I gasped as we landed in a typical Gotham alley, filthy concrete, a few rats--and a cowering jewel thief. "Please don't hurt me," he said, staring up at me, eyes wide like a panicked horse.

I took an involuntary step back, my stomach aching, breath caught in my throat. "I remember this."

"Yes," J'onn agreed behind me. "What happened?"

"I was going to hit him. I wanted to pound him into the ground."

"But you didn't."

"Because Robin called me."

J'onn came to stand beside me. "No, because you chose not to. You see this moment as weakness, I see it as an example of your strength."

I shook my head, backing away. J'onn stood beside me and with a flash of light we were someplace else.

A hot desert wind blew across my face, scattering the splintered remains of a building. In the center of the destruction lay a small broken figure. I sank to my knees, the strength knocked out of me. "Jason?"

J'onn knelt beside me. "You didn't fail him, you know."

A tear streaked down my cheek and my stomach heaved.

"Tell me, Bruce. Why are we here?"

"How the hell should I know? You brought me here."

"No." J'onn's voice was gentle. "We're following your thoughts, not mine."

"Then let's go. I've seen this often enough."


I jumped to my feet. "What do you want me to say? Fine, I hate myself for letting Jason die. Is that it? Can we leave now?"

The sirens of the approaching police grew louder. Soon, I knew, they'd pull up and find Jason, his mother, and me. I would pay them off and take Jason home.

"You blame yourself for Jason's impetuous nature?"

"He should never have been Robin."

"But he wasn't killed as Robin, was he? He was looking for his mother. You couldn't have known what would happen."

I stared at Jason's broken body. "I couldn't protect him."

"No, you couldn't."

Our surroundings flashed again, and we were back in Gotham. It took a second, but I recognized the street, the moment in time.


"He nearly killed you. Where is he now?"

"The east. Somewhere." I watched the villain I remembered, pumped full of that drug, stalking me.

"When you recovered, you could have killed him for what he did to you, to Gotham."

"No." I shook my head, unable to look away.

"Instead you helped him recover from his addiction, find out about his family."

I relived the fight, the moments leading up to that sickening crack of my--

"Bruce." The scene froze and J'onn stood in front of me. "You are fundamentally a good man. You've helped many people and there is much more for you to do. You know that. But to help them, you must stop this self-destructive behavior."

"I can't. I don't know how."

"You do. Will you abandon those you've sworn to protect?"


"That is what you have done." As J'onn spoke, the street scene faded into a blur.

"I need this. I need the release."

"No, you're stronger than that." J'onn sounded so sure, I wished I had that same certainty. "What do you want?" he asked.

"I...to make Gotham safe. Keep the world safe."

"What do you want?" he asked again, patient, apparently ready to keep asking.

"For things to be the way they were," I whispered.

"I don't know if you can have that. But perhaps it can be better."


"Trust me. Together we will help you find that control. Shall we continue?"

I took a deep breath and watched the Gotham street fade into the Watchtower.

Time seemed endless as we wandered through the corridors of my mind. It's not a pretty place. Finally, an image started to appear and flickered into restful pale blue walls.

"What happened?" I asked.

"It was time to rest," he said.

I realized I was sitting in a comfortable leather chair, J'onn across from me in a high-backed chair that looked like his seat at the Watchtower table--although they hadn't been there moments before. I leaned my head against the back of the chair, feeling wrung out, exhausted. It felt like I'd spent a week gathering up Arkham escapees.

"Now that you've begun the process of facing the things you've seen, we must discuss what you will do when we leave here."

I closed my eyes, not sure how to respond.

"Your problems will not be solved in one day."

"I know that."

"There are substitutions," he said, "things you can do when you feel the urge to injure yourself. Eventually, you will no longer need those either. All of this is contingent, however, on your desire to change. Everything we have done this evening will be for naught if you don't have the determination to succeed."

We were in my mind. J'onn could have easily found the answer for himself, but he chose to wait for me to find it myself.

I thought about everything that had happened, from that first night until Tim and I were injured. I believed I was in control, but in actuality I had left my team, my family, in danger. With the perspective J'onn had helped me find, I realized what I'd been doing was irrational, dangerous.

This was unacceptable, all of it.

"I want to change, J'onn. I *will* change."

He smiled. "Yes, you will."

"Thank you." The words were wholly inadequate, but considering where we were, I felt certain he knew how heartfelt they were.

"You are most welcome, my friend."

* * * * *

Over the weeks of my physical rehabilitation, J'onn and I confronted the things that had been torturing me. He was right, of course, and I gained a measure of the control I'd been seeking. It was torturous, especially since I'm not by nature an introspective person, nor do I like to think about my emotions. I don't even like to admit to *having* them, most of the time.

But gradually it worked.

At the beginning of this process, I had to talk to the family, which ranks among the hardest things I've ever done.

I felt I owed Alfred the first conversation.

"Master Bruce, are you awake?" I'd heard his footsteps long before he spoke, but a cowardly part of me kept my eyes closed.

I swallowed and opened my eyes. "Yes, Alfred. I just...has J'onn explained what's been happening?"

"Yes, he's been most helpful." He had on his best blank 'I'm just a servant' face, which meant I was in real trouble.

