Chapter 1: Who's Gonna Cover
“Alright,” Dick said, just loud enough to command the attention of everyone else gathered around the computer area of the Bat Cave. “Who’s going to cover while Damian’s gone?”
Damian himself was not present to scoff at that - a League mission in space had gone wrong, sending Batman, Offspring, White Canary, Morphic, and Lantern Reyes to the far side of the universe as they dealt with aliens intending to invade Earth. It was possible they’d return within a few months; more likely, the trip back would be filled with enough tangents to drag out to a year or more.
Gotham needed Batman sooner than that.
Sitting in the main chair, cane planted on the floor between his feet, Bruce studied each of the young men gathered there in turn.
Jake Grayson, Dick’s son, looked to be at ease as he stood beside his father, but the mere fact that his feet were on the ground rather than floating an inch or two above it, as usual, was a dead giveaway of the twenty-two year old’s discomfort.
Duke Thomas, on the other hand, was clearly much more relaxed - but also wore his Signal uniform, sans helmet, and Bruce knew he’d push all other options forward before accepting the mantle of Batman, if he turned out to be the best choice.
Luke Fox had a thoughtful frown on his face, as he too studied the others. There was something circling in the back of the man’s mind, but Bruce couldn’t discern what it might be, and probably wouldn’t until Luke started speaking.
Jason and Jeremy stood together, a bit away from the others, one watching the proceedings with supposed disinterest, the other with an intense concentration. Bruce didn’t think the eighteen year old was yet ready to handle such responsibility as being Batman - but nor did he think Jason would let his boy take it on, either. Jeremy handled himself perfectly fine as Red Bat, but he was still small for his age, an unfortunate result of the coma he’d been in for the first two of his teenage years. Both his father and sister tended to be overprotective of him because of that, as well.
In the lingering silence following Dick’s question, Jake took a deep breath.
“I don’t want it,” he said quietly. “I mean, I would if no one else could, but I love being Nightfire too much.”
Duke smiled at that. “Probably a good thing. Imagine the criminal underworld’s surprise if the Bat suddenly started shooting starbolts at ‘em when he got pissed.” Several of the others chuckled, Jake included. Dick also placed a hand on his son’s shoulder, giving it a brief squeeze of reassurance.
“What about you, Uncle Duke?” The young man asked. “You’ve definitely got the experience...”
“Heh, yeah. But, I’ve been the Signal longer than you’ve been alive, kid - changing my habits and sleep schedule at this point would be a nightmare.” Even as he spoke, though, Duke gave Bruce a level glance; a look that said I will, if you need me to. Bruce nodded back.
“Personally, I think we’ve got too small a pool to work with, here,” Luke suddenly said. More than a few eyebrows were raised at him.
“What, you want to try and drag one of the retirees back in?” Jason drawled. “Or grab some of the boys even younger than Jer?” The teen shot his adopted father a quelling glance, which he blatantly ignored.
“No, I’m not talking about any of the other guys.”
It took a moment for Luke’s meaning to sink in, and even Bruce blinked when he considered the idea.
“One of the girls?” Dick asked, having gotten over his surprise quickest. “How would that work, exactly?” Luke started to respond, but he and everyone else stiffened when a new voice (identical to Damian’s, if they hadn’t known better) rang out from deeper in the Cave.
“Pretty damn well, once the work is put in.”
Bruce frowned slightly at the dark figure who appeared out of the shadows of the training area - and frowned deeper as they approached, since he couldn’t determine which of his family members it was. They walked confidently, with a steady stride, long heavy cape just barely brushing the ground. The suit was, unmistakably, a new take on the classic Batman design, with barely noticeable additions to the armor and padding, giving what had to be a female body a much more masculine appearance. Perhaps most striking was the addition to the cowl, a seamless stretch of fabric covering their entire face and jawline, probably hiding a vocoder that altered their voice to sound identical to Damian’s, and, minus the scratchiness of age, his own.
The newcomer didn’t halt until they stood in the center of the group, standing just in front of Bruce and staring down at him. “Convincing enough for you, old man?”
He simply raised an eyebrow.
Jeremy was the one to give voice to their collective shock. “Hot damn.” He then further surprised the others, by adding, “You look great, Aunt H.”
Jake coughed, Dick and Duke both gaped, and Jason let loose a bark of laughter as Luke grinned. Bruce’s other eyebrow joined the first.
