Year Twenty-Seven: Noblesse

Author's Note: There are some quasi-medical stuff here that could totally be (and honestly, probably is) BS if my research is full of bunk. Please forgive me if that's the case.

See below for additional notes...


Record-Breaking Cold Grips Gotham

-17 recorded at O'Hare at 7 a.m. breaks record Jan. 6 low set in 2014

Friday, Jan 7, 2039 | Updated 9:12 AM CDT

The warnings from government officials were stern: stay inside if you can, limit your time outside and don't drive unless absolutely necessary.

Gotham's O'Hare International Airport recorded -17 degrees at 7 a.m. Thursday, breaking existing Jan. 6 low set in 2014. By 8:30 a.m., the official Gotham temperature had dipped another degree, to -18.

With the wind chill factored in, Thursday's temperatures were in the -40 to -50 degree range and even lower across the Fox Valley. By midday, the lowest recorded wind chill was in Aurora, at -47 degrees. DuPage and Porter recorded -46 degrees and O'Hare reported -43.

Click for more from Gotham Post Online

/-\

She hated winter in Gotham.

Her back ached miserably as she levered herself out from under her blankets and crawled into the far too cold chair parked next to the bed, but Barbara was too accustomed to the discomfort and pain for it to really register. She hit the bathroom first, then made a beeline to the wall panel to confirm that Sam hadn't screwed with the thermostat settings – he had, dammit, so she increased the heat by another five degrees – and finally rolled herself to the small but well equipped mini-gym. The specialized automated bicycle was actually her favorite piece, even if it did all of the work for her … or perhaps because it did all of the work for her. Once she was strapped in, she would program it and let the pedals begin turning for however long she had it set to. Twenty years without the use of her legs had led to considerable loss of muscle definition below her waist, but she made every effort to minimize that loss.

While the bike worked her legs, she powered up her integrated laptop and scanned her planned schedule. There was the usual 'day job' stuff at the mayor's office, but there wasn't anything time sensitive on the docket and she could telecommute from the apartment if necessary. Dad wanted to meet for lunch, which worked out nicely since that was two hours before her three-thirty appointment with Doctor Hoshi. Knowing her dad's eating habits, they would probably be out of the restaurant in thirty minutes or less, so she might even be able to squeeze in a quick visit to the D.A.'s office to wish Sam luck in person. Providing the weather cooperated, of course.

From there, she turned her attention to her v-mail inbox. As usual, it was already overflowing, and she scanned the virtual messages quickly, marking the ones that were important for further examination while tossing the others. It was frustrating – for all of the amazing spam filters and blocks she had running, a surprising amount of junk still got through – and took longer than she would have liked. There were the usual information requests from the latest incarnation of the Birds of Prey which Dinah was essentially running these days, a couple of messages from Victor in terms of data she'd asked him to obtain for her, and two quick (and short) notes from Tim that were both amazingly terse and wholly useless. Barbara frowned – was it the cowl and cape that turned Batmen into monosyllabic jerks or was something going on that she needed to know about? Gotham had been oddly silent ever since Christmas, when Batman, Batwoman – it was still hard to think of Cass like that – and Robin ruined a planned terrorist attack.

"Main monitor, on," Barbara called out and her widescreen television came to life. If Sam had been inside the room, it would have tuned to the Weather Channel, but since she was the only one home, her Oracle desktop was displayed. She clicked through Tim's nightly logging reports – while making a mental note to once again congratulate Bruce on this new optical tracking software; once she'd gotten used to not needing a mouse and being able to use just her eyes to navigate, it was amazingly easy to use – and began to frown at what she saw. So, it looked like the Jokerz had indeed split into multiple factions and the long-rumored Court of Owls was involved in some way. Interesting. She suspected there would be a dramatic uptick in emergency room visits for gang-members in the coming weeks.

She finished the rest of her workout while responding to her virtual mail and getting as much Oracle work done as she could manage. So much of it was automated these days – the Oracle system was running off code she'd designed herself, with considerable assistance from Kara and Tim, both of whom were borderline computer geniuses themselves. To keep the peace, she'd ensured that they were both ignorant of their respective contributions given their utterly bizarre inability to carry on a conversation without it turning into an argument or snark off; as a result, it was very nearly an A.I. itself, though the thing certainly wasn't self-aware – which gave her plenty of time to focus on other things. She then hit the bathroom to clean up and get dressed in very thick clothes before finally heading out for the apartment elevator that carried her down to the parking garage.

"If I'd known the roads were going to be so bad," her father said almost two hours later when they met at his favorite restaurant, "I would have told you to stay in bed." Barbara grinned.

"And I would have stayed there too," she replied. "Sam screwed around with the thermostat the other day and it was freezing."

