He could see her below him through the skylight. She is still alive for now. He could overhear the broadcast regarding her kidnapping and the fact the Vreelands agreed to pay the ransom demand. However the kidnappers as he could tell had no intention of honoring their side of the deal as one of them moves towards Bunny with a loaded gun. He had to stop them, for Bunny and Veronica. He knows he hurt Veronica years ago when they were dating because he did not believe that he could safely have a love life without endangering the woman by association. He had flings yet Veronica was one of those women who were different like Andrea, like Talia, like Kathy, but most of all or perhaps his lasting regret is Diana, she did not deserve the way he had been towards her. He kept barriers and walls yet she kept breaking them down so eventually she seem to stop bothering trying to get through to him and some would ask for awhile why he had been so open then so closed to a relationship with her.
She held a stubbornness to match his own, a determination to see things through like him, and of course after what happen a different night many years ago, he swore he could no longer be a part of Kent's global team aka the Justice League. He had already only been a part timer to start with...
... the gunman aims at Bunny yet something in a blur motion knocks the gun from his hand distracting his attention long enough for another much larger blur to smash into his jaw throwing him clear over the jet plane's wing. Another tries to jump him, he tosses this one into the guy carrying the ransom money bags. Both tumble over as the bills disperse through the air.
A sharp pain cause him to twinge for a moment, that sort of rapid move wouldn't have been much a strain at his physical peak or even a couple years ago for that matter. However he really is an old man now and he felt the years as he forces his legs to take him towards Bunny, the only thing that matters now is saving Bunny yet as he goes to untie her, she starts making noises through the gag on her mouth.
He had forgotten to be sure all three were out cold and his mistake got him a wrench to the skull, of course it hurt, but he had to get up yet as he goes to take him down the chest pain is back, only worse, the one thing that had got him through so much over the years.... heart...mind...will... but they could not wrestle a weary body or in this case stop a heart attack.
He falls down, it felt like dying, every beat louder than the last, his vision blurring, it felt like failure, he could not let her die, but he just might die first then the world would know who had been under the cowl all these years. Unless those who he kept his distance from for decades would cross the divide to shield his passing from everyone outside his unspoken limited circle of friends and loved ones. His only hope is that they remember him for what he stood for, not how he did wrong by them in their minds.
He recalls the words of a certain poet that once said something to the effect that one not mistake sadness for coldness.
It is true that it made him sad to tell them to leave, to tell them to quit the costumes, but it would be sadder by far should they die by continuing to work with him, they deserve more than that even though it feels worthwhile and meaningful to be a part of his one night at a time effort to help who they can, when they can in Gotham.
His memories flash before him except in reverse order, which is curious because some used to say it happens from start to last.
The most recent is visiting Alfred in the best affordable hospital for the old butler's time is running out and for the man that Bruce always saw as a surrogate father after his own parents' death, it had been the least he could do, and even then the old butler still tries to implore him to reconcile with Diana before its too late though somehow Bruce believes too late had come and gone long ago. He had not forgotten her, who forgets a woman like Diana, but of course she went on without him as did the Justice League. The League continues to operate out of the Metro Tower and it remains a symbol that not even costumes are above the people that believe or distrust them.
Kent or rather Kal remains the public face of the League. Lois ages gracefully at his side. He had made it work somehow yet Bruce's notions about why he could never have a relationship that meant anything is that could easily end in disaster especially if it was connected to the League. He had been visually proven wrong by the relationships of Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance. The two were married and had twins, in time they could possibly become the next Arrow and Canary or something along those lines. As for Vic and Helena that had come almost out of nowhere yet they made it work too.
John and Shayera did eventually mend after Mari laid it on the line for him to decide between her and Shayera. She broke with him on amicable terms and eventually starts dating Gregory Sanders aka Vigilante. Relationships lack a singular definitive description yet like some had periodically told him when you meet your match in a woman, she's not likely to back down especially if she is as stubborn as you. They had been right about her, about Diana, yet she eventually could not outdo him, when he told everyone to distance themselves from him, they did as they were told because most know when he makes up his mind, only he can change it, he had again become a costume workaholic.
