Title: Time Will Tell
Author: DC Luder
Summary: After a tragic injury, Bruce must make the long road to recovery with the help of family and friends.
Infringements: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.
Author's Note: This chapter has been modified from its original version to make it more awesome-er.
A/N 2: A character has two POV's in this chapter. A before… and after.
On May twenty-third, Mattie had officially slept through the night for two weeks straight.
It was also the same day that life as I knew it came to an end.
Laying my five month old daughter down for her afternoon nap, my eye caught on a stuffed Peter the Rabbit that sat on the shelf cater-corner to her crib. Dick and Barbara had consistently been buying her all things along the line of the infamous children's book character, to the extent that the entire four foot shelf was devoted to him and his furry friends. I reached up to adjust the plush toy, pushing him closer to an upright version of himself when it then hit me.
I was no longer in my daughter's room, but in the yard behind the manor, running so fast that my eyes were tearing. My parents sat on a small hill where we had been picnicking that afternoon, beneath a flawless and cloudless blue sky. After lunch, my father had said something about playing football after he talked with my mother.
I could see their clothes. Their sandwiches. Their smiles.
As I raced after a small rabbit, I called out, "Faster than a rabbit, Mom! Just watch!"
In the distance I heard them talking. Although I couldn't make out their words, I could surely hear the pride in my father's words. And then as the rabbit and I approached the safety of his den, I heard him call out, "Bruce, what are you going to do with it when you catch-. Don't go in that hole…"
I muttered between breaths that the rabbit wasn't going to get away from me, just before I let loose a hysterical cry. The ground had given way and I had fallen into darkness. For a moment, I thought I was going to Hell for chasing the rabbit…
And then I wasn't in the dark, cold cave, but kneeling on the dark, cold pavement. My parents weren't up above, calling my name, they were lying next to me, too silent and too still.
I jumped when a voice said my name. snapping out of it, I looked behind me to see Selina approaching, worry weighing down her soft features. "You're pale, Bruce.. and shivering. What's wrong? Bruce?" she asked as she placed her hands on my shoulders.
Without a word, I brushed her hands off of me and took off to the corridor, bearing left to the master bedroom. Although she had been quick to follow me, I managed to seek safety in the bathroom, locking the door behind me. Selina instantly began knocking on the door while calling out my name. I covered my ears to block her out, but was met with an echoing of my name being called out in my head.
My father's smooth baritone, mother's sweet voice… Dick. Alfred. Everyone…
Cradling my face in my hands, I fell to my knees, silently pleading, "No…"
No… I wanted the memories to come back, I wanted this burden…
My mind suddenly shot back to the rabbit hole. I landed on cool granite and yelped when a rock snagged my knee. But as soon as I had interrupted the cave's silent darkness, shrieks of the night rang out. Countless bats darted about me, zipping past my ears and fluttering in the ruffles of my hair.
I remembered waving at them, ordering that they go away, but it took an eternity for them comply and retreat to the recesses of the cave. I took the brief silence to look at my surroundings in the near darkness, listening to my parents as they frantically called to me.
Shrieks echoing in the dark. Rocks clattering on the cave floor.
The pearls of my mother's necklace dancing on the pavement.
My body had been frozen with fear, and had gone more rigid when I heard its voice. A louder and darker shriek rang out as the certain fluttering of massive wings approached me. The giant bat's eyes glowed red, it's breath smelled of death.
My father's aftershave, smelling of pine and must.
Selina's perfume, rich and seductive.
Dicks' face, hidden beneath a green mask and a bright smile… then bloodied and bruised.
The bat's face.
My father's face paling as his body lay motionless on the dirty pavement.
My parents' blood pooling in the streetlight.
The light in the sky.
The bat's face.
Barbara crying in a hospital bed.
Tim's eyes bleeding beneath his mask.
Jim lying in a hospital bed.
Jim hovering over me, holding my hand.
The bat's face.
My mother's neck, a bloody cavern.
The rabbit hole, the cave.
The bat claiming me as his own.
The voices echoing through Wayne Manor.
So many voices. Dick yelling. Alfred sighing. Selina laughing..
A white pale face with beady eyes and a wicked grin.
The bat's face.
My fists pounded on the hardwood door as I called out his name, my voice growing louder and more frantic. Pausing, I pressed my ear to the door and waited intently for some sign that he wasn't in any immediate danger. Holding my breath, all I could hear was Bruce muttering to himself softly.
So much for our picnic.
