Disclaimer: All the characters in this story are property of WB and DC Comics. I own nothing, nor am I using this for personal profit. Just fun. :D
From the Ashes
So, this is what Harley Quinn had been up to these past four years.
Batman frowned as he stared down at the two year old child, tucked safely beneath an oversized blue quilt. His shadow seemed more imposing than normal, spilling thickly over the tiny bed and its oblivious occupant. The boy – Timothy Marshal Dennis, his birth certificate said – shifted, absently rubbing at his nose with his hand; he was peaceful, untroubled. His frown deepened into an angry scowl, unable to head off the memories of Arkham before they surfaced.
She had named her son Timothy.
It had been nearly four years since Tim had gone missing; four years since the single worst night of his adult life. No one would ever know how badly the Joker's actions had scarred him; how he had felt such a dark, satisfying, torturous glee over seeing Tim murder him with his own weapon. The murderous rage which had all but overtaken him receded into a cold, tinny revulsion that cloyed at his insides. He had wanted the Joker dead, and his wish had been granted. Broken laughing echoed dismally in the dimly lit room, and he could have rent himself in two, right then and there. It was all his fault.
The Joker succeeded in the mental and emotional raping of two people that night – Tim, and himself.
Tim was young and strong; he would recover and leave the mansion shortly thereafter, determined to live his life without his assistance. "If I can't earn my keep by being Robin, then there's no point in me being here," were his last words to him. Not even a goodbye. Not even a smile. Not even eye-contact. (Another night his heart had been dashed upon the rocks; it was for the best, though. It was always for the best.)He was not Tim. He would shut himself in and run himself ragged; a small, treacherous voice praying for an adversary that would simply prove too strong. He would take Barbara as his lover – or, rather, Barbara would see him at his weakest and pounce on the opportunity to 'help him'. He would pour all of his festering pain and desire into their brief relationship, fairly overwhelming even her nurturing instincts and forcing her to escape back into normalcy. (Telling her he had made a terrible mistake in succumbing to guilt, for it had never been love – not the way she had fantasized – was irrelevant.)Four years was not long enough. A lifetime would never be long enough.
And here he was, gazing down at a slumbering, blissfully unaware toddler named Timothy.
Clearly, he wasn't the only one who felt guilty.
"Sweet dreams, Timmy – "
Batman inclined his head to the left, slightly, serving only to get her cleanly in his sights.
Harley – or Marie King-Dennis, as she currently went – stood stock still in the cracked doorway, silhouetted by a nearby hall lamp. For the briefest of moments, the years of simmering fury intensified to a needle point in his mind, and he dallied with the thought of killing her. It would be quick, it would be easy, and they both knew she deserved it.
Timothy yawned, smacking his lips together as he clutched his worn brown teddy bear.
A small, helpless child, deprived of a mother? Inwardly, he recoiled in horror at himself.
Outwardly, his eyes only narrowed. "Hello, Harley."
She blanched, gaze skittering around the room in panic. Several times, the toddler became her focus; he took a small, but noticeable, step back from the bed, cape draped around himself. The panic slowly morphed into wary amazement, and hesitantly, she moved to stand protectively in front of her child. She was so close to him that she had to arch her upper body back a few inches over the bed to avoid touching him. "What do you want?"
He leaned forward, just to force her further back. "Answers."
She managed a defiant stance despite being bent at an awkward angle. "Yeah, well, you're out of luck. I don't know where the Joker is."
He consciously stilled his hands from lashing out at her. "I wasn't looking for the Joker."
Her brows knit together in confusion. "You caught him?"
She blinked. Blinked again. Then, a tremor ran through her body, blue eyes wide and filled with the kind of stark terror that he saw from those who assumed they were about to die. "N-no..."
Batman didn't bother correcting her, a sickly, malevolent part of him enjoying the fear his presence was instilling in her. He wanted her to suffer – he wanted her to feel the misery he knew, night after night, with the terrible knowledge that nothing he did could ever make it right again. He saw fat, bulbous tears form in her eyes, and felt disgust coat his tongue. Whether it was over her blubbering or his own blackened soul, he couldn't be sure.