A portion of the new mask twitched, probably indication of a sly smirk. “Thanks, kid. Couldn’t have asked for a better reveal, either.” And with that, Bruce and Selina’s twenty-nine year old daughter pulled off her cowl.
She was indeed smirking, with a satisfied glint in her green eyes that dared her father to protest. He didn’t bother, instead peering closer at the thick cloth in her gauntleted hands.
“Plaster sculpting, to make my jawline a bit broader,” Helena explained, holding it out for him to inspect. “And to hide the distorter for my voice.”
“You put this together in the two days your brother’s been gone?” Duke asked incredulously. Helena snorted at that.
“Please. I’ve been tweaking this suit for years, in case Dami ever disappeared or got hurt.” She met Bruce’s gaze again, addressing him alone with her next words. “I can do it, Dad. I’ve been Robin, and Batgirl, and Nightwing - and I’m not putting down the work the others have done, or their potential to do this, but it’s in my blood, and I want it. More than any other uniform I’ve worn.”
Silence reigned as Bruce studied his daughter. He didn’t look at the suit, or the belt, or the cowl; he just stared into her eyes, searching. And finding.
“Then you’d best get started,” he finally said. “Batman.”
Chapter 2: Addendum 1
Kinda short, but the follow-ups will be longer.
Convincing her father and the others had only been the first step to claiming Batman for herself. The second, and equally important, required Helena to head upstairs to the roof of the Manor.
That was where she found Alf.
Only eight years old, but with a full eleven months of being Robin under his belt, and the kid was practicing cartwheels and somersaults across the sloped surfaces. The boy was a Wayne through and through, regardless of his mom’s blood and influence.
“Hi, Auntie H,” Alf called when she paused near him.
“Hey, Alfie,” she replied. “Think you could come join me for a minute?”
He flipped around, jumped through a series of handsprings, and fetched up beside her with barely a sound. The pair of them then stood silently for a bit, looking past the expanse of the Manor's grounds towards Gotham, assorted skyscrapers glinting in the late afternoon sunlight.
“...did they decide who’s gonna replace Dad?”
“Yeah.” At Helena’s single syllable answer, Alf glanced up at her, and the woman didn’t resist her urge to brush back some low-hanging strands of his dark red hair. “I’m going to.”
Her nephew blinked. A moment later he frowned. “...I don’t think any of Dad or Grandpa’s suits are gonna fit you,” he finally said.
Snorting, Helena tugged him closer to lean against her. “Already got my own. Specially padded and with a voice distorter so I sound like a guy, even.”
“Cool.” Alf gave her a brief smile, before his melancholy swept back in. “Am- am I- will I still be...?”
Helena took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then moved so that she was crouched in front of the kid, staring into the blue eyes he shared with her father. “Alfred Wallace Wayne. Do you want to be my Robin?”
He peered back intently, searching, just like his grandfather had when she’d faced off against him in the Cave not long before. And, similarly, seemed to find whatever he needed to.
“Yeah,” Alf breathed. “Yes. I want to.”
She smiled, and leaned forward to gently bonk their foreheads together. “Okay then. Will you come bust the arms deal going down on the southern docks tonight with me?”
It was her turn to blink when Alf’s face scrunched up, considering rather than answering right away. “That’s not going to happen until close to midnight, right?”
“Well, that’s what Jasmine’s intel said, but we ought to set up our stake-out a couple hours beforehand-”
“Then there’s still time to read Luna her bedtime story before we go,” the kid stated. And Helena, simultaneously, felt startled but also pleased. She’d thought long and hard about what impact taking up the mantle of Batman would have on her little girl, ultimately deciding that the time dedicated to it wouldn’t necessarily be that much more than when she operated as Nightwing. And when there were, inevitably, emergencies to deal with, her parents and siblings could help out, as they all did with the children of the family.
“Yes, there will still be time,” she reassured him. “I promise I’m not going to start neglecting Luna because of this, Alfie.”
“Oh, I know you won’t - I’m gonna make sure of it.”
And really, if her three year old daughter would benefit, who was she to argue with her nephew’s determination?
Chapter 3: Addendum 2
Damian and Co are finally home... but it's been longer than they realized.
“Head's up, gang,” Milagro called, pulling her friends out of their thoughts and naps. “We're passing Pluto now.”
Instantly, the other four Leaguers moved to gather around their dinky spaceship’s piloting station, peering outward at the familiar dwarf planet.
