Standard disclaimers apply. Sorry for being SO LONG between parts. If you need to (and I don't blame you if you do) go back and reread Fireflies or What're Partners For (or all of freakin' Maraverse) to remember what the heck was going on. Or if you've given up on this fic, that's OK too, I guess, I don't blame you. I've been "that guy" with all the Abandonfic for a while.
Anyways… a short summary reminder for those who have forgotten:
Bruce was dead, but came back to life and decided he didn't want to stay dead because it was boring. Tim's Batman, he and Cassandra are married, his daughter Sammy came across a Green Lantern ring when Jordy (Kyle Rayner's offspring) died. Mara (Dick and Babs offspring) and her own ring-protected offspring have been in exile from Gotham while she deals with the fact that her brother killed her husband in an effort to keep the world from being destroyed. In other words: situation normal.
A Man Made of Clay
The first night that she was back, she'd seen multiple shadows pass the windows of her apartment. Twice, a large figure landed on the balcony and moved back and forth in hesitation, but no one disturbed her. Either her grandfather Jim had ratted her out, or her family had come by the information of the prodigal child's return via the usual routs. She didn't know. She didn't care.
After stopping to see her grandfather, she drove about an hour north, to a cinderblock house on a large stretch of land, largely unkempt and unmowed. Her nephews were being holy terrors on the deck when she walked up the graying, untreated wood steps. It wasn't anything dangerous—well, as dangerous as slap-tag was. When she opened the screen door, she saw her brother on the sun porch, sitting in a molded plastic chair, staring out through the screen window, probably not seeing anything at all.
"I don't blame you," she said quietly, not daring to cross the distance between them. It had come out of her the moment she saw his scraggly beard and his uncut hair, and the thin lines along his neck. Beneath the baggy clothes, a lot of his bulk was gone. He looked like someone she almost didn't recognize.
Did she blame him? She didn't know. She blamed enough people. The Justice League, the universe… But her brother? Not that he didn't deserve it, if she did. But when she tried to conjure up some small emotion regarding her brother, who'd thought he was better than everyone else, not to mention smarter and superior at those sort of games that even Bruce had lost once in a while, or even this slumped, worn figure before her…nothing came to mind.
"Jimmy…" she started again.
She had no idea what she would have said though. Kristen came to the door a moment after that, drying her hands with a dishtowel. The woman was still tall and beautiful—intimidating so. But she'd put on a few of the pounds Jimmy had shed. Of course that hadn't done anything to soften the look of her face, with the narrow nose and the sharp angles of her clenched jaw. "Leave him alone."
The sun porch dropped a few degrees and the other woman's grip on the stiffening dishtowel tightened. She didn't need the tight costume—Kristen was intimidating in faded jeans and a short-sleeve sweater.
"I just want to--" But Mara didn't know why she was here. "Never mind." She looked back to her brother. He was still looking out the window. "That's all he does." It might have been a question. It might have been a statement. She didn't know.
Kristen stepped onto the sun porch, presumably to defend her husband. "On his bad days."
Something caught in her chest then. Somehow, Jimmy having good days, or normal days and occasionally being reduced to this was somehow worse than this being his status quo.
Kristen put her hand on her husband's shoulder. "Just go."
Swallowing, Mara backed up. Some situations could never be repaired. She'd been an idiot for coming back here and even trying. Bruce was an idiot if he thought anything could get better by her doing this. "I'm…" And again… the words wouldn't come. She couldn't bring herself to apologize. "You should put shoes on those boys if you're not going to stain the deck. They're going to get splinters in their feet."
Somehow, with that, she had the strength to leave.
She got into her car and backed down the gravel driveway, wondering what was wrong with her, and dreading a repeat incident with the rest of her family.
And that had been her first day home. Which was why she was grateful to the universe and any powers that happened to be that the shadows eventually moved on their way.
Her business that evening had been difficult to make any actual headway on. She was trying to figure out what Bruce was up to, without alerting him, or her mother. It meant all the usual avenues were out, and by the time she stopped her searching at about three in the morning, she was brain dead enough to almost turn in at a normal hour.
Instead, though, she went into JB's room and watched him sleep by the glow of his own aura. Sometimes, she wondered if he was really a soft minty green, like his father had been, or if that was just the Green Lantern energy that surrounded him constantly.
What had Bruce meant, a few days ago, when he'd said to raise JB like any other child? Any other child in their family, or any other child in the universe? The way her parents had—always pushing her in private mentally and physically, and then forcing her to act normal in public? Or like Bruce had? Had Bruce ever actually raised children? Oh sure, they grew up in his presence, and he mentored them, but would everyone in Gotham be nearly as dysfunctional (or effective) without his special brand of "parenting?"
Come to think of it, what in the hell did Bruce know about parenting?
Stroking JB's silky fine hair, she frowned. Come to think of it, when had he become just Bruce in her mind? He'd always been the Bat. Even when she'd called him grandpa, she'd been thinking Bat. But now, physically, he was only a few years older than her, and he sure as hell wasn't Batman any more.
There was no order in the universe.
Sitting down at the table with a large bowl of cereal, Tim took the spoon "Should I be bothered that I don't know where my eight year old is, and at this moment, I don't care?"
