Author: HeyBats PM
My version of the JLunlimited story "The Once & Future Thing", complete with BMWW shippinessRated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - Chapters: 11 - Words: 51,775 - Reviews: 84 - Favs: 85 - Follows: 7 - Updated: 01-21-05 - Published: 12-15-04 - Status: Complete - id: 2173711
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Epilogue – Outside the Wall
Terry found Bruce a little after 3 a.m. staring eastwards from the patio. He didn't say anything as he approached, electing instead to silently offer a bottle of water. Bruce accepted it without comment, taking a long swig. Terry couldn't think of anything to say so the two men continued staring eastwards, both thinking about the man who'd sacrificed himself to save their lives as well as the denizens of Metropolis.
Terry stole a quick glance at the bigger man. It was still a shock to see Bruce so young, especially since he'd never seen him wear the cape and cowl. While his own black costume admittedly created an aura of mystery about the Tomorrow Knight, Terry inwardly shivered when he realized just how imposing Bruce had been during his prime. 'History comes alive,' Terry thought with a pang of regret, knowing that with Dick's death and Bruce's imminent departure, he'd soon be left on his own to carry on the legacy of the Bat.
He thought long and hard about his future as the wind whipped around him, then stole a second glance at Bruce, hoping the man might finally share his grief over Dick's death. His expression was still stoic but the corner of his mouth betrayed a grim expression. As long as Terry had known him, he realized that from what was visible of Bruce's expression under the cowl, it was obvious that Bruce felt a sense of loss as painful as his own.
Electing to enjoy the silence for another moment, Terry tried to focus on Dick's vitality and his love of life. No matter how hard he tried to pull on a happy memory, his sense of loss was still too profound to gain any comfort from those thoughts. He pulled off his cowl as the tears streamed down his face. Bruce turned and saw the tears but didn't offer any platitudes or provide comfort, silently passing the water bottle back to Terry. A choked laugh escaped from Terry's mouth when he realized that the gesture was Bruce's own way of offering comfort.
Wiping away the tears, Terry finally elected to break the silence, knowing that Bruce wouldn't say a word unless he was provoked. "He was a great man." Terry noted lamely. He rolled his eyes that he couldn't think of something more poignant to say, then decided to clear his lungs with some of the cold winter air, pulling the air deeply into his lungs until he'd regained his composure. "Taught me a lot in a short time."
"He was the best thing I ever did with my life." Bruce replied curtly. "Seeing him… crippled was tough but watching him die a few hours later was more than I bargained for. The hardest thing will be going back to my time, knowing all of this is going to happen."
"You could change it…" Terry replied quickly but Bruce cut him off before he could get any further.
"You and I both know that tampering with history is a recipe for disaster." Bruce muttered into the wind, trying to convince himself as well as Terry that he was right. Pulling off his own cowl, Bruce turned to face the man who would pick up his mantle sometime in the future.
"I seemed to have chosen a pretty good replacement." He observed grudgingly.
Terry nodded, appreciating the compliment, no matter how poorly it was delivered. He turned to face Bruce, steeling himself as he locked his eyes with Bruce's. "You gave me a hell of a legacy all right. Money, Power. An insider's view of how the world really works. Problem is, I have no interest in doing it anymore. Earlier tonight I told Dick this would be my last day wearing the cowl. I have no intent on reneging on a promise I've made to a dead man."
Bruce was taken aback. "You're quitting? Do you have a replacement?"
Terry shook his head.
"Who's going to be Batman?"
Terry turned and strode back into the building, then hesitated as he called over his shoulder, "Maybe you should have picked somebody else."TTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT
Their departure from the Watchtower was bittersweet but Batman, Diana and the Green Lantern known as John Stewart knew that if they lingered any longer, the opportunity to learn more about their futures might prove overwhelming. In order to avoid any possibility of learning more about their own futures, it was imperative that they leave as soon as possible.
It was four in the morning on New Year's Day as the group assembled onto the transporter pad. Micron had demonstrated his technical wizardry by integrating Booster Gold's time machine into the transporter power supply in short order, leaving little for Bruce to worry about. He made a cursory show of inspecting Micron's work, but given his lack of familiarity with the new technology, Bruce realized that he would just have to trust that the man knew what he was doing.
