Summary: The Batfamily rushes to save alt!Robin, but how do they return him home?
Crossing the Styx
By Syl Francis
"Kid! No!" Red Hood's shocked cry at seeing the Leviathan cruelly stab the mystery Robin was followed by several sharp gunshots in rapid succession. The kid fell hard, like a bird whose wings had been clipped. "Grab him, R.R.! I'll hold off the ugly twin."
"I've got him!" Red Robin shouted. "Nightwing, do you have Robin?"
"I can take care of myself, Drake!" Robin protested angrily. "Grayson, put me down this instant!"
Nightwing ignored his youngest brother's outraged yells and carried him to the relative safety afforded by the floor-to-ceiling marble pillars. Only when they were safely behind one did he release Damian, giving him a quick once-over to ensure he was all right. He then checked where Red Robin was carefully settling the second Robin on the floor.
"He's bleeding pretty badly, Nightwing!" Red Robin reported. "The sword didn't get in as deep as it could have 'cause his uniform is lined with Kevlar…and some other material I don't recognize."
"Do what you can for him," Nightwing said, dismissing him for the moment. He turned to Robin and Red Hood. "Net batarangs! On three!"
"One!" Red Hood yelled. All three acquired a batarang.
"Two!" Robin chimed, as they readied it.
"Three!" Nightwing shouted.
As one, the three heroes threw a specialized batarang that released a net composed of a heavy nomex/Kevlar reinforced weave. The nets fell and adhered to the Leviathan much as flypaper traps a fly. Nightwing pressed a switch on his glove, sending a high-voltage signal to the nets. The Leviathan again let out an inhuman roar as he cried out in anger and in pain. To the heroes' surprise, the monstrous clone managed to remain on his feet despite the voltage coursing through him, and even began to struggle against his restraints.
"Oh, no, you don't!" Red Hood growled. He stepped up to Nightwing's right and pressed a hidden button on his own glove. The voltage was suddenly amped up even higher. "That's gotta hurt! That's enough voltage to take down a hippo!"
And yet, the Leviathan was still on his feet, still fighting to free himself. He somehow focused on Robin standing behind the older heroes and cast a taunting look in his direction. "Brother…!" he cried. "Kill…you!"
Robin stepped forward to Nightwing's left side. "You hurt my family…tried to kill me. We are not brothers!" Then, he too pressed the hidden switch on his glove, and his nightmarish clone screamed in agony before finally succumbing to the mega voltage and collapsing in place. Some parts of his clothing were actually smoking, and his skin…! Where the flesh was exposed, he could see that the Leviathan's skin had blistered badly. Some of it had broken open, leaving what looked like bleeding ulcers behind.
"Okay…I didn't need to see that," Red Hood muttered, grimacing at the sight. "But I sure hope that keeps him down for a while. We must've zapped him with enough volts to kill a herd of buffalos."
Taking a deep breath, Nightwing began issuing orders. "Jay…Dami, wrap him up and secure him for the GCPD." He pulled an object out of another hidden compartment. "Here, put this meta-collar around his neck."
However, Damian had rushed to the injured Robin's side, ignoring Nightwing's orders. It was only because of the seriousness of the situation and his very frantic little brother kneeling over the bleeding figure on the floor that the eldest didn't reprimand him.
Even Red Hood could hardly bear looking at the steadily spreading pool of blood underneath the wounded bird. Wordlessly, he did as Nightwing ordered, securing the Leviathan's wrists with titanium Bat-cuffs and locking the meta-collar in place.
Giving Jason a nod of thanks, Nightwing took a brief moment to compose himself and then hurried to their little brother's side.
"We can't stop the bleeding, Richard," Damian said worriedly. "We don't know what else to do."
"Nightwing, I was careful when I removed the sword from his back," Red Robin said, "but it must have hit something vital. We need to get him to a hospital ASAP!"
Nightwing gently pulled his little brother to the side. He took out several items from the hidden compartments in his gauntlets. "You two did good work here, Dami…Tim. The gauze and pressure you put over the wound has helped stem the bleeding somewhat." He spoke reassuringly, as he sprayed a sterile, water-soluble adhesive directly onto the wound before wrapping it with sterile pressure bandages. It was but a temporary stopgap until the boy could be given emergency medical care, but it would help keep him stable for now.
