"All characters contained in this work of fiction are copyrighted 2002 by DC Comics Inc. and are used without permission for fan-related, non-profit purposes only."Strange Fruit
His mind raced as he wrestled with the shadow. No matter what he did he couldn't escape it. Then, suddenly it snatched him up into the air like a rag doll. Before he could react he came crashing down with a sick, wet, snapping sound. He lay there with the shadow standing over him, laughing. He wanted to get up but he couldn't move. Fear swept through him.
"I can't move." He screamed.
"Master Bruce." The calm voice said leading him out of the nightmare. "Master Bruce, I'm here."
Bruce Wayne slowly opened his blue eyes and was greeted by the face of his butler and friend Alfred Pennysworth. He ran his fingers through his sweat soaked hair.
"I take it that you had the dream again." Alfred asked dabbing a towel to Bruce's forehead. He had watched over Bruce every since the deaths of the younger man's parents.
"Yes." He said tapping the button on the bed that raised him to a sitting position. Bruce placed a hand on Alfred's arm as a silent thank you.
"It's been a long time since you had that particular dream." He said referring to the dream about Bruce's parent's murder.
"Eighteen months." He replied gazing at the clock. "Almost to the hour."
"Maybe we shouldn't have come to New York this weekend." Alfred said making his way to the balcony.
"I'm alright Alfred." He said shielding his steel blue eyes as the room flooded with morning light. "Are my papers ready for the meeting?"
"Yes they are." Alfred answered. "Will you be wearing the black suit or the blue one?"
"The blue." Bruce said getting into his wheelchair.
Alfred watched in silence as Bruce rolled into the bathroom.
It was only three years ago that Bruce lost the use of his body from the waist down. The world believed it was the results of a car accident but only a chosen few knew the real reason. Bruce had finally paid the price for his double life when the Bane broke Batman's back.
It was a rough time in the beginning. Bruce couldn't accept that he would never walk again and that if he couldn't walk he couldn't be Batman. But through therapy and with the love of his family he'd survived.
With Batman out of his life, Bruce was forced to find out who he really was. First he ditched the playboy image, for obvious reasons, and concentrated on Wayne Enterprises. With Bruce's effort, Wayne Enterprises had finally surpassed both Kord and Stark International.
Alfred stood by the bed with the clothes lay out when Bruce wheeled into the room.
"Are you looking foreword to morning?" Alfred asked as Bruce went about the daily task of dressing himself. He would've gladly helped but Bruce was fiercely defensive about his independence.
"Like another round with the Joker." Bruce said as he pulling on his slacks. "I hear Miss Van Dyne can be a tough negotiator."
"I'm sure you'll be alright, sir." He encouraged. "You've faced worse before."
"But not quite as lovely." He said slipping on his shirt. "Alfred I want to go by St. Vincent's Church before we leave tonight."
"Yes sir." He said handing Bruce his briefcase.
Bruce exhaled as he laid his head back in the seat and watched the landscape roll by. It was a rough meeting. Janet Van Dyne proved to be more of a challenge then he'd anticipated. Alfred pressed him repeatedly to take a break but Bruce pushed on and was rewarded. He acquired her company two million above his original offer, which was a steal as far as he was concerned; Wayne Enterprises now had a hand in the cosmetics business. Unfortunately he was paying for the victory with near exhaustion. Despite his best efforts his body wasn't as strong as it used to be.
"Alfred don't forget I still want to visit St. Vincent's." he spoke. He knew his confidant wanted to object but would comply with his wishes.
It was ten thirty pm when the limo pulled up to the church. Ten thirty-five Bruce was sitting in his wheelchair on the sidewalk.
The neighborhood had changed since he last visited; it was no longer the clean well-kept place it was. Not surprising considering the last time he was here he was only five years old.
Bruce scanned the front of the large ornate church for a handicapped ramp but found none. He made a mental note to write a letter to the archdiocese about it. Then he flicked a switch and chair engaged its enhanced traction mode; nothing short of an eighty degree incline would stop him now.
The gentle hum of his chair accompanied his as he rolled down the aisle. The place was almost empty. He hadn't seen anyone else except the priest who greeted him at the door; the parishioners had the common sense to be home by now. He lit a candle on the altar as his mother had taught him many years ago. The sweet aroma took him back to a better time. Back to when Bruce wasn't so alone. Back to when his life was complete.
He could feel his parents next to him; his father's strong hands on his shoulders as they walked down the aisle, the softness of his mother's touch as she instructed him on lighting a candle. Little Bruce loved his parents and they loved him. Unfortunately there could be no happy ending for Bruce; shortly after their trip to New York his parents were killed.
Then in a final insult the Batman, he instrument of justice, was taken by the same kind of monster that took his parents.
Bruce closed his eyes and cried out in his heart "Why". Why had life been so cruel to him? Why had he been left so lonely? Couldn't he have one person that wouldn't be lost to him?
Bruce placed his head in his hands and wept. Once he would've shunned the idea but now, in this place, it seemed right. For one moment in his life he would lift all the masks that he wore and mourn for his parents, for his legs, for everything that had been taken away from him.
"Are you alright?" the priest asked standing next to his wheelchair.
"I am now." Bruce replied wiping the last of the tears from his eyes. For the first time in his life he believed it.
"It's almost twelve o'clock we're about to lock the doors" he explained.
"I'm sorry I must have lost track of time." Bruce replied taking a quick glance at his watch. "I normally don't do that."
"That's alright." The priest said. "What is time when it comes to the soul?"
"Have you been here long?" Bruce asked as they move toward the door.
"Long enough to see this neighborhood go to hell in a hand basket." He joked.
"I visited here when I was a child." Bruce said. "My parents brought me by here on our trip from Gotham. It seemed so beautiful then. Or that could just be the memory of a five year old."
The priest laughed. "Your memory is correct." He said. "That was before the lowlifes and crack addicts took over. Now you got gangs and thugs running everywhere. They tell me that menace Spiderman was spotted around here last night."
"Spiderman." Bruce repeated. "The one the Bugle is always talking about?"
"The same one." He confirmed as they reached the door. "You have a safe trip my son."
Bruce was going to reply when another man walked up.
"Father Mahoney I know it's late but can I have a few minutes?" the man said.
"Eddy. I've told you about coming this late."
"Just five minutes." He pleaded.
"Go ahead Eddy but don't be long."
"What is time when it comes to the soul?" Bruce said after Eddy was gone.
"Eddy's problems have nothing to do with the soul." Father Mahoney explained. "He tries too hard that's all and it gets him in trouble."
"Well father if you'll excuse me I have a plane to catch." He said shaking his hand.
"Have a safe trip." He said watching Bruce roll down the steps.
"I was about to send a search party for you." Alfred said as Bruce got into the limo.
"Send Father Mahoney a twenty thousand dollar donation." Bruce said removing his black sports coat. "And make mention of a handicapped entrance."
"Very well sir."
"Woo, Hoo, Batsy" the Joker taunted. "Bet ya can't catch me."
Richard Grayson, the man behind the cowl, cursed himself for being so gullible. Whenever he fought the Joker he felt like Robin: Boy Wonder instead of Batman: Dark Knight.
Batman pushed the cardboard boxes off him and chased after the Clown Prince of crime.
"Tell me it wasn't the spring loaded boxing glove, again." Barbara's voice sounded in his ear.
"Don't start." Batman growled kicking the "Exit" door to the roof open.
"At least tell me what color it was." She insisted.
"Red with yellow polka dots." He answered standing on the roof edge.
The Joker was already down the fire escape and into his get away car. Gritting his teeth in determination, Batman swung into the alley below where his own vehicle was waiting. The Bat-cycle chirped to life as the Dark Knight ran to it.
"Hold it Dick!" Barbara said. "I've got strange sensor readings from the generators inside the plant. I think that nut case set them to overload."
"I'm on it." Batman said watching his quarry's taillights fade into traffic. "What I wouldn't give for a good Robin right about now."
"You want me to call Tim?" She asked.
Bruce wheeled through the Bat-cave. If Alfred knew he was down here he'd be in big trouble. The cave was a dangerous place for someone bound to a wheelchair. Even the winding staircase leading down from the mansion was troublesome. He had never considered making the cave wheelchair accessible because if he couldn't be Batman, he had no business down here.
But here he was. It hadn't changed much despite all that Batman had been through. Jean Paul Valley, his first choice as replacement, had disgraced the cowl by killing Bane in cold blood. The police could never prove it, truthfully they didn't really try to, but Bruce knew and he insisted that Jean return the mantle. Jean Paul had resisted so Bruce sent Richard Grayson, Bruce's adoptive son and also known as the crime fighter Nightwing, and then Robin, Tim Drake after him.
Robin and Nightwing managed to bring Jean Paul back to the manor. Jean Paul surrendered the mantle and left Gotham to become Azrael the Avenging Angel.
Bruce didn't think Dick would ever forgive him for letting Jean Paul go. He also doubted that Dick would accept his offer to take over the mantle of Batman. He knew how hard Dick had worked to escape Batman's shadow. In the end Dick accepted but with one condition, that Tim took his place as Nightwing in Bludhaven. That started a huge argument. Bruce insisted that Tim, while a great Robin, wasn't ready for his own city yet especially one as corrupt as Bludhaven. Dick wouldn't budge and for a while neither would Bruce.
It was six weeks before the Batman was sighted on the streets of Gotham. Then Bruce decided that if Dick were going to take the responsibility of being Batman then Robin would be his responsibility too.
Bruce rolled to the Bat-mobile gazing at his reflection in the sleek machine. Dick rarely used it, he was always more fond of the motorcycle than car and since he didn't have a partner it made sense to take the Bat-cycle.
He looked at the flashing lights higher up in the cave. That was the hangar for the Bat-wing. He could picture himself cruising through the night on his way to answer the call of Commissioner Gordon.
It seemed like only yesterday that he could stare at the city from sixty stories up and leap confidently into the air. Then calmly fire a jump line to a predetermined outcropping, feel the line go taught in his hand and swing effortlessly to another building. He missed dodging bullets; well place Batarang throws, and the snap of a perpetrator's nose from a right cross or the yelp of a rapist as he smashed their kneecaps. Now that it was gone Bruce could finally admit that he found it all so thrilling, so exciting and that's what he missed most about being Batman.
