Author's Note: My apologies dear readers, for the delay in the final chapter for Linchpin. Yup. This is it! The end! I'm going to cry now...
Okay, so yes, this one may be over but I've had the inclination to turn this into its own verse. I've got a couple of one-shots and two more multi-chapter fics planned out and who knows what'll develop after that. Writing this has been one hell of a trip! I've had ups and downs and writers block and the passing of my mother and truthfully I doubted I would actually get it finished. But here it is! All done! And not at all what I originally envisioned when I started. I almost hate to see it end...
That said, I will be taking a small break from Linchpin. I've got two prizes that need to be written as well as a bunch more for the "B" Series and other stuff so I won't be off writing, just letting things for the next bit of Linchpin to stew a little bit. I hope y'all stick around and read more of what I got.
Chapter Twenty-Two: Wanted
Visiting hours were over, finally, and the last of Dick's visitors had left. Most of the student body, and faculty, of Gotham Academy had been by to see him at some point over the last few days, and it was surprising how tiring trying to smile and be upbeat for near strangers. He was glad to see the last of them go.
Bruce had left word with Sarah, the day shift nurse, that he would be late coming up to the hospital. The man had taken a trip out to Metropolis on business and the train back was delayed because of repairs to the Gotham Station.
Truth be told, Dick didn't mind. He was luxuriating in the quiet that came from finally being alone. The hospital bed reclined back and he closed his eyes.
"Knock, knock, Dickie-bird," the voice interrupted his silence a moment later.
Dick started at the sound, not having heard the door open, but when he glanced at the entrance to the room no one was there. A movement at the corner of his eyes had him snapping his head to the side. Robin sat straddling the windowsill, half in and half out of the eighth story window.
"Jason?" Dick flung the blanket of his legs and swung them to the floor. He was still unsteady on them, his damaged muscles unable to take his weight for long, but was able to make it over to the boy while wheeling the IV stand with him. "What are you doing here?"
A wide grin was plastered on the time traveler's masked face as he was looking down. He took hold of Dick's arm and gently pulled him closer to the window until his torso was hanging out beside him. "Smile for the cameras."
Sure enough, eight stories below the media that was still camped outside the Hospital were all aiming their cameras upward. Flashes were flickering wildly as they tried to get a decent picture of the Boy Wonder and the Gotham Prince. Dick couldn't stop the smirk that tugged at his lips. He shook his head at the other boy's audacity and ducked back inside.
"Really," Dick gripped the pole of the IV stand to keep steady, "You disappear for days, to the point where even Batman can't find you, and then you decide to show up here for a photo op?"
Jason chuckled and climbed the rest of the way into the room, closing the window behind him. "Dude, get back into bed." He picked up the smaller boy, eliciting a startled yelp from the thirteen year old, and sat him back on the mattress.
Dick rolled his eyes but repositioned himself to sit comfortably on his bed none the less. "Seriously though," he brought his knees up to his chest, arms folded across them, "where have you been? Bruce said you were helping out with the search and rescue but you vanished two days ago. No one could find you, not even him."
"Because I didn't want to be found," Jason shrugged and hopped onto the bed's footboard. He balanced there for a moment before allowing himself to step forward gently, so as not to jostle the bed, and sat akimbo across from Dick on the mattress. "I wasn't supposed to get as involved as I did, Dick. Protecting your secret was never part of the plan."
"You mean not part of Batman's plan – your Batman, that is." Dick watched the other carefully. "So what made you?"
Jason shrugged. "It was just easier said than done." Through the lenses of the domino mask, green and blue eyes met. "Do you have any idea what you looked like when I showed up?"
A chill formed in the room and Dick looked away from the intensity of the older teen's expression. He wanted to tell him it wasn't that bad, but he knew the reality. Bruce had reluctantly shown him the evidence photographs that had been taken when he'd been brought the hospital. He knew it had been bad.
The substitute Robin let the pregnant quiet linger for only a moment before he was talking again. "So I figured: this is my world now. Might as well make something of myself and I got to admit that it's kind of fun playing the hero."