“We’re almost home,” Ernie breathed, grinning from ear to ear - literally. Joe nudged his friend in the side, also smiling, but much more sedately.
“Careful, ‘spring, you don’t want to jinx us,” he warned.
“Yeah yeah, I know, but we are finally back on home turf; even if-”
“Ah-ah!” Milagro warned, shooting a scowl over her shoulder. “Don’t you dare finish that sentence, O’Brian.”
“Oh come on, this won’t be like Altiir - right, guys?” Ernie turned a beseeching expression towards the so-far silent heroes, but Sin merely raised an eyebrow at him, while Damian didn’t react at all. “Er, Dames? Bats? Hellooo, Offspring to Batman, anyone there?” A finger stretched out to poke at the other man’s ear - but before it could connect, Damian’s hand snapped up to seize it.
Ernie yelped, then frowned when everyone else snickered.
“I still have a little liquid nitrogen left, O’Brian,” the Gotham crimefighter murmured, his gaze never leaving the viewscreen in front of them.
“Sheesh,” Ernie grumbled, carefully retrieving his finger. “And here I thought we’d managed to loosen you up a bit on this trip.”
“Loosen up, or rough up?” Sin asked mildly. And in truth, the latter was more accurate. None of their original uniforms remained intact, pieces lost to battle or the need for emergency bandages, and the subsequent patchwork effect they’d all gained via replacement clothing made the group appear rather worse for wear.
“It’s because he’s back in the same solar system as Gotham,” Milagro stated, taking one hand off the controls in order to wave it about airly. “All of those presiones familias bearing back down on him again.”
Damian scowled at that, finally tearing his eyes away from the viewscreen in order to glare at the Lantern. “If you would kindly refrain from psychoanalyzing me when I’m standing right here, Reyes.”
“Fat chance, Wayne,” she snarked back. “I’ll poke at your grim self all I like-”
“Guys!” Joe’s rising voice finally caught their collective attention, and everyone followed his pointing hand to a blinking light on the console, one that had been previously unlit. “Please tell me that doesn’t indicate a problem.”
Milagro peered at it, grumbled in Spanish and smacked at some other screens. “Hmrph. I don’t think so - if we were in something with a standard communications array, I’d say that’s the alert for a nearby ship, but in this carrandanga it could mean that, or a warning about an incoming meteor, or a distress beacon for all I know.” She sighed, slumping back in her rickety seat. “I really need to get my ring recharged.”
The others winced or nodded in agreement. In the initial zeta-platform explosion that sent them hurtling across the universe, only Milagro’s timely bubble had kept them from dying or being scattered as individuals. Unfortunately, her ring was severely drained from the journey, and lost all power soon after, hence the five of them taking so long to essentially hitch-hike back across the cosmos.
“Can you adjust the sensor array to get a better idea of which direction it’s coming from, at least?” Damian asked.
“Nada. They’re as adjusted as they’re gonna get without one of us going outside to do it manually.” Milagro sighed again. Sin reached around to pat her on the shoulder.
“We’ll deal with whatever it is when it comes,” the other woman assured her.
And so they waited. Their ship continued onward, moving at a fast enough pace that Pluto was soon left far behind. Distantly, the light of their home sun began to become more prominent against the backdrop of stars, keeping the general mood of the group hopeful.
Then a small trill started up, rising and falling in time with the blinking light.
No one pestered Milagro for explanations as she fiddled with various knobs and levers, frowning all the while. Eventually, she managed to shut the alarm off, but the light became a steady glow, and changed from orange to yellow at the same time.
“Well, that’s not a good sign,” she muttered.
“Because either I’ve broken this thing and it’s giving me an error message, or whatever it was warning us about earlier is so close we’re about to crash into it.”
And of course, that was when something thumped against the roof of the ship.
The Leaguers immediately assumed fighting stances, all of them straining to pick up any other tell-tale signs of what had found them. A couple lighter thumps could be heard, from different spots - and then a face appeared in the viewscreen.
Joe jumped, Ernie swore, and Damian burst out laughing. Clearly using his X-ray vision to peer in at them, Jonathan Kent grinned at the camera that fed live footage into the cockpit’s viewscreen, and waved.
A few minutes later, after Milagro sorted out how to force the airlock to work properly, the half-Kryptonian stepped inside and pulled his best friend into a hug. “You have been sorely missed.”
