Title: Now And Then: Epilogue
Author: DC Luder
Summary: Tim is very grateful to celebrate his birthday with Family and friends.
Infringement: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.
Author's Note: Thank you again for reading… in time we will see what is in store for the Family… until then I have tons of one-shots I need to wrap up, old stories to mend, gin to drink… etc.
At a little after eight in the morning, I slipped out of bed, ran downstairs, retrieved a cupcake and then managed to return to the master bedroom without waking either of the sleeping figures in the room. I carefully knelt above Tim's lower torso, smiling down at him as he slept peacefully. Patrols the night before had been fairly quiet and we had made it back to Bristol by three in the morning. Given what day it was, I should have let him sleep as long as he had wanted but we had work to do.
He twitched his nose but showed no sign of waking. I caressed his smooth cheek with my fingertips, the scar from the Joker barely noticeable after one skin graph. I had pleaded for him to have it taken care of for weeks instead of simply spending the rest of his life concealing it, and he refused me every time. However, the first time Bruce told him to get it looked at by a plastic surgeon, he had made an appointment the next day. When I had asked him why, Tim had admitted, "I can say no to you… not Bruce."
"You'll threaten me and possibly hurt me over it… he could get me banished from Santo's pizzeria in Bristol… and that… I can't have that happen."
I had only wished that I had thought of the same scare tactic.
"Tim?" I asked again, loud enough to wake Robbie from his dog bed.
After the third time I called his name, his lids slowly fluttered, revealing tired blue eyes. As he opened his mouth to speak, I promptly smashed the cupcake into his lips. Anyone else would have been overcome with shock, but he simply licked the frosting on his chin as the tattered cupcake sprinkled all over his neck.
"Mmm, tastes like birthday," he finally said, bright blue frosting already staining his tongue, teeth and lips.
I smiled before leaning in to kiss him, "Mmm, tastes like Funfetti to me."
He laughed at that before lifting his head in order to kiss me back, being sure to spread as much of the cupcake on my face as I had on his. Our mutual laughter had roused Robbie from his bed and he promptly jumped onto ours in order to join in on the fun. As he gobbled up crumbles of cupcake, Tim finally wiped off what was left on his face, commenting, "Apparently the first order of business is to change the sheets."
"Not yet," I smirked as I wiped my face clean with a pillowcase before shoving the dog off of the bed.
"Why is that?" he smirked, his hands finding my hips briefly before grabbing hold of the bottom of my gray tee shirt, "You have more cupcakes to rub into my face?"
"Is that what you call them?" I fought back a grin.
He laughed out loud as he pulled the shirt up and over my head, growing silent when he put his lips to my sternum. Tim murmured into my skin that cupcakes were his favorite but I told him to shut up. As expected, he didn't and instead started to hum the birthday song as he lapped his way up my chest to my neck and eventually finding my lips. Cupping his face in my hands, I let him push me down onto my back, situating himself over me but baring his weight on his hands and knees.
With him considerably occupied with disrobing me, I let one of my hands trace down his side and settle on his underwear clad hip. Timing it just right, I withdrew my hand to gain enough momentum for a monstrous smack on his rear end, causing him to jerk and stare down at me in shock.
I grinned up at him, "One down, twenty-eight to go."
"Oh, hell no," Tim growled, taking to kneeling in order to attempt to grasp my hands.
Somehow, I managed eleven vicious spanks to his backside before he managed to pin me face down on the bed with his body, my arms stretched above my head and secure in his grasp. Robbie had started to bark over all the activity and Tim had snapped at him to leave while he could, "It's going to get scary in here, buddy."
"Maybe for you," I turned my head in order to look at him out of my right eye.
"Says the captive to the captor," he replied.
I snapped my feet up and started to kick him, counting out with each rapid fire blow. He swore in a hoarse voice while he tried to block the kicks with his own feet, finally entwining our legs in order to prevent mine from striking him. Thankfully, he had been able to disrobe me for the most part and the excessive skin on skin contact had been a bit too much for his instinctual side to ignore.
"What are we up to," I asked, "Twenty-three?"
Shifting himself above me slightly, he spoke into my ear, "No, at least twenty-seven."
"Fine… then only two more."
"Good luck with that," he snickered.
"Come on… Take it like a man…" I teased, arching my back up against him.
The sudden pressure caused him to falter and he was quick to loosen the hold on my hands. Tim realized it immediately and tightened the vice like grip, but not before I was able to free my left hand. He cried out as I delivered the final two blows, my thin hands leaving red splotches on his rear.
"This is not how you're supposed to start a birthday," he growled as he regained hold of my free limb.
"Oh?" I bit lip as I felt him move between my legs, "Are you going to show me the right way?"
"Damn straight I am," he tried to sound rough and ragged as he took my two wrists into one of his palms. As he fumbled between my legs with his free hand he growled about how no one spanks Batman and gets away with it, the sheer thought of the words making my giggle into the mattress. He leaned over me again, "Laugh will you? Laugh at this…"
When he finally released me, I rolled over onto my back, gasping for air nearly as hard as he was. I reached over and set a hand on his chest, "Now… now we change the sheets."
Tim smirked up at the ceiling before nodding, "Agreed… cupcake."
Given that it was in fact his special day, I let him shower and change while I picked up the bedroom and tended to a bewildered Robbie. Donning one of Tim's tee shirts, I gathered the dirtied bedding, my discarded clothing, packing the hamper before taking it downstairs. Although Alfred had offered to aide us in tending to the Drake residence, given that it was much bigger than the townhouse, we had declined knowing he had more than enough to tend to next door. For the time being, we had the former housekeeper of the house, Ellen, drop by twice a week to catch up on the odds and ends. For the most part we were self-sufficient, basically relying on each other and a weekly grocery delivery service. It certainly helped that we were rarely in the great house to do more than eat and sleep. And play.
By the time Tim made it downstairs, I had the sheets almost ready to go in the dryer, a full pot of coffee brewed and was out on the back terrace watching Robbie chase birds in the sky. He sat beside me at the small wrought iron table, yawning loudly before saying, "So, we have a scheduling conflict for today."
I felt a flutter of panic before asking, "What?"
"Well, we have… our thing… at ten… and the caterers were coming to set up for the party at ten-thirty… even if you drove, there's no way we'd get back in time."
"We need an accomplice," I concluded.
Tim nodded before running his hands through his still wet hair, "Exactly… so question is, who do we bring to the dark side?"
"We're on the dark side?"
He shook his head, "Sorry… bad Sith joke."
After a moment of silent thought, we looked to one another and nodded. He said he would call over to Alfred so I could run upstairs and wash up. Before getting up, I asked, "Is that what you're wearing?"
Tim looked down at his dark blue jeans and rumpled gray shirt, "Well… what were you going to wear?"
"I don't know… something… nice, I guess."
He contemplated briefly, "I suppose you're right… Well, go shower, I'll pillage through what came back from the cleaners for something less twenty-eight and more twenty-nine."
I smiled as I rose to my feet, calling Robbie with a low whistle. Exhausted from futile bird hunting, the Boxer trotted up the steps, his big pink tongue curling out passed his flat face. We retuned the house, Robbie heading off with Tim while I ran back upstairs. It wasn't that I liked dressing up but it seemed like the right thing to do.
As I showered quickly, I smiled to think that Tim had nearly written off the thought of having a formal party until the week before. We had been watching a re-run of the Office, watching our favorite hum-drum Pennsylvanians dance it up in their Café Disco. Tim had looked over at me as we lounged on the couch and smiled, "I think I do want to do something, next weekend."
"Yeah?" I had asked.
"Yeah… it would be nice, for everyone, I think."
During my break the previous day, I had opted out of the traditional Friday lunch with the "boys" in order to pick out a nice dress. I had a very limited selection of nice clothes, and mainly they were slacks and blouses for working at the Firm. Of the dresses I did own, I had already been worn for dinners and parties, namely those attended by the late Jack and Dana Drake…
I needed something new, something pure, something fresh…
While dressing in the bathroom, I heard Tim return to the bedroom, Robbie grumbling through a plush toy. I had tried to tussle my short hair dry but ended up having to actually unearth my rarely used blow dryer. At that point, it was silly not to put on what little makeup I owned, seeing how it was such a special day.
When I stepped out of the bathroom, I smiled to see Tim standing in front of a full length mirror of the walk-in closet, adjusting a white tie over his pristine white shirt. As he finally buttoned up the black blazer, he turned to me and said, "Well, we better boogie if we're… going… to… damn."
"You like?" I inquired before offering a quick spin, causing the calf length silk chiffon dress to flirt away from my legs. The sleeveless body was tightly fitted to my torso while the skirt hung loosely from my hips, the uneven double layer of material always in motion. The startling white of the dress was broken up by a single black band around my waist.
"I… damn… we better go before I make a mess of the bed again."
