The Broken Glass Eulogy
Disclaimer: The characters portrayed herein do not belong to me. They are the brainchildren of various individuals, all coming under the collective umbrella of DC comics. Some of the peripheral characters mentioned in passing do belong to me, but, realistically, if you've read this far, you know exactly who is whom.
Batman wasted no time demanding explanations or insisting on answers. Detective that he was, the vast majority of them were either blatantly obvious to him, or readily becoming so.
A glance at Nightwing's controlled panic and it was simple for Batman to deduce that his squire, the third to hold that role, was currently buried under several tons of twisted metal and concrete, the shattered fragments of which seemed to loom menacingly through the clouds of dust kicked up by the building's collapse. The boy's presence explained the relative paucity of Ubu guards very neatly; while he and Nightwing had snuck past a large number, his junior partner had obviously felt it faster to go through the opposition rather than around. That was unsurprising; if he'd arrived after the alarm was already raised then there would have been no point to stealth. //And he's an excellent combatant.//
The debris currently burying him wasn't necessarily a problem. The boy had, Batman knew, been in worse situations and knew well how to use the relative shelter of spars and struts and support beams to provide at least a modicum of protection in those instances; even while they were in the process of collapsing the angle and vector of their fall could be estimated and a safe-site chosen. //Assuming he was physically able to move himself under something that could provide such a shield.//
The rapidly spreading pool of Lazarus Pit fluid - rendered more or less inert now that it was no longer centered over, and concentrated on, the magnetic fluxes that had imbued it with its remarkable healing properties – now that was substantially more of a problem. //He's at risk of drowning before we get to him, if the level rises anymore.// Grimly, Batman ignored the thought of what he'd do if his live squire had fallen into the Pit while it was still active. He ignored the seemingly out-of-proportion distress emanating from his adoptive son. //Nightwing's acting like Robin's dead, not just buried.// Grimly, determinedly, and perhaps a little desperately, he opted not to look too closely at the ideas that that little thought raised. He'd seen nothing to believe Robin was not in the best of health, and only Nightwing's cries implied the younger boy was in fact in attendance.
Plus there was that other, not-insignificant issue.
Namely, it had been a rocket, specifically a surface-to-air missile, that had started the whole building-collapse in the first place. He had seen the three Ubu guards who'd done the launching, and he couldn't reconcile their cool collectedness and efficient professionalism with the enormous margin by which they'd missed what seemed to be their intended target, himself. Assuming, of course, that he had in fact been what they'd been aiming for. The more he contemplated it, the less likely it seemed. //The Ubu – particularly those who accompany their master out of the desert and across the oceans - are slavishly loyal, well-trained professionals. Which begs the question of what threat, exactly, did they identify and aim at?//
An instant later, he had his answer.
//The Young Justice vehicle??!// Grimly, he recalled Nightwing telling him how it had found Robin at Wayne Manor a number of weeks ago and whisked him off for some hours before taking him – apparently unharmed – to a Young Justice team meeting. After a surreptitious scan of the Boy Wonder had shown both no injuries and no obvious tracking devices (other than his own), and with no way of proving the boy hadn't summoned it himself, Batman had uneasily left it at that: asking J'onn Jonnz to do a mental scan for tracers on such a traumatized and brutalized mind as Robin now owned would be an exercise in utter agony for both the Martian telepath and his human subject for what had seemed, at the time, to be minimal yield. Now, though, as he realized the Supercycle had obviously turned up for a reason apparent only to itself but doubtless facilitated by such a device, he questioned the wisdom of his decision.
This One had been unshaken by the debris and destruction. Truly, it was not a new phenomenon and in This One's existence it had encountered many such situations, though typically on a more . . . planetary scale. This one was somewhat gratified to see the two humans begin digging; obviously The Rider's friends, unidentifiable before, had now declared themselves. They would help him retrieve The Rider's corpse. They would know how he'd prefer memorial.
Then, This One was shaken to the very core as a sensitive sensor array detected a third life, flickering and sputtering, nearly extinct, that shuddered some twenty meters under densely packed materiel.
