Title: One And Only: Epilogue
Author: D C Luder
Summary: Third in the Series of Three storyline. Set four years after the conclusion of Life Is Good. The Family moves on and... apart?
Rating: T (AKA The Rating Formerly Known As PG-13 ;) )
Infringements: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.
Author's Note: It is highly advisable that you read Time Will Tell and Life Is Good or you may be a tad bit lost. I am writing this due to the numerous requests for a sequel. That and I am absolutely obsessed with the concept of the Bat and Cat living happily ever after.
A/N 2: References made to general continuity. Thanks to Chris for helping me make yet another delightfully awkward scene for Cass and Tim.
"I get it Clark, you're surprised… and you can stop staring now."
With wide eyes, I watched on as Bruce added honey to his tea knowing that I couldn't have looked elsewhere even if I had wanted to.
When he had invited me over for breakfast, I had been unsure as to his intentions, especially since our last meeting had been fairly uncomfortable. I had arrived five minutes early that Wednesday morning to find him already on the rear terrace with the iron wrought table set for two. As soon as I had taken a seat, Alfred had appeared out of nowhere with a cup of coffee, three sugars, and announced that breakfast would be ready momentarily. When he left, I took a sip of the perfectly brewed liquid and then chanced a gaze over at Bruce's form. It was just before eight in the morning and he appeared well rested and unscathed.
Something was definitely not right.
After our plates arrived, full of steaming eggs, lightly buttered raisin toast with fresh fruit salad on the side, I had asked Bruce what was going on. He sighed, fooled around with his food a bit before answering me.
The only reply I could manage was, "Just… wow… When did this happen?"
He sipped from the cup and looked away from me. After setting it back down on the saucer he returned to pushing his scrambled eggs around his plate. Unsure as to how to answer me or just a lack of appetite?
Finally, Bruce looked up and replied, "Tim's only had the cowl for a week. So don't think that I've kept you in the dark."
"Well, you never know…" He shot me a glare and I offered him a smirk.
Being one of the most valuable members of the Justice League in addition to those deemed by the public as superheroes, Bruce had been one of the truly rare individuals who were truly mortal. He had no super powers or abilities and relied solely on his self-discipline and internal drive. Because of that very reason, I admired him more than I could ever hope to tell him. However, despite his unique skills as a detective and combatant, he was still a man. A man with limits. A man with scars inside and out.
I could recall countless occasions where Batman would emerge somewhat unharmed from massive assaults and battles the League had entered, and then head off to his own city for patrols despite the toll the encounters had taken on him. Another one of his unique traits had been the ability to put aside his own pain and suffering in order to prevent harm to come to others. Behind his back and to his face, I had always joked that he would outrun us all just on his sheer will alone.
"Bruce, I… Do you want me to tell the others?" I asked suddenly.
He shook his head, "No. There's no reason for them to know and if there is, they can figure it out on their own."
I nodded, "Very well."
As I summoned the courage to ask him why he had volunteered to hand over the cowl to his younger protégé, I heard soft giggling from inside the house. I both looked towards the open glass doors to see Mattie skipping towards us, "Uncle Clark!"
"Hey there," I grinned as she jumped up onto my lap, arms wrapping tightly about my neck.
"What are you doing here?" she asked as she finally released her hold on me.
I looked over at her father and said, "Your dad invited me over for breakfast so we could talk about a few things."
Her glassy blue eyes looked straight into mine, "Oh. Did he tell you about my horse show?"
With a smile, I shook my head, "No, he didn't."
Mattie shot a look of disbelief at Bruce, "You didn't tell him? It's the biggest news ever!"
Bruce shrugged, "Figured I let you tell him."
She rolled her eyes as she turned back to face me, "Uncle Clark, I went to a horse show with Rusty and I won every class and then at the end of the day I got a trophy and a big ribbon! It's in my room, you should come see it."
Bruce cleared his throat, "After breakfast, Mattie."
"I could bring it down here."
Bruce spoke again, "After breakfast, kitten. And after you get dressed."
"Yeah, Dad," another voice mock-whined. I looked over to see Selina leaning against the doorframe, black wavy hair slipping over her bare shoulders. She was dressed for the day, unlike her pajama-clad daughter, in a tank top and khaki Capri pants. I locked eyes for a moment and she said, "Morning, Clark."
I nodded back, "Morning. Mattie was just telling about her victory with Rusty."
"I'll have to send you and Lois the pictures. It was quite the day, wasn't it, Mattie?"
She smiled at me, "It was fun," she then leaned closer and whispered into m ear, "Except Dad got sunburn… and he stepped in horse poop." My smile widened and I had to keep myself from snickering.
Selina spoke up suddenly, "Well, let's get you clothed and fed, kid."
"I want to eat out here," Mattie declared.
Her mother shook her head, "Sorry, hon, Dad and Clark were out here first. Besides, if you ask Dad, maybe we can eat on the couch and watch cartoons."
Bruce sighed when his daughter looked over at him, begging to have breakfast in the den. He nodded reluctantly and watched as she hopped off of my lap and skipped back into the house. While watching her, I had no doubt in my mind that somehow, she figured into Bruce's decision to---.
"Clark, I need you promise me something."
I pushed my glasses up and replied, "All right." I had to admit; watching him fidget this way was one of the most unnerving experiences I had ever been faced with. Add taking an oath from him…
"This…. Shift is going to take time for him to adjust to. Even still, once things get settled he and Cassandra and Dick if he stays… They'll have a lot to deal with here…" he stood suddenly and approached the terrace railing. After he set his hands on the ironwork, he looked towards the woods in the distance, "I'm not saying he's not ready, all I'm saying is that he needs to stay focused…"
I nodded, "On Gotham."
He nodded as well, "If you asked him to join the League, Clark, I know he would have a hard time turning it down."