"What a gentleman…" I commented as I donned a pair of white flat shoes. He was lucky I was wearing a dress for him, I wasn't about to compromise my agility with heels. "Speaking of which, did you call him?"
"Yes, he said he would be over at ten… hopefully we'll be back by eleven," Tim said as he stepped out into the corridor.
Nodding, I bid farewell to Robbie after making sure he had a few snacks on his dog bed and enough toys out to keep him occupied. When I made it to the ground floor, Tim was no where in sight and I decided he was already out getting his car ready. Stepping out through the front door, I activated the security system and glanced around the driveway. Rather than pull around in his Honda or any of the cars he had inherited from his father, I grinned to see him drive out from behind the massive garage with Bruce's glossy black Jaguar convertible.
I knew it had been a waste to blow dry my hair.
"Did you borrow this?" I asked while climbing into the passenger's seat.
Tim donned a pair of dark sunglasses before looking over at me, "Nope. I stole it."
"And your health insurance is up to date?"
"I double checked before I took the car after patrols last night. Besides, if he's going to hurt me, he's going to have to catch me first."
"I'm not worried about the bat so much as the cat."
He gulped audibly before putting the car into first, "You're right… we better play it safe. Go the long way… into town."
"Wise in your old age," I smirked as we sped off.
"Not the years, it's the mileage…" We were nearly to midtown before Tim cried out, "Oh crap."
"What?" I asked, worried he had left something behind in Bristol.
"Think Bruce knows the mileage on this?"
Staring down at Bruce as he slept, I contemplated not waking him before I headed out. I could have easily skipped out on bidding farewell to my sleeping family, letting them enjoy their Saturday morning. It was as Kitten woke and padded over to me that I decided at least the kids deserved to sleep in…
There was no point in saying his name as Bruce never slept with his hearing aides in, even the new modified ones he had concocted that were much smaller, much stronger and far more comfortable. I took a seat on the bed, stroking Kitten's face before setting a hand on Bruce's chest, clawing at him through the comforter. When his eyes fluttered open, I leaned in and kissed his cheek before talking into his right ear, "I'm heading out."
Rather than respond, Bruce cleared his throat quietly and began to sit up. He glanced at the bedside clock as he reached to turn the lamp on, "It's quarter of six."
When his eyes were on my face, I explained, "Yeah… I have to be back here by one for Tim's party…"
"Right…" he nodded as he reached over to rough up Kitten's scruff. The kitten turned around and promptly swiped claws at his attacker but it only made Bruce smirk before doing it again.
"Alfred will get them up, he was going to take them to get a gift after breakfast. I'll be back just in time to shower and change, but they need to be ready… and Terry will be coming by around eleven."
"Mattie asked if she could bring him, we said yes."
Bruce shook his head, "You said yes. I said no."
"Which, combined, means yes."
He grunted, finally letting Kitten be. Bruce rubbed his face slowly before saying, "Fine. They'll be ready."
"As will you."
A fake smile spread over his face, "As will I."
After kissing him once more, I shut the lamp off and made my way out of the room. Leaving my slumbering children to continue dreaming of racing across rooftops and making touchdowns, I quickly made it to the stairs and took them two at a time. Alfred had not been on the ground floor to see me off, which made me feel slightly less guilty about hitting the bakery in town for coffee and an egg white sandwich.
A top twenty hip hop station, abundant fog and warm hazelnut aromas kept me company for the ride, the only missing entity being my daughter. Since school had let out, she had been rather dedicated in joining me most days at the Preserve, volunteering in the activity center in any way she could. There had even been a few days when she had conned some of her friends to get up and out of bed early enough to join her. I always treated them to coffee on the way up, lunch in the cafeteria and ice cream on the way home, doing what I could to encourage return visits. The girls were getting to an age where they would start making decisions about what kind of adults they would grow up to be.
The busier they were working, the less trouble they would get into.
My daughter had plenty of extra-curricular activities to keep her in line, in fact she had too many. Regrettably, she decided that in order to pursue her training with Tim and Cassandra, she needed to consolidate her interests. The first sacrifice had been Coltrane but thankfully we had given him to her riding instructor Janet who had promised to keep him as a lesson horse. I had taken Mattie to visit a few times so she could at least groom him, sneaking in a ride once in a while. There was no questioning that it had been the right choice given that there was also no questioning the direction her life was taking.
If she had been upset about the ordeal, she had never shown it.
Daddy's little girl…
I knew gymnastics would give way eventually, especially as she furthered her skills beyond what was applicable to youth competitions. Dick had sat down and talked with her briefly before her last competition during the school year. I was fairly certain Bruce had been behind it, but Dick had told her that although it was okay to showcase her abilities at home, doing so in public would make her stand out. And when you had a secret identity, the last thing you wanted was to have people remember you for being outstanding at something.
At that competition, she had perfected the balance beam and vault but had purposely fumbled her floor exercise, going out of the boundary once and even so much as falling during a diagonal routine. Rather than be upset that she had to do less than her best, Mattie had come up to me afterwards, winking while saying, "I'm such a klutz."
"You're such a something," I had countered.
Thinking of that day made the car seem far too empty that morning. We had decided the night before that she would stay home seeing how Terry wad coming over before Tim's birthday party. There was no way I was going to make it back in time to make sure everyone was ready, in addition to myself, so I had left the family in her and Alfred's care. Although I had given Bruce verbal instructions while I had dressed that morning, I had the failsafe in effect to make sure nothing went wrong.
I had been surprised when Tim had dropped by earlier in the week with an invitation to his birthday party, sheepishly claiming it was going to be semi-formal but lots of fun. When I asked if I could help, given the short notice, he had replied that everything was actually pretty much taken care off and that all I had to do was bring my family and my appetite.
After a Wayne Foundation banquet two weeks earlier, it would be Bruce's second public appearance since he fought the Joker. The dinner had been simple enough, barely two hours long and he thankfully only had to sit at the head table and accept well wishes. By the third course, I had been able to tell that he was done playing nice, but I had kept my hand on his through the remaining courses, encouraging him onward. At least with Tim's party, he wouldn't be the center of attention and would be able to relax, not to mention he could leave whenever he wished.
The first few weeks of summer had been difficult, for certain, but once he managed to get into the swing of his new routine, he seemed to act more like himself. The determination and unrelenting spirit I had fallen in love with found its way through the thick shell. Aside from the rehabilitation he was undergoing with Leslie and with a physical therapist that came out to the house, Bruce had been diligently working on his memory recall, using self generated computer programs to test himself.
Bruce had the cast taken off of left leg just after the Independence Day weekend, leaving him to wear a full length leg brace when he was up and around during the day. He was more than happy to start rebuilding strength to atrophied muscles as opposed to regaining flexibility. Alfred and Leslie both agreed that as he felt physically and emotionally better, the refusal to have additional orthopedic modifications on his leg would ebb. Either that or I would sedate him myself and drag his crippled ass to the ortho clinic.
Despite the fact that the misty morning gave way to a flawless blue sky and warm temperatures, I found myself in an office instead of out touring the paddocks. Licenses needed renewing, proposals needed signatures, and expense reports needed authorizing. Although Bruce had initially funded the Preserve, thankfully it had become fairly self-sufficient with its own line of income from private donators, association grants and federal funding. I had once promised Bruce to pay him back but he had been quick to tell me that I already had before kissing my ring finger.
Such a sap at times…
My cell phone rang at a little before ten and I answered expecting some sort of drama to have erupted at the house. I was pleased to hear straight from Alfred that everything was fine. "I am afraid, Ms. Selina, that I must leave the children in Master Bruce's care. Master Tim has asked that I oversee the caterers arriving while he and Ms. Cassandra tend to a personal matter."
"He assured it me it was a simple errand… for the party. I offered to attend to it myself but he declined. I am due at their residence shortly. The children have their outfits for the party in order and simply need to wash and change at one."
"Does 'the children' include the big child?"
Alfred hesitated before answering, "But of course."
I heard Bruce's voice in the background and couldn't help but laugh. "I'll come home a little early then… make sure they at least have clothes on."
By ten-thirty, my wrists were cramped from attacking a keyboard and my fingers were aching from signing my name to an infinite number of documents. I had to leave by eleven-thirty in case traffic of traffic on the thruway and still had quite a few things left on my to-do list. After freshening up in the faculty bathroom, I made my way to the rec center and made an appearance at each of the activity centers. It still made me speechless to see children of all ages and backgrounds learning about what they could personally do to help the environment and that animal welfare activism was the right path as opposed to the devious ploys of animal rights activism.
After grabbing a turkey sandwich and a cran-apple juice from the cafeteria, I decided to end the morning walking down the trail that looped around in between the paddocks, hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the residents. It was well passed their feeding time, so the few I managed to spot were sacked out in the sun on large rocks or in the cool, shady grass. Returning back to my normal routine had taken a few days to get used to but I couldn't have been more grateful
Bruce had been right, everything was going to be fine.
