The two men sprinted around the corner, one nearly stumbling to the street as he slightly misjudged the curb height, and both exhausted and terrified. The lead man, the more sure-footed of the two and carrying a revolver in his right hand, slowed to a stop and leaned over, sucking and spitting air as quickly as he could muster. "Hold up Luis. I think we lost him."
"Eres loco, nobody loses the Bat!" Luis gasped back as he caught his balance and reluctantly slowed to a stop.
"It's not like we're the Joker or Darwin's Scalpel, cabrone!" The gun-wielding man replied, standing up straight. "We didn't do nothin' wrong!"
"We all know that that statement is not true." A growl emanated from the shadows of the nearest alley. "But yes, normally you worms would be unworthy of my attention." The Batman stepped out onto the street. "So provide me the information I desire, relinquish that firearm, and you'll walk away from this free and unscathed."
"Eat a dick, put…" the armed man bellowed as he directed his weapon at the vigilante, only to have the large intended target cut the distance between them in the blink of an eye and break his forearm with a chop. "Ooohh!"
Batman grabbed the failed gunman by the throat and hoisted him into the air. "Arturo Sandoval! Where is he?"
"Chinga teeehhhhh!" The defiant thug groan under the tightening grip.
"We don't know where he is, I swear!" Luis chimed in as he backed away slowly, his hands up in front of him, open-faced in a display of submission. "He became some meth head piece of shit. I haven't seen him in months. Please stop hurting my friend."
"I believe you, Luis." The Batman ominously growled as he brought his snarling face to within a couple inches of the man he was strangling. "But Antonio here keeps in regular contact with Mr. Sandoval. He may not have fallen as deeply down the rabbit hole as Arturo, but he enjoys partaking in the using of cheap, mind altering chemicals with your old friend from time to time. Isn't that right, Antonio." Antonio could only glare at the Batman and further contort his red, oxygen deprived face before dropping to the ground as the vigilante released his grasp.
"Maybe that's true, but what did Arturo do so bad that makes it necessary to torture my friend here?" Luis asked.
Batman spun savagely and marched toward the now terrified Luis. "What did he do?" The Batman bellowed. "What did he do? He tore the light from the life of the only man I will ever call brother! A man I would die a thousand painful deaths for! A man who led me back to a humanity that I had discarded, a man who took me from the path of destruction and improved me in every way! A man who had his heart torn from his chest by your friend Arturo Sandoval!"
"Whaa?" Luis backpedalled away from the oncoming vigilante while Antonio continued gasping for air on the ground. "Your broth…Gordon! You mean Arturo was the guy who hit Gordon's daughter? I didn't know!"
"Now you do!" Batman came to a halt and spun back toward the man hunched over panting on the ground. "And this is most definitely not news to Antonio!" Batman reached down and grabbed the lapels of Antonio's leather jacket, hoisting him back up so that his feet dangled several inches off the ground, and slammed the man hard against the brick wall of the building behind him. "Isn't that right, Antonio?"
"Eat shit. Whatchu gonna do, beat me up some more?" Antonio defiantly questioned. "The Bat don't kill. He never kills, everyone knows that."
The vigilante leaned in close and his gravelly voice turned ice cold. "I swear to every god that's ever been worshipped, and on the lives and souls of myself and everyone I've ever held dear, that I have killed before. I have taken human lives Antonio." Batman's opaque white optics retracted into his cowl, allowing the eyes beneath to bore into those of the captive Antonio. "Just because you are unaware of something, does not mean it has not happened." A hard sneer came over the mouth of the enraged vigilante. "And those I have killed were over matters of far less importance to me than this. So I'm going to ask you nicely just one last time…" the bravado and defiance that Antonio had been displaying drained from him and was quickly replaced by a look of dread, "where is Arturo Sandoval?"
"Bluuuhh…Bludhaven, Zee Moores." Antonio spit out. "Nineteen D."
Batman released him and stepped back, watching as the man slumped to the ground. "Any attempt to contact him will be met with a series of injuries that you will never fully recover from." The dark vigilante raised his arm from inside his cape, a grapnel in hand, launched it up to the roof of the building Antonio was sitting back against, and ascended into the night sky.
"Shit man, you OK?" Luis asked his friend.
"Get me to a hospital."
Batman stepped onto the roof and began to remotely instruct the Batmobile to shift to flight mode and rendezvous with him a block over. His preparations were interrupted by a familiar distorted voice in his earpiece. "I've forwarded this information to Commissioner Rohrbach in Bludhaven. It's three A.M., let her handle this and return to the cave."
"Who is this?" Batman roared. "How dare you?"
The modulated voice was replaced by that of a teenage girl. "Whoah, sorry about that. Babs must have left the voice modulator on the last time she..."
Batman visibly relaxed, but a small portion of his irritation immediately returned. "Why did you bring the BPD into this? I want Sandoval!"
"That's the main reason I contacted Amy." The girl replied. "The state you're in, you very well might lose control and kill the bastard. Besides, you need to get some sleep for tomorrow. We need to be fresh and ready in case we need to be leaned on."
"I will be there for him should he need me," Batman replied, still agitated, "but he of all people would understand me having bags under my eyes; at least as long as I had Sandoval's head in my hand."
"He'd understand, but would they?" The girl replied. "You have a niece and nephew that will need their uncle at their side to ward off the paparazzi and the societal leaches that will undoubtedly use this to suck up to them. So come home big brother."
Batman exhaled as he nodded. "On my way."
"The wake is today." The middle aged man mentioned to the pre-teen boy sitting on the large chair in the well furnished office.
"How do you feel about that?" The man, a therapist, asked.
"I don't know." The boy replied, his azure eyes glued to the carpet.
"That's fair. It's pretty much impossible for anyone, much less a young man of twelve, to articulate the maelstrom of emotions that something like this brings about." The therapist replied as he pushed his glasses up higher on the bridge of his nose. "I know that this may be difficult, and feel free to decline doing so if you'd rather not, but I think it might help if you were to relate what happened."
The boy nodded, closed his eyes tightly, fighting against tears, before finally speaking. "Mom was picking me up from gymnastics practice at the high school." The boy reached up and wiped a stray tear from the outside of his left eye with his sleeve.
"I thought that you were to start the seventh grade this fall." The therapist commented.
"I am." The boy replied. "I took my sister to the park a few weeks back and started doing a fairly elaborate pommel horse routine on the beams that connect the monkey bars." The boy blushed and shrugged. "I try to be humble, but I do like to show off from time to time. Anyway, Doug Bevel, the varsity gymnastics coach for the local high school was there with his kids, and freaked out when he saw me, insisting that I practice with his squad."
"Wow John, you must be quite good." The therapist replied.
"I come from a long line of circus acrobats, so I guess it's in my blood. Plus, Dad's an amazing teacher, honestly, he's better than guys half his age in the Olympics." The boy shrugged and then continued on with the original discussion. "Anyway, Mom was waiting for me in her van after practice," John paused for a moment, peering seemingly vacantly at the floor, before continuing, "I was reaching for the passenger side door handle when a speeding car cut over to our side of the street and slammed into the front, driver's side corner." The brown haired boy shook his head. "The impact sent the van into me, which knocked me to the ground. I hit my head on the pavement and was dazed for a few seconds, but I know I started forcing myself up at the sound of the car squealing its tires to pull free of the van and then speed off. I got to Mom," the child paused to swallow an imminent sob, "her body was twisted, blood was flowing out of her mouth, but she was still alive. Her eyes looked to me, and…she said nothing. She died before she could say anything." The child turned his head away from the therapist and clenched his eyes shut, fighting back the tears. "Keep it together Grayson!" John whispered harshly to himself.
"John, there's no shame in crying about your mother's passing." The therapist commented as he leaned forward and placed his arm on the boy's shoulder. "It's only been three days since her death, there's no way for you to have come to terms with it yet. That'll likely take years."