Bruce shook his head to clear his thoughts. He knew that was partly why Tim and Dick both donned their costumes but he'd thought himself beyond such things. Bruce became Batman solely to avenge his parents and to protect the people of Gotham city. Didn't he? He wasn't a thrill junky. Bruce's self examination was interrupted by the whine of the approaching Bat-cycle.
"Bruce." Dick said as he got of the bike.
"Batman" Bruce replied. This was the first time he'd seen Dick Grayson's Batman. Dick had opted for the retro Batman look. Smoke gray torso and legs, black boots, gauntlets and trunks, gray utility belt along with a black bat on the chest. Bruce took notice that Dick had kept Jean Paul redesign of the cape. Bruce would have too; it was lighter and less cumbersome then Bruce's original.
"What are you doing here?" He said stepping off the bike podium as it rotated. Then he realized how his question sounded. "I mean…"
"No need to apologize." Bruce interrupted. "I got a little nostalgic. I see you went with my first incarnation."
"I felt that after what happened, it was time to get back to basics." Dick said as he walked over to the Bat-computer with his mentor, father, right behind him. "Jean Paul's redesign was too radical."
"Except for the cape." Bruce interjected.
"Yeah, the cape was fine." Dick admitted. "But no way was I going to keep the rest of it. Besides this is the Batman I grew up with. This is the one I've always wanted to be."
"Really?" Bruce said genuinely surprised. He never knew his son wanted to follow in his footsteps. "When did you make that decision?"
"When I was ten years old." Dick answered.
"You were such a fan of Clark back then." Bruce said casually referring to Superman. "I thought that's who you wanted to grow up to be."
"Not really." He said taking his seat at the Bat-computer and turning to face Bruce. "I admired him but I always wanted to be you, Bruce. I always thought some day when you got too old or when you thought I was ready, you would ask me to take over."
"The Mantle is yours now." Bruce replied. "I trust you not to disgrace it like…"
"Are you sure you should be down here?" Dick asked trying to avoid any further mention of Jean Paul.
"I won't tell if you don't." Bruce replied winking an eye mischievously. "How was it tonight?"
"It was fine until I ran into the Joker." Dick said removing his cowl. Dick could easily pass for Bruce's biological son. They had similar facial structures. The main difference in them was the eyes, while blue like Bruce's; Dick's eyes had a softness to them that said he wasn't quite like his adoptive father.
"I thought he was locked up in Black Gate." Bruce replied.
"He escaped three days ago." He said. "While you were still away in New York."
"Did you get him?"
"No" he said tensing as he waited for Bruce's reply.
"You'll get him next time." Bruce said putting a hand on Dick's shoulder.
"I didn't expect you to say that."
"What? You expected me to ream you out over not catching the Joker?"
"Sorry to disappoint you." Bruce replied. "Dick, you're Batman now. I know you're pushing yourself harder then you ever have. It goes along with the territory. I couldn't say anything to you tonight that you haven't already said to yourself at least ten times. So I thought I'd tell you what Alfred told me my first few years as Batman." He paused then spoke with an English accent "You'll get him next time, sir."
"I sound nothing like that, sir." Alfred said from the darkness.
Dick couldn't contain his laughter watching Bruce's reaction.
"Just what are you doing down here, Master Bruce?" Alfred said stepping from the shadows in his black silk pajamas and house shoes.
"I was …um… I was…" he said his eyes pleading to Dick for assistance.
Dick turned around to the computer and started typing then Bruce heard his son say one word: Busted.
"Well it's not safe down here." He said walking behind Bruce's wheelchair. "So off we go."
Dick was still laughing as they went up the steps to the mansion.
Bruce's sleep was restless. He dreamt He was on the top of Wayne Tower building along with Nightwing and Robin. He could feel the wind sweeping across his face and the gentle sway of the tower. Then silently, almost in slow motion, Robin dove off into the sky. Bruce watched with envy as he dropped into the sea of lights below. Nightwing waved beckoning Bruce to join him as he flipped from the tower.
Bruce gave a nod then followed but fell out of his wheelchair. His legs wouldn't move and to his horror he was sliding off the tower. He called out to Nightwing and Robin but they were gone. He clawed at the smooth steel surface in vain as he slipped closer to the edge. Then an instant before he fell he heard a voice.
"I've got you, Bruce." It said as its hand, black as ink, reached from the night and grabbed him. It effortlessly lifted him, holding him in mid air with his legs dangling.
Bruce stared into the darkness try to picture the person holding him. Two white, slit like eyes became visible. Then the shadow smiled at him. Bruce had seen horrible things during his time as Batman but none of it compared to the chill that filled him now. Every fiber of him screamed for him to run, so he did the only thing he could. He made himself wake up.
When Bruce's conscious erupted from sleep he was startled to find he was sprawled on the den floor.
"What's going on?" He thought looking around the room.
"Master Bruce, what in heaven's name are you doing down here?" Alfred asked. He came into the room pushing Bruce's chair. "I've been looking all over for you."
"The question is." Bruce said. "How did I get here?"
"I'm telling you he's different sweetheart." Jim Gordon said taking another sip of his coffee. It had been a long night but he always stopped on his way home to have coffee with his daughter, Barbara.
"Different how dad?" She replied taking a donut from the box he'd brought. She made the coffee he would bring the donuts. Barbara loved their morning ritual. Sitting here in the kitchen dressed in her flannel pajamas reminded her of growing up in the Gordon house.
"He's not as intense as he used to be." He replied.
"Weren't you complaining a little while ago that he too intense?" She asked.
"That wasn't him." Jim said. "I don't know who that nutcase was but it wasn't him. Batman doesn't run around with claws and shoot blades out his arms."
"I believe you're right dad." She said knowing that he was. As the former Batgirl and member of Batman's inner circle, she knew who was under cowl and at what times. "I didn't like him either."
"You know what I think?" he said.
"What's that dad?"
"I think the current Batman is the son of the original."
"Excuse me?" she said trying to keep her hide her shock.
"You remember the first Robin?" he said leaning back in his chair. "I think he returned to Gotham after Bane killed his father, the first Batman."
"How do you know that?" she asked wondering if maybe subconsciously she was cluing her dad in on Batman's secret.
"I said think." He reminded her. "I'm not sure about any of it but this is how I see it playing out."
"Batman and Robin the original dynamic duo" he said arranging the salt and peppershakers. "They have a falling out when Robin is in his late teens, likely because the kid wanted his independence. Robin joins the Teen Titians, a group made up of other teen side kicks." Then he moved the salt over by the bowl of plastic fruit on the table.
"For a while Batman is solo." He explains dancing the peppershaker around the table. "Until, Robin changes his name to Nightwing."
"You knew about that?" Barbara asked.
"I liked the kid; I kept tabs on him best as I could." Gordon admitted. "So after the name change Batman gets a new Robin." He placed sugar packet next to the peppershaker.
"He seemed a bit too reckless to me but he was a good kid. Something happens to this Robin." He says taking the packet and tearing off the top and pouring it into his coffee."
Barbara cringed slightly at the symbolism; if only her father knew that Jason Todd, the second Robin, had his head split open by the Joker.
"Then we get the third Robin." He said sliding a sweet-n-low packet by the peppershaker. Also around this time Nightwing starts to show up in Bludhaven." He then moved the saltshaker away from the fruit bowl. "Now you have Bane claming that he broke the Batman." He moved the peppershaker off the table.
Barbara could see that her father was still hurt by the loss of Bruce Wayne's Batman.
"The Pretender shows up." He said placing a discarded napkin beside the sweet-n-low packet. "For a while it seemed that my old friend had returned with a new attitude but when we started finding perpetrators excessively beaten. I knew then that it wasn't him. It couldn't be and we won't even talk about all that business with Bane's death."
Jim took another drink. "Here's where it get interesting. Nightwing, first Robin, and new Robin" he placed the sweet-n-low packet and the salt together. "Start patrolling the streets and the pretender is gone." He took the napkin balled it up and shot it into the trash. "Then we get the current Batman."
"But how could Nightwing be Batman if he's still in Bludhaven?"
"Don't you think it's strange that Batman is solo again?" He said placing the peppershaker back on the table. "Robin is Nightwing now."
Barbara gave her fake laugh. "Dad that's pretty far fetched don't you think?" she said. "You make it sound some kind of course. First a few years as Robin, then a couple as Nightwing and now you too can be Batman."
"Hey, I did say it was just an idea." He said rising from the table. "I'll talk to you later. I've got a beautiful woman at home who hates when I'm late."
"Talk to you later dad and tell Sarah I said hello." She said closing the door behind him.
"He's pretty smart." Dick commented walking into the kitchen dressed only in his boxers.
"You don't get to be Police Commissioner just because of your looks." She said adjusting her wheelchair so that she could clear the table.
"I'll get it." He said shooing her out of the way. "So have you told him about us?"
"Trust me. I don't have to." She replied. "Besides why tell him when I'm planning to break up with you as soon as I meet Johnny Storm."
"I am so much hotter than he is." He replied flexing his muscles.
"Whatever." She said rolling from the room.
"Hey, I thought you were making me breakfast." He called after her.
"I promised Dinah I'd back her up this morning." She replied. "It shouldn't be too hard to fix it yourself Hot Stuff."
"Flame On!" He shouted turning on the stove. Barbara's laughter trailed off through the house.
Dr. Leslie Tompkins stood in the examining room reading and rereading the charts in her hand. Her patient lay on the exam table clothed in his under shirt and shorts staring at the ceiling. She had been his doctor since he was born and as much as she desperately wanted otherwise, the charts always read the same. Bruce's legs didn't show any signs of improvement.
"I'm sorry Bruce." She said finally. "There's nothing here to support that you moved your legs let alone walked on them."
"But how do you explain what happened?" Alfred asked. He was sitting in the chair across from her.
"I don't know." She replied. Truthfully she didn't. How Bruce could go to sleep in his bed and wake up in the den, easily six hundred feet away and down several flights of steps was a mystery to her. "But I do know that Bruce didn't move himself."
"Can you be absolutely certain?" Alfred asked.
"The tests don't lie, Alfred." She said showing him the results.
"Will you two excuse me please?" Bruce said. He was tired of them talking like he wasn't in the room. "I'd like to get dressed, I'm ready to go home."
