think was the case,” Dick shot back. “Everyone knows that Alfred is the one who rules the manor.”

“What’s the matter with Damian?” Tim asked. “He shoved past me coming down the hallway.”

“He’s upset about what happened with Harley last night,” Dick replied.

Tim’s face scrunched up with confusion. “You guys said it wasn’t his fault. I mean it’s Harley Quinn. Trying to capture her is a nightmare in its own right.”

“I tried telling him that but unfortunately he does not believe me,” Alfred commented.

Tim started laughing as he handed Kaia her sippy cup of juice. “I head you had quite the experience with Harley when you were Robin, Dick.”

Dick groaned, rolling his eyes. “It was not my fault.”

Donna glanced between her husband and brother-in-law, wondering what they were talking about. “Okay, spill it,” she said. “What happened?”

“Nothing,” Dick adamantly stated.

“Batman and Robin had a run-in with Joker and Harley,” Tim began, much to Dick’s dismay. “Dick here got stuck chasing after Harley. She started flirting with him and got him all flustered. While he was distracted, she—”

“Okay, that’s enough,” Dick interrupted him. “There’s no need to further humiliate me.”

“What happened next?” Donna asked, trying to contain her laughter.

“Why Miss Quinzel managed to get Master Richard backed up into a preset trap,” Alfred continued the story. “Master Bruce had to let Joker escape so he could rescue his partner.”

“Thank you, Alfred,” Dick ground out with a glare.

Nicholas and Kaia giggled, Alfred cleaning off Kaia’s hand and reminding her to use her spoon for her oatmeal instead. It was almost a daily occurrence. Kaia scowled as she fisted her spoon against her will but obeyed under Alfred’s watchful eye.

“Were you okay?” Nicholas asked.

“Yah, I was fine,” Dick reluctantly replied. “Just very embarrassed.”

“Maybe if you told Damian about it, it would make him feel better,” Tim suggested.

“I’m pretty sure you have stories to tell about your run-ins with Harley,” Dick pointedly said.

“I think Jason has better stories to tell,” Tim decided with a frown, not wanting any stories about his role as Robin being revealed…especially the one about how Harley got away because he hadn’t been paying attention like he was supposed to have been. He had sworn that day that he’d never make that mistake ever again.

Greece; September 17th, 11:04 EST

Diana had tuned out the banter taking place between Shayera, Artemis, and Hermes long ago, her focus on getting to Greece as quickly as possible. She knew Hermes could’ve just snapped his fingers and gotten them to their destination in a blink of an eye, but he was banned from helping her any more than he already had been.

A Greek curse formed in her mind as she considered it. She had no idea why in Tartarus Hera had decided to test her now of all times, but she was going to get to the bottom of it one way or another. It was the least of her worries right now, though. All that mattered was getting Bruce back.

Thoughts of her husband continued to bombard her, causing her heartache to grow heavier in her chest. It felt crushing at times, stealing her breath and making it difficult to fully draw air into her lungs. She wasn’t about to allow it to deter her or keep her from saving Bruce.

She began to think about all the things that she was going to do to her father once she got her hands on him in the Underworld. She was going to make sure that he suffered greatly for all the pain and heartache that he’d caused so far.

There was still a part of her that had a very hard time accepting that Hades was her father, but she knew that denying it any further would be akin to lying to herself and she refused to do that. She was the embodiment of truth regardless of who her father happened to be.

“So, you should stick around after we rescue Diana’s mate,” Hermes flirted with Shayera. “I think you and I could have a lot of fun together. I kind of have a thing for women with wings.”

“I’m married with two small children,” she told him, her green eyes narrowing dangerously.

“Happily?”

“Very happily married,” she ground out.

Hermes shrugged an indifferent shoulder as he flashed her a mischievous grin. “That’s never stopped me before,” he told her with a wink. “Just ask Peitho.”

“You need help,” Artemis told him with a scowl.

“You’re just mad because I haven’t flirted with you yet, gorgeous,” he said. “Be patient. I’ll get to you next.”

Artemis wrinkled her nose in disgust. “It’s called relief and if you dare try anything, I’ll rip off your arm and beat you with it.”

“I really admire your style,” Shayera told Artemis. “You would make a great Thanagarian.”

“I guess I shouldn’t be too upset about being blackmailed into going on this mission,” Hermes decided. “I do have the most beautiful women keeping me company.”

“I bet that’s what you tell all the women,” Shayera stated, a single eyebrow arching suspiciously.

“I do have a very successful repertoire I like to use in the game of love,” Hermes proudly responded with a smirk.

“You mean harassment and aggravation, don’t you?” Artemis asked him.

“You are a feisty one, aren’t you?” Hermes replied.

“You have no idea,” the Bana-Mighdall Amazon retorted with a gleam in her eye.

“I do like a challenge and I have a feeling you would be my greatest challenge yet,” Hermes told her.

“Don’t even think of doing to her what you did to Chione,” Diana icily stated from her pilot’s seat, finally tuning in to the conversation taking place behind her.

“Why?” Shayera asked. “What did he do?”

Hermes had the decency to adopt a somewhat sheepish expression as he averted his eyes. “Honestly, Di,” he replied. “Do you have to tell them all my dastardly deeds? You’re painting me in a not so very nice light, cousin.”

“She was the princess of Phokis,” Diana continued, undeterred. “Hermes was attracted to her, so he used his wand to put her to sleep and then he slept with her.”

Both Shayera and Artemis gave him disgusted looks, murder alight in their eyes. Hermes held up his hands in defense as he leaned away from them. “Hey, that was a very long time ago,” he attempted to defend himself. “I’ve really changed my ways since my younger days. I’m much more civil now. I treat women with the utmost respect that they deserve.”

“Right,” Artemis bit out in obvious disbelief.

Hermes watched as Shayera’s fingers moved to caress the handle of her mace. “I’ve done a lot of good in my time,” he stated in indignation. “You can’t fault me for one offense.”

“Do I need to remind you of Apemosyne?” Diana muttered.

Hermes shot her a glare that she couldn’t see and yet she could feel the heat of it on the back of her head. “That’s enough,” he told her in no uncertain terms. “I liked it better when you were up there brooding like your husband instead of spreading all my dirty laundry.”

“Please, go on,” Shayera stated, folding her arms against her chest as she glared at the Olympian god. “Please tell us all about Apemosyne. We’d love to know what he did to her.”

“Don’t we have more to worry about then trying to persecute me?” Hermes demanded to know. “We should be almost there by now.”

“We’re approaching the shore of Greece,” Diana announced. “Of course, we could’ve gotten here a lot sooner if you would’ve just transported us.”

“You know I can’t, cousin!” Hermes declared. “Hera would have my head on a pike.”

“And we won’t?” Artemis questioned him.

“Okay, change of topic,” Hermes decided. “What’s our game plan now that we’re here?”

“Find the gate to the Underworld, kick Hades’ ass and save my husband,” Diana bluntly stated in no uncertain terms.

“Sounds pretty straightforward to me,” Shayera readily decided as she palmed her mace. “Let’s kick some demon ass.”

“I like your style,” Artemis commented with a nod of appreciation.

“Where are your weapons by the way?” Shayera asked her.

“I call upon my weapons magically when I need it,” she responded with a smirk as they all stood to their feet to exit the invisible jet.

“Of course you do,” Shayera murmured with a shake of her head before turning her attention to Hermes. “And what exactly are you good for?”

“Moral support?” he replied with a bewildered shrug only to receive three female glares. “What? I’m not really allowed to interfere per Hera’s orders. Do I have to spell it out for you across the sky or something? Maybe I’ll just use her feathers and create a sign.”

“Touch one of my feathers and you’ll find my mace in—” she began.

“Whoa there, girl,” Hermes said, taking a step back. “Just trying to spell it out for you gals.”

“Let’s go get my husband so I can have my family back again,” Diana evenly stated, taking the lead as she marched towards the exit.

“The princess has spoken,” Hermes announced as Artemis shoved their supply bag at him to carry for them. “Let’s go rescue the mortal.”

“I’ve been thinking about it,” Shayera said as they began to walk along the shoreline of Greece searching for the cavern that held the hidden gate to the Underworld. “How do we know that Bruce isn’t trying to escape as we speak?”

“When I saw him, he was heavily chained to the spot beside Hades’ throne. That man is not going anywhere,” Hermes informed them. Diana and Shayera chuckled in response, sharing a knowing look that left Hermes perplexed. “What? What did I say?”

“You obviously don’t know Batman,” Shayera told him.

“He can escape anything,” Diana revealed. “There has yet been a device that Bruce can’t find a way out of.”

“So, you’re telling me that chains won’t hold him?”

“Only as long as Bruce feels it’s necessary to get the information he needs,” Diana replied.

“Even if Bruce does manage to escape Hades’ palace, he’ll need some sort of help finding his way out of the Underworld,” Artemis pointed out.

“Bruce is extremely clever and a monumentally determined man,” Diana reminded her. “Even with his memories beginning to fade, his skills and instincts should still remain fully intact. That will definitely aid him. We’ll just have to be prepared for anything.”

“Let’s spread out,” Artemis suggested. “The cavern has to be in this vicinity.”

“I don’t know what else we can do if we don’t find that gate here,” Diana said with a shake of her head, her blue eyes narrowing as she studied the landscape, silently willing the rocks to give up their secrets.

“Your mother has your sisters working night and day to continue removing the rubble,” Shayera reminded her. “Maybe they’ll make a breakthrough while we’re gone.”

Diana sighed wearily, the wind blowing and causing her to hook a raven curl behind her ear. “I hope so,” she murmured. “Something has to give soon. I don’t know how much longer I can take this.”

“Hey, chins up, ladies,” Hermes sternly stated as he clapped his hands, capturing the attention of all three. “No giving up on my watch. I might not be able to give you the information you need, but I can still be your cheerleader. Now, let’s get to work.”

Shayera looked at Diana, pointing at Hermes with her mace. “Who put him in charge?”

Diana just shook her head, her lips curving down into a frown. “He tends to do whatever he wants.”

“Unless of course there’s blackmail involved,” he muttered under his breath as he scowled at Diana.

The four of them spread out, searching the rocky terrain in hopes of finding the elusive gate to the Underworld. They knew it had to be around here somewhere. The problem was trying to locate it. The gate’s location would not be well broadcasted or displayed for all to find.

Diana wrestled with the notion of contacting her family again to let them know what was happening but had decided against it. She didn’t really have anything positive that she could give them to bolster their spirits or raise their hopes, no new information that she had to report.

While she longed to hear Nick and Kaia’s voices, she feared that talking to them could only make things worse in the long run. They would no doubt have an endless string of questions about their father and when they would be coming home. Unfortunately, she had no answers to give them, nothing that could satisfy their curiosity about what was really happening.

Her children were far too smart for their own good, making it more than difficult to withhold information from them. They were highly intelligent and picked up on things quickly. They obviously knew that something very important was going on that required both their parents, but beyond that, they had no clue.

Diana’s hands came to rest on her hips as she studied the rocky landscape, determined to enter the Underworld before the day was over. It hadn’t been that long ago that Bruce and John were here on this shore searching for Hades’ amulet, hoping to find it before Ra’s al Ghul could get his hands on it.

It made sense to her that one of her father’s pieces of armor would be hidden in the same vicinity as one of the gates to the Underworld. She just wished she knew which cavern Bruce and John had found the amulet in. Unfortunately, she couldn’t ask Bruce…but she could ask John.

“Wonder Woman to Green Lantern.”

“Hey, Diana, what’s going on?” he responded. “I thought you guys would’ve been in the Underworld by now.”

“It’s a long story, but do you happen to remember where you were when you and Bruce found Hades’ amulet in Greece last month?”

“Wow…I’m sorry, but I don’t,” he thoughtfully replied. “Things got really sticky really fast with Ra’s al Ghul’s goons showing up. I wish I could help, but it got pretty nasty.”

“No, it’s okay,” she reassured him. “I knew it was a long shot. Thanks anyway.”

“Things that bad?” he asked, picking up on the frustration that laced her voice.

“It…it’s been better,” she cryptically told him.

“You’ll get him back, Di,” he reassured her. “You and my wife are two people that I would never bet against.”

Diana smiled softly, his encouragement giving her spirits a much needed boost. “Thanks, John,” she said. “I promise I’ll bring your wife back in one piece…oh, I’ll be sure to keep Hermes away from her.”

“Hermes?” he exclaimed. “What in the world is going on? Do I need to come?”

“Hermes thinks your wife is hot, but don’t worry about it,” she told him.

“Wait…what?”

“Wonder Woman out.”

Diana ended the communication, leaving John confused and more than a little upset. She turned to study the terrain once more, her eyes falling on a strange outcropping of rock that looked a little unusual to her for some reason that she couldn’t pinpoint.

She felt a hand settle on her back between her shoulder blades, giving her a gentle shove in the direction of the strange outcropping. She turned a haughty glare on the person behind the shove only to find it was Hermes, a mischievous smirk on his lips.

Diana threw her arms around him, crushing him in her embrace. “Okay, there, cousin,” Hermes wheezed as he tried to disengage from her hold on him. “As much as I enjoy hugging you, I can’t breathe and besides that I didn’t do anything to help you, remember?”

She kissed him on the cheek before releasing him and taking off like a deadly missile towards the outcropping of rock, not even bothering to say anything to her companions. This was it. She was finally going to get into the Underworld and find Bruce…bringing him home where he belonged.

Her heart nearly burst from her chest with the relief and apprehension that nearly overwhelmed her as she flew into the cave with a speed that rivaled her incorrigible cousin’s. “Hang on, Bruce,” she murmured. “I’m coming for you.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

Gotham; September 17th, 11:30 EST

The excited chatter of twenty-one preschoolers filled the classroom as Miss Bishop revealed the newest addition to the class. The boys and girls crowded closer to her, anxious to see the bearded dragon that Miss Bishop had named Huckleberry.

Nicholas giggled at the name as he wormed his way to the front of the group with his best friend Peter tagging close behind him. Making it to the front of the crowd, Nicholas and Peter immediately reached for the bearded dragon, eager to hold it.

Miss Bishop held the dragon close to her, protecting it from all the little hands anxious to touch it. “Everyone needs to take a step back so we can take turns petting it,” she instructed the children.

“We saw a bearded dragon at the zoo,” Nicholas announced as Miss Bishop allowed him to touch it. “Kaia didn’t like it, but I thought it was so cool.”

“Maybe your daddy will let you have one someday,” she told him.

Nicholas’s face scrunched up as he thought about it. “I don’t know,” he ultimately decided with a shake of his head. “It took him a long time to get me a puppy and Kaia a kitten. A bearded dragon might be too much for him.”

“My sister Abby has a hamster named Penelope,” Peter chimed in.

“I have a coupla goldfishes at home,” Simon excitedly volunteered.

“My oldest brother has a snake,” Lydia added. “He lets me hold it sometimes. He named it Krypto after Superman’s dog.”

“Krypto is fun to play with,” Nicholas said. “Superman’s like my uncle.”

“That’s cause Wonder Woman is your mommy,” Lydia decided. “That’s so cool. I bet you get to play at the Watch-hour.”

“Sometimes,” Nicholas said with a shrug as if it was no big deal.

“All right, kids,” Miss Bishop interrupted. “It’s time to wash your hands and get your backpacks. It’s almost time for pickup.”

“Yay!” Nicholas exclaimed as he ran to the sink to get in line.

“What are you so cited about?” Peter asked him with a confused tilt of his head.

“My big brother Tim is picking me up,” he replied. “We’re going to eat lunch and get ice cream.”

“I wish I had a cool older brother,” Peter grumbled. “All I got is a stupid sister.”

Nicholas’s eyes widened. “Peter! We’re not allowed to say the ‘s’ word.”

“Sister?”

“No, the other ‘s’ word,” Nicholas told him.

Peter frowned. “Well, she is,” he insisted. “I went to pick up my backpack this morning and she kicked it across the floor.”

“Yah, I’ve got an older brother Damian,” Nick said. “He’s kinda grumpy most of the time, but everybody else is fun. Kaia and I always play together. We have fun, but she’s kinda noying sometimes specially when she wants to play with my Legos.”

“Not noying like Abby,” Peter grumbled as he grabbed his Green Lantern backpack. “She makes me play dolls with her.”

Nicholas scrunched up his face as he got into line with Peter. “Kaia doesn’t make me play with dolls.”

“You’re lucky,” Peter told him.

Nicholas stood on his tiptoes, craning his neck in an effort to see if Tim was here yet. He was so excited about going out to lunch with his big brother. He could hardly wait. He really missed his mom and dad and hoped that they would be coming home soon.

“Nicholas!” Tim called from the pickup line.

“You can go, Nicholas,” Miss Bishop told him. “See you Monday.”

Nicholas just waved at her as he ran towards his brother, Tim taking him by the hand to walk him to his car. “How was school today?” Tim asked.

“Miss Bishop got a bearded dragon,” Nicholas excitedly told him as Tim helped him into his car seat. “She named it Huckleberry. Isn’t that a funny name? I told her that we saw a bearded dragon at the zoo.”

Tim couldn’t help but laugh at Nicholas’s endless chatter. “Hey, someone is going to meet us for lunch if that’s okay with you.”

“Who?”

“Dick and Donna took Kaia to pick up the paint for your bedroom so they’re going to meet us for lunch,” he revealed.

“They got the paint?” he excitedly asked.

“Yes, they got the paint for both of your rooms,” Tim confirmed as he pulled away from the school that had once been his. It was sort of surreal coming back here as an adult to pick up his little brother. Everything seemed so much smaller.

“I want mine painted first,” he announced as he looked out the passenger door window, gently swinging his legs.

“Are you going to help paint?”

“I can help paint?”

“I don’t see why not,” Tim decided. “Just no dipping your bunny into the paint can again.”

“I didn’t do that,” he adamantly stated.

“Oh, yes you did,” Tim said with a chuckle. “Before Kaia was born, we were painting her room pink when you dropped your bunny into the paint can.”

Nicholas laughed at the thought of his bunny being all pink. “My bunny isn’t pink now.”

“Alfred was able to wash it and get the paint off of it before it could dry,” Tim explained.

“That’s good,” Nicholas decided. “I don’t want a pink bunny.”

“What else happened at school today?” Tim asked him.

“We drew pictures of our families and then we counted the number in each of our families,” he revealed. “I needed an extra big piece of paper cause there’s so many people in our family.”

“Yes, there is,” Tim agreed with a grin as he glanced at his little brother in the rearview mirror.

“I miss mommy and daddy,” Nicholas softly said. “I want to show them my picture I drew.”

“I know you do, kiddo,” Tim gently said. “It’s been a long five days, but they’ll be home as soon as they can and then you can show them your picture.”

“I even drew Ace and Peanut,” he revealed.

“I guess they’re members of the family too.”

Pulling into the restaurant, Tim parked the car, getting out just Dick and Donna pulled in. Tim went to the backseat to retrieve Nicholas to find him already unbuckling his seatbelt and attempting to get out. “Where’s my paint?” he excitedly asked as Dick and Donna got out of their SUV. “I want to see my paint.”

“It’s in the car,” Donna reassured him as Dick helped Kaia out of her car seat.

“Let’s do it as soon as we get home,” Nicholas decided.

“Well, we’ll have to take everything off the walls and move the furniture before we can start,” Tim reminded him.

“Me help,” Kaia volunteered as Dick carried her towards the restaurant.

“You’re too little, Kai,” Nicholas told her.

“Me not wittle,” Kaia obstinately responded with a scowl.

“Kaia and I will help move the toys out of the way,” Donna volunteered in an effort to keep the peace. “I’m sure there are toys you guys don’t play with anymore that we could donate to the orphanage or the children’s hospital.”

“That’s a great idea, Troia,” Dick readily agreed. “I know the kids at the orphanage would love them.”

“Hey, where’s Damian?” Tim asked, suddenly noticing he wasn’t with them.

“Sulking in his room,” Dick replied, receiving an elbow to the ribs from his wife. “I mean he didn’t want to come along.”

Dick rubbed his ribs as he turned a glare on Donna. “He’s didn’t feel like coming along,” she said, frowning at her husband.

“Table for five please,” Tim said to the hostess. “We’ll need a couple of booster seats.”

“I was just telling it like it is,” Dick grumbled to his wife. “It’s not my fault that he’s broody like his father.”

“We just need to make sure that he has a good night on patrol tonight,” Tim quietly said as they followed the girl to their table, Tim helping Nicholas into his seat before taking his own. “Do you want me to take him tonight?”

Dick frowned as he sat down, picking up his menu. “Nah, I’ll keep the kid,” he told him.

“Just tell him that story of your first encounter with Harley,” Donna suggested with a chuckle. “I’m sure that’ll make him feel a lot better.”

“Funny, Troia,” Dick retorted with a huff.

“What do you want for lunch, Kaia?” Donna asked her.

“Chicken nuggets,” she excitedly declared as she fisted a yellow crayon to color her menu.

“I want macaroni and cheese,” Nicholas decided.

“Have you heard anymore from you know who?” Tim cryptically asked.

“No, nothing,” Dick replied. “I’m hoping I’ll get an update tonight.”

“It’d be nice to know what’s going on,” Tim agreed. “Maybe the signal can’t come through down there.”

“Probably not,” Donna said. “It’s a completely different world down there…far removed from this one. Powerful magic permeates the entire place.”

“With any luck, maybe the two of them will run into each other,” Tim suggested.

“We can only hope,” Dick agreed as she glanced at Nicholas and Kaia, knowing that the longer they were gone, the worse it could be for Bruce.

Underworld; September 17th, 13:46 EST

“Stay down!” Batman bellowed, throwing an electrified Batarang.

The creature released a bone-chilling screech as the Batarang hit its target, the electric shock doing its job as the winged beast seized in mid-air only to fall to the ground at Ra’s feet. Ra’s tightened his grip on the sword that he’d taken from Hades’ palace during their escape, releasing a ragged breath of relief.

Sheathing his sword, Ra’s turned to Batman. “Impressive, Detective,” he told him. “I wouldn’t have been surprised if you would’ve allowed that creature have me for its dinner.”

Batman gave him a curious look but said nothing in response as he reached for another Batarang. His black cape draped around him in that infamous dramatic fashion that he was so well known for as he studied the reddish sky above for more signs of trouble.

Hades had to know by now that they had escaped from the palace. He wished that he could have seen the look of rage on Hades’ face when he saw the empty spot beside his throne where his prized slave had once been, the chains lying uselessly on the floor. Hades’ arrogance knew no bounds, thinking that he could actually keep him prisoner with simple chains.

He sneered in disgust as he glanced behind him. Hades’ palace was still visible on the horizon. He didn’t like it one bit. They needed to put more distance between them and Hades. He had a feeling that Hades would be enraged when he discovered them gone, but he had no idea how far he would go to bring them back. He didn’t want to find out either.

“Let’s move,” Batman growled, keeping his cape firmly around him to help mask his presence in the dark, gloomy domain.

“I had forgotten what a conversationalist you were,” Ra’s pointedly said as he fell in step beside him.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Batman determined, his gaze constantly sweeping the area for any signs of more attacks.

Bruce kept a firm grip on the Batarang hidden in his hand beneath his cape. He was not about to be caught unawares in the Underworld or with Ra’s al Ghul as a traveling companion. While he was having difficulty remembering his past experience with the man, he was certain that he couldn’t be trusted. That was the one thing he remembered and knew with every fiber of his being.

“It would certainly help pass the time,” Ra’s suggested. Batman turned a deadly glare on him, one that he hoped would silence him. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to work. “Tell me about the Amazon.”

Bruce instantly felt his stomach clench almost painfully. The Amazon. Her beautiful face immediately popped into his mind, flooding his soul with an overwhelming sense of peace and love to the point it momentarily stole his breath from his lungs. She meant the world to him.

Then why couldn’t he remember her name?

His jaw clenched tightly as fury cut through him like a sword’s blade. “What about her?”

Ra’s cast a sidelong glance at him, wondering just how much the Detective actually remembered about his life. “What is it that attracted you to her?”

“Her fiery spirit…her compassion,” Batman stated, not wanting to talk about her with Ra’s.

She was very special to him in countless ways. She meant far too much to him to discuss her with a man that he didn’t trust. He didn’t want him to know anything about her, protecting her from him though he had a strong feeling that she didn’t need protecting.

“Is that all?” Ra’s asked.

“I’m not talking about her with you,” he bit out.

“She’s Wonder Woman, Detective,” Ra’s reminded him. “I highly doubt there is any way that I could possibly harm her, nor do I even wish to.”

“And I’m supposed to just believe that?”

Batman came to a stop at the edge of a steep ravine, staring down the slope that they needed to descend. It was rocky with scree that would make it difficult. He looked about them, deciding that it was the only direction they were going to be able to go at this point. He just hoped they were headed in the right way that would lead them to a gate.

They needed to find a gate if they were going to be able to truly escape. The problem was that he didn’t know where a gate might lead them, or he just couldn’t remember the information he needed. He cursed under his breath as he rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefingers, fatigue heavily weighing on him.

“Maybe we should rest for a while,” Ra’s suggested.

“We can’t stop yet,” Batman stated, pulling out his grappling hook. “We need to at least get down into this ravine. We need to get more distance away from Hades. Besides, I don’t want to stay out here in the open like this. It’ll be safer down in the valley near that large rock formation.”

“It’s going to be quite treacherous,” Ra’s commented.

“If we go slow, we should be fine,” he told him, jamming the hook into a rock before grabbing hold of the cable. “Just hold onto the cable and follow my pace.”

Ra’s chuckled softly as Batman began the descent. “You forget, Detective,” he smugly responded. “I am just as skilled as you are if not more so.”

“We’ll see about that,” Bruce ground out as he slowly began to work his way down the steep ravine.

Despite his inability to trust this man, he wanted to begin the descent first. He knew it was a risk leaving Ra’s up by the hook while he went first, but he wanted to keep this man in front of him and not behind him. If Ra’s tried something, he wanted to see it coming at him.

He could feel bits of scree breaking free from beneath his boots as he methodically worked his way down. He felt a growing sense of relief wash over him as Hades’ palace disappeared from sight. He wanted to be as far away from him as possible.

Sweat began to break out across his brow beneath his cowl as he glanced up to see Ra’s beginning the descent after him. It was dangerous having them both attempt the descent at the same time like this, but they needed to make good time. There was no predicting when Hades would make his move or what he had planned for them.

Bruce cursed to himself as his thoughts wandered to the Amazon that was his wife. Her face appeared in his mind once more, creating the same warm emotions that he had felt earlier when Ra’s had asked about her. He felt his anger return with a vengeance. He would do everything in his power to keep her safe if Ra’s was planning to harm her.

Even though he couldn’t remember her name, he knew beyond any doubts that he would willingly give his life for her. He ached inside to remember her name, to remember more about her. Somethings about her were just so absolute in his mind like her fierce spirit and compassion. That was something that he inherently knew just like he knew that she loved him beyond all comprehension.

And he returned those feelings just as strongly.

It infuriated him that he was losing a piece of himself down here in the Underworld, losing pieces of his life…losing her. He knew he couldn’t lose her. She was his beacon of hope and light, the one that he fought for and fought with. She was the reason that he wanted to live, to escape this hell.

The more he watched her, the more he wanted her. And now that he finally had her all to himself, he wasn't going to waste another moment.

Diana turned to find Bruce standing right behind her, his lips crashing into hers as he kneeled down to pick her up in his arms. She fought down the moan that rose in her throat as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

He carried up the stairs and down the hall to the master bedroom suite, not wasting any time as he deposited her on the large bed waiting for them. Kicking his shoes off, he quickly moved over her, his mouth plundering hers as he touched her every place he possibly could, this intimate contact with her not nearly enough.

He wanted so much more, wanted to feel and kiss every single inch of her, to hear her breathlessly crying his name once more.

Diana gasped as he raked his teeth over her collarbone, his hands pulling the straps of her dress down. Her hands moved over him as well, rising desperation taking over as she tugged his shirt free from his pants, her fingers sneaking up beneath the fabric to explore and stroke the muscular planes of his back.

"Diana," he moaned, her fingernails lightly scraping over his skin as she spread her legs and allowed him to settle against her.

Her hands moved to firmly grip his backside, squeezing him before sliding around to the front of his pants. Her fingers made quick work of his belt buckle, swiftly removing it and flinging it across the room without even looking or caring where it had landed.

Bruce pressed his forehead against her shoulder as her fingers slipped inside to grip him, stroking him and taking his breath away like only she ever could. His mouth began to attack her, his teeth sinking into her skin as his mouth sealed around it causing her to hiss with pleasure.

"Bruce…" she gasped, arching her back as he rolled his hips firmly against hers. He was definitely going to be leaving his mark on her quite a bit this weekend. Of course, she was never innocent in that regard either if the fingernail scratches she almost always left on his back were any indication.

At first, she had felt so much guilt about the marks and scratches that she left on him after their passionate love making, but Bruce had quickly reassured her that he adored it and was proud to bear her mark, the visible proof of just how much she truly loved him.

He never wanted her to hold anything back when it came to her showing him how much she loved him, never wanted her to fear hurting him. He had more than proven himself a worthy lover, more than capable of going toe-to-toe with her.

Bruce suddenly pulled her hand from his pants, intertwining their fingers. "You better stop, Princess," he rasped. "Or this will be over before we've really gotten started."

Diana chuckled softly, using her feet to push his pants down his hips. "Then you better get to work, Wayne," she breathlessly threatened him.

He quickly slipped her dress down her perfect body, kissing his way down to her breasts and unhooking her bra. She arched her back again as his mouth descended on her breast, his hand massaging the other one.

She raked her fingers through his short black hair, pressing her head back into the pillows and tilting back as he stole her breath away. He was rapidly setting her body on fire with his heated ministrations, her mind awash with the pure euphoria flooding it.

Suddenly sitting up, he pulled her lace panties off, a smug smirk forming on his lips. "You have no idea how much you tortured me when I found that red thong in my utility belt," he told her, breathing heavily as he began planting hot wet kisses along her thigh, pausing to pay special attention to her hip bone.

"So, you liked it?" she finally managed to get out, tilting her head back again as he began to stroke her.

"Very…very…much…" he hummed against her flesh, sending a vibration of pleasure jolting through her.

He finally kissed his way back up her body, her hands moving to grip his shirt and ripping it from his body. The torn material went sailing through the air to join the belt she assumed, but she really couldn't be sure, nor did she really care.

Bruce growled something almost feral as he began to assault her throat, kissing his way to her ear. "I liked that shirt."

"I'll buy you a new one," she murmured, grabbing hold of his face and bringing his mouth to hers.

His boxers quickly shared his shirt's fate, disappearing somewhere over the edge of the bed. He ran his hands down her arms, drawing them away from his body and up over her head, wrapping her fingers around the wooden slats of the headboard.

He knew he was at risk of having her demolish the headboard, but he couldn't have cared less at that moment with the feel of her pressed so deliciously between him and the mattress. He found her lips again, kissing her hard as a fleeting thought of creating an Amazon invincible bed flitted through his mind. That was one project he would take great interest in pursuing.

His mouth descended on her luscious body like a starving man denied food for weeks, anxious for everything that she had to offer him. He ran his hands down the length of her arms before attacking her breasts again, stroking and massaging them until she was arching and writhing from his touch alone, her breathing becoming labored with the constant string of moans spilling from her lips.

"Bruce…" she gasped, her hand slipping free from his headboard with a frantic need to touch him again as well.

"No, Princess," he huskily murmured in her ear, capturing her hand that had settled on his backside and pulling it back up to the headboard. He wrapped her fingers around the post again. "This is all about you right now."

"But…but…Hera!" she managed to get out between exerted breaths, tightening her grip on the headboard as he set her body aflame with a fierce need for him. "But you…what about you?"

She was quickly silenced by his lips on hers, his tongue stroking her mouth, her taste driving his need even higher. "Pleasing you…pleases me…more than you know…"

His hands found her thighs, caressing her smooth skin before drawing her knees up even further. He brushed himself against her, eliciting a sharp gasp at the feel of him so hard against her hot wet center. He smirked as he kissed behind her ear, raking his teeth over the sensitive skin there as he thrust his hips, sheathing himself deep within her core in one fluid motion that caused her to cry out.

Bruce gasped at the feel of her vice-like grip around him, forcing him to momentarily pause to regain control once more, his fingers clawing at the sheets. He began to move his hips, his lips finding hers as his hands finally began to roam over her body again.

He could feel the sweet tension in her muscles as she squirmed, biting her bottom lip. "Bruce…please…" she panted. "I…I…need…Hera! I have to touch you…please…"

"Not yet, Princess," he smirked against her throat as he continued to drive into her, his sure fingers caressing and stroking her into a heated frenzy.

He felt her begin to shudder and tremble beneath him, her teeth digging into her lower lip and drawing blood as she moved her hips with him, meeting each one of his powerful thrusts. She could feel the thick bands of wood in her grip begin to crack from the intense need for release that was pounding fiercely through her entire body now.

Bruce grinned as he heard the headboard begin to crack, knowing all along it was never going to last, not in his powerful wife's grip and definitely unable to withstand how passionately they made love. He was so thankful he was a billionaire and money was never an issue.

He quickly slid his hands up her body moist with sweat, up her arms to cover her hands still gripping the splintering wooden slats of the headboard. He continued to pound into her with wild abandon, his hands keeping her right where he wanted her as he moved over her.

Diana came with a primal scream of his name, taking him over the edge with her as he pumped into her a few more times before emptying himself deep within her. His lips found hers as he uncurled her fingers from the headboard that was barely holding together now. He interlaced their fingers as he pressed his body flush against hers.

"Bruce…" she whispered, breathless and boneless as she returned his languid kisses. "That was…great Aphrodite, Bruce…"

"You're amazing…Princess…" he breathed heavily, fighting to calm the hammering of his heart. "No one has ever…or will ever love you…as much I love you."

Diana smiled softly as she gazed up into his blue eyes, freeing her hand to caress his face. "I hope you never forget how much I truly love you, Bruce Wayne."

He smiled in return, his lips finding hers as he began to worship her all over again, knowing this was only the beginning of their weekend together away from all the stress and pressure of the dangerous lives that they led. He silently swore to himself, vowing in his heart to do everything in his power to keep her safe with him and in his life no matter what.

Bruce gasped sharply with the memory that suddenly assaulted him, the accompanying feelings causing his heart to thump wildly in his chest. The love that he felt from the memory alone threatened to overwhelm him, bringing tears of guilt and pain to his eyes that he quickly banished. How could he possibly love this woman so much and yet not remember her name?

The familiar screech of the winged creatures caused a shiver of dread to race up his spine, the memory of her slipping back into the dark recesses of his mind once more. There were more creatures and they were coming for them. They were like sitting ducks out here on this grappling line, needing both hands to maintain control and not plummet to their deaths.

The rock continued to break free beneath their boots, making it more than difficult to get purchase with their feet. He tilted his head down as a large amount of rock and gravel broke free beneath Ra’s boot, showering down upon him and making it difficult to see.

“Are you okay, Detective?”

“Keep going,” Bruce yelled back. “Those creatures are getting closer.”

Bruce quickened his pace but kept it steady as the sound of the creatures’ flapping wings and guttural screeches grew louder. He wrestled against the irresistible urge to retrieve a Batarang. The way his boots were slipping on the scree forced him to keep both hands firmly gripping the cable.

Another otherworldly shriek sliced through the air, causing his heart to beat faster. Glancing down, they still had several yards to go before they were safely on solid ground again. After that, they still needed to make a run for that cavern that he had spotted from above. Hopefully, it was unoccupied otherwise they were going to have to fight for ownership of it.

“Detective!” Ra’s yelled. “We may need to jump for it. Those creatures are getting closer.”

Bruce internally grimaced with the notion of jumping this far. He had no doubt they would sustain broken bones, but it was preferable to being eaten alive by those creatures. “Move faster!” Batman hollered back. “We need to get closer.”

Moving hand over hand, Batman slid faster down the cable, his boots barely gaining any leverage against the loose gravel of the raven. Ra’s was quickly gaining on him, forcing him to move faster as a winged creature swooped past them. The wind the beast’s flapping wings created caused the cable to sway, forcing them to tighten their hold to keep from falling.

The floor of the ravine grew closer, giving Bruce a flicker of hope as the second creature swooped. The beast snapped it razor sharp teeth at Batman, forcing his right hand to release the cable as he swung himself out of the way at the last second. He narrowly missed having his arm ripped off his body.

He quickly scrambled to regain his two-handed hold on the cable, his boots continually sliding against the scree that refused to give him any useable footing. The first winged beast came in for another attack, Ra’s going for the sword at his side in an effort to fight it off.

The forceful blast of the creature’s scream and the wind created by its powerful wings caused Ra’s to lose his grip on his sword, the weapon clattering against the wall of the ravine before skidding to a stop on the ground that was still several feet away.

The second creature flew in for another attack, a blast of fire spewing from its snout. Batman cried out as he lost his grip on the cable, plummeting to the ravine floor below him. He did the best he could to protect himself and minimize the amount of damage that he was about to receive, but it was next to impossible.

Images of his family flitted through his mind like rolling movie credits as he fell, hitting the ravine floor hard and knocking the wind from his lungs. He squeezed his eyes closed against the pain that tore through his body, opening them just in time to see Ra’s al Ghul coming at him.

Batman swiftly rolled to his side just seconds before Ra’s landed on the ground beside him with a loud groan. The sickening sound of a bone cracking filled the air, Ra’s crying out from the shock of pain that lanced through him.

The pair didn’t have a lot of time to assess the damage or process the extent of the situation as one of the winged creatures flew straight at them. Each rolled to the side, Batman scrambling to his feet. He immediately whipped his cape to the side to reveal a razor-sharp Batarang in his gauntleted hand, his chest heaving as he threw his weapon.

The creature screamed in rage at the Batarang that imbedded itself in the side of its neck, black liquid oozing out of the wound. It reared its head, shaking it in an effort to dislodge the Batarang only to receive another one directly between its beady red eyes.

The beast slammed into the ground, skidding across the rock before coming to a stop. Ra’s lunged for his sword as the second one wailed in fury, swooping down on them. Ra’s lifted his sword at the last second, ignoring the pain in his broken arm as he plunged his sword deep into the belly of the creature and slicing it open from head to tail.

Both men stood there panting heavily as they stared at the dead creatures lying on the ground at their feet. Finally recovering, Batman slowly made his way to the beast, retrieving his Batarangs and tucking them back into his utility belt. He had no idea how long it would take to escape, and he couldn’t afford to lose any more of his weapons.

“Are you all right?” Batman asked with a rasping grate as he turned his attention to his traveling companion.

“Just a broken arm,” Ra’s revealed with a grimace as he sheathed his sword. “Nothing that won’t heal.”

Batman glanced at the darkening red sky above. “We better get into that cavern before it gets any darker,” he said. “I can look at your arm then.”

“Why, Detective, I almost feel as though you actually care,” Ra’s quipped with a weak smile.

“I don’t,” he bit out as he turned his back to him, “but we have a greater chance of getting out of here if we work together.”

“So, I’m more useful to you alive than dead?”

“Something like that,” he muttered under his breath. “I need to get back to my family and my wife. I’m not about to let anything get in the way of that.”

“I feel the same way, Detective,” Ra’s softly agreed as they made their way towards the cavern.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

Underworld; September 17th, 15:51 EST

Hades wandered around his throne room, his chalice holding his favorite red wine in his right hand. His thoughts were circling like vultures over recent events that he had admittedly not seen coming…or at least he’d not wanted to believe was possible. He took a brooding sip of his wine, casually making his way towards his throne.

He stopped before the place where his son-in-law had once been, kicking the empty chains lying on the floor with the tip of his boot. When his slave had rushed into his dining hall to tell him that Batman was gone, he had immediately left his meal to see it for himself, finding it to be woefully true. Being in Ra’s al Ghul’s head had helped him to gain some much-needed information about his son-in-law including the fact that he was a very skilled escape artist.

Still, he hadn’t taken it all very seriously until he’d seen the evidence of it as the empty chains laid on the cold stone floor of his throne room. He knew that Ra’s al Ghul wouldn’t stay here in the palace any longer than necessary. He had seen the man’s mind…had fully occupied it. He knew how driven al Ghul was to see his plans come to fruition. It was a characteristic that they shared, and Hades appreciated.

He glanced down at the spot where Batman had been chained to, wondering where his son-in-law was at that moment. He had no doubt that Ra’s and Batman would eventually find their way back to the safety of the palace once they realized there was no escaping the Underworld. They’d have no other choice but to return with their tales firmly tucked between their legs.

“Are you certain you don’t wish for me to bring Batman and al Ghul back to the palace, my lord?” Thanatos inquired.

“No,” Hades decided, waving the suggestion off with his chalice of wine. A smirk danced on his lips as he considered it. “I have other ideas for my industrious son-in-law. Besides, he’ll eventually find his way back here.”

“He will?” Thanatos questioned him with a confused expression adorning his face.

“He will find the Underworld is a very dangerous and treacherous place to traverse,” Hades explained as he sat down on his throne. “If the creatures of the Underworld don’t tear him and Ra’s al Ghul to shreds, then the harsh environment will drive them back to the palace. They’ll eventually learn there is no escaping the Underworld.”

“Yes, my lord,” Thanatos agreed. “Would you still like me to keep track of them?”

“Yes, track their position,” Hades replied.

“I have no doubt the princess will try to come to rescue her mate,” Thanatos pointed out. “Do you have any plans for her?”

A wicked smile spread across his face as he considered the possibility of another confrontation with his daughter. “I most certainly do, Thanatos…I most certainly do.”

Greece; September 17th, 16:59 EST

Artemis plopped down on a rock with a huff of anger and fatigue, her elbows coming to rest on her knees. “This is going absolutely nowhere,” she bit out with a scowl.

“I’m not giving up now that we’re this close to getting into the Underworld,” Diana snapped, brushing her hair out of her face.

“We’re tried everything to get that gate open and it won’t budge,” Artemis said, stating the obvious. “There has to be another way.”

“I just think we should use my mace,” Shayera suggested again.

Diana shook her head as she pursed her lips. “We can’t destroy the gate,” she said. “If we leave it wide open while we go inside, all of the Underworld will escape including Hades. We can’t risk it.”

“Can’t we just shove another stone in its place while we’re gone?” Shayera asked.

“It doesn’t work like that, angel,” Hermes told her. “They’re magically sealed.”

“Then, we need Zatanna or Doctor Fate to get this damn thing open,” Shayera supposed.

“It takes a special key,” Hermes volunteered to find all three women glaring daggers at him.

“And you couldn’t have said that hours ago?” Artemis yelled at him as she leapt to her feet.

“I told you I can’t help out,” he reminded them. “I don’t want the wrath of Hera coming down on me.”

“And our wrath doesn’t frighten you in the least?” Shayera bit out, palming her mace as she sneered at him.

“Okay…with that look…maybe a little, but still it’s nothing compared to Hera,” Hermes readily decided, eyeing her appreciatively. “Do you know how sexy you are when you look at me like that?”

“Where is the key, Hermes?” Diana ground out; her hands fisted at her sides. It was obvious she was using every last bit of her patience to keep from pummeling him.

Hermes groaned as his eyes fell closed. “Please don’t ask me that, cousin,” he whined. “You know I can’t help you.”

“You’re got thirty seconds to start talking or we will beat you down so hard—” Artemis threatened him, Diana and Shayera coming to stand behind her.

“Hey!” Hermes cried, holding up his hands before him. “Let’s not be hasty here, ladies.”

“Twenty seconds,” Diana told him.

Hermes took a few, self-preserving steps back, knowing that he was going to have to decide here very quickly. His cousin was not in her right mind and her friends were eager to help her no matter what it took. “Look at how much I’ve already helped you,” he pointed out. “You wouldn’t be here without me. I shouldn’t have done even that much.”

“Ten seconds,” Shayera informed him, raising her mace that crackled with the power that ran through it.

“You wouldn’t hurt me,” he tried again. “We’re friends…right?”

“Five seconds,” Diana spat out. “Start talking, Hermes.”

“All right,” Hermes finally relented, his shoulders sagging in defeat mingled with relief as they backed off.

“All right…what?” Artemis asked.

“All right,” he repeated, putting emphasis on the word ‘right’ as he exaggerated looking to his right.

All three women looked to their left, finding nothing but rocks and sand. “There’s nothing there,” Artemis growled, losing her patience.

Hermes swallowed hard, the looming threat of serious harm growing stronger by the second. “Are you sure you’re right about that?”

Diana frowned as she walked over to the other side of the cavern, her hands coming to rest on her hips as her blue eyes narrowed. She slowly began inspecting the rocks that lay scattered on the ground in varying shapes and sizes, none of them looking particularly interesting.

Some rocks almost seemed to glisten in the light that her lasso gave off, others appearing completely innocuous and unimportant. Placing both hands on a large rock, she leaned over to look behind it to find an unusual appearing stone that didn’t look anything like the others surrounding it.

It was perfectly round, smooth without any chips or flaking that would be expected from the elements and time. Picking it up, she noticed it fit perfectly in the palm of her hand. There were also some strange markings on it that almost looked like ancient Greek, but she didn’t care what it said at that moment. All that mattered to her was that it worked at unlocking the gate to the Underworld.

“I believe the word that you humans like to use is ‘bingo’,” Hermes said with a triumphant grin, relieved that he’d been able to preserve his life for another day. Even though he was a Greek god, life wasn’t without its risks.

Shayera and Artemis turned a deadly glare on the Greek god, none of them appearing pleased in the least. “You couldn’t have told us this hours ago?” Artemis demanded to know.

Hermes threw up his hands in frustration. “Am I speaking Greek? Do you ladies refuse to listen to anything that I have said?” he yelled. “I can’t help you!”

“But you just did,” Shayera pointed out.

“No…no, I didn’t!” he adamantly stated with a scowl, adamantly shaking his head in denial. “I did not help you. I did not tell you where the key to the gate was hidden. Diana found it on her own. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Nothing you can do or say will change that story.”

“Why in the world would anyone hide the key to the gate in the same place as the gate itself?” Shayera asked. “Isn’t that kind of an obvious place to hide it?”

“It’s so obvious no would think to look in here,” Hermes pointed out with a smirk on his lilps.

Ignoring Hermes’ prattling, Diana walked over to the gate, placing the stone in the impression to the right of the stone gate. A bright, glowing light suddenly appeared around the rock gate, a tremble working its way through the large cavern that caused all four of them to abruptly freeze in place.

The gate to the Underworld slowly began to open, a tremor of relief drifting through Diana as she stared at it in stunned disbelief. She had found it. She was finally going to be able to get into the Underworld and find Bruce, hopefully rescuing him before he lost all his memories forever.

“Let’s go before it closes,” Artemis suggested, grabbing hold of Hermes’ arm before heading towards the gate.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Hermes asked as he was being dragged to the gate.

“You’re coming along,” Artemis decided.

“Why me?” he demanded to know. “You don’t need me to find Diana’s mate.”

“You helped us get this far,” Shayera said as she shoved him through the gate.

“For the last time, I did not help you!” Hermes adamantly insisted.

Diana quickly removed the stone, passing through the gate as the large stone began to move back into place. She wasn’t about to go into the Underworld without the key that would get them back out of here. She handed it to Hermes who grudgingly tucked it into the supply bag for safekeeping.

She looked behind her to see the stone close tightly behind her with a resounding thud. It felt like a death knell; the final nail being pounded into a coffin to seal it close forever. While she was beyond relieved to finally be in the Underworld and that much closer to Bruce, she was that much further away from her children and the people that she cared about most in this world.

It felt like a spike being driven into her chest knowing there was a chance that she wouldn’t be returning to them. It made her that much more determined to do everything in her power to make sure that both she and Bruce returned to the world of the living in one piece.

“Okay, now where?” Shayera asked.

Hermes folded his arms against his chest. “Don’t even look at me,” he evenly stated, his chin raised in defiance. “I’m already in big trouble for what I’ve done so far.”

“Quit whining,” Artemis told him. “Act like an Amazon for once.”

“I’m not an Amazon,” Hermes grumbled. “I’m a Greek god. Whining and complaining is what we do best.”

“I know where Hades’ palace is located,” Diana announced, her hand falling to her lasso.

“Let’s not waste any more time around here then,” Artemis said. “Lead the way so we can out of this place.”

“Missing your boy toy?” Shayera teased her with a knowing grin.

Artemis turned an arched eyebrow on her. “Boy toy?”

Shayera chuckled as they began to follow Diana. “Never mind.”

“Keep a watchful eye out,” Diana instructed them. “There are many demons and creatures down here that will be more than anxious to make sure we never leave here.”

“I’m more than ready for some action,” Artemis reassured her.

“Do you think Bruce has tried to escape the palace by now?” Shayera asked.

Diana smiled softly as she thought about it. “I have no doubt,” she confidently replied. “That will make trying to find him that much more difficult, but hopefully we’ll cross paths with him on the way to the palace.”

“And if we don’t?” Hermes ventured, almost afraid to ask. He already knew he wasn’t going to like the answer.

“Then, we’ll force my father into helping us find him,” Diana stated, her voice hard like steel.

“And that’s what I was afraid of,” Hermes mumbled under his breath.

Underworld; September 17th, 21:36 EST

"What? No flowers?" Nightwing roughly quipped, his voice hoarse. "I feel cheated."

"Your injuries weren't severe enough to warrant flowers," Batman retorted.

A smile curled his lips as his eyes fell closed, quickly fading as a groan rose in his throat as he attempted to shift his position in his bed. "Is everyone all right?" he asked. "How's Diana?"

"Everyone made it out alive and Diana is fine," Bruce reassured him. "She was here but left a little while ago. She didn't want to give away our identities by staying too long at your bedside. Besides, she's trying to keep your fiancé from charging up here to see you."

Dick's grin returned with the mention of his fiancé. "I imagine Diana had to tie her down to keep her from coming up here."

"Let's just say that I have a new-found respect for Donna's tenacity," Bruce cryptically replied. "She's as stubborn as Diana is."

Dick's expression grew somber as memories of the mission rose in his mind. "Diana saved my life today," he softly said. "If not for her, Donna would be planning my funeral instead of our wedding."

Bruce's blood turned to ice water in his veins with his eldest son's words. The thought of losing him was something he couldn't begin to allow himself to dwell on for fear of losing control. "It was pretty bad by the time I got there," he confessed. "She was the only one left standing."

"She took a direct hit aimed right at me," Dick revealed. "I thought that thing had killed her, but she managed to get up and keep fighting."

Bruce turned his head, his eyes closing with the revelation. He didn't want to talk about this anymore, couldn't stand to hear any more details about what he had come so close to losing today. "She's truly amazing," he murmured, thankful she had been there to protect Dick.

"Are you sure she's all right?" Dick questioned him again.

"Some burns on her hands and arms," Bruce informed him with a clipped tone of obvious anger. "I don't know much beyond that."

Dick studied him for a long moment, picking up on his tension. Even with the cowl on, he could read his father-mentor like a book. "What's going on between you two?"

"Nothing," Bruce stated a little too quickly and far too firmly.

"I can tell that something is wrong," Dick pressed. "You've not been your happy-go-lucky self for the past few weeks."

"Yah, that describes me perfectly," Bruce groused with huff of annoyance.

"Since Diana, it does…or as happy-go-lucky as you can get," Dick countered, "and don't play dumb with me. I've seen the same unhappiness in her too. Something is obviously wrong between you two."

Batman looked away from his son, watching Ollie as he sat by Dinah's bedside, holding her hand as he stroked her hair. Worry was etched on his face despite his own injuries. Bruce felt the painful pang of loneliness that he'd been carrying intensifying in his chest. He missed his wife, ached to feel her touch.

"I've seen the tabloids," Dick stated, pushing for his father to open up to him. "She can't be happy about you spending time with another woman."

"None of it is true," he gruffly muttered, his hands clenching into fists. "I'm just acting like her friend in order to get close to her to find out what she's up to."

"Diana knows that, right?"

"She does, but I know it's tearing her apart inside," he confessed. "I'm doing it to save Gotham and my family. No one seems to understand that."

"We understand," Dick reassured him. "We just don't like watching what it's doing to you and Diana."

"She's going through hell because of it," Bruce softly admitted, his guilt surfacing. "Tabloids are hounding her, following her everywhere trying to get information. I don't want to do it, but I know I'm getting close to something. I'm so close to getting what I need to shut her down and put her away."

"Well, I hope you do it quick because you're not exactly Donna's favorite person right now," Dick informed him.

"I'm sure Diana's talked to her about it," Bruce replied, sitting back in his chair.

"Not a word," Dick revealed, groaning as he shifted to lie on his side. "All Diana will say is that you're doing what you feel you need to do."

Bruce felt his chest constrict, both guilt and indescribable love for her blooming inside of him. Diana had every right to rip him apart to everyone she talked to, turn everyone against him and to her side, but she wasn't doing that all. Even though she didn't agree with what he was doing, she was still standing by him, trusting him to do what he felt he needed to do no matter how much it was hurting her.

He knew that he needed to talk to her, to talk about why his obsession with stopping Sienna Falcone had become so strong…so all-consuming. She needed to understand what last year's attack at the museum had truly done to him.

"Talk to her," Dick murmured. "Don't sit here with me, avoiding what you know you need to do."

Batman stared at him, his mind working. He knew he couldn't take another moment without her, without talking to her. "I'll talk to the doctor and see if you can be transferred to the manor to recuperate," he told him. "That way you and Donna can see each other."

"That would be awesome," Dick said, his face brightening with the prospect of seeing his future wife. "And once you've done that, you can talk to your wife."

"Yes, I'll talk to her," he promised, his insides twisting with the uncomfortable conversation that loomed in his future.

Batman awoke with a start, gasping sharply with the emotions churning inside of him. After finally making it to the cavern, he had attended to Ra’s broken arm, fashioning a sling for him that would help support it until they could get out of here.

They had both fallen asleep soon after, only for him to be awoken hours later by the dream or memory that had caused him unexpected grief. Nightwing had been injured in an attack, Diana injured as well. It struck fear in him that he’d come so close to losing both of them, but even more so that he was having so much difficulty remembering the situation, or the people involved.

Nightwing…Diana…they obviously meant so much to him, but they were people that were becoming nameless faces that looked familiar as memories of his life continued to fade away. It scared him senseless. Losing his mind was one of his biggest fears along with the thought of losing his loved ones. Now, he was losing both.

He ran his hand over his mouth, quickly looking about the cavern to find Ra’s al Ghul gone. He scrambled to his feet with a groan, his hand moving to brace his ribs as he grimaced in pain. He’d forgotten that he’d cracked a couple of ribs when he’d fallen into the ravine.

Stumbling to the entrance of the cavern, Bruce placed his hand on the rough rock wall, bracing himself as he scanned the area. He couldn’t believe that Ra’s would’ve just left on his own, but he wouldn’t put anything past him. Despite his memories of Ra’s growing distant, one thing he knew with absolute certainty—Ra’s could not be trusted.

Not seeing him anywhere, Bruce slammed his fist into the cave wall in frustration and anger. He knew he could make it out of the Underworld without him, but the fact that his mind was failing him created a knot of fear and doubt in him that he loathed more than anything.

He couldn’t depend on his brain to help him through his now. He was going to have to rely on his skills and training, his unrelenting desire and need to return to his family. He remembered the raven-haired woman telling him that he was on the most stubborn man that she’d ever encountered. Hopefully, that fierce tenacity would be enough to help him accomplish his goal.

Turning, Batman reentered the cavern, sitting down and leaning his back against the rock wall. He tilted his head back to gaze at the cavern ceiling, the white slits of his cowl narrowing as he studied. It looked familiar to him, reminding him of another place…one that was very close to him.

He squeezed his eyes closed as he struggled to remember, images flashing through his mind like fleeting snapshots. Tiny pieces of an enormous puzzle popped into his mind’s eye, but he needed so much more. He needed to see the entire picture, not just a few scattered pieces.

Images of a sleek, black car drifted through his mind…an enormous cave with bats…a man who was like a father to him. He felt warmth begin to spread through his chest as he thought about the elder man that obviously meant so very much to him. He found he missed him greatly though he couldn’t remember who he was.

He slammed his fists into the ground with a furious growl. He hated this with every fiber of his being. He was rapidly losing the vaunted control that he’d always prided himself in, losing pieces of himself…his past slipping through his gauntleted fingers like minute grains of sand in an endless desert of nothingness.

How much of him would actually be left by the time he finally escaped this hell?

Would he be nothing more than an empty shell? A shifting shadow of the man that he once had been?

Tilting his head back again, Bruce forced himself to meditate and focus his thoughts. He drew a deep breath, releasing it slowly through his nose as her face appeared in his mind once more. The raven-haired woman helped to ground him and give him strength despite having difficulty remembering much about her.

Diana…Diana was her name and he loved her with everything that he was and everything that he hoped to be for her. He felt his muscles begin to relax, his frustration and anger being channeled into something useful like strengthening his resolve to get out of here and return to her.

“I’m coming home, Diana,” he whispered. “No matter what it takes…I’m coming back to you. Please…just wait for me.”

He struggled to his feet again, wincing with the sharp pain that lanced through his side and stole his breath. He was beginning to worry that something more than just cracked ribs could be going on. He feared there could be some internal damage and bleeding. If that was the case, then things were far more dire than just losing his memories.

He made his way out of the cave, scanning the area to find a way to get out of this desolate ravine. He wasn’t certain what other creatures could be living down here, but he knew that he didn’t want to find out. He was anxious to find one of the gates to the Underworld. He had no idea how he would get through it when Hades himself couldn’t find a way of escape, but he’d deal with that dilemma when he got there.

Batman began walking, pushing the pain that was threatening to slow him down deep into the recesses of his mind. He needed to remain in control of it instead of allowing it to control him. He had a feeling he’d dealt with far worse injuries than this…injuries that the elder man had cared for like a father would a son.

He couldn’t help wondering what had happened to his own parents. Where were they? Why weren’t they there with him? Countless questions continued to bombard his mind…questions that he had no answers for no matter how hard he tried to recall his past.

Did he have brothers and sisters that were looking for him? How did he even end up down here with no way out? Why was he dressed like a bat?

“Detective!”

Batman turned to find Ra’s coming towards him, his arm still in the makeshift sling that he’d made for him. “Where have you been?” Batman demanded to know.

Ra’s smirked at him. “Your concern for my wellbeing is quite touching,” he replied.

“I just needed to know if you were dead so I could keep moving,” Batman growled.

“I was scouting the area to see if there were any more dangers that awaited us,” Ra’s informed him.

Batman’s white lenses narrowed at he studied the man before him, the hair on the back of his neck prickling with distrust. “Whatever,” he snapped. “Let’s keep moving. We’re wasting time.”

“I agree,” Ra’s said with a nod as they began to cross the expansive floor of the ravine. “The sooner we leave the sooner you can return to your son.”

“Son?” Bruce questioned him.

“Damian,” Ra’s told him.

Batman scowled at him, not liking the feeling that Ra’s was trying to manipulate him. It was best to keep conversation short and focused on escaping the Underworld—nothing more. “Were you able to learn anything about the Underworld from Hades?”

Ra’s considered his question for a moment, keeping his broken arm tucked protectively against his torso as he narrowly avoided a hole in the ground that would’ve undoubtedly led to a broken ankle. “Do you mean as far as trying to find a way out?”

“Anything that could help us get out of here.”

“I’m not certain, but I was hoping this might help,” Ra’s told him, pulling a worn book from inside of his robe.

Batman took the book to find it to be a very ancient looking text that outlined the magical forces that pervaded the Underworld…forces that could be manipulated for benefit. “What good is this going to do us?”

Ra’s took the book back with a shrug, tucking it back into the pocket inside his robe. “You never know what we might run into down here, Detective,” he replied. “It never hurts to be informed.”

“Let’s just focus on finding a way of escape,” Batman bit out, wanting to keep the conversation to a minimum. He couldn’t shake the feeling that they were being watched.