Diana kept at him for years yet eventually as he already knows now, she had given up or simply seen now is still not the time or something like that...
... she once fearlessly said to him... mortal or immortal... my heart loves only you.
If tonight in this hangar is the last... all he can think is the way I am consumes me yet something forever burns in me. He remembers the night he heard her sing Fever for the first time and of course he did burn for her though he kept it to himself until she had chosen to given him a private show of it. All the heart racing and intense moments flood his thoughts yet the strongest is among them are the first kiss, the first time they made love, and the last time he told her to forget him, to leave before death claims either one of them.
He had made mistakes before and of course this one he had to live with like all the others except every time she made the news, he read it or saw it, and she kept a bravado through it all. Some of the other Founders would complain to him that he made the biggest mistake of his life, he had known it, but what he could never work out was how to fix it without ensuring he would not do it again.
Dick was the last holdout yet even he had grown tired of doing the gig and so sent the costume back to Bruce anonymously after mailing a rather lengthy letter telling his 'father' that eventually some of us just outgrow it, but he also writes wondering if Bruce would ever outgrow it or move beyond it. It would take more then anyone knew or believed necessary to make him stop it. Dick went on to become a lawyer and now struggles with being a public face in Bludhaven's legal system. He remembers the night Dick quit being Robin, and of course Grayson had known how to put him in his place when he felt Bruce is doing the wrong thing except one could never treat what the Joker is up to lightly.
Before that is when Barbara had become a part of the GCPD after completing the academy training yet her years as Batgirl had given her a physical edge over other candidates and her mind is as ever. He admits he had genuine affection for her aside from the fact that they mostly kept the thing between themselves. She gave up the costume more amicably then the others. She seems likely to follow in her father's footsteps since the older Gordon is not far from retirement. Jim was always a source of inspiration for him because Gordon could be the public face of Gotham's resistance to the criminality whereas Batman had to stick to the shadows. Gordon had been a faithful mainstay like Alfred and for all the years of an unspoken partnership, he would be forever grateful to Jim for more than just that.
The most haunting flashback is the search for Tim after his disappearance on patrol. He hardly ate or slept unless Alfred or Barbara made him for even his body had limits back then. Almost a month passes with no signs, they went through everyone in the chain, and the only lead comes with an invite to a certain rooftop. One of his worst fears made manifest is seeing the jack-in-box, the jack wears Tim's costume, the head piece pops apart along a pin from the grenade. He and Barbara hastily fall back though it turns out the jack is a joke, the real clue is the straitjacket, it meant Arkham is where Joker took Tim. They return to the Batmobile and he floors it for Arkham. He drove almost in silence and Barbara opposite him kept mumbling we'll get him back... they'll pay for whatever they did to him.
He smashes through the gates throwing them clear off their aging hinges, it begins to rain heavily, and like with the gates, Batman sharply kicks the front doors. A newer facility is already underway for occupancy and operation upstate so it left this one to mothballs, which made it ideal for Joker had he thought of this in the first place, they might have gotten to him sooner. No time for hindsight and so they move in further. It is as quiet as a tomb until they hear Harley humming and it is sickening to hear a usually innocuous nursery rhyme being sung by her of all people. He continues by the ground level into the operating theater and Batgirl heads up the curving stairway that will place her in the balcony overlooking the OT.
He slams open the doors to the OT and is met by Harley at a table set for dinner.
"Puddin' we got visitors!"
"Ah, Bats welcome to our humble abode!"
He seizes the Joker by the very threads of the Clown's typical purple suit jacket.
"Where is Robin?"
"Robin? There's no Robin here... oh, you must mean J.J."
He shoves Joker and advances towards the dark blue curtains that Joker and Harley had been looking towards.
