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
Tim was dead.
That was the sole thought running through Batman's head as he stood hunkering over the ledge of a rooftop. 'Tim is dead and it's your fault. You brought this on him, you let him into your world, you left him to face an entire city's criminal element by himself while you were on Monitor Duty – ' His lips, already curled into a snarl, slid back over his teeth in unbridled self-hatred. He had tried, for the past three weeks, to keep his own ineptitude under wraps; he had tried to keep it quiet. If anyone learned that the Bat had been hit where it hurt the most, Gotham would erupt into a frenzy, and the League...well, it was the damned League that caused this mess in the first place.
Still, he couldn't ignore that three weeks had passed and the Wayne family's sudden disappearance from high society was turning heads. More quietly, expressed only in the soft creaking of leather as he clenched his fists, he had become desperate for a solid lead. So, he'd called on the only person he could remotely trust to keep the situation to himself. J'onn J'onzz.
J'onn, to his innumerable credit, had almost given himself an aneurysm in his six hour effort to locate the boy's mind somewhere, anywhere, on Earth. He had even gone so far as to open his mind to the entirety of humanity in a risky bid that he could learn some scrap of information before he fried his own brain from the information overload. He collapsed after forty-seven seconds and didn't regain consciousness for nearly five minutes. Even then, the only thing J'onn could manage to do was roll his head along his shoulders and heave, "N-nothing..."
A faint glimmer of hope he hadn't realized existed was tersely snuffed out.
His mind, still logical, cited that there could be another explanation. Mind-dampening technology, perhaps. Tim could have been off world, or in an alternate reality, or in another time period, or any one of the other thousand insane circumstances he'd found himself in over the years. There was no concrete evidence to support his worst fear, only lack of evidence to disprove it.
Batman stared blankly at the imposing skyline, trying not to give credence to how small and alone he felt. Three weeks later, and he was still no closer to an answer, or even a direction to start looking for one. His eyes focused on a historic cathedral that was nothing if not out of place amid the abandoned factories and dilapidated buildings of the lower east-side. The church steeple towered above like a phoenix rising from the ashes of its fallen predecessor; stalwart, indomitable, a beacon of light for the world-weary – and, right now, there were few people more weary of the world than Batman.
Maybe Ernie Pyle was right; maybe there were no atheists in foxholes, after all.
The antique doors opened with a pronounced creak of hinges far too loud for his tastes, but then, any noise was too loud for his tastes. His eyes, narrowed and distrustful, darted across the expanse of the empty congregation hall, expecting something to emerge from the dingy stained glass windows or pop up between the pews. It wasn't in his nature to simply walk in– Batman was not seen unless he wanted to be seen, and waltzing through the front door was about as subtle an entrance as painting a bullseye on his head at a firing range. It came as a slight surprise when he concluded that he didn't care; not this time. He had bigger things to worry about than stealth, and Lord help the poor fool that decided to pick a fight with him tonight.
The corner of his lip twitched in distaste. Not even ten seconds, and this place was already getting to him.
He walked through the nave, his footfalls silent against the carpet while the faint buzzing of the overhead fluorescent lights echoed in his ears. The hall smelled mustier than he last recalled it, and as he passed the pews, he spotted the thin layer of dust coating some of them. Much like every other sector, it seemed the church had been cutting back on manpower when they could least afford the loss in personnel. He made a passing note to anonymously donate a few million to this particular parish at the next opportunity. That should tide them over for a year or two; enough to keep the church out of the red, if it wasn't already in it.
Batman ascended the steps leading to the sanctuary, coming to a halt at the altar. An ornately carved wooden cross rose from the center of the stone block, meticulously well-kept in spite of the appearance of the back pews. Half a dozen freshly-lit candles framed the cross, their flames bathing the lacquered pine in a warm orange hue. He wasn't sure what he was doing here, or what he was expecting to achieve, but he couldn't deny how calming the flickering of the – wait, freshly-lit candles?
