ELSEWORLDS: NEW GOTHAM KNIGHTS
Disclaimer: All characters contained herein are the trademarked property of DC Comics Inc and are copyright © 2000 by DC Comics Inc. All characters are used without permission for fan-fiction entertainment only. This original piece of fiction is copyright © 2000 by C.W. Blaine. Questions or comments concerning this original piece of fiction may be submitted at the following e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elseworlds: Theoretical worlds wherein familiar characters are placed in unfamiliar situations; or worlds whereas situations develop differently than they should have, placing familiar characters in unfamiliar circumstances.
Timothy Drake sat on his expensive BMW motorcycle on what used to be the first exit ramp going into downtown Gotham City. The interstate used to deposit vehicles into the urban jungle by the hundreds per hour; now Tim had only seen maybe ten vehicles in the past 30 minutes, mostly trucks using the old Gotham Bypass to make up for lost time.
Before him lay miles of flat green plain. It was a depressing flatness, not the kind you see while driving through Texas with the sporadic cactus or ranch, but a hellish horizontal plane intersected by nothing but air. The reports were that the area before him was the flattest on Earth. Tim was unimpressed.
Once, not two years before, there had been a great and mighty city here, a marvel of modern architecture. It was a city that had existed for over two hundred years and had survived the British and the Confederacy. A city that had helped herald the so-called Golden Age of super-heroes with its own additions to the famed Justice Society of America, Green Lantern and the Black Canary. It had been a hub of trade, a place where money would be made to support the rest of the state.
Gotham City had a personality of its own, just as other great cities did. There was something about being a Gothamite that made you proud. It gave you an attitude, one that was a cross between New York Cabbie and San Francisco Activist. A Gothamite was always ready to serve the cause, but they wouldn't do so silently. Hell, Time thought to himself, most people would kill to just visit Gotham, much less live there.
True, it wasn't New York or Hollywood, but it was still a magnet for the enchanted, the disillusioned, and the greedy. Gotham City was the true melting pot, where the American Dream was not measured in black or white, but in green. There was money everywhere in Gotham. Five of the world's top 10 billionaires had homes in or around the city, and not cheesy little apartments either. Mansions, grand homes in the classic Victorian style, had dotted the landscape around the city, providing a barrier of wealth and power.
Now, it was all gone.
The madness of it all was still sinking in to the 17-year-old mind of Timothy Drake. He could still remember the sights and the sounds, the smell that was only described as being Gotham. Had it only been two years? It seemed like only yesterday when the alien warlord Mogul had built his Engine. That Engine had consumed the city in seconds, leveling it and wiping it away, killing all of the unlucky souls that had been there that fateful day.
In a way, Timothy was glad that it had been Gotham, and not some other more populated city like Washington DC or Los Angeles, where the death toll would have been undoubtedly higher. It was a sick and twisted comfort, he knew.
He had been away that day, in New York, with Dick Grayson, watching the events unfold on television. Dick had invited him there, mostly out of concern for his safety. He covered his concern with a contrived story about reuniting former members of the Titans to provide support to the Justice League. Timothy knew that there was already a Titans team on standby, one which neither he nor Dick belonged to. No, Dick was just being protective, and now, when it was all over, Timothy was very happy he had listened.
The loss of his friends and associates had devastated him. Spoiler. Anarky. Jim Gordon. Alfred. All of them, for their own reasons, had refused to listen to him. His father had been smart enough to start a vacation in Mexico as soon as the trouble had started and had been relieved that his son had accepted the invitation of "rich boy" Grayson to holiday in New York.
Barbara had been in Washington DC, using her status as a former member of congress to try and lobby a stronger military reaction to Mongul's appearance. Helena had been whisked away by distant family relatives to Italy.
Bruce…well, Bruce was a different story.
He had been away, out of town, when Mongul had arrived, working a case for an old friend in the CIA. They had needed the Batman's help, and undoubtedly, the payment, in the form of favors and information, was vital to Bruce's one-man war against crime. As soon as the news hit the airwaves, he started making his way home, but had to travel as Bruce Wayne. His own personal transportation was back in the states, and the CIA did not have a plan for pulling the Batman out of his mission early. By the time he had made it back to Gotham, it was too late.
Mongul, and his partner the Cyborg-Superman, had been stopped, by the timely resurrection of Superman. The criminals, however, would not face justice here on Earth. The Cyborg seemingly died, and Mongul was taken into custody by forces from other worlds he had devastated. That, however, was not enough to appease the Batman.
For days, he wandered the carnage that had once been his home, the place he had sworn to protect with his life. Timothy had no idea what thoughts had traveled through the mind of the Batman, but he shivered at what sort of rage they probably contained. Bruce Wayne began pouring money into a fruitless effort to rebuild the city, drawing the attention of the government. Because the destruction had been so absolute, the area had been officially designated a federal No-Man's Land, and was to be walled off from the rest of the world. The fear was that the looting which would begin when the fires died down would cause families of the deceased to start bring lawsuits against the state, possibly bankrupting it and forcing the federal government to step in.
The president asked Superman to step in and talk to Wayne, figuring that the hero could convince Satan himself to move out of Hell.
Nobody knew how it happened exactly, but days later, a Waynetech executive, from out of the San Francisco offices, announced that Bruce Wayne's body had been found along with the corpse of the Man of Steel. Superman had taken a single kryptonite bullet to the head. Bruce's body had been cremated, so the press release said later, as per his will and final testament.
Even as Dick inherited Bruce's sizable fortune, he made no bones about expressing his disbelief that Bruce was actually dead. He was convinced, however, that Bruce had killed Superman.
That meant he was insane, or as Dick would say when he and Timothy were all alone, he had lost control of his insanity.
Though no word had been received to indicate to the contrary, and despite all of Dick's best efforts, no trace of Bruce was found anywhere. Dick was sure that his former mentor was planning something, but he had no idea of what.
Bruce had been obsessed with the notion that all of the aliens living among us were a danger to normal humans. Going even beyond that, Bruce had held a great distrust of metahumans in general. Timothy believed that Bruce was planning on doing something about it, something about the hyper-powered individuals on Earth that he felt contributed to the destruction of his home.
Bruce was going to change the world.
Zero hour was fast approaching.
He held her down, his hands pinning her arms, his weight firmly on her torso. He was sweating behind his mask and she could see the muscles in his neck start to bulge with the effort of holding her down. It was interesting to see him struggle to keep her from moving, but it was also a futile gesture. She realized that there were reasons for this exercise, that hand-to-hand combat was an essential part of being a fighting team. It was logical, yet illogical and she shrugged in an attempt to mimic her human characteristics.
The shrug was enough to pull him off her chest, and she brought her knee back and struck him in the buttocks. He cried, but she knew it was more from shock than pain. She had calculated the exact amount of force that would be necessary to drive him into an unstable position.
As he turned his head to curse, she assumed, her fingers elongated like liquid metal and wrapped around his wrists. She pulled him forward quickly, and he fell, his pelvis landing hard on her golden face.
"Oh my God! What are you doing to that poor girl?" came a voice from the doorway.
Cyborg released Nightwing and pushed him off of her and then stood up with no effort. "I do not understand the question. What does financial status have to do with a simple wrestling exercise?"
Roy Harper pulled off his little yellow Robin Hood hat and scratched his short hair. "You didn't get the joke, Barbara."