"We'll be out side, Master Bruce." Alfred said as he followed Leslie from the room.
"I hate ruining your and Bruce's hopes like this." She confessed as they stood in the hall.
"We'll get through." Alfred replied. "Still, we don't know what happened last night."
"Was anyone else in the mansion?"
"Only, Master Dick and myself." He answered. "He stopped by to work on the computer before retiring to Ms. Gordon's residence."
"How is Little Dickey these days? Is he adjusting to the change of retuning to Gotham?"
"He's shouldering all the changes better than could be expected."
"I'm ready." Bruce snapped rolling past them.
"Well" she said aghast at Bruce's attitude. "I haven't seen him like that since the cape and cowl days."
"He's been acting odd every since we returned from New York." Alfred admitted. "I think it was too stressful for him."
"I warned you not to let him go." She said.
"My dear Leslie you know as well as I do that one doesn't let Master Bruce do anything." He said.
"I tell ya Shrimplee it's just not the same. Don't get me wrong, this guy is better than that Bat Maniac I played with a little while ago but it's not the same. I guess in the end I'm a sucker for old times. Don't you agree? Shrimplee I'm talking to you." He ranted looking at the man sitting in the chair with a "BANG" flag sticking out of his chest. "Oh that's right you're dead. Clamlee I can't remember why I shot old Shrimpster remind me again will ya."
Clamlee jumped to his feet, this was finally his chance to get in good with the boss. "Because he said we should stop wasting time on Batman get more loot." He said proudly.
"That's right." Joker said drawing another of his comically long pistols. "I remember now. You know what Clamlee?"
"What's that boss?" He answered realizing something was wrong.
"It doesn't sound any better coming from you." He snapped shooting the other man in the chest. "You know I lose more henchmen men that way."
Bruce lay in the bed staring at the ceiling and thinking about the past days events. "Fact." He thought. "Medical test show that my legs aren't improving. I did wake up on the den floor. Alfred didn't move me in my sleep nor did Dick. They were the only ones in the house last night outside of me. Surveillance tapes don't show any sign intruders nor do they show how I got there. When you rule out the provable the improvable, no matter how unlikely, becomes provable."
Batman walked cautiously, taking in his surroundings. The police reported a Joker sighting in the area and farther investigating on his part narrowed it down to an abandoned garage at fifth and main.
It was a dusty run down place that no sane person would consider entering but no one ever called the Joker sane. The fact that it was once called "Happy Mick's Garage" was more than enough reason for the Prince of Crime to call it home.
He was sure he was walking into a trap. His years of experience told him that but he didn't have a choice. He'd have to risk it to put the Joker back in Black Gate.
The Joker and his men stood in the shadows focused on the skylight, intently awaiting the Dark Knight's arrival.
"Come and Batsy I know you're out there." He whispered. Whenever he'd think of what he had in store for Batman he had to put his hand over his mouth to restrain his laughter.
"What if he don't use the skylight boss?" one the men asked.
"He always uses the skylight." Joker snapped. "Remind me to kill you later."
Batman stood there, a mere ten feet away, watching them. He'd decided that since it was a trap he'd use the front door, which was wide open. He had no idea that it would be so effective.
"You really shouldn't count on me to be so predictable." He said hurling two Batarangs.
"What?" The Joker said hearing the voice of Batman. "You idiots you let him get in."
"But you said…" One of them protested.
"Never mind what I said, get him." Joker shouted.
Two of the Joker's men went down as he tried to rally the troops and the way Batman was moving the rest were sure to follow.
"This is pretty lame for a trap." Batman thought dispatching the last of the Joker's men. "It's like the old guy's not trying anymore."
"What's it going to be Clown," Batman barked, "the easy or the hard way?"
The Joker laughed as he watched the Caped Crusader stalk toward him. "Oh it'll be the hard way Batsy." He shouted. "For you."
Batman grabbed the Joker by the lapels and lifted him from the floor. "It's over." He said with all the finality of a judge's gavel.
"You haven't met Smiley have you Batsy?"
Batman's reply was cut short as something grabbed him by the cape and slung him against the wall.
"What the…" Batman thought trying to shake the cobwebs from his head.
His vision cleared just in time to see a black booted kick coming at him. He managed to roll with it but still had the wind knocked out of him. As he got to his feet he was attacked again. This time it was roundhouse to the head or it would have been if Batman had stood still. He somersaulted over his assailant head to put some breathing room between them and for the first time Batman got a good look at Smiley.
The mountain of muscle stood seven feet tall, three hundred eighty pounds, lacked a shirt and had a slobbering grin plastered to his face. Batman could tell by the glaze in Smiley's eyes that the Joker had drugged him.
"Who's your friend?" Batman asked avoiding another blow from the giant.
"He was the heavy weight wrestling champion Demolition Man." Joker answered, calmly leaning against the wall filing his nails. "Isn't it amazing what a little tweaked up Joker gas can do?"
Batman didn't reply. He pulled a special batarang from his belt adjusted the charge and hurled it at Smiley who immediately collapsed as the smell of burnt human hair tainted the air.
"Don't you think you over did it there Batsy?" He said flicking his nail file at the Dark Knight.
Batman dodged the attack but caught a glancing nick on the cheek as the file passed. He dabbed his finger to his face and got angry when he saw blood on it.
"You Psycho." He said marching at the Joker. "It's back to prison for you."
Then his eyes started tearing up and it looked like the Joker was standing miles away. His every step took effort and his equilibrium was off.
"What's the matter Batsy," the Joker taunted, "not feeling well?"
Batman had to crawl the last agonizing feet over to Joker. Then looking up into the face of the Clown Prince of Crime he blacked out.
It had been a long night for Bruce Wayne. He'd tackled the mystery of his sleepwalking, for lack of a better term, with tenacity worthy of the "World's Greatest Detective". He hadn't felt as good or as tired since he gave up the mantel. He had some promising leads but he'd need access to the Bat-computer to play them out. He would ask Alfred to go with him down to the cave after breakfast. A grumbling in his stomach reminded him that he was already five minutes late for his appointment with a stack of banana nut pancakes.
"Good morning." Bruce said entering the kitchen. "Alfred I think I could eat a horse, I'm starving."
"Master Bruce I'm afraid I have some disturbing news." Alfred said solemnly.
"What is it Alfred?"
"Master Dick didn't come home last night."
"He's probably at Barbara's place. Did you call there?"
"She was the one that called me." Alfred explained. "She said that she was over seeing an operation for Master Tim and his friend and when she tried to contact Batman later she didn't receive a reply."
"He was going after the Joker." Bruce said slamming his fist against the table so hard that it one of the legs snapped; sending silverware and china to the floor. "If that bastard has done anything to my son, I'll kill him! I swear I'll strangle the life from him myself!"
"Clam down, Master Bruce." Alfred said appalled. He'd never seen Bruce so violently lose his temper. "Yelling and breaking things won't help Batman if the Joker does indeed have him."
"I'm sorry." He said softly as he took in the damage he'd done. "I don't know what came over me. It's just that when I thought of Dick in the clutches of that madman a wave of hatred washed over me."
"I feel the same way." Alfred said comfortingly. "But we need to think this through if we're going to get him back."
"Of course you're right Alfred." Bruce replied calmly. "Dick is a professional. He's knows as much about the clown as I do. He'll be all right. We'll find him."
Alfred smiled at Bruce. "What do we do first?"
"Barbara's no doubt already got things rolling."
"Actually she wanted you to head this mission."
"Good." He said feeling like his old pre-Bane self.
Bruce Wayne called into work sick and spent the rest of the day going over reports on the Bat-computer. He had to know what Batman was up to when he disappeared. He was still at it when his visitor arrived.
"Just like old times." Nightwing greeted, walking to him.
"Not quite." Bruce replied patting the arm of his wheel chair for emphases. "But close enough."
Tim Drake's Nightwing costume was drastically different from the one worn by Dick Grayson. It was jet black from neck to toe with the exception being a sleek, blue, shadow of a bird, with its wings spread, stretched across the chest. Tim kept his hair short and sported a black domino mask like the one he wore as Robin.
"There's promising research going on over at Stark International." He commented shaking Bruce's hand.
"Lucious has already been in contact." Bruce replied. "If all goes well, I'm the first patient when the process goes public."
"That's good news." He said removing his mask and taking a seat. Tim had matured since moving to Bludhaven, he was almost a foot taller then when he'd started his Robin training. Bruce noted how the other man moved with a confidence and surety that he didn't have as Robin; looks like Dick was right about Tim being able to handle himself. "It'll be nice to have the 'real' Batman back. So what do you think of the new look?"
"I like it." Bruce replied. Since the incident, his and Tim Drake's relationship had grown stronger, strengthened by the fact they each took responsibility for what happened with Jean Paul. In some ways Tim was more like him then Dick. Bruce accepted the fact that he two sons now. "The blue on black is simple but very striking. What's it made of?"
"The same materials as your uniform except that I have a micro thin weave of vibranium." He said.
"Vibranium?" Bruce asked obviously surprised. "As in Wakandan vibranium?"
"Exactly." He said, happy at finally managing to surprise his mentor. "It was a gift from the King of Wakandan for saving his nephew's life. I'll tell you all about when this stuff with Dick is over with."
"I look forward to hearing about it." He said proudly. A father, even one such as Bruce was, couldn't have been more pleased. "This is where I think we should start the search." he said turning back to the computer.
"Before we get started, I want you to know that the only reason I'm doing this is because you asked me to." He stated returning his mask to his face.
Bruce wanted to know what could have happened to separate the former Robins but it had to wait until the original was out of trouble.
The room was dank and smelled of sweat and blood. The last rays of the sun filtered through a dirty window as Batman painfully opened his eyes. It had been a long night and an even longer day. He'd lost count of the number of times he'd been used as a human punching bag since his capture. He was still suspended from the floor by the chain that went up to the ceiling with another one around his feet padlocked to the floor. The Joker wanted to know Batman's secrets. He pummeled Batman with questions while his lackeys just pummeled.
Batman could still feel his mask on his face that was a good sign. That meant that Joker still had hopes of making him talk, a hope Batman had to foster until he found a way out. He strained against his bonds in vain. The chains seemed to get tighter with every movement. He relaxed and took in a deep breath clearing his mind.