He glanced to his left. Father Michael Stromwell stood in the doorway to the sacristy, his round and aging face mildly surprised. "Odd to see you here at this time of night," he stated by way of greeting. "Is something on your mind?"
Good old Father Michael, always cutting right to the chase. He often wondered how he and his conning, thieving, drug-pushing scum-bucket of a brother could possibly be related. He returned his gaze to the altar. "I have a lot of things on my mind, Father."
Father Michael crossed the small enclave slowly, his limp more pronounced now that he was alone than if he were in front of parishioners. "So I see. Do you care to talk about it?"
He opened his mouth immediately, and then closed it. "No, Father, I don't."
Father Michael nodded sagely, his cane thumping softly against the carpet as he descended the few stairs to the nave. "That's fine. I hope you don't mind company, though." Batman looked over his shoulder to see the elderly priest sitting down upon the first pew, cane resting idly between his knees. In response to the scrutiny, he smiled wanly, folding both hands on top of the cane. "A shepherd doesn't abandon one of his flock."
"I'm not part of your flock."
"As much as you may try to convince the world otherwise, you're still human," Father Michael responded without missing a beat. "In my book, that makes you part of it."
His face hardened. He wasn't sure why. "And if I wanted nothing to do with you or your flock?"
"Then you wouldn't be here." He nodded to the high arched ceiling. "No one comes to a church to enjoy the nightlife. No lost soul wants to be lost. God gave us all free will, but that doesn't mean He can't nudge us in the right direction every now and then. That's why you're here." He motioned his dented wooden cane towards himself. "And that's why I'm here."
Batman returned his attention back to the faintly-glowing candles that danced in the stale church air. His tongue felt like lead. "My son is missing."
The silence that greeted his confession was deafening.
He felt compelled to fill that void with something; he was talking before he realized he opened his mouth. "It's been three weeks. He couldn't have just vanished without a trace. There has to be something that I'm overlooking."
"Do you believe he's still alive?"
"I...I don't know," he admitted heavily. "I know what I want to believe, but...I can't ignore the signs just because I don't like what they have to say."
"And what are those signs saying?"
He leaned forward, resting his hands on the edges of the stone altar, a bit amazed that he wasn't struck dead instantly for the sacrilege. As it was, his chest hurt. "Nothing. They say nothing."
He heard the rustling of cloth behind him. "I doubt there's anything I can tell you that you haven't already thought of yourself or dismissed, but for whatever it's worth, I'll say this: sometimes, salvation can come from the least likely source. Have faith."
He looked askance at the priest. "In God?"
"In yourself. And your son." A hand landed solidly on his left shoulder. "We're all God's children, Batman; you and your son included. And if He loves his children half as much as you love yours, then He will not forsake you in your time of need. Of that, I have no doubt." Father Michael squeezed. "Have faith." His hand slipped back down to his side as he took an uneven step backward. "If you or your son ever need a place of refuge, our doors are always open. I make a mean baloney sandwich."
If anyone else had dangled that olive branch in front of him, especially now, he would have instantly raised his defenses and shut them out entirely. From Father Michael, though, he knew that there was no presumption or judgment attached, and that his offer was simply an offer; nothing more, nothing less. He returned the gesture of kindness with the faintest grin of appreciation, little more than a softening of his unusually rigid features. "Thank you, Father Michael. I'll keep that in mind."
The priest smiled once more, reaching over to pat him reassuringly on the shoulder.
A jolt of electricity shot through his arm and chest.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Diana listened to the steady chirping of the heart monitor as she entered the recovery room. In defiance of the odds, the rules, and the very Gods themselves, Batman had managed to save humanity from certain ruination, though at great personal cost. On the strictest terms, he had died twice – once before he had even reached the Watchtower, and a second time, briefly, on the operating table. Young Nyssa had insisted on planting herself directly outside of the emergency room, her ordinarily cold eyes red and swollen from bouts of hysterical sobbing. While her Amazonian pride chafed at the public display of weakness, she certainly couldn't fault it; she understood the girl's terror all too well.