"Try not to murder him," her dad remarked with a chuckle. "Don't tell me he went into work this morning." Barbara shrugged and her father shook his head. "Half of Gotham is shut down because of this stupid snow and he treks in to dig through old case files? There's something not right with that boy." Barbara laughed mostly because she had memories of her dad doing exactly the same thing years and years ago.

She'd met Sam at one of the interminable social functions the daughter of the mayor was expected to attend and they'd hit it off almost instantly. As the assistant district attorney, Sam Young very obviously had plans on succeeding his boss some day and it showed in his work ethic. Their two year relationship was littered with a string of broken promises and cancelled dates … yet Barbara couldn't hold it against him, not when at least fifty percent of those abrupt cancellations were her fault. Sam was smart enough to know that she was more than just the admin clerk that ostensibly paid her bills, but he still hadn't tumbled onto her alternate identity as Oracle yet.

"If this is serious," Tim had told her just last month, "he needs to know." It was disconcerting being unable to see his mouth thanks to the Batsuit but she knew his body language well enough to recognize that he was at least partially troubled. "He's making a lot of enemies," Tim had added in what was unmistakably an approving tone.

"So what did you want to talk about?" Barbara asked once her dad had ordered. She glanced at the wall clock. "It sounded important."

"It is." Her father sipped his coffee. "I'm not going to run for re-election," he said unexpectedly. When Barbara looked at him with shock on her face, he winced. "The stress … my doctor told me that I needed to cut back on it and there frankly isn't anything much more stressful than running this stupid city." They were both silent when the waitress arrived with their meals, but she retreated quickly; that was one of the reasons her dad loved this place. It was a tiny mom and pop diner, but he'd been coming here since before Barbara was even born and the proprietors (who were currently now third generation) understood the value of discretion.

"Is everything okay?" Barbara asked quickly. Her heart was pounding louder than it should have been and she studied him for any sign of weakness. There wasn't any she noted, though it hit her pretty hard then that he was pushing seventy and had smoked two packs a day for nearly thirty years.

"You'd know better than I would," he replied wryly, waggling his bushy eyebrows underneath those absurdly old-fashioned glasses he insisted on wearing despite the common availability of corrective surgery. "I'm fine, Babs," he said when she frowned. "I just … the job isn't what I thought it would be. All I seem to do is make speeches and try to shake down rich folks for contributions." He shook his head. "Not being a Democrat didn't help," he added in a frustrated tone. That was to be expected – for a considerable portion of its history, Gotham had been a bastion of the Democrat party and the entire political infrastructure had naturally become friendlier toward those of that party. Jim Gordon's rather vocal stance on aggressive punishment of crimes and less lenience toward offenders put him at odds with the more rehabilitative mindset that Democrats favored, so naturally, he ran as a Republican.

"I bet that's not going to make the party bosses happy," Barbara said. Her dad shrugged.

"Haven't told anyone but you yet," he said. He glanced at his watch and wet his lips. "I've got one more stop to make before I drop this bomb on them," he added and Barbara rolled her eyes.

Bruce. He was going to try and talk Bruce into running again.

"Good luck with that," she murmured with a smirk. Getting the former Batman to do something that didn't revolve around his wife or the twins was nearly impossible these days, and Barbara still couldn't get over how weird it was to see Bruce smile. He no longer seemed to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders and even though he just turned fifty last year, he looked a decade younger. Oh, he was still fairly active in the heroing business – Tim routinely picked his brain regarding techniques and methodology, not to mention the hands-on training Damien was receiving – but he never seemed even slightly tempted to relive the glory days. No, her dad had his work cut off for him if he thought he was going to get Bruce to subject himself to the media anal exam that came with running for office…

They chatted a little bit longer, mostly about trivial things, but her father was up and heading out at the thirty minute mark, which made Barbara grin. She still wasn't sure if it was his military training, his lifetime as a police officer, or his old smoking habit, but she'd honestly never seen him sit through a meal that lasted longer than forty-five minutes. It certainly made official functions interesting.

With time to kill, she drove her van downtown, glad that the streets here were at least easy to navigate. Sam's car was in its usual place so she parked and wheeled in, smiling when the bored-looking cop on metal detector duty braved the cold to open the door for her. She recognized him – he was a lot older and grayer now, but Barbara remembered him from the days when her dad was the commissioner – and he grinned back her, waving her through without bothering to wand her. Technically, it was against regs for him to do that, but the D.A.'s office seemed to be virtually abandoned.

"You need to stop screwing with the thermostat," Barbara said by way of greeting when she wheeled into Sam's office. He visibly jumped in surprise which made her giggle, and then pushed back from his desk.

