For once it wasn’t any of the Gotham resident crazies. Not Two-Face or Killer Croc or even the Joker, just a seemingly freak accident. Bruce had been working in his office at Wayne Enterprises when he got the news. His secretary, Pamela, had come in without knocking, breathless and pale, and before Bruce could even ask her what was wrong, she had announced that there had been a gas leak and explosion in central Gotham. It had affected Gotham Academy, she gasped, and a part of Gotham High.
Bruce had immediately abandoned his work. He didn’t hear what else Pamela said to him, didn’t hear Lucius or his other coworkers call out after him; all he heard was the blood rushing in his ears and the frantic beat of his heart. Gotham Academy and Gotham High. Damian and Tim. His sons. His youngest sons. Oh god.
By the time he made it to his car, his mind was whirring with worst case scenarios. Dead children caught in rubble, covered in blood and dust, an echo of Jason — Stop. Bruce shook himself. Stop. Thinking like that isn’t going to help you. Stop it. He floored it to central Gotham, mind blank the rest of the drive, breaking a number of traffic laws.
When he arrived at the schools, he nearly fell to his knees, shocked at the damage that met his eyes.
Both schools were damaged far more than he thought they would be. Gotham Academy was all but leveled, and firefighters and other first responders worked to put out remainders of fires as ambulance drivers and paramedics stood anxiously to the side, waiting for the all-clear to rescue remaining children.
The damage to Gotham High was less extreme, having not been in the gas leak itself but rather just in range of the explosion. The west side of the building seemed most affected, the roof having completely collapsed, and the walls having been blown apart. Bruce recognized this part of the building as where the gymnasium was, and desperately hoped Tim had been in biology or trigonometry or some equally boring class when this had happened. Damian, on the other hand. . . Gotham Academy was all but rubble; how any kids would still be alive would have to be a miracle. . .
A cacophony of young voices snapped Bruce out of his dark thoughts, and he watched as children emerged from behind Gotham High. Most of them were high schoolers, unharmed but shaken, but some were younger students, uniformed elementary and middle schoolers covered in soot and tears, all clearly from Gotham Academy. Bruce’s heart leapt with hope when he saw them — maybe Damian was among the group. But all he saw he saw were white faces; Damian’s prominent bronze skin tone was nowhere to be seen. His heart dropped more, but he began to search for Tim as well, small and thin and all too breakable. He watched as the children gathered in a tight circle nearby, surrounded by teachers and paramedics, and made to step forward, but was stopped by an arm across his chest.
“Sir,” a woman said, and Bruce realized a police officer had stopped him from going forward, even as other police officers set up a makeshift perimeter around the scene and stopped others from rushing forward. Bruce recognized one of the bystanders as a fellow parent, the mother of a girl in Damian’s class, and barely heard the officer’s words to him.
“Sir, I’m sorry but you can’t come in here,” she said. “It isn’t safe.”
“My sons—” Bruce began, but the officer interrupted him.
“Once we secure the scene and account for the all of the children’s whereabouts and well-being, we’ll allow them to come to you if they are able. But you can’t come in here.”
It took all of Bruce’s willpower not to shove the police officer aside.
Bruce whirled and saw Jim Gordon walking towards the makeshift perimeter the police had created, a deep and worried frown on his face. He already seemed upset and troubled, which was not a good sign.
“Jim,” Bruce greeted, “have you seen my sons?”
“I haven’t seen or spoken to any of the children yet,” Gordon said, shaking his head, “but a number of them have been rescued and taken to a safe spot nearby for evaluation.” Gordon dropped his voice. “Bruce, the damage here is catastrophic. I haven’t seen a thing like this since No Man’s Land.”
Bruce winced at the mention of the abandoned Gotham and swallowed against his dry throat.
“When can I see my kids?” he asked, and Gordon sighed. He turned to Detective Montoya, who was standing next to him, and she whispered something to him as she handed him a megaphone. With a crackle, the megaphone came to life and Gordon spoke into it, garnering everyone’s attention.
“Parents and worried bystanders,” he said, voice loud and booming, “this is Police Commissioner James Gordon speaking. I know you are all very concerned for the safety of your children, as am I, but the damage here is dangerous and unstable. In order to minimize casualties and maximize rescue efforts, I am asking all of you to stay outside the police-mandated perimeter. As of now, the explosion seems to have come from a gas leak and no known terrorist threats haven been made, but the GCPD will continue to investigate.” Hushed murmurs rose up from behind Bruce and he spared a glance over his shoulder, eyes wide; hundreds of people had gathered in the few minutes since he had arrived, most of them terrified parents and guardians.
“Where’s my daughter?” a man cried suddenly, and the question was echoed in different forms by fearful parents and relatives alike, some angry, some frustrated, but most just afraid.
Gordon tried to regain some semblance of control but was quickly drowned out by the voices of the crowd, their fear taking over the logic to listen.
