John kept his eyelids shut and extended his other senses outward, maintaining his breathing as it had been moments before as he slept, taking in as much of his environment as his hearing, smell and touch would allow without giving any external indication that he was no longer sleeping; just as he'd been trained to do. Of course, all that his hearing provided him with was birds chirping in the light breeze outside, a light breeze flowing in from the west based on the leaves of the trees that seemed to be rustling, and his sister rolling in her bed down the hall. His smell confirmed that the breeze was coming in from the west, as the odor of Mr. Bobbert's horse stable the lot over was all too clearly detectable. Touch informed him that the sheets covering his body were either his or close enough to convince him that they were his, and that as with the last two months, he was no longer sore from the previous day's physical training regimen. After four months his body was impossibly efficient and ready for the role destined for him, but he still had a lot to learn. John opened his eyes, gauging the light, or rather, lack of light shining through the slats of his blinds, and taking into account the early October date he made a guesstimate. "Six forty-three."
The boy looked over at the clock on the bedside table and grumbled as he saw 6:52 flashing at him in green. He pulled himself out of bed, chuckling as he had been in the exact same position he had been in nine and a half hours earlier when he had first crawled under the sheet. He hadn't woken up, or even moved in the slightest bit since laying down last night, and his bladder was confirming that with great urgency. As he made his way to the bathroom he noted that his earlier assessment of his nocturnal activities was a bit off, there was part of his body that had moved, and he would need to employ a meditation technique if he wanted to urinate comfortably anytime in the next two minutes; one of the downsides to being an adolescent boy. But employing one of Bruce's relaxation exercises en-route to the bathroom worked well enough so that upon getting there, things were calmed down to the point where he could answer nature's call with just a slight bit of leaning forward.
John finished, washed his hands, brushed his teeth and started toward the bathroom door to grab a bite downstairs before heading to the manor for a mild workout. Every training regimen required the athlete a recovery day from time to time, and today was John's; a tremendous gift in that it happened to fall on a Saturday for once. Physically his time in the cave would consist of stretching and mild aerobics, and mentally it would be going over three or four old case files, ones that Bruce and Damian promised would be easy for him to solve, before a review of computer hacking techniques with Tim. No combat, no advanced forensics, no escapology, no chemistry, no medical training, no pushing his lactate threshold or VO2 Max levels to even more impossible levels, and no insane aerials with his father. He had always known his father was good with the ropes, but he had no idea to what degree of mastery the older Grayson had at aerials. Tim had informed him that Checkmate had his father listed as a potential meta based on several bits of footage of him as Robin, Nightwing and Batman doing skyline acrobatics that no human being should theoretically be able to do; and while Tim would never say it, he, Bruce and especially Damian were expecting John to follow in his father's aerial wake.
The boy turned out of the bathroom and shuddered from surprise at seeing his father leaning against the wall. "Jeez!" The boy' surprised but quiet voice rang down the hall. He sent his father a glare. "You're sneakier than Bruce."
"No, but I'm still better at the stealthy stuff than anyone but him, even Damian." Dick smirked as he placed a hand on his son's shoulder and led him down the stairs. "So, you have any plans for this afternoon?"
"You know I do." John muttered as they reached the foyer and turned toward the kitchen of the large house, but not as large as many would assume Wayne heirs to be living in.
"Oh, that's right," Dick coyly feigned recalling as they walked into the kitchen, "Laura's going to be in town. Figured out where you two lovebirds are going to have lunch?"
John pulled out the Cheerios as his father started whipping him up an egg white omelet with various vegetables thrown into the mix, a television in the adjoining family room was on providing background noise. "Look, I realize that you're my father, and that this is your house, and that it would be both unethical as well as impossible for me to force you to do anything, which is why I'll ask nicely not to refer to Laura and I as lovebirds again."
"What?" Dick chuckled. "You don't like being referred to in such a way?"
"No." The boy muttered before shoving a spoonful of cereal and milk into his mouth, continuing as he chomped away. "I don't and I know she wouldn't."
"But it's a pretty good fit." Dick chuckled. "You're going to be a robin, which is a bird, and the two of you are in love, right?"
John groaned. "We're twelve. Any twelve year old that uses the 'L' word needs a good butt-whooping." The boy turned to look at the television in the next room, taking in the scene of U.N. members apparently discussing the deteriorating situation with what appeared to be the new military government of Atlantis. "So it's pretty much official, huh? General Zarin's forces have finally cemented control?" The boy shook his head. "His anti-surface rhetoric has always been extremely intense, you think this'll get beyond the saber-rattling stages with the Atlanteans?"
Dick turned and glanced at the television. "Hard to say. Arthur could certainly be prickly to deal with, but ultimately he was reasonable and only wanted what was best for his people, which rarely, if ever involved war. But he's gone, as is…" the forty year old man paused for a moment as painful memories came rushing forward, "as is Garth. Zarin's faction is hyper-nationalistic, and he's big on giving us what he feels is our comeuppance, but there's always hope that they can be reasoned with."
"Always hope, until they create some seismic events on the ocean floor and wipe out the eastern coastlines of North America and the western coastlines of Europe and North Africa with tsunamis." John muttered as he polished off his Cheerios, then watched his father scoop the awful looking omelet onto a plate. "Man, that stuff looks toxic."
"Aw, quit eggs-agerating." Dick chuckled.
"Ughn," John groaned, "I'm not going to be expected to make with the bad jokes that you love so much when I graduate into the role, am I?"
"Ah, so it's no longer 'if' you make it into the role, huh?" Dick asked as he slid the plate and a fork in front of his son as he sat on a bar stool at the kitchen island. "Someone is getting cocky."
"Confident." John replied as he looked down at the mess of a breakfast with disdain. "You know, Alfred is able to create breakfasts that are even healthier than this and make them taste delicious too. Couldn't you at least put forth the effort to make them, I don't know, palatable?"
Dick chuckled. "There's a lot I'm good at. But neither the circus nor crime fighting required me to learn how to cook, so I never did. Just be thankful that Sarah's still in bed so you don't need to pretend to like it."
Almost on cue, the soft patter of footsteps was heard coming down the stairs and the father and son looked toward the hall to see Sarah rubbing her eyes and smiling at the two of them. "Good morning."
"Hey Sarah." John said.
"Good morning Beautiful." Dick smiled at his daughter. "What can I fix for you?"
"Just cereal." Sarah replied as she climbed into the bar stool next to her brother and glared at the forkful of goop he was shoveling into his mouth. "How can you eat that stuff?"
John displayed a smile for his sister as he chewed away, then turned to his father, wiping the smile from his face as he answered his sister's question barely understandably through the partially chewed mess. "It's delicious."
"So I take it that wasn't you at the docks last night." Tim muttered as he sat down next to Damian on the mat to begin his warm up stretching.
Damian lifted his forehead off of his knee and turned slightly toward his foster brother. "Excellent work detective. What gave it away, the crossbow bolts in the gangbangers various limbs or that their descriptions of their assailant detailed more cleavage in the Huntress costume than I would present in such an outfit?"
"Oh, I wouldn't sell yourself short," Tim chuckled as he lowered himself over his outstretched legs, "you've got an impressive pair of tits, though they are a bit too hairy to look right in an armored bustier. Unless of course you've shaved them."
Damian smiled as he switched legs to stretch. "They're called pectorals Drake, and despite what Drake and Grayson's DNA may think, they're supposed to have hair on them. I make no apologies for being a man, and barring any requirement for it that this job might present, would never shave my chest."
"Hairy chested love god, huh?" Tim chuckled, but winced as he twisted his bad knee. "I'm a little surprised to hear you willing to discuss Huntress's cleavage, though."
"Why's that?" Damian replied, having noticed the wince, but having no intention of drawing attention to it. "I have a great fondness for cleavage, it's one of the few things that the tabloids have gotten right about me." Damian twisted his head and glanced at Drake, noticing the look of surprise displayed by the other man. "What?"
"Don't be a moron." Was all Tim said as he turned his attention back to stretching.
Damian thought for a moment before realizing what the other man was alluding to. "No. I realize that this Huntress can't be Bertinelli, but I know it's not her."
"And why not?" Tim asked. "She's been waiting to be Robin for years, and now you're grooming John for that."
"She wouldn't do that to me." Damian countered.
"Yeah, she would." Tim answered, chuckling lightly. "Of course she would. You're an asshole whose been overlooking her; overlooking her obvious abilities, her skill level, and the enormous contributions that she would bring."
Damian looked away. "I don't deny that she has legitimate issues with me, but I still am certain that she would not do this. Especially since this Huntress, whoever she is, is likely responsible for the string of dead mobsters, dealers and pimps that have been popping up the last few weeks."
"I've got to tell you," Tim chimed in, "based on the evidence, I don't think that was done by the Huntress, whoever she may be."
Damian peered into the dark cavern beyond their immediate work area in thought. "Enough of this discussion, time will prove me right. So how is John progressing at the computer training?"
Tim resumed his light chuckling and nodded. "He's Oracle's son, that's for sure. It's getting harder and harder for me to keep him out of file number Eight Two Four Nine Seven."
"Then don't." Damian smiled. "He knows what happened to his mother, let him see the file pertaining to it."
"Are you insane?" Tim grumbled. "Despite all he can do, he's still just a twelve year old boy. Do you really want him seeing pictures of his mother…like that? The video of his grandfather going through that carnival hell? All with that bastard singing in the background?"
Damian paused and slowly nodded. "Alright, keep it from him. But it's good training, so keep that carrot dangling there, just always stay a step or two ahead of him."
"Easier said than done." Tim answered. "As I said, he is Oracle's son."
"He was Oracle's son. He's Oracle's nephew now." Damian countered.
"True, I guess." Tim answered. "Well, as Oracle, I should probably make Batman aware that the situation with Atlantis is worsening by the minute."
"Get Kent to intervene." Damian grumbled as he rose to his feet. "He's the League's goodwill ambassador. I'm more an ambassador of ill will."
Tim shook his head as he continued stretching. "Nope, these guys are intransigent, they're unwilling to see any of us, even Superman. They have open relations with Themyscira, but, as you know, we do not, so using Diana, Donna or any other Amazon is not an option."
Damian grumbled. "Bad things happen to everyone, Queen Diana cannot continue holding the world of man responsible for the actions of one rogue theocracy that has a problem with strong women."
"They set off a nuke on Themyscira, killing over two thousand Amazons, including her mother, and rendering a large portion of their land uninhabitable." Tim countered. "Their retaliation was brutal, but in the minds of most, justified. And our collective response to that retaliation was that of cowards, hiding behind feigned indignation over their right to reply to an unprovoked attack."
"Agreed, but we should not be lumped in with the spineless vermin that the ignorant masses chose for leaders!" Damian growled. "Should Diana and her sisters be pissed? Absolutely. Was their devastation of those bastards justified? Yes. Their dismantling of every Sharia-based government? Perhaps. But the Amazons got their pound of flesh! Those that a war with Atlantis will kill off won't be the cowards in the pockets of desperate oil barons, and Diana knows this!"
Tim shrugged. "Maybe you're right, but the Amazons appear to be just as intransigent as the Atlanteans."
Damian ran his fingers through his hair as he thought. "We need an in with the Themyscirans."
Laura had been told not to be surprised if she had arrived at the somewhat out of the way restaurant before John, as Tim had a tendency to be overly thorough and it wasn't uncommon for his lessons to run a bit long. Laura didn't mind as she asked to be seated, using the fake name that John had chosen to leave the reservation under, not that a reservation was necessary for the half empty restaurant. The low profile restaurant and fake name were John's attempt to avoid a replay of what had happened the last time they were out having a meal together. One patron noticed the Wayne heir, and within ten minutes a handful of paparazzi had emerged from the cracks in the floor and hounded them until they managed to get to Wayne Tower.
While not where one would expect the grandson of Bruce Wayne to take an afternoon date, Laura was convinced that he could be recognized quite easily here as well. Of course, after the wrecking ball that was taken to the careers of the photographers for ambushing the underage son of the nations most powerful media empire and the underage daughter of two of the journalism's most prominent living members, there was a good chance that many photographers would choose not to act on the tip. But as Laura sat down and casually looked to the door that she had entered through moments before, she laughed out loud at seeing John's further attempt at anonymity. "Oh my gosh, please tell me you didn't steal those glasses from a Buddy Holly wax exhibit."
John smiled at her as he walked past the front counter and made his way around the tables toward the waiting Laura, nodding to the hostess that had seated his girlfriend while pushing up his thick, dark framed glasses. "Our basement has an endless supply of this stuff." He commented as he slid next to her in the booth, leaning over and kissing her. "You should swing by in a couple weeks to pick out a Halloween costume. You'd make an incredibly hot Riddler henchgirl."
"Ohhh, a retro look." Laura giggled. "Not a bad suggestion, and it might give me the chance to spar with the newest Robin." She smiled and paused as the waitress, a heavy-set woman in her forties, made her way over to them. "Hello."
"Hi, my name is Ruby and I'll be your server today." The woman smiled at the kids. "Can I start you out with something to drink?"
"I'll have a Sprite." Laura replied.
The waitress looked to John, who despite wearing the thick-rimmed glasses, was still concerned with being recognized and had his face pointed down into the menu. "I'll have an ice tea."
"Alright, I'll get those right out to you." Ruby smiled and turned away.
"Soooooo," Laura smiled and reached over to grab John's right hand and pulled it away from the menu he was holding, clasping it as she forced his attention on to her, "how's the training going?"
John smiled and squeezed her hand gently. "My body's pretty much used to the wringer now, and I almost look forward to the punishment, but the mental learning is ridiculous. It never ends, and the level of detail I'm expected to recognize and retain…it's just tough to keep up." John glided the fingers of his other hand over the back of Laura's hand, gently tracing lines as he continued talking. "So how's lacrosse?"
"Anticlimactic compared to superhero training." Laura grinned.
