A few notes from the author:
Thank you to everyone who is still following this story. I think there are only a few (two?) chapters before this story will be finished. I apologize for how long these last few updates have taken. There is nothing I can do about that at the moment because real life demands my attention more. However, I am working on this as best as I can.
I want you to know this story is now AU because my Bruce is the Bruce from before he was sent way, way, ... way back in time. The Bruce from after the first 52. From after Infinite Crisis. K? Hope that clears things up a little. I honest haven't read comics in years and I hear since the "new" 52, he's a jerk again. Well, not in my world of fictives.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this chapter and please know, if it weren't for your continued support, it probably would have never been written. It may not seem like it, but every review, favorite and follow fueled my muse and allowed this chapter to be born.
Thank you 1,000 times over.
The night was cold and quiet; the deserted streets glistened as a light rain began to fall.
A plastic grocery bag danced along the street on a gust of wind, tumbling end over end. It caught the breeze just right and its insides expanded, allowing it to stop mid-air, seemingly frozen, before it began to gently sway back and forth back down toward the street. The bag slowed, mere inches from the ground, when a wind began to pull at it. Nearby leaves kicked up and rustled to life as headlights bore down on the it before the bag was sucked beneath the under carriage of the Redbird and spat out the back.
Inside the vehicle, Robin looked over at Nightwing, who had just drifted off in mid sentence, and quickly snatched the open drink bottle which had begun to tip out of Dick's relaxing grip.
Robin placed the bottle in the cup holder while taking another glance at his beaten friend, and then shook his head. External injuries illuminated by the glow of the dashboard lights looked angry and mean. Tim wondered briefly if they were all insane and if a higher power wasn't trying to tell them that they were all on borrowed time—gambling— and one of these times, someone was going to lose.
A glare from the rear-view mirror pierced his eyes, bringing him out of his thoughts. He looked into the mirror and saw distinctive headlights bearing down on his vehicle just as his comlink chirped in his ear, "How is he?"
Tim watched as the Batmobile sped past his driver window and took the lead. He knew the tactic— knew Bruce was preparing to clear traffic out of Tim's way even though it was unlikely that there would be any at this hour. He stole another glance before answering the question. His heart wanted to go with: broken— however, he chose the more clinical term, "Stable."
Downshifting to take a curve without using the brakes, Tim brought his full attention back to the drive. "Didn't expect to see you for a while."
"I had filled in Gordon earlier tonight. He got together a team and stormed the place shortly after you got out—" Batman broke off for a heartbeat before continuing, "You okay?"
Tim knew Bruce was referring to the shots he took earlier. Unconsciously shifting in his seat, he rolled his shoulders against the dull ache, "I'm fine; the suit held. You let Gordon take Dent in?"
"This time," came the gruff reply. Tim could hear the venom behind Batman's words and watched as the Batmobile disappeared into the side of the a hill.
Following suit, Tim drove the Redbird into the same hillside and down the cave's long, winding road. By the time he'd reached the end, Bruce was out of his vehicle and crossing in front of the Redbird's path—gloves were stripped off and he had peeled back his cowl. He walked to the passenger door, reached out, and had a grip on the handle as the car came to a halt.
Bruce opened the door and leaned in, giving Dick a quick once-over. "Is he unconscious?" he asked, removing the five-point racing harness before carefully peeling back Tim's cape.
"No. His knee is messed up; it might be dislocated— had him in a lot of pain, so I gave him something for it,"
Tim watched as Bruce lightly touched a couple of the more severe welts and cuts and saw his continence transform from concern into a controlled rage as he finished taking in the appearance of his son's beaten and broken body.
"Concussion?" Bruce asked, making eye contact with Tim as he squatted down. Gingerly he placed his hands on either side of Dick's knee, accessing the alignment.
"Yeah, but I think it's a pretty mild one."
Bruce released a breath through his nose and then carefully removed Dick from the car and gathered him into his arms, "C'mon; let's get him patched up."
"...Again." Tim muttered bitterly under his breath and closed his car door.
The dream was a bad one, and he was trapped within.
Aware enough to know it was a dream, he sought out anchors to draw himself out of it, but the harder he fought, the tighter the dream's tendrils wrapped around him, digging their icy claws into his flesh. He had to resist— had to break free—.
And there is was; his anchor. Mentally reaching out, he grabbed its line for dear life and, hand over hand, followed it back toward reality.
A cool cloth is laid upon his forehead as strong hands grip him by the shoulders and he has to remind himself not to fight against their familiar hold.
"Easy. Take it slow." The hold remains—not constrictive but firm and supportive. "It's okay. You're safe now." He knows he can trust the statement and it's that final tug on the line that brings him back to reality.
His vision is doubled and blurred at first, but cleared after a couple of blinks, "Bruce?" He asked as his mentor releases his hold. He was surprised to hear how hoarse his own voice is.
"There we are.., finally making some sense are we?" The cloth is removed and Dick looked up to find Alfred standing by the night stand where he refreshed the wash cloth into a bowl of water before leaning over him, moving the towel across his brow with gentle pats.
Dick closes his eyes and relished in the comfort for a moment, using it to bring down his heart rate and to expel any lingering remnants of the nightmare. He tried to remember how he got there. Opening his eyes again, he furrows his brow and looked at Bruce.
Still sitting on the side of his bed, Bruce reads his confused expression, "How much do you remember?"
"I... I remember being on patrol in the Haven and..., Roy. Roy was there, and he was going on about something about the Easter Bunny and,... there was an explosion, and—" Realization and a hint of panic lit in his eyes and his hand suddenly clutched Bruce's arm. "ROY—There was and explosion and Roy was out there!"
