A Knight's Fear
(Rating - K+)
(Alternate Universe, Time Travel, Family, Angst, Hurt/Comfort)
Their return to the Watchtower was barely noticed as their days in another place ceased to exist to all but the two men that had been present. The Green Lantern shot his friend a covered glance as the other man ran a hand into the yellow belt that contained the man's main armaments and means to accomplish his work. A moment later, the Green Lantern caught a glimpse of a small metal container cradled in his friend's fingers. He recognized it for what it was. It was one of the vials the older Bruce had handed to Batman while they were resting. A very tight quiet conversation had taken place between them with the older resting his hand on Batman's shoulder before walking away.
The Green Lantern had seen him studying the teenager after that. Batman's lips had been compressed into a thin line as he listened with a half ear to the boy's conversations with the older heroes in the future version of their League. Each of the older players worked around the kid, both protecting him and allowing him to carry out his own fight. Only when all of them had finally been drawn away did it become obvious why.
A half trained boy doing everything he could to carry on the legacy of his forerunners. He fought like a kid used to fighting with his fists, the hard learned style of the street runners and not the style polished in the hundreds of dojos the League provided it's members. Sure, there were signs of the teenaged Batman's own skills being worked on, however, it wasn't enough.
The twin Jokerz called DeeDee electrocuted and killed the boy. The future Batman. The boy that had chosen to follow his footsteps, took his name, fulfilled all the purposes of the Mission and sacrificed his own life in the end. Not for the self important goal of glory, fame, or even the desire to set things right. It was his life purpose.
The Dark Knight had heard the boy's screams and been unable to reach him in time. His fists had tightened, his punches just a little harder, and then... the second shout. An echo he wanted to eliminate in the future from ever happening.
He still twitched unwillingly in memory of the raw grief in Bruce Wayne' s voice.
The same voice that years earlier matched the loss of his parents. Batman blinked his eyes to redistribute his focus on what his elder self had begged him for and to put aside for now those moments of agonizing grief.
To risk everything and give a single soul a chance no one else could give him. They did not have the finances or the resources or the connections Bruce had made during his years of study. He was a man known for his loyalty and obsession with his mission. For the single purpose of fueling a new life, away from the chaos of the era wrenched in every direction by a time lord, he would commit to the Plan.
To give that boy a chance to live because he deserved it. He had all the resources to develop the genetic material he had brought back with him. The artificial technology developed by Cadmus and perfected by Wayne Tech would provide a safe shell that he would need.
The Batman wrapped his hand protectively around the sealed container. No matter what he did though, he could never give the boy the things he had lost. He couldn't replicate or replace the life the boy would have known in that other world if things had gone right… If his future self had only succeeded in the Mission.
Stepping onto the platforms that handled the transfers of League members to Earth, the Batman directed the engineer to send him back to Gotham. Back to the Cave where he could think, clear a space for his beating heart, and take shelter with the guilt he felt at being unable to save a life so precious…
The boy hadn't been his. The pain should not have felt this close to his own heart and ached so much. He had belonged to that other Bruce. To another Earth where his alter ego had failed and potentially led others to their doom. Logic did not dictate to the human heart, no matter his years of training or will power not to let it absorb him. Eventually, the grief, would like all other times fuel the newest addition to his mission.
"Master Bruce," Alfred greeted him, cutting off when he saw the man's trembling fingers. "Good heavens, what happened?"
"Where are the boys?" Bruce whispered, some parts of him crying out to make sure the boys were safe. "Are they all safe?"
"Well, yes." Alfred stated, bringing a hand to the Batman's spine and aiding him to his chair where he crumbled into a chair, the container still clutched between his fingers. "What is this about?"
"Time travel, Alfred." Bruce whispered. His stomach turned in on him as he remembered the satisfaction he had felt trapping the instigator in his greatest hell. Too close… and too late. "There was a boy, Alfred."
"My apologies, sir." It was all the old man could offer as Bruce returned his attention to the sample of DNA. "Shall I retrieve anything for you?"
Bruce willed himself to act.
He had plenty of options to bring the sample to fruition and the money to make it happen. "I have work to do."
"Sir?" Alfred asked, unsure where Bruce had decided to go with his level of discomfort. He had been close to breaking when he had entered the cave. Now, he seemed to have pushed past that and he was… "Sir, might I ask what you intend to do?"
Batman paused to answer after he flicked the lights on in the lab from the computer terminal and sent it to searching for the items he wanted. A private account set up in another name was used to purchase the resources automatically as soon as the required merchandise was found safe. Another directive was set to run through the files of all of Gotham's Criminal Masterminds. Random fluctuations of DNA patterns and profiles for each were sent across the computer as more data was added. Finally, he set up a system of alerts and contacts for each, targeting every known group and possible resource problem to address the problems a long term absence would create. The final number slotted into the machine belonged to Jim Gordon with a file attached.
"I intend to keep my word."
