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Who Can't Lie?

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Bruce Wayne

 

            I jerked up, a scream caught in my throat that thankfully never worked its way free.

            Breathing hard, I fell back against the pillows, trying to will the tenseness out of my body. I should have known better—you can’t will trauma away, no matter how hard you try.

            Gulping in deep breaths, I pushed the covers away and stood on shaky legs, making my way to the doors to my own private balcony. It was January right now, and currently cold as Heaven, but I needed the chill, needed the fierce biting of the winter winds to remind me that this was real, that I was here, and that the nightmares were just nightmares.

            Throwing the doors open, I gritted my teeth as the blast of cold nearly sent me staggering back. It was almost like being shot by Mister Freeze’s gun. But I forced myself to take a deep breath and faced the wind head on.

            It was painful, standing in the wind, but it electrified my senses, made me feel more alive and grounded than I had lying in my bed. And as my skin chilled, I thought of my nightmare.

 

            She was laughing, her beautiful black hair in braids that just touched her shoulder blades, dressed in her baseball uniform. Not softball—no, her coach had allowed her the highest honor and let her join the boy’s baseball team.

            The game was over. She had hit a home run and won the game, and was holding up a trophy, victory shining on her face.

            Perched upon a teammate’s shoulders, she was surrounded by an adoring crowd, everyone chanting her name.

            “Nell!” they all yelled. “Nell! Nell! Nell! Nell! Nell!”

            When she turned her gaze to me, beaming like the sun, it happened.

            The gun went off, and I didn’t have to look to know the bullet had blown right through her skull and killed her instantly. She fell off of her teammate’s shoulders and plunged to the ground, lying there like a fallen angel.

            I stood there in total shock, watching as familiar figures pushed past me and through the crowd of players. Then Duke was cradling her in his arms.

            “Nell!” he screamed. “Nell! Nell! Nell! Nell! Nell!”

            Nell.

            Spunky, vivacious, beautiful, vibrant Nell.

            Nell was dead.

            Nell was dead.

            Dead.

            Dead.

            Dead.

            And now…

            Now I was surrounded by a whirlwind of faces, each one sending pain lancing through my heart.

            Julia.

            Jim.

            Jean-Paul.

            Selina.

            Little Helena.

            Carrie.

            Bette.

            Lucius.

            Tanya.

            Tiffany.

            Tamara.

            Basil.

            Hank.

            Nell.

            I closed my eyes, trying to block them out.

            “Bruce,” they whispered. “Bruce. Bruce. Bruce.”

            My body began to shake.

            “Bruce. Bruce. Bruce.”

            I crashed down onto my knees, clapping my hands to my ears.

            “Bruce. Bruce. Bruce.”

            Tears began to pour down my face. I couldn’t take much more of this.

            “Bruce. Bruce? Bruce!”

 

 

            The illusion shattered and I turned to see Kate walking to me, dressed only in a red nightgown with small black polka dots and black lace. Her red hair was in disarray, and I knew that meant she’d been sleeping. Her normally pale skin was even lighter, probably from cold.

            “What are you doing?” She grabbed my hand and yanked me away from the doors. “It’s fucking negative twenty degrees out! Do you want to freeze to death, tipesh?” Idiot.

            She only called me an idiot when I did something truly stupid, like take on twenty armed men with a broken arm, or try to blowtorch Scarecrow, or try to go out in public with a beard.

            “Honestly,” she muttered as she closed the balcony doors. “You spend every night cheating death, then you go and stand half-naked in front of open doors in the middle of a damn blizzard.”

            “Excuse you, I am not half naked.” I gestured to my boxers and old tank top. “I am acceptably covered.

            “Yeah, for summer, not the middle of motherfucking winter!” Kate dragged her nails through her hair in exasperation. “Remind me again how in God’s name you haven’t died yet?”

            “Heaven doesn’t want me, Purgatory can’t keep me, and Hell kicked me out,” I said, grinning.

            Kate reached over and pinched my cheek between two nails.“Tipesh. Come on. Alfred made hot chocolate.”

            The nightmare echoing in my head, plus the temptation of Alfred’s hot chocolate, had me following Kate out of my room and through the hallways into the kitchen, where Alfred in his white and blue striped pajamas was stirring a pitcher full of hot chocolate.

            He looked up as we approached. “Ah, Mistress Katherine. I see you’ve brought Master Bruce to join us.” Alfred raised an eyebrow at me. “What tempted you out of bed? It’s too early for patrol, and I know you weren’t working.”

            Kate glanced at me as we both sat down at the kitchen bar. “Yeah, Brucie, what on Earth made you think standing half-naked out in a blizzard was a good idea?”

            I ignored the Brucie, as well as Alfred’s exasperated sigh, and considered lying to them. But I decided against it. They would know, plus I knew I needed to get it off my chest.

            “I had a nightmare,” I admitted.

            “Oh?” Kate accepted a mug of steaming hot chocolate from Alfred as she regarded me curiously. “What kind of nightmare?”

            I sighed, staring down at the mug Alfred handed me that I held with both hands. He’d added a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, my favorite companions to hot chocolate since I was a boy.

