DISCLAIMER: Young Justice & Batman are not mine.
(Brachistochrone is a term from Greek meaning "shortest time".)
The crowd was thin, maybe a few dozen people, but it was enough for the drone of voice to fill the gymnasium. The bleachers were all but empty of spectators, only a few parents and chaperones willing to brave the cold snap that Gotham City awoke to on the first Saturday of December. The cold that could be felt every time the door opened and a draft came in from the corridor.
Like the one that gusted across the back of thirteen year old Dick Grayson. He shivered momentarily where he stood and startled at the heavy hand that fell onto his shoulder.
"Good luck, Dick!"
With a wide smile on his face, thirteen year old Dick Grayson spun around. "Bruce! You came?"
"Of course," His guardian exclaimed, removing his designer leather gloves with a flourish. "I wouldn't miss one of your little math-things for anything!"
Also gives 'Brucie' some exposure, Dick thought as he bit back a laugh. Out loud he said, "This isn't your typical meet, Bruce. It's the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. There's no head to head competition, just two three hour exams with a break for lunch."
Of course Bruce knew that, but it was so fun watching his face try to hold the smile while his eyes fell. "Ah, well," he shrugged and an instant later was back to his charming, Billionaire Playboy self. "Then I'll take you to lunch in between, there's this new bistro a few blocks over-"
"Once the competition starts I can't leave the gymnasium," he told the distraught socialite with glee. "It cuts down on the chances of cheating. Alfred packed a lunch for me."
"Oh," the dejected tone was undeniable and the few people milling about them chortled with amusement. "And I sent Alfred home with the car already. I suppose I could call him back."
Dick didn't bother holding in his chuckle as he took Bruce's arm and steered his adoptive father toward the stands. "Bruce, relax. Enjoy the quiet, have a nap! It's what most of the other parents do during these things."
Which, if he was being honest, Bruce really could use.
His nights as Batman had been hectic of late, between patrolling Gotham and his time on duty with the League. Not to mention training with Robin and the Young Justice teams. A few hours with nothing to do but watching a bunch of teenagers answering complex math equations was exactly what the exhausted Dark Knight needed.
"Seriously, Bruce," Dick said in a low voice, that only his mentor would hear, as Bruce removed his coat and used it as a pillow on the hard bench. "Take a breather. It's not going to be anything exciting, and I can guarantee no super villain is going to be busting up a Mathlete competition. But maybe it won't be a total waste, hmm?"
Bruce ruffled the boy's hair and nodded his head toward Dick's teammates in blue blazers. "Your friends are waiting for you, Dick. Wake me for lunch, will you?"
Dick smiled. With a wave to his father he went to join the other members of the Gotham Academy Mathlete squad. He was halfway across the gymnasium when one of the other school's participants took a step back from the group and straight in to Dick.
"Gah!" Dick exclaimed in shock as the hot coffee from the other teen's travel mug sloshed down the front of his blazer and shirt.
"Oh my gosh!" the other boy, a dark haired senior by the look of him, handed the now empty cup to one of his friends. He started brushing at Dick's rapidly staining uniform as if it would make it better. "Oh man, I am so sorry, kid! I didn't see you there!"
"I gathered," Dick grumbled and flicked his arm, sending droplets of still warm coffee to the floor.
One of the mediators approached the group. "Oh dear," the middle-aged man eyed the mess and motioned to another of the Competition's organizers. "There're still a few minutes before the doors are locked, if you'd like to find something else to wear Mr. Grayson."
"Thanks Mr. Wilcox." Dick said with an annoyed sigh. "I've got my spare uniform in my locker."
"I'm really sorry, dude," the responsible youth stammered again. "I'd be happy to pay for any cleaning-"
Dick shook his head. "Don't worry about it. It was an accident."
Mr. Wilcox glanced up from where he assisted his co-organizer in mopping up the spill with paper-towel. "Five minutes, Mr. Grayson."
"Only need two," he responded with a grin. He looked over to Bruce, who had watched the interaction with a wary eye, and rolled his eyes at the billionaire. Dick was probably the only one who noticed the unclenching of the jaw and relaxing of Bruce's shoulders.