After that, I made a quick stop at the medical building, checking in on the few patients that were under veterinary care. There were a number of big cats, namely lions, tigers and a cantankerous ocelot, that were in for the day for some dental work. In addition, there was a cheetah that had sustained a significant laceration to his tail during an overzealous romp with his paddock-mate and had been in for the week after the initial suturing for daily antibiotics.
The last patient had been our oldest Bornean clouded leopard who had been showing signs of chronic renal failure over the last year. Although he had been responding well to dialysis and dietary management, his advanced age was working against him. He had been in the med center for two weeks in a small, quiet pen at the end of the hall, quietly accepting IV fluids, undergoing dialysis and doing what he could to eat blended meals to help boost his system. Reaching his pen, I looked through the barred door to see Dr. Carnrike sitting with him, trying to hand feed him.
"Oh Rajang," I said softly, before unlocking the door and letting myself in.
Dr. Carnrike glanced up at me briefly, "He's comfortable… Slept through most of the night..."
"Poor guy…" I knelt beside her, gently putting my hand to his muzzle before gently stroking his face.
"I've pushed two liters of lactated wringers since six this morning… He's really been going downhill since dialysis yesterday afternoon, I don't think he'd survive another round."
"Poor old man," I smiled as throaty purrs came from the exhausted cat. Being one of the very first residents of the Preserve, I had known him since he was a spry and sassy ten year old, a reject from a zoo in Florida. He apparently had aggression issues but I had never seen a hint of them in his seven years with us. As I gently rubbed the thick spotted fur over his thin shoulders, I nodded, "Well, I promised to do right by you, Raj… and I will…"
It wasn't exactly how I had intended to end my morning at the Preserve but I wouldn't have been able to be remotely sociable at Tim's party had I been left wondering about the ill cat. After leaving briefly, Dr. Carnrike had returned with a technician to aide in euthanizing him but I had stayed put. I sat with him, holding Rajang's head in my lap, caressing his face and purring to him long after he was gone.
I cried most of the way home, suddenly thankful that Mattie hadn't come along.
It was just after twelve-thirty when I pulled up the drive to Wayne Manor, smirking at the thought that at least it was still standing and not even remotely on fire. Bruce was still on a self-issued sabbatical from work and spent most of his days with Nathan and occasionally with Mattie. Granted Alfred was usually available to help, Bruce had claimed that he was more than capable of handling his own children.
Good thing we had Nathan to act as a firm reminder…
I parked the Pilot in the garage and took the service entrance inside. The ground floor was clear but I heard a commotion upstairs and quickly made my way up to it. Reaching the third floor, I heard Mattie yelling at someone. Passing Nathan's open door, I deduced it wasn't a sibling feud since he was on his bed brushing Ace's hair with a human comb. Without even saying hello to him, I continued to Mattie's room, finding the bedroom door in pieces all over her floor.
The shrill shouting drew my attention up and over to the sitting area where Bruce was trying to get a word in to his worked up teenaged daughter. Before he could do something he would further regret, I stepped in, "What the hell is going on?"
Mattie glared at me, "He's insane!"
Bruce shot back, "It was an accident," he looked to me as if that sufficiently defended his case and explained why the door was kindling.
As Mattie resumed shouting, I saw that Terry was also in the sitting room, standing just behind Mattie in his adorable two piece suit, the same one he had taken Mattie the spring formal in. He looked absolutely horrified at what was going on and I instantly began putting pieces of the puzzle together.
"Enough," I snapped. "Mattie, you need to get dressed. Terry, why don't you go downstairs and watch TV in the den."
"Yes, ma'am," he said before quickly running by us and into the hall.
Before Bruce could say anything, I snapped, "And you, go to your room."
"Excuse me?" he growled.
I growled right back, "You heard me. Now." When I was alone with Mattie, I asked, "Okay… what happened to the door?"
She took a deep breath and then said, "Terry and I were just in here playing video games and Dad was knocking on the door but I didn't hear him… I locked it because Nathan kept sneaking in and bugging us… Then, out of nowhere, Dad just knocked the door down, started yelling at me for no reason."
"I'm sure there was a reason, kiddo… whether or not it was real however…" I shook my head, "I'll talk to him… just get dressed, okay?"
"Get dressed. Then make sure your brother gets dressed. Then we are leaving. No but's."
I found Bruce in our bedroom, grumbling to himself as he stood before the bathroom mirror. As I approached, I noticed he had taken his shirt off and was examining his bruised shoulder and upper arm. When he spotted me, Bruce opened his mouth to speak but I cut him off, "Calmly, and quietly, explain to me what happened."
Like his daughter, Bruce drew a long breath before saying, "I went to tell her to start getting ready… and the door was locked. I've told her not to lock her door, especially when she has a friend over."
"Especially when she has her boyfriend over, you mean?"
He proceeded, "I knocked, called her name loudly, no answer. In fact, all I could hear was…"
"Screaming… Mattie screaming something."
"Bruce, for the love of God-," I rolled my eyes before demanding, "What was she screaming?"
His cheeks had already been flushed with anger, but now the color suggested embarrassment, "She was screaming his name… telling him… to do it harder… and faster. I reacted appropriately, entered the room through force and found that I had slightly overestimated the situation…"
"You knocked down the door because she was cheering him on while playing a video game…. And because you have overzealous hearing aides and a filthy mind?"
"Okay… I moderately overestimated the situation."
There was a long moment where Bruce simply stared at me.
Finally, he looked away and said to himself, "I may be deaf… but I know what I heard."
I hadn't seen Tim since he had buried his father and step-mother.
No, that wasn't entirely true.
I had just arrived at the Watchtower for a meeting earlier that week when a familiar face also made an appearance in the teleportation bay. While he took a moment to regain his bearings, I had smiled at the sight of plain clothed Tim Drake, "Long time no see."
He had smiled as well before taking a proffered hand, "Sorry… I've almost got life back in order."
Noting that the scar on his face had been altered and was barely visible, I nodded, "So I see… well, you know that there is no rush, Tim. When you're ready, you're ready."
"I appreciate it," he had released my hand in order to reach into a leather shoulder bag. Retrieving a black and silver envelope, he had handed it over, "Having a birthday party this weekend… would love if you and Lois could make it."
Without opening it, I had readily agreed, "Wouldn't miss it for the world."
He had been quick to explain that he didn't have much time and had a few dozen invitations to distribute between the members on site as well as leaving some for those coming on duty that night. I had wanted to ask if it was a strictly superhero gathering but hadn't been able to word it in my head favorably.
That evening when I had returned home, I had told Lois about it and she had seemed absolutely thrilled. When I had asked her why, she had explained, "First of all, I can get Perry to expense this dress I want to buy if I wear it to a party… and any party in Gotham would certainly count…"
She had continued, "Second, I haven't seen or heard from Bruce since the dawn of time…"
"Well, he's been through-."
"And no one has interviewed him about what happened… it will be the first exclusive out there…"
"Lois… he's our friend. And after what he went through… I doubt he'd even talk about-."
She had ignored me, talking more so to herself than to me, "And I don't want to jump to any conclusions here but Pulitzer does have a nice ring to it…" Lois had paused before adding, "And… you two can patch things up."
"Patch things up?" I had asked while loosening my tie, "I don't think there is a patch big enough."
"You just stood there defending him against my internal rabid investigative reporter. Clark…" she had set her palms against my chest, "I think you're more than capable of fixing things."
And that had been that.
Since Lois had been able to put a spin on things for the chief, we had flown business class from Metropolis to Gotham, picking up a rental car as opposed to trying to flag down an elusive taxi or bother Alfred with picking us up. I hadn't been to Gotham since Jack and Dana Drake's funeral and hadn't even made the attempt to speak with anyone in the Family save for Barbara when the Justice League needed her expertise.
Things were different.
Dick and Bruce were both on the road to recovery, although from what I had heard, Dick would not need additional surgery and should be back to have a functioning left arm by late November. Bruce, on the other hand, was refusing additional surgeries to his leg in order to regain minimal mobility. I had my thoughts on why he didn't want them but I had kept them to myself. Aside from that, everyone else had seemed to move beyond what had transpired, trying to put the pieces back together, even Tim.
I had no intentions of staying the weekend but Lois had already booked us a room at the Marriott. After checking in and finding our twenty-first floor suite, I set our luggage down in the bedroom before approaching the floor to ceiling window. As she unpacked enough clothes to last an entire week, I opted to look out over the morning skyline, the sunlight driving out the shadows of Gotham and making it look like a brilliant city.
The early flight had been worth the effort, arriving at airport aboard JetBlue at precisely five after ten. It gave us plenty of time to settle in, have lunch in town and make an appearance at the party. Although I was certain Bruce would be in attendance, I was wary of broaching the subject in question there. Perhaps it could wait until Sunday…
I returned to the bedroom as Lois called out, "When are you going up?"
