The fog was so thick, so dense, so heavy. And, yet, it was strangely comforting; like a hefty wool blanket wrapped around a shivering body in the winter. It blocked out everything, keeping him safe, protected; free of pain, absent or worry. At the same time, though, it was a nuisance, hindering him from the basic necessities of life like seeing and feeling. It had been drilled into his brain from such an early age that a keen awareness of one's surroundings was the key to survival—to success—and it bothered him to no end that such luxuries were not possible through the weight. Unnerved him. Everything was fuzzy—for a moment, he couldn't remember where he was, when he was, who he was. But he willed himself back into focus as he clawed through the mist. After what could have been miles or minutes—he couldn't tell—he was strangely exhausted, but by then it was too late. The fog was beginning to clear, giving way to darkness, and, slowly, memories began to surface. He realized then, of course, what was so unnaturally wrong about the fog—it was too thick, too dense, too heavy. Sure signs—as he had been taught both through lessons and experience over the years—of a sedative. Well that's just wonderful, he thought, the words echoing through the darkness of his mind. Bruce had drugged him.
Suddenly, though, something pushed him from behind—he felt the sensation, but not the action—and stumbled, falling into nothing. Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over, and somehow—somehow—he was on his feet again. Running, running, running; because all at once he knew someone was chasing him. His entire body felt like it was on fire, but the only thought that crossed his thoughts was a powerful, desperate need to get away. It was irrationally terrifying to be running from a nightmare that he couldn't see but was oh so aware of, and some logical part of his brain screamed out that it wasn't real, that there was nothing there, that he needed to wake up. Still, he ran, and there was a laugh in the distance. Chasing him, closing in, right up behind him.
There's no one left to save them, little birdie. Little bat. Little boy flopping in his father's shoes, too big for your feet to fill. Without you, they are alone. They will burn, they will die, they will know that you've abandoned them. You left them, and now they'll pay with their pain.
And then, he was falling again. He tried to scream, tried to cry out, but couldn't—wouldn't—because that was a sign of weakness. And he wasn't weak; no, not anymore. The suffocating blackness that he had once learned to embrace now clawed in toward him, wailing and screeching as the frozen darkness crept up, closer and closer. But he would not succumb; he was too strong for that. Suddenly, he was fleeing again. Retreating from something he didn't know, something he couldn't understand, something that wouldn't give up. The midnight world started to grey, and he pushed on, hoping for some relief; for some peace.
Because a world without Batman isn't much of a world at all, is it?
There was the laugh again—that petrifying, sickening laugh—that sounded so familiar yet so, so strange. It bounced around him, urging him forward and following in front of him, beside him, behind him, in him. It was the cackle of a villain; a madman with too much to gain and not enough to lose; a murderer with humor enough to laugh at others as they bled out on the floor or blew to pieces or drowned in a river of their own murky red. It morphed as it echoed, changing into something more, something worse, and, suddenly, he was listening to himself.
He had to get away.
With what seemed like the last bit of strength in his body, he dove forward into the grey that became bright that became white that became reality.
He gasped, chest heaving, and struggled to sit up. It took him a moment to realize where he was, but, when he did, he could have laughed. He didn't, though—somehow, he could still hear the dark chuckles even though he knew they weren't there. His body fell back onto the scratching, stark-white hospital-grade pillows and silently cursed himself. Damn, I really need to stop passing out. It was, of course, not entirely his fault, but he couldn't bring himself to blame Bruce. Had he been in the same position, he probably would have acted similarly. And, of course, he had been so angry with the man for so long, but that in itself had been tiring. So many months ago he had given up and forgiven him for something that neither of them could remember—lies—but by then it had been too late. Now, he had no more energy for anger.
He needed to get his head in gear and stay on track.
Okay, so his initial—albeit a bit stupid—plan had backfired. And so had his—probably even worse than the first one—second. What he needed now was a good, solid course of action. Priority one was making sure no one found out who he was; that could lead to a whole new set of disasters that he really, really didn't want to deal with. That, of course, completely flew out the window when Miss Martian probed his mind, but he only hoped that his mental barriers had been enough to filter out just how much she saw while he was in that unpleasant less-than-totally-lucid.