"Damian!" They all looked up as the Dark Knight finally swooped in.
"Father!" The small boy who had worked so hard to be brave for the past several hours, ran into his father's arms and finally broke down. "Mother…why—?" His muffled sob carried several layers of meaning: Why couldn't she love us? Why couldn't she accept us as we are? Why did she do this—hurt so many people just so she could hurt us…hurt me?
"I don't know, son. I really don't know." Batman held his boy to him, relieved to find him still alive. He had been so afraid that he would never see Damian—or any of his sons again—while he'd been chained and locked inside a safe as it sank to the bottom of the Gotham River. He looked up at Nightwing—his eldest and most favored son.
After Jason's death, Batman had shut down his heart, refusing to acknowledge having any feelings for anyone else—especially for Dick. Then, two years ago, he'd almost lost Dick to OMAC and his own hubris. It was only then that he'd come to realize how much the young man he'd raised from childhood meant to him. Even the cold and logical OMAC computer brain had been able to draw the conclusion that Dick was his favorite based on the evidence available, something that the Dark Knight had worked hard at denying. Apparently, he hadn't learned anything from that.
Because Damian had been trained as an assassin since birth by his grandfather and mother, Ra's and Talia al Ghul, Bruce hadn't given the boy—his biological son—the same trust he'd bestowed on his adopted sons. Instead, he'd allowed the al Ghuls' twisted plans of world domination for the boy to color his own perception toward his son. He had refused to listen to his own heart and see what was directly in front of him—a proud boy who had turned his back on everything he had ever known in order to join his father's crusade for justice.
More importantly, Batman saw a little boy who wanted to love and be loved in turn. And now, almost losing Damian to his mother's ruthlessness and his own ignorance had finally shown the Dark Knight how much he loved and believed in his boy. Thankfully, now he'd have the time to make it up to Damian…to show his son how much he meant to him.
"Thank you, Dick," Bruce whispered fervently. Unbidden, his eyes filled and spilled over, tears leaking below his mask, showing the depth of his gratitude.
Nightwing gave him a small nod and half-smile in acknowledgement. The next instant his demeanor turned grim. "Sorry, B, it's not over yet." Nightwing indicated the small, bleeding boy in a Robin outfit. "We need to get him to the cave ASAP."
"Who is he?" Batman asked. He glanced at the injured boy, and then, took a much longer look. "Dicky…?" Batman rasped, frozen in place at the sight of the boy.
"Please, Father, we must help him," Damian pleaded. "He saved my life and Richard's. We can't just let him die."
"It's true. If he hadn't come in when he did…" Nightwing let the rest remain unsaid.
"Let's go." Batman spoke a brief command into his wrist. The next instant, they all felt the heavy thrumming of the Batwing's silent thrusters. Nightwing needed no further prompting. He immediately picked up the injured boy and hurried to the front exit, Robin directly at his heels. Batman spoke rapidly to the others as he took after them. "Wait for the GCPD, then return to base once the Leviathan is in the hands of the authorities."
He didn't wait for a response, just simply took it for granted that the two former Robins would follow his orders. What he didn't understand was how a younger version of Dick Grayson had appeared at a critical point during the battle. Was the boy who Batman believed him to be? Or was he another clone—an elaborate hoax perpetrated by Talia.
~ / ~ / ~ / ~
Back in the Cave below the lowest levels of Wayne Manor, the four Robins waited for news on the condition of the mystery Robin that had stepped in and saved their lives. At one point during surgery, the boy had needed whole blood. Nightwing and Batman—who ironically shared the same blood type even though they weren't biologically related—had been an exact match to the boy. With what they already had stored in their personal blood bank, plus the additional pints they willingly donated, Dr. Thompkins reported they had more than enough.
None of the young men was wearing a mask, choosing to spend the semi-downtime as brothers, rather than in their nighttime personas.
"So, who do you think he is?" Jason stood apart from the others, leaning against the uniform lockers, his arms crossed. "He sure looks familiar. In fact, he kind of reminds me of you, Dicky-bird."
