The smell was the first sensation that came to me, followed by the pain...I wasn't sure which was worse.
Sounds felt distorted, muffled somehow. Where was I? What happened?
My eyes...I struggled to open them. I had to see where I was, maybe then I could remember.
My fingers felt cold and numb as I moved them to push myself up, the gloves squelched as I pressed down on them and fire burned through my chest as I tried to apply the necessary force to lift myself, prying a hiss from between my tightly clenched teeth.
My eyes finally opened, the lenses of my cowl bringing light into what was undoubtedly dank darkness as I recognized my surroundings, as well as the humanoid husk of charred meat that lay in the corner, an electrical power line pressed against his chest.
Killer Croc had escaped from Arkham weeks ago, making quick work of loosing himself within the undercity that was the Gotham City sewer.
Where he then began taking children.
I had seen the medical reports of Arkham. Killer croc, also known as Waylon Jones, had become much more like his namesake than what he had been. The Hypothalamus gland in his brain as well as the Amygdala had become grossly overdeveloped. Inducing bouts of hyper aggression in the young man.
Recent reports had indicated that the doctors believed Jones was entirely beyond saving at this point. He was now being little more than a beast who's periods of lucid, rational thought had been becoming fewer and fewer as time went on, even going as far as mimicking Crocodiles territorial nature within Arkham.
Which is what had led him to this.
Seven children dead. Eaten by the thing Jones had become.
A nervous whimpering reached my ears, and my eyes trailed to the corridor where I discerned it was coming from. My eyes widened slightly beneath the cowl. Was it a child? Had one survived?
I moved to stand, staggering as strength abandoned me, bringing me down once again onto the cold, wet floor. I bit my tongue to keep from yelling out as agony raced up and down my side.
I breathed heavily through my nose, struggling to get a hold of myself, asses the situation and see what my options were from here.
I brought my hands to the floor, pushing myself up onto a sitting position, again ignoring the pain that raced across my stomach. I dragged myself towards the wall, pressing myself against it with a sigh of relief.
My hands moved towards my utility belt, and I noticed that they were shaking. Had I lost that much blood already? How long had I been unconscious?
My hands found my emergency medical adhesive, something developed by Lucius, in case of emergencies like this. But as my eyes finally fell to the injury I knew that even it may not be enough.
I'd studied human biology, basic medical treatment, and in my business with the league I'd certainly seen my fair share of injuries on both Meta's and human vigilantes.
In a flash, the cause came back to me, Croc's claws. In the fight. Even the hardened titanium weave Kevlar was no match against the Meta humans unbelievable strength.
I remember the feeling of those claws tearing through sinew, kevlar and flesh, the burning agony of it. I remember the angle, and the way my blood had spattered onto the walls, walls I now notice now are still dripping with red.
The claws had most likely torn open the side of my stomach cavity. It would allow my stomach acids to seep out from the opening, burning the rest of my insides as more and more would trail down. Thats not to mention any other of my organs may have been damaged in Croc's attack.
This was bad...
I wont have the strength to reach the surface, already I can feel the edges of my vision darkening, and my fingers loosing more and more feeling. Even with the medical adhesive I may not-
Pitiful sniffles and sobs reached my ears, and suddenly, my vision cleared, strength flowed back into my limbs, and whatever pain I was in retreated from my mind.
The child. I have to get the child away from here, even should she somehow survive the fumes, the possibility of anyone finding her before she starved was slim at best.
I pushed away the protests of my body, dutifully ignoring the pain and my shaking limbs as I staggered to my feet, using the wall for support. I quickly slapped on the medical adhesive over the injury, only now feeling the blood that trailed down my leg.
My legs carried me shakily down the walkway, rust, mold covered pipes and old wiring surrounding me. My steps, shaky as they were were not as silent as I would normally make them. In fact, my feet fell rather heavy on the grating floor.
I crossed the hallway, entering an open room where the little girl lay, shackled and blindfolded, whimpering in fear, and miserable cold.
I stepped forward slowly, hissing in pain as I descended a rather high stair too abruptly. The child stops her movement her fear an almost palpable thing.
I stagger forward, kneeling next to her as I speak. "Its alright." I say, allowing my voice to raise an octave or two from the normally guttural tone I use to intimidate the scum of this city's alleyways.
I free her eyes from the weight of the blindfold, watching her tears travel freely down her reddened cheeks. Green eyes, puffy and red from crying found the lenses of my cowl. I could hear her sharp intake of breath, almost smelling the fear. It was the effect this cowl was designed for.
I reached into my belt, finding my lock pick it was an easy three step process to opening the lock that held her shackles.
