Superman stormed into the infirmary in the Watchtower. He had rushed over the second he had been contacted over the League com.
“How is he?” he asked concerned as he came to a stop next to the only occupied bed.
“He is weak, and growing weaker” J'onn J’onzz replied in his monotone voice as he released his mental link with Batman. Superman looked down at the other superhero and took in the much too still body. Although Superman knew that even in sleep Batman was as quiet as the shadows, this was different. His breathing was barely moving his chest and he could hear the heartbeat that was beating too slow for just sleep. He let a hand find rest on one of Batman’s exposed cheeks. The skin was ash grey and cold to the touch, yet still clammy with sweat.
“Can’t you do anything to help him?” Superman asked desperately and looked at the Martian. The green man slowly shook his head.
“Unfortunately, no. Batman knew that the machine Hugo Strange created was meant to attack his mind, so he has retreated to a place where I can’t reach him”
“Then what? We just sit here and watch until he…” Superman stopped. The thought alone was too painful. “...dies?”
“That is why I contacted you Superman. I can’t help him, but perhaps there is still hope that you can reach him” J’onn explained and placed a calming hand on Superman’s shoulder.
“How? I don’t know anything about mind games like this” the man of steel admitted helplessly.
“Superman you must understand that the mind, particularly Batman’s, is a complex thing and while all of the Batman’s mind I was able to see is currently in ruins, I saw no sign of Batman himself. He has locked the most important part of himself so far away that it can’t be damaged. I followed his mind as deep as I could until I came to a mental barrier I could not pass”
“But you think I can? So you want to… what… find this barrier and punch through it?” Superman asked confused still not looking away from the still form in the bed. He knew very little about how telepathy worked, but he knew that his suggestion was a silly one. He knew the mind was not something you could punch through like in the real world, but he didn’t know how else he could be of use.
“No, I do not believe that will be of any assistance and I don’t think you can do this alone. Allow me to show you what I found?” J’onn asked and held out a hand, patiently waiting for Superman to turn to him when he was ready.
“Of cause” Superman finally said and forced himself to look away from Batman and took the offered hand. He closed his eyes and let his mind relax as best as he could. He sensed J’onn gently guide his mind. He didn’t fight it. Just let himself flow with the mental images.
“We are here” J’onn announced and when Superman opened his eyes he stood in front of a huge black gate. It was so large it dwarfed even Clark. It was made of metal, but there was no keyhole or handles. In fact, he couldn’t see any way this massive wall was supposed to open at all.
“Are you sure anyone can get past this?” Superman asked quietly. If J’onn was right then Bruce was one the other side of this door and there was no way for him to reach him, to help him and it seemed more and more hopeless by the minute.
“I am certain. This is a defense mechanism and while it is strong no defense is perfect, not even Batman’s” the Martian stated.
“We both know that when it comes to Batman no one can outsmart him. We will never get to him in time if we have to find a way around this”
“I am not suggesting we go around, but to use the key that opens the door. Look” J’onn gestured to the door at large and after having looked at it for a while he saw that the Batman symbol was engraved into the door. Clark knew this better than probably anyone aside from the Batman himself, so he quickly noticed that this engraving had a wrong line and hope started to spread when he noticed that the wrong vertical line ran through the entire symbol slitting it in half. So the door could be opened after all. Clark stepped closer to the door and once he was a few feet away from the other alien, the symbol of the house of El light up right in the middle of the bat. His symbol was also vertically divided. Superman stepped all the way up to the door and let his fingertips brush over the symbol. When he stood on the ground he could just barely reach the bottom of the S. Nervously, but determined he started pushing against the door, but it didn’t budge.
“Come on open” Clark gasped as he braced himself in order to push harder, but now that he was forced to look down the side of the door he caught sight of something else engraved in the door. Giving up the hopeless endeavor, Clark walked down one side of the door and saw two different symbols. The first one was somewhat familiar to him. It was almost an identical symbol of a bat, but this one was drawn with more straight lines instead of the curved edges the Batman logo was known for. It gave it a harder and more pointed look. The next one was more birdlike, maybe an eagle of some kind, that had spread its wings. Clark turned around and walked back towards the middle, passed his own symbol that was still glowing and stopped at the symbol on the other side of his. This one was a circle with another bird depicted. It had a more rounded head than the other bird and there were no wings on this one. Superman continued his inspection of the door and when he reached the last symbol, he recognized it instantly. It was the iconic R of Robin currently being held by Bruce’s only biological son Damian Wayne. Clark slowly backed away from the door now that he knew he could never be able to do this alone and his heart sank a little when he noticed how the glow of his emblem faded the further away he got. Before he knew it, he was standing next to J’onn once again. “You were right J’onn I can’t do this alone”
“Do you have what you need?” the other inquired patiently.
“Yes, I do” Clark took the Martian’s hand one more and when Clark one again was back in the infirmary, cast one last look at Bruce before heading out. He had some people to find.
It didn’t take much to find most of the people he needed. He started his search with Damian. The young boy was most likely at the Wayne manor awaiting an update on his father’s condition. However, Clark was slightly surprised, but relived to find two other young men already there as well, meaning they were only one man short, but first he needed to fill the boys in.
“Finally, what news do you have of my father alien” Damian demanded to know the moment Clarks toes touched the floor of the batcave. Superman quickly filled them in on Batman’s condition and how he needed their assistance.
“Great so that means we have to go hunting for the lunatic before we can do anything” Tim commented irritated.
“Don’t worry he will be about. Undoubtedly to keep up with Bruce’s condition as well” Dick tried to comfort the younger teen, but it only caused the other to groan.