She had wanted to stay, but her duties to Man's World outweighed her personal desires; Batman had ensured Earth's immediate survival, now it was up to everyone else to pick up the pieces. Her time since then had consisted mostly of digging survivors out of the rubble the world-wide quake had created, and quelling some of the chaos that had sprung up in its wake. Visiting Bruce was the closest to a respite that she was likely to get in the near future, and she was glad to have it. Her gaze turned to the room's third occupant, currently the only one conscious aside from herself. "Any news, Alfred?"
The butler look his head wearily. "No change so far, I'm afraid to say. However, given the injuries Master Bruce has sustained..." More quietly, "And given his abhorrence for involuntary vacations, it may well be a blessing in disguise."
"It's been over a week." Her attention returned to Bruce. "Has he ever stayed unconscious for this long after a battle?"
Alfred's eyebrow curved up. "I should say, madam – after battling with a deity, ending up merely comatose should be considered an incredible stroke of luck."
Luck. She resisted the urge to run her fingers over her upper abdomen, where a particularly nasty scar was now hidden by her armor. The price paid for her faith in humanity.
The infirmary doors opened in a soft rush of air. Only a week, and Dick's condition had seemingly returned to normal, with no trace of the disease to be found in his system. Diana hoped the rest of the afflicted that were currently being inoculated with Flash's serum healed so quickly. "How are you feeling?"
Nightwing grimaced faintly. "About the same as I felt the last fifty times I've been asked that."
"It's quite good to see you up and about, Master Dick," Alfred assuaged, a rare moment of affection brightening his normally decorous expression. "No doubt Master Bruce will be thrilled to see you've made a full recovery."
Dick raised an eyebrow in a distinctly Alfred-esque manner. "Oh, really? Define 'thrilled'."
"He may actually smile."
"Wow. Now, that would be something."
Diana's brows pinched in confusion, unsure if their amazement was facetious or not. She had seen instances when Batman had smiled; granted, they were rare, but it certainly wasn't outside the realm of possibility. She glanced between the two of them. "Has he never smiled around you before?"
Dick shrugged one shoulder. "He used to." He paused. "I miss it."
She saw the vague sadness that shaded his eyes, and decided to change the subject. "How goes the clean up in Gotham?"
"Oh, fantastic," Dick answered with a sharp, sardonic cheer. "With the right contracts and funding, we should have Gotham completely rebuilt in...oh, about thirty years, or so. It's just the kind of project Bruce can really sink his teeth into."
"And a lot of others," said a new voice, scratchy from disuse.
Alfred's head rose in surprise. "Master Bruce! Oh, thank Heaven."
Diana's expression mirrored the butler's, questioning, "How long have you been awake?"
"Since I came through the door, at least," Dick responded, meeting his former-mentor's perpetually withering stare. "I was wondering when you'd give it up and say something."
She knew that Bruce was too disciplined to double-take the way that he wanted to. She certainly wanted to. "How did you know?"
"It's pretty hard to play dead when you have a heart monitor strapped to your chest." Dick grinned. "So, how's it feel to be back in the world of the living?"
Bruce winced when he shifted up along the pillows. "Painful."
Nightwing snorted. "Oh yeah, he'll be fine."
True to the prediction, Bruce cracked a smile. It was small, less than the average smirk that stretched across Wally's face on a bad day, but for Batman, it was monumental. "You're looking better. The Flash pulled through?"
Nightwing nodded. "It's being mass-produced and distributed to all the major affected areas as we speak. I've gotta admit, the guy's a lot smarter than I initially gave him credit for."
She didn't miss the way Bruce's gaze turned momentarily distant. "He has a way of surprising people."
"He isn't the only one."