"By the looks of his outfit," Tim offered, "I'd say a fanboy—definitely a Robin wannabe—but his uniform is too authentic, and the defensive weapons—" He held up a batarang that had encased a full-sized practice dummy in hardened foam. "—are the real deal."
Munching on crackers since he'd just donated a pint of blood, Dick generously offered some of his hoard to the others. Tim took one but the others simply shook their heads. Dick smiled, admiring the mechanism that released the foam. "Pretty cool…think we could reverse engineer it?"
Tim smirked. "Already on it."
"Drake, you generally take up too much space and unnecessarily breathe in our fast-depleting oxygen supplies," Damian opined cuttingly. "But this time I am forced to agree with you. He's a bit too real to be just a copycat."
"The three of you are right," Dick said. "Our mystery boy had the moves back at the tower. Some I recognized—reminded me of the routines from my circus days. Plus, he fit in easily and naturally into our team, almost like he belongs here."
"Do you think he'll be all right?" Damian asked. It was the foremost question they each had.
"He's doing better, Damian…boys." Unmasked, Bruce stood just outside the cave infirmary, his intense blue eyes showing his concern. "He's resting right now, but Leslie says that she'll let you see him shortly for a few minutes."
Damian walked up slowly to his father. "He saved our lives at the possible cost of his own. Why would he do that? Who is he?"
Bruce went down on one knee until he was at eye-level with his youngest son. Before speaking, he indicated that Dick join them. His eldest stood to the side and directly behind Bruce.
"He risked his life for you, because that's what he does. If there is one thing that I'm certain of, it's that he would give his life for others…for us." He swallowed, then turned and held Dick's eyes. "For me."
Dick shook his head. He had a bad feeling about where this was going. "You know the kid, Bruce?"
Bruce nodded. "I'd like to think I know him…how he thinks, how he feels." He turned from Dick to Damian and back again. "Instead of telling you, let me show you."
By way of explanation, Bruce stood and walked toward the central computer and called up some jpeg files. Several school pictures of Dick Grayson suddenly appeared, from his earliest enrollment at Bristol Heights Academy to his graduation photo from Gotham City Boys Preparatory. He pointed to one photo in particular.
"That's you at age thirteen. If you remove the ton of hair gel that Alfred used to slather on you in order to make that unruly mop you call hair behave…"
Bruce didn't finish. He didn't need to. The picture of the thirteen-year-old Dick Grayson was a dead ringer for the boy lying in the infirmary. Although somewhat anti-climactic, Bruce also ran a face recognition program to verify the results. According to the FRP, the unconscious boy was in fact Richard John "Dick" Grayson.
Dick stared pensively at the computer monitor and then looked over to the doorway leading to the infirmary. Bruce walked slowly toward him, placing his hand on his first protégé's shoulder.
Damian looked on with sudden envy. His father never looked at him or spoke his name with the same adoration. And, even though Dick was full grown, and the two men rarely showed any overt signs of affection, it was an unspoken truth (as Damian had already pointed out) that Dick was his father's favorite. He didn't hold that against his older brother. It wasn't Dick's fault, as he had never done anything to ingratiate himself with their father.
All the former Robins accepted the situation for what it was. Dick was the first son, the first Robin, the first junior partner. He had set the standard at age eight that all the subsequent Robins had struggled to meet. Somehow, he also became the yardstick against whom all subsequent junior heroes were measured—from the first team he led that called itself the Teen Titans to the latest crop of teen heroes led by Red Robin.
Still, Damian felt that this situation was different. This younger version of Dick Grayson wasn't his older brother. What right did he have to suddenly appear and steal even more of his father's attention from Damian?
Especially now, when Father just admitted that he loved me.
The next moment Damian felt ashamed. Alt!Robin or alt!Dick (alt!Whatever) had saved his life and endangered his own in the process. Ingratitude was no way to pay him back.
"Is he a clone, Bruce? If not, then how did he got here?" Dick asked. "Why is he alone? Is his Batman trying to find him? And what about a cross-dimensional return trip in his current condition?"
"Whoa…time out!" Jason interrupted. "Cross-dimensional?"
Tim's eyes lit in sudden compression. "That's what he meant when he said he's not from around here." Bruce and Dick nodded in agreement.