            Nell had liked her hot chocolate with exactly seven marshmallows and two sprinkles of chocolate shavings. How she could stomach that I had no idea, but it was her favorite.

            She’d died before she could taste it again.

            Swallowing, I made myself meet my cousin’s eyes. “I watched Nell die.”

            Kate’s breath caught and Alfred had to close his eyes for a minute. We were all silent while we digested my words. I took the time to rub my eyes, banishing any tears from my face.

            “That poor, sweet girl,” Alfred murmured. “She deserved so much better. To die so young…”

            “Yeah, well, that’s life,” Kate said nastily. “You win some, you lose some. You adopt a kid. They get assassinated. Shit happens.”

            “Mistress Katherine,” Alfred sighed.

            “Because, you know, that’s how this works. “The Lord Giveth And The Lord Taketh Away,” right?” She laughed a little hysterically. “It’s all part of God’s plan!”

            God’s plan fucking sucks, I thought quietly, but I didn’t say anything out loud. Kate was very serious about her faith, and to besmirch our Lord and Savior’s good name was an insult to said faith.

            “Glory hallelujah!” Kate giggled, tears pooling in her eyes. “Praise be! God bless the Earth!”

            “Mistress Katherine.” Alfred leaned over and pressed a hand over one of hers. “It’s all right.”

            “No, it’s not.” Kate blinked, and a tear fell down her cheek. “I just don’t understand. Why did she have to die? I don’t pretend to know God’s plan, but…shouldn’t her death be for something?”

            I grasped her other hand and pressed it to my forehead. “I wish I knew,” I said uselessly. “I wish I knew.”

            Kate lowered her head, shaking.

            Nell had only died six months ago and our family was still reeling from the loss. I had taken to working longer hours, going out far past my scheduled patrol time or getting paperwork done or tinkering in the workshop. Kate dealt with it by being overly sarcastic and loud. Alfred cleaned and cooked until his hands shook. The children—

            The children.

            “I’m going to go check on everyone,” I announced, releasing Kate’s hand and standing up.

            Kate joined me on her feet, wiping her face with her arm. “I’ll come too.”

            “As will I,” Alfred agreed. “It is almost time for Master Jason and Mistress Cassandra and Master Damian to come home from patrol.”

            And time for Alfred, Kate, and I to come out and play. That didn’t leave much time, so I quickly made my way out of the kitchen and up the stairs, my cousin and father figure in tow.

            Despite having a five-floor mansion not counting the basement, everyone chose to sleep on the second floor. I didn’t know why—maybe to keep close to each other. Or perhaps because that was what they were used to, having lived in comparatively smaller homes before coming to live with me.

            The first stop was Dick’s room. I pressed the code that would unlock the door—they all had lock codes to their rooms, a feature we’d installed after Barbara’s incident with the Joker. The poor woman was so traumatized she felt the need to lock every door—and peered inside. What I saw drew a smile across my face.

            Dick was flopped on his bed, passed out and surrounded by paperwork. Barbara was cuddling up to him, tucked underneath a blanket and clutching a file to her chest like a teddy bear.

            Kate chuckled. “Aw, that’s so cute!”

            Alfred clicked his tongue. “Those two. I swear, Master Bruce, they are becoming more and more like you every day.”

            “Hey.” I mocked a glare at Alfred. “Don’t insult them like that. They at least know when to sleep.”

            “Fair enough.”

            We closed and locked the door and moved on past Barbara’s room and onto Duke’s.

            In order to do that, though, we had to go by Nell’s room too.

            We hadn’t disturbed a thing since she died, though Alfred occasionally went in to clean it, like he was hoping she would come home someday. Everything was still there—her clothes, her books, her baseball memorabilia. None of us could bear to disturb it. It felt like dishonoring her memory somehow.

            Alfred ran a hand through his graying hair as we passed. “God, that poor child.”

            “I know.” Kate leaned against our father figure. “I know.”

            I ignored the door entirely and made straight for Duke’s open door.

            He was fast asleep on his bed, curled up in a ball—not because of the cold. This was just how he normally slept, tucked in the fetal position with the blankets covering him.

            “Glory.” Kate stared at him sadly. “The poor boy. How has he been, Alfred? Bruce? I haven’t seen him much for the past few weeks—has he been getting reclusive?”

            “According to Mistress Harper and Mistress Claire, no. He’s simply been busy at his club at school,” Alfred reported. “Last I heard they were planning a trip to the Gotham City Museum of Paleontology.”

            “Good. That’s good.” Kate made her way over to Duke’s bed and rested her hand on the crown of his head. “I hate to see him so miserable.”

            “We all do.” Alfred clicked his tongue. “Nell was more than his sister, she was his best friend. And to lose her like that, without warning…”

            “It was like reliving their deaths all over again,” I murmured, glancing down at my clasped hands. “Every single one of them.”

            Alfred’s hand gripped my shoulder, squeezing it firmly.

            Kate bent down to kiss Duke on the forehead, then straightened up and walked back toward us. “Let’s go check on Tim. I’m not entirely sure he’s in bed. Or asleep.”