"I've been preparing myself for this for years, Dr. Cornell." John growled through clenched teeth as he continued his fight against the tears.
"What do you mean by that?"
"I'm the child of orphans. The adopted grandson of this city's most famous orphan. The nephew of orphans." John twisted and glared at the middle aged man with tears just now emerging from his eyes. "It's damn near a genetic trait."
"You cannot allow yourself to believe that, John!" Dr. Cornell responded softly but with emphasis. "Yes, your family has been stricken with more than its due share of tragedy, but it is not your fault, or your destiny. You must realize this."
Continuing to stare at the floor, John nodded. "Yeah, I know, just feeling sorry for myself again."
"You need to stop doing that as well." Dr. Cornell asserted.
"The constant berating of yourself." The therapist replied. "You're a young boy who's just lost his mother. You're entitled to feel loss. You're entitled to some sympathy, even from yourself. And from what your father told me prior to this session, you've been overly hard on yourself for years; to the point where he described it as self-cruelty. Which is a sharp contrast to how you treat everyone else. Do you have feelings of inadequacy or self loathing John?"
"Inadequacy?" John looked up and cocked an eyebrow at the doctor. "No, that's not it. That's not it at all. I'm adequate. Like everyone else in my family, I've been blessed with every gift a person could be blessed with, and born into a family of extreme wealth and limitless love. And yet, with all these gifts, I've done nothing. Self loathing might be near the mark I guess, but that's deserved."
"Nonsense. From what I've been told, you're a straight A student and far and away the best athlete in your school." Dr. Cornell interrupted. "Not to mention an excellent older brother to your eight year old sister. Your father mentioned you spend several evenings each week volunteering at any number of the Wayne Foundation's charities, as well as being beloved by your friends and teachers. From what I can tell, you're an outstanding young man who is being unjustifiably hard on himself."
"They're just things to do, things that are more productive that other things I guess, but it still doesn't change the fact that I've been given everything and will likely accomplish nothing." John looked back down at the floor. "The world won't be any better off for me having been in it."
"John, that's a horrible, and quite frankly, very inaccurate thing to say." Dr. Cornell interrupted. "What makes you say such a terrible thing?"
"Because the only one in my family who took pride in being worth a damn is dead." John snapped, and then broke down in tears. "Well, Jim's still alive, and Alfred, but…" the boy looked up at the therapist and took an apologetic look "I'm sorry, don't get me wrong, I love my family, every member, but aside from my mother, Grandpa Jim and my Great Grandfather Alfred, every one of them turns into a vapid douche bag as soon as they're in public. And I'd be OK with it if they were even remotely like that, but they're not. That couldn't be further from the truth!"
"Please explain." Cornell requested quietly, intent on letting the child follow this tangent to its end.
"Alright, take Grandpa Bruce for example." John shifted on the couch. "Public perception is that he's a quasi-alcoholic idiot who doesn't do anything other than childishly live off his ancestors' fortune, diminish his father's memory and ogle women when his wife isn't looking. But in reality, he's easily the smartest man I've ever known." John shook his head angrily and then looked away. "And given how brilliant my father, uncles and mother is…well, was, that's saying a lot." John noted the slight skepticism on the therapist's face. "Yeah, I know Bruce's public image, and I don't blame your skepticism, but believe me, we've had discussions around the dinner table regarding every subject matter imaginable that would leave the experts in those particular fields utterly dumbfounded. I even overheard Alfred mention to my father once that Bruce had long since eclipsed his father's intellect. His father; Dr. Thomas Wayne! You know, Gotham's patron saint, the man that developed the Allerton's Vaccine which saved the lives of thousands, the man that ranked in at number six on Time Magazine's most impressive minds of the Twentieth Century, you know, that guy? Well, according to Alfred, Bruce is smarter, and what's even stranger, I have no doubt he's right, and that everyone else in the family isn't far behind him, especially Uncle Tim." John displayed a weak smile and shrugged. "Of course, everyone then eats a moron sandwich before going out in public."
"Really?" The doctor was more intrigued than convinced.
"I've personally listened to Bruce converse, with perfect fluency as far as I could tell, in no less than nine different languages. And not just Romance languages, but Farsi and Japanese." John stared earnestly at the therapist. "I've been called either beyond gifted or a flat out genius by every teacher I've ever had, and I only know six languages outside of English, and in all but a couple of those my accent is atrocious."
Cornell nodded. "So why the secrecy? You'd think that being smart would be something the members of the Wayne family would want to publicize."
John shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe they like the negative stereotypes they've been assigned. Dad's just a watered down Bruce, lazy, empty headed and worthless, but willing and able to take on the role of family man which makes him a little less detestable to the press and public. Uncle Tim's traveling the world, the pretext being that he's heading WayneTech Security Systems division, but the perception is that he's just living out one long vacation. Uncle Damian is just reliving his father's life, leaving anything resembling work to others, womanizing, and partying all the time. And the funny thing is, none of its true." A crooked smile came to the boy's face. "Well, Damian does get a lot of play, but other than that, none of it is true."
"And your grandmother, she's not the gold digging ex-con who sees marrying the multi-billionaire as her biggest score?" The therapist asked, eliciting a chuckle from the boy.
"If she ever heard you refer to her as a grandmother, she'd gut you like a trout." John smiled. "And no, that perception is off about Selena as well, though she really doesn't try to fuel it like the others do. She's genuinely head over heels in love with Bruce, there's no question about that, at least to any of us that know her well enough to see past her tough independent act. As for Aunt Helena, me and Sarah, I guess we're too young for the press to vilify yet."
The therapist nodded. "Well perhaps a discussion for another time. Right now I'd like to get your reaction to the news that your mother's alleged killer was captured in Bludhaven this morning."
"Yeah, I heard Dad's cell phone ring shortly after four. I had been awake for almost an hour at that point. Dad must not have been sleeping either as it only rang once before he got it." A perplexed look came over John's face. "I was out of bed the moment the ring sounded, and was out the door walking toward Dad's room almost instantly, a little dazed, I must have been trying to get to it before it woke him or something, but as I got outside his room, I heard him thank Amy and that he had been expecting her call." The boy looked at the therapist. "How he knew to expect her call, I don't know. Just another weird thing about my family I guess." The boy shrugged.
"And how did you feel when you heard he had been apprehended?"
"Relieved I guess." The boy shrugged, and then looked up at the therapist. "And please don't refer to him as my Mom's alleged killer. Arturo Sandoval killed her. I saw his face, I have my mother's photographic memory, identified him through his mug shots, and that was even before the police got the security footage of him stealing the car he killed her with. Leave the alleged disclaimer to the press who need it to cover their ass."
"Duly noted." Cornell smiled. "So a large burden was lifted upon hearing the news this morning?"
"Well, sort of." John looked away toward the window. "Honestly, I'd have preferred it if I miraculously had found him myself, and been able to look into his eyes as I choked the life out of him. See the hope of survival slowly ebb, the panic arise at the realization that this was it, and then feel the life drain from the waste of flesh he called a body." He looked back down at the floor. "It would be so easy, I may be half his age but I'm already his size, I'm stronger, faster, harder and with what Dad and Damian have taught me…" the boy seemed to trail off for a moment, but then his face twisted painfully into a scowl and he clenched his eyes tight. "I uselessly stood by and let my mother die, and now, now I can't even avenge her."
Dr. Cornell leaned forward to offer the boy a comforting hand on his shoulder, but a knock at the door interrupted the session. The door opened slightly and the therapist's receptionist poked her head in. "I'm sorry to disturb you Dr. Cornell, but Mr. Grayson's grandfather is here and mentioned that they need to leave now."
"Of course Sandy, please inform him that John will be right out." Dr. Cornell replied. The door shut and the therapist returned his attention to the boy seated on the couch next to his chair. "I hate to end our session at this juncture, but…"
"Yeah, I know." John looked up at the therapist before standing. "Thanks Doc."