“Quit complaining Drake and get a move on. Father needs us” Damian commanded and moved towards the batmobile.
“Oh no, you don’t baby bird” Dick quickly intercepted the other. “When Brice is not here who is in charge?” Dick asked with a smile. A smile that made Damian scowl with utter rage.
“You are” the youngest bit out.
“So who drives the car?”
“I know how to drive Grayson” Damian protested firmly.
“Who drives the batmobile?” Dick simply asked again. A mussel near Damian’s nose moved back and made the young boy look like a feral dog ready to jump his pray.
“You do” he answered in the end and with almost no more arguing the three boys piled into the car and headed for the city.
It only took two hours before they tracked down Jason Todd. Or more precisely he found them, granted they were doing little to conceal their movements, but it surprised Superman that the man was hesitating to aid Batman.
“Why do you need me anyway?” he had growled at them.
“I don’t know, but it’s pretty clear that the door won’t open without you” Clark explained.
“And why would I want to go poking around the old man’s mind anyway?” he shot back.
“What? Are you scared?” Damian asked with a cocky smirk. “Even Drake has enough backbone to see this through”
“Thanks, I guess” Tim broke in uncertain is it was a compliment or an insult.
“Fine. Man does he owe me for this” Red Hood finally relented and Superman quickly contacted the Watchtower to have them all beamed up before the rouge could change his mind.
“Superman” Diana greeted them as they stepped off the platform.
“Any news?” he asked her as they all headed further inside the tower.
“Nothing good I’m afraid. We have moved him to a room where J’onn will be able to connect you all to Batman’s mind, but it doesn’t look good. J’onn says the odds of saving him gets smaller with each passing second.
“Then we should hurry” Superman confirmed and they all started a quick march, borderline run through the tower with Diana leading them.
“Good. You are finally here” J’onn said the second they entered the room. Six field beds had been set up in a circle with J’onn standing in the middle, hands on either side of Batman, who was already occupying one of the beds, eyes glowing.
“Freaky” Tim whispered more to himself than anyone else as a shudder went through his body.
“Pull yourself together Drake” Damian snarled.
“Quickly you must take your places” the green alien instructed and they all quickly found a bed to lie on.
“Good luck. May the gods be with you” Diana saluted them before J’onn took over and guided them all through shattered memories and broken dreams, all the way to the door.
“Waw. The old man sure doesn’t do anything half-assed” Jason whistled impressed.
“Language” Dick commented absentmindedly as he still hadn’t taken his eyes away from the door.
“Oh, shut it Dick” Jason snarled.
“This way” Superman broke in before an argument could break out, but before they got too far J’onn stopped them.
“I have never seen a mental barrier like this before, so I must warn you that I might not be able to follow you through the door, let alone prepare you for what you might find on the other side” the green alien warned them.
“Any change you could be willing to take a guess?” Dick asked hopefully.
“Most likely the memories that define him” J’onn stated as if speaking from experience. The team them turned to the door of doom. As they stepped up each emblem came to life, all except one. They all turned to Jason to see that the man was stubbornly folding his arms over his chest.
“Seriously?” he growled when he too noticed the difference. “Ugh fine” he groaned on disgust and lowered his arms, allowing the symbol on his chest to become visible. Instantly the last engraving light up and a light spread from the top of the opening of the door to the bottom. To everyone’s surprise the door opened soundlessly and they were enveloped in a bright light.
Once the light started to die down. The four Robins and Clark blinked in the hopes of adjusting their eyesight after being blinded.
“So what now?” Jason grumbled and looked around. It could appear that they had been transported to a street somewhere on Gotham city.
“How should we know? Let’s just hope the alien knows what he’s doing” Damian bit back.
“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I too am at a loss” Clark sadly admitted as he tried to see if it was a place he could recognize, but Clark didn’t exactly know Gotham City like the back of his hand, the same way they younger heroes around him did.
“I wasn’t talking about you. I meant the other alien” Damian clarified as if Clark was being an idiot, but it did give him an idea.
“J’onn can you hear me?” Superman called out.
“Indeed, but it is very faint. You are very deep inside Batman’s mind” the Martian confirmed. “He has hidden himself away in here somewhere. You must find him”
“So what? We wait around to see when or if Batman in this memory decides to show up?” Jason asked confused.
“Um, guys” Dick called with a sad tone. “What memory of a dark alleyway somewhere in Crime Ally would Bruce find so important and defining that he would hide it away behind such a door?” the eldest of the Robins asked and a heavy silence fell over the group as they turned to look in the same direction as Dick. Just across the road a family of three was heading into the alley across from them.
“HEY BRUCE, STOP” Jason yelled and started running towards the ten-year-old.
“NO, STOP” J’onn’s voice called from everywhere.
“What now?” Tim sighed exhausted.
“I sense that these memories are extremely fragile. You mustn’t disturb them or the damages done to Batman’s mind could be devastating. You must let the memories guide you, but do not touch them” he informed them before falling silent just as a couple of gunshots rang form the alleyway, making them all jump.
“And how are we supposed to let memories guide us?” Damian demanded to know, but there came no answer from neither the group nor J´onn. At a loss for what to do next they all gathered together and started discussing their next cause of action. All of them desperately trying to ignore the heartbreaking scene taking place not too far from them.
“Wait, guys, I think I see something” Tim called suddenly and pointed at the road. A figure was standing at the edge of the alleyway looking at the scene where the police had arrived. A heavy cloak and a large hat kept his identity a mystery.