She turned away from me to hang her dress up in the closet, "You heard me."
"I did, I just didn't understand you."
"We talked about this," Lois said as she faced me.
"About what?" When she glared at me, hands on her hips, I sighed, "Lois… no. I'll… I'll talk to him tomorrow. There's no need to bother him right this minute."
"Clark, darling…" she reached up and undid the top button of my polo shirt, "Go talk to him. Or I will. With my trusty tape recorder."
For Bruce's sake, and my own, I relented. Promising to be back for lunch and shoe shopping, I made my way to the stairwell on our floor, scanning quickly to see the coast was clear before flying to the roof and out the service door. I was always amazed at how quickly the hub-bub of the city gave way to the quiet, elite countryside of Bristol. Having spent equal parts of my life on the plains of Kansas and the bustle of Metropolis, I had a hard time understanding the appeal of neighborhoods filled with houses big enough for entire family trees let alone a single family.
Let alone for a young boy and his butler…
Shortly after the Joker had been taken down, J'onn had informed me that Tim has asked him to perform a memory block on Nathan. He had given the reason as being that the young boy had experienced far too much, far too soon and he didn't want him to suffer as Bruce had at a similar age. With his father comatose at the time, Tim had stepped in to protect the innocent without hesitating. He had done the right thing.
Thinking that, I chose to land just inside the gates, walking up the landscaped driveway instead of soaring directly up to the house. The hedges and meticulous trees and gardens were in full bloom, bringing life to the once gloomy grounds. Surely I had set off a dozen motion sensors but given that I wasn't targeted by a barrage of rubber bullets or taser darts, I decided that it was safe to assume I was a welcomed guest.
A quick scan of the house showed no sign of Alfred, Bruce showering upstairs and the children in the back yard with an enormous black dog. I walked around the left side of the house, following the sound of playful barking and laughter. As I rounded the corner, the laughter continued but the barking immediately stopped as the dog stared intensely at me. Although there was no way he would have been able to harm me, I certainly didn't want him to try, breaking his pearly white fangs on my skin in the process.
Nathan squealed at the sight of me, then called out to the German Shepherd, "Ace, sitz!"
The dog stopped glaring at me long enough to look back at Nathan as he took a seat on his muscled haunches. As Nathan trotted by, patted the dog's head and told him, "Bleib," before continuing towards me. The dog seemed to relax but never took his eyes off of me. He must have been Bruce's given his innate distrust in superhumans…
As I walked over, Mattie greeted me, "Uncle Clark!"
"Hey guys…" I smiled down at them, quick to catch Nathan when he sporadically leapt at me. It was sad to think that he, much like his father, had lost certain memories. But at least for Nathan, it was in his best interest.
After hugging me, he pointed at the dog that had "That's my dog, Ace,"
"He's a very big dog," I commented.
"He's my best friend. He protects me," Nathan announced before slithering out of my arms and calling the dog over in German.
I found Mattie smiling up at me, "Here for Tim's party?"
Watching Nathan hug the Shepherd that easily weighed twice as much as he did, I replied, "You bet… Figured I would come up early, see you guys… maybe talk to your Dad."
"He's upstairs getting ready," she stated.
"Ah, well I'm sure I can hang out with you until he comes down."
Mattie nodded before taking a seat in the grass, looking up at me until I did the same. Nathan ran over and handed her a slimy tennis ball, "I have to pee… I'll be right back."
As he ran into the house, Mattie tried to distract the dog by throwing the ball, but he opted to follow his best friend instead of running after his toy. Alone, Mattie looked up at me and smirked, "So…"
"So… been having a good summer vacation? Barbara said you had a great gymnastic meet in June, sorry we couldn't make it."
"It's okay… I bet you were busy."
I felt a twinge of guilt, wondering just how many times she had to have heard that excuse before she started reciting it herself. "Well, we will certainly be out for the next one, you just let me know, okay?"
She nodded as she drew her legs up and hugged them to her chest. As she focused on the ball as it sat in the manicured grass, Mattie asked, "Did you fly in last night?"
"Is Lois here, too?"
Nodding, I explained, "She's in the city… we have a hotel room… going to go out for a light lunch before the party."
I watched as she battled a smile but before I could ask what was so funny, Mattie spoke up, "Then you must have actually flown in… if Lois came."
When she finally looked up at me, the smile had won.
Bruce would have never told her…
At the Watchtower, she must have… But…
My momentary fit of thoughts had been interrupted by Bruce's voice. We both looked to see him standing on the terrace, one hand on the wrought iron railing and the other leaning on a black, glossy cane.
"Uncle Clark's here," she announced as she jumped to her feet. I rose as well, albeit more slowly.
Bruce looked me over, the intensity of his eyes similar to that of Ace's, "So I see… Terry's father is pulling up… why don't you meet him at the door."
"Okay," she said before looking up at me, "I'll see you at the party."
"Yes…" was all I was capable of saying. Although I stared at him briefly, I opted the wiser course was to approach him rather than force him to walk down the stone steps and across the lawn. I had expected him to be back to form after the time that had lapsed but I had been too hopeful. He had lost at least twenty pounds, leaving his tailored slacks to hang from his hips and the breeze to cause his slate blue shirt to billow slightly. He had some color to his face, suggesting he had at least been spending time outdoors.
"Good to see you, Bruce," I nodded slightly, hesitating before offering my hand.
He nodded back but made no attempt to shake. A force of habit, I scanned him briefly, nearly cringing at the physiological changes from head to toe. I had read through the police reports and been on top of what the press had covered from official statements as well as updates from Barbara. Seeing the cold, painful words in person…
He finally released the railing, briefly squeezing my palm, "Lois in town?"
I nodded, "Yeah, she wanted to do lunch… buy new shoes for the party. You know Lois…"
"I do," he smirked before turning away in order to take a seat at the table. I waited until he was safely in a chair before sitting beside him. After asking where Selina was, he replied, "On her way home from the Preserve… she's been trying to catch up on everything."
"And Alfred has been called into active duty next door."
I glanced through the acre of trees to see the bustle of people setting up tables under a large white tent, "Ah… leaving you home alone with these two."
"Three… Mattie's… boyfriend is coming to the party."
I then looked towards the house and smiled to see Mattie and a young teenaged boy ascending the stairs inside. "Boyfriend, hunh?"
"Don't start," he growled.
Not wanting to laugh, I changed the topic, "Tim looks good, ran into him at the Watchtower the other day. Looks great actually. Considering everything that happened."
"He's strong willed. Takes a lot to break him down."
A lot. As in walking in the crime scene of a mass murder and finding your father and step-mother amidst the blood bath.
"Fine," he answered a bit too quickly, "They'll be there this afternoon… with Ethan." A brief smirk tugged at the corners of Bruce's mouth at the mere mentioning of his grandson's name. At least that hadn't changed...
"Have the cast off long?" I found myself asking without thinking.
"Almost a week…" he pulled up the left leg of his black slacks revealing the base of a leg brace, "Have to wear this now… but at least it comes off at night."
Silence fell between us. I glanced over at him, my eye automatically landing on his right hand. Even without using my radiographic vision, I had been able to see the knotted calcification on the back of his hand where the metacarpals had healed incorrectly. It had been three months since that night in the Cave. The night I had let him know he had made a mistake. The night he had hit me hard enough to send me flying.
With a wave of guilt washing over me for the second time in mere minutes, I finally said, "I'm sorry, Bruce."
He didn't hesitate to ask, "For what?"
"For everything… For saying what I did… for… challenging your plan at the Watchtower… For… For not coming to see you after-."
"Clark… I… I don't remember any of that…" he said with sincerity.
I glanced over at him, shock washing over me. Of course… he had already suffered from memory problems after undergoing radiation, on top of the skull fracture, hypoxia and the coma…
Then he winked at me.
"You're an ass," I chuckled.
"Yes, I am aware of that." He cleared his throat before adding, "Selina told me that I needed to apologize to you if you showed up at the party."
"Lois told me to do the same."
He sighed heavily, his hand gently beginning to massage his left thigh, "We were once titans… now look at us…" When we glanced at each other, Bruce corrected himself, "I guess just look at me…"
I had always joked that Bruce would outlive us all on his will power alone, never imagining that one day he wouldn't wear the guise he had created or that he would be anything but the perfect physical specimen, a master of everything. When he had stepped down, giving the cowl to Tim, he had invited me to the Manor for brunch to explain everything. Six years later, I still had a hard time accepting it.
Seeing him sitting beside me, smirking as he said his grandson's name, fretting over his teenaged daughter's boyfriend, distraught over being completely under the control of his wife… it finally sank in.
He was human after all.
"Now this… is… awesome."