As the chains clattered to the floor the little girl rubbed her wrists, curling in on herself with sobs. I put away the lock pick and reached out towards her, only for the child to back away, whimpering in fear.
I can only imagine how I looked to her. The chiseled features of the cowl is an expression no human can mimic. It allows my own face to seem more fearsome, more animal like. I wanted the criminals of Gotham to think "This thing can bite" that I was something beyond human.
But this was not what I needed now. I needed the girl to get over her fear, that way I could help her. I could not afford a struggling child in my current state, it would only sap my strength even faster.
"I wont hurt you." I said, forcing myself to use my normal voice tone and not the one commonly associated with the bat. "Come here so I can see if you're hurt."
The little girl sniffled. "Is the monster gone?"
"Yes...don't worry. He wont hurt you again." I say, regulating my breathing as I had been taught. Lessening the pain and increasing the oxygen flow to my brain, bringing back the clarity I would need.
At my declaration the little girl threw herself into me, crying hysterical sobs into my shoulder.
The pain ripped through my abdomen again and the hiss escaped through my teeth unbidden. She either didn't hear it, or didn't understand what she was doing, for her grip did not relent.
Finally I coaxed her enough to push her away, brushing her wild, dirty hair away from her face allowing me to get a clear view of her features.
I recognized her. Her name is Amelia Sanders, the latest child Croc had kidnapped. For the others there had been no ransom, no demands. The Gotham police, and I too thought she and the others had simply been eaten by the cannibal.
My hands went to my belt once again, finding the Watchtower communicator I always kept with me.
"Batman to watchtower." I said, fists tightening as a wave of dizziness hit me. I had to refrain from reaching out to the nearby wall to steady myself, the instinct of keeping up appearances around others far too ingrained within me.
There was a pause on the other end of the line, punctuated by cold static. For a moment, my stomach sank, believing that perhaps within the bowels of this city there wouldn't be enough signal strength to reach the watchtower, and thus, our rescuers, in which case the possibilities of our survival had just dropped dramatically.
But the moment passed as the static crackled and Mr. Terrific's voice drifted through the com channel. "Watchtower here. What do you need Batman?"
"Requesting extraction for two. And an infirmary bed on standby. Multiple lacerations to the lower abdomen." I recited calmly, ignoring the child for now. Also leaving out the distinct detail that I'm the one that's injured.
"Standby Batman." Came the reply from the other end.
There was another pause in which I allowed my eyes to shift towards the child. Watching as she whimpered and hugged herself tighter, she had only been missing for 18 hours but even so she was filthy, and if one were to look at the picture my computer had downloaded they would scarcely believe this girl and the one in the picture were one in the same.
Her pitiful appearance was not aided by the fact that she was small for her eight years.
The crackle of the radio drew my attention. "Batman. Your locater is apparently damaged. The computer cant find you on the planets surface."
This time my stomach did drop. J'onn, along with Flash and Superman were off world, handling a different mission. Those were the only three within the league who would be able to find me fast enough.
A thousand different plans ran through my mind and were discarded just as quickly. As previously deduced, In this condition, reaching the surface alone was inadvisable. My only hope now was to stay in a single place, conserve my energy until the league came.
Looking to the child now just a foot away from me that wasn't an option
Methane gas, as well as other noxious fumes permeated the air around this sewer. For a fully developed immune system they would not prove to be much of a problem. This child had already been in this environment for several hours Any more and she risked her death regardless of her survival with Croc.
"Understood." I said into the radio. The signs that normally designated what section of the sewer you were in were worn and rust covered, unreadable. "I am inside of the Gotham City sewers. Lower east side. I entered through lower city entrance number seven B.
"Roger that Batman teams will be sent down to Gotham now."
With the transmission ended, I placed the communicator back in my belt, marching over to the girl, She tensed and whimpered as I placed my arms to pick her up, but didn't move, most likely out of fear, or the genuine desire to leave this place, even if it was with the likes of me.
"Where's mommy?" She sobbed.
"I'll take you to her." I answered
I rose from my kneeling position with a groan, my right leg nearly buckling under the strain. I fell onto the wall with a heavy thud, and the little girl sobbed into my shoulder, tightening her grip around my neck.
I said nothing o comfort her obvious unease. Merely pulled myself straighter and began retracing my steps.
As we passed by the the former Waylon Jones, I pressed her head against my shoulder to keep her eyes from seeing. The lenses of my cowl shifting in the dim light. My memories, coming back to me one by one until I remembered which corridor I had come from.
Marching down the rust covered hallway, I attempted to ignore the bolts of pain that shot up my side with every step, tried to ignore my numbing fingers and heavy feet, it proved difficult.
When I felt breathing through the cover of my cowl I shifted my gaze to the girl, her eyes half lidded and quickly growing heavier.