She fires the bazooka, which unloads an instantly binding red ribbon fabric around him as he falls to the floor.
"You see we have been doing this merry little dance forever now... and we both aren't getting any younger... so Harl and I decided to add a Joker Junior to our merry company..."
"Rather then go through the joys of childbirth... we decided to adopt..."
"Then I remembered you always have a spare kid around somewhere..."
The curtains part revealing Tim in Joker-esque costume and worse he looks like Joker at least cosmetically. Tim or rather J.J. as Harley calls him now steps down after getting the release from the vertical operating table. The Joker like laugh from that mouth is all it takes for him to burst out of the binds then Joker gestures at him, he throws the retractable blade, which embeds itself in the wall after tearing through the curtain. Joker hops onto the table after resetting it to horizontal then speeds away on it with Batman in pursuit on foot.
Harley looks on in amusement and glee until noticing what J.J. is staring at an enraged Batgirl descending on her. Batman... Bruce... knows Batgirl... Barbara will give Harley hell for this. Joker uses the bed like a fulcrum to get himself over the fake wall that Batman just smashes through and then heads up the stairs on Joker's tail. Once up there a projector flickers on and then he is given the full dose of what happen to Tim in the past three weeks, the psychopath had been filming the whole thing.
He hears the Joker's words yet his attention is drawn too heavily on what he is seeing on the screen.
"... I peeled back the layers..."
His demeanor hidden from the Joker's sight lines does not mean the psychopath does not know what is likely to be on his face.
'.... serums and shocks..."
The slits tilt upward ever so slowly and his lips twitch into a sign of vengeance.
"... shared such secrets... "
He is slow to turnabout.
"... anticlimactic... like a kid who peeks at holiday presents... just a boy crying for mommy and daddy... I'd laugh if it weren't so pathetic..."
He finishes the turn then lunges through the air.
"... What the heck... I'll laugh anyway..."
As the Joker laughs yet for once the laugh seems to have no effect on him except to make him angrier perhaps. His gloved fists connect and Joker stumbles around tripping over the projector.
"... if you didn't like that... I have got slides... heheh."
He throws him over the balcony and the clown bounces somewhat on the way down then he leaps over after him. The Joker's defiance remains on the clown's face even with blood streaming from his mouth.
"I'll rip you in two..."
Many profess fear of the Bat glare, but few ever live to spread the word about the other glare, the Joker's glare.
"If you had the guts for that kind of fun... you would have done it years ago... I on the other hand..."
He stabs Batman first in the arm gripping his neck then after the grip is broken by the stab, he jabs Batman in the leg, and he falls over towards the floor. Joker hops down and begins to taunt his worn down nemesis more.
"It is over... the boy is mine... and the last sound you'll hear is our laughter..."
He tosses the flag gun to J.J. and then holds Batman by the cowl before.
"... make Daddy proud."
The flag pops out, the hands tremble, the aim is unsteady, and Joker orders again. The laugh is audible and Batman looks straight at his would be killer of a son.
J.J's/Tim's hands shake more... then there is a bang and the flag lodges itself in Joker's chest as the clown goes flying backwards. As he lands a far back crate, the clown got his literal exit punch line except all he can say is....
"That's not funny... that's not..."
Barbara comes back inside dripping wet from the rain and it seems likely to Batman that her fight with Harley did not end well for Harley either if the fact that she is carrying torn fabric from the wrist band of Harley's Harlequin costume is any indication. Tim collapses to the floor in tears and Barbara kneels next to him then takes him into her arms telling to cry it out. Batman... Bruce struggles to his feet and knows that their triumph is pyrrhic for them as what happen here tonight left unseen wounds and among the worst is made in Tim. It made him feel many things including the perverse notion that Joker really did have the last 'laugh'.