"WWBD" he thought. When Dick was a young Robin growing up it stood for "What Would Batman Do" but now as the grown up Batman, it meant "What Would Bruce Do".
First he examined his wounds. He knew he had a concussion, several broken ribs, and sprained knee. He was thankful, the injuries would've been worse if he hadn't up graded the padding in his bat suit.
"Batsy, are you ready to talk yet?" Joker said entering the room with six of his men. Batman noted that each of the thugs carried bat, both wooden and aluminum. "You've been here almost twenty four hours and you haven't answered any of Uncle Joker's questions."
"If you give up now I won't hurt you." Batman growled as fiercely as he could with swollen lips.
The Joker laughed. 'I'll take that as a no." he spoke finally. "Boys keep Batsy occupied; Mister J's got some errands to run."
"Yes boss." They replied in unison.
Commissioner Gordon pushed his wire frame glasses back into place as he examined the contents of the box.
"Are you sure you don't remember seeing who delivered this?" he asked.
"No sir." The sergeant said. "But who ever it was didn't come in past the front desk."
"Fine." He said dismissing the other policeman. It was Batman's utility belt. From what he could tell it looked like the genuine article.
"So why send it to me?" he thought out loud.
"It's a message for me." A voice replied from the window.
"Who the hell…" he snapped turning around.
"My name's Nightwing." He said. "I was in Gotham a while ago helping Robin. May I come in?"
"By all means." He said. "So I take it Batman's been captured?"
"Yes sir." He answered. "May I?" he said indicating the belt.
"Go ahead." Gordon said watching the other man study the gray belt with a bat symbol on the buckle.
"This is his." He spoke finally.
"Any idea as to who has him?" He asked.
"The Joker is the prime suspect." He said walking to the window. "When I know more I'll contact you."
"You do that Boy Wonder." Gordon said. He couldn't resist.
Nightwing paused for a moment smiled at him then exited out the window.
"Makes you wonder how much he knows." Nightwing spoke as he fired a jump line.
"Jim was always a smart man." Bruce voice replied into Nightwing's earpiece. "The only reason he doesn't know our identities is because he doesn't want to."
"So why do you think Joker sent the belt to Gordon?" he asked casually landing on a moving el train. "You think he wants me too?"
"That or the Clown figures it will draw me out."
"You think he knows it hasn't been you under the cowl?"
"Wouldn't I know if someone was pretending to be the Joker?"
"You two do have a history." He said jumping from the train firing another jump line. "So we find Dick before Joker figures out you're not coming."
"That's the plan." Bruce said. He felt a little envious as he watched the world through the micro camera in Nightwing's mask. "You've got two places to check out. We'll check the docks first."
"We can check out both at the same time." He said landing on the roof of the National Bank. "I brought my partner with me."
Before Bruce could reply she appeared from the shadows. Her mask was crimson, covering her head including her eyes, which were little more than white slits. Her sleeves, neck, and top part of her torso were sheath in black fish net with a nude mesh backing. A crimson corset encased her from her bust down to the black utility belt on her waist. Fish net material, like her shirt, covered her legs down to the black boots that matched her black gloves. She also wore a cape just like Batman's except it was black with crimson inside lining.
"I like Gotham." She said; her voice slightly muffled from her mask. "It reminds me of home."
"Smile you're on camera." Nightwing said tapping his mask.
"Who's watching?" She asked. Bruce could tell she was smiling under her mask.
"Him." he said simply.
"Oh." She said. Bruce could make out the change in her facial expression. "Hi." She said nervously. "I'm Raptor."
"Explain." Bruce commanded.
"I met her in Bludhaven." He said. "She had a few run-ins with the other Nightwing so eventually she figured out that I wasn't him. So I explained to her that I was his brother and that he went on to continue the family business in Gotham when you retired."
"Does she know our real names?" he asked pensively.
"No." he said. He was a little hurt by the question. He would never endanger Bruce by revealing the 'secret'. "I asked her here to help. I'm sorry I didn't tell you."
"We'll deal with it later." Bruce said. "Do you think she can handle the docks?"
"Sure." He said proudly. "She's been trained by the best."
"How can that be?" Bruce said. "I've never met her before tonight."
"Ouch." Nightwing said. "Well she's been trained by one of the best, how's that?"
"Better." Bruce said. "Have her switch to our channel."
"Raptor channel six-six-zero-nine." He said. She tapped the earpiece under her mask then nodded. "She can hear you now."
"Raptor." Bruce said. "Nightwing tells me that you're up to the task I have for you. Is that so?"
"Yes sir." She snapped. He could still hear the apprehension in her voice. He had to do something to alleviate it because apprehension led to distraction and distraction led to death in their line of work.
"Do you know who I am?" he asked calmly.
"Yes." She said. "You're Batman. The first one I mean. You're one of the founding member's of the JLA. You also saved Gotham and the world more times than anyone can count. If it wasn't for the bad publicity you got I think that you'd be more popular than Superman or Captain America put together."
Bruce almost laughed. Clark would have a fit if he heard Batman was as popular as he was. Bruce was sure that Captain America wouldn't approve either. Batman was a worker in the shadows; he had never wanted the Icon status of either of those heroes.
"Well it worked to my advantage if people weren't sure what to make of me." he explained. "Especially the criminals."
"Makes sense." She said. "What is it you want me to do Batman."
"That name belongs to my son now." He said. "Why don't you call me Dark Knight?"
Dick struggled to remain awake. Every blow he took set his body on fire. If he passed out again he wasn't sure he'd wake up. Then in a heart beat the room filled with smoke. He could make out the sounds of fighting. Soon it was silent and the smoke lifted. His heart jumped at the sight of Batman walking toward him. With a flick of Batman's wrist, batarangs cut him down. Dick lay on the floor looking into Batman's face. As grateful as he was; he knew something was wrong.
"It can't be." He thought. "I'm Batman now." A strong smell brought him back to reality.
"I do wish you'd try to stay conscious Batsy." Joker taunted discarding the smelling salt container. "Uncle Joker's getting tired of watching you sleep."
Batman looked around. It was nighttime now. He could add a punctured lung and several other injuries to the list he'd made earlier. If he didn't get out of this soon, his injuries would kill him before Joker could.
"I had to amuse my self while you were gone beddy bye." He said. "So I went out a grabbed all these people from the streets." He motioned to the far wall and had one his men turn Batman to see. "I just picked them randomly and brought them all here to play with us."
Batman wanted to respond but the pain shooting through his body wouldn't let him.
"One by one each of these people will come over and introduce themselves." He explained. "Then I will ask you a question. If you don't answer or I don't like your answer, I will kill them and to show you I'm not joking…pun intended." He cackled and shot one of the hostages in the chest.
Batman soul ached watching the young Afro-American girl collapse to the floor into a quickly forming pool of blood. He glared at the villain desperately wishing he had Superman's heat vision or the mutant Cyclops's eye beams. This had to end; he wouldn't watch another innocent die.
"No sign of Batman sir." Raptor said looking at the men sprawled on the floor like discarded rag dolls. She'd stumbled across a drug deal while investigating the warehouse. Any other time she would have been happier about getting drugs off the street but this time it was a distraction from her primary mission. "Where to now?"
"There's another building possibility a few blocks over." Bruce answered. "Go there next. I'm sending the coordinates to you now."
"Got it." She replied checking the GPS screen concealed in her left gauntlet. "I'm on my way, Raptor out."
"Nightwing what's your status?" Bruce asked switching channels.
"This might be the place." He answered eyeing the old Dernsberry Theater. The building was once a popular place to see fine, upcoming entertainers' especially young comedians. But that was twenty years ago, now it was a hang out for drug addicts, the homeless and, if he was lucky, Joker's current hideout. "I see three men on look out. I'll signal when I get confirmation, Nightwing out."
Nightwing leaped into the cold night air putting his body in the gymnastic position Richard had taught him called the Iron Cross. Thin, black, silky, membranes spread from each of his wrist down to the sides of his waist; stiffing as they caught the wind. Silent as a whisper he glided to his target.
His glide wings retracted as he soundlessly dropped behind the thug on the roof. The criminal never heard the blow that knocked him out. Nightwing moved to the fire escape. The sudden sound of a gun firing quickened his steps.
"Now that I have your attention we will get down to business." Joker said turning to the row of hostages. "You!" he said pointing his gun at the aged Caucasian woman. "Get over here."
His men grabbed the woman and dragged her to Joker.
"Introduce yourself to Batman." He commanded. She had already stained her white flowery dressed and smelled of urine. "Pee you." Joker said waving his hand in front of his nose. "Someone made a stinky. Now be a nice old hag and tell Batman your name and what you were doing when we snatched you."
"My name is…" she said trembling. She didn't know who scared her more, the maniac with the pasty white face or the man in the mask with a bat shape on his chest. "My name is Marcy Kline."
"Good, good." Joker coached. "Now what were you doing when we meet you?"
"I was walking home from the bus stop." She said as her fear threatened to overcome her. "Please Mr. Batman." She pleaded. "Please tell this man what he wants to know so that we can go home."
Batman looked sadly into her eyes. Even if he told Joker everything she and the rest of the hostages would be killed. Joker was going to kill them all and it would take a miracle to stop him.
In a heartbeat the room filled with smoke. Batman could hear a battle taking place. Soon all was quite and as the smoke dissipated, an ebony clad figure walked toward him. With a flick of its wrist two batarangs flew forth cutting the chains that bound him.
Batman shook his head trying to clear it of the dream.
"Let's go 'Batman'." The voice said as strong arms lifted him. Then he realized it wasn't a dream.
"Ti…Nightwing?" he said as he stood to his feet. The voice didn't reply as they moved outside.
Batman lungs were on fire as he breathed in the night air. Nightwing leaned him against an abandoned car in front of the theater. In the distance he could hear police sirens.
"I got him." Nightwing said. "He doesn't look good. I hope you have Leslie there already."
"She's upstairs with Alfred." Bruce replied. "Barbara's here too."
"She's in route to you." He said. "I also have the Bat mobile on its way. They both should be there shortly."
Just then the bat mobile pulled to a stop in front of Batman.
"Time to go home." Nightwing announced standing at his side.
With a hiss the cockpit of the powerful machine slid open.