“As you wish,” Ra’s said, casting a sidelong glance at the Dark Knight beside him as a new plan began to take shape in his own mind.

Gotham; September 18th, 01:03 EST

Harley Quinn entered the building that had been their hideout for the last several months, some of Joker’s men following behind her with their latest catch. “Come along, boys,” she called over her shoulder. “Mistah J is waiting, and you know he ain’t very patient.”

One of the gang members shoved their prey in the shoulder, causing him to stumble and nearly fall only to right himself at the last minute. “Wha…what are you going to do to me?” the man asked, his fear palpable as his eyes wide with fear darted about him in hopes of finding an escape.

“You’ll see soon enough,” Harley assured him.

“My boss will pay you plenty to get me back,” he tried to tell her, twisting his wrists in an effort to break free from the ropes that kept him bound.

“He probably doesn’t even know you’re gone yet,” one of the thugs growled at him.

“Just call him,” the man told them. “He’ll pay you whatever you want to free me. I’m pretty valuable to him.”

“Well, right now, you’re pretty valuable to Mistah J,” Harley informed him.

“What does the Joker want with me?” he asked. “I’m nobody.”

“I can’t ruin the surprise,” Harley stated as she led him into the large room and towards the psychotic clown that awaited him.

“Harls! You’re just in time…and I see you brought me a present,” Joker said as he rubbed his hands together.

“I brought you what you asked for, Mistah J,” she revealed with glee. “He thinks that Penguin will pay quite a bit for his return.”

“Bossworth! Why would you want to leave so soon?” Joker exclaimed in shock. “You just got here. Please, let me attempt to show you my very special brand of hospitality.”

Bossworth stared warily at him, doing his best to keep his fear from showing. He knew that Joker could practically smell fear on someone, using it to his own advantage. “I think I’ll pass,” he retorted, suddenly finding a backbone. “Now, let me go and I won’t tell Penguin that you kidnapped me.”

Joker touched his lips with his forefinger as if contemplating the offer, his gaze looking off to the side in thought. “You know I don’t think that sounds nearly as fun as what I have in store for you, my good fellow,” he ultimately decided as his henchmen cut the ropes binding their captive’s hands before pushing Bossworth into a chair that had been awaiting his arrival.

Bossworth fell backwards into the chair, his hands automatically gripping the arms of the chair. He jerked his head back as the Joker lunged at him, the clown’s hands covering Bossworth’s as he leaned in close, their noses almost touching.

“What do you want with me?” Bossworth asked, finding the courage that he didn’t think he had.

“You’re going to help me with a little experiment that Harls and I have been working on for the last few months,” Joker revealed with a grin that made Bossworth’s skin crawl.

“Wha…what kind of experiment?”

“You see I had an epiphany a few months ago…one that led to the most ingenious plan that I could’ve ever come up with if I do say so myself,” he revealed, straightening up once more. “All it required was finding the most brilliant minds in science, force them into doing my bidding, and voila! I get my miracle drug.”

“Miracle drug?” Bossworth repeated, incredulity gracing his face. “What kind of miracle drug is it?”

“You asked the right question at exactly the right time,” Joker praised him, clasping his hands before him with obvious glee. “It allows me to recondition the mind and make it into whatever I want.”

“Like reprogramming?”

“Exactly!” Joker exclaimed as he closed the distance between them once more. “I can make you into whatever I want to make you…force you do whatever I want you to do and no one will be the wiser.”

“You…you really…can?”

“Well, not exactly yet, but we’re getting close which is why you’re here,” he explained.

Bossworth shook his head vigorously, his eyes wide with fear as realization washed over him. “You…you can’t…you can’t…be serious,” he stuttered.

“Oh, but I am, my good man,” Joker assured him as he grasped him by the chin. “You are going to be my new guinea pig.”

“No…no way!” Bossworth adamantly declared as he attempted to get up out of the chair only to be shoved back into place with the butt of Harley’s bat against his chest. “Penguin will be furious if you do anything to me. I’m valuable to him. I can be valuable to you too if you let me go. Besides, you experiment on me and you’ll be bringing Penguin’s wrath down on you.”

“But yet that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” Joker informed him. “I need to perfect my miracle mind drug. You see I have very big plans for it starting with several Gotham officials and ultimately ending with Batwoman.”

“You’re going after Batman’s woman?” he uttered with a gasp of shock. “You’re nuts for going after her. Bats will go crazy if you try to take her.”

Joker leaned in close, his nose almost touching his captive’s. His red lips spread wide across his face into a wicked grin that sent shivers up Bossworth’s spine. “That’s what I’m hoping for,” he replied with a bone-chilling cackle that echoed throughout the warehouse.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

Gotham; September 18th, 04:04 EST

Dick glanced over at Damian, frowning at his partner who was staring straight ahead. He’d been in a foul mood ever since the run-in with Harley Quinn the night before with no improvement in sight. If anything, it seemed as though his brother’s mood was darkening even further if that was possible. There was no question in Dick’s mind that this was the son of Batman. It was like looking at a little Bruce—sullen and broody and difficult to deal with at times.

“Are you going to keep staring at me all night?” Damian griped from the passenger seat of the Batmobile.

“Are you keep pouting all night?” Dick shot back.

“I’m not pouting,” Damian snapped, his arms folded tightly against his chest.

“Pouting…sulking…brooding…pain in the ass…it’s all the same to me,” Dick told him. “You need to get over the run-in with Harley and move on. Villains are going to get away. It’s happened to all of us at one time or another and it’ll no doubt happen again in the future.”

Damian turned a dark glower on his eldest brother, a sneer on his lips. “I am over it,” he adamantly stated.

“If you say so,” Dick replied with a huff of frustration. “Unfortunately, your sunny disposition is saying something altogether different.”

“Look…what do you want from me?” Damian exclaimed. “You want me to crack jokes and be all fun-loving like you or Tim? Sorry, not going to happen. This is me. Take it or leave it.”

“I’m seriously considering leaving it,” Dick groused only to mutter under his breath, “tied up to a lamp pole.”

“I heard that,” Damian accused as he stared out the windshield of the Batmobile.

Nightwing rubbed his forehead, feeling the telltale signs of a headache coming on. He was beginning to gain a whole new appreciation for Bruce and everything that he went through dealing with him, Jason, and then Tim for all of those years.

It had to have been a living nightmare some nights. It was no wonder that he was surly and in such a bad mood most days. Of course, the only one that would’ve come close to being anything like Damian would have to be Jason, making Dick feel a little better about it.

Damian glanced to his left, noticing the smirk on Nightwing’s face. “What are you so amused about?”

“Nothing,” Dick replied with a shake of his head, sitting up straighter in his seat as he noticed a shadow moving down the empty side street. “There’s our contact. Let’s go have a chat with him and see what we can find out.”

Robin huffed under his breath as he opened his car door. “This is a complete waste of time.”

“I’m more than happy to send you with Jason tomorrow night if you’d rather,” Nightwing threatened him. “Just remember he has about one eighth of the patience I have. You’ll be hogtied to a satellite dish well before midnight.”

Damian just gave him a look like “whatever” as he got out of the car. “I’m not afraid of anyone and definitely not him,” he told him. “I can take Jason.”

Dick snorted in amusement. “Then, you don’t know Jason very well. He’s an extremely skilled street fighter, not to mention he knows just about every fighting style there is to learn. He’ll mop up the alley with you.”

“I’ve been trained by my grandfather who is the greatest warrior who has ever lived,” Damian smugly reminded him. “I think I can handle him. Besides, all I have to do is trigger his rage. It’s his greatest weakness.”

“And arrogance is yours,” Dick pointed out as they approached his contact.

Damian shot him a glare that his father would’ve been proud of, but wisely kept his mouth shut as they came to a stop before a thin, medium sized man who was looking nervously about him. He had dirty blond hair that hung over his eyes, a scorpion tattoo on the side of his neck that disappeared beneath the collar of his t-shirt. His hands were trembling as he attempted to light a cigarette only for the match to slip out of his hands and fall to the ground.

“Some informant,” Damian disdainfully thought to himself.

“Hey, Albie,” Nightwing greeted him with a grin, bumping fists with his informant. “You’re not looking so good. Are you okay?”

Albie grimaced as he shook his head, attempting to light his cigarette once more. “Nah, can’t afford my meds for my nerves,” he confessed. “Been outta ‘em for over a week now. It’s been hell.”

“That’s not good, Albie,” Nightwing said, laying a concerned hand on his shoulder. “You need to go see Dr. Leslie Thompkins at the free clinic. She’ll get you whatever you need.”

“Really?”

“Sure thing,” he reassured him as thunder began to rumble softly in the distance, the wind picking up and whipping down the alley. Pieces of litter swirled in tiny cyclones before falling silent only to be stirred again by another gust of wind. “Tell her I sent you. She’ll take real good care of you.”

“Thanks, man,” Albie replied, taking a long drag on his cigarette as he looked up at the sky to see flashes of lightning. He pulled a Gotham Knights ballcap out of his back pocket, putting it on his head to help protect him from the coming rain. “I’ll take anything at this point.”

“What have you got for me?” Nightwing asked him. “I’m hoping it’s big because I could really use it right now. Joker is up to something terrifying and it’s only going to get worse if I don’t stop him.”

“Well, I can tell ya the news isn’t good,” he informed him with a frown. “Rumors are really ramping up that Batman is dead. He ain’t been seen since that big battle in downtown Gotham. It’s making the biggies in Gotham like Penguin and Riddler believe they can finally gain control of the city.”

“I was afraid of that,” Nightwing softly said as he considered the ramifications of it all. He was going to have to make a few appearances as Batman in order to settle the rumor mill and make the rogues think twice about reigning terror on Gotham. “Anything else I should know about?”

“Well, yah…sorta,” Albie responded, dropping his cigarette and grinding it into the ground with the heel of his boot. “Batwoman’s created quite a stir since she first showed up. The biggies are sittin’ up and takin’ notice of her. Don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad. Guess it depends on how ya look at it. She ain’t been around lately either so everyone’s talkin’ about that too.”

“Well, there’s nothing we can do about that right now,” Nightwing said more to himself than to his informant.

“So, where are they?” Albie asked. “Is Bats and his woman alive or what?”

“Yah, they’re alive,” he revealed. “I can’t say any more than that, but they’re both alive and well.”

Damian snorted softly as he averted his eyes, causing both men to look at him. “What?” Albie asked, looking from Robin to Nightwing and back again. “You got somethin’ to say, shorty?”

“He’s good,” Nightwing reassured him with a frown. “It’s just past his bedtime.”

“There’s somethin’ else you need to know,” Albie said, pulling out another cigarette.

Nightwing grabbed the cigarette out of his hand, holding it up in front of Albie’s face. “These things are going to kill you,” he warned him as drops of rain began to fall from the sky. “I thought you stopped.”

Albie scowled as he snatched the cigarette out of Nightwing’s hand. “I did, but like I told ya, I ran out of my meds for my nerves,” he explained, growing annoyed. “I couldn’t help it.”

Nightwing frowned at him as Albie lit it up. “Fine, but go see Leslie first thing tomorrow morning,” he stated. “What else you got?”

“Bossworth went missin’ tonight,” Albie revealed, pausing to take a drag on his cigarette before adjusting his ballcap on his head, pulling it further down over his eyes.

“Penguin’s henchman?”

“Yah, Boss was supposed to show up for a job for Penguin, but he never showed,” Albie told him. “Ain’t no one seen him. His place was completely trashed. Looked like he put up a fight.”

“That’s not like him to not show up for a job,” Nightwing thoughtfully said. “He’s faithful to Penguin to the very end.”

“Yah, I know,” he agreed. “What’s more is there’s a rumor that Joker’s gang got their hands on him. Penguin is irate. Could turn into an all-out war between rival gangs with Gotham caught in the middle.”

“Oh, great,” he muttered, swearing under his breath as the rain began to fall harder. “This just keeps getting better.”

“Yah, it’s got everyone on edge,” Albie replied. “Everyone’s watchin’ their backs…wonderin’ when a fight is gonna break out or who could be taken next. You know Penguin will retaliate. Just a matter of time before someone from Joker’s gang goes missing. I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes after Harley.”

“This is the last thing we need in Gotham right now,” he said.

“We need Bats back—now,” he told him. “Really wouldn’t hurt to have his woman too. Not that you guys can’t handle it , but it’s gonna get really ugly around here…even more so than usual for this hell hole.”

“Hey, thanks, Albie,” Nightwing said, squeezing his shoulder. “Go see Dr. Thompkins tomorrow. I don’t want to find out you’re shooting up again.”

Albie held both hands up in front of him, the butt of his cigarette still held between his lips. “I ain’t goin’ down that dark path again,” he promised. “You got me clean and out of Two-Face’s gang, ‘Wing. I’ll always be grateful for that.”

“Hey, anytime,” he said. “Let me know if you hear anything else.”

“You got it, man,” Albie promised as he turned and walked away, the darkness of the night swallowing him up as if he’d never even been there.

Nightwing looked down at Robin who had absorbed all the information without a word. “I’m afraid things just went from bad to worse, partner,” he told him, “and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.”

“Guess we’ll have to handle it ourselves,” Robin said as he turned on his heel, rain pouring down all around him. “It doesn’t look like Batman is coming back any time soon…if ever.”

Nightwing watched as Damian made his way back to the car, his chest constricting with the thought of Bruce never returning home. He’d been so worried about Nicholas and Kaia and how they were dealing with their parents’ absence that he’d forgotten that Damian was probably missing his father as well, struggling with his grandfather’s imprisonment in the Underworld and the fact that his mother was missing and after abandoning him.

They all needed Bruce back in more ways than one. His absence had created a gaping hole, one that was far larger and deeper than Dick had ever dreamed could have been possible. He knew that Bruce was valuable to them all in so many ways, but even more so now that Gotham was in dire trouble.

It was times like these that he wished that he’d never gotten into the crime-fighting business and yet he knew there was no other place that he’d rather be. This was his destiny…his calling, and he wouldn’t stop until Joker and Harley was back in Arkham.

Detroit; September 18th, 11:46 EST

“Okay, who left their sippy cup laying on the floor?” Wally yelled; his arms wrapped around a large basket of dirty laundry.

“Me!” Rex yelled back with a giggle as he ran past Wally, his blanket tied around his neck like a cape. “I’m Superman!”

Wally frowned at him, stepping aside to keep from being run over by Rex. “Hey!” he said. “Couldn’t you pick a better superhero to pretend to be? How about the Flash?”

“Nah, he’s no fun,” Rex decided, putting his arms straight out in front of him as he ran around the couch. “You just run. Superman can fly.”

“Flying isn’t everything you know!” Wally yelled in indignation as Rex ran out of the living room and down the hallway. “At least I’m not incapacitated by a little green rock.”

Wally leaned over and picked up Bella’s pink blanket, wrinkling his nose up at the big strawberry jelly stain he found on it. It never ceased to amaze him how two little kids could create such a mess. If it wasn’t a food stain, it was drool or snot or vomit.

“No!” Bella cried as she toddled into the living room with a fierce scowl on her face.

“No what?” Wally asked, confused.

“No…no…no,” Bella scolded him as she stood on her tippy toes in an effort to reach for her blanket in the laundry basket Wally was carrying in his arms.

“Sorry, Bells, but your blanket is dirty. You got jelly on it this morning at breakfast,” Wally told her. “I gotta put in the washer to get it clean. You can have it later.”

Bella’s bottom lip began to quiver, tears instantly filling her big brown eyes as she stared up at him in utter despair. A cry of pure distress escaped her lips as tears trickled down her cheeks, forcing Wally to set the basket of laundry on the couch to pick her up.

“Hey, Bells,” Wally attempted to soothe her, holding her close as he bounced her in his arms. “I promise I’ll give it back to you as soon as it’s out of the dryer, but it’s got sticky jelly on it right now.”

“Give her something else,” Rex suggested as he ran back into the living room.

“What?” Wally asked.

“Here…like this,” Rex said, running towards the toy basket in the corner of the room. He returned to the couch with stuffed frog. “Here, Bella, here’s your froggy.”

Bella turned her tear-streaked face to look at him, sniffling as she reached out and took her purple frog. She clutched it to her chest as she laid her head on Wally’s shoulder. “Hey, that’s pretty good, Rex,” Wally praised him with a pleased grin.

“Mommy has to do that with her all the time, or she throws a big fit,” Rex told him.

“You’re a good big brother,” Wally replied, reaching out and ruffling his hair.

“I’m getting hungry,” Rex said, leaning his elbows on Wally’s knees as he looked up at him. “When we gonna eat lunch?”

“Yah, I’m hungry too, little bro,” he agreed. “What do you think we should make for lunch?”

“Can we have pizza?”

“Are you kidding me?” Wally exclaimed. “That’s my favorite!”

“Me too,” Rex said with a grin.

“Me…me,” Bella babbled, patting her chest.

“You love pizza too, Bells?” Wally asked her. Bella nodded her head in agreement. “All right then…let’s go see what we can find in the freezer.”

“When’s daddy coming home?” Rex asked as he followed Uncle Wally into the kitchen with Bella in his arms.

“You know I would’ve thought he’d be home by now,” Wally said, scratching his head as he glanced at the clock on the wall. “Well, let’s start lunch. I’m sure he’ll be home any minute now. You know he’s not as fast as your Uncle Wally.”

“Are you going to flip pancakes and make them stick to the ceiling again?” Rex asked as Wally set Bella down on the floor.

Ignoring the stack of dirty dishes from breakfast that were still piled in the kitchen sink, Wally turned his attention to the freezer. Opening it, he found exactly what he was looking for. Pulling out five frozen pizzas, he immediately set to work opening them up and putting them on cookie sheets before turning the oven on.

“Can we have pop too?” Rex asked.

“Yah, sure…why not. Every kid needs a little sugar in their day,” Wally said, opening the refrigerator door and pulling out some cans of pop. “You always gotta have pop with pizza. Am I right?”

Bella and Rex looked up at him, nodding their heads in definite agreement. “No, you do not.”

“Whoa…Rexy…how did you do that?” Wally asked, staring at Rex who stood there looking back at him.

“It wasn’t Rex…it was me,” John stated in his deep baritone voice that hinted at his military background. He was standing in the doorway to the kitchen with armfuls of groceries and a scowl on his face.

“Hey, what took you so long?” Wally questioned him. “You’ve been gone for hours.”

“I told you had to run errands and get groceries,” John reminded him as he walked past his kids to put the groceries down on the counter.

“How’s your mom?” Wally asked.

“She’s really sick,” John told him as he began taking the groceries out of the bags. “I’m afraid that she caught Rex’s cold.”

“Poor thing,” he replied as he put the pizzas in the oven.

“Yah, she’s sick in bed,” John informed him. “I went and got her some groceries too and made her some soup for lunch. That’s what took me longer than I’d expected. She feels really bad that she can’t come and help out with the kids. I told her not to worry about it. You and I got it covered.”

“You know it, bro,” he said, racing towards him to bump fists before returning to the oven. “This is a breeze.”

John frowned at him as he went to put the milk in the refrigerator. “I saw the living room, Wally. It’s a complete disaster. What have you three been doing while I was gone?”

“Well, after you left, the kiddos wanted to watch cartoons,” Wally attempted to explain.

“And you had to watch cartoons while destroying the living room?”

“No, I had to watch cartoons with them to make sure it was parentally safe for them,” he told him. “I’m not going to just let my godchildren watch anything they want.”

“Of course,” John said with a shake of his head. “And the living room?”

“I’m getting there,” he responded, leaning his back against the edge of the countertop and folding his arms against his chest. “While we were watching cartoons, Rex and I were talking about how awesome it would be to have a fort in the living room. Well, I couldn’t let the little tike down, so I built a huge blanket fort. It turned out sweet. All three of us fit inside of it.”

“So, that’s why the breakfast dishes are still in the sink?”

“Exactly,” Wally said. “I did start to clean up and gather the dirty laundry, but Bells had a fit when I tried to take her pink blanket.”

“I see you got her the purple frog,” John said, grinning at Bella who held up her beloved stuffed animal.

“Worked like a charm,” he reassured him. “Completely forgot about the jelly-stained blanket.”

“Jelly stain?”

“Yah, when we were in our blanket fort, the kids wanted jelly toast for breakfast,” he continued. “I couldn’t tell them no. If I did, then I wouldn’t be fun Uncle Wally.”

“Couldn’t have that,” John muttered with a roll of his eyes.

“Exactly,” he agreed. “You’re the strict disciplinarian and I’m fun Uncle Wally.”

“You know what that makes Shayera, right?” John asked him.

“No, what?”

“The angry wife when she sees that you’ve destroyed her house while she was gone,” he informed him.

“Nah, we can get it put back together in no time.”

“You better hope because if we don’t, she’ll never let fun Uncle Wally come over here ever again,” he pointed out.

“Hey, have you heard from Shay lately?”

John shook his head with a frown as he bent down and picked Bella up. “No, I tried contacting her but I all I get is an earful of static. They must have found a way into the Underworld by now.”

“Let’s hope so,” he said.

“I hope they find Bruce soon,” he replied. “I hate to think of Diana and her family having to go on without him or Gotham without Batman.”

“It’s like macaroni without the cheese,” Wally agreed.

John gave him an incredulous look. “You really know how to make a heartfelt, sentimental reference.”

“It hits me…right here, man,” Wally told him, touching his chest right over his heart with his fist. “We’re family and if Bruce isn’t here, our family isn’t whole.”

“I know what you mean,” John softly said, his eyes narrowing as he noticed all the pizza boxes piled on the counter by the oven. “Five pizzas? Really?”

“What can I say?” Wally said with a shrug. “One for you three and four for me.”

Underworld; September 18th, 19:14 EST

A bone-chilling roar suddenly split the air, causing all four travelers to instantly freeze in their tracks. “That did not sound good,” Shayera muttered, her green eyes darting about to find the source of the terrifying noise as she tightened her grip on her mace.

“It rarely is down here,” Hermes told her.

“I know,” she replied with scowl. “I’ve been down here once before with Diana.”

“Let’s keep moving, but be on guard,” Diana warned as she drew her sword, preparing herself for a fight.

She knew that they weren’t going to get out of the Underworld without facing off against several of the magical creatures that resided down here, but she had hoped to prolong the encounter for as long as possible. Unfortunately, the source of that roar had a different idea. It seemed more than determined to keep them from getting by without some sort of encounter.

“I think we should send Hermes on ahead to see what’s waiting for us,” Artemis decided with a smirk.

“I’m going to have to decline that offer,” Hermes replied, giving her a disgruntled look of unmistakable disapproval. “Remember—I’m not really here.”

“You look like you’re here,” the Bana- Mighdall Amazon noted, a single eyebrow arching. “In fact, you’re carrying our supplies for us.”

Hermes rolled his eyes with a huff as he adjusted the bag on his shoulder. “Yes, I’m literally here, but I’m not supposed to be,” he reminded them. “I was basically coerced into joining this little campaign…actually, I believe I was forcefully shoved through the gate against my will.”

“We know…you keep reminding us,” Shayera complained.

“Repeatedly,” Artemis added.

“You know I actually like hanging out with you ladies even though you are determined to get me into trouble with Hera,” Hermes admitted. “It’s a nice change of pace to the boring ins and outs on Mount Olympus.”

Another deafening roar shook the area, bringing the small talk to an abrupt stop. “There!” Diana yelled, using the tip of her sword to point at something working its way up over a ledge. “It’s the Hydra!”

Hermes cursed under his breath, causing all three women to turn a glare on him. “What?” he exclaimed. “This is not a good situation.”

The ground shook with a mighty rumble as the Hydra climbed its way out of the large body of water that it had been slumbering in. It shook a couple of its many heads, water dripping from its enormous serpentine body as it set all nine pairs of eyes on the four travelers before it.

Artemis called forth the Bow of Ra, preparing for their first real battle since entering the Underworld. Shayera palmed her mace as she began to lift into the air, ready to strike, but was quickly brought back down to the ground by Diana’s hand abruptly wrapping around her ankle.

“No, Shay,” Diana warned her, her expression fierce. “We need to be careful. It’s breath is poisonous, and its blood is so lethal that even its scent is deadly.”

“So, don’t let it breathe or bleed on you…got it,” Shayera confirmed, determination etched in her face.

“And if you cut one of its heads off, it’ll regrow another,” Hermes added, watching the serpent-like beast as it began to lumber towards them. “The head in the middle is immortal.”

“Which one exactly is the middle head?” Artemis demanded to know.

“This just keeps getting better and better,” Shayera decided. “Let’s do this already.”

“Why don’t we just find a way around it?” Hermes asked.

“It’ll take too much time,” Diana told him as she stared down the serpentine creature, “and it’s time that Bruce doesn’t have.”

“Besides, I don’t think it’s going to let us get around it,” Artemis added as the Hydra picked up speed, charging straight towards them.

It snapped its mouths and hissed, its long serpentine tail whipping wildly behind it. Its roar was commanding like rolling thunder that seemed to shake everything around it. Blasts of deadly fire and steam erupted from its throats, scorching the ground in front of it.

“Let’s take it down,” Artemis stated.

“I hope the ‘let’s’ doesn’t include me,” Hermes commented, taking a few steps back.

“For a Greek god, you sure are worthless,” Shayera growled as she took to the air, her mace crackling and sparking with the powerful energy that pulsated through it.

“Hey! I’m quite helpful…just not in times like this!” he yelled as the three warriors moved into attack position to take the beast. “Now, go stop that thing before I get hurt!”

Artemis scowled as she let loose a volley of arrows at the Hydra, doing her best to hit the beast and not her friends who were flying in hard and fast on the creature. With it’s numerous heads, it made it difficult to avoid its fiery breath or its snapping razor-sharp teeth.

It nearly clipped Shayera’s wing as she flew circles around it. Her mace connected with one of its heads as a piercing warrior’s cry split the air thick with the smell of sulfur. She immediately followed up with another swing of her mace, not giving the serpent-like beast any time to recover its wits.

Diana had set to work on the other side of it, her sword making quick work of one of the heads that had come dangerously close to removing her right leg. While the move had saved her leg and allowed her a momentary reprieve, another head already began to regrow to replace the one that she had just removed.

“Damn this thing to the Pits of Tartarus,” Diana cursed as she traded her sword for her lasso, knowing that while her sword would wound or eliminate heads it was only a temporary fix to a much larger problem that they didn’t have time for.

Swinging her lasso that seemed to glow in the dim murkiness of the Underworld, Diana managed to rope two of Hydra’s heads, pulling them together with a powerful tug. The heads slammed together hard, momentarily dazing it while the other seven heads continued to fight for survival.

It suddenly whipped its two heads that Diana had managed to rope, sending her flying through the air towards it. It’s mouths were eagerly waiting for her, anxious to sink its teeth into it. Diana, however, flew straight at it with fists raised and a furious sneer on her face. She delivered one punishing blow after another, unleashing every ounce of her frustration and rage on it.

The Hydra stood in the way of her getting her husband back, another obstacle that she was not about to allow to slow her down now that she was so close to finding him. With a deafening cry on her lips, she kicked and punched with all her might, her body near trembling with the extent of the fury searing through her veins.

While her attack was having some affect on the creature, it wasn’t nearly enough as she dodged and narrowly evaded the teeth that were intent on ending her. “Artemis! Shayera!” she yelled, retrieving her lasso. “We need to come up with a plan.”

Diana and Shayera landed on the ground next to Artemis, Hermes standing several feet behind them. “This isn’t working,” Shayera growled. “We make a dent and it just comes right back.”

“Artemis, we’re going to need your sword,” Diana said.

“What are you planning?” the redhead asked, exchanging her Bow of Ra for the sword that rested at her hip.

“You and I are going to start chopping heads off,” Diana told her.

“That’s not going to work,” Hermes yelled. “It’ll just grow back new ones.”

“That’s where Shayera comes in,” Diana said. “As soon as we remove a head, use your mace to cauterize it before it can grow a new head.”

“Okay, that is a good plan…if you all survive it that is,” Hermes decided.

All three glared darkly at him before turning their attention towards the Hydra that had managed to regroup. Diana immediately raised her arms, using her bracers to block the blast of fire that the Hydra directed their way. “Stay behind me!” she yelled as she began to take to the air, drawing the Hydra’s attention towards her and away from her friends.

Diana was like a vengeful angel as she flew straight towards the beast, the bringer of death determined to slay anything and everything that stood in the way of her getting Bruce back. Tightening her grip on her sword, she swung her blade with her all her strength, severing one of the Hydra’s heads as Shayera immediately swooped in after her with her mace primed.

Shayera’s mace crackled as it connected with its neck, scorching and searing the scaly serpentine skin. It whipped its stump of a neck back and forth in furious agony, the other heads releasing a bone-chilling scream that was near deafening as Diana swiftly hacked off another head.

Racing towards the Hydra, Artemis ducked and slid, avoiding one of the heads that leaned down to attack her. In the blink of an eye, she flipped through the air, landing on the back of its neck. She raised her sword above her head, her blade coming down in a flash.

She just as quickly leapt off, allowing Shayera to finish off another neck before it could regrow a head. Three down, six more to go. Finishing her task on the third one, Shayera looked up in time to see another head being chopped off by Diana, dark fluid flying everywhere.

She knew they needed to keep the black blood from touching their skin or they would be in dire trouble. They couldn’t afford it at this point especially after coming this far. They couldn’t be slowed down by anymore catastrophes nor could they afford any injuries. They needed all of them to be at that their very best in order for them to succeed.

As furiously as Diana was hacking off the Hydra’s heads, she was worried that her friend was being splattered with the deadly fluid. If she was, she wasn’t being slowed down by it in the least as she flew towards another head, dozens of dagger-like teeth snapping at her.

Breathing heavily, Diana ignored the way her skin burned from the black blood that was eating away at her flesh. She wasn’t about to let it slow her down as she gritted her teeth, unrelenting satisfaction washing through her as the blade of her sword easily sliced through the thick, scaly skin of another neck.

Her vision was red with rage as she swung her sword with a fierce vengeance that amazed her companions. Artemis and Hermes watched as the Amazon princess took care of the last three heads herself, leaving the immortal head alone.

The Hydra whimpered and wailed, an ear-piercing cry erupting from its throat. It flailed its head, his glare focusing on the Amazon princess. “Do not make me kill you,” Diana heatedly threatened, her blade pointed directly at it.

The Hydra whipped its immortal head, its long serpentine tongue lashing out at her. “Go!” Diana yelled, pointing towards the body of water it had pulled itself out of.

Shayera, Artemis, and Hermes watched in utter amazement as the beast threw its head back, unleashing a cry of pure fury before turning and lumbering back towards the water in defeat. Diana’s chest was heaving as she watched it obey her, relieved that it had listened to her and yet still prepared to kill it if it became necessary.

Diana returned to where her friends waited for her. She knelt down to drag the blade of her sword along the ground to remove the blood from it as best she could. Straightening up, she sheathed her sword to find her companions all staring at her as if struck dumb.

“What?” she questioned them.

“That was amazing!” Hermes exclaimed. “If I hadn’t seen it, I never would’ve believed it.”

“You spared it,” Artemis commented.

“There was no need to kill it if I didn’t have to,” Diana replied. “I was prepared to if forced to, but it had seen enough pain.”

“Diana, you’ve got the Hydra’s blood on you,” Shayera announced, urgency and worry lacing her voice.

Diana looked down at her shoulder and forearms as well as her thigh to find black blood splattered on her skin. She had felt it burning through her flesh but hadn’t paused to do anything about it. Artemis quickly grabbed their travelling bag from Hermes, pulling out a cantina of water and a cloth. She immediately went to work to remove the blood, revealing the damage beneath.

It had burned and blistered its way through her skin and was intently working its way through muscle. “We need to dress these wounds right away,” Shayera stated, her voice broking no room for argument.

Diana shook her head, her lips pursed as she withdrew her arm from Artemis’s hold. “We don’t have time for this,” she insisted. “We need to keep moving.”

“We will make time for this,” Shayera maintained. “If these get infected, you’re going to end up in worse trouble than you already are.”

“Please, Di,” Hermes begged her. “We’ll make it quick and then we’ll find your mate.”

Diana cursed under her breath, a dark glower on her face as she averted her eyes and reluctantly extended her arm. “Fine…but make it quick.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

Watchtower; September 19th, 07:54 EST

Superman took a sip of his coffee, setting it down on the table before taking his usual seat with a weary sigh. He looked around the conference table with a grim expression gracing his face, his blue eyes reflecting the worry that had consumed him since Bruce had disappeared with Hades.

It had only been two weeks ago and yet it felt like an eternity…an eternity since he’d last seen his best friend. Two weeks. How in the world was Bruce going to survive much longer being down there especially knowing that he was losing his memories?

He shuddered to think about what state Diana was going to find Bruce in once she finally got to him. Would he even recognize her or know who she was…how much she had truly meant to him? It would break her heart if Bruce didn’t remember her. What would happen if they were never able to help him return to the life that he’d once had…the family that he and Diana had made together?

He wished he could’ve gone with her, but he knew that it was impossible. He wouldn’t have been any good to her down there away from the sun’s yellow rays. Besides, neither the League nor the world could afford to have both of them gone if someone decided to attack Earth or if there was a catastrophic event.

Clark looked up as the doors slid open, J’onn entering with his typical stoic expression. “Good morning, J’onn.”

“Good morning, Superman,” he formally greeted him as he took his seat. Studying the Man of Steel sitting directly across the table from him, he easily sensed the distress that he was struggling with. “Are you all right, my friend?”

Clark released a frustrated huff as he slowly shook his head. “To be honest…I’m not, J’onn.”

“I know this is a difficult time for everyone,” J’onn revealed. “Batman and Wonder Woman’s absence from the Watchtower has had a ripple affect on everyone I’m afraid.”

Clark’s eyebrows rose marginally in surprise with the unexpected news. “Really?”

“I’m afraid so,” J’onn confirmed with a nod. “Their impact on the League and civilian staff alike is far reaching. When they are gone for long periods of time, their absence is felt. It leaves a hole that is next to impossible to fill. It is that way for any Founder who is gone for an extensive period of time.”

“I guess we’re going to have to issue another statement about their whereabouts,” Clark thoughtfully said. “I already issued a statement that Batman was on leave for an unforeseen amount of time due to responsibilities in Gotham, but with Diana gone now too, I’m sure it looks suspicious. We don’t want their absences to be connected in any way.”

“Rumors have been running rampant I’m afraid,” J’onn informed him. “Many believe that Batman was killed in Gotham when Hades attacked.”

“I’ll make a League-wide announcement after the meeting letting everyone know that Batman is working a case in Gotham and Diana is away visiting family on Themyscira,” he decided.

Before Clark could say anymore, the doors to the conference room slid open, Green Lantern and Flash entering, deeply immersed in conversation. “Are you sure the kiddos will be okay in day care?” Flash asked, sipping on his iced mocha. “Maybe I should go back and check on them again.”

“Nah, they’re fine,” John reassured him as they headed towards their seats. “Rex and Bella love day care on the Watchtower. Jenna’s there today and she’s one of their favorites. They didn’t even say goodbye. They just ran off as soon as they walked through the door.”

“Still, it probably wouldn’t hurt if Uncle Wally stopped by to check on them to make sure they’re okay,” Wally decided with a frown.

“If you want to,” John said with a shrug before taking a sip of his coffee. “I’ve got Monitor Duty till one.”

“That’s fine,” Wally reassured him. “I don’t mind checking on them. Besides, Bells is still teething.”

“Here, you have one of Bella’s socks stuck to your back,” John told him, reaching behind him and removing the little pink sock.

“That Bells,” Wally said with a chuckle. “She’s such a little cutie.”

“Forgot to put the fabric softener sheets in the dryer again, didn’t you?” John asked with a snort of amusement.

“Hey, give me a break,” Flash replied. “I’m still learning how to use your washer and dryer.”

“It’s not the first time you’ve ever done laundry, though.”

“I’m just used to the little ball you fill with softener that you put in the washer with the dirty laundry,” Wally revealed.

“Uh, good morning, guys,” Superman interjected, breaking up the banter with an amused grin.

“Oh, hiya, Supes,” Wally said, waving at him from his seat at the table.

“Sorry, we were talking about the kids,” John apologized.

Clark smirked at them, deciding they sounded like an old married couple. “So, how’s it going taking care of two kids?” he asked.

“Rough,” John said at the same time Wally said “great”.

They both looked at each other, frowning with the other’s response. “Wait…what?” Wally asked. “I’m having a blast.”

“Well, yah…I mean it’s been fun having you there, but it’s still a lot of work taking care of two little kids,” John pointed out. “I never realized how much Shayera actually did.”

“Yah, I guess so,” Wally conceded. “It is rather exhausting.”

“Welcome to parenthood, Wally,” Clark told him, grinning.

“I think I’ll wait on having my own kids for a little while longer,” Flash ultimately decided.

“Just don’t wait too long,” John recommended, clapping him on the back. “The older you get the harder it gets.”

“All right,” Superman said, his gaze falling on the three empty seats. It caused his heart to clench with worry. “Let’s get this meeting underway.”

“Wow,” Flash solemnly murmured as he too glanced at the vacant chairs. “It seems sorta empty in here.”

“I know,” J’onn agreed. “It’s rather disconcerting is it not?”

Clark cleared his throat, trying to rein in his emotions, but it was difficult with their teammates missing and out of communication with no clue what was happening to them. “John, have you heard anything from Shayera?”

“No,” John said with a shake of his head. “I heard from Diana two days ago. They were in Greece searching for a hidden gate to the Underworld.”

Clark frowned as he considered the newest information. “Why were they in Greece? Why not just use the gate to the Underworld hidden beneath Themyscira?”

John shrugged his shoulders. “I have no idea,” he replied. “She just said it was a long story. I guess Hermes is helping them.”

“Hermes?” J’onn questioned him.

John bristled the more he thought about Hermes, a scowl forming on his face. “Yah, Diana said she would keep Hermes away from my wife,” he revealed. “Not sure what that was about and, at this point, I’m not sure I even want to know especially since I can’t contact my own wife.”

Wally clapped him on the shoulder, squeezing it in reassurance. “Don’t worry, John,” he assured him. “Shayera would never cheat on you.”

“Thanks,” John ground out through clenched teeth as he glared at Flash. “That’s reassuring.”

“I’ve tried contacting Diana multiple times, but I get nothing but static,” Clark informed them with a sigh.

“They must be in the Underworld by now,” J’onn assumed.

“I hope that’s all that it is and not something worse,” Clark ominously replied.

“What could possibly be worse than being in the Underworld with Hades right now?” Flash exclaimed, throwing his hands up in the air.

“I don’t want to think about it,” John adamantly stated, refusing to discuss it any longer.

“Have you been in touch with Nightwing?” J’onn asked.

“Yes, I spoke to him late last night,” Clark confirmed. “They’re doing fairly well. Nick and Kaia are feeling a little lost and confused by it all. They really miss their parents, but they’re doing all right. Gotham is another story I’m afraid.”

“Do we need to step in and help?” Lantern asked.

Clark chuckled softly. “Not at this point…or probably ever,” he replied. “Dick was as adamant as Bruce about outside help in Gotham.”

“Let me guess—the Joker,” John said with a grim expression.

“I’m assuming so, but Nightwing never actually came out and said it,” Clark revealed. “Whatever it is that’s happening, it’s likely not good if the tone of his voice was any indication. He seemed pretty frustrated by it.”

“I’m sure that it has been difficult for the entire family having Bruce and Diana away,” J’onn commented. “Nightwing is having to shoulder the responsibility of the family as well as Gotham. I’m sure that he is feeling the weight even more so now if the Joker is causing trouble.”

“At least Jason, Tim, and Damian are there to help with Gotham,” Flash added. “That has to help some.”

“I told Dick to contact any of us immediately if he needs backup,” Clark informed them. “Whether that actually happens or not remains to be seen, but he really appreciated knowing we are here to help them if they need it.”

Flash shook his head, his expression solemn and reflecting the extent of the frustration that was weighing him down. “I just wish we knew what was going on down there,” he groused, his shoulders slumping further with every word that poured out of his mouth. “I mean we’re family and we have no idea what is happening to members of our family. What if they need us, but we don’t know that they need us, and we can’t get to them to help them because we don’t know that they need us. What if they…”

His voice trailed off, John’s hand coming to rest on his shoulder. “It’s okay, buddy,” he reassured him. “We all feel the same way, but we can’t lose hope. Bruce, Diana, and Shayera are some of the strongest, most stubborn people that I’ve ever known. I wouldn’t bet against any of them just yet.”

“I’m sorry…you’re right,” Flash said, sitting up straighter in his chair. “I’m just really worried about them. They’ve been gone for what feels like forever.”

“We’ve survived some of the darkest adversity together over the years, relying on one another and working together as one,” J’onn replied. “Even as dire as this situation has become, I have faith that they will find a way through this calamity as well.”

“Okay, let’s move on to discuss some other items on the agenda,” Clark said, trying to lighten the tone of his voice in order to help lift everyone’s spirits.

“Yah, like a homecoming party for when they get back,” Flash excitedly declared.

“You can work on that on your own time,” Clark decided. “Moving on to more important business…”

“What can be more important than welcoming our teammates back?” Flash asked. “It’ll be like a family reunion.”

“How about the fact that we have several repairs on the Watchtower that we need to be taken care of,” Clark told him.

“Don’t we have repair teams for stuff like that?” Wally questioned him; his face scrunched up in confusion.

“Not these repairs,” he replied. “These repairs require heavy muscle.”

Flash slumped sullenly in his chair. “Great,” he grumbled, resigning himself to the fact he would be helping to work on repairs today.

“Hey, it’ll help get your mind off the others being gone,” John attempted to cheer him up.

“Ye-ha,” Wally groaned.

Wayne Manor; September 19th, 13:34 EST

“No,” Kaia firmly stated with a scowl on her little face as she glared up at her older brother.

“But you need to pick up your toys so we can paint your room,” Jason tried to explain on bended knee before the stubborn two-year-old.

“No,” Kaia repeated with a pout.

“Don’t you want your room painted?”

“No,” she stated.

“I can’t reason with her,” Jason muttered to himself, standing to his feet. He folded his arms against his chest as he stared down at his little sister.

“No,” she said, her eyebrows knitting together in a obstinate glare.

“Why don’t you want to pick up your toys?” he asked her.

Kaia suddenly went from stubborn two-year old to sobbing toddler as she burst into tears, laying down on the floor of her bedroom and burying her face in the carpet. Jason knelt down, rubbing her back. “What’s wrong, Kai?

“Me want mommy and daddy,” she choked out between sobs.

“But we’re going to paint your room and make it look all pretty and grown up,” Jason gently tried to tell her. “Your mom and dad will be so surprised when they come home and see your new room all decorated…especially your dad when he sees that it’s purple.”

“I…I like…purpo,” Kaia sniffled, burying her face in the carpet again as she cried harder.

“What’s wrong, Kaia?” Nicholas asked as he ran into her room.

“She wants mom and dad,” Jason informed him.

Nicholas got down on his hands and knees beside her, putting his face next to hers. “It’s okay, Kaia,” he told her, patting her back. “I’m here with you and mommy and daddy will be back soon.”

Kaia lifted her face red and wet with so many tears to look at him. “Me miss them,” she choked out.

“Me too, but they doing very portant work,” he said as he put his arm around her.

“I think I’m going to cry,” Donna murmured from the doorway of Kaia’s bedroom, tears brimming in her eyes.

“Not you too,” Jason said with a groan. “It’s only because your pregnant. You’re on a nine-month hormone rollercoaster of emotions.”

“Keep it up, Jas, and you’ll find out just how quickly these hormones can shift,” she threatened him with a glare as she lifted her fist.

“Okay, kiddos, let’s pick up the toys so we can move your furniture,” Jason suggested. “If you do a good job helping out, we’ll get some ice cream.”

“Bribing children?” Donna questioned him, an eyebrow arching in question.

“Hey, whatever works,” Jason replied.

“Me like ice cream,” Kaia said with a sniffle.

“With sprinkles,” Nicholas excitedly said.

“Yah, spwinkles,” Kaia agreed, wiping the tears from her face with the backs of her hands.

“You got it,” Jason confirmed. “All the sprinkles you want.”

“Come on, Kai,” Nicholas said. “I help you pick up your toys.”

Kaia got to her feet, running to help Nicholas with her toys. “Smooth move, Jas,” Donna said with an appreciative nod. “You’re going to make a great father someday.”

“Whoa there, Don,” Jason said, holding his hands up. “I’m not anywhere near ready for that.”

“What if Artemis was?” she asked him with a grin.

Jason’s head whipped around to stare at her in wide-eyed shock. “What?” he demanded to know. “What did she say? Did she say something to you? Is Artemis pregnant? She can’t be…not yet!”

Donna laughed as knelt down to pick up Kaia’s blanket up off the floor. “No, she’s not pregnant and no, she didn’t say anything,” she replied. “I just wanted to see your reaction and it was totally worth it.”

Jason released a ragged breath, his hand coming to rest on his chest right over his heart. “Thanks a lot, Don,” he groused. “You about gave me a freaking heart attack.”

“I’d say I was sorry, but I’m really not,” she said with a chuckle.

“Hey, you share that crazy soul binding thing with Diana, right?” he asked her.

“Yes, why?”

“Can you feel how she’s doing?”

Donna thought about it for a long moment, focusing on what her sister was feeling. She’d been working at locking that part of her emotions away in an effort to hold on to her sanity while Diana was gone with the others, but she had to admit that she needed to know if her sister was all right.

“She’s furious which isn’t any different than when Hades first disappeared,” she cryptically said, not wanting to alert the little ones to more than they needed to know. “She’s exhausted…and in pain, but from what I don’t know. She misses him greatly and is very worried about him. Why do you ask?”

Jason shook his head, a frown causing his lips to curve as he averted his eyes. “I was just wondering,” he replied. “I was hoping you might be able to figure out where they’re at or how they’re doing.”

A soft smile graced her face as she studied him. “You miss her, don’t you?”

“Yah,” he admitted, clearing his throat and fixing a carefree expression on his face in an effort to dismiss the topic that was becoming uncomfortable to him. “I was just wondering. I’m sure they’ll be back soon.”

“It’s okay to miss her, Jas,” she reassured him with a knowing smile. “I miss them too.”

“We better get to work,” he said, changing the subject. He clearly didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

Hearing breathless giggles, Jason and Donna looked over to see Kaia chasing Nicholas with her foam Wonder Woman sword. “Okay, you two,” Donna said, clapping her hands to get their attention. “You still have a mess to pick up.”

Kaia swung her foam sword, Nicholas ducking and rolling out of the way with amazing skill as he came up on his feet. Jason shook his head in amazement. “There is no question these kids are gifted and meant for crimefighting,” he commented. “Bruce is going to have start training them soon.”

“Bruce doesn’t want them following in his and Diana’s footsteps,” she reminded him.

“I don’t think he’s going to be able to stop them,” he told her. “They’re already like little ninja warriors.”

“And I have a feeling we haven’t seen the full extent of all of their gifts yet,” she said.

“Great,” Jason muttered as he watched Kaia tackle Nicholas to the ground. “They’re going to be flying around the house and lifting the furniture over their heads before we know it.”

“Hopefully not anytime soon,” she replied as Nicholas pinned Kaia to the floor, both of them giggling as they wrestled.

“I don’t think they’re going to be much help,” Jason decided. “Maybe we should send them downstairs to Alfred while we work.”

“Do you two want to go swimming?” she asked.

Nicholas and Kaia quickly got to their feet, Kaia running to her dresser to find her bathing suit. She stood on her tiptoes in an effort to reach her swimsuit despite the fact she was unable to reach the top drawer. “Good idea,” Jason said with a nod as Nicholas ran to his bedroom to change.

“I’ll take them downstairs while you start moving furniture,” she suggested.

“Where’s Tim, Dick, and Damian?”

“They’re finishing moving Nicholas’s furniture out of his room,” she responded as she helped Kaia get into her swimsuit.

“So, where are the kids going to sleep tonight?”

“I’ve got it covered,” she said with a mischievous grin.

“Why do I have a feeling I’m glad I don’t live here?”

Underworld; September 19th, 19:18 EST

Ra’s al Ghul looked askance at his traveling companion, taking note of the minutest of details in order to determine his condition. He appeared to be struggling both mentally and physically at the moment. His breathing was becoming a little more exerted over time, an occasional grimace reaching his face despite his best efforts.

The Detective was a master at disguising his feelings or how badly injured he was, never wanting to appear weak or to give his opponent any sort of advantage over him. Now, however, he was clearly struggling just to maintain some semblance of the typical control he always held so strongly to.

Gone was his emotionless mask that was usually held firmly in place. Instead, there was the faintest of winces and grimaces, a muffled groan stifled before it could fully form. Despite his black cape masking the majority of his movements, his hand kept moving to bracing his ribs.

Mentally, he knew that the Detective had to be slipping even more. It was only a matter of time before he wouldn’t be able to remember his own name. He had a feeling that time was approaching faster than the Detective was letting on and he was more than determined to use it to his own advantage.

“What do you want?” Bruce rasped, a sneer twisting his lips.

“Excuse me?”

“You keep looking at me,” Batman stated. “What do you want?”

“Just wondering if maybe we should take a break for you to rest,” Ra’s told him.

“I’m fine,” he spat out. “Let’s keep moving.”

“It’s not a sign of weakness to stop and rest for a few minutes,” he pointed out. “We’ve been traveling for hours.”

“Time doesn’t exist down here.”

“Still, it wouldn’t hurt to take a break.”

Batman stopped in his tracks, casting a dark glare on him. “Do you need a break?”

“No, but I believe you do,” Ra’s stated, refusing to back down under the withering glower being cast upon him. “So, let’s take a short break.”

“Just for a few moments,” Batman relented.

Ra’s watched as Batman walked over to a rock, grunting softly as he sat down on it. He walked over to join him, settling down on the rock beside him. “Would you allow me to help you bind your broken ribs?”

Batman stared straight ahead of him at the desolate landscape that awaited him, the unknown creatures and beasts of the Underworld that were laying in wait to try to keep him from escaping. If he was going to be able to fight his way out of here, he was going to have to do something about his ribs.

He looked down at the utility belt that circled his waist. He knew that he wore it for a reason, but he couldn’t for the life of him remember what all the compartments were for or what they held. He began opening them one at a time, finding an assortment of supplies that he never would’ve guessed were in there.

Finally finding a roll of elastic bandage, he began wrapping it around his torso, pulling it as tightly as possible in order to brace his broken ribs. Ra’s watched him intently, knowing that the Detective would refuse his help. They were quite alike in several ways.

“We’re being followed,” Ra’s softly said.

“Since the ravine…I know,” Batman replied just as quietly. “It’s about fifty yards away watching us.”

“Any ideas about what it could be?” he asked.

“None,” he stated, “but it doesn’t seem very interested in attacking us or it would’ve done it by now.”

“Agreed,” Ra’s said with a nod. “Should we try to engage it…see what it wants?”

“I have a feeling it’s going to make its move sooner rather than later especially the further we away from the palace we get,” he told him. “We should be prepared for anything. Can you still use that sword?”

Ra’s chuckled softly with the question. “Your memory is slipping, Detective. You should know that a broken arm isn’t going to slow me down in the least.”

“Just be prepared,” he bit out, pulling out a razor-sharp Batarang, more out of instinct than memory.

“Tell me, Detective,” Ra’s replied. “Do you remember your name? Where you came from? Why you dress as a bat?”

“I remember what I need to know,” he ground out as he stood to his feet. “Let’s keep moving.”

“Your parents were Thomas and Martha Wayne,” Ra’s began as if telling a story. “They were murdered in an alley before your very eyes when you were eight years old after taking you to a movie.”

“Stop talking,” Bruce stated as he began to walk, his hand instinctively moving to his ribs. The binding had definitely helped, but breathing was still somewhat of a painful chore.

“You were devastated by the loss of your parents,” Ra’s continued on as if not hearing him, following behind him. “It consumed your life…lead to night terrors that haunted your sleep. You decided to make it your life’s goal to make sure that no other child endured the trauma that you had suffered.”

“I said stop talking,” he growled, the white-knuckled hold on his Batarang beginning to cause his fingers to ache.

“You learned every single form of fighting that you could, became obsessed with being the best,” he told him. “That’s when you found your way to me. I taught you everything that I knew…trained you to be a powerful and skilled warrior. It’s also when you fell in love with my daughter Talia.”

“I said enough!” Batman roared, whirling on him and grabbing him by the throat with one hand, the edge of his deadly Batarang pressed against his jugular with the other.

Ra’s stared into the narrowed white slits of his cowled face, his expression bland. “You and my daughter gave me the greatest a gift in the world…a grandson. His name is Damian. You and Talia giving me an heir was the best moment of my life. My world was finally complete in every way.”

Chest heaving and anger burning through his veins, Bruce fought valiantly against the flood of nonsensical images that assaulted his mind—images of a man in a suit and a woman with pearls around her neck, flashes of making love with a beautiful woman with brown hair and chestnut brown eyes, the face of a ten year old boy who resembled him in so many ways. It was overwhelming, stealing his breath and threatening his sanity.

“I said…enough…” Batman breathlessly rasped, glowering at his traveling companion a moment longer before finally releasing him.

“Talia loves you more than you can begin to imagine, Detective,” Ra’s calmly told him as he watched the Dark Knight struggle to rein in his emotions, attempting to gain some semblance of control. “She misses you dearly and wants you back with her and your son where you belong.”

Batman turned his back to him, his back ramrod straight as he surveyed their surroundings. “Keep moving or stay here…I don’t care,” he said.

Ra’s continued to follow him, knowing that he was getting through to him…creating a whole new world in his head that never truly existed outside of his daughter’s dreams. With a little luck, he would be able to get the Detective back to his daughter before the Amazon could find them. After that, they would call for Damian, returning him to his rightful place in the al Ghul family. Everything would finally be complete as it should have been from the first time that he had met Bruce Wayne.

Catching movement in his peripheral vision on his left, Batman kept moving, tightening the death-grip he already held on his Batarang. Whoever or whatever had been following them since the ravine was making its move. If it wanted a confrontation, then he would give it one.

With an unexpected and unseen flick of his wrist that came from beneath his cape, his Batarang flew through the air, narrowly missing its target as the creature ducked at the last second. Batman turned a glowering eye on it, finding a small demon of some kind. It was gaunt with bulging red eyes and large ears, its bony hands moving to show it had no weapon.

“What do you want?” Batman demanded to know.

“I am Abnegazar,” it revealed. “What you are seeking you won’t find.”

“How do you know what we are seeking?” Ra’s asked it.

“You are seeking a way out of the Underworld, but you won’t find it,” Abnegazar told them, shaking its finger at them. “No one escapes the Underworld.”

“Why have you been following us?” Batman questioned the demon.

“Because I know who you are,” Abnegazar said with proud grin. “You are the mate of the Amazon princess.”

The white lenses of his cowl narrowed, his mind nothing but a thick fog…his memories far too distant to grasp hold of now. “Amazon princess?”

“Yes, she was here a while ago with the angel to correct the balance of power and restore her father Hades to his rightful place on the throne of the Underworld,” he replied. “Felix Faust had stolen it from him.”

“You’re lying,” Batman stated as he turned on his heel to continue his journey.

“I don’t lie!” Abnegazar declared in indignation, running to catch up to him. “I speak the truth. Hades wants you back at his palace, but he’s waiting to see if you can survive the desolation of the Underworld first.”

“He’s testing us?” Ra’s asked.

“No, not you…him,” Abnegazar said, pointing at the Dark Knight. “He wants to see if his son-in-law is worthy of the princess’s hand.”

“I’m not married,” Batman snapped.

Abnegazar chuckled, its bony hand coming to rest on its abdomen. “Yes, you have already seen the affects of the Underworld on your mind. You’ve lost your memories of your former life, lost all that you once held so very dear to you including your beloved princess. Now, it’s all gone, never to return to you.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Batman growled. “I’m just trying to find a way out of here. If you’re not going to help us, then leave us alone.”

“It’s best if you return to Hades’ palace,” Abnegazar warned them. “There are great dangers that await you if you stay outside of the safety of the palace. You won’t survive out here for very long. May I keep this?”

Batman snatched the Batarang out of Abnegazar’s hand with a growled response in the negative, his teeth clenching. His broken ribs were making it difficult to breath, his pounding head reminding him that he couldn’t remember anything about his past now. He just wanted to lay down and sleep, but he knew that would result in his truth death. He would fight that fate with every ounce of strength he possessed.

He didn’t fully understand why or how he got here, but he knew that he needed to get out of here. That was the only thing that he was actually sure of. He had no idea what life held for him outside of this world, but he was determined to find out no matter what it cost him.

If Talia and his son Damian were truly waiting for him to return, then he wouldn’t fail them.

“If you’re not going to help us escape, then leave us alone,” Batman stated, tucking his Batarang into his utility belt.

“I know where all the gates are in the Underworld, but you won’t be able to escape through them,” Abnegazar revealed. “Hades has already tried countless times without succeeding. You might as well save your strength. This is your new home now. I’ll be your friend.”

Batman whirled on the small demon, his Batglare terrifying to say the least. “I refuse to stay here one moment longer than I have to,” he hissed. “I will not stop until I have found a way out of here.”

Abnegazar shrugged his bony shoulders. “Suit yourself, Dark Knight, but be aware,” he warned him. “Adversity and horrible dangers await you down here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Batman glared at him a moment longer before finally turning to resume his journey. He had no idea where he was headed or how he was going to manage to find a way out of a place that the god of the Underworld couldn’t even find a way out of, but he would not stop until he was finally free and back where he belonged.

He just hoped that Talia and Damian would be there waiting for him when he returned.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

Gotham; September 20th, 01:14 EST

Red Robin tore through Gotham on his Batcycle, leaning into his bike as he took a hard right. He narrowly missed a newsstand as well as a trashcan on the corner. A taxicab laid on its horn as it veered out of the way, nearly being sideswiped by the truck that Tim was chasing.

He raced down the sidewalk before finally righting his path and getting back on the street again. He glanced over his shoulder in time to see Red Hood coming up fast and hard behind him on his own cycle, intent on helping him stop the truck. The two cycles sped side-by-side through a red light, a car screeching to a stop to keep from running the bikers over.

Red Hood came up beside him, pointing to his right with his thumb and then circled his forefinger in the air. Red Robin nodded his head in agreement as Hood took off down a side street, hoping to cut them off up ahead. Meanwhile, Tim would stay on their tail to keep them from getting away.

He ducked low as a gun opened fire on him from the passenger side of the truck, flattening himself against his bike as he swerved back and forth to avoid being hit. One bullet hit him in the upper arm, causing him to hiss in pain, but he pushed it to the back of his mind. They couldn’t afford to lose sight of that truck regardless of any injuries sustained in the chase.

He gritted his teeth, ignoring the warm blood he could feel oozing from the bullet wound in his arm. He retrieved a Batarang, prepared to take out a back tire when Red Hood came screeching around the corner from the right and forcing the truck to swerve out of the way at the last second.

Taking the given distraction, Red Robin threw his Batarang, expertly hitting the right rear tire. He knew it was a pretty risky action to take given the cargo inside the truck, but they were getting desperate to stop them before they escaped Gotham.

The pickup truck began to swerve back and forth in an effort to regain control, but it was futile with a flat back tire. The truck eventually veered straight for an electric pole, hitting it head-on. Robin and Hood pulled to a stop, immediately jumping from their bikes and drawing their weapons as they cautiously approached.

The driver’s side door abruptly flew open, the driver stumbling out first. Disoriented and dazed, he only took two steps before falling onto his hands and knees on the sidewalk, blood dripping from his nose. Red Robin quickly moved to handcuff him, picking him up by his bound hands and slamming him hard into the side of the truck without an ounce of sympathy.

“Where is she?” he angrily demanded, chest heaving with the intensity of the anger pounding through him.

“She…she’s in the…the truck,” he sputtered, blood pouring out of his busted nose.

