He had hit the table with enough force to hear the legs crack, just enough not to give way, while he desperately tried to suck air into his lungs before the knife came down at him. He winced as the point touched his neck, not exactly cutting him but poking him hard enough to where he was sure it would if he tried to breathe. He grimaced at the man smirking over him, who leaned into his ear. “Dead, ” he muttered. Again. He shoved the man off of him, grimacing as the scarred skin on his right arm tightened in protest. Jason caught it and frowned at him. “I thought this was getting better?” he asked almost disappointed.
“So did I,” he grunted letting Jay pull him up. “But you keep kicking my ass. I thought you said I was good at this?”
“You are.” Jason shrugged with a grin. “Give yourself a break. It hasn’t even been a full year yet.”
But it had been. He hadn’t known how long he’d been lying the wreckage before Jason found him, but he did know that he had been hurt more than he had ever thought that he could hurt. And even after Jason pulled him out of the crumbling building- he didn’t think the pain would ever stop. He couldn’t remember what happened. Jason had told him that they had been there together, fighting someone bad, when everything exploded and the building collapsed. He told him that he had pushed Jason out of the way, that he had saved his life by taking the brunt of the blast- but he didn’t remember any of it. When Jason got him out, he took him to a hospital where he had apparently stayed unconscious and broken for months until he finally snapped out of it. That was when the real work had started. Sometimes when he was asleep he would get pieces, a face- a feeling. Like he was both the happiest he had ever been and completely horrified all at once. But mostly he just felt a lot of pain and saw a lot of darkness, but more than anything else, he saw a black mask with pointed ears staring down at him like a monster in a bad dream.
“Rich,” he jumped when Jason clapped him on the shoulder, but the man just grinned at him. “You aren’t disappearing on me are ya?”
He shook his head and tried to laugh it off, fighting the sudden need to recoil, “You wish you could get rid of me.” he grinned and snuck a punch at his ribs before he ran off laughing.
He didn’t remember a lot, but he remembered everything up until he didn’t. It was like seeing a bright light before being plunged into darkness. And then he felt like he was mostly drowning. Jason had told him not to think about it too much, and for the most part that wasn’t a problem for Richard. For instance, he knew that he had known Jason before. He had images of him in his memories, of his laughing, of them fighting, hugging, fighting together. That much was there. He could see a few people but not fully. Almost like he had seen a movie about who he was years ago wearing someone else’s glasses. But other things like his name and who his parents were, where he was from and what he had done: all of this was a mystery. He could understand that he was a fighter. His body was built for it and his reflexes said more about that than his memories ever could. But they would have been nice to have. For most of the first year after the explosion he had been restless. Not allowed to get out of bed, forced to lay there and think all of the worst things when the doctors could not tell him who he was or what he was doing there. He'd panic, they would drug him. Jason put an end to that when they finally let him in, he'd told them they were brothers- for all Richard knew, they had been. He certainly felt that way when he was around.
But Rich hadn't been expecting this. The secrets, the fighting. The masks. He didn't know how he could have ever been one of the masked men he watched on the news or if he could go back after what happened. But Jason was determined. He told Richard that when he was on the move, it was like he was flying. Jason built him a trapeze and sparred with him and pushed him to get stronger. He joked with him. And soothed him when the night terrors took over. And really thinking about it, was helping Jason track down the Batman such a big thing to ask after all the things he had done for Richard?
He lay down on the wire carefully, looking up at the ceiling of the tunnel Jason had found for them underground. It had tall ceilings, and was anything but dirty or smelly like he had assumed it would be when he got here. Mostly it was just cold and dark, and Richard didn't mind the dark that much, at least not until the nightmares started up. Then he turned all the lights on. When Richard was this high up he could almost hear the city, Gotham, coming to life above him. He hadn't ventured out in the city much since he had been well. Only one or two times, when he had enough stubble to cover his face and he thought it was early enough that he wouldn't run into much trouble. Jason insisted on him wearing glasses when he went up. He'd joked about it and said that Rich had been such an idiot before that no one would ever think it could be him if he looked smart for once. Rich had just rolled his eyes and put on the glasses, a tickle of an almost memory, a tall man smiling down at him with half his face covered as he tucked his glasses behind Richard's ears, but it had never come back all the way. None of them did.
Richard lay on his wire until Jason burst in and he rolled off, dangling until he felt he could fall comfortably on the balls of his feet. Jason was a mess, his suit was disheveled and his mask was already off, mouth bloody and hair sticking up at all ends. He was holding his arm like it might fall off and looking at Rich with a grimace. “You look like shit.” he told him with an eyebrow raised and went to drag him off to the bathroom.
“We can't all be as pretty as you.” Jason grumbled pulling at his hair that was almost passing up his shoulders now. Rich pulled it up out of his face and sat Jason on the sink, pulling their large first aid kit out from under him.
“Sorry,” Richard grumbled, “I keep forgetting you are naturally ugly.” He said and poked at Jason's hand until he dropped it. Richard grimaced. “You know I suck at stitches.”
“Just do it fast.” Jason told him. “I have to go back out.”
Richard shook his head. “You'll pass out before you hit the light.” He said and yanked his sleeve up, “You need to sleep and eat a steak or something.”
“I dropped something back at the museum.” He insisted.
“Did they see you drop it?” he asked.
“Then I'll grab it in the morning.” There was no more arguing.
The city was cold again when Richard surfaced in the first manhole exit on Wood Grove, the road that had been under construction since he had come out of his coma and probably even before that. He was glad to have the excuse to cover himself, a jacket, a scarf and even gloves kept the world from seeing just how badly he had been burned in the explosion, and if there was one thing Richard hated it was being stared at. He took a minute to right himself, tugging his writer's bag into place and adjusting his glasses before he ducked into a group of people walking by. It was so easy to be anonymous in the city. No one had the time or energy to ask questions and it made things so much more simple just to fall in with the crowd.