The memories continue to cascade each no less gripping then the last until it is the alleyway where he saw their murders. The mugger without flinching fires at Thomas and Martha Wayne. His father had made the effort to assuage the mugger by handing off his wallet despite the fact that he had been asking for wallets and the necklace he had just given Martha. He steps in the way and gets shot then the mugger tries to take the necklace except it breaks so he shoots her too. The onslaught leaves Bruce unable to move as the gun barrel still smokes from the bullet that had taken his mother and still he hears her sharp cry of his father's name just before she herself is shot.
He is frozen in place yet the mugger does not shoot him, but the gun like their murders are the catalyst to his childhood's end. He has many happy and warming memories of his parents that is until the Crime Alley memory invades the reprieve given by the pleasant memories for he remembers everything in the moment. He recalls crying uncontrollably and babbling that he should have done something yet as his mind drags him back to the present moment there is a fear of death in him.
He had been aware of this prospect from that night in Crime Alley and the night he first put on the cowl yet when facing the literal possibility of his own death, he remains stubborn, not just for himself, but for Bunny, he would not let her die tonight.
The third kidnapper, the one attacking him made the error of kicking him hard enough to roll him towards the one thing he swore he never use in a fight... a gun. His grip is solid yet his hand is trembling to keep steady, it is not fear that is messing with his mind, rather his nervous system is straining to relay the message to aim the weapon, and of course the technologically enhanced Batsuit is compensating for his body even in this state. His attacker recoils and steps back dropping the pipe. He mumbles something about not shooting him then flees only to be instantly in front of an entire police detachment sent to secure the hangar. He struggles to his knees and pulls himself up, he'll let the cops look after her, he had to get out of here, and they are about to enter the hangar as he stumbles out.
He pulls off the mask and the hand holding the gun trembles more so he drops it. Blood is still streaming from his lower lip, so they got a lucky punch in, but this is it, no more Batman. After getting a short distance, he summons the Batmobile and climbs inside then instructs the autopilot to take him back to the cave. There is an incoming message so he pulls the mask back on before answering it. It is Acting Commissioner Montoya, she had been Gordon's handpicked successor, and he had a working partnership with most of the detectives that had been with Gordon from the start except for Bullock aside from the occasional tenable situations. She is looking rather at ease and daresay happy about the successful rescue of Bunny Vreeland.
"We got her back Batman... it seems we still and Gotham still owes a continuing debt to you..."
"Glad to help... unh... I really need to get back to the cave..."
"Maybe you should go to a hospital... we found some of your blood at the scene.."
"So one of them manage to slug me... I still held them off..."
"The blood was also on the wrench..."
"I need to rest for awhile then I'll consult some doctors..."
"You aren't getting any younger so be careful Batman."
"No, I'm just a tired old man now..."
"Good night Batman... I'm sure the Vreelands will be thankful and note your assistance if they decide to grant any interviews later on."
The screen goes black and the Batmobile crosses the retractable gantry that connects the back road to the cave.
He will have to get out of the suit yet it takes longer as he cannot strain himself with something as common as taking off the Batsuit. It is tedious yet necessarily slow process to extricate himself from the suit. Afterward he looks briefly at each suit before slotting the latest one's mask with the rest of it. He heads for the power box, which conceals the Batcave's light switches so he flips each one down. The rotating platform for the Batmobile goes dark, then the Batcomputer's external lights, and eventually the transparent suit storage area goes dark yet their outlines are still visible to him.
Bruce begins his ascent up the stairwell to the ground floor. As he climbs the stairwell, the old injury from that last fight with the Joker starts acting up gain, he takes the usual low dosage of pain killers to numb the discomfort, and wonders how long until a cane becomes necessary with this injury. He contemplates whether or not to call any of his former partners just for the sake of seeing them before too much time slips away on him again. He kept pictures of countless people despite having an eidetic memory though of course there is one person he'll never need pictures of she is all to present in his mind when little is going and from now on, his life is about to become more about what to do as only Bruce Wayne . His corporate/playboy identity had been a cover for decades and now it seems likely to become only partially his only identity in public.
