Gotham; September 28th, 04:07 EST
Artemis looked first to her left and then to her right, a fierce glower on her face as her hands came to rest on her hips. They had searched for Joker and his vans for hours and came up empty. It was as if the vans had just been snatched right out of thin air.
She growled to herself, her hands balling into fists as she racked her brain in an effort to figure out which hole Joker could have slinked away into to hide in now. He wouldn’t have just given Tim up so quickly if he didn’t already have some other trick waiting up his sleeve. She didn’t know the psychotic clown as well as the others, but this much she did know—he wasn’t done with them. This was just the beginning.
“I don’t like this,” Red Hood groused as he looked around the area.
“You don’t seem to like much of anything lately,” Artemis coolly stated, glancing over her shoulder at him.
Jason whirled around to level a glare at her despite his face being completely concealed by his mask. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“You have to admit you haven’t exactly been yourself since the Joker took Tim,” she pointed out as she reentered the alley where their cycles were parked.
“How so?” he demanded, his arms folding against his chest.
A crimson eyebrow arched as she stared him down, refusing to wilt under his aggressive stance towards her. She wasn’t afraid of him nor was she about to back down now. “Really? You haven’t noticed how you’ve been basically biting everyone’s head off and pretty much dismissing Bruce as if all of this is solely his fault?”
Jason looked the other way as he wrestled with the anger blooming in his chest. His ground his teeth in the wake of the bitterness that refused to die. He really didn’t want to talk about this…definitely not here and not now. “I have not,” he insisted.
“Believe what you want, but you’re going to drive your family away permanently if you keep this up,” she warned him as she made her way to her cycle.
She was brought to a sudden stop when his hand abruptly wrapped around her upper arm, forcing her to face him. “I think I have every right to be upset,” he stated. “None of this would’ve happened to Tim if Bruce would’ve just killed Joker after what he did to me.”
Artemis looked down at his hand gripping her arm, tamping down on the indignation bubbling up inside of her. She fought the overwhelming urge to throw him right through a store window, reminding herself that he was struggling with a great deal of suppressed emotions and unresolved issues.
She released a deep breath as Jason released his hold on her as if realizing his mistake. “I know that what you went through was very traumatic, but you have got to find a way to get past this,” she replied, holding up a hand. She knew he was about to interrupt her with a scathing retort that would get them absolutely nowhere. “This isn’t about you versus them so don’t even accuse me of taking sides. This is about you finally dealing with what happened to you and learning how to forgive.”
“Stay out of it, Artemis,” he bit out, turning and stalking towards his own cycle. “You don’t understand so don’t act like you do.”
“So…are you just going to walk away from me too?” she evenly asked him, her chin lifting in defiance.
“I’m not walking away,” he snapped as he came to a stop in front of his cycle, his hands balling into fists as he struggled to remain in control.
“Then, stay here and talk to me,” she insisted. “Don’t just walk away because you’re upset.”
His head fell back as an anguish-filled cry of rage escaped his throat, his entire body trembling. Breathing ragged, his chin fell to his chest as his shoulders dropped in defeat. He flinched as a hand came to rest against his back. Everything inside of him screamed at him to leave and not look back…everything but his heart that reminded him how he had fallen in love with her.
“Jason…I’m not trying to make this more difficult for you,” she told him, her voice losing the edge it had just held. “I’m trying to keep you from making a horrible mistake that you’ll only end up regretting later.”
“I don’t…” he began, pausing to draw a shuddering breath before trying again. “I don’t know how to let go of it.”
The anguish in his voice pierced her heart as sure as an arrow. Her eyebrows furrowed as she took a step closer to him. “It’s something that will take time…that you need to work at a little at a time. It’s not something that can just be remedied overnight.”
“I thought I had when I first returned to the family, but I guess I only buried it in hopes it would just go away in time,” he found himself confessing to her. “Instead of getting better, it’s gotten worse.”
“You’re going to have to talk to Bruce,” she encouraged him. “You need to get it all out once and for all.”
“I don’t know if I can do it.”
“You can do it,” she reassured him, “and I’ll be here to help you every step of the way.”
Jason looked back over his shoulder, stunned by her words. “You will?”
“You’re not getting rid of me that easily,” she told him.