“I’d certainly hope so,” Damian replied, not resisting the embrace - he’d had to put up with countless like it over the past two and a half decades, after all.
When Jon finally put him down in order to hug or clasp hands with the others, Damian took a moment to actually study his friend. He looked... perhaps not so much older, as more serious. His uniform had been redone, again, with a cape more like his father’s and actual tights instead of the cargo-style pants he’d copied from Conner for so long. The belt was new, too, more closely resembling the design Damian and his family used as opposed to a simple stripe of yellow material.
“I’ve already sent a message back to the Mars Tower,” Jon was saying as Damian concluded his visual inspection. “Lian’s on duty, she’ll start calling up the others and send them out to gather your families, I know everybody’s going to want to see you guys right away-”
“How long have we been gone?” Damian cut in.
He didn’t like the way Jon winced.
“...three years,” his friend finally answered. “Almost three and a half, now.”
There were several startled gasps around the cabin, and even Damian couldn’t help but sag for a moment.
They’d known it was likely to have been a while, what with differences in relative time and that displaced wormhole their group was forced to travel through at one point, but... three years.
His sons would be so much bigger.
“Well, don’t just leave us in suspense, double-S,” Ernie said after a moment. “What’s the highlight reel?”
Jon smiled sadly, but didn’t deny him. “Grace became Elongation again, to fill in for you with the League. And Susie’s powers activated - she’s been stretching and bouncing around the Watchtower for the last few months, says she wants to be the new Plastic Kid.”
Ernie’s face lit up, first at the news about his wife and then his daughter. “She got- she got the full set?”
“The full range of your powers and Grace’s, and some increased strength, too, though that’s linked to how big she makes herself. She calls it “Embiggening”, after a comicbook character, I think.” As Ernie continued to grin to himself, Jon moved on to Milagro. “Nell’s fine. She got that promotion you were both worried about, and took a short break from Snooper to make the schedule adjustment. Miguel made it to senior year, he’s been filling out college applications and running missions with the Titans - made some upgrades to his Green Beetle armor with Jaime’s help that I can’t make heads or tails of. Oh, and Carmelita put on the old Snitch costume last year, says she wants to be Spoiler by the time she hits high school.”
Milagro nodded jerkily when he finished, eyes shining with the updates about her family. “Thanks, Kent.”
Jon smiled, but lost it as soon as he turned to look at the next friend. “Joe... I’m sorry. Robbie didn’t wait for you.”
The blonde man looked stricken, and both Ernie and Sin moved to support him on either side. “W-what?”
“The League made arrangements to keep paying for your apartment lease, but he moved out after a few months... Found someone else, and got married last summer.” Jon sighed, holding out his empty hands in a gesture of apology. “I wish I had something better to tell you, but, I didn’t want you to be in a hurry to get home to see him.”
“No, that- yeah,” Joe swallowed. “Yeah. Thanks for telling me.” His skin rippled like liquid, Morphic powers acting up with the heavy emotion, and Ernie guided him over to the cabin wall to sit down. Sin started to follow, but Jon held her up with his next words.
“Traya took in a kid.”
Surprised, the pale woman stared at him. “She- what?”
“A teenager, named Sydney Bloom. Her parents kicked her out for getting pregnant, and when she was assaulted on the street her metagene activated - wind generation, nearly off the charts with their power,” Jon explained, grimacing. “The League was called in to deal with her hysterical rampage, but Gold Tornado was the only one who could get close enough to actually talk her down, and afterward, she took her home. Helped with the baby when he was born, adopted him when Sydney begged her to. They’re both living with Traya now.”
Slowly nodding, Sin blinked rapidly as she processed the news about her longtime roommate and sort-of wife. “...okay. Thanks, Jon. Anything else I should know?”
He finally got to smile again. “Shayan finally proposed to Marigold.”
That startled a laugh out of the woman. “Did she now? Roy must love that.”
“He and Wally have been commiserating about losing daughters to bats, anyway,” Jon smirked. And then chuckled when he noticed Damian glaring at him.
“What do they have to complain about?” The other man asked. “I’ll be the one putting up with Harper flying around my city to spend time with my niece every night.”
“At least she’s half bird,” Sin offered.
