A/N: The writer's block was killer this time around! Gosh! But I think it's ebbing now, for the most part, so hopefully this turned out all right! I do admit that this is something of a filler chapter at some points, but those small points will have major influences on the later chapters!
Your reviews as per last chapter were amazing, as usual! Dudes, do you realize I've broken 200 stinking reviews? I've only done that for one of my other fics, and that has over four hundred chapters! O.O Thank you all so much! I love you all! Your support is absolutely fantastic! I hope I can continue to entertain even after this fic ends and I get to work on the other fics I've started or mean to start!
It takes a split second. A single instant. One moment in time.
Everything meaningful in the life of Bruce Thomas Wayne comes crashing down with the body of his dying son.
Lunging forward, Batman catches his falling child, bleeding out and gasping for air and so very in danger of succumbing to ballistic trauma as he is.
Instantly, the Dark Knight rips open Robin's uniform down the front in order to expose his chest.
And in this moment he wonders whether his rigid discipline in emotional stealth has been for naught.
For he comes so close to giving life to the vengeful roar that surges and builds in his throat, to the crystalline tears that take precedence in his eyes.
The one thousand grain bullet, fired from a .700 Nitro Express rifle, has penetrated the Kevlar body armor just three-and-a-half centimeters above the boy's heart, leaving in its wake a hole in his chest the size of the boy's small palm.
To see him like this, looking younger than he has in years, on the brink of death this way… It brings back so many memories of the night Bruce's parents were murdered, of the panic and fear and torment that plagued his eight-year-old heart. He can still see the blood pooling beneath them on the pavement, the bullet-strewn fur coat of his Mother and the fallen bowler hat of his Father, the loving glassy eyes and final warm breaths burning through the cold of the night.
Reaching down swiftly, he applies pressure to the injury. He only just manages to swallow the childlike cry and the bitter bile rising in his throat as the blood and torn tissue both bathe and squish beneath his hand.
They don't have much time.
Locking his jaw and clenching his teeth so tightly that he can practically hear Alfred's scolding, Batman extracts gauze pads, bandages, and a piece of armor as big as his hand from his utility belt.
With utmost care (if Robin weren't in immediate danger, he wouldn't dream of moving the boy just yet), his free arm snakes around the child's waist and brings him to lean back with black head under his mentor's chin so as to elevate the wound and to get more air to his lungs.
Turning to a wide-eyed, pale, and shaking Kid Flash (as he looks around, none of the others are much better—but dear Lord, neither is he!), Batman breaks into action.
"Kid Flash," the teen snaps up, startled out of his petrified stupor, "you need to focus! All of you!" The four's eyes widen ever more as they register the underlying pain in his voice, something surely only Robin would have noticed prior to this tragedy. He hands the speedster the armor and beckons him forward. "Keep pressure on the wound while I wrap him up. Don't stop; oxygen entering the wound would be disastrous."
The fifteen-year-old nods vigorously and does as he's told, pushing his weight against the armor-covered injury and mentally apologizing to his best friend when Robin winces and gasps sharply.
The gauze pads and bandages are placed, well-wrapped, and tied off within seconds, pressure points being pressed as he goes to aid in stopping the bleeding, but even with these efforts the child is pale, shaking, and though shock has been avoided for now there is still a chance that it will strike.
They have to get Dick out of here.
Glancing up at Miss Martian, the Defender of the Night's hidden eyes narrow seriously. "It's not safe to move him more than necessary. Can you call your Bio-Ship here? I trust your medical facilities are up to my standards?"
The girl nods shakily. "Y-yes. The ship is within range, and Uncle J'onn made sure everything was running up to par with the Justice League's own infirmary." She closes her eyes and concentrates, and within seconds a whirring is heard at their backs. "It's here."
Batman nods. "Go."
Relinquishing his hold on his son if only for the sake of saving his life, the Knight of Gotham delicately deposits Robin into a protective Superboy's arms, watching as the clone cradles the child to his chest with all tenderness. Carrying the thirteen-year-old inside the ship as quickly as he can without agitating his many injuries, the clone tosses a bright glance over his shoulder.
Don't force Dick to outlive two Fathers.
And even with this revelation, somehow Batman cannot bring himself to be surprised.
Bruce's head inclines.
No fear of that. Take care of him.
It is only when the ship's invisible door is about to close a moment later that the Masked Manhunter realizes Aqualad still remains at his side.
Turning to him piercingly, he musters the best glare he can (although his heart pangs with the knowledge that Robin would be cracking up at how pitiful it is in comparison with the usual Batglare).
"Why aren't you with them?" he growls, though this, too, is mostly half-hearted. "Robin, your teammate, is in critical condition! He prevails all else!"