He walked past three coffee shops and the town hall before he reached the Wayne Enterprises building and took a left. The museum was just a few blocks down, and by the looks of it when he got there not very busy for a Sunday morning. He slipped into the alley easily without being noticed and walked to the back looking up at the rooftops curiously. There was something there, he could almost feel the tickle of something in the back of his mind, but he didn't have time to explore it.
He looked quickly to the mouth of the alley and then started his search, brushing trash aside and sifting through the grass. He found Jason's mask lying at the corner and grabbed it, rolling his eyes. The idiot. How many times did Jason tell him not to take his mask off no matter what? He shoved the mask in his bag but saw something gleaming next to where the mask had been. He picked it up carefully, turning the blade over in his hand. Rusty blood was caked on it. At least he knew where the cut had come from. But Richard had been in the alley too long now, he shoved the blade in his bag and ducked back onto the street intending to keep walking but slowed at the entrance of the museum. Gotham Museum of Fine Arts. And without really knowing why he was compelled to, he stepped inside.
It was as dead as he thought it would be. Only two or three people walking around on the ground level and a pretty blonde receptionist sitting at the front. She smiled at him when he bought his ticket and told him to enjoy the visit. He just nodded. For some reason he felt that if he spoke in here something bad would happen.
He slowly made made his way through the ground level, reading the signs and and watching the few people around him look at things too. Watching them was almost better than looking at the actual art. He liked to see it click on their faces when they found what they were looking for. After about an hour on the first floor, he headed upstairs taking a left at the fork to what was labeled, “The Grayson Memorial Wing.” His heart stopped when he stepped in. He didn't know why, but he suddenly got the feeling that there was something very wrong with this building. Something horrible was about to happen, and he was just tempting fate by being there. He was about to turn around and walk back out of the building when a painting caught his eye. It was a simple painting, the cityscape in splashes of yellow, green and red. He walked over to it.
He wasn't sure just how long he had stood there, but after what felt like ten minutes, the feeling of unease returned. He turned around to see a young man staring at him with electric blue eyes under a mop of well cut black hair. Richard stared back at him, knitting his brow together when he didn't look away. “Hi.” He offered and when the young man didn't say anything back he said, “Excuse me,” and brushed past him towards the door.
He stared at the ceiling. The smooth swipes of the texture brush blended into shapes he didn't bother identifying. He'd stared at that ceiling for 5 minutes every morning for the last 572 days. He'd tried to stop keeping count at 8 months 2 weeks and 5 days, but the first thought each morning was adding that extra day. There were times when all he remembered of the day was scratching that mental tally into the wall like a castaway on an island.
He gave himself just five minutes to miss Him before getting up for the day. Sometimes those five minutes were memories full of laughter and joy. Sometimes they were anger and arguments. Sometimes, when the night before had been particularly hard, he'd think of wind chapped lips touching his. He'd think of his failures, of chances not taken, of words not spoken. Most of the time he imagined a life that could have been. If he'd saved Jason. If he'd told Him sooner. If he had been a better person.
The last thing Bruce did each time his five minutes ran out was close his eyes imagine pressing his forehead against His and think those three words.
He opened his eyes and let out a breath before rolling out of bed.
Tim was already at the breakfast table, laptop open next to his bowl of Super-O’s. He ate with one hand and typed with the other. “No work at the table,” Bruce said as he sat down. Alfred set a plate of pancakes in front of him. He didn't know how the man knew, but he always managed to make the breakfast he craved the most. Tim grumbled and scrambled to finish what he was typing before putting his computer away.
Tim hummed through his mouthful of cereal.
“Master Damian took Titus on a run,” Alfred supplied as Tim swallowed.
“He had another nightmare,” Tim said softly. When they'd first gotten back to the manor Tim had grabbed all of his stuff and moved it into a spare bedroom next to Damian's. He'd been in His original room and had used that as the reason for the move, but it became apparent that he wanted to be closer to his only remaining brother. Less than a month after the funeral Damian started having nightmares. He'd woken himself from most of them, and unable to fall back asleep had focused on training or working a case. There were a few that had driven him to check on his family. More than once he'd woken to Damian standing by his door staring through the darkness with eyes shining and far too young for what he'd seen.
“Your fall last night?” Tim shrugged. It had been almost 4 months since Damian last had one. At least one bad enough to keep him up. According to Tim, they’d started when the boys had been with Jason. Damian had woken him up screaming into the dark of their cell the day after he'd been captured. Damian never talked about them. He simply told them he'd had another.
“Probably. He woke me up, we watched some Wendy episodes.” He'd keep an eye on him tonight, not that he didn't already watch out for the boys every night.
“Father! Are those my pancakes?” He shoved the last forkful in his mouth as Damian yanked the plate away.
“I saved you a plate,” Alfred said, cutting short the rant from the youngest Wayne.
Tim's empty bowl went to the sink and the laptop came back out. Bruce never knew what Tim was working on. There were times where he'd carry an entire conversation about a case while typing, but the screen held Wayne Enterprises reports. “Superboy is coming over later. I just wanted to let you know.”
“How are things with the Titans?” Bruce asked with a nod while pushing Damian’s elbows off the table. The Titans were a sore subject. They always had been if he was being honest with himself, even when He had run the team, maybe especially then. Now the issue was different. He'd urged Tim to keep his life the same. That they were fine, but Tim had been adamant about staying in Gotham. They'd argued, but Tim had refused to give in. He stayed. This meant the teens visited more often. He'd come back from the office to laughter floating down the stairs. It hurt worse than he wanted to admit. After a few times Tim started to warn him if they were coming over. Eventually only Connor came over.