Cyborg cocked her head slightly and shrugged. She moved over to her wheelchair, which was set in a corner of the room and sat down. Immediately, the golden metal skin peeled away, almost melting, revealing a sweating, red haired young woman beneath. "Roy Harper! That was not funny in the least!" she cried.
Roy walked over and helped Nightwing up. The dark-haired hero brushed off his blue and gold uniform, and then looked at his friend. "What's with the Speedy costume?"
Roy shrugged, mimicking Cyborg. "Thought it would be a nice change. Too many costumes in too short of time gets confusing."
"I suppose you expect me to go put on my old Robin costume, complete with little green short pants and boots?"
Barbara answered before Roy could. "I always liked those shorts, made your butt look like a well formed green pepper."
Nightwing shot her a "will you shut up" look and returned his attention to his friend. "So, do you think you'll be staying here with the Titans?"
Roy shook his head and put his hat back on. "No, this is becoming more like the Gotham Social Club; you are all connected to Gotham in some way, and I'm not. I understand you mission, man, but that's not what the Titans are about. We're a family." Then he added, "At least we were once."
Dick Grayson, the man behind the Nightwing mask, hung his head down. He didn't want to believe it was true, but in his heart, he knew Roy was right. The destruction of Gotham had changed him, made him feel vulnerable in way he couldn't describe. In the days following the destruction of his home city, he had gathered those who had meant the most to him. Tim. Barbara. Wally. Donna.
When Superman had been reported dead, along with Bruce, he knew immediately something was wrong. He had spoken to the members of the Titans and the Justice League International, explaining his theory that Bruce was alive and most likely had killed Superman. They had scoffed at the notion. Batman didn't kill people, as Guy Gardner had pointed out. Dick told them about the Kryptonite bullet Superman had given Bruce, to use if Superman ever lost control, but they hadn't believed him. Slowly, the members of the Titans had moved on, only to be replaced by those heroes that had personally known Batman and Gotham City. Huntress. Catwoman. Black Canary. Sentinel. All of them had escaped though their own means the destruction of Gotham City.
Dick had actively sought help in curing Barbara of her condition, and a top-secret project at S.T.A.R. labs had been the answer. He had poured millions of his own money into the procedure that would give her back the use and feeling of her legs. The Cyborg suit, named after a fallen Titan, allowed Barbara to operate, but its cold, mechanical logic would overwhelm her emotions and she became like a robot when she wore it.
Wally had been the first to leave, returning to the JLI, convinced that his best friend had lost it. The two had not spoken for months. The Flash had tried to be supportive, even suggesting that Dick take on the mantle of Batman, just as he had taken on his uncle's role after the Crisis. Dick had refused, saying that there was only one Batman, and he was still alive.
Donna had left next, perhaps feeling spurned when Barbara Gordon made it very clear that Dick was her man. The relationship between Dick and Donna had always been on the edge of something else, but never venturing any farther than friendship. The other members were gone now, with Roy being the last to leave.
"You still don't believe me, even after all we've seen in the past two years?" Dick said, holding his hands spread out before him. "Hal Jordan, dead. Martian Manhunter, dead. Aquaman, dead. Hawkman, dead. Who do you think is doing this?"
"My God, Dick, listen to yourself…you're talking about the man who raised you."
"I'm talking about a man who lost everything because he was only human. In his mind, that's how he sees it!"
Barbara wheeled herself over. "Roy, you didn't know Bruce like we did. He was always holding back, always really wanting to go that extra step to eliminate the threats to humanity he perceived."
"You guys sound like you're describing a bad comic book plot, you know that? Like some cosmic writer decided that Batman was getting lame, so they have him go insane and kill super-heroes!" Roy shouted, his face turning red. "There is no Bogey-Man and there is no Batman! All of those guys were killed under circumstances we will probably never know. That happens in this line of work, Dick! Put on the costume, you might die!"
Nightwing shook his head slowly. "No, Roy, you're wrong; put on that costume and you will die."
Alan Scott sat in his room, alone, looking through the old photo albums he had previously stored at the Justice Society headquarters. He was thankful he had thought to do that, so many years ago. The intent had been to have something to look at during those long nights of meetings when he would be too tired to go home and would sleep in his private room.
He saw the pictures of his children, the heroes Jade and Obsidian, both now living in California. There were the pictures of him in his youth, back in the 1940's, and it still amazed him how he had been magically made young again. Technically, he was fast approaching 80, but he didn't look a day over 25.
He got to the pictures of his wife, who had aged normally, and had died only a year before in their New York flat. He missed her very much. You didn't spend 50 years with someone and not grow attached in a way that could only be described as spiritual. He regretted that they had never had children; his own two were from his first wife, a villain that had also long since passed on.
In his time with the Titans, the pain had eased somewhat. Being young again had its advantages. He could start over, just as he had when his first wife had fled. There were certainly enough eligible women on the team. Barbara Gordon, Cyborg, was out of the question he knew. She looked at their team leader, Nightwing, with the same eyes he had looked at his deceased wife with. He would never want to come between the happiness the two of them would share if Grayson ever pulled his head out of his ass!
There was the Black Canary, but as with the rest of the Justice Society, he had practically raised her along with her mother, the original Black Canary. He had always liked her mother, but she would have none of him. No, he smiled; she had wanted Ted Knight, the original Starman.
He had considered asking out the Catwoman, Selina Kyle, but, to his chagrin, his old teammate Ted Grant, the Wildcat, was courting her day and night. There was a history between the two of them, Alan was sure, and he wouldn't be surprised to see them playing in the kitty litter soon.
That left Huntress, which was favorite choice. She reminded him of his wife; the fire in her eyes and determination in her voice. If she had blonde hair, he would have sworn it was his wife, reborn. He had competition for her in the form of Robin, Timothy Drake. At first, he thought it was just puppy love, but then he realized that one did not apprentice to the Batman if one did not know how to be serious. True, he was still a boy, but he was fast becoming a man. And a good man at that. Though he knew that he and Tim would come to blows over the woman (that's what made being on these teams so much fun!), he still respected the hell out of him.
It was hard to be alone, trying to figure out a cure for that disease. He wasn't sure if pursuing women was a way to forget the past, or avoid the inevitable future. During the War, before his marriages, he had hidden his fear through sexual conquests. He knew he was a good-looking man, and with his power ring, he might well be the most powerful man in the universe, but inside he was a child. He understood what Dick was trying to tell everyone, and he thanked God every night that Bruce Wayne had not had a power ring at his disposal when Gotham was destroyed.
He looked down at the pictures again, these taken during the war years when he was a member of the All-Star Squadron. He remembered fondly the summer nights off 1942 with Dannette, the Firebrand. Then there had been Phantom Lady. Then Phantom Lady again, he laughed to himself.
He closed the book and stood up, smoothing out the wrinkles in his cape. He needed to be strong. He was the most experienced member of the team, as well as the field team leader. Dick was the brains, and Alan respected the young man's intelligence. "Put some wings on him, and he'd be just like you, Carter," he whispered silently, remembering the dead Hawkman.
In a tent, somewhere in Afghanistan, Bruce Wayne sat at a workbench, tinkering away at the weapons arrayed before him. Outside the tent, two rough looking guards, wearing the glyphs of Ra's Al Ghul, kept silent vigil. The woman approached them and they made no move to stop her from entering.
She stepped in, the light from the single lantern casting her impressive silhouette on the tent fabric, and stood in the doorway. "I have come to check on you, beloved," Talia said, a slight middle-eastern accent to her words.