The speed with which This One hurtled towards that spark of life put previous efforts to shame. Phasing with reckless abandon even as medical attachments were readied and scanning continued, This One was determined. A second chance had been granted, and lost. This was the third. In the cosmic balance, there could be no more.
The Rider was alive. Resurrected, weak, and badly injured. But that tiny spark of existence, the one thing that the Supercycle could not create, no matter how well he could nurture and fan it, was there.
There. Limbs twisted into positions that could only be described as excruciating, and a batarang still protruding from between bandages hastily applied in a tattered attempt at first aid. But the worst was vacant eyes, staring into the depths of oblivion, while behind them a pulverized mind took yet another beating as Lazarus insanity surged against weak and tattered remnants of psychological programming that were propped up by the physical changes the Doctor had initiated to stabilize them. Adding intermittent spikes of agony - doing more harm than the good they had been placed for - were the splays of healing, both the clumsily-started boy's own, the subtle supercycle touches, and the even more subtle leftovers of some other power. The object, wound insidiously through the boy's mind and internalized into his very being, that had both stabilized him and hamstrung his healing – for better or worse – was gone. This, This One knew, was not a new thing. The relic had been removed before The Rider had attempted another disastrous rescue attempt, taken by the being whose power had called it her own, and whose mind-voice had labeled it a 'Hagoromo'. This One did not miss it now.
Without the relic's power interfering, The Rider's mind and excruciatingly slow healing efforts were unsupported.
Without the relic's power interfering, what spontaneous healing did take place was not necessarily directed towards the best outcome for The Rider.
But without the relic's power interfering, This One could heal The Rider of the Apokolips- and New Genesis-derived aspects of the Doctor's meddling with ease and simplicity. With the power provided by some sort of primitive regeneration pit – one that seemed to send its users temporarily insane, remarkably – This One could heal so much more.
Provided it could extract The Rider from his living burial.
Surprisingly, it was easier than This One had anticipated; The Rider, though twisted and buried, was still fully cocooned in the liquid that had filled the regeneration pit. Which, provided This One Could get to him before his new life force was snuffed out by drowning, would help substantially.
As would This One's ability to generate both the additive chemicals and energy fluxes that could take this restorative fluid from 'primitive and flawed, with potentially adverse long-term consequences' to 'medicinally advanced healing aid.'
An instant later, and the Cycle had phased around Robin and solidified. An instant after that and both the debris and the interfering body armor This One had by necessity phased in with his passenger had been expelled. Dimly audible above were shouts from The Rider's friends as the displacement of mass made the pile unstable. It seemed the shorter of the two was filling in his caped mentor, and a distant, radio-linked colleague, on the details of what had happened as they dug. After the tremors induced by phasing settled, the conversation rapidly turned to the acquisition of superpowered digging assistance.
That was fine with This One. The Rider was now naked, cocooned in what had been the passenger bay of This One's previous morphology. Now it was a rounded medi-bath, the fragile body within suspended in thick viscous liquid and coated with tubes and sensors and supportive medical devices that looked like some kind of bizarre body jewelry, but with a function much more crucial than mere adornment.
They were keeping the human's body alive, while in his head, the Supercycle directed all possible finesse to healing his mind.
The energy cost was enormous, and This One hoped that the other humans above would indeed send for a meta. This One would not be digging itself – themselves - out anytime soon. The work the cycle was undertaking was excruciatingly delicate, and to stop now to phase their way out would condemn the mind fragments, many raging against each other, to certain extinction.
Within that mind, a battered Unit Twenty fought against an equally battered Van. Without an overriding order from its master, the purest of the Twenty programming was directionless and inefficient. Unsurprising, really, as the Doctor had planned it so; he had wanted a vicious and inventive killer, but also one that could not be activated without his command. So the control programming, already damaged and deformed, flamed and battled incoherently.