"You're not playing," Dick turned back to face him. "You saved my life, Jason. You gave up everything to stop Sportsmaster from killing me. That's a hero by anyone's definition."
"Not all that much to give up, kid," Jason shrugged again. "It was a no brainer, actually. If I didn't let Batman train me, it was back to life on the streets. I'd probably be in jail or dead by now. Besides, a new life with a handful of millions in my pocket makes it all good in my book."
"Even if it's a few million less than when you came here?" Dick arched an eyebrow at the other's cavalier attitude.
"What are you talking about, Dickie-Bird?"
Stretching and leaning to the newspaper lying on the nearby chair, ignoring the stitch of pain that flared though his abdomen, Dick grabbed the paper and brought it between them. "Page four, below the fold."
Jason flipped thought the paper to the circled article. It was small, more a blurb than an article. He kept his face stoic as he read the words.
"Is she really your Aunt?" Dick asked quietly after a moment when the paper was set down again.
"Yeah," Jason nodded, "my father's older sister. In my world, here too, she tried to get custody of me about six months after my mom died. Dad fought her – don't know why – and she couldn't afford the legal fees to take it to through the higher courts. I figured, since I'm already switching things up…"
Dick quirked a half-smile, "Anonymously give her two million dollars and point her to your younger self?"
"With the old man in prison right now and with the mini-me in the papers the last few days it wasn't that hard."
"He's a hero too, you know" Dick pointed out.
Jason snorted, "Only because we set the little toe-rag up to be one! I didn't think the media would make such a big deal out of it when I first suggested it."
"He's being credited with finding me," Dick shrugged, allowing a teasing glint in his eyes. "I can't help it the people missed me and want to reward the 'toe-rag' that brought me back to them."
With his own smirk evident, Jason leaned over and flicked the end of Dick's nose. "Ego much?"
Chuckling the two teens settled into a comfortable silence.
"So what now?" Dick asked a moment later. "I mean, you came back."
"Never really left," Jason told him, a faint blush of crimson coloring his cheeks. "I took off to find Aunt Becca and get the monies set up for her and the kid."
"So you're sticking around then?" Dick didn't bother masking his hope for just that.
"Nowhere else to go. Besides," Jason poked him in the leg, "you up to donning the mask and cape again yet?"
Dick shook his head. "I'm off Robin duty for a few months yet." His disappointment was clear.
"I'm looking at an apartment just off Monolith Square," the older boy told him, "big windows, roof access, lots of space for training and gear – so long as your Batman doesn't mind me filling in for a while. I won't stick around his City too long. Just long enough until you're back on the feet. After that, I might scope out Bludhaven or maybe New York."
"Or you could come back to the manor and work with me."
Both boys started with surprise. Dick tensed and Jason leapt from the bed at the first sound of the deep voice. Robin instinctively dropped into a defensive position between Dick and the unknown. A second later when they both realized it was Bruce standing in the doorway Dick relaxed and Jason lowered his arms, but otherwise remained rigid as it expecting an attack.
The door clicked closed behind the older man and he walked purposefully toward Robin. "You're a hard man to track down."
Jason shrugged. "You taught me."
"No, I didn't." Bruce folded his arms across his chest, Batman evident in his posture and face despite the absence of the cowl. "I am not him, Robin, and you need to realize that. I've well aware of what he's done-"
"No," Jason snarled, arms folding and standing in an eerily identical pose as Bruce, "you're not!"
Bruce took a small memory chip from his lapel pocket. "You left this in my office at Wayne Enterprises before you disappeared."
"You needed the evidence," Jason snapped.
"And did you bother looking at just what it was that my counterpart compiled?"
"Why would I?"
"Because there was a message from him to me. And you."
That stunned the teen. "Me?"