"Metropolis has superheroes, Gotham has crime fighters." John clarified with a grin. "And I've been waiting to hear about you for days, so quit dodging."
"Whatever heroboy." Laura chuckled. "You wear a cape; you're a superhero."
"Well then, I may just have to skip the whole Robin phase and move right up to Nightwing."
"And what, alternate nights on the job with your father or just force him into real retirement?"
John smiled and looked away, toward the front of the restaurant. "Dad only goes out once in a…"
Laura noted John's attention being diverted. "What?"
John studied the front of the restaurant for a few more seconds before replying, keeping his eyes fixed straight ahead. "Get down and stay down." John rose to his feet and started walking ahead. Laura turned to see two slender men of medium height in sweatshirts and jeans, both looking to be in their mid twenties and very disheveled looking. And both appeared to be high on something and very agitated.
The hostess approached one of the men, who responded to her approach by pulling a pistol out from his jean's waistband underneath the bottom of his sweatshirt. "Don't move!" His friend followed suit, pulling out a pistol and waving it at all the patrons as his friend continued screaming. "No…nobody move or I'll blow your ffff" the man started tweaking, but managed to recover, "your fu…"
"Hey!" The other man shouted, directing the gun toward the four-eyed John walking toward them. "Get down!"
John leaned forward as if to get on the ground, reached down, grabbed the leg of a chair and flipped it up into the air. The gun-wielding men followed the chair with their eyes for a moment before directing their attention back toward where the boy had been. John however was on the move, sprinting forward, leaping off the corner of a table and flipping in the air, his glasses flying off in the process, and landing right next to the first gunman. Before the gunman could turn his head to follow John's movements, his wrist was being gripped and twisted, forcing his body to flip. As John twisted to flip the first assailant over, he drove his left foot into the side of the other gunman's left knee, causing it to buckle and forcing the man to cry out in pain as he started to drop.
John then leapt toward the second gunman, who despite dropping to his knees, was still aware enough to work through the pain coming from his knee and try and point the gun at the boy. John caught the man's gun-wielding wrist with one hand, grasped it with his second hand and twisted the man's arm over, pointing both the tip of the weapon and his straightened elbow up toward the ceiling. John then reached back with his left hand and drove his left palm down onto the back of the man's elbow, breaking his arm and causing him to release the weapon, which John claimed.
John then immediately leapt into the air, springing off the back of the disarmed would-be robber and flipped over the first gunman, who was scrambling to get up from his back to a kneeling position. John landed behind him and pistol-whipped him across the back of the head, knocking him out. John was facing the front of the restaurant, just ahead of him, near the corner, were a couple of unoccupied booths, each with a container of ketchup on them. John walked over, his back to everyone, grabbed a plastic ketchup bottle, squeezed some into his hand, and smeared it over his closed eyes before turning around. He looked to Laura. "Grab everything we've touched."
Laura nodded, took both menus, wiped the table down with her napkin, took the napkin and headed toward the door. John watched her leave before turning to the manager. "You will be reimbursed for everything we've taken, as well as payment for the drinks ordered and a tip for Ruby." John looked at the group of customers and workers staring at him in disbelief, and for no reason, felt a giant grin spreading over his face as he nodded at the closing front door that Laura had just run through. "I'd better go ketchup." He groaned internally as he scooped down to pick up his prop glasses and headed out the door, ketchup bottle and pistol still in hand.
"Noreen, hold my calls." Mayor Bagosian barked as he walked into his office.
"Yes sir, your honor." Noreen's voice barely got through before the mayor shut the door and headed straight to his desk, where he sat down and logged into his computer. His head shifted, once again verifying that the door he had just shut was still shut before clicking onto the internet.
"Keep it in your pants, your honor." A voice from the corner behind him announced in a hushed tone, and the mayor whirled around terrified. A lean, athletic form emerged from it, a demonic mask over its head. "We need to talk."
"Christ!" The mayor growled before relaxing. "There are better ways to collect your payment."
"True," the lean man in black body armor replied, "but renegotiation is best done in person."
"Renegotiation?" The mayor stood up. "Where's your boss? He's the one I made the deal with, not you!"
"Sit down your honor." The dark black and red form insisted calmly. "The Red Hood has no more interest in your money than I do."
The mayor stared at the lean frame skeptically. "If you don't care about money, than why are you working with me?"
The demonic mask looked over several books on the bookcase. "I said sit down, your honor." The mayor slowly slid back into his chair. "Good, I'm sure your legs are thanking you. You put a fair amount of strain on them, having to carry all that girth."
The mayor sneered. "It's a sign of success."
"No, it isn't." The young man replied indifferently. "One of the things that sets twenty-first century America apart from all other civilizations is that obesity is a greater indicator of poverty than of affluence. Not that you're poor, but laziness and gluttony, which are what your fat ass is attributable to, have been a major contributor to obesity in all cultures and time periods. Modern Americans are greater offenders than the other cultures, but you don't have a monopoly on those traits."
"Well that's just swell, thanks for the lesson." The annoyed mayor snapped.
"Just another reason I despise the culture your people have created here." The masked man answered.
"What are you talking about?" Bagosian snarled. "You're an American."
"When in the United States I speak English like an American Midwesterner. When in the United Kingdom, I speak like a Londoner. When in Quebec, I speak French like a Quebecer, when in France I speak French like a Parisian, when in Mexico I speak Spanish like a Mexican and when in…"
"Yeah yeah yeah, when in Spain you speak Spanish like a Spaniard." The mayor interrupted.
"Absolutely not!" The masked man snapped back. "Castillian sounds gay. I talk like a Mexican while in Spain."
"Fine, whatever. What do you want to renegotiate?" The mayor growled.
"You've been feeding us police intel regarding criminals Yindle doesn't have enough evidence against to arrest." The demon-masked intruder replied. "This has made my partner very happy, and our discreet eliminations of these elements has made your city much more presentable to the outside world. Your payments are more a formality, a way to somehow legitimize this and make it appear strictly business. Quite frankly, what you pay us is a pittance compared to what we lift off these doomed criminals, as well what you make off of various local businessmen for creating a safer Gotham. If anything, the resources that I have at my disposal make the accepting of your payments and the stealing from our dead victims seem despicable. So I'm here to make sure I get something out of this arrangement."
"This isn't your deal to renegotiate, kid!" The mayor snapped. "I left feelers for the Red Hood, not some punk in a devil mask that he's decided to take on as a sidekick."
"I'm nobody's sidekick!" The masked man snarled. "And I suggest hearing me out before pissing me off any further."
"Fine, get to the point and tell me what you want then." The mayor grumbled.
The devil-faced intruder walked over and took a seat in one of the two large chairs on the other side of the desk. "About an hour ago there was an incident involving two gunmen and a young do-gooder in a restaurant."
"Ah, was that you?" The mayor questioned.
"No, it was not. The news agencies are already speculating on who the boy is." The masked man replied as he crossed his legs and leaned back.
"Yeah, something about the boy being a soon to be boy wonder, right?" The mayor said with an annoyed smile.
"For once the press is correct, though they'll likely have to wait another two months or so before anyone sees this individual in the yellow cape." The man leaned forward. "Of course, I didn't just tell you that, so you're to play dumb. But you will openly embrace the speculation, as well as the boy. You will do everything in your power to make Robin feel welcome."
The mayor shrugged. "Should be easy enough, tourists have an even bigger hard-on for the kid than they do for the Bat. I'll just tout the tourism agenda like every mayor supporting the crime fighters before me."
"That also means keeping Yindel on a slightly tighter leash than usual."
"Now that's going to be the tricky part." Bagosian replied. "She ain't no Rohrbach, Yindel's by the book about everything, and the thing she wants to be remembered for is ridding Gotham of its reliance on vigilante justice. And having a juvenile out there ducking bullets and kicking scumbags in the balls will just set her off all the more. Really, the arguments I use to convince her to look the other way on Batman won't be worth jack shit once he starts endangering a child."
"That's an interesting problem that YOU have there, your honor." The masked man stated as he got back to his feet and started toward the window. "I suggest you come up with a solution for it. I will not accept anything that would keep Robin from taking to the streets once his training is complete."
"Oh, and what are you going to do about it if I don't do squat?" The angered mayor snapped as he too stood up.
The devil-faced young man stopped before climbing out the window. "What will I do? Well, I don't really know right now. There is so much that I can do, I suppose. Rest assured, I will not kill your wife or children over a matter such as this, and even killing you seems a bit extreme, but I will have no hesitation about wiping out your three Panamanian bank accounts, publicly exposing your multiple indiscretions with trannie prostitutes, or cutting pieces of you off of your body." The young man climbed out the window, but his head popped back in. "It would appear that we both have much to think about."
"Hmmm, home early I see." Dick commented from the family room adjacent to the foyer as his son walked through the front door. "That normally means that the date didn't go too well." John stepped into the room, his mind racing for a way to put the events that had just transpired into words. One look at his father let him know that it wasn't necessary. "Yeah, I know. It's all over the news."
John froze. "They don't know who I am, do they?"
"No," Dick arched an eyebrow at his son, "and yes. The boy, who witnesses estimate to have been between twelve and fifteen years of age, covered his face with ketchup and remains unidentified. John Grayson is safe. Of course, this being Gotham, speculation, and I mean strong speculation, is that Robin is finally back."
"Ughn." John groaned as he slumped into a chair adjacent to the couch his father was seated at and rubbed his hands over his face. "I'm so dead."
"Was there any other option?" The father asked calmly.
John shrugged as he stared off into a wall mounted family portrait. "No, one seemed cool enough to just take the money and leave, but the other one was tweaking like crazy." He turned and peered intently into his father's eyes. "I swear he was going to blast into one of the patrons at any second."
"Well then you have nothing to worry about." Dick replied. "You concealed your identity, you took down the perps with non-lethal force, and most importantly, none of the patrons was so much as scratched."
"Yeah, but you're not Damian." John replied as he leaned back and looked at the ceiling. "You know how pissed he got when the press made everyone aware of this new Huntress, and now they've got Robin." John shook his head. "At least with Huntress, the Batman can claim to have nothing to do with her, but with Batman endangering a child, Yindel's going to have no problem whipping Gotham up into a bat-hunting frenzy."
"Yindel's not Gotham." Dick replied, and noted his son's disregarding of his statement. "I take it you didn't listen to the radio on the car ride home."
"I took the bus, I didn't want to implicate the family by having a Wayne Enterprises car pick me up a few blocks from a Robin sighting." The boy replied. "Why?"
Dick leaned forward, grabbed the remote control off of the coffee table and switched on the television set. A pretty young reporter was walking along a downtown sidewalk, dozens of people walking past her on the sidewalk and street, all wearing different combinations of red, green and yellow. "The mayor's impromptu call to gather at Robinson Park has led to thousands, perhaps as many as twenty thousand people converging on this location to celebrate what they see as the return of a Gotham icon."
The scene cut to a recording of an interview with a random woman in her fifties that had been filmed earlier in the day. The voice of the reporter that had been shown moments before was heard asking a question. "Why are you excited by the news that there may be a new Robin in training?"
"Because Gotham needs Batman, and Batman needs Robin." The excited woman replied. "Batman's a violent man, doing a violent job. Robin's the only thing that's keeping him from going too far and killing people. And while some of these guys should be killed, it's his not killing them that keeps him from being hunted down in earnest. So yeah, I'm glad Robin's coming back."
The scene cut back to the live reporter, the shot wide out to encompass the throngs of people gathering in the park behind her. "The Boy Wonder, a staple of Gotham for nearly three decades, seems to be as popular now as he was when he first appeared in pixie boots,"
John snickered at the mention of the attire. "Shut it." Dick shot back in a faux-angry voice, the response just causing John to chuckle some more.
"a sentiment that Mayor Bagosian is confident can be translated into tourism dollars." The reporter continued. "Several minutes ago the mayor arrived in a SUV that was hauling a covered trailer. A great deal of attention has been devoted to what may be within the trailer, but Mayor Bagosian drove whatever it may be to the center of the park."
The reporter touched her ear, an indication that she was receiving word of something. "I'm now getting reports that the mayor has unveiled the contents of the trailer, a device of some sort, and appears ready to address the crowd." The reporter continued. "The device apparently resembles a large spot light, and there's currently growing excitement from within…" The reporter once again touched her ear. "We're cutting to the mayor now."
The shot on the television cut to a shot of the mayor, a heavy-set man in his fifties, standing perched upon a small stage with a large spotlight off to his side. "Thank you all for coming. Against the strong protestations of pretty much all my advisors, as well as my family and friends, I felt compelled to come here tonight. To come here and address the news from earlier today that a young boy anonymously thwarted a restaurant robbery, protecting all the patrons and subduing the armed gunmen, while going out of his way to protect his identity. This of course has led to speculation that Batman has once again found a young man to fight crime with him on our fair streets."
A cheer went out, one met by a groan from John. "I'm so fired."
"Now," the mayor continued, "I don't wish to convey the opinion that I encourage or condone vigilantism or the endangering of a child, and I sincerely hope that the speculation is incorrect, but if it is correct, far be it from me to fail to see the silver lining. Batman is huge for tourism, but Batman and Robin are nothing short of astounding for it. And right now, Gotham needs all the help it can get, both in terms of maintaining security, as well as attracting people to see this beautiful city that we all live in."
"He's kidding, right?" John asked.
Dick chuckled. "Gotham is not without its charms."
"So without further ado, I am going to assume that the speculation is correct, and welcome our newest protector." The mayor turned on his heel and marched over to the large spotlight, and threw a switch. A huge burst of red shot out from the light, and the camera shifted skyward to capture what would be projected.
"Daddy!" Sarah's voice was heard through the window several rooms away. "Come here, you have to see this!"
John shot up out of the chair to see what had gotten his sister so excited, while Dick just chuckled as he followed his son through the house and out onto their backyard deck. He looked down to see the still-swinging rings on the extra large playground set in the back yard where Sarah had been playing moments before, but then looked up at what his children were staring at in the sky. A blurred out red circle with a barely legible yellow 'R' reflecting against the evening sky wobbled over the occasional cloud. "What's that up there?" Dick asked, playing dumb for his little girl.
