Thanks to charlene for the beta. She beta'd it weeks ago and I didn't get around
to posting:) Nothing like a deadline for inspiration!
Sitting in the main room of her suite, Mara leaned over the laptop, trying to
track the information before it disappeared from cyberspace.
There were reports of some creature doing some rather strange damage in various
parts of the world. Nothing major, but what drew Mara's attention was how the
Justice League's focus was being diverted from the reports. It was subtle and
artful—no one would notice; if they weren't specifically looking for something
with Bruce's footprint all over it.
She'd been looking for any signs of Sammy, figuring that the littlest Green
Lantern had to be in league with the former Bat, and it had lead her straight
to the elegant game of subterfuge. And she was absolutely certain she was on the
right track when a message popped up reminding her not to be petulant as another
news report vanished from the internet.
Something was happening and it was big—and she wasn't invited. That much was
evident when there was a knock at her front door. When Mara found her mother on
the other side, saying she got her daughter's e- mail, requesting her to come,
she knew she'd hit gold—Bruce was trying to distract her. There was just one
little problem. How did she get rid of her mother?
"So when do I get to see the little guy?" Barbara asked.
It took Mara a few moments to catch up. "What? Oh. When he wakes up from his
nap. Epic badness happens if you wake him before he's ready."
"Can I look in on him? I haven't even seen him yet."
What Mara's mother meant was that she hadn't even gotten so much as a hit off
of a security camera of JB. There was a reason for that—one of Matrix's jobs
was to let off a low level frequency that scrambled electronic recording
devices whenever Mara took the baby out and about. She figured it was easier
to keep JB off the radar than to deal with the curiosity of the press, the
so-called press, Oracle and every other heroing organization that could use a
Green Lantern battery-operated-baby for their own ends. It just made life a
little safer and a little more anonymous.
"If you open that door, and he doesn't recognize you, he'll start howling like a
creature from hell." He did it with everybody—the cleaning staff, strangers…
well, except for Bruce. JB'd been suddenly calm and attentive when Bruce had
been talking to him.
Mara was still going for the child hypnotism theory. Maybe it was Bruce's
She wondered what the hell he and Sammy were up to. Why was he cutting her out?
Hell, he'd been cutting her out since before he'd teamed up with the tiniest and
most incorrigible member of the Green Lantern Corps. This latest turn wasn't
Was he done with her? Moving on with a new sidekick?
And why couldn't he just tell everyone he was alive? Would that be so
magnificently difficult for him?
Her mother touching her hand startled her. "You invite me over here, and then
you are someplace else. What're you thinking about?"
Mara sighed and rubbed her forehead, coming back from her thoughts. "That I
never noticed how much of an insufferable ass Bruce was, until now. I swear; he
used to let me get away with stuff just to piss dad off."
Barbara smiled into her coffee. "My baby has grown up. Time was, the sun rose
and set beneath his feet."
Shaking her head, Mara wondered what she'd do now. Wandering was over. At least
when she was doing that, she was Nobody. Now, back in Gotham, with a family to
fit into, she wasn't sure who she'd be. "I've changed my mind. He's a total
Mara forgot to breathe for a moment, after she realized she'd referred to Bruce
in the present tense. But then her mother pushed her empty mug forward to be
refilled. Biting her cheek, Mara took the mug and walked over to the coffee pot.
Everyone in her family was a hopeless addict; it came from the late nights.
Handing the mug back, she sat back down, wondering if her mother had just missed
the tense-change, or if Oracle was holding on to it as ammunition in a future
battle. One never knew with her family. They'd all learned from the best, and
the best was a total bastard at playing games with family and friends.
Barbara took a sip. "Well, what brought this on?"
Mara shrugged. "Dunno. Just… thinking. I don't know. Coming back's put some
stuff in perspective."
Yeah. Her mother was up to something. Or thought that she was. Did it matter,
either way? "Oh I don't know. Just… things. I start thinking about all the
time I spent at his house when I was little. A game was never a game—it was
training. And anything he said was never at face value… Can I blame him for
being messed up?"