“It an idiotic bystander. What’s the big idea Drake?” Damian scuffed.
“No, he is standing too close to the scene of a crime. An officer would have pushed him back, but look. They are not even taking notice of him. It’s like he isn’t there” Tim punctuated every word in the last sentence, while pointing accusingly at the figure, who chose this exact time to turn to them and acknowledge them with a tip of his hat.
“Alright, that’s it, let’s get him” Jason announced and started running across the street followed by the rest of the group, but no matter how hard they pushed forward the stranger simply turned and walked calmly into the alleyway and out of sight.
“Jason stop. Watch out for the memories” Dick called out and grabbed hold of Jason’s arm before he could charge into the narrow pathway. The stranger was just visible at the end of the alleyway, where he once again greeted them with a tip of his hat, before turning on his heel and walking into the darkness.
“He’s getting away” Jason complained angrily.
“And we are going after him… just carefully” Dick promised as he slowly started moving through the tight space being very careful not to disturb anything. His brothers quickly followed and before long they were all through and continued down the path the figure had disappeared. Soon a light appeared and if Clark were to take a guess, they were about to enter the next memory. He couldn’t help, but turn around to look at the tiny form of Bruce who had a blanket wrapped round him. How he wished he could make this memory go away, how he wished he could wipe away the hurt this memory caused.
“I’ll find you” Clark promised with a whisper just as a younger Alfred arrived and kneeled in front of Bruce to hug him. It was the last thing Clark saw before the light enveloped him and when he looked forward again he had already entered the next memory.
There was no mistaking the interior decoration of the manor. The entrance hall to be exact. A loud crash was heard as a lighting flashed outside illuminating the hall momentarily before it fell into darkness.
“Anyone see our wayward memory?” Jason asked as he carefully looked around the room. Tim gave a sound that was neither confirming nor denying and Damian just made his usual click of annoyance.
“Hey over there” Clark called when he noticed a door standing ever so slightly ajar, where warm light was sneaking into the dark and cold entrance hall. They all crept closer and gently pushed the door open. In the armchair facing the door a well-known figure was sleeping. Alfred in the memory looked exhausted as his head as resting in his hand.
“This mean anything to anyone?” Tim asked quietly as all the boys were strangely fascinated by watching the butler sleep so carelessly. Clark opened his mouth to say no, but a sound stopped him.
“Outside” Clark announced and they all turned to face the entrance door, ready for anything that might come through. “A car” Clark informed them, but as soon as the car door slammed shut Alfred woke with a grunt. The hero team quickly cleared the door and let the butler pass without toughing him. Before the elderly could reach the door, it opened ever so quietly and the mysterious figure stepped inside.
“I’m surprised to see you come through the front door sir. I fully expected you to emerge from your cave… again” the butler said flatly and took the jacket and hat as it was offered to him.
“I was out on business as Bruce Wayne this time” the memory explained as he tried to shake the storm off him. This version of Bruce was noticeably younger than the current one.
“Very good sir”
“How was everything here?” Bruce asked quietly and a sadness overtook his face and his eyes sought upwards, towards the top of the staircase.
“As well as one can expect I suppose” the butler informed his master as he disposed of the soaked outerwear. Bruce hummed. “He was asking for you again tonight”
“I know Alfred. I know” Bruce admitted and the sadness seemed to overwhelm him for a moment.
“The boy lost his parents not two weeks ago sir. He could use a friend right about now” the other continued and unbeknownst to the butler and Bruce, everyone turned to look a Dick. The young man was slightly red around the cheeks and his shoulders were pulled up around his ears, something Clark knew he only did when embarrassed.
Bruce then started walking up the stairs and as Alfred retired for the night, the batclan followed the man, they were trying to save. They walked down the dark hallways, but then the billionaire stopped in front of a door that Dick recognized all too well. It was the door to his old room. Bruce stood in front of it for a moment before taking a deep breath as if preparing himself. Then he opened the door and small whimpering sounds quietly escaped the room. The team stood frozen as the others realized that this was not only a very private memory to Bruce, but to Dick as well.
“Hey there little bird” Brice voice sounded ever so gently form within the room. Dick slowly walked forward and stood in the doorway, completely shocked at what he was seeing. He barely noticed how his family gathered around him. A young Dick Grayson was lying in the bed fast asleep, but sobs and tears continued to escape from him. Bruce was kneeling next to his bed whispering quietly into his ear. One hand gently running over his hair in a desperate attempt to sooth him. The other hand had been captured by one of Dick’s in a tight grip.
“I… I don’t remember this” Dick informed the others quietly, but they didn’t answer as they all just watched the scene unfold before them. Bruce then shifted and they all thought he was about to leave the room, but instead he just seemed to make himself as comfortable on the floor as possible.
“I’m down on my knees again tonight” Bruce said quietly, but he clearly wasn’t talking to Dick anymore, but his hand never stopped caressing the top of his head. “I’m hoping this prayer will turn out right. See there is a boy that needs your help. I’ve done all that I can do myself” Bruce continued and that sense of hopelessness overtook him once more. “Each night as he sleeps I go in to hold his hand and I try…” Bruce cut himself off as he swallowed hard. His eyes wandered to the window where he watched the storm "...not to cry, as the tears fill up my eyes. Can you hear me? Am I getting through tonight? Can you see him? Can you make him feel alright? If you can hear me, let me take his place somehow. See he’s not just anyone… he’s my…son” a sob shook his body and fell quiet after that as he quietly let tears stream down his face as he turned back to look at Dick. "Looks like they owe me one tonight" Bruce whispered and gently kissed Dick's temple.
