Wayne Manor had
seen far too many shattered children, in Alfred's estimation. There'd been
Bruce, all those years ago, and Dick, and Tim... and now the young man
sitting on the couch, staring into space. Perhaps it was a blessing in
disguise, however... since now the stately mansion had become a haven for
children without families, or whose families were not worth the title.
"Master Carter, would you like some tea?" the elderly butler inquired,
entering the sitting room. He might have been pushing eighty, but Alfred Pennyworth had never even considered retiring from his position in the Wayne household. Just like the line of children this place had sheltered, he was at home here. The people were his family.
Carter Grayson looked up in surprise, gray-blue eyes clearing. "Uh... no thanks, Alfred," the young man smiled weakly.
" I don't know what demons are assailing you, Master Carter," Alfred replied, setting the tea tray he carried down in front of the younger man. "However, I strongly suspect that you'll be far better able to deal with them if you relax a bit."
Obediently, Carter picked up the teacup in front of him and sipped at it. Slowly, some of the tension seeped out of his muscles, though storm clouds still fluttered in his eyes. Sitting in one of the other chairs, Alfred watched the youngest member of the family closely. Carter's visit had come as a bit of a surprise to the entire household. He'd simply shown up on the doorstep this afternoon, a duffle bag his only luggage, his face lined and worn. Alfred had been reminded far too vividly of the way his previous charges had looked after a particularly strenuous evening on patrol, and had instantly brought the younger man inside and set him up in one of the guest rooms. Master Bruce wouldn't mind, he knew, since the house was always open to the members of the family.
"Master Bruce will be home soon," the butler announced, breaking the silence. "Miss Selina, I'm afraid, will be in meetings all day. Something to do with the wildlife sanctuary I believe."
Carter grinned. "Grandma still has all her claws," he acknowledged, sipping his tea again. "Mom and Dad aren't in town, are they?"
"Regretfully, no, Master Carter. Wayne Enterprises has some business in Chicago, and your parents were required to attend some function there as a result. Do you wish me to call them?"
"No." Carter shook his head. "This isn't anything they can help with, Alfred. I just... I just had to get away from Mariner Bay for a while. Had to go somewhere to think."
The older man smiled. "Gotham is rather as far as one can get, I should think."
"Yeah." The sound of the garage door opening got both men's attention, and so both were standing when Bruce Wayne entered. In his late fifties, the chief executive of Wayne Enterprises was still strong and fit, with the clean-cut good looks that had made him popular with women even without the lure of his bank accounts. His hair was white, and his face had a few lines on it, but he still walked with the fluidity of a man half his age.
Bruce was peripherally aware of Alfred excusing himself from the room, but most of his attention was focused on his grandson. Pale, haggard, eyes shining with an unspoken pain, Carter looked uncannily like the six-year-old he'd been when Bruce first met him, when Dick and Barbara had first brought him home from a life of bouncing from one foster home to another.
Suddenly the spell broke, and Carter was flinging himself forward, catching his grandfather in a tight hug, crying against his shoulder. Bruce held him tightly and made soothing noises, not bothering to try deciphering the fragments of speech being sobbed against his shoulder.
After a long moment, Carter pulled back a bit, wiping his streaming eyes, a bit embarrassed. "Sorry," he muttered. Bruce smiled.
"Don't be. I'm used to it." He led Carter back towards the couch, forcing the younger man to sit. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Do I have a choice?" Carter cracked, a half-smile crossing his face. His grandfather had a way of making questions sound like orders.
"There was a monster attack, in the residential section. They didn't even have an agenda, they were just trying to draw us out. And they know targeting civilians is the best way to do it." Carter shook his head.
"This apartment building caught on fire. Kelsey, the Yellow Ranger, she and I went in to try and evacuate the people. She got the outside ones... I went in deeper. I found a woman and her baby... The lady was caught under some debris. There wasn't time to get her out... the baby had taken so much smoke as it was. She gave me the kid, told me to get him out. I promised to come back, but... after I got out, the whole place went up. I couldn't save her."