After a moment, I rose as well and stood beside him at the railing. Following his gaze, I smirked to see a pair of does edging their way out onto the grass. It wasn't long before a soft sound in the woods caused them to jump and take off, bounding into the trees.
"Batman was always an important figure in the League. Maybe someday, he will be again… But not now. And besides," I grinned as I turned to face Bruce, "Flash has your old chair… wanted to sit closer to Diana."
A small smirk formed on his lips but quickly vanished, "Well, before you take off, you better let Mattie show you her trophy. If you don't, I'll never hear the end of it."
He turned and led the way into the house. I let a few strides of silence pass before asking, "When does she start school up again?"
Bruce paused slightly before answering, "Next Tuesday."
"First grade," I sighed, "Can't believe it's been a year already…"
"I can," he muttered softly as I turned left and crossed a main foyer before entering the den. Sure enough, Mattie and Selina were camped out on the leather couch, eating bagels and picking at bunches of grapes. The second I entered, Mattie looked over at us and jumped to her feet, "Wanna go up to my room, Clark?"
"I'd love to," I smiled.
I watched as she popped two more grapes into her mouth before walking towards me. Before she could grab my hand and lead me towards the stairs, Bruce offered his own hand and, "Thanks for coming, Clark."
"Anytime," I said while gripping his palm, "Anytime."
"Almost done," I said to the small child sitting on the exam table. His mother, a full-time waitress at Garf's Deli ten blocks north, was standing just behind me, a nervous smile on her face.
The child paused and then squealed in over-dramatized pain as I injected the tetanus toxoid into his blood. I deftly removed it and pressed a small wad of gauze over the tiny hole in his arm. After quickly offering a sugar free lollipop and rainbow sticker, the tears ceased and a fraction of a smile appeared.
After helping him off the exam table, he bounded towards the door, his too-big basketball jersey swinging back and forth as he moved. I then turned to the mother, who had been a patient of mine for less than a year, "Andrew will be fine, the cut was fairly small and the tetanus is just a booster. The stitches can be taken out in two weeks, just come back then and we'll see her quick."
The tall woman nodded and then strode after her son who had begun to wander the corridor. At the door, she half-turned and offered a tired smile, "Thank you, Leslie."
After cleaning off the counter and the exam table, I washed my hands and smoothed out my white coat. When I passed through the door, I shut the lights off and headed towards my office. It was finally one-thirty and time for a fifteen-minute lunch break. The door to my office was shut, which was odd because when Alfred waited for me there he always left it ajar. And when I left it, the door was always wide open.
I opened the door and stepped into the room. Empty except for that odd feeling in the deep of my stomach. I smiled.
"Bruce, it's daylight out…"
I turned and looked behind the door where Bruce was hiding. He was dressed in blue jeans, leather sandals and tan polo. He was studying the potted daffodils that sat in a wicker basket on my file cabinet. When he faced me, he smirked.
"To what do I owe the honor?" I asked after closing the door and walking towards him.
"Alfred said he couldn't make it for lunch. Sent me instead."
I smiled, "Oh?"
Bruce glanced at his watch before comparing the time with the clock on the wall, "I hope that's not a problem."
"For you, Bruce, I'll even double my break."
At the mention of lunch Bruce motioned to my desk where a brown paper bag was sitting on the rare vacant spot, "He made lunch for us…"
"Lovely. Mind if we eat outdoors? It's such a beautiful day."
Eight minutes later, we were seated on a bench under one of the towering oak trees of Hyden Park. I chose the ham sandwich and Bruce took the roast beef. Unlike lunch with Alfred, Bruce worked hard on eating and drinking instead of talking. Not unexpected considering he was who he was…
"So tomorrow's the big day?"
He nodded and swallowed before replying, "We're having dinner at six if you're free."
I nodded, "I'll do my best."
"I've heard that before."
I looked over at him and smirked, "So have I."
Bruce paused before saying, "Touché."
Another silent minute passed by before I inquired, "So, have you seen Dr. Rodgers?"
Bruce took a deep breath and looked down the street instead of answering. In light of his retirement, I had taken the opportunity to push for the knee surgery he had been declining for two years. It would require ten hours of surgery, a week's stay in the hospital, two weeks of bed rest followed by four months of physical therapy. In his role as Batman, there had been no possible way for him to under go the surgery, but now…
"I have an appointment next week for a physical exam and an MRI."
"Good. Todd's an excellent orthopedic surgeon, one of the best on the East coast…"
After we had eaten, chatted on how school shopping had gone, it finally came down to a topic that Selina and I had discussed for four years, and even more so in the last month, but one I had never mentioned in front of Bruce.
"Speaking of children, have you made a decision? Last I spoke with Selina, the ball was in your court."
I watched as he leaned back against the bench and closed his eyes. When I asked him what was wrong he replied, "Nothing… I had hoped that for just once Selina could keep things… quiet. For a little while, anyway." When I reached over and set a hand on his shoulder, he opened his eyes and looked down at me. He continued, "And no I haven't decided."
"I don't know. There are so many reasons why we should try to… But then again, there are reasons why not…"
"Bruce Wayne, you mean to tell me you can justify not having another child with the woman you love?"
He waited before answering, "In a way… yes."
"Oh this I have to hear."
"Leslie… I'm forty-two years old. Men my age have children going to college, not first grade."
"But men your age didn't spend a vast majority of their adulthood on rooftops."
"And a six year gap between Mattie and another child---."
"Would be just fine," I interrupted, "I remember when you were six years old and your parents were just starting to think about having another child. They decided to wait and…" I watched as he winced slightly. To anyone else it would have been unnoticeable, but I knew better. I lowered my hand and set it on his, squeezing it gently, "Bruce, time has a way of slipping by. Don't put something like this off until it's too late."