As if to remind him exactly what he was dealing with, the room tilted ever so slightly, and he fought back a sudden wave of nausea at the vertigo. Concussions were very much less than fun, not to mention hindering and just plain inconvenient.
Priority two, without a doubt, was then figuring out how to get back to his own time. Yet again, his brain oh-so-pleasantly surfaced his last memory of Robin, and the nausea decided to make a reappearance. He wanted—needed—to know that he was alright. Absently, he wondered if Bruce had ever felt the same sense of collapsing dread and mind-numbing worry when they had worked together. He liked to think that he had. In order to return, though, he would need equipment; fancy, high-end, advanced equipment that he was pretty sure only one place had the resources and knowledge to create. Well, two places, but the second was currently unreachable, ridiculously unpredictable—not to mention painful—and had gotten him in this mess in the first place. A swell of rage welled inside of him but he calmed it, knowing full-well that it would likely be some time before he and Chronos met again. There was little use dwelling on something unchangeable, and he attempted to reorder his thoughts to the task at hand—a feat more complicated than it should have been thanks to the throbbing headache and overall soreness radiating from every cell of his body.
With a practiced eye and too much experience in the matter, he assessed himself, vaguely remembering something being mentioned earlier about internal bleeding. From what he could tell, he had a few cracked ribs, but that seemed to be the worst of his injuries. His right arm had been bandaged, and, based on both the insufferable itching and depressing red stains, he guessed that there was something pretty nasty hidden underneath. For sanitary purposes, he decided to leave on the wrappings and asses the real damage later, and moved on to his next task: getting out. Wires were everywhere, hooking him up to various monitors and machines, and he knew that removing any one of them would set off an alert. For the moment, he was alone, but that did not necessarily mean that he was the only one in the Cave. And, even if he was the only living person at the Mountain, Red Tornado was likely still hovering around in a sleep cycle, just waiting to pounce. He had no idea what time it was, but he guessed it must have been early in the morning. When he and Bruce had entered the cave hours before, it had been well past midnight, but there was no telling how long he had been out.
Trying his best to remember the facility's layout—it had been a while since he had last been here, but his training had been strict and escape routes had been something of a burning memory after the incident with Red's siblings; It's been a while since I've thought of that—and all the various nooks and crannies. But getting out of the mountain was only one aspect of it—and an easy one, at that. If there was any hope of returning home, he would have to find a way into the Watchtower. There, he would have access to both his suit—and, by extension, computer—and any technology the League kept on hand. There was one item in particular that he was hoping to find, and he could only pray that it had ended up in storage there rather than the Batcave. In the case that he could locate it, there was no telling how damaged it would be, or whether or not he could modify it enough to send him back. Even then, he had no idea if "back" qualified as the same thing anymore. There was no telling what he had changed in the short while he had been in this timeline, or how long it could take him to make the adjustments he needed to suit his needs.
Dwelling on the positives. Right.
One thing was certain in escaping the cave: air ducts were the key. The Cave's shafts were abnormally large for two reasons: one, the heat generated at the core of the mountain needed extra siphoning to keep the buildings cool; and two, as a backup route in case something went wrong. The second proposal had, of course, been Batman's idea, and no one dared argue or accuse him of being paranoid—even though everyone knew he was. To the left of the bed, right where he remembered it, was an oversized vent that would have simply blended into his side vision had he not known to look for it; perfect. It was a little higher than he would have liked to stretch due to his injuries, but he had done worse things under worse circumstances and was willing to take what the universe threw at him. The key was getting it open in a short enough amount of time to give him some kind of head start before whoever was monitoring him decided to show up.
He could manage, though; he had worked with less before.
Positive. Stay positive.
With that final thought, he yanked out the IV needle and unclipped himself from everything in one fell swoop, tumbling to his feet out of bed all in the same movement. He fought to right himself for half a second and the monitors began blaring that his heart had flat lined, clawing onward past the wave of dizziness that threatened to engulf him once again. After too long, he was at the vent, prying it off the wall and wishing that he had some—any—of his equipment with him. With one last, exhausting heave, the safety lock gave way and the metal grate clattered to the floor. He reached up, ignoring the searing pain as his movements pulled on his wounds and tugged at the muscles around his ribs, and grasped the ledge's edge, fully prepared to lift himself up and scurry away.