"I'm sorry," I said, unable to find any way to ease into what I had to say. "I'm sorry I frightened you."

His blank face faded as I spoke. I'll never forget the pain that replaced it, or the feeling that I'd failed the man who raised me.

* * * * *

Tim didn't look me in the eye when he slid into the room. We'd barely had a moment to talk since the explosion, mutually avoiding having this conversation.

It didn't help that I was still struggling with my guilt over putting him in danger. That was bound to make us completely ineffective as a crime-fighting team if we didn't deal with it.

"I think we need to talk," I said when he came into the room.

He and I winced together at the cliché, but he sat in the chair beside my bed. My lap was full of printed reports, catching me up on everything that had happened while I was unconscious.

Unable to look directly at Tim, I stared down at Oracle's summary of new mob activity in prostitution, the words wavering.

"What's up?" he asked when I didn't say anything.

"I...I get the feeling you're still angry with me. For not listening to you."

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Tim stare up at the ceiling, blinking a few times. "That's not it."

I turned to face him. "Then what's wrong?"

He crossed his arms and looked at me, the piercing stare he learned from me (or possibly Alfred) firmly in place. "I want to know why you didn't tell me anything. If I'm your partner..."

God, that hadn't even occurred to me. Just another failure on my part. "You are, Tim, you are. I thought this was something I needed to handle on my own."

"You were ashamed."

That's the problem with training your partners so well, you can't control where they turn their intelligence. "Yes."

His stare softened and for a moment he looked his age. "I was worried about you. You were acting so weird and we didn't know what was wrong. I thought maybe...there was something I wasn't doing."

"No, absolutely not. There's nothing you could have done differently." I put every iota of certainty I could muster into those words. He had to understand...

I saw a flash of relief before he was staring at me again, aged well beyond his years. "No more secrets."

I inclined my head. "No more secrets. Partner."

* * * * *

As difficult as that conversation was, facing Dick was a thousand times worse.

"Dick..." I trailed off when he turned away. His shoulders shook as he leaned against the windowsill and I realized he was crying. "Dick, I'm so sorry."

I could hear him swallow several times and he shuddered once all over before turning to face me again. "Why'd you do this to yourself? Why the hell didn't you talk to me?"

Before I could answer, he began cursing, starting in English, moving on to French, and finishing in Russian. All I could do was wait for him to stop.

"But you don't talk to anyone, do you, Bruce?" He shook his head, jaw tight.

I hung my head, unable to argue with his assessment.

"That's got to change," he said. "If you do this to us again, I swear I'll kill you myself."

* * * * *

Arms crossed, Barbara glared at me. "I'm disappointed in you. I knew you liked to keep secrets, but how could you..." She broke off, lips tight with disapproval.

I wanted to say something about her own self-hatred since she'd been shot by the Joker, but discretion won out. "It's complicated, Barbara."

"That's what you always say, just after you've nearly destroyed Dick."

Unsurprising, I suppose, that she should mainly be focused on him. "I've already talked to him."

"I know." Her glare softened a bit. "And we accept your apology. I just don't understand how you could...damage yourself on purpose."

Both of us glanced involuntarily at her wheelchair.

* * * * *

Cassandra patted my arm with a sad smile, sitting in the chair next to my bed, her lotus position an obvious suggestion that we meditate together. I think she understands the self-loathing better than anyone--even Barbara--and she wasn't hurt by my silence like the others.

After we'd breathed together for an hour or so, she patted my arm again. "Tomorrow?"

"Yes. Thank you."

She nodded at me and was gone.

It was nice to have someone not demanding my attention. Much as I love the others, they can take more energy than I have to give at the best of times.

But they all stood by me, even if they didn't understand. I'm not sure I had ever realized how much of a family we are until those days, until I saw them support each other just as they supported me.

I swear I will do my best from now on to be the man, the hero, they believe I am.

* * * * *

I wish I could close with "And they all lived happily ever after" but I'd be lying. We'd all be happier if I could claim some miracle cure, but if there is one, I haven't found it.

I can't take the drugs for my depression. Leslie is upset by that decision, but accepting--I think she hopes I'll change my mind. It seems to me that taking drugs would be an acknowledgment of defeat, and I'm not ready to do that. Besides, it's too dangerous for me to take mood- and chemistry-altering drugs.

J'onn says I'm wrong about the drugs, too. I talk to him pretty regularly and I know that he keeps an eye on me. I don't trust that many people, especially with secrets like this, but J'onn is...well, J'onn. And it's not as if I can visit any random psychologist.

I still think about cutting myself, find my fingers twitching, the pain building in my chest. J'onn and Leslie say that will fade with time, as it did before, especially since I'm trying to stop this time. Sometimes I even believe them.

I've learned other ways to get through the bad times, but I'm an expert on scars and I know that I'll bear many of these newest ones for the rest of my life, constant reminders of what I've done.

The most important thing, though, is that Batman is back on the streets of Gotham, terrorizing the criminal element. Robin and the others are by my side, Oracle on the line keeping tabs, and Nightwing a call away.

I even call Dick sometimes, just to talk, especially when things are bad. He's forgiven me. Mostly.

Whether I've forgiven myself is another question.