"You're welcome John." The doctor escorted the boy to the door and followed him into the well furnished waiting room, where John's maternal grandfather was waiting for him. "Commissioner Gordon, you have my deepest condolences. By all accounts, Barbara was nothing short of an angel. I'm so sorry."
"I appreciate that Doctor." Jim Gordon shook the man's hand and looked sorrowfully at his grandson. "And it's been just plain old Mr. Gordon for the last six and a half years."
"Sir, you will always be Commissioner Gordon in this town." Cornell smiled at the man, and then looked over at the boy. "You have a very special young man here, if there's anything either of you need from me…"
"Thanks, we'll take you up on that if we need to." Jim replied before placing his hand on John's shoulder and guiding him out of the office.
He watched the two girls sitting in the grass, the bottoms of their black dresses draped over their respective legs as the older of the two was saying something to the girl that was half her age. The younger of the two, an eight year old that would clearly grow up to be an absolute knock out, just peered into the immaculately maintained lawn and seemed to let the words of her sixteen year old aunt wash over her, appearing to barely register with the child. The older girl, one every bit as beautiful as her niece but darker and possessing a slightly exotic look, wasn't the least bit deterred by the child's apparent lack of attention to what she was saying. She must have recognized that it wasn't the content of her words that mattered to the bereaved child, but her presence and her support.
Dick continued to watch them from the window of his childhood bedroom, wishing there were something, anything, he could do to alleviate the pain his children were feeling, a pain he was all too familiar with. He had been John's age when his parents had been killed, and Sarah was the age Bruce was when his parents were taken. They at least had their father, Dick thought, but their father would likely be half the man he used to be without Barbara there to lend her strength to him. No, for them he would always maintain his strength, his composure. And they had more than just their father to lean on. They had all the Waynes, and Jim, and of course Alfred, who had sheltered so many through such similar horrors, though now at eighty-five he couldn't be expected to bear the brunt of guiding another set of orphans back into the light. These were Dick's children, and he would be the one to bear that brunt.
The room had been silent the entire time Dick had been in there, and though it was still just as silent as it had been when he entered, Dick noticed the difference in the room, one imperceptible to all but a handful of people on the planet. "Welcome home little brother."
Tim Drake Wayne stepped out of the doorway and into the room. "Jesus Dick, I don't know what to say." Tim looked down sadly and shook his head. "I'd do anything for this reunion to be under any other set of circumstances. I'm so sorry." Tim continued approaching his older adoptive brother, who finally turned and embraced him.
"Thanks for coming, Timmy." Dick said as they released their hug. "I'm a little surprised the Wall let you off for this."
Tim displayed a tiny shrug. "Don't be. She likes to act confrontational in front of bats, but quite frankly she might be your biggest fan. And she loved Babs. Often called her the greatest asset to come out of the cape community, even more so than the Kryptonian."
Dick smiled proudly. "Clark, Diana, Bruce and I may have been the leaders the press loved to do stories on, but Oracle was the real Commander in Chief of every gaudily garbed do-gooder."
Tim smiled as well and peered out the window. "How are the kids holding up?"
Dick exhaled as he too looked out the window. "Sarah's been crying nearly non-stop since it happened. It may not look like much, but Helena's pulling off a miracle right now. Sarah's been pretty much tear-free the entire time I've been watching them."
"She's strong, just like her parents." Tim offered. "It'll be hard, but she'll pull through this."
"Yeah." Dick muttered. "But no child should ever have to pull through something like this."
"And how's John holding up?"
"He's angry." Dick replied. "He's always been hard on himself, but now he's blaming himself for what happened to Babs."
"Par for the course in this house." Tim offered. "You know what's always been a good outlet for what he's currently feeling?"
"Don't you start too." Dick stopped Tim's suggestion before it was made. "Damian's been less than subtle about that since taking the mantle." The older man noted the younger man wince at the mention of Damian taking the mantle, but let it go without addressing it. "Babs didn't want it, and quite frankly, I don't want it either."
"Look Dick, I understand your reticence, but if ever there was someone equipped in every conceivable way to strap on the yellow cape…" Tim countered.
"Tim, have you ever considered the absolute terror that must have shot through your father when he found out you were Robin?" Dick countered.
"Have I ever considered it?" Tim asked dumbfounded.
"Sorry, of course you have." Dick answered apologetically. "I didn't mean for it to come out like that, but I'm now in a position to empathize with what Jack went through, and the idea of Johnny out there scares the hell out of me. Is he perfect for the role?" Dick shrugged. "Absolutely. He'd be the best of us. But that doesn't change the fact that he'd still be just a boy in a world of well armed criminals, super villains, psychopaths and demons. And all it takes is one bullet, one blade slipping past his block, one explosion, one fall or any number of other ways for his life to come to an end. And I'm sorry, as much as Damian could use a Robin right now, I'm not willing to risk something so precious."
"Don't apologize Dick." Tim responded. "I get it, trust me, I get it. Believe it or not, I'm a little fond of the critter too."
"That critter isn't much shorter than you and I are." Dick commented.
"Really? I guess I have been gone a long time." Tim smiled. "Makes sense I guess, Babs was almost six feet. You always did have a thing for tall redheads." Dick snorted at the observation. "So Damian's been after him, huh?"
"Yeah, dropping suggestions whenever he's out of earshot, commenting on skill sets that would carry over into the job, his physical and mental attributes." Dick shook his head. "He's even been training him in martial arts."
"Haven't you been training John and Sarah?" Tim asked.
"Yeah, but I keep to stuff they could learn in local schools, high level but still just forms that if they needed to use, wouldn't make them stand out too much. Aikido, Jeet Kune Do, Kenpo, BJJ, boxing and wrestling. Styles that if Harvey Dent happened to be walking by as John was kicking the shit out of a mugger, he wouldn't slap his scarred head and declare 'hey, there's Robin!' But then a few months back I'm sparring with him, thinking I'm about to lock him up in some sort of arm bar, and he busts out this old school hajutsu – nage combination that leaves me planted on my ass wondering what the hell just happened." Tim chuckled at the image. "Yeah, laugh it up, but the proficiency with which he utilized those moves made it abundantly clear that somebody, a teacher at least on our level, had been working with him for months, if not longer."
"Could have been weeks, he did inherit Barbara's photographic memory." Tim replied.
"No, it was at least months. His mind might have known the moves, but he'd still need lots of experience to get the muscle memory to that level." Dick emphasized. "He didn't just perform the moves, they came from him so naturally that it was like watching him breathing while he sleeps. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you it was like having Cassie perform that move." Tim's chuckle evolved into a more heart-felt laugh. "Needless to say, he knew right away that he'd let the cat out of the bag by doing that. I looked up at him and simply asked how long Damian had been training him. He just flashed my Dad's grin and claimed he didn't know what I was talking about."
"Another reason he should be Robin." Tim replied. "Just ask Selina; that Grayson smile was your deadliest weapon."
Dick smiled weakly as he peered back at his sister and daughter outside. "Perhaps, but Babs said no."
Tim nodded. "Yeah, Babs said no."
"Clear a path!" The police officers called out to the throng of reporters that were gathered in front of the Wayne Manor gates. A sedan was approaching, and one of the officers walked toward it to see if they were on the guest list for the wake. The officer stopped abruptly as he caught sight of the driver, stepped to the side to get out of the car's way and called back to his comrades before saluting the car. "It's the Commissioner!" The other police officers sent a glare toward the reporters that made it clear that even the slightest non-compliance would be met with the most severe punishment possible. The reporters, either due to respect for former Police Commissioner Gordon or fear of reprisals from the officers, stepped back and allowed the car to go through the gate unmolested.
Just as the crowd started to re-gather before the gate, the rev of a powerful engine turned their attention back toward the road leading to the gate, where a classic red Tesla Roadster was pulling toward them. The first officer looked at the driver and nodded. "It's Mr. Wayne." He called to his colleagues.
"Which one?" One of the reporters called out.