After a while Bruce straightened himself once more and reached over to the other side of the sleeping form of Dick and took one of the many pillows what had accumulated in the boy’s bed in the short time he had lived in the house. Bruce than carefully dropped it on the ground under him, while being very careful not to disturb the now quiet form of Dick. As if time was suddenly set on fast forward Bruce remained kneeing on a pillow next to Dick’s bed, holding the boy’s hand. Eventually the man slumped against the bed as he fell asleep. As the shadows rapidly passed over the floor it must have neared sunrise when they all had to jump out of the way when Alfred came in and woke an exhausted Bruce. The two left the room shortly after.
“Over there” Tim said quietly as he gestured towards the window, where Batman was watching them form outside. He then beckoned them closer, before fading into the shadows completely.
“Grayson, are you coming or what?” Damian asked as he stepped closer to the first Robin. Instead of moving towards the window like the rest of them, he was kneeling next to the bed where his former self was no longer visible now that the memory had ended.
“I remember this pillow you know” Dick said quietly as he caressed the soft material that was still thrown on the floor. “I always thought I just pushed it out of the bed, but every morning for the first month or so of my stay with Bruce this pillow would be on the ground. Without fail and always the same one” Dick’s voice shook for a moment, but then he cleared his throat and got up.
“Grayson…” Damian started, but then stopped when he realized that he didn’t know what to say.
“It’s okay Mini bat. Thank you” Dick smiled and placed a reassuring hand on Damian’s shoulder before walking past him and over to the window.
“Are we done here?” Jason asked as he shifted uncomfortably by the window.
“Yeah. Let’s go find the old bat” Dick confirmed and they all crawled out the window.
The journey through memories continues.
Some of this will be consistent with cannon, but most of it is made up scenarios.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The next memory they entered took them to the batcave, but no one was there. They all started exploring, in hopes of finding the memory. Damian and Dick moved towards the back where the training area could be found and to Clark’s surprise, Jason started hovering around the area where the glass monitor with his old Robin suite would one day stand as a memorial and reminder. Tim however quickly found his way over to the large computer and looked it over.
“This is such an old model. I bet I could hack this thing in thirty minutes, an hour top” Red Robin bragged, which was almost strange to hear the otherwise quiet boy puff his chest out with such pride. Before anyone would say anything else the noise of a large engine filled the room. It as a sound they were all very familiar with. It didn’t take long before the Batmobile came rearing onto its platform and the top slide up, to allow the passengers to get out.
“Did you see me tonight?” a happy voice practically shouted and a young Robin jumped out of the car and ran around the front to the other side, where Batman was barely out of the vehicle.
“Oh no” Jason groaned and hid his face in his hands.
“I was like WHAM and then he was like BAM and then I went HIYA” a ten-year-old Jason explained while waving his arms around as he demonstrated.
“Yes, I saw” Bruce said and a tiny smile of fondness could be seen in the corner of his mouth, as he pushed the cowl back to reveal his face. The two walked through the cave, or rather Bruce walked while Jason danced around his legs telling him all about the exciting moves he had made out on patrol.
“Are we going out tomorrow? Can we? Please” Jason jumped up and down hopefully. Bruce just huffed amused and ruffled Jason’s hair.
“We’ll see. For now, it’s long past your bedtime” the billionaire instructed and unclasped Jason’s cape.
“Aww, but I’m not tired” Jason protested, but took off his cloves and handed them over to Bruce none the less.
“Um hmm” was all the response he got from Bruce as the man guided him towards the bathroom. “Now go take a shower… and wash your hair properly this time”
“Fine” Jason grumbled, but still stuck out his tongue playfully. When the sound of running water could be heard from the bathroom, Bruce moved over to the Batcomputer and started writing a report on their nightly activities.
“Who would have guessed you were once such a cutie pie” Dick awed as he draped himself over Jason’s shoulder’s and Clark tried to hide his smile behind his hand.
“If you don’t shut it Dick, I’ll end you” the rouge warned, but didn’t do much to remove the older male.
“Aw, you don’t mean that. Now we all know, that you are really just a teddy bear on the inside” Dick continued to mock heartwarmingly and squeezed Jason closer.
“Could you two be any more gross?” Damian asked with a look of utter disdain.
“You shut up too demon brat” Jason snapped, but still allowed Dick to hang over his shoulders.
“Soo, are we done here or…?” Tim inquired as he had mostly ignored them in favor of looking around at the memory where Bruce was still just typing away at the computer.
“God, I hope so” Jason barked annoyed and finally shook Dick off him, but he wasn’t lucky enough to have his way, as the bathroom door opened and a freshly showered Jason emerged already wearing his pajamas.
“Bruce, I’m done” Jason called as he ran across the cave and up next to the Batman.
“Good, now it’s off to bed” the elder said and turned to look at the young boy next to him who was pouting disappointedly.
“Why? How come you get to stay awake?”
“Because I’m an adult” Bruce answered with a smirk, only to chuckle when an irritated glare came from Jason.
“It’s not fair. I can stay up just as long, as you can, you know” Jason claimed and started climbing up onto Bruce’s lab. “I can do this too” the young boy insisted and once he settled down, he reached forward and started adding his own colorful description to the report.
“Apparently” Bruce agreed and the two feel into silence.