Red Robin looked over at Hood who was taking care of the kidnapper’s partner, the second man appearing to be in the same condition as the driver. Hood tossed him onto the ground in absolute disgust, opening the back door of the pickup truck to find the little girl huddled on the floor of the backseat.

Her knees were pulled up to her chest, her arms wrapped tightly around her drawn up legs. Tears streaked her little face as she slowly raised her head, sheer terror causing her to tremble uncontrollably. The site of this little girl so terrified and utterly helpless hit him like a sledgehammer to the gut. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what she’d been through or how her parents were handling the situation.

“Hey, sweetheart, it’s okay,” Red Hood gently said. “Is your name Samantha?”

The little girl nodded her head, her hiccoughing gasps making it difficult for her to breathe. She appeared to be Nicholas’s age; her eyes bright blue like Kaia’s. The similarities to his own brother and sister only caused his gut to twist even more. Her wrists were bound with rope that caused his fury to grow even hotter.

He cautiously reached in with utter disgust, removing the rope that bound her wrists. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he told her. “Can I pick you up so I can take you back to your mommy and daddy?”

She nodded her head in agreement, lifting up her arms and allowing him to pick her up. She shook uncontrollably from the heartrending sobs that wracked her little body. She immediately rested her head against his chest as she snuggled into his embrace, sniffling as tears continued to trickle down her cheeks.

Red Robin grinned as he shoved the driver around to the other side. “It looks like you have the touch, Hood,” he teased. “I think you should be the next in the fam to have a baby.”

“Don’t even go there, Rob,” Hood warned him with a growl, noticing the blood on his arm. “Hey, they shot you.”

“It’s okay,” he reassured him as he glanced down at his upper arm. “It’s not that bad. Just a bullet graze.”

“It looks worse than that,” Hood decided with a frown as he closed the distance between them, noticing just how much it was bleeding. “You should go back to the cave and have it looked at it.”

“Aww, you do care,” Tim joked, pretending to wipe away a fake tear.

“No, I don’t care,” Jason maintained. “If you bleed out, then it’s more work for me to cover patrol.”

The sound of sirens filled the air as two GCPD cars arrived on the scene just as Nightwing’s voice came over their earpieces. “Nightwing to Hood and Red Robin. I need you guys over here ASAP. Got another body outside of Gotham’s First National Bank.”

“On our way,” Red Hood responded, handing the little girl over to Robin. “I’ll go over there and let you finish this up.”

“Hey, why me?” Tim asked with a frown as he carefully took the little girl into his arms, holding her against his chest.

“You know me and the GCPD don’t get along very well,” he reminded him. “Best if I leave now before there’s a scene.”

Tim had to concede that Jason was probably right. Even though he’d been on the straight and narrow for some time now…following the path of the Batclan…the GCPD still didn’t fully trust him. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Jason saluted him as he got on his bike, taking off with a loud roar of his bike as the police cars screeched to a stop. Tim glanced down at the girl in his arms, swallowing hard at the lump that had filled his throat. Cases of children being kidnapped like this always hit a little too close to home for his liking.

Handing the little girl over to the police officer, Red Robin made a quiet exit, knowing he needed to get to the crime scene at the bank. If Nightwing was calling both him and Red Hood in, it wasn’t good. It was more than likely the Joker again. It would be every hand on deck for the case.

As he headed towards his waiting bike, he pulled out his cell phone to find that he had a couple of missed calls and a voicemail message. Listening to the waiting message, he was somewhat stunned to hear Stephanie’s voice. While they had remained friends after their breakup, they didn’t exactly call each other very frequently.

“Hi, Tim, it’s Stephanie,” she began. “I hope you’re doing well. I got a new cell number and wanted to make sure you had it. I was also wondering if maybe we could meet some time so we could talk…maybe over coffee. I really miss you and would love to see you again. Just let me know. Bye.”

Slipping his phone back into his pocket, Tim climbed onto his bike and started it up, his mind spinning with the unexpected development. He had to admit that it was good to hear her voice and he did miss her at times, but he was with Cassie now.

Why did he feel as though his life had just gotten so much more complicated?

Gotham; September 20th, 02:01 EST

Nightwing stared at the dead body of Penguin’s henchman Bossworth, shaking his head in disbelief as he took in the gruesome scene before him. He was strung up on the front door of Gotham’s First National Bank, his chin resting on his chest and his arms hanging limply at his sides. He was covered in blood from the deep slash across his throat that had nearly decapitated him. It was obvious that he’d been worked over pretty hard, enduring a lot of torture and pain before ultimately losing his life.

Every time he thought that he’d seen it all, Gotham’s worst somehow managed to prove him so wrong. This was the Joker at his absolute worst, on display for all to see. He was basically advertising that he was up to something heinous. It caused an icy shiver to ripple through him knowing this was only the beginning.

“So, what do we do first?” Robin asked, standing next to him with his hands on his hips as if the scene before him was something that they encountered every night on patrol. “Do you want me to start searching the perimeter for clues or search the body?”

“Start with the perimeter and work your way towards the body, but be careful,” Nightwing told him. “Some of Joker’s gang could still be hanging around here watching us.”

“I know…I know,” Robin said with a huff as he walked away.

“Whoa! Guess we found Boss,” Red Hood muttered as he approached, memories of his own attack at the hands of the Joker surging through his mind and renewing his hatred for the psychotic clown.

This whole case was reawakening the rage and bitterness that he’d been harboring ever since he’d been resurrected. He thought he’d locked it away when he’d agreed to a truce with Bruce in order to be a part of the family again, but now he could feel those same dark emotions beginning to storm inside of him all over again.

“I’m afraid we found him a little too late,” Dick stated with a frown. “Things are going to get ugly.”

“Penguin won’t let this go without retaliation,” Jason agreed. “It’s only a matter of time before he’ll do something worse to one of Joker’s men. It’ll just escalate from there.”

“This blasted mess is going to turn into an all-out gang war,” Nightwing spat out. “We’re going to have to get a handle on this before it gets to that point.”

“Good luck with that,” he grumbled. “We still don’t know for sure what Joker is up to.”

“Well, we know it has something to do with hallucinogenic and mind-altering drugs,” Dick said as he considered everything.

“Yah, but he’s also torturing his victims as well,” Jason pointed out. “He’s either trying to get some sort of information out of them or he’s trying to make them believe something.”

“But what information could a junkie off the streets have that the Joker would want?”

Jason shrugged as he studied Bossworth, abruptly walking towards him. Stopping before the body, he took hold of one of Bossworth’s arms and shoved the sleeve of his shirt up to reveal track marks. “I’m guessing then that Joker is trying to brainwash them since Boss isn’t a known druggie.”

“Well, it’s obviously not working.”

“So, who do you think Joker will snag as his next test subject?” Jason asked as he released Boss’s arm, allowing it to drop to his side. It collided with the door with a soft thud as he lifted Boss’s head to reveal a large red smile drawn on his face.

“That’s what worries me,” Nightwing said. “Joker seems to be working his way up on victims.”

“What worries me is how Penguin is going to retaliate,” Hood grimly stated.

“Hey, I found something,” Robin called as he approached them, carefully holding a syringe between his gloved fingers.

“Good work,” Nightwing praised him as he took out an evidence bag and held it open. “We’ll take it back to the cave and analyze it to see if it was used on Boss.”

Looking back over his shoulder at the victim, Jason didn’t have any doubts. “Why do I have a feeling Joker will be coming after us next?”

“Because Batman has been and always will be his ultimate target,” Nightwing replied as he walked towards the body to examine him for any clues. “Everything Joker does has Batman at the very heart of it.”

Gotham; September 20th, 03:06 EST

Joker sat in the passenger seat of the van, a sneer curling his lips. The last couple of test subjects hadn’t gone as well as he’d hoped. While they’d had some success in brainwashing them, it hadn’t lasted nearly long enough. They were going to have to increase the dose or get better test subjects. Either way, he wasn’t giving up on his pet project.

With a huff of annoyance, he leaned his elbow on the edge of the passenger door window, cupping his chin in his hand as they watched and waited. He knew that she had to be around here somewhere. It was just a matter of time before she showed up.

“You know you didn’t have to come along,” Harley told him from the seat behind him. “I could have handled it myself.”

“She’s dangerous, Harls,” he snapped. “It’ll take all of us to nab her.”

Harley scowled, folding her arms against her chest. “I still think I coulda handled it myself.”

“You’re no match, Harls,” he flat out told her, his eyes narrowing as he spotted a moving shadow along the top of one of the buildings. “And there is our little guinea pig now.”

“I’ll show you,” she snapped, grabbing her trusty baseball bat.

“Let’s move,” he said, getting out of the van with his gang in tow.

They moved to the end of the alley, staying in the shadows to keep from being seen. Harley moved to stand beside Joker, her bat resting against her shoulder. “Let me take her down,” she requested. “I’ll prove to you that I’m better than her.”

Joker whirled on her, rage burning in his eyes. “Don’t even think about it,” he hissed with deadly intent. “We will take her out together. Do you hear me?”

“Fine,” she sullenly relented, fighting back the hurt tears that she felt building behind her eyes.

“Now, I’ll make the first move,” Joker announced. “Harley, you and the boys come around from behind to make sure she doesn’t get away.”

Watching as she worked her way down to the street, he moved into position, ready to intercept her before she got away from them. She landed on the sidewalk with a soft click of her high heels before making her way down the street only to stop as if sensing impending trouble.

“What’s up, kitty?” Joker asked as he made his presence known.

Catwoman immediately went for her whip, cracking it to keep him from coming any closer. “What do you want, clown?” she hissed.

“Well, you see I’ve been working on a new plan and I’m in need of your help,” he told her, his hands clasped behind his back as he took a couple of steps closer.

“That’s close enough,” she stated, holding her free hand up. “I’ve heard you’ve been causing trouble. Where’s Bossworth?”

Joker pretended to think about the question for a moment before finally responding. “He almost lost his head,” he responded. “Very sad situation. I’m friend our little bird friend will have to find a new best friend to help him in his crime sprees.”

“Why did you go after Boss?” she demanded to know, staring at him with a leery glare. He was up to something, buying time for something. She just wasn’t sure what he was up to now.

“No reason,” he said with an indifferent shrug of his shoulders. “He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

“I’m sure he doesn’t see it that way,” she snapped, her suspicious gaze darting about for Harley Quinn or other members of Joker’s gang.

“Let’s put an end to this cat and mouse game,” Joker told her. “I need you and I’m sure you’d be more than happy to help me out.”

“I highly doubt that,” she uttered with a sneer of pure disgust.

Joker took a step closer as he pulled a gun out from behind him. “I’m not sure you’re in any position to say no, Cat.”

Harley stepped out from the shadows from behind Catwoman, several of Joker’s men with her. “You ain’t going nowheres, honey,” Harley told her.

The corner of Selina’s lips curled into a smirk as she stared down the Joker, knowing that she was surrounded. She was going to have to play her cards right if she was going to find a way out of this. “So, you’re going to shoot me?” she asked, unimpressed. “How can I help you if I’m dead?”

“Oh, I don’t want you dead, sweetheart,” Joker replied with a sadistic cackle. “I just want to brainwash you.”

“Brainwash me into doing what?” she demanded to know, her anger rising with every passing moment.

“Into being my personal slave of course…doing my every bidding,” he said with a roll of his eyes as if the answer had been glaringly obvious.

Selina glowered darkly, snapping her whip at him. “I think I’ll pass.”

“I’m not so sure you have a choice, my dear feline friend,” Joker retorted, firing his gun at her.

Selina dropped and rolled to the side as gunfire erupted around her. She was going to have to get off this street and back to the top of the building if she was going to escape this surreal situation that she found herself in. She snapped her whip, knocking the gun out of Joker’s hand before turning her attention to Harley and the boys behind her.

Joker cursed as he shook his hand in an effort to ease the pain. Her whip had left a gash across his hand, further enraging him. “Get her!” he shouted as he searched for his gun that had skidded away out of sight.

“Gladly, puddin’,” Harley said with glee as she raced towards Selina, more than eager to prove herself to her lover.

“You don’t want any of this, Harley,” Selina warned her as they began to circle one another.

“I think it’s you who doesn’t want any of me,” Harley yelled as she swung her bat, forcing Selina to duck out of the way.

Selina came up with an uppercut that caused Harley to stagger back, blood trickling from the corner of her mouth. Harley stared at her with a wicked grin on her face as the tip of her tongue snuck out to erase the trail of blood that was now dripping from her chin.

“I’m going to enjoy making you pay for that,” Harley told her with a sadistic gleam in her eyes.

“You have to catch me first,” Selina bit out, her whip wrapping around Harley’s wrist and forcing her to drop her bat.

Selina jerked hard on her whip, causing Harley to stumble towards her. Selina delivered a teeth-rattling right hook before turning her attention on Joker’s men. “Come on, boys,” she hollered at them, cupping her hand and beckoning them to come towards her. “Let’s play.”

Gunfire erupted again, forcing Selina to run into an alley and duck behind a large dumpster. Breathing hard, she noticed blood blooming over her left shoulder. She softly cursed to herself, knowing she was going to have to make a run for it before Joker ended up killing her right here in the street.

“Find her!” Joker yelled. “Don’t let her get away!”

Joker and his men ran into the alley that Selina had disappeared into, furious to find it empty. There was no sign of Catwoman anywhere. Joker released an enraged scream as he turned and shot one of his men directly in the forehead before storming back to the van.

Underworld; September 20th, 05:51 EST

“I think maybe we should try to make a run for it,” Ra’s softly said as he studied the scene before him, ignoring the throbbing pain in his broken forearm.

“No, I think we should wait it out a little longer,” Batman stated. “I don’t want to draw any more attention to ourselves than we already have around here.”

“We have no idea how long it could take,” Ra’s pointed out. “It’s could prove to be a greater risk to wait too long. You could have internal bleeding.”

“Don’t worry about me,” he bit out. “Let’s just stay low for now. If we see an opening, we can make a run for it, but for now we lay low and keep out of sight.”

Ra’s rolled onto his back, his fingers lacing together as they came to rest on his abdomen. He stared up at the dark sky, thinking through everything. He didn’t like this one bit. It felt as though they were running in circles and getting nowhere. Staying out in the open like this was a dangerous risk, but they really didn’t have any other choice at this point.

There was the risk that Hades was watching their every movement, ready to pounce on them and drag them back to his palace at any moment. If Hades didn’t capture them, they ran an even greater risk of being killed by one of the hideous creatures that roamed the Underworld.

A horde of winged demons stood in their way, keeping them from crossing the vast desert-like landscape. He only hoped they were headed in the right direction. From what he’d been able to learn from being in Hades’ Palace, he felt they were headed for the gate that rested beneath the island of the Amazons.

While having to face thousands of furious man-hating warriors was not something that he wanted to experience, it was the closest gate out of here. Knowing that the Detective’s wife might be on the island was also something that he was hoping to avoid, but he would cross that bridge if they came to it. Right now, they just needed to find the gate and get out of here.

He was anxious to escape this prison and find his daughter at their prearranged meeting place. He knew that Talia was still alive; however, he didn’t know any more than that. She could be in a coma right now for all he knew. He would have to get her to a Lazarus Pit if she was teetering on the brink of death. Hopefully, Ubu would take care of her until he could there.

He had too much work to do, too much that he needed to accomplish to stay down here much longer. He needed to get back to his daughter and his League of Assassins so they could reorganize and prepare for their next move. They needed to follow up on what they’d temporarily been able to accomplish by harnessing Hades’ power.

Ra’s glanced at his travelling companion who was laying prone, watching the large horde of winged demons from behind the enormous rock they were using for cover. “How much do you remember of your life, Detective?”

“Enough,” Batman cryptically responded, his gaze constantly watching in anticipation of trouble.

Ra’s chuckled softly, grunting as he shifted his broken arm against his torso. “Still don’t trust me?”

Batman turned a frightening glare on him. “Would you?”

“Probably not, but I assure you I pose no threat to you.”

“For some reason, I find that hard to believe.”

“So, what do you remember about me?”

A long silence followed that caused Ra’s to believe that no answer would be forthcoming. “Not much.”

“And yet you still feel I’m a threat?”

“It’s a gut feeling I have…and I have a feeling my gut is rarely wrong.”

“I have been nothing but forthright with you,” Ra’s pointed out. “I have made no attempt on your life or attempted to lead you astray.”

“Yet,” Batman stated. “What’s your point?”

“I think you should trust me,” he told him. “After all, we are family.”

Batman turned a narrowed glower on him, trying to decide if he was telling the truth of not. To be honest, he wasn’t sure what to believe right now. He would have to continue to hold his cards close to the vest so to speak. Once he was free from this hell hole, he’d work to uncover the truth of his life and recover his memories.

“Whatever you say,” the Dark Knight retorted, clearly disbelieving him.

“Talia will be thrilled to know that you are alive and well,” he continued. “You are after all her ‘beloved’.”

Batman froze as a distant memory rose in his mind like tendrils wrapping around his brain, one that took him by surprise.

He leaned down and kissed her slowly, his tongue prodding her lips and finding solace in the warm cavern of her mouth. She moaned softly as her hand slipped up to settle on the back of his neck. The feel of her fingers pulling him closer, the softness of her nude frame against his was exciting him all over again.

“Talia,” he murmured her name, his arm slipping around her and pulling her flush against his fully aroused body.

She was the closest to happiness that he had found since losing his parents. She exuded so much sex appeal, tempting him with her exotic beauty and sultry sway of her hips…her alluring accent and inner strength. He felt such a powerful attraction to her, one that he couldn’t ignore.

Being in bed with her, tangled in the sheets and in each other’s arms, Bruce didn’t think life could be any better. He kissed her deeply, pinning her to the mattress as he began to take her all over again. She gasped with the power of his thrusts, her fingers digging into his shoulders as she held on to him.

“Bruce!” she cried out, coming undone together.

He pulled her against him, stroking her hair as they came down from their mutual release. “Beloved,” she breathlessly purred. “That was incredible.”

He groaned as she slowly stroked his chest, her mouth latching onto his nipple. “I wish we could stay here like this forever,” he told her, his eyes falling closed as she assaulted his chest.

“We can, beloved,” she replied between sensual kisses against his warm skin.

Bruce chuckled softly. “And how do you propose we do that?” he asked, amused by her suggestion.

“Join us,” she proposed. “Join me and my father. We can be invincible together.”

Bruce sat up to look at her, stunned by her suggestion. “What?”

“Stay with me and my father,” she repeated, sitting up and holding the sheet against her chest. “My father wants you to be part of his plans for a better future…to be his future heir.”

“What are you talking about?” he questioned her with a frown. “What plans?”

“My father has a vision for a better world, one where humans live in perfect harmony with nature instead of plundering and destroying it,” she explained.

“That’s a very noble cause, but I can’t leave Gotham,” he tried to tell her. “Gotham needs me.”

“But what about us…me?” she asked, her expression full of sorrow. “I need you here with me, beloved.”

“Talia…I just…” he began, his voice trailing off as he slowly shook his head. How could he possibly make a choice between Gotham and the promise he had made to his parents and this beautiful woman that he cared so much for?

She placed her forefinger against his lips, leaning in close to him. “Please, Bruce, promise me that you’ll seriously consider it,” she pleaded with him, her eyes filled with adoration. “I love you, beloved. I want you here with me…always.”

She replaced her finger with her lips, her hands continuing their earlier exploration that was rapidly heating his blood. All thoughts other than her filled his mind, Gotham a distant consideration as she forced him back against the pillows. His hands slipped around her waist, pulling her firmly against him.

A felt a familiar warmth expand through his body with the sensual memory, but it was nothing more than a flickering flame compared to the blazing inferno that he’d felt with the memory of making love with the raven-haired woman. He just wished that he knew what these two women meant to him and how they fit into his life.

It would have to wait until he could get out of here. Right now, he needed to focus on getting past these creatures and out of the Underworld. He studied the horde of creatures, noticing the way they were beginning to shift their position. With any luck, they would leave this area and allow them to pass without incident.

He had a feeling that his luck never went that way.

“I think we need to make our move now,” Batman told Ra’s, pulling out a Batarang and a couple of smoke bombs just in case they were going to have to fight their way through.

“There’s a narrow gorge to the right,” Ra’s said. “I think if we stay along the ridge of it, we should be okay.”

“As long as they don’t attack,” Batman pointed out, ignoring the pain in his chest that made it harder and harder to breathe. “If we end up having to fight our way out of here, we’ll be trapped between the horde of demons and the gorge with no way out.”

“Yes, but the rocks along it could provide protection and help shield our presence,” Ra’s countered.

Batman conceded it was a risky move no matter how they looked at it. If they stayed here much longer, he was in danger of losing what little memory he still had left and that was if they weren’t attacked by any other beasts lingering around here.

“Let’s go,” Batman said, stifling a grimace as he got to his feet, keeping low to the ground as they quickly made their way towards the edge of the gorge.

Ra’s had a tight grip on the hilt of his sword, his eyes locked on the demons who hadn’t noticed them yet. The winged demons sniffed at the ground, snorting as they began to flap their wings. Fire shot from their snouts as a couple of them reared their heads back.

Batman ducked low behind an outcropping of rocks, his face contorting with the pain that lanced through his side. His breath came in short pants as he struggled to breathe. Ribs that were cracked were fully broken now, likely puncturing his left lung.

Ra’s fell in beside him, wincing with the pain in his arm. “It doesn’t appear they’ve noticed us yet.”

“Let’s…try to keep it…that way,” Batman said between ragged breaths.

“We need to get you out of here and to my home so we can get you the medical attention that you need,” Ra’s told him. “Talia will be able to nurse you back to health.”

“I’m fine,” he insisted. “Let’s just…keep moving.”

Sweat broke out across his brow beneath his cowl, his breathing irregular as they made their move. His heart was pounding in his chest, the pain in his side intensifying with every beat of his boot against the ground. He stumbled as he tried to make it to the next outcropping of rock, righting himself at the last moment. Unfortunately, it caught the attention of the horde they were trying to avoid a confrontation with.

The winged demons roared as they noticed the two intruders, all eight of them quickly taking flight. “Get down!” Ra’s yelled at him, moving to take the demons on with his sword in hand.

Struggling to catch his breath, Batman moved to stand next to him, tightly gripping his Batarang. “You can’t…fight them off…alone,” he growled.

“And you’re in no condition to fight, Detective,” Ra’s insisted. “Stay back.”

“Here they come!” Batman yelled, throwing his Batarang with razor-sharp precision.

The Batarang imbedded itself directly between the eyes of one of the winged creatures, instantly dropping it, but it caused him a great deal of pain. His legs nearly gave out from beneath him, forcing him to place a hand on a nearby rock to steady himself.

Ra’s ran towards the nearest creature flying straight for him, slicing its right wing off. It wailed in pain, throwing its head back and forth before disappearing over the edge of the deep gorge that stood behind them. The Demon’s Head quickly turned, narrowly avoiding a stream of fire that shot past him.

Batman clenched his teeth as he pulled another Batarang out, his knees giving out on him and taking him to the ground as a winged demon flew straight towards him. He refused to allow his life to end like this, to get this far only to be taken down by a demon of the Underworld. His body, however, was beginning to fail him.

The unexpected sound of a warrior’s cry split the air as sure a sword’s blade, taking both Ra’s and Batman by surprise. They watched in stunned disbelief as three women attacked the beasts with a furious vengeance, their bravery in the face of such overwhelming circumstances mesmerizing to witness.

Ra’s immediately knew who it was that had come to their rescue. While he was thankful for the help, he was not at all pleased by the Amazon princess’s appearance. “Stay back,” Ra’s told Batman, moving into position to shield him. “These women are very dangerous and aren’t to be trusted. They won’t stop until we’re dead.”

Batman watched from his knees as they took down one demon after another, completely transfixed by the raven-haired beauty. She was a fierce combination of grace and strength, fearlessness and skill. She looked so familiar to him…like the woman that he had been with, but he couldn’t remember anything about her.

Removing her blade from the last demon, Diana turned towards the two men at the edge of the gorge, but her full attention was locked on the Dark Knight on his knees. Her heart was thundering in her chest as she slowly approached them, doing her best to keep her rising tears at bay.

She’d finally found him. She’d found Bruce.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14

Batcave; September 20th, 05:59 EST

“It’s got to be right here somewhere!” Nightwing adamantly exclaimed, frustratedly running his fingers back through his black hair. “Why can’t we see it?”

“Because it’s the Joker that’s why,” Tim told him as he shook his head, a grim expression gracing his face. His gaze was locked on the evidence spread out before them.

“Bruce should’ve killed Joker a long time ago,” Jason groused, his voice laden with bitterness and malice as he folded his arms tightly against his chest. “Then, we wouldn’t have to deal with this mess now.”

“Shut it, Jas,” Dick heatedly stated. “You know Bruce doesn’t believe in killing.”

“Yah, not even when his own son and partner dies,” he resentfully huffed under his breath.

“Don’t go there,” Tim ground out, growing angry with Jason’s attitude. “We need to keep our heads about this and not let emotions get in the way of figuring out what Joker’s next move is going to be. Now, let’s go over what we do know.”

Damian glanced at his three older brothers standing around the evidence table, all of them still dressed in their uniforms. They’d only just returned from patrol a little while ago, laying out all the evidence that they’d collected on the case to see if they could discover what they were missing.

Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to be any closer to knowing what Joker’s plan was than when they’d first begun. Tensions were running higher with every passing day, wondering who Joker was going to target next in his little scheme to push Batman to the very edge.

“We already know that Joker is testing hallucinogenic drugs on his victims,” Oracle chimed in from the computer screen positioned near the evidence table. She’d been silently watching the brothers argue, not wanting to get sucked into the unspoken tension building between them. “Now, the real question is why.”

“I still think he’s trying to brainwash them into becoming his slave,” Jason commented.

“What if he’s trying to build some sort of army to take over Gotham?” Damian suggested.

Dick shuddered with the thought, praying to God that wasn’t true. “It’s a possibility, but unlikely,” he replied. “He’d need to be able to manufacture mass amounts of the drugs right once he found the right combination. I doubt that he has the capability to do that.”

“Still, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility,” Damian grumbled with a frown.

“You know Damian might not be that far off the mark,” Tim decided as he thought about it. “What if he’s trying to find the right combination of drugs in order to target certain people in Gotham?”

“That could certainly be a possibility,” Oracle thoughtfully replied. “Still, we shouldn’t rule out other possible outcomes.”

“What if he’s after some specific information that could be the key to some other scheme that we have no idea about?” Dick ventured a guess.

“We could be focusing on the wrong piece here,” Oracle told them. “What if the focus isn’t the drugs that he’s stolen and been using, but the people that he’s been using them on?”

“So, the whole brainwashing aspect would be thrown out the window?” Jason asked.

“Not totally.”

Everyone froze with the unexpected sound of an unwelcomed voice. All four heroes turned around to find Catwoman in the Batcave, leaning against a crate of unopened equipment that Bruce had ordered a month ago. Her face was pale, blood dripping down her arm and pooling on the cave floor.

“How the hell did she get in here?” Jason exclaimed with a scowl.

“Really?” Selina acidly challenged him with an arched eyebrow. “I’ve been sneaking into this cave long before you became a Robin.”

“Selina, what happened to you?” Dick asked he approached her.

“Joker happened,” she spat out with a sneer. “He and his psycho girlfriend tried to kidnap me on the East End.”

“Come on,” Dick said, his fingers gently wrapping around her upper arm. “Let’s get that gunshot wound treated before you bleed all over Alfred’s clean cave floor.”

“Why should we help her?” Jason demanded to know. “Do you know how much pain and trouble she’s caused Bruce?”

“And Bruce would want us to help her,” Tim retorted as he followed Dick and Selina towards the medical bay.

“Hey, guys! What about me here? Hello?” Oracle called after them. “Well, I’ll guess I’ll just check back with you all later then.”

“Who is this chick?” Damian asked, his face scrunched up in confusion.

“Your dad’s ex and a thief,” Jason informed him. “She’s nothing but trouble dressed up like a cat. Sometimes she’s on our side, sometimes she’s against us. Just depends on how the wind blows that day. Isn’t that right, kitten?”

“This kitten is going to claw your eyes out, Hood,” Selina spat out as she moved to sit on top of the medical table.

“I’d love to see you try,” he shot back.

“Enough,” Dick interjected as he grabbed medical supplies. “Selina, tell us everything that happened.”

Selina shot a withering glare as Jason before delving into her story, hissing softly as Dick began to cut away the material around the wound. “I was finishing patrol on the East End when I spotted movement below. I went down to investigate to find it was the Joker. He told me he needed my help.”

“What could you offer him?” Jason asked.

Ignoring his snide remark, Selina continued, trying to focus on what had happened as Dick cleaned the wound. “Joker pulled a gun on me,” she told them. “He said he didn’t want me dead. He wanted to brainwash me.”

“I knew it,” Jason stated triumphantly, pumping his fists in the air. “I was right! I told you!”

“Did he say what he wanted to brainwash you for?” Tim questioned her, ignoring Jason.

“He told me that he wanted me to be his personal slave and do his bidding,” Selina revealed.

“So, he’s targeting key people in Gotham to have under his thumb,” Tim surmised. “Can you imagine Joker having control over people in Gotham? That could turn this city into mass chaos.”

“Joker’s favorite pastime—mass chaos,” Jason added.

“How were you able to get away?” Dick asked.

“Crazy Harley tried to subdue me,” Selina said. “I knocked her out and ran. Gunfire erupted all around me. Joker was yelling that he wanted me alive. I was able to duck down an alley and escape.”

“Not without getting hit,” Dick murmured with a frown as he tossed aside a bloody gauze. “You’re pretty lucky, Selina. It’s a through-and-through bullet wound.”

“Yay, me,” she groused, hissing in pain as Dick began stitching her wound closed.

“So, what happens now?” Damian asked. “The Joker is still going to be looking for her.”

“She’s going to have to hide out here at the manor until we can find Joker,” Dick ultimately decided.

“Uh, Dick, I’m not so sure that’s a very good idea,” Tim replied.

“She can’t go back out into Gotham,” Dick pointed out. “Joker is obviously on the warpath and we all know he’s not going to stop until he gets what he wants.”

“Mom is not going to like this,” Tim murmured under his breath as he turned away.

“Selina is being hunted by Joker,” Dick reminded them. “You know that Diana would help her if she knew that Selina was in trouble.”

“I can take care of myself,” Selina piped up. “I don’t need to hide out here.”

“It’s not safe out there right now, Selina,” Dick told her. “Joker is gunning for you.”

“I know how to lay low, bird boy,” she shot back. “If I don’t want to be found, then no one will find me. How do you think I was able to evade your father all those times…unless of course, I wanted him to find me if you know what I mean?”

“You should’ve tried harder,” Jason groused.

Selina tried to lunge at Jason only to be brought to a halt by Dick’s hand on her good shoulder. “Jason, why don’t you contact Oracle and let her know about Selina,” Dick suggested, shooting him a deadly glare. He was definitely not helping matters any.

“Fine with me,” he grumbled as he turned on his heel and stalked away.

“Damian, go get cleaned up and head upstairs,” Dick told him. “I’m sure Alfred has breakfast ready by now.”

“Whatever,” Damian huffed under his breath as he too stalked away, not appreciating the fact that he was being treated like a child again.

“Selina, you’re more than welcome to stay here if you need a place to hide out until we’ve caught Joker,” Dick offered.

“No, I’m good,” she decided. “I’ll probably head out of town for a couple of weeks. Where is daddy Bats? Word on the street is that he’s dead or missing.”

“He’s not dead,” Tim replied, noticing real concern in her words. “Not…technically anyway.”

“It’s a long story,” Dick said with a sigh as he finished bandaging her shoulder. “Diana is getting him back.”

“I know if anyone can she will,” Selina ruefully admitted, sadness and regret creeping into her eyes. “Despite everything, I want Bruce to be happy and he obviously is with the princess.”

“He really is,” Dick confirmed. “Hopefully, he and Diana will be back in the next few days. In the meantime, keep your head down and if you need a place to—”

Selina held up her hand before sliding off the medical table, an apologetic smile on her face. “I know,” she interjected. “Thanks for the fix-up and the offer, but I know my time here has long pass. I just wanted to give you a heads up on what the Joker was planning.”

“If Diana was here, you know she would never turn you away,” Dick told her.

“That’s because she’s a better woman than I am,” she said with a mirthless chuckle. “See ya later, boys.”

Dick and Tim watched as she disappeared into the darkness of the cave, Dick leaning forward as he placed both hands on the medical table. “This is worse than we initially thought,” he told Tim, dread filling his voice.

“We’ll find him, and we’ll stop him,” Tim reassured him.

“Yah, but how many people will he torture and kill before we do?”

“We might find him tomorrow night, Dick,” Tim pointed out.

“And it might be three weeks from tomorrow night,” Dick groused, shaking his head as his chin fell to his chest. “I wish Bruce was here.”

Tim placed a comforting hand on Dick’s shoulder, squeezing it in support. “You’re doing a great job leading this team, Dick,” he told him. “Don’t sell yourself short.”

“It just feels as though the weight of the world is all on my shoulders,” he confessed. “Finding Joker, handling Damian, trying to keep Nick and Kaia from finding out their parents might never come home. The twins will be here before we know it and we don’t have a place big enough yet.”

“Hey, you’re not alone in this,” Tim reminded him. “We’re family and we’re all here to help you. Donna has been doing a great job of keeping the kids busy and as far as finding a bigger place for you and Donna, you still have plenty of time.”

“Thanks, Timmy,” Dick said, turning his head to give him a small smile as he ruffled his hair. “It just gets overwhelming sometimes you know?”

“Don’t call me Timmy and yes I know,” Tim agreed with a frown. “I haven’t gotten to see Cassie in days.”

“Why don’t you take this evening off?” Dick suggested. “You could join us on patrol later.”

Tim shook his head as he considered it. “Stephanie texted me.”

Dick’s head snapped up in shock. “Really? Does she want to get back together?”

“Kind of sounded like it,” Tim confessed.

“What are you going to do?”

“I have no idea,” he said with a sigh. “I’ll always love Steph, but I’m with Cassie now.”

“Do you love Cassie?”

“Yah, I really do,” Tim admitted, his face brightening some with the admission.

“I can see it on your face,” Dick noted with a grin. “I think you’ve already made your decision. You just have to tell Stephanie how you feel.”

“That’s the part I’m dreading,” he said with a groan. “I don’t want to hurt her.”

“Well, you guys broke up quite a while ago,” he pointed out. “She has to assume you’ve moved on since then. I mean you’re a stallion. You can’t run free forever.”

Tim’s face scrunched up with the analogy. “A stallion? Really?”

“Okay, not my best, but you get the point.”

“Come on,” Tim said as he turned to walk away. “Let’s go get breakfast before Jason and Damian eat it all.”

“I also want to see my wife,” Dick told him. “I haven’t had much alone time with her lately.”

“Too much information,” Tim groused, holding up his hands to keep him from continuing on. “Besides, it’s going to have to wait. We have two rooms to paint.”

“Oh yah,” Dick muttered. “We better get that done. I’m not sure Donna’s going to like sleeping in the tent in the entertainment room with the kids for another night.”

Wayne Manor; September 20th, 07:16 EST

Jason entered the entertainment room with his breakfast plate in one hand and his fork in the other. He smirked at the sight of the tent set up in the middle of the room, the giggles coming from inside telling him someone was obviously awake. Judging by the giggles it was Kaia.

“Kaia, move over!” Nick scolded her. “You’re touching my sleeping bag.”

“Me not!” she insisted.

“Yes, you are,” he grumbled.

“Me in my bag!” she told him.

Smiling to himself, Jason set his plate down on a nearby table before sneaking up on the tent and the unsuspecting campers inside. Leaning over, he grabbed the sides of the tent and shook it, roaring like a bear. Screams erupted from inside the tent including a pregnant Amazon.

Three heads poked out of the tent opening, finding Jason standing there laughing. “That was not funny, Todd,” Donna growled at him.

Nicholas giggled at the sight of his older brother while Kaia still looked somewhat scared. “Hey, kiddos,” Jason greeted them with a grin. “How was your camping trip?”

“Great until you showed up,” Donna grumbled as she crawled out, Jason grasping her arm to help his pregnant sister-in-law up.

“Did you like sleeping in a tent last night?” Jason asked Kaia who quickly scrambled out, throwing her arms up into the air for him to pick her up.

“You scared me,” she said with a scowl as she laid her head on his shoulder as she fought back tears.

“Sorry, Kai,” he apologized, rubbing her back.

“Me too, but it was funny,” Nicholas told him.

“Go get your breakfast, Nicholas,” Donna said, gently swatting him on the backside to get him going. “You have to leave for school soon.”

“We got to paint my room,” Nicholas insisted with a frown.

“We will this afternoon when you get home,” she promised him. “Your brothers need to sleep for a few hours first.”

“What’s going on in here?” Dick asked as he entered, making a beeline for his wife and kissing her soundly.

Kaia giggled as they kissed, Jason rolling his eyes. “Come on, Kai,” he grumbled in annoyance, refusing to admit that he really missed Artemis. “Let’s go get your breakfast. This is going to get sickening real quick.”

Donna’s arms wrapped around her husband’s neck, not willing to let him go anytime soon. “How was patrol?”

“You don’t want to know,” he complained.

“What happened?”

“Selina showed up in the Batcave about an hour ago,” he revealed. “She’d been shot by Joker.”

“Is she okay?”

“Yah, but Joker wants to brainwash her into becoming his slave,” he explained.

“Well, I guess you guys now know what Joker is up to,” she replied. “Unless, it’s something far more than that.”

“That’s what worries me,” he admitted, his hands coming to rest on her abdomen where they’re children grew. “Did you survive last night?”

“It was fun,” she told him. “I have a feeling they’re going to want to do it all the time now.”

“You’re definitely not going to be able to do that in another month or two.”

Donna’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Are you saying I’m going to be huge?”

Dick chuckled as he pressed his lips to hers. “You’ll always be beautiful to me no matter how big you get during this pregnancy.”

“Thanks…I think,” she mumbled, unconvinced. “I was reading a book about being pregnant with twins and our children are the size of a lemon right now.”

“I can hardly believe it,” he murmured in awe. “I’m ready for them to arrive now.”

“Well, you still have around twenty-two more weeks before that happens,” she informed him.

“You know I’m not a very patient man,” he reminded her.

“Don’t I know it,” she said with a giggle.

“Have you been able to feel anything from Diana?”

“Just the usual anger and frustration,” she confessed. “She exhausted but determined to find Bruce.”

“Hopefully, she’ll find him soon,” he replied. “I don’t know how much longer he can be down there without losing his mind.”

Underworld; September 20th, 07:30 EST

Diana fought back the tears that burned behind her eyes and in her throat as she stared at Bruce, her heart pounding relentlessly in her chest. He was on his knees staring back at her…seeing her, but not appearing to recognize her. It caused a renewed sense of panic to well up within her, fearing how much he’d lost in the time it had taken her to get down here. Seeing Ra’s only served to inflame her fury even more.

She cautiously approached the pair with her sword gripped in her hand, prepared to do whatever was necessary to get Bruce safely out of here and back home. Ra’s al Ghul could rot down here for all she cared. Her husband was her main priority right now.

“Bruce?” she called to him, praying to Hera that he would recognize her…would at least remember the sound of her voice.

She could tell by the way he was kneeling on the ground that he was badly injured. The extent of those injuries was unknown to her, but she knew her husband better than herself. He was in serious trouble if he was unable to fight off these winged demons let alone having difficulty standing upright.

Bruce stared at her, completely transfixed by this sword-wielding, avenging angel who had come to their rescue. She stood before them like a true warrior prepared to defeat any and all who stood in her way. White bandages tinged with dirt and blood covered parts of her arms and shoulder, the left side of her neck and one thigh. She’d obviously been injured in some sort of battle. The thought caused a strange sense of urgency and fear to rise up from somewhere within him.

He knew that he should know her, remember this woman who seemed so familiar to him, but he couldn’t recall her name or how he knew her no matter how hard he tried to force the information to rise to the surface of his mind. She was a breathtaking enigma that he found he wanted to solve.

Behind her were two women and a man. The two women looked vaguely familiar to him, but he didn’t think he’d ever seen the man before. It appeared as though he didn’t want to be here with them, shifting the bag on his shoulder to the other side as he warily watched the scene play out before him.

“Wonder Woman,” Ra’s formally greeted her, his intent gaze taking in the three companions behind her as he considered how the Amazon’s appearance had drastically changed his plans. “I see you’ve come to our rescue.”

“Not yours…his,” she tersely clarified with a threatening glint in her eyes and a glower on her face.

Her rage was palpable even from here. Ra’s knew that he was treading on very dangerous ground that could turn deadly in a heartbeat. While the Detective didn’t believe in killing, he wasn’t so sure the Amazon carried that same belief. The murderous look in her eyes told him he wasn’t wrong in that assumption.

“Did you do this to him?” Diana demanded to know as she slowly closed the distance between them, somewhat uncertain of how best to handle the tenuous situation. It was obvious that Bruce was unsure of what was happening, making her fear skyrocket as to his mental state.

“No, I did not,” he stated indignantly. “We were trying to navigate the side of a ravine when we were attacked by some winged creatures. They caused us to fall to the ravine floor. I broke my arm and the Detective broke some ribs…quite possibly puncturing his lung.”

Bruce struggled to get to his feet, steadying himself on a nearby rock. With a grunt of pain, he managed to get up onto shaky legs, his face pale. “He’s telling the truth,” he managed to tell her.

“Do you remember me?” Diana asked him, hoping lacing her voice as well as her face.

“You look familiar, but I can’t recall your name or how I know you,” he rasped.

“I’m Diana,” she told him, trying her best to keep the hurt from reaching her voice.

“Diana,” he said her name as if testing it out. For some reason, it just felt right.

“You and I are—”

“I really think we need to save introductions for later and continue moving,” Ra’s interrupted before the Amazon could reveal the true nature of her relationship with the Detective. “More demons could be lurking around here not to mention we need to get the Detective out of here. Where is the nearest gate?”

“It’s back that way,” Artemis said, indicating with the point of her sword. “I’m not sure we should take you with us. I rather prefer the idea of leaving you down here.”

Ra’s lifted his chin in defiance, refusing to spend another moment in this hell. “You will take me with you,” he insisted. “I don’t belong down here anymore than the Detective. Besides, I need to take him back to my grandson and my daughter.”

Diana took a threatening step forward, her jaw clenched tightly. “You aren’t taking him anywhere,” she spat out with a venomous glare.

“I don’t know…what’s going on here, but we…we should…keep moving,” Bruce managed to utter between gasping breaths, holding his side.

“Hermes, help him,” Diana ordered her cousin, unable to bear seeing him hurt like this.

“You know I’m not allowed to…” he began only to receive a lethal glare from the Amazon princess that scared him senseless. “You know, on second thought, let me see what I can do, Bruce.”

Hermes quickly made his way to Batman, placing a hand on the side that Bruce was holding. “Hold still,” he murmured. “This isn’t really my expertise. We need Apollo for this, but this should help you breathe easier and take away your pain.”

A bright flash of light emitted from Hermes’ hand; Bruce finally able to draw a deep breath without any pain. “Thank you,” Bruce said, confused by what was happening around him and unsure of who to believe.

Ra’s had been telling him that Talia and Damian were his family but seeing Diana had stirred something inside of him that was intense and quite unexpected. Could she be a former girlfriend…someone he had loved before Talia? His questions would have to wait for now. They needed to focus on getting to the gate so they could escape the Underworld.

“Let’s get moving,” Diana stated, her gaze fixed on her husband. She ached to hold him…to kiss him and to tell him how sorry she was that she couldn’t save him in time, but he didn’t remember her…at least not yet. “It’s going to take some time to get back to the gate we entered through.”

Ra’s attempted to stay close to Batman, wanting to make sure he could control the information that he was being told. With any luck, he’d still be able to salvage his plans for bringing the Detective to his hideout and reuniting him with Talia. He would never give up on making him the leader of the Demon’s Head.

Unfortunately, he was stopped short by the Thanagarian who abruptly stepped directly into his path, Batman continuing on without him. “I’m watching your every move,” Shayera told him, palming her mace in her hand as her lips curled with revulsion. “If you try anything to destroy Bruce and Diana’s marriage, I will personally rip your heart out.”

“And if she doesn’t, I will,” Artemis added with a sneer as she stepped in beside Shayera.

Ra’s al Ghul merely smirked at them, unfazed by their threats. “You have no idea who you are dealing with, do you?” he smugly replied.

“I know exactly what and who you are,” Shayera hissed with fury. “You can try to brainwash Bruce, but you can’t manipulate us.”

“Get out of my way,” Ra’s snapped, shoving his way past the pair.

“I don’t like this,” Artemis softly said to Shayera as they followed Ra’s from behind.

“Me either,” Shay agreed. “If I had my way, I’d feed him to the demon creatures.”

“We’ll have to keep him away from Batman,” the Bana-Mighdall Amazon decided.

“It almost seems as though Bruce trusts him to some extent,” Shay. “He doesn’t seem very inclined to leave him behind.”

“That’s what worries me the most,” Artemis murmured. “Bruce doesn’t remember Diana so I’m sure he’s not sure who he can trust. We’re going to have to help him remember.”

“The sooner we get him out of here and back home the better it will be,” Shay said. “I don’t know how much more of this Diana can take.”

“I’m sure getting him back home in familiar surroundings with his family will help,” Artemis decided, her gaze falling on the Amazon princess who was walking beside Batman.

Diana suddenly stopped, holding her free hand up to silence everyone. “What is it?” Hermes asked.

“Stay here,” she ordered them.

“Gladly!” Hermes called back. “You don’t have to tell me twice.”

“What is it?” Shayera asked.

“The Erinyes,” she spat out.

“What is the Erinyes?” Shayera asked Hermes.

“It’s the Furies,” Hermes replied.

“Who are the Furies?” Batman questioned him; his gaze locked solely on Diana.

“They’re goddesses that are servants of Hades and Persephone,” Hermes explained. “They usually oversee the torture of criminals condemned to the Dungeons of the Damned. I’m not sure what they’re doing here unless Hades sent them after us.”

Diana wasn’t sure what they were doing here in this part of the Underworld, but she was going to find out. Keeping them away from Bruce was all that mattered to her right now as she tried to intercept them. She landed on the ground before them, her sword still in hand.

“What do you want?” Diana demanded to know.

“Lord Hades sent us,” Tisiphone informed her, the poisonous serpents around her waist and wrapped around her arms lifting their heads as they hissed at Diana.

“What does Lord Hades want?”

“He wants you of course,” Alekto revealed, pointing an accusing finger at the princess.

“All we want is safe passage through the Underworld,” Diana replied. “I do not want to fight you.”

“It is too late for that,” Megaira told her with a gleeful smile.

“Yes, far too late for that,” Alekto confirmed.

“Much too late indeed,” Tisiphone agreed. “Hades is most displeased with you, Princess Diana, Daughter of Lord Hades.”

“Yes, Lord Hades sent us on this special mission,” Alekto revealed.

“Special mission…a very special mission indeed,” Tisiphone repeated with a malicious grin.

“Lord Hades wants to see you,” Megaira confirmed, her haunting gaze studying those accompanying the Amazon princess.

“I will go with you, but my companions must be allowed to leave the Underworld,” Diana stated, raising her chin in defiance. “I will stay here. You have my word.”

“Diana!” Shayera yelled.

Batman immediately took a step forward, Artemis staying close to him. He didn’t know why, but he didn’t want to see Diana go anywhere without them. “No, you can’t stay here,” Bruce adamantly stated in no uncertain terms.

The three Furies looked at each other, their heads close together as they conversed. Their voices were muted, speaking in a language all their own as they considered it. Megaira pulled away first, her piercing eyes settling on the Princess of the Amazons.

“Fine…fine,” she said with an affirmative nod. “You may all come along with Princess Diana to witness what Lord Hades has in store for his daughter.”

“No,” Diana firmly stated, hot fury filling her voice as she stood before them. “They can’t come with me. They must be allowed to leave the Underworld unharmed.”

“Do something,” Shayera hissed Hermes.

“Me? Why me?” he asked, eyes wide in shock.

“Because you’re a Greek god,” Shayera reminded him. “Can’t you do something heroic and get us all out of here?”

“What part of I’m not allowed to interfere do you guys not understand?” Hermes cried. “Hera is testing Diana. For what reason, I have no idea. All I know is that this is something Diana must endure alone.”

Batman didn’t understand what was going on, but he knew that he didn’t like it. Why was Diana being tested by Hera and could Hades really be her father? Was Diana truly a princess? It somehow seemed to fit her in every way imaginable. He just wished he knew what was happening so he could help her.

“I don’t like this,” Batman growled, his gauntleted hands curling into fists prepared to fight their way out of here. “We have to do something to stop it.”

Shayera and Artemis shared a relieved look, knowing that at least something in Bruce remembered Diana. The princess turned around, giving them a look that was filled with nothing but resolve and utter peace. It was obvious she knew what she was doing, and she was going to do whatever it took to get them out of there even if it meant sacrificing herself.

“It’s all right,” she reassured them with a peaceful calm that was surprising given the situation they found themselves in. “I can handle Hades. Just get Bruce out of here. I promise I’ll find a way home.”

The white lenses of his cowl narrowed with her words. “We’re not leaving you behind to face Hades alone.”

“If it be Hera’s will, then I have no other choice but to obey,” Diana evenly replied.

Artemis strode forward to stand beside Diana to face the Furies. “What does Hades want her for?”

“We do not know,” Megaira told her.

“No…no, it’s not known,” Alekto said with a shake of her head.

“If she goes, then we go too,” Artemis firmly stated. “We’re not leaving here without her.”

“Artemis,” Diana angrily hissed.

“You came here to rescue Bruce and I came to make sure you made it out of here as well,” she told her. “I’m not about to let you sacrifice yourself so the rest of us can go free. You have a family back home that is waiting for you.”

The anger in Diana’s face dissipated with the reminder, the thought of her children causing her throat to constrict painfully. “Thank you,” she softly murmured, touched by her friend’s insistence.

“Yes, we will take you all,” Tisiphone agreed, waving her hand.

The entire group disappeared from sight only to reappear outside of Hades’ palace, the god of the Underworld striding towards them. “Ah, my beloved daughter,” he greeted her with a grin. “It is so good of you to come see me…and I see you brought an audience to watch.”

Diana sneered at the sight of her so-called father. She sheathed her sword as she purposefully placed herself between her father and husband, making sure that Bruce didn’t end up in the line of fire. This was between her and Hades. She wasn’t about to let anyone else get involved.

“Let’s finish this,” she spat out with a deadly glare.

“Gladly, my daughter,” he readily agreed as he met her glare with a fierce glower of his own.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15

Detroit; September 20th, 07:38 EST

“That’s it…back and forth…back and forth,” Wally encouraged him. “Okay, now don’t forget the back.”

“Like tis?” Rex mumbled, his mouth full of toothbrush and toothpaste.

“Good job, buddy,” Wally praised him. “Didn’t your mom and dad teach you how to brush your teeth?”

“Yep!” Rex said before spitting into the sink.

“Well, they didn’t teach you right then,” Wally ultimately decided.

“We taught him right,” John interjected as he poked his head into the bathroom. “He’s just stubborn and wants to do it his own way.”

“Ah, so you’re like your mother,” Wally said with a nod. “You know you’re going to get cavities and then you’re going to wish you’d brushed your teeth the right way.”

Rex’s little face scrunched up in confusion as he looked at his Uncle Wally, white foam from the toothpaste on his lips. “What?”

“Never mind,” Wally said with a shake of his head. “We need to get going soon or we’re going to be late.”

Turning, Wally was greeted by an armful of Bella, John handing his daughter off to him. “Can you change her quick before we leave?” John asked. “I’ve got to restock her diaper bag.”

“Whoa!” Wally cried, turning his head away from the giggling little girl in his arms as his nose scrunched up in disgust. “You reek, Bells!”

Bella babbled happily, kicking her legs as Wally held her at arms’ length. “She’s stinky!” Rex agreed, wrinkling up his nose as he wiped his mouth with the hand towel.

“Come help me change her,” Wally told him.

“No way!” Rex yelled as he ran out of the bathroom, leaving Wally standing there with Bella in his hands.

“Looks like it’s just you and me, Bells,” he said with a frown, taking her to her bedroom.

Laying her down on the changing table, Wally began to undress her, the stench from her diaper growing stronger. “You know for such a cute little kid you sure smell bad.”

Bella giggled at Wally, sticking her toes into her mouth. “Hey, how do you manage to do that?” he asked her as he began the unwelcomed process of cleaning her up. “You’re like super flexible. Maybe that’s like some super gift or something.”

“No, she’s just a baby,” John revealed as he walked in with her diaper bag.

“I honestly don’t know how women do this all the time,” Wally said.

“Husbands do it too you know,” John told him. “The kids are just as much my responsibility as hers.”

“That’s for sure,” he agreed. “You did help make them after all.”

“Right,” John said with a frown. “Are you done yet? I’ve got an eight o’clock monitor duty shift.”

“I thought you traded it so you wouldn’t have to be in so early?”

“I couldn’t find anyone willing to switch.”

Wally redressed Bella, picking her up and kissing her on the cheek. “You’re such a cutie.”

Bella made a kissy face at Wally, wrapping her arms around his neck. “Don’t get any ideas, Bella,” John warned her. “You’re too young to date and Uncle Wally is too old for you. Let’s go.”

John swung Bella’s diaper bag over his shoulder, Wally and Bella following behind him. “Rex! Let’s go.”

“Daddy, can I take my stuffed dog with me?” Rex asked.

“Sure thing, buddy,” John told him, taking him by the hand as his free hand reached for his commlink. “Hey, Mister T, we have four for transport.”

“Picking up your signal now,” Mister T responded. “Transporting in five.”

Wally quickly pulled his mask down over his face, Bella trying to figure out how to pull it back up. Wally pretended to eat her fingers to keep her from exposing his identity, Bella giggling as she jerked her hands back. She tilted her head as she tried look under his chin, perplexed by his mask.

Appearing on the transport pad, Lantern and Flash stepped off with kids in tow, receiving an amused grin from Mister Terrific. “Morning, guys,” he greeted them.

“Hi, T!” Rex excitedly exclaimed, waving at him. “I brought my dog with me.”

“Hey there, Rex,” Mister T said. “Have a good time in day care.”

Bella waved too, not wanting to be left out. “You too, Bella,” Mister T told her with a grin.

“Hey, we need to pick up some more diapers tonight when we get home,” Flash told him as they made their way to the door. Mister Terrific couldn’t help but chuckle as they left.

“We also need to get more milk,” John reminded him, entering the hallway.

“Oh, and don’t forget we need more Cheetos,” Wally said. “Rex and Bella love them.”

“Yah, Rex and Bella,” John replied with a roll of his eyes. “They aren’t supposed to be eating Cheetos.”

“Cheetos? Did I say Cheetos?” Wally quickly attempted to rectify. “I meant Cheerios. We need more Cheerios.”

“Well, that explains the orange I found around Rex’s mouth the other day,” John murmured.

“Hey! How are my two favorite Stewarts?” Green Arrow asked as he came towards them.

Rex ran towards Oliver who scooped him up into his arms before throwing him up into the air. “I thought I was your favorite Stewart?” John pointed out with a smirk. “At least that’s what you said when I agreed to your monitor duty shift last week.”

“You’re my third favorite Stewart,” Oliver told him.

Wally clapped John on the shoulder. “Hey, at least you’re ranked higher than Shay.”

“When are Shay and Diana coming home?” Ollie asked.

“Not soon enough,” Wally interjected. “Being a wife is exhausting.

“Yah, it’s been a lot of…wait!” John exclaimed. “You are definitely not my wife.”

“Well…you know what I meant,” Wally said.

“I’ll just be happy when Shayera is finally home,” John told him. “Hopefully, it won’t be too much longer.”

“Hey, I hear you could use some more help around the house in a few months,” Wally commented.

A smirk spread across Oliver’s face, his eyes alight with excitement. “Yes, we will,” he proudly replied. “Dinah is pregnant.”

“Congratulations, man,” John told him.

“They’re going to have to expand the day care up here if all you guys keep making babies,” Wally added.

“Hey, don’t look at me,” John said, holding his hands up. “We are done. Two is more than enough for us.”

“Does Shayera know that?” Ollie asked, setting Rex down.

“Yah, if not, you might be the next League couple to get pregnant,” Wally said with a chuckle.

“Don’t you have somewhere you need to be right now?” John ground out, directing a glare at his friend.

“Oh, yah…come on kids,” Wally said, taking Rex by the hand. “Time for day care.”

Oliver shook his head as he watched Wally walk Rex and Bella down the hall. “Never thought I’d see the day that he’d become so domesticated,” he told John.

“Don’t worry,” John replied with a grin. “His time is coming. The right woman is going to show up and that’ll be the end of the swinging bachelor and self-proclaimed ‘chick magnet’. He’ll be just like the rest of us husbands—whipped and chasing after kids.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Oliver said, chuckling as he continued towards the commissary.

Underworld; September 20th, 08:13 EST

Ra’s al Ghul watched in fascination as the celebrated Princess of the Amazons fearlessly stared down the god of the Underworld. This would no doubt be a battle to end all battles—Amazon warrior versus a god, father versus daughter, light versus dark.

He wasn’t certain how this was going to play out, but he knew that he wouldn’t bet against Hades. He was powerful as a god, but this was also his domain…his realm. Even though she was his daughter and very powerful and skilled in her own right, he didn’t believe that the Amazon could beat her father.

Ra’s cast a sidelong glance at the Detective standing beside him, wondering what was going through his head. His expression was emotionless, but his stance was tense and rigid. He had a feeling that the Amazon was familiar to him, but he wasn’t certain how much he actually remembered about her.

He was going to have to be careful going forward, picking his moments to reinforce his version of events in the Detective’s mind and making him believe that the Amazon and her friends were the enemy. Unfortunately, he now had two bodyguards who were watching his every move and guarding Batman.

Escaping from the Underworld and reuniting with Talia and Ubu remained his top priority. Doing it with Batman under his control and bringing him into the fold…making him the leader of the Demon’s Head would be an added bonus. Saving himself would always be first and foremost in his mind, though.

Diana could feel everyone’s eyes on her a she straightened her stance and sheathed her sword, knowing she wouldn’t be using it as she stared down her father. She raised her fists instead as she faced off against Hades. This wasn’t going to be a battle won with weapons. It was going to be a fight of strength and skill…one that she was determined to win. It meant Bruce’s freedom, and nothing meant more to her than him.

“You actually think you can fight me and win?” Hades demanded to know, a rolling chuckle following as he began to pace before her. “How quickly you have forgotten the last time I escaped the Underworld. Do you not remember how I humiliated you…how you nearly lost your life because you opposed me and kept me from seeing my grandchildren?”

“I’m an Amazon,” she reminded him. “Death is a glorious rite of passage for a warrior, but I don’t intend to die today.”

“You always were stubborn just like your mother,” he taunted her. “I will enjoy teaching you a lesson about interfering in my plans, daughter.”

“If your plans involve trying to destroy the world or coming after my family, I will interfere every single time,” she stated through gritted teeth.

Deciding not to wait for him to make the first move, Diana suddenly flew straight at him, her fists curled tightly in front of her. She could feel the bite of her fingernails into the palms of her hands as fury seared like fire through her veins, determined to make him suffer for all the pain he had caused them.

She delivered a punishing blow that caused her father to stagger backwards, but it caused little damage…save for the pain that shot through her fists. Hades merely scoffed at her attempt to take him down, a glint of amusement reflecting in his dark-eyed gaze.

“Is that the best that you have, daughter?” he mocked her.

“I’m only getting warmed up,” she ground out with a sneer.

She quickly attacked with a flurry of kicks and punches that caused him to sway on his feet, his anger rising as he swung his fists at her in an effort to defend himself against her attack. She swiftly dodged each of his attempts to strike her, staying just a step ahead of him. He growled in frustration, cursing under his breath as she slammed her forehead directly into his.