“They're fine. Connor is just being paranoid. He wants to go over the mission details with me in person. Like it makes a difference.”
“Kents.” he scoffed.
“Oh he's going to hate that.” Tim started typing with a grin splitting his face.
“Mister Kent is on the phone.” Alfred said a second later. Damian mumbled something about aliens as he headed downstairs to take the call. Clark called his cell unless it was League business.
“Were your ears burning?” he asked as he sat down. Clark just blinked at him, face grim. It was a more common occurrence lately.
“You missed the meeting.”
“Tim landed bad yesterday. We had a late night.” Clark visibly relaxed. Bruce knew Clark wasn't happy with his decision, he'd tried to change his mind almost every time they talked. He hadn't realized just how much it was affecting the man until that moment though. But he couldn't change his mind.
On day 497 he'd woken up in a hospital on an alien planet after getting shot with another energy gun. They had been helping a race shore up their defenses. He'd been going over the latest tests on their existing shield when someone had yelled look out and he'd been caught by a stray blast from the training area. It had taken 10 days for him to regain feeling in his extremities and the alien doctors to release him. He half expected to hear Tim's voice over the intercom as they made their way back to Earth. When he'd landed in the cave and looked at his boys, he'd decided at that moment that he had done all he could with the league. Tim looked like he hadn't slept in weeks. Damian was tense and on edge, snapping at Alfred when the man had simply offered him a chair.
Bruce had given Clark until the next League induction. Everyone would have to vote on his replacement anyway. It was easier to transition at one time.
Diana was the only other person on the league that knew of his decision. She'd stopped by a few weeks after he'd told them. He had expected her to try and talk him out of it. Instead she talked about The Wing. She had taken over the decision process when he'd frozen and stared at the print out for the Robin piece. She told him about the different pieces and the reception The Wing had received. “You'll always be my friend. And I will always be there for you. Do not forget that.” She'd said kissing his cheek softly when he had finally walked her to the door. That felt like ages ago.
“What did I miss?” Bruce asked. Clark filled him in, explaining things more thoroughly than he probably needed to, just to keep him on the line. He let Clark talk until the man himself had cocked his head slightly and told him he had to go. He signed off with a quiet stay safe. Clark nodded, a strange look crossing his face before the screen went blank.
“I'm not sure. If I was do you think I'd be asking you to look into it?” Tim sounded angry. He lowered his hand.
“Why don't you and the Demon Brat look into it?” Connor’s voice was tense. Like he was holding back his own frustration.
“We are already- no nevermind. We'll do this on our own.” He could hear the tone change. Tim's switch from teenager to vigilante.
“Tim.” He could practically see the blue eyes widening pleading for forgiveness. “We'll look into it. Okay? Just don't get your hopes up.”
“Believe me. No hope here.”
Bruce stepped away from the door and headed back downstairs. He knew the Robins were working on their own cases. He'd find them going over scattered reports and crime scene photos at least once a week. They never let him see what they were working on. Damian often speaking up. ‘Father we wish to complete this on our own.’ He hadn't thought they were doing anything that they would need outside help on.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
Richard grimaced and left the gun where he had been huddled on the ground. His target was hanging just barely touched in the trees about five hundred yards away. If he had had a real target they would be far out of range by now. He sat up and rubbed his palms into his eyes. They had been at this for hours and he could feel Jason growing less and less patient with him. “For fucks sake Bird, it’s like you aren’t even trying.” he growled looking at the barely touched target through his scope. He picked up the gun and sunk three shots into the paper head quickly and easily as Rich stared sullenly at the grass. “Do you even want to hit the target?” he demanded squatting next to him. “What if it were me out there and my ass was on the line?”
“Then I should be out there with you!” he told him pointing to where the target was. “So I’m no good with guns- I have the cuffs. I’m a good fighter, if you need the back up let me be-”
“No.” Jason cut in. They had had this argument a hundred times and he knew exactly where and how this would end. “You know that we can’t do that. The last time you were out there with me you were almost killed.” he lowered his voice when he realized that he was shouting and softened, at least as much as Jason could. “Do I need to remind you how that ended?” he asked pulling at the scarf around Richard’s neck where he had covered the worst of his scars.
Rich swatted his hand away and fixed him with a tired stare. “Are you my boss or my partner?” he asked.
Jason rolled his eyes, “I’m your brother.” he told him, pushing the gun back into his hand. “Now actually try this time. Please.” he added knowing that Rich would bark at him if he didn’t.
He got back on the ground and aimed at the target firing off three fast and easy shots right into the targets chest and then he shoved himself off of the ground. “I don’t like guns.” he told Jason, handing the rifle over to him and crossing his arms. “I’m not going to kill anyone.”
“Even if they are bad people?” he asked coldly. Richard stared him down and Jason turned shaking his head. “Let’s get back home before anyone sees you.” They didn’t talk the entire way back.
He woke up to the sound of the power surging, lights flickering in and out and making the entire tunnel flash pitch black for a full minute. And without really knowing why, panic sucked the air out of him and he fell out of bed gripping for the wall to force himself to stand. It was gone as soon as the lights came back up and then he was out of his room and wandering through the halls. “Jay?” he called and got a small return from the little cove of a kitchen in the corner.
He was at the table leaning over a mess of intricate wires in small casings. “Sorry ‘bout the light.” was all he said as a form of greeting.
Richard was too tired and worked up from the panic to be an ass about it. “That was you?” he demanded.