The rest of the room whirled again, eyes falling upon one of the more surreal things to occur since the crisis began: Phantom Stranger sitting in a chair. His cape fell lazily over his strangely hunched frame as he spoke, "Your survival in the face of insurmountable odds is a testament to both your strength and courage."
"Our survival is thanks to you," Diana said. "If you hadn't intervened, Hades would have escaped through the portal."
Bruce's eyes narrowed slightly. "I thought you weren't allowed to intervene."
"Not without dire consequence."
Bruce's eyes narrowed further. "How dire?"
Wordlessly, Stranger brushed his cape aside and lifted a single hand; his palm was oozing blood. Diana gasped.
Nightwing, not having been touched by Phantom Stranger's power, shrugged a shoulder in confusion. "A paper cut? That's it?"
"He bleeds now," Bruce responded, voice hushed.
Stranger spoke as Alfred dutifully grabbed a roll of gauze and made his way over. "The last time I was offered an opportunity to directly affect the outcome of a conflict, I abstained, resulting in a bloody civil war. As penance, I was disallowed from ever interfering with events again, only able to watch and guide others from afar."
"Why break that rule now?" Nightwing asked.
Stranger's expression, still partially hidden by his fedora, turned remorseful at the unspoken scrutiny. "My inaction sowed the chaos that humanity has been forced to reap for generations. The suffering of trillions could have been prevented, had I the willingness to sacrifice everything for something greater than myself. Your willingness." His voice, normally so soothing, hardened in resolve as he stated, "I failed those under my protection once. Never again."
Bruce relaxed against the pillows, satisfied.
Alfred finished off the wrap with a quick tug, inquiring, "What will you do with your new-found mortality?"
Stranger considered the question with a tilt of the head. "Experience it."
"Avoid experiencing the dying part," Nightwing quipped. "It's not as fun as it sounds."
"Death is a part of life, and there are fates far worse than it."
"Guess you haven't experienced irony, either."
Phantom Stranger looked at his bandaged hand briefly, bowing his head in thanks to Alfred as he walked to the infirmary doors. "Though it was handed down as punishment, I consider this a gift. Immortality is not what Ra's Al Ghul believed it to be."
Nightwing smirked. "Y'know, I'd say, 'Don't be a stranger,' but that would be self-defeating."
"If you ever need refuge, you're always welcome at the Watchtower," Diana offered. "Hopefully, we'll meet again under better circumstances."
"Perhaps. The road will be long, for all of us. Let us hope that it's one worth traveling." Stranger's lips quirked into a tiny, wistful grin that seemed both completely out of place and pitch perfect. "Who knows what the future holds?"
Diana looked back at Bruce as Phantom Stranger exited. Bruce stared at the closed doors, expression determined. He murmured, more to himself, it seemed, than anyone else, "I know what it won't hold."
In spite of herself, Diana's heart sank at those words.
Bruce's eyes found hers. His expression was uncharacteristically hesitant.
Alfred noted the look and discreetly strode to the doors, patting Nightwing on the shoulder as he passed. The younger vigilante nodded and followed suit.
The two gazed at each other for a long moment. Bruce murmured, "You died."
"So did you," she riposted. "Twice."
"You're not supposed to die."
"You're not supposed to come back from the dead. Twice."
His eyes narrowed. "You're being difficult."
"I'm being difficult?" she repeated incredulously.
"I can't afford to lose you, Princess." His voice was vulnerable. "I don't want to lose you."
"Phantom Stranger was right; death is a part of life," she said, crossing over to stand next to him. "But that doesn't mean that death is the end of it." He seemed dissatisfied with that response, so she gently ran a hand through his hair, leaning down to look into his eyes. "You will never lose me, Bruce. Not in this life, not in the next. I swear it."
He closed the distance and kissed her. She was never so happy to not get an answer.