“There, all done” Jason declared his report finished with a yawn and a stretch before settled back against Bruce. The dark knight just hummed and continued where Jason had left off while the boy slowly started nodding off. It only took Bruce a few minutes to finish the rest of the report and ever so carefully he collected Jason into his arms, making sure the boy was as comfortable as possible, but the boy hardly even stirred, other than to lean against Bruce by tucking his head under the other’s chin. Bruce carefully tucked his cape around his precious cargo to protect him from the chilly air in the cave and headed up the stairs and into the mansion above.
When Bruce disappeared with the young Jason they all turned to look at the second eldest, but he had moved away from the group and over to the computer where he seemed to read the report over. He read over his own childish and colorful phrases and explanations of what had happened on that first night so many years ago.
“You know…” Tim started so quietly, that Jason wouldn’t hold back a small jerk of surprise “…he still has that report. Through a fit when I mentioned deleting it along with some other useless information what was clogging up the Batcomputer. I spent the next two nights desperately trying to recover it, in the exact same condition, because he grounded me until I found it. I never really understood why… until now I guess”
“I don’t remember asking, replacement” Jason replied, but they all noticed that the insult lacked the usual sinister edge to it. It was said almost as an afterthought rather than a snarky or hurtful remark.
“I know, but now you know” Tim shrugged awkwardly and the two men stood side by side for a moment and looked over the childish remarks of how one robber had almost made a complete flip after a kick to the head by Batman.
“So where to now?” Jason growled after clearing his throat and turned away from the computer, but he couldn’t completely hide how his voice was a little mushy. No one dared comment on it as it was becoming abundantly clear that these memories were sensitive to all of them.
“I don’t know. I don’t see anything ready to lead us on” Dick replied and looked around the cave as he rubbed his neck thoughtfully. The ding sound of the elevator stopping in the cave made them all turn in time to see the doors open. Alfred was standing inside, stoic as ever, but then his eyes locked onto them and he simply pointed up towards the roof of the cave. On reflex they all looked up, but there was nothing to see. When they looked at the elevator again Alfred was no longer there.
“I guess we go up” Tim stated and carefully stepped into the elevator, afraid that it could suddenly disappear or that it wasn’t real, but nothing happened. The rest of the family followed and soon enough they could all leave the overly packed elevator in favor of stepping into one of the many drawing rooms of the manor. They all quickly spotted Bruce sitting in the windowsill. A wistful, but not to forget peaceful smile adored his face as he peaked through the almost drawn curtains. Clark was the first to venture closer in hopes of catching a glimpse of what had made Bruce look like that.
“Master Bruce?” Alfred called form the doorway, where he was holding a tray of afternoon tea.
“Hum?” Bruce acknowledge with a hum so soft it almost wasn’t audible, the smile never wavering for a moment and never taking his eyes off what was outside.
“If I may be so bold sir, whatever could have you in such high spirits?” the elderly asked as he poured the tea and brought a cup over to Bruce.
“Look” was all Bruce said and carefully pulled one of the curtains aside to reveal the gardens below.
“My, and here I thought I had seen it all” the butler remarked with a certain gentleness.
“I didn’t want to open the curtains too much just on case he saw me” Bruce explained, but let one side of the window remain free so that Alfred would see as well.
“There may be hope for the boy yet Master Bruce. Although I still must insist that rules be put in place for that dog” the butler gave a slight protest, before returning to the tray.
“No” Bruce just whispered and moved his head slightly in keep whatever he was looking at within view, but now what Alfred was gone the rest of the batfamily could gather around to see what the fuss was about. The window was open ever to slightly, so the sounds from outside could easily be heard from there.
“Come on Titus faster” Damian commanded as he ran around the yard holding a stick out to the side. A stick the Great Dane was undoubtedly trying to snatch from the young boy. At Damian’s order the dog backed loudly as he happily jumped next to his master. “If you are to assist farther, you must be trained properly” Damian continued as if the dog could understand him. While the boy was rather far away making it difficult to see his smile, his tone was much lighter and more playful than any of Damian’s brothers or Clark had ever heard.
“Never grow up Damian” Bruce whished quietly as the boy tumbled onto the ground with a laughter. The dog barked excitedly as he jumped around Damian playfully. The boy started laughing more fully as he tried to grab the dog from where he was, but the hound just jumped back and lowered his front legs to indicate play.
“Come on then” Damian exclaimed as he too got down on all fours and imitated the dog, who then went from excited to ecstatic and took off full speed, making abrupt turns and wagging his tail whenever Damian reached for him. Clark almost placed his hands on Bruce’s shoulders, wanting nothing more than for this to be real and to have sheared this moment with Bruce, while hoping that one day he could be granted the opportunity to see something like it.
“You can’t touch” Dick whispered in his ear as he pushed Clark’s hands back down. When Superman turned to look at the eldest of Bruce’s sons he saw the sadness of having to deny Clark, but the man of steel just smiled kindly.
“I know” he admitted and as he was about to return to watching Damian, he noticed that Dick only had eyes for Bruce and how peaceful the other looked when silently observing his son play with his dog. Clark decided that if he wouldn’t share this moment with Bruce, he could share it with Dick, and so he placed a comfortingly hand on Nightwing’s shoulder, something the other seemed to appreciate.
“Stop it. That is disgusting” Damian laughed and drew their attention once more. Titus had managed to topple the young boy over to lay in his back and was licking his face enthusiastically.
“Master Damian, are you out here?” Alfred’s voice called, surprising the boy. Since they all knew that Alfred had seen the boy from the window and knew the boy was there, the call had most likely been to Damian’s benefit, so that the butler couldn’t have found the boy sprawled on the grass. Sure enough Damian quickly got off the ground and straightened his clothes as best as he could. He quickly rubbed his face in his sleeve to clean himself as much as possible, before walking over to meet the man calling for him.