“Having wings from her mother doesn’t negate the pig-headedness she inherited from her father.” The others all chuckled at Damian’s deadpan statement, though he soon cut them off with his follow-up. “Although, I suppose it might not even be my city at this point. If we’ve been gone for three years, someone else has taken over as Batman, surely.” He looked expectantly at Jon, who waffled for a moment before he gave in.
Damian stared. Sin stared. Ernie and Joe both stared.
And Milagro started to cackle.
“Oh Dios Mio, Damian, you got replaced by baby sis!” Milagro continued to laugh until Ernie stretched over a hand to bop her upside the head with.
Damian himself didn’t move. He didn’t react. Jon swallowed back his concern and just kept on. “Alf’s been working with her as Robin, still. They’ve done pretty well for themselves. Um, Richard upgraded a while ago, from Impulse to Dart, he’s running more solo missions these days than tagging along with Irey.” When his friend barely twitched, he moved on to other members of the Gotham crimefighting clan. “Jasmine’s stepped up as the new Red Hood, which Jason’s ecstatic about. Cullen’s daughter Lyn took up the name Harpy, and her girlfriend Suze made a Sphinx persona just to be her partner; Sarah started patrolling as Ballpark, which Colin and Amy aren’t really happy about, but they haven’t ordered her to stay home, either; and that foster kid Duke took in, Louis Gibson? He’s going out as Flare, now, too.”
“Sheesh, how many batlings are they up to now?” Ernie grumbled.
“Too many,” Milagro stated, rolling her eyes.
Damian still hadn’t moved.
Jon steeled his nerve, and shared the - to him - biggest piece of news yet. “Ah, you’re also a great-uncle now, Dames.”
That got a frown.
“Mar’i had a baby last year.”
Finally, the shell-shocked Bat met his best friend’s gaze. “She what?”
“A little girl,” Jon went on. “Haley. She’s beautiful, already starting to float whenever she’s really happy. Dick says retirement’s a lot less boring now that he’s got a new flying Grayson to chase after.”
“...who’s the father.”
Again, Jon wince’s. “That, um, that would be... me.”
A beat of silence passed - and then utter pandemonium broke out.
By the time Ernie, Joe, and Sin managed to pin Damian down, he’d worked through his entire litany of Arabic curses and quite a few English ones as well. Milagro stood between them and Jon, her arms flung wide to help hide the Kryptonian from view. “Suficiente, Damian! Knock it off already!”
“She is ten years younger than you-!” The man snarled, Ernie forcibly keeping both his hands away from all utility belt pouches.
“You think I don’t know that?” Jon replied, looking more concerned for his friend than worried about himself. “Dames, I already got the worst going-over imaginable from your family when this started. Heck, even Alfie got in on it - the first time I came to pick Mar’i up for a date, it wasn’t Dick or Bruce or anyone else who threatened me with the kryptonite, it was your eight year old.”
That, finally, got Damian to slow down and stop growling. “Good. I hope he used it.”
“He almost did, when Mar’i told everyone about the baby,” Jon said ruefully. “But she was happy about it, and that helped. Although it didn’t stop Koriand’r from asking if I would spar with her the day after...”
Damian snorted, and Milagro turned to look at Jon in surprise. “And you survived?”
“Barely. Tamaraneans hit hard.”
Chapter 4: Addendum 3
When Milagro landed the spaceship, Irey West-Wayne didn’t wait for her husband to disembark - she ran right on board in order to grab him in the tightest hug she could manage.
When they finally did exit the little craft, both Damian’s younger sisters were waiting to hug him themselves. Maya’s Shadowbird uniform hadn’t changed, still an even blend of her old Nobody persona and current Bat self, but Helena...
“Why are you the one wearing my suit?”
“I don’t think I’m liable to get it back from you, that’s why.”
Behind the dry humor, though, Damian asked her a question with his gaze. And Helena answered with a soft smile and slight nod.
Batman would be his again. The half-siblings would not fall apart over its mantle.
Dozens of friends and family members of the newly returned Leaguers filled the halls of the Mars Tower, but by far the biggest crowd was the Bats of Gotham - they’d gathered themselves in the next landing bay over, a sea of dark capes and kevlar. Two of their brighter members, however, had first dibs on being the ones to charge and tackle Damian as soon as he stepped through the door. He nearly fell over from the force of their double impact, unused to the heavy weight.
“You’ve grown,” the man murmured, once he’d gotten his bearings and hugged back. “Both of you.”