"It's the Robin signal, Daddy!" Sarah exclaimed.
"There's no Robin signal." John grumbled. "Or even a Robin for that matter."
"Yeah there is!" Sarah countered, looking at her brother. "He took out some thieves at a restaurant today!"
"I heard the news." John replied, giving his sister a half-smile. "It wasn't Robin, it was just some kid, or better yet, young looking man who was good with his hands."
"Nuh-uh!" Sarah snapped back. "He covered his face with ketchup, so he didn't want anyone to know who he was. He went flipping through the air like an acrobat, and took them out with some Kung-Fu. And lastly, he took the plates, utensils, menus and everything else that he and his date touched before leaving, promising to pay for them." The eight year old girl smiled. "Probably with unmarked, untraceable cash that's been wiped clean of fingerprints."
"Plates and utensils?" John questioned. "Who…"
"That's quite a rundown." Dick kidded his daughter as she trotted up stairs and onto the deck, interrupting John's question regarding the slight exaggeration. "You've been keeping up on this, huh?"
Sarah raised her cell phone, one with a screen that nearly covered one full side of it. "You may have grown up bouncing around place to place, but I'm Gotham born and bred, Daddy. Batman and Robin are my hometown team." Sarah nudged her brother. "Right Bro?"
John shrugged and shook his head. "I don't know. Red Hood's enemies don't get to break out of jail or Arkham."
"What?" The surprised and annoyed girl snarled. "Red Hood is a punk who got run out of town by Bats."
"Is that what happened?" The two kids turned in surprise at the voice of Damian coming from behind them, and saw him standing next to their unsurprised father. "I tried knocking, but seeing the light show I decided to come on in. I hope you don't mind."
Dick gave his brother an odd look. "Mind? You have your own key and a bedroom here."
"True, but this seemed like a family moment." Damian replied, smiling down at the kids.
"It is, so I suppose it's good that we're brothers." Dick replied, a little suspicious of Damian's odd behavior.
"Yeaahhhh," Damian started saying, a slight smile on his face, but then his smile faded and he looked directly at Dick, "I need for John to come with me."
"Right, that extra credit John took upon himself to do for his internship." Dick replied, giving Damian a sharp look. "From what I've heard, he found himself in a tight spot, but followed every protocol to the letter."
Damian smiled at Dick. "There's no question about that. But the cat's out of the bag now, and some of the corporate officers want to meet him. There's even talk of him taking on a new project."
"What?" Dick arched one eyebrow and gave his brother a skeptical look. "Since when do you cater to the 'corporate officers'? And he's definitely not ready for any project coming from them."
Damian shrugged. "From what I hear, it shouldn't be a difficult one. Mostly P.R., and I'll be there to help."
"P.R.?" Dick asked confusedly.
"Looks like you guys need to work on your code, Daddy." Sarah grumbled, then peered directly at John, a look of hurt etched on her face, hurt stemming from the realization that she was the last outsider to the family secrets. The young girl turned and stared out toward the trees that lined the far end of the yard.
Damian looked down at her sadly for a moment before clasping John's shoulder and gently glided him back into the house. "Trust me, he'll be safe as, well, whatever can be considered safe these days."
"That's not very reassuring Damian!" Dick whispered after his brother and son as they walked quickly toward the front door to leave the house.
The night was quiet. Perhaps it was due to the expectation that Batman would be patrolling with his new partner. The Huntress looked out over the city from the rooftop of the Powers International Building and allowed herself a chuckle. For once the assumptions of the masses were correct, but they'd be waiting another two months before their Robin would pass the Gauntlet and be ready for duty. The smile faded away from Huntress's face. Johnny would be 'their' Robin, wouldn't he? She had wanted to be Robin since she was a little girl, out there fighting crime at Tim's side, and later Damian's.
Helena rolled her neck. She had almost been ready to be Tim's partner when he got hurt and Damian forced himself into the role. She had been looking forward to working with Tim, but the idea of going out with Damian on patrol seemed every bit as exciting. But then Damian seemed to shun the idea of her being Robin. At first she assumed that it was because she was a girl. Stephanie Brown had been Robin for barely a heartbeat before being fired, and Damian had certainly picked up a few ideas about women from his maternal grandfather, so it seemed reasonable that chauvinism was the culprit. But it was when she saw him watching Johnny doing a series of flips off the diving board a couple years ago that she seemed to realize why he wasn't picking her. Damian had always modeled himself off of their father, and followed in Bruce's footsteps whenever possible. She realized that that meant that his choice for his first Robin should be a nearly superhuman acrobat with the last name Grayson.
So be it, thought Helena. She didn't fit her brother's Robin mold, whether due to gender, age or last name. Fine, screw him. She had been born and bred to dispense justice and to protect the innocent, and that's just what she had chosen to do. If that meant operating outside the protective wings of the Bat, then that's how she would be doing it. She had been offered a legacy to continue, and she was embracing it with both arms.
"You've been getting credit for the work of others."
Helena spun around at the voice behind her, and looked upon a dark figure with a devil mask crouching down about fifteen yards away. He stood, standing a couple inches taller than her with broad shoulders and a narrow waist. "Who are you, and why shouldn't I beat the snot out of you?"
The red form casually walked toward her. "Your brother and I are the ones who have killed Michael Francotti, Gabriel Dunnings, Francisco Goran, David Horowitz and their associates. Yet you seem to be getting all the credit."
The Huntress was a little taken aback. "My brother?"
"Yes, your brother." A light chuckling could be heard coming from under the mask. "No, don't worry, I'm not referring to Batman, or Grayson, or Drake."
"Who?" Helena feigned confusion. "I mean, Batman I can get, what with my attire and all, but I'm not sure who those other guys are."
"Yes, continue the charade, but I watched you lay into that group of thugs trying to rape that homeless woman the other night," the demon-masked individual said, "as well as your ascent to the top of this building, and you're too good to be anything but a bat." He then chuckled. "Bertinelli is definitely not capable of having taught you what you know. But if you want to go on pretending that you are not Helena Wayne, then by all means, go on pretending."
The Huntress displayed a smile, keeping her fear and surprise from outwardly manifesting itself in any way. "You can call me whatever you want, but you still haven't told me why I shouldn't be beating the snot out of you."
"I haven't provided you with any reason not to because I believe that you should." The masked man replied. "Or at least you should try to."
Huntress lunged forward. She realized that it was inadvisable to attack someone unknown that was clearly capable, as his ability to get onto the roof and approach her without her knowledge all but confirmed. And she had heard her father and Dick drill into Damian numerous times that they did not get into fights just to show how tough they were. But this was different, though she was forced to acknowledge that there would be a huge degree of satisfaction to kick the crap out of this surprisingly annoying individual. This was someone who knew who they were. She needed to take him down, find out who he was and how he knew what he knew, and eliminate the potential threat he posed while doing what she could to mitigate the damage his knowledge of them could pose.
Her initial strikes were parried or dodged by the demonic young man, though just barely. "Very good! Bruce has taught you well!"
Helena pressed her attack, throwing a barrage of kicks and punches, but the lean young man blocked them as well as he backed away from her across the rooftop. "I have no idea who you're talking about." Helena grunted in between strikes.
"Was that…yes, I see Damian has been sharing some League of Assassin techniques with you." The demon laughed louder. Though attempting to convey the appearance of his defense being effortless, the young man was actually having a tremendous amount of difficulty keeping her strikes from connecting. His efforts finally came up short as Huntress's right palm slammed into his forehead, immediately followed by her sweeping out his legs with a kick. He hit the ground hard but instantly converted it into a roll away from the Huntress, his good humor immediately replaced by rage. He twisted his body on the ground and flung a wide kick at her, the intent not so much to strike as to force her back a couple of steps.
"Whoever this Damian is, he must have been teaching me pretty well, huh?" Huntress taunted as she watched the man spring back to his feet.
"I was a fool to joke around and take you lightly." The demon-faced man growled as he marched toward her. "Playtime has ended." The two exchanged strikes and kicks in a furious manner, Huntress immediately realized that this person was virtually as well trained and conditioned as she was, and being larger and male, had her on strength. But she fought on, confident that she would beat him, because the idea of losing to some clown in a devil mask was preposterous.
As minutes ticked by the Huntress found herself slowly being put on the defensive by this evenly skilled but stronger opponent, and something else was weighing on her. An eerie sense of familiarity was coming over her; it was almost as if she had sparred with this person before. His controlled breathing was beyond familiar, it was almost…comforting. Helena jumped back. "Who are you?" She demanded.
"I'm surprised it's taken you this long to ask." The man replied, his previously heavily altered voice now coming back with less alteration, and something the Huntress almost recognized. "You are free to address me however you wish."
"As tempting as assigning you the designation 'Horned Asshole' may be, I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist upon your real name." Helena replied.
"You're just going to have to beat it out of me little girl." The masked man replied.
"No problem, Horned Asshole!" Huntress lunged back in, but was met by a blast of smoke emanating from her target's sleeve. Her disorientation left her momentarily vulnerable, and the unknown man took full advantage and landed a series of punches on her, punches with enough power to send her staggering back, dazed.
"FREEZE!" One of three security guards yelled out as they barreled through the door and onto the roof, tasers drawn and pointed at the man.
"Put your hands up!" The second guard ordered, directing his weapon at the male. The demonic mask turned and glared at him. "Yeah you Jersey Devil, get your hands in the air!"
"Cover the Huntress, Dan." The first guard directed the last one to come out.
"No Dan, cover me." The Jersey Devil contradicted. "All of you should be covering me." The Devil then lunged at them, dodging to the left to avoid the shot from the first guard's taser, then twisting the other way to avoid a second shot from another guard. The Devil laid out the first guard with a right cross, grabbed the arm of the second guard and twisted his body into the hesitant third guard, knocking them all to the ground. The Devil then snap-kicked the weapon from the downed third guard and raised his boot to stomp the man's skull.
"NO!" A black, white and red form yelled as it swung up over the side of the building and onto the rooftop. The Red Hood marched toward the Jersey Devil. "What in the hell are you doing?"
"Whatever the hell I want to do!" The Devil replied.
"These aren't scumbags, they're just guys doing their jobs!" The Red Hood snarled back. "We kill who deserve killing, and only those that deserve killing!"
"I agree, and these assholes deserve killing!" The Devil spat back. "They interrupted my fight with the Huntress!"
The larger Red Hood grabbed the younger man by the arm and yanked him away from the three guards. "Not a killable offense, I'm afraid." The Hood then looked down at the guards. "You're outmatched, go call the cops and wait for them, or stay here and have bones broken." The three guards slowly looked at one another and nodded, carefully lifting back to their feet and quickly heading through the door.
The Jersey Devil watched them leave and then turned back to the Red Hood. "Well done, that leaves me with at least a few minutes to finish off the Huntress." He turned toward the glaring young woman in a fighting stance, blood gently leaking over her bottom lip and though covered by her mask, a large bruise was forming under her left eye.
"No we're leaving." Red Hood countered.
"We're partners, I do not answer to you!" The Devil growled angrily.
"What, you're going to kill her?" Red Hood chuckled. He then leaned in and whispered ominously. "She's your big sister, she's off limits."
"She's out here in a costume, she's no longer a civilian." The Devil growled back, then continued in a quieter tone. "And she's no more my sister than you are my brother."
Red Hook shrugged. "I know the official story, but if you'd spent any time in Wayne Manor, seen the portraits of your ancestors, seen your father's face on a daily basis, you'd note that her resemblance to a Wayne is way too close to be coincidental."
"How could you?" The two men turned to see the young woman glaring at the Red Hood. She had not heard what they were discussing, but it was clear that they were partners. "What else have you been telling your friend?"
The Hood only stared back for a moment before finally replying. "I haven't told him anything he didn't already know."
"Bullshit!" Helena growled, raising her hand and pointing at him. "I wanted to believe you were redeemable, but now I see that you're not."
"Shut up girl." The Devil snapped. "He may very well have just saved your life, or at the very least" the Devil walked over to where they had been fighting, pulled out a small bit of cloth, bent over and dabbed at a drop of Helena's blood that had fallen during the fight, "he may have pointed out a reason for me to offer you an alternative to dying by my hand."
"Who the hell is he?" Helena barked at Jason.
"Haven't you been listening?" The demonic man replied as he walked to the edge of the roof, police sirens approaching. "I'm the Jersey Devil." He leapt off.
Helena turned her head away from the departed enemy and back toward the Red Hood. "I always wanted you back in the family. I always referred to you as my brother." The Huntress turned and marched to another side of the building to make her getaway. "Never again."
Jason watched his sister jump out into the night. He always mocked the sentimentality of his estranged family, he frequently used it against them, but when all was said and done, it genuinely pained him to hurt them as he did, even when he was plotting their downfall.
"Why am I wearing this?" John asked, prodding the red fabric tightly covering the body armor on his chest.
"It's a way to conceal your identity." Batman replied as he stepped into the transporter.
"There are other ways to conceal my identity than the Robin costume." John replied, looking closely at the adhesive-coated back of the stylized domino mask before finally affixing it to his face as he stepped next to Batman.
"Well you're certainly not ready to be wearing the Batsuit." Batman replied.
"I'm not ready to be wearing this one either." John answered.
"True, but for what we need you to do, this seems to be the only appropriate outfit." Batman answered.
John nodded. "So I'm not Robin, but I'm wearing the Robin outfit and I'm to go by the Robin moniker?"
"Are you two done yammering?" Tim asked from a control panel.
"Send us, Drake." Batman replied.
A bright light washed over the two of them, and a moment later they were in a large, empty room filled with equipment that John had difficulty identifying. A split second later two blue forms were standing before them, apparently appearing from nowhere, both teenage humans with similar costumes and exposed dark hair, but one male and one female. "Oh, hello Batman. The others have been expecting you."