“Yes Pennyworth. What do you want?” Damian called back with as much snark and sass as always. He had returned to the person they all knew and loved, or found unbelievably frustrating most of the time.
“Lunch is prepared” Alfred simply stated and made no comment on the strangely wrinkled shirt or the dirt and grass juice on his pants, nor did he do anything to stop the still exited dog from following Damian inside and most likely into the kitchen.
“Are you all quite done watching my embracement?” Damian grumbled from behind the group. He was standing with his back turned and his arms crossed tight over his chest.
“There’s no need to feel embarrassed Damian” Clark tried to sooth the offended boy. “I think it’s nice to see that you can have fun, even if it’s just by yourself” he tried with a smile, but he boy only glared over his shoulder.
“What do you know about anything alien?” Damian almost yelled.
“Damian calm down” Dick stepped in and placed a hand on the younger’s shoulder, but the action was not welcomed as Damian ripped his shoulder loose and stomped over to the other side of the room.
“I showed weakness. It would have been bad enough if Pennyworth saw me. He could at least have been ordered to silence, but now you have seen me like that, but worst of all HE saw me” Damian shouted and pointed at the memory of Bruce, who was only now getting down from the windowsill, moved through the room and out the door, most likely to join in on lunch in the kitchen.
“So what? It’s not like he hasn’t seen the rest of us have fun” Dick reasoned, but Damian wasn’t having any of it. The rage on his face just seemed to grow stronger and stronger.
“I AM STRONGER THAN YOU. I AM NOT WEAK LIKE YOU. Unlike the rest of you I am of actual use to farther” Damian screamed as he gripped his hair in frustration.
“Damian” Clark called gently and walked over to the boy, where he carefully got now on one knee to be more on the same eyelevel as Damian. Once closer Clark also took notice of his rapid breath like he was fighting to get air into his lungs. Clark shifted nervously and cleared his throat.
“I know, I came into this family rather abruptly and it caused a lot of confusion for everyone, but one thing I do now is that Bruce has always worried for you”
“I will not let him down. Unlike the other’s” Damian snarled and gave Clark a hard shove on the shoulders on the hopes that it would bring the other out of balance, but the force ended up pushing Damian backwards instead of Clark.
“Damian…” Dick said in a reprimanding tone, but was cut off when Jason grabbed his shoulder and shook his head.
“No, Damian you don’t understand. He was never worried about you failing him. He was worried you would never know true happiness and joy, or laugh carefree. He feared that you would never get to be a child” Clark explained to the frustrated young man. Now that the boy was looking up, it became clear just how frustrated he was. His lower lip was being viciously held captive between his teeth. Every muscle in his face, as well as in his body was tensed to the point of snapping and his eyes were fogged over. Clearly the boy had no intension of ever letting them fall where they could all see it, but there was no hiding that they were there.
“If I’m not useful to him… than what good am I?” Damian finally asked, just barely above a whisper.
“Oh, Mini bat” Dick called softly, his own heartache for the boy clear in his voice.
“You’re worth can never be defined by your usefulness. You are so much more to him, because you’re his son” Clark reassured him and as much as he wanted to reach out and embrace Damian, he knew that the action would never be welcomed, so he restrained himself. Damian turned away from them and took a few calming breaths.
“There is nothing more for us to find here we should move on” he declared without looking at them.
“And just in time too it would seem” Tim said quietly and when they all turned to look at him for an explanation, Batman came swinging into the room. The man didn’t acknowledge any of them but he moved purposefully through the room and out the open door.
“Let’s move on then” Clark agreed and finally got off the floor.
The door lead them outside. And not just into a hall or even to the grounds surrounding the manor. No, the door lead them all the way to Metropolis. Batman was walking steadily forward, slightly further ahead of them.
“What could Batman possibly be doing here?” Tim questioned before running ahead of them all and up to Batman, but then slowed down. Clark was pretty sure that he was the only one that could hear the quiet oh of realization.
“What is it Tim?” Dick asked confused. Instead of answering Tim just pointed ahead, past Batman all the way to the center of the grass field they were currently walking on. Just past Batman the memorial for Superman’s death was towering over them, casting long shadows even in the dark of the night
“Another dead end” Batman grumbled as he hid a device away. From the quick glance Clark had gotten, it looked like some kind of tracker.
“Oh right” Clark mumbled and looked at the dark knight sadly. He didn’t think too much of this incident in all honesty. In the end, it had all turned out like many other crazy adventures, but he should have known that just the thought of losing someone would have imprinted itself in Bruce’s mind.
“I’m beginning to wonder if I might be wrong” Batman said with a somber tone while looking up at the towering memorial. “I’ve got some things to say. I should have said them when you were here. Despite our differences I have nothing, but respect for you. I hope you knew… know that. You showed me that justice didn’t always have to come from the darkness” Batman admitted and walked the last few steps up to the memorial so he could put his hand on the dark stone.
“He never told me he visited the memorial” Clark told the other and couldn’t help but feel just a little hurt. It would have been nice to know that the man he loved had cared.
“He never told anyone” Tim explained as he pulled his shoulders in a defensive manner. “And it wasn’t long after you returned that… you knew” Red Robin trailed off and Clark bit his lip feeling ashamed to have reminded him.