"You need to stay awake." I said, the usual bite of the bat returning to my voice.
"Mmmm." She groaned, blinking up at me, tears glistening her eyes. "But I'm tired."
"You need to stay awake." I repeated. If she fell asleep within this gas chamber of poisonous fumes she may not wake up. No doubt the tired feeling itself was induced by one of the gases down here. I fished for a conversation I could give the child to keep her awake. Finding one within one of her previous statements.
"What's the last thing you did with your mother?" I asked.
"We went to the zoo." She answered tensing against me as her body was gripped by a sudden fear "Then the monster came."
Good...The fear would keep her awake. "How did the monster take you?" I asked. "What did he do."
"Me and mommy went to see the fishes...he...he was already in the water." The fear within her seemed to increase exponentially. She was now trembling against him. "He...he broke the glass and grabbed me. Mommy screamed but he just ran."
Her trembling increased, sobs beginning to come from her throat.
I let her cry for a while, putting more distance between myself and her temporary prison.
"Why weren't you there?" She suddenly asked, sniffling in my ear. "Mommy always said you'd hurt the bad people."
"I cant be everywhere." I answered truthfully. 'I'm not superman.' I refrained from adding. No need to give Kent a bigger fan base.
"Is that why you joined with all the other Superheroes?" She asked pulling away from me, wiping her tear stained cheeks with the back of her hand, spreading a small smudge across her left cheek.
She didn't realize it, but her current position forced more pressure along my mid section increasing the pain from my injury. A choked down a groan in my throat, shifting her in my grip so as to relieve the pressure.
"You mean the Justice League." I asked once she was in a better position.
She nodded enthusiastically, her childlike exuberance quickly coming to the forefront. "Yea! Wonder Woman's the best!!!"
I smirked, something I didn't often indulge in. the fact that she had become a role model to the young girls of patriarchs world was not at all lost to Diana and it was something she took on with gusto, attending women rights movements, giving her presence in different fund raising activities and various other things of a similar nature.
"So you like Wonder Woman?" I asked rhetorically, but knowing that she would answer anyway.
"Yea!" She cried, her voice echoing off the walls. Maybe if she was loud enough one of the league members would hear her.
"Have you met her?" She asked.
"Yes. I have, along with most of the heroes in the Justice League."
"Even Superman?" She questioned with childlike wonder.
"Yes. Even Superman." I answered.
"What bad guys have you fought with them?"
"Several." I answered.
"Like who?" She persisted.
Though I'm not normally wasn't one to recount the past if this is what was required to keep her awake I'll do it.
It also had the bonus of keeping me distracted from the ever increasing pain in my stomach.
"Do you remember the white Martians two years ago? The ones that made the sky dark?"
She nodded. "Yea, mommy and me went to a shelter along with daddy. We saw them on the news."
"Thats where we all met. I fought with them there for the first time. Its when they decided they would make the League." I stated. I smirked as I remembered the league from then and now. We were all different then. Especially the princess. Full of naive innocence and overenthusiastic flare.
And then my mind wandered recalling my first run in with J'onn's Psychic abilities.
I smashed my fist repeatedly against the blood red surface that now blocked my exit, watching as electric sparks exploded from my special knuckles with each impact. It proved fruitless, as the gel like surface didn't even budge.
The high pitched charging of the alien rifles brought my attention behind me, where dozens of the Xeno's stood ready to shoot me.
Finding no other choice, I tossed the power core of their facility at their feet, watching as those cycloptic orbs they called eyes, followed it.
Only to soon return to me, and raise their rifles again.
When the sound of the energy discharged reached my ears my eyes instinctively closed.
When no pain hit me. I opened my eyes again, finding myself on the surface of a red planet, a sprawling city of glittering spires and silver roads laid out before me.
J'onn's form suddenly materialized next to me, and I had to fight the reflex to physically lash out at his abrupt entrance.
"Thank the creator." The martian said as he finished his appearance. "I was uncertain if it would work with a human"
"What did you do?" I asked, my tone probably harsher than it should have been.
"I have created a Psychic barrier around you, it cloaks you from the Others. Its the only way I knew to rescue you."
"Then how am I on Mars?" I questioned, knowing that no structure like this existed on earth.
"As a side effect...you must now view my memories. In order for my Psychic abilities to conceal you I must also open my mind to you." he answered calmly, only for me to stiffen beneath my cape. If the positions had been reversed. I was uncertain if I could do the same. My past was my burden to bear, no one else's. It was private, and not for the eyes of others.
"I apologize for the horrors you will have to witness...." The Martian added, either out of courtesy or because he misunderstood my body language.
"You don't have to." I responded simply before turning my eyes again to the scenes playing out before me.