"Haste, Velocity!" Robin muttered in awe, but quickly regained his composure and calmed his voice. "It's…it's a pleasure to meet you."
"Likewise Robin." Haste, the male replied.
Velocity walked forward toward the newly arrived John. "I've got one question for you Robin." She stopped directly in front of him on the transporter pad and leaned in close so that her lips were next to his ear. "Who's your favorite babysitter?" She whispered playfully before giving him a peck on the cheek at super human speed and disappearing, reappearing next to Haste instantly.
Robin's eyes spread wide. "Iris?"
Velocity nudge her brother, who was giving her a disapproving look. "Told 'ya I was his favorite."
Robin then turned and looked at Haste. "Jai?"
"I'm not sure your father would approve of you so cavalierly revealing your identities." Batman muttered as he stepped off the transporter.
"He's Dick's son." Arsenal called out as he walked into the room. "Wally probably has these two in the doghouse for not letting John in on it sooner." The forty-one year old crime fighter jerked his bionic thumb back in the direction he had just come. "Kal and the others are waiting for you. I'll keep the kid company since the blue bolts have training to get back to."
"Oh, come on Roy!" Both Iris and Jai complained.
"Now." Arsenal grumbled back as he passed Batman and continued toward Robin. The two blue speedsters disappeared, leaving Arsenal too look over the newest Robin. "A little taller, lighter hair, and a much better outfit, but damn, you look so much like he did when he first started."
Arsenal nodded. "The greatest sidekick of all time. The example we all strove to be like." The man turned away sadly. "Maybe you'll be the first to reach that bar he set for the rest of us."
"Well, I'm not even at the point of being a bona fide sidekick yet." John muttered as he took a few steps toward the man. "Not even sure what I'm doing here in this getup. I'm still a ways off from being ready, worthy, whatever."
Arsenal pulled the boy in next to him, wrapping his arm around his shoulder and walking him toward the hallway. "You may not yet be ready, but you're definitely worthy. You're Dick and Bab's kid, how could you not be worthy?" Roy smiled down at the pre-teen.
John smiled back as they entered the hallway and looked out one of the many viewports lining the other wall at the blackness of space outside. "So this is the Watchtower?"
"Yep," Arsenal replied, "Watchtower four point oh."
"So what are Batman and I supposed to be doing?" Robin asked. "He didn't really divulge anything to me."
Arsenal exhaled a barely audible grumble before answering the boy. "They're sending you to Themyscira in hopes that you'll be able to get them to approach the Atlanteans on our behalf."
"What?" John looked up at one of his many 'uncles' in confusion. "Why would they send us? Damian's probably the least diplomatic member of the Justice League and was still a kid when Themyscira severed ties to the outside world."
"We need an in, and you're right, Damian's not it." Roy looked down and winked at the boy.
Robin peered even more confusedly at Arsenal. "Me? What are you guys expecting me to do?"
"Ask to meet your Godmother." Arsenal replied.
Robin was a little startled by the statement, and thought silently for a moment. "So Donna Troy is an Amazon?" John chuckled. "That would explain why I've never met her."
"Well, you met her," Roy chuckled, "I guess that photographic memory of yours doesn't go all the way back to infancy, huh?"
"Everything has its limits." John replied. "But really, you think me asking to talk to Donna is going to open the way to reconciliation with the Amazons?"
"Yeah, a bit of a stretch, but we're desperate." Arsenal muttered. "We're all but certain that the Atlanteans are going to declare war on the surface world in a matter of weeks, if not days."
"What's the bug up Zarin's ass?" John asked.
"Not sure." Arsenal replied. "I mean, yeah, there's always been that right wing fringe element down there that's wanted to wage war against us or drown us with some super-weapon for our polluting, overfishing, and so on, but it's usually been kept in check. Arthur had to save us from it a few times, but he's gone now, and the latest anti-surface zealot has finally gotten to the point where he can make their dreams of war come true."
"And apparently the Amazons have enough clout with these psychos to keep such dreams at bay?" John questioned. "Even if Damian and I could get an audience with Diana, and even if the miracle of reopening lines of communication with them could be achieved, and even if we could then sway them to speak to Atlantis on our behalf, what indication have we gotten that Zarin and his band of thugs will care what she has to say? Sure Atlantis and Themyscira have strong ties, and I'm sure Queen Diana will be welcomed and treated regally, but ultimately, what little I know of General Zarin, well, King Zarin now, tells me he won't deviate from whatever path he's set for himself for any reason."
"You're likely correct, Robin," Batman announced as he turned the corner from another hallway and headed toward them, "but we must try."
"So what's the deal?" Arsenal asked the approaching Batman.
"Robin and I will board a Javelin and head to Themyscira now." Batman replied as he continued marching past his partner and the other League member.
Arsenal gave Robin a wry grin. "Enjoy your trip."
"I don't like this Bruce." Dick announced as he made his way down the steps and into the Batcave. "He's not ready to be out there, especially for something like this. It'd be one thing if Damian was taking him on a drug bust or something, we've been training him for that, but to take him on what could be seen as an invasion to a nation of super-powered Amazons that hate us; that's insane! I don't know what he was thinking when he came up with it."
"It was my idea." Bruce replied without taking his eyes off the vast computer screen in front of him.
"What?" Dick questioned incredulously as he stopped next to his adoptive father. "Would you please explain that to me?"
Bruce turned an looked up at Dick from his seat. "He's taken the vow, he will be Robin, his training has proceeded to the point where I believe he's as prepared for anything he'll likely face as he needs to be," Bruce turned away, "and he's the only one that has a chance of pulling this off."
"Why? Because he's Donna's Godchild?" Dick questioned disbelievingly. "He was an infant the last time she saw him. And it's not like she, or even Diana, exercise enough power to sway the vast majority of the Amazons. It took every ounce of influence over the Amazons they had not to continue with their retaliation twelve years ago! Donna having a Godchild isn't going to get them to forget what happened and go to bat for us with the Atlanteans!"
Bruce looked back up. "It's our only play, Dick. We've got to take it."
"Why? We've dealt with Atlantean despots before."
Bruce peered up at Dick before exhaling. "Not like this. Zarin is going to wage war with the surface, and the little intelligence that we've been able to get indicates that he is capable of creating multiple seismic events that will wipe out most coastal cities with tidal waves, potentially killing tens of millions."
"So we stop him, just like we've stopped countless other threats!" Dick grumbled.
"That's what we're trying to do." Bruce replied.
"You're telling me that our best option is a Robin in training playing upon one Amazon's sentimentality?" Dick muttered.
A hardness came to Bruce's voice. "Zarin has the support of the Atlanteans because waging war against us is reasonable and justified in their minds. But if the Amazons approach them on our behalf, at the very least the majority of those Atlanteans will expect Zarin to delay his attack. When he refuses to at least alter his time table, the support of those Atlanteans may no longer be so assured."
"I get the strategy, I just fail to see how it's the best one we have." Dick replied.
Bruce shrugged. "You suggest the Justice League go down there and employ some insistent negotiations, is that it?" The older man noted the younger man's nod. "You realize that any attempt for us to go to Atlantis will be met with military retaliation."
"Fine, we can take it." Dick grumbled.
"No, I don't think we can." Bruce replied. "The aforementioned paltry intelligence we have on Zarin's regime has let us know that in addition to the seismic weapons at his disposal, he also has enough Kryptonite to keep Clark, Kara, Karen and Connor effectively neutralized, as well as what appears to be knowledge of the rest of the team and how best to handle us."
Dick was stunned. "How did he come by all of that?" He noted Bruce's anticipatory stare and began trying to figure it out for himself. A moment later he growled. "Son of a bitch, Ras."
"That's my guess as well." Bruce replied.
"Get Zarin to wipe us out and grind the planet into a pre-Industrial Revolution existence, something both Al Ghul and Atlantis has always wanted." Dick continued grumbling. "But that still…" Dick stopped talking as he caught sight of Helena Bertinelli escorting an injured Helena Wayne down the stairs, the younger dressed in a variation of the older Helena's Huntress costume. "Helena, are you OK?" Dick ran toward the two women, with Bruce immediately following him.
"I'm fine!" Helena snapped. "I had a run in with Jason and his newest partner, and Helena insisted that we get you guys in the loop."
"Jason attacked you?" Bruce roared the question, rage flaring out of his eyes.
"No, it was the other guy. One of the security guards called him the Jersey Devil, and I heard the news guy on the radio use the name so it'll probably stick, which is unfortunate. The name I gave him was much better." Helena answered. "Jason didn't show up until later, and actually reigned the guy in."
"Tell us about this Jersey Devil." Tim asked, having apparently appeared from nowhere.
"About five-nine or five-ten, completely solid one-sixty, definitely trained by the League of Assassins. Body armor on par with ours, a devil mask, and while not super human, he was really, really fast. Easily on par with any of us." Helena displayed a look of doubt and confusion. "And…well, there may have been, never mind."
"What?" Bruce insisted.
"I think he was a teenager, like around my age, maybe even younger." Helena replied. "And…he seemed familiar."
"Familiar how?" Dick pressed.
"Like…" Helena looked down, "like I was sparring with Damian."
Bruce, Tim and Dick all shared a look. Tim peered at Dick. "Damian's big justification for when he started refusing to work with me was that Robin had become taller than Batman. He was fifteen at the time."
Dick nodded. "That would be about the right age."
Both Helenas watched the exchange between the men in utter confusion. "What are you guys talking about?" The sixteen year old asked.
"Have a seat Helena." Bruce suggested as he directed his daughter to a chair.
The javelin cut through the clouds, the rising sun behind it, and set out toward a rocky beach on a seemingly deserted portion of Themyscira. "Justice League javelin, turn back now or you will be assaulted." The female voice came through the speaker.
"This is Batman. I am here to see Queen Diana on official business." Batman replied. "I am with my partner Robin."
"Queen Diana's business with the Justice League ended years ago, and your mention of a child being on board will not keep us from destroying you." A commotion could be heard in the background.
"Please sister, allow me to attend to this." Another female voice could be heard saying in the background. A moment later that voice was coming through clearly. "State your name, Batman."
"That is something I choose not to divulge." Batman replied, slightly confused.
"I am now alone in this room, and I know that the original Batman was Bruce Wayne, and the only other one that I was aware of was Dick Grayson." The woman replied.
"Identify yourself." Batman growled.
There was a pause before the response came. "My name is Kleandra, a feminized version of the name of a famous Greek Commander of Archers. Now it's your turn, Batman."
"The Justice League had a fairly extensive list of Amazons at the time of our last contact, and the list of those that knew the identities of League members was much shorter." Batman replied. "Your name appeared on neither list. I know nothing about you."
"None the less, any chance you have of landing your plane on this island rests in your willingness to identify yourself." The woman replied.
Batman paused a moment. "My name is Damian Wayne, son of Bruce Wayne."
"Oh," the woman sounded almost disappointed, "I was hoping that you were Dick. Please turn back and leave Themysciran air space."
"What is you knowledge of Richard Grayson?" Batman growled. "Are you a friend of Donna Troy, did you meet Dick through her?"
"Turn back and leave Themyscrian air space." Kleandra growled back.
"We are landing. Our presence here is entirely peaceful, as I am sure you have no doubt of, but attack anyway if that's what you feel best." Batman replied as he directed the javelin down toward the beach.
"You've been warned, prepare to be engaged!" Kleandra snapped.
"No, wait!" Robin called into speaker. "In addition to our desired meeting with Queen Diana, I was hoping to meet my Godmother, Donna Troy."
"Your Go…, who is this?" The angered and confused Amazon barked.
"My name is John Grayson," Robin came back, "and apparently you know my father."
There was a long pause before the Amazon's voice came back through the speaker. "Land on the beach, exit the craft, and wait for your escorts!"
Batman gave his partner a sideways glance and displayed a subdued smile. "Understood."
Batman and Robin exited the javelin, stepped out onto the beach and remained motionless. A moment later a series of arrows, each arriving a fraction of a second behind the previous flew out toward Batman, grazing the outsides of his uniform and cowl, bouncing off of the javelin and falling to the sand below. Batman did not flinch at all, but noted the distance of the archer and was suitably impressed. "As good as Queen." The archer, who was far enough so that John could only make out that she was a woman with long dark hair, came running toward them. As she got closer John was able to make out that she appeared to be in her late teens or very early twenties, was of mixed Caucasian and Asian ancestry, five foot eight and in excellent shape, stunningly beautiful, and for a reason John could not determine, strangely familiar. "Showing off for the kid?" Batman asked as she drew near, six other Amazons running toward them in the distance.
"Making you aware that your continued existence is entirely in our hands," Kleandra replied, "and seeing if you're composed enough to be worthy of the costume."
"And…" Batman asked with a grin.
"Jury's still out." Kleandra turned away from Batman and looked over at Robin, noting a surprised look on his face. "Something wrong, Boy Wonder?"
"No, maam, it's just that I wouldn't have expected an Amazon to use a phrase like 'the jury's still out'." John replied. "It seems out of place for a Themysciran."
"Princess Kleandra," one of the arriving Amazons, in full battle armor and armed with swords and spears, called out, "you should not approach these men without escort."
"Queen Diana would not approve of this, or of you allowing them to land on our island." Another said.
"Princess?" Batman asked, a bit of confusion in his voice.
"That is not your business, Batman." Kleandra hissed at the large man before turning toward the soldiers. "This child is the Godchild of Princess Donna. I do not think shooting them down would have been an appropriate response."
A third Amazon looked over the two uninvited guests with disdain. "We should bring them before Diana."
"Yup, his favorite hush-hush Panamanian account has grown by seventy-five thousand dollars in the last eight weeks." Tim announced. "I can say with confidence that Mayor Bagosian's pressure to keep the gangland killings under-scrutinized was definitely bought and paid for. I've got no proof, but chances are he's the one that got Jason to come back to town."
"Alright, that explains Jason, but what's the incentive for the League of Assassins?" Dick asked.