Bruce caught his partner by the shoulders as he was urgently trying to sit up, "Whoa; easy—"
"No, Bruce! Roy was there, too! He—"
"He's okay, Dick."
"What? No. He was right behind me when the building—"
"Young sir, please..." Alfred aided Bruce in trying to keep his disoriented and confused charge from moving to fast, but the more they resisted against his efforts to sit up, the more agitated he became.
"You're not getting it! I'm telling you Roy was—"
"Richard, enough!" Bruce barked as he gave Dick a gentle, yet firm jolt to snap him out of it before he reached full-blown panic mode. He leaned in close and locked his gaze with his son's, "Roy is O-k." He reassured him with an unwavering expression of certainty. "He's okay; Roy's okay."
Dick searched his mentor's eyes for a moment and, finding truth there, was able to push aside the surge of panic and focus better. "...He's ok..."
"Because..., he was out there with me—"
"He's fine." Bruce assured his son while gently easing him back against the pillows that Alfred had re-fluffed. "He came to the cave after the explosion to seek our help in finding you. After the mission, he said to tell you he'd check in on you later. Alright?"
Bruce waited until Alfred finished fussing over the blankets, "What else do you remember?"
Dick tried to relax against the pillows, but his body remained tense, "... the explosion and then... waking up and, I was tied to a chair and...," Dick's brow knitted together in concentration as he searched the scattered bits of memory for a moment, "... and, Dent was screaming at me about... manners or something—." He broke off and shot Bruce a look, "You know... ya took a lot longer to get there than I expected."
Bruce arched an eyebrow; almost amused, "You should have been out of there long before I arrived."
"Master, Dick." Alfred interrupted, to head off what he saw as the potential for hot tempers to spark a regretful confrontation. He bent over his patient and pretended to check his brow for fever, "Do you need anything? How is your comfort level? Are you at all hungry?"
Dick knew he was cranky—he also knew Alfred was running interference and decided to drop the issue for the moment. Besides, he was too wiped out to argue. Instead, he took a careful assessment of his injuries and realized he'd been given some sort of pain reliever. Not the one Tim gave him in the alley. No. He could feel side effects with whatever he was on and as much as he hated narcotic painkillers, he knew there hadn't been enough R&D done on the strips to use them for an extended period of time.
Accepting help from Alfred, Dick raised up a bit to sit as upright as his sides would allow. "Um, I guess I'm okay at the moment, but, " he winced as he swallowed, "some hot tea would be nice."
"Right away, sir." Alfred said with that same, old, comforting smile and patted Dick's shoulder.
He waited until Alfred left the room before he tugged at the covers to find his right leg was in a brace, "How bad is it?" he asked while gently probing his knee with his finger.
Bruce sat back in the overstuffed wing-back chair and exhaled, gesturing toward Dick's leg, "Not great, but could be worse. MRI showed a partial dislocation and the bones at the joint suffered a hairline fracture."
Dick moved the covers back into place, "Great. What else? Anything internal? And..., what time is it?" Dick asked, looking at the blackness outside his window.
"Nothing internal, Few broken ribs, few cracked, plenty of welts and bruising and your neck will be sore for a while—" Bruce looked at his watch, "10:37 pm. Wednesday."
Dick took a moment to process all the information he'd just been fed. "Wednesday... how long was I out?"
"Almost an entire day. Let's see..." Bruce stretched his arms over his head, "we got back around four this morning so that makes it about eighteen and a half hours."
"Damn." Dick rested his head back against the pillows and draped an arm over his eyes. "I hate being out of it for so long."
"I know. But you didn't miss anything." Leaning forward, Bruce rested his arms on his knees. "Your body needs the rest."
"I know the speech."
"Good," Bruce smirked with a nod, "Then be a good boy, rest up for a few days, and don't make Alfred recite it."
"That, Master Bruce, may very well be the best piece of advice I have ever heard you give the lad." The butler declared as he reentered the room. Setting the tray down on a nearby table, he began to pour Dick a cup of tea. "Of course, If ever you were to heed your own advice, I fear my heart would not be able to withstand the shock." Alfred handed Dick the cup with a wink.
Dick peeked out from behind his arm and smirked. He accepted the tea and winced during the first couple of drinks, "Where's Tim?" He asked after a few minutes.
"Finishing up on something in the Cave— and before you ask, he's fine, too."
"Yeah, I remember him driving me back." Dick said quietly while staring into his cup, suffering from a sudden wave of exhaustion.
"I dare say, young sir," Alfred softly said and gently plucked the cup from Dick's hands, "I think it would be best if we left you to rest for a bit."
Dick blinked as the cup was slowly pulled away and discovered that he'd zoned out. He turned tired eyes to the man he loved as a grandfather and willingly accepted his aide in scooting back down in the bed. He closed his burning eyes and sighed as he sank into his pillows.
"As always, if you require anything at all, simply call," said Alfred while nodding toward the intercom button on his nightstand.
"k, Alfie. Thanks."
Alfred winked warmly as he lifted the tray and began to exit the room.
"I'll check on you before I head out tonight." Bruce said and gave Dick's foot a gentle pat as he crossed in front of his bed. He saw Dick begin to give him a half-smile before his body's need for rest out-weighed his attempt to stay awake and he zonked out.
Alfred waited for Bruce to exit the room before he closed the door without a sound. As they made their way down the grand staircase in silence, Alfred tried to busy his mind with daily duties instead of entertaining the worry and concern that plagued him every time one of his boys were injured.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Bruce headed for his study and Alfred turned toward the kitchen. The older gentleman felt conflicted as one thought demanded his attention above all others. With a sigh, he gave in and gave it life: "I'll never get used to this." He leaned heavily against the kitchen door as he opened it, "Never."