Once out of the cave is a still further walk to the Master bedroom unless he elects to sleep on the couch, which he does because his limbs feel to heavy and his muscles feel too weak to push them too far right now. He cleans up his lip cut and bandages it before going to setup a sleeping space on the couch. He felt a slight chill so pulls the cover closer to him and not in so many years did he ever feel this physically useless and the last time it had driven to become Batman... the same drive that had brought him to this point. He seem of the mindset to curse old age yet getting older did not bother him much as he had been death for a shadow for almost all his life though obviously more so once donning the cowl. The phone and video uplink are literally a hobble away yet all he can do is just lie there half desiring to ring someone friendly, someone familiar and half refraining from moving anymore for the rest of the night until noting that is getting closer to dawn.
"The kidnappers responsible for the abduction of debutante Bunny Vreeland were apprehended some time late last night by the GCPD after coordinating the recovery with Batman who had successfully subdued two and causing the third to flee the hangar. The three men are facing justifiably long sentences at Stonegate Penitentiary. Acting Commissioner Montoya makes a point of crediting most of the on-scene work to Batman yet also commends her own fellow officers for the handling of the case at large…."
The symbolism of Batman, the weight of the mantle, it is never for him, always for others, and so instead of an on-job death it is face to face with old age perhaps.
"…the Vreelands, specifically Veronica Vreeland publicly thanks the GCPD as well as paying immeasurable gratitude to the Dark Knight for saving her daughter."
I did only for you Veronica, a paltry way of trying to atone for my behavior.
"In other news, buyout mogul Derek Powers is not giving up his attempts to corner as many markets as he can in Gotham. His biggest target as usual is the perennial mainstay Wayne Enterprises yet Wayne, his corporate fellows, and WE Board of Directors remain in opposition of Powers."
No news like bad news, you are a persistent weasel Powers, but somehow I can't outmatch you forever like old age, you are sly and devious.
There is an echo from the main hall specifically the front door, someone is knocking and Bruce lacking enough sleep feels almost too tired to bother answering it. He steadily and slowly edges towards the front door. Bruce slightly cracks it open to reveal Barbara, she ages well at least to him though in a slight way he misses the longer red hair, he acknowledges they had their time, albeit brief, both of them were not really in the right frame of mind at the time.
Barbara's gaze is steady and she brought him breakfast. They eat almost in silence until Barbara mentions her last conversation with Montoya about the raid to recover Bunny Vreeland.
"I know you felt like you did wrong by Veronica or any other number of women in your life, but those who did stay around, did stand up to you, took the issues with more of what you had given us in mind instead of what we had to do get inside in the first place... I for one don't regret it... it had a hard time for all of us..."
"I prefer not to speak of this..."
"Dammit Bruce, I'm trying to reach out here, I mean you look terrible though I'm sure you did look worse last night... I even spoke to Bunny... what she told me sounds awful lot like a heart attack... you went after her knowing your heart might give out... didn't you?"
"They were going to kill her and flee with the ransom money Barbara!"
"I'm sorry... I don't blame you for wanting to stop them... it just almost got you killed if not for him knocking you towards the gun..."
"It felt revolting to use it for reasons that are already understood between us... I left her for the cops... I simply sought to go home."
"You need to see some doctors and soon..."
"If you don't mind driving me to Gotham General this afternoon then we'll be going."
"Should I call in anyone?"
"I'm sure they are both busy..."
"I think they would like to know what is going on..."
"This stays between us..."
She helps him upstairs and then consults him about having one of the downstairs rooms put to use as a ground floor bedroom. She says she'll take care of that and leaves him to rest. She would tell the others, but of course they might be as lackluster about seeing him as hell bent as he had been to get them to give up the costumes and find public venues to help others.