He nodded. “I’m done now.” he told him and held up one of the tiny casings for Rich to examine. “I put the tasers from your bracers into these.” he grinned and slapped the bullet into the pistol he had on the table and without saying a word shot it into the wall. The lights flickered again Richard’s heart hammered hard, shutting his eyes until the lights and the world steadied all together. “See?” Jason asked elated. “No killing, just stunning.” He said and then he really seemed to noticed Rich. “You okay?” he asked.
Richard nodded and sat across from him heavily. “Yeah.” he told him as steadily as he could.
“Good.” Jason nodded brushing the spare wires off of a file that lay heavy on the table. “Cause I thought we might take these out for a test run.”
He took the folder with a steadying hand and flopped it open. He read the cover a few times and looked confused back at Jason who was still messing with the bullets. “What do we need at Wayne Enterprises?” He asked dubiously. WE was just a business run by just another rich crazy dude trying to make the world better by doing a bunch of boring stuff that Rich didn’t really care about.
“They have something that I think you might want.” Jason told him.
He set his mouth in a hard line. “A file. About your family. What happened to them.” A flash of bright color flashed with a scream just barely too far back in his mind for him to grasp. What happened to his parents was horrible. He didn’t know what it was but he knew that much. He remembered blood and he remembered crying so hard that he wasn’t sure he would ever breathe right again. And then his parents were just gone and he was… Where had he gone? What had happened to him when his parents weren’t there anymore? His chest throbbed with some forgotten memory. Jason was watching him carefully. “You do want that, don’t you?” he asked softly.
Richard cleared his throat. “Yeah.” he told him after a minute. “Let’s go.”
He was propped up on the rooftop opposite of the Wayne building staring at the glass walls of the office space that were crystal clear with the sun down. He tightened his scope and focused on Jason who was walking so casually through the building space in his hood with his rifles that it was almost comical. You would think that he worked there. Rich tapped his com and smirked. “Try not to have so much fun.” he told him, “You are making me jealous over here.”
“I should have let you go through the building.” he sighed back. “I was expecting a little more resistance. I have to say I’m disapoin-” Jason stopped in the middle of his sentence and Richard watched as he spun around and ducked into an open door. “Spoke too soon.” he whispered.
“What is it?” Rich asked watching a dark figure move fast across the window and vanish. He waited for a minute listening to the silence before he asked again. “Jay, what is it?”
“Get out of here, Bird.” he told him instead of answering. “Go back to the tunnel and I’ll meet you there.”
“Hell no.” he growled out watching through the scope as he snuck out of the room and sprinted back towards the service hallway where he disappeared. “I can’t see you.” he told him but he could see the shadow. It was moving too fast for him to get a good shot but he tried anyway, just barely snagging the tail of the cape before it disappeared too. “Jay it’s right behind you.”
“What a coincidence.” Richard spun around and saw that he wasn’t the only one sent for backup. But the masks in front of him were just kids. Kids in capes and tights staring him down like they thought that this was going to be the worst night of his life.
He hesitated but kicked the rifle to the side. They were close range so it was pretty much useless at this point and he wasn’t about to shoot a kid even if it was just a taser. “Isn’t it past your bedtime?” he asked.
The smaller one growled while the other said, “Cute,” in a really tired kind of way. He was almost offended for a minute but then realized that was stupid. “Wanna make this easier and just come with us?” the older one asked.
“Not really.” Rich shrugged. “It’s been awhile since I’ve had a good fight.”
“Good.” said the small one, “I was getting bored.” Then he flew at him. Well ran, but he was so fast that it seemed like he was flying. Rich just barely moved out of the way when a blade came crashing into the concrete so hard next to him that it cracked. Well shit. He raised the sword at him again and Rich grabbed his rifle using it to block the blow and twist the kids arms down, kicking him square in the chest. He flew back but he wasn’t down for long. He charged at him again but this time the other kid was right behind him. He dodged the sword but took a hard hit to the side with the staff and just barely managed the avoid a foot sweep by flipping out of the tangle.
The kids blinked at him in surprise and for a second they forgot to attack him. That was all he needed. “Sorry kids.” he grimaced under his mask and clicked his bracers together, electricity running from forearm to fingertip. “But I don’t have time to mess around.” And then he charged them. They reacted too slow. The little one managed to parry the first blow but Rich caught the blade of his sword and the current ran straight down to him. He turned to the older kid so that he didn’t have to watch him twitch. He held out his pole ready to fight but before he even had a chance, Jason hit him hard on the back of the head and he hit the ground.
“Let’s go now.” he spat out and they rushed out of there before the kids had a chance to get back up or the shadow could find them.
“What did he get?” Tim asked. He was in a pair of lounge pants and a long sleeve shirt, it was a stark contrast with the cave spreading out behind him. He lifted the ice pack he was holding to the back of his head winced and lowered it back.
“I don't think he got anything.” Bruce had gone through the footage and through all the security systems, but couldn't find any evidence that Jason had even been there. If he hadn't seen him with his own eyes he would have thought Barbara was wrong.
“Jason doesn't do things randomly. He had to have gotten something.” Tim looked like he wanted to go through the footage on his own. To check his work. It was happening more often and Bruce thought it would irritate him, but it didn't. He moved over so Tim could control the computer. “It has been a while since we last saw him. Perhaps he just wanted to stir up some trouble.” Tim hummed.
He doubted it, but it had been nearly 3 months since they had last had a run in with him. The scar on his thigh from the bullet he'd been greeted with was still pink. “You found his partner?”
Tim paused and his eyes flicked to him. “Yeah. More like hired grunt.” Tim's words were dismissive, but his voice was too disgruntled to sell it. Damian wasn't easy to defeat, but he'd landed on the rooftop and the boy had been curled into a twitching ball. Tim sprawled out a few feet away. “I think Deathstroke might have produced another apprentice. He seemed familiar.” Tim adjusted the ice pack and set to typing.