Without another word Nightwing dumped Batman into the passenger side and strapped him in, an instant later the cockpit closed and it roared to life.
Nightwing watched it speed off in the distance. He knew the autopilot would take Batman safely back to the Bat cave.
"How is he?" a soft voice asked in his ear piece as smaller, black and blue version on the bat mobile pulled up to the curb behind the derelict car.
"He'll live." He answered jumping in the passenger side. "Let's go home."
Behind the wheel of Night Bird, Raptor peeled rubber, doing a u-turn, then sped past the arriving Gotham police.
Dick's eyes bolted open. The last thing he remembered was sitting in the Bat mobile and that seemed like eons ago. Presently he lay in a soft, warm bed. The room was dim except for the thin beam of light shining under the bedroom door. He grunted in pain as he tried to sit up.
"Easy Dick." A voice said from a darkened corner of the room.
"Bruce?" He said clutching his side in pain, whishing he'd heeded the warning. "Is that you?"
"Who else would it be?" He replied.
"How long was I out?"
"Almost a week."
"That long." He said rubbing the bandages on his ribs. "I must've been pretty banged up then."
"We thought we'd lose you there for a while."
"You sent Tim to find me?"
"I sent Nightwing to find you. Who else would I have sent?"
"Green Lantern, Flash, and Arsenal come to mind. I would have rather it been either one of them."
"They're not in the 'Family'."
"That was your policy, not mine. I don't mind help from heroes out side Gotham."
"That's not what I meant when I said Family. I don't know what happened between you two but you have to straiten it out."
"Bruce, I don't mean any disrespect but what happened with Tim and me is none of your business."
"My sons appear to hate each other and it's none of my business?"
Hearing Bruce be so honest about his feelings toward the two of them reminded Dick of how close he and Tim once were. As much as Dick tried to deny it, he still hurt over the broken relationship.
"All I'm saying is that after you recovered, you threw yourself into Wayne Tech. You didn't have a lot of time for any of us. Now, after all this time, you show interest."
"I was trying to live up to the legacy my father left me while you were taking over the one I left you. If you couldn't see that, I'm sorry."
"Don't give me that." Dick snapped. His rising anger only inflamed his wounds. He opened his mouth to scream but the sound wouldn't come.
"Relax Dick." Bruce said walking over to the bed.
"Bruce." Dick whispered looking at the man standing by his bed. "When did you start walking?"
Bruce gazed down at Dick with a wide smile showing all his teeth. In horror Dick watched Bruce's face melt away like hot wax to reveal one of blackness with glowing white eyes and matching toothy grin. This time Dick found the voice to scream.
Bruce rolled down the hall as fast as he could. Alfred was already inside Dick's room when he got there.
"What's wrong?" he asked entering the room.
"It seems Master Dick had some sort of nightmare." Alfred said. He sat at the foot of the bed.
"It felt so real." Dick said washing his face with the towel Alfred brought.
"What happened?" Bruce asked. He stopped next to the bed and reached out to comfort his son. He was surprised when Dick recoiled from his hand. "I take it the dream was about me."
"I dreamed you were walking."
"That's not so bad. I have that dream myself." He said.
"After I saw you walking you turned into a monster with white eyes and a freaky smile."
"The drugs Joker used on you were strong." Bruce said. "Leslie said you could have some residual effects for a while. I'm sure that's what it was."
"That's probably it." Dick said.
"How about I get you a glass of warm milk." Alfred offered.
"That would be great."
"Very well then." He replied leaving the room.
"So when does the Doc think I can be get back out there?"
"About another week or so before you can even start training, then another two weeks at least to get back up to speed."
"Three weeks." He said. "I can't wait that long my city needs me."
"You sound like I used to."
"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." He said leaning back on the pillows Alfred placed behind him. "So who's Barbara got minding the store?"
"I asked Tim to keep the store while you recuperate."
"You mean he's out there pretending to be…"
"No." Bruce interrupted. "Nightwing's out there not Batman."
"Bruce." He said looking away. "I guessed you've realized that Tim and don't have the best of relationships anymore."
"I've noticed that." he replied. "But then I did had the 'World's Greatest Detective' title first."
"I know." He said giving Bruce a weak smile. "Don't take this the wrong way. I don't want you to try and fix things between Tim and me alright."
"You're politely telling me it's none of my business." He said. "My sons appear to hate each other and it's none of my business?"
Dick glared at him with piercing blue eyes.
"What?" Bruce asked.
"What you said just now." He said. "That's what you said in my dream."
Bruce's reply was cut short by Alfred's arrival.
"Here's the milk young sir and I brought you some of my chocolate chip cookies." He said walking over to them. "Though I do insist that you don't get any crumbs in the bed."
A beep on his watch said that Bruce had to leave; he didn't mind, his presence wasn't helping.
"I've got to meet Tim in the cave." He said. "Besides Alfred was always the best at telling bedtime stories."
"What's your ETA?" Bruce asked sitting at the computer.
"That depends." Nightwing said. Bruce could hear the sounds of a fight over the speakers. "That depends on how quickly these Bozo's want to go down."
"Understood." Bruce said cutting communications.
Bruce adjusted the temperature on his heated chair and relaxed. It was only three am. There was still at least ninety minutes of nighttime left. Bruce gently slipped into sleep before he knew it.
He was rolling through the darkened mansion. He could hear sounds in the distance.
"Who's there?" he asked crossing into the great dinning room.
There was a fire lit that cast eerie shadows through the room. The voices were coming from around the fireplace. He could see two people standing in front of the roaring fire but couldn't make out who they where.
"Who are you?" He called as he drew closer. One was male and one was female. "How did you get in here?" he said stopping in front them.
"Now Bruce you don't recognize your own parents." The man said as they turned around.
Bruce was taken aback.
"Father?" He said softly looking into the older mans face. Then he turned to the woman. "Mother?"
"It's us Bruce." She said rushing to his chair and holding him.
Bruce closed his eyes and enjoyed the warmth of his mother's embrace. "But how can this be?" he asked opening his eyes.
"That's not important son." Thomas Wayne replied watching his wife and son. "We don't have much time."
"That's right." She said. "Bruce we've come to offer you a gift."
"What kind of gift?" he asked as his mother pulled away from him and joined his father.
"We know what you've been through." She said. "We've seen how much you've been hurt, how much you've lost."
"Son, we have a gift that can make you whole again." He said retrieving a box from the shadowed mantle.
"All you need to do is accept it." Martha Wayne said as her husband placed the box in Bruce's lap.
"What is it?" Bruce asked staring at the onyx container.
"It can heal your body son." He said.
"And more importantly, you'll never have to be alone again." She chimed in.
"Never be alone." He repeated softly. That sounded so good to him.
"Will you take our gift son?" They asked in unison.
"What do I have to do?" He asked
"Just open the box son." He answered.
Timidly, almost reluctantly, he opened the box on his lap. The surface of the box was smooth to the touch and slightly warm. He peered into it, trying to gauge what it held. It looked like oil, slick, black oil. He leaned closer to get a better look. Then with out a sound or warning the blackness sprang forth and engulfed him. It washed over and through him. Then it finally made sense. Then it finally all made sense.
"Bruce." Nightwing said tapping him on the shoulder. "Bruce, wake up."
"Nightwing." Bruce said as his eyes came open.
"So who was it?" he asked standing next to the computer.
"Who was what?" Bruce replied.
"The woman you were dreaming about." He said leaning against the computer. "You were smiling in your sleep."
"Was I?" he said as a smile threatened to cross his face.
"Yes you were."
"Well I hate to disappoint you but I was dreaming about my parents."
"But you were smiling." He said well aware that Bruce's "Parent" dream always ended with them getting killed with Bruce unable to stop it.
"This one was different." He confessed.
"That's good news, Bruce." Nightwing said deciding no to pry any farther. "How's Richard doing?"
"He's doing a lot better." He said. "You could ask him yourself, he's right up stairs."
Nightwing got a sour expression on his face. "No thank you." He said. "You want to spar with me a little before you call it a night?"
"Sure." He answered.
"Meet you on the mat in ten minutes." Nightwing said bounding away.
Bruce rolled to store room where Dick had moved all the old Batman uniforms. They were all neatly hung on a rack spanning across the room, sixty in total. He selected one and laid it on the table he and Tim had set up. He ran his hand across the blue-black material. Even with out the cape and cowl it was imposing, with the black bat emblem surrounded by a yellow oval.
Then he felt an odd sensation as he studied the uniform, like he'd just slipped into a warm bath. When he looked down at his legs and the leggings, trunks and boots of his Batman uniform had replaced pajama bottoms and house shoes. Slightly disorientated he went to the full-length mirror leaning against the wall to get a better look.
"I don't believe it." He thought staring at his reflection. From the neck down he wore his old Batman uniform exactly like the one he pulled off the hanger. He shot a glance over to the table and sure enough the uniform was still there.
"Hey, Bruce you need some help?" Tim asked walking in the room. "I guess not." He replied seeing his mentor fully dressed.
"Ready when you are." He replied looking at Tim in the mirror.
Nighttime held Gotham and a creature stood defiantly atop the Wayne Towers heedless of danger. It looked as if a sculptor chiseled a block of onyx into the prefect male shape and painted large, white, oval shaped eyes on the face and a white spider prominently on the chest. Then with out a word it leapt off the edge. There was a bit of confusion about what to do next. Its instincts wanted it to shoot a web line from the white squares on the back of its hands but its sleeping host's instincts wanted to fire a jump line.
Falling at three stories a second it didn't have a lot of time to find a solution. It decided to mimic the shape and texture of the jump line launcher even though it couldn't reproduce the complex inner workings of the device.
The compromise settled the host and it shot a web line from the launcher it formed in its hand. If it wanted to continue with its new host it would have to adapt. It had to forget the ways of the prior one, who had rejected it.
All in all it counted itself lucky; if not for the intervention of the hated Spider-Man it would never have come to Earth. The cosmic being called the Beyonder transported certain heroes and villains to the planet for his "Secret War" to see which was stronger, good or evil, Spider-Man was among them.
It was fate that brought the Spider-Man to the alien workshop that day searching for a means to replace his torn costume. What he got was the symbiote. It had answered his call and for a while all was good between them. It wasn't until after they returned to Earth and Spider-Man realized it was alive that there was trouble.