Laying on the padded table of a treatment room, I was flat on my back as my physical therapist Greg shot laser beams though my skin. I had already done a round of what I perceived to be useless sound wave therapy to help encourage proper nerve communication and cell growth. But by dealing with it led me to the next step in my new age physical therapy schedule. Namely, thirty minutes of low level laser therapy, releasing endorphins as it worked its mystical magic magicness.
"Good to hear, Dick," Greg commented as he guided the paddle over my bare shoulder.
Given my progress, I was still technically in my immobilization period, but Dr. Yeoung had given me permission to wear only the sling instead of having the arm wrapped to my chest. By the end of August, I was due to start actual physical therapy in order to regain muscle tone and range of motion in my left wing. As tempting as it was to start working my arm, I was far too grateful to risk injuring it, especially after I had gotten lucky the night I hadn't saved Bruce…
I was silent until Greg turned the machine off, putting it away in its padded black bag before returning to my bedside. He looked over my arm and nodded, "Great… some minor fasciculation but that's no biggie… great circulation… Might burn a little in an hour or so but other than that everything looks fine."
Sitting upright, I kept my left arm folded and pressed to my bare chest, "Music to my ears."
"And mine… it was a pretty serious injury… you are a very lucky man, Dick."
"So I keep hearing… So, what's left?"
"Actually, why don't we call it quits for today," Greg had suggested, "We'll do some hydrotherapy Monday afternoon, maybe the magnet wrap… we certainly accomplished more than I thought we would today."
"I'm a good patient…" I smirked as I pulled my tee shirt over my head. He was quick to help me feed my left arm trough its sleeve but let me put it on the rest of the way myself. I added, "Good enough for a lollipop…"
Greg laughed at that, "On you're way out. Pick a time with reception…" he watched as I donned my sling, "We will see you Monday."
I shook his right hand with mine, "Thanks."
As I made my way down the brightly lit corridor, I reached reception just as a young girl in a leg brace was departing. I had learned a few weeks earlier that her name was Shelby and she had been in a hit and run incident. From the little details I had picked up from her parents, I had given them to Tim who had in turn located the man that had dared to hit a child with his car and drive off.
Out of the blue, the suspect had confessed to police, handed his car over as evidence and pleaded to spend the rest of his days behind bars.
After picking a four-thirty appointment out, I stepped out of the air conditioned building and into the humid July mid-morning air. Barbara had opted to stay home with Ethan, leaving me to drive to and from my appointment and to run a few errands. Like any good husband, I readily agreed to do things for my wife but was often unprepared for what it entailed.
Returning to the Range Rover, I let the air conditioning come on while I reviewed the detailed list of places to go and things to do. Given the time, I raced over to the post office first, bought stamps from the machine and mailed out eight envelopes for her. Babs was goddess of the information highway and yet she still used snail mail. Next, I marked off the dry cleaners before backing out of my parking spot at the post office. It was just three blocks away and was the second easiest of the tasks. After submitting my ticket, paying for the services rendered and obtaining a week's worth of suits, I was right back in the driver's seat staring at the list.
Continuing with the trend of easy before difficult, I stopped by a CVS quick to pick up diapers for Ethan and a Snickers bar for myself. I had overslept for the first time in weeks that morning, thus forcing me to attend my appointment on an empty stomach. I hadn't meant to stay up late the night before, but I had found myself feeling restless and tense. A six hour block of playing one-handed Wii games had helped but it had put me to bed after four in the morning for the first time in far too long.
From there, the To Do list directed me to the Hallmark store where I had to pick up a card for Tim, one Barbara had described in detail for me, as well as small bunch of black and silver balloons. She had already picked up his gift earlier in the week, of which she had yet to tell me what it was. I also had to stop by the grocery store and get Skim milk for her and whole milk for Ethan, on top a few other things that I was fairly certain were still present in our refrigerator.
I made it home just before one, my only functioning arm filled with my midday bounty. Given how quiet the apartment was, I reasoned that Babs had managed to get Ethan down for a nap early. Rather than call out her name, I navigated to the kitchen before carefully unloading the bags onto the small table. Before I could begin to put the groceries away, Frank came charging down the hall, sounding as if it was a herd of elephants as opposed to a burly French bulldog. In order to entice him to not growl or bark, I quickly unearthed treats from a box on the counter, holding them out just as he breached the kitchen.
He gruffed twice and I smiled down at him, "Franky… come on, buddy… You know you don't want to wake the baby…"
Tempting a small bark, he licked his lips, cocked his ears and then decided it was a worthy bribe to remain silent.
Groceries put away, balloons anchored to a chair and card safe in its white paper bag, I took the dry cleaning and the plastic bag of Ethan goodies with me. I quietly set his ill gotten gain in front of his door before proceeding to the master bedroom.
"Honey, I'm home," I whispered.
Finding the shower running, I continued being a good boy and hung the suits in the closet, save for the one I intended on wearing to the birthday party. I thought it was odd that he was going to have a formal event but he had promised all of the food I could eat so I had kept my complaint silent. Barbara thought it was nice that he was treating himself, as did the rest of the Family. I had known Tim just as long as the rest of them and yet I was the only one doubting the reason behind the act. He had miraculously bounced back to his old self, dedicating himself to his work in and out of the mask as if the hellish six months had never happened.
I couldn't help but wonder just how much of it was a performance…
Knowing I would need to wash up as well, I carefully pulled my tee shirt off before unzipping my jeans and kicking them off. Taking a seat on the bed, I gently pulled my arm out of the sling, instinctively keeping it flush against my torso. Although I wasn't one for doting upon memories forever branded on me with scars, my eyes immediately fell to my left shoulder. Those memories were impossible to shake.
A soft pink line, nearly half of an inch thick marred the top of my trapezium, traveling from just the end of my neck to nearly the point of my shoulder, with various small hash lines branching off in opposite directions. I felt the tightness in my leg from where they had graphed nerve tissue, a feeling that would never go away. The muscle atrophy in my bicep and tricep was unnerving, making it look completely different than my right arm. I was still months away from recuperation, a torturous concept…
"Hey, just in time," I heard Barbara's voice.
Glancing over my good shoulder at her, I asked, "Leave me any water?"
"You'll have to find out… Did you make the post office?" she asked as I rose to my feet.
"Indeed," I replied before walking towards the open bathroom door. I paused briefly to ask, "When are we going up?"
"One-thirty-ish," she answered while adjusting the towel wrapped around her body, "I already gave Ethan a bath so when he wakes up, I just have to change him and get him dressed… I'll give him a snack on the way up but he can wait to actually eat when we get there."
I chided, "We should have adopted one that was at least housebroke…"
A slipper flew at my head and I ducked before Barbara threw the second one.
As I hopped into the shower, I heard her call out, "Oh, I forgot… Will is going to meet us here, follow us up… And Clark called, he wanted to caravan up as well."
"What?" I called out over the spray of water, "Is his cape broken?"
She muttered something to herself before speaking loud enough for me to hear, "Yes, Boy Wonder, Superman's cape is broken and he needs your help. That and he doesn't want to be there alone with his wife if no one from the JLA shows."
"Well, in that case," I smirked and began to feverishly lather soap into my hair.
Regrettably, I had grown far too accustomed to doing everything one handed, from showering and shaving to folding laundry and changing diapers. Self sufficient as I had become, it had only been a direct result from Babs refusing to do anything to help. Her reasoning was that she had learned to live without the use of her legs, the very least I could do was take care of myself with only one arm.
At precisely one-thirty, we rode down in the elevator as a clean, well-dressed and excited family. Sure enough, Will's SUV was idle in a spot on the curb and across the street, I spotted Clark eagerly waving out the window of a rental sedan, the rims of his glasses the thickest I had ever seen. Once we were in the Range Rover and pulling out of the ground floor garage, Will honked at me and called out the window in a vicious Bronx accent, "Hey, I'm driving here!"
His girls were the back seat giggling but Barbara was not amused when I yelled at him, "Get outta here!" As we started to honk at one another for no reason, I was certain that Babs wished that she had gotten in the driver's seat.
Putting our immaturity aside, we made the drive out of the city and into Bristol with relative ease. It felt odd driving by the turnoff for Wayne Manor, instead continuing to the next private road less than two miles later. What had been even stranger was seeing hundreds of balloons lining both sides of the Drake driveway, perfectly placed clusters every ten feet.
"Guess he already had balloons…" Barbara said quietly.
"He's turning twenty- nine, right? Like this isn't the big thirty bash…"
"No," she replied, her gaze never leaving the elaborate decorations as we inched towards the house, "I checked the other day… Wow…"
Wow was right. There were at the very least seventy cars already parked on the side lawn and the top of the driveway, courtesy of a trio of valets that vigilantly stood before the main entrance. I pulled up and told them we were going to park out back so Babs could use the side entrance and the eldest of the three replied, "You must be Mr. Grayson. Of course, go right around back of the garage."
Rolling my window down, I waved Will up, waiting for him to halt beside us, "Let the gent take your beast, we're parking out back."