“You should get some rest. Alfred will be up to check on you in a few hours and you know how he gets when the bed is empty.” Tim finished his report and grumbled but headed upstairs.
Bruce waited until the door clicked shut and the sensors had completed their sweep before heading over to his uniform stand. He lifted the edge of the cape and looked at the bullet lodged in the Kevlar. He pulled the cape off and headed to the examination room. He'd never seen a bullet like that. It looked too complex to be a normal round. He moved to pull it out but a arc of electricity jumped to his fingertips. A memory of a high surprised laugh and a giggling dance flashed before him. He grabbed a pair of gloves and pulled the bullet free. He could see Jason's work on the bullet, but the device causing electrical charge was different. Jason had melded the device into the bullet. This wasn't something you gave a hired grunt. Tim might be right about him having been an apprentice, but he was definitely Jason's partner now. Bruce removed Jason's work and looked at the device. He'd upload it to the Tower and see if they'd seen anything like it. He pressed the device between his fingers, it crackled and sparked blue lightning encircling his hand before it died out. The scanner beeped and he headed back to the computer to upload the readings. They couldn't be correct. The device only gave out 15mA. Jason had made a non-lethal bullet. It didn't make sense.
“We've gotten a great response. If you're open to it I'd like to shift a few pieces around. No I know. Robin is the cornerstone of the wing. I'd never move it.” Her eyes were too soft as she spoke. He wasn't used to seeing her compassionate side so focused on him.
“Okay. Do what you think is best.” He signed the contract she offered him.
“Are you coming to the meeting tomorrow?” She asked like she didn't mind either way, but wanted to be prepared. He looked at the WE contracts in front of him. Seeing his hesitation she started talking. “Wally has been very helpful,” she hesitated over the last word like she wasn't sure what to call it. “He has been trying, but I think if he relaxed he would be doing better. He's so worried about living up to the name.” He nodded along. He'd seen some of the footage of fights he'd missed. “You helped Kon. I thought you might talk to him.” Bruce wasn't sure when he became the go to person for advice. He'd talked to Kon because he'd seen first hand how affected he was, and because Tim had asked him to. This wasn't that.
“Shayera told us yesterday about a new hero in Japan. He fights a vegetable man. She wants to assist him in his quest for dragon eggs.”
He raised his eyebrow at vegetable man but didn't say anything as she continued her stories of the league.
“Kal has been vexing lately,” she said with a small smile.
“When is he not?” Bruce asked with his own smile. She gestured as if to say touché. “What is he doing now?”
Diana complained about the man of steel for the rest of the hour. They had always vented to each other. Clark did the same. He'd miss them the most. While he didn't doubt Diana's vow to be there for him he doubted they'd have the time. Clark refused to replace his leadership meaning Diana and Clark would each pick up extra responsibilities.
“How have you been?” Diana asked. He knew she'd wanted to ask from the moment she'd sat down at his desk.
“I'm okay,”he answered honestly. There were days when he wasn't okay. But today wasn't one of those days, he woken with happy memories. “Jason broke into WE last night.”
“What?! I don't understand why you will not let Kal and I help you with this.” She'd offered to hunt Jason down a few days after the funeral. There were promises of violence and pain, but this wasn't something they could help on.
“This is something the family must handle.” He'd explained that to her then, and he could see the anger he'd seen at that moment flare now.
“That monster is not your family. He would not have threatened his brothers if he was.”
“Diana please. I was having a good day. Can we not fight?” She stared at him, eyes alight with her anger before she nodded and stood.
“I should be going. Will I see you tomorrow?” He nodded and walked her out. She gave him a fierce hug. “Call us if you need us.” she reminded him as she slid into her car.
He couldn't believe he'd missed it. The files weren't part of the WE mainframe. So the algorithm hadn't looked for them, but he knew what was missing. He'd moved the files from the Cave to the office years ago, but had never documented their move. He wasn't sure how Jason had even know where to look. The Graysons’ file was the only thing missing. It housed the autopsy reports, crime scene photos and a history of every person working at Haly’s during the event. He'd uncovered more than he'd meant to and had chosen not to pursue it. This was not good.
Tim and Damian were working their own case. Bruce went on his normal patrol route. He varied it up at a few key intersections before circling back to his perch over the museum. He hadn't come in 47 days, but Diana had brought the thought back to him. He had used to stand and watch Him through the windows when he was working late. Watching to make sure he was safe, to see him happy. Now he looked through the windows and let his eyes find the Robin painting. It's reds and yellows swirled together until that's all he could see.
He heard the footsteps creaking in the gravel of the roof and leaned back hiding further in the shadows.
“I dropped Timmy boy from this height. Honestly, I was surprised Dickiebird caught him. Expected to hear a splat.” He watched Jason walk on the ledge of the building. He was watching him right back. “Didn't scream though. That was disappointing. Your son however. Howled and howled. I don't know how you put up with it. I could take care of it for you if you want.” the street lights glinted off of the pistols he carried.
“Are you ready?”
Bruce limped through the cave, knee swollen and back aching. He had a knife wound running up the inside of his wrist and a bite mark on his hand. That had surprised him, the knife not so much. The bite had caught him off guard and Jason had taken the opportunity to shove him over the ledge. The line he'd barely gotten out caught at the last moment and he'd landed in a heap. Jason had yelled down, holding his ribs and spitting out blood, “You didn't go splat either. I'll have to keep trying.”