He supposed it didn't matter. "I know about the money."
Those same tears rolled down her face as she squinted incredulously at him, anxiety steadily eating at her resolve to protect her toddler son. Timothy. "What money?"
His hand, snake-fast, fisted into the front of her blouse, yanking her forward with a startled gasp. "I would advise you not to lie to me right now." She whimpered. His grip tightened. "The money that you're sending to a...mutual friend."
He felt her throat against his fingers as she gulped, her lips quivering with terror as she managed out, "I'm only t-trying to help – "
He hit her.
Her head snapped to the side with a pained yelp, her arms shooting up to claw at his wrist as she choked out meaningless apologies through a swollen lip. Growling, he lifted her off her feet, his other hand catching her flailing arms in an iron grip, intent on –
A pair of two year old eyes stared quizzically up at him.
His name was Timothy.
He dropped Harley like she was made of molten lava and backed up to the window, not noticing how she crumpled to the ground in a heap. Not noticing how she curled into a ball, her hands over her injured face, and wept openly. Not noticing how her husband, awakened from the sounds of her struggle, rushed in to cradle her in his arms. All he noticed were Timothy's eyes swelling with tears, his innocent mind unable to comprehend what just happened, but knowing that his Mommy was hurt, and that he should be frightened.
Superman was worried.
Contrary to popular belief, it was something he did quite often – when one had the world to protect, possessing a care-free, wholesome attitude wasn't as effortless as many would assume. Of course, many also assumed that he didn't have a secret identity, either.
He heard the guttural rumbling of the Batmobile three and a half miles before it pulled in, but he gave Bruce the benefit of actually pulling up before he acknowledged his appearance. The hatch slid back with a mechanical hiss, but to his surprise, Batman didn't move from his seat. Instead, the Caped Crusader simply stared ahead of him, hands still gripping the steering wheel, and ordered, "Leave."
"In a minute," he replied cordially, starting towards the sleek black vehicle.
He shook his head amiably. "Nope."
Wordlessly, Batman slid out of the cockpit and away from the car in one fluid movement, choosing to take the high road and deny his existence. He stalked to the Batcomputer with a practiced ease, measured and steady, and yet, Clark couldn't shake the feeling something was off. Well, that wasn't really true – he knew something was off. After Bruce's resignation from the League, he'd cut off all ties to everyone; even his previous wards. For a man who claimed to be such a stalwart loner, he went to strangely great lengths to ensure that he was, at least, kept apprised of those he cared for. A sudden apathy towards his loved ones was unlike him.
Clark knew Bruce could vanish without a trace, if he wanted to. Everyone knew. But it hurt to see him actually do it.
"You look terrible, Bruce." He was ignored, as he thought he would be. Floating across the Cave silently, he touched down next to Bruce and crossed his arms over his broad chest. "Aren't you going to ask me why I'm here?"
Batman flattened his hands against the sleek metal console, leaning onto his arms and glaring at the empty computer screen in front of them. Ordinarily when Batman ignored him, he would go about his nightly business while doing so. The reporter in Clark noted this behavior, and decided to make use of it.
"So," he began conversationally, "how's Tim?"
Batman stiffened. Oddly, he didn't whip his head around to peel away Clark's skin with his eyes alone, the way he was normally wont to do when anyone broached the subject of his 'Bat-family'. Instead, the Dark Knight merely sat down at his high-backed computer chair, and began typing. Judging by the reports he was accessing, all dated from years ago, it appeared to be little more than busy work. Something to keep his hands occupied.
He then spied that there was a smattering of blood across Bruce's left gauntlet. It was a paltry amount, comparatively, but he logged the information, anyway. And Bruce's heart rate was becoming elevated. Quickly.
He pressed the issue. "Haven't seen him around here, lately."
"You haven't been here, lately," Bruce growled, fingers clattering across the keys.
He frowned. Stubborn for all the wrong reasons. "Have you tried talking with him?"
"He screens his calls," came the clinical reply.
Superman furrowed his brow, leaning one hand on the computer while resting the other on his hip. "I doubt something like that would ever really stop you. Why don't you want to talk to him?"