For hours I watched the destruction of an entire world. The mass genocide of a species. Families broke, buildings burned, atrocities were committed in the name of this nameless legion from the galaxies edge.
I watched finally, as J'onn discovered the broken, charred bodies of his wife and children. And could hear the pain in the Martian's voice that transcended species as he weeped over the two.
It was a scene I had watched in silence...and had kept in silence. None would ever know of what I had seen. None but the Martian. And from that day forward I knew that J'onn was a humanoid that held my respect. Something few could boast.
It was why, unlike others, I knew why he had left the league. Why he went in search for something greater to serve. It was why, I, unlike the others had heeded the warnings of Jason blood and the demon Etrigan when he said the witch Morgan-Le-fey would use J'onn's innermost desires to temp him to betray us, and that, because of such, we should not trust him.
It was also why I understood why he fought for us....because he had nothing left to fight for.
Amelia's voice drew me from my thoughts. "Then why didn't we see you on the news?" She questioned innocently.
"Its best for me to remain unseen." I answered as simply as possible.
"Why? You're one of the good guys." She asked.
"You'll understand when you're older."
"Oh." She said somewhat dejectedly. Her parents no doubt said that often.
After several more seconds of silence, punctuated only by the sounds of my heavy foot falls, the pain in my side was becoming more and more apparent to me. So much so that my right leg was actually lagging, forcing me to a slight limp. It probably wasn't noticeable to the girl yet but it would be soon.
"What other fights have you been in?" She asked suddenly.
I shook my head, clearing the slight fog that had settled over it. "What"
"What other fights did you help in Mr. Batman."
Mr Batman...Now that was a new one for me.
Before I could answer she spoke up. "What fights have you been in with Superman?"
I thought of another I could tell her wondering briefly which of the many fights I could point out when one came to mind.
The time Clark, Diana, Green Lantern and myself had to fight, Copperhead, Cheetah and Solomon Grundy. It had been a rather rudimentary fight. No mass evil plan to destroy a city or take over a country. Such things...were left for the likes of Lex Luthor, and Gorilla Grod.
No...a simple get rich quick scheme. With the three of them simply looking for money.
The battle hadn't been as epic as previous ones. But it had served as something of a...practice run for myself and the team. They had been apprehended and given into custody before the we all began heading our separate ways.
But I told her regardless. Describing every detail of the fight I could remember.
Of course, in my own mind I recalled how Kent had followed me after the others had left.
"Batman, wait up." The Kryptonian had called as I made my way towards the bat plane ready to depart for Gotham.
"What is it Superman I don't have time to waste." My voice was harsh, the statement even more so. But Clark wouldn't care. He knew me. One of the few who did. He knew better than to be offended.
"I know." The Kryptonian stated as he reached my side, matching my gait. "Listen..." He began, somewhat nervously.
It wasn't uncommon to see the boyscout uncertain of things. He often hesitated. Often second guessed himself. But hardly so openly, especially not in front of me. Either knowing I'd rebuke him or simply due to the natural competitiveness between us. He wouldn't show it so openly in either case.
I stopped, mere feet away from the Bat-plane and turned to face him fully. "What is it?" I said, quickly loosing my patience with this Kent.
He dutifully avoided my gaze, shuffling from foot to foot, like a small child. Shuffling is not something Superman did.
"I was wondering if you'd be my best man."
It took me several seconds to catch up with what he had said.
"Excuse me?" My eyebrow raised in open incredulity, the tone of my voice a simple monotonous drawl, which expressed just how ridiculous this sounded.
Again the shuffling feet and the avoided gaze.
"I uh...popped the question." He avoided mentioning Lois's name. Something I as immensely grateful for. At least he retained some sense.
"I see...and you don't think that My alter ego showing up at your alter Ego's wedding wouldn't draw more than a few stares and questions? As best man no less!"
"We're having two ceremonies! The Kryptonian added hastily as he could feel my mounting irritation. "One here on Earth...the other on the watchtower. I know Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl would like to come. And they'd draw even more questions than your alter ego."
I said nothing for several seconds, and in the end, I decided not to. Turning my back on the Kryptonian before leaping into the cockpit of the Batplane.
I waited until the hatch of the plane had fully closed and the engines began to rev up in order to lift my transport off the ground before I spoke, knowing his incredible hearing would understand it over the deafening sound of my engines.
"The second ceremony will be carried out in full uniform."
He remembered that wedding well. Kent's face had seemed to be carved into a permanent smile that no one and nothing would have been able to remove.
He would have fought Darkseid's entire army singlehandedly with that smile still plastered all over his features if it came down to it.