"I didn't know you were coming over," he said as he leaned down to give her a quick kiss before maneuvering her chair so she was almost underneath the heater vent. Barbara hummed with pleasure at the blissful warmth that poured down over her face.

"I've got an appointment with Doctor Hoshi," she said. "Had lunch with Dad and you know how he eats…"

"I do," Sam said with a grin. He took her gloved hands in his and started rubbing them. "So after he inhaled his food, you figured you'd swing by to harass me about your apartment heater?"

"It was freezing when I woke up this morning!" Barbara gave him a scowl that he blithely ignored as he glanced quickly at the clock on the far wall. Behind him, she could see dozens of old folders and files scattered atop his desk and, from the look of it, all three of his monitors had different files open. "Anything I can do to help?" she asked when he caught her looking.

"I wish," he replied sourly. "This crap was dumped on me at the last minute and the D.A. expects me to pull a miracle out of this mess …" Sam shook his head. "We've got motive, the murder weapon and even a couple of solid eyewitnesses but the Bat was involved in obtaining the confession and you know how the ACLU loves that." Barbara tried very hard not to frown, but Sam sighed heavily. "And even worse," he muttered, "I get to argue it in front of Judge de la Vega." At that, Barbara winced. A relatively recent transplant from Star City, de la Vega was considered the most lenient judge in the entire city, possibly even the state. According to Richard, the GCPD even called her the 'Walking Judge' for her tendency to throw out police cases on silly technicalities that she almost delighted in noting.

"Who did you piss off?" Barbara asked. She knew the answer to that already – District Attorney Kitch was facing a difficult re-election and was quite aware that Sam wanted his job – but it made her boyfriend smile so it was worth it. "I was going to see if you wanted to get out of the office for a little bit," she said, "but it sounds like you're pretty busy."

"I am," Sam said mournfully. He shook the moment off and gave her a much longer kiss. "Though I appreciate the sentiment," he added with a smile. His good humor became strained. "Doctor Hoshi, huh?" He visibly tried to avoid frowning. "Everything okay?"

"As far as I know," Barbara replied lightly, though inside, her stomach was beginning to twist and turn. She ducked out of his office minutes later after promising to call him if something big came up and retraced her path to the front desk. To her utter surprise, she found Helena waiting for her.

"Was afraid you'd duck out through a different door," the woman from an alternate reality said as Barbara approached. Now that the secret about Helena's otherworldly origins was common knowledge within the Bat-clan, it was impossible to not notice how much she resembled her parents. Barely a month after Bruce and Selina's wedding, she'd cornered each of the team members and admitted to what some of them evidently already knew. As it turned out, Barbara was actually the last person to find out. Both Bruce and Selina already knew, though neither would admit as to how they learned it, and Tim had figured it out himself which meant Cass knew too. She'd told Richard the night before the wedding, though he'd evidently suspected it for a while himself. Barbara still wasn't sure why it had come as such a shock to her.

"What are you doing here?" she asked as she braked her chair in front of the woman who had, strangely, turned into one of her closest friends over the last couple of years. Helena smirked as she flipped out her phone – it was not of WayneTech design, which in this family was almost heresy – and pulled up a schedule.

"Doctor Hoshi," she read. "Three-thirty." She slid the phone back into her jacket pocket. "I remember the last time you saw her and how … distressed you were afterward so I figured I'd tag along for moral support."

"Thanks," Barbara said, meaning it with every fiber of her being. She didn't think she could handle being alone today if the news was bad and, for the last six years, every time she visited the doctor, it was bad news. With Helena pushing the chair, they exited the office. Glancing around, Barbara frowned. "How did you get here?" she asked.

"Dragged a certain little bird out of bed and made him drive me here," Helena said with a grin that Barbara had to share. Richard's activity logs from the previous night as he put in a patrol as Nightwing had ended at just before dawn, so he'd very likely groaned and complained the entire trip. Of course, by the time he got back to his and Helena's place, he'd probably be wide awake and irritated at that very fact.

"You're very cruel," she remarked approvingly.

They reached the Ability Institute a good hour before her appointment, but Barbara was ushered into an exam room almost at once while Helena vanished, probably to go in search for coffee. According to the nurses, the snow had resulted in a rash of appointment reschedules so there wasn't anyone else ahead of her and, in minutes, Barbara was suffering through another exhausting round of x-rays and other tests. So much of the equipment had changed over the years and yet, it all still seemed to be the same.

"Good afternoon, Barbara," Doctor Hoshi said with a smile almost half an hour later. She was accompanied by a handsome woman with dark skin and graying hair. "This is Doctor Shondra Kinsolving."

"You helped Bruce Wayne recover from his back injury," Barbara said as she shook Kinsolving's hand. Her knowledge clearly caused some surprise, but the doctor nodded.