He waved away his teammates curious glances as he jogged from the gymnasium, his blazer already unbuttoned and his ties loosened. His locker was only a few halls down from the Gym and he was shirt was untucked and unbuttoned by the time he reached it. He was spinning the lock when he heard the footsteps approaching.
Glancing over his shoulder he saw a three older teens walking toward him, one of them the same guy who spilled the coffee on him in the first place. "You don't have to apologize again," Dick said and turned back to his locker.
"Wasn't going to."
The voice was the same, but it was cold. It sent a shiver down Dick's spine. He felt himself tense at the feeling crawling over his skin now, but forced himself to relax his muscles. He was Dick Grayson right now, not Robin, and if he was about to be targeted by a bunch of bullies there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it.
He was ready for it, but still the hand on his back that slammed him forward and against the row of lockers knocked the breath from his lungs. Hey!" He wheezed, bracing his palms on the metal and pushing back against the arm that was trying to pin him to the wall. "What the hell-?"
Another set of hands came from behind him and grabbed one of his wrists, successfully wrenching it off the wall and behind his back. He allowed himself to cry out at the sharp pain in his shoulder and a merciless hand was slapped over his mouth. The third set of hands pulled his other arm behind him and he flinched at the sound and pinch of handcuffs around his wrists.
That surprised him.
Bullying he would accept, but this…
So not asterous! He growled behind the hand muffling his shouts and stepped back. Hard. His heal dug into the soft part of the top of the foot of the dark haired guy holding him. The other teen snarled and pressed harder against Dick's shoulders, keeping him pinned while one of his buddies snapped another pair of cuffs around his ankles.
He twisted and squirmed as the arm across his back snaked around his chest and he was lifted off the ground. He shouted beneath the hand-gag, but the muffled noise was lost in the empty corridor. With a grim face, one of the other teens grabbed his bucking legs and he was carried further away from the gymnasium.
Bloody hell, he grumbled in his mind as he fought them. For a bunch of math geeks they were incredibly strong! That being said, their clothes showed only the one holding him silent to be part of the competition. The other two were probably just friends, good friends if they were willing to go along with a stunt like this. They carried him into a classroom that was dark and the door snapped shut behind the three and their captive.
By that time, Dick had managed to work his jaw and opened his mouth enough to bite into the hand gagging him. The teen hissed in pain and jerked his hand away from Dick's teeth. "Gah- little shit broke the skin!"
In retaliation, the arm around his chest released and his upper body fell painfully to the tiled floor. His feet followed a second later and he was able to roll into a sitting position, leaning back and braced on his elbows so he could look up at all three of the other teens.
"Are you brain dead?" Dick sneered up at them, the right amount of indignation and fear creeping into his voice and expression. "Let me go!"
The Mathlete, and obvious leader of his captors, stopped sucking on the bleeding bite mark on his hand and shared a look with his friends. "Look, Grayson, we all know who you are. You're a brain. You've ranked top five in the last eight competitions and you've come in first in the Theta and Calculus of State Mu Alpha Theta exams."
"So what, you think this will better your odds?"
"I need those scholarships, rich boy!" the guy yelled, fury filling his features. "Not all of us have a billionaire for a father! I need this scholarship and you were my only competition!"
"Are you freaking kidding me?" Dick stared at the guy. "You know who I am, and it's obvious you know who my father is, so you've got to know this is the worst possible thing for you to do! But you let me go right now and I'll forget this ever happened!"
The leader chewed on his lip before going back to the bite on his palm that was dripping blood onto the tiles. He shook his head while sucking at it. "No. No, I'm really sorry about this but it's already done."
Dick sighed. "Bloody hell. Fine. Help! Help! Bruce! Mr. Wilc-"
The three had stared at him when he started shouting at the top of his lungs, but only for a moment before the two 'thugs' pounced on him. One covered his mouth again with both hands while the other slipped the crimson and black striped tie from his neck. The strip of fabric was knotted in the middle, the knot pushed between his teeth, before being pulled painfully tight around his head and tied.
"His arms," the leader snapped suddenly. "He was some acrobat genius when he was a kid. Do something about his arms or he could get loose before we're ready to let him go."