Jason swiftly turned around, nearly knocking her backwards as he enveloped her in his arms. He held on to her with everything that he had, clinging to her like the anchor that secured him and made him feel grounded and whole. He buried his masked face in her hair, holding her flush against him.
“Thank you,” he murmured, his voice barely above a whisper.
She returned his embrace somewhat hesitantly, not really fond of public displays of affection like this, but he needed her right now and she would never deny him. “You don’t have to thank me.”
“I was wanted to leave before you could leave me,” he softly admitted. “I know I can be difficult to deal with at times.”
“Oh, please,” she replied as she pulled out of his embrace. “Dealing with you is nothing compared to having to deal with Phillipus.”
“I don’t know how I feel about being compared to an Amazon woman,” he retorted.
“Let’s head back to the cave,” she told him. “It’ll do you some good to see your brother.”
“I just hope he’s going to be all right,” he grimly said. “If he doesn’t survive this, I will kill Joker regardless of what Batman has to say about it.”
Artemis released a heavy sigh as she made her way back to her bike. If Jason killed Joker, Bruce would never allow him to be part of the family again. He would be signing his own death sentence when it came to his family and the brothers and sister that he loved.
She just prayed that it didn’t come to that.
Batcave; September 28th, 04:43 EST
Cassie couldn’t stop pacing, couldn’t keep the trembling at bay that repeatedly rolled through her body. She continued to wring her hands as she paced back and forth, finally shoving her hands into the back pockets of her blue jeans in a futile effort to regain some sort of control over herself.
She couldn’t stop the memory of seeing Tim being thrown from the van from surfacing in her mind…the way that he had rolled across the ground before coming to a stop face down on the concrete. She’d thought for certain that he was dead, lost to her forever. She hadn’t even realized that she’d screamed in that moment until Dick had grabbed hold of her hand, her voice not even sounding like her own to her ears in that horrifying moment.
Fury unlike anything that she’d ever known had exploded inside of her like a living thing, taking on a life of its own. She had shaken free of Dick’s hold on her, flying straight down there to him despite Dick yelling at her not to. Bruce and Diana had beaten her to him by only seconds, carefully turning him over to find that he was still alive.
Tears of relief had blurred her vision as she drew shuddering breaths. Bruce had gathered Tim’s beaten and broken body in his arms, clearly shaken to the core of his being by the sight of his son looking like he had. A sob stuck in her throat as the anguish of that moment washed over her all over again.
“Hey,” Diana softly said as she moved to stand in front of her, her hands coming to rest on her shoulders. “It’s going to be all right.”
“What’s taking so long?” Cassie demanded to know, her bottom lip quivering as tears flooded her eyes.
“Alfred is the best, Cassie,” Diana reassured her. “He’s patched Bruce up and brought him back from the brink of death more times than I care to think about.”
“What if he can’t this time?” she uttered with a soul-wrenching sob. “What…what if he can’t save him?”
“Come here,” she murmured, pulling her cousin into her arms and holding her tightly as Cassie began to break down.
Diana rubbed her back, kissing the top of her head. She looked up to find Bruce watching them, a stoic expression gracing his face, but his piercing blue eyes were hard with the raw fury blazing within him. She’d seen that same ire burning in his eyes several times before. It caused a shiver to race up her spine, knowing that he would not rest until Joker was finally captured. What condition Joker would be in when he arrived at Arkham was another story.
She was relieved that Damian, Nicholas, and Kaia were still asleep upstairs, unaware of what was happening beneath the manor. They didn’t need to know that Tim was fighting for his life or that there was a chance he might not survive whatever it was that Joker had done to him.
She would love nothing more than to get her hands on Joker herself, to inflict as much pain on him as he had on Tim as well as her family, but she knew that she needed to let Bruce handle it. This was his fight…one that had been born years ago, but she would be by his side when he went to battle against his greatest enemy.
Alfred appeared around the corner; his face fraught with worry as well as something more that Diana was too afraid to give a name to. “Alfred?” she tentatively called his name, afraid of what he would say to them.
“He’s still unconscious,” he announced, using the apron he wore to wipe his hands. “It’ll be touch and go for the next few hours, but he’s strong. He should pull through.”