The question was answered as the car pulled forward but stopped several feet short of the entranceway. The door opened and a tall, tanned, broad-shouldered twenty-five year old Damian Wayne squeezed himself out of the sleek car and looked over the crowd. "Hello everyone. I recognize that to all of you, the passing of Barbara Gordon Grayson is a newsworthy event that will undoubtedly sell many copies or increase your ratings. But please understand that to us, this is the loss of someone we all loved very much. She was my sister, a beloved mentor, someone who guided me through some of my darkest times, and she was the entire world to the people I hold most dear. So I ask you, all of you, to please respect my family's privacy in this time of tremendous loss. I promise you, I will remember those of you that do, and I will most certainly remember those of you that do not." Damian sent an intense glare over the crowd, one that intensified even more so as he continued. "After an appropriate period of mourning, I suppose you can return to hounding my father and I as you always have. I expect you to provide my brother Richard with a good deal more space to recover." Damian's intensity turned into a look of terrifying malice at this point. "My niece and my nephew are to be off limits in every way. You will not approach them, you will not photograph them unless you clear it through an adult member of this family or one of our appointed representatives, and you will make no attempt to interview them. Consider yourselves warned." With that Damian got back into his sports car and pulled it through the gate.
John looked away from the long line of visitors there to offer their condolences and down at his right hand, now gently clasping that of his eight year old sister Sarah's left hand. He hadn't remembered his little sister sliding her hand into his, but he was happy that she had. He had been deriving as much strength from her as she had been from him. A swath of Sarah's light brown hair, which had been resting on her shoulder, slid off as she turned her head to look up at her brother, their mother's green eyes boring into the blue eyes that he had inherited from their father. She said nothing, but the message was clear that she did not want to be there. All but a handful of the hundreds of people paying their respects to their mother were strangers to Sarah and John. Being a Wayne meant that there were countless 'friends' of the family, most of whom reveled in the family's misfortunes and indiscretions. The number of real friends were miniscule. John twisted his head to take in the line of social climbers pretending to be distraught at the loss of the cop's daughter who managed to land Bruce Wayne's original stray, but his eyes locked onto one of those few that truly meant something to he and his family. Looking back at him, through glasses with thinner lenses than John had remembered, was twelve year old Laura Kent.
Laura's father and Grandpa Bruce had been friends since shortly before Bruce had taken in John's father. Or, at least to hear John's Dad tell it, they had been acquaintances; the friendship took several years to develop. Whatever the case, Laura and her parents were on an extremely short list of people that security had been informed could come and go throughout the manor as they pleased whenever there was a social event. John actually saw the Kents quite frequently, which was odd given that they lived all the way in Metropolis. The boy smiled as he realized that shouldn't seem that unusual. Mr. And Mrs. Kent were both Pulitzer Prize winning journalists who had been chasing stories all over the world since they were in their twenties; they probably had enough frequent flyer miles to go to the sun and back.
John smiled sheepishly at Laura. Yeah, he had a bit of a crush on her, which his gut kept telling him seemed mutual, but it was just too weird a situation. At least that's the excuse he was sticking to, the fact of the matter was that he was just bad at dealing with girls and was sure that he'd botch any attempt at expressing his romantic feelings to the girl, resulting in her thinking much less of him and probably avoiding him. If he did that, his baby sister would never forgive him. Sarah idolized Laura Kent, having never seen her as a bookish girl with asthma, allergies, and myopia, but as the confident, funny older girl from Metropolis who was calm and collected when meeting world leaders and top fashion designers. Being a member of the Wayne family, John and Sarah had met the same dignitaries and celebrities, as well as many that Laura had never met, but they just didn't seem to possess the ease that Laura felt around the big names.
Laura returned his nervous grin with a sad one of her own. She had loved John and Sarah's mother, having talked with 'Babs' for hours every time the Kents were over. The weird thing was that the conversations that they seemed to enjoy the most were off limits to John and Sarah. As soon as John got anywhere near them they'd hush suddenly and change the subject. It used to irritate John to no end, but that seemed so insignificant now. Laura's presence brightened Sarah's mood, as John looked down to see his sister smiling at her hero. John wasn't the only one to be born with the combined brilliance of their parents, and to find someone who was just as smart as they were, as well as being just as fun, or in John's case, more fun, was a real treasure. And the fact that she was a stunner didn't hurt, especially for John. After a seemingly endless line of people John neither knew or cared to know, Lois Kent finally reached his father and gave him a hug before both of them broke down. "I'm so sorry Dick, I can't believe she's gone."
"Neither can I Lois." Dick replied as he regained his composure. "Thanks for being here."
"My God Dick, of course we'd be here." Lois responded.
"You know that." Clark Kent followed up as he placed his hand on Dick's shoulder and gave him a comforting squeeze.
Dick looked up at Clark and smiled. "Be sure to thank…the others for me. The displays are…downstairs."
Clark nodded. "Of course. The entire team is devastated. Even those who never got to know her personally acknowledge that she was our greatest asset."
Dick nodded and turned to glance at his son, who was peering up at them with a quizzical look on his face. Clark noted the boy and smiled, quickly changing the subject. "Goodness John, look at how big you're getting. You'll be as big as your Uncle Damian before you know it."
"Thank you Mr. Kent." John replied, offering a weak smile to the two reporters before looking up to his father. "Hey Dad, I think Sarah could use a break for a few minutes." John looked down at his sister and noted her appreciative smile before turning to Laura. "Maybe she could take Laura to Bruce's study so they could sit, get a drink, and quietly catch up."
Dick nodded. "Maybe you should go with them."
John was sorely tempted to take his father up on the suggestion, but he shook his head. "No, I need to be here."
Damian, who was standing next to Bruce on the other side Jim, who was positioned on the other side of Sarah, leaned forward, turned to Dick and nodded solemnly. "Your son is aware of his duty and is willing to sacrifice to see it done. He is becoming a fine young man."
Dick met his adoptive brother's gaze and replied curtly. "Thanks Damian."
Clark placed his hand on his daughter's shoulder and nodded to her. Laura approached John, gave him a hug, wept a little and then gently kissed him on the cheek as she pulled away. "I'm so sorry. Your mom was the greatest."
John turned away, fighting the urge to cry. "Thanks."
The Kents continued on, allowing the throngs of mostly unknown 'friends' to gain access and pay their respects to Gotham's royal family.
"Oh cut the shit Drake, you didn't bother trying to reach her, and don't tell me that you did!" John heard the clearly agitated voice of his aunt's namesake, Helena Bertinelli, up ahead around the corner. "With you being, well, you, as well as now being Waller's golden boy, plus the resources Bruce and your brothers have at their disposal, getting word to her would have been an easy task!" John paused and remained silent, intent on listening in on the conversation. There were family secrets that he and his sister were not privy to, and from prior experience, specifically numerous interrupted conversations with abruptly changed subjects, he knew that Helena Bertinelli was aware of at least some of them. And this must have been a pretty juicy secret, as Helena was clearly aiming her venom at John's uncle Tim, a man whom John had never seen Helena show anything but affection and respect for. Definitely a juicy secret, and a subject that Helena must feel strongly about to go head to head with Tim over. The man was the only person John had ever seen that could effectively stalemate Bruce on any given debate, which was saying a lot given the IQ's brought to bear for their family discussions. So whatever it was, it was something personal to Helena, and likely one of the few matters that John was already aware of.
"Now Helena, come on…" Sixteen year old Helena Wayne's voice interjected, but was quickly interrupted by that of her adoptive brother.
"You're right Helena," Tim snapped back, ignoring his sister's attempt to make peace, "I could track her down and personally deliver the news to her, as could anyone else in this house, but we're not going to do that. And had you been here when she made her grand declaration, one involving us being dead to her, you might see things our way."