His curses muffled around the make-shift gag, Dick struggled as best as he dared while they manhandled him onto his stomach. His arms were pressed against his back, twisted upward until his wrists crossed painfully between his shoulder blades. He spat several Romani profanities through the fabric of his tie as his belt was pulled from the loops on his khaki pants and secured across his chest and elbows.
He groaned involuntarily as the buckled dug into the skin of his exposed chest, and he felt the muscles in his shoulder protesting as he was suddenly flipped onto his back again, his weight pushing onto his pinioned arms, and the buckle latched two notches tighter than it needed to be.
He lay panting on the tiles as the two stepped back from him and he shifted again into a sitting position, his back resting against one of the desks. He glared at the trio, not bothering to tone down the raging 'bat-glare' he knew was featured on his face. All three blanched and looked away from him.
While they murmured between themselves, Dick tested his bindings. He couldn't move his arms without pain flaring though his shoulders and across his chest, and the belt pressing into his ribs was making it difficult for him to catch his breath. For a bunch of amateurs, they did a remarkable job of tying him up.
He wasn't getting free unless he was let free.
"Grayson," the leader crouched beside him flinched at the full intensity of the glare the boy was sending his way. "I've got less than two minutes to get back to the gym, but – look, you can't be kept in the school."
Dick shook his head. Forcible Confinement was one thing, but if they took him off school grounds they were looking at abduction charges, a federal offence. If they did that nothing he could say would save them from prison.
"We've borrowed a friend's older brother's car. It's got a big trunk and we've lined it with blankets and stuff."
Blue eyes flew open, unfeigned fear sparking behind them. They wouldn't…
"We need to stay here, be seen, but we'll keep it running. No one will question it in this cold. When the competition is over we'll drop you off where someone will find you. You don't know me, and you won't be hurt, and it's only a few hours, so you won't have to tell anyone who it was, right? Just a prank, okay?"
"Nggh!" he protested, but the leader just nodded to his friends and left the room.
Are they really this stupid? Dick fought wildly now, giving up the pretense of being just a typical thirteen year old. Except they had done a surprisingly good job securing him. He could trash his legs about, but once they got a grip around his knees there was nothing he could do to stop them from carrying him out the nearest door to where an older model car was already idling and waiting.
He tried screaming, and even muffled his cries were loud in his ears, but no one came to his aid. He was carefully placed into the open trunk which, true to their word, was lined with several blankets and padding. Except even with the lid open he could smell it permeating the fabrics beneath him.
The exhaust was seeping into the trunk, which was an unfortunate – and often deadly - oversight in many older makes and models.
His eyes were wide with panic now and he shouted at the older teens. They looked at him with something akin to pity before they were shutting the lid and imprisoning him in the darkness.
Desperate to slow his breathing, Dick closed his eyes and tried to remember Bruce's meditation exercises. Slow the heart rate, slow down the breathing, slow down the amount of carbon monoxide he inhaled.
The car moved slowly, and only for a few seconds before it was put into park and the slamming of doors indicated he was alone.
Dick considered kicking at the trunk's lid, but ruled against that. He couldn't chance breathing any deeper than he already was.
The smell of exhaust fumes was getting stronger and he knew in a matter of minutes his head would start to ache and his vision would begin to blur. He would lose consciousness less than five minutes after that and within twenty the poison he was inhaling-
No! Bruce would know already something was up. Dick hadn't come back to the gymnasium. They'd be calling for all participants about now, and when Dick didn't show up Bruce would know. Bruce would know.
His head started to hurt…
"Twenty seconds! All participants please take your assigned seats!"
Five students in the Gotham Academy blazers looked around the gymnasium one last time. They shared a look with each other, glanced to the doors that were being closed, before almost reluctantly taking to their group of desks.
Bruce frowned when he saw the empty desk in the middle of them. Slowly, so as not to disturb the quiet that was descending through the gym, he got to his feet and picked up his jacket. His loafers barely made a sound as he crossed toward Mr. Wilcox, the Dean of Admissions and Scholarships at Gotham Academy, who was staring at his watch intently.
"Begin!" The man announced, tapping a button that started a countdown on the scoreboard overhead.
Still, Bruce couldn't shake the feeling in the back of his mind that he didn't have that long.