I couldn't save her. Bruce closed his eyes, hearing the anguished echoes of his own voice, almost thirty years gone.
Carter was continuing, his voice on the verge of breaking. "I thought I'd come to terms with this when I was a firefighter. You can't save everybody... I know that. And I saved her baby. That was what she wanted. I thought I'd accepted this. So why does it hurt so much more this time?"
Bruce sighed. "Because you can do more, now. You're a Ranger now, not just a firefighter. Faster, stronger, best of the best. You get used to succeeding against impossible odds. And when you fail, it cuts that much more."
"You sound like you know." Carter looked up curiously.
"Yeah." Suddenly, the older man stood. "Carter, I think it's about time I showed you something. Something important." The Red Ranger was puzzled, but followed his grandfather over to the antique clock that stood against one wall. Bruce fiddled with the ancient timepiece, and suddenly a door in the wall slid open. Jaw hanging down, Carter followed Bruce down a flight of strange stone steps, into a huge cave.
Unlike most caves of Carter's experience, this one was well furnished. Machinery occupied various corners, including a huge computer setup that dominated most of one rocky wall. Off to another side was an obstacle course, very similar to the one he trained on back at Lightspeed. But what really drew his attention was the display case against one wall.
Carter approached the lighted case, with something approaching awe. He recognized the four costumes inside, of course. He'd grown up in Gotham, where these faces were as well-known as that of the President. Carter's mind spun as he quickly added up the facts. There was only one reason his grandfather would show him all this now.
"You were BATMAN?" the young Ranger asked, turning from the case where four mannequins proudly wore the costumes of Batman, Batgirl, Robin, and Nightwing.
Bruce nodded. "Up until ten years ago, yes." For a moment, neither man spoke. Carter was too busy rearranging his worldview. Batman had always been an almost mystical figure, a living shadow who fought for the people of Gotham. To find out it was his grandfather... Yet on another level, he wasn't so surprised. There had always been something in the older man's eyes, something that Carter was beginning to see in the eyes of his teammates. Something strong, and determined.
"Who was it for you" Carter asked softly. Part of him wanted to let the question go, to spare Bruce the pain the recollection would bring. But he hadn't started this subject, and he had a feeling it was important that he knew the answer.
"Too many," his grandfather replied quietly. "My parents. A woman named Andrea Beaumont. A man named Victor Frieze. Harvey Dent, a man I considered my best friend." Bruce shook his head.
"There are others, but I doubt the names would mean anything to you. You should talk to your father... He's got a few names he could share."
Carter shook his head. "Guess it runs in the family."
"Tights apparently run in the family too, since both of your parents are represented here as well."
"Mom and Dad? Mom was BATGIRL? Did Grandpa Jim know?"
"Not officially," Bruce chuckled. "I've wondered sometimes if Jim knew and never told any of us... but I've never quite been willing to ask him."
Carter shook his head. "How about Tim?" he inquired. Tim Drake was the closest thing to an uncle that Carter had, despite having no legal connection to the Wayne family.
"I was the second Robin. Still am, actually," a voice replied, as a new shape materialized from the shadows around him. Carter jumped as Tim joined them, but Bruce simply gave him an amused glance.
"You know, I'm begining to understand just what bugged Jim Gordon so much about that," the older man mused.
Tim stuck his tongue out at his mentor, turning to Carter. "I heard about your problem on the news, squirt. Alfred called and told me you were here. You gonna be all right?"
Carter smiled. "Yeah, I think so. It helps to have someone to talk to."
"Good." Tim slung an arm around his nephew's shoulders. "Come on, we'll go upstairs and Bruce can tell us all about the fun things your dad did while HE was running around in the green tights."
Shaking his head, Bruce sighed as he led the way up the stairs. "Dick is never going to forgive me for this..."