She approached slowly, with direct calculation for each step. The Detective did not like to be rushed upon. "I can see that, but that does not matter. Come away from that bench and let us walk on the sands of my people."
She eyed him, trying to mentally put a hole in the back of his sweaty and tussled black hair. "I do not like this change in you."
He stopped and turned. There was an angry fire to his eyes, in the way his brow seemed to be knit in a permanent scowl. He lean, tanned features glistened with sweat and odd pieces of solder. "There has been no change. I have grown."
She put her hands on her hips and thrust them out slightly. "Where is my beloved who used to take me like the storm takes a town? Why is it you no longer share my tent or the warmth of my hearth?"
"Until I rid this planet of the parasites that feed upon us, I have no time for such things!" he barked.
"For two years, my father has sheltered you, provided hospitality as is our custom! Never, not once, has he asked your reasons or for anything in return. He does this for me! You are my beloved. We have the rest of our lives, which shall be very long, I assure you, to be together, and still you go about your mad quest! Perhaps I should speak to my father, tell him how you would rather sleep with the camels than his own daughter?"
Bruce turned around and reached down for a bag at his feet. He opened it and reached in. "Go ahead, tell your father," he said, tossing an object at her.
Instinctively, she reached out for it, believing it to be a ball. When she caught it, it felt clammy and cold. It took less than a second for the image of her father's severed head to burn itself into her brain. She screamed and dropped the head, which hit the sandy floor with a thud. Her screams immediately brought the two guards running in, guns pointing out ahead of them.
Bruce was up and pulling on his uniform gloves, though he was shirtless and clad only in gym shorts. His muscles rippled as he moved his hands forward and two batarangs shot out ahead of him. Each one met their mark with time-honed precision. Both guards went down, hands clutching the fountains of blood spurting from their necks.
Talia charged Bruce, but the contest was over before it had begun. He had approximately 10 seconds before the remaining camp guards reached his tent. She punched at his throat, but he grabbed her wrist and twisted until her arm cracked. "I'm sorry, but my mission is too important," he said as he slammed a palm into her chest, smashing her left breast. The heart punch had been timed and aimed correctly. Her heart stopped.
Not even looking back as his former love fell, Bruce burst out of the tent and jumped to the side as bullets flew his way. Men, speaking Arabic, shouted orders to pursue him. Bruce moved around the next tent and came up behind a man. The man whirled around, a pistol in his hand. Bruce smacked the gun up, spun, and struck the man hard in the Adam's apple. The man staggered and dropped his weapon. Bruce reached down and picked it up. He held the gun steady and aimed for the man's chest.
Bruce, you've got to stop this. They're gone.
"Shut up, Clark!" he cried, pulling the trigger. The man fell as Bruce took aim on another man running at him, a scimitar aimed high.
You need help, Bruce. Let me help you. I'm you're friend.
"Bastard! Where were you?" Bruce called as he took the swordsman down with a single shot to the head. He heard a sound behind him and immediately squatted down and kicked out behind him. He caught another gunman in the abdomen. Bruce brought the gun up and aimed for the man's head.
Put the gun down, Bruce. You know you won't shoot me.
"Yes I will, you alien freak! You're kind destroyed my city! My home, damn you!"
Bruce killed the man and got back up. There was one more guard, and Bruce saw him trying to get away, running into the desert.
You don't have it in you. Give me the gun."
"Go to Hell," Bruce said, pulling the trigger. The running man fell and there was only silence and the smell of gunpowder in the air. Bruce surveyed the scene and knew he would have to leave. That was okay. Ra's Al Ghul had secured for him the equipment he needed for his most important mission yet.
Bruce threw the gun down. He hated the damn things, but the ends justified the means. Besides, it would make it look more like bandits to the locals when they would eventually find the encampment.
He had work to do and very little time to do it in.
Tim walked into his private room in Titans Tower and slumped on the bed. He was tired, and he had exams to study for. Even with Barbara tutoring him, one of his best friends, he couldn't catch a break. The exams were important, though, because it would mean he would get to go to a good school based on his ability, not his father's money.
He had another tutor as well, Helena. He flipped over on his back, remembering how happy he was when his former high school teacher showed up at the Titan's door. Dick had found her in Italy and had convinced her to return to the United States to help him. When she had learned all of their identities, she was a little shocked.
He saw her in a different light now. True, she was at least 7 or 8 years older than him, but he imagined (constantly) what it would be like to be alone with her. He sighed. He couldn't imagine because he didn't know the first thing about being with a woman. His father's attempts at talking to him about sex were so horrible, he didn't want to think about it. He had tried the Internet, but we saw on there frightened him.
He had once tried to ask Bruce.
And then, for the smallest moment, Tim remembered Bruce Wayne, the way he had been. To those outside his circle, he had been cold and aloof, but to his closest friends, he was a father figure. He taught you not only how to look for clues or disarm someone without hurting them, but he also was there to provide advice about life. When he had approached Bruce about his relationship with the Spoiler, a teenage "criminal", Bruce had been sympathetic. His tone had changed from that of Batman to that of a man who wanted to try and help a friend. He had spoke of his trysts with the "bad girl" sect: Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Talia. They had laughed together, not like father and son, but more like two brothers, two individuals sailing on the same ship through life.
He missed his friend and mentor.
Dick had tried, and still was. He had been the one who insisted that Tim continue his schooling, despite his grueling schedule as a Titan. Dick's reply had been: Hey, I did it.
He, like Dick, was convinced that poor Bruce, driven insane by the destruction of Gotham City, was the one going around killing both super-heroes and super-villains. The media was less concerned with the death of the criminals, but each one of their names was etched on the walls of Tim's mind: Mirror Master, Evil Star, Parasite, Time Commando, Hector Hammond, Count Vertigo and the list went on and on. The death of Superman went by largely unnoticed, since most of the public believed that the revived hero was just another fake. Yet, the public was slowly becoming aware that the heroes that had been big news items for years were slowly disappearing.
Several "American" heroes had been killed within the last few months, but before that the Justice League Europe and the Global Guardians had been decimated. It was as if someone knew all of their weaknesses. No clues could be found, despite the efforts of Interpol and Nightwing. That had cinched it for Dick. "If you don't find any clues, then it has to be Bruce," he had said.
He found himself slowly drifting off when he sensed a presence in his doorway. Helena stood there, clad in her sport bra and shorts, sweating. "Hey, kiddo, care to spar a little? I just whipped the crap out of Dinah."
Tim didn't understand why, but the desire to wrestle with a sweaty woman seemed so appealing that he leapt off of his bed and moved to his dresser. "Let me get changed, and I'll show you a thing or two, old woman."
She smiled seductively. She liked teasing him because he fell for everything so easily. "I'm hoping you do…show me a thing or two."
Tim doubled his efforts to change as soon as his door shut.
Alan, Selina, Barbara and Dick, all in costume sat at the meeting table. On the monitors behind Dick, Alan could see Dinah and an older man, whom he assumed to be Oliver Queen, arguing outside. In the gymnasium, he could see Helena tossing poor Timothy around like a rag doll. He needs to watch her hands, not her other…things.
"With Roy gone, we're at the lowest membership yet," Dick began. "Cyborg, have you determined any more possible candidates for the team that we could pursue?"