Tim sat uneasily in the hard-backed chair, fingers toying with the edges of his domino mask. It had been a very long, hectic week. Since he was a mere mortal, most of his efforts were spent on the Watchtower, coordinating rescue missions and relaying data to the crews on the ground. It wasn't nearly as heroic as rushing into the belly of an evil mastermind's underground lair, but frankly, he felt more accomplished doing this than drop-kicking demons. He was reaching more people, this way; his work was producing real results. In spite of the carnage Ra's Al Ghul left behind, it felt good to rebuild something. It gave him a little bit of hope for himself.
He twisted the mask between his forefinger and thumb. Of course, there was the matter with Bruce. Tim had heard of his condition shortly after arriving on the satellite, and he'd tried – really tried– to see him in the Medbay. But with all the injuries and the chaos that came with a triage, he was outright ordered to leave the floor unless he began vomiting internal organs. The closest he got to visiting since then was the reinforced sliding doors, before panic and shame got the better of him and he scurried off back to his station to pretend it never happened.
But that hadn't worked yet, had it? Pretending it never happened. No, he wasn't like Batman; he couldn't shut off the part of his brain that dealt with pain. He couldn't erase the last four years of his life – if he could, he would, in a heartbeat – and go on with life, the way it had always been. He needed to make the suffering worth it. He had to justify his survival, somehow. Dying in an alleyway was not the way to do that. Not anymore.
Maybe Bruce was right for firing him. Maybe Bruce knew he wasn't cut out for –
The door to his quarters slid back. Tim turned his head to look at his guest, then rose to his feet automatically when his brain comprehended who was in front of him.
Batman, expression and posture tight with agony, let the doors close behind him. Tim gaped at the statuesque figure silently, heart thudding in his chest. He didn't know exactly what was going to happen, but he expected a harsh reprisal for his stunt, at least. Maybe a re-firing, just to get the point across.
He did not expect to suddenly find his face buried in a Kevlar-layered collarbone, an impossibly strong arm hooked around his neck like his head was in danger of tumbling off of his shoulders. "It wasn't your fault," Bruce said quietly, his voice as pained as it was earnest. "It was never your fault."
He couldn't breathe. "But I..."
"You saved your life. And mine." The grip around his shoulders tightened, the sharp corner of a jawline pressed against the side of his head. "Never tell yourself anything different."
Tim's eyes burned with tears as he wove his arms around his adoptive father's torso. He wasn't sure if he would be able to keep to that promise, but for Batman's sake – for Bruce's sake – he would try.
In another part of the Watchtower, dark save for the dim glow of a monitor, Alfred watched the display of affection, and the very tentative beginnings of a renewed bond. It took Earth being pushed to the very brink of destruction for Bruce to see how much he had left to lose, but it seemed the boy finally caught on. He settled back in the rocking chair, a feeling of peace settling over him.
"Beautiful, isn't he?"
Curious, Alfred peered to the new voice...and felt his jaw go slack.
Thomas Wayne smiled down at him, not looking a day over thirty. "So," he began jovially, "a ghost, an angel, and a demon walk into a bar. Stop me if you've heard this one before."
Alfred's jaw continued to remain slack.
Thomas looked at the screen, brown eyes dancing with mirth. "All things considered, he's turned out remarkably well. I'm not one-hundred percent certain about the dressing up as a bat thing, but Martha doesn't seem too concerned about it." He shoved his hands into his pockets, regarding him warmly. "He loves you, you know. More than anything in the world."
Alfred's mouth worked soundlessly, thoughts and feelings he hadn't realized were there bubbling to the surface with a fury. It wouldn't do to cry; it wasn't proper. "I should hope not, Master Wayne."
"How many times have I told you to call me 'Thomas'?" Alfred couldn't help but smile slightly as he continued, "You know, I've never had a chance to thank you for all you've done. So, let's get to it, then." He motioned to the door behind them with a jerk of his head. "C'mon, old friend, let's go. You know how bad of an idea it is to keep Martha waiting."