His head snapped back as he swung his fist, connecting with her jaw and sending her flying backwards. Diana landed hard on the ground with a grunt, knocking all the wind out of her lungs. She felt a thin trickle of blood coming from the corner of her mouth, her lip split from his punch. Getting to her feet, she wiped the blood away with the back of her hand as she stared him down.

A warrior’s cry was on her lips as she immediately flew at him again, leading with her boot this time round. Hades swiftly grabbed her by the ankle and flung her aside like a ragdoll, taking pleasure in the way her body crashed into a mound of rocks. He was growing more annoyed with this with every passing moment. It was pointless display of pride on her part.

“Any of you want to try to fight me?” he bellowed, turning to the audience silently watching the battle. “What about you, nephew?”

Hermes paled as he stared in disbelief at Hades. “I am technically not even here, uncle,” he replied, holding both hands up in defense. “I’m just here for moral support for Diana.”

No one else had a chance to respond as Diana flew at him like a heat-seeking missile, delivering a bone-shattering upper cut to his jaw. He fell backwards, temporarily shaken by the powerful punch. He slowly sat up, testing his jaw and rubbing it thoughtfully as he appraised her with a sudden air of admiration.

“I guess you can pack a punch, daughter,” he taunted her, “but how long will you last against me?”

“I’m more than prepared to find out,” she spat out as she soared in for another attack.

Standing to his feet, Hades backhanded her hard across the face, sending her careening backwards into a large rock formation. She fell face-first on the ground, a cloud of dirt and gravel rising up all around her. She groaned softly as she tried to gather her senses or to at least make the landscape around her stop spinning wildly.

“Stay down, Diana,” Hades ordered her. “You know you cannot win against me.”

“I don’t surrender,” she spat out as she got up on all fours, flipping her raven hair back out of her face. She could already feel her cheek beginning to swell and bruise, her cheekbone cracked from the powerful strike.

Her entire body ached, pain lancing through single every inch of her. She was certain she had some other broken bones, but they were the least of her concerns at that moment. She wasn’t about to give up nor would she ever concede defeat especially to her father. She was an Amazon after all and right now, she needed to teach her father a lesson about targeting her family. For them, she would give everything she had.

Diana tried some street fighting moves that Bruce had taught her during their countless sparring sessions, hoping to take him off guard. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to do much to slow him down. If anything, she was picking herself up off the ground far more often than he was. That didn’t stop her from trying, though.

Batman’s jaw clenched as he watched Diana and Hades trading blows that would kill a normal man, wanting to stop this. He didn’t understand everything that was happening, but the one thing that he did know was that he felt an inexplicable bond with this woman. It was something that he didn’t feel with any of the others—only her.

He didn’t know what that signified or what they actually meant to each other, but he wasn’t about to stand here and do nothing about it as the god of the Underworld killed her. Hades and Diana clearly had a tenuous history, one that included a previous encounter that nearly cost Diana her life. He wasn’t about to let her lose her life now especially because of him.

“We can’t just stand by and watch this happen,” Batman growled as he tried to intervene, his heart beginning to race with the overwhelming need to act.

The feel of a hand on his shoulder caused Bruce to stop in his tracks. Turning, he found Hermes standing next to him. “I’m afraid we can’t,” he told him with a shake of his head. “This is between Diana and her father. We have to let it play out no matter what happens.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” he ground out, angrily jerking his shoulder free from Hermes’ hand. “She shouldn’t have to face him alone.”

“Lady Hera is testing Diana,” he tried to explain to him. “She must endure this trial alone in order to receive Hera’s blessing.”

“And what if she doesn’t survive this damn trial?” Batman spat out. “What then? Will Hera save her life then?”

“You cannot interfere with the will of the gods,” Hermes told him.

“Watch me,” Bruce growled.

“It’ll be all right, Bruce,” Artemis attempted to reassure him. “Diana knows what she’s doing. She’s the most skilled warrior I’ve ever known.”

“Hades said it himself that she almost lost her life the last time,” Batman stated, his gaze fixed on Diana as she assumed a fighting stance as Hades charged at her. It was obvious she was having difficulty standing upright.

Shayera and Artemis shared a look, not wanting to tell Bruce that he was the reason Diana had almost died. Granted, he had been under Hades’ influence at the time, but now was not the time to get into all of that. “Diana survived it,” Shayera revealed. “She’s strong. You just need to have faith in her.”

For some reason he couldn’t explain, he did have faith in her. “Fine…for now,” he bit out.

Diana reached for her lasso, throwing it at Hades. It wrapped tightly around his fist, stopping him short from completely shattering her jaw. She quickly dug her heels into the ground and leaned back as far as she could, trying to keep him from getting free. Hades merely grabbed hold of her lasso, yanking hard. Diana flew straight at him, his fist connecting with her face again.

Diana skidded across the ground like a stone skipping across the top of the water before finally rolling to a stop. Her breathing was labored as she gazed up into the dark sky above, trying to regain her senses. While she had gotten in several key shots, Hades was far from injured or faltering in his stand against her. She, on the other hand, wasn’t fairing nearly as well. She was a demi-goddess going up against a god, his power far stronger than hers.

That wasn’t going to stop her from trying to take him down and earn his respect once and for all. If she did that, it might keep him from trying to get near her family again in the future, forcing him to rethink any future visits. He may be her father, but that didn’t mean she had to accept it.

She momentarily closed her eyes, channeling all her energy and fury into this fight. “Hera, give me strength,” she softly murmured before getting to her feet once more. She could feel bruises forming on her face and body, broken bones that would eventually heal and an ankle that was threatening to give out on her, but she ignored all of it. This would be a test that she would not fail.

“You just never learn do you, daughter?” he taunted her.

“Stop calling me that,” she spat out.

“Why, daughter?” he questioned her with an arched eyebrow. “Still not willing to accept that a part of me is in you?”

“I’m nothing like you!”

“You let your pride blind you…forcing you to continue a fight that you cannot possibly win…refusing to fully accept your parentage.”

“It’s not about pride…it’s about honor,” she stated, spitting blood onto the ground as she stared him down. “Honor is something that you wouldn’t begin to understand.”

“You dare presume to tell me what I know and what I don’t know?” Hades furiously bellowed. “I am the god of the Underworld and your father. I think it’s time I teach you the true meaning of respect.”

With piercing black eyes, Hades unleashed a stream of fire from his mouth, forcing Diana to swiftly raise her bracers in an attempt to block his attack. She gritted her teeth against the pain the magical fire inflicted on her. While her bracers were able to deflect the majority of it, her arms were badly burned by it.

The bandages that had protected numerous wounds received from the Hydra were turned to ash as she tried to push her way towards her father. The flames burned hotter, licking at her skin and creating incredible pain the likes of which she’d never experienced before.

She swore it felt as though the fire would consume her, overwhelming her and stealing her life. She couldn’t allow that to happen…refused to allow that to happen. She swore she heard Bruce yell her name, but she couldn’t be sure. Her blood was pounding in her ears and her heart lodged in her throat, keeping her from drawing a breath.

She could smell the stench of burning flesh that caused bile to rise in the back of her throat, the heat keeping her from being able to breathe. She felt as though she was going to pass out, but she refused to give into the powerful pull of unconsciousness that she felt creeping over her. She would not surrender to it nor would she surrender to her father.

Just when Diana felt as though she couldn’t take another moment of the fiery onslaught, she felt a warm sense of peace wash over her, filling her chest and spreading throughout her body. Her muscles that had been so rigid and fatigued from the prolonged battle began to relax, something inside of her telling her that it would be all right…that she just needed to give into the fire that threatened to consume and overwhelm her.

Diana slowly lowered her bracers, a confidence she felt bone-deep consuming her. It just felt right for some reason she couldn’t begin to explain. She could hear the crackle of the endless stream of fire that seemed to swallow her whole, could feel the fire as it wrapped around her, but didn’t seem to be burning her any longer.

“We’ve got to stop this!” Batman yelled. “She won’t survive this!”

“No…wait!” Artemis stated, grabbing hold of his forearm. “The fire isn’t hurting her anymore. It’s like she’s deflecting it somehow.”

“I’ve never seen anything quite like it before,” Shayera said in absolute awe.

Hermes merely smiled with swelling pride as he realized what Hera was up to with her test for Diana. “It’s her new gift,” he softly murmured. “Just watch.”

Diana glanced down at the way that her whole body seemed to glow as the fire danced around her, no longer consuming her but becoming a part of her. She looked up to find Hades had stopped his attack, shock written all over his face as he stared at her. She raised her arms as the fire crackled around her despite no longer being fueled by its master.

She focused her mind, concentrating solely on the fire and causing it to zero in on her magical bracers. The fire immediately left her body, encircling her bracers instead as if the magical metal was made of living flames. She lifted her defiant gaze to her father who still stood before her with an awestruck expression.

With a fierce glower on her face, Diana raised her arms once more, slamming her bracers together. Fire exploded from her arms, lashing out like fiery whips at Hades who had no defense against his own powerful inferno. The shot of fire hit him like a bolt of lightning square in the chest, knocking him backwards into the side of his own palace.

Mortar and bits of brick cracked, raining down on him. He left an imprint of his body behind as he staggered forward, nearly falling to his knees only to right himself at the last moment. He was breathing heavily as if trying to catch the air that had just been sucked out of his lungs with the powerful assault.

“Now that’s what I’m talking about!” Hermes excitedly cried only to suddenly step behind Shayera’s wings as Hades leveled him with a deadly glare.

“Care to try that again?” Diana ground out; her arms extended at her sides as if begging him to try something.

Ra’s al Ghul appraised the Amazon with a new sense of admiration and awe. If he could get her to his side, she would be an unrelenting force for his mission. No one would be able to stop her or him, probably not even the Kryptonian. With her on his side, he would be unstoppable.

Hades’ lips slowly curled into a wicked grin. “Oh, I’m just getting started, my dear daughter,” he hissed like a serpent.

Diana braced herself as Hades lunged at her, charging at her like a wild animal prepared to kill its prey. She flew up and around at the last second, driving her elbow into his back. It slowed him down long enough for her to kick him in the back of his knee, his leg giving out on him.

She flew circles around him, delivering a whirlwind of hits that would’ve made the Flash proud. Hades’ hand suddenly shot out at lightning speed, snatching hold of her by the throat. He drew her in close to him, tightening his grip on her neck as he glared at his offspring.

Diana clawed at his fingers, trying to get him to release her, finding it difficult to breathe. Her vision was beginning to tunnel, the edges of her peripheral vision growing darker. Bruce became nothing but a blurry shadow as she kicked at Hades in an attempt to get free.

“So, daughter, how does it feel knowing that a part of me is in you?” he demanded to know.

“I’m nothing…like you,” she spat out.

Hades chuckled as he appraised her. “You are more like me than you can possibly begin to imagine, child.”

“No, you…you’re…a monster,” she managed to choke out.

Hades appeared as though Diana had physically struck him, his grip loosening on her throat. He dropped her like a rock, Diana falling to her hands and knees as she hungrily gulped in much needed air. Her fingers curled into the dirt beneath her as she desperately tried to regain her senses.

“Is that what you really think of me? That I’m nothing more than some kind of monster?” Hades demanded to know, stunned by her assessment of him. “I am no monster, daughter. I am a god and I am your father whether you like it or not…whether you want to accept it or not.”

“You’re a heartless beast,” she spat out, looking up at him through her eyelashes with a look of pure revulsion. “That is something I accept.”

“Me and my brothers are lords of our respective domains,” Hades explained with an unexpected air of calmness, his anger abruptly vanishing in the wake of her spiteful words. “The lot I drew gave me dominion over the Underworld and the dead who inhabit it. Because of that, history has always cast me as a villain…painting me in a not so very nice light because the mortal realm fears my power…fears death and what may happen to them after. People always fear that which they don’t understand.”

“I understand you more than you think,” she stated. “You want what you can’t have and yet you’re determined to still try no matter the pain and devastation that you leave in your wake.”

Hades slowly shook his head. “You think you understand me, but you don’t understand me at all,” he replied. “You would rather unfairly judge me…fight me to prove your way is better than to try to understand.”

“You expect me to feel sorry for you?” Diana demanded to know as she got up on wobbly legs that threatened to give out on her. “You hurt so many people that I care about. You escaped your realm in order to take over the world...to get near my children. You took Bruce away from his family. That’s not something I can so easily forgive.”

Hades drew a deep breath as he grew quiet, releasing it slowly as if considering his answer. “Please…just take your friends and leave,” he told her, an unexpected sense of sadness enveloping his once furious features. “You can return to your home. I will not stop you from leaving.”

Diana watched in stunned disbelief as Hades began to turn away from her, Artemis and Shayera quickly moving to stand on either side of her. Shayera gently grasped Diana’s arm above her elbow to help steady her, careful of the countless burns on her arms. She just hoped that her accelerated healing abilities kicked in soon.

“If you aren’t a monster, then what are you?” Diana asked him with a curious note to her voice, causing him to stop in his tracks.

Hades looked back over his shoulder at her for a few moments before turning back to face his palace. He continued to walk away while answering, "You wouldn't believe me even if I told you."

His words caused a cold chill to seep into Diana, one that she couldn’t shake. Her father’s unexpected turn about confused her greatly, making her wonder if she had possibly missed something in him that she had never considered before. Could he really just be a grandfather wanting to see his grandchildren?

Had she truly misjudged him, painting him in a light that was undeserved? Should she have done more to try to understand him? She decided it would have to wait for now. She’d save it for later when she’d have more time to reflect on it. Right now, her focus was getting Bruce out of here and restoring his memories.

Diana looked over at him, finding him studying her intently with an expression that she couldn’t begin to give a name to. It was inquisitive…curious…and yet there was an air of suspicion and maybe even concern. It was to be expected coming from the Dark Knight. Even losing his memories couldn’t erase what had been ingrained in him so long ago.

“We need to get you to the infirmary on the Watchtower,” Shayera told Diana.

“No, I’m all right,” she tried to brush her injuries off.

She couldn’t begin to imagine how she must have looked after travelling to the Underworld and doing battle with her father. It was no wonder Bruce was staring at her with such uncertainty. He had to be wondering who she was and how she fit into his life if at all.

The thought caused her heart to hurt, but she stood tall and proud, straightening her shoulders despite the pain that continued to pulsate through her body in unison with her every heartbeat. She just wanted to get out of here and get home to her family. She was certain Nicholas and Kaia were growing impatient about seeing them, not understanding what was going on. She missed them fiercely.

“What are we going to do with him?” Artemis asked, nodding at Ra’s al Ghul. “My vote is to leave him here to rot. He deserves it for all the pain and suffering he’s caused.”

“He comes with us,” Diana ultimately decided before Ra’s had a chance to interject. “He needs to be held accountable for his crimes. He’ll have to face a judge.”

“I say we judge him right here,” Artemis grumbled under her breath, her hand caressing the hilt of her sword.

“We are neither judges nor are we executioners,” Diana insisted. “Besides, it’s what I know Batman would want.”

Bruce appraised her, appreciating her sense of honor and justice…her sheer determination and unwillingness to give up. He found himself amazed by her strength of character as well as her skills as a warrior. She was truly a formidable woman, one that he found he wanted to know everything about.

She also seemed to know him well despite the fact that he didn’t remember her. It made him wonder what she meant to him. He was growing anxious to figure it all out. Hopefully, he’d be able to regain his memories once he left the Underworld.

“Let’s get moving,” Hermes decided. “I’m more than ready to get out of here.”

Diana glanced at Batman again, desperately wanting to talk to him…to feel him in her arms and the hungry press of his lips against hers. Unfortunately, he didn’t know her or remember the life and family that they had made together. It caused a knot to lodge in her throat.

“Diana, are you sure you’re going to be able to travel?” Shayera asked, still worried about her friend.

“It’s okay,” she attempted to reassure her. “Let’s just get moving.”

“Can’t you do something?” Artemis demanded to know as she glared at Hermes. “Hera’s test is obviously over, and Diana passed with flying colors.”

“I don’t know if it’s over or not,” Hermes told her as he fell into step beside her, a grim look veiling his face. “I’m not privy to that sort of information.”

“You know…you’re kind of useless,” Artemis decided with a frown.

“Hey, I am the messenger of the gods,” Hermes proudly declared. “That doesn’t mean I necessarily know everything that goes on especially where Zeus and Hera are concerned.”

“Maybe we should let Diana rest before trying to leave,” Batman interjected, his concern solely on the Amazon warrior who was obviously not fairing as well as she’d like everyone to believe.

“Thank you, but I’m fine…really,” she replied, giving him a soft smile of appreciation for his concern. “We need to keep moving. We need to make sure that you don’t have any more internal injuries.”

Batman shook his head in disagreement and frustration, his lips thinning into a grim line. “This isn’t about me,” he growled, walking beside her. “I’m not the one who just fought against the god of the Underworld.”

“I’ve been in worse fights,” she attempted to reassure him, her gaze narrowing as everyone began making their way towards the gate.

“I can’t remember any of them,” he found himself admitting.

“It’s all right,” she promised him. “I’m going to make sure you get your memories back as soon as we get out of here.”

“You mean something to me…don’t you?” he asked, studying her for any sort of sign that he was right. “Are we friends?”

“We’ll talk later,” she reassured him. “Right now, we just need to keep moving and get you out of here.”

Batman scowled with her answer, but reluctantly agreed as he began to follow the others. Diana knew she should tell him more, but now was not the time to explain everything. Her head felt like it was about to explode, her chest tight and her limbs boneless.

Following several feet behind the group, she found it difficult to make her legs work. Her tongue felt thick and her movements sluggish. Her heart felt like it was trying to pound its way right out of her chest. Something was very wrong.

“Bruce?” she murmured his name, her voice barely above a whisper.

Bruce turned in time to see Diana looking at him with a fear in her blue eyes as she suddenly dropped to her knees. She opened her mouth as if to speak but couldn’t say anymore as she collapsed onto the ground, everything around her going black.

“Diana!” Bruce yelled as he raced towards her.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16

Wayne Manor; September 20th, 13:01 EST

He moved through the manor with all the stealth of a ninja, with the skills of a hardened warrior. Some of it had been learned, but a good portion of it was innate…something that he had inherited from his parents. He was using every ounce of that training and inborn skill now as he studied his prey from a distance.

He held his weapon close to him, his intense gaze not missing a single thing that took place around him. Keeping his back pressed against the wall, he drew a deep breath, deciding it was time to make his move…to make his presence known and take out his target.

He silently crept closer, moving like a panther as he drew closer to his prey. He checked his weapon, making certain he had plenty of ammunition in the chamber before making his move. Peeking around the corner, he took aim, firing his weapon.

What happened next seemed to take place in super slow motion, his ammunition flying through the air towards his prey with perfect precision only to be batted away at the last second with a spatula of all things. To say he was stunned would’ve been an understatement of grand proportions.

A couple of giggles escaped, revealing their position as if Alfred hadn’t already known. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to do better than that Master Damian if you want to get the jump on me,” he told him without turning around.

Damian huffed under his breath as he came out from around the corner of the kitchen, his Nerf gun cocked and firmly in hand. “How did you do that?” he demanded to know, a frown on his face.

“I have no idea what you’re referring to,” Alfred slyly replied with a knowing smirk on his face as he continued the task at hand.

“You swatted that Nerf bullet out of the way at the last second with a spatula,” Damian reminded him, clearly in awe of what he had witnessed. “You didn’t even see it coming.”

“That is years of training in the British Secret Service,” he revealed. “Now, if Master Nicholas and Miss Kaia will come out from under the table, lunch is ready.”

“Me ungry,” Kaia readily decided as she peeked out from under a chair.

“I somehow knew that,” Alfred affectionately said as he leaned down and scooped her up into his arms. “I made your favorite—grilled cheese sandwiches.”

“But me want to go help paint my woom,” Kaia told him, a scowl very reminiscent of her father’s fixed firmly on her face.

“I think it’s probably best if you and Master Nicholas stay down here,” he informed her as he got her settled into her booster seat. “Besides, I think it’ll be a big surprise for you when you see it all done.”

“I can’t wait,” Nicholas excitedly said as he climbed into his seat next to his sister. “I’m going to have a Batman room like daddy’s cave. Daddy’s going to love it.”

“Me miss him,” Kaia said with a sad expression on her face. “I want my mommy.”

“Me too, but they’ll be home soon, Kai,” Nicholas tried to comfort her.

“Your father will be very happy to see what you’ve chosen for your room,” Alfred agreed as he set their plates on the table before them. “And I know for a fact that your mother and father miss you both very much. They’re trying very hard to get home to you.”

“Wait—you were in the British Secret Service?” Damian suddenly asked him, still trying to process what he’d just learned about the elderly butler. “Did you teach my father what you know?”

“Some of it…yes,” Alfred admitted as he prepared a platter of sandwiches for the painting crew upstairs. “Let me guess—you were chosen to keep the little ones busy while the others painted?”

“It was either that or paint,” Damian said with a scowl as he snatched a sandwich from the large platter. “I decided it was the better of the two choices.”

“You still don’t want your bedroom changed to a color you might like better?” Alfred inquired as he placed several carrot and celery sticks on the platter along with the sandwiches.

“Nah, I don’t care about my bedroom,” Damian told him with an indifferent shrug of a shoulder. “That’s for the little kids. I’m fine the way it is.”

“Well, it is your bedroom should you change your mind, Master Damian,” Alfred pointed out. “This is your home after all, and you are more than welcome to make your room all your own.”

“I don’t know…maybe someday,” he relented. “Right now, we have too many things to do that are more important like stopping Joker and Harley Quinn.”

“You just say the word and we’ll tackle your room next,” he informed him. “Now, if you wouldn’t mind taking this platter to the crew upstairs, I will bring their drinks.”

“We want to go too,” Nicholas announced, trying to climb out of his booster seat.

“No, you and Miss Kaia need to eat your lunch,” Alfred told him.

Nicholas frowned as he settled into his booster seat again, clearly unhappy. “I’ll take a picture of it for you,” Damian volunteered, much to Alfred’s surprise and delight.

“You will?” Nicholas asked.

“Sure,” Damian agreed as he picked up the platter.

“Me too…me too,” Kaia excitedly said, patting her chest.

“Okay, just stay down here and eat your lunch,” Damian told them. “I’ll be back.”

“Then, we can swim,” Nicholas decided.

“It’s a little too cool today to swim,” Alfred replied. “How about we make a special picture for your mother and father for when they come home?”

“Me make a nice picture for mommy and daddy,” Kaia agreed.

Alfred placed several glasses along with a pitcher of lemonade on a tray before following Damian upstairs. “I must say you’re doing a fine job of being a good brother to Master Nicholas and Miss Kaia,” he praised Damian. “I know it’s been difficult for you with your father gone and not knowing anything about how your mother or grandfather are faring. Just know you always have a home here no matter what happens.”

“Thanks,” Damian softly replied, somewhat taken aback by the approval. “I just want to help stop the Joker and Quinn and prove that I deserve to be out there on patrol.”

“Oh, dear boy, you definitely deserve to be out there as much as any of the others,” Alfred reassured him. “I have every confidence that you all will be able to stop the Joker before it’s too late.”

“I hope you’re right,” Damian muttered as they stopped outside of Nicholas’s room.

“Lunch is served,” Alfred announced as he entered the bedroom.

“I’m starving,” Dick said as he set his roller down.

Damian frowned as he studied his eldest brother. “You’re wearing more paint than the wall.”

“Yah, well…there was a minor accident, but we’re back on track and making good progress now,” he revealed.

“He stepped on the edge of the paint tray,” Jason revealed with a chuckle as he grabbed a couple of sandwiches from the platter. “Whole thing flipped up on him.”

“Guess I will order some new carpet to be delivered for Master Nicholas’s room,” Alfred decided as he surveyed the room.

“That would be a very good idea,” Jason said with a nod, pointing to the other side of the room with his paint brush. “There’s also a big puddle of paint over there too.”

“Hey, you don’t have to point out all my mistakes,” Dick groused, taking a sandwich from Alfred.

Alfred set a couple of glasses of lemonade on a bedside table in the middle of the room. “I think Master Damian and I should go check on the other half of the painting crew.”

“I doubt they’re doing much better!” Dick called as Alfred and Damian left the bedroom, noticing the look that Jason was giving him. “What?”

“I’m doing just fine,” Jason pointed out. “This whole fiasco is all on you, bro.”

“Whatever,” Dick grumbled under his breath.

Alfred and Damian walked into Kaia’s room to find it already half painted in a soft shade of lavender that everyone agreed that Bruce would be able to live with without being reminded of the Joker every time he entered her room. “Miss Kaia’s room looks positively lovely,” Alfred said as he set his tray down.

“They’re doing a lot better than Dick and Jason,” Damian determined as he looked about his sister’s room.

“What happened to Nicholas’s room?” Donna asked as she took the offered glass of lemonade.

“What didn’t happen to Nicholas’s room,” Damian scoffed. “There’s more paint on the carpet and Dick than the walls.”

“I knew we shouldn’t have let Dick and Jason work together,” Tim told her.

“We always were the more mature members of the family,” Donna reminded him.

“I know, right?” Tim agreed. “That’s why we work so well together.”

“I also picked you over my husband because he’s a complete mess,” she revealed. “He may be the most acrobatic in the family and possesses amazing skills when it comes to catching criminals, but when it comes to painting, he’s an accident waiting to happen.”

“Really?” Tim asked.

“You should’ve seen our apartment when we painted it right after we got married,” she said with a chuckle. “I can laugh about it now, but not back then.”

“Well, he’s all Jason’s problem now,” Tim readily decided.

“I give up!” Jason declared as he appeared in the doorway of Kaia’s room. “Dick is impossible to paint with.”

“What happened?” Damian asked, finding amusement in the fiasco.

“Look at my jeans!” Jason exclaimed, showing the blue paint on his pant leg. “He has no clue what he’s doing.”

Donna released a reluctant breath as she walked over and handed her paint roller to Jason. “Here, help Tim,” she told him. “He’s my husband. I should be the one to suffer through his catastrophes.”

Jason put a hand on his sister-in-law’s shoulder, squeezing it gently. “You’re a very brave woman, Don,” he solemnly replied. “I don’t give you enough credit for what you have to endure being married to Dick.”

“I heard that!” Dick yelled from across the hall.

“I swear to Hera if you get paint in my hair you’re sleeping in Tim’s room,” Donna told Dick in no uncertain terms as she left Kaia’s room.

“Hey!” Tim cried. “Why do I have to be punished?”

“He’s your brother,” Jason reminded him.

“He’s your brother too,” Tim countered.

“Yah, but I don’t live here,” he pointed out with a chuckle.

“Ah, the mischief that happens under this roof never ceases to amaze me,” Alfred uttered with a shake of his head as he exited the room.

Themyscira; September 21st, 21:03 EST

Diana groaned softly as her head rolled to the side in an effort to break free from the dark prison that had been holding her hostage. Her head pounded like Hephaestus’s mighty hammer, causing her to tightly squeeze her eyes closed against the pain.

Her whole body ached, making her want to burrow deeper into the soft, warm bed that surrounded her. Something in the back of her brain told her that this wasn’t right. She wasn’t supposed to be in a bed, shouldn’t be feeling the warm, tropical breeze that drifted across her. She was supposed to still be in the Underworld…with Bruce.

“Bruce…” Diana called his name, struggling to open her eyes.

“Hey, sleepy head,” Shayera greeted her, causing the side of the bed to dip with her weight as she sat down. “It’s about time you woke up.”

“What happened?” Diana asked, gazing at her friend through her eyelashes. Her eyelids refused to open any further than they had to as she peered at the Thanagarian.

“What hasn’t happened,” Shayera said with a roll of her eyes. “You’ve missed quite a lot.”

“Oh no…” she groaned, her eyes falling closed. “Where’s Bruce? Is he okay?”

“Bruce is…around…somewhere,” Shayera cryptically replied.

“Shay, what’s going on?” Diana asked, attempting to sit up only for her arms to give out on her.

“Stop trying to get up,” she scolded her with an imposing scowl as she adjusted the covers over her. “Now, lay still and I promise I’ll tell you everything.”

“Just tell me Bruce is all right,” she begged her.

“He’s fine, Diana,” she reassured her. “He’s just very anxious for you to wake up.”

“Me?” she questioned her. “He doesn’t even remember me or anything about his life.”

“No, he doesn’t, but he’s been asking a lot of questions about you,” she revealed. “He’s been demanding answers, but no one has told him anything. We all told him that he had to talk to you when you woke up.”

“Thank you,” Diana murmured, releasing a relieved breath.

“You need to tell him the truth, Di,” Shayera encouraged her friend. “He’s been very worried about you ever since you collapsed in the Underworld and he doesn’t understand why. He’s been beside himself trying to figure out what you mean to him. He’s been driving us all crazy with questions and scenarios about the two of you, trying to figure out what’s going on. He’s like a caged animal trying to gnaw its way out of captivity.”

“I’ll talk to him,” she promised. “I just don’t want to cause him any more harm.”

“I don’t think you will,” she told her.

“So, what happened in the Underworld?”

“Well, you passed out from your injuries,” Shayera informed her. “The poisonous venom from the Hydra got into your blood stream and started wreaking havoc on our body. You were very sick there for a while. Bruce was almost frantic and—”

“Finally!” Hermes cried as he abruptly swept into Diana’s bedroom like a hurricane. “You’re awake! Your mate won’t leave me alone. He’s constantly badgering me with questions about his life and especially about you.”

“Why aren’t you watching him?” Shayera asked with a frown.

“Red and Queen Hippolyta are babysitting him now,” Hermes reassured her, turning his attention to Diana. He could see the questions dancing in her blue eyes. “It was all we could do to get him to leave your room for a little while.”

“How did we get out of the Underworld and to Themyscira?” the princess asked, still trying to put the pieces together.

“Well, now that’s quite a story,” Hermes interjected as Shayera opened her mouth to speak. The Greek god moved to the other side of Diana’s bed, settling down on it. He laid on his side beside her on her bed, leaning on his elbow as he began his tale. “You looked positively terrible when you went down. Everyone was worried you were going to die. Red and Wings here went all warrior princess on me, threatening to feed me to Cerberus if I didn’t get you out of the Underworld.

“Then, your mate joined in the act, threatening me with this metal bat-shaped thing. I shudder to think where that might have ended up. Might I say that he can be very terrifying when he wants to be. I was afraid for my life. They were all ganging up on me except that other fellow.”

“Just get to the point already,” Shayera said with a huff of annoyance.

“The only one not threatening to maim me is the guy in the dungeons,” Hermes grumbled, continuing on undeterred. “Anyway, I had to do something to save my life regardless of what Hera could do to me so I transported all of us directly to Themyscira so they could treat your injuries and save your life. It was a very harrowing experience if I do say so myself. It was like being ganged up on by the Sirens. Now, those are a group of ladies you don’t want to get riled up. There was this time once when I thought I’d see if I could seduce one and—”

“Are you finished?” Shayera demanded to know, arms folding against her chest as she glared daggers at him.

“I’m sure I’m forgetting something important,” he said with a thoughtful frown as he tapped his bottom lip with his forefinger.

“How are you feeling?” Shayera asked.

“I’m still a little bit shaken up, but don’t worry about me. I’ll be back to my old self in no time,” Hermes replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I’m pretty tough. It really takes a lot to rattle me.”

“I was talking to Diana,” Shayera nearly yelled.

“Oh, yah…how are you feeling, cousin?” Hermes asked.

“Like I’ve done battle with Hades himself,” she responded, groaning as she tried to shift her position in bed.

“You were incredible, cousin,” Hermes told her, excitement shimmering in his eyes as he suddenly sat up on her bed. “I’ve never seen anything like it before. If I’d known that Hera was going to gift you with a powerful ability like that, I would’ve gotten you to Hades a lot sooner.”

“I’m not sure it’s a gift that I want to have,” she softly confessed, thinking back to what he’d said to her.

“Because it belongs to your father?” Hermes finished her unspoken thought, tension filling the air.

“I don’t think she wants to talk about it right now,” Shayera pointed out. “Maybe we should let you get some rest.”

“I’m afraid that there is someone here who is demanding to see you if you’re up to it.”

Shayera, Hermes, and Diana all looked to the entrance of her bedroom to find Queen Hippolyta standing in the doorway. Batman could be seen trying to peer into the room over her shoulder, clearly growing more and more agitated with every passing moment.

“It’s okay,” Diana reassured her, anxious to see him.

“Are you sure you’re feeling up to it?” her mother asked, noticeably concerned. “He has many questions that I’m afraid only you can answer for him.”

“Yes, it’s fine, mother,” she replied.

“I’ll contact Donna and let her know that you’re all right and that we’ll be back in a couple more days,” Shayera told her as she stood to her feet.

“Thank you, Shay,” Diana said, capturing her hand in her own and noticing the bandages that wrapped the entire length of her arm for the first time. “I couldn’t have done this without you.”

Shayera smiled softly at her, squeezing her hand. “That’s what family does for one another.”

“Hey, could you bring us something to eat?” Hermes asked, adjusting his position on Diana’s bed to lean against the pillows beside Diana. “I’m starving. It’s been a long trip.”

“Come on,” Shayera ground out. “Let’s give Bruce and Diana some privacy.”

“Okay…okay…” Hermes huffed as he reluctantly got up from the bed. “I’ll be back to check on you, cousin. Good luck with tall, dark, and gruesome.”

“Thanks, Hermes,” Diana replied with a soft smile.

Queen Hippolyta stepped aside, allowing Batman entrance into Diana’s bedroom before filing out with the other two. She closed the door behind her, hoping that Diana would be able to help Bruce remember something about their life together…anything that would help him regain his memories. Right now, he seemed to be nothing more than a blank slate with some lingering feelings he didn’t understand.

Batman stalked into the room with his usual confident, imposing air despite the fact he had no memory of who he was. Some things about him were just inherent, unable to be erased despite the traumatic loss. He made his way towards her bed, moving to stand at the foot of her four-poster bed. He had been anxious to see her…for her to wake up and to be all right. Now that she was, he found it difficult to speak to her for reasons he couldn’t begin to fathom. She unsettled him and he wanted to know why.

“How are you feeling?” Diana ventured, noticing how awkwardly he was standing before her like all the confidence that he had just walked into the room with had suddenly vanished. It was so unlike the man that she had known for what felt like a lifetime and loved nearly just as long.

Bruce grunted softly, pausing to shake his head as he swallowed past the dry knot in his throat that appeared out of nowhere and refused to budge. He turned his head to gaze out the window of her room at the ocean he almost felt as though he could reach out and touch.

“I should be asking you that after everything you went through to get me out of the Underworld,” he gruffly replied, not making eye contact with her.

With his cowl off, Diana was struck once again by how truly handsome her husband was. She wanted nothing more than to kiss him senseless, to take him to her bed and make him hers all over again, but they were nowhere near ready for something so intimate or passionate.

The corner of her lips quirked as she studied him, finding his sudden nervous apprehension adorable. “I’m all right,” she tried to convince him, grimacing as she attempted to sit up in her bed and failing miserably as her arms gave out on her once more.

Bruce was at her side in an instant, helping her to get comfortable against the pillows piled behind her. “Obviously not,” he softly growled, adjusting the covers over her.

“Thank you,” she whispered, finding it hard to breathe for more than one reason as he hovered over her.

He quickly retreated, standing at his full imposing height by her bed. He crossed his arms against his chest in that arresting manner that told her she was about to be interrogated by the Word’s Greatest Detective. It made her inwardly smile. He was still in there somewhere. They just needed to find the key to unlock his mind.

“I have questions and I’ve been told that you are the one who has the answers,” Bruce bluntly stated as he stared at her.

“How do you know that I’ll tell you the truth?” she asked him, intrigued.

“Everyone I talk to tells me that I have to talk to you,” he told her, a rough growl of frustration in his voice. “No one will tell me anything—your mother, Artemis, Shayera, Hermes, even Phillipus. The only one who gives me any information is Ra’s and I’m not even certain I can trust anything he tells me.”

“Bring me my lasso,” she told him, nodding over at the golden rope lying on a table. “It’s the Lasso of Truth. It will prove to you that what I’m going to say to you is the truth and that you can trust me.”

He seemed to consider her request for a moment, ultimately deciding against it. “I don’t need it,” he firmly stated with a shake of his head, pursing his lips. “I trust you for some reason that I don’t understand. I just somehow know that you would never lie to me.”

“I won’t, Bruce,” she promised him. “I never have lied to you and I won’t start now.”

“Why did you come to the Underworld to rescue me?” he demanded to know in that deep, authoritative voice that she loved. “I must mean something to you for you to risk your life like that.”

Diana thought about her answer for a long moment, searching for the right words. She had told Shayera that she was afraid of causing him more harm by telling him too much, but it was far more than that. She greatly feared him fleeing…running away if he found out that he was actually married with children, a superhero in Gotham and a founding member of the Justice League.

It was a lot to take in on a good day, overwhelming to anyone. To not have any memory of that life would be even harder to process let alone begin to accept. Getting Bruce to be willing to give them a chance had been difficult in the beginning in its own right. How would he react if he knew he had a wife…a family waiting for him back home…a life full of demanding responsibilities and a whole city that depended on him to survive the filth that had infiltrated its streets so long ago?

Diana looked down at the sheet covering her, finding sudden interest in it. “What has Ra’s al Ghul told you?”

“That I have a son Damian with his daughter Talia,” he told her. “He told me that I belong with her and my son in his home. Is that true?”

She shook her head as she hooked a raven curl behind her ear. “It is true that you were once in love with Talia and had a son named Damian, but that was over ten years ago,” she replied. “You’ve moved on since then, only recently learning that you had a son with her. I’m afraid he’s been lying to you in an effort to get you to join his illegal organization. He’s an ecoterrorist and one of your greatest enemies.”

“I had a feeling he was lying, but I didn’t know what was to believe until now,” he admitted with a bitter note as he found himself moving closer to her bed.

Everything inside of him told him that he needed to analyze everything she was telling him, to investigate and break all the information down. His head kept telling him to trust no one, not even her, but his heart kept telling him something altogether different…telling him that he could trust her…even with his life.

“Why did you risk your life to rescue me from the Underworld?” he demanded to know, his voice losing a measure of the distrust and frustration that it had initially held when he’d first entered her room.

“Because…” she began, her voice cracking as she looked away. She paused to swallow back the thick knot emotions, fighting back the tears that threatened to form. She cleared her throat before trying again. “Because it was my fault that you were there in the first place…my father who took you to the Underworld with him when we banished him back to his realm. You didn’t belong there, Bruce. I had to save you from that fate.”

He frowned as he tried to process what she was telling him, trying to get all the jumbled pieces to fit together into a picture that made sense to him. “So, we are teammates?” he asked, tentatively moving to sit on the edge of her bed.

“Yes, we are teammates,” she confirmed, “and best friends.”

He nodded his head in agreement, glancing down at his hands lying in his lap. He couldn’t help the fleeting thought that passed through his mind, wondering if these hands had ever touched her…held her or loved her. He quickly dismissed the erotic thought, not wanting to talk himself into something that might not be there.

“There is no one I trust more with my life than you, Bruce,” she told him, hesitantly reaching out to take his hand in hers.

He felt an unexpected jolt like an electrical current shoot up his arm with the contact, the warmth of her soft skin against his causing a flutter to erupt inside of him. She was the only one that he’d met so far that had such an overwhelming effect on him like this. It left him with even more questions than he had before.

Bruce lifted his head to gaze into her impossibly blue eyes, losing himself in the cerulean orbs staring back at him with such openness and warmth. “Are we more than friends, Diana?” he asked, holding his breath in anticipation of her answer. He wasn’t certain at this point which response he was more afraid of.

Diana stared at him for a long moment, knowing that she couldn’t lie to him. If he chose to run away, she would have to let him, praying that he would eventually find his way back to her and their family. “Yes…I’m afraid we are,” she confirmed.

The corner of his lips twitched minutely, making her heart lose its rhythm. “Afraid?” he asked. “Am I that difficult to be around?”

“For some, but rarely for me,” she replied with a smile that was nearly blinding. “I just don’t want you to feel forced into anything, Bruce. I know you don’t remember me or your life before the Underworld. I don’t want you to feel pressured into returning my feelings or forced to accept your former life. I want you to be able to take your time adjusting and regaining your memories.”

“I somehow had a feeling that we shared a connection,” he confessed to her.

“What made you think that?”

“I feel this intense draw to you,” he found himself confessing, his brow furrowing as he searched for the words that would describe what he felt every time he was near her or looked at her. “I don’t feel it with anyone but you. It’s like we share this unbreakable bond that I feel deep inside of me…in a place that only you can reach.

“It’s…difficult because everything inside of me tells me to stay away from you…to keep my distance and not let you in, but then there’s another part of me that wants you near me. Your presence creates a calm center in the middle of this chaos.”

A wave of relief washed over her, tears that she’d been railing against brimming brightly in her eyes now. “I thought I’d lost you,” she managed to whisper.

“Almost…but I’m afraid you’re not rid of me just yet,” he lightly teased her. It just felt so easy…so right when he was with her. It was something he didn’t understand, but he definitely wanted to discover.

Diana’s lilting laughter permeated her bedroom, creating a warmth in his chest that seemed to spread through him. “You have no idea how much I’ve missed you.”

“Why don’t you rest for now,” he suggested, noticing how exhausted she was getting. “We’ve both been through a lot lately. We’ll have plenty of time to figure everything else out later.”

She smiled softly at him, her heart lighter than it had been since he’d been taken away from her. She just wanted to hold him in her arms…to return home with him, to see their children and their family, but she knew it would have to wait at least until tomorrow. Hopefully, she’d be fully healed by then.

Bruce watched as her eyes fell closed, finding that he missed her already. He could scarcely believe that this incredibly beautiful creature would have anything to do with him, but that was a question saved for another time along with all the other questions that continued to bombard his mind.

He reached over, adjusting the covers around her. He gently traced the curve of her face, losing himself in the swell of feelings that erupted in his chest. He couldn’t wait to find out more about this amazing woman and just how close they really were to each other.

XXX

“Do you think they’re okay in there?” Shayera asked Hippolyta as they stood in the hallway outside of Diana’s room.

Queen Hippolyta sighed softly, shaking her head as she considered the question. “I hope so,” she replied. “This whole situation has been quite difficult for Diana. I can only imagine how hard it must be for Bruce not being able to remember anything about his life or how we all fit into it.”

“I spoke with Donna,” Shayera informed her. “She sends her love.”

“I’m glad for her sake that Diana and Bruce are back from the Underworld,” Hippolyta told her. “She and Diana share a soul. She feels everything that Diana is going through. I had feared that the stress of it could affect the babies.”

“I’m sure Dick has been doing his best to keep her occupied so she doesn’t think about it,” Shayera reassured her.

“How’s it going?” Artemis asked as she approached.

“Diana’s awake,” Shayera informed her. “She and Bruce are talking right now.”

“Could you guys keep it down?” Hermes groused in frustration; his ear pressed against Diana’s door. “I can’t hear what’s going on in there with you talking.”

“Get away from there!” Shayera snapped at him.

“Hey, I’ve been through a very traumatic event,” Hermes insisted, keeping his voice low. “I deserve to know how Diana and her mate work things out.”

“It’s their business, not yours,” Artemis stated, her hands finding her hips as she took up a threatening stance.

“Oh, come on,” Hermes said, throwing his hands up in the air. “You can’t tell me you aren’t curious too.”

“Of course, we are, but Diana will tell us when she’s ready to talk about it,” Shayera told him.

Two Amazon guards abruptly appeared, racing down the hall towards them with swords drawn. “My queen!” Malia yelled.

“What is it?” Hippolyta demanded to know, her brow furrowing with worry.

“The man…Ra’s al Ghul…he’s somehow managed to escape the dungeon, my queen,” Malia informed her.

Chapter Text

Chapter 17

Themyscira; September 21st, 21:59 EST

Queen Hippolyta’s hands balled into fists at her sides as fury pulsated through her veins. “Alert the guards immediately,” Queen Hippolyta ordered. “I want that vile excuse for a man found immediately. Take whatever measures necessary to ensure his capture.”

“He’s very dangerous,” Shayera added. “He won’t go willingly. We need take Batman with us.”

“He doesn’t remember this Ra’s fellow,” Hippolyta reminded her. “How can he be of any help?”

“He still has his instincts and skills,” Shayera told her. “If anyone can find him, it’ll definitely be him.”

Shayera headed towards Diana’s bedroom, silently turning the handle and opening the door. Poking her head inside, she found Bruce sitting on the edge of Diana’s bed watching her as she slept. It was a touching moment, one that gave her hope that he remembered something about her.

“Bruce,” Shayera softly called to him.

He quickly stood up as if he’d been caught, making his way to her with a frown adorning his face. “What is it?”

“Ra’s al Ghul has escaped the dungeon,” she revealed. “He’s hiding somewhere on the island. We need to find him before he can escape.”

As if on cue, Bruce’s features hardened with a steel-like resolve, taking on the persona of the Batman. It was as if some switch had been flipped inside of him as the vigilante hero took full control. He immediately slipped his cowl on over his face. Though he didn’t fully understand the significance of it all, he somehow knew what he needed to do.

He pulled his gauntlets back on as he started to follow the Thanagarian from Diana’s bedroom. He cast one last glance back over his shoulder at the sleeping princess. She murmured his name in her sleep, making him wish that he knew more about her. He hoped that she would be all right and recover quickly from her injuries. It was obvious that he meant a great deal to her. He was anxious to find out what she meant to him.

Entering the hallway, he found Queen Hippolyta giving orders to her guards, Artemis tense and clearly anxious for a fight. Anger simmered in her eyes, telling him that she was more than ready to start the man hunt for the monster that he suspected had a hand in all this chaos though no one had revealed any of those details to him yet.

“Shayera and Artemis—come with me,” Batman stated with that rasping growl that always commanded everyone’s attention. “Hermes, you stay here with Diana. Make sure Ra’s doesn’t get anywhere near her.”

“Do you really think he’ll come after her?” Hermes questioned him.

“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t put anything past him,” Batman told him. “I don’t want to take any chances. She’s still weakened from the poison in her system and her battle with Hades. She won’t be able to put up much of a fight just yet.”

“You really think leaving him to protect Diana is a good idea?” Artemis questioned him as she sized the Greek god up from head to toe. He hadn’t exactly been useful in their quest to find Bruce.

“Hey! I’ll have you know I’m pretty terrifying in my own right when I want to be,” Hermes shot back, placing his fists on his hips and puffing his chest out.

“Yah, right,” Artemis murmured. “Queen Hippolyta, maybe you should stay with Hermes as well.”

“I will personally watch over my daughter,” the queen swore. “Just find that man and stop him before he can hurt anyone else.”

“We’ll find him,” Batman promised her as he stalked away.

Hippolyta couldn’t help the flood of relief that invaded her heart seeing Bruce acting more like himself. She didn’t know what he and Diana had talked about in there, but it had obviously helped him gain some sort of foothold. It was as if he’d captured a spark of the life that he had forgotten.

Artemis grabbed Shayera by the arm, stopping her from following the Dark Knight. “Should we be following the orders of someone who basically has amnesia?” she softly asked.

“Even with amnesia, Batman is our best shot at stopping Ra’s al Ghul,” Shayera replied, flying to catch up to her friend.

“I hope he knows what he’s doing,” Artemis mumbled under her breath, leaving Hermes and Queen Hippolyta behind to watch over Diana as she ran after Batman and Shayera.

“Do you think Bruce will ever be able to regain all of his memories?” Hippolyta softly asked the Greek god standing beside her.

“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t bet against him,” Hermes replied. “The connection he shares with Diana could be the key to helping him recover his memories. She’s his sanctuary. She anchors him in the world and helps him to keep a firm grip on his humanity…that and the fact that he’s just as obstinate as she is. He won’t give up until he’s recovered every single shred of his memories.”

“That’s rather sentimental coming from you,” Hippolyta noted with a wry smile. The worry that pervaded her heart and mind still permeated her eyes as she glanced at Diana’s bedroom door. “I hope you’re right, Hermes. I don’t know what Diana will do if she doesn’t get Bruce back.”

“I wouldn’t count them out just yet,” Hermes said with a twinkle in his eye. “Some couples are just meant to be…like soulmates, and they are definitely one of those couples.”

“You’ve been spending time with Aphrodite again, haven’t you?” she questioned him.

Hermes had the decency to look sheepish as he cast a glance at her. “Don’t tell Peitho,” he warned her with an impish grin.

“You should be ashamed of yourself,” she chided him. “I’m surprised that you’re still hanging around here. You helped my daughter with her mission to find Bruce and you got all of them out of the Underworld.”

“Well, I guess I kind of want to see how things go with my cousin and her mate,” he said with a causal shrug of a shoulder, trying his best to appear as though he didn’t care. “You know maybe you should get your sword or spear or something extra sharp in case Ra’s shows up here.”

“We’ll be fine, Hermes,” she assured him as she entered Diana’s bedroom, the Greek god following close on her heels. “Ra’s will have to get through me to get anywhere near my daughter.”

Themyscira; September 21st, 22:37 EST

The sun had already set on Themyscira, leaving nothing but the flickering light from the numerous torches that lined the paths that wound their way around the island. Without even having to think about it, Batman automatically pushed the button on his cowl that turned on his night vision lenses, giving him an advantage that the others didn’t possess.

He’d already taken his time inspecting the dungeons, finding the cell that Ra’s al Ghul had been held in. He’d checked the lock that Ra’s had managed to pick in order to free himself from his prison. Batman wasn’t certain what exactly he had been looking for but was confident that he would know it when he finally found it.

He had felt the eyes of the Amazon guards boring into him as they had watched him work, obviously wondering if he knew what he was doing. He may not have his memories, but that didn’t mean that he couldn’t track down the man who had undoubtedly brought so much trouble into their lives.

Leading Artemis and Shayera down a well-lit path, Batman’s gaze constantly swept the area, looking for any signs of al Ghul. He had been quite meticulous in covering his tracks, not giving them much to go on. They would have to do a full sweep of the island, leaving no stone unturned or edifice unchecked.

“We’re going to have to split up,” Batman stated. “Shayera, you check the area from above while Artemis and I take this row of structures on the right.”

“Contact me if you spot him,” she told them as she lifted into the air. “I wouldn’t mind getting a swing in at him with my mace.”

“Get in line behind me, Shay,” Artemis said.

Shayera merely smirked as she flew over the trees, checking the tops of the various houses, buildings and temples that spotted the landscape. He had to be here somewhere. There was no way he could avoid them forever, not the League and definitely not the Amazons warriors who would be more than happy to string him up and gut him from stem to stern.

Making their way further down the path, Artemis paused, laying a hand on Batman’s forearm and capturing his attention. “I’ll take this one,” she whispered as she pointed towards a storage barn on the right.

Batman nodded in agreement, pointing to the structure standing several feet away. She nodded in response before disappearing inside with sword firmly in her hand. The Dark Knight drew a razor-sharp Batarang, preparing himself for whatever he might encounter inside.

He could hear the soft clank of armor in the distance as Amazon warriors searched the island for the escaped prisoner. He hoped that he found Ra’s before any of Hippolyta’s guards did. He had a feeling they wouldn’t be so forgiving when they finally tracked him down, using any means necessary in order to keep him from escaping again.

Even though he couldn’t recall his life, he knew that he didn’t want Ra’s al Ghul to die. For some reason, it was very important to him that he prevent that from happening. Had something happened in his past that had made him value life so fiercely…even to the point that an enemy’s life was respected? Even an enemy who had caused so much trouble and heartache?

Batman wracked his brain, trying to remember anything about Ra’s that might aid him in capturing him before the Amazons could get their hands on him and decapitate him. Unfortunately, his past history with al Ghul was more than determined to stay buried in his mind, locked away far behind his reach. It frustrated him to no end.

The only thing that remained real to him at that moment was Diana. She was the one who seemed to ground him, making him feel as though he wasn’t completely losing his mind. He had a place in this world, and it was obviously with her. In what capacity he had no idea, but he had to admit that he was growing anxious and more than a little impatient to find out. Things just seemed to make more sense to him when he was with her.

He found the door to the stone structure cracked open, making him wonder if Ra’s had snuck inside to hide out until he could find an opening to escape. Using the tip of his Batarang, he pushed the door open. It softly creaked on its worn hinges as it swung in, the firelight from the torches outside casting a glow on the wooden floor.

Using his night vision lenses, Batman carefully worked his way through the storage barn, weaving his way around large stakes of bags and wooden crates filled with grains and dried beans. The sudden shifting of the dark shadows around him caused him to momentarily freeze in his tracks.

He turned subtly to his left, listening carefully as he glanced back over his shoulder and finding nothing there. The fine hairs on the back of his neck prickled, standing on end as his instincts told him that something wasn’t right. He adjusted his grip on his Batarang, silently reaching into his utility belt as muscle memory directed him to a pouch holding round, silver balls. He wasn’t sure what they did, but he trusted that they weren’t lethal.

He forced himself to continue on as if nothing was wrong, making his way deeper inside the storage barn. With the skill of a trained warrior and hunter, he swiftly whipped around, throwing the silver balls that skidded along the wooden floor before releasing a burst of white smoke.

Batman ducked and rolled out of the way as a crate came crashing down on the spot where he’d just been. He caught site of a shadow running through the barn towards the door. He threw his Batarang, the tip of the weapon imbedding itself deeply into the door frame as the shadow ran out the front door and disappeared into the night.

“I see him!” Shayera yelled as Batman raced out of the barn.

Artemis followed close behind him with sword still in hand. “Where, Shay?”

“He ran into the woods…over there,” she indicated, landing beside them.

“Let’s spread out, but stay close,” Batman instructed them as a handful of Amazon warriors joined them. “I have a feeling he won’t go down without a fight.”

“You’re right about that,” Shayera muttered under her breath, her mace crackling with the power within it.

“I want him stopped…not dead,” Batman adamantly stated, keeping his voice low. “Diana is right. He needs to answer for his crimes.”

“I’d love nothing more than to personally make him answer for his crimes,” General Phillipus bit out from Batman’s left.

“We won’t take his life,” Batman snapped.

“If you only knew the pain this man caused the princess, you wouldn’t hold so fiercely to your belief,” Phillipus spat out with disdain, glaring at the Dark Knight.

“And it was the princess who insisted that he be taken back home to stand before a judge,” Batman countered, glancing over his shoulder at the general.

Phillipus snorted her disagreement but didn’t argue any further with him. The princess’s mate didn’t have his memories, didn’t know all the heartache and suffering that this piece of Cerberus dung had caused with his attempt to free Hades’ power from the Underworld.

Hades could’ve destroyed all life as they knew it if it hadn’t been for Diana, Batman, and their League of heroes. She didn’t know yet what all had taken place between Diana and her father in the Underworld, but it hadn’t been good if the condition Diana had been in when they had appeared on Themyscira was any indication. She would love to have a chance to make Hades pay for all that he had done.

Batman signaled for Artemis and a couple of the Amazons on his left to spread out before signaling to Shayera and Phillipus to take the right. He pulled out a couple of Batarangs, prepared for a sneak attack. Ra’s had nothing to lose and everything to gain making him a very dangerous foe…even more so than he believed he probably already was.

He carefully worked his way through the dense foliage, using his night vision lenses to constantly sweep the area that spread out before him like some intricate maze. The only sound that blanketed the area was his own breathing and the occasional call of a bird. He couldn’t even hear the others who had followed him into the woods, their skill in stealth earning his admiration.

He had to admit that he was relieved that Ra’s was out here away from the palace where Diana slept. She held the key to unlocking his memories as well as so much more. He had a feeling her importance in his life was beyond his imagining. They just needed to keep Ra’s from circling back around or finding his way off the island.

Glancing to his left, Batman was able to make out Artemis and the two Amazon soldiers that followed her. They were doing an impressive job of staying close to the trees to help conceal their presence, allowing the thick vegetation to aid them in the hunt for their prey.

Looking to his right, he noticed Shayera and Phillipus doing the same. They had spread a net so to speak, one that Ra’s wouldn’t be able to circumvent for long. He was going to have to make his move soon or risk being captured right here in the woods and taken back to the dungeons.

The sound of a tree branch cracking caused him to stop, focusing on which direction the noise had come from. He tilted his head to the right, straining to pick up on any other sounds that would tell him where Ra’s was hiding. Unfortunately, the woods had gone eerily quiet, refusing to give up its secrets or the man that it was concealing.

He proceeded carefully, his every muscle tense with apprehension for a fight when Ra’s suddenly dropped from a tree and knocked him to the ground. Batman cursed as he struggled against the man that had helped him escape Hades’ palace, trying to gain the upper hand.

They rolled on the ground, kicking and punching as they crashed through thick brush. Despite having a broken forearm, Ra’s was proving to be a formidable adversary that refused to give up. “You don’t…stand a chance…against me, Detective,” Ra’s spat out through gritted teeth as he tried to render his opponent unconscious.

“We’ll see about that,” Batman ground out, using his legs to throw Ra’s over his head.

Ra’s flipped over him, landing near a fallen tree limb. He quickly picked it up, brandishing it like a weapon as he circled his adversary. “How’s your Amazon?” he challenged him with a smirk. “Will she survive her injuries, or will you lose her before you can regain your memories?”

Batman wasn’t about to let him bait him with his words or his smug grin, keeping his focus on his opponent and the thick tree branch he wielded like a sword. He threw an electrified Batarang, Ra’s swatting it away with his makeshift weapon only for a Batbomb to explode in his face and temporarily blinding him.

Ra’s cried out as his eyes slammed shut, dropping down to the ground and rolling into a thick crop of vegetation to keep from being detected until he’d recovered his sight. He could hear the others racing to his location in an effort to help Batman, but he wasn’t going back to that dungeon nor would he be paying for his perceived crimes any time soon. He had far too much that he still needed to accomplish.

Batman ran towards the last spot that he’d seen Ra’s, breathing heavily as he stopped abruptly. He held up a hand to Artemis who cautiously approached him, letting her know that Ra’s was very close. She quickly looked around, not seeing anything that would indicate where Ra’s had gone.

She suddenly cried out as something hard crashed against her left knee, dropping her to the ground. Batman raced to her side just as Ra’s leapt out from the brush, the end of his wooden weapon slamming into the Dark Knight’s gut. Batman grunted as he doubled over with the pain that momentarily stole his breath, causing him to stumble backwards a few steps.

A Thanagarian cry came out of nowhere, Shayera’s mace sparking as she flew straight at Ra’s. She swung her weapon, shattering his tree branch and causing splinters of wood to fly in all directions. She swung again only for Ra’s to duck beneath her mace, coming up and kicking her square in the gut.

Shayera staggered backwards, Phillipus catching her before she could hit the ground. Artemis managed to get back up onto her feet but couldn’t fully bear weight on her left leg. “I’m going to rip his head off with my bare hands,” Artemis growled in fury.

“There he is!” Batman yelled, pointing at their escapee as he ducked behind a tree. He immediately took off after Ra’s who had taken off, not wanting to lose him again.

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to sit this one out,” Shayera told Artemis.

“Get her back to the palace for medical attention,” General Phillipus ordered one of her guards.

“No, I’m fine,” Artemis insisted. “Just go get him. I’m going to circle around to the other side of the woods and try to cut him off.”

“By the time you make it there, we’ll all be celebrating his capture,” Phillipus reminded her.

“Let’s fly, Red,” Shayera decided, swooping in behind her and scooping her up under her arms.

“What? Wait!” Artemis yelled as Shayera took off. “I prefer my feet on the ground thank you very much.”

“Don’t tell me you’re afraid?” Shayera said with a chuckle.

“No, but I’m more than happy to leave the flying to you and Diana,” she groused.

“There…they should be coming out the other side of the woods any second now,” Shayera told her.

“I see Batman exiting the woods, but where’s al Ghul?” Artemis noted.

“He couldn’t have gotten past Batman,” Shayera said.