Barbara, clad in the golden Cyborg suit, sat perfectly still. There was a pause and Alan could swear he heard little wheels spinning. "Observation: Dinah's former lover and partner, Oliver Queen, is also the hero known as Green Arrow. He would be more than an adequate replacement for Arsenal."
Alan shook his head. "As I understand it, and I got this information from Hal Jordan before…." His voice trailed off for a moment. "Before he died that Mr. Queen flat out refuses to ever join a team ever again. In fact, I'd say he's here to try and harass Dinah into quitting as well."
Selina snorted. "Good luck! No way he's going to tell Dinah what to do."
As if in response, Alan saw in the monitor a very enraged Dinah punch Oliver Queen in the stomach and then turn around. He heard the door slam shut down the hallway and then seconds later another slam as Dinah entered her room.
"Go ahead, Cyborg," Nightwing said.
"Determination: no more members of the so-called super-hero community are available that may be sympathetic to our cause. The Justice League International is already filled with many of our former members. Infinity, Inc. has disbanded, as has the Suicide Squad, Sovereign 7, and the Justice Society. No members of any of those teams, with the exception of Alan, are currently active."
Dick nodded. "It's funny, all of the powerhouses that are left are all part of the JLI."
Selina pulled off her gloves and examined her nails. "Well, you could try the Amazons."
Dick wiped his face with his hand. "Wonder Woman's all-female team? The one that promotes peace and love? Ever since Aquaman died, she's been really flaky."
"You know they're going to be at the memorial ceremony, don't you?" Alan said. "We could go there and ask around. I've met Power Girl before, she's headstrong, but she might join up."
The golden Cyborg suit melted away and Barbara sucked in a deep breath. "God, I love non-filtered air!" She took another breath and then put her glasses on. Gone was the sweating super-hero; in her place was the sweating librarian. "The JLI is going to be there as well. Why haven't we been invited?"
"Because JLI chairman Guy Gardner said he doesn't want a bunch of Bat-Groupies attending," Dick said, an edge to his voice.
"So, we're going, right?" Selina asked.
Dick thought for a moment. His accusations that the Batman had become a killer, a killer of his former comrades, had definitely lowered his status in the super-hero community. In fact, the Titans were considered nothing more than ghost chasers now, following the trail of a man long since dead. None of his fellow heroes could account for the deaths of so many prominent metahumans, but they had their theories. Several thought it might be the Cyborg Superman, which had prompted Guy Gardner to send out members of the Green Lantern Corps to pursue any leads. Hal Jordan's death had prompted the Guardians of the Universe to offer Guy his green power ring back. He had accepted it, but refused to turn over his yellow one and now wore both.
Wally West, the Flash and Dick's former best friend, suggested an alliance of the more powerful super-villains such as Gorilla Grodd, Ocean Master, Black Adam and others. He, like so many others, just could not accept the idea, despite his considerable abilities, that the Batman could take out such powerhouses such as Superman or the Martian Manhunter on his own.
Dick knew better.
He had seen the files, just as Barbara and Tim had, in the Batcave's computers. Batman had spent years observing the metahumans of the world, learning their abilities and limits, and then he devised plans to exploit each and every single one. Dick believed that Superman was a fluke, an act of rage, because the Kryptonite bullet meant that Bruce had used a gun.
Bruce despised guns. If he was using them, then he was deadly serious about protecting humanity from what he saw as its greatest threat.
Something kept nagging him as he remembered those files in the Batcave.
Dinah wiped the tears of anger from her eyes and then had to grab a tissue as more seemed to pour forth as if she were leaking her life away. "Damn him!" she screamed, cursing her former love.
They had been so happy once, or so she thought. There was a time, just before Gotham, that she thought her and Oliver Queen would be together forever. She had dreamed of being Mrs. Dinah Queen for so long that it just seemed inevitable that it would happen. Then came the realization that the man she had pledged her love to was nothing more than a womanizer.
He had been caught with one of their friends, a woman younger than Dinah, and that had ended their relationship. Since then, he had pleaded and begged her to come back to him, all the while she knew he hadn't given up his ways. He simply wanted something to come home to after his conquests. She had refused him every time.
Then he had come to her again today, and she had prepared herself for another tale of woe and redemption. Instead, she was informed that an unnamed female super-hero was suing him for child support.
He came to ask for money.
He received a punch in the stomach and a warning to stay away from her. She did not cry in front of him, but instead waited until she was alone in her room. She cursed herself for ever loving that man, instead of pursuing other avenues that had been laid open before her.
At one time, she had formed the Justice League of America with four other heroes. For a recently divorced 19 year old, the prospect of working so close to so many gorgeous men had been appealing. She remembered Hal Jordan, then as old as she was now, trying to impress her with his skintight outfit, which highlighted his trim figure. She had paid him no mind, instead opting to pursue the quiet, yet noble, Flash. Barry Allen had proven to be too loyal to his one true love and they had become nothing more than friends. It was very soon after that she had met Ollie.
But, there had been one man that had made her insides shake, that made her skin tingle whenever she was in his presence. True, he only associated with the Justice League here and there, but when he did show up for the occasional mission, she always managed to find a way to be partnered up with him.
After the Crisis, where Barry had sacrificed his life to save them, the Batman had helped form a new Justice League, the current one, and Dinah had been one of the first people he had asked to join. The fact that he had asked her in the throes of passion was never discussed at any meetings.
For a brief time, she had fallen head over heels for Bruce Wayne. She never understood what it was that drew them together; maybe it was all of the death associated with the Crisis. So many innocent people, plus Barry, had died that it was inconceivable. For a time, they grieved in each other's arms, but they soon parted as he began to feel too close to her. Oliver Queen was his friend.
She reasoned that he justified their affair by the fact he knew all about Ollie's extracurricular activities, but preferred to keep that information to himself. She would often wonder, especially now, what would have happened if she had pressed the issue? What if she had not simply agreed to let it die, but instead pursued the man?
Then he might not be the one they were hunting now.
Was it as simple as that? Did he lose so many things that he loved when Gotham was destroyed his mind simply left to go join them? Were they fighting Bruce Wayne?
Or the Batman?
Helena was enjoying herself.
Tim spun around with his staff, moving lightning quick, bringing it close to her skull. She blocked it with the counter-move that Nightwing had showed her. The boy…no, that wasn't right, she thought as she examined her sparring partner. Gone was the fresh-faced boy who had been in her class when she had taught high school. Standing before her, a smile a mile wide on his face, was a very handsome young man.
He wasn't quite ready yet, still had some time to age, but Helena could be patient. Physically, he was in his prime, his young body seeming to be nothing but muscle, but not in a hulking, body-builder sense. Tim was built more like a dancer, long and lean, but hiding power. Yes, she decided, ducking a kick while performing a foot sweep, he was physically ready.
As Tim fell onto his rear, she backed up and pulled out the battle staves from her belt. Nightwing had spent hours showing her how to use them, insisting that they would be much better in close-quarters than her crossbow. He got up, and she noticed his eyes dropping to her chest again. He had the desire, but that came with youth and inexperience. He needed to channel all of that pent up frustration into his technique. She tossed a stave at his knee.
Tim went down again.
It was fun sparring with him; he was the only one who could keep up with her. Nightwing tried, but his mind was always somewhere else, and he would end the match quickly with some move the great Batman had taught him.
