A/N: And so we come to the end of this story. Thanks so much to everyone for your reviews and comments, and I really hope you liked the story. Chapter 1 of Part III should be up within a couple of days. For now, numbers 43 and 49 of Sushi Ocean both feature the twins if you haven't read them already! ;) And thank you, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to the wonderful Angel Queen.
Bruce's hands were still shaking when he pushed open the clock and entered the library. He hadn't taken the suit off, he hadn't switched the Batmobile's engine off, updated his logs on the computer. He'd just come home, knowing he needed to see Diana. Diana would make everything make sense again. Because right now it didn't.
She was asleep when he came in, the lamp on dimly in the corner. He shut the door behind him, sat on the edge of the bed. She stirred, giving him a warm smile.
"How was patrol?" she asked sleepily. When he reached over and turned the lamp up brighter, she sat up, screwing up her eyes. "What, Bruce, what-" she cut off, noticing he was still wearing the batsuit, and that his expression was shocked. "What is it, what's happened?" she asked immediately. "What's wrong?"
Wrong? Well... "Nothing's...wrong..." he said slowly. That was true—in fact there was a good argument for saying that something good had happened. But it had still rocked him.
"Then what?" she asked with a concerned frown, running her fingers soothingly through his hair.
"The Joker was killed tonight," he said flatly. "Murdered right in front of me."
"What? By who?" she demanded.
He shrugged. "I don't know- A woman, but she disappeared before I could..."
"Disappeared?" Diana questioned. "You mean she ran?"
"No," he said, "I mean she evaporated." His frown deepened, remembering the woman's apology. "Said she was sorry, then..."
Looking wide awake now, she removed his gauntlets and took his hands. "Stop, Bruce. Collect your thoughts and explain this to me more clearly."
He nodded, and listed the events of that night to her; what had happened up to the point of him finding the Joker and the woman in the alley. "It was a revolver she used; six shots, and she fired all of them at point blank range. She couldn't miss."
"And you have no idea who she was? Or why she apologised?"
"There's only one possibility I could think of. A long time ago—before Batman—I was engaged. In love. So in love that I was going to give up the whole idea of avenging my parents. But then she disappeared. Her father had mob connections, and for fear of his life they fled to Europe. I didn't see Andrea again for ten years. Then several crimelords began to be murdered by a masked killer. The press dubbed it the Phantasm."
"And it was Andrea?" Diana guessed.
Bruce nodded. "After a failed attempt to kill the Joker, she fled Gotham. I haven't seen or heard from her since."
"I'm still not sure it was her," he answered. "She was wearing a hood similar to the one Andrea did as the Phantasm. Dark clothes, and I couldn't see her face. No gloves."
"So there were fingerprints?"
"None that the police had on file. I have Andrea's fingerprints in the database in the Cave."
"Have you checked them?"
He shook his head.
Diana got out of bed, and took his hand. In silence she led him through the manor; past the children's bedroom. The door was open, and he glanced in. The two of them were sleeping peacefully, if in the same bed. Nick had Sarah's hand held tightly between his, and his face had a little frown on it. He looked very determined.
Library, then staircase, the Cave, finally computer.
She indicated for him to sit in the chair, and then put her hands on his shoulders as he did so. He took the tiny fingerprint analyzer out of his belt, connected it to the computer.
"Cross-reference with existing database."
The screen flickered with hundreds of fingerprints, drawing lines of comparison with lightning speed between each. It took roughly three minutes for the result to flash up, and for the automated voice to announce it.
"No result found. Repeat: no result found."
"So it wasn't the Phantasm," Diana said. "A new vigilante maybe? It could be a good idea to keep an eye on the rest of the major criminals."
"Already done. Gordon's tripled the guard for Poison Ivy, Freeze, the Riddler and Clayface in Arkham. Two-Face fled to Mexico six months ago; he's lying low in Cancun, in a villa I've bugged. Harley Quinn's location is unknown. But there's no way she would kill the Joker."
"She loves him," Batman answered simply. "Loved."
He felt Diana shiver. "And you say this woman vanished? As in she transported away?"
"No. No light or heat discharge to indicate a transporter. This seemed like magic."
"Do you want to involve Zatanna? Take her to the murder scene and see if she can sense anything?"
There was a pause. "Maybe in the morning."
When he turned, Diana's expression showed she knew exactly what he meant, and agreed with him completely. Neither of them cared. The situation would be monitored, and if it happened again, then yes, action would be taken. But if not… If not, Gotham had just had its biggest cancer removed. If not, they had two scarred children to heal. If not, the Joker would never be more than a nightmarish memory.
"Are you alright, Daddy?" Sarah asked over the breakfast table. "You look tired."
"I'm fine, sweetheart."
She studied his face for a second longer, then decided it was true. He did look fine. And him and Mommy seemed just as totally and completely, one-hundred-percent in love as they had yesterday.
"Did you have nightmares last night, little star?" Mommy asked.
Sarah nodded, feeling ashamed. She knew she was a little kid, but that didn't mean she liked feeling like one—and when she woke up so scared she couldn't see anything, that made her feel really childish. "Nicky had to let me sleep with him."
"I didn't mind," her brother said. "That's what brothers are for, right? To protect their little sisters."
"I'm older than you!"
"By two minutes!"
"Settle down, you two," Daddy quelled. "There's something-"
Too late, though—Sarah had just caught a glimpse of the front page of the Gotham Gazette. "Oh. My. God."