“Just put me down already,” Artemis grumbled.

“I could drop you from here,” Shayera offered as she swooped in for a landing.

“I’m good,” Artemis reassured her.

“I guess we do have to keep you in one piece for Jason,” she teased with a smirk. “I’m sure he misses you.”

“Funny,” she snapped as she began to limp away. “Let’s just stop this lunatic already.”

“My pleasure,” Shayera murmured. “We just have to find him first.”

“Where is Ra’s?” Artemis demanded as Batman approached.

“He should be here,” Batman stated, looking about him. “I saw him running towards edge of the woods.”

“We better go back in there and find him,” Shayera replied.

“Great,” Artemis huffed as she attempted to follow.

“Stay here,” Batman ordered her. “Shayera and I will go back into the woods. You wait here in case he comes out.”

Artemis appeared as though she was about to argue, opening her mouth before abruptly closing it. She reluctantly agreed with Batman’s logistical thinking, ultimately deciding it could prove beneficial if she stayed here in case he came this way. She hoped he would so she could pay him back for her knee.

Gotham; September 22nd, 01:47 EST

Harley Quinn watched as Joker paced back and forth, his hands shoved into his pants’ pockets as he mumbled to himself. She couldn’t quite make out what he was saying, but it was more than apparent that he was trying to figure something out in his head.

He was clearly upset about losing Catwoman who had no doubt scurried back to tell Batman how Joker tried to kidnap her in order to brainwash her. The plans that they’d been slaving over for the last several months were now known by the Dark Knight…if he was truly alive.

She knew Joker believed that Batman was still alive, but she had to admit that she had her doubts. Batsy hadn’t been seen in over two weeks, the Batclan taking over patrolling Gotham. Something had happened to him in that battle that took him out of commission whether it was temporarily or permanently.

Harley had to admit that she was sort of sad to think there would be no more Batman chasing after them. Their cat and mouse games had been going on for so long that it was like Batman was part of their family in a weird way. She was actually going to miss him.

“Think, Harls…think!” Joker exclaimed, waving his arms over his head. “We need to find someone else to be our victim what with the feline femme fatale eluding capture.”

“I still think I coulda taken her myself,” Harley said with a frown.

“She knocked you out with a right hook, Harls,” Joker reminded her with a scowl. “You didn’t stand a chance against her.”

“It was just a lucky shot,” she countered. “It won’t happen again.”

“You’re darn right it won’t happen again,” Joker yelled as he continued to pace. “Our feline friend escaped. We looked all night for her and couldn’t find her anywhere. She’s probably miles away from Gotham by now.”

“You know she probably ran straight to Bats to tattle on us,” Harley pointed out, folding her arms against her chest. “Shoulda cut her tongue out then she couldn’t rat us out.”

“I don’t care if Batsy knows or not,” Joker retorted with a snort. “It’s too late to stop us now. Soon, his pretty little Bat partner will be under our control.”

“You know she ain’t been seen in quite a while either,” Harls thoughtfully mentioned, her expression becoming dreamy. “Maybe they ran off and got married. They’re probably on their honeymoon right now. Maybe they’re making Bat babies at this very moment.”

Joker stopped his pacing to stare at her, a disgusted look forming on his face. “You’re too sentimental for your own good, Harls,” he told her with a scowl.

“Maybe we could get married too, puddin,” she suggested, hoping against hope that he would finally ask her to marry him. She had patiently waited all these years, staying by his side through everything. She was growing more than tired of waiting for him to pop the question.

“I don’t have time to think about getting married,” he snapped at her in undisguised fury. “This is far too important to waste time on a wedding.”

Tears formed in Harley’s eyes, her bottom lip quivering. “But…but I’ve done so much for you,” she tearfully reminded him. “I’ve done everything you wanted. Don’t that mean anything to you?”

“Of course, it does,” he replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I just can’t be bothered right now with talk of marriage. We need to stay focused.”

Tears began to stream down her cheeks as she stared at her lover. She had poured so much of her life into him, always prepared to put whatever he wanted before her own desires. How many times had he spat in the face of her undying love for him?

“And then what?” she yelled at him, visibly trembling from the hurt and anger that coursed through her. “There will always be another plan…another scheme to trap Batman. When do I get to fit into your stupid plans?”

Joker stared at her in stunned disbelief, struck speechless by her angry outburst. He had no idea where all of this hostility was coming from. Hadn’t he given her everything that she could’ve ever wanted? How could she demand this of him now of all times? He was so close to pushing the Bat right over that delightful edge, plunging him right into the arms of insanity with him where he belonged.

At that moment, Joker’s gang burst into the room, hauling their next captive with them. Joker’s lips spread into a pleased grin. “Ah! Finally, some good news,” he muttered.

“But, puddin!” Harley cried.

“We’ll talk about this later,” he coldly stated as his gaze settled on his newest test subject. His scientists had assured him that the drug would work this time.

His thugs ripped the hood of the barely conscious man, holding him up by his arms as they physically dragged him towards the waiting chair. The man’s head lolled to the side, his chin falling to his chest as he struggled to regain consciousness. Right now, he was drifting in and out of it, his vision blurry and his thoughts disoriented at best.

“Welcome!” Joker happily greeted him, clasping his hands together. “It’s a real pleasure to have you here as my newest guest.”

Joker was completely oblivious of Harley as he focused all of his attention on his newest subject. Tears trickled down her face as she watched him fawn over their latest captive. Things were never going to change with him. This would always be the way her life would go as long as she was with him.

Harley turned and walked away, not bothering to look back over her shoulder as she left the room.

Gotham; September 22nd, 03:13 EST

“Hood to Nightwing.”

Nightwing grunted as his fist connected with the robber’s jaw, dropping him like a bag of wet cement. “Not…now,” he ground out as he ducked at the last second, barely missing getting a crowbar to the side of his head.

“It’s important,” Hood insisted.

“So is this,” Nightwing growled as he lifted his boot, kicking another squarely in the chest as Robin finished cuffing a third.

“Not as important as this is,” Hood stated, growing agitated.

“Call Red,” Wing told him.

“Already did,” Hood replied. “He’s busy with a breaking and entering on the East Side.”

“Fine,” he ground out, pulling out his escrima sticks to finish the fight. “What is it?”

“There’s been another kidnapping.”

“Let me guess…Joker?”

“That’s what the security camera says,” Hood told him. “Already had O tap into the security system. She confirmed the kidnappers as being part of Joker’s gang.”

“Send me the coordinates,” Nightwing said as he blocked a swing by the crowbar with his escrima stick. “We’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“Want me to go?” Robin asked, more than eager to prove himself.

“No, wait for me,” Nightwing stated in no uncertain terms.

“Well, hurry up then,” Robin groused, his hands on his hips as he watched his eldest brother fight the last of the bank robbers. “Want me to finish him off for you?”

“No!” Nightwing angrily growled, doubling his efforts and taking the robber down with a flip of his escrima.

“I already contacted Oracle for the pickup,” Robin told him. “Let’s go.”

Nightwing glared at him as he looked up from the unconscious robber that he’d just cuffed. “You got ants in your pants?”

“No, I just want more action,” Robin retorted. “It’s been a slow night.”

“Five attempted robberies, three attempted rapes, three carjacking’s, and a…”

“A partridge in a pear tree,” Robin interrupted him. “It’s not enough. I want to do more.”

“Let’s go see what Hood has,” Nightwing said with a frown as he made his way to the waiting Batmobile.

They took off towards Red Hood’s coordinates, Nightwing’s mind racing with possibilities of who Joker had abducted this time. He’d been escalating in his pursuit of victims, moving up from unknown street thugs to the likes of Catwoman. Only Joker knew when it would end.

“Who do you think Joker took this time?” Robin knowingly asked.

“How do you know that’s what Hood contacted me about?”

Robin rolled his eyes with a huff of annoyance. “It’s the only thing that you practically drop everything to investigate lately.”

Nightwing sighed wearily, rubbing the back of his neck. “I have no idea,” he admitted, “but I’m afraid to find out. He’s escalating his hits…going after bigger and bigger fish. It won’t be long before he comes after one of us…maybe Commissioner Gordon or the even the mayor.”

“You think he wants one of us?” Damian asked.

“I know he does,” Nightwing clarified. “Batman is at the heart of everything that he does. He wants to break him.”

“Physically?”

“Maybe, but mostly mentally,” he explained as he pulled the Batmobile to a stop and turned off the engine. He turned to look at his younger brother. “That’s why I want you to be careful out in Gotham. Joker could strike at any time…when you least expect it. You have to be on guard at all times.”

Damian only nodded as he opened his passenger side door and exited the car. He wasn’t about to be taken by Joker and if the psycho clown did try, he’d find himself with a huge fight on his hands. “Where is Hood?”

“Over here, guys,” Hood called to them, waving them towards a jewelry store, it’s front window completely smashed in.

“Who did Joker take this time?” Nightwing asked.

“Firefly,” Red Hood informed them. “He was attempting to rob this jewelry store when he got interrupted by Joker’s gang. I arrived on the scene just after they took him.”

“That would account for all the scorch marks on the store and the ground,” Wing commented as he studied the crime scene. “I assume Firefly didn’t get away with any of the goods?”

“Here’s his loot,” Hood said as he held up the bag of jewels.

“If Joker finds a way to control Firefly, we’re going to be in a whole world of hurt,” Dick groused, his gut churning with dread with the frightening thought. They needed to find Firefly and fast.

“Red Robin to Nightwing.”

“What is it?” Wing asked, his focus on the crime scene before him.

“Penguin is planning his revenge on Joker,” Red Robin informed him. “Word on the street is that Penguin is gunning for Harley.”

Dick felt a headache forming as he considered this newest information, wishing Batman was here. “Keep me posted if you learn anything more,” he replied. “Nightwing out.”

“Now what?” Red Hood asked, his hands on his hips as he studied his older brother.

“You don’t want to know,” he stated as he walked past him to begin his investigation.

Chapter Text

Chapter 18

Themyscira; September 22nd, 06:47 EST

Diana woke to the warmth of the rising sun’s rays splaying across her bed, the tropical breeze that invaded her room reminding her that she was still on her island home. She rolled over with a soft groan, definitely feeling better than she had the day before, but still sore.

It was the ache in her chest from missing her family and her children that hurt her the most. She was growing desperate to see them and to hold her children in her arms. She just wanted to return home with Bruce, hoping that being in Wayne Manor with his family would stimulate some memories for him.

Opening her eyes, she spotted the one who had stolen her heart from almost the very beginning. He was asleep in a chair in her bedroom, his head tilted back and resting against the wall. With his large, muscular frame, he looked uncomfortable in the small chair; his long legs stretched out before him.

Her lips quirked with immense affection as she watched him sleep. His black hair was mussed from his cowl…cowl hair she believed that he’d called it once. She’d teased him about it relentlessly after that, ruffling his hair when he’d remove his cowl and earning a growl that was always accompanied with the tiniest of smirks and usually a toe-curling kiss.

A soft sigh escaped her parted lips as she watched over him, wondering what if anything that he remembered about himself or their life together. She’d hoped that being out of the Underworld and away from its detrimental effects would help his memories to begin to surface. She had a feeling that was just wishful thinking. Nothing ever seemed that easy when it came to them.

Why did everything have to be so very complicated and complex for them?

She wasn’t about to wallow in self-pity or in an endless string of questions about why things like this always happened. She was going to treat this newest obstacle just like she treated everything else in her life—like a pivotal battle to be won. And she would fight for him…for them…with everything that she had within her. It was all she knew how to do.

Thoughts of her children and the family anxiously waiting for their return forced her to get out of bed. As much as she’d love to spend time here alone with Bruce in hopes of reclaiming the memories that he’d lost, she knew they needed to return home. There was no doubt that trouble awaited them in Gotham as well.

She had no idea how long it had been since she’d left home in order to bring Bruce back, but it felt like an eternity since she’d last been in Gotham. She could only imagine the chaos that the Joker and Batman’s other rogues had been causing with Batman gone, but she was confident that the boys were more than capable of handling them.

She shifted to the edge of her bed with a grimace, trying not to make a sound as she made her way towards Bruce. Grabbing a blanket from the foot of the bed, she carefully draped it over him, hoping not to wake him. He looked exhausted, dark shadows beneath his eyes making her worry about all that he’d been through during his time in the Underworld before she’d been able to get to him.

Her heart clenched with dread as she thought about him fighting for his life down in the Underworld, not fully understanding what was going on or why…not remembering who he was or where he’d come from. She felt guilt claw its way up her throat the more she thought about it, stealing the breath from her lungs.

She reached out, adjusting the blanket around his shoulders while wishing she could make it all better for him. She gasped as a hand suddenly clamped down on her wrist with a vice-like grip, Bruce’s eyes snapping open. He gazed upon her with a steely glare that seemed to burn straight through her to her soul. She knew he wouldn’t hurt her despite the alarming look in his eyes.

“It’s all right, Bruce,” she gently told him, relaxing her stance. “You’re on Themyscira now. Do you remember?”

He looked around at his surroundings as he tried to process everything he was seeing. A bewildered look flitted across his face as he quickly released his hold on her wrist. He sat up in his chair, the blanket she’d just covered him with falling into his lap as his gaze settled on her once more.

“What are you doing out of bed?” he demanded to know in that voice that expected a good answer, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. “You aren’t well enough to be up yet.”

She smiled softly at him, appreciative of his concern. “I heal quickly.”

She felt as if her skin was on fire as Bruce’s gaze slowly roamed over every inch of her, taking in the white, thin chiton she was wearing. The wounds on her arms, neck, and leg had improved somewhat compared to what they had been in the Underworld, but she still bore the evidence of the battle she had fought.

Without thinking, Bruce leaned forward, running the tips of his fingers over the fading wounds that still marked her skin. It sent tingles straight through Diana, but she did not move, allowing him to touch her at will. “Amazing,” he murmured in stunned disbelief. “What else should I know about you?”

Diana chuckled softly as she moved to sit on the edge of her bed. “There’s quite a lot actually,” she confessed as she brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “I don’t want to overwhelm you with all of it.”

Bruce sat forward in his chair, stretching out the kinks in his neck from sleeping in the chair. “It’s that shocking, huh?”

She tilted her head slightly in confirmation as she searched for the right explanation. “You could say that,” she hesitantly admitted. “I just don’t want to overwhelm you.”

“Diana,” he began, pursing his lips as his elbows came to rest on his knees. “I just survived traversing the Underworld, fighting creatures I’m pretty certain I’ve never seen before, met Hades, and found out I’m in a relationship with his daughter. I’m fairly sure anything you have to tell me would pale in comparison to what I’ve already been through.”

Her red lips quirked with amusement, her blue eyes sparkling with delight. Just being with him like this was a soothing salve to her wounded heart. He might not remember much, but her Bruce was still there. His movements and mannerisms, the deep baritone of his voice, his dominating presence in her room—it all combined to make him so very real to her again. It gave her a very real hope that she’d been on the verge of losing not that long ago.

She wanted to reach out and touch him…to feel him, but she knew that it was far too soon. “Well, I guess you’re right about that,” she replied with a chuckle. “Why don’t you start with telling me how you feel and what things you do remember?”

Bruce drew a deep breath, his eyebrows furrowing as he tried to focus on what it actually was that he was feeling and what he could remember. “I feel…lost,” he hesitantly confessed, finding it more than difficult to open up about his feelings. For some reason, though, he found he wanted to try for her. “It’s like I’m a part of this world and yet I’m not. Everyone seems to know me, but I don’t know them.

“I seem to know that I’m supposed to be dressed like this…that I’m Batman and Bruce, but beyond that I have no idea where I came from or why I became Batman. When we were chasing Ra’s last night, I somehow knew what I needed to do. I knew where certain devices were in this belt. I—”

“Wait,” Diana interrupted him, her forehead creasing. “You were chasing Ra’s? What did I miss last night?”

“Ra’s al Ghul escaped the dungeon and led us on a chase most of the night,” he responded with a frown that was all too familiar to the Amazon princess

“Oh no,” Diana uttered with a groan. “Did you find him?”

“No, he managed to escape the island in a boat,” he informed her. “We didn’t discover a boat was missing until later.”

“I’m going after him,” she stated as she stood to her feet, walking over to where her uniform laid.

“No, you’re not,” he insisted. “Shayera already searched for him. He’s long gone, princess.”

She cursed in Ancient Greek as she folded her arms against her chest, fury etched in her face. “You should have woken me. I could have helped you search for him.”

“And what then?” Bruce demanded, a scowl taking over his features as he stood to his feet. “Carry you on my back while we searched for him? You couldn’t sit up in bed let alone walk last night.”

Bruce watched as her sapphire eyes darkened to a frightening shade with the anger churning within her. It was alluring to behold as was the fact that she was dressed in a thin white chiton that fell to mid-thigh. It was very distracting to say the least. He forced himself to keep his focus on her face instead of her enticing figure.

“I could’ve done something to help,” she stubbornly countered.

“Not likely,” he shot back.

“So, now what do we do about him?” she asked as she began to pace. “We have to find him. He must pay for his crimes as well as all the anguish he’s caused.”

“We’ll find him,” he reassured her. “He won’t run free for forever. Besides, he wanted to take me back to Damian and Talia. I’m sure he’ll be wherever they are.”

“Well, Damian lives in Gotham with…he lives in Gotham,” she corrected herself before revealing too much. “Talia’s been missing since the battle in Gotham that sent you, Ra’s, and Hades to the Underworld.”

Batman’s muscular arms crossed against his emblemed chest. “Damian lives with who, Diana?”

She huffed in aggravation. Even without his memories he was still stubborn to the core and annoyingly perceptive about everything, never missing a solitary thing no matter how small it may seem. “With you,” she revealed.

A single eyebrow arched in suspicion as he studied her. “And?”

“And me,” she admitted, averting her eyes. “We live in Gotham. It’s the city where you were born and raised.”

The corner of his lips ticked up slightly. “We live together?”

“Yes,” she replied, a faint blush suffusing her cheeks as she ducked her head before making her way to her uniform. “We need to get back there. There was trouble brewing in Gotham just before I left to find you. We need to return soon.”

“So, let me get this straight,” he began. “You and I are obviously heroes of some kind and we live together with my son Damian that I had with Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter Talia.”

“Yes, that’s part of it,” she agreed, taking her uniform with her to the other room to change.

Bruce couldn’t but notice the way that she was trying not to limp as she walked out of the room. He couldn’t help but also be amused by the fact that they were a couple that lived together and yet she went into the other room to change.

“Have I not seen you naked before?” Bruce asked with an innocent lilt to his voice, Diana’s head suddenly peaking around the corner. Her eyes were wide in shock. “I mean you did say that we live together, right?”

Diana openly stared at him in disbelief. “Yes, but you don’t remember any of our life together…do you?”

“No, but I’m willing to bet it would help jog my memory,” he flirted with a smirk on his lips.

“Hera, Bruce,” she snapped. “I’m beginning to think you’re faking the whole amnesia thing. You sound just like yourself to me.”

“I swear I have no memory of my life,” he reassured her, drinking her in as she reentered her bed chambers dressed in her uniform. “I only have…feelings…I guess would be the best way to describe it. You’re more familiar to me than anyone else that I’ve met so far. Hippolyta, Artemis, and Shayera seem familiar, but I can’t place them, and I don’t know how I know them. Hermes—I have no clue about him.”

“You’ve never met Hermes before,” she assured him as she put her breastplate and tiara on before fastening her lasso to her hip.

“He’s your cousin, right?” he asked.

“Yes,” she confirmed as she leaned over to pull her boots on. “Artemis and Shayera are close friends. Artemis lives us…at least I think she still lives with us. Hippolyta is the Queen of the Amazons and my mother.”

“So, you’re a princess,” he stated, determined to drag the information out of her no matter what it took. He hated secrets. “What else do I need to know?”

Diana’s hands came to rest on her hips as she chewed on her bottom lip, trying to determine just how much she should tell him. “You live in Wayne Manor.”

We live in Wayne Manor,” he corrected her.

“Yes! We live in Wayne Manor,” she conceded with growing exasperation. “It’s the home you grew up in. You have three adopted sons—Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake as well as a butler who is more like your surrogate father than an actual employee. His name is Alfred Pennyworth.”

“And Damian is my biological son?”

“Correct,” she confirmed.

Bruce’s penetrating gaze narrowed dangerously, hoping to intimidate her into giving him the information he wanted no matter how overwhelming it might be. He needed all the information if he was going to be able to put his life back together.

“And what else?”

Diana huffed under her breath. He always knew when she was holding back and now was no different. “You and I have two children together—Nicholas and Kaia.”

“Are we married?”

“Yes, we are married,” she softly said, hoping that she hadn’t just scared him off.

Bruce felt a flutter in the pit of his stomach with the confirmation to his suspicions. How in the world had he managed to capture the heart of this woman? The logic of it escaped him at that moment, making him wonder what had drawn her to him in the first place.

“We have six children?” he asked as he rubbed his forehead, Diana nodding her head in confirmation.

“And Dick is married to my sister Donna,” she revealed. “She’s pregnant with twins.”

“So, I’m not only a father, but I’m going to be a grandfather?” he questioned her, eyebrows raised in surprise. “How old am I?”

Diana’s eyes fell closed, her worry spiking. She feared he was going to run for the door at any moment now especially with what she was about to reveal to him. “Yes, I’m afraid so,” she confirmed. “You’re thirty-seven years old…and you’re immortal like me. It was gift to you from my mother.”

“I’m immortal,” he stated. It was more a statement than a question as he tried to process this new information. “Are there any other children I need to know about?”

“Hera, I hope not,” she grumbled with a scowl that hinted at the jealousy brewing beneath the surface. “I can’t handle finding out you have a child with someone else.”

A smirk formed on his face. “Did I have a bad reputation for bedding women before I met you?”

“You could say that,” she bit out. “Come on; let’s go. I can answer all the questions you want me to on the flight home. Right now, we need to find Shayera and Artemis so we can leave.”

Bruce’s arm shot out as Diana tried to walk past him, his fingers possessively wrapping around her arm just above her elbow. “Diana, I can tell that you’re really worried about me being overwhelmed by all of this…and I have to admit that it is, but I want to know…I need to know the truth of my life no matter how incredible or strange it might seem. I want to know everything and you’re the only one I trust to reveal it to me. So, please…don’t hold anything back to protect me.”

Diana’s chin fell as she slowly drew in a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Bruce,” she softly said as she finally raised her head to meet his piercing gaze. “I’m really not trying to keep anything from you. I am scared that you’ll realize just how daunting our life together can be and that you’ll chose to leave, but I know that I need to give you a fair chance to make that decision for yourself So, whatever you decide when all is said and done, I’ll accept it.”

Diana waited with bated breath for his response, afraid to move or breathe for fear he would walk out that door and not look back. “Diana, there’s a very good reason that I chose to make that life with you even though it does seem intimidating,” he replied. “And I’m more than willing to rediscover what that reason is.”

Tears shimmered in her blue eyes as she stared at him, her heart suddenly in her throat. “Thank you for trying,” she murmured. “It’s all I ask of you.”

He smiled softly at her, noticing that he had yet to release his hold on her arm. For some reason, he found that he didn’t want to let go of her as his thumb lightly caressed her skin. “Let’s go home so I can meet all of these people.”

The princess returned his smile with one of her own, banishing her tears. “Let’s go then, Mister Wayne.”

“After you, Missus Wayne,” he responded, stepping aside to let her pass.

XXX

Walking through the palace with Bruce by her side, Diana decided that her heart felt lighter than it had in weeks. She’d gotten her husband safely out of the Underworld and she was going home to see her children. While things with her father had resulted in another tenuous truce, she had been granted a new gift from Hera.

By finally accepting in her heart that Hades was her father, she had been granted a new ability, one that would make her even more formidable against the foes that they found themselves battling on an almost daily basis. She found herself almost anxious to test out her new ability.

Even though things had turned out so well, she still found herself feeling unsettled when it came to her father. The things that he had said to her about being cast in a role…always being perceived as the villain because he was the god of the Underworld had caused her to question everything that she had ever thought or known about him. It left her with much to think about.

Casting a sidelong glance, Bruce could tell that there was still a heavy load that weighed on Diana especially with the way that she bit at her bottom lip. He was quickly learning what her different mannerisms meant. He wished that she would talk to him about it even though he was uncertain if he could even help her. He hoped that in time she would feel more comfortable about opening up to him.

He would be lying to himself if he said that the things that she had told him in her bed chambers hadn’t rattled him a little bit. It was a little unnerving to know that he had a large family awaiting his return, children at home that were dependent upon him as well as a whole city.

The notion that Diana was his wife was still something he was trying desperately to wrap his mind around. While he wasn’t necessarily disappointed by the revelation, he had to admit that he was intimidated by the prospect. How in the world could he physically keep up with an Amazon demi-goddess? Was really capable of giving her that much pleasure and passion?

He obviously could if they had two children together…and she did come all the way to the Underworld, risking her life in order to bring him home.

Home…it wasn’t even something that he remembered and yet he had a ready-made family so to speak. Instead of the sheer panic that he had expected to feel, he felt a startling sense of peace as if this was the way it was supposed to be.

“How long have we been married?”

Diana didn’t get the chance to answer as Antheia seemed to appear out of nowhere, a dagger clutched in her hand as she lunged at Bruce. He managed to get a hand up only for the blade to pierce his uniform. He cried out she pulled the dagger free, attempting to stab him again.

“Antheia!” Diana cried as she grabbed hold of her, wrenching her arm and forcing her to drop her weapon. “What in the name of Hera are you doing?”

“Taking your mate from you!” Antheia yelled at her, her body wracked in sobs. “I lost what meant the most to me because you chose him and his world over your own sisters. Because of your shellfish desires, I lost Calliope!”

Diana looked over her shoulder at Bruce, needing to make sure he was okay. He seemed to read the fear in her eyes. “It’s not bad,” he reassured her. “It’s not that deep.”

He leaned against the wall, holding his hand against his side where the blade had entered. He could feel warm blood oozing from the wound, but he was prepared to step in if she tried to attack Diana. Even though Diana had reassured him she was fine, he wasn’t completely convinced that she’d fully recovered yet.

Diana turned her attention back to the woman who had attacked her husband, determined to help her. “I’m sorry Calliope died trying to protect Themyscira and my mother, but she would not want you to try to avenge her death this way,” she tried to reason with her. “Calliope was my friend too and I know she wouldn’t want this. She would want you to find happiness again.”

Antheia dropped to her knees, her arms wrapping around her abdomen as she sobbed. “I miss her…so much,” she uttered between hiccoughing gasps.

Diana crouched down in front of her, holding her hand up to a couple of guards that were racing down the corridor towards them. “I know you do,” she replied, tears brimming in her own eyes. “I miss her too. My heart breaks for all the sisters we lost that horrible day, but now it’s time to rebuild and to make Themyscira great again.”

“I…I can’t…” Antheia stammered, staring at Diana with eyes wild with grief. “I don’t want to…not without Calliope.”

In less than a heartbeat, Antheia grabbed her dagger off the floor, slitting her throat. “No!” Diana screamed, yanking the dagger out of her hand and tossing it across the floor.

She immediately leaned over her friend, pressing both hands over the fatal wound that was gushing blood. Antheia stared up at her with an expression filled with inexplicable joy as if watching a scene that only she could see. “Calliope…” she whispered as she weakly lifted a hand up in the air as if to touch her.

Diana hung her head as tears fell from her eyes, gently holding Antheia’s hand. “No…no…no,” she cried. “When will this finally end? Hera, when?”

Memories of Phaedra taking her own life in Wayne Manor just a month ago paraded through her mind. She still carried a deep aching sense of anguish over her friend’s death, her accusing words still ringing in her ears and in her heart. It had shaken her faith as well as her confidence. Now, she found herself right back in that same sea-tossed boat of doubt.

The feel of hands gently yet firmly grasping her shoulders forced her up onto her feet. She suddenly found herself being enveloped in strong, familiar arms that she’d missed for so long. She willingly buried herself in Bruce’s embrace as she cried, her entire body shaking with her unremitting grief.

Wayne Manor; September 22nd, 12:42 EST

“All right, everyone,” Dick said, making sure he had everyone’s attention at the table. “Bruce and Diana will be home this evening.”

“Mommy and daddy are coming home?” Nicholas asked, his face lighting up with excitement.

“They sure are, Nick,” Donna confirmed, rubbing his back.

“Me made mommy and daddy a picture,” Kaia announced, bouncing excitedly in her booster seat.

“Me too,” Nick added. “I even put Ace and Peanut in my picture.”

“Me too,” Kaia said with a frown.

“Mine’s better cause I’m older,” Nick told her. “You can’t color good yet.”

“No!” Kaia declared, scowling at her brother. “Me better.”

“All right you two,” Dick interjected. “Now, as soon as we’re done with lunch, we need to finish putting Nick and Kaia’s bedrooms back together again before Bruce and Diana get home.”

“We’ve got plenty of time,” Jason said as he grabbed another sandwich.

“Not really,” Tim disagreed. “It’s already afternoon. Artemis said they’d hopefully be home in time for supper.”

“And I am going all out for dinner tonight,” Alfred interjected, the expression of pure elation on his face erasing the lines of worry that had appeared the moment Bruce had disappeared with Hades.

“Yah, but if we all help out, we’ll be done in no time flat,” Jason argued.

“Donna got new curtains and bedspreads, rugs and decorations that will need to be hung on the walls,” Dick revealed.

“Oh, and glow in the dark stars for the ceilings,” Donna added.

“Way to burn up Bruce’s credit card while he’s gone,” Tim teased her, earning a smack to the back of his head.

“Bruce and Diana will appreciate what we did for their children while they were gone,” Donna insisted.

“But what about the new carpet Alfred had to order?” Jason pointed out with a smirk.

“That was laid this morning,” Dick sheepishly revealed, knowing that he was the reason they had to order new carpet in the first place.

“After that, we need to head downstairs and see if we can try to find Firefly,” Tim reminded them. “There’s no telling what Joker’s putting him through right now.”

“Not at the dinner table, Master Timothy,” Alfred chided him, pointing at Nicholas and Kaia.

“Sorry, Alfred,” Tim apologized, looking to find two little sets of ears paying full attention. “Anyway, we have a lot of work to do.”

“Oracle has been reviewing all the security recordings from his abduction,” Dick told them. “I’m hoping she can get a good view of a license plate or something that will give us more to go on.”

“Have you thought about bringing Zee in?” Donna suggested. “Maybe she could do a little magic and find something at the crime scene that could help.”

“You know that’s not a bad idea,” Tim agreed.

“Already contacted her,” Dick revealed. “She’ll be there tonight to meet me at the crime scene.”

“We get to see Aunt Zee?” Nick asked.

“Not this time, Nick,” Dick told him. “I’ll tell her to stop by to see you guys sometime soon.”

Kaia cheered as she reached for the sandwich on Tim’s plate, giggling as Tim playfully swatted her hand away. He retrieved a sandwich from the platter in the middle of the table for her instead. “I’m worried how things are going to be once they return tonight,” Tim cryptically said, knowing everyone was thinking the same thing.

“We’ll deal with it,” Dick adamantly stated. “No matter what we’re a family and we will work through it. They’ll need all the support they can get.”

“Yah, but we’re going to need his expertise if we’re going to stop the clown,” Jason pointed out.

The doorbell rang at that moment, Alfred immediately going to answer it. “I wonder who that could be?” Donna asked.

“More stuff you ordered for the kids’ rooms?” Jason teased her.

“No,” Donna adamantly stated. “Everything is already upstairs waiting to be put together. I even got Nicholas a big boy bed.”

“I got a new bed?”

“Sure thing,” Donna confirmed. “It was time for a bigger bed. We just need the guys to put it together for you.”

“Master Timothy, you have a guest in the study,” Alfred announced as he reentered the kitchen.

“I wonder who that could be,” Tim murmured as he stood to his feet.

“It’s Miss Stephanie here to see you,” Alfred informed him.

“Stephanie?” Tim questioned him.

“Whoa,” Jason uttered. “That’s not going to be good.”

“Who’s Stephanie?” Damian asked, looking around the table for an answer.

Tim quickened his pace as his brothers began an in-depth explanation about his relationship with Stephanie. His stomach twisted into knots as he headed towards the study. He’d been hoping to avoid this, but now he had no choice. He stopped in the doorway, his gaze falling on the blond-haired girl who had first captured his attention and his heart.

“Stephanie,” Tim greeted her, his hands slipping into his jeans’ pockets. “What brings you here?”

Stephanie turned around, setting down the framed picture of the entire Wayne family. A tentative smile graced her face as she regarded him with those sky-blue eyes of hers. “Hi, Tim,” she replied. “I’m sorry to drop by like this but when I didn’t hear back from you, I was worried that something was wrong.”

“I’m really sorry, Steph,” he apologized as he took a couple more steps into the study. “It’s been crazy busy around here. I know that’s not a very good excuse, but I’m afraid it’s the truth.”

“It’s okay,” she reassured him. “I remember how crazy things could get around here.”

An awkward silence settled between them, one that was fraught with an uncomfortable tension. It’d never been this way with her before. Why was it now? “It’s really good to see you,” he ventured, trying to ease the apprehension that had wrapped around them like invisible tendrils. “How have you been?”

“Good…busy,” she responded, pulling her long, blond hair over her shoulder. She always did that when she was grappling with something. “A couple of college courses have been giving me fits, but I’m getting by.”

“That’s good,” Tim said with a nod, pausing to draw a deep breath before delving into what he knew he needed to say. “Look, Steph—”

“Tim, I—” she started at the same time.

Tim chuckled softly, feeling ridiculous for being so anxious about seeing her. “Go ahead…please.”

“Tim, I wanted to see because I’ve really missed you,” she began. “I was hoping that maybe you and I could try again? I still love you and I’d like it if you would give us another chance.”

Tim felt his stomach drop into his shoes with her confession, his mind spinning about as fast as his heart was beating at that moment. “Steph, I’m with someone else now,” he admitted. “I’m dating Cassie Sandsmark.”

“Oh…I see,” she softly said, clearly fighting back tears. “I’m happy for you.”

“Thank you,” he murmured, wanting to comfort her, but unsure if he should try to.

“I’m sorry for just stopping by,” she told him as she began to walk towards him. “I promise I won’t bother you anymore.”

“Steph, wait,” he said, grabbing her hand as she tried to walk past him. “You don’t have to leave right away.”

She tilted her head to the side, using her free hand to brush away a tear. “I think it’s for the best.”

Tim swiftly pulled her into his arms, holding her close. “I’m so sorry,” he murmured into her hair. “I never meant to hurt you.”

“I know,” she reassured him. “Just know that I’ll always love you, Tim…no matter what the future holds.”

“I’ll always love you too, Stephanie,” he admitted, rubbing her back. “I still want us to be friends, though. Is that something that you can still do?”

“Of course,” she assured him as she pulled back to look into his handsome face. A wan smile touched her lips, her eyes still bright with unshed tears. “I’ll always be here for you if you need me.”

“Same here,” he promised her, leaning in and kissing her on the forehead. “Stay out of trouble.”

Stephanie chuckled softly as she pulled out of his embrace. “Don’t I always?”

Tim snorted in obvious disagreement. “If memory serves me right…”

“Okay, that’s enough of that, Timothy Drake,” she teased him, smacking him affectionately on the shoulder.

Tim laughed as he grabbed her hand again. “You know you can still call me if you need anything, right?”

“Always, Tim,” she replied, squeezing his hand before releasing it. “Stay safe out there.”

“Always,” he promised her.

Tim watched as she walked out of the study, his heart heavy and yet he felt an inexplicable peace that he hadn’t expected. While he knew that he’d always love Stephanie, his heart now belonged to Cassie. He felt the need to hear her voice, to tell her about what had happened with Stephanie. He didn’t want anything to possibly ruin what he’d been able to build with her so far.

Pulling out his cell phone, he hit the button to call Cassie, her voice filling his ear. “Hey, Cass,” he replied with a smile. “Do you have plans this weekend?”

Chapter Text

Chapter 19

Themyscira; September 22nd, 12:04 EST

“I don’t see it.”

“It’s there…somewhere,” Artemis told him.

“So, you can’t see it either?” Batman asked her, casting a sidelong glance at the Bana-Mighdall Amazon.

“No,” she confirmed.

“Do you see it?” he questioned Shayera.

“No, I don’t see it either,” she verified.

Batman shook his head, perplexed. “Can Diana see it?”

“If she says it’s here, it’s here,” Artemis reassured him. “Besides, she’s the one who flew us here in it.”

“You’ll learn to trust her in time,” Shayera told him. “I know this is all pretty surreal for you, but I’m sure J’onn will be able to recover your memories for you. You’ll feel much better then.”

Bruce’s lips pursed into a dour line. “Who is J’onn?”

“He’s the Martian Manhunter,” Shayera informed him. “He’s a tall, green telepath from Mars.”

“Yah, that makes me feel so much better,” he sarcastically replied with a frown.

“If you think that’s bizarre, wait till you meet the rest of the Justice League,” Artemis told him.

“Is my family normal?” he asked as they walked along the white sandy beaches of Themyscira.

“Donna is just like Diana,” Artemis thoughtfully replied. “Everyone else is pretty normal…well, except for Nicholas and Kaia.”

“Why?” he demanded to know, a sudden flood of panic rising in his chest. “What’s wrong with my children?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” Artemis clarified. “It’s just that they’ve been given special gifts from Diana’s gods. Nicholas can teleport himself anywhere he wants to go, and he also has Diana’s accelerated healing ability. Kaia can communicate with animals and can teleport objects.”

“Oh, and Kaia is blessed by Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty,” Shayera added.

He released a ragged sigh as his gaze fell on Diana walking ahead of them with Queen Hippolyta and General Phillipus. “I think I feel a migraine coming on,” he grumbled.

“Just wait until the other gods bestow their blessings,” Hermes chimed in with a grin. “Don’t worry, though. You still have a few more years until that happens. Can’t have a four-year-old with Herculean strength.”

“Definitely a migraine,” Bruce growled as he glared at Hermes.

“Bruce, what you and Diana have together is the stuff they write about in fairy tales and movies,” Shayera assured him. “I know you don’t remember it now, but I have a feeling it won’t take long for you to rediscover the special love that you two have with one another.”

Bruce could only nod his head in response, his mind spinning with the possibilities that awaited him…the life that was his to grab onto if he only chose to take it. There was still a tremor of trepidation and apprehension that he couldn’t seem to shake, voices of doubt rising up in his mind urging him to run and not look back.
But then, he would look at Diana and those doubts seemed to lose their strength, lose their ability to speak.

“Thank you for everything, mother,” Diana said as she hugged her.

“I’m just sorry I couldn’t have done more,” she replied as she held her daughter. “Please, don’t allow Antheia’s death burden your heart. It was not your fault. She hasn’t been herself since Calliope’s death. I suppose I should have done more to help her cope…taken a special interest in her.”

“You were dealing with so much, mother,” she attempted to reassure her. “You had an island to rebuild and plenty of hurts to mend, injured sisters to care for. I know you’ll find a way to bring our sisters together as one again.”

“Thank you,” she said, pulling back to place her hand against her daughter’s cheek. “You are so very strong, my sun and stars. I know you’ll be able to help Bruce regain his memories and I have a very distinct feeling that my two little grandchildren will go a long way in helping in that respect.”

“I hope so,” she murmured with a sigh, her gaze falling on her husband who was talking to the others. “I don’t know what I’d do if he chose to leave us.”

Hippolyta leaned in, kissing her cheek. “He won’t, Diana. Just because his memories are gone doesn’t mean that his love for you is gone as well.”

“I love you, mother,” she said.

“I love you too, my daughter,” she told her. “Please, bring your family for a visit soon. I’m anxious to see my grandchildren…even the adults ones.”

“I will,” she reassured her, turning her attention to Hermes.

Hippolyta bid goodbye to Artemis and Shayera before pulling Bruce aside to speak with alone. “I know you don’t recall your life, but I know for a fact that no one in this world could possibly love you more than my daughter,” she revealed. “No matter what happens between the two of you…always remember that.”

She pulled him into a warm, motherly embrace, his arms wrapping tentatively around her. “Thank you, Hippolyta,” he softly said, not knowing how else to respond.

“Losing you nearly broke her,” she murmured. “Please, I only ask that you give her a chance.”

“I will,” he promised her.

“Please, come back for a visit soon,” she told him, retreating and revealing the tears shimmering in her eyes. “And promise me you will find that vile Ra’s al Ghul.”

“I promise,” he assured her with a small twitch of his lips.

“And when you do, hit him hard for me,” she instructed him with a devilish grin.

Bruce couldn’t contain the chuckle that escaped his lips. “I will not forget.”

“Take care of her,” Hippolyta requested, patting his Kevlar covered chest. “She’s very strong, but she feels so deeply and hurts just as much.”

“I will,” he said as they walked to rejoin the others.

Diana’s worried gaze shifted from Bruce to her mother and back again. Hermes’ constant chatter had made it difficult to hear what was being said between the two. “Mother, are you behaving yourself?”

“Of course, my sun and stars,” Hippolyta told her. “Now, have a safe trip. Give my love to the children and tell Donna she must come visit me soon.”

“I will,” Diana promised. “I’ll also see if Tim and Bruce can fix your communication system soon so you can see Nicholas and Kaia.”

“Thank you,” the queen said.

“I still don’t see the jet,” Batman stated, folding his arms across his chest.

“It’s there,” Hermes replied.

“You’re not coming with us, are you?” Shayera questioned him.

“Why?” he asked, sidling up next to her and wrapping his arm around her shoulders. “Do you want me to, Wings?”

“No,” she adamantly stated. “I think it’s definitely time to part ways.”

Hermes placed his hand over his heart, feigning hurt. “You wound me, beautiful,” he told her. “I feel like we’ve all really bonded over this mission. We made an awesome team.”

“I guess you were sort of useful at times,” Artemis conceded.

“Is that the best I’m going to get out of you, Red?”

“Take it or leave it,” she stated.

“Fine, I’ll take it,” he decided, turning his attention to Diana. “Cousin, always a pleasure to see you. Don’t be a stranger. Call if you ever need my help again.”

“Thank you for you did, Hermes,” she told him. “I’m not sure we could’ve gotten Bruce back without your help.”

“I’m sure we could have,” Artemis muttered with a smirk.

“I feel the love, Red,” Hermes shot back. “It’s hiding there just beneath the snarky attitude and even snarkier words.”

Artemis shook her head in disbelief. “Yah, I’m sure that’s where it is.”

“Safe travels,” Hermes bid them goodbye. “Let me know if you ever need me again. I’m just a call away.”

“Just go already so we can leave,” Shay told him.

Hermes blew her a kiss before disappearing from sight with a mischievous grin on his face. “I still can’t believe you’re related to him,” Artemis said with a huff.

“It’s not actually blood relation since Diana was formed from clay,” Queen Hippolyta interjected.

“Excuse me?” Bruce asked, looking to Diana for answers.

“It’s a long story,” Diana said with a shake of her head. “I’ll tell you on the way home.”

“I still don’t see the jet,” Bruce stated, unconvinced.

Detroit; September 22nd, 18:21 EST

“Whoa!” Wally yelled; his mouth full of pizza. “I so didn’t see that coming!”

“Really?” John said with a chuckle as he leaned forward to get more potato chips from one of the many bags laying on the coffee table in front of him along with several cans of pop. “I saw it coming a mile away.”

“No way you did,” Wally countered, shifting his position on the couch.

“You don’t actually believe this is real, do you?”

“Of course, it’s real,” he insisted, looking at John as if he’d lost his mind. “You think it’s fake?”

“It’s wrestling, Wally,” he pointed out. “It’s all choreographed. They’re going by a script. It’s like a soap opera in a wrestling ring.”

“Did you hit your head on that mission in Dallas this morning?” he asked him. “It’s all one hundred percent real.”

John couldn’t contain his laughter at his friend’s expense. “Don’t ever change, Wal,” he told him, clapping him on the back.

“More…more…” Bella said, pointing at the pizza box.

John shook his head, a smile of adoration on his face as he looked at his daughter to find pizza sauce on her mouth. “You’re a mess, Bella,” he replied, taking his napkin to wipe her face.

Bella frowned, trying to avoid the napkin as she moved her head from side to side. “No, no, dada,” she scolded him.

“Here, I’ll get you more, Bells,” Wally replied, setting his plate aside. Taking a knife, he cut up another piece of pizza into tiny pieces for her to eat. “You know I’m going to miss these kids.”

“You’re more than welcome to babysit any time you want to,” John informed him. “In fact, I think that Shayera and I need a long vacation alone when she returns. You can stay with the kids.”

“Yah!” Rex agreed. “We can play wrestle!”

“No wrestling,” John insisted. “You’ll only end up hurting yourself…or the house.”

“Then I wrestle Bella,” Rex decided.

John turned a dark glare on his best friend. “See what you’ve started?” he growled. “Rex, no wrestling with Bella. She’s too little. You’ll hurt her.”

“Fine,” Rex huffed in annoyance.

“What in the world happened to my living room?”

The two men froze with the sound of the all too familiar voice while the kids leapt to their feet, excited for her return. “Mommy!” Rex excitedly cried, leaping off the back of the couch and into his mother’s arms. “I missed you so much.”

Shayera kissed her son on the cheek, holding him close. “I missed you too,” she told him.

“Mama!” Bella shrieked as she wiggled off the edge of the couch and toddled over to her. “Mama! Mama!”

Shay knelt down and scooped Bella up into her other arm, holding her children close to her. “Hi, my Bella,” she greeted her, kissing her on the forehead. “Have you two been good for your daddy?”

“Yes,” Rex insisted. “Uncle Wally has been living with us. We’ve been having so much fun!”

The Thanagarian’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, her lips twisting into a frown. “Well, that explains the mess in the living room,” she stated. “Do I even want to see the rest of my house?”

“It’s not that bad—I swear,” Wally attempted to reassure her, a blur of red racing around the living room to pick up the pizza boxes, napkins, and empty pop cans. “See? All good.”

“We’ll see about that,” Shay said with a dangerous glare as she set her children down. “Why don’t you two go get ready for your bath?”

“Maybe we can wrestle in the bathtub?” Rex told Bella as they ran out the living room.

“No wrestling!” John bellowed as he got up to greet his wife, a relieved expression on his face “I am so happy you’re home. You have no idea how much I missed you.”

John swiftly wrapped his arms around her, pulling her in and kissing her hard. He was beyond anxious to show her just how desperately he’d missed her. Wally groaned as he flopped back against the couch cushions. “Oh, come on,” he groused. “It hasn’t been that bad. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of filling in for Shay.”

“Yes, but you’re still not my wife,” John pointed out, keeping his arms possessively around her waist.

Shayera chuckled as she pictured her husband and Wally trying to be both the mom and dad around here. “Do I even want to know what you two have been up to while I was gone?”

“Probably not,” Wally said.

“Nothing…nothing at all,” John said at the exact same time.

“Okay, now I definitely want to know,” she stated as she disengaged herself from her husband’s arms to make a beeline for the box of half-eaten pizza on the coffee table. “And didn’t we have a rule about no food in the living room?”

“Oh yah…well, you see that kind of got thrown out the window when Wally made a blanket fort for the kids and they ate strawberry jelly toast in here,” John revealed. “It just basically went downhill from there.”

It was Shayera’s turn to groan as she took a bite of pizza. “I should’ve known I couldn’t trust you to take care of things here while I was gone,” she decided. “I should’ve hired a babysitter to watch you and the kids.”

“It wasn’t my fault,” John insisted. “Talk to fun Uncle Wally over there.”

“Where’s your mother?” she asked.

“She caught Rex’s cold, so I stepped in to help,” Wally proudly informed her. “Let me tell you it’s exhausting work running a household, taking care of kids, and having duties with the League.”

Shayera scowled at him. “I do it every single day. You did it for like nine days.”

“I know and it was really traumatic,” he dramatically exclaimed.

She rolled her eyes as she began to walk past John. “I’m going to help the kids with their bath and then put them to bed,” she revealed. “Then, we can discuss how traumatic being a parent was for you.”

“Hey, how’s Bruce?” John asked, suddenly remembering why she’d left in the first place.

“Physically, he’s fine thanks to Hermes,” she replied with a frown. “Mentally, he can’t remember anything. He seems lost and a little confused about it all. We’re hoping being at home with his family will help unlock his memories. If not, J’onn will really have his work cut out for him.”

Wally grabbed another piece of pizza before coming to stand beside John. “What about Diana?”

“She’s doing better,” she revealed. “It was real touch and go there for a while. We didn’t know if she was going to make it between the Hydra’s poison in her system and her fight with Hades, but she pulled through it.”

“Does Bruce know her?” John questioned her.

Shayera’s lips spread into a smile, remembering how Bruce had looked at Diana when they had flown home. “He might not have his memories, but he definitely feels something for her.”

“How can that be?” Flash said, his face scrunching up in confusion.

John smirked as he glanced at Wally. “When you find the right one, you’ll know,” he told him.

“His mind might not remember her, but his heart does,” Shayera told him.

Wally shook his head as he crossed his arms against his chest. “You guys are so mushy with all your romantic talk.”

“Come back and talk to us once you get engaged,” John said.

“Like that’ll happen any time soon,” Wally scoffed.

Batcave; September 22nd, 18:45 EST

Bruce and Diana entered the Batcave, both lost in their own thoughts. Conversation had been minimal since dropping Shayera off, mixed emotions causing tensions to rise. It was nearly suffocating by the time they had arrived at the secret entrance to the Batcave.

Artemis silently followed behind them, her gaze shifting between the couple walking before her. They seemed to make a breakthrough on Themyscira, but things had grown awkward since then. Idle chatter had taken place during the return trip home, stories shared with Bruce about various missions. Unfortunately, none of it triggered any memories for him.

The trio came to a stop near the steps of the platform, Diana glancing at Bruce. She wasn’t certain what the best approach was for meeting his family. She didn’t want to overwhelm him, but there would be no avoiding it once he stepped foot inside the manor. He would be subjected to an abundance of hugs and bombarded with an endless string of questions that he probably wouldn’t be able to fully answer.

“I’m going up to see Jason,” Artemis announced, her hands on her hips as she stared at Bruce and Diana. Neither seemed inclined to move from the spot they appeared to be rooted to despite the fact the entire family was upstairs, anxiously awaiting their appearance. “Are you coming, or do you want me to send everyone down here to you?”

“No…no, we’re coming,” Diana replied. “Just give us a minute…okay?”

“Sure thing,” Artemis said, giving them a small smile. “Don’t take too long. I heard Alfred prepared a feast to celebrate your return.”

“We’re just going to change out of our uniforms and then we’ll be there,” she assured her.

“Okay,” she responded, turning on her heel and heading towards the stairs. “Hurry! I’m pretty sure you’ve got two kids up there who are practically bouncing off the walls to see you.”

Diana smiled as she thought about her children, anxious to see them too. “Come,” she said as she turned to Bruce. “I’ll show you were the clothes lockers are.”

Bruce followed her towards the changing area, his gaze constantly surveying the unfamiliar area. “This place is incredible,” he told her. “Who put all this together?”

“You did,” she revealed, stopping before the lockers. “You’ll find clothes here that will fit you.”

“Where are you changing?”

Diana was taken aback by his question but masked her surprise. “My things are here too, but I’ll go into one of the changing rooms to give you some privacy.”

Bruce merely nodded his head as he turned his attention to the clothes before him, pulling out a pair of jeans and a t-shirt that said “Gotham Knights” on it. He wasn’t certain who they were, but assumed it was some sort of sports team.

He quickly began to undress, slipping on the clothes he’d found as his thoughts lingered on the woman who was his wife. He couldn’t help wondering about the life that he’d made with her or what he had possibly done to have won her heart. He just hoped that he remembered soon. He didn’t want to do anything to screw it up.

Slipping on some socks and tennis shoes, he turned around to find the object of his thoughts standing behind him. She was dressed in a pair of jeans and a white V-neck t-shirt that did little hide her amazing figure. “Are you ready for this?” she asked.

“I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” he decided. “Do I look okay?”

“You look perfect,” she reassured him, her gaze raking over him as her teeth raked over her bottom lip.

The heat of her gaze did not go unnoticed by him, creating a warm pool of desire inside of him. He quickly tamped down on it, knowing it was pure lust at this point. While he felt a connection to her, he didn’t remember the deep love that they had shared prior to being taken to the Underworld. He refused to give her anything less than the love that she deserved.

“I hope I remember something,” he told her as she began to lead him towards the staircase and the family that awaited him.

Diana glanced over her shoulder at him, bestowing him with a reassuring smile. “I’m sure you’ll be able to,” she told him. “I promise we won’t give up until we’ve been able to recover your memories and if for some reason we can’t, I guess we’ll just have to make new ones for you.”

Bruce smiled to himself as he followed her up the stairs, her confidence in him as well as her optimistic outlook contagious. She had gone through so much to bring him back, nearly losing her life just to bring him home. Even now with the possibility of never recovering what he’d lost, she was willing to fight for him, not about to give up on him.

The unimaginable depths of her love for him stirred something deep inside of his soul, creating a sense of warm affection that seemed to spread throughout his entire body. The worry that had pervaded his entire being was somehow silenced knowing that she was going to be there with him every step of the way.

Entering the manor from behind a large grandfather clock, Bruce drew a deep breath, releasing it slowly through his nose as he began to look around, hoping to remember something. Nothing seemed familiar to him and yet he felt as if this was where he was supposed to be.

Laughter could be heard coming from some place down the hall, a welcoming sound that seemed to envelope him and draw him closer. Without a second thought, he captured Diana’s hand in his own, lacing his fingers with hers and obviously taking her by surprise.

Diana momentarily paused in her step, glancing down at his hand holding hers. She looked up at him, gracing him with a dazzling smile that seemed to light up the entire hallway as well as his heart. She gently squeezed his hand in response, appreciating the effort that he was making.

“Are you ready?” she softly asked him.

“I think so,” he replied with a nod.

“Do you remember who everyone is from the pictures I showed you on the trip home?”

“I guess we’re about to find out,” he teased her.

Diana felt as though her heart was in her throat as they drew near to the entertainment room. A silent, pleading prayer was sent to her goddesses that he would remember his children, hoping they would be able to unlock what she hadn’t been able to.

They came to a stop in the doorway of the entertainment room, peering inside to see everyone sitting together watching television. Diana felt tears instantly sting her eyes, overwhelmed by the relief and happiness of finally being home again.

She glanced at Bruce who was staring at them with a look of wonder on his face. “This is my family?” he whispered.

“It is,” she softly confirmed.

Nicholas looked up at that moment, spotting his mother and father. “Daddy! Mommy!” he squealed with undeniable excitement as he jumped off the couch and ran towards Bruce.

“Daddy!” Kaia cried, getting up off the floor. “Mama!”

Bruce barely got two steps into the room, two little kids running straight for him. Without hesitation, he dropped to his knees, nearly being bowled over as he enveloped his youngest son and his daughter. He wrapped an arm around each of them, his children burying themselves in their father’s embrace.

Nicholas and Kaia began to cry as they hugged Bruce, all the fear and confusion and loneliness bursting free now that their father and mother were finally home. Diana came to stand beside him, tears brimming in her eyes with the deep bond and love that her children had with their father.

It hurt her to see how upset Nick and Kaia were by all of this, but she knew it would’ve been so much worse for them if she hadn’t been able to bring Bruce home to them. As difficult as it had been, she reminded herself that she had done what was necessary in order to restore her family.

Kneeling down beside Bruce, she placed a gentle hand on his back in silent support to let him know she was still there. He looked over at her, Diana stunned to find tears in his eyes as well. Despite not remembering them, it was an overwhelming moment for him, his children so happy to see him…showing him how much they loved and missed him. With any luck, it would help to pull his memories out of the darkness the Underworld had banished them to.

“Me missed you,” Kaia tearfully told him as she finally lifted her head to look at him.

“I missed you too, Kaia,” he replied, choking back tears that refused to be so easily dismissed.

Nicholas tightened his hold around Bruce’s neck, burying his face further into the crook of his neck. “I missed you so much, daddy,” he softly said through his tears.

“I’m sorry, Nicholas,” he apologized. “I promise I’m not going anywhere now.”

“Mama!” Kaia cried, reaching over for Diana.

Diana took Kaia into her arms, holding her close to her as she rubbed her back. “I missed you so much, my little sun and stars,” she told her. “There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think of you and Nicholas.”

“Me got a new woom,” Kaia revealed between sniffles.

“I did too!” Nicholas announced, wiping his nose with the back of his hand. “It’s a surprise for you. It’s a Batman room.”

“Mine is a princess woom,” Kaia added.

Diana looked up at the rest of the family to find them all watching them and on the verge of tears save for Donna who was openly crying in Dick’s arms. She swallowed hard against her own tears that were beginning to trail down her cheeks. Hera, she’d missed them all so much.

“We knew that you two had been talking about updating the kids’ rooms, so we took care of it for you,” Tim revealed. “It gave Nick and Kaia something to look forward to while you were gone.”

“I can’t thank you all enough,” Diana managed to choke out.

“We’re just glad that you’re both home now,” Dick told them, rubbing Donna’s back. “We were so worried about you guys.”

“I know,” Diana said. “I’m sorry we couldn’t communicate more with you, but it was reassuring knowing everything here was in good hands.”

Jason tightened his hold on Artemis, his arm wrapped her shoulder. “I will tell you it was a harrowing experience painting with Dick,” he revealed.

“Hey, it wasn’t my fault,” the eldest brother maintained.

Tim and Jason both chuckled with Dick’s lame defense. “Nicholas’s carpet had to be replaced,” Tim pointed out.

“Thanks a lot, big mouth,” Dick growled.

“At least you weren’t partnered with Dick on patrol,” Damian chimed in. “I felt like I was on a leash.”

“I’m a very good teacher on patrol,” Dick said with a scowl.

A throat clearing cough caught everyone’s attention, Bruce and Diana standing to their feet with their children in their arms as they turned to the doorway to find the British butler there. “If you would all be so kind as to head to the dining room, I have created a feast to celebrate the special occasion,” Alfred announced, his eyes bright with the unshed tears that would have been deemed inappropriate to allow to fully form.

“I’m famished!” Jason declared as he got up, pulling Artemis with him.

“When aren’t you famished?” Tim asked with a roll of his eyes.

“That’s funny coming from you,” Jason retorted. “Your stomach is like a bottomless pit.”

“I’m a growing boy,” Tim maintained.

“Growing out,” Jason taunted him as he patted Tim’s stomach.

“Hey! Cassie loves me just the way that I am,” Tim maintained.

Jason and Tim stopped before Bruce, Jason putting a hand on Bruce’s shoulder. “It’s good to have you home, pops,” Jason said with a smirk.

“It’s good to be home,” Bruce admitted. “I’m anxious to get caught up on everything that I missed.”

“We’ll update you later,” Tim told him. “Right now, just enjoy being home. We’ve got everything covered.”

Donna hugged her sister who was still holding Kaia, her face wet with tears. “I was so worried about you two,” she murmured.

“I’m so sorry, Donna,” Diana softly said, stroking her hair. “I know it must have been hardest for you being able to feel everything I was going through.”

“We came so close to losing you,” she whispered in her ear.

“I can’t be taken out that easily,” Diana lightly teased her, pulling back to wipe the tears from her sister’s cheeks. “I can’t thank you enough for taking care of my children.”

“There’s no other place I would’ve wanted to be,” she reassured her.

“Okay, you two,” Dick interrupted, taking his wife’s hand in his. “You can catch up later. We don’t want Alfred’s meal to be ruined. He’s been working away in the kitchen all day.”

Donna took Kaia into her arms as Dick stole Nicholas from Bruce. “Thank you, Dick,” Bruce said to him, taking Dick by surprise. “I hear you took charge of everything while I was gone. Thank you for taking care of my family and Gotham for me.”

Dick silently nodded his head, touched by Bruce’s words. “I know you would do the same for me,” he replied. “Besides, that’s what family does for each other.”