On impulse, Alfred stood and began walking next to his closest friend. "Where, might I ask, are we going?"
"Why, the bar, of course." Thomas' grin widened a fraction. "Who did you think the angel was?"
SIX MONTHS LATER
Marie King-Dennis sat curled up on the corner of her fuzzy blue couch, half-heartedly attempting to pay attention to the news. "In a bizarre twist of fortune, part-time Gotham resident and reformed feline fatale Selina Kyle was honored today by local government officials for her actions during the Near Apocalypse. City authorities state that in the early morning hours..."
Her brain tuned out the noise, eyes falling to the parcel lit a pale blue by the television's LED display. Her monthly donation rested upon her wood-paneled coffee table, sealed but undelivered. Ever since Batman had found her, the quiet little life she built for herself had all but unraveled. She had gone from soft-spoken wife and mother to paranoid wreck. People were beginning to notice. Martin already did, but he assumed it was due to the trauma from the break-in. Thankfully, Batman was always excellent at blending in with the shadows, so she never had to explain in more detail just who had been in the room with her. 'Some psycho in black,' was the best description she would ever give, and for once, it would be the truth – or something like it.
"...Police Commissioner Joseph Loeb announced his resignation this morning, amid allegations leveled by former-Commissioner James Gordon, in which he states that Loeb lied to public officials and the press about dozens of city-wide threats that endangered the lives of millions of Gothamites. This is the latest accusation made after reports surfaced about Gotham City Police officials withholding vital information regarding Leopard..."
She leaned forward and plucked the letter up in her fingers, running a thumb over the coarse paper. Last week, he suggested that she talk to a therapist about it, if she wasn't comfortable opening up to him; it was Martin-speak for, 'I'm losing patience.' He was getting tired of her always looking over her shoulder, (waiting for those beady white eyes to be glaring at her from a shadow), or constantly waking up in the middle of the night screaming (that Batman was coming to finish what he'd started). He wanted Marie back. She couldn't blame him. She wanted Marie back, too.
"In other news, the church bells are ringing! Gotham's own Bruce Wayne, finance mogul and boy billionaire, finally tied the knot Tuesday evening to Diana Prince in a small, private ceremony held on the grounds of his mansion, Wayne Manor. Prince, a Grecian diplomat, reportedly met Mr. Wayne while volunteering at..."
She shot up from her comfortable spot, suddenly stifled by her home's quaint four walls, suddenly terrified that it was all going to evaporate before her. What was she going to do without this? Without them? Marie raced off to her son's room, tucked in the corner of the small, two-bedroom home.
She opened the door. Her heart froze in her chest.
Batman angled his head upward, slightly, serving only to get her in his sights. "Hello, Harley."
She said nothing, did nothing.
She struggled to understand his aim about as fiercely as she struggled to breathe. The fury she witnessed last time was absent, and that put her more on edge than seeing it. Why was she not a puddle of broken bones and agony yet? That made sense – treating her with this...cordiality didn't. Batman was never cordial. (Except for all the times he saved her life after she tried to kill him.) "What do you want?"
"You're not the only one," she replied tiredly, the months of lingering terror and years of guilt finally catching up to her. She gave a mental goodbye to Martin, and hoped he would understand, one day. "Listen, if you're here to kill me, just do it and get it over with."
His gaze sharpened, white lenses stark and unreadable.
She felt pressured to continue. She would not let this fall apart. "We both know I deserve it."
"A lot of people deserve a lot of things." He gazed down at blissfully unaware toddler slumbering in the bed. Timothy. "He deserves his mother. You want to take that from him?"
The surreality of this conversation made her head throb. His unwillingness to finish what he had started – what she had started – was driving her insane. Again. "Why are you doing this?"
Batman remained silent in deliberation. That he was deliberating her question and not murdering her for asking it terrified her on levels she didn't know existed. Eventually, he answered, "Salvation."
She squinted at him in confusion. "What?"