"Excuse me, Mr. Wilcox, but have you seen Dick?"
The adjudicator shook his head. "I'm sorry, Mr. Wayne. I haven't seen your son since he stepped out to change his clothing after a coffee spill. I'm afraid he didn't make it back in time, so he'll have to wait until next year to sit this competition."
"Yes, I had seen the unfortunate incident," Bruce glanced at the students concentrating on the papers in front of them. His eyes found the dark haired teen immediately. The youth was bent over the exam, the pencil in his right hand working furiously, while he held his left palm against mouth.
"Mr. Fraser," the teacher informed Bruce in a whisper, having seen where the billionaire's eyes had stopped. "Simon Fraser, a senior at South Gotham Christian Prep. He's a brilliant boy, but not quite the natural mathematician that Richard is. Still, he's one of the finest in the state. A placement in the top five will earn him a placement at the national level."
"I hear the scholarships awarded can be quite lucrative," Bruce pressed innocently.
"The grants awarded to the schools for overall team ranking can be, yes, but individually they're not much in this day and age." Mr. Wilcox said with some dejection. "Many of these students don't compete for the scholarships; your son and Mr. Fraser are prime examples of that. But there is some prestige in the placing, and the top five at the national level of the Putnam Competition will be awarded $2,500 each with one receiving an addition $12,000 plus tuition for graduate study at Harvard University. It's a shame your son will have to wait now."
Bruce forced a light laugh. "I think Dick has a few years before he will be thinking about University." He clapped the man on the shoulder and slipped his jacket on. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to find my son and take him out for brunch. There's this new bistro a few streets over…"
When the doors to the gymnasium shut behind him, all traces of 'Brucie' disappeared in the shadows of the empty corridor. He slipped his cell phone from his pocket along with his Bluetooth earpiece. With a press of a button, he was connected with his butler.
"Alfred, are you home yet?" He asked, his voice that of the Batman.
"Just, Master Bruce," the British man responded. "Is there a problem?"
"Possibly," Bruce answered as he stalked through the halls toward Dick's locker. "I need you at the computer."
"Right away, Sir. Might I enquire what has happened?"
"There was an accident," he said as he turned into the hall of lockers for the lower classmen, "with some coffee. Dick left to change his uniform and didn't make it back in time. He's not at his locker." He quickly spun the lock, the numbers that of the day the boy first donned the Robin uniform, and pulled it open. "And his spare uniform is still here."
"You suspect something untoward, Master Bruce?"
"Just a feeling," his eyes caught something small and white on the floor. Kneeling down his picked up a small button – the kind one would find on a white shirt.
"At the computer now, Sir," Alfred told him through their connection.
"Activate the tracker under Dick's lapel badge of the blazer he was wearing today," he told the man as he slammed the locker shut. "Patch it through to my cell. Then find what you can on the students registered for the Putnam Competition today."
"It will take some time before the satellite can narrow down his location precisely," Alfred informed him needlessly.
"A general location is fine, Alfred." He started walking through the corridor, his eyes scanning everything as only the Batman could. "I need to know if he's still on campus."
"Of course, Sir."
Bruce moved quickly but efficiently, opening the classroom doors as he went. However, without his gear he would be hard pressed to find anything that wasn't obvious to the naked eye. A moment later his phone chimed softly, alerting him to the received program.
He tapped the touch screen, activating the hidden app, and felt some of the tension ease from his chest. "He's still here." He told Alfred. "How long until the satellite can pin point his exact location?"
"Approximately forty-two minutes, Sir. You had it allocated over Santa Prisca tracking the latest shipment of Venom. It was necessary to assign it a new orbit."
"Damn," Bruce turned down another hall and opened the first classroom door. "What about the students?"
"All from affluent backgrounds, though there are three that for whom the monies would not go amiss. A Miss Cheryl Simpson, age sixteen, whose family seems to have run afoul with the IRS; Mr. Eric Russell, eighteen, whose father is facing several medical malpractice suites; and Mr. Darcy Smith, eighteen, father unemployed due to the recession and whose mother passed away recently after several years battling ovarian cancer. They were managing to meet the life insurance premiums until three months ago. The company will not issue the death benefits, and I'm afraid the medical bills will have them filing for bankruptcy before the New Year."