The Flying Graysons. Rich had known his parents were circus people, but they had never had a name before. The headlines were horrible but the pictures were so much worse. There limbs contorted where they had fallen off the cut ropes, eyes staring at nothing in shining leotards that were supposed to make them a spectacle in a very different way. And then there were pictures of him. The one that had been printed in the paper was taken right after the tragedy, him staring down horrified and hanging from the high wire, his entire life literally turned upside down. They had called him Dick. But that was where the file ended. It didn’t say what had happened to him after only that it had happened.
Richard hated that he didn’t feel more about this. More about seeing his parents photographed dead bodies for, all intents and purposes, the first time. But all the file had done, laid out before him, was give him a last name. The same name that was on the plaque at the Gotham Museum of Art.
He took his time getting dressed, pulling his hair messily out of his face and wrapping his scarf a little higher than he usually would to make sure that the burn that ran up behind his right ear was covered. He didn’t bother with the glasses, grabbing his sunglasses on the way out instead. He knew the way to the museum. He had taken it so fast last time that he hadn’t had a chance to stop and look at the city around him. He wasn’t sure if he really wanted to look at much of anything, but his heart was pounding and he needed a minute. There was a scaffolding at the top of Wayne Enterprises, replacing the office window that he had broken a few nights before. He stopped and watched them for a minute and he had to wonder why Bruce Wayne would have had a file about his parent’s deaths hidden so deeply in his mainframe. Did he know him, or his parents? Had they been friends? He had meant to ask Jason when they got back from the mission but Jason had been so mad about his fight that he didn’t bother.
He pushed on, head filled with nothing but questions and knowing that if he made it to the museum that maybe one of them would be answered. He was completely convinced that he had been ready for those answers until he stepped into the building and saw it busy and filled with men in suits. He kept his head down and made his way over to the reception area. “Is the museum closed for some kind of event today?” he asked the pretty blonde at the computer.
She smiled sweetly and shook her head. “Oh don’t mind them.” she told him with a little wave of her hand. “They’re just here to look at the art installation in the New Memorial wing.” she handed him a pamphlet and pointed up the stairs. “You should take a look there are some beautiful pieces there.”
“I will, thank you.” he told her and pushed his way through the crowd to the stairs. All of the pieces were the same but it had been moved around. The city piece, though was still at the center. Rich waited against the wall towards the back watching as people walked by and muttered about liking or hating what they were seeing. There weren’t a whole lot of people in this wing, but he guessed that it was because they hadn’t had an official opening yet. They would want to throw a party and a fundraiser and of course they would want a front page shot with… how did he know that? He sat on the bench that was in front of the city piece next to a kid with dark hair who was reading a book and looking highly uninterested in being there. He tried to keep his breath steady but he could feel a frustration and panic threatening to consume him. He pushed up his sunglasses and focused on the painting until a couple stepped in the way, speaking just loud enough for him to hear and send him back into that panic spiral.
“Dick hated this painting.” The boy said. The same mop haired boy that he had seen the last time he had been here. His stomach bottomed out at hearing his name, the headline name, come out of his mouth. He made a point to look past him to the painting but he kept listening.
“I thought he would have like it.” Said the woman next to him with a curious accent. She was easily the most beautiful woman that he had ever seen, all curves and dark hair with features that were so sharp they could cut you. “It’s him.” she said as though it was obvious.
The boy shrugged. “He was mad that Bruce butted in to get it here. He might have liked it other than that, but it was always a sore subject.”
As if that triggered something, the woman put a hand on his shoulder. “Thank you for coming. I know that he couldn’t, but one of you needed to see this before the gala.”
He just nodded and took one last look at the painting before he turned to the bench. Richard pretended to get a phone call and started towards the exit as he heard the mop haired boy call to the boy he had been sitting next to that they needed to leave.
Rich walked quickly but stopped at the reception desk one more time before he made it out of the building. “Leaving already?” she asked sweetly and he put on his most charming smile.
“I have an appointment unfortunately. But I was wondering about the memorial wing?” Richard asked even though he had already been up there. “Did an artist die? Someone local?”
The blonde turned her eyes down and shook her head again. “No one famous.” she told him sadly. “It’s for Dick Grayson, he used to be the curator here. Kind of a socialite.”
Richard's heart thudded hard in his throat. “I’ve never heard of him.” he said after a hard swallow.
Luckily she didn’t seem to notice. “You must not be from here. He’s the ward of Bruce Wayne. Of Wayne Enterprises? The tower about five blocks over?” Richard nodded and she smiled sadly, “Anyway he passed away two years ago next week. In a building collapse. It’s so tragic.”
He swallowed again and looked at the men standing next to the desk but didn’t pay the slightest attention to them even though they were discussing and making decisions essentially about him. And then he looked back at the stairs were the dark haired boys were descending just as the older one locked eyes with him. “Thanks for your time.” he told the girl and turned swiftly to the door telling himself that he would not run even as he heard the quickening steps on the echoing floor behind him.
“Wait!” The boy yelled but Richard had reached the door. He pulled his sunglasses back down and ducked into the alley. There were no scaffoldings here and he was very much at a dead end.
“Shit.” he grumbled hearing the museum door open and shut hard, footsteps hammering towards him. He didn’t have a choice. He had to go up. He backed up giving himself just enough room to get a running start and flung himself at the left wall of the gap, pushing hard over the the next and back when the kids turned the corner. They hesitated long enough for him to get to the top and roll over the edge panting. He walked to the other end of the roof looking for the closest ledge when he felt his legs bind together before he fell hard.
“I said wait.” The older boy said, his feet stopping just in front of him. He pushed him over with the heel of his shoe and leaned over and yanked off his sunglasses, the anger he felt falling completely off his face as he looked down at him. “Dick?” he asked as the small one caught up, running so hard that he practically ran into the other boy who was just able to stay up and then he was looking down at him too.