"Look Tim, I'm not condoning her departure, or her severing ties with her family, except maybe to point out that the sanctimonious bullshit one has to endure when dealing with the lot of you can be pretty unbearable." The older Helena retorted. "But she worshipped Barb! Barbara took a killing machine and made her a person! She was the closest thing to a mother that woman ever had, so while Cass may no longer give a shit about the rest of you, she'd be here bawling over the casket if she had any inkling Barb was in it!"
"I sent messages to her, I don't know whether she bothered to read them or not, but I have no doubt she was aware of me trying to contact her, and I'm certain Bruce did the same." Tim replied coldly. "I don't doubt that she loved Barbara, but apparently not enough to put aside our differences."
"Tim!" This time it was the younger Helena that objected. "Don't vilify her like that! You more than anyone know how impossible Damian can be to be around!"
"No shit!" The older Helena jumped in. "Say what you will about how far he's come along, but ultimately, he's definitely wielding his grandfather's misogyny gene! Hell, what's it going to take for Helena to get the red suit?"
While the details were unknown to him, John was aware that his Aunt Cassandra had been estranged from the family for the last four years, but this 'red suit' for his Aunt Helena issue was a complete mystery to him. It was then that he noticed something to his rear, and turned his head to see Damian leaning against the wall behind him, a broad smile on his face as he listened in on the conversation, which had steered toward him being the subject matter. Damian nodded his head forward for John to continue listening in.
"That's entirely Damian's decision." Tim replied, his voice devoid of emotion. "He wields the mantle now."
"Oh come on, Drake, don't go all non-committal! Are you going to tell me that she doesn't have the chops?" The older woman snarled.
"Yes, she's amazing! I was close to giving her the green light myself!" Tim snapped loudly, but his voice trailed off as he continued. "But as I said, it's Damian's call now."
"What call is that?" Damian's voice cut through the air smoothly as he cupped his arm around John's left shoulder and guided both of them around the corner. John noticed the normally cold look exchanged between Tim and Damian was now ice cold coming from Tim, and annoyingly jovial coming from Damian. Something was being communicated between the two on a non-verbal level, and much to John's chagrin, the two Helenas seemed able to decipher it while John remained in the dark, yet again.
"Our sister is eager to attend the next Hollywood shindig at your penthouse." Tim replied completely convincingly, glancing down and smiling at John. "Apparently she's got a new red dress she'd like to wear, but you keep putting your foot down."
Damian displayed a playful grin as he replied. "Now Timothy, I'm well aware of MY sister's desires, but I have to be very careful that there isn't someone else who'll be wearing the same outfit. You, perhaps more than anyone else, know how these festivities can be, there can only be one person wearing a particular outfit at a time." With that the large man gave his nephew's shoulder a friendly squeeze, something that sent a clear message to everyone but said nephew, who could only look up at his uncle and display a look of utter confusion. Damian just showed John the same smile he was giving everyone else, until something caught his eye from the direction that they had come from. John and Damian both turned back down the hall to see Selina and Grandpa Jim talking as they made their way toward them. John noticed as his uncle positioned himself so that he was facing the two newcomers much the way he had been facing Tim and the Helenas, and seemed to puff out his already massive chest and almost pose for Jim and Selina. The two looked forward and suddenly noticed Damian standing with his hand on John's shoulder, and the pair froze, a look of utter shock on their faces. Damian held his pose for a moment before chuckling and addressing them. "These three weren't around to fully appreciate the joke the way you two obviously do."
John pulled away from his uncle and stared up at him. "Alright, I've had enough. What the hell does all this mean?"
Damian looked back at his nephew, a serious look coming over his face. "I cannot tell you. But you have the blood of detectives running through your veins, so consider all you've seen and heard, and figure it out!"
"Damian!" Tim growled in a tone that sent a shiver down John's spine.
Damian looked up at his adoptive brother, the one that he had never come to accept as a brother. "You may have lacked the stature to pull it off, being only five foot eight, but I must admit, you've got the voice down solidly, Drake."
Tim maintained his glare at Bruce Wayne's biological son. "Five foot nine."
Damian chuckled. "Oh, have you started spiking your hair again?" Damian turned back to John. "Now might be a good time to get back to looking for your sister."
John nodded, and as he turned to continue on toward the study, he heard the whispers of Selina and his grandfather. "Jesus Jim, it was like I was standing on a rooftop looking at their fathers twenty years ago."
"Closer to thirty."
"Shut up Jim."
"Oh, she's not Bruce's biological daughter." Sarah said to Laura as the two of them sat on a large sofa in Bruce's study, Alfred seated in a chair across from them, taking a sip of tea. "She's Selina's biological daughter, and Bruce adopted her when they got married."
"Really?" A look of confusion came over Laura Kent's face. "I wouldn't have guessed that. Helena looks as much like Mr. Wayne as she does like Mrs. Wayne."
Sarah shrugged. "A lot of people say Daddy looks like Bruce, but he's adopted."
"Your dad looks like he could be related to Bruce, but not enough for a stranger coming up to the two of them to automatically assume that they're from the same genetic stew. But Helena looks exactly how one would picture the child of Bruce and Selina Wayne to look." Laura replied. "I mean, right down to Selina's almond shaped sockets filled by Bruce's intense blue eyes."
"I agree, she does look like a Wayne." Sarah conceded. "But her father was a police officer named Samuel Bradley. He was killed in the line of duty before she was born."
"Now Miss Sarah," Alfred interrupted, "your aunt's personal matters are not to be discussed without her knowledge."
"Oh Alfred, Helena doesn't mind." Sarah answered, but noting the not-quite-scolding look coming from Alfred, she nodded. "But you're right, this is something that Helena should decide whether to share or not."
"She'll share it with Laura," John muttered as he entered the study, "but we'll be left in the dark, as always."
Alfred considered admonishing the boy's accusatory comment, but decided otherwise. "How are you holding up John?"
"I'm fine." The boy smiled at what was his great grandfather in all but blood, before turning to his sister. "How are you doing Sis?" Sarah stood up from the couch and ran to her brother, wrapping him up in a big hug, one that muffled the sobs coming out of her into his chest. "I know, Sarah, I know." A tear rolled down John's cheek. "I'm so sorry I didn't see him. I'm sorry…"
"Stop it John." Sarah pulled back and pleaded with her brother. "There wasn't anything you could have done to stop that car. Mommy loved you, I love you, everybody loves you but you. Stop hating yourself!" Sarah's sobbing was almost hysterical as she begged her brother, gently hammer-punching his chest. "You didn't fail her!"
"Miss Sarah," Alfred gently addressed the crying child as he gingerly stood from his chair, "why don't we head to the kitchen and prepare some hot cocoa for the four of us?"
Sarah continued staring up into her brother's eyes. "Stop blaming yourself John!" She whispered insistently as she continued gazing into his eyes, a gaze she maintained until she felt Alfred's hand come to a rest on her shoulder and allowed it to guide her away and toward the door.
Alfred twisted his head back toward the seated girl as he made his way toward the exit. "Miss Laura, please entertain Master John in our absence." The old man knew full well that there was nothing the young woman would rather be doing right now.
"Of course Alfred." Laura replied as she stood up from the couch and approached the mourning twelve year old boy, gently taking his hand into hers and leading him back to the couch, guiding him down to sit next to her. She looked into his face for several moments as he just stared down at the floor before finally breaking the silence. "Your sister is right, there's no way you could have done anything differently. You're not to blame in any way, and you have to stop beating yourself up. If for no other reason, than to put an end to the stress it's causing Sarah and the rest of us."
John looked into her eyes, and suddenly realized that she was right, his self-berating was taking a toll on his sister, and that was completely unacceptable. The boy nodded. "Alright, I'll cut it out. Sorry."
"No more apologies from you today, got it?" Laura admonished with a half joking, half serious tone.
"Yes Ma'am, no more worrying Sarah and the rest of you." The boy replied with a weak smile.
"I'm not joking, there are a lot of people beyond your immediate family worried about you right now." Laura replied seriously. "People you've never even met would bend over backward to do anything for you and Sarah."