Will had a bewildered look on his face, "This is nuts…"
I nodded, "I know… he said semi-formal, looks like he forgot what that meant."
After he and Clark pulled up to the valets, I backed up and then turned around to get behind the garage. Although there were a number of catering vans already there, I found the closest spot to the entrance had been left available. Pulling in, I smirked to see a piece of paper had been secured to a hedge limb, reading: The Graysons.
"I don't care if it is his birthday, I am going to kick this kid's ass…" I chuckled before pocketing the keys.
"It gets better, hon…" Babs commented while looking out her window. The flat plane of lawn behind the house was sheltered by a massive white tent, under which I spotted at least two dozen tables decorated in white and black.
"I knew I should have worn my nicer shoes," I sighed while getting out of the car.
Wife and son in tow, we traveled the small stone path leading off of the driveway, promptly greeted by a young woman in black slacks and a fitted white blouse. After being requested to give my name, she smiled broadly, "Right this way."
Entering the tent, I saw that most of the tables had already been filled, each guest assigned a seat. We joined Will and Ronna as they were taking their seats beside Bruce and Selina. The adjacent table housed Mattie, Terry, Will's girls, Nathan as well as Alfred and Leslie. Looking around, I spotted plain clothed heroes, young and old, the few family members Tim had come to know in recent months as well as young men and women I had assumed were his fellow college graduates.
I took my seat next to Bruce and asked, "What the hell is this… my super sweet sixteen?"
"My super what?" Bruce asked, further confused when Selina laughed at him.
"Never mind… How did Al get stuck at the kiddie table?"
Selina was quick to respond, "He volunteered, actually. Bruce wanted to sit between Mattie and Terry."
"I still should be sitting there…" he grumbled to himself.
For the following fifteen minutes, the tented area was a bustle of activity, with absolutely no sign of Tim or Cass. I rose briefly to find Clark and Lois sitting a few tables away with J'onn, Diana, Ollie, Dinah, Wally and Linda and surprisingly enough, an appropriately dressed Zatanna. As expected, they too were completely at a loss at how extravagant the event was and wanted to know if I had answers.
In summary, what the hell was Batman up to…
An announcement suddenly came through overhead speakers that I hadn't even seen, "Ladies and gentlemen if you would please take your seats…"
Doing as ordered, I collapsed into my chair and looked to Barbara, her eyes glassier than and her smile brighter than when I had left her a few minutes earlier. "What's going on, Babs?"
Before she could answer, the baritone of the announcer came back, this time saying, "Ladies and gentleman, it is a distinguished pleasure to introduce for the first time in public…"
I couldn't have wiped the grin off my face… even if I had used a straight razor.
Although financially it wouldn't have been a problem to go through the motions of a formal wedding, the mental toll of preparing one had been something that neither one of us wanted. That, and we had lost so much of ourselves in the last few months, so much time, that I couldn't stand to risk losing anymore. I had asked Cass the last weekend of June what path she wanted to take and she had replied, "Whatever I have to wear a dress for least amount of time… that one."
For a bank check of thirty-five dollars payable to the City Clerk of Gotham, our valid driver's licenses and a ten-thirty appointment on Friday, we had been married. Our witnesses had included a janitor mopping the floor, a pair of couples who were all best friends and wanted to get married at the same time as well as the City Clerk's assistant. Although the marriage license was activated upon being signed, it wasn't made accessible until twenty-four hours later. Given that the next day was Saturday, I had made special arrangements to meet the clerk at City Hall to retrieve it.
After a considerable donation to his re-election campaign.
Dressed in our finest, Cass and I had toured Robinson Park, stopping briefly to take up a pair of swings at one of the new jungle gyms. As we tried to see who could swing the highest, a woman in capris and a purple tank top came up to us, introducing herself as a freelance photographer. We had stopped and gotten off of the swings as she offered a business card.
"You two are stunning," she had remarked, "And what a way to celebrate your special day."
"How did you know?" I had asked.
"It would be impossible not to."
I had given her my business card and asked her to forward the prints to my e-mail and that we would certainly look through them. As the woman turned to leave, Cass had whispered into my ear, "Didn't get a photographer."
I had smiled at her before calling out, "Ms. Devon?"
Giving her the address and time of the reception, we had parted. Making our way back to the municipal parking lot, I had said, "See, I told you it was a good day to go to the park."
I had made a promise to my father's headstone that I would try to be happy… that I was going to marry Cass. Realistically, they were the same promise as the second I slipped the gold band onto Cass's finger, I felt an enormous weight slide from my shoulders. I had never pictured myself ever getting married, let alone to Cass. Yet as she had slipped a matching ring onto my finger, nothing had felt so right, so natural.
The drive to Bristol had been a breeze in the Jag. Sun beaming down on us, wind in our hair, we had been the very definition of happy and relatively young. With a setting sun, it was a different story but I had a good eight hours until I had to worry about that. Pulling up the drive, Cass had applauded at the sight of the balloons being put in place. We had literally designed the event in question on a Sims 3 game two weeks before, handing over the laptop to the woman in charge. She had hid her confusion well enough, claiming we were very talented and creative.
Lunatics would have been a better description…
With the posts put in the ground Friday afternoon, the massive crew that had arrived at our place at ten had only to put the actual tent up before setting up the tables and chairs and decorations. The sleuth-style wedding had required that the most amount of work be done in the least amount of time. The woman in charge of organizing the reception had hired thirty-nine attendants, not including the caterer and his twenty assistants. The trust fund was taking a substantial hit, but the look on everyone's faces made it worthwhile.
We had entered the house, Alfred was there to promptly greet us, Master Tim, Ms. Cassandra… I must say, I had not been expecting an event of this… grandeur…"
I had shrugged, "Neither had I… but I figured you only turned twenty-nine once."
"Indeed, sir…" he paused observing out formal and inadvertently matching attire. Then, "Well, the caterers are well into their food preparation, the attendants are diligently working on the tables outside and the remainder are attending to the decorations."
Nodding, I had replied, "Sounds great… Thank you, Alfred. For being here… really helped us out."
"It was a privilege, Master Tim…" there was another pause before he announced, "Also, the cake has arrived."
That had been something I had not intended on anyone seeing before the reception, namely because it was a fairly dead give away as to what type of cake it was, not to mention a key indicator as the real reason behind the party. Being who he was, surely Alfred had overseen the unloading and storage of the five tiered, white chocolate wedding cake.
"Oh, did it?" I had managed to ask with an even tone. Looking to Cass for support she had simply shrugged.
"Yes, sir. It is quite lovely," he had raised a thin, gray eyebrow at me before continuing, "Although with it's intricate details, I feel it would be poor judgment to put twenty-nine candles on it."
Gulping audibly, I had forced a smile to my lips, "Yeah, I guess… It really is too nice to be a birthday cake."
Rather than ream us out for hiding the truth from him, Alfred had curtly nodded, "Very well, sir. I will see to it that the caterer is informed immediately."
Once Alfred had disappeared down the corridor, Cass had punched my bicep. When I had demanded to know why, she had snapped, "Told you we should have gotten the other cake."
"You only wanted it because it was practically a twenty-pound cinnamon roll."
"Cheesecake. Cinnamon roll cheesecake."
From there, we had put ourselves to work despite the insistence of the workers that it was unnecessary. With reluctance, they gave us the task of placing name cards, of which in it self took nearly forty minutes, making sure everyone was seated appropriately based on age, relationship and superpower. While making a Justice League table, I had laughed at myself, thinking that the protectors of the world had no idea what was going on.
Although if you had asked Bruce, that was no different than any other day.
The idea to keep the matter secretive had spawned from Dick and Barbara hiding the fact that they had adopted a baby from the rest of the Family. Like most sibling rivalries, I had intended to do him one better. In the long run, we had all known deep down that he and Barbara wanted a family of their own, we just hadn't known what lengths they had taken to do so. In our case, the Family not only had no idea we had been engaged since Christmas, but that they weren't attending a birthday party but an actual wedding reception.
Consider yourself pwnd, big brother.
Alfred had found us in the tent helping with floral centerpieces, quickly announcing that the valets had arrived and were already attending to guests. Not wanting anyone to see us in fear of discovering the truth behind the party, Cass and I had made a quick trip upstairs to the bedroom. Watching through the front window, Cass had called out names of guests as they arrived while I sprawled on the bed with a snoring Robbie.
I had risen from the bed and made it to the window just in time to see Bruce and Selina walking towards the front entrance, Terry, Mattie and Nathan leading the way. With her arm hooked with her husband's, Selina had walked beside him as she slowly tackled each of the fifteen steps, trying to use his cane more than his wife's support. Although I had seen him infirm countless times before, the fact that it was a permanent change had left a foul feeling in my gut.
"Someday," Cass had whispered.
"Someday… that will be us," her voice had taken a sad tone to it, one not fit for a wedding day.