After he squeezed back, he stood and gathered the leftovers and empty containers from our lunch. While walking back to the Clinic, he tossed them into a mesh trashcan. It wasn't long before he had reverted to his silent ways and with only two blocks from saying good-by to one another, I went for it, "So I haven't seen the Batman recently. I take it he must be fairing well."
Bruce nodded, "He's doing fine."
"That's good to hear. At any rate, I'm getting too old for those late night raps on the back door." After we crossed the street, I paused at the front entrance, "Well, I best be getting back. I'll see you tomorrow night."
"Okay," he said as he went to turn away. I grabbed his wrist gently and when he stopped to face me, I wrapped my arms round his neck. Slowly, I felt his left arm slip around my waist and heard his whisper at my ear, "Thank you, Leslie."
When I let him go, I asked, "For what?"
"Does it matter?" he winked and proceeded to head to his car.
When he was out of earshot, I said, "No, it doesn't."
As I lay on the blanket in the middle of Robinson Park, I held my breath to keep from hiccupping.
"Shouldn't have drank the soda so fast, Dick," Barbara smirked as she reclined beside me.
I would have mocked her but I knew if I opened my mouth I would succumb to the hiccup.
We had decided to spend the first Saturday in September out and about. I spent the morning in Townsdale, an hour north of Gotham, antiquing and shopping at the farmer's market. After I made a quick stop at the Clocktower to unload everything, Barbara packed a small picnic basket and we headed out for the park. Waiting until three to eat had left me famished and after engulfing three turkey sandwiches and a dozen strawberries, I had made the mistake of guzzling down a can of soda.
And now I had the hiccups.
"Selina called this morning when you were showering," Barbara suddenly announced, "Said they were going to have another 'First Day of School' dinner we were interested."
I smirked and touched her arm, "At least this time we can go –hih- together."
She smiled back at me as she turned her head towards me, "Very true. But you never know, there's tomorrow and Monday for us to get into a major blowout fight before the dinner."
"I don't have time to –hih- get in a fight, woman. I have to get that office –hih- cleaned up for Monday."
"Because you have so many clients lined up just begging for your consultation." I rolled my eyes and she slapped my chest. When I raised my brow, she shrugged, "There was a fly, I swear."
"As a matter of fact I do –hih- have someone already interested in my services."
"The dry cleaning lady?"
"She said she –hih- had a few concerns about the security of –hih- her business and was seeking consultation."
"But… the dry cleaning lady?"
Although Barbara joked, I knew she was supportive about the venture Jim and I were starting for a number of reasons. First, it gave me a purposeful occupation in the city I had grown up in, one that would not bore me to tears nor run me ragged. Second, it gave her father an opportunity to continue helping the city he had helped pull from the jaws of corruption so many years ago. Third, it gave us both something to do so we would stop hanging around the Clocktower and bugging the hell out of her.
"Anyone else you have lined up for the fall season?" she asked, barely keeping a straight face.
"I offered Bruce a ten-percent discount to do the Manor –hih- but he just sat there and stared at me."
"I wonder why…" she sighed as her eyes closed.
I paused before adding, "I thought it was a reasonable offer… Your Dad only wanted to give him five." She laughed and I joined her. "I guess the painters are coming Monday afternoon, so that –hih- means we have to have everything picked up and covered in plastic."
"Please tell me you're not going to help them."
"Wish I could help, but they said they had it covered… I'm not that bad of a painter…"
She snickered, "Dick, remember a few years back when I redid my kitchen?"
"And remember how you painted your name on the wall and then painted over it, thinking it would hide it?"
"And remember how it didn't work so you kept painting layers over it and then when I had to paint the rest of the room I didn't have enough?"
"… You know, now that you mention it… Yeah, I recall something like that… Maybe not –hih- exactly but close to it."
She sighed again, and then moved closer to me on the blanket. I stretched my arm out and let her rest her head on my chest before wrapping my arm around her back. "Guess it's a good thing that when I was a cop, I already had a job to moonlight with instead of becoming a contractor or a painter or whatever like the rest of the guys."
"Guess so," Barbara replied.
After ten minutes of silence, I realized that my hiccups had disappeared. I gave a sigh of relief and settled into a slight doze with Barbara. Gotham had a warm, muggy summers and this one had been no different. The afternoon yielded a slight breeze that the humid morning had not. The nights had been this side of torture with the weather making the criminals cranky. But at least they were able to commit crimes in shorts and wife-beaters; a full body suit did nothing to keep one cool in the midst of bashing skulls and dropping in on meth labs.
Tim had been Gotham's new guardian for nearly two weeks and so far everything was running smoothly. Even though he now had his own mini-cave and I had the use of the Clocktower, we both frequented the Bat-cave to train, spar and annoy the hell out of Alfred.
I was still surprised at how he was taking everything. In the middle of me freaking out about him retiring and Tim stepping up, I hadn't really given much thought as to how he was seeing everything. After all, his entire life had been devoted to being Batman and now it was all over… Our Friday night dinners had been a staple of life for a while, but now I made sure I was there even earlier so that I could play catch up with Bruce. He never really wanted to talk about things, but I still went the extra mile to at least try. I had to because I knew he wouldn't.
That's not to say that just because he wasn't behind the cowl that Bruce was no longer involved. Instead of hearing only Oracle over the comm. link at night, I now had the luxury of hearing his gritty voice. He would start to order us around as if he was out there with us, but then he would catch himself and turn his commands into suggestions.
I wondered if Selina was standing behind him, hitting him in the head whenever he went too far.
"You asleep?" Barbara asked suddenly.
I took a moment to respond, "Yes, actually."
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as she checked her wristwatch. I looked at it myself and was surprised to see that it was nearly five-thirty.
"Where did the day go?" she asked herself while sitting up.