Without any warning, a small, feminine voice crashed through his thoughts, Wait! Don't panic! Everything will be okay. Everything, however, was severely not okay as, in shock, his grip slackened and he crashed to the floor, unable to help the cry that escaped his lips. Whether it was from surprise or pain, though, he wasn't sure.
Seconds after the medical alert sounded, Wally was ready to bolt. Now that he knew just who, exactly, was lying injured in the next room, he couldn't help but he overwhelmed with worry. There was no doubt that Robin was his best friend—his brother—and, suddenly, that sentiment extended to two people. He felt a twinge of guilt in considering the man his enemy at first, but his feelings had been completely justified. That being said, all thoughts of animosity flew out the window at that shocking moment when Dick's picture flashed on the screen. There was no reason for them to linger; Robin would never, never grow to be anything less than a hero. There was not a single ounce of doubt about that, and the dark costume he had been wearing when found only furthered that theory—fact.
He and M'gann were the first to react, the young Martian immediately forming as much of a telepathic link as she could in an effort to calm him. If he had ripped out the monitors, it was probable that he was either panicking or—more likely based on what they knew of Robin—making a break for it. He was aware that she knew of his identity, but there was a near guarantee that his reaction would be negative when he discovered that the others did, as well. She was almost positive he was unaware that his fears and worries were unwarranted, and, coupled with the fact that he was injured to the point of potentially impaired judgment, that could prove dangerous. The minute Miss Martian entered his thoughts, though, she instantly regretted it as she felt a wave of confusion and pain wash over her. M'gann cried out in what she was sure was perfect synchronization with the fallen man as he hit the ground, and took off moments later, concerned to the point of near hysteria. Slower than their teammates would have liked—though, really, it had been less than three ticks on a clock—the others followed, Flash hot on his nephews heels as the two speedsters raced toward the medical wing.
Kid Flash punched in the security code at lightning speed, rushing through the crack before the door to his friend's room had even fully opened, and arrived just as the man's body hit the floor. Instantly, Wally was at his side, while the newly-identified traveler blinked at the ceiling, trying to regain some order to his vision. "Hey, man, are you okay?" the young redhead asked, hovering over him, worry evident even through his cowl. The man gave a weak grunt and attempted to shift his position, visibly cringing as he did so while trying to focus on the boy above him. Falling was the opposite of helpful when it came to healing injuries, he decided. "No; no, don't try to sit up just yet. That was a pretty nasty hit you took." Instead of taking the advice, however, he stretched once more, refusing to succumb—he had already lost so much time, and couldn't dare to run the risk of passing out yet again, a very real possibility that seemed to creep up on him from behind as the room began swimming for what he felt was the umpteenth time that morning.
The man stared up at Kid Flash in confusion and bewilderment, caught completely off-guard by both his sudden appearance and overall cheerful, friendly demeanor. Yes, Wally had always been a caring person, but he had not given the speedster any reason to trust him enough to warrant the tauntingly nice behavior—quite the opposite, in fact. The last time he remembered seeing this little version of the redhead was just after Miss Martian's failed telepathic intrusion, and he had been angry and ready to fight him. The sudden change was a step beyond unnerving; it was worrying. For a moment, he considered the possibly that M'gann had let his identity slip, but dismissed the thought in an instant. It may have been a shocking discovery for the young girl, but she was nothing if not trustworthy. If she was anything like the Miss Martian he remembered fighting beside during his days growing into himself as a hero, he had little to worry about in that respect. Still, Wally's actions brought up a spike of alarm, and immediately he took the first halfway-reasonable plan that came to mind.
"Who the hell are you?" he snarled, curling back in on himself away from the teenager's touch and wincing at pain shot throughout his body. The look of utter devastation that flashed across his best friend's face was enough to make him want to recant his words, but survival was key. He could give no indication—not even the slightest hint—of who he really was; the ramifications could be devastating. "And where am I?" Wally reached out, unsure of what else to do, but wanting to some kind of calming emotion. "Don't touch me!"