"It's training." Bruce replied. "Ras and Talia can teach the child a great deal about us, but there's definitely something to be said for having a tutor who was one of us."
"So he wants to take us down?" Helena asked.
"Very likely. Regardless of whether Damian returns today, I'm going out tonight." Bruce replied, then glanced over to Dick. "How are the knees?"
"Been taking my glucosamine, and will inject a couple millimeter's worth of temporary cartilage." Dick replied. "They'll hate me in the morning, but they're definitely good for tonight."
"Don't worry, they feel a lot better when you get to be my age." Bruce replied in a deadpan fashion.
Dick smiled broadly. "I think I liked it better when you didn't have a sense of humor."
"Please remove your masks." Queen Diana of Themyscira asked Batman and Robin as they stood before her seated on her throne. Twelve years had passed since any man had seen her, but she still looked completely unchanged, her appearance was that of a twenty-seven year old woman, an age she'd long since eclipsed even before the Amazons had resumed their policy of isolationism. John looked up at Damian, but at seeing Damian comply and pull off his cowl, John followed suit with his stylized domino mask, wincing slightly as the spirit gum pulled at his skin. "It is good to see you again, Damian, you have grown into a stunning man. You are definitely your father's son." Diana then looked over at John and smiled. "As are you, John Grayson. Your father was a beauty, and you are no less."
"Thank you your highness." John bowed.
"Tell me Damian, why have you come here?" Diana asked, almost glaring at Batman.
"To offer our apology, once again, for the attack on your island, to request a resumption of open dialogue between our peoples, and to request your aid on a matter." Damian replied.
"What matter?" Diana cut right to it.
Damian nodded. "Atlantis has just come out of a military coup with a new leader, one intent upon declaring war on the surface world."
"And you mean for us to intervene on your behalf?" Diana asked almost amusedly. "Quite frankly, Damian, we're more inclined to offer them assistance. It was not all that long ago that we were on the cusp of declaring war on your world ourselves."
"I recognize that, your Highness," Damian replied, "but you must recognize that the actions perpetrated against you were done by fringe elements within our world, and can not be seen as being representative of us all. That, and the likelihood of the Atlanteans utilizing weaponry against us that will cause a substantial rise in the levels of the oceans. Not even your enchanted land would be immune from that."
"Then perhaps we should inform the Atlanteans to utilize other weapons, and make sure that they are very accurate with the targets of their tsunamis." Diana snapped back. "You may or may not be deserving of your fate with the Atlanteans, but it is not the concern of Themyscira."
"I see. You have changed much since last I saw you, Wonder Woman." Damian all but hissed.
"You have not, Damian." Diana came back. "You have met with me and said what you came here to say. Leave now."
"Your Highness," John bowed and stepped forward, "I do not have the right, but I have an additional request to make of you." He hesitantly looked up. "If you'll hear it."
Diana chuckled lightly. "Once again, Grayson charm and humility is used in an attempt to defuse a situation created by Wayne arrogance. Fine, go ahead an ask."
"I wish to meet Donna Troy, my Godmother." John said humbly.
"Yes, I know you would." Diana replied sadly. "And I would love nothing more than to grant you that. But unfortunately Donna is no longer with us."
John looked up, his eyes wide with surprise and sadness. "She's dead?"
Diana looked away, her mind a flurry of how best to explain the situation to the child. "No, but she is no longer in the world of the living."
"Please explain." John requested.
The Amazon queen looked down on the boy, her initial intent not to offer the requested explanation, but upon gazing at his saddened and confused face, she relented. "Shortly after we cutoff contact with the outside world, Donna felt the need…" Diana looked over to Kleandra, who's gaze was on the ground and her body extremely tense, before looking back at John and Damian to continue, "she sought out Hades and made a pact. One where she would live with and serve him. He boasted that any attempt to escape, or any attempt on our part to rescue her would be futile." An angry look came over her face. "A boast that thus far has been merit-worthy."
"Why would she do such a thing?" John asked.
Diana looked down sadly, then once again over at Kleandra. "Her reasons were selfless and pure. A gift of absolute love."
"I don't…" John started.
"You're not meant to understand, young man." Diana interrupted.
"There must be a way to free her." Damian insisted.
Diana glared at him. "Why do you care?"
Damian met the glare uncowed. "She's League. We take care of our own, political ramifications be damned."
Diana continued glaring at the bold young man. "Good answer, Damian, one that your father would give. But I have spent almost twelve years trying to get her free of Hades' grasp, each invasion has been repelled, each attempt to gain entrance through stealth has been blocked. I have not given up," the Queen hissed, "but I have yet to be successful. Hades made it clear that no one on what he referred to as 'The Rolls of Fate' could gain entrance to his inner sanctum without him knowing. And once he is aware of our presence, he is too powerful to fight; at least by any means we've attempted to fight him with."
"If you do get her out, does that mean he would not try to reclaim her?" John asked.
"Yes, I believe so, but getting her out has proven to be a…most difficult task." Diana stated sadly, but with an unyielding determination in both her voice and face.
"Explain this 'Rolls of Fate'." Damian demanded.
Diana was a little put off by the abruptness of the question, but answered none the less. "He failed to elaborate, but I believe that it means those with a future."
"Are you able to summon the Hecateae?" Damian immediately asked.
Diana's eyes widened, but she quickly resumed her hard stare. "We have contacted The Fates before, but they have been of no help to us. If we contact them again, we had better have a good reason to do so."
Damian placed his hand on John's shoulder. "I believe that I have something that qualifies. Summon them."
Diana continued to stare at Damian for a few moments more before turning to one of the dozens of Amazons behind her, a blond woman who appeared decades older than the other Amazons. "Paula, please do as he asks."
Damian stared at the woman. "That is the Baroness Von Gunther, is it not?"
Diana delivered a sharp stare. "She is an expert in the mystic arts, and has become quite adept at summoning the Fates over the years. The evil done in her body was attributable to an invading demon." Diana turned and watched as the Amazons cleared away from Paula Von Gunther while the woman began chanting and placing honey and other offerings from her pouch onto the ground. After a few minutes a dark cloud began forming in front of the woman, and swirled about. Several moments later three women emerged from it and the cloud dispersed.
The women, one a young woman in her late teens, another middle aged and the third quite elderly, all glared disapprovingly at the former Nazi turned Amazon. "Why have you summoned us yet again, Amazon?"
Damian stepped forward, pulling John along with him. "I requested that you be summoned." He then thrust John forward. "Tell me of this boy's fate."
The agitated women focused on the child, but were soon confused. "He…he has no fate." The young woman answered.
"He should not exist." The middle age woman continued.
"And yet he is here." The elderly woman finished. "How can it be that we are unaware of this child?"
"Is it possible that this boy can enter Tartarus without Hades being aware of it?" Damian pressed.
"Yes." The elder woman replied.
"Though the god of the underworld will still be able to see him with his eyes, hear him with his ears, and smell him with his nose, as will his subjects," the young woman elaborated, "so a journey even for one unrecognized by fate would be treacherous and all but certainly fatal."
"Understood." Damian replied, pulling John back away from the fascinated witches. "I am most appreciative for this confirmation." Damian then turned to Baroness Von Gunther and nodded for her to dismiss the Fates before turning back to Diana.
Diana stared from Damian to John. "I don't understand."
Damian nodded. "Several years ago, while serving as Robin under Richard, I studied several Justice League reports and came across one where the Green Lantern Kyle Raynor claimed to have been confronted by a Monitor, who said that he should have been killed in the then-recent multi-versal crisis. I mentioned it to Dick, who went silent for a few moments and then mentioned that he had heard a similar message in his head at about that time. This would have been years before John's conception, and if Dick was destined to have been dead, then John's existence was never fated." Damian shrugged. "It was really just a wild guess, but it seems to have panned out."
"But I will not send a child into Tartarus." Diana replied.
"You have to!" John protested. "It's the only way to get Donna out. And I'm not just some random child pulled off the street; I'm Robin. You'd be hard pressed to find more than a dozen adults who've undergone the level of training that I've had."
"None the less, I will not be sending a child down into Hell." Diana replied firmly.
"Queen Diana," Kleandra called out, "I believe that you went to great lengths to make this a Democracy." She stepped forward, apologetically lowering her head. "I move that we vote on whether to allow John Grayson to attempt this."
The young man stepped out of his car and hurried around to the passenger side, where his pregnant wife had already opened the door. She was only four months along, and easily able to get out, but none the less the bespecled and mustached twenty six year old man was dead set on pampering his wife to the fullest, and extended his hand to help her out. Devlin watched all of this taking place through a pair of small binoculars from atop a building across the street from the hospital parking garage.
"This is what you ran off to see?" The voice of the Red Hood broke Devlin from his observations of the young couple, and the boy lowered his devil mask back into place before turning to look up at his partner. Red Hood raised a pair of binoculars to see what had captured his partner's attention. "What's so special about those two that you felt the need to…wait a minute, is that…that's the chick you did in my apartment! Mary, right?"
The Jersey Devil stood and started walking away, putting his binoculars back into its proper compartment on his belt. "We've got a job to do."
"Well congrats, kid, looks like you got what you were after." Jason chuckled. "You knocked her up and let the poor chump think it's his."
"It very well might be his." Devlin snapped back.
"I don't know;" Jason turned and followed after the boy, "you were dead certain she was ovulating, and brides to be often give their fiancés the big 'no' for several weeks prior to the wedding. Not sure why, it's not like their hymen is going to grow back, but most do that anyway." Jason noted the boy walking away faster and refusing to make any sort of reply. The Red Hood caught up and placed his hand on the teenager's shoulder. "Look, I get it. You did something spur of the moment, dismissed the guy because at the time he was a nameless, faceless nobody, but now you've been confronted by the fact that he's a real person, and from the looks of it, a decent real person. That feeling coursing through you right now is something you inherited from your father; it's called guilt, and his DNA is probably packed with enough of it to offset the sociopathic traits you inherited from your mother, making you probably normal in the guilt category."
"Are you done being paternal, Todd?" The Jersey Devil growled out as he shrugged Jason's hand off his shoulder. "It does not suit you, and I do not require it." The boy then turned and glared at the older and somewhat taller man. "And for the record, you are wrong. Neither my mother nor my grandfather are sociopaths. Ruthless, yes, but they can be quite compassionate. And your assertion that I feel guilty about possibly impregnating that woman and leaving a child of mine for that stranger to raise; you're wrong about that as well. Having seen him does not change the fact that he is still a nobody. Now, I apologize for the delay, let's get to business."
The Red Hood shrugged and waved his hand for Jersey Devil to lead the way. The two traversed the rooftops for several blocks before stopping to look down through the windows of a warehouse where what appeared to be a large scale drug deal was taking place. The two scanned the situation and Red Hood leaned in toward his partner. "Looks to be simple enough. Twelve of one crew, ten of the other, and from the looks of it only the four goons guarding the front and two guarding the back. This game is a lot easier now than when I worked with your dad; not being able to use lethal force really raises the difficulty level."
"A pointless self-handicap." Devlin replied absently.
"You seemed quite happy when you heard this buy had been moved forward to tonight, almost as though you had plans for tomorrow." Jason muttered as he too studied the environment.
"Not that it's any of your business, but yes, I'm hoping to make a friend. Someone closer to my age." Devlin replied.
"A play date?" Jason chuckled. "You murder criminals, would be willing to murder non-criminals, and have a habit of breeding other guy's fiancés, and now you're telling me you want a friend for some wholesome, all American fun?"
"Relax, I haven't gone soft, I do have an ulterior motive." Deviln replied. "And Paxton is anything but wholesome."
"Paxton?" The Red Hood asked.
"It truly is none of your business." The Jersey Devil replied. "The sun is due to come up in a few hours, let's get to work."
"The police will handle work tonight." The gravelly voice came from behind them.
"They're on their way now." A less ominous voice came from off to the side. The Hood and Devil turned and saw Batman and Nightwing staring at them. "Our sister will be fine, but I don't think that fact will keep Bruce from beating the hell out of the two of you."
"Oh spare me your threats, circus boy." The Jersey Devil barked at Nightwing but stepped toward Batman and addressed him. "Tell our father that his time is nearly at an end. That his empire will soon be passed on to his youngest, most worthy child, and that that empire will become an extension of the League of Assassins, our most potent weapon for setting the planet right once again."
"You just told him kid." Red Hood stated as he took a step forward and stared at his former mentor. "Hello Bruce."
The Jersey Devil shuddered involuntarily. He had imagined meeting his father for the first time repeatedly throughout his entire life, but each fantasy had involved him being assertive and in a position where he was in control. Unfortunately, his first true encounter with his father had him caught unsuspecting and then had him confuse Bruce for his brother. The boy straightened up and put on a defiant air to try and regain his composure. "Greetings father, I had thought you had given up the cape."
"Having my daughter assaulted prodded me out of retirement." Batman growled.
"In all fairness, I was not aware that she was truly your daughter until scanning some blood test results a few hours ago." Devlin replied. "Though I really doubt I'd have held back any. Of course now, knowing what I know, I'm grateful that Todd kept me from killing her. She's entitled to an opportunity to join me. I doubt mother would approve, but I was given authorization to run this operation as I see fit."
"Look, kid, you may want to tone it down a little." Nightwing suggested, a wry smile on his face. "Batman's got a hankerin' for some spankerin' tonight, and you're saying all the right things to set him off."
"Your desire for your kin to join you goes both ways." Batman replied, almost contrary to Nightwing's warning. "You are genetically identical to Damian. I would guess that the first nine years of your upbringing didn't differ from his significantly. While you're undoubtedly smarter now than you were then, you still would have been extremely competent at that age, at least if you truly are like your brother, because even at that tender age Damian was a genius. He was impulsive but an excellent judge of character as well as a master of situational awareness. And once he was able to get a fair understanding of who and what we were, he chose us."