“What did Joker do to him?” Bruce demanded to know as he took a step towards Alfred, his hands balled at his sides as if ready to go to battle right there.
“He was clearly tortured and beaten,” Alfred revealed, finding it difficult to get the words out. “I was able to repair the lacerations. I sedated him to make sure he wasn’t in pain. It’ll be several hours before he’ll wake. We won’t know any more about what he went through until Master Timothy awakens.”
“Thank you, Alfred,” Diana said as Cassie ran to him.
“Can I please see him, Alfred?” she asked, wiping the tears from her cheeks with the backs of her hands. “I want to sit with him until he wakes up.”
“Yes, my dear,” he gently said, taking her hand in his. “I’m sure hearing your voice and knowing you’re there with him will go a long way in helping him recover.”
Cassie threw her arms around the British butler, hugging him tightly before making her way towards the medical bay. “I dare say he’ll need all the support that we can give him once he’s awake,” Alfred told Bruce and Diana.
“We’ll give him anything that he needs,” Bruce firmly stated.
Diana drew closer to Bruce, taking his hand in hers in silent support. He tightened his hold on her hand to the point of nearly crushing it had she been any other woman. Tim might not be their son by blood, but he was their son in their hearts and that was all that mattered to them.
“Why don’t you rest, Alfred?” Diana suggested. “It’s been a very long night. It’s likely going to be a while before Tim finally wakes up.”
“I should go check on Master Damian,” he replied with a sigh. “He’s been a rather compliant patient as of late. Makes me wonder what he’s up to.”
“He’s probably just been worried about Tim like the rest of us,” Diana suggested. “I’m sure he has to also be wondering about what happened to his mother and grandfather.”
“That’s something I’d like to know as well,” Bruce groused.
“Let’s tackle one problem at a time,” Diana replied. “Joker is our main priority right now.”
“I agree,” Bruce grimly responded.
“I will be upstairs should you or Master Timothy require anything,” Alfred said as Jason and Artemis returned to the cave, the sound of their cycles reverberating off the rocky walls.
“We will,” Diana reassured him. “Thank you, Alfred.”
Alfred nodded silently in response, his blue eyes missing the bright spark that they typically held. It caused an ache to blossom in her chest knowing that their dear Alfred wouldn’t be with them forever. It seemed as though every catastrophe that befell this family only aged him that much more.
She swiftly thrust that notion aside, not wanting to dwell on that anguish-filled thought. They had too much going on as it was to borrow worries and trouble. She focused instead on Jason and Artemis approaching them with grim expressions adorning their faces.
“No luck?” Bruce asked as he released her hand.
“None,” Artemis replied. “It’s as if he just vanished. Are you sure he doesn’t possess magic?”
“Positive,” Jason told her. “He’s a piece of scum without any powers or magical abilities.”
“How is Tim?” Artemis asked.
“He’s still unconscious,” Diana revealed. “Alfred said he sustained quite a few injuries, but he feels he should recover in time.”
“Thank Ra for that,” Artemis murmured, her eyes momentarily falling closed in relief.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Jason evenly stated. “Joker doesn’t just torture you physically. He messes with your mind. That will be the hardest thing for him to overcome.”
“At least he has you to talk to since you’ve been through it,” Artemis pointed out.
“He has all of us here to support him,” Diana interjected as Jason opened his mouth to retort. She was not about to let him delve into any more scathing diatribes against Bruce. He’d endured enough already without adding to it.
“Is anyone with him now?” Jason asked, clearly annoyed.
“Cassie is sitting with him,” Diana informed him.
“Why don’t you two go upstairs and get some sleep?” Artemis suggested. “We’ll stay down here in case Tim wakes up.”
“I don’t think I can sleep right now,” Diana said with a shake of her head.
“You need to try,” Artemis told her. “You haven’t slept since Tim was taken.”
“She’s right,” Jason agreed. “None of us have gotten much sleep. We can sleep on the cots down here. We’ll let you know the second Tim wakes up.”
“He’s right,” Bruce said. “There’s nothing more we can do right now. Let’s try to get some sleep, princess. Tim won’t be awake for several hours. Hopefully, he’ll be able to tell us where Joker is hiding.”
“Where’s Dick?” Jason asked as looked around.