She remembered him, being all high and mighty, keeping her at an arm's length. He never trusted her completely, yet he always used her to suit his needs. Always criticizing her methods, never once offering to show her how to do it. No, he wanted her to stop all together.
She laughed at first when she had heard he was a killer now, and then realized how much that thought actually scared her. If he were going after super-heroes, would he come after her?
Safety in numbers is what she had figured, so she had joined the Titans. At first, she thought that maybe Dick had invited her to join for selfish reasons. She had no doubt he was attracted to her, most men were. She was the ultimate "bad girl", a mobster's daughter that wore tight leather and killed big, bad men.
Or so the rumors had gone in Gotham.
It was one thing to kill in self-defense. It was another to do it for revenge. Her Italian blood burned for that revenge from the night her family had been killed. Batman could never understand because he was not Italian. He had no passion, only determination.
In Helena's mind, she had never murdered. She never killed the innocent, nor did she ever try to harm those who tried to help others. But now, Batman was murdering super-heroes, if you believed what Dick had been saying. Helena wasn't sure if she did, but she finally did understand why Dick had needed her.
She was the only one that was willing to kill him.
Tim got up and rubbed his knee. Helena bent over and put her hands on her legs, giving him a chance to look down her shirt. He didn't.
The boy was learning.
She figured another few weeks, and he'd be ready to meet her 16-year-old cousin. They would make a perfect couple. Good babies from that marriage, she thought. Healthy children with enough Italian in them to make them respectable.
The rest had gone to bed, and Barbara sat in her wheelchair in front of the monitors. She didn't really understand why Dick insisted on monitor duty since nobody ever called for assistance from the Titans, but it did help set up a regular routine for them to follow. She wished she were in bed with Dick instead.
Her life had completely changed since the awful destruction of Gotham City. She had lost her father and then had lost a good friend when Bruce had gone insane. She remembered Dick storming into her hotel room in Washington DC, scooping her up in his arms and carrying her out. She had not protested, instead overwhelmed with joy that he was still alive.
In the weeks that followed, despite their elation over the wonders of the Cyborg suit, the body count of metahumans began to rise and Dick had begun to change. She started to see a lot of Bruce in him; especially in the way he would sit and ponder over events, trying to see past the clutter of useless information to get to the heart of the problem.
She understood his dilemma, as Bruce had once explained his. For Bruce, it had always been a constant battle with himself not to just simply kill the Joker. The deranged madman had killed his ward, Jason Todd, paralyzed her and done so many other horrible things that many felt he didn't deserve to live. But the Joker had been insane, incapable of rational thought, not responsible for his actions under the law.
It was more than the law to the Batman; it was about respect for the innocent. In a way, she envied Bruce for being able to see past all of the horror that the Joker had caused, to see that somewhere deep inside that mind was probably just a normal guy who had been exposed to extreme circumstances.
Unfortunately now, her boyfriend, her lover, her life, now had to ponder the very same thing every day. Dick did not see things the same way Bruce did, try as he might. To Dick, the Joker should have been executed a long time ago, instead of by chance when Gotham City was destroyed. Where Dick saw things in black and white, right and wrong, Bruce had lived in that gray area, always willing to give others a chance. No one could doubt the Batman's willingness to take down the unjust, but very few saw his desire to truly make the world a better place.
Through Barbara, Bruce Wayne had donated millions of dollars to charities throughout Gotham City, and even more money in anonymous tithes to the Arkham Asylum to ensure that the criminally insane were given the best psychological treatment there was. Bruce wanted so much to believe that people could be made well again, whether it was the homeless man down on his luck, or the homicidal maniac unable to control the vicious urges that plagued them.
Soon, she knew, there would be a reckoning. Dick was getting closer to solving the mystery of the Batman, but in doing so, he was becoming more and more distant. She had hoped by now that they would be at least engaged.
She quietly pondered these thoughts and became lost in her own world, so she did not hear the soft steps of Selina as she walked barefoot into the room. Barbara gave a small yelp as the older woman touched her shoulder and immediately, the Cyborg suit covered her. "Observation: it may not be wise to sneak up on this unit," came the cold, metallic voice.
As the suit melted away, Selina sat down on the edge of the meeting table. "Penny for your thoughts," she said to Barbara.
"I was thinking about Gotham."
Selina nodded. "You know, I thought that by moving to New York, I'd be able to put it all behind me. Ted Grant put me up in his apartment and offered me the chance to start over. I didn't want to think about it."
"Then why did you come to us?" The question had bugged Barbara for the past year. Selina Kyle had just shown up one day, volunteering to join Dick's new team of Titans.
"I had heard about Superman, and then read the papers about all of the others…I realized, just as all of you did, that only the Batman could do such things. He was so…intense." She paused and brushed her dark hair out of her face. Sitting there in her pink pajama's, with an iron-on kitten on the chest, she did not strike Barbara as being the most notorious jewel thief in the world. Then again, Selina Kyle was not a criminal anymore. "He always believed in me, no matter what I did. He would offer words of advice, stern words for sure, but he always seemed to trust me. At first, I thought he was in love with me. Maybe in another time and place…but not here and now, nor then. I wish I could have known him better."
"That still doesn't explain why you decided to join the Titans."
Selina smiled, flashing he pearly white teeth. "The truth is that I kind of felt that if the Batman was out there doing these things, like Nightwing was proclaiming, then it was up to us to bring him in. Just like he made it his responsibility to watch over us, it our responsibility as the new…Gotham Knights to bring in our problem. This is a Gotham problem."
"'Gotham Knights'?" Barbara asked.
"Sounds better than 'Titans'. Besides, the Titans are a bunch of kids, and if you haven't noticed. Most of us are adults."
Barbara was silent for a moment. "Could you kill him?"
"No. I want to bring him to justice, get him the help he needs. I don't want him dead, but I think that Dick is afraid it will come to that. That's why Helena is here."
"I know. I thought," she blushed slightly, "at first he had lost interest in me."
"That's silly. Hell, I remember back when you were Batgirl, working with him and Batman. He couldn't keep his eyes off of you. I was really surprised when he started hanging out with that Starfire wench."
"I didn't realize my feelings for him then, so we sort of grew apart." She leaned a little closer. "I can't tell you how happy I was when that little tart left Earth!"
Both women laughed for a moment, but stopped when Dick came in. He was clad only in a pair of boxer shorts and his hair was mussed about. He had a serious look on his face. "I know what Bruce is going to do."
The Batman looked down from the hill at the expanse of nothingness before him. There, once, had been everything he had cared about in the world. There, a single man, a normal human, could make all of the difference in the world. That was true until the alien had arrived.
When Superman first appeared on the scene, roughly a decade before, the whole world had become enamored by the Last Son of Krypton. Not the Batman, though. He looked human, acted human and even tried to be human, but he wasn't. Then after him came more and more aliens, populating his Earth, using their powers to make his people depend on them. They were awestruck and became complacent.
If the aliens had never come, then Gotham City would still be there and the Batman would be up on the rooftops, perhaps working with Robin or Nightwing. If the aliens had never come, then maybe Bruce Wayne might have gotten married and had children.
But the aliens had come and they had taken his world away.
Then Superman, the alien that wanted to be human, tried to tell him he couldn't stay in his city any more. It wasn't bad enough that aliens had blasted the city into atoms, but now they wanted to take away a man's right to mourn.
It was time to take the world back, and only the Batman could do it.