Lois was no better, even in a room full of Superheroes where she was clearly out of place she paid it no heed and had simply allowed herself to enjoy the day with her, now extended family.
I hadn't participated in the affair. And was content with simply observing. I had waited for Nightwing or Robin to call me. Reporting trouble in Gotham that would require my attention. But they never did. As if the world was willing to hold its chaos and criminal overture at bay at least one day for Clark Kent.
"What about The Flash, Mr. Batman" Amelia asked this time, shifting in my grip causing me to again pause and bite back another groan that threatened to escape from between clenched teeth.
"Don't move so much." I barked watching as she stilled in my arms before continuing in my pace.
It would be so much easier if this was a teenager, someone that would have a better chance of handling any abrupt situations that my occur down here, slippery fungi, buckling catwalks and the currents of sewer water. The last thing I needed on my conscious was a little girl slipping and cracking her head on a rusty steel pipe.
After several moments of silence I recalled her previous question. Keep her talking. Thats all I needed to do.
"Once I helped him." I answered, watching as she perked up again. "Against one of the villains that calls himself Shade. He had been stealing several artifacts from museums to sell on the black market.
"Is he really faster than Superman?" She asked making me pause.
Now that was a tough one. Wally had always goaded Superman saying that the Man of steel was in no way faster than him. But Wally tended to say a lot of things. After a good while though I decided to nod. "I think he might be."
"Is he here yet?"
"No." I sighed, closing my eyes and counting backwards from ten in order to refrain from strangling the scarlet speedster who was mere feet away from me.
"How about now?"
"No." I growled.
"What are the guards doing?"
"What?" I asked, having not quite heard what he said, hoping that for once it was a legitimate question.
"I said. What are the guards doing now?"
I calmly set the Binoculars down. Interlocking my fingers infront of my mouth as I took a deep breath. And turned to face the youngest founder of the league, leveling him with one of my, now infamous glares.
I saw him shift from foot to foot, nervously. Good. Let the kid squirm he deserved it. "Look bats." He said. Oh how I detested that name. "You're the one with the damn binoculars. I cant see shit. And I'm not gonna just sit around here holding my-"
"Flash." I stated calmly, watching as he immediately shut that trap he called a mouth. "They're standing there and talking. Thats all they've been doing. For the past twenty four hours since we decided to steak out the last Museum with artifacts from the middle east on the east coast. Thats what they were doing yesterday. Thats what they were doing five minutes ago. So five minutes from now, when you get the urge to ask me again, what will they be doing?"
"Uhhh....Just...standing there and talking?"
"Good." I nodded before standing up to my full height, towering over the Meta human as I glared down at him in that way I knew unnerved him. "Now if you ask me again Flash. I swear I will buy your apartment building and evict you before making sure you can never get another job anywhere near central city again. Do I make myself perfectly clear?"
"Crystal." He squeaked.
Going back to my previously kneeling position I returned my gaze to the museum.
Seconds later I found an Iced Mocha being held at my side. "Want coffee?" Wally asked with his usual bright smile bringing my attention to the half dozen or so he had commandeered for himself.
Taking the offered drink the scarlet speedster sat beside me and we both continued waiting for our target.
"Is he here yet?"
Wally west, is practically the embodiment of everything a Superhero should not be in my eyes. He is impatient, impulsive, naive, overconfident, careless and is ruled by his emotions.
But I realized then that it works for him.
The Flash simply couldn't do what he does without these safety mechanism these...personality quirks. He helped in more ways than he let on. And I realized just why the Justice Lords had become, the Justice Lords without him. He was essential in keeping the Justice League intact with the knowledge that the world was only as cruel and dark as we ourselves allowed it to be.
The thoughts running through my hazed mind distracted me, so much so, that when my foot fell heavily on the edge of a rusty catwalk I didn't realize it would give way until it finally did.
Amelia screamed in my ear, and reflexes kicked in, angling my body awkwardly to cushion her fall with my own body. I landed heavily on my injured side, a true scream finally being ripped from my throat as knives of pain sank their way deep into my flesh, my arms going slack in their grip of the young girl, allowing her to roll out of them when she fell.
My hands found their way to my now profusely bleeding stomach, and I realized that the medical adhesive was beginning to wear off, even torn in some places where I'd landed. I didn't have much time left. I struggled to roll onto my stomach, teeth and fists clenched as I fought through the pain. Little Amelia stood up, running towards me and pushing my shoulder with her little hands. " are you ok?"
I hissed, growling as I struggled to get to my hands and knees, ignoring her gasp of fright as she finally beheld the blood that dripped from my wound onto the rust covered floor.
I felt a shift in my utility belt, realizing too late that the child had reached for the comunicator she'd seen me using before.