After sat up as well, I replied, "Well a good chunk of it was lost standing in line behind that old lady who wanted to buy pre-sliced pineapples."
Barbara smirked as she reached for her water bottle, "I felt bad for her… She had to have been eighty years old, practically deaf… How many times did they have to explain things to her? At least a half of a dozen."
I began to pick up our trash and said, "If I ever get that way, Babs, just put me out of misery."
When I stood to go to the garbage can, I replied, "That was a little too eager."
She nibbled on the last strawberry and shrugged, "You asked me something and I said I would."
My brow arched at her words. I knelt next to her and set down the soda can and empty carton of berries, "Oh… Is that so?"
"It is," she smirked at me, eyes glowing in the afternoon sun.
"Well, then let me rephrase my question and let's see if you say you will again."
I wiped my hands together and took a breath while I formulated the question in my head. I had been formulating said question for years and had yet to get it figured out. The other night, Jim Gordon and I had been eating chilidogs after a long afternoon of rearranging office furniture in our new "headquarters". I had asked his permission to ask the question I was formulating and he had stood and hugged me, "It's about damn time, son."
As I reached into my pocket, I smiled, thinking to myself that at least my hiccups were gone. That would have killed a marriage proposal for sure.
Here goes nothing, I told myself.
"Barbara, will you…"
After decking a thug in the jaw, I shot out a roundhouse that landed in the flabby stomach of one of his comrades. Another blow to each of them and they were out cold on the damp pavement, allowing me a moment to regain my balance before turning to face Nightwing, "You what!"
He held up one hand to me, gesturing to wait a minute just before he ducked the wide arc of a tire iron. Instead of standing to be in the path of the back swing, he dove forward, shoulder first, into his assailant's abdomen. As the iron clattered to the ground, Nightwing wrapped his gloved arms around the thug, effectively pinning his arms to his sides. The move took both of them to the ground but only Nightwing stood back up.
As he brushed dirt off of his gloves, he looked over at me, "I proposed to her."
"Why?" I blurted out, doing my best to keep my voice from lightening.
Nightwing shrugged while he retrieved plastic cuff ties from a pouch on his right glove, "I love her. Seemed to be reason enough."
I retrieved similar cuffs from my utility belt and went to work at binding our newfound friends. I had been working standard patrol along the docks in Chinatown and had happened upon a quaint drug smuggling group trying to unload the goods from a small freight boat. It had been the first big action we had come across that night.
"Did you ask her father first?"
He nodded and ran a hand through his hair after he had secured the last of the thugs, "Of course. I'm not suicidal… He's pretty excited, though."
"And you're not?"
Nightwing smirked as he looked over at me, "I'm more than happy. I can't even describe it."
"So does this mean you're going to be in Gotham full time?"
Nightwing shrugged and answered, "I keep telling myself that I have enough to deal with here in Gotham with the consultant firm and Barbara and this but the Haven… It still needs a lot of work. I lost so much time over the last year… I figured the least I could do is run up there a few times a week, thump some skulls to refresh their memories of the Wingster," he looked over at me and winked, "Maybe even con this big, scary bat guy I know into a monthly visit to scare the pants off of a few no-gooders."
"Perhaps," I muttered while pulling out my grapple gun. I fired a shot to the roof of a seven-story apartment building and once retracted, accelerated quickly skyward. A moment later, Nightwing landed on the roof beside me. We watched silently from above as the neighbors slowly came out of hiding in the various alleys and late night seafood restaurants. Not ten minutes later, a pair of black and whites pulled up as well as a black van. As the patrolmen loaded up the prisoners, another squad car showed up, this one yielding to two familiar faces: Detective Renee Montoya and Commissioner Erin Kelsey.
Nightwing snickered, "Guess we caused a real ruckus to warrant her presence."
"Hm," I replied while studying the new commissioner. She walked over to the three remaining thugs, who were finally coming to, talking to them while she pointed at their bonds. One of them replied and she stormed off back to the patrol car.
"And here I thought she was just getting to like us," he sighed.
"I spoke with her last night," I admitted.
I nodded, "Less threatening than the last time. I was able to slip out before she ordered me to leave."
"Ah she'll warm up to us. When the next time Bane or the Joker tries to take over the city…" I shot him a look and he muttered, "Sorry. Guess that was pessimistic. If… If the next time."
I stood on the edge of the roof, in full view for those who were looking. Montoya and Kelsey were at the car they had arrived in, wrapped up in a heated discussion. When Montoya turned to put her radio back on her belt, she did a double take and looked up at me. I nodded slightly just before she spoke to the commissioner who then looked up as well. She shook her head, let her shoulders fall with a sigh and then opened the door to get into the car.
She had arrived in Gotham shortly before I had taken the cowl from Bruce. He had met with her a few times and despite her crude outlook on our work, felt that she would eventually be inclined to understand the necessity of it. One night in the Cave while I had been reviewing logs from an earlier case, he had told me how that initially Jim Gordon had been on a mad run to see to it that Batman was brought in. And how it had only taken one act of bravery, of Batman saving an old woman from getting hit by a bus for Gordon to see the truth.
The masked man was not a hazard for the city, but a hero.
"Wow, is it really half past four?"
I turned away from the scene below to see Nightwing yawning. After a quick glance back to see Kelsey and Montoya on their way out, I walked over to him. "Heading in?"
He nodded, "Yeah. Hate to keep the old lady waiting up for me."
"I heard that," a soft voice came over the comm. Link.
I allowed myself a quick smile before leaving him, talking to his fiancée.
Since the weather had been nice and I hadn't made it up to Bristol that night, I had taken the cycle out for the night and it took ten minutes to get to where I had parked it. The ride to Bryanttown on the practically empty streets was a little under fifteen minutes and I made it to the satellite cave just as the clock read five in the morning. I changed into jeans and a tee shirt before hopping back on the bike and driving to my apartment.