He reached inside the black gym bag he had brought with him and pulled out the rifle case. Though he loathed guns, the only way he could accomplish his task was to use once yet again. Soon, he thought, he would never have to touch one again, once he made the world right.
The idea had come to him a few years back, after Superman had given him the Kryptonite bullet. He had devised several ways to take down the most powerful of the metahumans, but the Green Lanterns had always poised a special problem. Had it been a relatively inexperienced and foolish bearer of the power ring, he would have no problem. But, when you considered the experience of persons like Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner or John Stewart, the Batman wasn't sure of he could get the necessary drop on them.
His confrontation with Hal Jordan, the lackey of the alien Guardians of the Universe, had provided him with what he needed. He knew that a bullet, forged from a Green Lantern power battery would break through the defensive aura Green Lanterns kept around themselves. Batman had reasoned that, years before, after speaking with Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, who had forged his power ring from his power battery.
Batman opened the rifle case and pulled out a small black ammo clip. In it were several glowing, green bullets, forged from the remains of Hal Jordan's power battery. Leaving the rest of the battery for Guy Gardner to find, in a ruin state, was sufficient to hide his crime. Killing Hal Jordan had been even easier.
Batman simply painted a sharpened batarang yellow and impaled Jordan with it.
With Jordan dead, Batman knew he would never get close enough to Gardner or Stewart to take them out the same way. That was where the sniper rifle came in.
In a few hours, nearly every member of the super-hero community would be gathering here in a memorial service for the fallen city. Batman sneered at the thought. Had it not been for their kind, Gotham would still be there.
He knew he had to take out the key players immediately: Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Obsidian, Jade, Power Girl and Wonder Woman. Then, he would disappear for a few weeks as the heroes tried to regroup and then he would begin to strike at them one at a time. It was part of his master strategy that he had worked out years before in the Batcave.
"You take out the leadership first. Then you go after the troops," he said coldly, remembering the words of some unnamed patriot of the Revolutionary War. It was fitting, he thought, because this was a revolution; a rebellion against the forces of alien tyranny.
Then there was that nagging thought. He had killed humans. Friends. Lovers. Was that necessary in this revolution?
He dismissed the thought and set about assembling his rifle.
As the sun was reaching its zenith, the flatland that had once been Gotham City was alive with men and women garbed in colorful costumes. Guy Gardner led his Justice League over to where several members of the Justice Society stood. Handshakes and hugs were exchanged and then Jay Garrick took Guy to the side. "Have you heard from the Titans?"
Gardner gave him a roguish smile. "Just signed on one of their members. Roy Harper. Took that liberal wimp Ollie Queen's place, lousy jerk. Left us hanging like that. Maybe they did things like that in the old League, but this is the One True Justice League now and we follow my rules."
Jay ignored the posturing. "I thought they would at least make an appearance."
John Stewart, leader of the European wing of the JLI walked up. "I've got Donna Troy and Wally West on my team, and they haven't had any contact with the Titans as far as I know."
Wonder Woman and her second in command, Power Girl, soon joined them. They were members of the Amazons, an all female team. None of the men made mention that the women were walking arm in arm. Since Aquaman had been found dead, after being exposed to a red tide of unknown origin, Princess Diana had made it no secret she had forsworn the touch of men. "John, is Donna here now?"
The muscular black man in the Green Lantern uniform nodded and pointed over to where a young woman with dark hair was chatting with Black Lighting of the Outsiders. "She's been a great addition to the team, Princess; I can't thank you enough for convincing her to join up."
Wonder Woman smiled, but Power Girl spoke. "Donna doesn't quite see things as we do in the Amazons, but she is loved and respected by all of us. It was her decision to remain in the Man's World."
"Ah, Hell, Kara," Guy Gardner began. "I seem to remember you pretty much liked it here in the 'Man's World'. Your problem is you haven't experienced the right…Guy."
"Oh, there was the right man. His name was Aquaman," Power Girl said, unaffected by Gardner's jibe.
"Aquaman? What is it with you chicks? You like the smell of fish or something?" Guy asked, infuriated.
"Guy…" John Stewart began.
Wonder Woman laid a hand on Stewart's forearm. "It's okay, John; Guy's problem is that he has never experienced our kind of peace and serenity."
Guy turned and stomped off. "Yeah, you definitely got the 'peace' I want to experience."
Batman peered through the scope of his rifle and activated the laser range finder. Guy Gardner, his first target, clad in his gaudy Green Lantern uniform had turned away. The laser set right on the back of his skull. Batman released his breath and slowly pulled the trigger.
The back of Guy Gardner's head exploded in a cloud of gore and blood, spraying brain matter on the nearby Blue Beetle. Several of the more experienced heroes were immediately in action, notably Jay Garrick and Wally West. Before Guy's body hit the ground, they were there to catch him. It was too late to save him, though.
Wally detected another sonic boom and through his Speed Force enhanced senses; he saw the green projectile heading for John Stewart. He raced after it and reached out to grab it, but found he couldn't move it. He then moved to get John out of the way, but when he tried to grab the hero, the green defensive aura kicked in and knocked Wally back. Before his eyes he saw the bullet enter Stewart's skull. Though it lasted for only a split millisecond, it seemed like hours to Wally.
Heroes spread out as team leaders shouted orders. Wally started to get up when he was shot in the knee. Jay Garrick went down as well, a bullet in the heart.
Chaos reigned as the Batman methodically picked off the most powerful of the groups.
Dick gunned the Night Rider onto the exit ramp and burst through the barricade. As the customized sports car left the ramp and entered the air, special air jets on the underside of the vehicle ensured a smooth drop to the ground below. He knew they were too late, that the carnage had started. He looked over at Robin, who was scanning the area with the forward-looking radar.
Behind them, in the Titan's modified hovercraft, Cyborg guided the vehicle so that they remained perfectly aligned with the vehicle in front of them. The analog thoughts of Barbara Gordon analyzed the situation, based in part on the known plans the Batman had devised and shared with them, and determined the three most likely places the Batman would be hiding.
There was no doubt he would be incorporating his stealth costume, a special armored suit he had built for him just prior to the destruction of the city. It rendered him invisible even to the enhanced vision of Superman. However, her cybernetic ally enhanced eyes picked up on the laser range finder as it was fired.
"Night Rider, this is Titans 1, bear to the right approximately 7 degrees. I believe the Batman is on the top of that hill."
"Got it. Dinah, Selina: flank him on the right. Alan, you take to the air," Nightwing said into his dashboard microphone.
Alan Scott energized his ring and opened a portal through the top of the hovercraft. When he was in the open air, he felt much better. Here was where he belonged, free and full of energy. He summoned his will and his ring projected a field of green light before him. It washed over the hill and Alan detected not the Batman, but the energy from the bullets he was using.
Dick wasn't sure exactly what the plan would be, but he did know that one of the ones the Batman had explained to him involved getting all of the most powerful heroes together in one spot and then eliminating them in a very simple fashion. Most villains would go to elaborate ends to devise complex traps. That was the secret of the Batman's success at getting free of such things; the more parts in the machine, the more parts that could break.
Alan had been the one to suggest that Batman would use a gun with some type of special bullets. It had worked on Superman and in his insanity, the Batman would probably fall back on an old staple rather than put forth a great effort. It had been two years, and Alan had guessed the man was getting impatient.
He hadn't expected to detect the familiar energy of a green lantern power battery and he wondered where the Batman had come across one at. Then a chilling thought occurred to him: what if the Batman had a power ring? What would a weapon that was fueled by willpower be like in his hands?