In the corner, Lantern and Warhawk made small-talk as they waited for Micron to finalize the last touches on integrating the time machine with the power supply. Desperately, they spent their last moments together trying to talk about everything that seemed important. They would always run up against the frustrating wall of history at every turn of their conversation, forcing them to limit the depths of their conversation.
Like all fathers and sons, their conversation quickly focused on their favorite sports, basketball for John Stewart and football for Warhawk. They found commonality in their likes and dislikes of teams (they both hated the Yankees), ribbing each other about Pistons and Eagles fans (still known for being among the most abusive even in 2055) while they debated whether the Cubs would ever win the Series.
Across the room, Barda and Diana talked about Themyscira. Diana even offered up an invitation to visit the island "in the future" but immediately regretted saying the words when Barda's expression clouded.
Thankfully, Micron announced the time machine was ready. Lantern-Ro retrieved Chronos from his holding cell and positioned the prisoner on the transporter pad, holding him as the Leaguers exchanged their final farewells. In addition to the plasma energy bubble, as a precaution Chronos was still tightly wrapped in Diana's lasso. Given his deteriorating mental condition, it was doubtful whether he could even manage an escape even if his suit was working. He was literally frothing at the mouth, incoherently babbling that he and the Leaguers were dead from the explosion and they were now in some kind of purgatory.
Staring at Chronos, Terry suddenly had an epiphany. The three Leaguers had almost taken their station on the pad when Terry loudly yelled out, "Wait a second," over his shoulder, departing the teleportation room at a full sprint. A minute later, he returned with two metallic headbands he placed over Batman and Chronos's heads.
"We use these field dampeners to protect ourselves from psychic attacks. They might prevent you from going crazy in the teseract." Terry noted.
"Who says I didn't already?" Bruce replied with a smirk, then signaled Micron to engage the time machine.
The three Leaguers and the criminal known as Chronos vanished into the teseract.
Terry blinked in surprise that they'd dematerialized so quickly then shrugged his shoulders with resignation, realizing he had one more task to complete before he could return home. The rest of the JLU looked at him expectantly. Gravely, he looked at his comrades then motioned them to follow him. "Can you all please join me in the conference room? There's something important I'd like to discuss."TTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT
As Micron had promised, Bruce, Diana, John and Chronos materialized on the pad five minutes after they'd departed in March, 2005. Superman and Flash were still standing next to the teleporter when they arrived.
"What happened?" Superman started to ask, then spied Chronos in their custody. "I see you've been busy. Care to tell us about it?"
"Later." Batman replied, then pointed to Chronos. "Can you take him to the infirmary? He went insane. J'onn may want to see if he can help him out with a telepathic link."
"What did you do to him?" Superman asked as Chronos started babbling about bombs, Armageddon and other apocryphal predictions about their impending demise.
"Turns out time travel affects people in different ways…some go insane forever, others just for a few minutes." Diana replied gravely, then turned to Batman. "What about you? That headband help?"
"I'm fine." Batman replied, tossing it onto the control pad next to him. Not waiting to hang around any longer, he started making strides towards the hangar bay. "I think I'll take a Javelin back to the Manor, though."
"Isn't there something else you'd like to discuss?" Diana asked him, astonished that he was walking away without the slightest acknowledgment of what they'd just gone through.
"I'll file the mission report if you want." Batman replied over his shoulder, then disappeared around the corner.
Diana's face reddened with anger. She was about to pursue Bruce down the corridor to give him a piece of her mind but Lantern stepped in front of her before she could take flight. "Give him a day or two, Diana. He probably needs to think about things. After all, a lot happened."
Still upset, Diana stared hard at John for a moment, her expression informing him that interfering with an angry Amazon might interfere with his desire to retain all of his teeth, then she backed down. Diana took a deep breath, blew it out icily, expelling some of her rage. "I told him 150 years ago that I was through playing his games, John. I think that promise still holds true today."