"I'm checking up on a lead; maybe you can help me," he stated. "Last I heard, Harley Quinn fell to her death in the ruins of Arkham. I was never able to retrieve a body, but I never had any reason to assume otherwise until suspicious letters started showing up on Tim Drake's doorstep." He appraised her. "Do you know if she's still alive?"
She gaped at the vigilante for a moment in open amazement, before staring down at her beautiful baby boy. She clenched the letter in her hand. She would not let this fall apart. "Nah. She's worm food."
"I certainly hope so," he said, adding in a dangerous tone, "because if she ever shows up again, so help me God, I'll come down on you so hard, it'll leave a crater."
Strangely enough, his threat eased her fears. She could accept those terms. "I wouldn't expect anything else."
He turned smartly on his heel and headed toward the open window. In plain sight. Her mind refused to comprehend it. Without thought, she blurted out, "How is he doing?"
Batman lurched to a halt. He glanced over his shoulder, replying, "Entering his senior year of college. Communications. Straight-A student. He seems...happy."
Her eyes stung. Good. She didn't ruin his life. He survived. Good. "I'm glad."
He said nothing, at first. He turned back to the windowsill, replying quietly, "So am I." He nodded curtly. "Good night, Mrs. Dennis."
A/N: Wow. Where do I begin? This story is something of a catharsis for me. At the risk of revealing more about myself than I really should (especially on the internet), I haven't had the most stable life or relationships with those around me. I've never been very good at trusting people; the distrust is somewhat justified, but only somewhat, and only to a certain number of people. I began writing this as a challenge to myself - to see if I could actually finish something I set out to do. Something ambitious, something worth putting effort into. To paraphrase Robin William's character in the Bird Cage, I know it's just fanfic, but I'd like it to be good fanfic; if possible, great fanfic. Something that I could look back on and be proud of doing.
I'd always identified with Batman's character and personality on a very deep and personal level due to many extenuating circumstances and factors. I wrote this, at first, because I wanted Batman to go through Hell, and come out on the other side. I wanted a character that I revered to be put through the ringer, just so he could pick himself up by the bootstraps and become a better person as a result of it. Sound sadistic? It probably is, but that's the stuff heroes are made of - they take the hits normal people can't or won't and keep going. They get beaten down to the point of submission, but refuse to actually submit. What doesn't kill them, invariably, makes them stronger. I wanted to epitomize that. However, in Batman's case, it's something slightly different: he is, by virtue of his character, his own worst enemy. He is incapable of trusting himself to trust others, because he fears that any miscalculation could cost them their lives. His sense of hyper-responsibility is more dangerous to his life and the lives of those around him than any twisted plan of the Joker or eye-lasers from Darkseid.
Like I said, I understood the character, because in many ways, I was, and still am, that character.
In some ways, this story has become reality imitating art. My life, and my outlook on it, has changed so much since I began this story over two years ago that getting back into it (sometime around Massive Time Gap #1) was actually somewhat difficult. Many of the extenuating circumstances and personal difficulties that came to define who I was were no longer there - because I stopped putting myself in a position where these extenuating circumstances were allowed to thrive. Much like Batman realized later in the story, I finally understood, after a very slow and painful process, that I had a choice in how I wanted my life to unfold, and that no one could make that choice but myself. I can't honestly say that I'm the same person I was when I began writing this story, and frankly, I think that's a good thing. I gained perspective that I lacked before, and hopefully, I was able to reflect some of that feeling of added zen, if you will, into this last chapter without completely destroying the momentum of everything.
But enough of my rambling. I hope those of you who have been waiting months for this chapter will find it suitable. I appreciate your patience regarding the large gaps between the final chapters (working 12-15 hour days can do that, I hear), and all your words of support. I may not respond often to emails or reviews, but rest assured, I've read every single one, and am as grateful for all of you taking time out of your days to read it, as I am honored that you would enjoy something that I've made. Thank you all for sharing in this with me. :)