"We'll check his DNA first to determine whether or not he's a clone," Bruce said. "If he isn't, then we'll have to find a way to send him home. Given time, he will probably recover sufficiently from his injuries in order to attempt the trip to his own universe. However, in his current condition he'd never survive the massive stress placed on the human body when traveling through the dimensional planes from one reality to another."
Batman appeared as though he was near the end of his physical reserves. Lack of sleep and almost drowning would do that to you, not to mention almost losing Damian—all of his sons, in fact—if Talia and Leviathan had succeeded in destroying Gotham.
"As for his Batman trying to find him? I can't speak for him, of course, but if it were any of you lost between dimensions, I know I wouldn't stop to rest until I had you back safe and sound."
"Father, isn't the SSC, the joint venture between WayneTech and StarLabs in Mesa City, Arizona, working on creating wormholes and cross-dimensional travel?"
Dick looked at his younger brother with wide, startled eyes. "Dami, how do you know that? Have you been hacking the Top Secret computer files at WayneTech?"
"Oh, please…you make that sound as if it's hard. Richard, I told you that you yourself should have written the security code and not entrusted it to some inexperienced intern. Or, at least, had me do it for you."
Dick just rolled his eyes. As a junior, rising executive at WayneTech, Richard Grayson was privy to company industrial secrets to which only a few were given access. The work by the engineering team behind the superconducting super collider (SSC) on wormholes and cross-dimensional travel was one of Wayne Enterprise's most closely guarded secrets. Apparently, it wasn't guarded closely enough. Glaring at his youngest brother, he sighed.
"We've made some important breakthroughs in the past few months," Dick admitted reluctantly. "Doctors Palmer and Hamilton's new equations and formulas look very promising. In fact, they recently transferred a relatively small, inanimate object from this dimensional plane to another and back with great success."
"How small?" Tim asked.
"A ballpoint pen," Dick answered with a shrug. "Still…it was a major achievement."
"But it came a great cost," Bruce interjected. "The 54-mile oval tunnel used to create the artificial wormhole was badly damaged when the pen was retrieved."
"Yes, but it proved that we could produce a stable wormhole between universes for both sending and receiving matter," Dick insisted.
"But mini!Dicky-bird isn't an inanimate object or the size of a ballpoint pen," Jason pointed out. Dick scowled at his surprising astuteness.
"True...and after the lettuce died, we don't dare attempt sending organic matter," Dick admitted.
"The lettuce died?" Jason repeated slowly, not sure he'd heard correctly.
"The stresses caused when traveling between dimensional planes broke apart the organic matter and didn't quite manage to put it back together again."
"Holy Humpty Dumpty, Batman," muttered Tim. This earned him an irritated glare from Dick and an amused snort from Jason.
"But does it completely negate the SSC as a means of initiating a rescue?" Damian asked. At the others' questioning looks, he added somewhat irritated, "What if we merely sent a message? A transmission of some kind? That involves no transference of matter—organic or otherwise."
"It would still require a tremendous amount of power." Tim's statement was met with an annoyed scowl from the youngest.
"Yes, but not the exorbitant amount needed for matter transference," Dick added, excitedly. He grinned broadly. "Dami, you're a genius!"
"Naturally," Damian replied haughtily, although inside he felt a warm glow at his older brother's praise. He gave Tim a smug look.
"We can try to make contact with alt!Robin's Batman," Dick continued. "Let him know the wounded bird is with us and that we're working on finding a way to send him back. Who knows…they may have the means to retrieve him from their end." He shrugged. "He was sent here, after all."
Batman nodded in agreement. "Contact Ray Palmer at the SSC. Let him know the situation and see if he can get the ball rolling on this end." He paused, taking a moment to glance at the doorway leading to the cave's infirmary. "Meanwhile, I'll transport to the Watchtower and see what the League can do…if anything."
~ / ~ / ~ / ~
Two weeks later, following several reams of wadded up and discarded paper, dozens of used-up wet/dry markers, hair-trigger tempers, and tons of elbow grease, the team of engineers and physicists led by Ray Palmer and Emil Hamilton successfully established a cross-dimensional bridge. The process took longer than anticipated, according to Hamilton, because the boy's path had to be retraced, not only across time and space, but also across the more nebulous dimensional barriers.