Spider-Man didn't want it. He couldn't share his life with it even though all it wanted was to help. He had even tried to destroy it. The equally hated Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four, had found its weakness to intense sonic vibration and told Spider-Man. Spider-Man took it to the church bell tower where close proximity to the ringing of the enormous bells almost killed it. Luckily it managed to slink away from the horrible sound and hide.
That's when it found its new host. He was different. This one was older, wiser, and had a strictness about him that frightened it at first. This host knew what it was like to loose what you loved, to have it suddenly snatched away.
As it landed on the side of the building, sticking to the wall twenty stories up, it changed its appearance. It switched into its vision of the Batman uniform it had imitated earlier in the day. The large white eyes were replaced with two slender white horizontal lines and the spider with a bat symbol. It also grew the pointed ear cowl and flowing cape. It knew this would please its new host.
Bruce Wayne, its new host, was once known as Batman. With its help he could be again or he could be a new hero all together. It carried with in it the powers of its former host. All of Spider-Man's powers were Bruce's for the asking, enhanced strength, and agility, even the ESP like Spider-sense. But more importantly with its help Bruce could walk again. That had taken some time and experimentation on its behalf. The damage to Bruce's spinal cord proved troubling. It had to use parts of its own body to splice the cord back together on a cellular level.
It still needed to be careful about revealing itself too quickly. It had to use all of its influence to make its host forget what had transpired in the storeroom earlier in the day. Bruce wasn't quite ready for the full revelation yet. Then gunshot grabbed its attention.
"Nightwing come in." Oracle said.
"You don't have to be so formal Babs." He replied looking at the city though his starlite lenses.
"This is business." She said.
"Fine." He said. "Have it you way. I don't see how you can stay with him after what happened."
"That's none of your concern." She said coldly. "You should be concerned with the situation at Clover and Third."
"I'm on my way." He said as he closed the com link. She had sided with Dick over him; big surprise. She was so in love with Grayson that she wouldn't see the truth no matter how evident it was.
He quickly set his mind on the task at hand and that was getting to Clover and Third. That wasn't too far from Wayne Towers. Bruce said he was going to pull an all night'er, preparing a business proposal. Maybe he'd stop by and see Bruce when he was done.
Tim wouldn't say it out loud but he was glad for the last couple of weeks spent in Gotham. It gave him the opportunity to spend time with Bruce. Tim lost his biological father six months ago and he missed the fatherly influence. Bruce may not be the poster man for fatherhood but it didn't matter. Bruce might not have taught Tim how to fish as other fathers may have taught their sons but Bruce taught him the meaning of courage, honor, and sacrifice. Through Bruce he learned the value of discipline, the fruits of hard work, and the pride in a job well done.
Bill Becker clutched his chest wishing he could stop the rush of blood as it flowed between his fingers. Thirty seconds ago, he was just an average, over night security guard making his rounds. Twenty seconds ago, he heard a noise and went to investigate. Ten seconds, ago he stumbled across a group of men who reached their weapons before he could reach his. One second ago, he died with the last, brief, moments of his life flashing before his eyes.
They moved with an imprecision borne of desperation. Shooting the security guard was a mistake. They each knew it. If they were caught now they'd be facing murder, that fact just made them even more desperate.
"Where is it man?" Joey asked. He was a slender kid, no more then sixteen years old with mousy brown hair. He'd join the men on the hopes of getting rich quick.
"Check over there in those boxes." Roy replied. He stood close to seven feet tall and was built like a tank; needless to say, he was the muscle of the group.
"I'll check over by the door." James stated. He was the brain. He was the one that found out that the nightly haul from the Gotham Light casino was brought to this security storage building before they took it to the bank in the morning.
"I don't see anything." Joey said as they searched the large storage area by the dock doors. "Are you sure we're at the right place?"
"Don't be a damn fool." James shouted. "I know where Marshall's Storage is."
"You do know that there's more then one Marshall's Storage right." Roy said giving James a fierce look. "Tell me you knew that."
James heart fell to his stomach and icy fear filled his veins but it wasn't from his lack of knowledge it was from the thing he saw descending from the ceiling on a thread from its back.
It resembled a man sized Bat. All of them stared, mesmerized by the way it moved. When it reached the floor it stood there. It didn't speak or move, but they each got the feeling it was peering into their very souls.
"Is that Batman?" Joey whispered to James who was standing next to him.
"I don't care who it is. I'm getting out of here." He said bolting for the door.
The symbiote knew he was going to move before he did. It formed two batarangs in its hand and threw them. One batarang struck the assailant in the head knocking him out and the other circled his ankles in black cord; ensnaring him.
Joey was frozen with fear as the rope retracted some how back into Batman's out stretched hand pulling the unconscious James with it. The whole scene reminded him of the video game Mortal Kombat with Batman playing the part of Scorpion minus the "Get over here."
It didn't bother to look at the sleeping form lying at its feet. The younger of the two men posed no threat to it so it turned its attention to the bigger of the two.
Roy pulled his gun and fired but the shadow was gone.
"Lets go!" he shouted to Joey but the other man wouldn't move. "Screw you then, I'm out of here."
Joey knew Roy would never make it. The lights shimmered as Batman materialized right behind Roy. Then quicker then Roy could react Batman's cape enveloped them both and they disappeared.
"No one ever said he could do that." Joey thought.
There was another shimmering of light this time it was directly in front of him. Batman slowly came into focus holding the beaten body of Joey's accomplice.
The symbiote casually dropped Roy in a heap and walked toward the remaining criminal. This one was still overtaken with fright. It determined force wasn't necessary so it formed another launcher in its hand and incased him in a sticky web net. Then as silently as it came, it left, leaving them for the authorities.
Nightwing let of a mournful sigh as he pulled his two fingers from the guard's neck. Nightwing had a particular dislike for murders. Any one that didn't respect life rated high on his "Get off the Street" list.
He was surprised at the scene inside to put it mildly. There were two robbers unconscious and one trussed up with some kind of webbing. His attention was then drawn to an all too familiar weapon.
"I didn't know we had another member of the Bat family here in Gotham." He thought examining the batarang. But before he could put it into his evidence pouch it degenerated into dust. "Oh yeah, Bruce is going to love this. Of course he wouldn't forgive me if I didn't at least try to find who did this."
"Nightwing to Oracle." He said walking from the building.
"Situation is under control." He replied already taking to the rooftops. "Security officer dead and three perpetrators captured on scene."
"Oracle, one more question."
"What?" She snapped expecting him to say something negative about Dick.
"Do we have any other family members operating in Gotham?"
"No." She replied.
"Any other vigilantes then?"
"There was the Huntress for a while but Dick put her out of business for being too violent. She was running around shooting people with a cross bow."
"Sounds like Jean Paul's kind of lady." He said laughing.
"We should introduce them." She added joining him in laughter. "Tim, I'm sorry for biting you're head off earlier."
"No, it's my fault, Babs." He replied. "I know this stuff with me and Richard has got people picking sides and I'm sorry. I know you love him very much and I should have respected that."
"So why the sudden interest in the Gotham nightlife?" she asked. "Did you see somebody you didn't know?"
"Not exactly." He replied scanning the rooftops. "I came across their handy work. Those perps I told you about were taken down before I got there. The one that wasn't in la-la land had his mouth gummed up so that he couldn't talk."
"Perps with their mouths gummed up." She repeated. "Sounds like Spider-Man's M.O. to me."
"Since when does the Web Head carry batarangs?" He asked. "Especially one that disintegrates when you pick it up."
"You got me on that." She said. "Let me do some digging, Oracle out."
Nightwing had searched the city relentlessly for the last three hours and outside of the occasional criminal it was fruitless. He did come across more of the mystery vigilante's leftovers. It was close to dawn when he saw the pattern develop.
It was poised to make a leap to another building when it felt a buzzing in the host's head. It whipped around and snatched two batarangs out of the air.
"I don't think Batman would find you flattering." Nightwing said emerging from the shadows. The mystery person was following one of Batman's patrol routes and that allowed Nightwing to get ahead of him.
It assessed the situation. This was Nightwing one of the host's sons. It couldn't reveal itself yet. Nightwing could unmask it so he became a threat. With the speed of thought it rushed the young vigilante.
Nightwing barely managed to dodge the attack. He inwardly cursed himself for being so aggressive. He was the one that instigated the fight now he would have to finish it. In Nightwing's defense it was seeing the stranger standing there in that mockery of the Batman uniform like he owned Gotham that riled him.
He expanded his battle staff and parried the next set of blows from the mystery man.
If it had a mouth the symbiote would smile. Nightwing was the first worthy opponent that it had found all night. With a touch of its power it generated its own staff to match Nightwing's.
The two circled each other looking for an opening. Tim, the man under the Nightwing mask, started getting feelings of dejavu. His mind searched for an answer taking precious nanoseconds off the battle at hand. That was enough for someone with the proportional strength and speed of a spider.
The strike was deadly. Nightwing felt the blow to his chest before he ever saw it. The force hurled him across the roof, slamming him into an air conditioning unit. Before he could even get to his knees, it was standing over him.
"Who are you?" Nightwing asked looking up into its face. It stretched its hand toward him then everything went black.
The wall slid shut behind it as it walked in the office. The sun was climbing over the horizon. It slowly made the trip from the secret elevator to the wheelchair behind the desk. As it sat down, it changed from its Batman form into its mild mannered shirt and slacks mode.
Bruce yawned while wiping sleep from his eyes. Looking at his watch, it was six in the morning. The last time he remembered seeing was one thirty six am. That meant he'd been sleep for close to five and a half hours but he didn't feel like it. In fact he felt the way he did after spending a night in the trenches of Gotham.
He wiggled the mouse on his computer and the monitor came back to life. He'd finished the proposal but he didn't remember doing it.
"Strange." he thought. Part of him wanted to dwell on it longer but his mind was on to other things.
Nightwing lay calmly on the top of the Sinclair building in the hot morning sun. He didn't have much of a choice seeing as how he was stuck there, covered in webbing from the neck down. He gauged that close to two hours had passed since his encounter with the Batman want to be.
"It shouldn't be long now." He thought. Then, as if on cue, the webbing evaporated; freeing him.
"Nightwing to Oracle." He said.
"Our mystery guest is definitely related to Spider-Man." He said matter of factly.