Bruce reached out slowly, and took hold of Jason's gloved wrist. He thumbed the Kevlar fabric and moved it away from the wrist computer. He slipped the chip into the reader and a few commands later the holographic screen lit up. A minute more it flickered and a video of Bruce Wayne started
"Hello Bruce," the man spoke in the gruff voice that Jason knew well. It was obviously the Bruce from his time, the difference of years evident in the man's face. "If the boy has followed orders I can imagine how confusing this is for you. The mysterious appearance of gigabytes of evidence proving the involvement of some of the world's most prominent figures in what would have been the worst manmade disaster in history – a mystery I would explain if I didn't believe that you already know.
"Jason Todd, has saved millions of lives, including that of your son. He was supposed to do so without being seen, but I like to think I know him. No doubt he not only stopped Sportsmaster from killing Dick, he remained to interfere even further."
Jason cringed at the words, expecting the dressing down that was sure to come.
"Good." An unfamiliar expression was on the man's face, curling the corner of his lips into a faint smirk. "Jason, I know you're watching this because I know that I would have shown it to you were I still the Bruce Wayne standing with you now.
"But I'm not him, not anymore. I don't regret what I did, Jason, what I trained you to do. When I realized that the world – this world wouldn't change no matter what we did in the past I made a decision to keep it from you that there are ways to pinpoint the different… frequencies of the multi-verse. I told you that you couldn't come back and I trained and prepared you as if it were true. It's not.
"If you chose to return the Batman of that world has the means to see that it happens. And I… Jason, I hope you don't.
"That may sound cold and uncaring, and maybe it is a little, but you need to realize that I can never been what you need me to be. I am not your friend, Jason, I never was. You were a means to an end and I think, if anything, that is the one thing I do regret. You were not a tool, Jason, but a boy. The last year I've come to realize just what I have done to you, and I am sorrier than you will ever know.
"But I don't want you to come back. The Batman – the Bruce Wayne of where and when you are now is a different man than I am. A better man than I. You have the chance, Jason, to be someone other than who you are: the man you should have been instead of the tool I forged you into. He can help you, finish your training, make you into the Hero that I couldn't be anymore. I hope that you let him. Let him be for you what I wouldn't be: A partner, a mentor, and a father."
Jason swallowed the uncertainty he felt and risked a glance at the Bruce standing in front of him. He was rewarded with a nod and a hidden smile in the dark blue eyes regarding him with optimism.
"Dick…" the recorded voice choked on the name, drawing attention back to the video. "Richard, I miss you every day. You reminded a man consumed by shadows what it meant to be in the light. You took away the thoughts of vengeance and retribution and reminded me the power of Justice. After what I've done, Jason needs that. He needs someone like you in his life. You loved me, and made me love you long before I even realized I was capable of loving anyone again. I… I just wanted to tell you that.
"Bruce… Take care of our boys."
The video ended and the holographic screen flickered before disappearing.
The room was heavy with the silence. The three occupants each lost in their own thoughts until the quiet yet cheerful voice from the bed broke it with five simple words.
"I've always wanted a brother."
"Scared? Yeah… yeah, I was scared – terrified actually. I'd been kidnapped before, but this…"
"How many times has it been, Richard?"
"Honestly? I'm not-"
"You sound angry, Bruce."
"Of course I'm angry, Vicki! These people – and I use the term lightly – think that just because I happen to have money they have the right to terrorize my son so they don't have to do an honest day's work! I've taken measures, every conceivable precaution to keep Dick safe, but he will always be at risk, just because I…"
"Because you, what Bruce?"
"… because I was selfish. I wanted him for my son, and now short of locking him away in the Manor he will never be completely safe."
"Aw man… please don't do that, Bruce!"
"I wouldn't, Dick, but it keeps happening and each time it escalates."
"How so, Bruce?"
"This Crock fellow, he stormed a school filled with children – putting his own daughter at risk – with men armed with machine guns. If the school didn't have their lockdown procedures, I can't help but imagine how many of those children may have been killed or injured just so this man could attempt extorting money from me by taking my son. It scares me to think how far these people will go the next time they get the idea."
"You think there will be a next time?"
"I pray to god there won't be! But I'm not naïve enough to think this is the last time someone will try to get to me through Dick."