Until Harvey Bullock stepped up and grabbed the megaphone.
“LISTEN UP!” he shouted, and his voice was so loud the speaker crackled and split, causing the people in the front to wince and clap their hands over their ears. “I know you’re all worried about your kids but we’ve gotta check on ‘em first, got it? Not to scare you but we’ve got a lotta hurt ones—”
“Harvey!” Gordon hissed.
“Mostly minor injuries,” Harvey corrected himself, “but we still gotta check ‘em out and make sure they’re okay before they can go home. We also have to know who got out of the schools and who’s still inside so we hafta account for every kiddo here, okay? That way we know who Search and Rescue has still gotta find.” Someone sobbed in the crowd and Harvey winced. “I’m sorry,” he said, voice softening, “I know this is awful, but you have to be patient. We’ll try everything to get your children back to you safely. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.”
He handed the megaphone back to Gordon, who clapped him on the shoulder before taking his place and pulling out a notepad.
“If any of you have high schoolers or middle schoolers, they were less effected by the blast than the elementary school,” he announced. Sobs and relieved sighs echoed amongst the crowd but were quickly hushed so Gordon could continue speaking. “Many of them are currently being seen by the paramedics and most are unharmed. Once we collect the names of these students, they will be released to you.” Gordon took a deep breath and Bruce saw how his hands trembled against the notepad he was holding. “The elementary school at Gotham Academy was the most heavily affected in the explosion and a number of classrooms have been completely destroyed. There are teachers and children who are severely injured from these classrooms and have already been transferred to Gotham General for emergency care.”
It fell silent suddenly, like the dead, and all that was heard from among the crowd were the few sniffles of parents and the rapid sound of fingers on phones as people began to text the news to loved ones. From far away, but also far too close, came the wails of ambulances, and Bruce couldn’t help but fear one of his children lay dying in it.
There was a strange man’s voice, suddenly, next to his ear, asking Gordon a terrifying question and holding a microphone up to his face.
“How many children have died?” he asked, and the crowd screamed then — in fear, in outrage, in terror, in what else Bruce wasn’t sure. Before Gordon could answer Bruce grabbed the man — a tabloid reporter he vaguely recognized — and shoved him away.
“What the hell?” he snarled, voice coming dangerously close to his Batman growl. “What kind of question is that?”
“A logical one,” the man said, rubbing his arms where Bruce had shoved him. “Not everyone can survive an explosion like this, Mr. Wayne. Surely some people will have to die.”
“Have to die? Have to die?” Bruce felt his vision going black around the edges, his hands curling into trembling fists. “We’re talking about children, not cows meant for slaughter!”
“Of course not,” the reporter said, “but both cows and children die, don’t they, Mr. Wayne?”
Bruce Wayne, playboy billionaire, was going to punch this reporter in the face, fuck it all. Comparing children to animals was unacceptable, even for a scumbag like a tabloid reporter.
Before he had a chance to even get into a proper stance, though, a young man about his own height with black hair and an ugly leather jacket punched the reporter right in the jaw with one of the finest left hooks Bruce had ever seen. The man howled and fell like a sack of potatoes. The photographer he was with scampered off hardly a moment later, not wanting to meet the same fate, leaving the now-moaning reporter alone with the mass of angry parents and guardians.
The young man who had punched the reporter turned and Bruce felt all the anger leave his body in one fell swoop.
“Jason,” he breathed.
For once, Jason didn’t roll his eyes or scoff or make some sarcastic comment, but simply stepped up to Bruce and wrapped him in a brief, one-armed hug.
“I came as soon as I heard,” he said. “I called the others too, since I figured you were too busy freaking out to tell them about it. Dick should get to Gotham by eight at the latest. Cass is flying back from Hong Kong already.”
“Thank you, Jay,” Bruce said; it was true, in his haste to find out about Tim and Damian he had completely forgotten to tell the rest of the family about what had happened. He’d probably feel guilty about it later, but right now he was too worried about his youngest sons to care.
“So, what did they say?” Jason asked, peering around Gordon and the dispersing cops to the rubble of the school beyond. He winced a bit, recalling some long-forgotten memory, and fought down the shiver that crept up his spine. “Why are we all out here instead of looking for the kids?”
“They have to do a headcount,” Bruce explained, “to figure out who’s missing and who’s injured, that sort of thing. Make sure all the children are accounted for. If we all go traipsing in there, it will be harder to know who’s missing in the rubble.”
Jason hummed in understanding. He stood quietly next to Bruce for a while until he could no longer stand his surrogate father’s silent brooding, turning instead to the woman beside him. She was in her 30s, blonde and petite, and was wearing leggings and an over-large sweatshirt printed with the Gotham Knights logo. She was wringing her hands anxiously, nails leaving bloody half-moons in her skin. She seemed vaguely familiar to Jason, though he couldn’t quite place her.