Van wasn't doing much better; a new, fledging personality, it already had remarkable strength. But some of that strength came from the very elements of itself that waged so desperate a war of secession now.
Quietly, gently, the cycle gathered the other fragments, the portion that had, so long ago, been the essence of Tim Drake, Robin, secreted away in a tiny pocket of mind. Without the Hagoromo's light masking everything with its protection, the shards were easy to find. With the liberation of death and insanity, their incompleteness was apparent. It would be impossible to totally restore The Rider to the self he had been prior to his kidnapping.
But that, decided the cycle, was not necessarily a bad thing. To try and restore him fully would be to steal over a year of memories. Of pain and hurt, yes, but of hope and friendship as well. It would take his mental command of his body back to merely excellent, whereas now his combat skills – and the mind that could comfortably utilize them – was transcendent, and not all of those skills came from sheer experience. There would be enough of the original, however, in both the completely preserved fractions and the modified pieces of twenty, to ensure his intellect was in no way diminished.
The Cycle was a vehicle, but a battle vehicle none the less. To remove a warrior's ability was anathema to its own programming.
To remove the slavish control of a warrior was not.
Systematically, the Cycle stripped away Unit Twenty's command protocols. All of them, laid bare now without the Hagoromo to confuse the issue or the fledging personality of Van to accidentally try and save them in defense of its own healing.
In doing so, This One discovered a rare treasure, one that could be a two edged blade indeed. The cycle would have destroyed the find if it had shattered the protocols, broken down the walls erected by them with the anger it felt at The Rider's imprisonment and torture. But This One had learned; The Doctor was a wily adversary, and to break such walls could well do more harm than good. So dismantlement was in order instead, piecemeal removal of the blocks that were solid and unnervingly obvious – foreign within the mind - without shadow of a doubt and much more poorly integrated than This One had initially detected. The cycle wondered if, once again, this had been the work of the Hagoromo: Initially allow the blocks to stand, to promote survival of the entire organism, but subvert them, and subtly misdirect all examination of them such that they seemed utterly integrated when in reality, all it would take would be a little meddling of the highest order of finesse. . . Perhaps by the owner of the Hagoromo, at her leisure . . . But perhaps this was merely the outcome of partial healing by the regenerative Pit. It was a crude device after all, nowhere near the standard seen in New Genesis.
Behind one such wall was a large cache of memory. The Doctor's erasure seemed now to have been one of removal of access, of the forging of new neurological pathways and laying of false recollections and deep seated protocols. It had not been successful in destroying what lay at the end of the old paths, despite every effort, but merely the paths themselves. Gently the Cycle dissected out more gems of memory, of ability.
The mind was now as unstable as the Gotham Superbowl building above it. Gaping holes in its infrastructure, the fragmentation of self, rendered the mind quiescent, at least. At last all the pieces were free. A shining, glimmering collection of fragments, a giant jigsaw puzzle more complicated than any the world had ever seen.
Grimly, the cycle began matching the pieces together, trimming out the scraps of pit-induced insanity where it was possible, using them to support the other fragments where it was not. The insanity was a tool, one to integrate the mind, but the cycle used the pieced gingerly, placed in such a way that they would by necessity be expelled when the mind was complete. This One knew it would have to begin looking for a new Rider after this. The work it was doing required so much meticulous care, so much trust by the fragments that at some level the Rider would always trust that This One was doing the right thing. That would be a blunting of the Rider's ability for totally independent situational assessment that would not withstand a long time in the field. And This One was determined to get the Rider back into action. He – and to a lesser extent his world – deserved no less. Perhaps the small white-skinned one, he of the spiky black hair, called Li'l Lobo would require This One's help… He at least would be easy to track on this planet of mammals.
Under the cycle's auspices, the puzzle-mind grew, piece by agonizing piece.
It took mere minutes for Batman to decide to activate the special signal that he had used only twice before. Seconds after that, a familiar presence cloaked in red made his appearance. A brief, terse conversation, and Superman was tunneling down through the mound of rubble, massive hands alternately digging away debris as heat-shooting eyes melted and stabilized the tunnel walls.