Her mother went to grab it, but Nicky got there first, reading the headline and the first few lines of the article out loud, slightly haltingly over the bigger words. "Joker dead. Police confirm that last night, the clown prince of Gotham was found dead in an alleyway a little after midnight. Al- Although his con-conflicts with Batman were well doc- doc-"
"Documented," Sarah supplied.
"-documented, Com- Commissioner? Commissioner Gordon insisted the Dark Knight is not a sus- suspect."
Both of them stared up at their father in silence. He looked right back. Sarah absolutely believed Commissioner Gordon. But she still had a question. "Why didn't you kill him, Daddy? There must've been times you wanted to."
His eyes narrowed, and she wanted to squirm in her seat, like just by asking she'd done something really wrong. "Sarah, you need to understand this. You both do. There's no possible excuse or reason for killing someone. The things your mother and I do mean that we have to be above that, ignore what we might want in favour of what the greater good is. Killing—whether it's an accident or murder—is completely unacceptable. Do you understand?"
They both nodded silently.
"Good. Never forget it."
Two weeks later, Bruce was struggling to control his rage as he stared at the depositions and reports. Besides finding Sarah and Nick, there had been practically nothing in the laboratory to give away who had been behind the kidnapping. The men arrested at the lab had merely been doctors, who insisted that they had been hired just to perform a battery of tests on the twins. However, they could not identify their employer. Even when J'onn thoroughly picked their brains, they found nothing.
The men had been pawns. The king had escaped the League's attempt at checkmate. Which meant that he—or she—could try again. If not with Sarah and Nick, then one of the other League children, such as the Kent twins, or Ollie and Dinah's son, Michael. Until they knew more, they had to assume that all of the children were targets.
Bruce knew he should go back to the laboratory, do some searching himself. It wasn't out of the realm of possibility that the police and other League investigators had missed something. He-
He turned immediately in his chair, and found Sarah standing in front of him, clad in her pyjamas and hugging a stuffed animal tightly to her chest.
"Sweetheart, what are you doing up?" he asked. He gestured her forward and she immediately moved to climb into his lap.
"Couldn't sleep," she mumbled, resting her head against his chest.
Bruce stroked her hair lightly. He'd hoped they were past this stage. Nick had been doing much better, hadn't had nightmares for nearly a week now, and Sarah too had also seemed to have improved. It seemed otherwise, though.
"The League can't find the bad person, can they?" she asked quietly.
He paused and looked down at her. "What makes you say that?"
Sarah didn't look up at him, just cuddled closer. "Heard Uncle Clark when he stopped by earlier."
Bruce couldn't help but roll his eyes. Maybe she was a little better, if she was reverting to her old sneaky habit of eavesdropping.
"We haven't found the bad person yet," he admitted, seeing there was no point in lying to her. "But we're going to keep looking, and I'm also going to add more security to the manor, so that it'll be safer."
"Okay, Daddy," Sarah replied. She was silent for a moment, and then looked up at him. "Didn't the Riddler break out of Arkham yesterday? Found him yet?"
At four fifty-seven am, Bruce got back to the Cave feeling rather satisfied—the Riddler was back in Arkham, complete with a broken wrist and a concussion. It had helped work out some of his anger. It wasn't directed at the people who took his children, but at the moment anyone who broke the law was good enough.
He expected to get home, shower and slip into bed and his wife's arms, and maybe, for the first time since recovering the children, sleep well.
He didn't expect to find Sarah still sitting in the chair in front of the computer, updating the logs, wrapped in his spare cape to keep warm.
"You weren't supposed to get up again after I took you to bed, Sarah," he pointed out, coming over.
She ignored his comment, instead turning to him. "Did you sustain any injuries, Daddy?"
"No," he said, "Why?"
"So I can update your logs," she said, turning back to the computer and typing. After a few minutes, she stopped, then turned back to him with a smile. "Done."
"Why are you down here again?"
"I figured this way I could save you some time before you go to bed," she shrugged.
"So this is going to be regular occurrence?" he asked.
She nodded. "Yes. I figure it'll stand me in good stead for when you start training me properly-"
"Whoa, stop right there. Sarah, there is no way in hell I'm going to train you to-"
"Why not?" she asked. "Mom's training Nicky."
"Why else not—that's not fair."
"How about because your mother and I just got you and Nick back, and there is no way I'm deliberately putting you in danger-"
"But isn't that the point?" she asked. "If you trained me, I'd be able to try and defend myself if anything like it were to happen again-"
"Exactly why I'm going to make the manor more secure so that this can't happen again," he replied.
Sarah's face was aghast. "Daddy, you know that you can't account for all the variables, what if someone does slip through the cracks?"
He sighed; she had him there. "Well there is no way I'm training you anytime soon," he told her, taking her hand and leading her back upstairs, "like before the age of twenty-one."
He raised an eyebrow. "This isn't a negotiation, Sarah."
"If you don't start training me until twenty-one then I won't be ready to begin patrolling until I'm thirty, and how old was Uncle Dick when you started training him?" she asked shrewdly.
He paused. "...ten."
"Eleven," he said, rolling his eyes.
"Then 'twenty-one' is ridiculous!" she protested. "Ten."
"Eighteen. I'm not coming down, Sarah."
They were emerging into the study when she dragged him over to the chessboard instead of the door. "If I can beat you in less than six moves, you start training me at thirteen."
He narrowed his eyes at her, trying to find the catch here. Sarah gazed back innocently. "Fine."
Ten minutes later, Bruce was staring at the chessboard, wondering how the hell she'd managed to do that. She was only one move away from- "Checkmate," she smiled happily.
He was silent for a moment. "We never tell your mother about this."
A/N: Review please!