I had found myself patrolling longer and heavier than I had as Robin and hadn't decided the reason why, yet. Part of me figured that without Bruce working as well, there was all that more to do. But there really wasn't. The other part of me wanted to make Bruce proud. And I hoped I had.
After a quick stop in the kitchen for a glass of orange juice, I headed for the bathroom for a nice hot shower. Smelling of sweat and seawater was not too appealing at that point. As I let the water warm up, I shaved the two-day's worth of stubble from my jaw and mentally prepared for the day. Even though I didn't truly need a job, I had a longing to do something during the daylight hours aside from classes, even if it was part-time computer repair at some company. So the day was to be spent reading classifieds, dropping off resumes and then to end on a good note, dinner up in Bristol to commemorate Mattie's first day as a first grader.
Clean-shaven, I stepped into the shower and let the water splash on my head and run down my shoulders and chest. After I had started to scrub my arms, I heard a faint sound in the hallway and then a rap at the bathroom door. Interesting, because the last time I checked, I most definitely lived alone…
Startled, I asked, "Cassandra?" The door opened as she passed through and then closed behind her. Once it was shut I asked, "What's wrong? Are you hurt? Did the Signal go off?"
"No, I'm fine. No I… I was wondering if was all right if I stayed here. Give Dick and Barbara some time to be alone."
"Oh…. Oh, right," I said, "Well, that's fine." I let out a breath, reminding myself that something didn't always have to be wrong.
"Thanks," she said quietly. I listened for the door to open and when it didn't I wanted to ask her why.
She didn't give me the chance, "Did you just get back?"
"Yeah, like five minutes ago."
Another spot of silence, which was finally broken by a door being opened. But not the bathroom door that lead into the nice little hallway, which was decorated with framed James Bond movie posters. No, the shower door opened, which had been the only barricade in between Cassandra and my bare derriere.
"Whuh---?" I started to ask, "What are you doing?"
"Oh, don't even start," she said before wetting her hair. Keeping her back to me, she looked over her shoulder at me, "Don't just stand there. Least you could do is wash my back."
After oxygen returned to my lungs, I whispered, "Oh, boy."
I thought that if I closed my eyes harder and held the pillow tighter over my face that the alarm clock would go away. As it continued to buzz mere inches from my ear, I finally reached out from under the sheets and smacked it until I found the snooze button.
After taking the pillow off of my head, I looked to my right to see that it was nearly noon. I then looked to my left to see Tim, surprisingly still sleeping.
"How could you sleep through that?" I asked.
He didn't even flinch.
I smacked him with the pillow in my hand and repeated my question after he sat upright, searching the room for his attacker. When his eyes settled down on me, he smirked, "Oh. Must have been tired."
With a smile, I said, "I would hope so," before sitting up as well. After stretching my arms and yawning, I said, "I'm starving."
He ran a hand through his hair, causing the short hairs to stick up on end, "Well… I don't have food per se… I think there's some cereal… No milk though."
"We'll have to order out then. Pizza?" I suggested.
Tim shrugged, "Sounds good to me."
I slipped out of bed and walked over to his closet, not surprised to hear his breathing catch. After all, it wasn't like I brought pajamas… I asked him what he wanted on his pizza as I pulled a long-sleeved GSU shirt off of a hanger. When he didn't reply, I looked over just in time to see him jerk his head away from me, "Oh, uh whatever. Surprise me." After donning the shirt and heading towards the living room, I spotted him getting out of bed from the corner of my eye, deftly covering himself with a pillow. I thought it was somewhat cute that even at his age that he was anxious about nudity.
"I'm just going to, uh, clean up a bit," he called from the bathroom, "The number for the pizzeria is on that bulletin board thing in the kitchen."
And it was. I called Joe & Joe's and put in an order for a large cheese pizza and a dozen garlic rolls. After giving them the address, I hung up and searched the cupboards for a glass. In the third cabinet, I found one and then opened the fridge. He wasn't lying when he said he didn't have anything. A nearly empty carton of orange juice, two English muffins, a bag of plums and a large two-gallon jug of water graced the empty shelves. I opted for the water and filled the glass twice before emptying it and putting it the sink.
Tim was still in the bathroom when I returned to the bedroom. I paused at the full-length mirror that was on the wall next to his dresser and looked at myself from head to toe. The shirt was huge on me, the hem nearly to my knees but I had seen it on Tim and it just passed his hips. When I left later that day I would have to steal some shorts but for the time being the shirt worked just fine.
Coming to his apartment the night before had been totally random. I had hardly seen him on patrols that night as he and Nightwing had worked together. Those nights I tended to let them be together while touring on my own. Before setting out for the night, I had been eating dinner in the kitchen, waiting for Barbara and Dick to back from their day out. They hadn't given a set time, but I figured they would have been back by at least four.
When they passed through the front door at a quarter of six, I stood in the small foyer, arms crossed and tapping my foot. Dick had immediately burst into laughter and Barbara soon joined him.
"Where have you been?" I had asked.
"Well, uh," Dick began before shoving his hands in his pockets.
"Well?" I asked, biting the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing as well.
It was then that Dick nudged Barbara's shoulder with his hip, "You tell her."
"No, you. It was your idea."
He paused, shrugged and finally looked over at me, "Uh, we're getting married."
They had brought dinner home with them, Chinese take out from the place on Bradley. As much as I wanted to stay and partake in seafood egg rolls, I had figured they needed the time to themselves. After all, it had taken how many years for him to finally ask her? It was the least I could do to give them some time together.
After patrols had been wrapped in the north where I had been working, I had wondered if Tim… Batman had called it a night. When I called in to check with Oracle, she had said he had and that Nightwing was also calling it a night. I told her I would stay at Tim's since I was closer to his apartment than to the Clocktower. She had replied, "Thanks, Cass. Behave yourself."