His best friend—his brother—didn't know who he was. Wally felt like he had been kicked in the stomach, and all he could do was stare, blinking through confusion and hurt, as the injured man leapt to his feet in one staggering, semi-fluid movement and cringed slightly at the tugs on his wounds.
Just as he managed to stabilize himself, the rest of the Team came barreling down the hall, Flash—Flash? What was Barry doing here?—leading the charge with a substantial head start. "What's going on?" he asked, gaze flicking worriedly between his stunned nephew and the fuming man, now in a defensive position, standing against the wall. In the blink of an eye, he was at Wally's side, "Kid? Kid, what happened?"
In response, the young redhead only glared at the dark-haired man in a stony silence, not trusting himself to speak. Dick could have wavered under the harsh, accusing gaze, but didn't—that was an indication to foes that something was wrong, and, as much as it killed him to think it, these people were his enemies. But why—why—was he looking at him like that? What had happened?
Suddenly, Miss Martian's frantic voice echoed in through his thoughts just as she and the others—plus Martian Manhunter? Something really, really wasn't right—came crashing across the medical room's threshold. Robin? Are you hurt? He jumped at the sudden intrusion, stumbling ever so slightly as the room decided to start tilting to the side ever so slightly. Instantly, she was at his side, and he took a step back in response, eyes wide, hitting the wall as he did so. He hated playing scared for survival, but, really, that's what this was about—getting out while causing as little damage as possible.
"Shit, will you stop that?" he ground out, shooting his voice an octave higher in attempt to sound terrified and confused. The first part was easy to fake, but he found that the confusion was real. "Get out of my head!"
Batman stepped forward, advancing on the volatile man, eyes narrowing. "What is going on here?" he demanded, gaze shifting between the two teens and adults huddled in the room's far corner.
"I could ask you the same thing, Batman," the man snapped back, voice dripping with accusation. "You stalk me, cuff me, throw me in a jet and fly to God-knows-where, knock me unconscious, mentally assault me via some kid, and drug me. I can't remember much, but I do know that I haven't done anything wrong." he risked a scoff, glaring, "and I thought you were supposed to be the good guy."
The words probably cut him as much—if not more—than the Dark Knight in front of him, but neither stony-faced man betrayed any kind of hurt.
Artemis rose up at that, shooting the man a glare of her own as she stepped forward. No matter what the damn DNA said, this was not the Boy Wonder. "Hey, you attacked Miss Martian; you haven't exactly made yourself out not to be a threat." her fingers twitched into fists, itching for her bow. The redheaded girl in question shifted her gaze back and forth between Dick and the others in the room, unsure of what to do or what was happening. Something wasn't right.
"That is enough," Batman growled, advancing. By then, Barry had coaxed Wally back toward the others, and suddenly the group of stunned heroes was watching a standoff. Conner's muscles tensed, wanting nothing more than to yank M'gann, who was still caught at the man's side, out from the middle of the fray. Despite a core, protective instinct driving him to do so, though, he resisted, knowing that his anger would likely lead to some rash, damaging action on his part that would only worsen the already tumultuous situation. Perhaps his sessions with Black Canary were doing some good.
The man, for his part, moved forward as well, squaring off against the larger man with a dark confidence that was more than a little unsettling for the others holding their breath. He was reminded of countless situations that had played themselves out before—in his past—between he and Bruce. Some detached, morbid part of his mind found an unusual comfort in the familiarity of it all, and a twinge of regret flashed with the memories. Never again.
Knowing full well that things were quickly spiraling out of any sort of control, M'gann panicked, frantically sending one last ditch effort out into the telepathic world in an attempt to subdue—or at least distract—the man that was her friend, and yet still wasn't. She knew it was reckless, and was fully aware that it could backfire, but she was desperate, hurt, confused, and not above acting on impulse. Robin, they know; they know!
The man's eyes widened immediately, and, with a whip that would make any speedster jealous, whirled on the young girl who couldn't hold back a flinch at his furious expression. Now, he didn't have to fake the anger and hurt, "What?" he practically roared. "You knew what would happen if you told them! Do you have any idea what you've done?"