“He’s checking the perimeter of the manor,” Diana replied. “We don’t know if Joker was able to determine Tim’s identity. If he knows Tim is Red Robin, he could be making plans to attack the manor.”
“Let him,” Jason said with steely resolve. “I’d love for him to come here and try something.”
“I’m not about to let anything more happen to this family,” Bruce spat out. “We need to be prepared for anything. Keeping Nicholas and Kaia safe is our top priority.”
“Dick didn’t feel that Joker knows that Tim is Red Robin,” Diana informed them. “Tim still had his uniform and mask on when Joker returned him to us.”
Jason frowned as he slowly shook his head. “Joker has never really been interested in discovering our secret identities,” he agreed. “He’s all about the mind games and trying to break us.”
“Dick already feels guilty about all of this,” Diana commented. “He feels this was all his fault.”
“It’s not his fault,” Jason pointedly said, his narrowed gaze pointedly falling on Bruce.
Bruce ground his teeth, his nostrils flaring with the building anger that had been simmering inside of him for far too long. He swallowed the biting retort that danced on his tongue, knowing now was not the time or place for a fight. “Wake us the second Tim opens his eyes.”
“We will,” Artemis reassured him, putting her hand on Jason’s forearm in an effort to calm him.
Diana gently nudged Bruce in the direction of the stairs that would lead into the manor, knowing that Jason was itching to put all the blame solely on Bruce’s shoulders. They needed to focus on Tim right now and not on bitter resentment that had yet to be dealt with on Jason’s part.
Bruce wished that he could remember what had happened between him, Joker, and Jason that had caused this painful rift between them. He needed to get his memories back. As soon as they knew Tim was going to be all right, he needed to meet with J’onn to restore his mind.
Following Diana up the stairs towards their room, he felt an overwhelming need swelling in his chest. His mind was consumed with so many thoughts, various emotions threatening to engulf him. He felt so lost despite being in his own home, a stranger among his own family. Seeing Tim so battered and bruised had done very little to help settle the raging storm brewing inside of him, making him want to go back out and search for Joker himself.
Diana stopped before their bedroom door, turning and placing a hand against his chest. “I know it’s hard, but please try to get some sleep, Bruce,” she encouraged him. “I don’t want you laying awake blaming yourself for any of this.”
He covered her hand resting against his chest. “You act like you know me,” he lightly teased.
She smiled softly as she pulled her hand away, turning to make her way towards the guest bedroom. “I know better than you know yourself.”
Bruce caught her wrist at the last second, gently pulling her back towards him. “Stay with me, Diana,” he requested.
Stunned, she could only stare at him in disbelief. “Stay in our room with you?”
“Yes…please,” he replied, his fingers sliding from her wrist to her hand. “I won’t try anything…I promise. I just don’t want to sleep alone tonight. I need you with me…and I think you need me too.”
She felt tears prick her eyes, her arms circling around him as she buried her face in the crook of his neck. “Yes…thank you,” she murmured.
“Come on,” he gently said, retreating as he took her hand in his again.
Leading her into their bedroom, Diana felt an unexpected flutter of apprehension that she couldn’t begin to understand. They had been together for several years now and yet it felt like she was with him for the first time all over again.
Maybe it was because he still didn’t have his memories. Maybe it was because their emotions were so raw and lingering right there beneath the surface. She had no idea what the reason was, but she was just thankful that he was ready for her to be in his bed with him.
They silently went about their nightly routines—brushing teeth, washing faces, and changing into night clothes as they took turns in the bathroom. They shared occasional glances as they passed one another, both wondering what the other was thinking and feeling in that palpable moment.
Bruce exited the bathroom to find Diana pulling back the covers of their bed. She was wearing a tank top and shorts that nearly had his heart skipping beats, but he swiftly tamped down on it. He wasn’t about to allow this to turn into anything sexual. Now was not the time for something like that. Now, they just needed to hold each other, needed the security of the other’s presence.
Diana settled onto her back on her side of the bed, her hands coming to rest on her abdomen as Bruce climbed in beside her. She seemed so far away in the massive bed…too far away from him. “Come here,” he encouraged her.
She turned to look at him, warm adoration reflecting in her blue eyes. He reached out to her, Diana willingly moving into his waiting arms. She readily snuggled up against his side, her head coming to rest against his chest. A contented sigh escaped her lips against her will, causing a faint smile to form on Bruce’s face.