“I’m anxious to remember everything about our family,” Bruce admitted.

“It’ll come back,” Dick reassured him, a mischievous smirk forming on his face. “We’re more than happy to help you remember all of your most embarrassing moments.”

“Great,” Bruce said with a roll of his eyes. “I can hardly wait.”

“I want daddy,” Nicholas stated, reaching for Bruce.

“I’m coming, Nicholas,” Bruce reassured him, running his fingers through his son’s hair.

“Come on, kiddo,” Dick told him. “Let’s give your parents a minute before we eat.”

“We’ll be right there, little warrior,” Diana promised him. “I just want to talk to your dad for a minute.”

Nicholas laid his head on Dick’s shoulder, his arms around his neck as he was carried out of the entertainment room. Diana watched as they left, noticing how difficult it was for their children to be away from them right now. She hoped they’d eventually be all right and be able to get past all of this.

As if reading her mind, Bruce laid a hand on Diana’s shoulder. “They’re really young, Diana,” he reminded him. “They probably won’t even remember it later in life.”

“I hope so,” she softly replied. “I never meant to hurt them, but I knew they needed you. We all needed you back with us.”

“I’m so grateful that you came after,” he told her, his voice full of emotion. “You nearly died saving me.”

“I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat if it meant you were here safe where you belong,” she reassured him.

“I know you would,” he agreed with a nod. “I don’t know how I know that, but I do. You’ve more than proven that you love me. I just wish that I could remember loving you.”

Diana bit at her bottom lip, averting her eyes as tears threatened to overwhelm her again. “I do too, but I…I don’t want you to feel obligated in any way. There’s a guest room down the hall from our bedroom that you can use if you want to and—”

“Don’t worry, Diana,” he interrupted her, taking her hand in his. “We’ll take it slow and see where it leads us. I fell in love with you once. I have a feeling it won’t be very difficult to do again.”

The corner of her lips quirked with his words, her heart beating a little harder. “Let’s go eat before Alfred comes after us.”

“Why do I have the feeling he’s the one who actually runs this household?”

Diana chuckled softly as she led him towards the dining room. “You would not be wrong about that,” she told him. “You’ll find that he runs a very tight ship.”

“I’m going to need to learn everything that I can about Gotham and the Justice League as well,” he reminded her. “I’m sure crime didn’t stop while I was gone.”

“I have a very bad feeling we came back to a firestorm,” she confessed with a sigh.

Chapter Text

Chapter 20

Wayne Manor; September 22nd, 21:56 EST

Sitting silently in the rocking chair in his daughter’s newly decorated princess room, Bruce just watched his daughter as she slept so peacefully. The soft glow from her Wonder Woman nightlight was the only source of light as he absorbed the tranquility of the moment. She had the most angelic expression on her face, her beloved kitten curled up against Kaia’s stomach.

His lips curved into a soft smile as she murmured “daddy” in her sleep accompanied with a little giggle. The evening had been a complete whirlwind of activity, endless chatter and teasing, and emotions that seemed to range from happiness to confusion and everything in between.

It had been overwhelming to say the least. It was even exhausting at times just trying to keep up with everyone and everything that had been going on, but he just somehow knew this was where he belonged. He had no idea how he’d been so fortunate to have so many amazing people in his life that seemed to care so much about him…people in his life that he had the privilege to call family.

When he’d first escaped Hades’ palace in the Underworld, he’d never dreamed that he had children or a wife to come home to, a life that was completely surreal compared to what most people considered to be normal. He knew there had to be a reason he had been dressed like he had been, carrying bizarre gadgets that made little sense to him at the time.

Bruce drew a deep breath through his nose, releasing it slowly as he considered everything that he had to relearn. There was so much about his life that was still missing to him, laying so far beyond his reach that he couldn’t begin to hope to grasp hold of it.

He was going to have learn about so much starting with Gotham—who the enemies were, what his company was comprised of, his life growing up here in this city. Then there was the matter of the Justice League. He had no idea who they were or where he fit into the whole scheme of the superhero world. Then there was his family and his wife…Diana. He needed to remember their story.

He leaned forward, his elbows coming to rest on his knees as he raked his fingers back through his black hair. He didn’t know how he was going to get to the place that he needed to be, but he knew that he needed to do it as soon as possible. It sounded as if things in Gotham could be escalating at a frightening pace if the way Dick, Jason, and Tim had talked had been any indication.

If he was going to help, he was going to have to get up to speed quickly with everything.

Bruce lifted his head as he heard another sleepy giggle emanating from his daughter, causing the corner of his lips to tick up. Whatever she was dreaming about seemed to be making her happy. The very notion that her dream included him made his heart swell in his chest.

He looked up at the soft sound of the bedroom door opening, Diana appearing in the doorway. “Are you all right?” she softly asked.

“Yes,” he murmured as he stood to his feet.

“So, many books did she con you into reading to her tonight?”

“Only one,” he revealed with a smirk. “She fell asleep halfway through the first.”

Diana smiled at him as she came to stand beside him, amazed at the beautiful job they had done redecorating the kids’ rooms. “Bedtime stories with her father is her favorite time, but there was a lot of excitement tonight. I’m sure it wore her out.”

Bruce couldn’t help but beam as he stared at his little girl. “I just can’t believe that I helped make something so beautiful…so absolutely perfect,” he quietly said, wonderment filling his voice. “I can’t believe Nicholas and Kaia actually my children, a part of me in them.”

“They are both definitely yours,” she reassured him with a knowing grin on her face.

“Ours,” he corrected her, turning to look into her eyes. “They’re our children. It’s difficult not to see the two of us in Nicholas and Kaia. They both carry physical and personality characteristics that are very much us in every way.”

Diana was beyond delighted that he was already able to see that. It gave her hope that he’d be able to regain more of what he’d lost. “We better go to bed,” she suggested. “It’s been a very long day and tomorrow is also going to be a big day for you with going to the Watchtower and meeting with J’onn.”

Bruce nodded in agreement as he followed his wife out of Kaia’s bedroom, glancing back over his shoulder to see his little girl. “Did Nicholas go to sleep without trouble?” he asked.

“Yes, he was exhausted,” she informed him. “I let them stay up later than normal because they were so excited to have you home.”

“I should probably spend some time with them tomorrow…make sure that they feel secure and know that I’m not going anywhere,” he thoughtfully told her as they stood in the hallway.

“They would love that, Bruce,” she readily agreed, unable to hide the happiness that shined brightly in her eyes.

“I should probably go talk to Dick in that cave beneath the house,” he said with a frown. “I have to get caught up on what I’ve missed while I’ve been gone. I’m sure they’ll need some help with Gotham.”

Diana laid a hand on his forearm, squeezing it gently. “They’ve got it covered for tonight,” she reassured him. “Tonight, you should just enjoy being able to sleep in a real bed in your home.”

He shook his head as his lips thinned into a cheerless line. “It doesn’t feel right for some reason,” he grumbled. “I feel like I should be doing something, but I don’t know what it is.”

“It’ll come back to you,” she assured him. “You just need to be patient and give it time.”

Bruce stared at her for a long moment before finally responding. “I’m not a very patient person, am I?”

Diana chuckled softly as she shook her head, giving him an affectionate look. “No, not at all.”

“That’s what I thought,” he muttered.

“Come, I’ll show you to the master bedroom,” she offered.

“I thought I was sleeping in the guest room?”

“No, you deserve to sleep in your own bed,” she replied, glancing back over her shoulder as she led him to the room that they shared. “Besides, being in your own bedroom might help trigger some memories for you.”

“Diana,” he groused. “I don’t want to kick you out of your own bed. It makes more sense to let me take the guest room. I probably won’t even remember this room anyway.”

“Don’t worry about me,” she said, opening the door to their bedroom. “I’ll just be down the hall. Just let me get a couple of things and I’ll be out of your hair.”

Bruce frowned as he watched her go to the dresser and retrieve a negligee, his thoughts beginning to run rampant as he wondered how many times that he’d seen her in that very piece of clothing…the fevered nights spent with her removing it and making her cry out his name. He wished he could remember it.

He wanted to remember the life they’d made and the love that they shared. He wanted to remember the good times and even the bad. He wanted it all and he wanted it for not only himself but for her as well. Although she tried to hide it, he could tell this was very difficult for her.

Diana grabbed a couple other personal items as well as some clothes before making her way towards the door only to be brought to a stop by Bruce’s hand capturing hers. “Thank you, Diana,” he softly said.

“You don’t have to thank me for anything,” she replied with a warm smile. “Just having you safely back where you belong is more than enough for me.”

He nodded in response as he released her hand, not knowing what else to say or what he could say to make any of this easier for her. He hoped with time and maybe J’onn’s help that he’d be able to find a way to repay her for all that she’d risked and done for him.

“Sleep well,” she told him.

“You too,” he replied.

Closing the door behind her, Diana left him all alone in their bedroom. Bruce took his time exploring their bedroom, running his fingers along what he assumed was his dresser, pausing before her dresser to pick up a bottle of her perfume. He brought it to his nose, closing his eyes as he inhaled the exotic scent.

He set it down, moving on to the framed picture of them from their wedding day. The look of love that shown in both their eyes was undeniable, the happiness and adoration on their faces stunning him. Diana still looked at him with that very same passion and love even though he couldn’t return it just yet. It proved to him just how unconditional her love for him was, making him that much more desperate to remember and be able to return that love.

Placing the frame on the dresser, he turned his attention to his waiting bed. He stared at it for a long moment, fighting to recall something…anything about the intimate moments that he’d shared with Diana there. Unfortunately, nothing came to his mind.

With a huff of annoyance, Bruce flipped off the lights before removing his clothes, tossing them onto a nearby chair and crawling into the bed. He settled on his back, staring up at the ceiling as his mind wrestled with so many things. He couldn’t help feeling as though he should be out in Gotham with his sons, but he knew that he needed to try to restore at least some of his memories first.

Although tired, a part of him felt restless, his thoughts constantly returning to the beautiful Amazon in the bedroom down the hall. He rolled onto his side, his gaze falling on what was supposed to be her side of their bed. He reached out to run his fingers over the cool sheets, a sense of loneliness drifting over him as sleep finally claimed him.

XXX

Diana saw Tim exiting his bedroom, talking on the phone with someone as she came down the hall. It was more than likely Cassie. She was sure they hadn’t gotten to see very much of each other since this whole disastrous event with Hades taking Bruce. She hoped they’d be able to spend some time together now that they were home.

“Okay, I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” Tim softly said. “Yah…love you too. Night.”

Diana tried to keep the smile from reaching her face as Tim looked up to see Diana coming towards him. “Cassie?” she said.

“Yah,” Tim sheepishly said as he slipped his phone into the back pocket of his jenas. “I just wanted to talk to her for a minute before starting patrol.”

“You’re fine, Tim,” she reassured him. “I’m just sorry that our absence interfered with you being able to spend time with her.”

“No worries, mom,” Tim told her. “Cassie totally understands. She’s been great through all of this. In fact, we’re going to go out this coming weekend.”

“Maybe we should have her over for dinner some time,” she suggested.

“Uh, yah…we’ll see about that,” Tim said, embarrassment staining his cheeks a soft shade of pink.

Diana laid a hand on Tim’s forearm, squeezing it in reassurance. “I promise I’ll keep your father and brothers in line.”

“They don’t have to come to dinner at all,” he recommended, all sorts of tortuous thoughts running through his head with the very notion of Dick, Damian, and Jason attending family dinner with Cassie there as his guest.

Diana chuckled softly. “It’s whatever you want,” she decided. “Just tell Alfred what night works best for you and Cassie and I’ll make sure it’s just us.”

Tim seemed to visibly relax a little as his shoulders slumped with relief. “That would be great,” he agreed, his expression growing somber. “I’m so glad you guys are home. Nick and Kaia aren’t the only ones happy to have you back.”

She pulled her son into a fierce embrace that left little doubt about how she felt about him. “I missed you too,” she revealed, her voice choked with emotion. “There wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t thinking of all of you, wishing I could see you and talk to you…wondering if you were okay.”

“I’m just happy you both made it home in one piece,” Tim told her as he returned her hug. “And don’t worry about Bruce. He’ll get his memories back. We’ll do whatever we need to do to help him remember.”

Diana pulled back, her eyes shining brightly as her hand came to rest against his cheek. “I know you will,” she replied. “I love you, Tim, and I’m so very proud of how you and your brothers handled everything while we were gone. We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Tim grinned. “I love you too, mom.”

“All right, Timmy,” Donna interrupted as she approached. “Dick, Damian, and Jason are waiting on you downstairs and I need some sister time.”

“See how bossy she’s gotten now that she’s pregnant?” Tim said with a spark of amusement lighting his eyes, grinning as he ducked away from her attempt to smack him on the back of the head.

“She’s always been bossy,” Diana confirmed. “It’s just going to get worse with the hormones.”

“I better run for my life now,” Tim agreed as he walked away.

“You better run, Drake,” Donna called after him before turning her attention to her sister. “Why aren’t you sleeping in your bedroom?”

“I let Bruce have it,” she revealed, looking down at the clothes in her hands. “I was hoping it might trigger some memories for him.”

“Which room are you sleeping in?”

“This one here at the end of the hall,” Diana indicated.

Donna looped her arm through her sister’s, leading her down the hall towards the guest bedroom. “Come on,” Donna said. “We need sister catch up time.”

“I can’t believe how much bigger you’ve gotten,” Diana told her, her hand falling to Donna’s growing belly.

“That’s not something a sister wants to hear, Diana,” Donna curtly responded with a frown.

“I just meant your babies are growing,” she clarified. “Oh, mother insists that you come for a visit soon. She’s dying to see you.”

“I know I need to go,” Donna agreed. “It’s just been difficult to find time.”

“Well, now that we’re back, you can make the time,” Diana pointed out as they entered the guest room.

“How bad is it there?” she hesitantly asked as she made her way towards the bed, sitting down as Diana began to prepare for bed.

“It was devastating to witness,” she softly revealed, her heart clenching painfully with the memories that attempted to overwhelm her. “It’s going to take a long time to recover and heal…both the island and for our sisters. It will take time to rebuild, but they’ll be able to do it.”

Donna’s eyes fell closed as she sent up prayers to her goddesses for protection and blessings upon her sisters and mother. “Now, tell me how you are doing,” she prompted as Diana slipped her nightgown on over her head before making her way to her bed.

“I’m sure you felt some of it,” she replied as she settled on the bed.

“Yes, but I want to know how you’re really doing,” Donna stubbornly pressed, taking her sister’s hand in hers. “Talk to me, Di. I can tell that you’re holding so much inside. You need to talk about it and get it out.”

Diana glanced down at Donna’s hand holding hers, her emotions bubbling up to the surface against her will. “It’s okay…really…I’m fine,” she attempted to reassure her.

“You remember who you’re talking to, right?”

“Can we talk tomorrow?” Diana asked. “It’s been a draining couple of weeks and I’d just like to sleep right now.”

“Fine,” Donna relented, pulling Diana in for a hug. “I want to hear about everything tomorrow.”

“I will…I promise,” she told her as Donna released her hold on her, pausing to kiss her sister on the forehead.

Donna got up off the bed, heading for the door. “Sleep well, Di.”

“You too,” she replied, crawling under the covers as Donna turned off the light and closed the door.

Diana released a weary breath as she sank into the bed, her eyes falling closed. Exhaustion still consumed her, but the ache in her heart had definitely diminished now that they were finally home. Seeing her family and her children had gone a long way in helping to ease the grief and loneliness that she’d been carrying in her heart.

She smiled to herself with how well things had actually gone tonight. She was relieved with how well Bruce had seemed to handle everything despite how overwhelming it had to have been for him. He had taken it all in stride, never once letting on that he didn’t remember Nicholas or Kaia. He had spent equal time with both of them, reassuring them…making sure that they felt loved and safe.

Dick, Jason, Tim, and Damian had graciously allowed Bruce to spend time with the little ones, knowing that they needed to be comforted. There would be plenty of time to catch up tomorrow once things had settled down a little. They had so much they needed to get caught up on including the Justice League.

Despite knowing that she still needed to heal from her encounters in the Underworld, Diana couldn’t help but feel as though she should be out in Gotham with her sons helping them search for Joker. All three boys had been adamant about her staying home and resting tonight and, as much as she wanted to, she just couldn’t summon enough strength to argue.

She turned onto her side, finding it strange to be in a room separate from her husband, but she knew it was for the best right now. She didn’t want to push him or make him feel uncomfortable. She wanted him to want her in his bed again, but she needed to give him time.

She needed to be patient, but it was more than difficult. It felt like an eternity since she’d been with him. She missed the feel of him against her and inside of her, the heat of his kisses and the intense passion that they always created together. She ached for his kisses and the feel of his hands on her body.

Reaching for the other pillow, she pulled it against her, wrapping her arm around it and holding it close to her body. She pressed her face into the pillow, wishing it was Bruce, but she refused to give up on him. He would never give up on her and she would do no less for him.

She just prayed that J’onn would be able to restore what had been taken from him.

Gotham; September 23rd, 02:23 EST

Harley Quinn walked out of a bar, swinging her baseball bat back and forth as she made her way down the sidewalk. She weaved from one side of the sidewalk to the other, her glass of alcohol still clutched in her other hand as she softly sang to herself.

“A toast!” she yelled, holding her glass up high in the air and talking to no one. “I propose a…a…a toast. I propose a toast to me!”

Looking around and finding no one to drink with her, Harley brought her glass to her lips. “A toast to me finally being my own woman,” she softly mumbled to herself as she fought back tears.

She tilted her head back as she downed the last of her liquor, casually tossing the glass over her shoulder. Her glass shattered as it landed on the sidewalk, shards flying in all directions. She spun on her heel, her eyes darting about to find out who had made that noise.

“Who’s there?” she demanded to know, pointing her bat at the ghosts she believed her following her. “Ya better not be following me! I’ll take ya down…all of ya! Do you hear me? I don’t need no help from no one!”

Finding no one behind her, she turned back around, continuing on her way with her bat propped against her shoulder. She attempted to put one foot in front of the other but was having great difficulty with the simple task. She had been at the bar for hours, pouring her heart out to anyone would listen to her as she drowned her sorrows in alcohol.

It was during that time that she came up with her own plans…plans that involved taking Batman and Batwoman down by herself. Once they were permanently out of the way, Joker would realize that he needed her and would finally marry her. They’d be free to do whatever they wanted together.

It was all Batman’s fault that they weren’t married by now. She was going to make sure that the Bat suffered before she finally ended his life, making him watch as she took her time cutting up his Batwoman. Then, maybe Batsy would know at last how much pain he had caused her over the years.

The sound of a glass bottle rolling against the asphalt caused her to stop and look around. “Nobody better be following me!” she screamed, looking up at the night sky as lightning streaked across it. “I’ll make ya pay big time! Do ya hear me?”

She continued down the sidewalk, mumbling something about taking out Catwoman too while she was at it. She was more than ready for a fight, but, in her drunken state, she was an easy target…a sitting duck just waiting to be plucked off the street never to be seen again.

She swerved, narrowly missing a trashcan only to stumble over her own feet and fall to the ground. Her signature baseball bat fell out of her hand, rolling along the sidewalk just out of reach. She cursed as she sat up, checking her skinned-up knee that was beginning to bleed.

With a cry of frustration, she staggered onto her feet, nearly falling again as she attempted to retrieve her baseball bat. She placed her hand against the brick building to her right in an effort to steady herself as rain began to fall. She muttered under her breath as she started to grab her bat only to accidently kick it away from her.

Harley chased after her bat as the sound of footsteps coming from behind her filled her ears. “I hope that’s you, Bats, cause I’m coming for ya,” she growled. “Let’s do this.”

Her fingers wrapped around the bat, lifting it and swinging it awkwardly. The momentum caused her to stumble and fall once more, her bat rolling down an alley. She slammed her fists down on the sidewalk, tears filling her eyes again as she looked up at the shadowy form drawing near to her.

“What do ya want?” she spat out with a fierce scowl on her face as she glared up at the stranger.

“Someone wants to see you,” he said with an ominous tone as he came to a stop before her.

“Who are you?” she demanded to know as she got to her feet, her legs like rubber as she attempted to stand upright.

“Your worst nightmare, sweetheart.”

Gotham; September 23rd, 02:30 EST

“Anyone got eyes on her yet?” Nightwing demanded to know, his frustration running at an all-time high as he pinched the bridge of his nose. It had been a long night so far, scouring the city for someone who didn’t want to be found.

“Nada,” Red Hood responded after several seconds. “There hasn’t been any sign of her on this end.”

“Nothing here either,” Red Robin added soon after.

“We haven’t been able to locate Joker or Harley before tonight,” Jason commented. “I doubt we’re going to be able to suddenly find her tonight or that she’ll lead us to where Joker is keeping Firefly.”

“I know, but we’ve got to try,” Nightwing insisted, glancing at Damian on his left who was using a pair of binoculars to survey the streets below in an effort to find Harley Quinn.

“I don’t know why we’re even bothering to look for her,” Damian groused with a patented Bat-scowl. “I say let Penguin have her. She deserves everything that’s coming to her with the trouble she’s caused.”

“We can’t let Penguin do what he wants with her,” Nightwing told him. “He’ll have her carved up and dumped in Gotham Bay before the sun comes up.”

Damian shrugged an indifferent shoulder as he continued to search the streets of Gotham for Joker’s psychotic girlfriend. He actually didn’t care what happened to her, but he still wouldn’t mind getting another shot at her. He owed her for their last encounter that hadn’t gone as well as he’d hoped.

“Fine,” Damian reluctantly agreed. “Doesn’t mean I have to agree or like it.”

“No, it doesn’t, but if there’s one thing you should know about your father or need to learn from him, it’s that all life is valuable and should be saved at all cost…even the psychotic criminals,” Dick replied, his voice holding so much conviction. “They deserve a second chance to make the right choices and turn their life around.”

“And what about a third or fourth chance?” Damian challenged him. “What then? Do you just keep giving them more second chances?”

Nightwing released a ragged breath as he considered his questions. He knew it was difficult to understand and even more difficult to explain, but he knew that he needed to try to help him understand if he was going to be Robin and work in Gotham.

“I know it’s hard, but yes…that’s exactly what we do,” he told him. “The next chance you give them just might be the time that causes them to change or get the help they need. I know it doesn’t make sense, but once you’ve worked with Batman more, it’ll make more sense.”

“Grandfather doesn’t believe in second chances,” Damian stated, his shoulders straightening as he thought about the training that he’d received from him. “You either do or die.”

“That’s just…sad,” Nightwing finally said, searching for the right word.

“It’s efficient,” Damian replied.

Nightwing glanced at him, a frown adorning his face. “It’s contemptable,” he countered. “You’re basically saying that life has no value or meaning…that everyone is expendable and replaceable.”

“Hey!” Robin said, pointing to his right. “I just spotted Harley over there…and she’s got company.”

“Let’s go,” Nightwing responded as he pulled his grappling gun and fired it.

Robin exchanged his binoculars for his grappling gun, following Nightwing to Harley’s rescue. He still wasn’t in full agreement with saving Harley Quinn, but he would put aside his beliefs for now in order to continue participating in patrol as Robin. He was going to have to figure out what he believed later, attempt to reconcile what he’d learned from his grandfather and mother and what his father’s strict moral code encompassed.

Following Nightwing, Robin landed on the pavement beside him and right behind the large man who was looming over Harley Quinn. She was searching the ground for something, clearly intoxicated and not thinking clearly as she screamed obscenities at the man.

“Leave her alone!” Nightwing ordered as he drew his escrima sticks.

The man chuckled as he turned to face the new arrivals who had come to her rescue. “Well, this is a little unexpected,” the man said. “I was all set to face Joker. Didn’t anticipate you two.”

“Well, now that we’re here, you’re going to have to deal with us,” Robin retorted as he appraised his opponent. “It doesn’t look like it’s going to be much of a fight.”

The thug grinned as he folded his arms across his broad chest. “Did you actually think I would go after Joker’s girl by myself?”

At that moment, several of Penguin’s henchmen seemed to appear out of nowhere, surrounding them. “You had to open your big mouth,” Nightwing hissed under his breath at Robin.

“How was I supposed to know?” Robin shot back.

“Someone need some back up?”

Nightwing and Robin looked to their left to see Red Robin landing in the middle of the ruckus, coming to their aid. “Not a moment too soon,” Wing responded with a grin.

“Get them!” the thug yelled, pointing at the three heroes.

Harley crawled on her hands and knees on the pavement, searching everywhere for her fallen baseball bat. “Where’s my bat?” she muttered to herself as an all-out brawl broke out around her. “It’s gotta be here someplace.”

“Someone wants to see you, Harley,” the head thug told her as he grabbed her by the back of her neck and hauled her onto her unsteady feet.

“Hey!” she cried, trying to wiggle free from his grasp. “I ain’t goin’ nowheres with you!”

“I don’t think you have a choice, sweetheart,” he told her. “Penguin wants to see you.”

“I think I do have a choice!” she yelled as she kicked him in the crotch, forcing him to drop her.

The thug cried out as Harley crawled down the alley towards her baseball bat, trying to avoid the fight taking place all around her. She didn’t get far as the thug recovered enough to lunge for her, grabbing her by the ankle and yanking her backwards.

Harley screamed as he dragged her back across the pavement, blood oozing from her scraped up knees. He flipped her onto her back, looming over her with a sadistic grin on his face. “Penguin really wants to have a little chat with you,” he informed her.

“Well, I don’t wanna see him,” she retorted, kicking her legs as she tried to escape.

The thug reached for her only to receive a Batarang to the back of the head “Hey!” he yelled, rubbing his head.

Turning, he stumbled backwards as Robin’s boot connected with his jaw. Robin didn’t let up in his assault, attacking with a vengeance and a burst of kicks and punches that took the thug by surprise. He didn’t have a chance to defend himself as Robin used a drop kick to take him down.

He quickly cuffed him before turning his attention to Harley Quinn who was sitting on the sidewalk with her knees bent. He folded his arms across his chest, scowling down at her. “Still not sure why I’m helping you,” he spat out.

“I don’t need your help, squirt,” she shot back, grabbing her bat as she got up on wobbly legs.

“Yah, right,” he stated in obvious disgust. “You can hardly stand up straight.”

“Look, I didn’t ask for your help so leave me alone,” she shouted at him.

“Hey, I’m all for just leaving you out here to fend for yourself,” Robin growled at her. “You’re a psycho who should be locked up.”

“Why you little—”

A firm hand on Harley’s shoulder as she lunged at Robin caused her to stop in her tracks. Turning, she found herself looking into the face of Red Robin. “Oh, hiya ya, handsome,” she flirted with a grin. “This little guy is such a cutie, ain’t he?”

“I’m not little,” Robin ground out as he took a step towards her, his fists clenched at his sides.

“It’s back to Arkham, Harley,” Red Robin told her.

“I ain’t going back there!” she declared, yanking her shoulder free from Red Robin’s grasp as she wielded her bat at them. She stumbled and fell to the pavement again, unable to maintain her balance. Getting up on her hands and knees, she began vomiting.

“Yah, whatever you say,” Robin muttered with a shake of his head as he glared down at Joker’s girlfriend with undisguised revulsion.

Chapter Text

Chapter 21

Arkham Asylum; September 23rd, 04:35 EST

“Where is Joker, Harley?” Dick demanded to know as he stood across the room from their prisoner.

“Ya really think I’m gonna tell ya, Wing?” she asked with an uninterested expression on her face.

Harley sat at a table in an orange jumpsuit, her elbow on top of the table and her fist propping her head up. It was taking everything she had to stay awake, the full effects of the alcohol finally taking hold of her. She drew nonsensical patterns on top of the table with her forefinger, refusing to make eye contact with her interrogator.

“Come on, Harley, I need answers and I need them now,” Nightwing stated, a sharp edge to his voice as he closed the distance between them. “This has gone on long enough. I need to stop Joker before more people lose their lives.”

He planted his fists on top of the table, glaring down at her in hopes of intimidating her into answering him and giving him the information that he needed to stop her psychotic boyfriend. So far, she had been infuriatingly stubborn at worst and disagreeable at best. It didn’t help that she was still intoxicated and could hardly keep her eyes open. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the time to wait for her to sober up.

“What makes ya think I even care what Joker’s doing?” she said with a frown as she finally looked up at him.

Nightwing straightened up, her question taking him by surprise. “You two had a falling out,” he stated, realization washing over him as his lips curled into a pleased smile. “What happened? Not paying any attention to you?”

Harley sat up in her chair, slamming her fist on the table. “He loves me!” she yelled with a snarl. “He just has too much going on that’s all!”

Nightwing moved to sit on the edge of the table, staring down at her. “What happened, Harley?”

She focused on the table, her eyebrows knitting together. “He’s just under a lot of stress right now,” she tried to tell him, her voice beginning to lose the conviction that it had once held.

“Sounds like you’re just trying to defend him again,” he replied. “He doesn’t love you, Harley…at least not in a healthy way or the way that you deserve.”

“He does too love me!” she cried, tears flooding her eyes as her bottom lip began to quiver. “He’s going to marry me someday and we’ll be together forever!”

Nightwing shook his head, actually feeling sorry for her. She didn’t stand a chance being under Joker’s control, dangling his version of love in front of her in order to keep her right where he wanted her for his own sick purposes. They had to find a way to get through to her…to keep him away from her forever so she had a chance at a real life.

“Harley, listen to me,” he said, his tone gentle as he sat down in the chair directly across from her. “Joker is just using you. That’s all he’s ever done to you—he beats you and uses you. He strings you along in order to get what he wants, but all he really cares about is himself.”

“That’s not true,” she softly said as tears streamed down her cheeks. “He needs me…he…”

Nightwing reached across the table, taking her hand in his. “The only one he truly cares about is himself and his sadistic schemes.”

Harley’s expression turned furious, her posture rigid. “It’s always about Batman,” she venously spat out as she stared at his hand holding hers. “It’s Batman this and Batman that. We don’t even know if Bats is still alive or not, but still he’s obsessed with breaking Bats. Batman isn’t going to be able to handle Batwoman being taken from him.”

“Joker is after Batwoman?” he asked her.

She nodded her head, wiping her cheeks with the back of her hand. “He knows if he can get Batwoman then he’s be able to push Bats over the edge forever.”

“How is he planning on doing that?”

“His new brain drug,” she told him. “He wants to get control of Batwoman and all the big wigs in Gotham to do his bidding.”

It was as he had suspected except for the Batwoman angle. That took him by surprise. Little did Joker know that Batwoman was actually Wonder Woman. He didn’t know if Joker’s new drug would actually work on her, but they couldn’t be too careful. He’d hate to find out that he was wrong. He may have been able to make his drug potent enough for Metas.

“Where is he, Harley?” he asked her. “We have to find him before he can hurt anymore people. We’ll bring him to Arkham where you two can be together if that’s what you want.”

Harley pulled her hand free, her lips twisting into a sneer as she crossed her arms against her chest. “I don’t want him near me.”

“That’s a good thing because we’re going to have to put you in protective custody,” he informed her.

“Why?” she questioned him. “Joker don’t even care I left. He probably doesn’t even know it yet.”

“The Penguin is after you,” he revealed. “That’s what tonight was all about. Penguin wants to get revenge on Joker for what he did to Bossworth by hurting you.”

Harley rolled her eyes as she huffed in anger. “I can take care of myself,” she snapped.

“Obviously not,” Nightwing countered. “You almost got kidnapped tonight. Now, tell me where Joker is so I can stop him.”

Harley sneered at him, averting her eyes. “He’s in the industrial park,” she softly said.

“Where in the industrial park?”

“The old lumber mill,” she revealed.

“When is he planning on going after Batwoman?”

She shrugged her shoulder with an air of uninterest, clearly indifferent to the conversation any longer. “Don’t know…don’t care. I’m done with him. He doesn’t appreciate me. I’m my own woman now and I’m moving on without him.”

Nightwing was somewhat taken aback by her sudden change of mind, but then again that was Harley. Her emotions could flip on a dime, but her loyalty to Joker had always been unwavering. He must have pushed her too far this time for her to give him up like this. He just hoped and prayed this wasn’t some sort of a trap.

“Thanks, Harley,” he told her as he stood to his feet. “We’ll make sure that Penguin can’t get to you in here.”

“Whatever,” she said. “I can take care of myself. I don’t need anyone anymore.”

“Still, I’m not going to let anything happen to you in here,” he promised her, turning to head towards the door.

Dick glanced over his shoulder at her sitting there all alone at the table, her eyes filled with so much sadness. She looked so lost. Despite all of the pain, destruction, and devastation she had caused, he couldn’t help but hope that maybe this was the time that she would finally break free from Joker and have a somewhat normal life…or as normal as life could ever truly be for Harley.

Gotham; September 23rd, 05:08 EST

Jason slipped inside of his apartment as quietly as possible, not wanting to wake Artemis and yet more than a little impatient to see her. Having her gone for two weeks had been more difficult than he’d anticipated. He’d missed her more than he cared to admit to anyone let alone himself.

Artemis had come to mean more to him than anyone in his life before her. The realization had startled him and, if he was honest with himself, scared him at the same time. He had never been in this situation before, unsure of how to respond or act, but he did know that he didn’t want to let her go.

It had been hard to focus on patrol knowing that she was laying in his bed waiting for his return. Getting into the shower, he thought about the need to share his worry with her, but it wasn’t exactly something that he excelled at. Exposing and opening himself up to others and sharing what he was feeling wasn’t his expertise.

He supposed it was something that he had picked up from Bruce. He found it far easier to just ignore his feelings and focus on bettering Gotham then to delve into all the bitterness and rage from the past. He’d finally been able to reconcile a measure of it since returning to the Wayne family like the prodigal son.

Instead of being treated like the black sheep of the family, they had welcomed him with open arms, especially Diana. The next easiest had been Nicholas and Kaia. Their love and acceptance were unconditional, their innocence and excitement about everything irresistible to even the hardest of hearts.

Dick and Tim had been wary, but none more so than Bruce. Then again, Bruce had every right to be after everything that had gone down between them. While he still didn’t wholly agree with Bruce’s way of doing things in Gotham, he was learning to accept it and deal with it.

To him, having a real family…being accepted and a part of something bigger than himself meant far more to him than doing things his way. It was something that he’d secretly always wanted while growing up—a large family with lots of brothers and sisters, family dinners, a mom and dad.

Bruce hadn’t been able to give him anything like that before Joker’s attack that had taken his life. He knew that Bruce had tried his best to be the father figure that he’d needed, but he wasn’t capable of providing that with as broken as he had been. It wasn’t until Diana that he’d been able to actually be that man and father.

Bruce had been willing to give him a second chance and because of that he now had the family that he’d longed for. Because he’d been willing to meet Bruce halfway, he now had Artemis in his life. Now that she was back, he was going to hang on to her with all that he had.

Turning off the shower, Jason quickly dried off, tossing the towel into the laundry basket before making his way to his bedroom. He spotted Artemis sleeping soundly in the middle of his bed. He chuckled softly, never realizing she could be such a bed hog.

He silently made his way to her, devious thoughts forming in his mind of how he was going to wake her up. With a wicked grin on his lips, he carefully leaned over her only to be grabbed and thrown on the bed. Stunned, he found himself laying on his back with Artemis pinning him to the mattress.

“What the—?”

Artemis silenced him with a toe-curling kiss, one that he readily returned as his hands slid up her bare back to grip her long, red hair. Finally retreating, the Bana-Mighdall Amazon sat back on his abdomen. “Took you long enough to return home,” she said with a smirk.

“I thought you were asleep,” he replied with a narrowed gaze as his hands came to settle on her hips. He couldn’t help appreciating her perfect form as she hovered over him, making it more than difficult to think straight. Two weeks had been pure torture.

“I need to teach you to assess your environment before you make your move,” she taunted him.

“I know how to assess my environment, but it doesn’t help when there’s a gorgeous red-head lying naked in my bed waiting for me,” he countered.

Her smirk broadened as she lightly ran her fingers over the muscular contours of his chest. “Gorgeous, huh?”

“Oh, very much so,” he quickly confirmed with great enthusiasm, his eyes fluttering closed against his will as her hands began to roam lower across his abdomen.

“So, did you miss me while I was gone?”

“Maybe…a little I guess,” he teased her, his lips quirking in amusement.

“Maybe? A little you guess?” she heatedly stated, folding her arms against her ample bosom as she glared down at him.

“Did you miss me?” he tentatively asked.

Artemis looked to the side, refusing to meet his inquiring gaze as she fumed. “No, not all,” she told him, her chin lifted in defiance.

Jason swiftly sat up, nearly knocking her off his lap as his mouth collided with hers. He kissed her breathless, more than relieved to have her back in his arms and in his bed again. It had been far too long since he’d last seen her and was more than determined to make up for lost time.

“Yes, I missed you,” he breathlessly murmured as he kissed along her jaw to her ear, his arms wrapped around her body and keeping her pressed against him. “I couldn’t stop thinking about you…wondering where you were and what you were doing…wondering if you missed me too.”

Her eyes fell closed as she tilted her head to the side, giving him more access to her. Her hands found his hair, gripping it as he thoroughly kissed and nipped along her throat and collarbone. She gasped as he paused to suck on her pulse point, her hands tightening their grip on his hair.

He abruptly flipped her onto her back, desperate to make love to her. They’d had precious little time together last night after she’d returned before he had to go out on patrol. Now, he was going to make sure that she knew just how much he had missed her.

Artemis gazed up into his handsome face, her hand coming to rest against his cheek. “I guess I sort of missed you too,” she teased him as she wrapped her long legs around his waist.

“You definitely missed me,” he murmured with a grin, brushing his lips against hers. “You couldn’t wait to come home to see me.”

Artemis rolled her eyes, a chuckle escaping as she ran her hands over his back. “I don’t think I’d go that far. I mean—”

He effectively silenced her with his lips, deciding to show her just how much he’d missed her.

Wayne Manor; September 23rd, 07:22 EST

Diana exited the guest bedroom feeling better than she had the day before. It felt great being home again despite the fact that she hadn’t been able to sleep in her own bed with her husband. She was confident that would come in time. She just had to be patient. Hera knew that she’d had to be patient with him long before he’d let her into his life, and she could do it again now. She’d wait forever for him if she had to.

She stopped by Nicholas and Kaia’s rooms, knowing that they’d still be asleep at this hour. It had been an eventful and exciting evening for them with their parents’ return, staying up a couple of hours past their usual bedtime so they could spend some time with them.

Today, she was hoping to catch up with the older kids and especially Damian. She worried about how he was handling everything with his mother missing and his father returning with no memories. They also needed to tell him what had occurred with his grandfather.

Her anger simmered in her veins as she thought about Ra’s escaping Themyscira without a trace. She was anxious to begin the search for him, but she knew that would have to wait for now. They had far more pressing issues that needed to be dealt with.

Diana stopped outside of her own bedroom door, wondering if she should check on Bruce. She bit at her bottom lip as she contemplated her actions. Her desire to see him and know that he was safe almost won out over logic which told her that he needed his sleep.

It had been a daunting several weeks for him and he needed some time to recover. Without his memories, he’d hopefully rest like he should instead of pushing himself to go into Gotham or study every file in the computer down in his Batcave. Of course, it was still Bruce deep down regardless of what he could or couldn’t remember.

Deciding to let him sleep, Diana headed for the stairs, heading downstairs to the kitchen. She was eager to spend some time with Alfred and to catch up on all that had happened while they had been away. She swore Nicholas and Kaia had grown so much while she’d been gone, but then again it had only been a couple of weeks.

Hearing a strange noise, she stopped in the hallway, wondering who could be in the library. She knew all the boys were still asleep after their night of patrolling. Alfred was definitely making breakfast if the delicious smell wafting from the kitchen was any indication.

Diana silently made her way towards the library peeking inside to find Bruce standing before the grandfather clock with his hands on his hips. He was dressed in workout shorts and a tee-shirt and, despite having his back to her, she could tell he had a frustrated expression on his face.

“What are you doing?” she asked him, curiosity winning out as she entered the room.

Bruce turned around to find Diana walking towards him…his wife. That was still something that he was trying to grow accustomed to, but he found it becoming easier. She was absolutely beautiful in every way imaginable, from her spirit to her outward appearance. He was definitely finding himself attracted to her. That was something that hadn’t been forgotten.

“I was trying to figure out how to get down into that cave,” he confessed with a huff of annoyance. “I know we came through here yesterday, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out how to get back down there. I tried moving it, but it won’t budge.”

Diana couldn’t contain the smirk that formed on her face as she came to stand beside him. He was most definitely still Bruce in every way. “Why do you want to go back down there?”

Bruce noticed the amusement dancing in her eyes and the smile on her face. He found it enchanting to say the least. “I need to find out all I can about being Batman,” he replied, determination in his voice. “I’m sure there’s a lot that I must’ve missed, and I want to get caught up as quickly as possible.”

“Here,” she said as she moved to stand between him and the clock. “You just need to set the hands of the clock to ten forty-eight.”

A frown formed on his face as he watched her move the hands of the clock to the appropriate time, his irritation growing when the clock easily slid aside to reveal the secret entrance to the cave. He should’ve been able to figure it out on his own. He should’ve remembered how to get down into his own cave in his own home. He felt useless and vulnerable. He found he hated it with a passion.

“Why does the clock have to be set to that time?” he asked her as she began to lead him down into the dimly lit cave.

“I’m afraid that it was the exact time that your parents were murdered,” Diana softly said, stopping at the bottom of the steps to turn to face him. She reached out and took his hand in hers, squeezing it affectionately. “I’m so sorry, Bruce. I know this has to be very painful for you to learn, but it’s the reason that you became Batman. You poured all of your rage and pain into trying to keep anyone else from having to go through what you suffered and to save your city.”

Bruce shook his head, his lips thinning into a grim line. “It’s okay, Diana,” he attempted to reassure her, trying to hide the pain that suddenly swelled up inside of him like a thunderhead and stole the breath from his lungs. Unfortunately, he could never hide his pain from her. “I have to know if I’m going to get my life back. How were they murdered?”

Diana slowly released a breath as she searched for the right way to tell him, but was there a right way to tell the man that you love how he had witnessed his parents’ murder? “You were eight years old,” she began. “Your parents had just taken you to a movie when a man with a gun met you in a dark alley. He shot your parents before your eyes.”

“Zorro,” Bruce murmured, causing Diana to look up sharply.

“What did you say?” she questioned him.

“They took me to see a movie about Zorro,” he repeated, lost in a memory that was struggling to fully form in his mind’s eye, but refused to. It was like a hazy film laid over his memories, keeping him from fully seeing them or remembering the events.

“Yes…that’s right,” Diana confirmed, tears beginning to brim in her eyes. “You remember.”

“No, not everything…just the fact that I saw some movie about Zorro,” he said, pausing to release a ragged breath. He attempted to swallow back the painful knot that had constricted his throat, but it refused to budge. It felt as though a black cavern had abruptly opened up in his chest.

Without a second thought, Diana threw her arms around him, pulling him into a fierce embrace. He readily returned her hug, loving the feel of her in his arms. It felt so natural…so real like coming home. He found that he never wanted to let go of her.

“Hopefully, you’ll be able to recover more memories soon, but I’m afraid many of them are going to be very painful for you to relive,” she replied. “I’ll be here with you through it all, Bruce. You won’t have to go through it alone.”

“Thank you,” he whispered as he buried his face in her hair.

The jasmine and vanilla scent of her hair filled up his senses, overwhelming him with a peace that he sorely needed in that moment. She grounded him, gave him a touchstone to find his way back to in the middle of the fogginess that consumed his brain. For some reason, holding her like this felt as natural to him as breathing.

They held each other for several long moments before Diana finally released her hold on him, wanting him to come to her when he was fully ready and not before. She would not push him into anything that he wasn’t ready for, fearing that he might end up pushing her and their family away in the end.

“What exactly did you want to see down here?” she asked him.

“What’s the best place to get caught up on what’s been going on while I’ve been away?”

“Follow me,” she said, leading him up the stairs of the platform. “This is where you keep all your files and information about Gotham or any other criminal activity going on in the world.”

“I built all this?” he questioned her as he looked around at the expansive system.

“You did, but Tim and Barbara have added to it over time,” she revealed, taking a seat next to his larger command chair.

“And who is Barbara?”

“She was Batgirl,” she explained. “She is Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. She was Batgirl for many years until Joker shot her, paralyzing her and putting her in a wheelchair. She’s Oracle now. She organizes everything we do, researches and tracks down criminal activity through technology.”

Bruce simply nodded his head, trying to absorb it all as he stood behind the large chair. He lightly ran his fingers over the black leather, something trying desperately to break through to the surface…like being plunged far beneath the ocean and wrestling to break the surface for much needed air.

There was a sudden flash of a memory that assaulted him out of nowhere. He was sitting in this chair in his uniform with his cowl off. Diana was seated firmly in his lap. They were talking about something…and laughing. She had made him laugh about a mission that hadn’t gone well for her. He had told her about his day, her head coming to rest against his shoulder. He had stroked her hair as she ran her hand over his chest, lifting her head to kiss him with passion so fierce.

Diana watched him, knowing he was lost in some sort of memory. “What do you remember?” she pressed.

“Sitting in this chair…with you,” he replied as his fingers ran along the arm of the chair before taking a seat in it.

Diana dipped her head, her cheeks growing warm. She wondered which memory had resurfaced, hoping it wasn’t one of the numerous times they’d made love or any of the other countless things they’d done in that chair. While she wanted him to remember that aspect of his life, she couldn’t help feeling a little uncomfortable about it for some reason she couldn’t explain.

Bruce looked over at her, noticing the pink flush that suffused her face. He gave her a mischievous smirk. “Something I should know about this particular chair…princess?”

Diana’s head shot up, her eyes widening. “Princess?”

“Yah, princess,” he replied, studying her as he tried to gage her reaction.

“Why did you call me that?”

“I don’t know,” he confessed as he thought about it. “It just seemed right. I’m sorry if I offended you. I won’t call you—”

“No, it’s okay,” she interjected, stopping him from continuing. “You always called me princess. In fact, you started to call me that not long after we met. At first, it drove me crazy, but then I realized it was used as a term of endearment, not some sort of insult.”

“Good,” he said. “Now, how do we start up this computer?”

“I was thinking maybe we should wait until the boys can give us an update,” she ventured. “It’ll be less time consuming then reading through two weeks of files.”

“I suppose you’re right,” he decided with a frown.

“How about we go upstairs and have breakfast first?” she suggested. “The boys will be up in a few more hours and then we can get a full run down of everything that’s happened while we were gone.”

“How soon are we going to the Watchtower?”

“We can go this afternoon after we’ve had a chance to talk to the boys.”

Following her to the stairs, Bruce had a difficult time keeping his attention on the options and not her posterior. “Honestly, I think going to the Watchtower can wait,” he decided. “I think that Nicholas and Kaia should come first. We need to spend some time with them. They’re more important than regaining all my memories right away. Besides, I think it’s important to also spend some time with Damian. I don’t want him to get lost in the middle of everything that’s going on.”

“I think that’s a great idea,” she agreed, loving how he put his children first just like he always had before all this had happened. It gave her a glimmer of hope. “It seems like your memories might be coming back on their own. You might not even need J’onn’s help after all.”

“I’m sure I have duties on the Watchtower that have been neglected while I’ve been gone,” he replied. “I should make an appearance up there sometime this week.”

“There are plenty of other League members to help cover our duties,” she pointed out as they reentered the manor, Dick coming around the corner with a crying Nicholas in his arms.

“What’s wrong?” Diana asked.

“He woke up and couldn’t find you or Bruce,” he revealed.

“I’m right here, Nicholas,” Bruce reassured him, taking his young son into his arms and holding him securely against his chest. Nicholas buried his face in the crook of Bruce’s neck, tears wetting his skin. “It’s okay. I’m not going anywhere.”

Nicholas wrapped his arms tightly around his father’s neck, clinging to him with all his strength. “I…I thought…you left again,” he cried.

Diana brushed away a tear as she watched her son with his father, wanting nothing more than to take away his fear and heartache. She rubbed her son’s back, leaning in and kissing the back of his head. “We’re not going anywhere, Nicholas,” she told him. “We’re staying here at home with you.”

Diana glanced at Dick who was clearly affected by the scene playing out before him and yet there was an unmistakable fear in his eyes that piqued her curiosity. “What is it, Dick?” she pressed. “Did you uncover something on patrol last night?”

“We know where the Joker is hiding out,” he revealed. “We got Harley and she ended up spilling everything. We now know who he’s targeting.”

“Who is he after?” Bruce asked.

Dick’s gaze fell on his surrogate mother, not wanting to say too much more in front of his little brother. He was already upset as it was without finding out his mother was targeted by Joker. “He’s after her,” he said, nodding at Diana.

Gotham; September 23rd, 10:13 EST

Joker stood with one arm across his chest, his other elbow resting on top of it and his chin propped up by his fist. He stared at his latest test subject, contemplating how soon he could unleash his newest weapon on Gotham. He was more than ready to put his plans into motion.

Firefly looked exactly the same as he always had, but now there was a vacant look in his eye, one that hadn’t been there before he’d been taken by his men. He was almost like a blank slate awaiting programming. It was exactly what the Joker had been looking for.

All he needed was to get his hands on the top officials in Gotham, inject them with the mind controlling drug and then they would be his to control. Batman wouldn’t know what had hit him…wouldn’t be able to figure out what had happened until it was too late. By then, he’d also have Batwoman under his thumb, finally breaking Batman once and for all.

“You’re sure he’s ready?” Joker asked his head scientist.

“He’s completed every task that we’ve ordered him to do with skillful precision,” Doctor Grissom told him.

“Perfect…absolutely perfect!” Joker squealed with glee as he clasped his hands together. “Tonight, I’m going to send him out on a special mission to test him. If he passes, we can go after Batwoman next.”

“Boss! Boss!” one of Joker’s thugs yelled as he ran into the room.

“What is it?” Joker demanded to know with a fearsome scowl. “Can’t you see we’re in the middle of something highly important here?”

“Harley’s been nabbed,” he told him somewhat breathlessly. “She’s back in Arkham.”

“When did she leave?” he cried. “I didn’t even know she was gone!”

“Yesterday,” he said.

Joker began to yell obscenities, grabbing anything he could get his hands on and throwing it across the room. “It’s her own fault for getting caught,” he shouted. “She never should’ve left. Why did she leave?”

“Don’t know, but I found out that Penguin tried to take her when Bats’ boys broke it up,” he continued. “He’s out for revenge on you for Bossworth.”

Joker waved a dismissive hand as he began to stalk around the room, his mind racing with how he was going to get her back. “That wasn’t personal,” he complained. “I couldn’t care less about Penguin. I just needed a test subject and Bossworth fit the bill.”

“What do you wanna do about Harley?” he asked.

“Well, we have to get her back,” Joker spat out as if the answer had been more than obvious.

“You want me to take the boys and go bust her out tonight?”

Joker paused in his step, rubbing his chin as he thought about his options. His gaze fell on Firefly standing to the side, staring blankly back at him as if awaiting any further orders. Joker’s lips spread into a wicked smile that seemed to stretch from ear to ear.

“I think that would be the perfect test for our newest ally,” the clown informed them. “Let’s have Firefly get Harley out of Arkham tonight.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 22

Batcave; September 23rd, 20:03 EST

Diana quickly descended into the secret domain of the Batclan beneath the stately Wayne Manor, the sound of heated conversation almost instantly reaching her ears. She quickly flew the rest of the way to the platform, anxious to find out what was going on and with any luck put a stop to it.

She couldn’t imagine them arguing already. Bruce hadn’t recovered enough of his memories and yet he was still Bruce at heart. He was argumentative and stubborn even on a good day, frustrating to no end. She just hoped that she could calm everyone down so they could talk through whatever they were arguing about.

“You can’t stop me, Dick,” Bruce insisted. “I’m going whether you like it or not.”

“I just don’t think it’s a good idea,” Dick heatedly countered. “It’s too dangerous out there. You don’t have your memories back yet.”

“I’m with Dick,” Jason added with a frown. “It’s not safe for you to be out there. You don’t remember anything about Gotham let alone the Joker and what he’s truly capable of. You could end up becoming his captive and then we’d have to rescue you.”

“Look, I was able to handle myself just fine in the Underworld and on Themyscira against Ra’s,” Bruce angrily countered. “I can handle myself in Gotham.”

Dick released a frustrated breath, his arms folding defiantly against his chest as he stood shoulder to shoulder with Jason and presenting a united front. “We know you want to be out there to help, but—”

“If this involves Diana, then you’re damn right I want to be there to stop it,” Bruce ground out, unwilling to back down. “This Joker is after Diana and I’m not going to just stand by and let him get his hands on her.”

Everyone grew quiet as Diana landed silently on the edge of the platform, the oppressive tension in the cave nearly stifling. It appeared to be Bruce against Dick and Jason with Artemis, Tim and Damian landing somewhere in the middle. Their opinions on the matter had obviously not been voiced yet.

“I was finally able to get Kaia and Nicholas down,” Diana announced as she cautiously approached the group. “I think they’re finally feeling a little more secure. It seemed to help being able to spend the whole day with us.”

“That’s good,” Bruce stiffly replied with a nod, the tension running beneath his skin obvious in his rigid posture and the stubborn set of his jaw.

“So, what’s the plan for tonight?” she asked as she moved to stand beside her husband, hoping that her close proximity would help settle him a little bit. “I take it we’re going after Joker.”

Bruce felt her hand come to rest low on his back, his shoulders relaxing minutely with her warm touch. “Tell her, Dick,” Bruce bit out as he stared him down, obviously disagreeing with the decisions that had been made.

Dick knew that Diana had to have heard them arguing. He also knew that if anyone could get Bruce to stay home it would definitely be her. She’d always had a way about her that Bruce seemed to respond to…actually the whole family responded to. She was the glue that held this family together, the heart and the peacemaker. If anyone could settle this, it was going to be her.

“We’re going after Joker tonight,” Dick revealed. “I think it would be best if Bruce sat this one out…at least until he recovered more of his memories. Jason agrees with me.”

“I see,” Diana replied, her gaze falling on the other three silently sitting to the side. “And what do the three of you think?”

“I saw how well he fought in the Underworld,” Artemis told her. “I have no problem with him coming along.”

“I think he should stay back in the cave,” Damian stated. “He just got back home. We can’t afford to lose him now over something that we can handle on our own.”

“I think if Bruce can handle himself in the Underworld, he can help us take on the Joker,” Tim said. “Besides, we’ll all be there if he runs into any kind of trouble.”

“So, it’s three against me and two for me,” Bruce bluntly stated, eyeing Dick and Jason in a silent challenge.

“We’re not against you, Bruce,” Dick replied, shaking his head in exasperation. “We’re just worried about something happening to you again. We just got you back. We don’t want to lose you again.”

“Nicholas and Kaia are still having a tough time understanding that you’re not going to leave,” Jason pointed out. “I don’t want to see them hurt again.”

Bruce’s lips thinned into a disapproving frown. “I don’t want to hurt them or any of you, but I also can’t just sit by and do nothing knowing that Diana is being threatened.”

“We will stop Joker and keep him from getting Diana,” Dick promised him. “We care about her too, Bruce. We don’t want anything to happen to either of you.”

“Hey, can I say something here?” Diana piped up.

“I guess so since you’re pretty much at the center of the argument,” Jason quipped as he moved to lean against the edge of the desk, his legs stretched out before him.

“First of all, I can take care of myself,” Diana stated in no uncertain terms. “I don’t need any of you risking your lives to protect me. Joker doesn’t even know that Batwoman is actually Wonder Woman, so he’ll be in for a big surprise if he does try anything.”

“But you can’t risk revealing that you’re Wonder Woman,” Dick pointed out. “It could jeopardize everyone’s identity.”

“I don’t intend to ever do that, but I’m far more durable then Joker knows,” she continued. “Second, I think Bruce should be allowed to go tonight. He may not have his memories, but he still possesses his skills. His muscle memory is still very much intact. He’ll know what to do when the time comes even if he doesn’t remember Joker.”

Everyone considered what Diana had just said, knowing that there was no way that they were going to keep Bruce from going tonight now that Diana was on his side. Dick rubbed the back of his neck as he released a heavy sigh, knowing this was happening whether he liked it or not…and he definitely hated it.

“Fine…you can go, but I’m in charge of this mission,” Dick told him, his voice broking no room for argument. “You leave Joker to us.”

Bruce bit the inside of his cheek, doing his best to keep a tight hold on his anger. He didn’t appreciate being treated like some child or a weak link on this team. At the same time, he knew that he was going to have to swallow his pride and accept Dick’s terms if he wanted to help take the Joker down. He needed to do this for Diana.

He had every right to go on this mission and protect his wife. Hadn’t he been the one who had created this whole set up?

“Fine,” Bruce finally bit out, clearly unhappy with the stipulations.

Diana rubbed his back, doing her best to assuage his anger as well as his pride. She knew this had to be very difficult for him. “Let’s get suited up and then Dick can lay out his plan,” she said. “Come…I’ll show you where to get your uniform.”

Diana led Bruce down the platform steps, knowing that her sons needed some time to talk things through now that their father was going along. She appreciated their concern for him, but she wasn’t about to let anything happen to him now that he was safely back where he belonged. Joker would have to get through her to get anywhere near Batman.

Tim watched as Diana took Bruce to where the uniforms were kept, knowing that she was giving them a chance to adjust their plans. “It’s going to be fine,” Tim attempted to reassure them. “We’ll get Joker and put an end to it tonight.”

“You know that Diana won’t let Bruce wander more than ten feet away from her,” Artemis reminded them.

“It wouldn’t hurt for you to stay close to him too,” Jason told her. “You know that Bruce is ultimately Joker’s target in all of this. I don’t want to take any more chances with his life.”

“Aww, you do care,” Tim teased, elbowing him in the ribs.

Jason glared at him as he rubbed his side, giving him a dirty look. “Yah…so,” he grumbled. “I do have a heart. I care about this family too.”

Tim wiped away a fake tear. “It’s good to know you love us,” he told him. “I was beginning to wonder if you even had a heart.”

Jason put Tim in a headlock only for Tim to wiggle out of it with a mocking laugh. “All right, you two!” Artemis intervened, moving in to separate them. “You’re worse than Nicholas and Kaia.”

“We’re just goofing off,” Jason insisted, reaching behind Artemis to punch his brother in the shoulder.

“Hey, we need to make sure this plan is solid and goes off without a hitch,” Dick announced. “We can’t afford any distractions or to let anything happen to Bruce or Diana.”

“Agreed,” Tim said, flicking the back of Jason’s ear with his forefinger.

“Children,” Damian muttered with a huff as he began to walk across the platform to get changed.

“Just wait,” Jason called after him. “I’ll take you down next.”

“Like you could!” Damian shot back as he descended the stairs, forced to run down them when Jason and Tim began chasing after him.

“When will you boys ever grow up?” Artemis asked.

“What? I didn’t do anything,” Dick maintained. “I’m completely innocent.”

“This time,” she reminded him as she too headed towards the platform stairs. “You’re usually right in the middle of it.”

Dick just shook his head, a wry smile on his lips. He just hoped and prayed that everything went according to plan, and the Joker was safely locked way when all was said and done. He’d never be able to live with himself if any of his family didn’t return home safely tonight.

Gotham; September 23rd, 21:56 EST

Damian clenched his teeth as he tightened his hold on his partner’s waist. He still wasn’t certain how he’d ended up being the one to ride on the back of a Batcycle instead of riding in the Batmobile. His father’s return had ousted him from his prime position in the passenger seat of the sleek black car, forcing him to ride on the back of a cycle watching as his short life flashed before his eyes.

His partner patted his hands clasped tightly together in front in an attempt to reassure him that he was safe. Unfortunately, it did little to help calm his racing heart. “You know I could ride my own bike!” he yelled over the roar of the cycle.

“Are you scared?”

“Terrified!”