"I did," she admitted as she nodded to Doctor Hoshi. "Kimiyo asked me to consult on your case." Barbara's heart started to race. A consultation? Why? What was wrong? Her panic must have shown on her face because Kinsolving offered a quick, friendly smile. "Relax," she instructed. "Everything is okay."

"I brought in Shondra because I think we have an opportunity here, Barbara," Doctor Hoshi said. "She's developed a new procedure that we wanted to speak to you about."

"Surgery," Barbara guessed. She glanced away, wincing at half-remembered pain and bitter memories.

"Yes and no," Kinsolving said. "Do you know why you can't walk?"

"Bullet fragments lodged in my spine," Barbara answered dully. "Any attempt to remove them will likely damage my spinal cord."

"Correct." Kinsolving smiled again. "Which is why I don't want to remove them. I want to dissolve them." At that, Barbara glanced up. "Have you ever heard of Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy?" Barbara shook her head. "It's a technique using high-energy sound waves to break up kidney stones."

"And you think that this … what did you call it?"

"ESWL is easier to say," Hoshi said.

"You want to use sound waves to dissolve the bullet fragments?" Barbara frowned. "Won't the vibrations cause the fragments to shift?"

"I told you she would think of that," Doctor Hoshi said with a grin.

"This procedure isn't exactly using sound waves," Kinsolving said, "but there is a risk, yes."

"But if it works, I might be able to walk again?" Barbara asked slowly, her breath coming rapidly as hope burned in her stomach.

"You've spent twenty years in that chair," Doctor Kinsolving said, "and I expect you'll still need a cane or crutches from time to time, but if we're successful, then yes, I think we might be able to get you back on your feet." She held up her hand when tears started to trickle down Barbara's face. "There are still risks, Ms. Gordon," she said, "and I want you to be absolutely certain that you understand them before we move forward." She pulled a tablet computer from her jacket. "Kimiyo tells me that you're brilliant," she said, "but this is extremely technical so feel free to stop me with any questions you may have."

"Doctor," Barbara said with a brilliant smile, "you have my undivided attention."

/-\

As it turned out, the North Atlantic in January was freaking cold.

Under normal circumstances, Bill wouldn't have noticed – he could survive in outer space after all and had once pursued Ibac all the way to the elemental plane of Ice which, as it turned out, was absolutely nothing like D&D rulebooks described it – but today was as far from normal as he could imagine. For starters, he was thoroughly encased in what felt like an actual glacier that somehow defied his attempts to break free. His head was free and he could breathe, but with each second that passed, he could feel more of his strength leeching away from him and into the ice. Why was it, he wondered, that he had to keep running into sorcerers who actually knew what they were doing? Was it too much to ask for an idiot who explained their plan beforehand?

"There is still time for you to give this up, Tula," Kaldur'ahm called out from where he was imprisoned next to Bill. He was speaking in his native Atlantean, which was to be understandable considering their opponent. "You can still turn back from this path."

"Turn back?" The woman who had adopted the title Ocean Master glared at Kaldur and Bill winced at the seething rage in her eyes. Her scarlet hair was shorn close to her skull, and the paleness of her skin stood out against the deep purple and black of the Atlantean armor she wore. "You of all people know I cannot!"

"Please, my love," Kaldur murmured. "Please." The emotion in his voice caused the woman to hesitate. She locked eyes with him and, for a moment, Bill thought that the second Aquaman's heartfelt plea had worked. The moment passed, though, as regret once more filled her face.

"I am sorry, Kaldur," she replied as she leaped back. The glyphs underneath her armor flared to life as she summoned her magicks. With barely a splash, she knifed into the water and vanished, leaving them behind.

"Well," Bill said with smile, "this isn't exactly how I expected to spend my day."

He'd been the closest flyer on-hand when Kaldur commed for assistance in shutting down a team of Atlantean separatists intent on igniting a war with the surface. Inspired by the late Orm Marius, who had gotten himself killed trying to unseat his brother, King Arthur of Atlantis, they were now led by a dangerously addled young woman named Tula who had, for many years, actually operated under the identity of Aquagirl herself. Something had happened some years earlier, however, and quite suddenly, she'd abandoned her previous identity before adopting that of the dead man. Handling most of the would-be revolutionaries hadn't been difficult at all – sure, they were quite a bit stronger and tougher than normal humans, but all that meant is that he didn't need to pull his punches as much as he normally did – but then, Tula or Ocean Master or whatever she was called blindsided them with some serious mojo.