“Please, can you hear me? Am I getting through tonight? I know you haven’t taken him. I know he is out there somewhere. If you can hear me just… let me take his place somehow” Batman murmured aggrieved and sank to his knees. He leaned forward until his forehead rested against the cold stone. “You see he’s not just anyone. He’s my love” Bruce barely whispered the last part, but Clark heard and maybe the others did as well, but then they didn’t show any sign of it.
“Bruce please. Let this memory go when you wake up. I’m right here and I’m always going to be right here” Superman pleaded as he kneeled next to Batman, and forced himself to not try to embrace the memory. Suddenly an explosion was heard from behind them. Batman was quickly on his feet.
“What did you always call it Clark? The never-ending battle?” Batman said to the memorial before quickly heading off to see what had happened
“Clark there is nothing we can do to change this memory. All we can do is continue our search for the real Bruce and hope that he one day can leave some of this hurt behind” Dick tried to comfort as he came up behind the other man and placed a hand on his shoulder, much like Clark had done for him.
“I know” he admitted as he continued to look after the dark knight.
“How much more of this do you think we can take?” Tim asked Clark when the boy came up on his other side. When Clark turned to him, he saw that Tim was truly worried.
“I don’t know, but I have to believe that he is in here somewhere and that there is a purpose to all this” Clark admitted sadly.
“Over there” Damian broke in with a flat tone. They all turned exhausted to see a Bruce Wayne standing next to the nearest building, holding a large bundle tight to his body. He stood quietly and observed it for a moment. Then it started moving and Bruce hoisted it higher and started phasing the sidewalk.
“Looks like we have a direction” Jason sighed and as a group they headed over to the man who, now that they were closer, looked beyond exhausted. His eyes were mat and dead. His hair was hanging lifeless over his forehead and into his eyes. His skin was a sickly ash gray color and his shoulders were hunched as if the entire world was resting on them. The closer they got the more Bruce started walking away and it wasn’t long before Bruce stopped in front of a seemingly random door. After hoisting the bundle up again, he could let go with one hand and open the door.
Once inside they all realized that they were back at the mansion. This time they were in Tim’s room. Clark took a deep breath and realized that they all would have to brace themselves for what was coming now. If Tim was suddenly inching closer and closer to him Clark didn’t mention it.
“It’ll be alright” Bruce whispered over and over to the bundle in his arms as he continued to phase the room like a new parent trying to sooth a crying baby. Clark reached out next to him without looking away and placed an arm around Tim’s shoulder’s. Tim didn’t resist the gesture and no one commented on it. “I have you. It’ll all go away now” Bruce continued his mantra and they were all starting to wonder if he really was talking to the bundle or to himself.
“Can’t we just skip past this memory?” Tim whispered desperately as Bruce ever so gently placed his precious bundle on the bed and proceeded to unwrapping it slightly while also tucking it into bed. When Bruce pulled back the bundle came alive. Wiggling and squirming while quiet whimpering noises escaped.
“Shhh easy Tim. You’re safe. Nothing is going to happen to you, I promise” Bruce begged and looked close to tears himself. “Please just be still” Bruce continued to plead and took hold of the hand that had managed to escape the confines of the sheets and blankets. Bruce looked at the young boy on the bed, clearly at a loss of how to get him to sleep peacefully. The real Tim turned away from the scene by turning into Clark’s side and it was only because Clark had an arm around Tim that he felt the lone sob that ran through his body.
“Is it over?” Tim whispered and Clark just squeezed his shoulder as a comfort. He clearly remembered how he could watch over Bruce as he tried to get him son back from the brink. Even when he was in Metropolis. No matter if it was the middle of the day or in the dead of the night, if he was hopelessly behind on a deadline or if he had been sleeping. Whenever Bruce started phasing with Tim he would tune in on them. Listen to what was happening, sometimes he could even fly over and just watch over them as Bruce wandered the house. The billionaire never mentioned the nights he hovered around the house, nor did he ever acknowledge Clark when he was there, but Clark knew that Bruce knew. For a man do dedicated to defending his private life there was no way that the man didn’t know Clark was coming the moment he crossed onto Gotham city limits.
“Can you hear me?” Bruce started the prayer as he held Tim’s hand between his own, kneeling by the bedside. Without even thinking about it Clark soundlessly formed the words after Bruce. It had become a habit. He would be hammering on his keyboard to meet a deadline, stop instantly. He could be so tuned in on Bruce he would sit so still he could have been a statue. Hands folding in front of his face, eyes lowered, forehead to his gathered hand and whisper ever so quietly after Bruce. “Am I getting through tonight? There is this boy that needs your help. Can you see him? Can you make him feel alright? If you can hear me, let me take his place somehow. Please I dream of the boy he’d like to be, who he can be. I try to be strong and see him through this, but I’m so tired. I hope you can understand that and who he needs right now is you. He’s so tires and he’s scared, please let him know that you’re there. See he’s not just anyone. He’s my son” Bruce sniffled and opened his hands enough to kiss the tiny one he kept inside. He pressed his lips hard against it for a moment before pulling back and closing his hands once more, shielding Tim’s from the world around them.
“How often would he do this?” Jason whispered quietly to Dick, who quickly cleared his throat and tried to discretely whip a tear from his eye, but before he could answer Clark broke in.
“Every night” Clark answered somberly without taking his eyes off Bruce. “He spent countless hours walking up and down the hallways. Exhausted to the point of passing out, but pushed through it every night”
“I hardly even remember it” Tim admitted after clearing his throat. The young Robin moved away from Clark to stand on his own once more.
“Tim it’s alright if…” Clark started, but was cut off by the young man in question.