Batwoman chuckled with her partner’s confession. “You’re perfectly safe,” she reassured him. “You know that I would never let anything happen to you.”

“Yah, but you’re more durable than I am,” he groused. “We crash, and you’ll still live. I’ll die.”

“I would protect you with my life,” she promised him. “Besides, it’s best for Batman to spend some time with Nightwing. Hopefully being in the Batmobile will help awaken some memories for him.”

“Fine, but next time I want my own cycle.”

Diana just smiled with her stepson’s grumblings. She hoped to spend some time with him once this was all over, allowing them to get to know each other. While she didn’t want to replace his mother, she really wanted them to have a good relationship. She just hoped he’d be willing to meet her halfway as friends.

Watching the Batmobile in front of them, she couldn’t help wondering how her husband and eldest son were doing.

XXX

“I hope you know that the only reason that I didn’t want you coming along tonight is because I’m worried about your safety,” Nightwing said. “We just got you back, Bruce. I don’t want to risk losing you again.”

“I appreciate that, but I have to do this for her,” Bruce insisted with all the conviction that he felt teeming inside of him. “She risked everything to save me…nearly died just to bring me back home to my family. I can’t just stay behind knowing that there was something I could have done to protect her.”

Nightwing’s lips quirked with his words. Despite not having his memories back, he was still very much Bruce in every way. His love for Diana hadn’t seemed to suffer in the least after everything that he’d been through. Hopefully, it would help him regain what he’d lost.

“I understand,” Dick told him, “and I can’t say that I’m really that surprised. You’ve always been very passionate about Diana and wanting to do whatever it takes to keep her safe.”

“She’s an amazing woman,” he softly confessed. “It’s easy to see why I fell in love with her. I’m just anxious to remember everything about her. Even though I don’t remember her, I know that I need her and I want her in my life.”

“I’m sure J’onn will be able to help you.”

Batman glanced as the passing Gotham scenery as he thought about it, wishing he could remember more. “I need to get up to the Watchtower to meet with him soon. I put it off because I felt that Nick and Kaia needed me, but I don’t want to put it off much longer. I need to get my life back as soon as possible.”

“Is anything coming back to you?”

“Some things seem vaguely familiar,” he admitted, shaking his head as he tried to find the words to best explain what he was experiencing. “It’s like trying to look through frosted glass. I can’t get a clear picture, only hazy images. I feel most connected to Diana. After that, it would be Alfred and all of you. Shayera, Hippolyta, and Artemis are a little more distant. I’m guessing those not closest to me will be the hardest for me to remember.”

“That makes sense,” Dick thoughtfully replied. “We’ll help you get through it.”

“I appreciate that,” he said. “I’m sure none of this has been very easy for any of you either. You’ve all had to put your lives on hold for me and Diana. I mean you’re going to be a father in a few months. I’m sure there are things that you need to do to prepare for your twins.”

“Family always comes first, Bruce,” he reassured him, a grin tugging at his lips. “Besides, Donna and I will have plenty of time to prepare for the twins. How does it feel to know you’re going to be a grandfather?”

Bruce groaned with the idea. “I just recently found out I’m a father,” he replied. “It’s a little staggering to find out I’m also going to be a grandfather.”

“If it’s any comfort, you don’t look a day over thirty-seven,” he quipped.

“Thanks,” Bruce responded, enjoying this lighthearted banter with his eldest son. “What can I expect with the Joker?”

Nightwing’s jovial expression vanished in the wake of the reminder of who they were after. “He’s your worst nightmare and your most dangerous enemy. He’s sadistic. He’ll do whatever it takes to break you, not just physically but mentally. He’s completely obsessed with you. That’s why he’s targeting Batwoman. He wants to break her, knowing it’ll ultimately break you.”

“Great,” Bruce murmured, drawing a deep breath and releasing it slowly through his parted lips.

“You can’t begin to envision the things that he’s done to you and the people of Gotham over the years,” Wing continued, a scowl forming on his face. “The worst that you could possibly imagine still wouldn’t be anywhere close to it. He killed Jason…nearly beat him to death and then blew up the building he was in.”

“What?” Bruce was more than horrified by the revelation, his voice thick with emotion. “How is he alive if he died?”

“It’s a long story, but Ra’s al Ghul resurrected him by using what’s called a Lazarus Pit,” Dick informed him. “It was one thing that Ra’s actually did that was right. He brought Jason back to us.”

Bruce shook his head, overwhelmed by what he was learning. “I couldn’t stop it…” he muttered. “He died because I must not have been able to save him. I failed him.”

“Bruce, it wasn’t your fault,” Dick adamantly stated. “You carried the blame of his death for so long…even after Jason came back. It was all Joker’s fault. He did it to hurt you.”

Batman’s gauntleted hands curled into fists in his lap, his jaw tight and set like steel. “I failed Jason, but I won’t fail Diana.”

“Oracle to Nightwing.”

Barbara’s voice abruptly filled the Batmobile, interrupting the father-son moment. “I’m here with Batman, O.”

“Batman!” she cried. “I’m so happy that you’re back. I know you don’t remember me, but you have no idea how much you were missed.”

“Thank you, Oracle,” he replied.

“What’s up, O?”

“Turn your little Batmobile around tout suite, Wing,” she told him. “Joker is about to launch a full out war on Arkham in order get Harley back.”

“He’s there?” Wing questioned her as he made a sudden left turn, tires screeching as he raced down the street.

“He was spotted outside of Arkham just a couple of minutes ago,” she revealed. “They’re on full lockdown, but you know that won’t be enough. You better get there fast.”

“We’re on our way,” he told her. “Let Batwoman and Red Robin know.”

“What about Hood?” she asked.

“Tell him to continue on as planned,” he informed her. “We’ll handle Arkham.”

“Got it,” she said. “Be careful. We just got Batman back. Let’s not lose or break anyone else. My heart can’t take it. Oracle out.”

“Well, it looks like you’re about to be thrown right into the fire,” Dick said with a grim frown.

“What’s Arkham?” Batman asked, instinctively reaching out his hand to brace himself against the dash as Dick made a sudden, sharp turn.

“Arkham Asylum is where the criminally insane are held,” he explained as he raced through Gotham. “If Joker is trying to break Harley out, we could have a huge nightmare on our hands if other criminals take the opportunity to break out too.”

“That’s not good,” Batman stated.

“No, it’s not,” Dick agreed. “The worst of the worst are locked up in there like Killer Croc and Poison Ivy.”

“Guess I’m going to get a crash course in Gotham’s criminology.”

“In the worst possible way,” he added. “Just don’t let on that you don’t have your memories. It’ll just make things that much worse.”

“I wasn’t planning on broadcasting it to anyone outside of the family circle,” Batman sarcastically snapped. “I may not have my memories, but I’m not stupid.”

Dick smirked to himself. He was still most definitely Bruce despite the memory loss. It made him feel a little more at ease about him being out in the field with them against Joker and whoever else decided to take advantage of Harley’s breakout.

Arkham Asylum; September 23rd, 22:36 EST

“Alright, boys!” Joker yelled, rubbing his hands together. “Let’s get Harley out of there.”

“Do you want to do the honors, boss?” Joker’s henchman asked.

“Of course,” he stated, pushing him out of the way. “It is my girlfriend we’re about to breakout. I should be the one to spearhead this rescue even if it is her fault for getting caught. I’m going to make sure she knows the stress she caused me by getting captured and interrupting my plans.”

Putting his hands on the trigger, Joker threw his head back, a loud cackle escaping as he pushed down on it. The outer wall surrounding Arkham Asylum blew up, bits of brick and mortar flying in all directions. Joker coughed, using his hand to try to wave away the smoke that filled the air.

“You want us to go get her, boss?”

“No, I think this would be a great job for Firefly,” Joker readily decided, turning his attention to the arsonist villain standing behind him. “Firefly! Go get Harley!”

“No problem,” Firefly said with a smirk as he began to make his way towards the gaping hole in the side of Arkham.

Security guards began to appear from the hole in the wall only to be met by blasts of pure fire. They ducked out of the way, firing their weapons but to no avail. Joker’s gang readily returned fire, keeping the guards at bay and allowing Firefly the opening he needed to get inside.

Joker cackled with glee, more than anxious to see how well Firefly accomplished his mission. With any luck, he’d be able to try out his newest mind controlling drug on Batwoman, Mayor Hill, and Commissioner Gordon. The possibilities were endless. Pretty soon, he’d be able to gain control of the whole world.

The chaos that he would be able to create would be infinite, the possibilities endless. He could hardly contain himself as an unending string of ideas raced through his mind. Batman wouldn’t be able to stop any of it or be handle it knowing that Batwoman was responsible for some of it.

The entire Justice League would be handcuffed by the mayhem that he created, unable to stop it. They’d be running from one place to the next without a single clue about what was happening or why and he would be at the very heart of all of it.

“Ut-oh!” Joker said with glee. “Looks like we have company, boys! Guess I get my favorite guinea pig sooner than I’d planned!”

The Batmobile screeched to a halt, Batman and Nightwing exiting before the dust even had time to settle. They both drew their weapons as they raced to stop Joker’s gang who were already moving to intercept them before they could anywhere near Arkham or Joker.

“Batsy! You’re alive!” Joker cried, clasping his hands together. “I knew you would never leave me!”

“You’re always on my mind,” Batman growled as he threw a Batarang right at Joker’s head.

The clown ducked just in time, the Batarang hitting one of his henchmen. “Still haven’t lost your edge,” Joker commented.

Nightwing maneuvered closer to Batman, not wanting to let him out of his sight as Batwoman and Robin arrived on the scene to join the fray. It was an all-out war as Joker’s gang took on the Bat family, Joker excitedly watching it all unfold with rapt attention.

The roar of a Batcycle caused several of the henchmen to scatter as Red Robin raced right through the melee, unleashing several Batarangs and giving his partners the upper hand. He leapt from his bike, stalking straight towards Joker with fierce determination in his every step. He wanted to end this tonight.

Joker nearly bounced on his heels with excitement. “We almost have the whole gang assembled. We just need that wild card Red Hood to show up and the Bat family will be complete.”

“He’s tied up at the moment,” Red Robin told him. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to deal with us instead.”

“No matter,” Joker said with a shrug, clearly unintimidated by Red Robin’s appearance. “He’s not the one that I want anyway. I’m more interested in Batsy’s girlfriend.”

Batman fought against the overwhelming urge to lunge at the psychotic clown, knowing he was only trying to provoke him into making a move. He wasn’t about to do anything to jeopardize this mission or put Diana’s life even more at risk with a knee-jerk reaction.

He kept his expression emotionless as he fought to get closer to Joker. Unfortunately, his gang had other ideas as they moved to intercept him as well as the others. He risked a glance at Batwoman who was holding her own against three thugs, matching them blow for blow with expert skill.

Damian and Nightwing were in the same situation, each taking on a handful of gang members. They were doing an impressive job of holding their own, but every time they took one out, they were replaced by two more. There seemed to be an endless stream of thugs that refused to give up.

Batwoman looked up in time to see Poison Ivy climbing through the hole over fallen bricks and mortar. Adding a little more strength to her punch, Diana finished off her opponent before racing to intercept the red-headed plant lover. She wasn’t about to let her unleash her pheromones on her husband or her sons.

“Ah! The mysterious Batwoman,” Poison Ivy practically cooed, her green eyes gleaming brightly. “I’ve heard so much about you. I hear that you’re just as good as your boyfriend.”

“I guess some rumors are true,” Batwoman quipped as she began to circle her prey. She surreptiously reached for a Batarang beneath her cape, readily deciding that sometimes a cape did come in rather handy.

“We’ll just see about that,” Ivy taunted her as she raised her hands, plants growing around her like her own private jungle.

Vines as wide as tree trunks broke through the ground, one of them reaching out with lightning speed to wrap Batwoman up like a mummy, lifting her up off the ground. Diana struggled against the fierce grasp the vine had on her, finding that the plant tightened its grip on her the more she struggled against it.

It was beginning to crush her, the ability to draw air becoming next to impossible. It also didn’t help that the vine had completely covered her face in an effort to suffocate her. She twisted and writhed against its hold, refusing to give in to the pain that was building inside of her. She felt as though her head was about to explode, her lungs burning with a desperate need for oxygen.

She could hear the muffled cries of her name, but it was growing more distant by the second. She hoped they weren’t trying to rescue her. They needed to focus on stopping Joker and keeping any more inmates from escaping Arkham, not worrying about her.

Just as unconscious began to creep along the periphery of her mind, she felt the vine beginning to loosen a little. It allowed her to momentarily expand her lungs, the pressure in her head subsiding slightly. She wasn’t home free yet, but it had bought her a momentary reprieve.

She calmed herself, focusing her mind as she gritted her teeth. She felt a little more loosening of the deadly vine again, her fury building as time seemed to screech to a halt. She fought against the urge to use her meta strength to escape, knowing that she was going to have to find a different way out of this or risk revealing her family’s secret identities.

At that moment, the vine abruptly fell away, causing her to drop to the ground on all fours. She gasped for air, her muscles trembling from the strain placed on them. A hand came to rest against her back, rubbing it in an effort to comfort her.

“Diana,” Batman whispered her name close to her ear as he crouched beside her. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” she breathlessly replied. “Just stop…Joker and Ivy.”

Batman straightened up, rage building inside of him as he set his sights on Poison Ivy. Without a second thought, he drew an electrified bola, throwing it with an almost imperceptible flick of his wrist. Facing off against Robin, Ivy didn’t notice the bola until it was too late, wrapping around her and dropping her with an electrifying cry of pain.

Firefly emerged from Arkham with Harley Quinn who appeared none too happy with being rescued. “Let go of me!” she screeched, jerking her arm free of Firefly’s hold on her.

“Harls!” Joker yelled. “Let’s go!”

“I’m not going anywhere with you!” she insisted, turning on her heel to walk back into Arkham. “I’d rather be locked up in here than go anywhere with you.”

“Firefly! Stop Batman and his partners!” Joker angrily ordered, turning his attention to his girlfriend. He grabbed her by the arm, keeping her from walking away from him. “Harley, I came after you because you belong with me.”

“Oh, puddin,” she cooed with a dreamy smile.

Firefly’s lips spread into a wicked grin as he turned his focus on Batman. “It would be my pleasure to destroy them,” he bit out as he raised his arms, directing a blast of fire directly at the Dark Knight.

Batman instinctively lifted his cape, hoping that it would help. He felt something brush past him as he ducked, feeling a blast of heat, but nothing more. Something seemed to be protecting him from the intense fire intent on turning him into nothing but a pile of ash.

Feeling the heat subside, he cautiously straightened up, peering out from behind his cape to find his wife standing in front of him taking the brunt of the powerful blast. He immediately reached out for her as she moved out from behind her own cape. Not a single hair had been singed, not one part of her burned.

“Hades,” she simply stated, her lips quirking in response to the unspoken question that danced on his tongue waiting to be asked.

He smirked at her before both flew into action to stop Firefly while Nightwing, Robin, and Red Robin went after Joker and Harley Quinn. Bruce wanted nothing more than to go after Joker himself, but he’d made a promise to let Dick lead the mission including facing off against Joker. He wouldn’t go back on his word nor would he compromise the trust they had placed in him by letting him come out with them tonight.

He watched as his wife attacked an enormous villain who appeared through the gaping hole of the wall. He was half man, half reptile…obviously the criminal that Dick had called Killer Croc. Diana fought with a fierce vengeance, unleashing her anger on the poor villain who didn’t stand a chance against the furious Batwoman. He had considered joining in to help her, but she seemed to have it well in hand, leaving him to take on more of Joker’s gang.

Batman moved with a stealthy skill that had been instilled in him through years of training and endless conditioning of his body. He swung his fist with precision, delivering the maximum amount of necessary strength without being lethal. He ducked low as he avoided a punch, coming up with a right hook that nearly shattered the thug’s teeth and taking him out.

Turning, he spotted the Joker drawing a gun, pointing it directly at Robin. Without a second thought, he threw a Batarang, knocking the gun out Joker’s hand just as he fired it. Robin fell to the ground, Batman’s chest clenching with pure fear.

Batman ran straight for his son as Firefly unleashed another stream of fire, forcing Nightwing to duck for cover. Red Robin raced towards Harley, trying to get her away from Joker only for her to retaliate. “Don’t even think about it, Red!” she seethed, kicking him in the gut.

He doubled over, grabbing her ankle at the last second and flinging her backwards. She tucked and rolled, coming up on all fours like a panther. She smirked deviously at him, using her forefinger to beckon him to come get her.

Harley ran straight towards Red Robin, grabbing hold of a low tree branch. She used it to somersault herself towards her prey, wrapping her legs around his neck and nearly knocking him to the ground. He staggered backwards as she tightened her hold on his neck, making it more than difficult to breathe.

He clawed at her thighs, trying to get her to release her hold him. His vision tunneled as he gasped for air, desperate to force her to let go. He couldn’t lose consciousness. He needed to stop her…stop Joker before they escaped or got their hands on his mom.

A blinding pain erupted in the back of his head, making his whole world suddenly go black. “Hey! I had him,” Harley yelled as she stood to her feet.

“It was taking entirely too long,” Joker stated, waving his gun in the air. “Bring him, Firefly! We’re getting out of here…now!”

“What about Batwoman?” Firefly asked as he threw Red Robin over his shoulder.

“Change of plans,” Joker ultimately decided with a wicked cackle of glee. “Time to take what we can get and flee.”

“No!” Nightwing yelled as he began to chase after them, desperate to get Tim back only to be brought short by KGBeast who had just escaped from Arkham.

“Where are you going, Wing?”

With a growl of fury, Nightwing glanced past KGBeast, watching as Joker, Harley Quinn, and Firefly disappeared into the night with his brother. His worst fears about this mission had just become a reality. He lost his partner and brother.

Chapter Text

Chapter 23

Gotham; September 23rd, 22:50 EST

“Stay close to me,” Red Hood instructed her, earning a nasty glower from the Amazon warrior at his left.

“Just because we are sleeping together does not mean you get to tell me what to do nor do you have to be protective of me,” she snapped. “I am fully capable of taking care of myself and you.”

“I know you are, Red, but you don’t know Joker like I do,” he countered with a huff of annoyance. “He’s not like anyone you’ve ever gone up against.”

“I know,” she retorted with a roll of her eyes. “You’ve only told me a hundred times already.”

“You just don’t know what I know,” he cryptically said, pausing by the side of the building to scan the area for any traps.

Finding an open window, Hood grabbed hold of the ledge, easily lifting himself up and crawling inside. Artemis followed him, her irritation with him still prickling hotly as she followed him through the dark lumber mill, her every sense on high alert for impending trouble.

“When will you finally tell me what happened?” she pressed.

“I don’t like to talk about it,” he curtly stated.

“All I know is that Joker killed you and that you were brought back to life,” she continued on regardless of his obvious resistance. He had to let her in if this was going to work between them.

“Look, I promise I’ll tell you everything someday, but now is really not a good time,” he ground out, tightly clutching his weapons.

He still couldn’t help the overriding belief that Joker should’ve been dead long ago. It nagged at him in the deepest, darkest corners of his mind especially in that moment when sleep was just beginning to grab hold of him, when he was just starting to drift off and his thoughts weren’t his own. The memories would return with a vengeance, renewing his hatred for the psychotic clown and trying to stir the element of resentment that he still clung to.

He tried to ignore these darker emotions that consumed his soul, but it was difficult when the nightmares visited him like a deadly specter in his sleep. Thankfully, they had been held at bay with Artemis in his bed. She was turning out to be a calming presence in his life and he knew that he owed her by telling her about the worst time in his life.

Artemis glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. She could feel the internal battle that was warring inside of him. She knew that it had been a horrifying time for him, but she needed to know if she was going to be able to help him eventually get past it all.

Despite how well Jason got along with his family, she had sensed a subtle, underlying current of tension at times. It wasn’t overtly obvious by any means, and it wasn’t something that she’d picked up on right away. It was more like an unspoken moment in time that no one wanted to revisit or discuss, an elephant in the room that no one acknowledged.

The problem was that trying to bury it without actually dealing with it could lead to festering bitterness and resentment that could eventually explode like a volcano of molten emotion. Things could easily turn ugly with the slightest spark. She feared greatly for that moment.

This family had become special to her, taking her by surprise. She never saw it coming but couldn’t deny that the feelings were there. Of course, she wasn’t exactly one to express her feelings nor was she a romantic at heart. Still, she knew she’d protect this family with her life. She had sworn her life to them when she’d first come to Man’s World and that promise still held true…even more so now than ever before.

“I don’t understand it,” Red Hood softly murmured more to himself than to the Amazon.

“What is it?” she whispered.

“There should be more signs of Joker being here,” Hood said as he shook his head. “I don’t like it. It’s far too quiet.”

“What did you expect?” she asked. “A welcome wagon?”

“No,” he stated. “If Joker went to Arkham with his gang to spring Harley, there should still be some of his gang around here…some sign of them being here.”

“Maybe he decided to take them all with him.”

“Maybe,” he muttered as he looked around. “Something is off here.”

“Do you think that Harley gave Nightwing the wrong location?”

“Could be,” he replied. “But it wouldn’t be the first time Harley betrayed Joker. It’s like some vicious cycle between them. They fight, they break up and double-cross each other, they get back together. It’s a twisted mess.”

“Well, it doesn’t look like anyone is here,” Artemis told him.

“Let’s at least look for clues,” he decided. “Maybe we’ll find something that will give us some idea about where they could be now.”

They worked their way through the old lumber mill, finding only a handful of empty syringes here and there. Hood bagged them up for evidence, hopefully that they’d be able to find a way to counteract this crazy mind drug that Joker had created.

He just wanted to get through this building so they could catch up with the others. He’d wanted to go along to Arkham and get a few good shots in at Joker, but he’d relented to checking out the location Harley hard given up. He’d hoped that Joker had actually stayed behind this time, but that obviously turned out to not be the case.

The longer they spent in the lumber mill the more the nagging feeling in the back of Jason’s mind grew. It was becoming relentless, causing his stomach to clench with growing dread. “We need to get out of here,” he suddenly stated.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“I have a very bad feeling about this,” he told her, grabbing her hand as he stalked past her. “We need to leave now.”

“But what—”

The sound of Joker’s eerie, crowing laughter abruptly filled the air, reverberating through the building. “Run!” Jason yelled.

Dragging a protesting Artemis with him, they raced towards the door on the far side of the room. Jason knew they weren’t going to make it in time. They had to minimize the damage as best as possible. He shoved Artemis towards a piece of equipment as a serious of explosions suddenly rocked the entire mill, causing the building to burst into a ball of flames.

Batcave; September 24th, 00:04 EST

“Bring him over here,” Alfred urgently instructed Batman as they hurried towards the medical bay of the Batcave.

Batman solemnly carried an unconscious Robin towards one of the waiting medical beds, holding him protectively in his arms. His heart was in his throat as he glanced down at the pale face of his son, tears gathering in his eyes as his gaze settled on the blood staining his uniform. This couldn’t be happening. This wasn’t at all the way it was supposed to have gone.

Joker was supposed to be locked up with Harley Quinn right now, not running free with Tim as his captive. He hadn’t known what to expected tonight when they’d left for this mission, but this had definitely not been it. It was so surreal like a horrible dream he wished he could wake himself up from.

He gently laid Damian on the medical bed before taking several steps back to watch as Alfred went to work saving his son. Although he didn’t remember the Joker, he’d found a hatred for him that he wasn’t sure that he’d ever known before. If anything happened to Damian or Tim, he’d never forgive himself.

He ripped his cowl off, tossing it on the ground in disgust. His gauntleted hands balled into furious fists bent on revenge as Alfred cut away Damian’s uniform top, revealing the bullet hole in his upper left chest. He quickly began the task of removing the bullet, causing Bruce’s stomach to twist with the knowledge that the Joker held no qualms about shooting a ten-year-old boy, firing his gun without batting an eye.

What kind of sick maniac was this?

The unexpected feel of a hand coming to rest gently against his back shook him out of his vengeful thoughts. He slowly turned his head to find himself staring into the tearful eyes of his wife. Without a second thought, he fully turned towards her, sweeping her up into his arms and holding her close.

“I’m so sorry, Bruce,” she softly murmured in his ear.

He tightened his hold on her, burying his face in her hair. He had been filled with so much joy spending the day with his children only for it to all end with one son being shot and another being taken by a sadistic clown. The life that he had been so desperate to grab hold of was suddenly falling apart in his grasp.

He drew a shuddering gasp, refusing to give in to the terror that threatened to overwhelm him. He had fought too hard to get back here. He wasn’t going to give up now. He was that much more determined to regain everything that Joker was trying to take away from him.

Bruce abruptly pulled away, averting his eyes. He didn’t want her to see him appearing weak or vulnerable. He was the leader of this family. He needed to be strong and in complete control. They needed him now more than ever and he wouldn’t fail them.

He folded his arms tightly against his chest, a sure sign that he was closing himself off to everyone. Diana laid her hand on his forearm, squeezing it gently. “He’ll pull through this, Bruce,” she assured him. “He’s strong and stubborn…a fighter just like you.”

“Bruce…Diana…”

The couple turned to face Dick coming towards them, just returning from Arkham as well. “How’s Damian?” he asked as he removed his mask.

“Alfred is working on him now,” Bruce stiffly stated.

“Everyone is back in lock up at Arkham,” Dick replied. Despite his straightforward manner, the depths of his guilt and ire was more than evident in his eyes.

“Dick…” Diana began, placing a concerned hand on his shoulder.

He shrugged it off, his gaze falling on Damian. “We may have more trouble,” he revealed, swallowing hard.

“What is it?” Diana asked.

“I can’t reach Jason or Artemis,” he informed them. “They should’ve checked in by now. I’ve tried reaching them several times, but I don’t get any response from either of them. I have Barbara working on finding them as well as Tim.”

“Do you think Joker got them too?” Bruce questioned him.

Dick rubbed the back of his neck as he attempted to stretch out the stress and the kinks that had settled there. “I don’t know,” he admitted with a weary sigh. “I don’t want to think about it, but I’m going to have to go to the lumber mill and look for them if they don’t respond or show up soon.”

“Let’s not jump to conclusions until we know something,” Diana replied. “You two stay here with Damian. I’ll go to the lumber mill to look for Artemis and Jason.”

“You’re not going alone,” Bruce adamantly stated in no uncertain terms. The fire blazing in his eyes bespoke of his obstinate determination that dared to be challenged.

“I’ll be fine…really, Bruce,” she insisted.

“You were the one that Joker really wanted,” Bruce argued. “He only took Tim because he couldn’t get to you.”

“Now that he has Tim, we need to focus on finding him not on what Joker wants with me,” she stubbornly countered. “I promise I’ll contact you as soon as I find something. In the meantime, try to track Tim through his commlink. The sooner we can find him the sooner we can get him away from Joker.”

“I’m going with you, Diana,” Bruce stated. “Joker has already taken out two of us. We can’t afford the risk of losing you too.”

“Bruce, you need to stay here with your son,” Diana insisted, her hand coming to rest on his forearm. “He needs you here with him.”

“I don’t like this,” Bruce snapped, turning away from Diana. In his heart, he knew that she was right, but he loathed the idea of her going out there alone without back up.

“It’s the best option,” Diana told him. “You stay with Damian while Dick tries to track down Tim. I promise I’ll check in frequently if it’ll make you feel better.”

“It doesn’t,” Bruce spat out before stalking back towards Damian and Alfred.

“That went well,” Diana muttered under her breath, her gaze falling on Bruce standing at Damian’s bedside, taking his hand in his while Alfred tended to him. She prayed to Hera that Damian pulled through this.

“It’s been a horrible night,” Dick told her. “Just give him a little time. I’m sure this has been overwhelming for him.”

“I’m going to go look for Jason and Artemis.”

“I know I don’t have to tell you to be careful,” he replied. “I don’t want to lose any more of my family.”

“Dick, none of this is your fault,” Diana reassured him, being careful to choose her words wisely. She knew that despite Dick’s jovial personality he tended to take losses like this one personally.

“It is, Diana,” he stated, looking at Damian. “My mission…my fault. I should’ve been better prepared. I should have—”

“Don’t, Dick,” she sternly said, a grave expression adorning her face as she slowly shook her head. “Your father cornered the market on carrying all the guilt of the world on his shoulders a long time ago. It’s still something he struggles with even now despite all the wonderful things that have happened in his life over recent years. Don’t go down that same path.”

“It makes me sick to think of what Joker is doing to Tim right now,” Dick replied with a haunting tone. “Diana, you have no idea the full depths of his depravity. There is no low that he won’t sink to if it means a chance to break Batman.”

Diana visibly shivered with his words, fear clawing its way up her throat. She needed to get out there and find her son before Joker could hurt him…before Joker could destroy Bruce and their family. She refused to allow that to happen, swearing to herself she would protect all of them with her life.

“Stay here with Bruce,” Diana told him. “I’m going to go after Jason and Artemis. Keep me posted on Damian’s condition and if you find anything on Tim. If I need to, I’ll go in there as Wonder Woman and get him out if I have to. It may be our best chance of saving Tim.”

“It may come down to that,” Dick reluctantly agreed with a nod. “Let’s hope it doesn’t.”

“I’ll talk to Kal about having the Founders on standby in case we need back up,” she added.

Dick adamantly shook his head. “Bruce hates outside help, Diana,” he reminded her. “We need to keep this in the family if at all possible.”

“I understand that, Dick, but I refuse to sacrifice Tim just because of Bruce’s pride,” she stated. “If it becomes necessary, I will call in back up from the Founders. I won’t risk Tim’s life.”

“I know,” he decided with a sigh of reluctant acceptance. “We’ll hold that in our back pocket as our wild card.”

“That’s all I ask,” she replied. “Just keep it as option.”

The sound of a motorcycle racing down the tunnel of the Batcave caught their attention, hope rising in their hearts. Bruce, Dick, and Diana ran towards the motorcycle as Jason and Artemis got off, Artemis immediately grabbing hold of Jason before he crumpled to the ground.

“What happened to you two?” Dick questioned them, moving to Jason’s other side to wrap an arm around him to help support him.

“Joker happened,” Jason spat out, slipping his mask off and tossing it aside to reveal the anger in his eyes. “He had the whole building rigged to explode.”

“Are you guys okay?” Diana asked, appraising the pair.

“Just barely,” Artemis informed her with a fearsome scowl.

Artemis was covered in cuts and scrapes, blood trickling from a wound on the side of her head. Jason didn’t appear to be in much better shape, unable to place any weight on his left leg. A torn piece of cloth was wrapped tightly around his thigh, blood covering his leg.

“Let’s get you two to the med bay,” Bruce stated.

“What happened at Arkham?” Jason asked as Dick and Artemis helped him towards one of the medical beds.

“Joker shot Damian,” Dick revealed. “Alfred’s working on him now.”

“Joker and Harley got away and took Tim with them,” Diana added.

“What?” Jason nearly yelled, gritting his teeth as they helped him sit down on a bed. “We have to get back out there and find him.”

“We have no idea where he is,” Dick softly said. “His commlink isn’t working and Barbara hasn’t been able to track him as of yet.”

“We have to find him,” Jason growled as he attempted to stand up, crying out as his leg gave out on him.

Artemis caught him before he could hit the ground, helping him back up onto the bed. “Sit,” she insisted. “Try to move again and I will tie you to that bed.”

“You don’t understand!” Jason yelled. “Joker will tear him apart. He’ll do incomprehensible things to him.”

“We’ll find him, Jason,” Bruce tried to reassure him. “You need to just stay here and rest.”

“You!” Jason seethed, glaring darkly at Bruce as he pointed a finger at him. “This is all your fault!”

“What are you talking about?” Bruce demanded, his brow furrowing in confusion.

“If you would’ve killed Joker years ago, none of this would be happening now!” Jason accused, brushing off Artemis’s hand on his arm. “You just couldn’t do it, could you? You couldn’t kill Joker even after he had beaten and killed me.”

“Jason!” Diana angrily called his name as she took Bruce’s hand in hers, lacing her fingers with his.

“Jason, I—” Bruce began, nearly shocked speechless by his furious outburst. His words were like razor blades against his skin, threatening to tear his heart open.

“Save it, Bruce!” Jason shouted. “I’ve heard it all before. Nothing you say will change the fact that you chose Joker over me…over your own son and because of that Tim and Damian are now paying the price for your lack of courage.”

“Stop it, Jason!” Dick bellowed.

“No, I won’t, Dick,” Jason spat out. “You’ve always just blindly followed him, obediently doing whatever Bruce tells you to do. Well, I’ve held my tongue for a long time now, abiding by Bruce’s rules and Bruce’s way of doing things. I’m not doing it anymore. Damian could die and Tim’s as good as dead all because Bruce refused to end this madness years ago.”

Bruce felt ill to his core, confusion and anger swirling like a cyclone inside of him. Was any of this true? “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bruce rasped with a deadly calm that sent a shiver up Diana’s spine. “I would never choose anyone over my own family.”

“Yah, you say that now that you have real kids of your own,” Jason shot back with a venomous edge. “It didn’t matter before because I wasn’t really our son, but things are different now with Nicholas and Kaia and Damian.”

“Enough!”

Everyone froze, stunned by the unexpected outburst coming from the most unexpected source. Turning they found Alfred standing there, his apron streaked with Damian’s blood. His blue eyes burned with a fiery rage that shocked everyone into absolute silence.

“No one is to blame for any of this except for Joker and Harley Quinn,” Alfred heatedly stated, his chest heaving with the extent of his own anger. “Pointing fingers and making false accusations will not save Master Damian or Master Timothy nor will it change the past. I suggest you put your differences aside and focus on finding Master Timothy before it’s too late.”

Alfred leveled each one of them with a stern look, making sure that they knew he was serious. “Master Damian is resting peacefully now. He should make a full recovery in a few days. Now, if Miss Artemis would assist me with tending to Master Jason, the rest of you can start trying to track down Master Timothy.”

Jason lowered his head, his fury still thrumming through him like an electrical current, but he kept his mouth shut. He knew better than to try to cross Alfred. He also knew he was right. They needed to focus on finding Tim before he suffered at the hands of the Joker and Harley.

Bruce pulled his hand free from Diana’s before turning on his heel and silently stalking away. Diana’s eyes momentarily fell closed, drawing a deep breath and releasing it slowly through parted lips in an effort to calm her emotions before following Dick to the platform to begin the search.

“How is Damian?” Artemis asked Alfred.

“The bullet was lodged near his collarbone,” he informed her. “I was able to remove it and repair the damage. He should be his usually cheerful self in a few days.”

“Alfred…” Jason began.

“Don’t, Master Jason,” Alfred sternly stated as he began to cut away the material from his leg to reveal the deep gash in his thigh. “We all know how you feel. Directing all your anger and hatred towards Master Bruce will not help the situation. Besides, he doesn’t have any memory of the incident.”

“That doesn’t make him innocent,” Jason bit out, averting his eyes. “As far as I’m concerned, he still has my blood on his hands.”

“And killing the Joker will wash it all away just like that?” Alfred challenged him. “It’ll erase all the bitterness, all the anger and resentment, the desire for revenge. It’ll just be like the Joker never existed, never beat you or murdered you.

“What you don’t know or understand is the absolute anguish that Master Bruce endured after your death. A day didn’t go by that he wasn’t condemning himself for failing to save you from Joker. You went through hell at the hands of that madman, but so did Master Bruce.

And don’t you dare think for one moment that Master Bruce didn’t want to kill Joker with his own hands for what he did to you. It would’ve been so easy for him to give into the rage and hatred that consumed him after your death, but he resisted because he didn’t want to become what Joker was…what his parents’ killer had been.

“It’s because your father loves you that he didn’t kill Joker. He didn’t want you to have a murderer for a father, a man with no moral compass or self-restraint, lowering himself to become just like Joker. You may not see that as love now, but you will someday.”

Jason’s shoulder fell slightly as he looked to his left, watching as Bruce attacked the punching bag with a fierce vengeance. He knew in his heart that Alfred was right, but he wasn’t ready to accept that fact or let go of all the anger that continued to consume him.

If Damian or Tim didn’t survive, he’d never forgive Bruce for as long as there was breath in his body.

XXX

Bruce’s fist slammed into the leather of the punching bag with all the fury and anguish that surged through his system at that moment. He couldn’t begin to believe all that had happened since they’d left the cave on this mission to stop Joker, how everything had gone so incredibly wrong.

His mind stormed with thoughts that refused to be contained, wondering if everyone would’ve been better off if Diana had just left him down in the Underworld with Hades. What had happened when Joker had killed Jason? What had taken place between him and Jason after his return from the dead?

An endless string of questions barraged him, gaining momentum with every slam of his fist against the bag. There was so much of his life that he needed to recover. He needed to know everything now so he could find a way to get Tim back before Joker took another son from him.

Sweat began to trickle down the sides of his face, his neck and back. His chest heaved with the raw emotions coursing through him like a mighty river. It was all so confusing, overwhelming him and threatening to break him. He knew that he couldn’t allow himself to succumb to the pressure when Tim’s life was at stake.

It was more than difficult, though, knowing that Jason hated him…carrying this bitterness and resentment towards him this whole time. He would never do anything to harm any of his family. The thought alone that he had failed Jason resulting in his death was almost enough to crush him.

How many others had he failed that he had no memory of? How many times had he failed his children or Diana?

As desperate as he was to get his memories back, he was beginning to think maybe it was for the best that he didn’t remember. There was so much pain that he had caused. He needed to go out there and make it right. He needed to fix this before Tim paid the price.

Bruce stalked out of the training room, fury fueling his every step. He didn’t make it far before he was stopped by Alfred who was blocking his path. “And where exactly do you think you’re going?”

“I’m going after Tim,” he stated.

“You don’t know where you’re going,” Alfred pointed out. “You have no memories of Gotham and no idea where Master Timothy is being held.”

“Get out of my way, Alfred,” Bruce insisted. “I have to try to fix this before I lose Tim.”

Alfred closed the distance between them, his expression softening. “What happened with Master Jason was a terrible tragedy, but it was in no way your fault. The blame lays solely on the shoulders of the Joker and no one else.”

“He’s right, Alfred,” Bruce growled. “I should have stopped Joker years ago. Then none of this would be happening now. Joker wouldn’t have shot Damian, Tim wouldn’t have been taken, and Diana wouldn’t still be in danger.”

“And what about the next villain who does the exact same thing as Joker?” Alfred asked. “What will you do then? Take his or her life too? Keep killing off every single villain who threatens your team? I know you don’t have your memories, Master Bruce, but deep down you know that you don’t believe killing is the answer. You never have before and you don’t now.”

Bruce’s chin fell to his chest as he swallowed hard. He felt absolutely helpless to stop this and helpless to save his son. “What am I supposed to do, Alfred?” he softly asked, clearly on the verge of breaking by what had happened.

“You will find the answer, Bruce,” Alfred replied with a fatherly tone as he placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “You and your family will find a way through this no matter what happens. You always have and you always will. This family is strong, enduring more than your fair share of tragedies. This is a horrible setback, but you will overcome it.”

Bruce nodded his head in response as his eyes fell on Damian sleeping soundly in the med bay, Jason sitting on another medical bed talking to Artemis. He knew couldn’t let Joker break him. If he allowed that to happen, then Joker would truly win, and he couldn’t allow that to happen no matter what.

Gotham; September 24th, 02:28 EST

Tim swallowed back the groan he could feel sliding up his throat, refusing to give away the fact that he was conscious now. He needed to play opossum for as long as possible, learning as much as he possible could so he could find a way to escape this nightmare before it actually began.

There was no way he was going to allow Joker and Harley to carry out their plans to hurt his mom or anyone else for that matter. He’d do whatever was necessary to take the Joker down. He just had to find a way to get out of the handcuffs that held him captive in this chair.

He couldn’t help thinking of Damian and wondering if he was even still alive. Had he lost another brother to Joker’s hands? They’d thankfully been able to get Jason back, but he had no idea if Damian would be as fortunate. It fanned the flames of his anger to think that Joker could so coldly shoot a ten-year-old boy, but he also knew that Joker had committed heinous acts just like it and even worse in the past.

His head was pounding mercilessly, his heartbeat hammering in his ears. His stomach churned, but he swallowed the nausea that threatened to overtake him. He needed to figure out where he was being held. He doubted that it was the lumber mill that Harley had told Nightwing about.

There was no scent of wood, no telltale smell of sawdust. Instead, the air was thick with the smell of grease, making him wonder where exactly he was being held captive. He absently wondered if Jason and Artemis were all right. If they weren’t at the lumber mill now, then that meant that either Harley lied, or Joker moved his base.

“But, puddin’!” Harley cried. “I thought you didn’t want me anymore!”

“You know I’ve been under a lot of stress!” he yelled. “This plan has to work if I’m going to break Bats.”

“But we didn’t get Batwoman,” she pointed out.

“We’re not giving up on that,” he swore to her. “We’ll start with Red Robin and have him bring her to us.”

“Do you really think that’ll work?”

“Of course, it will,” he snapped. “Don’t you have faith in me anymore?”

“Ya know I love ya, puddin,” she pledged. “It’s just that nothin’ we try seems to work.”

“This time it’ll work,” he promised her. “This plan is failproof.”

“What are we gonna do about Penguin?” she asked. “He still wants revenge on you for killin’ Bossworth by comin’ after me.”

“If you stay here with me where you’re supposed to be, you’ll be fine,” he stated.

“So, I’m just supposed to stay in here forever?”

“Not forever,” he replied. “Just until I can get my people in place. Once I get certain people under my control, I’m going to have them take out the likes of Penguin and Riddler. No need to have any competition around here.”

Tim clenched his teeth, subtly trying the handcuffs that kept his arms bound to the chair. It was far worse than they had imagined. It was only a matter of time before Joker had complete control over Gotham, spreading his special brand of chaos.

“So, how soon are ya gonna start programming Red?” she asked.

“As soon as possible,” Joker replied with a gleeful cackle. “There’s no sense prolonging the inevitable. Besides, the sooner he’s programmed the sooner we can get our hands on Batwoman.”

Tim felt his stomach lurch with Joker’s words, knowing that he was going to have to fight with everything that he had. He couldn’t allow Joker to gain control over him. The thought of betraying his family or hurting his mom was a gut-wrenching thought.

He had to find a way to stop this even if it meant his life.

Chapter Text

Chapter 24

Watchtower; September 24th, 07:24 EST

“Last night was amazing,” John said with a dreamy smile on his face.

“Just making up for being gone for so long,” Shayera replied with a satisfied smirk.

“Maybe you should go away more often if the reunion sex is that mind-blowing,” John suggested with a chuckle.

Shayera smacked him in the shoulder with the back of her hand. “So, you want me gone just so you can enjoy several nights of reunion sex?”

“You know I’m just kidding,” he reassured her, capturing her hand in his. “Any time I get to spend alone with you is always amazing, Shay.”

His wife flashed him a grin of appreciation. “That’s a much better answer.”

“I just hope you don’t have to leave again any time soon,” he told her as they made their way to the conference room. “I miss you too much when you’re gone.”

“That’s an even better answer.”

“Hey, wait up you two!”

Flash abruptly appeared between the couple; an arm slung around each shoulder as he pushed his way between them. “Do you guys know why Supes called an emergency meeting this morning?”

“No clue,” Shayera replied.

“Well, Wondy and Bats are back, and things have been pretty quiet around here lately,” Wally said as he thought about it. “I don’t know what it could be this time.”

“We’ve been too busy to notice anything,” John said, giving his wife a smirk.

“Actually, I been kinda busy myself lately,” Wally said with a grin, completely missing John’s meaning.

“What’s going on with you?” Shayera asked, removing the speedster’s arm from her shoulder.

“I met someone,” Wally revealed.

“Someone as in…a female?” John teased him.

“Yes, it’s a female,” he stated, giving John a dirty look.

“And she’s actually a living, breathing female?”

“Yes!” Wally cried. “Why can’t you believe that I could find a nice woman?”

John chuckled as he clapped Wally on the back. “I’m just messing with you, man. Who is it?”

“Her name is Linda Park,” he revealed. “She’s an investigative reporter in Keystone City.”

“Does she know Wally West or the Flash?” Shayera asked.

“Right now, it’s just the Flash,” Wally replied. “We’ll have to see where it goes before I can reveal my true identity to her.”

“Well, make sure she’s the one before you start sharing all your secrets,” John warned him.

“I know, but I’m really excited about this girl,” he continued. “I think she might be the one.”

John gave him an incredulous look. “That’s what you said about the last twelve.”

“I’m telling you this is different,” Wally insisted. “I’ve never felt anything like this before.”

“That’s what you said about the last five,” Shayera reminded him.

Wally growled under his breath, his frustration showing through. “Mark my words,” he stated in no uncertain terms. “I’m going to marry Linda Park.”

“Should we start a betting pool, Shay?” John asked his wife.

“Fifty bucks says she breaks up with him inside two weeks.”

“You guys are just horrible,” Wally grumbled as they entered the conference room to find Superman and J’onn already there waiting on them.

“Good morning,” Superman greeted the other three Founders as they found their seats.

Shayera immediately noticed that Superman was missing his usual jovial expression, a tense ominousness air taking its place. “What’s wrong?” she asked as she sat down.

“Hey, where’s Wondy and Bats?” Flash questioned them as he noticed the two empty seats across the conference table from him. “I thought for sure they’d be here for the meeting this morning now that they’re back.”

“I’m afraid I have some rather unsettling news that I need to share,” Clark bleakly replied.

“No…absolutely not,” Wally said with a definitive shake of his head. “No more bad news. I think we’ve had enough of it to last us at least a year if not more.”

“I’m afraid things aren’t over for Bruce and Diana just yet,” Clark revealed. “There was an incident last night at Arkham. The Joker shot Damian and kidnapped Tim.”

“What?” Shayera sat forward in her chair, hands clenched on top of the table and clearly ready for a fight. “What happened?”

“Joker went to Arkham to break Harley Quinn out,” Superman explained. “During the escape, Joker shot Damian. He’s recovering at the manor right now. Diana said he’ll be good as new in a couple of weeks.”

“And what about Tim?” John questioned him.

“Joker and Harley took Tim with them,” Clark said. “Joker has evidently created a mind controlling drug that he’s tested on several people including Firefly. He’s planning on using it on several key people in order to control them and force them into doing his bidding. Batwoman was his original target, but he ended up taking Red Robin instead.”

“What do we need to do?” Flash asked. “When do we leave for Gotham?”

“We don’t,” J’onn grimly replied. “Diana wanted us to be aware of what was going on and to be on standby in case they require assistance.”

“Why wouldn’t they want us there to help them find Tim?” Flash demanded to know. “We care about him too.”

“Wally, it’s Bruce and it’s Gotham,” John reminded him. “You know how Bruce is about outside help.”

“Yah, but Bruce doesn’t have his memories and Tim’s in serious trouble,” Wally insisted. “Wouldn’t they want us to help?”

“They will contact us if they run into trouble,” Clark clarified. “Until then, we’re on standby.”

“I don’t like this,” Wally sullenly stated, folding his arms against his chest. “They need our help and they won’t take it. I could cover so much ground faster than they can. I could cover Gotham in no time.”

“I understand, Wally, but we need to respect their decision to handle it alone for now,” Clark replied. “I promise as soon as I know more, I’ll let all of you know, but for now we need to be ready if they call.”

“We’ll be ready,” Shayera swore.

“I’d love nothing more than to get my hands on the Joker,” John said.

“I’m afraid you’d have to get in a very long line, John,” Clark agreed.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Shayera murmured. “They just got back from the Underworld. Bruce still doesn’t even have his memories, does he?”

“No, Bruce was going to come to the Watchtower so I could help him try to recover his memories, but he felt his children needed him at home right now,” J’onn revealed. “Diana did tell me that he has been able to recall a couple of details since being home, but nothing significant.”

“I guess that’s better than not being able to recall anything at all,” John decided.

“Hopefully, his memories will return over time,” Shayera suggested.

“It appears that may be a possibility,” J’onn concurred. “Unfortunately, I’m not certain how long it might take to recover on his own. It sounds as though he needs his memories back sooner rather than later with Timothy missing.”

“Just when I think things can’t get any worse or that things are finally turning around, something else goes wrong,” Wally groused.

“With any luck, they’ll be able to find Tim before Joker can do anything to hurt him,” Clark said, his voice holding the overt confidence that he wasn’t feeling at that moment.

Gotham; September 24th, 08:26 EST

Damian awoke with a barely perceptible groan, feeling as though he’d been run over by a truck. He opened his eyes to find himself in the med bay of the Batcave. Across the med bay, Jason lay in another bed, Artemis sitting at his bedside. Both of them were asleep and looked as though they’d been to hell and back, leaving him to wonder what had happened to them.

Looking to his right, he was somewhat surprised to find his father sitting at his bedside, sound asleep as well as. The stress of the night was still evident in his face, his eyebrows knitted together even in his sleep. Glancing down, he found his father’s hand wrapped securely around his own.

He felt an unexpected sense of warm affection well up inside of him, knowing that his father had stayed by his bedside despite everything that was obviously going on around them. He was anxious to find out what all had happened last night. The last thing he remembered was Joker pulling that gun out and shooting him. After that, it was a complete mystery.

He began to carefully pull his hand free in hopes of getting up, but his attempt proved unsuccessful. “Damian,” Bruce said, immediately sitting up. “How do you feel?”

“Sore,” he admitted. “What happened last night? Did we capture Joker?”

Bruce leaned forward in his chair, adjusting the covers over his son. “I’m afraid Joker got away with Harley Quinn,” he revealed. “They took Tim with them.”

“What?” Damian said as he tried to sit up, finding it to be a significant mistake as pain lanced through his chest.

“Don’t try to get up,” Bruce told him.

“Why aren’t you all out there looking for him?” Damian asked with a scowl.

Bruce shook his head as he drew a deep breath. “We have no idea where Joker took him. Diana, Barbara, and Dick have been working all night trying to track him, but Joker destroyed his commlink.”

“What about Jason?” he asked, pointing at the pair with his chin.

“They went to the location that Harley had given Dick, but it was rigged with bombs,” Bruce informed him. “They barely got out alive.”

“This is unreal,” Damian muttered as he leaned back against his pillows. “Is everyone else okay?”

“Yes…now that you’re awake,” Bruce admitted. “You gave all of us quite a scare.”

“Really?”

“Of course,” he confirmed with an incredulous frown as he studied his son. “You were shot, Damian. You lost a lot of blood. Everyone was really worried about you.”

“How long do I have to stay down here?”

“Well, Alfred was able to remove the bullet and repair the damage,” he replied. “You should be able to move upstairs to your bedroom later today if you’re feeling up to it.”

“I want to go out tonight to help look for Tim.”

“Absolutely not,” Bruce stated. “You’re not going out tonight or any time soon.”

“But I want to help look for Tim,” Damian insisted with a Batglare that rivaled his father’s.

“You are in no shape to be out of bed let alone out in Gotham,” Bruce sternly reminded him. “You almost died last night, Damian. I’m not about to allow you to risk your life any further. There are plenty of us who can go out there and look for him.”

“I don’t like this,” Damian ground out.

“I understand, but you mean too much to us to let you put your life in any more danger right now.”

“Fine,” he bit out with a sneer as he averted his eyes under his father’s penetrating gaze.

“What would you like for breakfast?”

“Whatever…I don’t care,” he sulked. “I’m not hungry.”

“You need to eat to get your strength up,” Bruce told him as he stood to his feet. He paused, leaning over to run his fingers through his son’s hair. “If you need anything, get Artemis or Diana is up on the platform.”

“I’ll be fine.”

Bruce left the med bay area feeling a little better now that Damian was awake, but the sick knot of dread that he’d felt when Joker took off with Tim was still sitting there like a large rock in the pit of his stomach. It felt as though it was expanding by the hour, threatening to consume him. They had to find him before Joker could hurt him. He shuddered to think of what that maniac could be doing to him right now.

He made his way up the steps of the platform, wanting to check on Diana. His guilt prickled as his eyes fell on her, remembering how he’d gotten angry with her earlier. He knew that he needed to trust her to take care of herself, but it was difficult knowing there was a madman who wanted to get his hands on his wife. Joker had already shot one son and had another in his clutches. He couldn’t handle much more right now.

Losing Diana would push him right over the edge.

While he was still struggling to remember every aspect of his life, there was one thing that he was starting to realize—he found himself beginning to fall in love with Diana. It was more than just the strong attraction he felt towards her. It was so much more than just some physical desire that held no meaning. This was something deeper…something that was rooted in his heart.

“Have you been able to find anything yet?” he asked as he approached to find Diana sitting all alone at the computer bank.

“No…nothing at all,” she replied as she sat back in the command chair. She rubbed her tired eyes before running her fingers back through her hair, twisting the raven strands around her fingers with unrelenting frustration. “Bruce, our son is out there somewhere going through unimaginable horrors and we can’t get to him. I feel so useless to help him. It’s the worst feeling in the world.”

Bruce sat down in the chair next to her. He reached over, taking her hand in his. “I know…I feel the same way,” he confessed, his thumb rubbing the back of it. “But we’ll find him, Diana, and we’ll find a way through this.”

Diana could feel hot tears beginning to gather in the corners of her eyes. She tried to blink them away, but they refused to be denied. “I’m so scared for him,” she softly admitted with a shuddering gasp, her bottom lip beginning to tremble. “What if we never get him back, Bruce? What if we lose him or we get him back and he’s never the same Tim?”

“We’ll deal with it together,” he promised her. “We won’t give up until we’ve found him.”

Diana slowly shook her head. “I…I don’t know what to do,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

“Come here, princess,” Bruce murmured her, pulling her into his arms and holding her close.

Diana went willingly, her arms slipping around her husband and burying herself in his warm embrace. He felt so warm and safe and solid…everything that she needed in that moment and so much more as he stroked her hair, kissing the top of her head.

She had fought so hard to get her family back together, going to the Underworld in order to save her husband only to have her family broken all over again. It felt like her heart was being ripped apart at the still healing seams. The indescribable ache in her chest nearly stole her breath, forcing her to tighten her grip on his shirt as her tears began to fall against her will.

Bruce rubbed her back as he held her, feeling his own emotions coursing through his veins and threatening to overwhelm him as they roared to the surface. He quickly tamped down on them, knowing that Diana and his family needed him now more than ever.

They held onto each other for several long moments before Diana finally pulled out of his embrace. She wanted to stay there in his arms forever, but she knew they had work to do. They had a son to find before the Joker completely broke him forever or even worse.

“I’m sorry,” she muttered as she quickly wiped away her tears, dipping her head in embarrassment. She never should have fallen apart like that. Bruce needed her to remain in control and focused.

Bruce reached out and cupped her cheek, his thumb erasing the remnants of the tears on her face. “You have nothing to be sorry for, Diana,” he reassured her. “You’ve been through so very much lately. I have no idea how you’ve been able to hold it all together for this long.”

“We need to focus on Tim right now,” she replied, missing the comfort of his touch as his hand fell away from her face. “We need to come up with a plan to track down the Joker.”

“Did Barbara or Dick have any ideas?”

“Dick and I mapped all of Joker’s known hideouts all over Gotham,” she replied, turning in her chair to pull up the map they’d made on the computer screen. “We can hit all of his known hideouts tonight, but I honestly don’t think that we’ll find him there.”

“He’s not going to go back to his old hideouts,” Bruce told her, his voice holding his typical confidence. “He’s found some place new to hideout.”

“The problem now is where,” Diana stated. “We no longer have Harley Quinn to question.”

“I’d love to get my hands on her,” Bruce ground out. “Even if she didn’t pull the trigger, she’s as much a part of this as Joker.”

“She helped Joker take Tim,” Diana angrily pointed out. “I’m going to make sure Harley and Joker both pays for their crimes.”

“Where’s Dick?”

“He went upstairs to let Donna know what’s going on,” she replied.

“I have a feeling we’re going to have a hard time keeping her from helping search Gotham for Tim,” he said.

“You have no idea,” Dick agreed with a shake of his head, approaching with a tray laden with breakfast in his hands. “She did not take the news well.”

“Is she okay?” Diana asked, growing concerned.

“She’ll be okay, but good luck talking her out of helping search for Tim,” he replied as he set the tray down.

Diana frowned, knowing that she needed to talk her sister out of going into Gotham. It was far too dangerous for her to be out there. “Where is she now?”

“She’s taking Damian his breakfast.”

Bruce looked down at the med bay, watching as Donna helped Damian sit up in his bed before setting the tray across his lap. He couldn’t shake the overwhelming feeling that things were only going to get worse. He didn’t know where the dread stemmed from, only that it was there and growing stronger by the minute.

“I’m going to go upstairs and check on Nicholas and Kaia,” Diana said, walking past her husband and son. “Call me immediately if you find anything. Barbara was going to work on analyzing those syringes that Jason found.”

“We’ll let you know,” Dick promised her.

“Get some sleep, Diana,” he told her.

Bruce watched her leave, wondering not for the first time how on earth he’d managed to win the heart of such an incredible woman as Diana. He couldn’t bear the thought of anything happening to her. He was afraid of the depths that he could possibly sink to if Joker got his hands on her.

XXX

Diana entered the manor, the sound of children’s laughter immediately greeting her. It was like a soothing balm to her hurting heart as she quickened her pace to the kitchen, anxious to see what was going on that had her children so entertained.

It was a relief to her that they were happy, unsuspecting of the nightmare that had befallen the family once more. They’d been through so much already without bearing the weight of Tim’s capture by Joker and Damian being shot. She was going to shield them as much as possible from all of it for as long as possible. She just prayed that she never had to tell them why Tim was never coming home.

A painful lump abruptly lodged in her throat with the thought of Tim never returning home. It was an outcome that she swore she would never allow to happen. She would fight until her very last breath to make sure that Tim safely returned home where he belonged.

Entering the kitchen, Diana found Nicholas and Kaia sitting at the kitchen table, giggling at Zatanna who was performing magic tricks for her children. “Okay, now watch this,” she told them as she took her black top hat off her head.

She waved her hand over the opening in her hat, muttering a few words before reaching inside and pulling a bunny rabbit out. Nicholas and Kaia clapped excitedly, laughing as Zatanna helped up the bunny to look him in the face. “Where did you come from?” she asked it. “You’re supposed to be at home in our cage.”

“Do it again!” Nicholas cried.

“Me want a turtle!” Kaia said.

“Hmmm….” Zatanna thoughtfully hummed as she carefully put the rabbit back into her hat. “I don’t know if I can find a turtle…but what about…a dove?”

Pulling out a white dove, Zatanna leaned over and let the kids stroke its feathers. “How about a snake?” Nicholas asked.

Zatanna playfully shuddered at the mention of the reptile. “No way!” she declared. “I’m afraid Zatanna doesn’t do snakes, kiddo.”

“Me want another kitty,” Kaia decided.

“I think your dad would have a nervous breakdown for sure if you got another kitten, Kaia,” she told her. “He barely survived getting Ace and Peanut without having anymore animals in the house.”

“Miss Diana, you’re just in time for some breakfast,” Alfred greeted her with a somewhat forced smile. Fatigue lined his eyes, but he was putting up a strong front for the little ones.

“Morning, Di,” Zee said.

“Zatanna, I didn’t expect you this morning,” Diana replied. “I’m glad you dropped by.”

“Dick called me to let me know,” she cryptically answered. “I’m here to help out in any way that I can even if it’s just to entertain the kids.”

“You have no idea how much that means,” Diana softly said, giving her a hug.

“Chocolate chip pancakes are ready,” Alfred announced as he approached the table with a platter piled high with the sweet treat.

“Me want six pancakes!” Kaia announced as she fisted her fork.

“Kaia, you can’t eat six pancakes,” Nicholas told her. “You’re too little.”

“Me not wittle,” she said with a scowl, trying to push herself up out of her booster seat to stand on it.

“You need to sit down, my sun and stars,” Diana warned her, coming around behind her to kiss the top of her head before running her fingers through her raven curls. “I don’t want you falling and hurting yourself.”