We had just fed Mattie downstairs and he had offered to take her up and get her settled in for a nap so we could have a late afternoon meal out on the back lawn. While he was upstairs, Alfred and I had carefully packed an actual basket with a fresh baguette, prosciutto ham, brie, Dijon, arugala and sliced plum tomatoes. Along with sliced cantaloupe and honeydew and a bottle of Moscato d'Asti, my favorite white sparkling wine. After a nasty bout of mastitis, I had been forced to wean Mattie onto solid food and formula earlier than expected. Fully recovered, I was rewarded with bubbly.
Bruce had asked what the special occasion was but I had simply told him it was a beautiful day out and we should celebrate it. In fact, it was the anniversary of the day I had nearly lost him and I wanted to revel in the fact that he was indeed alive and well.
Leaning my brow on the cool wood, I whispered, "Bruce?"
The only explanation was that he had been stricken with another flashback. I could only imagine how unnerving it was to be one place and then suddenly trapped in a memory you can't recognize as yours. I heard his soft sobs from within and a moment later, I felt tears falling down my own cheeks.
Wiping my face, I turned to see Alfred entering the master bedroom.
Without haste, he crossed the room in long, rushed strides, 'When you did not return to the kitchen I became worried, is everything all right?"
I shook my head, "I… I don't know what happened. I went to the nursery to check on him and he just snapped, ran out and locked himself in the bathroom."
"It has been some time since he has had an… episode."
I glanced back to the door, "He won't even answer me."
The baby monitor on my night table came to life, Mattie's loud breathing quickly turning into cries. Alfred nodded to the double doors, "Go to her, madam… I will tend to Master Bruce."
Returning to the nursery, I found Mattie on her side, bawling as she jerked her tiny fists about. After lifting her, I pressed her to me, cradling the back of her head and offering soothing words in her ear. Walking up and down the hall for twenty minutes finally brought her comfort and she relaxed in my arms.
I would have given anything for such a gesture to ease my troubles…
Swaddling her and setting her back down in the crib, I rejoined Alfred in the bedroom, not surprised to find him stills standing alone before the bathroom door. As I approached, he announced, "Inadvertently, Master Dick was already on his way to the Manor… he will be arriving shortly."
"Good. Worst case scenario, he can kick the door down."
Alfred turned to face me, "I do believe that would be unwise… Master Bruce is obviously seeking safety, albeit in solitude. Invading that safe place, at such an emotional time… could be detrimental to his already fragile psyche."
Reluctantly, I nodded in agreement, even though all I wanted was to see Bruce's face.
It was a long fifteen minutes of alternating between calling out Bruce's name and listening for a response. Just as I about to try once more, I heard footsteps running down the hall before Dick appeared in the open doorway. He asked, out of breath, "How is he?"
Alfred stepped away as Dick approached and put his ear to the door, "He is conscious, breathing… but not responding to either myself or Ms. Selina."
Dick knocked loudly on the door, "Bruce? Bruce, it's Dick…. Open up, all right… You're making Selina cry… come on, Bruce…"
"What happened?" he asked. After I replayed everything to him, he shook his head, "He hasn't had a flashback in what, two weeks?"
Alfred confirmed, "Indeed… and even that spell had been relatively mild."
"Something must have set him off…" Dick sighed, "Think his subconscious knows it's been a year?" After another pause, he continued, "Hate to break the door in on him… probably could go out on the terrace, jump to the window ledge…"
"Absolutely not, Master Dick."
"What, three stories is nothing Al… I was playing window washer last night on the top floor of the-."
Dick was unable to finish. The bathroom door swung inwards before Bruce raced by, knocking Dick to the ground with a wave of his arm. While Alfred helped Dick to his feet, I ran after Bruce, calling his name but he showed no sign of hearing me. By the time I made it to the stairs, he was already nearing the ground floor, running as if a demon was chasing him and not me.
As I neared the bottom of the massive staircase, Dick had joined me, asking, "Which way did he go?"
"I… I don't know… Bruce!"
Before I could ask where Alfred was, Dick said, "Al came down in the elevator…" he took off towards the east wing and I followed him, bypassing the library, study, informal dining room and kitchen. Opening the oversized mahogany door, we weren't greeted by the gilded doors of the elevator car. Dick looked to the control panel and whispered, "He's in the Cave."
I wasn't one to believe in coincidence. Bruce had seen to that I lived only by cold, hard fact, scientific theory and proving even the most menial of things beyond a reasonable doubt. I wish I could have said that my dad had also brought me up on the same ideals, but really, they had been self taught before meeting Bruce.