“Hey,” Jason greeted quietly, and allowed a reassuring smile to tug at his lips. “Are you all right, ma’am?”
The woman jumped, startled at being spoken to, before nodding quickly and putting on a fake smile.
“Oh, yes, yes, I’m fine. Just waiting for my daughter.”
“I’m waiting for my little brothers,” Jason offered. “Their names are Tim and Damian. What’s your daughter’s name?”
“Carter,” the woman answered without looking at Jason.
“How old is she?”
“Ten.” She paused. “How old are your brothers?”
“Tim is seventeen. Damian is ten too, like your daughter.”
“So, one was at Gotham High and the other at Gotham Academy?”
“Yep,” Jason said, popping the ‘p’ and putting his hands in his jacket pockets. He rocked on his heels, keeping a careful eye on both Bruce and the brutal scene beyond the police perimeter. Bruce was so tense he was about to snap in half, and it wouldn’t surprise Jason if the man ran past the perimeter if he even caught so much as a glimpse of Tim or Damian. But he also felt that he had a duty to comfort this woman standing next to him, for she was alone and was tearing her skin to shreds.
“I’m Jason, by the way,” he said, “and this is my old man, Bruce.”
As Jason introduced them, the woman turned and blinked at them, and her vision seemed to clear. For some reason as she gazed at Jason and Bruce, she paled even more.
“Oh, Mr. Wayne, Mr. Todd!” she said. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t recognize you right away!”
Bruce, however, wasn’t listening, his eyes scanning the ruined buildings and crowds of children for signs of his own. The woman flushed in embarrassment, but Jason hastened to reassure her.
“It’s okay, B is just worried.”
“I understand.” The woman’s eyes moved to a group of children surrounded by cops, the sound of a little boy crying piercing in the air. She sighed when she realized it wasn’t her daughter. “I never thought I’d want to hear my daughter cry before, Mr. Todd.”
“Hm,” Jason hummed, then paused. After a moment, he spoke. “Excuse me, but how do you know my last name?”
“Wayne Enterprises holds a number of fundraisers for Gotham Academy and Gotham High every year,” the woman said. “All the parents are invited. You’re Mr. Wayne’s son and your brothers go to these schools; of course, you’ve been to the fundraisers. Naturally I’ve met you before.”
Jason couldn’t deny having been to these fundraisers — they were generally more enjoyable than the galas since there was more food and alcohol — but he couldn’t remember this woman. Nor did he particularly like being called Bruce’s son by a stranger. (Their relationship was still strained, but it was definitely healing. Far be it for a stranger to label it, though.)
The woman laughed lightly after a moment, the sound forced.
“Damian is also in my daughter’s class,” she said, and everything clicked in Jason’s mind. Why she was so familiar, why she knew them. Her daughter Carter was that curly-haired brat in Damian’s class who picked on him nearly every day, the one who started all sorts of nasty rumors about him being a terrorist or something. Ugh. Of fucking course, he was standing next to that girl’s mother.
Bruce had met her a few times at the principal’s office concerning Carter and Damian, as had Dick, and Jason had met her once at a PTA meeting he had crashed for the fancy snacks. She had been rude to him, so he filed away her face, but he never thought he’d see her at such an important time.
Jason spoke to Bruce, saying something loudly in Spanish, but did not look away from the woman, carefully gauging her reaction. When Bruce responded in Spanish as well, a look of shock crossed the woman’s features, underlined by what Jason recognized as disgust. And that explained why Carter bullied Damian. Kids weren’t born racist assholes; they were raised that way.
Jason scoffed in derision and turned away from Carter’s mother, looking back at the ruined school buildings. The fires had been put out, allowing all the paramedics to rush onto the scene and care for those who were unable to leave the building on their own. The firefighters were now also free to care for the injured and help with search and rescue, calling the names of children anxious teachers had already pointed out as missing.
Jason was relieved to see that a great many number of students were milling around one of the larger ambulances and firetrucks, being triaged by first responders and interviewed by the police. High school students had taken it upon themselves to usher around the smaller, more terrified elementary and middle schoolers, their arms wrapped around the kids’ plaster and smoke-covered shoulders. It was a strong, silent show of support that both broke and strengthened Jason’s heart. Gotham’s kids had always been so strong. . . Stronger than they should have to be. . .
Jason’s eyes flicked to Bruce, whose gaze was also fixated on the group of children holding onto each other. His grey-blue eyes flicked from student to student, searching anxiously for signs of his youngest children, even as his face remained impassive, the only signs of anxiety the downturn of his lips and the deep frown lines around his eyes. Jason scooted closer to him, shoulder to shoulder, but didn’t say anything; there was nothing to say. Neither of them would appreciate any empty platitudes or comforts now anyway.
So, they stood in silent vigil, waiting for any sign of Tim or Damian.