Batman pulled the trigger one last time and had to concede defeat for the moment. He had gotten Power Girl, but Wonder Woman was able to deflect the bullets away with her bracelets. As he laid the rifle down and prepared to watch the chaos, safe in his stealth cloak, he caught site of a black sports car racing towards him. Behind it, he saw the familiar hovercraft of the Titans. "Dick," was all he said, realizing that he had been discovered.
He then saw the green glow of Sentinel's power ring. Instantly, his file on the hero raced through his mind. Scott was one of his idols, but he was a Green Lantern, no matter what he decided to call himself these days, and that made him a whipping boy for the Guardians of the Universe. That made him the enemy.
The batarang flew in one deft motion, emerging from the cloaking field of the Batman's armor, totally surprising Sentinel. The momentary loss of concentration allowed the Batman to pull out his nylon cord. With skill that would make someone wonder if he was from Texas, the Batman managed to lasso Scott's ring hand.
However, Alan Scott was by far no novice at combat and he immediately used his ring to from energy scissors that cut the cord. The green field coming from his ring outlined the Batman, allowing Alan to see the man fall. "Give it up, Bruce; you don't have what it takes to defeat me."
Behind his mask, the Batman smiled. He reached down onto his right gauntlet and pressed one of the semi-hidden buttons. Instantly, the stealth field was gone and the Batman stood there in a costume of light blue and white. The costume was actually a layer of micro-armor, covering a full body suit, interlaced with padding. "You're right, Sentinel, I can't beat you right now, but I can keep you busy."
The Batman whirled and shot his right arm out, pointing it at the crowd of heroes in the plain below. A twist of his forearm and a small launcher pooped up from what Sentinel had thought was only some ornamental design on the gauntlet. Instantly, a small rocket fired at the crowd. "Multiple Projectile Warhead," he said grimly.
The man who called himself Sentinel realized that the heroes were too busy attending the dead and wounded and had not even noticed them yet, much less the rocket speeding towards them. In less time than it took to think about it, he was after it, leaving the Batman behind.
The Batman, satisfied he could make it to his hidden plane before the Sentinel could return, turned and started heading down the opposite side of the hill. As he dropped over the side, he found two women waiting for him. "End of the line, Bruce," Dinah said, taking a standard defensive pose.
Selina moved slightly to the side, a whip in her hand. "We don't want to hurt you, Batman."
"Taking up with the enemy, ladies?" the Batman asked, measuring up the two women. While Selina was trim and athletic, she was no match for him and she knew it. Dinah was there to take him down.
"They aren't the enemy, you are," Dinah said, launching into the attack. "I loved you once, you know that?"
The Batman easily blocked the kick to his face, grabbed her ankle, and pushed her back. Selina's whip came down, sparks flying from where it contacted his mesh armor. His hand went for his utility belt and he tossed a flash-bang grenade at her. It exploded in her face.
Selina screamed as shrapnel from the grenade dug into her flesh, tearing it and her mask. She fell to her knees, covering her wounds with her hands. Dinah was back up and got a punch into his abdomen. He was satisfied when he heard her bones crack from the blow.
Dinah screamed and went for a throat punch with her other hand, but the Batman simply sidestepped and her momentum carried her past. With no sound at all, he kicked back into her spine. She made an odd choking sound and then fell forward onto her face. "I could have broken your spine, Dinah. Do yourself a favor and stay down."
Dinah rolled over, facing him. Her face was a mass of anger and frustration. She was outclassed and wounded, but she had to keep him here until Sentinel got back. "Got to Hell!"
"I probably will, but not before I make this world a safe place for humans."
As if in reply, the golden form of Cyborg came down from seemingly nowhere. Her fingers had become sharpened talons and they dug into the mesh costume as she landed on his back. The Batman went down on one knee, and grunted as some of her fingers dug into his flesh. "Observation: this unit will soon override the controls of your armor. Surrender is the only option."
A hot wave of anger ripped through the mind of the Batman. Here was another human, corrupted by alien ideas. It infuriated him to hear the voice of the daughter of his closest friend coming out in cold, mechanical tones. Had it not been for the destruction of Gotham City, who knew what Barbara Gordon could have become, instead of this half robot freak?
Half robot…just like the Cyborg Superman.
The Cyborg Superman had helped Mongul destroy his city.
Batman roared with a primal rage and reached behind to grab Cyborg by the neck. "You want play control? Try this!" he cried as his eye-mouse, mounted in his cowl, clicked on the armor's internal defensive grid. The power from the small chemical battery used to power the stealth field was junctioned through several step-up transformers located throughout the armor. The transformers, originally developed by S.T.A.R. Labs for use in spacecraft shielding systems, up the power step by step until several thousand volts were racing through the armor into Cyborg.
The two remained there, motionless as the power surged through the armor. Cyborg knew that the suit could not generate enough power to harm her in this form and she briefly tried to catalog all of the reasons why the Batman would attempt something so foolish. When she had gotten to the 1,978th reason, she realized that a virus, uploaded through the electrical charge into her internal mainframe, was invading her system. Suddenly, her own systems were fighting against her and she became a ware of fear.
Barbara Gordon emerged as the suit shut down. The electrical charge singed her flesh and the air was filled with the sickening smell of burnt meat. She would have surely died then if Sentinel had not returned. Seeing three of his teammates in danger, he used his ring to pick them up. So much of him wanted to go down and pound the Batman into paste for what he had done, and he realized that it had been decades since he had felt so much testosterone surge through him.
It took all of his supreme will to leave the field of battle to care for the wounded.
His armor was useless now, simply weighing him down, and the Batman considered removing it. He knew that Sentinel would probably ask for assistance from the other heroes and he would be hopelessly outnumbered. He turned to make good his escape and then stopped.
Nightwing, Robin and the Huntress stood there, determination set in their faces. "Bruce," Dick said.
He understood the challenge. "Dick," he said, bowing slightly.
The Huntress took a step back and both Nightwing and Robin moved to either side of the Batman. "You can surrender now," Robin began, shifting his quarterstaff from one hand to the other.
"Surrender to their justice? Don't make me laugh. Don't you see what they have done? They've poisoned the gene pool," the Batman said, pulling back his cowl to reveal his face.
Nightwing looked into his blue eyes and saw something he had never thought possible. There were those who said the Batman was cold-hearted, a bloodless creature of the night who felt nothing like compassion or love. Dick Grayson knew better; he had seen the love the man had for his friends, his family, and his deceased parents, for him. The eyes he saw now were devoid of any emotion except rage. Truly the Batman had taken control of Bruce Wayne. "They haven't done anything, Bruce. You need help."
Batman tossed the cowl and cape away. He heard a commotion behind him and dared to steal a glance. Several super-heroes, led by Wonder Woman, were coming over the hill. As he turned back to face Robin and Nightwing, he heard gasps and whispers as the heroes stopped in their tracks. It's him! He's really alive. Oh my God, Wally, Dick was right the whole time!
Batman observed how Robin was moving, noting the style and found it to be very similar to Nightwing's. "So, it ends here, does it? What, you think that by killing me you change anything?" He pointed behind him without turning around. "Look at them, Dick. They aren't human! Aliens. Mutants. Genetic freaks. Evolutionary diversions. If we don't stop them, then what happened to Gotham will happen somewhere else! They don't care about human lives! If they did, why didn't they stop it?"