“I’m fine” came a firm reply. Tim looked at Bruce for a moment before turning to Clark and to the reporters surprise he found anger on his face. “If he was so determined to help me, then why did he send me away? I guess he finally grew tired of having me as a burden. I was too much of an embracement to have succumbed to the Joker, that he couldn’t bear to look at me anymore. That’s why, isn’t it?” Tim accused angrily as tears started gathering on his eyes once more, as his voice rose more and more towards a shout, but not quite reaching it.
“Oh no, no, no, no, Tim that’s not it. That isn’t it at all” Clark assured him as he grabbed the Red Robin’s shoulders firmly, but not aggressively.
“Then why? Why did he stop caring?”
“He cared for nothing else. All he would ever do was look after you, care for you, worry about you. I’m embarrassed to say that a lot of people were giving up, even members if the League, myself included. I once told him that he had to realize that you might not come back completely, and he almost ribbed my throat out, right there in the parlor”
“And it would have served you right alien” Damian bit out and Clark wasn’t quite sure if was a show of brotherly affection, by jumping to Tim’s defense or if Damian was just showing his dislike of him and would have preferred to see him suffer at the hands of the boys farther.
“Enough of this nonsense from you” Dick remarked as he placed his hands at his hips in exasperation, but Damian just responded with his annoyed tisk.
“Anyway, Bruce screamed at me that if the rest of his life would be phasing the halls with you in his arms then that was what he could do. He became even more closed off, responded to fewer and fewer calls and he because even stricter in his no-meta-humans-in-my-city policy. I was barely allowed close to the manor let alone within a few yards of you” Clark continued. Tim looked thoughtful for a moment before turning to Dick.
“It’s true. Tim, you need to know that at the time Bruce and I were having a fall out and we barely talked, but he called me, asking for my help in looking after Gotham. I know I should have been around more. I’m sorry” Dick pleaded and Tim just looked at the floor with a small nod of acceptance.
“But then there came a point where you started to show so much progress that you started becoming aware of your surroundings. You were still restless at night, but during your waking hours you started responding. You can’t fathom the joy and relief that washed over everyone at the news. The entire League practically rushed over to see you in hopes that you could finally see us and recognize us, but it ended in a horror show. The moment Bruce carried out into the sitting room and you caught sight of us…” Clark stopped as he had to shake off the intensity of the memory. “…you started screaming and not just scared or surprised yelling. I mean blood curdling, horrified screaming. You forced yourself out of Bruce’s hold and whenever any of us dared to get close to you to calm you down you lashed out ferociously and the screaming, good god the screaming” Clark stopped talking for a moment as the memory of that day overwhelmed him.
“So I collapsed, and he didn’t want to bother with me anymore?” Tim asked defensively as he shrugged his shoulders and arms out in annoyance.
“I remember Bruce and I got eye contact and all I could see was the fiercest thunderstorm I have ever seen” Clark continued as if Tim hadn’t said anything. “And then he pounced on us like he would have any supervillain. Flash was lucky to have the super speed and was out of there faster than the rest of us. We all got out as fast as we would, but we were all sporting bruises the next day”
“What does any of this have to do with him sending me away then?” Tim demanded as frustration started to take over his features.
“You got better Tim. After that disaster, Bruce wouldn’t let anyone near city limits. He prowled around the manor, and on rear occasion the city, like a mother bear ready to finish off anything he deemed a threat to you. And you got better and better every day, until the day you recognized Bruce and I think I would have been able to hear you loud and clear in Metropolis with half of my super hearing. It broke him when you couldn’t bear to be near him. He would still phase you up and down the floor at night while you slept, but in the day time he couldn’t get near you. In a last attempt to calm you down he put on his Batsuite in the hopes that you would realize that you were out of harm’s way, but it made everything so much worse. You were regressing Tim. You were shutting down and suddenly everything was a trigger, Bruce, that manor, even Alfred was suddenly a threat. He wouldn’t bear the thought of being the source of your pain like that, so he considered every kind of treatment that could help you and when he finally felt like he found something that had a chance of bringing you back he sent you away, in the hopes that you would find it in you to keep fighting” Clark finished.
“But I needed him” Tim said with a small hiccup in his voice.
“I know Tim, and he could have wanted nothing more than to be there for you himself, but he had to do what was best for you in the long run. He sent you off knowing that, if that was as well as you were ever going to get, he might never see you again, since he could cause you to break down, just from the sight of him. I sat with him that night you know. He cried himself to sleep, just too hurt and exhausted to do anything to hide it anymore, and all I could do was just sit there and hold him. Watch as he crumbled to pieces” Clark finished and looked over at the bed but neither Bruce nor the young Tim was anywhere to be seen.
“Looks like it’s finally over” Jason muttered more to himself than to anyone in particular, but they all quietly agreed. Tim took a few deeps breaths and quickly rubbed his face to make sure that there were no tears in his eyes.
“Let’s move on then” Red Robin suggested after clearing his throat. He was rolling his shoulders and fidgeting clearing, uncomfortable with the vulnerability he had shown and was forcing his mind back in the game. A cold gust of wind washed over them all and made them shiver. The balcony door was now open, and as the wind moved inside it made the curtains move ever so gently. They all however quickly locked onto Batman standing on the railing of the balcony, his back to them, looking out over the darkness beyond the memory. They stood for a moment and just looked at the dark knight, waiting for him to do something, but he just remained where he was.
“Let us continue on then if we are done here” Damian finally spoke up and took point when the group moved forward. Just as they did Batman took a step forward, but instead of falling he simply faded into blackness, shortly followed by his family.
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