"What about Simon Fraser?" Finding nothing, Bruce moved on to the next classroom."He was the one who spilled the coffee. He also stepped out of the Gymnasium with a couple of friends shortly after Dick."
"Age seventeen, an only child it seems and his parents are Donna and George Fraser. His mother has no employment record for the last eighteen years – I would presume a housewife sir – and Mr. Fraser was actually employed through Wayne Enterprises as a low level accountant until two years ago when he won the state lottery. Close to eighty million dollars. He 'retired' and both are on record as being out of the country at the moment, the South Pacific. Simon Fraser is already on the registration list for the University of California in Berkeley, his father's Alma mater."
"Keep digging," Bruce growled as he stepped into the third classroom.
Immediately his eyes were drawn to the disheveled array of desks closest to the door. He closed the door behind him when he saw the drops of scarlet on the floor. Inhaling sharply, he knelt beside one and touched it tentatively with the tip of his finger. It was blood, fresh, only exposed to the air for a few minutes.
"I think I may have found something, Sir. It seems our Mr. Fraser made quite the stir at Gotham North High School last spring. He attended their Senior Prom as the escort of one Charles Becker. Apparently, they were barred from the event and both boys were expelled. It was taken to court where the expulsion was overturned allowing Mr. Fraser's grades to transfer unblemished to South Gotham Christian Prep and Mr. Becker to graduate and accept his university placement without incident."
"Let me guess, Charles Becker is studying at Harvard University."
"Correct, Sir, a Political Science major. They have continued a lengthy email correspondence for the past four months. In several of them, Mr. Fraser comments on his father's homophobic tendencies as well as his frustration to placing in these competitions behind a, and I quote, 'pre-pubescent orphan who gets what he wants by-' well, the imagery he provides his paramour is not something I care to repeat in context to you and Master Richard."
Bruce got to his feet and stormed out of the room, heading straight for the gymnasium. "Simon wants to attend Harvard to be with his boyfriend but George Fraser is refusing to pay the tuition for his gay son. Instead, he's forcing the boy's further apart by sending him to a University on the other side of the country. So he's competing for the tuition to Harvard and decides Dick is too much competition for him."
"So it would appear, Master Bruce. In his last email, Mr. Fraser assured Mr. Becker that he would be attending Harvard in the fall, one way or another."
Growling deep in his throat, Bruce tore through the corridors.
"Do remember, Sir, you are not in uniform at the moment."
"Doesn't matter," the man who was Batman snarled. "I've found blood, Alfred. This punk has done something to Dick and I intend to find out what."
As he approached the gymnasium doors, he calmed himself down and quietly entered the silent room. He saw Mr. Wilcox walking up and down between the desks and made his way toward the man. "Excuse me, Mr. Wilcox," He called to the man, knowing his voice carried in the silence. He saw several of the students send annoyed glares his way before going back to the exams. Simon Fraser didn't look up from his paper.
"Mr. Wayne, please," the adjudicator hissed as he took hold of the billionaire's arm and tried to pull him to the side. "These children need quiet."
"Yes, I'm sorry, but you see I was wondering if Dick has come back. I've looked for him and can't seem to find him." Out of the corner of his eye he watched Simon's shoulders tensed and his head drew lower, as if trying to make himself smaller.
"No, Mr. Wayne, he hasn't. Now if you'll be so kind-"
"I'm probably over reacting but, well there have been threats and I hate the idea that something may have happened." He held out the blood tipped fingers for the teacher to see. "I also found some blood in one of the classrooms. It looked like there'd been a fight of some kind."
Simon went rigid and his pencil stopped moving. His wasn't the only one since Bruce's voice had carried through the entire gym. All eyes were now on the concerned father.
"I was just hoping to speak to any of the students that were outside the gym just before the competition started." He turned his gaze toward Simon who was gripping his left hand into a fist. "Like Mr. Fraser. I saw him step out shortly after spilling his coffee on my son."