Barbara smiled at her daughter. "Has it helped him any? We all knew what we
were getting into. And your father damned well knew what he was getting into by
letting you stay over there. He could have put the breaks on it at any moment,
but it was easier to let you two have your way. And trust me—it was both of
Mara's mom had always seemed to have a clearer head when it came to Bruce than
her dad did. And this new bit of perspective seemed to be somewhat reminiscent
of her grandfather Jim's philosophical view toward Bruce's lifestyle and
It didn't mean she trusted her mother. "Yeah. I guess it was. I wasn't happy
unless I was up to my neck in trouble." Still was true. But at least in Gotham,
she had an audience of family members to impress with her antics.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket. Sliding it out, she glanced at the
number—surprised to see her brother come up on the caller ID. It took an
enormous amount of self-control not to answer it right then and there, not
tipping her mother off be damned.
Fortunately her mother looked away, and at least made it seem like she was
trying to afford some privacy. Chances were, her mother would be on it about
thirty second after leaving anyway.
Yes, there was something going on. And it was epic.
"I think this isn't going to work," Sammy whispered into her communicator. She
was in, like, space, but she kept a bubble of green ring energy around her so
she could breath and talk and stuff.
"It'll be fine," a steady voice instructed back. "Just connect the wires just
like we practiced."
Sammy twisted the wires around the little screw thingy and tightened it down.
They'd practiced it like six times already. She hadta do this while Old Batman
was doing things on the computer, so they could make it work on the right
frequency or whatever. She thought luring the clay man to Gotham was a really
bad idea. "I think everything's gunna go very very wrong."
Old Batman sighed in her ear. "Lantern, just do it."
Connecting the last bits and bobs together (she really had no idea what the
device was, or what it did), she closed the hatch on the side of the satellite,
and then sealed the plate back into place. "If it goes wrong, can I say I
"Yes. Now move on to the next one."
Sammy flew off toward the next satellite. "Wonder what Peaches is doin' right
The baby finally woke up and Barbara had flocked to the bedroom immediately to
play with JB. Mara was thankful for it, too. Her mother had taken to
reminiscing over times that seemed so laughable and innocuous now, but had been
hell on earth when she'd been living them. No, it was NOT funny just how dad had
flipped his lid when she'd finally moved out.
Well, it had been kinda funny when Bruce had flipped out. In that way that Bruce
flipped out. He'd let out a long, drawn-out sigh, and could say more with that
sigh than one of her father's entire tirades.
There'd been that whole odd weekend where she'd ended up first in Vagas, then
married to Jordy by a minister in a funny costume. Bruce had been gone by then,
but she'd imagined that Bruce would have sighed, or given her `that look.' The
one that let her know he was so especially not pleased, and all parties involved
should consider themselves on notice.
Frowning, Mara dumped the remainder of her cold coffee into the sink. She
wondered if Sammy was the recipient of those frowns and sighs now.
It was entirely possible—Sammy was as frustrating as anything. Even the Justice
League hadn't managed to fully contain her, or her friend Peaches. Keeping up
with the girl was, really, a full-time job. The girl, in her current
over-powered state, would have given Alfred a run for his money, and Alfred had
kept track of some unruly people in his day.
Putting the cup on the side of the sink, she tried not to smile. Bruce had
nothing BUT time now. In that sense, those two deserved each other.
What in the hell was Bruce up to? And how soon could she get rid of her mother,
to go find out?
Just as the thought of pulling the building's fire alarm crossed her mind, her
phone buzzed in her pocket. Pulling it out, she frowned, suddenly a little bit
worried at the familiar number on the caller ID.
"Something's happening with the JLA satellites."
She turned away from the bedroom, where JB's green light was streaming through
the cracked door. "Jimmy?"
"Krys thinks I'm checking my email. But I built those satellites. I still get
alerts when they don't follow their routines." There was something weak and
thready in his voice, but it was clear and coherent.
Mara grabbed her jacket. "Why're you calling me, and not dad, or Tim?"
"You were here yesterday, right?"
"Yeah." Before your deranged wife threw me out, she wanted to add, but knew it
wouldn't do any good. Whatever Jimmy was going through… he didn't need any added
issues heaped on top of that. "For a couple of minutes."
"Its Sammy, I think. Sammy and someone else. She works with Darkseid sometimes,
which can't be good. But this is different…" his voice grew distant again, and
she knew whatever he was saying made perfect sense in his head, even if it
didn't make sense to her. .
She couldn't necessarily say he was a few steps ahead of her—just on a totally
different plane of inquiry. "I'll look into it." Zipping up the leather coat,
she gestured for Matrix to make some excuse to her mother, and then quietly
slipped out of the apartment. There was a long silence, and Mara wondered if
her brother had gone back to the vacant, solitudal fellow she'd seen yesterday.