Sadly, the Justice League had been unable to provide them with much assistance, but individually they did what they could to help. Cyborg added his considerable knowledge of communications-electronics into the mix, ensuring they would have the strongest and clearest transmission signal in order to contact the distant end. Green Lantern used his power ring to analyze alt!Robin's aura, tracing back a definite ion particle trail to his universe of origin. Apparently, the displaced boy had traveled from an Earth that was at least sixteen universes removed from theirs, and as a result, the team of SSC scientists began to refer to it as Earth-16.
When the young alt!Robin, awoke, the painkillers they had him on made it difficult for him to focus. Although a bit loopy from drugs, they still questioned him albeit gently and sympathetically. Richard even laughed when the younger boy made a critical comment on their family business…
"Seriously…Batman, Inc.?" he whispered. "Worst. Name. Ever."
Chuckling, Richard had to agree. "…But none of us Robins picked the name." He gave his younger namesake a knowing look. The boy grinned somewhat lopsidedly.
"Got it right in one."
As the days progressed, each Robin took a turn sitting with alt!Dick. And one-by-one, each told him his life story. Alt!Dick was fascinated to learn how this particular Batfamily had grown from just Bruce and Dick to practically a clan.
"And I thought the Cave was crowded enough with just me and Bruce," alt!Dick said ruefully. When he finally explained what had happened to him, how he'd ended up there after being thrown into an artificial black hole, they were disappointed.
They all agreed that tossing him back into one was probably not a good idea. Besides, as Palmer had explained unnecessarily, even if Dick weren't killed, the likelihood of his being returned miraculously to his Earth by such means was pretty much nil.
Therefore, when their side confirmed an electronic handshake with the distant Earth, Nightwing couldn't help giving out a whoop of triumph. The familiar deep, growly voice that responded over the airwaves was music to his ears.
"This is the Watchtower. Identify yourself."
"Ray! You son-of-a-gun!" Nightwing yelled happily, pounding Dr. Palmer on the back. "You did it! That's B! I'd recognize his dark and scary voice anywhere!"
"Nightwing!" The deep, growly voice right behind him made the wildly grinning hero get serious. "Right…no time for celebrations yet." He stepped aside to let Batman sit at the communications console just as a second transmission came through.
"This is the Watchtower. I repeat…identify yourself."
"Watchtower, this is Batman contacting you through a cross-dimensional bridge. We can only hold it for about five minutes, so we'll have to make this transmission fast. Your Robin is here with us; however, we do not have the technology to send living beings through the wormhole to you."
"Robin? Let me speak with him!" alt!Batman demanded.
"I'm sorry. He was injured in battle and is still recovering. But if you can lock onto our dimensional coordinates—"
"How do I know that you're not the ones who hurt him? How do I know this isn't some kind of trick?"
"Same old Batman…a paranoid bastard in any dimension!" Red Hood interjected darkly.
"Who is this?"
"Never mind him," Nightwing said quickly. "You haven't met him yet. I mean…alt!Robin's only thirteen, and you haven't even fired him yet, so—"
"Oh, please, Richard…that was way before my time!" Damian said in disgust. "Get over it already!"
"Richard? Dick…? Is that you?" alt!Batman's normally raspy growl softened somewhat.
"Yep…any dimension—same old Batman," Red Hood said with a scowl. "Told you he liked you best."
"Yeah, B…it's me," Nightwing said, impatiently signaling to the others to stop interrupting. "Pretty much all grown up over on this side. Look…your little bird was hurt, but he's going to be fine. Physically, that is. But if we can't find a way to send him home—"
"Don't worry…I'll take care of things on this side. The League has been conducting a search for him since his disappearance, but according to the Big Blue Boy Scout, it was a longshot at best."
Translation: The others—Superman especially—thought it was useless to try, but alt!Batman was stubborn and insisted on carrying on—alone if necessary.
"How long before Robin's well enough to travel?" He hid it well, but in a room filled with Bats, the scared dad came through in the transmission.
"About two weeks." Batman replied. He had taken over the communications console again.