And it was too much to handle. Richard had to get out of there. He shoved up with all his strength sweeping their feet with his tied legs and yanking the knife he had pocketed free to cut himself loose. “Sorry,” he said not knowing why he was apologizing to them and then he was sprinting. He could hear them follow him but he was over the side of the building and flipping to the next before the could follow. He waited until he was at the heart of the city to come down, taking only a second to catch his breath before he stepped into the crowd, pulling his scarf up higher. His head was reeling with adrenaline and new information, but only one thing had become completely clear. Jason had taken something out of that file before he gave it to him. There was no way that his almost adoptive father would not have had a digital record of the process- and the only way he was going to get that information would be to confront Bruce Wayne.
Jason was back by the time he got home, brushing his teeth and spitting out red. He had a nice row of new bruises across his left side. “How was the dentist?” He joked and Jason rolled his eyes at him, rinsing his mouth out and grabbing the ice pack he had left sitting on the sink.
“Great.” Was all he said, as usually not providing any information that was not asked of him. “Big day out?” he asked, eyes glinting with what was supposed to be curiosity but he could see suspicion underneath.
“Yeah, I went to the library.” He lied easily going for disappointed. “Went through the old archived newspapers trying to find anything else about ‘The Flying Graysons.’” He said giving the name finger quotes and sank onto the edge of the tub.
“Find anything interesting?” he asked trying to sound like he was just being polite, but Rich could tell that there was a real interest there. An interest that he wasn’t entirely sure that he trusted.
And he thought about telling him the truth, at least for a minute. He thought about all of the good things Jason had done for him, things he did not have to do- rehabilitating him and risking his life to get information about him… information he tampered with. “No,” he sighed, not having to fake his disappointment. “Turns out, when you die tragically in Gotham they don’t really like to dwell on it.”
Jason nodded unsurprised and shifted his ice pack. “You want a drink?” he asked heading toward the kitchen.
“I’m good.” he called back. The last thing that he needed right now was to let his guard down.
Tim and Damian were both at the breakfast table when Bruce came down. Tim glanced up but focused on his omelet without a word. Damian was studiously cutting his into minuscule bits. “Do you want to come up to the tower with me today?” They'd both been before, but he didn't know if he'd get the chance to take them again. Tim looked up at him, he gave him half of a smile at the searching look the boy gave him. Tim looked to Damian, they seemed to share a silent conversation. A silent argument if the hiss Damian let out was anything to go by.
“Sure. When do we leave?” Tim’s voice was too jovial. It belied the tension in his shoulders. He was hiding something. They were hiding something, if the glare Damian shot him was anything to go by.
“After breakfast.” Alfred had a bemused smile on his face as he placed the plate in front of him.
He ate his food while Damian and Tim continued their silent debate. Tim seemed to win. Damian crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. “I'm going to go walk Titus.”
Bruce watched him leave. “When we get back you're going to tell me what's going on.” He told Tim when he stood. Tim looked at him for a long moment before nodding. He handed his plate to Alfred and jogged upstairs.
They took the jet. Damian arguing the entire way onto the plane that he should be able to fly it. Bruce grinned to himself as they got settled. Tim was staring at him when he looked over after doing the checks. “Go ahead and take us out,” he said after a moment. Damian hesitated for a couple seconds. His eyes widening briefly before he looked almost gleeful as he fired up the engines.
They managed to get to the Tower without any issues. Damian smugly explained to Tim why he was a better pilot. He watched the boys head for one of the labs. He caught himself worrying about them blowing something up before his mind shut down that line of thought. They knew better. He was sure Tim was researching the bullet. They hadn't yet found a lead, but the more he thought about it the more familiar it seemed.
“Look who showed up.” Hal said when he walked in the conference room. Half of the league was already there talking amongst themselves, their words dropped when the Lantern had spoken. It had been almost 2 months since he'd attended a meeting, longer since Bruce fought alongside them. He sat down in his normal seat, across from the empty chair he knew would house the Kryptonian in a few minutes.
“Where have you been?” the man continued.
“Gotham,” he answered dryly. Where else would he be? He felt the familiar buzz of J’onn’s mind. The manhunter was checking on him, he let him check. He didn't have anything to hide anymore. J’onn withdrew. He watched him, but saw no outer sign of what he'd found.
“Gotham.” Jordan said it like it was some curse. Bruce gripped the arms of the chair to keep his anger in check.
“Batman,” Diana said, sounding too surprised for someone who knew that he would be there. Maybe she hadn't believed him. He wasn't sure that he blamed her. He wouldn't have believed himself either.
“Diana,” he said with a nod. She sat down next to the last empty seat.
“Okay. So where are we on the Satedan negotiations?” Clark asked as he walked in the room. He hesitated as he sat down in his chair and noticed Bruce.
“They are improving. Talks should be complete by the end of the week.”
“And the situation in Vancouver?”
“Okay. Does anyone have anything pressing to bring to the table before we get started?”
Shayera brought up the vegetable man. Halfway through her description Wally started snickering into his hand. He was trying to hide his laughter, but as she continued in a grave voice his laughter grew. “Flash?” Bruce asked, interrupting the woman. Wally froze with his hand still covering his mouth.
“Mmph?” the speedster asked.
“What's so funny?”
Wally’s eyes widened. “It's an anime. The villain isn't a vegetable.” he giggled and covered his mouth again in horror. Shayera looked appalled and started to defend herself. He pulled up the search and sent it to the monitors. Wally was right.
The meeting moved on but Bruce watched Wally who was too focused on what everyone was saying. Wally was His age. He could almost imagine him sitting next to the speedster joking about dragon eggs and vegetable men. If he hadn't pushed Him away all those years ago, if he hadn't let Jason die, if he'd saved them both, if he'd died instead. “Bruce?”