"Hello!" She screamed into the receiver fumbling with the buttons. "Mr. Batman's hurt!"
"Who is this?" Came the startled voice of Mr. Terrific. No doubt when I requested transport for two he believed that it was the second individual that was hurt. Not I. The impression of omnipotence was one I valued amongst the Justice league. None but the founding members had ever seen me injured. And none of the others ever would if I had anything to say about it.
Amelia opened her mouth to say more, but my hand lashed out, grabbing onto the radio before pulling it away from her grip. "Hello? Hello? Batman are you there? Hello?" Came the static distorted voice from the other end.
"Batman here. Keep all teams on standby." I answered brusquely before I struggled to stand, towering over the girl in what was no doubt a display that would frighten most. "I'm fine." I stated. Making the team panic. Making them worry, would only lead to mistakes, mistakes couldn't be afforded in this situation.
The girl whimpered as I reached down, once again lifting her into my arms.
I tried to hide my weakening condition, to ignore it even. The strain in my arms, my increasingly weakening leg muscles, the chill I felt in my bones. But with every step, I staggered more, and every breath I took became harsher, my own heartbeat now loud in my ears.
"Oww jeeze...where the hell did you practice first aid Butcher school?" Was John Stewart's pain filled gasp as he gingerly cradled his left shoulder after I had, admittedly rather harshly pressed down on his recent injury before I searched for a roll of bandages within my utility belt.
Finding it I began to tightly bandage the injury.
"Didnt know you cared bats." John half grumbled half muttered, wincing with every wrap that was applied.
Finally when I was almost done with my "treatment" the Green Lantern turned to face me fully. "Look did I do something wrong here? Because I think I missed the Memo where you were mad at me."
"Why did you tell Shayera about Rex if you weren't going to pursue a relationship with her?"
The question would have been expected from anyone else. But from me, the man whom was infamous for merely communicating with his teammates solely for work related reasons, and staying as far away as humanly possible from their personal affairs, the question caught John completely flat footed.
"What-I-She deserved to know." He said fumbling with his words for a moment
I began gathering my instruments, my cape flowing over my shoulders with the angle of my movements.
"It was a stupid move on your part." I stated before standing up again, continuing before he could interrupt.
"You tell a mother she could have a child, even give her a name and a face before brutally stripping it away from her. What did you hope to accomplish by telling her?"
He didn't answer, so I continued for him.
"You either wanted to hurt her with the knowledge or taunt her with it. The league isn't any place for your private wars."
"This isn't a damn war!" The former marine shouted in response. "Shayera had a son. She deserved to know. I don't want to hurt her. We've hurt each other more than enough already."
"There was no purpose in your declaration. It changed nothing. You had the knowledge, you should have kept it to yourself. Now you merely have her distracted with the notion of what could have been."
"Bat-God could you stop being the Batman for ten minutes? Could you just put it on pause for a damn moment and think like a human being? Keeping that information from her is cruel."
"To you perhaps." I replied non pulsed by his declaration. "There is a reason people say that Ignorance is bliss lantern. Consider that when you consider acting so selfishly next time."
Turning away from the former Marine I made my way back to the Batmobile, placing more distance between myself and my comrade.
I understood him in a sense. But watching when Shayera had walked out of that room, her tears barely held back as I finished telling her about the son she may never have I knew that what John had done was an act of cruelty. Even if he didn't realize it himself
My hands reached out for the wall, grasping one of the pipes. My chest heaved with fire as I allowed my entire weight to rest on my arm and leaning shoulder. Amelia slid from my grasp,my strength now insufficient in order to keep carrying her.
My vission blurred, but I still saw it, the rusty half broken pipe, still hissing steam which I recalled was my halfway point. Just a few more dozen yards. Thats all I need.
She looked up at me, wide brown eyes glistening with tears in the dim lighting. "Mr. Batman-" She began before I interrupted her.
"Keep Walking." I said before pushing myself off the wall, grasping her hand in my gloved one. The black talon dwarfing her minuscule digits.
Even with me holding her hand like this. She was still in more danger than I would have liked. But I did not have the strength...I would not have the strength to carry her for the rest of the distance that remained through these sewers.
"No...you cant love me Carter...You don't even know me." Shayera sighed tiredly as the, most likely delusional Carter Hall finished giving out another declaration of his undying love for her.
I watched, off to the side a bit as the significantly taller Hall stared down at the green eyed redhead.
"Your favorite color is teal-" He began. "You can eat coral stone oysters every day even though they give you heartburn, you get up early because you love the sunrise, and nothing is more important to you...than protecting those who cant protect themselves."