"Not good enough," alt!Batman rasped. "I've locked onto your coordinates. I'll be there in 24 hours."
"There's no need," Batman quickly replied. "We're taking care of him. I promise, he'll be fine—"
"That's my son! Tell me you wouldn't do the same in my place."
". . ."
"That's what I thought."
Ray Palmer looked up from he'd been monitoring the cross-dimensional bridge. It was beginning to grow unstable. "Time to cut it, Batman!"
Batman nodded in understanding. "We've reached our time limit and have to end transmission. Contact us when you're ready."
"I copy. Watchtower out."
~ / ~ / ~ / ~
"Don't even try to protest, Master Bruce. As he said…if it were one of your boys, you'd be acting no differently. And don't give me that look either. After almost 40 years, I've grown quite immune, I assure you."
Bruce glared at his butler-cum-father figure, but didn't respond. It wouldn't win him any prizes and would probably result in overcooked and undercooked meals for the next week or so. He caught Richard's herculean effort to hide his knowing smirk before the younger man bit his inner cheek and looked quickly away. Alfred had insisted that the others remain upstairs so as not to appear threatening to their expected guest.
After some discussion, they had agreed to meet alt!Batman in civilian attire, since he already knew who they were. Still…it felt strange not having any of their Bat toys on hand. Except, of course, for the hidden ones they always kept on their person. To their surprise, twelve hours after they had closed down the wormhole, a new cross-dimensional bridge had been established between the two universes' Batcaves.
Apparently, the other Batman had access to tech that was quite advanced in comparison to theirs. Alt!Batman had explained that they needed to lock the Cave's coordinates so that he'd be able to travel to their universe safely…
"We'll be set on this end shortly. I'll be able to cross over, and once I'm there, I'll be able to set up a temporary Zeta-platform to ensure our safe return."
"Zeta platform?" Batman asked.
"It's our beaming technology. We're modifying it to open a wormhole between our dimensions. It's safe, but it takes time to put in the modifications."
"Robin reported that his cross-dimensional travel wasn't planned," Batman said quietly.
"No…and once he's back here safe and sound, he's going to be grounded for life."
"Ouch!" Nightwing said. "Poor kid…that's gonna hurt." Grimacing, he added, "Look, B…sounds like the kid did something he shouldn't have, but he saved my life and the life of others. You'll meet them when you get here. Don't be too harsh on the poor kid."
"No promises. Batman out."
And just like that, the Batcave was locked in as a terminal point for cross-dimensional travel…
And here they were, waiting for alt!Batman to appear before them. Which is just all kinds of weird, Richard thought.
The air before them shimmered in a strange distortion, much like a mirage in the middle of the desert. This was followed by a bright white light, which appeared literally out of nowhere, dazzling them momentarily. Lastly, what looked like a boom tube formed in the middle of the cave, leaving a dark, shadowy figure standing in the midst of the spots dancing before their eyes.
The shadowed figure stepped forward, revealing Bruce Wayne. Apparently, he too had elected to appear in his civilian persona. He had a large suitcase and shoulder bag with him.
Okay…it's not like I didn't expect it, Richard admitted silently. But…wow! Another Bruce! And like mini-Me, this Bruce is years younger than mine.
Alt!Bruce gave Bruce a long, hard look, before they each nodded in silent acknowledgement. He then turned to Richard and studied him closely, taking in his measure. At last, his eyes softened into what passed for a smile, satisfied with what he saw.
"Alfred…it's always good to see you," alt!Bruce said quietly.
"And you as well, Master Bruce," Alfred said, smoothly taking the luggage from his hands. "Gentlemen, if you will excuse me…I have dinner to look to." He paused at the stairs. "I expect you three seated and ready in 45 minutes."
The three men nodded. It would be unthinkable to argue with Alfred, no matter the dimension.
"Wayne…Richard." Alt!Bruce spoke first in measured tones, but he knew he wasn't fooling anyone. "Thank you for taking care of Dick. Where is he? I'd like to see him."
"Hey, it's us who should be thanking him," Richard said. "Like I said, he saved our lives."
"Yes…and for that, I can't thank him enough." Bruce spoke quietly, but intensely. "He woke up for a few minutes earlier today and had some broth. Dr. Thompkins says she'd like to start him on solid food tomorrow."