With one month left of my junior year in high school, I had been hitting the books harder than the training mats of late, as well as the streets. Dick had understood, knowing my life as a teenaged high schooler came before that of a masked vigilante. Given that I had a free period at the end of the day, I had opted to head out early with a "handwritten" not from my father. I had gotten far too used to lying to his face and signing his name to things over the last two years.
After busting through homework, I changed into leggings and a loose tank top in preparation of physically schooling myself. Cass had intended on coming up later in the afternoon with Barbara and I wanted to prepare myself best I could. Although a year younger than I, she was light years ahead of me when it came to combat training. On the flipside, I had the technical and detective skills she needed to excel as Batgirl. Although Bruce had been responsible for most of her re-training, he had delegated a fair amount of it to me in her short time in the Family.
Dick joked that every Robin needed a Batgirl, just as every Batman needed a Robin.
In some bizarre and almost morbid celebration, we were having a Family dinner on the back terrace. Even Jim Gordon was coming up as long as he could escape police headquarters in time. Thankfully, my father already had plans for the evening as he and my step-mother were headed to Connecticut for a long weekend away. Four days home alone made my life so much easier…
I warmed up with shadow boxing and strength training, focusing on getting my blood moving and stretching my arms, torso and legs. From there, I moved on to some tumbling to help limber me up and sharpen my reflexes. Cooling down, I used yoga to focus my breathing and my center of balance. In less than two hours I had accomplished more physical activity than any of my peers had in a year's worth of physical education.
Deserving a break, I was just retrieving a bottle of water from the small fridge in the training bay when I heard frantic footfalls coming down the stairs. They weren't Dick's, too rushed, too loud. They weren't Cass's either because she never made a sound, even when she was running. Selina's heels would have clicked and clacked, not thumped and thudded.
Feeling an urge for defense, I pressed myself to the cavern wall and peered around the corner. My mouth gaped at the sight of Bruce jumping the last few steps before awkwardly appraising the dimly lit main floor of the Cave. Before I could even begin to think of what the best course of action would be, I watched as he took quick strides towards the costume vault, pausing to unlock it before stepping in.
As I came out of hiding, the elevator door opened to reveal Alfred before he briskly stepped onto the main tier, shortly joined by Dick and Selina after they quickly descended the steps. They began turning on all of the overhead lights, calling out Bruce's name as they began their search. I finally stepped forward and offered, "He went into the costume vault."
They jumped at my voice before turning to the impenetrable in-wall safe haven of vigilante costumes and equipment, old and new. I followed in stride with Alfred, asking, "What's going on? What happened? Did he find the Cave?"
"No… he knew of the Cave, of the Clock… I believe Master Bruce is having a bit of… a breakthrough, as it were."
I knew J'onn had been able to bring forth a number of his memories, both through psychic extraction and instigating flashbacks and dreams, but if he remembered the Clock and the Cave, he could remember…
We joined Selina and Dick as they stood silently before the open hatch door. I peered between them to see Bruce standing towards the back where the older models and back up suits were held. For some unknown reason, Dick had kept the cowl Bruce had been shot in a year earlier, setting it on the top holder of a rack hold four others.
His lips were moving silently, his eyes never leaving the endless holes of the cowl. He slowly reached up, touching the jagged hole of the left brow before reaching up and touching the matching mark on his own face.
"Bruce?" Dick asked softly.
He showed no sign of hearing him, let alone any acknowledgement that we were standing there staring at him. Dick took two steps forward, wary given how little he knew of what was going through Bruce's mind. I took his spot next to Selina, my heart pounding against my ribcage. I had hoped and prayed that a day would come when the barriers would come crashing down and Bruce would remember who he once was. Seeing the torment and fear in his face, I suddenly regretted wishing it upon him,
As Dick moved and inch closer, Bruce's voice finally came loud enough for us to hear,
"… Took them. You took them all. Couldn't let you take another."
He wasn't talking to himself, he was talking to Batman…
"Had to stop him, had to save him…"
He was… apologizing.
"One life… worth more than yours… his life, more than mine…"
"Saved him. Good soldier."
Without warning, Bruce fell to his hands and knees, his breaths coming in short pants. Dick moved in as did Selina, tentatively kneeling beside him and offering what they could. Alfred and I also joined them inside the vault, standing back a few feet and watching everything unfold.