Every red alert, red flag and warning sign was screaming within my brain in bright colors "Stalker" but this was neither the time nor the place. Carter Hall may be a delusional fool. But so far, he'd proved harmless. That didn't mean he didn't need to be dealt with eventually...however...perhaps later. Once Shayera had gathered herself.
"You'll see the truth...eventually." the human turned Thanagarian continued. "Its destiny. "
"Its not." Shayera said with a shake of her head. "Its just the Absorbacron."
"I've waited thousands of years for us to find each other. Carter said, his voice, the epitome of, almost sickening patience and devotion. "I can wait...a little longer."
His piece said, the winged meta took to the skies, leaving myself and Sayera alone in the arid sands of the Egyptian desert.
Shayera seemed to sigh, her body language openly showing how confused she was over the recent events.
Finally she turned to look at me over her shoulder, no doubt ready to use me as some sort of distraction.
"How stupid do you think I am." She began.
Uncertain as to what she was referring too I merely raised a hidden eyebrow. "Scale of one to ten?"
"Funny." She snorted before her free hand went to the but of her mace. "I meant this!" She emphasized pulling away a bug I had planted at the lower part of the maces grip, showing it to me.
Realising the Thanagarian was somewhat hurt by the action. I decided to, for once, play the part of diplomat. "Hall was the one I didn't trust." I clarified.
"Right..." She said, her tone clearly showing her skepticism as she crushed the little black device between her fingers. "Thats why you planted this bug." Eyes narrowing, fixed upon my lenses she spoke. "How much did you hear?"
"A bunch of nonsense about reincarnation and destiny." I answered.
Her gaze turned away from mine, shifting to the spot Hall had recently vacated.
"Maybe its not nonsense...." She stated absently.
"If you really believe that..." I said before turning away towards the Javelin that awaited us.
Before I fully walked up the ramp towards the Javelin she spoke. "What else is there to believe in?"
I paused in my stride, taking a moment to contemplate weather or not I should answer.
"Your own actions." I stated before I made my way up the Javelin to prepare it for take off. Giving her the time she needed to contemplate the turns of her life.
The room spun, and basic human equilibrium meant nothing as I soon couldn't tell the floor from the ceiling. I stumbled, somewhere in my mind hearing somewhere in the back of my mind the sound of a scream.
My back slammed against the steel grating with a deafening clang, eyes meeting the rust ridden overhanging pipes that shielded the cement ceiling from my view.
I wheezed and gasped hungrily for air, as if I'd suddenly run a marathon without even pacing myself.
Amelia cried nearby. Sobbing in confusion, no doubt too young to comprehend the effects of blood loss on a normal human body.
Amelia...I have to get her to the surface. At the very least I have to accomplish this. My death...it's inconsequential.
It was always known to me...that I tread across deaths door every night as I prepare my suit armor and cape. Every time I leap from rooftop to rooftop. Every time I even prepare to throw an explosive batarang.
I bang on the door of the reaper as if I owned the home he was residing in. If one knocks loud enough...eventually someone will answer.
But that was my choice...my life. I had decided it would be this way...that I would endure it for as long as I was able.
With strength I didn't know I had left in this failing body. I pulled myself to my feet.
The lenses of my cowl obscured my eyes from view, but she met my gaze anyway, hers still bright with her tears. My hand fell heavily on her head. "Its alright." I breathe, swallowing thickly in order to whet my dry throat.
I pushed her along in front of me, hoping that every corner I turned that I hadn't made a mistake, that we would soon see the opening that lead into the dry channel at the end of this tunnel.
Amelia...unlike myself. Did not have a choice. And because she did not have a choice I would not allow her to die in this dank, cold place.
For in the end...thats all that truly matters isn't it...our choices in this life
Diana sighs next to me, raven hair carried in the breeze. "Patience Princess." I chastise. "Intergang moves in mysterious ways." I state, looming over the edge of the building towards the Iceberg lounge on the other side of the street. Cobblepot's place.
"Tell me about it." The Amazonian sighs again, now sitting on the gargoyle. "What could they possibly need with the Roseta stone?"
"We'll soon find out." I state simply before adding. "In the meantime-"
"I know." She interrupts. "Patience." She repeats before setting her head to rest against her forearm which leaned heavily against the Gargoyle.
There was a lull in the conversation then. And I followed her gaze, watching as several couples walked out of the establishment, arms around each other, kissing, their faces the picture of bliss. And it did not take long for me to realize where her thoughts would go.
"Don't you ever wish you were down there?" She asks, her tone almost wistful
"I'm down there all I need to be." I respond, my voice harsher than before. I want this conversation to end. Now.
"Yes but its just a job to you." She says now raising her head to face me. I dutifully avoid her gaze. "I'm actually talking about going down there and having some 'fun'." She emphasized the word fun like it was something unknown.