"Jimmy, thanks. I know things're rough right now but--"
"Don't call here," Kristen informed her, then hung up.
The woman was still an insufferable bitch—nothing had changed there, it was nice
to see. But Mara was willing to let it pass, just this once, since Kristen was
just trying to protect him. It was an urge Mara herself had developed only in
recent history, but it was a strong one. Even if Jimmy had been responsible for…
Well, thinking about that wasn't going to do anything for her.
Knowing she was probably asking for trouble (not to mention company), Mara
headed for the roof. Her father or Tim could find her this way, but it would get
her where she was going faster. She knew what Bruce was up to but she didn't
quite understand why. She also knew there was only one place he could be working
from. If she went on foot, her mother would trace her almost
immediately—street-level traffic left a technological trail that her mother
could follow from a PDA, she didn't even need a computer to do her dirty work.
"Something bad's gunna happen…" Sammy muttered under her breath again. She'd
been doing this for an hour.
Bruce tried to ignore the girl. He just continued typing activation codes to
gain control of the satellites. There wasn't really anything he COULD say to her
anyway. He'd already read her the riot act on keeping her mind on her task, but
the girl was worried.
He wouldn't bother spending the time it would take to confirm for her that yes,
there were a thousand ways this could go wrong. He suspected one of those ways
that this could go wrong to erupt in about ten minutes on his doorstep. He
wasn't entirely sure what he'd tell Mara when she arrived. Maybe even the truth.
But he didn't have very long to think of something—whatever he was planning.
This had been so much easier a lifetime ago. He'd been young enough to be stupid
enough to think that taking in Dick was a good idea. He could barely match his
own socks without Alfred's help, but he was going to raise a small boy. He'd
been young enough to think it was fun, in its own sort of way. What the hell did
he know, after all? And his entire set of qualifications? He'd read a parenting
book the weekend before the custody hearing. Everything's easy when you're
twenty-three and stupid, before the sense of your own mortality sets in, and you
wake up and find yourself to be twenty-five and in charge of a ten year old.
Then suddenly you're thirty-three and sending them off to college.
He hadn't done that badly, had he? Sure they all had their neurotic streaks and
accompanying life-dramas, but for the most part, they were whole, stable people.
Jimmy aside. But Bruce took full responsibility for that one. Even Mara was
moving on, in her own way.
It's why he'd sicced her mother on her—he was hoping to keep the girl (no, she
was a young woman, he had to remind himself) away from all of this. But she was
persistent. And Jimmy was tracking the satellites. For all their disdain for
each other, they'd become as thick as thieves the last few years since his
See? Bruce told himself—he really WASN'T needed. He'd clean up this mess, then
fade back into obscurity again. He was redundant.
"Something bad's gonna happen…" Now Sammy was starting to get sing-songy with
Bruce typed two more commands. "Green Lantern, do I have to tell you again about
negative thinking and your power ring?"
The girl sighed in his ear. "No. The ring does what I believe it can do, so I
can't go bein' a Negative-Nancy all the time."
Despite himself, Bruce smiled. He did like the small ones better—they were more
amusing, even when they were angsty. Dick and Tim's late teens had almost given
him an apoplexy. It was so much easier when they were portable and funny.
And if he had to admit it, even to just himself—he liked training the tiny ones
better. Not just because their amusement potential was higher—they were far
more malleable and picked things up like a sponge. He was certain Tim was coping
horribly with the situation.
Mara felt him before she saw him as she swung between the ravine created between
the civic center and the history museum. She could tell due to the lack of cape
noise that it was her father and not Tim.
He didn't say anything. Just flew beside her until they got to the top of the
courthouse. Finally she had to stop and look at him. A whole year had gone by,
and he was starting to look his age, if the creases around his mouth were any
testimony. There were probably similar folds around his eyes, under the domino
mask. His hair had an odd sheen to it, and she suspected he was covering over
the first specks of grey. "Hi."
She wondered for a moment if she could get away with just leaping off the
rooftop, but that idea went away quickly. He'd follow her. "So."
"What're you doing here, if your mom is at your place?"
Crap. And she thought this'd be a social call, and she could avoid getting
grilled by virtue of her not having seen her family in ages.