Alt! Bruce nodded. Solid food was always a positive sign in the recovery process.
"Right now, he's resting quietly upstairs," Bruce continued. "He still tires easily. Dr. Thompkins has him on antibiotics and a narcotics cocktail to fight the pain, but hopes to start weaning him later this week."
Nodding at Bruce's words, alt!Bruce started heading toward the stairs. He was anxious to see his son.
"We're taking turns sitting with him," Richard said by way of explanation, hurrying after him. "I think it's Dami's turn right now." He turned and shrugged at his own Bruce.
Emerging in the study, alt!Bruce gave the room a cursory glance noting the obvious similarities and subtle differences before crossing through it to the door. He hesitated before a portrait of this world's Bruce, Alfred, Dick and three other boys, ranging in age from pre-teen to early twenties. As curious as he was about their identities, he wanted to see his son more. The portrait would still be there after he checked on Dicky.
Making his way to the back stairs, he climbed up to the second floor and almost ran to the family quarters. About to check behind each closed door, he glanced questioningly at Bruce and Richard.
"Last door on the right," Bruce supplied. Nodding his thanks, alt!Bruce hurried down the hallway until he arrived at the indicated door. Taking a moment to steady his elevated heart rate, he slowly opened the door and just stood, taking in the sight of his sleeping son.
A young boy sitting cross-legged on the foot of the bed looked up from the open book on his lap. Alt!Bruce recognized him as the youngest boy in the portrait, and then dismissed him from his mind. He had eyes only for his own son at the moment.
"Father?" Damian spoke softly, not wanting to wake the sleeping boy. His eyes widened, realizing that the Bruce Wayne standing in the doorway wasn't his father. He slipped quietly from the bed as alt!Bruce crossed the brief expanse toward the bed. As his own father and Richard entered the room, he went to stand next to them. He watched silently, enviously as alt!Bruce lightly smoothed back the sleeping boy's dark, messy hair and then leaned down and touched his forehead to his son's.
Damian closed his eyes at the loving gesture. Never would his own father show such open affection to him or any of the others. He felt a strong hand on his shoulder and looked up. Bruce was gazing at him with the same look he usually reserved for Richard. For that matter, it was the same look that Richard often gave him when he thought Damian wasn't looking.
The youngest Wayne had a sudden, funny feeling in the pit of his stomach. He felt something deep inside of him unclench as unexpected warmth spread through him. He finally recognized the look for what it was. His father was not now, nor would he ever be, openly demonstrative in his love for his sons, but in his own awkward way, he showed his strong affection through warm looks and gentle touches on the shoulder or pats on the back.
Smiling up at his two favorite adults, Damian did something completely uncharacteristic—he hugged them both before hurrying downstairs. Giving Bruce a look of tolerant fondness, Richard squeezed Bruce's shoulder and followed after his youngest brother.
"I guess I don't have to tell you to treasure those moments, do I?" alt!Bruce asked quietly. The two Bruce Waynes shared a knowing look.
"No, but for the record, I swear that one minute Richard was Damian's age, and the next?" He pointed his thumb over his shoulder. "He's suddenly all grown up and living on his own. It's the same with Jay and Tim." At alt!Bruce's questioning look, Bruce just shrugged. "You'll meet them at dinner." He turned to go. "Stay with Dicky. I'll send one of the boys up to get you when it's time."
Alt!Bruce smiled at Bruce's use of the old nickname. "Don't let him hear you call him that. He's too old for it now…or so he tells me."
"Ah, yes…I remember," Bruce said over his shoulder. "Dick said the same thing at that age. Wants to be called Richard now." He gave alt! Bruce a grin as he disappeared through doorway. "I'm getting old though…I tend to forget these things."
Grinning, alt!Bruce spoke to the empty doorway. "Yeah, I tend to forget these things, too."
"You know I can hear you..." The dry, raspy whisper surprised alt!Bruce, who hurriedly leaned down and hugged his boy to him.
"Hey, buddy…don't try to talk." He reached for the pitcher of water that was sitting on the overnight table and poured a small glass. He stuck a bent straw into the glass and carefully held it to Dicky's lips. "Just a couple sips, Dicky."