With the problems taken care of and rest of the world take care of in his thoughts, Batman left his chair and headed down the four steps that led to his lab. Looking through the machines he had available, he began routing several requests through the system, marking them off from the resources he had available. The container winked out at him from the sealed case where he had placed it for safety, a dark reminder of his second greatest promise.
Removing his cloak and cowl, he slipped another item from his belt. A red edged batarang, sprung open as he ran his thumb across the thin cylinder that contained it. Returning it to it's concealed shape, Bruce set the item next to the locked sample case. He pushed several of the older machines into the storage space set beside the lab, clearing space in one of open niches he had created when he first realized just how far his mission would go.
Sending out rapid fire orders for his subordinates and partners, Bruce tossed the heavy weight of his gloves and Kevlar armor to the side of the door as he worked around his lab. Food and drink appeared at the same time the items he removed throughout the night disappeared for cleaning.
Tim was sent to start the re-programming of the Cave's complex system, instructed to follow the laid out instructions that appeared on a hand held computer. The machine itself outlined specific security weaknesses and joint areas of sensitivity. A new combat training facility was marked for a section of cave that hadn't even been wired in. Further instructions outlined a detailed outline for a meeting with the Gotham Police Department.
Nightwing and Batgirl were set on a rotating shuffle of patrols between them. Each of them were sent to the Gotham Police Department as a pair and in individual shifts with stern orders to work with the police. They were instructed to outline Batman's concerns and plans with the commissioner. The diets, health concerns, and exercise regime for an advanced group of police enforcers were set before the old man with recommendations on which police units would be capable of carrying it out.
Batman however disappeared from both the League's radars and Gotham's streets as he focused on the task of saving just this one life. When the end of the first week arrived, Nightwing perched himself on a stool just outside the lab doors as Alfred passed by him with a sandwich, soup, and a thermos of coffee. "Lunch, sir."
"Has he even stopped to shower? Take a nap, maybe?" Dick Grayson asked swiftly as Alfred kept to the side.
"He's rather focused on this task, young sir." Alfred answered, still just as concerned as when Bruce had arrived home a week ago. Alfred had become the only person he communicated with during the snatches of rest he made for himself. The bulk of the work had been finished and inside the lab now rested what the first Robin considered to be a giant test tube. It was shaped to look like an artificial womb, the gauges monitoring the temperature, keeping records that Bruce constantly fussed over…
"He reminds me of a brooding hen." Barbara whispered as she planted herself beside the two men. "What is that thing for any way?"
"He hasn't said." Alfred responded. Tim stumbled out of the computer lab a moment later, a sandwich in his palms as he dropped onto the floor. "Master Tim?"
"He wants a new uniform for each of us. New tools, protective gear, things I've never even seen before." Tim explained, resting his head against the back of a wall.
"So, why is he going so crazy over this thing?" Dick asked. "He's had to have told you something."
"Not a word." he answered. "He does require a very powerful energy source though and he's finally got all the things in order that he wanted done."
Three more days passed by, leaving Nightwing to witness a rise of concern in the League. Several times Superman passed by to ask if Batman was well. Others stopped by to try and engage the man in conversation or ask his aid on one thing or another…
Batman would pause for a second, bark out an answer, and then seal himself away again. By the end of the second week, it was on everyone's tongue that Batman was going insane.
Alfred came out of the lab one last time, eyes wide and face pale. "I have discovered what Master Bruce refused to inform any of us." he stated as he turned and backed away from the lab doors.
Bruce stepped out of the lab wearing a white lab coat, glasses dangling from his fingers as his free hand switched over the lights and dimming the interior as he took advantage of the seat Tim had left only an hour ago. The man leaned his head back, a look of weary satisfaction settled over his features as his eyes met Nightwing's.
"Bruce?" the young man asked, his mask dangling between his fingers as the older man smiled.
"You've done good work, Dick." He answered. "I'm proud of the accomplishments you've made."
Dick Grayson felt his knees weaken and only years of stern instruction kept him standing as Alfred coughed. This was not the first time Bruce had revealed his affection and pride for the young man to the Butler, however it was the first time he had actually said it to Dick for the first time in five years. Of course, there was a lingering comment neither man expected him to follow through with.
"You're finished as Nightwing." Bruce added. "Barbara and Tim are done as well. This... this entire time we've been fighting a losing war. If any of you continue..."
Nightwing's mask dropped to the ground, fluttering a bit before draping across his boot as he starred at his guardian and mentor in shock. "Bruce, what is going on?"
"I saw the future." he whispered harshly. "I can't risk the loss of any of you. I won't."
"Bruce, you can't be serious."
"It's over." Bruce snapped, his eyes lingering on the exposed face of his adopted son before he lunged forward and yanked the young man into a tight hold. "Hate me, if that's what you need to do."
Dick's thoughts reeled. Nothing, absolutely nothing could shake the Batman from his mission. He drove his partners with a little less force then he drove himself, however he never tried to force them to quite.
There was a broken something in Bruce when he looked at the youth he had raised into a vigilante. Only Dick had never thought to hear those words so casually thrown around said in such a defeated tone...