Diana turned and walked to the residential quarters. John watched her walk away, regretting that he wasn't able to help his two teammates cross the seemingly insurmountable divide between them. He paused at the console, made a quick phone call, then flew at full speed to Shayera's quarters two levels down.
He pounded on the door for a few minutes before she opened it. Her red hair was all askew and her eyes showed that she'd been sleeping deeply. "This better not be a booty-call, John. I'm not in the mood!"
"No, it's not a booty call." He grinned then entered the room. "Remember a few years back when you and I were talking about what the child of a Thanagarian and a human would turn out like? You're never going to guess who I just met…."TTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT
Bruce piloted the Javelin-8 into the Cave's hangar bay. Deftly, he touched the craft down next to the Batwing already parked on the pad then shut down the engines. He instructed the computer to perform a post-flight diagnostic then unstrapped himself from the pilot's chair.
He strode back to the hatch then triggered the exit ramp. The hydraulics opened the ramp underneath the cockpit with a whoosh. Batman strode down the ramp and to his surprise, found Alfred waiting by the computer. Even by his normal nocturnal standards, it was rare for the butler to be up at four in the morning.
"A successful mission, sir?" Alfred inquired, handing over a cup of coffee.
Bruce accepted the coffee gratefully then wearily plopped into the chair in front of the computer.
"What are you doing up at this hour, Alfred?" Bruce asked, concerned that something had occurred in Gotham during his absence.
"Mr. Stewart called the Manor…thought you might be in a talkative mood." Alfred replied loftily. "I asked him if it was April's Fools Day already but he insisted I be ready for your arrival."
Bruce stared at the monitor in response, trying to decide the best way to explain what happened. Not comfortable with the answer, he bought himself more time by peeling off the gauntlets and cowl, placing them on the back of the chair. "It was…interesting." Bruce replied darkly. He sat back in the chair then grimaced as something was pinching his lower back. He leaned forward in the chair then removed his belt to determine the cause of his discomfort.
The 'spectrometer' Dick handed him was wedged tightly in the storage compartment where he'd secured it before dropping onto the rooftop a few hours before. Bruce removed it, puzzled as to its origin, then remembered that he'd put it in the belt right before he and Terry had initiated their search for Chronos.
Alfred studied it for a moment. "New gadget, sir?"
"A…friend…gave this to me in 2054. Told me it was a spectrometer." Bruce replied with a frown. "Forgot I had it in my belt…I didn't have any use for it on the mission."
He studied the spectrometer a little more closely, realizing in his haste to jump onto the building that he hadn't really taken the time to determine how it worked. Only a few inches length-wise, the object was rectangular in shape, covered with a metallic coating. Perplexed, Bruce placed it on the scanner next to the keyboard to see if the computer might identify its purpose. Before he could verbalize his instructions, a small opening suddenly appeared on the side of the box. A cable snaked out for a few inches then plunged downwards into the computer console, drilling bits of metal out of the way as it searched for the target it had been programmed to find.
Bruce sprang from his chair and hustled Alfred away from the computer, shielding him from the small bits of flying debris with his cape. He uncorked a batarang, cocking his wrist to unleash it before the machine could wreak any more havoc. Bruce was about to let the batarang fly when Dick's older image suddenly filled up the screen.
"Bruce, if you're watching this, then my little science experiment has been a success."
"My word." Alfred gasped as he realized he was looking at an older version of Dick Grayson.
"I apologize for the way my machine has probably taken over your equipment but I don't think there's any right way to do this." Dick began. "I'm recording this in what Terry and I refer to as 'Diana's grotto'…" The camera zoomed back to reveal Diana's statue then panned around the room. Dick's voice continued as camera explored the grotto. "You just told me on the flight here to the Cave that if there's something you need to know, we should think about whether it might jeopardize our futures before we tell you."
The camera zoomed back to focus on Dick, revealing the hoverchair. Alfred gasped audibly, then covered his mouth when he realized the future Dick Grayson was a paraplegic.
"I don't have much time so I'm going to tell you what you need to know. In four years, a cyborg synthesis of Darkseid and Brainiac will attack the Earth. July, 2009. He'll kill Diana, Lantern, Hawgirl and half the League. I'll end up in this chair in the aftermath of the battle."