“Kinda tends to happen, Dad,” Richard muttered into his chest. Alf just snickered, head tilted back so he could properly gaze up at his father.
“You look like a space pirate,” the smaller boy said without preamble.
“Hm. Suppose I’ll need to carry off my stolen spoils, then.” And with that, Damian indulged in a rare bit of horseplay, picking both his sons off the ground and - attempting - to sling them over his shoulders. Richard squawked and struggled, but Alf at least went along with it, laughing as he scrambled not to be tipped too far.
“Please don’t drop those, I need at least one of them to go on patrol with me,” Helena deadpanned, standing just out of range of her elder nephew’s flailing legs. Damian just smirked, but re-adjusted so that Richard was pinned between his arm and chest.
After that, the rest of their family swarmed, hugging or patting him on the back, welcoming the man home. And though he did eventually set his boys back down, they both stayed glued to his sides, all the way to and through the zeta beam journey home.
By then, it was nearly noon, long past time for semi-nocturnal Bats to disperse to their rooms and separate homes for sleep. After finally sending off his father and step-mother, Damian took a long-anticipated shower, and practically collapsed into his bed. Unsurprisingly, Irey met him there, and the couple had another, more private reunion.
Closer to evening, however, Damian woke up once more, and found himself unable to drift off again. Reluctantly leaving Irey’s sleeping form nestled in the covers, he headed for the window, hoping a brief stretching session on the roof would be enough to sort out whatever was keeping him awake.
Somehow, his youngest managed to beat him to the very same spot.
“Hey, Dad,” Alf called when he spotted his father. Damian nodded back, and waited until the boy cartwheeled over to pull him into another hug. Alf didn’t resist, holding on gladly.
For a while, the pair stood in silence, looking out over the grounds and towards Gotham in the distance. Downtown had apparently expanded again in Damian’s absence, as new skyscrapers stretched out the skyline, and additions to older buildings had raised it higher.
“Do you and Aunt Helena know who’s going to be Batman now?”
Surprised by the trepidation in his son’s voice, Damian glanced down at him with a quirked eyebrow. “We’ve discussed it, briefly. Helena won’t argue when I ask for it back.”
“Okay.” After a moment, Alf looked up to meet his gaze. “Will I still be your Robin?”
Ah. “Always, if you want.”
The boy nodded, firmly. “I do want it. For now, anyway. Luna might need it, when she’s a little older.”
Damian hummed, ruffling his boy’s hair. “Would be fair, I suppose. Helena and you, Luna and I. And someday, you and your own Robin.”
Alf twitched at that. “Me?”
Damian smiled, and gave the same answer Helena had given him earlier. “Why not?”
Chapter 5: Generational Cycle
And so, history repeats...
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“Alright,” Harry said, just loud enough to command the attention of everyone else gathered around the computer area of the Bat Cave. “Who’s going to take over now that Tom’s stepped down?”
Tom himself was not present to wince at this. Following the man’s announcement of his decision to retire from hero work altogether, he’d avoided coming down into the headquarters of the Clan. Which, perhaps, was for the best - no one faulted him for recognizing that his heart just wasn’t in the job, but at the same time, he was the first Wayne to ever turn his back on the family duty.
And the world still very much needed a Batman.
Sitting in the main chair, cane planted on the floor between his feet, Alf studied each of the people gathered there in turn.
The various Graysons standing around Harry all looked to be perfectly at ease, were it not for the subtle fact absolutely none of them were hovering an inch or two off the ground as usual. Dick’s descendants may have all inherited his penchant for putting on brave fronts, but superpowers tied to emotions always made for good tells against their poker faces.
Louis Gibson stood off to one side in his Signal armor, sans helmet, studying the different possibilities just as Alf himself was. The man’s daughters, Tessa and Maxine, flanked him with neutral expressions - neither of the girls participated in patrols, but Tess operated a fleet of drones that handled supplies for their network while Max was shaping up to be a fine Oracle.
Their in-laws and cousins, the assorted Foxes and Drakes and additional spouses, filled an entire row of chairs brought down just for the meeting. Tawny Fox in particular wore an expression that looked as if she knew something no one else did, but Alf suspected he’d have no luck at guessing until the woman gave voice to it. She was quite similar to her father and predecessor in that way, really.
The ladies of the Brown and Kane and Row family lines watched from further back, gathered as they were around Stephanie in her hover chair. Alf caught the white-haired woman’s gaze at one point, and wasn’t sure whether to smile or frown when she smirked at him.