"You saw him?"
"More than that." He said rubbing his chest. "We went a few rounds."
"What did he look like?"
"He was dressed like Batman." He said. "But he had the strength of Spider-Man and he webbed me up before he disappeared, literarily."
"That doesn't make any sense."
"It would if your boy friend was bitten be a genetically altered spider recently." He joked.
"Not that I know of." She replied. "You said he was dressed like Batman?"
"Yeah." He said diving off the rooftop activating his glide wings. "I'll send you a down load from my mask cam later but picture Bruce's Batman except all jet black with a big white bat on the chest."
"Tim, I've got another call coming in that I have to take." She said. "You should stop by later, I haven't seen you face to face in ages."
"Nice try." He replied. He knew that Richard moved in with her after Leslie OK'd it. "Nightwing out."
"Thinking about resigning your Titans membership." Bruce said rolling to the computer. Alfred and Tim did some modifications on the cave to make it less hazardous for him.
"Just keeping up with current events." Tim said looking over the present roster of the Avengers. "How was your day?"
"Not to bad." Bruce said settling his eyes on the screen. "They've changed a lot since their founding."
"Nothing stays the same right." He said cycling through to the reserve member list. "I talked to a guy who said there have been three people in the Iron Man armor alone."
"You didn't hack into their system did you?"
"Didn't have to." Tim said with a smirk on his face. "This is all on their web site."
"Spider-Man." Bruce spat seeing the Web Slinger's image.
"You don't like Spider-Man?" Tim asked a bit surprised by the venom in Bruce's voice.
A name formed in Bruce's head slowly at first, then vividly clear; Peter Parker. He wasn't sure how he knew it but Peter Parker was Spider-Man.
"I think he could be better if he was more disciplined." Bruce replied. "But then I think that about Superman."
"Did you ever meet Spider-Man?"
"No." He replied. "The only heroes outside of Gotham and the JLA I encountered were Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine and Machine Man. Why the interest in Spider-Man?"
"I came across some amalgamated version of you two last night."
"He was dressed like you but he had Spidey's strength, agility and he used webbing." He said typing into the keyboard. "Here's a picture of him taken from my mask cam."
"Is this a joke?" Bruce said. The image on screen disturbed him.
"I wish." Tim said. "We fought and I got my head handed to me. Whoever he is, he's good."
"You said he had meta-human powers." Bruce added.
"It was more than that." Tim admitted. "The fighting stances he used, his style, his whole demeanor indicated he'd been well trained."
"That still doesn't explain the Spider-Man angle."
"It is possible that he has similar powers but why would he imitate you?"
"Do you think it could be Jean Paul?" Bruce speculated.
"We both know JP's a nut case." Tim replied. "But I think if he wanted the mantle back, he'd fight Richard for it, not run around in a bizarre imitation."
"It seems that all we're coming up with is more questions." Tim sighed.
"Well, I'll leave you to your work." Bruce said with a 'been there done that' expression. "Let me know what you come up with."
"Hey, Bruce." Tim called over his shoulder as Bruce wheeled away.
"You were at the office all of last night right?"
Bruce got a smirk on his face. "All night." He answered.
"Just getting the improvable out of the way early."
His lean body stood parallel to the floor supported by the tips of his toes and index fingers. It required strength and balance, Dick Grayson had both in excess. He lowered his bare chest down to the floor and up again.
"One hundred." He exhaled letting his body drop to the floor. The road back was hard but he'd conquered every step of it.
"Here you go Short Pants." Barbara teased tossing him a towel.
"Thanks." He said catching it. "What do you think? Am I ready for the night life again?"
"I'm biased." She confessed. "I've enjoyed you here with me at night."
"I'm not the one that got up in the middle of the night to conference call with Henry Pym." He said jumping to his feet. "What's up with that? I'm not man enough for you?"
"We were talking Avengers business. Besides Dr. Pym's a married man." She said. "But don't think that means you're enough man for me."
"I know you're still waiting on the Torch." He said. "Well I hate to break it to you but he's gay."
"He is not."
"Yep, sure is." He said as they walked to the kitchen. "He's dating that guy from Alpha Flight. You know the one."
"Whatever." She said dismissingly. "When are you going to inform Bruce and Tim that you're ready?"
"I don't know." He said with a look of uncertainty.
"This would be so much easier if you and Tim would patch things up."
"It's not that easy."
"I've forgiven you." She said placing a reassuring hand on his chest. "I'm sure Tim would too, if you asked him."
"You think I should ask him forgiveness." He snapped. "So now you're taking his side?"
"I'm not taking any ones side." She said. "Dick you're the oldest. That means you're the mature one. So that means that you have to be the one to swallow that damn pride of yours and say you're sorry."
Her name is Wendy Sales and twenty minutes ago she was sleeping in bed, dreaming that she'd won the lottery. Eighteen minutes two men invaded her apartment. Ten minutes ago she heard them. Nine minutes ago they found her. Five minutes ago they were standing over her laughing about what they planned to do next. Two minutes ago a man arrived through the window dressed in all black with a blue bird on his chest. Now she was the one laughing.
Nightwing cruised along the air currents high above Gotham; while it wasn't quite flying it was close. The woman he'd just saved was lucky that he was standing atop her building when he heard the commotion.
Honestly, he was the one who felt lucky. Wendy Sales wouldn't be among the causalities tonight and that was a very good thing. The other plus was it took his mind off the fake Batman that had moved into the city. Every time he thought he'd made some progress, he'd take three steps back. He was a good detective but not the caliber of Bruce or even Richard.
"So I'm the world's third greatest detective'." He thought. "Big deal."
"How's it going?" Dick asked timidly walking into the cave.
"All is well." Bruce answered. "How have you been?"
"No complaints." He said joining Bruce at the computer.
"I take it you're ready to resume your duties?"
"Leslie gave me a clean bill of health." He said walking to the changing vault. "Although she did add that I need my head examined for wanting to get back out there."
Bruce laughed. "She said the same thing to me."
"Well, I'm in good company then."
"Do you want me to tell Tim he can return to Blood Haven now?"
"That's ok." Dick replied exiting the vault as Batman. "I'll tell him myself. Its time to straiten things out with Nightwing and me."
Bruce smiled. "Glad to hear it." He said watching Batman get on the bat-cycle.
They had him out numbered ten to one but that wasn't enough.
"Where'd he go?" One shouted as they moved through the smoke filled alley.
Nightwing stood in the midst of them. The layer of vibranium in his uniform absorbing every sound he made, from the puffs of his gas mask to the blows he landed. He almost felt sorry for them.
When the smoke cleared they all lay on the ground neatly tied up and evidence everywhere.
"Not bad." A voice complimented from the night.
"Would've had it done quicker but I have a lot on my mind right now." Nightwing replied.
"Anything you want to talk about?" Raptor asked walking to him.
"Not really." He said. "How's home?"
"Lonely." She said embracing him. "I've missed you."
"Ditto." He said returning her affection. "It shouldn't be too much longer."
"Good." She said releasing him. "I was beginning to think you weren't coming back."
"And trade in the some what corrupt Gotham PD for the total corrupt Blood Haven PD, not a chance." He joked firing a jump line.
"Have you talked to your brother since you've been here?" She asked following his actions.
"Why?" He asked as they landed on the roof of a building.
"Because I think you should." She said. "I think its time you forgave him."
"After what happened."
"You forgave me." She said softly. "And I'm just as much to blame as he was."
"Don't say that." He barked walking over to her. She had her heard down, unable to look into his eyes. "That's what he wants you to think. He took advantage of you. I can't forgive him for that and don't ask me to."
When Raptor looked up Nightwing was gone.
Batman watched the whole exchange from darkness. He wanted to reach out and comfort her as she wept on the roof alone but he couldn't. If he did, it would only make it worse. The sooner he confronted Nightwing the better everyone would be.
Nightwing had been taught more than fifty different mental exercises designed to clear the mind but none of them worked. He couldn't shake his encounter with Raptor earlier. Did anyone else see that Richard wasn't as good as he claimed to be? Was he the only one that saw Richard for what he really was? Even Raptor was starting to jump on to the Grayson Bandwagon.
"You shouldn't be so hard on her."
"What do you want?" Nightwing spat.
"Hate me all you want but don't take it out on her." He said entrenched in the shadows.
"You'll forgive me if I don't take love advice from you DICK."
"Tim I didn't come here to argue." He said. "I wanted to let you know I'm back. You can go now."
Nightwing laughed with contempt. "So you think you can dismiss me just like that." He said. "You tell me to leave and I go."
"This is my city." Batman replied emerging from the night.
Nightwing laughed again. "You're not Bruce. You're not Batman."
He said. "You only have the title because the first choice didn't work out."
Screams from the street interrupted Batman's reply. With out another word they went into action.
A black stretch limo had jumped the curb and smashed into a fireplug sending a fountain of water fifteen feet in the air. A person in an ebony colored cape and cowl stood on the roof of the wrecked car holding a very distraught mob boss. Said mob boss's bodyguards hug limply from a near by lamp pole, strung up by their feet.
"Tell me where the drugs are coming from." He insisted.
"I can't tell you that." Tony Moroine screamed. A few minutes ago he was on his way to Gravallies Restaurant and now he was face to face with a mad man. "They'll kill me."
"And what do you think I'll do." He said.
"You're the Bat." He said nervously. "The Bat doesn't kill people."
"Are you sure?"
Tony looked at the man again. This character did have pointy ears like the bat and he had the cape but the coloring was wrong. This guy was jet black except for the eyes and the white bat symbol on the chest.
"Let him go!" Batman demanded.
"You get off lucky this time Moroine." He said throwing the mobster to the street.
Nightwing ran to the man and got him out of the way as Batman moved to intercept the stranger.
"We don't have to do this." The stranger said jumping from the limo.
"We won't, if you tell me who you are and why you're dressed like me." Batman said.
"I don't have to explain myself to you." He said with surety.
"Wrong answer." He said attacking with a batarang.
The stranger used one of his own to knock Batman's from the air. Batman closed the space between them and attacked with a kick. The stranger caught his foot and hurled him to limo. Batman recovered in midair and rebounded from the car with another kick. This time the stranger side stepped it and hit the caped crusader with a clothesline. Batman hit the ground hard but was already on the move when Nightwing joined the fight.