"How do you feel about that, Dick? Dick… Richard, are you all right?"
"Easy, Dick, breathe slowly-"
"Break to a commercial!"
"Sorry about the interruption, Ladies and Gentlemen. Dick, are you certain you can continue?"
"Yeah, Vicki, I'm okay now. Sometimes… it just hits me, you know?"
"He has panic attacks, Post Traumatic Stress, the doctor's call it."
"Do you get flashbacks often, Dick?"
"No, usually it's just nightmares."
"What do you dream about?"
"A few things, like when they came to the school or Sportsmaster's mask or the, uh, the cuffs they used on us."
"Us, you mean Robin and you?"
"I'm sure you heard the rumor of you being Robin, but photographs like this one taken only last night prove you are definitely two different people. "
"He wanted to check on me. He came through the window because he knew security would be tight around me. We hadn't seen each other since the day before the Quake…"
"Did it help? Having him there with you?"
"Well, yeah! I couldn't talk to him – they, uh, kept both of us gagged the entire time – but I could see him and I wasn't alone, you know? I had no idea why they had him, but I just kept hoping that Batman would come to the rescue. I mean, he's found me a couple times before when I've been kidnapped, and I figured that with Robin being a prisoner too…"
"And when Batman didn't? When you were separated from the Boy Wonder, how do you feel?"
"Terrified… I was left alone then. I heard them all leave when they took Robin and I knew they weren't coming back. Even when Bruce paid the ransom I knew they weren't coming back…"
"Did you think you were going to die?"
"No, I knew I was. I mean… I was hurt, and I hadn't been given any food or water in days and…"
"Do you need a break, Dick?"
"No, Bruce, I'm okay."
"Can you tell me about it, Richard?"
"… At first it was like any other time. I was frustrated and a little scared, but when they first took me from school it wasn't any different. It, uh, got worse quickly though."
"Why? What made it different?"
"It was the helicopter. Every other time it was a car or truck, but this… a helicopter could take me out of the city faster than the police could be notified. In a car, there's the chance of being stopped by a patrol car. But a helicopter…
"I don't know where they took the first day and I wasn't there long. I was taken from the helicopter to a waiting SUV. Robin was already there. He got really angry at Sportsmaster when he saw me, demanded to know what game he was playing. The thugs he was working with…they beat him up pretty bad right there. Then…"
"…then what, Dick?"
"Sportsmaster – Crock, he uh, put a knife against my throat and told Robin that he'd behave better if it meant nothing would happen to me. Said that the money he'd get from Bruce would be icing on the cake. Then he cut me."
"He cut you?"
"Just a nick, right here, but it was enough that it started bleeding and Robin agreed not to fight him. We were loaded into the back of the SUV and they blindfolded and gagged me. I think Robin was too, but I don't know. I don't know how long we drove for, it seemed like hours. Robin tried to get my hands free, but they'd been tied with wire and so had his."
"Not the cuffs?"
"No, those… those were later; after we got to their hideout."
"Did they say why? Why Kryptonite?"
"Yeah… I was left pretty much alone in the basement, and sometimes they'd leave Robin there with me. But other times they'd take him… somewhere. I'd hear them leave and come back hours later. The last time… when Sportsmaster and the other guy came back they threw Robin down into the basement. Literally just threw him down the stairs and left him there. I could hear them yelling upstairs about having to take precautions for the next stage."
"Next stage of what?"
"I never heard. It went all quiet upstairs and I think they'd left."
"How was Robin?"
"Hurt, badly I think. He didn't move from the bottom of the stairs for more than an hour and when he did he was obviously in a lot pain. But he wasn't as tied up as before. He was able to remove both our gags and we talked for a while. He could have tried to escape and when I told him that he said he wasn't going to leave me with them alone. He told me what got Sportsmaster and his partner angry."
"What was that?"
"I guess they had gone to Star City to steal something. Robin was taken as insurance and was needed to subdue one of the Archers that patrol the city."