Martian Manhunter was suddenly stalking up behind the man. He had known easily that his threatening facade had been just that, but the raw emotions now directed toward M'gann were enough to warrant his interference. Superboy was not far behind inching up, unsure of what to do but wanting—needing—to protect the frightened redheaded girl.
J'onn laid a hand on the man's shoulder in a dual attempt at calming and preventing any further advancements on his family. "She did not—" Instantly, Dick reacted to the touch, acting more on instinct and wired nerves than any kind of thought. He gripped the Martian's arm with the strength of steel and simultaneously flipped him while sweeping his feet out from under him. The blue-clad man never hit the ground, however, despite not anticipating the attack. He phased from his opponent's grip, levitating moments before his body came in contact with the floor. Instantly, Batman lunged, the Flash not far behind as the two heroes attempted to subdue the struggling man.
Dick had never been particularly fond of tight spaces, and that included forced confinement under crushing arms. Lashing out, he manage to knock the blonde speedster away fairly easily, only combating his former mentor as he attempted to twist up the arm gripping his own forearm. He jerked it hard, immediately dislocating the older man's shoulder, but the Dark Knight wasn't fazed. Using the injury as a momentary distraction, he used his other, free arm to whip the man over his shoulders—which would have worked, had he not been trained by the Batman, himself. Using the leverage, Dick twisted his hands to springboard off Bruce's dark shoulders, landing smoothly on his feet and repeating the same attack that he had attempted on Martian Manhunter. In an instant, Batman was on his back with a grunt as the wind was momentarily, forcibly thrust from his lungs, but he didn't stay down for long, immediately taking advantage of the situation from below and twisting to sweep the man's legs from under him. It worked, and, suddenly, the other heroes swarmed, only then reacting to the fight that had taken place in seconds. Superboy and Roy leaped to pin the man against the floor on either side, while J'onn knelt with a finger to his temple, preparing to render him unconscious.
Wait! the clear, forceful order echoed throughout everyone's thoughts, causing a momentary freeze as ten heads jerked to face the commanding source. M'gann, still off to the side, floated several feet off the ground in a position that copied her uncle's—pressing the sides of her forehead—a look of pure determination etched across her features. Just listen!
Immediately, the man relaxed, letting his head fall back onto the floor for a moment as he closed his eyes, and, briefly, the gathered heroes thought he had passed out once again. He swallowed, before lifting head again to lock eye with the fierce young teenage girl. "Right," he said quietly, clearing his throat and sending everyone except M'gann on an emotional whiplash with how quickly the situation had changed—yet again. "Right, sorry." still, the two young men did not loosen their grip. He didn't blame them.
Satisfied, Miss Martian's face softened as she hovered down, reaching to rub her arm with the other in an unconscious gesture of uncomfortableness as she addressed him. "They—well, Batman—figured it out. I wouldn't betray you like that." her voice was young, sweet; guilt clawed at his insides as he immediately regretted turning on her. He had known—what had he been thinking? I'm seconds, though, his head snapped toward Bruce, who was just then getting up from the floor while attempting to pop his shoulder back into his socket. Dick winced, regret mounting.
Martian Manhunter, satisfied that the situation had been successfully subdued, placed a placating hand on both boys still atop the traveler. "He will neither attack nor run. Release him." After a beat if hesitation, they reluctantly obliged, and their captive immediately propped himself up and grimaced as he stretched his sore muscles.
"Figures," he grumbled, but there was no malice behind the words as he eyed his father warily. Kaldur had quietly stepped up to help the Dark Knight, Artemis at his side, and they relocated his injury without so much as a grunt on his victim's part. He saw the signs though—a clenched jaw, gripping fist, barely-audible, sharp intake of breath. He had been trained for years to watch out for the man's safety when he refused to do it himself, and recognized the pain.