The stranger felt Nightwing's sneak attack before he ever saw it. His body moved out of the way before it struck. He swung around with a punch but Nightwing parried it with his staff. He felt Batman's making another attempt to strike so he jumped six feet strait up and Batman's blow struck Nightwing instead.
"No ones that fast." Batman said.
"Spiderman is." Nightwing replied. "This guy has the wall crawler's speed and strength."
"Then why is he dressed like me?" He asked.
"Let's go ask him." He said.
They flanked the stranger then with exchange of glances they attacked. For the moment it was like old times. Their differences set aside, they operated as they team Bruce had trained them to be.
"You two are good." The stranger said holding his left arm where he'd taken a hit from Nightwing's staff. "But I've got places to be."
"You're not going anywhere." Batman said.
The stranger faced them and to their astonishment disappeared. They switched to infer-red and still couldn't find him.
"Damn." Batman said.
"Don't worry." Nightwing said. "I know where to find him."
Bruce climbed into bed as the symbiote changed from costume to pajamas. It had been an eventful night. Then there was a knock at the door.
"Come in." Bruce said.
Batman and Nightwing walked in the room as Alfred switched on the lights.
"What's up guys?" Bruce asked as they eyed him suspiciously.
"Where were you tonight?" Nightwing asked.
"I was in the cave for a while then I came up here to bed."
"Then you won't mind if we take a look at your left arm." Batman asked. He wasn't sure about Nightwing's theory.
"Go ahead." He replied. Alfred walked to the bed and pulled back the cover. There was a large black and blue bruise on Bruce's left arm.
"How'd you get that Master Bruce?" Alfred inquired.
"I don't know." He said nervously. "I don't remember."
"You don't remember fighting Batman and me tonight?"
"I don't think that would be much of a fight." He said "Considering my condition."
"Bruce I'm sure how you did it but I know that was you tonight." Nightwing said. "Just tell us how you did it."
Bruce stared at them then his whole body stiffened.
"I was the one you encountered tonight." He said in his Batman voice.
"Batman?" Dick asked.
"I'm more than Batman now." Bruce growled. "I am the Dark Knight."
"Explain." Nightwing demanded.
"After the 'accident' poor little Bruce couldn't handle not being Batman anymore. So he took all that was Batman, was me, and locked it a way in a nice, neat compartment in the back of his mind. That was the only way he could cope.
"Can you imagine being locked away, banished, because you were no longer useful." He said anger flashing across his face. "I would still be there if it wasn't for my symbiote.
Then Bruce stood up next to the bed.
"It gave me my legs back. It gave me my strength back. It restored my purpose. Now I can resume my mission." He explained as the symbiote flowed over his body shifting to his Dark Knight costume. "Now it is Bruce Wayne who's no longer useful."
"You can't take Bruce's life away." Nightwing said. "We won't let you."
"Bruce's life?" He scoffed. "Do you know how many times he thought about suicide? Your precious Bruce wished that Bane had killed him instead of breaking his back. Bruce is a sniveling coward."
"Bruce is my father." Batman shouted. "He took me in and raised me. That takes courage."
"Did he?" Dark Knight said. "Was it Bruce that trusted you enough to be his partner or was it Batman? Was it Bruce you wanted to grow up to be like or was it Batman? Was it Bruce who taught you to focus your anger into something positive? Did he give you the ability to make a difference or was that I? You don't understand. You're pining away for someone who died the night as his parents."
"I didn't raise Batman." Alfred interjected. "I raised Master Bruce."
"Bruce is gone." He said walking to the bedroom door. "Get over it."
"I don't think so." Nightwing said standing in the way. "You're not leaving until we get Bruce back."
"Move." He said tossing Nightwing out of the way then walking from the room.
"That's far enough." A familiar voice said from the hall. The symbiote shuddered when it realized who it was. "We need some answers Bruce." Superman said approaching.
There was an intense buzzing in the Dark Knights head. The symbiote explained that it was called spider-sense and its purpose was to alert him of danger. The greater the threat the greater the buzzing and right now it sounded like million beehives.
Faster then a speeding bullet Superman hit the Dark Knight with a burst of heat vision causing the symbiote to withed in pain and shift between pajama and costume. As superman drew closer the Dark Knight collapsed to the floor.
Bruce stood chained to the wall of his prison cell. He didn't know how he got there but he was determined to escape. The shackles holding him weren't that great. He should've been able to twist out of them with a trick he learned form an escape artist in the Far East but he didn't remember how. Now that he thought about it he didn't remember a lot of things he should have.
"Time to go my friend."
Bruce opened his eyes to the sight of the Martian Manhunter emerald face.
"What's going on?" He asked as Manhunter broke his bonds.
"There isn't much time." He said hurriedly. "He'll be here soon."
"Who?" Bruce said rubbing his wrist where the cuffs were.
"I'm already here." Dark Knight said reaching an ebony hand from the shadows grabbing the Manhunter by the neck. "Now be gone." He commanded and the Manhunter faded away.
"J'onn, are you alright?" Wonder Woman asked.
"I'll be fine." He said coughing. "I've done all I can, its up to Bruce now."
The members of the JLA stared at the prone form of the Dark Knight as he lay on the examining table in the Batcave infirmary.
While Dark Knight was distracted with Manhunter Bruce made a break for it. He didn't care where he was going just as long as it was away from his cell. He'd run for blocks before it occurred to him that he was running. He glanced at his surroundings and suddenly knew where he was.
He was inside his mind, his psyche, which explained the Manhunter. He was the resident psychic of the JLA but it didn't explain how Bruce became a prisoner in his own head.
"Because, I put you there." The Dark Knight said descending from the night sky. "And now you're going back."
"Who are you?" Bruce asked.
"I was Batman." He replied. "Until you locked me away like I didn't exist. Now I'm so much more."
"You can't be the Batman I created."
"Why can't I be?" He said. "Because you say it isn't so?"
"After Bane broke my back I didn't compartmentalize Batman." Bruce explained. "I absorbed that part of me into the whole. It's the refocusing of Batman's energy that helped me make Wayne Enterprise into the company it is today, its Batman's nature that makes Bruce Wayne one the best CEOs in the world. No, you're my Batman you're something else."
"I am the Batman you locked away." He protested.
"No." Bruce insisted. "You're the smiling shadow I see in my sleep. You're the thing that stalks my dreams."
"That's not true." It screamed.
"It is." He said snatching it by the cowl. "I see you for what you are now. You came to me that night in New York. You tried to take over Spider-Man and he almost killed you. Now you want to take over me."
"No." It said changing to look like Martha Wayne. "It only wants to help."
"Don't you dare!" Bruce said slamming it to the ground.
"What about the innocent?" It asked changing to resemble the beaten body of Jason Todd in his Robin costume. "It can help you protect them again. Would you throw that away?"
Bruce stood up and walked away. He'd seen what the symbiote was offering. He would be able to walk again. He would be able to be a hero again. He'd be able to protect the innocent and continue the promise he made so many years ago.
He turned and the Dark Knight was standing right behind him.
"I can be the partner that won't die or fail you. I will follow your orders with out question. All I seek in return is a life with meaning. Will you allow me to help you Bruce?" He said offering its hand.
"Know this." Bruce said excepting its hand. "If you ever step out of line, you will be destroyed even if it means that I die with you."
The symbiote nodded its head in agreement then slowly flowed over Bruce's body changing him into the Dark Knight.
Superman readied his heat beams as the creature rose from the table. The mask dissolved to reveal the handsome features of Bruce Wayne.
"It's over Clark." Bruce said. "I won."
"What do you mean?" Superman said.
"I mean I'm going to remain the Dark Knight." He explained.
"You can't keep that thing." Wonder Woman said. "Reed Richards said it was dangerous."
"So is a playing card in the right hands." Bruce replied.
"But Bruce, that's an alien." Superman said. "We don't know what its real agenda is."
"I didn't know you were so prejudiced against aliens." Bruce said leaving the infirmary.
"Now Bruce come on, you know what I meant." Superman said following him from the room.
"I don't recall asking your permission." Bruce said walking deeper into the cave. "Now if you don't mind, I have work to catch up on."
"You can't dismiss us like…" Superman said but was interrupted.
"You know how he is Kal-el." Wonder Woman said.
"He's telling the truth." Martian Manhunter said. "He and the symbiote are one now and we have work of our own to tend to."
"I'll be watching Bruce." Superman warned as the JLA Teleporter energized.
To see Bruce walking again was a bit unsettling but they were fast getting used to it.
"So does Gotham have two Batmen now?" Barbara asked.
"No, there can only be one Batman." Bruce said solemnly.
"Well I guess my Robin suit still fits." Dick joked. "I can see it now the return of the dynamic duo."
"You can have Nightwing back." Tim said from a far corner. "I'll return to work with Bruce."
"What about Raptor?" Dick asked.
"You let me worry about her." Tim spat.
"I didn't say I was going back to being Batman." Bruce spoke drawing the attention back to him. "Dick is Batman now and that's the way it will stay."
"Bruce, I couldn't accept that. You created Batman, it should be you."
"Son, I can't be Batman." He explained. "The symbiote has changed me. Batman is supposed to be a man and I don't quite qualify anymore."
"What will you do then Bruce?" Tim asked.
"With great power comes great responsibility." Bruce said. "My sphere of responsibility has been increase. I have to think outside of Gotham."
"So what, you're going after Galactus now?" Tim joked.
"Not hardly." Bruce laughed. It took the combined force of the JLA, Avengers and the Fantastic Four to beat the world eating giant. "I have a few people who I've wanted to deal with but didn't like I was ready to until now."
"I take it we're about to go on another of our world tours." Alfred added.
"Not this time Alfred." He said turning to his friend. "I need you here to take care of my sons." He glanced at Tim and Dick. "My two, pig headed, sons."
"What are you going to do with Wayne Enterprises?" Barbara asked.
"I'll make Lucious Fox CEO." He said. "I was thinking of doing that before the 'accident'."
"Now that you're back I know a certain person who would love to see you." She said.
Commissioner Gordon cleaned his glasses as he waited for Batman to arrive.
"Jim." Dark Knight said.
"Is that you old friend?" Gordon said disbelievingly.
"It certainly doesn't look like you."
"I've been through changes." He said.