"I will…" I paused as the connection closed, "… for a little while," I finished.
Breaking in was hardly a challenge and finding him had been even easier. Only light on in the whole place was coming out from under the bathroom door. I had caught him off guard but he had sounded more pleased than shocked. When I slipped into the shower with him just as I had last November, I was split in half as to what his reaction would be. Last time it had been amusing to watch him squirm and make valiant attempts at decency.
This time was a little different. A lot different.
He had been nervous at first, washing the skin of back and arms, the loofah quivering slightly in his hand. I ignored it and went about washing my hair and face, hoping me calmness would catch on. Although it took a while, it did. He even kept his cool as I stepped out of the shower and toweled off. After I wrapped a towel around my form, Tim reached for one on the rack to cover himself but I snatched it first and rat-tailed him in the butt. I couldn't help but laugh at the look on his face but soon cried out when he charged after me while wrapping a towel around his waist. Having toured the apartment before, navigating in his bedroom in the dark had been easy.
He finally tackled me and pinned me to the bed, retaliating with tickling pokes and pinches on my sides and my neck. When he moved off of me and laid beside me on the bedspread, I reached out with my arm and draped it over his neck. A moment later, his hand found its way to my side, caressing instead of tickling.
I asked him if Dick had told him about the engagement and after he nodded I added, "Tonight's just full of surprises."
He smirked softly, "That it is."
After I bit my lip and moved closer to him and asked, "Think there's room for a few more?"
He would have probably agreed with me verbally but he was too busy putting his lips on mine. And I would have acknowledged his agreement but I was too busy scoring his torso with my hands, draping my leg over his thigh…
A buzzer interrupted my thoughts and I glanced towards the hall, thinking that it had been awfully fast for a delivery. I then called out towards the bathroom door, "Where's your wallet?"
He paused before answering, "Dresser. Somewhere. Should have a twenty in it."
After searching through the half-folded clothes, empty water bottles and spare scraps of paper, I found his black leather wallet, fished out twenty-five dollars and then made my way to the door. I passed by a pair of running shorts that were on the end table next to the bedroom doorway and decided it was just some delivery guy and it didn't really matter if he saw my legs.
The buzzer sounded again just as I reached the door. As I unlocked it, I said, "Just a minute." After pulling back the dead bolt, I opened the door and asked, "How much was it?"
My eyes widened when I looked up to see Bruce holding a potted ficus bonsai plant, "I think it was sixty-five dollars. I think the pot came with it."
Selina, who stood to his left, nodded and looked like she was about to break into uncontrollable laughter.
Definitely should have opted for the shorts.
I watched as Bruce eyed my lack of clothing and then peered inside to Tim's foyer, "I wanted to catch Tim before this afternoon … Did we come at a bad time?"
I shook my head and stepped back so they could enter the foyer. Before I could explain, or even close my gaping mouth, Tim emerged from the hall, brushing his teeth with an electric brush, dressed in khaki shorts and a blue-striped white button up shirt that was untucked and unbuttoned. As he turned towards us and looked up he asked, "Did you find my wall-whoa!"
I kept glancing from our visitors back to Tim and then back to them. Selina finally interrupted the awkwardness, "We brought you a ficus… It was a belated housewarming gift... But it looks like you've already warmed up the house pretty well yourselves."
"Listen, Bruce I can explain…" Tim began.
Bruce shook his head, "No need to. We should have… called ahead," I watched as he shot a nervous glance to his wife before stepping forward, offering the plant to Tim, "Anyway, the place looks… looks great."
"… Thanks," he said softly, taking the ficus.
He did a quick look around the cluttered living room and then glanced at his watch, "Well, we figured we drop by… Have lunch reservations for twelve-thirty so we should be going."
Tim and I watched dumbstruck as Bruce and Selina left as quickly as they had come. We both walked to the door and peered out in the hallway just in time to witness two things.
First, the to see the pizza boy sauntering up the hallway carrying out lunch.
Second, to see Selina wrap an arm around Bruce's waist as she said, "Just think dear... One day, we'll be visiting Mattie at college... and if I happen across a similar scene… Think of this as like a warm-up for that."
Despite the fact that we had lived next door to each other for over twenty years, I still felt uneasy about inviting him over for coffee and to talk. I had called over there a little after four on the second Friday of September, knowing either his wife or butler would just be getting home.
After three rings, I was surprised to hear Bruce's voice answer, "Yes?"
"Bruce, it's Jack Drake."
"Oh, hello. Can you wait for just a second?"
"Sure thing," I replied, forcing my breaths to be as even as possible.
I listened as his muffled voice said, "Mattie, why don't you go upstairs and change, then I'll head over to the barn when Mom gets home," then back to me, "Sorry, just walked through the door."
"If you want I can call back later---."
"Oh, no it's fine. So, what's on your mind?"
Oh, Bruce if you only knew… "I was wondering if I could have coffee some time, sit down and… talk over a few things."
There was a pause on the other end of the line and in the silence I could hear the soft British voice of Alfred Pennyworth. Then Bruce replied, "I'm free now until five if you are."
So much for being to plan out your words, Jack, I thought to myself. "Sounds great, if you like I can come over there or…"
"Actually, we probably should meet at your place." I understood the underlying message of him wanting to keep things away from his daughter. I had been the same way with Tim when his mother…
"Sounds great. I'll see you in a bit."
"All right," he said briskly before hanging up.
I hung up as well and dashed to the kitchen to put on a fresh pot of Columbian roast. That morning, Dana had made a fresh loaf of banana bread and I went about carving out a few slices, all the while trying to compose my thoughts.