Once more, Bill turned his attention to breaking free. He strained against the ice, hearing it creak and groan as it resisted his best efforts. If Kaldur wasn't here, he'd try flying straight up and maybe locating a conveniently located deserted island to drop down on. Lifting this mess couldn't be that hard, could it?

"I apologize for getting you into this, Captain," Kaldur said. His sad eyes were still turned toward the spot where Tula had dove into the ocean. "I did not anticipate encountering … her."

"Well," Bill said with a grin, "it's a good thing I don't understand Atlantean. It would really suck if I overheard a private conversation that might give someone who didn't actually know you a reason to be suspicious." Kaldur frowned and finally looked away.

"I see," he said calmly. The magickal glyphs upon his skin were bright, but he obviously wasn't having any luck at getting free either. "She is confused," Kaldur began softly long moments later. "When Garth died … there was some sort of psychic connection between the two and it negatively affected her mind." He closed his eyes and inhaled slowly. "I tried to help her but … after Donna … I had duties that kept me away from Atlantis and Prince Orm took advantage of my absence."

"I guess that's why she's wearing his old armor, then." Bill strained again – this time, he heard a distinct crack. "Doesn't explain what she was doing here."

"No," Kaldur replied softly. "It does not."

They worked against the ice for several long minutes – it mostly held, though the bright sun overhead helped loosen their arms. Once, Bill would have simply called down the transformative lightning, trusting that if it did not shatter their icy prison with the initial strike, he could summon it again and again until it did, but that time was long past. The Rock of Eternity remained untethered from this reality and no one, not even Fate or the entity known as the Spectre, seem capable of locating it.

"Hold on," Bill instructed once he'd worked his right arm free. He lifted his fist to the sky and then brought it down hard. With an immense boom, the entire floating prison cracked, sending shards of ice spinning away and skipping across the ocean. Bill glance at Kaldur, relaxing fractionally when he saw that the Wisdom of Solomon had correctly located the optimal location to strike. None of the icy shrapnel had come near the Atlantean who now bore the Aquaman title and Kaldur was already wiggling free.

"I will give pursuit," Kaldur announced grimly, nodding in the direction of the wrecked Atlantean warship containing the hopefully still unconscious separatists. "Can you…"

"Got it." Bill pushed himself out of the ice and took to the air. He'd covered only a few yards when he heard Kaldur splash into the Atlantic. Shaking his head, Bill summoned the Speed of Mercury and flashed through the ship, ensuring that the would-be terrorists were all secured or bound.

Locating someone to take the separatists off his hands was not difficult thanks to Cyborg. Using an immense anchor as a towline, he dragged the ship to where a joint U.S.-U.K. naval training exercise was taking place and very quickly turned the terrorists over to the senior commanders. The two men had already been prepped for this – Victor again – so it was just a matter of signing some paperwork, which was a whole lot easier these days, now that his identity was publicly known.

"Thank you for your assistance, Mister Batson," the American admiral said before sheepishly asking if he could autograph something for the man's grandson. Bill was all too happy to do that, but it opened up a floodgate of other requests – the British senior commander, most of the admin officers, then the deck crew – and before he knew it, an entire hour had passed. Thankfully, Cyborg saved his butt from another hour of signing.

"League alert," Victor's voice announced through the communicator. "All airborne assets needed at Kahndaqi border."

"On my way," Bill said as he shook the admiral's hand once more. "Duty calls," he said and, to a man (and woman), the sailors present nodded in understanding. After all, duty was a way of life for them as well.

He reached Kahndaq long minutes later, joining Kara, Majestic, Firestorm, the active Lanterns, and those Russian guys in the power suits. A solid column of cerulean light climbed up from the capital city, vanishing into the sky. Bill's skin crawled – this was magick. He shook his head in disgust.

"Watchtower, this is Marvel," he said as he drifted closer. His words drew the attention of the assembled personnel. "We're going to need Fate and Zatanna."

"Magic," Kara said bitterly, unaware of an identical expression on Majestic's face. The Kherubim might insist his species wasn't remotely related to Kryptonians, but they certainly had the same lack of defenses against arcane arts. "How can we help?" Kara asked a moment later.

"Dunno." Bill frowned. "We'll need containment," he said. "Until we know what this is, though, none of you should get any closer to it."

"Containment!" Majestic scowled but Kara gave him a flat look that caused him to back down. They'd duked it out a year or so ago, when Majestic had been briefly under the influence of a pretty powerful alien telepath, and Kara had thoroughly demolished him. It had been both illuminating and intimidating for the arrogant Kherubim, not to mention more than a little humiliating, but it still made Bill laugh. He likened it to them being wolves and Kara establishing exactly which one of them was the alpha.

"Stay safe," Kara instructed as Bill turned back toward the column of light. He shot her a grin.