“Mama, come eat with us,” Nicholas said, patting the place next to him.

“I’d love to,” Diana said. “I’m absolutely starving.”

“Where’s daddy?” Nicholas asked with a frown. “I want daddy to eat with us too.”

“He’s still downstairs,” she replied, glancing at Zatanna.

“Me want to play with daddy today,” Kaia announced as she attempted to spear a pancake with her fork from the large stack on the table.

“Here, sweetheart,” Zatanna said, putting a couple of pancakes on Kaia’s plate. “Let me help you.”

“Can we go to the zoo today?” Nicholas requested. “I want all of us to go to the zoo.”

“Today isn’t really a good day, Nicholas,” Diana told him. “Damian isn’t feeling well.”

“He sick?” Kaia asked, scrunching up her face.

“If it’s okay with your mom, maybe Aunt Donna and I can take you to the zoo,” Zatanna offered.

“You don’t mind?” Diana asked, relief showing on her face.

“Are you kidding?” Zatanna said with a grin. “I’m here to help for as long as you need me. Besides, any chance to spend time with the kiddos makes for a great day.”

“That would be great, Zee,” Diana replied. “I think it would help to get them out of the house for a little while.”

“Can Tim and Dick come too?” Nicholas asked.

“They’re pretty busy right now,” Zatanna responded. “I think we better let them work.”

“I’m going to see if your father can come up and eat breakfast with us,” Diana said standing to her feet.

“I can call him for you, Miss Diana,” Alfred informed her as the doorbell rang.

“Thanks, Alfred,” Diana stated as she headed out of the kitchen. “I’ll get the door.”

Making her way to the door, she couldn’t help feeling a little better having Zatanna here. Nicholas and Kaia absolutely adored Aunt Zee. Knowing she would spend some time with them and help keep them occupied felt like a huge weight off her shoulders.

Diana opened the front door only to be ploughed right into by her cousin. “Diana,” Cassie cried as she threw herself into the Amazon princess, completely taking her off guard.

“Cassie,” she murmured as she wrapped her arms around her. “What are you doing here?”

“Flash contacted the Titans this morning to let us know what happened to Tim.”

Diana tightened her hold on Cassie, guilt rising inside of her. “I’m so sorry I haven’t called you yet. It’s been an absolute nightmare around here.”

“No…it’s okay,” Cassie muttered as she buried herself in her cousin’s embrace. “I just had to come.”

Diana held her cousin, knowing that Cassie was hurting. She and Tim had grown very close over recent months, Tim falling quite hard for her. “I still should have called you, Cassie. I’m sorry I didn’t. I’ve been so focused on Damian and working to find Tim.”

Cassie pulled out of her hold, wiping at the tears that had fallen. “No, I’d rather have you guys focused on finding Tim,” she insisted. “That’s what’s most important. What can I do to help?”

“I’m afraid that there’s not much any of us can do at the moment,” Diana confessed, drawing a ragged breath as she attempted to keep her own emotions at bay. “Dick is in the cave working with Oracle on trying to track him down, but Joker destroyed his commlink. We haven’t been able to get any leads on where he’s being held.”

Cassie bit at her bottom lip, trying to keep the tears from escaping again. “Joker could be doing horrible things to him right now.”

Diana placed her hands on her shoulders, her forehead coming to rest against hers. “We can’t think like that, Cassie,” she firmly stated as she stroked her hair. “We need to stay strong for Tim.”

“Please…I want to help,” Cassie replied. “Please, don’t make me leave. I need to be here…for him.”

“Of course,” Diana said. “You know you’re always welcome here.”

“Thank you, Diana,” she murmured.

“Come…have some breakfast with us,” Diana told her, taking her by the hand and leading her towards the kitchen. “Alfred is making chocolate chip pancakes. Zatanna is here too. She’s helping to keep the kids occupied.”

Cassie tightened her hold on Diana’s hand as she followed her to the kitchen, doing her best to regain control. Tim wouldn’t want her falling apart right now because of him nor was it in her nature, but Tim had managed to capture first her attention and then her heart. She couldn’t imagine a life where he was no longer a part of it. He’d come to meet too much to her for that to happen.

They needed to find him soon or risked never finding him alive again.

Batcave; September 24th, 09:51 EST

Artemis awoke to the feel of someone running their fingers through her hair. Opening her eyes, she found Jason laying on his side staring at her. Her eyes fell closed as a frown formed on her face. “What do you think you’re doing?” she sleepily asked.

“Watching you sleep,” he softly said.

“You’re supposed to be resting,” she reminded without opening her eyes.

“I am resting,” he replied.

“No, you’re bugging me.”

“Can’t I admire your beauty?”

The corner of her lips quirked ever so slightly. It was barely noticeable, but he noticed. He always noticed everything about her. “You’re so full of—”

“Hey, now,” he interrupted her. “None of that language in the manor, missy.”

“You’re one to talk,” she pointed out. “You’re always the one being scolded for your language.”

“That’s to be expected,” he countered. “I’m supposed to be the black sheep of the family…the bad influence on the little ones. You’re not.”

Artemis opened her eyes, her chin resting on top of her arms that were resting on the edge of his medical bed. “I don’t know why you insist on believing that you’re the black sheep of the family.”

He released a puff of breath as he rolled his eyes. “It’s the truth, Red,” he insisted. “Any way you look at it, I am and will always be the outsider…the black sheep in the very white sheep Wayne family.”

She reached out to brush a couple of locks of hair from the bandage on his forehead as she chose her next words. “I think you set yourself up to play the villain of the family,” she thoughtfully replied. “You purposefully feed into that notion.”

“Ouch,” he muttered with feigned hurt. “You certainly know how to plunge the dagger, don’t you?”

“Just calling it as I see it,” she said with a shrug.

Jason seemed to visible stiffen with her assessment. “I kind of thought you would take my side on this,” he bitterly stated, closing his eyes under her scrutinizing gaze.

“So, I’m supposed to just blindly follow you everywhere you go…accept that your right even though I think you’re wrong?”

Jason rolled onto his back with a grimace. “Never mind,” he snapped. “I should’ve known that you would take their side.”

“This isn’t about taking sides, Jason,” she stated with a razor-sharp edge to her voice that caused him to turn his head to look at her. “I support you whatever you decide, no matter what happens between you and your family, but I do think that you’re throwing away more than you understand if you walk away from them.”

“You don’t understand,” he angrily bit out.

She reached out to take his hand in hers, lacing their fingers in an unspoken act of support and comfort…letting him know that she wasn’t going anywhere. “Then, help me understand.”

He tightened his hold on her hand as he rolled back over onto his side to face her. “It was…brutal,” he eventually revealed after several long moments of silence. “Joker beat me mercilessly. It was the most horrific thing that I had ever happened to me. I somehow knew that I was going to die that night, but I knew in my heart that Bruce would find me and avenge me. I clung to that the whole time.”

Artemis slowly shook her head as she listened. “I’m so sorry,” she softly murmured.

Jason acted as though he hadn’t heard her as he continued, a distant look in his eyes. “When I was resurrected, I was so anxious to return to Gotham…to find out what Bruce had done to Joker for what he had done to me. He had killed me…Joker had killed his son. The Joker deserved to die.

“But when I returned to Gotham, there was Joker still running amuck like nothing had ever happened to me. It was as if I had never existed to Bruce. He had moved on…found a new Robin. Do you know how hard that was for me to know that not only was Joker still running around free after killing me, but Bruce had found a new Robin?”

“That must have been so painful for you,” she agreed.

“I tried to force Bruce into killing Joker and he still wouldn’t do it,” he told her, his voice laced with so much bitterness and rage. “So, I tried to kill Joker myself. Even then, I couldn’t kill him. He just wouldn’t die.”

Artemis couldn’t help but notice the sardonic tone in his voice or the way his eyes blazed with such intensity. His emotions ran far deeper than she had first believed, taking her by surprise. She had always felt there was far more going on inside of him beneath the surface than just the cock-sure, smart ass attitude that he typically displayed. He had been hiding a pain that ran so very deep like a mighty river that refused to be damned up.

“After that, I decided I was going to clean up Gotham my way…handing out punishments that I felt were appropriate for the crime,” he explained. “It was a permanent way of dealing with the criminals in Gotham that Bruce kept locking up only for them to escape. Bruce hated it. It only caused a bigger rift between us.

“Then, Bruce married Diana…had children of their own. He had even made amends with Dick and had created a real family…one that I wanted to be a part of more than anything. I knew if I wanted to be a real part of the family again then I was going to have to accept and play by Bruce’s rules which meant doing things his way. No killing.”

“But that meant swallowing your pride and letting go of what you believed in,” she surmised. “That had to have been so difficult for you to do.”

Jason shrugged an apathetic shoulder, attempting to create an air of indifference when in reality the darker emotions still cut to his core. Artemis saw past the mask that he was trying so hard to present to her, trying to project a lack of caring when in reality he cared more than anyone knew. She found herself falling even more in love with him, wanting to take away his hurt and show him that he mattered not only to her but to all of them.

“It was okay,” he claimed. “I’ve gotten to be a part of the family again…to be a big brother to Nick and Kaia even if I am seen as the bad seed.”

“Please, don’t throw that away, Jason,” she encouraged him. “Give Bruce a chance to explain…try to see things from his point of view.”

“We’ll see,” he softly said, his gaze falling on Donna helping Damian eat his breakfast.

This family had come to mean a lot to him. He was terrified for Tim, knowing exactly what Joker was capable of. It shook him to his very core. They didn’t find him soon he would never be the same. He didn’t want that for Tim, didn’t want him to become like he had. He would do everything he could to keep that from happening.

Chapter Text

Chapter 25

Batcave; September 27th, 06:01 EST

Diana exited the showers in the Batcave changing area, towel drying her long raven hair. She paused to toss her damp towel into the laundry bin, knowing that sleep would not be coming to her any time soon. She’d gotten next to no sleep since Tim had been taken three days ago.

None of them had gotten any real sleep and it was beginning to show through. Everyone was on edge even more so than they already had been. Tensions were running high, everyone growing more desperate as feelings of hopelessness intensified. It was becoming unbearable to say the least.

Jason and Bruce basically avoided each other—Bruce not wanting to spark a fight and Jason still furious with his father for not killing Joker a long time ago. There was a small part of her that understood Jason’s frustration and resentment, but she also appreciated and respected Bruce’s absolute refusal to take a life.

It was a moral dilemma that she herself struggled with at times especially in situations such as this, her training that had been ingrained in her on Themyscira warring with the high value she too placed on all life. It was Bruce’s rigid belief in the importance of life that had first attracted her to him in the beginning, earning her admiration and respect.

Diana knew that she needed to see what she could do to help Jason resolve this resentment and rage that he seemed intent on holding on to and help bridge the rift between him and Bruce. Unfortunately, playing peacemaker was a role that she was growing accustomed to around here lately.

She’d become the calming force among the family since Tim’s capture, a role that she didn’t shirk or shy away from, but one that made it impossible to let her own emotions run rampant. She wanted nothing more than to scream and yell, to lose her temper and beat someone to a pulp, tear into everything and everyone without thought or care, but she couldn’t.

While losing her temper was something that she still struggled with at times, it wasn’t in her nature to allow herself to completely lose control like that. Then again, no one had ever kidnapped her son to torture and do Hera knew what to in order to break not only her son but her husband also.

Her whole family was suffering because of Tim’s capture and her little ones weren’t exempt from that loneliness. They asked daily for their brother, grudgingly accepting the fact that Tim was gone much like their father had been on a “special mission” not that long ago.

Diana had a feeling that Nicholas and Kaia knew that something terrible had happened but were still too young to truly understand it all. Both had been having nightmares, afraid that Tim wouldn’t be returning home just like they had feared for their father. They’d also been acting out, throwing temper tantrums that tested everyone’s patience at times.

Too much had happened in such a very short amount of time. Nicholas and Kaia had yet to fully trust that Bruce wasn’t going to leave and never come back. She feared that her son and daughter would never know true peace again, never be able to fully trust their family. It made her question their decision to pursue this path in their lives. It left her feeling torn between her family and the world as well as the city that so desperately needed them.

This family meant absolutely everything to her. They were her life, but was she doing the right thing by forcing them to compete with the world…with the other families who might not see their loved ones return home if not for their efforts every single day? Was it fair to be so selfish as to put her children first before the safety of others?

She sighed wearily, knowing that was a dilemma for another time, another day. Right now, she needed to find Bruce. He hadn’t been handling any of this very well though he tried his best to hide it. He put up a stoic façade for all of them, but Tim’s kidnapping and Jason’s belligerent attitude were weighing heavily on him. She knew that he was taking the full weight of the blame for all of it squarely on his shoulders though he didn’t deserve to carry the burdensome load.

She spotted him on top of the platform still dressed in his uniform, sans cowl and gauntlets. He was just standing there staring at a map of Gotham displayed on one of the computer screens. He seemed completely lost in thought as she silently approached, knowing she would never get the drop on him at any other time if it weren’t for the dire situation that they found themselves in.

“Bruce?” she called out to him.

He didn’t flinch, didn’t turn around to face her. He stood as still and tall as a mighty redwood. She came to stand behind him, not saying a word. She hoped that he was all right but didn’t want to disrupt him if he had thought of something that could help them locate their son.

She slowly reached out to touch him, Bruce speaking before her hand could find his back. “I need to find a way to get a message to Joker,” he suddenly said, taking her by surprise. “Do you think Oracle can do that for me?”

She quickly retracted her hand in confusion, unsure where exactly he was going with this. “What kind of message?”

“Me for Tim,” he calmly stated, his voice confident and sure.

“Bruce, you can’t be serious about this.”

“I am serious, Diana,” he firmly said. “I need to get a message to Joker letting him know I’m taking Tim’s place. It’s me that he wants, not Tim. He’s only using him to get to me. I’m the one he really wants so that’s what I’m giving him.”

“Yes, he wants you, Bruce, but he wants to break you by hurting the ones closest to you,” she attempted to explain to him, her hand finding his shoulder and forcing him to turn to face her. “Our best plan of action is to find Tim and get him away from Joker.”

“But we can’t find him, Diana!” he yelled as his fury bubbled to the surface. “He’s going through God knows what right now all because of me. I can’t take it any longer. It should be me…not him. Never our children. If Joker wants me, then that’s what I’ll give him.”

“Bruce, we don’t even know if Joker will accept the trade,” Diana attempted to reason with him.

While incredibly proud of his desire to take Tim’s place, she didn’t feel it was the best option. It was so Bruce in every way to want to sacrifice himself and take another’s place, but Joker needed to be stopped before he could hurt anymore people including Bruce.

“That’s why I want Oracle to send out a message all over Gotham…get the word out to everyone,” Bruce insisted. “Batman is taking Red Robin’s place. It’s the only way to save him.”

Diana took Bruce’s face in her hands as tears began to blur her vision. “I refuse to sacrifice my husband or my son,” she angrily bit out with a ferocity that stunned him. “Joker wants me too, Bruce. I will offer myself to take Tim’s place. I can handle whatever the Joker does to me, and I will stop him.”

Bruce’s hands came to rest on either side of her neck, his emotions simmering right there beneath the surface for her to feel the raw bite of as he stared into her eyes. “And I will not sacrifice my wife,” he growled, the intensity of it causing a shiver to race up her spine.

Diana’s chin fell, her forehead coming to rest against his cheekbone. “What are we going to do, Bruce?” she asked with a shuddering gasp.

“We’ll have Oracle send out a message across Gotham telling Joker that I’m taking Red Robin’s place,” he told her, running his fingers through her hair. “When we make the exchange, you and the others can take out Joker and Harley Quinn.”

She released a huff of frustration as she finally lifted her head to look into his eyes. The sheer burn of determination she saw there was enough to steal her breath. “Fine,” she reluctantly agreed, resolve alight in her own eyes. “But I am not letting you out of my sight, Bruce Wayne. Do you hear me? I lost you once. I’m not losing you again.”

Gazing into her impossible blue eyes, Bruce knew with every fiber of his being his feelings for this woman was real. He may not remember his life, how he got here or how he had ever become fortunate enough to earn the heart of this incredible woman, but one thing he knew with absolute certainty—he loved her.

Without hesitation, he lowered his mouth to hers, capturing her lips in a slow, sensual kiss that completely took her by surprise. Diana responded in kind, allowing her love for this amazing man to show through as her arms slipped around his body to drew him closer to her.

Her hands slipped up his back, her fingers threading through his jet-black hair as she held him. She parted her lips, inviting him to taste and to explore at will. He didn’t hesitate in accepting her offer as he deepened the kiss, tongues tangling as he gripped her shoulders as if clinging to her like the anchor that she had become for him.

Kissing her was so warm and inviting…like coming home, creating familiar sparks deep inside of him that he knew only she could create as he sought solace from the one person that he knew could calm the raging storm inside of him. She had quickly become his everything and more.

Drawing back, he pressed his forehead against hers as he struggled to regain control once more. “We’ll do whatever it takes to get him back—together,” he swore to her.

She closed her eyes as she nodded her head, accepting this was the only way they were going to be able to find Tim. She knew it was incredibly risky, but she also knew they were rapidly running out of options. “Together,” she agreed, her heart feeling unexpectedly lighter than it had since this had all began as they just held one another.

XXX

Cassie wondered around Tim’s bedroom just like the countless other times since she’d showed up here three days ago. It made her feel a little better being with Tim’s family, being around his things and in his bedroom. She was so grateful that they hadn’t forced her to leave. Instead, they had welcomed her in and allowed her to help in the search for him.

It had brought her a small measure of comfort knowing that she was doing something to help find him even though there was no sign of him anywhere. She didn’t feel quite so helpless being here. Doing something helped to take her mind off all the terrifying things that she was sure Joker was doing to him right now.

She momentarily closed her eyes, fighting back the horrible scenarios that abruptly assaulted her mind. She would not allow Joker to win. She walked to his dresser, picking up the picture frame that sat there. It was a picture of Tim with Nicholas and Kaia. She couldn’t help but smile back at the three of them laughing about something or other. She knew how much he loved his little brother and sister; how very proud he was to be their big brother.

Tim’s absence was deeply felt by all, but none more so than by Nicholas and Kaia. They asked about him frequently, wanting to know where he was and when he was coming home. It was taking everything all of them had to keep them occupied during their brother’s absence, trying to keep their own worry from surfacing.

Setting it down, she picked up the other frame beside it, laughing at the family picture. She knew it was his favorite picture. Donna had clicked the remote on her camera, taking the picture when no one was aware. None of them had been remotely ready to be captured like that.

Bruce and Diana were talking intently, each with smiles on their faces as they held Nicholas and Kaia on their laps. The rest of the family was captured around them in various forms of picking on each other and pretty much creating mayhem and chaos. It was his family at their most genuine selves and Tim loved it…loved his family fiercely.

She replaced the picture frame, turning her attention to the stuffed purple teddy bear. It was so unlike a male college student to have a large purple teddy bear in his bedroom, but she had won it at the fair a few months ago and had given it to him. Instead of hiding it in his room, he’d proudly displayed it for all to see.

They had spent the entire afternoon and evening together at the fair, riding almost every ride and eating fair food until she thought she was going to be sick. She picked up the framed picture of her and Tim that rested on his bedside table, her lips curling into a smile.

They had taken the selfie on top of the Ferris wheel, the sun setting over Gotham creating the perfect backdrop to the moment. That was the day that she knew that she had truly fallen in love with Timothy Drake. She had a feeling that he had felt the same way too about that memorable day.

She placed the picture back where it belonged as she sat down on edge of his bed. She looked around the room, feeling the full weight of loneliness and grief threatening to overwhelm her all over again. She laid down the bed, pulling one of his pillows into her arms to hug close to her body.

She inhaled deeply, smelling him on the sheets. It brought a faint smile to her face as she attempted to fall asleep. Unfortunately, sleep wasn’t something that she’d been able to do much of since she found out that Joker had taken Tim. She just prayed that tonight would be the night that they found him because she didn’t think she could handle going through another day without him being safe at home where he belonged.

XXX

Dick sank down on his side of the bed with a weary groan, stretching his neck in an effort to ease the kinks that he had settled there. It had been another long night of desperate searching and not finding, frustration as well as overt fear building to near unbearable levels as they scoured the streets of Gotham and once again coming up with nothing.

He felt as though he was failing his brother, letting him down. He’d tried everything that he could think of, checked every place that he thought Joker might be and still they couldn’t find him anywhere. He felt completely helpless, frustration and fear like a knot in his gut.

“Hey.” A gentle voice came through the darkness as a hand was laid on his back. “Were you able to find him?”

Dick’s shoulders sank along with his heart as he hung his head in utter defeat. “No,” he replied. “Not a trace of him anywhere.”

“You’ll find him, Dick,” Donna reassured him. “I have faith in all of you.”

“I don’t know what to do, Don,” he admitted, his voice wavering ever so slightly. “We’ve looked everywhere. I have no idea where Joker is holding him. I don’t know where else to turn. I’m out of options.”

Donna shifted in the bed to sit on the edge of it next to him, her hand moving to stroke his hair on the nape of his neck. “Let me come out with you tonight. I can help look too.”

His entire body instantly stiffened as he adamantly shook his head. “No way…not going to happen, Don. It’s too dangerous. I’m already on the verge of losing it as it is with Tim missing without something happening to you and our twins.”

Donna’s free hand fell to her growing abdomen with the mention of their children. “I would never let anything happen to our babies,” she heatedly stated, resentment coloring her voice.

“No…no, I know that,” he quickly amended, turning to face her. “It’s not you…it’s everyone else out there that wants to take us out that has me scared senseless. I can’t guarantee your safety and that terrifies me. Gotham isn’t like any other city…not even Blüdhaven.”

“Fine,” she relented though clearly none too happy. In her heart, she knew he was right, but she was loathe to admit it. It wasn’t in her nature to give in or to sit back when help was needed especially when it was family. “What can I do?”

“You’ve already been doing so much by keeping Nick and Kaia occupied and helping take care of Damian,” he replied with a wry chuckle. “I’m sure dealing with Damian hasn’t exactly been a picnic.”

“You know he really isn’t that bad once you get past his snarky attitude,” she confessed. “Once I got past wanting to smash his face in, I realized that there’s a soft heart underneath all that cocky attitude. You just have to look for it. It must be what Diana had to do with Bruce.”

“Wow,” he murmured. “Never thought I’d hear anyone say that about Damian, but maybe you’re right. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

“I think he was just brainwashed by Talia and Ra’s for too long,” she surmised. “I bet the more time he spends with a normal family the easier he’ll be to get along with.”

“Normal family, Don?” he asked her, an eyebrow cocked in question. “What about this family is even remotely normal?”

“Okay, poor choice of words,” she ultimately agreed. “But you have to admit, this family is way more normal than the al Ghul’s. He’s much better off here with us than with his mother and grandfather.”

“I guess you’re right about that,” he decided. “I’m just glad he’s getting stronger every day.”

“Speaking of which…you need to try to get some sleep,” she told him as she rubbed his back.

“I can’t lose my brother, Donna,” he softly said. “Losing Jason was horrible. It nearly broke Bruce. This family can’t go through that again…not with Tim.”

“I know,” she replied, resting her head on his shoulder. “We’ll find him, Dick. Tim won’t give up. He’ll fight with everything that he has to come back to us.”

“It’s just that sometimes I think that Tim is the best of all of us…you know?”

“Not every Wayne,” she corrected him with a sweet kiss. “I know a particular Wayne who is pretty amazing in his own right.”

“You had better be talking about me because if you’re talking about Jason, I’ll kill him with my bare hands,” he sternly told her.

“Only you, Mister Grayson,” she reassured him.

“That’s good because I’m head over heels in love with you, Donna Grayson,” he murmured as his lips met hers once more.

She brushed her nose against his as she caressed his cheek. “Let’s get some sleep, Boy Wonder. Tim needs you at your very best and you can’t do that without sleep.”

He watched her as she crawled back under the covers, a frown forming. “I don’t want to sleep,” he replied with a shake of his head. “Every time I fall asleep, I have nightmares about what could be happening to Tim.”

“Come here,” she told him, drawing the covers back and patting the empty space right beside her.

He reluctantly crawled in beside her, sighing with unexpected contentment as he sank into the mattress and pillows. Sliding up against him, Donna slipped her arm across his torso as her leg hooked over his, her head coming to rest on his chest. He readily pulled her closer, savoring the feel of her in his arms.

“Sleep,” she encouraged him. “I’ll be here to chase away the nightmares if they come back.”

“I love you, Donna,” he sleepily murmured, kissing the top of her head.

“I love you too,” she replied as she tightened her hold on him so that he’d know she was there even in his sleep, ready to do battle on his behalf.

Gotham; September 27th, 23:50 EST

“Okay, gang,” Oracle announced, her voice coming through loud and clear over all of their commlinks. “The announcement has been spread throughout Gotham all day that Batman wants to meet Joker and exchange himself for Red Robin. There is no way that he doesn’t know the time or location to meet. We’ll just have to wait now and see if he actually shows.”

“He’ll show,” Red Hood confidently stated. “The offer is too tempting for him to pass up. If anything, he’ll show up out of pure curiosity to see what Bats is really up to.”

“I don’t know,” Dick replied, his unease clearly evident in his voice. “He might not show up at all. It’s pretty risky. He has to know Batman will have backup waiting.”

“I’m telling you he can’t pass this offer up,” Jason insisted. “Even if he thinks it’s a trap, he’ll want to see what we’ve got up our sleeve.”

“We need to be ready for anything,” Artemis said from her position in a nearby alley beside Jason. “Joker can’t be trusted for one second.”

“All of you watch your backs,” Oracle interjected. “We can’t afford anymore injuries or lost teammates tonight so keep your heads in the game. You know that Joker loves planning surprises that come out of nowhere to hit you when you least expect it.”

“Thanks for the pep talk, O,” Nightwing grumbled, crouching on top of a gargoyle on a nearby building.

Dick glanced at Wonder Girl standing beside him on the ledge of the roof, hoping that allowing her to come along on this mission was the right decision. They couldn’t afford for her to go rogue or lose her head in the middle of this. She needed to stay focused on getting Tim away from Joker without giving away she was Wonder Girl.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Cassie said without meeting his stare, her arms crossed against her abdomen. “I would never do anything to screw this up or risk Tim’s life.”

“Are you psychic or something?”

Cassie chuckled softly, but it held little amusement as she finally met his questioning gaze. “No, but I know how fiercely protective all of you are of your secret identities.”

“Just don’t use your powers,” Nightwing reminded her. “It’s a dead giveaway.”

“I know,” she said with a huff of annoyance. “All of you have told me at least six times each. Why did you let me come along if you don’t trust me to be here?”

Nightwing looked down at the street below, his mind still racing through various scenarios about how all of this was going to go down. “Diana vouched for you,” he revealed. “She assured us that you knew what you were doing and would be a good asset to the team. Besides, she said you’d end up showing up regardless of what we told you to do so we really didn’t have an option.”

“How reassuring,” she muttered under her breath. “I thought I’d more than proven myself with the Titans.”

“You have,” he confirmed, “but this isn’t the Titans. This is Gotham and this is my brother.”

XXX

“I don’t like this,” Batwoman murmured, her gaze locked straight ahead of her as she stood next to her husband awaiting Joker’s arrival.

“I know, but it’ll be okay…I promise,” he swore to her, his fingers curling into fists beneath his cape only to uncurl a moment later. The movement created an almost imperceptible creaking sound that only Diana heard. “Don’t worry about me, princess. Just get Red Robin away from Joker and out of here as quickly as possible.”

“I will always worry about you,” she stated with an unmistakable edge to her voice. “And don’t even think for one moment that I won’t stop Joker from taking you away from me.”

“We’ll all stop Joker before he can take you,” Nightwing agreed.

“I’m more than prepared to stop Joker permanently,” Red Hood muttered under his breath, the sound of a gun being cocked heard loud and clear over the commlinks.

“No,” Batman angrily growled. “There will be no killing. If that’s all you have in mind, you can leave now, Hood.”

Red Hood opened his mouth to deliver a scathing retort only to be abruptly silenced by the almost bone-crushing grip that Artemis had on his hand at that moment. “Whatever,” he grumbled under his breath, jerking his hand free and shaking it in an effort to regain the feeling in it.

“Behave yourself,” she hissed with a threatening tone that spoke volumes.

Jason shot her a glare, but it was completely ineffective on the Amazon warrior partly because it was hidden beneath his mask and partly because she held no fear of him. Still, Artemis knew it was there, could picture it in her mind’s eye. She rolled her eyes as she shook her head with annoyance.

“I’m serious, Hood,” Batman ground out. “Leave now if you have nothing but murder in mind.”

“You aren’t my boss,” Jason countered. “I don’t have to take orders from you.”

“Jason!” Nightwing yelled. “Stop it! This isn’t about you so stop trying to make it. It’s about getting Tim back and capturing Joker—nothing more.”

“I don’t have to listen to you either, Dick,” Hood spat out.

“Focus, people!” Oracle exclaimed. “Hood, shut your face. I’ve got a black van approaching from the east.”

“Stay back,” Batman told Diana as he took a step forward.

“No way in Tartarus,” she bit out as she took a step forward to stand shoulder to shoulder with him.

“Diana,” he growled her name, his lips twisted into a sneer. “Stay back. Let me do this.”

“You’re not doing it alone, Bruce,” she quietly said with a steely resolve that permeated the air around them. “I’m with you through this to the end whether you like it or not.”

“Princess…I swear,” he hissed, cursing angrily.

“Now is not the time to argue,” she told him as the headlights of the black van began to come into view. “We can argue about it after we get Tim back.”

Batman gritted his teeth, his jaw locking in anger. “You’re so damn stubborn.”

“So, you do remember some things about me,” she lightly teased.

“There are definitely some things about you that I’m more than anxious to remember,” he said, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye.

“Hey, you two can flirt later,” Oracle interrupted their banter. “I’ve got three more black vans approaching—one from the west, south, and north.”

“Crap…four vans,” Nightwing muttered as he pulled his grappling gun. “I knew Joker wouldn’t make any of this exchange easy. He always has to play some psychotic game.”

“There’s not going to be an exchange,” Batwoman insisted. “Not while I’m still alive.”

“You better not die,” Batman snapped.

“Be on your toes,” Oracle stated. “All four vans are headed straight towards you.”

“Keep Kal and the others on standby,” Diana added.

“Do not call them in unless absolutely necessary,” Batman ordered. “We’ll handle Joker ourselves.”

Diana smiled to herself. Some things never changed even if he didn’t have his memories. “I plan on handling Joker personally.”

Batman and Batwoman watched as the first van coming from the east drew closer to their position. Everyone was on guard, the tension of the situation nearly suffocating at that moment. No one knew how this was going to play out, but everyone feared the worst as the first van slowed their approach.

The passenger door window lowered; a couple of grenade launchers being pointed directly at them. “Get down!” Batwoman yelled, shoving Batman aside.

The grenade launchers fired, the van suddenly taking off with tires squealing. The grenades skidded across the ground towards where Batman and Batwoman had been moments before, gray smoke pouring out of them. Sparks shot out of the fake grenades, but nothing more happened.

Coming out from behind a dumpster, Batman spotted one of the other vans closing in on them. It raced straight towards him and Diana, picking up speed as if prepared to run them over. Bruce and Diana dove out of the way, tucking and rolling before coming up on the balls of their feet in preparation for an attack.

“You two need to get out of there!” Nightwing yelled as the attempted to run them over. “They’re going to kill you!”

The second van came to a stop, nothing more happening as they watched it. “Get back!” Batwoman screamed, hearing the ticking of a bomb.

The black van suddenly exploded in a shower of twisted steel and plastic, fire shooting up into the sky. It was an orange ball of fire that burned like a beacon in the middle of the parking lot. Smoke poured out of the shattered windows, creating a frightening scene as everyone held their breath out of fear of who was inside.

“Are you two all right?” Artemis asked.

“Yah, we’re good,” Batman said as he stepped out from behind a nearby truck, releasing a sigh of relief as Diana made her way towards him.

“Tim had better not have been in there,” Red Hood ground out.

“No, he wasn’t,” Oracle responded. “I didn’t detect any heat signatures inside the van. It was remote controlled.”

“Here comes the third van!” Artemis shouted, tightening her grip on the Bow of Ra.

“Get out of there!” Nightwing yelled again. “It’s too dangerous.”

“Joker’s just toying with us,” Batwoman replied. “He’s not trying to kill us.”

“Sure looks like it from here,” Artemis groused.

The third van announced its arrival with a screech of its tires as it tore around the corner, nearly taking out a light pole. Batman and Batwoman remained cautious as it approached, trying to anticipate the unexpected and unknown while still holding out hope that they would be getting Tim back tonight.

The side of the van abruptly slid open revealing several rifles pointed directly at them. They were forced to take cover as Joker’s men opened fire on them, riddling the entire area with bullets before taking off just as suddenly as it had arrived.

“This is pure chaos,” Cassie said, finding it difficult to process what she was witnessing.

“It’s Joker,” Nightwing bit out. “I’m coming down there.”

“No!” Batman yelled. “Everyone hold your position until I give the signal. If Joker had wanted us dead, we’d have been dead before now. He’s just messing with us.”

Batman and Batwoman moved to stand beside each other as the fourth van approached. They had no idea what to expect from this one, but then again, it was the Joker. Nothing he did ever made sense or was truly predictable. They just had to be ready for anything.

The fourth van drew near, coming to a stop several yards away from the couple. They tensed as the passenger window was lowered and a hand emerged with what looked like a megaphone. “Ah, the new dynamic duo! Don’t you make quite the handsome couple?”

It was the Joker.

A chill raked up Diana’s spine as his sadistic laughter filled the area, forcing her to fight against her every instinct that told her to crush that van and save her son. She stood rigid with fury, her breathing exerted and her heart thundering in her chest. This was finally it.

“I must say that your offer of a trade piqued my interest,” Joker said. While he couldn’t be seen in the van, his voice was unmistakable. “It seemed like a prime opportunity to meet up with your new girlfriend. I must say she’s quite a stunner, Batsy you old dog.”

“Where’s Red Robin?” Batman snarled, taking a step towards the van.

“That’s close enough there, Batsy,” Joker told him. “I can see your patience hasn’t grown any since hooking up with the female Bat there.”

“Just give us Red Robin,” Batwoman demanded.

“And I get you?”

“Yes, I’ll go willingly with you if you let us have Red Robin,” she agreed.

“Stop it,” Batman hissed as he glared at Diana before turning his attention towards Joker. “It’s me you want! I’ll take his place!”

“Well, well, well,” Joker crowed with a cackle. “Looks like I’ve got two Bats who want to take your place, RR.”

Batman’s heart leapt into his throat, realizing that Tim was in that van with Joker. They were so close to getting him back. He just needed to get Joker to take him and leave Tim and Diana here. He wasn’t about to jeopardize any more lives when he was who Joker wanted most of all.

He lifted his arms out away from his body as he took another step closer. “Here I am,” he offered himself up. “No tricks, no games. I’m here to go willingly with you.”

“Ah, the sacrificial lamb willing to be slaughtered for his partner,” Joker cooed with a mock sniffle. “How touching. Too bad I decided not to take you up on your offer.”

“Fifth van closing in!” Oracle announced over their commlinks.

Before anyone could blink, a fifth black van seemingly appeared out of nowhere, barely slowing down as the side door slid open. A body was tossed from the van before taking off. They watched in horror as Red Robin skidded and rolled across the concrete, finally coming to rest lying face down in the middle of the parking lot.

“Consider it a gift,” Joker said before taking off, his psychotic laughter piercing the air.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26

Gotham; September 28th, 04:07 EST

Artemis looked first to her left and then to her right, a fierce glower on her face as her hands came to rest on her hips. They had searched for Joker and his vans for hours and came up empty. It was as if the vans had just been snatched right out of thin air.

She growled to herself, her hands balling into fists as she racked her brain in an effort to figure out which hole Joker could have slinked away into to hide in now. He wouldn’t have just given Tim up so quickly if he didn’t already have some other trick waiting up his sleeve. She didn’t know the psychotic clown as well as the others, but this much she did know—he wasn’t done with them. This was just the beginning.

“I don’t like this,” Red Hood groused as he looked around the area.

“You don’t seem to like much of anything lately,” Artemis coolly stated, glancing over her shoulder at him.

Jason whirled around to level a glare at her despite his face being completely concealed by his mask. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“You have to admit you haven’t exactly been yourself since the Joker took Tim,” she pointed out as she reentered the alley where their cycles were parked.

“How so?” he demanded, his arms folding against his chest.

A crimson eyebrow arched as she stared him down, refusing to wilt under his aggressive stance towards her. She wasn’t afraid of him nor was she about to back down now. “Really? You haven’t noticed how you’ve been basically biting everyone’s head off and pretty much dismissing Bruce as if all of this is solely his fault?”

Jason looked the other way as he wrestled with the anger blooming in his chest. His ground his teeth in the wake of the bitterness that refused to die. He really didn’t want to talk about this…definitely not here and not now. “I have not,” he insisted.

“Believe what you want, but you’re going to drive your family away permanently if you keep this up,” she warned him as she made her way to her cycle.

She was brought to a sudden stop when his hand abruptly wrapped around her upper arm, forcing her to face him. “I think I have every right to be upset,” he stated. “None of this would’ve happened to Tim if Bruce would’ve just killed Joker after what he did to me.”

Artemis looked down at his hand gripping her arm, tamping down on the indignation bubbling up inside of her. She fought the overwhelming urge to throw him right through a store window, reminding herself that he was struggling with a great deal of suppressed emotions and unresolved issues.

She released a deep breath as Jason released his hold on her as if realizing his mistake. “I know that what you went through was very traumatic, but you have got to find a way to get past this,” she replied, holding up a hand. She knew he was about to interrupt her with a scathing retort that would get them absolutely nowhere. “This isn’t about you versus them so don’t even accuse me of taking sides. This is about you finally dealing with what happened to you and learning how to forgive.”

“Stay out of it, Artemis,” he bit out, turning and stalking towards his own cycle. “You don’t understand so don’t act like you do.”

“So…are you just going to walk away from me too?” she evenly asked him, her chin lifting in defiance.

“I’m not walking away,” he snapped as he came to a stop in front of his cycle, his hands balling into fists as he struggled to remain in control.

“Then, stay here and talk to me,” she insisted. “Don’t just walk away because you’re upset.”

His head fell back as an anguish-filled cry of rage escaped his throat, his entire body trembling. Breathing ragged, his chin fell to his chest as his shoulders dropped in defeat. He flinched as a hand came to rest against his back. Everything inside of him screamed at him to leave and not look back…everything but his heart that reminded him how he had fallen in love with her.

“Jason…I’m not trying to make this more difficult for you,” she told him, her voice losing the edge it had just held. “I’m trying to keep you from making a horrible mistake that you’ll only end up regretting later.”

“I don’t…” he began, pausing to draw a shuddering breath before trying again. “I don’t know how to let go of it.”

The anguish in his voice pierced her heart as sure as an arrow. Her eyebrows furrowed as she took a step closer to him. “It’s something that will take time…that you need to work at a little at a time. It’s not something that can just be remedied overnight.”

“I thought I had when I first returned to the family, but I guess I only buried it in hopes it would just go away in time,” he found himself confessing to her. “Instead of getting better, it’s gotten worse.”

“You’re going to have to talk to Bruce,” she encouraged him. “You need to get it all out once and for all.”

“I don’t know if I can do it.”

“You can do it,” she reassured him, “and I’ll be here to help you every step of the way.”

Jason looked back over his shoulder, stunned by her words. “You will?”

“You’re not getting rid of me that easily,” she told him.

Jason swiftly turned around, nearly knocking her backwards as he enveloped her in his arms. He held on to her with everything that he had, clinging to her like the anchor that secured him and made him feel grounded and whole. He buried his masked face in her hair, holding her flush against him.

“Thank you,” he murmured, his voice barely above a whisper.

She returned his embrace somewhat hesitantly, not really fond of public displays of affection like this, but he needed her right now and she would never deny him. “You don’t have to thank me.”

“I was wanted to leave before you could leave me,” he softly admitted. “I know I can be difficult to deal with at times.”

“Oh, please,” she replied as she pulled out of his embrace. “Dealing with you is nothing compared to having to deal with Phillipus.”

“I don’t know how I feel about being compared to an Amazon woman,” he retorted.

“Let’s head back to the cave,” she told him. “It’ll do you some good to see your brother.”

“I just hope he’s going to be all right,” he grimly said. “If he doesn’t survive this, I will kill Joker regardless of what Batman has to say about it.”

Artemis released a heavy sigh as she made her way back to her bike. If Jason killed Joker, Bruce would never allow him to be part of the family again. He would be signing his own death sentence when it came to his family and the brothers and sister that he loved.

She just prayed that it didn’t come to that.

Batcave; September 28th, 04:43 EST

Cassie couldn’t stop pacing, couldn’t keep the trembling at bay that repeatedly rolled through her body. She continued to wring her hands as she paced back and forth, finally shoving her hands into the back pockets of her blue jeans in a futile effort to regain some sort of control over herself.

She couldn’t stop the memory of seeing Tim being thrown from the van from surfacing in her mind…the way that he had rolled across the ground before coming to a stop face down on the concrete. She’d thought for certain that he was dead, lost to her forever. She hadn’t even realized that she’d screamed in that moment until Dick had grabbed hold of her hand, her voice not even sounding like her own to her ears in that horrifying moment.

Fury unlike anything that she’d ever known had exploded inside of her like a living thing, taking on a life of its own. She had shaken free of Dick’s hold on her, flying straight down there to him despite Dick yelling at her not to. Bruce and Diana had beaten her to him by only seconds, carefully turning him over to find that he was still alive.

Tears of relief had blurred her vision as she drew shuddering breaths. Bruce had gathered Tim’s beaten and broken body in his arms, clearly shaken to the core of his being by the sight of his son looking like he had. A sob stuck in her throat as the anguish of that moment washed over her all over again.

“Hey,” Diana softly said as she moved to stand in front of her, her hands coming to rest on her shoulders. “It’s going to be all right.”

“What’s taking so long?” Cassie demanded to know, her bottom lip quivering as tears flooded her eyes.

“Alfred is the best, Cassie,” Diana reassured her. “He’s patched Bruce up and brought him back from the brink of death more times than I care to think about.”

“What if he can’t this time?” she uttered with a soul-wrenching sob. “What…what if he can’t save him?”

“Come here,” she murmured, pulling her cousin into her arms and holding her tightly as Cassie began to break down.

Diana rubbed her back, kissing the top of her head. She looked up to find Bruce watching them, a stoic expression gracing his face, but his piercing blue eyes were hard with the raw fury blazing within him. She’d seen that same ire burning in his eyes several times before. It caused a shiver to race up her spine, knowing that he would not rest until Joker was finally captured. What condition Joker would be in when he arrived at Arkham was another story.

She was relieved that Damian, Nicholas, and Kaia were still asleep upstairs, unaware of what was happening beneath the manor. They didn’t need to know that Tim was fighting for his life or that there was a chance he might not survive whatever it was that Joker had done to him.

She would love nothing more than to get her hands on Joker herself, to inflict as much pain on him as he had on Tim as well as her family, but she knew that she needed to let Bruce handle it. This was his fight…one that had been born years ago, but she would be by his side when he went to battle against his greatest enemy.

Alfred appeared around the corner; his face fraught with worry as well as something more that Diana was too afraid to give a name to. “Alfred?” she tentatively called his name, afraid of what he would say to them.

“He’s still unconscious,” he announced, using the apron he wore to wipe his hands. “It’ll be touch and go for the next few hours, but he’s strong. He should pull through.”

“What did Joker do to him?” Bruce demanded to know as he took a step towards Alfred, his hands balled at his sides as if ready to go to battle right there.

“He was clearly tortured and beaten,” Alfred revealed, finding it difficult to get the words out. “I was able to repair the lacerations. I sedated him to make sure he wasn’t in pain. It’ll be several hours before he’ll wake. We won’t know any more about what he went through until Master Timothy awakens.”

“Thank you, Alfred,” Diana said as Cassie ran to him.

“Can I please see him, Alfred?” she asked, wiping the tears from her cheeks with the backs of her hands. “I want to sit with him until he wakes up.”

“Yes, my dear,” he gently said, taking her hand in his. “I’m sure hearing your voice and knowing you’re there with him will go a long way in helping him recover.”

Cassie threw her arms around the British butler, hugging him tightly before making her way towards the medical bay. “I dare say he’ll need all the support that we can give him once he’s awake,” Alfred told Bruce and Diana.

“We’ll give him anything that he needs,” Bruce firmly stated.

Diana drew closer to Bruce, taking his hand in hers in silent support. He tightened his hold on her hand to the point of nearly crushing it had she been any other woman. Tim might not be their son by blood, but he was their son in their hearts and that was all that mattered to them.

“Why don’t you rest, Alfred?” Diana suggested. “It’s been a very long night. It’s likely going to be a while before Tim finally wakes up.”

“I should go check on Master Damian,” he replied with a sigh. “He’s been a rather compliant patient as of late. Makes me wonder what he’s up to.”

“He’s probably just been worried about Tim like the rest of us,” Diana suggested. “I’m sure he has to also be wondering about what happened to his mother and grandfather.”

“That’s something I’d like to know as well,” Bruce groused.

“Let’s tackle one problem at a time,” Diana replied. “Joker is our main priority right now.”

“I agree,” Bruce grimly responded.

“I will be upstairs should you or Master Timothy require anything,” Alfred said as Jason and Artemis returned to the cave, the sound of their cycles reverberating off the rocky walls.

“We will,” Diana reassured him. “Thank you, Alfred.”

Alfred nodded silently in response, his blue eyes missing the bright spark that they typically held. It caused an ache to blossom in her chest knowing that their dear Alfred wouldn’t be with them forever. It seemed as though every catastrophe that befell this family only aged him that much more.

She swiftly thrust that notion aside, not wanting to dwell on that anguish-filled thought. They had too much going on as it was to borrow worries and trouble. She focused instead on Jason and Artemis approaching them with grim expressions adorning their faces.

“No luck?” Bruce asked as he released her hand.

“None,” Artemis replied. “It’s as if he just vanished. Are you sure he doesn’t possess magic?”

“Positive,” Jason told her. “He’s a piece of scum without any powers or magical abilities.”

“How is Tim?” Artemis asked.

“He’s still unconscious,” Diana revealed. “Alfred said he sustained quite a few injuries, but he feels he should recover in time.”

“Thank Ra for that,” Artemis murmured, her eyes momentarily falling closed in relief.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Jason evenly stated. “Joker doesn’t just torture you physically. He messes with your mind. That will be the hardest thing for him to overcome.”

“At least he has you to talk to since you’ve been through it,” Artemis pointed out.

“He has all of us here to support him,” Diana interjected as Jason opened his mouth to retort. She was not about to let him delve into any more scathing diatribes against Bruce. He’d endured enough already without adding to it.

“Is anyone with him now?” Jason asked, clearly annoyed.

“Cassie is sitting with him,” Diana informed him.

“Why don’t you two go upstairs and get some sleep?” Artemis suggested. “We’ll stay down here in case Tim wakes up.”

“I don’t think I can sleep right now,” Diana said with a shake of her head.

“You need to try,” Artemis told her. “You haven’t slept since Tim was taken.”

“She’s right,” Jason agreed. “None of us have gotten much sleep. We can sleep on the cots down here. We’ll let you know the second Tim wakes up.”

“He’s right,” Bruce said. “There’s nothing more we can do right now. Let’s try to get some sleep, princess. Tim won’t be awake for several hours. Hopefully, he’ll be able to tell us where Joker is hiding.”

“Where’s Dick?” Jason asked as looked around.

“He’s checking the perimeter of the manor,” Diana replied. “We don’t know if Joker was able to determine Tim’s identity. If he knows Tim is Red Robin, he could be making plans to attack the manor.”

“Let him,” Jason said with steely resolve. “I’d love for him to come here and try something.”

“I’m not about to let anything more happen to this family,” Bruce spat out. “We need to be prepared for anything. Keeping Nicholas and Kaia safe is our top priority.”

“Dick didn’t feel that Joker knows that Tim is Red Robin,” Diana informed them. “Tim still had his uniform and mask on when Joker returned him to us.”

Jason frowned as he slowly shook his head. “Joker has never really been interested in discovering our secret identities,” he agreed. “He’s all about the mind games and trying to break us.”

“Dick already feels guilty about all of this,” Diana commented. “He feels this was all his fault.”

“It’s not his fault,” Jason pointedly said, his narrowed gaze pointedly falling on Bruce.

Bruce ground his teeth, his nostrils flaring with the building anger that had been simmering inside of him for far too long. He swallowed the biting retort that danced on his tongue, knowing now was not the time or place for a fight. “Wake us the second Tim opens his eyes.”

“We will,” Artemis reassured him, putting her hand on Jason’s forearm in an effort to calm him.

Diana gently nudged Bruce in the direction of the stairs that would lead into the manor, knowing that Jason was itching to put all the blame solely on Bruce’s shoulders. They needed to focus on Tim right now and not on bitter resentment that had yet to be dealt with on Jason’s part.

Bruce wished that he could remember what had happened between him, Joker, and Jason that had caused this painful rift between them. He needed to get his memories back. As soon as they knew Tim was going to be all right, he needed to meet with J’onn to restore his mind.

Following Diana up the stairs towards their room, he felt an overwhelming need swelling in his chest. His mind was consumed with so many thoughts, various emotions threatening to engulf him. He felt so lost despite being in his own home, a stranger among his own family. Seeing Tim so battered and bruised had done very little to help settle the raging storm brewing inside of him, making him want to go back out and search for Joker himself.

Diana stopped before their bedroom door, turning and placing a hand against his chest. “I know it’s hard, but please try to get some sleep, Bruce,” she encouraged him. “I don’t want you laying awake blaming yourself for any of this.”

He covered her hand resting against his chest. “You act like you know me,” he lightly teased.

She smiled softly as she pulled her hand away, turning to make her way towards the guest bedroom. “I know better than you know yourself.”

Bruce caught her wrist at the last second, gently pulling her back towards him. “Stay with me, Diana,” he requested.

Stunned, she could only stare at him in disbelief. “Stay in our room with you?”

“Yes…please,” he replied, his fingers sliding from her wrist to her hand. “I won’t try anything…I promise. I just don’t want to sleep alone tonight. I need you with me…and I think you need me too.”

She felt tears prick her eyes, her arms circling around him as she buried her face in the crook of his neck. “Yes…thank you,” she murmured.

“Come on,” he gently said, retreating as he took her hand in his again.

Leading her into their bedroom, Diana felt an unexpected flutter of apprehension that she couldn’t begin to understand. They had been together for several years now and yet it felt like she was with him for the first time all over again.

Maybe it was because he still didn’t have his memories. Maybe it was because their emotions were so raw and lingering right there beneath the surface. She had no idea what the reason was, but she was just thankful that he was ready for her to be in his bed with him.

They silently went about their nightly routines—brushing teeth, washing faces, and changing into night clothes as they took turns in the bathroom. They shared occasional glances as they passed one another, both wondering what the other was thinking and feeling in that palpable moment.

Bruce exited the bathroom to find Diana pulling back the covers of their bed. She was wearing a tank top and shorts that nearly had his heart skipping beats, but he swiftly tamped down on it. He wasn’t about to allow this to turn into anything sexual. Now was not the time for something like that. Now, they just needed to hold each other, needed the security of the other’s presence.

Diana settled onto her back on her side of the bed, her hands coming to rest on her abdomen as Bruce climbed in beside her. She seemed so far away in the massive bed…too far away from him. “Come here,” he encouraged her.

She turned to look at him, warm adoration reflecting in her blue eyes. He reached out to her, Diana willingly moving into his waiting arms. She readily snuggled up against his side, her head coming to rest against his chest. A contented sigh escaped her lips against her will, causing a faint smile to form on Bruce’s face.

He wrapped his arm around her, holding her close to him. She always felt so safe and secure in his arms. Despite having Meta strength that surpassed understanding, the woman in her desired this with him, savoring the intimacy of just hanging on to one another as if they were the only two people in the world.

It made her feel as though they could handle anything that came their way…and they would do it together.

Bruce kissed the top of her head, relishing the feeling of his wife in his arms and her body pressed up against the length of his side. “We’ll get through this, Diana,” he reassured her.

Diana’s arm slid across his torso, pulling him unbelievably closer. “I’m just so scared of what Joker did to Tim,” she confessed, her voice thick with emotion. “What if Joker broke his mind…overdosed him with that mind control drug?”

“We’ll do whatever it takes to help him heal,” he told her. “He’ll always be our son no matter what.”

“I’ll petition my gods for their help if I have to,” she replied.

“We’ll just have to be very careful until we know for sure that he’s not under Joker’s mind control,” he said. “We’ll need to keep Nicholas and Kaia away from him for now. I don’t want to run the risk of them getting hurt.”

“We’ll know more once all the blood test results come back.”

There was a long, somewhat tense silence as both lost themselves in their own thoughts. “Diana…did I make the right decision by allowing Joker to live after he killed Jason?”

Diana sat up to look down at him, leaning on her elbow. “Bruce, you have no memories of it happening,” she reminded him with a frown.

“I know, but it still happened,” he pressed. “Do you think I made the right decision?”

Her hand moved to rest over his heart, a tender expression veiling her face. “You are the most amazing man I have ever known,” she began. “It was your steadfast belief in the sanctity of life, your willingness to put your life on the line every single day to save another that first attracted me to you. Your beliefs…your refusal to take a life…is what makes you who you are…the man that I love with all my heart.”

Bruce pulled her down, his lips capturing hers in a sweet kiss. “I may not fully remember being in love with you, but I’m constantly reminded every day why I fell in love with you.”

Diana kissed him softly before snuggling up against him once more. Wrapping their arms around each other, they soon fell asleep, each filled with worry for Tim.

Wayne Manor; September 28th, 11:56 EST

Damian scowled as he stared at the tray of food that Alfred had set across his lap. He hated being banished to his bedroom to heal, but it was preferable to being in the medical bay of the Batcave. Still, he felt he was well enough to be up and about. Alfred thought otherwise.

With a sniff of disdain, he shifted his position in his bed before picking up his spoon. He dipped the utensil into the bowl, scooping up the chicken, noodles, and broth. He’d much rather have a steak or grilled salmon, but he guessed this would have to do until he’d finally be freed from his prison.

His stomach growled loudly, reminding him just how hungry he actually was. He forced himself to eat the soup, knowing that the sooner that he recovered the sooner he’d be free to rejoin the land of the living. He had a very bad feeling it would be at least two weeks before his father would allow him out on patrol…and that would be if he was lucky.

He grumbled to himself as he took a bite of his sandwich, plotting out a way of escape from his bedroom that wouldn’t result in him getting caught. Reaching for his glass of milk, he stifled a groan, forgetting how much his shoulder still hurt. He’d never admit that he was having pain to anyone. If he did, they might never let him out of his bedroom.

He couldn’t help wondering where his grandfather was now. He still had no idea if his mother was even alive. The thought caused a pang of sorrow to erupt in his chest, but he squashed it as quickly as it had appeared. She had abandoned him, left him behind in order to follow his grandfather’s plans. She’d chosen her father over him. It was something that would not be so easily forgiven.

He had to admit that he would much rather be here than with his mother and grandfather.

“Do you need something?”

Damian looked up to find Nicholas and Kaia standing in his open doorway. “No,” he replied with a frown.

Nicholas and Kaia made their way to his bed, both climbing up onto it. “Are you better?” Nicholas asked.

Damian stared at them for a moment, wondering how they had gotten into his room when they were supposed to be downstairs. “Yah…I guess.”

“You have an owie?” Kaia questioned him; her eyebrows furrowed with concern.

“Yah…it’s right here,” he replied, pointing to the bandage hidden beneath his pajama top.

Nicholas crawled across the bed to get closer to him. “Does it hurt?”

“Not all the time,” Damian revealed. “Mostly just if I reach for something.”

Kaia crawled closer as well, sitting on Damian’s legs. “Me have an owie,” she announced, holding up her finger.

“I don’t see anything,” he said with a frown.

“Right here,” she insisted, pointing to an almost imperceptible pink scratch on her finger.

“Kaia, that’s not an owie,” Nicholas told her. “That’s just a scratch from Peanut.”

“It is too an owie,” she said with a scowl. “Mommy kissed it for me.”

“Aren’t you two supposed to be downstairs?” he finally asked.

“Yah, but we wanted to see you,” Nick replied.

“Well, hopefully I’ll get to leave my room soon,” he informed them.

“Are you in trouble?” Nicholas asked with a curious tilt of his head.

Damian shook his head. “No,” he said. “I just have to get better before I can leave my room. Alfred said so.”

“Me have to stay in my room when I’ve been naughty,” Kaia revealed with a sorrowful face that was almost comical. She got up on her knees to look at his tray of food. “Can me have your cookie?”

“What are you two doing up here?”

All three turned to find their father standing in the doorway, his arms folded against his chest. “We came to see Damian,” Nicholas volunteered.

“Alfred has your lunch ready for you,” Bruce said as he entered the room, picking Kaia up off of Damian’s bed. “That cookie is for Damian, Kaia. Alfred has some cookies downstairs waiting for you.”

“Me want to eat in my bed too like Damian,” Kaia decided with an infectious grin.

Bruce couldn’t suppress the smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth. “You’re not sick,” he pointed out.

“Me sick,” she decided, laying her head on her father’s shoulder.

“You’re not sick…you’re ornery,” he told her.

Kaia immediately lifted her head, her eyebrows knitting. “Me not ornery.”

“Get downstairs,” he told them as he put Kaia down, gently swatting her on her bottom. “Alfred is waiting for you.”

Nicholas climbed off Damian’s bed, running out of the bedroom with Kaia hot on his heels. “Sorry,” Bruce told him. “I didn’t realize they had escaped the entertainment room.”

“It’s okay,” he replied.

Bruce moved to sit on the edge of Damian’s bed, glancing at his half-eaten lunch. “How are you feeling?”

Damian shrugged his good shoulder as he picked at his sandwich again. “It’s fine,” he told him. “It only hurts if I reach for something.”

“Is there anything I can get for you? A book or a magazine?”

“No, I have my iPad,” he revealed. “How is Tim?”

Bruce shook his head, a grim expression on his face. “He still hasn’t woken up yet,” he revealed. “Alfred said it could still be several hours.”

“How bad is it?” he tentatively asked.

“Joker hurt him pretty bad,” he softly informed him. “He was beaten and tortured, but we won’t know his mental state until he wakes.”

“Any idea where Joker is?”

“None,” he informed him. “We’re hoping Tim will be able to give us some idea of where he’s hiding once he’s conscious.”

“You’re not going to let me go out and help you capture him, are you?”

“Nice try,” Bruce said with a frown. “Not in a million years.”

“That’s what I thought,” Damian glumly responded.

“Damian, we almost lost you,” he reminded him. “I’m not going through that again.”

Damian’s head shot up, shock causing his eyes to widen. “You’re not letting me be Robin?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “What kind of father am I to let my ten-year-old son be in constant danger every night? No child should ever be shot, Damian. You have no idea how much you scared me.”

“It was just an accident,” Damian broodingly dismissed it. “I lived through it.”

“This time,” he pointed out. “What about the next time?”

“You can’t do this to me,” he angrily retorted. “I deserve to be out there every night with you as Robin. I’ve trained my whole life for this. You can’t take it away from me now just because I got shot.”

“We’ll talk about it later,” Bruce assured him, his hand coming to rest on his son’s leg. “Just worry about getting better right now. You’re a part of this family and we need you.”

Damian just stared at his tray, not answering his father as he got up and left him alone once more. He was too angry at the thought of being banned from Gotham and not being Robin. He had to find a way to prove that he deserved to be Robin and that he could take care of himself. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do that until he had recovered.

One way or another he was going to find a way to help take Joker down. It was the only way to prove that he deserved to be Robin.