Selina gently put her hand on Bruce's face, guiding it to look at her. When he lifted his eyes from the grated flooring, she retracted instinctively. In that fraction of a minute, he had changed physically just as he had psychologically. His normally arched brow was replaced with a stern setting of a familiar expressionless state. His icy eyes were no longer lit with calmness and ease, but darkened with intense emotions that were never allowed to surface. His half-smile had been removed and in its place was a grim frown that I hadn't seen in over a year.
As he rose to his feet, Dick offered a hand but Bruce had looked back to him, shaking his head. While he looked each of us over, contemplation taking over his face, Selina asked, "Bruce? Are you… okay?"
I wasn't certain he was back until he said curtly, "I'm fine."
We had returned to the ground floor of the Manor in silence before grouping in the study to sit in a frustrating silence of uncertainty. Alfred had offered tea and coffee but no one said a word. I had chosen to sit with Selina on the smaller of the three couches, leaving Tim and Dick to sit opposite of us. She hadn't touched me since the costume vault, not that I could blame her.
After twenty minutes, Dick cleared his throat and asked, "So… what's the horsepower on the Mobile."
I looked to him stoically before replying, "Fifteen hundred after I modified the turbine engines last spring."
"Quickest way out of the south of Little Stockton."
"Before midnight, over the bridge, not through the tunnel. After midnight, on foot, hitching a ride on the L train."
Dick nodded before inquiring further, "What are the ten devices on the universal tool?"
I leaned forward, counting off on my fingers, "EPROM reader/writer, USB jack, electronic probes, tap, jumper, multi-line analyzer, CPU breakout box, RS-232 breakout box, oscilloscope and vector scope.. And you must not be counting the tool point storage unit in the handle."
And so began a battery of questions that tested how much I had regained in the last hour hours. Coming out of order and without warning, Dick questioned different aspects of my training abroad, the rogues of Batman, the holdings of Wayne Enterprises, details about allies and colleagues and the differences between a typical and riot ready utility belt.
After twenty questions, I asked, "Happy?"
"More like... Terrified," he admitted, shaking his head.
Just as they had been searching my face and studying them, I had been reciprocating the gesture. I had certainly been overwhelmed by the sudden and painful flood of memories but it seemed to be just as difficult for them to bear. Alfred was silent and contemplative, worry etched into his old face. Any time I caught Tim's gaze he looked away, biting his lip or playing with the piping on the couch. Dick had put on a brave front, hiding behind his inquiries as opposed to letting the truth show up on his face.
I had looked over at her a number of times since we had come upstairs, only to find her gaze was locked onto me. When our eyes met, she held her ground, forcing me to look away instead of her.
Dick spoke up again, "You do realize what day it is?"
Nodding, I responded, "Yes, although I didn't know the significance an hour ago."
He shook his head as he reclined into the couch, "Damn… I just…" he rose to his feet before continuing, "Bruce, do you have any idea how-."
"How difficult it's been? How hard it is for you to look at me now as opposed to the morning?" I glanced to Selina, her eyes finally dropping away, "No… I can't possibly fathom it."
Dick took a breath before proceeding, "Do… do you remember that night? All that's happened since then?"
I closed my eyes, allowing Pasqualle's enraged and bloodied face to come into my mind.
"Yes… I do."
"What… what triggered it?"
I closed my eyes again, allowing me to be six years old again, just for a moment.
Lying, I answered him, "It's difficult to say… everything came so quickly, it's hard to say where it began exactly."
Shaking his head again, Dick looked to Alfred and smiled, "Well… good thing we were having a Family dinner tonight anyway."
"Indeed, sir… that is if Master Bruce is up to it." It had been the first Alfred had said since we had left the Cave. Naturally his words had been focused on my well-being.
He was right. My life had been jumpstarted, there should have been a cause for concern. Naturally, Leslie would be called out to perform a neurological examination, possibly even a compete body scan down in the Cave. Once cleared, she and Alfred would both be put at ease on some level, although it would be some time before things got back to normal.
Naturally, Cassandra and Barbara needed to be notified upon their arrival, but I was starting to wonder who else. The only member of the League aware of my year's battle with amnesia had been Clark and once I told him, he would no doubt want to cordially interrogate me. The Family would do for now, the Krytponian could wait.
The first person on my list to notify would be Jim. Perhaps after dinner, I would have time to suit up and-.
No, it was too soon.
I had maintained good form over the last year, certainly good enough to swing a few rooftops to say hello to an old friend. My mental fitness, on the other hand, was a completely different case. A stress-free life had left me feeling soft and relaxed, unlike before where I had been constantly aware of my surroundings. It would take training, months even, to get back to where my body and mind had once been.