I had kissed the top of her head before promising, "Not for a long, long, long time." As a second thought, I had swatted her behind, "Besides no kids… Not sure if I could handle trying to raise a little you."
She had laughed at that, "Or a little you."
"When I was little, I played Tekken video games. When you were little, you were Tekken."
Rolling her eyes, she had sighed, "Twenty-nine now… no more video game analogies."
Not thirty minutes later, we had been hailed by an attendant to make our way downstairs. The hum and chattering in the tent had been hushed when the announcer had said, "Ladies and gentleman, it is a distinguished pleasure to introduce for the first time in public… Mr. and Mrs. Timothy Drake!"
Entering the tent to soft music, we had found most of the guests staring in disbelief before making their way to their feet, applauding and even shouting out at us as we made our way to a small, elevated table. Glancing through the familiar faces, I found the Family seated a few yards away seated at two tables. Ronna, Selina and Barbara near tears, Dick's mouth was gaped open as he stood in silent shock. Will had been laughing hysterically and Leslie and Alfred stood together, proudly applauding. Even the kids were standing up, huge grins on their faces as the cheered.
Bruce had remained seated, a barely noticeable smirk on his lips.
When I had nodded in his direction, he had nodded back.
The buffet and open bar occupied a good hour or so, broken up by people coming up to the table that Cass and I shared, demanding to know what was going on. Dick had even pulled a chair up to lecture us about keeping secrets from the Family. He had quickly been dragged away by Alfred when he started getting upset at me for laughing in his face. After we had our share of fine cuisine and even finer cognac, we had acted as proper hosts, attending to each table and making nice. Reaching the Family, I had accepted a barrage of insults and scolds with a smile on my face.
To defend myself, I had replied, "It's my birthday, I'll get married if I want to."
After what had seemed like an eternity, the DJ had announced it was time to make our marital debut on the dance floor. Most couples our age would have swayed with one another to some romantic hip hop or country song, but we had decided to make a firm reminder that we were no where near normal.
Alone on the hardwood platform with all eyes on us, I grinned at Cass as she stood a few feet away, "Ready?"
She sighed, "I'm going to trip."
"No you won't… and if you do, trip me… that way you won't be alone."
The look on her face said she wanted to hit me. Since we were in public, she kissed me instead.
I nodded to the DJ and then returned my gaze to my bride. Taking a breath, I began to tap my foot in beat with the snare and cymbals that had had started up, lip synching along when Fred Schneider belted out, "If you see a faded sign by the side of the road that says fifteen miles to the... "
Cass joined in, mouthing, "Love Shack! Love Shack yeah!"
Without touching, we shimmied towards each other, getting within a millimeter before moving away, circling left and right, mouthing every word. I hadn't noticed immediately, but everyone had started laughing and clapping along. My smile turned into a sneer as I danced up behind Cass, finally touching her back with my chest as my arms waved in the air, "I got me a car, it's as big as a whale and we're heading on down to the Love Shack…"
Putting my hands on her hips, I proceeded with, "Got me a Chrysler, it seats about twenty So hurry up and bring your jukebox money!"
Cass reprised the chorus, popping her hips left and right for emphasis, "The Love Shack is a little old place where we can get together…"
They were my friends.
"Love Shack baby, Love Shack bay-bee."
They were my colleagues.
"Love baby, that's where it's at, ooo love baby, that's where it's at!"
They were my Family.
I grabbed Cass's hand, spinning her away and the immediately back to me, embracing her while singing along, "Sign says.. Woo... stay away fools, 'cause love rules at the Lo-o-ove Shack!" Releasing her, we promptly began emulating the twist in rhythm with the music, of which I was fairly certain made us look like complete fools. Thankfully, the smile on her face and in her eyes certainly made it worthwhile.
As the song progressed, so did our underused dance moves. That morning when we had been arguing about what song would be our first, torn between something sappy or something funny. Cass had admitted that she hadn't really danced since Barbara and Dick's wedding and even that had been goofing around with Mattie. I had offered to find us a last minute dance instructor but she had shrugged, "Nah… Jersey Shore is a rerun at noon… that should work."
There was truly no one else in the world for me.
Thankfully, the song ended to an uproar of applause and cheers and I found myself kissing Cass before whispering in her ear, "One dance down…"
"A thousand to go…"
"A million," I corrected her.
That, we agreed on.
I had all intentions of making a brief appearance at the party, eating a light meal, having a glass of champagne and then going home.
The fact that it was a wedding reception cloaked in the guise of an extravagant birthday party had been… interesting. Interesting enough to stick around for more than just the roasted pork tenderloins and twice baked potato.
It was a surprise, to say the least. When Tim and Cass had finally toured around to our table during the meal, they had confessed to being engaged since Christmas of the previous year, never telling anyone after what had happened not a week later on New Year's. From there, Tim had explained that they had been married the day before at City Hall and had decided that if they were going to spend money and time on anything it would be for a party.
After they had left to greet more guests, I had grumbled, "Why the hell didn't I think of that?" earning a vicious slap from Selina. Correcting myself, I had stated, "I meant having a buffet. Not skipping the wedding."
Although the meal and the company was pleasant, I had to put significant effort into avoiding the odd glances and stares from my former colleagues seated at tables nearby. Once the open bar was flowing and the dance floor was open, Ollie and Dinah finally came over to chat briefly, mainly complimenting me on how beautiful Mattie was becoming and how Nathan was a perfect replica of myself. After that, a few others gained the courage to say hello, not daring to mention why my wife was on the dance floor with my son instead me.
Lois, after a few Stoli martinis, came over and asked if I liked her new dress. Instead, I had complimented her shoes and she had kissed me on the mouth. Calling over Clark to rescue me, I had been left alone at the table with Barbara, of which I had preferred. We chatted briefly but soon conversation lapsed and we simply stared out at everyone making complete asses of themselves.
Nathan returned to steal some water from my drinking glass before racing back to the dance floor, having made fast friends with some of Tim's college acquaintances who already had children.
"Little bastard," Barbara commented suddenly. When I looked at her, she added, "Not Nate… Tim… How could he have kept this from us?"
"He has his ways," I had replied, taking a sip of my drink. Selina had gotten it for me at the bar, calling it a "Dapper Dan". All I could taste was Jack Daniels and a hint of lemon-lime soda.
"Still…" she sighed. "I'm making his life a complete hell next time he's out on patrols. Run him all over this city… Cass, too."
When J'onn had visited with me earlier, he had stated that he was going to keep an eye on Gotham for the remainder of the weekend and possibly into next week, giving Tim and Cass time to celebrate like normal, young adults. I had asked where they were going and he had answered, "No where. Tim said that he wouldn't be able to leave, in case something happened."
I had thought to myself, The burden of the cowl. For my wedding, Selina and I had escaped to a private island in the Caribbean. Dick and Barbara had also managed to escape, albeit months after their wedding since Nathan had born the same day. The only two remaining protectors of Gotham, they couldn't leave with a clean conscience. I didn't know whether to feel guilty or proud.
Eventually, Barbara left to visit with a few of the female League members that she rarely saw in person. I watched from afar as they laughed and drank and chattered, blissfully happy. While I began to plan my escape, I felt a hand settle on my shoulder. Glancing over, I saw Tim sit down beside me, his tie loose and the top two buttons of his shirt undone.
"Congratulations are in order," I remarked.
"I guess so… sorry, didn't mean to pull one over on you."
"It's all right."
He leaned back into his chair, joining me in surveying the busy, loud tent. After a few silent minutes between us, he smirked, "Dad would have loved this… he was always on my case about settling down, starting a family… And having it here, God… he would have gone nuts… spent every dime he had…"
I nodded but chose not to say anything.
Tim proceeded, "You know… for a while… I regretted it… proposing to her. Used to wonder, why, why would we have to get married, what good would it do? Then I would look at Dick and Barbara, you and Selina… and that's all it took. I wanted what you guys had. I wanted that stability, that person to keep me grounded…"
My eyes had drifted from the partygoers to the frighteningly calm look on his face.
When he caught my gaze, he grinned, "Sorry, I have had a lot to drink."
He ran a hand through his dampened hair, "Such a lightweight… always was…"
Tim laughed suddenly, "Yeah… remember that Christmas party my dad had… I must have been like eight years old… you came with that Italian model…"
"Alessandra," I smirked.
"That's right, Alessandra. I remembered that I knew her because there was a picture of her in one of my mom's Cosmos and I tore it out the next day, thinking she had been in my house… You were so gone…"
"It was an act," I tried to defend myself.
"No, you were packing away that lemon liqueur with her… on top of that punch… I remember you asking me if I had an ice cream sandwiches… and if you could have one… said you'd give me… a million dollars…" his words gave way to laughter, forcing the smirk to return to my face.
Selina returned a moment later, finding Tim laughing and me smirking instantly putting her at unease. "Well, you two are obviously cut off from the bar…"
Tim regained his composure and said, "No, just remembering the good old times."