The Atlantean says nothing for half a heartbeat, but finally, taking a deep breath, he advises soundly,
"When you reach the end and face a difficult choice, remember your heart. But more importantly, remember the heart of the one who awaits your return with every fighting breath."
Batman is so stunned at this show of wisdom that he doesn't even comprehend it when the sixteen-year-old leader departs.
Truly, he knows the boy is right. Just as he knows following such sage counsel will not be easy.
But then, as Dick once said, what is easy when one is the Night personified?
And it is here that Batman stands.
Clenching his fists, his own dried lifeblood mixes with the fresh flow of his son.
Even apart they are an ever-gravitating force.
Of one beating heart.
And the Joker will rue the day he tried to take that away from them.
"I've never seen him look so…small before…so vulnerable…" the youngest of those conscious remarks breathlessly, so softly in the silence of the made-massive ship that it goes nearly unheard by anyone who isn't Superboy.
After making it inside and moving the Ship to a more secure location a few miles out, stretching farther into the Gotham City outskirts, it had taken Miss Martian's telepathic abilities to calm the frantic, pain-wracked thirteen-year-old.
The numerous IVs that run into his body give him the needed nutrients and medicines meant to heal him, as well as replenish the blood he's lost. The electrodes on his chest, arms, and legs take in his vital signs. (Until now they never thought they'd have need of it, but they are eternally grateful to the Genomorphs for teaching Superboy the ins-and-outs of basic first aid.)
But even here he is pale, sweating profusely with head tossing back and forth and breathing somewhat erratic as he no doubt senses the fact that his Father is nowhere nearby, is about to fly into the heart of danger without his faithful and ever-present son at his side.
Only one thought crosses their minds through all of this:
When you catch the clown, Batman, they take Robin's hand and squeeze, laugh.
It's never hard to trail a madman. Especially when that man is as mad as the Joker.
There are Joker playing cards lying about the clearing, leading deeper and deeper into the woods until he can no longer see a single inch of the tent. What's more, the lunatic's haunting laughter hasn't stopped since Robin went down.
Feeling his heart clench torturously at the memory of his son being reduced to that writhing, bloody mess—so lost in his pain was he that Dick hadn't released his death grip on Bruce's hand until the man had whispered in his ear something sacred from their past—his pace and drive redouble to levels previously thought impossible.
The Joker hasn't seen anything yet.
Within, Robin is fighting a battle of his own.
The pain is unceasing, all-surrounding, and altogether paralyzing.
But through it all there is one thing to break through it: the voice of his Father, his warm breath, in his ear, letting him know that everything will be all right, that he is loved, in that cryptic-telling way of his that is understood solely by the Boy Wonder himself.
Then, a shift of arms, a separate protectiveness, a change in location.
Another moment now, and a new development arises: one that both alarms and comforts the child throughout.
His Father's presence, felt over everything, has vanished from his heart's sight.
And for all of his knowledge of the man who saved his life four years ago, for all of his knowledge Bruce Wayne's heart that is dearly-kept as his ward and son, Richard John Grayson, he knows without question where the Batman's gone.
I'm with you, Dad, he upholds. Please be careful.
He can feel his body giving in to the drugs that have begun coursing through his system. But he can't go yet. Not yet. Not with this one piece of himself he still needs to give.
I love you.
Finally, after what seems an eternity, Batman stops.
The trail of Joker cards ends here. The maniac's laughter is so much closer now. His heightened senses easily detect the gunpowder.
The light of the full moon concentrates to his left; a face of red, green, and white peeks out from the shadows; and all is out in the open.
"Why, if it isn't Batman!" the Joker croons gaily, though the cruel grin on his face does all to nullify the otherwise welcoming words. "Tell me, how's Boy Blunder? Very much dead, I hope."
The Dark Knight falls into this familiar dance of Bat and Insect in defense of his Fallen Bird.
I love you, too.
A/N: In researching Bruce Wayne (as I research all of the characters I've never written, as well as those I have if only to get an even better grasp on them), I swear I found one website that told me his middle name is Thomas, after his Father, as is the case with Dick. However, when I looked again to make sure, I couldn't find this website or a confirmation of this, so...if it's wrong, please don't be mad!
If you're wondering, I did do my research on the awesome gun and bullet I thought the Joker might have used to shoot Robin, though as to the size of the hole the impact made...I was forced to guess as I couldn't find any accurate measurements. That also goes for the way Bruce goes into 'medic mode' afterward.
And the switch between superhero identities and secret identities is meaningful and important to both character and plot development, so if you've gotten annoyed or confused by it, please keep that in mind! XD
Oh! And guess who's finally nineteen? MWAHAHAHAHA!
Thanks so much for reading, as always!