"Maybe." She continued after a brief pause. "Maybe with someone special." She said brushing a lock of hair behind her ear.
I say nothing. It wasn't that I wasn't interested. Any man with eyes would be interested if Wonder Woman was asking you to go on a date with her.
But it was because of that same notion that I couldn't allow myself to date her. In the end I couldnt be what she deserved. I wouldn't be the guy to remember valentines day, I'm not the guy to leave chocolates, or flowers or roses., that would whisper sweet nothings in her ear, take spontaneous romantic outings with her. I wasn't even the man that would always be home at night. I was consumed by my work. It was an obsession. And she deserved better than what I could offer.
"No." She said after the seconds of silence. "No dating for the batman." Though her words would indicate otherwise her tone was gentle, flirtatious even. "It would cut into your brooding time."
I turn to look at her. Finding a clear, open smile on her face. She was flirting, daring me to give her anything she could use, or to even deny that I brooded at all.
"One." I began. "Dating within the team always leads to disaster. Two. You're an immortal Amazonian princess and I'm a rich kid with issues." A pause in which her smile still remains. "Lots of issues." I added as an afterthought.
And for the third I actually had to fight down my own smirk.
"And three...if my enemies ever found out I had someone special they wouldn't rest until they mannaged to get to me through her."
As the words came from my lips I knew they didn't apply to her. She was the second strongest individual on earth. He'd actually dare one of his enemies to try something just for giggles. Admittedly though, one of my guilty pleasures was getting the princess angry. And one of the fastest ways to do this was to act like a Chauvinist. Or imply that she couldn't fend for herself.
She didn't disappoint, as the crushed head of a gargoyle could soon attest to, the cold granite crumbling between her fingers.
"Anything else?" She asked, her tone of voice indicating just what she thought of that third reason.
Before the conversation could
continue an alarm went off and my grappling line found its way into
my hands as if by magic. As I swung from the building I could have
sworn I heard the princess speak smugly behind me.
"Saved by the bell."
I staggered through this maze, Amelia clinging to my cape. The pain in my side had decreased...to something of a dull ache. This numbness...I was in the final stages of bloodloss.
But the realization was only a fleeting thing, my mind now too distracted by recent memories. Memories that centered around Diana.
It was not something I did often. Regretting meant admitting I was wrong, admitting I was wrong is a sign of weakness...and I couldn't afford to be weak
But as my memories returned to Diana. Perhaps I could allow myself to indulge in regret just this once.
I knew that she cared for me. And...I also knew that if I kept pushing her away she'd move on. I'd been hoping for it. Pleading for it while also rebelling against the idea in my own dichotomous mind.
But perhaps. I didn't need to push her away. I had been satisfied for a time, at merely protecting her. As well as any mortal man could against the dangers she faced.
Alfred had remarked once, jokingly...that every princess needed a knight.
I suppose it was something I could find some solace in, some...contentment.
But in the end, I realized that whatever was evolving between us, even as I tried to keep her at arms length, was far too dangerous for her if I allowed it to continue. And so, I had pushed even harder, closing in on myself, seeking shelter with the bat. And the darkness of obscurity it provided me with.
My armor, sword and shield.
"Look Mr. Batman."
Amelia's voice brought my eyes open, finding red lights flashing from around the corner, and the distinct sounds of voices drifting towards my ears.
I took her hand, marching slightly faster. My legs felt weak, heavy, I could barely lift them now. All I needed were these last few feet.
I turned the corner, finding the open hatch through which I had followed Croc through an open canal used drain out the Gotham city river if it ever threatened the waterfront district
The different league members were there, along with police, ambulances and reporters.
Shayera, Red Tornado, Green arrow, Steel, Supergirl and...Diana.
They hadn't seen me yet, the shadows clung to me as they always did. Hiding me...shielding me.
I looked to the child who grasped her hand in my dark one. "Do you see Wonder Woman?"
She nodded, face brimming with excitement. Her heroes were here...everything would be alright in her mind.
"Go." I said. "I'll be right behind you."
She nodded, pulling away from my hand she ran down the massive opening, screaming out towards the others.
They turned to her simultaneously, rushing up to inspect the child for any damage. My eyes remained fixed on the princess, the crease of her brow, lips thinned in worry. Worry for me.
My legs buckled beneath me, and I fell heavily onto my knees, cape falling over my shoulders, encasing me within the inky blackness.
As I look upon her now I can say...that I regret my choices regarding her.
I regret that I do not have more time...for it seems...the princess has lost her knight.
My breathing evened and stilled, my heartbeats becoming gradually slower and slower within my chest cavity.
My eyes close and I fall into darkness once again...
Forever in darkness.