Sadly, it wasn't to be. And she knew "business" was a possible outcome of this
meeting, the minute she stepped onto the roof and left her mother and her son.
"Just wanted to get out of there. She's being… smothering."
"It's good to see you." He put an arm around her and squeezed her shoulders in
an informal, non-committal gesture. But she knew he was inspecting her just as
thoroughly as she'd inspected him. "Your hair's growing out."
Thanks, Captain Obvious. "Easier to manage, with the baby in tow."
"No cape, either. See, I knew you'd wise up eventually." There was a weird,
awkward silence. Mara was sure the last was supposed to be funny, but it had
fallen flat. "So how is the little guy? Still… you know?"
"Glowing green? Yeah. Haven't quite figured out the relationship between the
baby and the ring. Would be easier if…" If Jordy was around to ask. But that
just wasn't how things were. It was odd—she'd been learning for the last year
how to be ok without him, and it had been easier when she'd been away. Now that
she was back, she was remembering all of the times they'd had together, and all
the things she'd wanted to do with him, here in her home town. It was easier to
be regretful of what had never been here. `I won't be staying in Gotham long."
Her father, thankfully, had no retort for that. "We'd all like to see you
before you go, then."
That actually made her pause. She'd never really…had the umbilical cord cut
with her family. They'd always be ordering her to do more with her family or do
this that or the other thing. She looked over at her dad. "Well… thanks." That
hadn't come out as confidently as she'd hoped, but it was right about then that
she started wondering if it was some sort of trap, maybe to guilt her into
staying in town.
"Mar—" He looked her over. Is there something we should be calling you now?"
She shook her head. "I'm Nobody, really." She was fresh out of codenames and
other superhero BS.
He didn't have anything smart to say. He just nodded. "You're welcome to stay.
But if you're moving on…"
Mara shrugged. "I don't know. Moving on has just been…easiest lately."
A new city every week was far easier to her constitution than sitting around,
wondering what Jordy would have thought, about a long stretch of beach,
especially since he'd always wanted to take a vacation and sit around with
drinks with umbrellas. Or thinking of the million other things that ran through
her head when she stayed still for too long. Granted she didn't have to worry
about Bruce any more. The bastard had managed to cheat death. But Alfred… She
missed Alfred. She missed Alfred, and she wished she'd paid more attention to
his quiet wisdom when she'd had the chance.
Her dad's arm twitched, like he wanted to reach out and hug her, but he didn't.
Well, she hadn't exactly been approachable in the last few years. She'd never
given her family any indication it was ok. So she didn't hold it against him.
"You do what you need to. What's BEST for you. And that little guy."
He didn't give her a chance to respond; Nightwing jumped off the roof, and she
Mara took off in another direction, only looking back for the first few blocks
to be sure that she was alone. After that, she was too deep in thought. What
did mean? She passed through the warehouse district, down near the docks, and
found her way into the old subway system that didn't run through that part of
town anymore, due to flooding. It was dark and damp, and the cold seeped into
her boots in just a few minutes. But that system fed into the basement of a
shambles of a building.
The foundation twisted around a collapsed section, but it fed into a damp, dark
space that thrummed with electronics that shouldn't be there. Further in, a
large dark figure was pointing to something on a monitor for a smaller shadow
"Isn't Sammy supposed to be in bed by now?"
"Mara, I think you should just leave," Bruce said coolly.
"Why? You're busted, now. Why not just let me in on whatever you're doing with
the JLA satellites?"
Before the last word was out of Mara's mouth, Sammy literally flew into her
arms, which instinctively wrapped around the girl, like they'd never been apart.
"Mara! You're here! Old Batman and I were working on a Secret Project, and I
can't tell you what's goin' on, but it's really good! You just haveta—"
"Sammy." Bruce reprimanded. It wasn't the harsh voice he used ot use with Mara.
There was a touch of humor in this. He really had mellowed. "And Mara, I mean
it—get out of here. Now."
She put Sammy down, then took a few steps closer, folding her arms over her
chest. "Why? What's been seen can't be unseen. You might as well just let--"
There was a sharp intake of breath behind her, and Mara turned, seeing Nightwing
in the shadows at the edge of the collapsed wall.
"Because you lead your father right here." He sighed and sat down in the
high-backed chair in front of the mishmash of computer monitors. "Well, you're
both here now. Make yourselves useful and monitor those other screens."