"Where would be the fun in that?" he asked before letting himself fall toward Shiruta.

It turned out to be an attempted dimensional incursion by djinn, which wasn't nearly as fun to handle as it sounded, and within seconds of arriving, Bill was forced to call in reinforcements. That turned out to be something of a minor disaster, especially when both Kara and Majestic were transformed into bizarre-looking dog-like creatures. Naturally, the two turned on each other and to Bill's disgust, they somehow still retained their natural abilities. Even worse was how the Majestic dog kept trying to mount the Kara one and she kept trying to tear his throat out. Thankfully, Fate chose that moment to arrive, bringing with him Zatanna who almost casually broke the spell of transformation.

They finally sealed off the portal shortly before dawn but matters still weren't completely resolved as there was at least two rogue djinn still running around, not to mention the damage that needed to be repaired and the culprit identified. An entire day was lost chasing down one of the djinn, and then another finding a way to permanently contain it – Bill wanted to use an indestructible lamp, just for symmetry, but Fate refused to cooperate and Zatanna was too exhausted. The second djinn they couldn't find, but they did finally track down the moron who had caused this entire problem. He wouldn't be an issue, though, not with how his body had been utterly incapable of containing the amount of raw magick that coursed through him when he opened the dimensional gateway – Bill guessed that they'd never find all of the pieces of the would-be god, although the larger chunks were easy enough to locate.

Kara vanished the moment he turned his back, wordlessly turning over the entire operation to him without telling anyone where she was going. Thankfully, the League did not question his authority – not even Majestic, who seemed more intent on pretending he hadn't just been a flying dog than arguing – and they finally finished rescue efforts on noon of the following day.

"No one ever told me about this part of the job," Firestorm muttered as she and Simon took to the air, and Bill gave her a chuckle.

"You thought it would be super-villains and planetary crises all the time, didn't you?" he asked. She shrugged, which was always weird to see in her body of flame appearance. "Get some rest, you two," Bill ordered as he accelerated toward the stars.

He arced down, bleeding off as much of his velocity as he could before he breached North American airspace. The communicator attached to his belt buzzed slightly, though it was a different type of vibration than the usual League alert, and Bill smiled slightly in recognition. He'd been wearing the transponder for several years now, ever since he helped NORAD out with a rogue cyber-war robot thing and learned how often his airborne jaunts caused trouble with world-wide air traffic control. Now, every airport in the world would know where he was (except when he turned off the transponder), which made it easier for enemies to locate him but was, in general, safer for everyone else.

"Another wellness check?" Luthor asked when Bill ducked into the cancer lab that had become the man's home. For a former president, he looked rough, with thinning hair that needed to be cut and a four-day beard, but compared to how he'd appeared right before his wife died, Bill had to admit it was an improvement.

"Just checking in," he said in response. Luthor grunted but did not budge from where he sat behind a wall of monitors. "How are things?" Bill asked.

"Progressing rapidly," came the instant reply. "Kindly inform Ms. Starr that I will need to meet with a number of oncologists as soon as possible." He gestured toward one of the monitors and a number of pictures and files started appearing. "This is my preferred list, but I understand that not all will be available."

"I'll check with her," Bill said. He started to frown when Luthor did not reply, but forced the expression away. "Is there anything else I can get you?" he asked, fully expecting a brusque no. To his surprise, Luthor half-turned to face him.

"An explanation, if you please." Luthor's eyes were narrowed. "Ms. Starr's antipathy toward me is easily understood – I was, after all, responsible for her current physical condition. You, however, have shown no sign of that." Now, it was confusion the former president's face. "And I don't understand why not."

"You're trying to be a good guy," Bill replied. "Superman trusted you-"

"He did no such thing," Luthor interrupted with a very slight smile.

"All right." Bill shrugged. "He wanted to trust you. He wanted you to be the man you could be, not the one you were. So he gave you the benefit of the doubt."

"And you're doing the same." Luthor frowned. "Why?"

"Why not?" Bill grinned. "You've earned a little trust, Mister Alexander." Luthor grunted and then turned back to his work.

Bill ducked out of the clinic soon after, pausing briefly to chat with one of the ten or fifteen Secret Service agents scattered through the building. After confirming that the former president was, in fact, eating regularly and getting adequate rest – apparently, the protection detail had sicced the Alexander children on Luthor and they had bullied their father into taking care of himself – he took to the air once more, this time angling toward one of the more prominent Gotham landmarks. A moment later, he was floating just outside Tim's office in the Wayne Enterprises building.

"Unlike you," the current Batman growled when he let Bill in, "I actually have an identity to protect."