But how would I be able to train for a life as a vigilante while being a father… and a husband?
The dream I had dreaded, a life with loved ones, had become a reality. Selina, beautiful as ever, had been at my side day and night through most of my recovery. She had accepted my proposal, one I had never truly intended on carrying out, under the assumption that the man she was with was asking her, not the man she had once been with…
"Ahem, Master Dick… Master Tim, if you would assist me in the ktichen…"
"Right," Dick nodded before looking to me again, "We were going to have Gordon up tonight… If you want, I'll call him, tell him we've cancelled. Keep things in house for now."
"All right,"I responded.
Dick's lower lip trmebled before he stammered, "Bruce, I… I told him the… I told him…"
I rose to my feet, setting a hand on his shoulder, "We have a lot to talk about, Dick… but not now."
He forced a smirk to his lips before following Alfred out of the room.
I glanced to Tim as he made his way to his feet. He had obviously been torturing himself in the training bay, growing from a slight teenager to a well-muscled young man. After clearing my that, "Trap exercises worked."
Tim laughed sadly before replying, "Yeah… get all the babes in school now." He turned to leave as well but stopped and faced me, throwing his arms around my torso.
I patted his back gently, "It's all right, Tim. It's all over."
"Thank you," he said before releasing me and racing out of the room.
Looking back to Selina, I smirked as she patted the seat cushion next to her. After rejoining her on the couch, I felt her fingers reach over ad grasp mine. Given how dedicated she was to being a strong, independent woman, it was difficult to see her wrought with emotional turmoil, even if she was managing to keep it all inside.
I opened my mouth to speak when she moved suddenly, her arms encircling my neck. I took a deep inhale of her hair before I surrounded her shoulders with my arms.
"I've missed you," she exhaled into my ear.
"I've missed you, too," I found myself replying.
After a long minute of listening to her breathing, Selina finally pulled back, pressing her left hand against my chest. Long, nimble fingers that ended with perfect white polished nails stood out against my dark polo. When my eyes locked onto one of her fingers, I smiled, "That's a nice ring."
She used her other hand to wipe at an eye as she agreed, "Yes, it is."
"Wherever did you get a nice ring like that?"
"Do I know him?"
She nodded, "Yeah. He gave it to me for Christmas."
"Did he?" I asked, "Was it only a Christmas present?"
"No. I think he wants me to marry him."
I nodded, "Lucky guy."
"You bet he is," Selina moved in close to me again, kissing me softly on the lips. Just as I was about to kiss her back, she pulled away, "I'm going to get Mattie, you want to join me?"
"I think… I'll just sit here for a while."
Once she had left, I ran a hand through my short hair before getting to my feet. Crossing the room and into the hall, I opened the door to the nearest bathroom, flicking the lights on above the mirrors. In one year, I had aged a decade, my raven hair was gray at the temples and a narrow band of bangs had turned white. The wrinkles at the corners of my eyes reminded me of my father's laughter lines, the way they would bunch when he laughed while watching me play with my Grey Ghost doll.
My eyes then traveled to my left brow.
So many scars.
So many stories…
Was it possible that yet another identity had been formed within me? There was Batman and Bruce Wayne and then this kind, gentle man who had witnessed life through the eyes of an innocent child. Who had the bravery to propose to his one true love and then the joy of witnessing the birth of his own daughter. I had been there, way back in the deepest part of unconsciousness, but it hadn't been me calling the shots.
Returning to the den, I neglected the couches and instead stood beneath the oil portriat of my parents. Alfred had told me recently that I had finally achieved what every parent desired of their children: happiness. In all my years as Batman, I had never allowed myself the opportunity let alone pursue it specifically.
Could I be happy? Could I live with being loved? Could I live with the fact that the price of happiness was loss and pain?
Could I leave it all behind?
The smiling faces of my parents should have made me say yes…
He has and would always be with me, ever since I had fallen into the Cave. There was no escape, there was no way back.
I heard soft giggles come form down the hall and then Selina's voice, "Yes, we're going to go see Daddy."
Guardian of Gotham, the caped crusader, the dark knight.
Father, son, husband.
As she entered the study, I turned and watched as Selina approached me. Mattie was smiling in her arms, her dark curls mused from her brief nap. I stepped forward and took my daughter into my arms as if it were the first time, her blue eyes were never-ending as she blinked slowly.
Perhaps only time will tell.