"Yeah, I give two shits about all the gossip rag readers wishing to console the young Wayne heirs who just lost their mother." John grumbled back.
"I'm not talking about them." Laura replied sharply. "I'm talking about people very important to your family, whether you know it or not."
"Enough!" John stood up. "I've had it with all this cloak and dagger stuff! If the 'rest of you' are really that concerned with reducing the stress caused to my sister and I, you'd let us in on these secrets regarding us and our family!"
Laura looked up into the boy's eyes and was sorely tempted to grant his request, but after a moment's worth of internal debate, she shook her head and turned away from him. "Believe me Johnny, there's nothing I want to do more than to tell you everything. But it's not my place."
"Of course it's not." John grumbled as he stared down at her, but softened as he looked into her apologetic eyes and sat back down next to her. "Well, at least I've confirmed that there is, in fact, a conspiracy."
Laura smiled and nodded as she looked down at the floor. "Whoops." There was a pause of several seconds before she looked back up at him. "I'm really sorry about your mom. If there's anything I can do, anything at all that you need, just let me know."
"Thanks." John whispered as he looked down, but raised his head back toward her and met her gaze. "But I'll be fine."
"I hear they caught the guy." Laura muttered in an attempt to stave off the silence.
"Yeah." John answered. "I guess he got out of town as soon as he heard it was the great Commissioner Gordon's daughter that he'd killed. They found him holed up in some tenement tower in Bludhaven. An anonymous tip led to finding him, Amy,…oh, sorry, Commissioner Amy Rohrbach, she was Dad's partner for the five minutes he was a Bludhaven cop way back when, and has remained close with him, anyway, Amy personally led the raid that nabbed him."
"I can't believe he just sped off." Laura muttered, looking toward the ground once again and visualizing Barbara Grayson's final moments of life, laid out on the street with her son kneeling next to her. "And she didn't say anything?" Several silent seconds passed before she looked back up to see an extremely pained look over John's face. "John, what is it?"
"She said something." The statement was barely audible, as another tear streamed down the boy's cheek. John twisted his head and stared deeply into Laura's eyes. "I've been keeping this to myself, because, well, Mom was probably the smartest person I've ever known, and I don't want to tarnish that memory for others by letting them know her final words were…crazy talk. You have to promise not to tell anyone."
"Of course John." Laura took his hand into hers.
John took a deep breath, clenched his eyes shut, and then finally relayed, for the first time his mother's final moments. "I was kneeling there, and she was desperate to say something to me. I told her to save her strength, not to talk, but she grabbed my shirt, pulled me closer…" the boy let out a sob, but continued, "and told me she had been wrong."
"Wrong about what?"
John peered pleadingly into her eyes. "I have your word you won't tell anyone?"
John nodded, relaxed a little, turned his gaze back to the floor, and then continued. "She said, 'John, I was wrong. I could never bear the thought of what happened to me happening to you, or perhaps something worse. I wanted you to be safe, to live a normal life, but I was wrong. It's clear now, so very clear now that it's time for me to move on. You need to be like your father, your uncles, like Bruce. You need to embrace this legacy that I've sheltered you from. You were born for this, to be a protector, a leader, a hero'…" John choked at the memory. "She said, 'Tell them, tell them that…that I…', she trailed off, and that was it. She died a few seconds later." John finished with a whisper. It was several seconds before he noticed the complete lack of movement or sound from the girl sitting next to him, and turned to see if she had any reaction to what he had said. He was caught off guard by the complete look of shock etched into Laura Kent's face. "What?"
"John," she whispered, a hint of a smile edging its way onto her stunned features, "that wasn't crazy talk."
"What the hell are you talking about?" John asked, his voice a mixture of confusion and annoyance.
"John, you have to tell them!" Laura insisted.
"Your family." Laura replied, excitement growing within her. "They need to know this!"
"No way!" John snapped. "Let them know that my mother's final words were insane ramblings brought on by shock or some other damn thing? I'm not telling them, and neither are you! I told you, her memory won't be tarnished!"
Laura stood up. "John, you don't understand, you need to tell them! But only them. No one else. Just your dad, Bruce, Tim, Helena or Damian."
"Tell me what?" The two pre-teens turned to see Damian standing in the doorway.
Laura took a couple of steps toward the large man, and then turned back to John. "You need to tell him!"
"Shut up Laura!" John snapped. "You gave your word!"
Laura just stared at John pleadingly. "Miss Kent," Laura turned back to look at Damian, "I would guess that your parents are probably wondering where you are right now."
"I'm sure they know I'm fine." Laura replied.
"No doubt, but I would like to have a moment alone with my nephew." Damian replied, smiling at her and giving a look that seemed to indicate that she could trust that this was the right thing to do.
Laura nodded and turned back to John. "We might be leaving soon anyway, but I'll be at the funeral tomorrow. If we miss each other there, please call me. We need to talk."
John nodded, and watched as she gave him a sympathetic smile before walking out. Damian turned to watch her leave as well, and then slowly twisted his head back to look at his nephew. "She truly is a beautiful girl, and it's clear that she fancies you quite a bit."
"I hope she didn't hear you." John grumbled.
A perplexed look came over Damian's face. "Depending on what her puberty has entailed so far, she either was too far to hear me, or she'd be able to hear me from anywhere on the estate."
Now John bore the perplexed look. "What?"
"Nothing, just noting that you two make a handsome couple."
"She's a friend." John replied defensively.
"Yes, right now, but she need not remain just a friend." Damian smiled, the classic Wayne smile, but the sincere one that. "In fact, in certain circles, you're all but betrothed."
"What?" John gave his uncle a confused glare.
"Nothing, just joking around with you again." Damian replied. "Yes, not my typical M.O. But, for the record, I have impossibly high standards for any young lady that you may date, and Laura Kent is one of the few that has a chance of meeting those standards."
"Thanks Damian, but we're just friends." John replied with authority.
"Alright then, I'll let it drop." Damian replied absently as he started walking about the room seemingly aimlessly. "I don't want you to think I was eavesdropping, but I couldn't help but hear your concern about tarnishing her memory."
"Just like you and I couldn't help but overhear the discussion between Tim and the Helenas?" John replied sarcastically.
"No, I promise that I have never spied on you, Nephew." Damian answered back. "But your voice was raised. Anyway, I assume that the 'her' you were referring to was your mother?"
"Don't worry about it." John snapped back.
Damian nodded as he glanced over the array of books in front of him. "Memories of our parents are powerful, often times inspiring things. Things that can shape us, drive us to be much more than we would have been without them. Even the most painful traumas can be focal points of tremendous good." The uncle's apparent meandering through the study had led him next to the antique grandfather clock behind the large desk. "Like with the memories my father has of his parents, the great Thomas and Martha Wayne. Specifically, a memory from a night about forty-seven years ago, when this clock, as most of the clocks on the eastern seaboard, was set to ten forty-seven." Damian set the hands of the clock to the mentioned time and turned to give John a look the boy couldn't quite read, placing his finger on center of the clock hands, as if to push on them, but refraining from doing so. "On that night, when this clock displayed ten forty-seven, something terrible happened." John was well versed in Wayne family history, and while the exact time of his great grandparents' death was news to him, he knew what terrible event his uncle was referring to. "A horrific tragedy occurred that night when this clock was showing this time," Damian's gaze grew more intense, and he began tapping the point connecting the two clock hands, "but that tragedy has led to countless acts of greatness, most often beginning with the positioning of these hands, on this clock, to ten forty-seven." A look of utter confusion was etched on John's face, and after a few moments of silence, Damian checked his watch and reset the grandfather clock to the current time. "So regardless of whether you fully understand them right now, respect and keep these memories. They can motivate you to do incredible things."
John just shook his head, he was done trying to figure out the riddles of his family for now. "Fine, whatever." The boy shrugged.