He wrapped his arm around her, holding her close to him. She always felt so safe and secure in his arms. Despite having Meta strength that surpassed understanding, the woman in her desired this with him, savoring the intimacy of just hanging on to one another as if they were the only two people in the world.
It made her feel as though they could handle anything that came their way…and they would do it together.
Bruce kissed the top of her head, relishing the feeling of his wife in his arms and her body pressed up against the length of his side. “We’ll get through this, Diana,” he reassured her.
Diana’s arm slid across his torso, pulling him unbelievably closer. “I’m just so scared of what Joker did to Tim,” she confessed, her voice thick with emotion. “What if Joker broke his mind…overdosed him with that mind control drug?”
“We’ll do whatever it takes to help him heal,” he told her. “He’ll always be our son no matter what.”
“I’ll petition my gods for their help if I have to,” she replied.
“We’ll just have to be very careful until we know for sure that he’s not under Joker’s mind control,” he said. “We’ll need to keep Nicholas and Kaia away from him for now. I don’t want to run the risk of them getting hurt.”
“We’ll know more once all the blood test results come back.”
There was a long, somewhat tense silence as both lost themselves in their own thoughts. “Diana…did I make the right decision by allowing Joker to live after he killed Jason?”
Diana sat up to look down at him, leaning on her elbow. “Bruce, you have no memories of it happening,” she reminded him with a frown.
“I know, but it still happened,” he pressed. “Do you think I made the right decision?”
Her hand moved to rest over his heart, a tender expression veiling her face. “You are the most amazing man I have ever known,” she began. “It was your steadfast belief in the sanctity of life, your willingness to put your life on the line every single day to save another that first attracted me to you. Your beliefs…your refusal to take a life…is what makes you who you are…the man that I love with all my heart.”
Bruce pulled her down, his lips capturing hers in a sweet kiss. “I may not fully remember being in love with you, but I’m constantly reminded every day why I fell in love with you.”
Diana kissed him softly before snuggling up against him once more. Wrapping their arms around each other, they soon fell asleep, each filled with worry for Tim.
Wayne Manor; September 28th, 11:56 EST
Damian scowled as he stared at the tray of food that Alfred had set across his lap. He hated being banished to his bedroom to heal, but it was preferable to being in the medical bay of the Batcave. Still, he felt he was well enough to be up and about. Alfred thought otherwise.
With a sniff of disdain, he shifted his position in his bed before picking up his spoon. He dipped the utensil into the bowl, scooping up the chicken, noodles, and broth. He’d much rather have a steak or grilled salmon, but he guessed this would have to do until he’d finally be freed from his prison.
His stomach growled loudly, reminding him just how hungry he actually was. He forced himself to eat the soup, knowing that the sooner that he recovered the sooner he’d be free to rejoin the land of the living. He had a very bad feeling it would be at least two weeks before his father would allow him out on patrol…and that would be if he was lucky.
He grumbled to himself as he took a bite of his sandwich, plotting out a way of escape from his bedroom that wouldn’t result in him getting caught. Reaching for his glass of milk, he stifled a groan, forgetting how much his shoulder still hurt. He’d never admit that he was having pain to anyone. If he did, they might never let him out of his bedroom.
He couldn’t help wondering where his grandfather was now. He still had no idea if his mother was even alive. The thought caused a pang of sorrow to erupt in his chest, but he squashed it as quickly as it had appeared. She had abandoned him, left him behind in order to follow his grandfather’s plans. She’d chosen her father over him. It was something that would not be so easily forgiven.
He had to admit that he would much rather be here than with his mother and grandfather.
“Do you need something?”
Damian looked up to find Nicholas and Kaia standing in his open doorway. “No,” he replied with a frown.
Nicholas and Kaia made their way to his bed, both climbing up onto it. “Are you better?” Nicholas asked.
Damian stared at them for a moment, wondering how they had gotten into his room when they were supposed to be downstairs. “Yah…I guess.”
“You have an owie?” Kaia questioned him; her eyebrows furrowed with concern.
“Yah…it’s right here,” he replied, pointing to the bandage hidden beneath his pajama top.
Nicholas crawled across the bed to get closer to him. “Does it hurt?”