That Tuesday, Tim had come up to Bristol for Bruce's daughter's school dinner and had then dropped in afterwards to speak with me. It had started out fine, him telling me about his course load for the fall and a few jobs he was looking into as well as an internship offer he had received. Then I started on the new apartment, life in general and his relationship with Cassandra. As the hour grew late, I asked if he had to get going to his patrols or whatever and a wince had come over his face.
"What is it, Tim? Are you no longer… doing that anymore?"
He sighed before looking into my eyes, "No. Actually, I got a promotion."
Three days later and I still could not process the fact that my son was now the guardian of Gotham. The man behind the mask and the myths and front-page stories. Having kept tabs of Batman's activities over the years, I knew the inherent danger associated with the role and was worried for the life of my son.
Hopefully, his mentor would be able to put that concern to rest.
When Tim had revealed his secret life to me, it hadn't taken much more to figure out just why he was always over at Wayne Manor and why Bruce Wayne had such long nights. I never told Tim but I was sure that he knew I wasn't in the dark any longer. What I had wondered was whether or not he ever told Bruce that he revealed his being Robin to me. And that I knew who Bruce really was. Then again, he was the world's greatest detective…
It had been an incredible journey, trying to accept the fact that Tim had been involved in such dangerous and yet prominent position. As Robin, it had been easier for me to handle as he was a protégé of a number of others. But the tables had finally turned…
The doorbell sounded softly and I walked briskly to the front door. Even though I knew who was on the other side, I peered through the spy hole and looked over Bruce's form. Older than I was and he was in near perfect physical condition. As I opened the door, my mind flashed back to over a decade earlier, when I was still bed ridden and respirator dependent. Memories of being kidnapped alongside my physician, Shondra Kinsolving. Of Bruce, wheelchair bound but doing his damnedest to save us, there in Bristol and across the globe…
"Bruce, come in," I stepped back and watched him walk into the room. Being up close to him made me wonder what it had been like for Tim to face-off with him as a teenager. To go up against a man his size and with such strong presence…
I lead the way to the dining room and poured coffee for both of us. As I added cream and sugar, Bruce took his cup and sipped the black hot liquid. After both of us had half-drained our mugs, I cleared my throat, "I don't know how to say this… But… I know I have to. I can't get the thoughts out of my head."
"What?" he asked, his voice lower than usual.
I drew a deep breath, "I know Tim was successful as Robin. I know he's a quick learner and that he's dedicated to his work. And I know that his loyalty to you is infallible but… I don't know anything about what you do and how you work things…" I stood and toured the room on foot, "I need you to know that… I'm not mad at you for hiding everything from me. I guess on some level I always thought I was but deep down… I'm envious."
I looked over at him, to see an unfamiliar face. It wasn't the lighthearted face of Bruce Wayne whom I had seen at New Year's masquerades and spring banquets. His jaw was set tightly and his brow was furled slightly. The face of the real man who lived next door.
"No, I am. I know Tim's life was harder than most and that I wasn't the best father or role model for him. But, him becoming Robin, becoming one of your… It was the greatest thing that ever happened to him. He worshipped you… I still remember the scrapbooks he kept of all the Batman articles. If he watched the news and you came on it he would search the den for a tape to record the footage. I know I never could have inspired him like that."
"Jack, don't do this to yourself."
"It's all right, Bruce. I've accepted it. He says he doesn't see you as a father like the... others do. But I know he looks up to you. He always has… But what I want to know is if you have the same appreciation for him?"
"What?" he asked after he stood to approach me.
I waited until he paused before continuing, "He told me Tuesday night. After dinner, he came over here and told me that he had been given the cowl. That he was now Batman. That you had stepped down and asked him to carry on the mantle."
He nodded slowly.
"So what I want to know is if you think he is actually fit for the job or if you had no other choice and are risking my son's life."
"The risk has always been there for him, Jack," he spoke softly, but deeply, "For all of us. I would never intentionally put him or anyone else in harm's way. He's trained for the work and he's excelled beyond what even he thought possible."
"But why him? Why not Richard?"
Bruce sighed, "Neither Dick nor Tim ever planned on being Batman just as I had never planned on not being Batman. And although Dick had stepped in for me before, it had never been a final solution, only temporary. I've made errors of judgment in the past as to who would be worthy of taking my place…" he looked up and locked his icy eyes with mine, "But with Timothy, you have my word, my life, that it is not a mistake. I wouldn't have any other person behind the mask."
I had no response for him.
I could hardly breathe let alone respond.
In all my years, I had never heard such powerful words nor had I seen such devotion in someone's eyes.
Despite the fact that I was buried beneath the down comforter, I felt a sudden wave of cold wash over me. Partially asleep, I rolled over in bed and looked at the alarm clock: 3:41 am.
"Cripes," I moaned before reaching over to Bruce in hopes that he could warm me back up. As my hand searched, however, all it found was a cool, empty patch of bed. I sat up slowly, pushing back my skewed hair, "Bruce?" After rubbing my eyes, I finally located the source of cool air. I slipped out of bed, keeping the blanket wrapped around my bare form and walked towards the open terrace doors.
Bruce stood, forearms resting on the iron railing, looking out at the night sky. As I approached him, he turned his head slightly towards me before returning his gaze to the stars. He had donned a pair of flannel pants since the last time I had fallen asleep and on the small table that we rarely used for breakfast, I noticed a cup of steaming liquid. I walked over and took a sip, my eyebrows rising on their own accord at the spicy taste of apple cider.
"Did I wake you?" he asked softly, his gaze constant.
I shook my head, "No but the draft sure did." I reached out and caressed his biceps, shocked at how cool his skin was, "How long have you been out here?"
He shrugged, "A while."
"Let's start over," I suggested as I snuck under his arm and stood in front of him, gently leaning into his torso, "When did I fall asleep?"
"Little after two."
"And when did you come out here?"
"Little after little after two."