"We're on the thirtieth floor," Bill replied. "And it's too damned cold out there for normal people." He glanced around the office, noting the almost complete lack of personal effects. Officially, Tim Drake was in charge of WayneTech's Applied Sciences department, although most business magazines were convinced this was just a clever bit of misdirection to cover his real job as Bruce Wayne's heir designate.

"Of which I am one," Tim said. He pulled a remote control out of his pocket, aimed it at his office door, and pushed a button that instantly triggered the lock. "Make it fast."

"Does the grumpy come out when the sun sets?" Bill asked as he crossed his arms over the lightning bolt emblazoned upon his tunic. "Or is that just something you have to work on?" Tim sighed.

"What do you want, Bill?" he asked in a tired voice.

"I checked on … the package like I promised." Bill shook his head. "He's still doing okay." At that, Tim offered a trademark Bat-grunt which made Bill smile again. "Mostly, though," he continued, "I'm here to see if I can get you to stop being an utter ass to Kara." This time, Tim scowled. "I don't get it, man. You and Kon were friends. It isn't metas you don't like…"

"Personality conflict," Tim replied. He stalked back to his chair. "Kara doesn't like me. I don't like her. Simple as that."

"The two of you are a lot alike," Bill pressed. "Driven, computer nuts, brilliant…" He trailed off when Tim's phone rang.

"Go home, Bill," the Batman said as he picked up his phone. "Tim Drake," he said. Shaking his head, Bill backed out of the window and climbed into the sky once more. He slowed to a stop several thousand feet up, looking down at the world that stretched out before him.

He found Kara at the Fortress, buried in the holo-library. By the look of it, she was once more digging into the Kryptonian medical database in an attempt to arrest her rapid (for a member of her species) aging. Thus far, she'd been unable to even isolate an explanation for why it was happening, let alone develop a way to arrest it, and Bill still wasn't sure how to best help. He barely understood the science behind this sort of thing and extending one's life by use of magic almost always had dangerous ramifications.

"Have you eaten?" he asked when she glanced up at his approach. From the guilty look that flashed across her face, he guessed she hadn't. "Come on," he said as he offered his hand. "Let's go get something to eat."

"Keep running those simulations, Kelor," Kara said as she let him pull her to her feet. "I'm sorry I'm being so … flaky of late."

"Have you?" Bill smiled. "I hadn't noticed." He winced when she punched him in the arm. In the main hall, they paused, both of their eyes automatically going to the elevated stand that contained the strange diamond Kara was convinced came from the future. It had defied conventional scans – Kelor could not identify several elements of its composition – and the one time Bill had touched it, he'd been convinced it was magical. At the moment, it floated within a containment field, pulsing briefly every thirty-six hours. "Any news?" Bill asked. Kara shook her head.

"Not yet," she said. Her stomach rumbled and she gave him an embarrassed look. "How does Chinese sound?" she asked.

"Sounds great," he replied. They were airborne moments later.

/-\

Of all the people Bruce expected to see at the door of the manor, Jim Gordon was pretty low on the list.

He ushered the mayor in quickly, hanging up the older man's coat and instructing one of Selina's minions to get them some coffee before leading Jim to the sitting room. The mayor's slight frown in the direction of the maid almost caused Bruce to smile.

"I swear," Gordon said the moment they were alone, "I think I arrested her once."

"You probably did," Bruce admitted. He shook his head when Jim looked at him. "Selina recognized her name when we were looking for help a couple of years ago." Bruce sighed. "I was distracted and didn't recognize her until much later."

"So let me get this straight," Jim said with a growing smile. "She hired one of her old henchwomen?"

"Not just one," Bruce replied. At that, Gordon laughed out loud. Bruce let him, smiling himself even as a deeply buried part of him squirmed in discomfort. Even now, years after the fact, he still couldn't figure out why he hadn't immediately recognized the names that Selina picked out of the list of potential help – she later admitted that she'd actually expected him to reject the names outright and had incorrectly presumed that his sign off on their employment was a symbol of trust. The former henchwomen were excellent domestic help (and frankly making more money with better benefits than probably sixty or seventy percent of Gotham citizens) who were fully cognizant of Selina's former identity, but were thankfully ignorant of his.

He hoped.

"So tell me," Bruce said later, once they both had coffee and the door to the sitting room was closed, "why the visit?" He nodded to bay window and the blanket of white that was the lawn. "It's pretty dangerous out there right now."

"It is," Jim replied. He inhaled. "I've decided against seeking re-election." Bruce frowned at that, but Gordon continued. "I've spoken with Barbara about this already, so you're not the first person to know." Bruce leaned back slightly, his thoughts racing.

"Is everything okay?" he asked. "I'm guessing this is medical-related."