He would not have been called had Batman been certain his protégé was both dead, and staying that way. But that naked hope in his and Nightwing's voices, carefully controlled and invisible to all who did not know them well, had been unbearable. There was too much collateral noise in the shifting rubble for Superman to be certain of hearing a human heartbeat, and too much lead (The Demon's Head was nothing if not paranoid) peppering the debris for him to see clearly.
So he came, and he dug, and he hoped Lois had the good sense to stay away from super-villains and the edges of tall buildings for at least the minutes it would take him to clear the debris. He thought of the Daily Planet, and of Luthor, and of anything but the possibility of finding his best friend's protégé reduced to a corpse.
Despite Batman's terse, complete briefing, he had not expected to encounter the supercycle so quickly. It was almost as though the machine had been summoning him, directing his digging with faint residues of power. Something to investigate later, perhaps. For now, the tattered shreds of costume outside the cycle and its conformational change told him all he needed to know to formulate his plan; extract the cycle, and break open the shell. Corpse or alive, the current heir to the Robin role was inside.
An instant later, as two uninvited metas made their appearance, it seemed as though all hell would break loose.
It did not, in fact, do so. Whether anticlimactic or not, common sense and long-standing teamwork-based familiarity prevailed when the tall woman in silver-blue armor and her shorter, red-dressed partner arrived.
Summoned by the distress flair of New Genesis technology, it was second nature for the happily married residents of a small white picket fence house in a very staid North American suburb – who were, purely incidentally, former inhabitants of Apokalips – to investigate that signal. Where previously an instruction from Granny Goodness or Darkseid himself would have almost certainly been for capture or destruction of the signal source (Supercycles were a rare breed, and while often uncontrollable by Apokalips standards, if they could be captured and 'broken' they were a formidable ally.) now, with independence, came a different perspective.
Superman, hands poised to peel open the shell of metal around where his hearing told him a human heart still beat, was stopped by a firm, feminine touch on his arm and a single word.
"Don't," Barda said simply, pulling his arm away. "The cycle is in its healing mode, and if you interfere now you may well kill whoever is inside."
Grateful for the insight, Superman subsided. Behind him, with rigid self-control nearly overridden by frustrated anguish, Batman ground out a single query;
"How long does 'healing mode' last?"
"Variable. The mode is directed by the site and extent of injury, and modified by any latent healing abilities of the subject's own." She allowed the last part of her sentence to rise slightly in a questioning manner. Batman chose to ignore it.
"Mental trauma? Neuroprogramming?"
"Difficult to say. A lot of it can be . . . removed, at least the cruder elements. However this is a combat search-and-rescue cycle, not a dedicated medical search cycle." Barda twitched slightly, recalling a number of times she herself had required the services of a similar device. But, truly, Scott had been the best healer of her mind, and the reason she'd broken her own controls was due to their love. That the remaining jagged edges of her programming had been smoothed by such a machine was almost incidental; the major healing was something she'd done herself. Say rather, that they'd done together. Whoever was inside doubtless had a different story and, from the way Batman was acting, it seemed likely a purely human background. Who could say, then, what a cycle would be able to do?
The answer came sooner than expected.
The jigsaw puzzle was complete – or as nearly so as This One would ever be able to get. Weakening, This One shifted focus towards the physical wounds. The lacerated heart and lung were easily fixed after the Batarang was removed, as was the fractured sternum and two ribs. For completeness' sake, the cycle siphoned a very, very little of The Rider's own energy for one final healing. The scars: Down the back, the marks of the peripheral programming and upgrading that the cycle had perforce left intact; the grisly souvenir of Robin's obedience to his protocols and Superboy's rescue of him from them engraved on his temple; jagged lines of pain and torture on wrists and ankles, all of them had caused The Rider anguish in their graphically visual reminder of pain, of failure and of agony. He would not miss them, and he would never need such macabre reminders.