"Red Arrow was assaulted when he attempted to stop a robbery. Video surveillance has shown Robin being held as a hostage at knife point."
"Sportsmaster likes his knife…"
"Did he ever use it on you again, Dick?"
"What did he do?"
"I think we need to take another break, Vicki."
"Of course, Bruce. We'll be right back."
"Welcome back. As you can see, we've had to move from Dick's room to a secondary location we had set up just for this eventuality. During the break, Richard Grayson suffered another panic attack and had to be sedated by his physician. Bruce has agreed to finish the interview.
"Thank you, Bruce. I know this can't have been easy for you, but I can speak for myself and my viewers when I say we have been touched by Dick's story and can only express our hope for his continued recovery."
"Thank you, Vicki."
"Now I know you want to get back to your son, so we'll wrap this up as quickly as possible. Before the break, Dick was telling us of his ordeal. Can you tell us what happened to him?"
"I sat in with Dick when he gave his statement to the police; I've also talked with Commissioner Gordon and have had the gaps in Dick's memory of events by the forensic evidence as well as the Robin's statement."
"So what happened, Bruce? Sportsmaster and his accomplice held your son for four days…"
"Dick has told us that it was after the return from Star City that the kryptonite core cuffs were used. They were welded onto both Robin and Dick while the boys were conscious and the resulting burns on Dick's wrists and arms are what caused the infection that nearly killed him."
"But why the Kryptonite?"
"Because of Superman. Robin was to be taken to Metropolis with them when they stole technology from Star Labs. My understanding – and what was reported by not only Robin but the Justice League – Superman was able locate Robin when he had been left behind by Sportsmaster and his accomplices."
"Why would they risk that?"
"It was all a tap. When Superman rushed to Robin he was overcome by the kryptonite. Sensors that had been set up around the location initiated the second part of the trap and it's been reported that the Man of Steel was nearly killed. Only the quick response of the Flash and his protégé prevent the man's death."
"Which resulted in the Flash's own grave injuries."
"That's what I've been led to understand. Two of the original members of the League were nearly killed which left Sportsmaster to escape once more with Robin."
"So I can understand the use of Kryptonite on Robin, but why secure your son with the same countermeasures?"
"Paranoia? I don't know, Vicki, and Lawrence Crock has refused to answer any more questions."
"So while all this was going on in Metropolis, what was happening to Richard?"
"Dick had been stabbed twice, one in each leg, just prior to being strangled into unconsciousness. Robin was apparently made to watch before he was taken to Metropolis and believed Dick had been killed."
"Obviously, he hadn't."
"And I thank God for that!"
"So he had been left alone…?"
"He's been left to die!"
"I'm sorry, Vicki. I just… this is Dick I'm talking about. What that psychopath did to him… it's hard."
"Take all the time you need, Bruce."
"When the Quake started, all I thought about was Dick. To learn he'd been left bleeding and unconscious in the worst hit part of the city… He could have died, Vicki. Lawrence Crock wanted him to die."
"But he didn't."
"No. It's ironic, but the Quake probably saved his life. The shaking not only woke him, but it created the sinkhole that exposed the basement where he was being held captive. It allowed him to be seen by that boy looking for help."
"You mean Jason Todd?"
"The poor boy had broken his arm in the Quake and was on his way to Dr. Leslie Thompkins' clinic for help. He just happened to come across the sinkhole and he found Dick."
"Is that why you found his Aunt? Why you gave her the money to file for custody against her imprisoned brother?"
"I was willing to pay millions in ransom to a man that would torture and terrorize a child. Jason Todd gave me back my son and asked for nothing. I could do nothing less than give him the family he gave back to me."
"Thank you, Bruce. I know this hasn't been easy, but I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me and allowing me to talk with Dick."
"You're welcome, Vicki. If you don't mind, I'd like to get back to my son now."
"Of course, Bruce.
"When we come back, Ladies and Gentlemen, we'll be talking with Officers John Blake and Eddie Burlow, the officers who are being credited with the rescue of Richard Grayson. Stay tuned."