"Ah," she said, taking a seat next to me. As she put her hand on mine, Selina commented, "I thought you were laughing about what happened earlier."
"What was that?" Tim was quick to ask.
I sat by, helpless, as Selina rehashed the bedroom door incident, adding in details that I was fairly certain weren't necessary to catch him up to speed. Her voice was nearly as animated as her face as she reached the punch line of the true story turned joke, joining Tim as he returned to laughing at my misfortune.
Plan be damned, I was leaving.
"Well, to be fair, we really cranked those hearing devices," Tim finally said, "It will come in handing if she ever tries sneaking out of the house again. Be able to hear a window crack from three rooms away… Or if she sneaks someone in…"
I glared at him but he smiled back.
It wasn't long before Cass found him, dragging him away so that she didn't have to face the hoards of people alone. Selina leaned over and kissed my cheek softly, "Did you know?"
Shaking my head, "Absolutely not."
As I turned to look at her, Selina nodded, "I believe you… Alfred said he would stay with the kids a while longer, if you wanted to go home."
My leg was throbbing in its brace, longing for ice packs or even a soak in the tub. As Tim had pointed out, my hearing aides were too finely calibrated for the event, making it possible to overhear far too many conversations. As a result, my head was throbbing, demanding for a quiet dark place to recover. Just by looking at her, I knew Selina wasn't ready to go but she would never let me leave alone.
"Okay," I replied.
At quarter of seven, we found Mattie, Terry and Nathan and told them to check in with Alfred or Leslie every thirty minutes until they decided to head out. Nathan had reminded us to feed and walk Ace before running off. Mattie, on the other hand, had stayed behind, stepping closer and asking if I was all right.
I touched her bare shoulder, "I'm fine, kitten, just tired."
Selina added, "You stay and have fun with Terry, okay?"
"But not too much fun," I amended her.
On the way out, we passed Dick as he and Will were talking with a civilian dressed Wally West. When we explained that we were heading out, Wally had asked, "It's is getting late, isn't it, grandpa?"
In the time it had taken him to recognize the look on my face, I stabbed Wally in the foot with the bottom of my cane before driving the handle of it into his lower abdomen. As he doubled over, hopping up and down on one foot, I nodded, "Good night, gentlemen."
Leaving the tent, Selina hooked her arm with min, "Bruce…"
"He asked for it."
She laughed as we slowly made out way out front to the valet station. It had a painful admission of necessity to drive next door but the walk back to the Manor would have not have been worth the detainment of independence. Letting her drive, I settled into the passenger seat, letting the cane rest between my legs as I closed my eyes.
"So, did you ask him… about the car?"
I smirked, thinking that Tim had borrowed the Jaguar in the wee hours of the morning. "No, I'll let him have it for the weekend, steal it back on Monday."
After pulling into our own garge, Selina parked the Mercedes in its spot and then killed the engine. Before she could have gotten around to my side to help me out, I was already up and on my feet, shutting the door behind me. Entering through the kitchen, Ace greeted us with soft whines and a big wagging tail. After Selina let him outside, she asked if I had enough to eat.
"Well, after today, I could use another drink…" she sighed before opening the fridge. At dinner, she had disclosed the fact that they had to euthanize one of the big cats, one I knew she ahd been very fond of. It brought up memories of her cat Isis and the cold, autumn funeral we had for her. Selecting a bottle of chilled sparkling white wine, Selina neglected finding glasses. I watched as she retrieved the dog and fed him, useless seeing how he wouldn't eat until Nathan was in sight later that evening. Wine bottle in hand, Selina then headed into the hall and by the time I reached her, she was already at the elevator, holding the door for me.
Regrettably, we had to pass Mattie's room in order to get to ours, pausing momentarily to look at the busted hinges. I had done my best to clean up the mess but there were still fragments of wood in the dark carpet. As we continued, she asked, "What would you have done… if they hadn't been playing a video game?"
"Aside from sending her to boarding school in Greece?"
Selina sighed, "Yes, of course… but I meant what would you have done to Terry, not Mattie…"
I didn't answer until we had reached out room, leaning over to whisper into her ear, "I would have made it look like an accident."
Laughing, she handed me the bottle so that she could remove her jewelry and secure them in the dresser. Letting my cane rest against the bed, I opened the foil wrapping and found that it was a self-releasing cork, only requiring the wire safety cover to be loosened. It popped off easily and I offered it to her for the first sip.
"Much obliged," she grinned before tasting the wine, "Ah, perfect."
Handing it back to me, I took a sip as well, nodding in agreement.
Selina was quick to slip out of her knee-length chiffon dress, kicking her shoes off as an afterthought. When she turned to face me, wearing nothing undergarments, I sighed, "I'm exhausted, Selina, I…"
"Shut up. Strip.," she reached out and took the bottle back, "I'll fill the tub."
When I was alone, I muttered, "Yes, dear."
A soak in the almost too hot bathwater had been perfect. We shared the bottle of wine and light conversation about the reception as she laid with her back to my chest. Rather than tease me, she gently massaged my left leg, finding all of the tense spots and relaxing them with her fingertips. In fact, I had felt so good and so comfortable that I had fallen asleep, waking when the no longer steaming water had shifted suddenly.
Glancing up, I found Selina getting out wrapping an oversized towel around her slender figure. I cleared my throat and she looked down at me, "Thought I was going to have to put your head under water…"
"Told you I was tired…"
After getting to my feet on my own, I stepped out of the tub without tragedy and began to towel off as well. While Selina worked on taming her hair, I opened the medicine cabinet and retrieved four orange bottles. Although my medication list had shortened, I was still on an anti-convulsing drug, the vitamins and supplements to counteract my organ loss as well as a double dose of Ibuprofen since I refused to take Percocet. I had already started taking measures against ulcers by starting on Prilosec.
Nathan laughed when I took a literal handful of pills at breakfast, but it did something tragic to Mattie's face.
"Coming?" I heard Selina call out from the bedroom.
"Slowly but surely," I replied, neglecting to look at myself in the mirror before shutting the light off and making my way to bed. I removed my hearing aides and set them in their case on my bedside table before carefully leaning the cane against it. After getting in, she was quick to lay beside me, resting her head in the crook of my neck while wrapping an arm over my chest. I found myself snaking an arm beneath her bare shoulders before exhaling.
Sleep found me within minutes, deep and heavy, immersed in an aimless fog.
Hence why when I felt hands shaking me, I bolted upright in bed.
Thankfully, Selina had rolled away from me at some point and when I looked over at her, she was still asleep. I had expected to look back over to see Alfred hovering over me but instead it had been Tim, the happiness of his special day gone from his face. When he went to speak, I shook my head, and signed to him to go into the hall. After he did, I quickly donned my hearing aides before making a grab for the cane. Heart pounding in my chest, I slowed my breathing before rising to my feet, donning a robe from the chaise before joining him.
Once the door was closed behind me, I looked him over in the light of the corridor, surprised to see him still wearing his slacks and button up shirt, although the sleeves were rolled to his elbow and his tie was missing.
"What is it?"
"Barbara received a transmission," he started to walk towards the elevator, "You're going to want to see it."
I drew a breath before following him, my leg nearly cramped from hip to heel. Once I joined him in the car, he activated his personal code to gain access to the Cave. My wrist bare of a watch, I asked him what time it was.
"Almost three… I'm sorry… I didn't want to wake Alfred to get you so I… but I knew you would want to hear it for yourself."
"Who is it from?" I asked as we landed in the Cave.
"It's about a week old, been bouncing back and forth off of satellites in western Europe… Everyone that came across it ignored it because it was encrypted to sound like jibberish, just some woman talking about random things…" The car doors opened and he waited for me to step out before following, "Barbara got a hold of it last night, finally had time to play with it tonight."
Following the glow to the computer display, I saw that Barbara was waiting via the visual from the Clocktower.
Glancing around to see no one else, in person or on the monitors, I asked, "Where's Cassandra?"
"Asleep, next door… I didn't want to wake her."
Taking a much needed seat in the computer bay, I nodded, "Let's hear it."
It was nothing but static at first, then a woman breathing nervously, soft inhales, dire exhales.
When the woman began to speak, there was no denying who the voice belonged to, me and my over-zealous hearing aides.
"I have only moments… but I needed to contact you, to try to warn you… These last fifteen years… my father hasn't been in hiding… he's been preparing… for something dire, something that involves you. And your family."
I could feel my heart pounding in my chest once more.
"Beloved…" Talia continued, "I can't even begin to explaining the things he has done to me… holding me captive… his new ally is a vile man… I need your help, I need you… My father has spent these last years training him… he wants me to wed him but I can't… he's… I couldn't do it to you, beloved, I couldn't… marry an abomination… I could barely look at him without thinking of you, and what you endured for him… before and after he died… Beloved, please, I-."
End of transmission.