"Mr. Wayne," Mr. Wilcox swallowed at the steel behind the playboy's stare. "You're not insinuating one of the students-"
A drop of blood slipped from the shaking fist and stained the test paper beneath it. Slowly, Bruce reached out and took hold of Simon's wrists and pried the fingers open. The bite mark was plain as day on the meaty joint where the index finger connected to the palm. The blood was oozing steadily.
"What happened to you hand, Mr. Fraser?" Bruce asked with an icy undertone to the words.
Simon was trembling now and he glanced around the gym for any supporters. He found none and reluctantly returned to looking up at the man who was now gripping his wrist painfully. "I-"
Blue eyes narrowed at the boy dangerously. "Where's my son, Mr. Fraser?"
He swallowed and shook his head. "I- I don't-"
"Do I need to involve the police, young man?" Bruce arched an eyebrow. "What did you do? Lock him in a locker somewhere, or maybe a janitor's closet? Some form of hazing on a younger student, someone who you continued to come in second place to?"
"Simon, you didn't!" A girl wearing the same blazer as him shook her head.
Mr. Wilcox approached with a stern frown. "I think you better answer Mr. Wayne, son."
"Th- the car," the boy stammered. "He's in the trunk of my car."
"In this cold?" one of the parents gasped. "The boy will be frozen!"
"No," Simon shook his head frantically. "No, we left it running!"
Bruce wanted to snap the little snot's wrist, and his face grew grimmer. "Keys."
"I – I don't have them."
"Here," a shaking voice same with a trembling hand, a set of old keys in the palm.
"Dougie?" another student from the Christian Prep school scowled at the boy that came from the bleachers. "You don't have a car."
"It's my brother's," his head hung low as Bruce snatched the keys from his hand.
"Your brother's car is a piece of crap," the student shook his head before paling and looking to Bruce. "And it was made before most engines were fitted with a catalytic converter!"
Bruce released Simon's hand and whirled on the teen that had given him the keys. "How long ago?"
The boy, Dougie, faltered under the full power of the bat-glare. "I-I-"
"How long!" Bruce roared.
Fear filled eyes glanced up at the still counting down timer. "Uh… seventeen minutes."
He wasn't alone as he raced from the gym, shouting for someone to call an ambulance as he ran. Bruce burst through the nearest emergency exit, the shrill alarm he knew sounding inside the school as well as the nearest fire station.
The cold December air cut through him as he ran around the school to the parking lot. There weren't that many cars, all parked as close to the school as possible, and a few of them were idling. He moved through them quickly: a truck, a newer VW Beetle, another truck… there! The old Pontiac was the farthest from the school and in seconds Bruce was sliding the key into the trunk lock.
When the trunk opened, Bruce could practically see the cloud of exhaust lingering over the unconscious form of his son. Reaching in he gently cradled the boy into his arms and lifted him out.
"Get him inside, quickly!" Mr. Wilcox coached him.
"No, keep outside," one of Dick's teammate contradicted, shrugging out of his blazer and placing in to the ground away from the idling cars. "The cold will slow down his body's metabolism; stop the progression of the carbon monoxide poisoning."
Several others took of their coats and placed them next to the one of the ground, providing a relatively dry place for Dick to be laid.
Bruce nodded, agreeing with the student, and sat his son on the ground. He propped him up against his chest, exposing the cuffs on the wrists. "Can someone remove those, please?" He said as he released the best across the exposed chest. The marks from the buckle would leave bruises and the Batman inside him screamed for blood.
"Here," one of the other parents, someone's mother, knelt across from him with the keys from the car in her hand. On the chain was the small key for the cuffs and a second later Bruce was able to lay Dick on his back.
Bruce stayed next to his son, prying the gag from his mouth. "Dick? Dick, can you hear me?"
There was no response, and he forced himself to look helplessly at the woman still next to him. Her index and middle finger were pressing against Dick's neck and after a moment she leaned down, her ear to his chest. She swallowed and looked up at Bruce. "He's not breathing," she said breathlessly, "And I can't find his pulse."
Without hesitation, Bruce was positioning himself over his pale body of his son. Tilting the head back, lifting the lower jaw, pinching the nose closed, blowing two strong breaths into still lungs.
The woman adjusted her fingers on Dick's neck, pressing harder against the skin. A full minute passed and in the distance Bruce could hear the sirens of emergency vehicles approaching.