When, and only when, The Rider's skin was as smooth as it had ever been, when even the scars gained as 'Robin' before his turn as 'Twenty' had been removed, did This One consider it's task complete.
This One was glad those outside the healing cocoon were friends; the Rider was weak, would remain so for some hours. He would need protection that This One was also too weakened now to provide.
For his part, Batman had debated fiercely – if only internally – whether or not to have Clark shift the cycle to the Batcave. Big Barda seemed to feel that as the cycle was, by definition, a mobile unit, it would be unlikely that moving it further would cause any particular deleterious effects, but still Batman found himself hesitating. A glance at his ex-partner recognized complete agreement; not only was allowing the cycle full 'knowledge' of where the cave was somewhat fraught, there was also the main issue at stake. Namely who - or what - the never before encountered combination of Lazarus Pit regeneration and New Genesisian supercycle medical science would resurrect.
The minutes passed in terse silence until, with a faint hiss, the side of the supercycle's converted medi-pod cracked open. A wash of fluid spilled out, cresting on the wave of it was the smallish, lithe figure of a human boy.
Slowly, shakily, he clambered to his feet, as unsteady as a newborn colt. Around him, two sets of muscles unconsciously tensed, awaiting a sentence, an action. Something that would make the answer to the burning question that wracked the batfamily. What was resurrected? Lazarus insanity? Unit twenty? Perhaps even Robin?
The boy looked up, blinking rapidly, trying to focus. Unmasked blue eyes, clear and summery, took in the world around them with lively intelligence before settling finally on the usually-menacing figure of the Batman. A faint grin twisted lips hesitantly, the muscles used for smiling long since fallen into disuse.
"Bru- Batman?" tentative and half-frightened, the boy looked to his mentor for reassurance. Nightwing let out a breath he hadn't quite realized he'd been holding as in front of him his little brother raised a shaky hand to his head, raking long tendrils of black hair away from his face with the unconscious gesture of habit.
The hand stopped suddenly as the blue eyes abruptly widened. Long fingers, slim and deft, probed the forehead they belonged to, running across the fragile temporal bones frantically.
"No . . .scar?" The boy pulled his arms in front of his eyes, inspected his pristine wrists, forearms, legs. "No scars at all?! Batman, what . . .? How …?" Unable to bear the boy's obvious distress, Barda stepped forward. Whoever this child was they'd rescued, it seemed that the Batman wasn't planning to alleviate his upset anytime soon. Quietly, she pulled off her cape, draped it over his shoulders.
"You're fine. You're safe now. What's your name, little one?"
"I. . . Tim. My name is Tim." He smiled with that, a sudden brilliant gift of sheer joy that lit up his eyes and seemed to transform his childlike face from handsome to transcendent. Nightwing had an instant to bask in the illumination of that smile, the utter, heartfelt delight of it. //It's going to be okay. It really is going to be okay!//
Then Tim Drake, Robin III, leader of Young Justice, Partner of the Batman, victor of any number of metahuman conflicts and survivor of many more, did the only thing that seemed sensible given the situation.
He fainted dead away.
Batman was there to catch him, to wrap his own cloak around the boy and hold him close.
Batman needs a Robin, Tim had told him so many years ago. As recent months could attest, he was very, very right, but the statement was not complete; Batman did need a Robin. But did he deserve one? There, in the ruins of the Gotham superbowl stadium, Bruce decided it was well past time he started earning one.
Please C+C. Puh-leeeze! Look at it this way; you guys C+C-ed, and in response to comments I wrote this as one chapter (a mammoth one, but still only one) instead of splitting it into two. See? Not only does it make me post, but sometimes I even change stuff because of it.
And you're right. It's not really 'The End", but end of this fic. I'm well aware I've yet to
a) detail what happened to Kaguya and the Shishou
b) expand on why Huntress is as ready to gut Robin as she is to look at him
c) get Tim reunited with his father and step-mother.
d) manage a little Batfamily bonding
But that's okay. The next twenty-verse fic, tentatively (very tentatively) titled 'Aftermath' will deal with that.