"It is." Jim smiled. "My doctors told me to lay off the stress." The former commissioner sipped from his coffee. "But the reason I'm here…"

"You want me to run," Bruce guessed. He returned his cup to the table. "Why?"

"Because I think you'd do a fantastic job, Bruce." Jim offered a slight smile. "I know that a lot of people have been after you to run…"

"Like you wouldn't believe." Bruce glanced away. Since before even the wedding, he'd been fending off political operatives from both of the major parties. To the Republicans, he was almost ideal – his positions on taxes, aggressive policing, harsh penalties for repeat offenders, and even state rights matched the GOP's official policy – but his unyielding stance on gun control drew Democrat interest. In his youth when all that mattered was The Mission, he'd officially registered as an Independent mostly because he'd needed to be able to move among both parties without drawing too much attention. It had just been easier to appear as little more than an indecisive buffoon. These days, he had not bothered changing party affiliation for simple reason that he agreed with positions on both sides.

"You've got the name recognition," Jim said after a moment, "and we both know that there isn't any way the party bosses can intimidate you into doing something you don't agree with." This was said with a smirk that Bruce had to return. "Gotham needs you again, Bruce," Gordon said.

Bruce grunted.

As arguments went, that was probably the most compelling he'd heard and he agreed to give it some thought. Jim was a smart man – he changed the subject almost instantly, asking about the twins and the other two 'official' Wayne children, Cassandra and Damien. Bruce gladly shifted gears and they discussed kids for a little while, steering clear of the oddities that revolved around Talia's son. Having Damien appear in his life had been an utter shock – as usual, Selina handled it with more poise and grace than Bruce – and the media circus that had descended was even worse than when they officially revealed Cass' false parentage.

Jim left shortly thereafter and Bruce retreated to his study where he sat quietly to think. As much as he hated to admit it, his instincts were telling him to throw his hat in the ring and go for it. He'd not worn the cowl for almost four years now and, thanks to Selina, he'd only rarely regretted being unable to suit up. Still, he could not help but to feel like he was letting Gotham down. Bruce found himself staring at the painting of his parents and wondered.

"Is there a reason you're hiding in here?" Selina asked when she found him sometime later. Outside, the sun had dropped behind the horizon and his entire study was dark. He glanced up and found her watching him from where she leaned against the doorway, smirking as she watched him. "You missed dinner."

"Sorry," Bruce muttered as he forced himself to his feet, ignoring the pops and crackles that resulted.

"I already put the twins to bed," Selina said as she tilted her head. "You missed seeing them play with Damien in the snow," she added with a bright smile. "I've never heard him laugh before."

"He laughed?" Bruce mentally kicked himself for missing that.

"Kitty told me that Jim Gordon was here," Selina remarked as he drew closer. She laughed at the automatic wince that the maid's name caused. "He asked you to run for mayor, didn't he? And you're going to say yes." Bruce blinked, then shook his head.

"This is why I had so much trouble catching you," he muttered with a soft smile. Selina's eyes lit up for a moment and she looked to be on the verge of laughter.

"You're not that hard to read, Bruce," she said. When he kissed her, she purred in approval, knowing full well how that turned him on. Bruce pulled back and Selina gave him a searching look. "I've always known I'm your second love," she added with another smile. "You've always had this terribly dysfunctional relationship with this city and she needs you again…"

"It isn't like that," Bruce started, but Selina snickered.

"It's exactly like that," she replied. Her eyes danced. "Which party?" she asked abruptly.

"Neither," Bruce said. "They both have too much baggage for me to really make a difference."

"And just imagine," Selina said with another laugh. "The mayor will have the Bat in his pocket!" She meant it as a joke, but Bruce glanced away with a frown. That was something else he would have to consider – the urge to use Tim, Cass and Damien as his personal operatives would be very tempting, especially since he could so easily rationalize it as for the common good. Power corrupted so easily … he would have to speak with the team before he moved forward with this plan. "Stop thinking, Mister Mayor," Selina ordered. She kissed him again. "Come to bed."

With a smile, Bruce obeyed.


A/N #2:

Obviously, there are some political elements in here that I could not entirely escape. I tried very hard to present both sides equally, though it probably isn't difficult to read between the lines and determine what my own leanings are. Still, I hope my take makes sense given the POV of the characters involved. I try very hard to not make political statements in my writing unless the story requires it or its appropriate because I know all too well how irritating a random political diatribe can be when it makes no sense in context.

Sam Young is borrowed from Batman Beyond, which I liked for the most part (as evidenced by the 'Jokerz'). I totally dug that he and Babs had a normal, uncomplicated relationship.

And you know, for a dark loner, the Bat has a pretty big family, eh?

The Atlantean stuff is honestly mostly made up, strip-mined from the Young Justice cartoon but twisted and warped.