"You have some thinking to do John." Damian said to him in an almost scolding manner. "Be sure to include these memories of your mother into your equations." The large man glanced down at the desk and then back to his nephew. "Now if you'll please excuse me, I have some work here I need to attend to." John was a little put off by his uncle's odd, abrupt and seemingly callous behavior, but he merely nodded and left the room. Damian watched the boy leave, waited a few moments, and then walked to the double doors of the study and closed them before returning to the clock and turning the hands back to the time of his grandparents' murder. Damian pressed on the center of the clock, where the hands overlapped, and the right side of the clocked detached from the wall. Damian pulled it out, revealing a heavy metal door behind it and a veritable computer terminal built into the back of the antique clock. Damian positioned his head so that several sensors behind the clock could conduct a retinal scan, one when completed, prompted the metal door to open. "Computer, reset admittance criteria to genetic sampling. Entrance to be based on match to pre-approved Y-Haplotype samples. Approved Y-Haplotypes comparison samples are designated Wayne, Pennyworth, Grayson…" Damian groaned inaudibly, "Drake." The computer processed the changes, and a moment later the equipment for the retina scan retracted into the console built behind the clock and another set of scanning equipment rotated out from it, one possessing a container of cheek swabs.
The house was silent. The stereotype with these large, old mansions was that they creaked all night long, but he had slept in Wayne Manor hundreds, of times over the course of his life, and the only sounds he had ever heard at night came from footsteps, whispers and other sounds people made outside his room, or from bats and birds outside the windows. Once the guests has dispersed, Damian had suggested that the Graysons stay here tonight, as suggestion that Bruce not only seconded, but insisted upon. It had been a long day, they were all exhausted, and tomorrow morning's funeral would be held here, with Barbara being interned in the Wayne family cemetery. It was not a difficult sell to John's father, who was holding a sleeping Sarah in his arms at the time. Damian then pulled Dick aside, and seemed to verify that Sarah was in fact asleep before suggesting something else to his adoptive brother. Like with most other discussions between the Wayne brothers, this was held well outside listening range for John, and all he could do was watch as his father initially shook his head at whatever Damian had suggested to him, but over the course of a minute's discussion he seemed to finally acquiesce, and then thank Damian, giving him a hug while effortlessly rotating the sleeping eight year old to his hip.
But whatever Damian may have been discussing with Dick was quickly pushed to the backburner of John's mind as he decided to focus on Damian's fascination with his ancestors' clock, as well as the various other cryptic things his uncle and others had said to him throughout the day, and throughout his life as well. John was thankful for such riddles, as they kept him from focusing on his mother's death, something he had wished for his sister as he heard her crying herself to sleep hours before. It was now nearly two in the morning, and John was about to write off any chance of obtaining sleep that night. So he once again went over the weird things that were said to him, or in his presence. He had the blood of detectives running through his veins. What the hell did that mean? Yeah, his grandfather was Jim Gordon, but that's only ONE detective. Who were these other detectives? And why did the way Damian and John were posing together stop Jim and Selina in their tracks? Selina's statement kind of clarified the issue, she and Jim must have been reminded of how Bruce and Dick looked together when the were similar in age to Damian and John. But what did she mean by the rooftop thing? And what the hell was with Laura's insistence that his mother's final words not only were sane, but that it was essential that he share them with his family, and only his fam… John sat upright. "HOLY SHIT!"
What had made the Batman the most effective crime fighter of all time, well one of the traits that led to this, was being proactive. Damian reminded himself of this for the thousandth time as he blocked out the sounds of people training in the cave's exercise area and continued pouring over the files of psychiatric patients who had fallen within the parameters he had set to see if there might be any copycats of Roy Darvelle, better known as Darwin's Scalpel. Darvelle had managed to get his hands on the results of various elementary school aptitude tests, and then took it upon himself to either kill or sterilize low scoring children he felt would be detrimental to the evolutionary advancement of our species. As a child, Damian had considered the first ten minutes of the movie 'Idiocracy' to be one of the highlights of the cinematic arts, but that anyone would take such a scenario seriously, and then castrate or kill children for this or any reason drove him into a near-psychotic frenzy. He had finally discerned Darvelle's identity, tracked him down, and beat him into a coma, one that took him three months to wake up from. Damian had managed to refrain from killing him, but he would make sure that any maniac that thought of following in Darvelle's footsteps would have their aspirations nipped in the bud.
"Hey D-Bag," Tim's voice came out between gasps of air as he rounded the corner that separated the gymnasium from the control section of the cave, carefully walking around a multitude of flower stands delivered to honor Oracle from the cape and cowl community, "we were wondering why you decided to change the security settings for the cave again so soon. According to Bruce, retinal was in place for barely a week before you decided to switch it today; a switch you failed to mention to anyone."
"I am the Batman now, Drake, I'll attend to the cave's security as I see fit." Damian smiled as he continued peering at the various screens in front of him. "Well, perhaps I'm not the Batman tonight, but aside from the few hours Richard is working off some aggression, I am the Batman."
"Oh, alright then." Tim replied. "And for the record, it was Bruce who brought it up. I'll be sure to tell him that Batman says to piss off and not question his pointy-eared decision making again."
Damian abruptly stood up and spun around to face his immediate predecessor in the roles of both Robin and Batman. "The message to my father will be different than my message to you. Never confuse the disrespect I bear you as disrespect for anyone else."
Tim smiled. "Got it." The thirty-two year old man started to turn, but stopped and re-focused on his belligerent adoptive brother. "Damian, not that I care, but…"
"Why do I dislike you?" Damian finished the question.
"Actually, why do you still dislike me?" Tim clarified. "I get why you initially hated me; you were a spoiled little shit raised by psychopaths and murderers, and I had a few things that you felt entitled to. It didn't require Bruce's training to figure that one out. But you seem to have come around in your dealing with others. Still arrogant, but you seem to limit your evil little twerp tendencies to your dealings with me."
Damian smirked as he took a small step toward Tim. "This little twerp is now seven inches taller than you."
Tim sent a glare. "Six."
"Whatever." Damian chuckled. "My continued dislike for you…well, I'm not really sure. Honestly, it's probably just some childish enjoyment of disliking you. And to be fair, I have little doubt that you enjoy hating me too." The larger man turned back to the computer, lost his humor and quietly exhaled. "Actually Drake, truth be told, until you threw your lot in with Waller's crew, I had nothing but respect for you. True, I had never, nor could I ever, embrace you as a brother the way that I had for Dick, but were you not so adamant about inserting 'Wayne' after your name, I'd have considered you one of my closest friends and allies. Hell, I was even at the point of looking past your calling yourself Drake-Wayne and doing a mea culpa for all the times I tried to kill you, and the much more numerous lesser offenses. And also to apologize for basically usurping the cowl from you a couple of years ago, and offering to make any concessions to help ease the sting that had been caused by that." Damian turned back around and glared at the older man. "But your betrayal of a decision to work for Amanda Waller's king-making Gestapo soured me to that idea."
Tim's face twisted into a scowl. "Checkmate cannot be compared to the Gestapo on any level, and the only king-making is putting back rightful rulers who have been overthrown by the true king-makers; king-makers who more often than not are linked to your grandfather in some way, if not directly acting on his behalf! And I may not be his seed, but never question my devotion to Bruce."
"Devotion is fine, and I have never questioned yours to my father," Damian snarled back, "but I would think that a man who is perhaps the third greatest geneticist on the planet would appreciate the impact a seed carries. A man who facilitated the natural birth of a Human/Kryptonian hybrid should accept the truth in the old adage about apples falling from trees."
Tim nodded. "I'm proud to be the son of Jack and Janet Drake, two people that were flawed like anyone else, but were honest, kind, and good people that left the world better for them having been in it. If I've taken root in the shadows of the trees they represent, then I couldn't be happier. Just as you have every right to be proud of your genetic ties to Bruce, Thomas and Martha." Tim adopted a sly grin as he continued. "But don't forget the other tree that had a hand in making you, both in terms of genetics and guidance in your most formative years."