"You don't need to choose now," Dick continued, "the offer will remain on the table likely indefinitely, but unless it's your opinion that Damian's an idiot, it may be worth your while to at least look into who we are beyond the propaganda that the League has been feeding you."
The Jersey Devil looked from one hero to the other, cocked his head and chuckled. "Wow, how sappy. You two were the most prominent men to ever be called The Batman, and you resort to this sentimental outstretched hand rubbish? You should be scaring me senseless, making me fear for my life! I just kicked the shit out of your daughter, you should be mopping this rooftop with me, Wayne!"
"Your partner will tell you that we usually extend offers for redemption before resorting to what you just suggested." Nightwing replied seriously, but with a slight hint of mirth in his voice. "And from what I heard, you didn't walk away from Huntress completely unscathed."
The Jersey Devil chuckled. "Yes, she's a world class athlete who's been exceptionally trained. But she's still a woman, and there isn't a baseline human woman on the planet that can defeat me."
"Good thing for you Cass isn't here to have heard you say that." Nightwing chuckled back.
Devlin looked over at Nightwing and stared intently. "If that would prompt her to violence, then I wonder how hearing that I killed her mother six months ago would go over." He then looked over to Batman, who was hiding how startled he was by the comment very well. "Granted, she was a bit long in the tooth and worn away by countless battles, but she was still arguably the most formidable unarmed mortal woman on the planet, and I crushed her skull with my palm."
"Well, young man," Batman growled, "you should have no problem with me then. I'm every bit as long in the tooth and battle weary as Shiva was."
The Jersey Devil just peered at his father. "You're a man, and while at fifty-five you're a long way from your prime, you are still one of the finest physical specimens our species has ever produced. And your training and skills are beyond all but the tiniest handful of others to have ever lived; on par with Shiva's, who I must admit was beyond me in that regard, but, as mentioned, I was just too fast and strong for her skills to overcome. But that's not the case when I face you. Even old and worn, you are too powerful and knowledgeable for me to defeat in physical combat at this time." The teenager then clapped his hands twice. "Which is why I made certain preparations."
From the shadows of the buildings surrounding them, numerous wraith-like entities emerged and set out flying toward the group on the rooftop. A moment later they were spitting forth a barrage of bullets down toward Batman and Nightwing. "What the hell are you doing?" Red Hood grabbed the Jersey Devil by the arm and growled at him. "All I wanted to do tonight was to kill them," he pointed down at the building next to them where the occupants were coming out, alerted by the gunfire and preparing their departure, "not them!" He then pointed to Batman and Nightwing, utilizing amazing acrobatics to evade the gunfire directed at them.
"Unhand me!" The Devil snarled over the sounds of approaching sirens as he pulled his arm free. "I've followed you, aided you, and adopted your mission for months, hoping to glean some insight regarding my father and his clan from you, which has proven to be a major disappointment on that front. My patience came to an end, and with the actions in Atlantis reaching fruition, I decided it was time to engage my father and deliver him his first defeat at my hands. So I apologize for ruining yet another night of killing street level gangsters and dealers, a foolish endeavor that overlooks the root of American crime; inequity and an amoral citizenry that creates a demand for all this evil. It is the society that breeds this citizenry that needs to be obliterated. Accomplish that, and the crime disappears on its own."
"Inequity?" The Hood snarled back in exaggerated confusion. "This coming from little Prince Al Ghul?"
"I'm exceptional. The exceptional should be rewarded as it falls on them to guide the masses and protect them from themselves." The Devil arrogantly sneered as several of the wraiths descended to the roof and collapsed their wings, revealing them to be ninjas in flying battle suits pulling out melee and handheld projectile weapons. "So yes, I have been awarded ample resources by which to achieve my mission, and my mission is to utterly destroy my father, brother," the boy paused a moment and growled out the next two words, "my sister, and all the other foundlings that serve his delusional goals. Be counted in that number if you so choose, but choose now. I've long since become weary of serving your ambitions."
Jason turned toward the battle going on not far from them and noticed that his adoptive father and older brother were still on the defensive, but had managed to take out several of their attackers. "I'm not with them." He then turned and marched toward the edge of the roof. "But I'm not with you either." The Red Hood jumped off and disappeared.
"Too bad." The Jersey Devil whispered to himself. "I had grown to like him." He then marched toward the fight going on, stooped down to remove the winged battle suit from an unconscious ninja, gracefully got himself into it, and then called out to Gotham's protectors. "Beating your daughter was an invitation. Initially I assumed it would have been my brother to have accepted it, but I'm glad it was you, Father." The Jersey Devil then clapped twice and the ninjas all backed off, their number now half of what it was at the onset of the battle, the rest lay unconscious all over the rooftop. "I have your attention. I will maintain your attention for the remainder of your life, which unfortunately will not last that much longer. Damian weakly longed for a father in his life and allowed that weakness to force him down your path. I remained strong, and am now seeing to it that my grandfather's vision for a return to the natural world be realized. Your band aid remedies have failed, it is time for a real return to justice." Devlin then walked to the edge of the building. "Good bye Father." He leapt off, and the conscious ninjas followed after him.
"Is he prepared?" Kleandra asked as she approached an unmasked Batman in what appeared to be an Amazonian library.
"He is aware of everything Diana knows of Hades and his domain." Damian replied. "All he needs is rest, which he is obtaining now."
"He certainly is." Kleandra muttered as she came to a stop next to the large man as he was sitting down, looking over data on a computer terminal. "Even with numerous Amazons gathered around him, he barely stirs while sleeping."
"He's a growing boy worked to the limits of physical and mental exertion." Damian replied. "Deep sleep is a necessity."
"I was surprised that Diana granted you access to our annals." Kleandra mentioned. "What is it that you are studying?"
"The details of the blast that went off on your island." Batman replied, still focused on the information in front of him. "And it shouldn't be that surprising. Queen Diana had a tremendous amount of respect and affection for my father, and knows quite well that despite whatever flaws I may have had, he would never allow me to become The Batman were I not worthy of the mantle."
"Mm-hmmm." Kleandra replied. "You're interested in the isotope fingerprint of the explosive device?"
"Yes." The exposed-faced Batman replied. "That the nuke originated in Iran is without doubt. But they were quite vehement in their claims that the weapon has been stolen from their stockpile, and that the QUD's agent the Amazons claimed to be responsible for delivering and detonating it was innocent."
"I'm not of your world, but from what I understand of it, Ahmadinejad would have vehemently protested claims that Persian sand is gritty, summers in Tehran are hot, or that his farts bore an unpleasant odor." Kleandra replied, which elicited a chuckle from Damian.
"That is true, but for whatever reason their arguments seemed sincere to me at the time." Damian responded, then raised his wrist and pulled a tiny wire from his gauntlet, jacking it into the Amazon computer. "And while it has been quite some time since you've been there, you are of my world."
Kleandra stepped back and stared at Damian with a mixture of surprise and anger. "What are you talking about, I am an Amazon!"
"Yes, yes you are." Damian replied as he focused on accessing data from the computer built into his suit through the terminal in front of him. "And like most other Amazons, you are the reborn spirit of a woman murdered by a man." The Batman paused and looked up at her. "Or rather, the reborn spirit of a girl murdered by a man." Damian returned his focus to the computer screen. "Though I was unaware of Amazons retaining memories of their previous lives. Your knowledge and affection for my brother would indicate that you still have some of yours."
"I do not know what you are talking about." Kleandra whispered unconvincingly.
"Perhaps it has something to do with you being reborn into an exact recreation of your murdered body." Damian continued, ignoring Kleandra's assertion. "At least I assume it was an exact recreation. You were six when you were killed, and nearly twelve years later you would look as you look now. But I think your situation is a rarity in that regard. I truly doubt that all the murdered women that were used to create the Amazon race were as beautiful as the forms they currently inhabit. And they certainly didn't possess the physical power of their Amazonian bodies; physical powers that you do not seem to possess."
"Our strengths vary greatly." Kleandra snarled. "You don't know what you're talking about."
Damian continued on. "Perhaps the deviations are due to your existence stemming from the deal Donna made with Hades, and not a collective effort of numerous ultra-metas that you refer to as gods. Or rather, that the other Amazons refer to as gods." Damian twisted his head marginally up toward her. "Do you still give homage to the Changing Woman and other Navajo deities?"
"Enough!" Kleandra growled as she grabbed Damian's shoulder and turned his body and chair toward her, the woman clearly angry, frustrated, and saddened.
Damian looked up at her and his eyes softened, offering the rare look of compassion. "My brother has a framed picture of you in his house. He has taking me to your father's house numerous times throughout the years, a house with dozens of your photographs. I have looked upon your face many times, I have even used your image and what happened to you as inspiration for being a better crime fighter."
Kleandra's face twisted angrily at first, but then she gave in to her sorrow and burst into tears, dropping to a squatting position as she wept in front of the costumed man. Damian paused at first, but then placed one hand on her shoulder consolingly. After a few moments he placed his other hand on her other shoulder, and then gently stood them both up and pulled her into an embrace. Kleandra was resistant at first, but eventually acquiesced, weeping for several moments into Damian's shoulder. After a couple of minutes she calmed down and gently pulled away from him. "I apologize for my loss of composure."
"Do not apologize, Lian." Damian replied. "I am, for several reasons, not as emotionally sensitive as I should be. Our presence here undoubtedly stirred up many feelings within you, and then my factual rundown of painful events in your life was delivered with a complete obliviousness to their impact upon you. It is partially due to my early upbringing, and partially due to being Batman. But whatever the case, I'm sorry to have dealt with this matter so heartlessly."
Lian stared at him. "No need for you to apologize either, Damian." She then turned toward the computer screen, more as a way to break the sudden tension between the two of them, a tension that was very different from the tension that had existed prior. "So what exactly are you hoping to find?"
Damian slid back into his seat and focused on the screen. "I've traced the isotopic fingerprint of the weapon to the facility that housed it."
"Which is, of course, in Iran." Lian replied.
"Yes…" Damian said as something on the screen caught his attention, "I know that name."
Damian began typing furiously at the keyboard. "The name of one of the scientists working at the facility. He was an operative for the League."
"What, the Justice League was using a spy to get info…"
"Not the Justice League, the League of Assassins." Damian interrupted. He then spun in his chair and stared up at the young woman. "Please tell me you have surveillance footage of the QUDs operative that delivered the weapon."
"We do, but it will have to wait." Queen Diana announced as she entered the room with John, dressed in a toga, at her side. Her hand was placed gently on his shoulder, and she looked down and smiled at the boy. "Our young Robin is awake and insists he's ready for his quest."
"Can't say I'm surprised it's just the two of you returning." Tim chuckled as he swiveled away from the computer terminal in the Batcave to see Batman and Nightwing getting out of the Batmobile. "I tried telling Alfred that'd be the case, but he prepared a room none the less."
Bruce pulled his mask off as he approached Oracle, his face displaying a few minor bruises. "Please tell me you're joking."
"Nope, the man is eternally optimistic." Tim replied. "So, did you give your son a spanking?"
"He had fourteen ninjas in modified versions of Marine Aviantry battle suits waiting for us." Dick replied.
"Figures, that's what Ras would do." Tim replied. "So, how much did he look like Damian?"
"Don't know, he wore the devil mask the whole time." Dick replied. "But his voice was dead on. He didn't try to disguise it for us like he did for Helena."
"Any word from Damian?" Bruce cut off the conversation.
"He sent word an hour ago that they had made contact safely and are in the midst of negotiations. He also requested me to transport several pieces of equipment and one of our experimental suits to the Themysciran transporter pad, apparently they were willing to reactivate it for him temporarily." Tim replied. "I asked what he needed it for, he just told me not to worry and that he'd explain everything later. He's normally brusque, but even by his standards he's leaving out a lot of details."
"You're concerned by that?" Bruce asked.
Tim thought for a moment before replying. "Well, knowing him, I'm betting he's in the midst of doing something insanely risky, and doesn't want to hear us tell him not to go through with it."
The stealth suit wasn't invisible, that technology was still several years away, but it did conceal John quite well through the use of its thousands of micro-cameras, projection screens, and light refracting technology, as he made his way through Tartarus. He slipped past the boiling pits of magma, the all-encompassing light gray suit protected him from the scalding steam that was vented up all over the realm, and after miles of a nightmarish wasteland and evading the occasional demon, he finally caught sight of the jagged castle in the distance.
John made for the structure, initially hiding from the various lost souls crying out in anguish, but quickly realized that they had no interest in him. He eventually reached the castle, and noted that those in and around it seemed more corporeal than the souls on the outskirts. Using tools in his belt, the only fully viewable part on him, he shot a hook up to a window and pulled himself inside the structure. He had just started making his way down a dark corridor when he heard something and leapt, kicked off the wall to his left, propelled himself upward toward the other wall and reached up, barely getting a handhold of a stone windowsill. As soon as he hoisted himself up and out of view he noticed a Cerberus walking toward where he had just been. He silently watched until the three-headed dog had passed from view, thankful that the suit contained any odors that the animal could have picked up on.
After about twenty minutes of searching through the vast castle, John came upon a large banquet hall, deserted but for one lone, skeletal figure. John clung to the walls and shadows as he attempted to make his way around the figure undetected, but half way through John's trek the man called out several words John couldn't quite make out. They were in Greek, a language John spoke, but the dialect was foreign to John's ears. The figure turned its head to peer directly into the shadow that John was currently hiding in, and spoke again, this time in an older, but understandable dialect of Greek. "Who be you? Nothing changes in this horrid place for centuries, so I detect the slightest shift in the air." John stepped forth from the shadows. He had been detected, so he needed to either convince this individual to remain silent, or John would have to silence him. "Why have you come here, when there is nothing but death and misery to be gained."
John removed his mask and approached the frail figure, noting that he appeared to be confined to the chair by snakes emerging from the floor and wrapped around his lower legs and the legs of the chair. "I am here to rescue Donna Troy."