A movement behind the three heroes caught his eye, and his gaze flicked briefly over the Dark Knight's shoulder—and froze. Staring back at him, petrified, devastated, disbelieving, where his own masked eyes, boring holes into his body as the younger boy struggled to process all that he had just seen. This Robin was small, likely in his early teens, and instantly his mind flashed back to what life had been like at that age. The excitement of his new team, and the powerful bond they had formed as they grew and learned together; the thrill of missions and the adventure, promise, and excitement they offered; the pain and disappointment in the face of too-often made mistakes; and the looming dread of what would become of him when he grew—who he would be—what would happen.
He had just shown himself his greatest fear.
He had given some kind of conformation—no matter how true or false—that he would become the very thing that he fought against taking up. That he would take after his father, following in his footsteps as the dark, masked vigilante. That he would submit himself to the cold, volatile persona that came with that burden.
Kid Flash was attempting to get his best friend's attention, but Robin only continued stare at the older man, who gazed right back, suddenly vulnerable. He knew; and he knew that the other man realized it, as well. His eyes—uncovered, he now realized—swam with uncertainty, regret, pain, fear, worry, sadness.
The others, whose attention had, up until that point, been focused solely on the violent man, slowly followed his path of sight. Flash couldn't help but cringe at the utter defeat—vulnerability—resigned devastation held behind the white domino mask lenses. It was heart breaking; it was wrong.
Silently, as everyone held their breath, the older Dick lifted himself up, smoothly coming to stand without help. Even as the world tilted again, though, he never once broke the connection. His younger self needed reassurance that he couldn't give—wasn't qualified to give—anymore. There were no words; nothing that could be said to quell the typhoon of dread swirling inside the black-haired boy.
Sensing a stalemate—and the turmoil brewing under the tension hanging over everything like a suffocating fog—Batman silently slipped forward, shooting back a glare that would have terrified anyone—anyone—else and sent them cowering. Absently, Dick wondered at the fact that he, sometimes, missed that look; the expression of utter disappointment, like he had completely failed his father. It wasn't the emotion that he yearned for, but the man that radiated it. Taking up the cowl had changed him— morphed him in some ways and not in others, and only half of those being the things that really mattered—and it was a burden that he had never been meant to bear. Suddenly, the full force of what he had done hit him, head on, as he watched Bruce escort the broken boy away from himself.
He had ruined his innocence.
AN: I'm sorry it took me so long to get this chapter up! I had a hard time writing it (had to redo it a few times because I kept thinking Dick was too OOC, but I'm not sure that was really ever remedied. XP) and this is the version I was most satisfied with. (Which I ended up writing at 3AM on my iPhone's notepad app...) I hope y'all like it! This is the first (official; because the one in the first chapter doesn't really count) fight scene I've ever written, and I'm actually a little proud of it. Tell me what you think, though, because this story is going to have a lot of action as the plot progresses! Speaking of action, I think at this point things are going to start picking up speed. I've gotten through most of the introspective, emotional issues and uncertainty that came with older!Dick's discovery, and from here on out there's going to be more things happening. That being said, I'm still going to really focus on the two Dicks and Bruce and their views as things progress, but I really want to get this story going.
Originally, I was going to have a whole fangirl-y schpeel about my newest TV obsession, "Dexter", but decided against it because that's a long, tedious rant that I don't want to go into to. Long story short: watch it; it's absolutely brilliant, and I'm addicted to the soundtrack. (I was listening to it while writing, which is probably why this chapter is a little dark).
Oh! (sorry, one last thing) The anonymous reviewer Damian Wayne (love your name, by the way) brought of a good point about my chapter titles-because I'm terrible at coming up with relevant and creative titles, I usually just use the name of whatever song I'm listening to that (I think) fits the chapter. -shrug-
Anyway, as usual, THANK YOU SO MUCH for all the hits/alerts/faves/reviews! You guys are amazing, and you really keep me going! That being said, I always really appreciate your feedback, and would appreciate some constructive criticism (especially on this chapter). Also, I don't have a beta, so... if anyone's willing? :3
Sorry for the rambling~ I love you all!
[EDIT]: Sorry about the awkward, randomly capitalized words. They were supposed to be transferred to italics when I moved the story over to my laptop, but, unfortunately I didn't get them all. I tried to fix what I could find, but if there are any I missed please feel free to tell me!