Likewise, his aged uncle Jason appeared moments away from chuckling where he sat with assorted grandchildren surrounding him, which Alf definitely considered a worrisome sign.
Unsurprisingly, after Harry’s question, his son Bruce was the first to speak up. “Well, I don’t want it. I love being Nightwing too much, and somehow I doubt Riley would give up being Starfire so we could still be partners.” On the other side of her father Corey, his red-haired cousin shrugged, but nodded.
“Probably for the best,” said the man leaning against Alf’s chair. “I’ve heard it’s traditional for The Bat not to have more than a single superpower or two, anyway.” Several people chuckled at that, young Bruce included.
“What about you, Uncle Terry?” Toby Delmont, one of the Drakes, called out. “You’ve already been Batman, after all...”
Alf’s oldest foster son smiled lazily at the young man, reaching out an arm to wrap around his daughter’s shoulders as he did so. “Yeah, but me and Iris are Red Bat and Redwing now, longer than you’ve been Roadrunner, kid.”
“Bit late for us to go back to the old days, and all that,” Iris added, and Alf smiled at her. The twenty three year old might not technically have any blood relation to his own mother, but he liked to think something in their shared name let the Iris Wests of old have a new voice in the current era.
“What about Matt, then?” Jett Todd asked, a modern version of his grandfather’s red helmet tucked under one arm. “Because I’m pretty sure the rest of us are gonna want to double check with every Wayne before we move on to the other bloodlines.”
“Thanks,” the younger McGinnis brother said flatly, before his wife elbowed him in the ribs. “In all honesty, though, I think you lot would be better off with one of the girls.”
At that, several eyes swivelled to the line of people on Alf’s other side, where his niece stood in her Silver Bat armor.
Hanna Hawkins Wayne frowned, but didn’t look annoyed by the sudden attention. “...I’d be honored, if it came to me. But my cousin has a higher claim that I’ll honor first.” She glanced over at Alf, who blinked at the new suggestion. He started to address it, but was cut off by a new voice echoing through the cave.
“And claim it, I will.”
Murmurs rippled through the crowd, as Gordons and Littles parted to let a dark figure through.
At once, it was obvious who wore the new cowl - but at the same time, impossible to realize from physical appearance alone. The classic look was redone with new armor additions, and subtle padding that altered a feminine outline into a masculine one. In addition, a full-face mask served to hold a vocal synthesizer, and the sheer familiarity of it sent Alf back more than fifty years, to a time when he’d gone out at night with a woman wearing a very similar uniform.
The newcomer didn’t stop until she stood directly in front of him, gazing down into Alf’s eyes. “Good enough for you, old man?”
“...Penn,” he said slowly. “Have I ever said how much you remind me of my Aunt Helena?”
Chuckling, Penny pulled off her cowl, letting short red hair the same shade as his own spill down. “Where do you think I got this idea from, Dad?”
“Mm, should’ve known that would come back to get me.” His smile hardened, just for a moment. “And what about March?”
“Already putting together designs for her own Robin costume,” his daughter replied. “She’s decided that if I’m going to follow in Helena’s footsteps, then she will follow in yours.”
“You may come to regret that,” he warned. “I know I did, when you insisted on following me around as Pigeon.”
Penny snorted lightly. “I’m not six years old anymore, Dad. I can do this, and more than that, I want to. I know saying anything about it being in my blood won’t come across well, with Tom stepping down and all, but there’s- I feel that I’m meant for this, that there’s something calling me to it.”
Humming again, Alf peered up into his daughter’s eyes, identical in shade and shape to his own. Much as when he’d been an uncertain eight year old, he looked closer than the obvious confidence and determination, searching for the drive, the fierceness that one needed to bear the mantle of The Bat - the same indefinable thing he’d once looked for in Helena’s eyes, what he’d seen in his dad’s, his grandfather’s, and in Terry’s as well. The thing that had been missing from his son Tom, who’d insisted on being Alf’s successor even when they both knew it wasn’t truly his calling.
But as for his little girl, his Penny-Bright...
Silence reigned as Alf studied his daughter. Not so much as a single person in the cave dared to breathe as they waited for the verdict.
“Then you’d best get started,” he finally said. “Batman.”
Thanks for coming, folks! Hope you enjoyed yourselves, and that you'll be back again in future.