"NO!" Bruce recoiled in horror, tearing his eyes from the screen to glance at Alfred. "It can't be… they were killed when that asteroid blew up…"
"The League and the Bat-clan never recovered." Dick continued on the screen, his face paling with emotion as he described the aftermath. "You basically gave up being Bruce Wayne after that. The Bat pretty much took over to be honest. You always denied it but Diana's death affected you more than you would ever let on."
"I don't tell you all of these things for my sake," Dick stated flatly, anticipating Bruce would try and determine the motive. "I can live my life in a wheelchair. There are fates worse than that. The thing I can't abide is seeing you live out the rest of your days as a bitter, lonely old man. You'll even manage to recruit a new Batman but he's not working out as a long term fit for the job."
"He already quit." Bruce muttered at the screen, then shook his head, trying to remember the events in the Cave a few hours before. "When did Dick have time to make this?"
Dick was about to start speaking again to the camera when he was interrupted by a buzzing comm link on his chair. Bruce could hear Terry's voice paging Dick in the background, informing him that they were returning to Metropolis. Dick touched the button on his chair and calmly replied. "I'll be right there."
He gazed back at the camera one last time. "You'll probably try and figure out a way to bury this someplace nobody will ever see it again. I hope for your sake that Bruce Wayne will make the decision instead of Batman. Whatever happens, I'll know that I at least tried to help. I am after all, your son. I love you."
The screen blanked out a moment later. Bruce and Alfred stared at each other, stunned by the information Dick Grayson had provided. Neither one of them spoke, instead focusing on the cable which withdrew back into the shell of the metal casing.
"Clever man." Alfred noted. "Spectrometer?"
"His timing was flawless," Bruce replied dryly. "I never thought twice about taking it. He knew if I suspected he was trying to send a message back in time with me I never would have accepted it."
"You trained him well." Alfred observed with a grin, then his face turned serious. "The question is, what are you going to do with the information?"
"What can I do?" Bruce replied, slamming his fist down onto the console in frustration. "If I change the future then I might be inviting an even bigger disaster farther down the line."
"How would you go about trying to stop Brainiac from rebuilding himself?" Alfred asked, "Hypothetically speaking of course."
"Probably request some of the Lantern Corp to sweep that sector where the asteroid exploded." Bruce replied mechanically. "Have them round up any man-made objects strewn around the debris field then deposit them into the nearest black-hole."
"I suggest you make that call tomorrow." Alfred replied earnestly.
"It's too dangerous." Bruce protested. "I don't think it's up to me to play God."
"You already played God once," Alfred argued. "When you stopped Superman from finishing off Darkseid once and for all."
"I was saving him from certain death." Bruce replied defensively.
"Then save Diana from certain death as well." Alfred replied angrily. "Look at that grotto or whatever Dick called it. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life gazing at a statue when the real thing is but a phone call away?"
"I can't Alfred." Bruce replied, resigned to his fate. "The mission…"
"The mission be damned!" Alfred replied furiously. "The mission won't last another fifty years. You've already admitted your replacement quit the job."
Bruce didn't have a reply for that but by the set of his jaw Alfred could still see he was determined to ignore Dick's warning. Disgusted, Alfred turned on his heels to make his way out of the Cave. He'd reached the first step when he decided to make one last, desperate attempt to appeal to Bruce's humanity.
"You've always asked me about whether or not your parents would approve of all of this." He swept his arm around the Cave. "I've always replied that your parents would be proud of your attempts to bring justice to Gotham where before there was only decay and neglect. They would be proud of that, I'm sure."
Alfred took a deep breath then continued. "But if they knew that your obsession with the mission meant you would ignore the love of a woman like Diana…that you would prefer to gaze upon a statue instead of spending your remaining days filled with hope instead of bitterness. I don't think they would be proud of that. In fact, I think they would be disgusted."
Bruce absorbed the message with his chin resting on his hands then settled back into his chair one more time before he turned away to face the computer. "Good night, Alfred."