The captive man laughed, his pained and weakened voice coming out as little more than a series of gasps. "Good, then I will have company. You may occupy that chair for all eternity." The man said, pointing a bony finger to the chair next to him. "Perhaps you thought your youth would play upon the dark lord's mercy. A mistake, child, for Hades has no mercy, and a savage hatred for those coming down here to steal a bride." The frail man waved over his shackled legs. "Trust me, I know of what I speak."
"Who are you?" John asked.
"I once went by the name Pirithous, though I doubt that means anything to you." The now despondent prisoner replied. "Thousands of years have passed since I last walked amongst men."
"You were Pirithous, King of the Lapiths?" John questioned, remembering the stories of ancient Greek legends that his mother had read to him when he was younger, as he truly focused on the snakes binding him to the stone chair. "Friend of Theseus, right?"
A toothy smile emerged from the bony face. "You've heard of me?"
"I'm familiar with the myths, including…well, the predicament you are in now." John explained, barely able to believe it.
"So you know of the punishment of taking the bride of a god, and yet you come down here none the less?" The fleshed skeleton chuckled. "Foolish child."
"Donna is not the bride of Hades!" John snarled. "She offered to be his prisoner, not his wife."
"Persephone offered to be neither, but that did not stop Lord Hades from claiming her, and punishing me when I came to free her." Pirithous chuckled.
"Your intent was not to free me, fool," a feminine voice called out from the other end of the banquet hall, causing both John and Pirithous to shudder with surprise, "it was for me to exchange Hades' lecherous prison for yours!"
"Ah, beloved Persephone, it has been too long.."
"Silence!" The Queen of the Underworld barked out an interruption to Pirithous's intended greeting as she glared hatefully at the intruder. "So you are here to lay claim to Donna Troy." Her eyes narrowed with skepticism as she took in the boy's appearance. "Are you even old enough to attain an erection?"
John nervously chuckled. "Yes Madam, it's getting rid of one that's the challenge."
"Do not be flip with me, boy!" Persephone snapped. "So what were you planning on doing? Did you bring another one of those sight-obscuring suits for your bride to be?"
"She's my godmother, I have no romantic interest in her." John clarified respectfully, his voice devoid of fear. "And no, this suit only shields me because Hades is not already alerted to my presence. To get Donna out, I need…"
"The Helm of Darkness." Persephone smiled as she could tell from the boy's expression that she was right. "So you plan to steal not only my husband's latest concubine, but his most prized weapon as well? You are a foolish child."
"He can have the Helm back once Donna is returned to those that love her." John replied. "I have no interest in it beyond it being a means to free her."
Persephone walked forward until she was standing before John, staring him in the eye. "You are telling the truth, aren't you?"
"Yes, Persephone." John replied humbly.
"I believe you, but still…" Persephone reached up and touched the boy's face. John suddenly was awash in a flood of all of his memories coming up to the forefront of his mind, as Persephone invaded his mind and took in all the details of his life. The goddess exhaled as she pulled her hand away and took a step back. "For a mortal, you truly are surrounded by exceptional beings."
"I know." John replied, slightly angry and frightened at having his thoughts so easily picked.
"Relax, John Grayson, I mean you no harm." The Queen of the Underworld turned to peer at the doorway that she had entered through. "In fact, I suspect that I regret my intrusion into your mind more that you do. I am now inclined to assist you."
"My beloved, why are you aiding this stranger who seeks to help the Amazon, and not I," Pirithous protested, "one who only sought to offer you my love."
"You sought to claim me!" Persephone snarled. "To make me a possession, a trophy bride, a daughter of Zeus to claim as your own! This child is pure! His desire to remove the Amazon princess is altruistic,"
"Well," John started to offer a correction.
"I am aware of your initial desire for the Themyscirans to intervene against the Atlanteans, but your decision to come here had nothing to do with that, so it truly is altruistic." Persephone replied. "I will occupy my husband," Persephone held out her hands and a fire burst forth from her palms, burning out and leaving a wrinkled parchment map in her grasp, "this will lead you to the Helm and then to Donna Troy's chambers. Make haste, young Grayson, my husband bores quickly, and wearing down the Amazon's resolve not to submit to him has been a favorite activity of his these last twelve years."
John bowed his head. "How can I repay you?"
Persephone stepped toward him. "You've put a hole in my wall of cynicism, and restored at least a portion on my faith in your species. It pleases me to assist one such as you. So return Donna Troy to her people, and I will consider that payment enough. Fail, and you will be serving my husband and I for all eternity."
John nodded and pulled the face mask back over his head.
Donna Troy gazed out her barred window at the desolate wasteland of Tartarus, and pitied the aimless, tortured souls traversing the barren rocks and rivers of lava. The familiar squeak of her door opening let her know that another round of defying the advances of Hades was about to begin. "Back off Hades, today is not going to be the day."
"I'm not Hades." The muffled voice came from the hallway leading from the door to her bedroom.
Donna turned and noted the shimmering, barely visible movement of something making its way across the room, the only way that Donna was able to get a fix on its position so quickly was the helmet that it seemed to be carrying. "What kind of lost soul are you?" She asked.
The entity seemed to shuffle near the top of itself and a moment later the face of a handsome boy seemed to be floating above the shimmering nothingness. "I'm here to get you out of here."
Donna stared at the child. "Some strange young child here to rescue me?" She started chuckling. "Hades' ruses are definitely getting more interesting."
"This isn't a ruse, and I'm not a stranger." The boy replied. "We've met."
"Oh, when?" The skeptical Donna replied, but seemed to grasp the answer as she gazed into all-too-familiar blue eyes.
"Twelve and a half years ago, when I was born and my father asked you to be my godmother." The boy replied.
"Johnny!" Donna gasped and rushed forward, embracing the child.
"Actually, I came to Themyscira on official business, so perhaps you should call me Robin." John smiled. He then noted Donna looking him up and down, the smile slowly ebbing from her face. "No, this isn't my Robin costume, this is an experimental stealth suit Damian and Tim have been working on. I've only got the one, but I have this Helm of Darkness for you. It apparently works even better than my suit."
"You shouldn't be here." Donna muttered. "You need to go."
"No kidding, Aunt Donna, so let's go." John replied, placing his hand on the woman's shoulder to encourage her to come with him.
"No, you need to leave before Hades realizes you've been here!" Donna insisted. "Leave me the Helm, I'll tell him I stole it to antagonize him. He'll have no problem believing that."
"I'm not leaving without you!" John protested. "Persephone said she'll keep him busy, but couldn't guarantee for how long."
"Persephone?" A surprised and agitated Donna replied. "You trust that bit…woman?"
"She was going to skewer me, she thought I came here to kidnap you so that…" the boy blushed.
"I'd be your wife?" Donna guessed, and chuckled as the boy looked down and nodded. "Relax, it was a common theme in ancient Greece, and Persephone hasn't gotten out much in the last few thousand years. So what stayed her hand?"
"She scanned my memories and realized I just wanted to free you, not claim you like Pirithous tried to claim her." John replied. "She was a little surprised by my lack of ulterior motive."
"She's unaccustomed to encountering good people." Donna replied as she gently stroked the boy's cheek and then took the helmet from him. "And if you're anything like your parents, then she just encountered one of the best."
John looked at the helmet in Donna's hands and smiled. "So this means you're coming?"
"Of course." Donna smiled back at the boy and the two headed toward the door.
"Good. And truth be told, Damian and Bruce have had more influence on me than my father for the last few months." John whispered as they exited the room and made their way down the hallway.
"I'm a little surprised to hear that you're Robin." Donna replied.
"Well, I'm actually Robin in training." John whispered back as they scanned a vacant room before sprinting across it. "It'll be a couple more months before I'm officially the bird sidekick."
"You mother seemed so dead set against it when you were an infant." Donna asked as they continued through the vast castle. "What does she have to say about this?"
John peered out a window and scrutinized the area to see if that would be a good point to exit the structure. "Well, if we get lost on the way out and find ourselves in Elysium, you'll be able to ask her yourself." The boy started to climb the ledge of the window to get out, but felt the hand of Donna on his shoulder. He turned to face her, knowing what he'd see but was still nearly brought to the point of tears at seeing the utter sadness in her eyes.
She pulled him to her and embraced him tightly. "I'm so sorry John. How? When?"
John pulled back. "Hit and run, four months ago." He then turned back to the window. "We really should stay on task until we're out of Tartarus."
"Are you out of your goddamned mind?" Dick's enraged voice thundered out of the speaker of the Justice League javelin on the beach.
"I have faith in the boy's abilities and resourcefulness." Damian calmly replied, looking over at the expression of recognition on Kleandra's face. She had heard Dick's voice many times a lifetime ago, when she was a child named Lian Harper, the daughter of one of Dick's best friends and teammates.
"You sent him to Hell, not gang territory!" Dick roared back. "I was wary of you taking him to Themyscira, but that made at least a shred of sense. But having him trek into Tartarus…alone? What could possess you to do something so stupid?"
"I cannot go into details at this moment, Brother, but rest assured, I will see to his safe return." Damian replied.
"You'd better, Damian!" Dick snarled.
"In the meantime, I'm transmitting a theory I'd like to bounce of you, Drake and my father, along with the accompanying data. I'm certain it's valid, and even likely, but I want you to follow up from home while I'm here just to confirm my suspicions." Damian requested.
"Receiving now," Dick replied, "we'll work on this, you get John back now!"
"What are those things?" John asked the invisible woman next to him as they looked up at flying feminine demons in the distance.
"Furies." Donna replied. "I'm pretty sure they'll see us. The Helm should keep me fully invisible, but your suit isn't quite as convincing."
"Maybe I can draw them away so you can get out." John suggested.
"Very noble, now quit being an idiot." Donna replied. "No matter what you're getting out of here, and I'd better not hear you entertaining another plan that doesn't involve that."
"OK, then how about I draw their attention and you sneak up behind them and hit them on the head with a frying pan?" John then suggested.
"Better," Donna replied, "yeah, let's make a break for it, the exit is just a head a few hundred yards. We'll get as far as we can before they spot you, and when they do come after you, I'll surprise them."
"Shway. Let me just pull some weapons out for the big surprise." John replied. "Ready?"
"Yup, follow my lead." Donna responded.
"Can't, you're invisible." John answered. "You follow mine." With that the boy leapt from around the boulder that the two of them had been perched behind and silently sprinted toward the mouth of a cave in the distance.
The boy got to within a hundred yards of the opening before several of the furies screeched at seeing him and sped toward him. Just as one was about to pounce upon him, the boy twisted and flung a high-tech bolo up at it that bound the demon's wings together, causing it to shoot over him and crash across the rocky ground. A second fury set upon him, but was immediately smashed by an unseen force and splattered against the ground. John noted the destruction of the creature and called out. "Do these things qualify as living beings?"
"Not in my book!" The invisible Donna called back as she battered another Fury out of the air.
"Glad to hear it!" John called out as he flipped over a Fury swooping down to get him and flinging a bladed Batarang back toward it, slicing through its neck, creating a not-quite fatal injury.
"WHAT GOES ON HERE?" A thunderous voice bellowed out in ancient Greek as an eight feet five inch tall man with black hair and flowing black robes appeared suddenly before the mouth of the cave, what the Amazons referred to at Doom's Doorway, that led back to Themyscira. John looked up at the black-eyed man, knowing instantly that he had no chance against the dark god of the underworld. "COME TO ME!" John felt himself being hurled forward toward Hades, the front of his suit clamped tightly by the god's grasp.
"Release him!" The invisible Donna bellowed as she laid a right cross against Hades' jaw and pulled the boy from his grasp, causing the suit to tear and the partial invisibility it provided to cease.
Hades laughed as he turned his head back toward the boy being lowered to the ground. "Ah, and here I thought this was just another pathetic attempt by your sister to save you. But for you to have gotten this far, and claimed my Helm in the process, well, I am impressed with your young friend, Donna Troy." A relaxed and amused Hades called out. "I should know his name, as he will be with us for the rest of eternity."
"Guess again!" The growled voice emerged from behind Hades, who turned as Batman flipped over his head. John dove toward a rock, having assumed, and then visually verified that his uncle had planted an explosive device to the back of the ancient Greek god. Both the humans took cover as the blast echoed off the cavern walls. Hades twisted back around and glared toward the Batman, but turned back toward the mouth of the cave as the sounds of Amazon warriors barreling through the Doorway caught his attention. "Troy, get him out of here!" Batman roared as both he and Robin rose and began flinging various explosives and other weapons at Hades.
The dark god swung outwardly and roared, tossing aside over a dozen Amazons and shrugging off the ordinance of the human males as if it were nothing. John continued hurling weapons at Hades as he made his way to a different angle, examining everything he saw in an attempt to determine a course of action that might lead to victory. He was suddenly swept off the ground by the unseen Donna Troy and whisked past Hades, who was momentarily busy exchanging blows with Diana., a horde of furies sweeping toward them from the depths of Tartarus. "Know that if I lose one daughter of Zeus this day, Diana, another will take her place in my domain!"
"An exchange which I will be happy with should I be forced to accept it," Wonder Woman roared back as she landed a cross to the side of Hades' head, "so long as my sister is free!"
"It won't come to that!" Batman snarled as he one again leapt upon Hades with the intention of planting an explosive to the god, but Hades reacted faster than Damian could imagine, and flung the man away from him before Batman could even touch him.
"Mortal, attend to my furies, you are beneath me!" Hades called out as he leveled Diana with a strike and then battered away a half dozen other Amazons before vanishing and reappearing before the exit just as Donna and John were getting there. "This ends now!"
"You're right about that!" Batman growled as he pushed a button on a control panel mounted on his left gauntlet. All the Amazons but Donna dove for cover, and John grabbed her and pulled her off to the side behind an outcropping of rocks as Hades was blasted away from the mouth of the cave. On the other side was an array of mounted weaponry, smoke coiling out from the various barrels. "Now Robin!"