“Not all the time,” Damian revealed. “Mostly just if I reach for something.”
Kaia crawled closer as well, sitting on Damian’s legs. “Me have an owie,” she announced, holding up her finger.
“I don’t see anything,” he said with a frown.
“Right here,” she insisted, pointing to an almost imperceptible pink scratch on her finger.
“Kaia, that’s not an owie,” Nicholas told her. “That’s just a scratch from Peanut.”
“It is too an owie,” she said with a scowl. “Mommy kissed it for me.”
“Aren’t you two supposed to be downstairs?” he finally asked.
“Yah, but we wanted to see you,” Nick replied.
“Well, hopefully I’ll get to leave my room soon,” he informed them.
“Are you in trouble?” Nicholas asked with a curious tilt of his head.
Damian shook his head. “No,” he said. “I just have to get better before I can leave my room. Alfred said so.”
“Me have to stay in my room when I’ve been naughty,” Kaia revealed with a sorrowful face that was almost comical. She got up on her knees to look at his tray of food. “Can me have your cookie?”
“What are you two doing up here?”
All three turned to find their father standing in the doorway, his arms folded against his chest. “We came to see Damian,” Nicholas volunteered.
“Alfred has your lunch ready for you,” Bruce said as he entered the room, picking Kaia up off of Damian’s bed. “That cookie is for Damian, Kaia. Alfred has some cookies downstairs waiting for you.”
“Me want to eat in my bed too like Damian,” Kaia decided with an infectious grin.
Bruce couldn’t suppress the smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth. “You’re not sick,” he pointed out.
“Me sick,” she decided, laying her head on her father’s shoulder.
“You’re not sick…you’re ornery,” he told her.
Kaia immediately lifted her head, her eyebrows knitting. “Me not ornery.”
“Get downstairs,” he told them as he put Kaia down, gently swatting her on her bottom. “Alfred is waiting for you.”
Nicholas climbed off Damian’s bed, running out of the bedroom with Kaia hot on his heels. “Sorry,” Bruce told him. “I didn’t realize they had escaped the entertainment room.”
“It’s okay,” he replied.
Bruce moved to sit on the edge of Damian’s bed, glancing at his half-eaten lunch. “How are you feeling?”
Damian shrugged his good shoulder as he picked at his sandwich again. “It’s fine,” he told him. “It only hurts if I reach for something.”
“Is there anything I can get for you? A book or a magazine?”
“No, I have my iPad,” he revealed. “How is Tim?”
Bruce shook his head, a grim expression on his face. “He still hasn’t woken up yet,” he revealed. “Alfred said it could still be several hours.”
“How bad is it?” he tentatively asked.
“Joker hurt him pretty bad,” he softly informed him. “He was beaten and tortured, but we won’t know his mental state until he wakes.”
“Any idea where Joker is?”
“None,” he informed him. “We’re hoping Tim will be able to give us some idea of where he’s hiding once he’s conscious.”
“You’re not going to let me go out and help you capture him, are you?”
“Nice try,” Bruce said with a frown. “Not in a million years.”
“That’s what I thought,” Damian glumly responded.
“Damian, we almost lost you,” he reminded him. “I’m not going through that again.”
Damian’s head shot up, shock causing his eyes to widen. “You’re not letting me be Robin?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “What kind of father am I to let my ten-year-old son be in constant danger every night? No child should ever be shot, Damian. You have no idea how much you scared me.”
“It was just an accident,” Damian broodingly dismissed it. “I lived through it.”
“This time,” he pointed out. “What about the next time?”
“You can’t do this to me,” he angrily retorted. “I deserve to be out there every night with you as Robin. I’ve trained my whole life for this. You can’t take it away from me now just because I got shot.”
“We’ll talk about it later,” Bruce assured him, his hand coming to rest on his son’s leg. “Just worry about getting better right now. You’re a part of this family and we need you.”
Damian just stared at his tray, not answering his father as he got up and left him alone once more. He was too angry at the thought of being banned from Gotham and not being Robin. He had to find a way to prove that he deserved to be Robin and that he could take care of himself. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do that until he had recovered.
One way or another he was going to find a way to help take Joker down. It was the only way to prove that he deserved to be Robin.