Alfred pursed his lips and shook his head with despair, then spun on his heel back up the staircase to the Manor. "What a waste…"TTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT
Diana was sleeping in her quarters. In reality, she'd been tossing and turning in her bedroom on the Watchtower for a few hours when she heard the door slide open. She didn't turn around to check who it was, knowing that Bruce was the only one who could breach the security locks in the Watchtower.
"What do you want?" She growled towards his dark form. He paused, unsure of whether he should continue into the room, then steeled himself and pressed forward. The door closed behind him, leaving the two of them staring at each other in the dark.
Bruce strode across the room then paused at the foot of the bed. He waited for Diana to say something then realized the onus was on him to break the ice considering he'd broken into her room. "What are you doing awake?"
"Couldn't sleep." She replied angrily, propping herself up on the pillows. "I'll ask again, what do you want?"
"I wish I had an easy answer for that," he replied truthfully. His eyes had fully adjusted to the darkness of the room now. He could tell by the way she held the blanket tightly to her chest that she wasn't wearing anything underneath.
"Try anyway." Diana muttered wearily.
"Dick sent a message back with me." Bruce replied, peeling back the cowl as he sat down on the edge of her bed a few feet away from her.
"What did he say?"
"He revealed our futures." Bruce stated in a distracted tone Diana found unsettling.
"Anything I should be aware of?" Diana prodded helpfully.
"Do you remember the reasons I told you we shouldn't date?"
"Let's see," she replied, settling back on the pillows to tick off the reasons on her fingers. "Team dynamics, for one. I'm immortal and you have issues. Last but not least, some of your bad guys may try and pick a fight with me to get you angry. Am I missing anything?"
Bruce's eyes narrowed a moment as he realized she was making game of him. "That pretty much covers it."
"What does that have to do with Dick's message?"
"It turns out the immortal part might not be as important as I once thought." He replied.
"I could have told you that," She shot back. "Or didn't you see what Mongul managed to do to me in the Fortress?"
"I was there," He reminded her. "Somehow I've always been convinced that being immortal meant that you couldn't die."
Her eyes flashed at his words. "Something happens to us in the future? Barda wouldn't tell me but I knew from the way she acted my future was…uncertain."
"Does that bother you?"
"Why should it?" she asked rhetorically. "It's not as if I ever really believed I'd live forever. There's always going to be some metahuman or a vengeful God around who's stronger or faster. When I meet them, then my time on Earth will be up. That's why I asked you to honor Dick's memory by making use of whatever time we have left."
"I never answered your question." Bruce replied.
"I'm painfully aware of that." Diana replied with a weary sigh.
He didn't reply but instead slipped off the gauntlets then reached out to grab her hand. Surprised, Diana shifted towards him on the bed. The movement caused the covers to spill off her, revealing her naked form underneath. He brought his other hand up to stroke her cheek then moved into her, grazing her lips with his own.
"I thought you were worried that I make you weak." Diana whispered as they pulled back a few inches to stare into each other's eyes.
"That might not be such a bad thing." He replied softly, then pulled her to him again. "But I'm not afraid anymore."
Author Note: The animated version of The Once & Future Thing debuts Saturday, January 22nd. By all accounts, with the exception of the fact that my story has the 3 heroes going back in time to "the Old West" then forward in time to meet Batman Beyond and that JLU, there will probably be very little in common between the stories.
I do not know if Warhawk is indeed John Stewart and Shayera Hol's son. There's been some pretty strong speculation about it on a few chat boards, so I incorporated that sub-plot into the story. At the end of the day though, it doesn't really matter as the whole point of the story is to entertain.
Thanks go to Princess Paulasj for her beta, plot suggestions and continual prodding to complete this fic. I told her back in September about my plans to write this story when I read the CN episode summary, then stared at it for about 3 months with trepidation, knowing that it would be hard to write with all the sub-plots of time paradoxes etc. Hopefully it all made sense to you as the readers.
All many thanks go to the readers who reviewed the story along the way and kept me motivated with their encouragement. At the end of the day, a writer has to find the desire to write from within, but a little positive feedback from the audience certainly motivates the writer to write more quickly.
I will now spend the weekend with a physical therapist to get the cramps out of my hands from all this typing! Just kidding…