He jerked himself out of the spiral. Everyone was staring at him. Diana was watching his hands as they shook with knowing eyes. He stood. “Excuse me.” he stalked from the room. He didn't go far. He wanted to talk to Wally. Diana had asked, it was the least he could do. “Wally?” he called when he saw the younger man walk by.
“I'm really sorry. She was just so serious.”
“That's not what I wanted to discuss with you.” Wally relaxed a bit. “Who is Superman?”
“And Wonder Woman?”
“And the Flash?”
“You.” Bruce pointed to the symbol on his chest. “Barry chose you. He chose you because you're your own man. We don't need another Barry. We need you.” Wally’s eyes were wide as he stared at the lightning bolt on his chest. “Today proves that don't you think?” Wally looked too surprised, he didn't know why someone hadn't said something sooner. “Stop second guessing yourself. You know what you're doing.” He took a step closer, using the darkness of space behind him as he looked down on the speedster. “And if I ever see you hesitate over saving a civilian or a teammate again I will break your legs myself.” his voice came out like gravel. Wally gulped audibly and nodded. “Go talk to Diana.” The man sped away causing his cape to rustle.
“That's why we need you.” Clark said as Wally rushed past him.
“Morale has never been my strong suit. Definitely not now. I've made my decision. I'm not changing it.” he started for the lab. He'd done what was asked of him. Clark followed, blessedly silent. He walked in the lab to Damian laughing and Tim sprawled out on the floor.
“He just shocked himself. ‘I know what I'm doing Dami’” The boy mocked his older brother as he helped pull him up off the floor. “I told him not to connect the wires. He didn't listen.” Tim woke up a few seconds later. “I told you it was unpleasant.”
Tim pushed at Damian’s face. “You're doing it next time then if you know so much.” He checked the device, Tim was recreating it.
“Neither one of you are doing it again. What were you trying to accomplish?”
“I wanted to see if how it was built gave us any clues to who made it.”
“Jason made it.” Tim dropped the tongs he was holding. “At least he made the bullet itself. The device was not meant for this.”
Tim and Damian leaned over the table where the device sat. “Looks familiar,” Tim mumbled. He nodded. The more he looked at it the more he recognized it, but he couldn't remember where he saw it. “Lucius,” Tim hissed. It all slotted into place. Lucius had made a prototype taser round for the Gotham PD. The cost was too high and so the project had been scrapped, but a few of the clips still existed in the depths of R&D.
“We would have heard if they had been taken.”
“Look into all of the break ins. See if anything looks suspicious.”
“All of the break ins?” Clark chimed in. All three of them turned and looked at the man, who took a step back. “Yeah. Forget I asked. I'll talk to you later, Bruce.” He waved him off.
“How far back?” Tim asked as they packed up the device.
“5 years just to be safe. I have a few things to do today, let me know if you get anything.” Tim nodded and handed the case to Damian.
“We'll keep you updated.”
Damian started the checks as they got settled. He followed along, double checking the information flashing across the screen.
Alfred chuckled at him as he climbed out of the town car. “Did you do your tie in the dark?” Bruce straightened the tie half-heartedly, but Alfred quickly redid it. He hadn't had to do that for him in almost three decades. He'd been distracted as he got ready. He wanted to be in the cave with the boys, but Bruce Wayne had two meetings and a board meeting that he could not miss. He ran a hand through his hair on his way into the coffee shop. The barista smiled at him as he ordered his coffee, a large cold brew. It was an oddly warm day. He gave her his name and she hesitated, eyes flicking to the window where WE stood across the street. He smiled at her magnanimously as she wrote his name. The shop was busy so he stood by the counter and flicked through emails on his phone. He looked up when he felt someone watching him. It wasn't an odd occurrence when he was out as himself, but he made a point to pay attention. A man with a scarf wrapped high around his neck was turned toward him, as soon as he looked up though he turned away and kept walking down the street. His heart thudded loudly in his chest. It wasn't possible.
He'd seen Him too much in the early days. Memories like ghosts filling the empty spaces of the manor. But it wasn't until 8 months after the funeral that he saw Him in Gotham. He was just walking down the street texting. He'd watched him as the car passed, but He was gone when the car slowed for a pedestrian. It had happened a few more times over the months. Bruce knew his brain was just showing him what he wanted to see. He wanted Him to be laughing on the phone as he left a Cafe. He wanted Him to be helping a kid up off the ground. He wanted Him to be alive in Gotham, so he saw Him. Sometimes just shaking the hand and meeting blue eyes had his heart stuttering in his chest. They were never the right shade. Never those eyes.
Bruce saw Him almost every morning for the next three days. Mostly out of the corner of his eye as he walked into the coffee shop, or getting out of the car. He scanned his brain again, he didn't think he'd hit his head during his fight with Jason, but he checked anyway. His blood tests were clean. He didn't tell anyone. He had overheard Alfred talking with Clark the morning of the funeral about his mental state. He'd been fine then and there had to be something to explain this now. His mornings were full of Him screaming as he burned.
Bruce watched for Him as he got his coffee, but didn't catch him lingering just outside his view. He relaxed as he walked through security. Maybe it had just been a bad week. He answered his emails and sent a request to Lucius. Tim hadn't been able to prove that any of the devices had gone missing. They had all been in the inventory after each break in.
“Mr. Wayne your son is here to see you. Can I send him up?” he replied and wondered which one had left their security card. Tim had never forgotten his card and Damian should be at school.
“Damian, what did I tell you about skipping classes?” he asked without looking up when the door opened.
His heart stopped. He looked up into Those Eyes.