"Genetics are the only ties that remain between me and the line of Al Ghul!" Damian snarled, but quickly regained his composure. "And quite frankly, on a genetic level, it is something to be proud of. I am descended from geniuses on both sides of my family, world class athletes on both sides of my family," a broad grin came over Damian's face, "hell, they're even nine pluses in the looks department. Not that it really matters to me, but,…well, OK, I admit it. It matters to me and I love that I'm handsome as hell. Genetically I have no regrets about my maternal heritage; Ras and Talia were born gifted, they were not born evil. The aspect I do regret, the lessons regarding the insignificance of human life, the ones that led me down the path to being a sociopathic killing machine; those were purged. It took years, and tested Richard to his limits, but he made the sacrifices," Damian's face started twisting, a resistance to the surge of emotions that the memories he was reliving were bringing to the forefront "spent the countless hours, endured more cruelty than anyone should have to endure. Initially I believed it was an attempt to repay the House of Wayne for taking him in when his parents were murdered, but in time I finally came to accept that he had grown to love me. Genuine, limitless, fraternal love; something that seemed unfathomable to a spoiled little shit raised by psychopaths and murderers. He saved my soul, he made me capable of overcoming my early programming. Richard Grayson purged me of the negative that the House of Al Ghul had instilled in me."
Damian paused, but maintained his intense view of Tim, who in return smiled, an almost kind smile that seemed out of place in an argument. "Not bad for a low-born carnie, huh?"
Bruce Wayne's only biological son glared at Tim, but slowly his gaze softened. "Do not twist my words Drake, deeds outweigh all else, but genetics do play a role that can neither be ignored or downplayed." The slightest of noises got the attention of both men, a whisper of a whisper coming from the direction of the stone stairway leading to the main entrance to the Manor above. Tim lunged forward to activate the intruder alarm, but Damian caught his wrist and held it inches from the console. Tim looked up at Damian, a look of shock etched onto his face. Damian looked back and gently shook his head. "That won't be necessary."
Tim shifted his shocked eyes from Damian to the base of the staircase, which twisted around, shielding whatever had made the noise. The older, smaller man then relaxed, but returned his gaze to Damian, one that was now a heated glare accompanied by a low growl pieced together to form words. "That better not be who I think it is." Tim wrenched his arm free and turned toward the stairs. "Step out here and let us see you!" A few moments passed before John sheepishly stepped out away from the stairway. "Damn it, Damian!" Tim bellowed.
The two men and the boy noticed the abrupt end to the sounds of exercising on the other side of the rocky wall and listened to steps coming their way, steps that were meant to be heard. "This is the first time the two of you have seen each other in over a year, and given why we're all here I was hoping that you two could act…" Bruce turned the corner and caught sight of John. "Damn it, Damian!"
Bruce's outburst caused Helena to come rounding the corner after her father, who also caught sight of her stunned and bewildered nephew, which caused her to give her adoptive brother a judgmental glare. "Really Damian?"
Damian just displayed his most disarming smile. "I didn't tell him to come down here." Tim pushed past him and started clacking away at the computer.
"Cut the shit, Damian!" Bruce growled, one of the few noises that could actually cause fear in his son. "You plugged his DNA into the computer!"
"No, he didn't." Tim announced. "Security was set to test for Y-Haplotype." The annoyed thirty-two year old turned to his adopted younger brother and continued in a sarcastic manner. "It must have been merely a coincidence. Damian's innocent." Tim folded his arms and leaned against the terminal as John began wandering around the control area, taking note of the various sights. "I suppose I should feel honored that you chose to include my Drake seed on the guest list."
John studied the various floral arrangements. "Who's Oracle?" The boy whispered.
"Or the Bradley haplotype." Helena, not hearing her nephew's question, commented, a comment that caused Damian to knowingly arch and eyebrow and shift his gaze from Tim to his father and back again. Helena noted the odd behavior between her adoptive brothers and adoptive father. "What?"
Tim nodded and huffed gently. "Two birds with one stone, huh D?"
"How dare you Damian?" Bruce emitted as a mix between a snarl and a whisper. "It was not your place!"
"No Father, you're absolutely right!" Damian bit back. "It was yours! Years ago!"
"What?" Helena was still confused, but noting the silent, heated stares being exchanged between her older family members, she chose to act and march toward the terminal, pushing Tim aside and looking at the security settings laid out on the screen. "I…I don't…" She looked up and gasped as she finally realized what this meant. "Oh my God."
John had turned away from the various floral arrangements and stood silently by as this discussion had unfolded, overwhelmed by what had been revealed to him, but seeing his Aunt on the verge of tears prompted him to action, and a moment later he was at her side. "Helena, what is it?"
Helena looked over to her twelve year old nephew, her eyes meeting his. She stared at him for a few moments, failing to notice the abrupt end of arguing going on around them, and then hugged her nephew. They embraced for nearly a minute, during which she allowed herself two sobs before collecting herself, lacing the fingers of her right hand with those of her nephew's left, and turning toward what she now knew to be her adoptive brother Tim, and biological father and brother. "Why? Why was this kept from me? What right did any of you have keeping this from me? You all clearly knew! WHY?"
"I wasn't…" Tim stammered in a barely audible voice, "certain."
"Bullshit!" Helena growled. "You can piece together a person's DNA helix just by looking at them." She turned away from Tim and glared at her father. "But Damian was right, it wasn't his or Tim's place to tell me, it was yours…DAD!" She squeezed John's hand, a gesture he returned; they would share the solidarity of both being victims of their family's duplicity. "What, you didn't know either?" She screamed.
"I knew." Bruce replied in a calm, even voice, apparently uncowed to any degree. "I knew the moment I laid eyes on you for the first time and saw my mother's features etched into your face. But your mother knew that being the daughter of Bruce Wayne would be wrought with peril. Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle weren't dating, but several of my enemies knew that Selina was…close with Batman from time to time. Plus, several of my enemies knew my identity. Selina chose to put the list the name of a dead police officer, one whose enemies were dead as well, as your father on your birth certificate. She did this to protect you. Unfortunately it soon became clear that Catwoman's enemies would be very interested in you as well, which is why you were placed with the Fergusons."
"And after the accident, when I came back to the two of you?" Helena pressed. "Suddenly it was alright for Selina to lay claim to me, but I still needed to be lied to about my father?"
"The enemies of Catwoman were a drop in the bucket when compared to those of…"
"Batman, yeah I know!" Helena interrupted her father. "I get it, keep it secret from the outside world, and hell, even from me when I was a young child and didn't fully grip the scale of what was going on. But I'm sixteen now! I could have handled this years ago! I've been researching and mourning a man it turns out I have nothing to do with!"
"Samuel Bradley may not have been your father, but he gave his life to protect you and your mother." Bruce replied.
"Fine, then I'll honor him, I'll thank him, but I'm a fool for calling him Dad every time I visit his grave or look at his picture!" Helena snapped at her father as sobs found their way between her words. "Why couldn't you share this with me?"
"Because Damian was wrong." Bruce replied quietly as he looked down. "It wasn't my place."
"What?" Helena asked, and slowly began to realize what her father was saying. "Mom told you I wasn't yours?"
Bruce looked back up and met his daughter's gaze. "We will continue this discussion tomorrow, with your mother present."
"No, I need to know…" Helena was interrupted by the roar of the Batmobile's engine as it thundered through the main cavern leading to them and came to a halt once it had emerged.
The front of the vehicle slid open and Batman sprung out from the cockpit, marching quickly around the car toward the group of people standing in front of the computer terminal. At that exact moment, from behind them, Alfred cleared the stairwell and shuddered at the sight of John. "My word."
Batman stopped, shook his head and reached up, pulling off his cowl. A sweaty, mussed-haired Dick Grayson looked at his son and smiled. "Looks like we're not going to be getting any sleep tonight, huh?"