"I got it!" The woman suddenly exclaimed with relief. "It's weak, but it's there!"
That was something at least, but Dick was still not breathing.
Bruce was more than willing to it for him.
He kept a natural pace, blowing air into Dick's lungs and watching his chest rise and fall in the rhythm Bruce set. The woman stayed next to him, her fingers staying in place where she could feel the weak pulse.
Several more minutes passed, and Bruce was starting to get lightheaded from the effort of keeping Dick breathing. He was about to suggest someone take over for him when emergency services arrived. The ambulance was waved over to them and Mr. Wilcox quickly explained the situation to them as they unloaded. And then they were pulling Bruce and the woman away from Dick. Bruce wanted to protest, but knew the best chance Dick had was under their ministrations.
He watched them affix a non-rebreather mask over Dick's mouth and nose before attaching a tube from an air tank attached to a regulating machine on the foot of the stretcher they brought with them. The teen's chest rose and fell as pure oxygen was pumped into his lungs, while the medics were checking his vitals.
"Will he be okay?" A small voice said from behind Bruce.
The father looked over his shoulder to find Simon, Dougie, and another teen looking on with fear. All three of them were in cuffs and being escorted to awaiting squad cars, the police having got the story from the bystanders.
Bruce glared at them and they cringed.
A raspy cough drew his attention back to his son, and Bruce exhaled his relief to see Dick's eyes fluttering open and breathing against the machine. One medic flicked off a switch, turning off the pump but not the flow of oxygen. Dick reached for the mask on his face with a shaking hand but it was gently guided away with quiet explanations from the EMT.
Bruce felt a woman's hand on his arm. He glanced to the woman that had monitored Dick's pulse and offered a weak smile of gratitude. She squeezed his arm in support but didn't let go. She stood next to him and waited with him.
Another minute passed before the paramedics lifted the teen from the ground to the stretcher. Bruce offered the woman beside him a soft thank you before stepping away from him to stand next to his son, taking the limp hand in his own.
"Bruce…" The blue eyes were closing again, but the met Bruce's with a tug of a smile on waxy lips.
"Mr. Wayne? We need to get him to the Hospital."
He nodded and said, "I'm riding with him," but wouldn't pull his hand from his boy's grip, a grip that told him he was alive.
The ride was, thankfully, short. Waiting in the emergency room waiting area, however was not. It was blessedly quiet though, being still before ten in the morning. It was almost noon before his friend and personal physician, Leslie Thompkins, was waving him out of the waiting room.
"If I hadn't heard it from the paramedics, I wouldn't have believed it," She told him in a hushed voice as they walked down the row of curtained off cubicles. "When I treat him, he's usually wearing a different uniform."
"Who would have guessed that Mathletes could be so ruthless," Bruce shook his head. "He will be all right, won't he Leslie?"
She nodded and stopped outside the cubicle furthest from the waiting area. It was significantly quieter here. "He's conscious, but resting now. I'd like him on oxygen therapy for at least another hour before we release. Ideally we'd keep him for observation for at least forty-eight hours, but I know you would prefer him at home. I'll tell you want watch out for, and I know Alfred will make sure he rests. I'll also be by later this evening to check on him. I don't foresee any complications, but with carbon monoxide you can never tell."
Pulling aside the curtain she revealed the boy. His coffee stained button down shirt was missing a button in the middle and his blazer was draped over the back of the only chair in the cubicle. One arm was resting over his eyes and an oxygen mask still covered his mouth and nose.
Hearing the pair entering the room he moved his arm and offered his guardian a sheepish grin. "I said you wouldn't be bored."
Bruce snorted and stepped away from Leslie's side to sit on the edge of the gurney. He placed a hand on Dick's shoulder and shook his head. "Give me the Joker or the Riddler and their convoluted death traps any day," the Batman said lowly. "They at least give me time to find you when you've been kidnapped. Two minute longer…"
Shaking his head it was Bruce that continued. "You were out of my sight for twenty-three minute. Any longer, and I would have lost you."
Dick's hand reached up and settled atop his guardian's, a warm smile on his lips. "But you didn't."