Dick suspected that Tim did care. But if Tim thought about it too much, his head would explode. There was the massive amount of property damage caused a few days ago by…whatever Sammy had done in the crawlspace beneath the roof, not to mention the girl's frequent comings and goings. She was always dirty when she came back, and she never said where she'd been—which was especially bad considering the girl was still grounded.
"Let's see, she's up to something—probably in over her head. And I can't track her. I can't follow her. /I/ can't follow her. What does that leave me with?" Not waiting for an answer, Tim began devouring the bowl as if he were still sixteen and possessing a hyper-fast metabolism.
Dick though he was probably good for it though—Tim had been pulling a lot of double-duty with the JLA and the normal Gotham mayhem. Sometimes, food was a substitute for sleep.
Looking down at his cup of coffee, Dick tried to think of something intelligent to say. It wasn't as if he had been the most brilliant father. "Well, at least she's not in danger." The ring was perfectly capable of alerting them when the girl was so far in trouble that she needed bailing out, or if she left Earth's orbit without permission.
Which left them with some questions about the ring. It seemed to have a mind of its own. It never alerted them when she was just doing something she wasn't supposed to—it waited till she was in danger. And for some reason, the tiny treble voice on the other end of phone calls that 'anonymously' tipped them off to dangerous behavior always sounded a little bit like Alfred. Maybe it was just the accent. Or not
Tim pointed the spoon at his friend. "That's just the thing, isn't it? That ring. That ring is causing way more problems than its solving."
"We can always cut off the finger, remove the ring, and reattach. Or sever the finger on both ends of the ring." Dick grinned.
Sighing, Tim went back to his food. "You're really morbid, man. You know that?"
Dick shrugged. "Been a long couple of years. And if getting her to take that ring off gets you to shut up, I'll do it by any means possible."
The younger of the two chose to ignore the last statement. "Heard from Mara yet?"
Well, that made Dick feel a little better. Dick figured Tim would be one of the first people she'd make contact with. "I was standing out on her balcony last night, and just…"
"Yeah, man. Me too."
Bruce had no idea what the hell to say to the smoke and soot covered girl when he handed her the light-filled mayonnaise jar. Something like "good job," was about to come out, but she let out small moan that quickly turned into a sob.
A sigh escaped him when the girl wrapped her arm around his leg and held on for dear life. He rested a hand on her head. "Thank you," he said gently. "You've done something I couldn't do."
"I… I couldn't get it back into the Bizzaro. He wouldn't stay still long enough, and the firefly wouldn't go."
Letting out a deep breath, he pulled away from her. "What was your mission?"
Sammy's head, which had been lowered in dejection, slowly raised up until she was looking at him in the eye. "To—to get the last firefly."
Bruce nodded sternly, acknowledging the tiny green mass of energy that Sammy had nicknamed a 'firefly,' as it bounced around inside the jar. "And you completed that mission. Let me worry about how to get it into the Bizzaro."
Exhausted, the tiny girl in the Green Lantern uniform plunked herself down on the cement floor of basement they were using as a workspace. It wasn't the Batcave, and was almost claustrophobic with its low ceiling, but it had what he needed, and it was off the radar enough that he wouldn't get noticed in this city that held the single largest concentration of people he didn't want to run into or see.
Samantha Drake slumped where she was sitting, her exhaustion and frustration getting the better of her. "I was so close. I just wanted to…"
"It wasn't your mission," he told her firmly. "Let me deal with it." There was something else he was supposed to be saying or doing here, he could tell by her disappointment. All the rest of them would simply have accepted his word as law at this age. Dick most of all. But…it didn't work with this one. "WE will figure this out."
And that was it. That was all it took to return a hopeful smile to her sooty face.
A smile like that was a dangerous thing; no wonder Tim wouldn't work with her. He was already in over his head. "And when this is over… we'll see about getting you some proper training."
The weird part was that Bruce could be so objective about being so obviously off his rocker.
"How're we gunna find him again?" Sammy asked suddenly, some small bit of enthusiasm returning to her exhausted form.
Smiling, Bruce walked over to the small laptop hooked up to the very large monitor in the furthest corner of the dry, dusty basement. "You might not have succeeded with the Bizzaro, but you brought back some valuable intel."
And just like that, her eyes glazed over. Having a ring meant being like her family. She had no idea what it truly meant, and she certainly hadn't been given any real-world (or THEIR real-world) applicable skills.
Setting the jar on the counter, he began scanning it with a small hand-held device. "Intelligence, Samantha. The clay man chased you, when you were getting too close to the last energy mass--" she was still blank. "Firefly. When you got too close to the last firefly. We have two more pieces of information than we had before today. First, it can sense the remaining 'firefly,' and second…"
Realization dawned on the girl. "And it doesn't want to get made right. It wants ta stop us."
Bruce nodded. "Very good. Now we find out what, exactly, is repelling or attracting in this equation, and we can go to the clay man, instead of waiting for him to come to us." Without a word, he handed her a white cloth handkerchief from his pocket.
She began rubbing at her face, which was coming marginally clean from just that small effort. "And then… we get Jordy back?"
Turning back to his work, Bruce didn't answer. It was too soon to tell.