He pulled it before Dick was ready. The boy pouted. "I thought you said I was too old for that nickname."
"I said that you thought you were too old. I've never believed any such thing."
"Child abuse," Dicky whispered.
"Darn right." Bruce looked down at his son and smiled fondly. "As soon as you're well enough to travel, we'll be going back to our own universe. Go back to sleep, Dicky…you're safe, son."
Dick wanted to obey, but he couldn't—at least, not just yet. "The Team?" he asked worriedly. "Did we shut down that thing and save the world?"
"They're all fine and asking about you. And, yes…the mission was a success. While I can't quite say you saved the world, you did save Geneva."
"Jack Haly? The circus? The Parasite?"
"I spoke to Haly. He was very worried about you, 'Dan Danger'." He held his hands up in finger quotes. "Haly could see right through that disguise, by the way. Said he'd recognize a Flying Grayson on a trapeze with his eyes blindfolded." Bruce gave Dick a stern look. "Taking on an unauthorized mission without letting me know…and getting yourself sucked into a black hole and winding up in an alternate universe?"
"Not 'astrous, huh?" Dick looked up guiltily at his adoptive father.
Bruce shook his head. "No, not the most—" He rolled his eyes. "—'astrous move you've made this year."
"I'm gonna be soooo grounded when we get back, huh?"
"Oh, yeah." Bruce gave him a wry look. "And don't get me started on what plans Alfred has for you. By the time he's ready to let you go out on patrol again, you'll probably have outgrown your current uniform."
Dick grimaced, but he shrugged. He'd known that his decision to take matters into his own hands would have serious consequences. He was just glad that everyone was safe and that he'd be returning home soon. About to let sleep win, he suddenly jerked awake.
"Bruce! I just remembered!" Dick gave his father an extremely worried look. But exhaustion, brought on by blood loss and the drugs in his system, was winning the battle to drag him back to dreamland.
"You need to take it easy and rest, Dicky."
"Talia…Damian! When we get home … Have to find him … Can't let her keep him … Just a little kid … Not his fault she's his mom…"
"Your son…my brother…" Dick felt his body slowly unwind and relax knowing that Bruce was keeping watch over him.
"Son…brother?" Bruce asked shocked.
Dick nodded sleepily. "And Jason and Tim…we gotta help 'em, too." His eyes closed, Dick mumbled, "Promise…"
"I promise, Dicky. We'll do everything possible to help them all. Go to sleep, son. You're safe…I'm here now."
Dick smiled as he felt sleep pull him under, no longer fighting it. Maybe he wasn't sleeping in his own bed, and this wasn't his Wayne manor or his Gotham City. Maybe there were three brothers somewhere he'd not had a chance to meet, yet. But this was his Bruce watching over him.
Feeling a comforting weight on his shoulder, Dick sank into the comfortable mattress and pillow, and slowly slipped back into sleep. Tomorrow would be soon enough to find his younger brothers.
~ / ~ / ~ / ~
Acknowledgements: "Performance," Young Justice, S1E24 and "RIP," Batman, Inc. #8
Author's Note: Mesa City, Arizona is a fictional location in the DCU, former home of DC western hero, Johnny Thunder. [Source: Atlas of the DC Universe]
The superconducting super collider (SSC) is also a work of fiction on my part, but it is based on a real-life SSC that was originally going to be built outside of Waxahachie, Texas. It was started as a cooperative civilian and government effort, but due to cost overruns, the project was axed before it reached completion. [Source: Cramer, John G. "The Decline and Fall of the SSC." Analog Science Fiction & Fact Magazine May 1997: n. pag.]
Dr. Emil Hamilton appeared in two episodes of Lois and Clark: The Adventures of Superman, and he also had several appearances in the comics. Dr. Ray Palmer is, of course, the Atom and my favorite DCU physicist.
Also, thanks to everyone who read and offered comments on the story. You don't know just how much I really appreciated all the wonderful words. And Happy Birthday, Dick Grayson!
Disclaimer: All characters belong to DC, Time Warner, and CN; this is an original story that doesn't intend to infringe on their copyright. Feedback is welcome.
Copyright: March 2013