Robin and Donna darted around the outcropping of rock as Batman reached down to grab a sword dropped by one of the Amazons and turned to face the three dozen furies bearing down on them. The Dark Knight smiled as he tapped into his vast storehouse of knowledge regarding the utter destruction of human and human-like bodies; knowledge that he had been unable to utilize for over a decade and a half. The first three furies fell upon him, and two decapitated and one halved fury collided with the ground a moment later. The six closest to their slain comrades screeched horribly before attacking Batman, but like the first three, a series of fluid movements and manipulation of the sword left them all slain and crumpled upon the stony ground. Six more set upon him, and they too wound up slaughtered.
"Mortal, I am impressed!" Hades called out as he swatted away several Amazons attempting to capitalize on his momentary vulnerability after being blown away from the mouth of the cave, watching the Batman decimate his furies with apparent ease as he did so. "Your strength and speed may not exceed the limits of a human body, but your skill level surpasses that of even Achilles."
"I must admit," Batman growled out as he disemboweled another fury, "I'm not all that surprised to hear you say that."
"You may very well be a greater combatant than the Batman I am familiar with." Hades replied as he once again squared off against Diana. "You're too young to be him, but you must be of his blood; you smell as he did."
"Impressive nose." Damian snapped back as he sliced through another fury.
"Enough!" Hades called out, backing away from Diana as he did so. He sent a glare to the remaining furies, who shrieked and then flew off, back into the depths of Tartarus. Hades then peered at Diana. "Your sister has escaped, and though I would love to possess you, you and your Amazons are free to leave."
Diana bowed her head. "Thank you Lord Hades."
Hades then turned to Batman. "Though impressed by your bravery and tremendous skill, I am inclined to spend centuries torturing you for your impertinence. But I will stay my enraged hand out of gratitude for a deed done by your father." Hades marched forward and stood before Batman, glaring down at him. "A god from another planet, one intent, and I fear capable, of enslaving this planet, including myself and the other gods of Olympus, was defeated, and critically wounded by your father. His intervention against the being Darkseid sixteen years ago was tremendously beneficial to me, so because of his actions, I will allow you and your young colleague to leave without further harm."
Damian met the gaze of the god, strongly considering telling Hades that he needed no charity, and that he'd find a way to overwhelm the dark god, but then realized that they'd achieved what they set out to achieve and that there was too much at stake for him to give into his pride. "Thank you Lord Hades."
"Now leave my realm. Those that choose to remain will do so permanently." Hades snapped before vanishing.
They all gathered outside Doom's Doorway, the ecstatic Amazons gathering around Donna and greeting her for the first time in over a decade. Damian marched over to John, who was gingerly removing his suit. John looked up at his partner and smiled weakly. "Sorry about the suit."
Damian removed his mask, cocked an eyebrow and displayed a lopsided grin. "Are you apologizing Nephew?"
John held portions of the torn battle suit up for his uncle, who reached over, pulled the boy toward him and directed his gaze toward Donna and Diana running toward each other and embracing. Their embrace lasted twenty seconds before Kleandra stepped next to them and placed her hand on Donna's arm. Donna looked up and saw her, a look of disbelief coming over her. "Lian?" She wept as she grabbed Lian and the two embraced for the first time since before Lian's death, over fifteen years before.
"You should not be apologizing Robin." Damian stated as they watched the reunion. "You facilitated all of this," Damian squeezed the boy's shoulder affectionately, "and perhaps much more as well."
Another Amazon, one not involved in the battle approached Diana and handed her several photographs. The Amazon queen then turned toward the two males and marched over to them. "Contact the Watchtower, and inform them that you will be returning with a delegation from Themyscira." Batman smiled and nodded. "And here are the surveillance photographs we got of the bomber before he detonated the explosive device on our island twelve years ago."
Batman took the pictures and peered intently at the one on top. "Your highness, the weapon that ravaged your island was manufactured in Iran, and this man may have been a QUDs agent, but I believe that the weapon was not in Iranian possession when it was brought here, and I know that this man's loyalties were not to the Republic of Iran. The Iranians were not responsible for detonating that weapon here," he turned and peered intently into Diana's shocked eyes, "my grandfather was."
"Yeah, I'm here." Roy Harper grumbled into the speaker. "I had just fallen asleep when Superman contacted me and said that it was critical that me, Ollie and Dinah were here as well. Hell, Ollie's no longer League! Why did you drag him out of bed?"
From inside the javelin Batman just smiled. "Trust me Arsenal, you'll all thank me for dragging you up to the Watchtower for this."
"Batman," Superman's voice came through, "I've got you on inbound on the sensor equipment, you are cleared to proceed to hangar bay six."
"Understood." Batman replied, directing the javelin toward the orbiting headquarters and further directing it toward the hangar in question. A few minutes later the craft was touching down on the metal floor and the hatch was opening. Batman and Robin were first to exit the craft, followed by Diana. Diana ran forward and hugged Superman, obscuring Robin's view of the Kryptonian, which was the first time that the boy would have seen Superman in person.
A moment later Donna exited the craft with a hesitant and weeping Kleandra right behind her. "Donna!" Roy shouted out and ran to her. "Great to see you again!" He hugged her, barely glancing at the other woman. "Who's your friend?" He asked, finally turning his gaze toward the other woman and taking on a stunned look. "Hhh…"
"Roy," Donna reached over and gently clasped Kleandra's arm, "I know it seems impossible, but,"
"Daddy!" Lian leaped into her father's arms.
"Lian?" Roy pulled back just enough to peer into her face. "Lian!" He broke down crying and he pulled her tight into his chest.
"Lian?" Ollie and Dinah questioned in unison as they sprinted over to Roy and Lian.
John watched the family reunion commence, but felt his uncle's hand gently squeeze his shoulder. "Well done Robin." He turned up to see his partner smile down at him and then turn and walk toward Wonder Woman and Superman, the three of them turning and heading off to discuss official matters in another room. John considered walking over to Lian and the others, but caught sight of several computer terminals and thought of something.
A minute and a half later Robin was in a vacant room, looking at large Cray supercomputer. "Computer, have records been uploaded from the computers in the Batcave?"
"Affirmative." The feminine computerized voice replied. "Most recent syncing occurred September 16, 2023."
"A couple years out of date, but it'll do." Robin muttered. "Computer, access Batcave file eight two four nine seven."
Robin sat down at the seat in front of the main terminal. "Open file." John worked his way through the file, reading the reports fully before working up his nerve and opening the attached photographs. His blood ran cold as he looked at the pictures of his mother, disrobed, bleeding, newly crippled and writhing in pain. An aspect that wasn't shown in the pictures, but one that John was fully aware was present, was the grinning monster taking the photos, the man responsible for doing this to his mother. She was so young. Her legs looked so muscular, so steady, durable and strong. Everything else ceased to exist for John, he was only aware of what he was seeing before him, and an odd ringing in his ears, something that may or may not be psychological, but something he knew was not being generated outside his body.
Every part of his body seemed to be made of lead, but he forced his fingers to continue clicking, through the pictures, then finally to a video clip of his naked grandfather being dragged by a leash into a carnival ride car. The shot changed to show him going through the ride, the pictures John had just looked through being displayed to the horrified father of the Joker's victim, that evil bastard singing a horrible song that was barely comprehensible due to the quality of the footage. It finally ended, and John stared silently at the screen for what seemed an eternity before finally sensing a presence behind him. Robin didn't look away from the screen, but addressed the other person. "Jason was right. I want him dead."
"As do I." Batman replied emotionlessly from behind him. "I abide by and honor all of my father's rules, but that doesn't mean that I agree with them."
"I want to kill him." Robin whispered, seemingly ignoring what Batman had to say. "I want to feel his bones collapsing beneath my fists. I want to see the damage accumulate on and in his body. I want to turn that white skin purple from the broken vessels and pooled blood underneath it." Robin stood up and turned around to face his mentor, and then let loose the rage boiling within him. "I WANT THE BASTARD DEAD!" The boy yelled at the emotionless Batman.
A moment later a red and blue flash entered the room and Superman was standing next to Batman. "Is everything alright here?" The confused Kryptonian asked. His eyes then glided up to the computer monitors, and a look of comprehension came over him; not that Batman and Robin noticed, as their eyes were locked onto one another's. "Perhaps we should leave this room, huh guys?" Superman reached out and cupped Robin's shoulder, guiding him to the open door.
Once in the hallway Robin stopped and stared down at the floor. "I…I apologize for misusing Justice League equipment. I saw an opportunity. I…I have no excuse." John stammered, then turned and looked up at Superman, seeing the face of the legend up close for the first time. "I'm sorry."
Superman smiled and nodded. "It's understandable Robin. And after what you did today, I suppose we can overlook this incident, right Batman?"
"Keeping this file from the boy was for his own good, it causes no damage to anyone other than him…and perhaps the Joker, but to hell with that monster." Batman replied. "Plus, we've almost been encouraging him to try and get access to this file in an attempt to promote his hacking skills. If anything, I'm proud of him for out-maneuvering Oracle and myself." Batman then gently slapped his partner on the back. "Well done Robin."
To the surprise of both grown men, the boy remained rigidly staring up at Superman's face, completely unmoving in any way until his hand slowly raised to his mask, gently tapped a button on the side which retracted the lenses, allowing his eyes to gaze upon Superman's face naturally, a look of recognition now clearly on Robin's face. "No way."
Superman quickly realized what had happened, and nervously shifted. Batman realized it as well, and let out a laugh. "Father was right, it IS the world's worst disguise!"
Dick opened his front door to reveal Damian and John standing on the front porch in the dead of night, both of them soaked from walking from the car to the house in the torrential rain. Dick stepped aside to allow both of them in. John seemed in a daze as he made his way into the foyer, not seeing the look of unrestrained pride in his father's eyes. "Roy called. He told me everything. How Diana's already contacted Atlantis and is planning on visiting there on our behalf, of how you saved Donna, and of…Lian. It's all so unbelievable."
"Yup, not bad for a neophyte." Damian added.
"Helluva job, son." Dick smiled at his boy, who was still staring straight ahead. Surprised by his son's detachment, Dick looked to Damian for explanation.
Damian shook his head. "Roy didn't tell you everything." Damian nodded for Dick to follow him and then headed down the hall to the study, leaving John alone in the foyer.
The men were gone for a couple of minutes before John heard something on the other side of the door. He turned and instinctively opened it. Standing there, soaking wet and preparing to knock, was Laura Kent, not wearing her glasses for once. Startled, her eyes shot to his, a look of fear and confusion in her eyes. John stared blankly at her. "Laura?" He then seemed to wake up. "Come in. What are you doing here?"
Laura stepped into the house, her eyes still glued to his. John shut the door, and the two stared at each other silently for a few moments before Laura's face twisted into an almost angry expression. "I'm not a freak!" She growled.
"What?" The confused boy asked.
"Yes, I'm half alien, so if you have a problem with that, then fine!" She growled defensively as she stepped toward him. "If you can't handle it, then end it. No hard feelings, I don't blame you, but I'm not a freak!"
"I never said…"
"No, but you're probably thinking it!" She interrupted.
"Yes Lois, she's here." Dick said as he walked through the hallway toward the foyer, stopping to open a linen closet and pull out a towel, his cell phone pressed to the side of his face. "She's soaked, and she'll need some new shoes," the statement prompted the children to look down and notice that the sprint from Metropolis had ground the bottoms of Laura's shoes to powder, "but otherwise she seems to be fine." Dick got to the foyer, with Damian following behind him, and tossed the towel to Laura. "Sure, we'll be expecting him."
Laura caught the towel, but continued to glare at John. Suddenly the look of confusion on John's face shifted toward one of anger. "I can't deal with this right now!" The boy turned away and started walking into the family room. "I went to Hell, and that was probably the highlight of my goddamed day! Yeah, I realize you're Superman's daughter, but it hasn't even registered that you're half alien! Hell, I doubt I'll care in the least when it does register." He then spun, his eyes intensely staring at his girlfriend. "But it'll be awhile before that information gets a chance to be processed, Laura. I've got some other shit weighing me down right now, and the last thing I need is for you to direct these newly formed insecurities at me!"
The statement was immediately followed by a knock at the door. Dick walked over and opened it, to reveal Clark Kent, soaking wet and free of glasses just like his daughter. Clark smiled and nodded as he walked into the house.
Laura seemed oblivious to her father's presence, just continuing to stare at her boyfriend. "What's going on John?" The house was silent, John considered whether to tell her or not, and if so, how to go about doing so. But when he looked up at her, the look on Laura's face gave the impression that she was already listening to someone speaking to her. John was a little confused by her expression, one that involved her eyes darting to the side and her ear's perking to apparently listen to something. It was then that he saw Mr. Kent's lips moving, it looked as though he was talking, but nothing audible to him was coming out of the man's mouth. John then realized that Mr. Kent was whispering something to his daughter so quietly that only Kryptonian, or half-Kryptonian ears could hear. The boy considered attempting to read the man's lips, something he had been trained to do, but he just didn't feel the urge to do so. Instead he turned his attention back to Laura's face, and saw the look of surprise, and then sadness come over it. She turned her horrified gaze back toward him, a tear forming in the corner of one of her eyes and then running down her cheek. "Oh my God. John…" she stepped forward and wrapped him in a hug, slowly crying on his shoulder.
"Come on Clark, let's give these two a couple minutes." Dick said, directing the other two men toward the kitchen. "I'll get you something to drink."
Laura eventually released her embrace and took a step back from John. The boy looked down. "Your father explained what I saw."
Laura nodded. "I'm so sorry John."
"He can hear what we're saying now, can't he?" John muttered.
"He's more than capable of it, but he can tune it out too." Laura said. "Which I'm sure he's doing now. He wouldn't eaves drop on us, especially since us doing bad things is probably the last thing on our minds right now."
"Good." John whispered. "Because I need to tell someone, and I want that to be you." He looked up and peered intently into her eyes. "I need your word that you won't share this with anyone. Ever, no matter what."
Laura nodded. "You have it."
"I'm going to kill the Joker."