"This is none of your business," Batman snapped, fingers jamming against the keys with a renewed fervor. Clark couldn't help but wonder what the keyboard ever did to him.
He glanced around the solemn, quiet Cave, feeling the unnatural chill soak into his body. He almost never got cold. "Where's Barbara?"
Click, click, click. "She moved on."
He sighed and shook his head. He'd danced around the issue for years, out of respect for Bruce and his extended family. He'd let the man rebuff his every attempt at assistance, let him pull further and further away from everything he cared about. Now, looking upon the man that he'd called his best friend, a brother in arms, he was assaulted by an overwhelming surge of guilt. "Bruce, you don't have to hide away from everyone."
"I'm not hiding."
"So, what do you call this, then?" He motioned to the computer with a thick hand.
Bruce swiveled his chair and began typing on another, smaller keyboard. "Working."
He arched a brow, unconvinced. "On ten year old solved cases? Don't sidestep the issue."
"There's no issue to sidestep, Kent," Batman grunted, returning back to the main keyboard, the clacking echoing dismally through the Cave. "What do you want?"
"To help," he answered, concern lacing his voice.
The clicking stopped.
Bruce's bloodied left hand twitched. "Then leave."
"What if I said the League needed your help?"
The typing resumed. "Do they?"
"They could always use it," he replied jovially with a shrug. Internally, he was fighting back a twinge of desperation. This wasn't going as well as he'd hoped. Truthfully, he wondered why that surprised him at all.
"You're wasting my time," Batman hissed as he stood, cape swirling dramatically behind him.
Clark tried not to scowl. It proved to be difficult, given the company. "Mr. Terrific has gotten word of a big shipment of illegal goods heading into Gotham tomorrow night," he explained. That would get his attention. "I thought you'd like to know."
"I already do." Damn. He should've known. "And I'll handle it."
"Bruce – "
"Gotham is my city," he interrupted, his tone brooking no argument. Clark had officially worn out his welcome. "I can protect it myself."
"But who's going to protect you?" Superman rebuked sharply, anxiety for his long-time friend bubbling to the surface.
"I don't need protection, Kent," Bruce argued, tugging at a printed read-out. They looked to be schematics, but for the life of him, Clark couldn't remember when Bruce had brought that up on the screen. "In case you haven't noticed, I've been doing this for years."
"Decades." He was rewarded with a sideways glare. "I'm not one to meddle, but – "
Bruce turned back to his print-out. "You're incapable of not meddling, Clark."
Clark. First name basis. Maybe he was getting somewhere. He smiled, a perpetually boyish thing, even in the dankness and malaise of the Batcave. "I'm good at it, what can I say?" He took a risk and closed the distance, putting a hand on the man's shoulder. He felt the tightly-corded muscles go taut under his fingertips. "Bruce, listen to me. I know you're going to say no, but just...hear me out, please." Thus far, Bruce hadn't forcibly removed his hand, so hopefully... "I'd like for you to rejoin the Justice League."
"No." The word was stolid, absolute.
"Bruce, we need you," he pleaded, infusing the slightest measure of his unimaginable power into the gesture.
"Gotham needs me. The League can handle itself."
"I'm not just talking about the League." That garnered his attention; his head turned, slowly, over his shoulder to stare at the Man of Steel. The order to elaborate was clear. "You've cut off ties with everyone, it's..." He fumbled for the right way to say it, before he surmised there wasn't a right way. "Diana, Wally, and the others...they're worried about you." He paused. "I'm worried about you."
Batman remained silent for several seconds, his gaze appraising, if not accusatory. Finally, he spoke, his voice unreadable, "I appreciate your concern, Clark, but I'm fine. If I needed your help, I'd have asked you for it."
"You didn't last time," Clark countered, regretting his words the moment the tumbled from his mouth.
Bruce's eyes went cold. He felt his skin crawl underneath the confines of his suit as Batman harshly shrugged his hand off. Quietly, with an iron-tight control that only served to enhance the danger of it, he said, "I trust you know the way out."
He scowled as the dark figure stalked off, a mixture of anger and sadness churning in his gut as he relented – again – and let his best friend walk further into the darkness. "Yeah. I do."
To be continued...