"They were needed in other places, Bruce. They can't be everywhere at once." Then Nightwing narrowed his eyes. "Where the Hell were you?"
There was a slight twitch in the Batman's face, as if a nerve had been severed. "This wasn't my fault."
The Batman reached down to his utility belt and narrowly avoided Robin's quarterstaff. The youth was quick on the return swing and caught the Batman in the thigh. Nightwing charged, going for the device Batman held in his hand.
A backhand slap forced the Teen Wonder back a step, and a kick made Nightwing pause. "See this?" he asked, indicating the device.
Nightwing didn't reply, but only pressed his attack. Robin, however, was full of comments. "You're crazy, Bruce, you know that?"
Batman jumped high in the air, avoiding the quarterstaff and flipped out of the way of Nightwing's fists. "It's the remote detonator for the Batcave's nuclear core. Bet you didn't know it survived."
A flurry of blows contacted the Batman's chest as Nightwing pressed the attack. "Doesn't matter, Bruce, reactors work on fission, not fusion."
Batman head butted Nightwing and then punched Robin in the shoulder, spinning him. "True, but I've got enough explosives down there to radiate this whole area. I'll win no matter what!"
Nightwing paused and looked at the Batman.
He wasn't the Batman. He was a madman.
The destruction of Gotham City had killed the Batman and Bruce Wayne. The loss, perhaps coaxed by irrational fears of alien supermen and intergalactic police forces, had caused his mind to revert to a state of insanity. All of the darkness he had kept inside of him since that night when his parents had been gunned down, all of the rage he had felt, the deep inadequacy that must have consumed him as he watched them bleed to death in front of him, had finally taken hold.
In front of him was not what he had feared for so long, it was not the face of what Dick Grayson was to eventually become. That was what had driven him so hard, his desire to look in the face of madness to see if he saw his own reflection. Was being a member of the "family" of Batman, the so-called Gotham Knights, just a road to madness? Was Dick, who had suffered severe tragedy in his life, going to one day be like the shivering and babbling…thing in front of him now?
No, he decided, I won't end up like that. For too long, he had always thought that maybe if he had been more like Bruce, perhaps he would have been a better hero. Batman was the icon that so many non-powered heroes looked to. He was the model they tried to emulate.
Some people said that he saw things differently than Bruce, and that was true. Bruce did not see right and wring, but a constant mixing of the two, with innocents caught up in the middle. Through it all, he had to deny the rage inside of him and lock it away. Even when he shared things with someone, he would only go so far. He would not indulge his pain; he would not let it breathe. He refused to look for that shoulder to cry on.
And he had snapped.
Dick was just the opposite. Maybe it was because he had spent more time with his family than Bruce; maybe it was because he refused to deny the feelings in his heart for Donna, Kory and Barbara. Maybe it was because growing up, he had a friend like Wally he could turn to for support.
Batman simply kept it all internalized until the city, his fixation, was gone and that rage had nowhere left to go except out in all directions.
Nightwing turned to the Huntress and nodded. She would shoot the device out of his hand and then he and Robin would take him down. He was tired and they weren't.
The Huntress brought up her crossbow and fired.
A bolt from her weapon went straight through his throat and out the back of his neck, splitting his spinal cord. The Batman would be long dead before his mind actually registered it.
"No! God damn it!" Nightwing cried. Both he and Robin grabbed the falling form.
The Huntress never said a word.
It had been two weeks since they had buried the real Bruce Wayne. Out of respect for Nightwing, and because he had been right, the members of the super-hero community decided not to publicize the resurrection of the Batman. Because there would be no official witnesses, Helena could not be charged. When she refused to leave the Titans, stating that the reason Dick had wanted her on the team was to kill the Batman; it caused a division in the ranks.
Dick did not want to admit it, but he knew that Helena was right. Just as Superman had given Batman a Kryptonite bullet, so had Batman extracted a promise from a young Dick Grayson. "There may come a time," he had said as they sat atop a warehouse, "when one of my enemies might gain control of me and cause me to harm others. If that happens, then you must take action to ensure that I can't harm anyone else."
I can't do that, Batman; you're my best friend….
"Then find someone who can. That's all I ask of you, Robin; don't let me become that which I hate."
He wiped the tear away as he finished packing his bag. Barbara was healing just fine, thanks to the millions of dollars of funding his company was providing to S.T.A.R. labs, but it would be a few weeks before she would be ready for active duty. The end result of her injuries had been that the Cyborg suit had been absorbed directly into her body, covering her bones and restoring her to what she was before the Joker's bullet. She was going to be Batgirl again.
And he was going to be Batman.
It wasn't Gotham City, but he was sure that New York and the JLI could use a Batman here and there. With several key members dead or wounded, the call had been made by Wonder Woman herself to ask him if he would take the reigns of the team. The Amazons were being dissolved in favor of a new, stronger JLI.
Dinah was staying, but Selina, her face damaged severely, had retired to seclusion, under the watchful eye of Ted Grant. Dick offered to pay for her surgery, but she had only commented that she had her own ways of obtaining money. The good news was that Dinah's doctor turned out to the new Dr. Mid-Nite, the senior one retiring permanently to south Florida.
Alan was going to be the new team leader, and he had already recruited the Blue Beetle to take Nightwing's spot, which bothered him a little. He didn't see how the Blue Beetle was going to be an adequate replacement, but that was Sentinel's….Green Lantern's problem now. Alan had gone back to his old name, since he truly was the last one left. The Guardians of the Universe had requested he join the Corps, but Alan had refused.
One of the more interesting developments had been when Dick had caught Alan sneaking out of Helena's room a few nights before. It was obvious what was going on, and though he still held some resentment, justified or not, against Helena, he hoped the two of them would be happy.
"So, I guess this is good-bye," Tim said, walking into the room.
Dick nodded. "I'm moving into the penthouse on Park Avenue. You got your key?"
Tim reached into his pocket and pulled it out. "Don't leave the Tower without it."
Dick reached out and grabbed Tim's shoulder. "He would be very proud of you."
Tim blushed slightly and Dick released him. They started walking out. "Do you think he even realized what he was doing in the end?"
"No. He was completely gone. The man we knew wasn't there."
Tim nodded and scratched at his head. "Um, would you have a problem if I…"
"Tried out the Nightwing costume? Finish high school first, get into a good college, and we'll talk. Till then, you're Robin. Don't like it and I'll make you wear my old Robin costume."
They exited out the front door and saw Helena walking up the walkway with a young girl with her. The girl was probably about 16, Dick guessed, and looked like a younger version of the Huntress. "Timothy, I'd like you to meet my cousin, Rosalie."
Tim looked at Dick who shrugged and then pushed him towards the girl, who giggled as Tim introduced himself. She then said something to Helena in Italian. Helena smiled and pointed at Tim, and then she responded to her cousin in Italian.
As the two younger people began a conversation, Helena walked up to Dick. "Good-bye, Richard."
Dick sighed and set his bag down. "You were right. I knew all along you would kill him. Does that make me a monster?"
"Was it what he would have wanted?"
He pursed his lip. "Yes."
"Then you were his savior," she answered, kissing him lightly on the cheek.
"I sure as Hell hope he saw it that way," he said, picking up his bag. "I sure don't want to be haunted by him."
He started down the walkway, to the waiting boat to take him to the dock on the other side of the lake, and never looked back.