I nodded, "Ah. And it is now a lot after three." When he didn't respond, I shivered slightly and said, "Brr."
As expected, he instinctively wrapped his arms around me and slowly rubbed them up and down to generate a bit of warmth. I thanked him quietly and proceeded to ask him, "So, is there a reason why you're standing out on the terrace on a cool September night instead of sleeping in bed and keeping me warm?"
"I was thinking about Tim."
Not totally unexpected, "What about Tim?"
"That apartment, it's not secure enough for… It could compromise him."
"Your solution better not include him moving in here."
"No," he paused, "The satellite cave, it's located adjacent to a townhouse that I own under a dummy name. I was thinking it would be a better location for him--- what?"
I had turned to face him, my mouth open and my brows arched, "Why didn't you think of this earlier?"
"Well, first of all, he had already selected an apartment when I found out he was moving to Bryanttown. And… the townhouse needs to be renovated. And he should want to move there before I take any steps to improve it. Maybe he doesn't want to be right next to the satellite, maybe he likes his apartment… You're still staring at me."
"That's because you're getting whiny in your old age. And soft. Since when do you care about how other people 'feel'?"
"It's always been relevant how people feel about situations."
I snickered to myself, "It's just that it wasn't relevant enough for you to be bothered."
Bruce looked down at me, feigning hurt, "You were relevant enough to bother me."
"Well, darling, I hate to tell you, but there are other people out there besides me. But can I make a suggestion?"
"I suppose," he said softly.
"Can we discuss this matter at a later time. Perhaps after a few hours of sleep. And breakfast. And somewhere warmer."
"Suggestion noted," he smirked briefly before leaning over and slipping an arm under my legs and the other behind my shoulder blades. After he passed through the glass door, he shut it with his bare foot and then crossed the room back to our bed. When he set me down, I untangled myself from the covers and spread them back across the bed.
I had expected Bruce to join me but when I spotted him walking towards the door, I asked, "Now where are venturing off to?"
"Check on Mattie, quick. I'll be right back."
There was no point in arguing with him to let her be, so I didn't even make the attempt. Instead I took one of his pillows, pressed it into the two I had already claimed and settled back down. A few hours of sleep…
I hadn't realized that I had drifted off until Bruce slipped into bed next to me and his icy foot touched my leg. I jumped suddenly and he looked over at me apologetically. The new routine of life had left him restless at night. He would tuck Mattie in after her bath a little after eight, then head down to the Cave to do whatever he could to help out, albeit from Bristol instead of the roof of the Bartlett Apartment building. And just around two in the morning, of which would have been an "early night" for the Batman, he would come upstairs, check on his daughter and climb into bed. And pretend to sleep.
At first it had been hard for him to fall asleep, and if he did it was only for brief moments. On a few nights I had actually forced myself to stay awake after he had come upstairs and three out of the four nights he hadn't slept at all. When I had called him on it, he had been fairly nonchalant about it, which had been odd because I had expected him to at least growl or frown. I asked him about it, he told me he needed time to adjust. He needed to recalibrate his system, as if he were some sort of machine. He needed to start over…
Once he was comfortable, I inched closer to him and rested my head on his chest, letting my arm snake across his abdomen. As I felt his arm wrap around my shoulders, I looked up at him, "Comfy?"
He sighed, "Very."
I let a few minutes of silence pass as I listened to his heartbeat and to the air that passed into his lungs. In less than a month, he would be hooked up to a number of vital recording devices as he went under the knife for his knee replacements. We had been to Dr. Rodgers twice in the last week alone to go over pre- and post operative care as well as therapy routines that would be implemented after the surgery. I hadn't realized how invasive the practice was until that first meeting where Dr. Rodgers had described, in the least gory details possible, how they were going to be removing the deteriorated cartilage and bone and cement into place artificial protective plates on his femur, tibia and patella.
The benefits of correcting the osteoarthritis were supposed to outweigh the nature of the surgery. But damn…. Still seemed like torture to me.
And if that wasn't bad enough, I had to sit through Bruce and the doctor talking about what things could go wrong. Infection, blood clots, nerve damage, dislocation or fracture of the patella, and instability of the knee joint. I had to leave the room when they moved on to the risks of the actual surgery, which moved from slight reactions to the anesthesia to death from vascular exsanguination…
Since the date was coming up, we had decided to tell Mattie about it so that I could prepare her for all of the changes. She was a well-versed and socialized girl, but seeing her father in leg braces and even the walker he would use would be a bit much. Just talking about it, even leaving out all of the terrors I had to sit through, had left Mattie on the verge of tears.
I must have fallen asleep fairly soundly, because the last thing I remembered seeing was Bruce's chest hair and when I opened my eyes again, the room was bright with sunshine and I was staring directly into Mattie's blue eyes as she sat on my stomach.
"Morning, Mom," she whispered.
My head wasn't awake enough to respond verbally but I managed a smile for her. At that, she leaned forward, kissed my cheek and then looked towards Bruce. I glanced over at well when she asked, "Can I wake him?"
The corner of Bruce's mouth twitched upwards slightly, a dead giveaway that he wasn't sleeping.
"Let's get him."
And we did.
And now the thank you section:
Chris (for inspiration and motivation/tasering… and a whole lot of laughing)
Curtis (for showing me what it means to be a true hero… RIP 1980-2000)
Dani (my very understanding and forgiving roommate)
David Simon (for being an incredibly brave author down there in Bawlmer)
Dave Matthews Band (uh… for, um… being background music for the last six years)
Dr. J. Ross (for the medical info… maybe after Bruce gets his knees done, I will too)
Netty (for being the best model for Mattie… and the cutest little cousin ever)
And most importantly the readers!
Stay tuned this summer for the bridge story "What Lies Ahead" which will be followed by the next saga in the Series of Three… "Now And Then"