Later at Gotham General, it is shown that he did indeed have a heart attack the night before and he effectively disguises what could have done it with something that sounds just as strenuous for an old heart. He'd be taking all sorts of meds for his heart from now on and his moods eventually lead to seclusion in the mansion yet he still had enough pull with his family's company. He remains COO of Wayne Enterprises yet the merger he had fought for years eventually transpires firmly driving a wedge for Powers to dominate the economics of Gotham in a way that nobody had done before. Gotham lessens its pace outward yet picks up pace through upwards so that before long it barely resembles the Gotham City of his psychologically shortened childhood yet plenty of mainstays are still out there including one that holds one of the greater emotional pains in his life, the Monarch.
His yearly visits to both the Monarch and the cemetery do not cease yet he often senses that someone is shadowing him. He retains a notion of who it is yet whoever it is... has taken up the subtlety of stealth well.
The years continue to pass him by and still he endures, too stubborn to die is the usual line likewise many of his allies or rather friends would intermittently visit though he is usually not keen on company, maybe it is pride or maybe he prefers they remember him at his peak rather than what he has become, but the only ones that persist in regular appearances are Kent, Shayera, and her. Diana had for the lack of a better description picked up a few of his personality traits and he had taken a few of hers namely her ability to zip him through kisses.
The headlights of several cycles are inbound and the one leading the chase is a young man with those imitation knock off Jokerz in pursuit. The man swerves to avoid hitting him and as the Jokerz dismount to surround them, the man stands shoulder to shoulder with him.
Their leader foolishly decides they can take them. His error is short lived as together they fend off the Jokerz and in one last move the leader tries to jump him only to find the cane grip connecting with his forehead. The Jokerz flee quickly and Bruce feels an old familiar strain in his heart.
The fight felt invigorating though with it is the reminder of his heart not being able to take that kind of strain. He pulls out the gate remote, and as it opens the young man shoulders his weight. As they advance along the walkway, Ace steps in front barking at the man.
"Easy boy, he's helping me inside."
Ace backs down as the man picks up the cane. They head inside and he tells him where to find the meds. He lapses into unconsciousness yet when he awakens, he does not see the man. He finds the clock is out of position meaning the man is downstairs, a place he should not be, and he sends him on his way yet once thing is certain this adolescent, this young man could fight yet he would not dare another young life in a costume. Bruce had what one could call an intuition that he would probably be seeing Terrence McGinnis again before long considering that his inquiries reveal that Warren McGinnis works for Wayne-Powers.
There is a saddening affirmation when he sees the holo-news broadcast about the 'gang' related murder of Warren McGinnis yet as they discover from his father's records, something sinister is going on at Wayne-Powers. However Bruce tells him to take the data to Commissioner Barbara Gordon instead of a Batman handling this.
As misfortune would have it, Powers and Fixx caught up with Terry before he could get to Gordon.
"What is it boy?"
The grandfather clock is ajar so he hobbles down the spiraling stairwell for the second time this week, and notices the new Batsuit is missing.
A/N 1: I recall quite vividly the first time I saw Rebirth, the series premier of Batman Beyond, it left a lasting impression on my mind. There is certain disbelief, a chilling sadness to it yet at the end there is elation, a new hope.
A/N 2: There are several questions that also arise as to why Batman is working solo again and what has happen to his former partners or allies. It seems as if things went sour again with Dick, Barbara also left Batgirl behind to become a cop, and there is nothing on Tim until Return of the Joker. Arguably by far Joker is at his most sinister/sickening in RotJ on a psychological and visual level, need only look at the face or the eyes to see it.
A/N 3: Some speculations or possibilities on what happens between Bruce and the League (post-RotJ/pre-Rebirth) as well as what happen between him and Diana.
A/N 4: Most of this story revolves around what is seen and not seen during Rebirth, at least up until Terry 'borrows' the new Batsuit.
A/N 5: The narrative is mostly confined to Bruce's experiences/feelings/memories. Attempting a character bound perspective with this story.