            I nodded, feeling weary. Tim.

            We closed the door to Duke’s room and migrated to Tim’s room, where we found him passed out on his desk, his computer still running beside him, Enya playing softly through his speakers.

            “For God’s sake, doesn’t that boy know how to sleep?” Kate shook her head, disgusted. “If I hadn’t stitched him up myself, I would think he’s some kind of robot.”

            Alfred sighed. “The poor boy hasn’t been right since he quit drinking caffeine.”

            After Tim’s coffee addiction had grown too extreme—he’d drank a dozen cups in two hours—the whole family had held a meeting where we tried to talk Tim into quitting caffeine. He’d adamantly refused, and it was only after Kate and Jason and I had started yelling and Stephanie burst into tears and Harper went completely hysterical that he’d agreed.

            Tim had quit cold turkey then and there, which proved to be a total disaster. His anxiety had skyrocketed, he slept for over eighteen hours, his tremors had increased to the point where he couldn’t even walk—we’d had to ban him from patrol until he was capable of holding his bo staff without dropping it.

            But he’d pulled through, and he was currently on his third month without any kind of coffee, unless he had a secret stash somewhere we hadn’t found. We’d had Ace, Titus, Goliath, and Alfred the cat scour the mansion and they’d come up empty. And our own investigations proved futile as well. The manor was devoid of any kind of caffeine except tea.

            Now Tim was dealing with it as best he could. But that still didn’t stop him from working until he dropped.

            I sighed and picked Tim up bridal-style and carried him to his bed, where I laid him down as gently as I could. He murmured under his breath as I tucked him in and smoothed the hair back from his head. I left Enya on. Tim hated silence. Too much time spent in a quiet house when he was younger, I guess.

            Oh, Tim. I couldn’t hold back my smile, even as I left his room. Even without his drug of choice, he still insisted on working hard.

            “Don’t romanticize this, Bruce,” Kate chided as we walked past Jason, Cassandra, and Damian’s rooms. “Tim’s work habits aren’t exactly healthy, you know.”

            “I know, I know.” We’d reached Claire’s room now, and I reached for the door handle. “Think of it as fatherly exasperation.”

            “Damn right, Master Bruce,” Alfred muttered as I opened the door to Claire’s room.

            To my surprise, Harper was tucked into bed beside a snoozing Claire, one hand carding through her blonde locks. She looked up when she saw us and shrugged. “Claire couldn’t sleep,” she explained. “She was having nightmares about Hank, so I thought I’d keep her company.”

            Kate smiled. “How sweet of you.”

            Harper shrugged again. “Birds of a feather stick together, right?”

            Alfred nodded. “Well said, Mistress Harper.”

            Though we were one big family of fifteen, we were broken down into several cliques, five of three each. These three were generally closer to each other than the rest of the family and were also part of the same patrol unit. We’d even come up with nicknames, courtesy of Stephanie and Harper.

            Alfred, Kate, and I were the “Traumatized Adults” unit, or Alpha Squad.

            Barbara, Dick, and Luke were the “At Least I Had A Somewhat Normal Childhood” unit, also known as Beta Squad.

            Helena, Tim, and Stephanie were the “My Parents Sucked” unit, or Delta Squad.

            Harper, Duke, and Claire were the “I Had An Awesome Sibling Until They Were Killed” unit, or Theta Squad.

            Jason, Cassandra, and Damian were the “Childhood? What Childhood?” unit, or Omega Squad.

            Originally, Nell had been in Omega Squad and Duke had been in Beta Squad, but things had changed after her death. Now Duke was the one with a dead sibling and Nell was buried in a grave in our backyard.

            God.

            I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to force the image of that small grave out of my mind.

            “Now shoo.” Harper waved her hand at us. “I’ve got this covered.”

            “You got it,” Kate said, and the three of us left the room.

            Helena was next. When I opened the door, I saw her flopped on her bed, her TV blaring a rerun of Hello Megan!

            Alfred chuckled. “She always did love that show.”

            “It’s a good show.” I turned off the TV, watching as Marie Logan’s smiling face disappeared. “It was awful when she died.”

            “Yeah. And her poor kid—losing his mother like that. And to Queen Bee no less!” Kate’s gaze darkened. “Damn woman—remind me why we haven’t taken her out yet?”

            “Because we have yet to come up with a conceivable plan to assassinate a dictator and get away with it,” Alfred deadpanned.

            “Well when we do, I want to lead the team. I want to make Queen Bitch pay for killing that little boy’s mom,” Kate growled.

            “Kate, Queen Bee controls humans, particularly those attracted to women.” I raised an eyebrow at her. “I think you’d be in more trouble than the rest of us.”

            “Damn it, you’re right.” Kate kicked the ground. “Man.”

            “We can discuss killing her later. Mistress Stephanie and Master Luke await,” Alfred said, gesturing to the door.

            I knew what to expect from Stephanie, but I still chuckled when I saw her tangled in her sheets, her mouth hanging open, an arm and a leg dangling off the side of the bed.

            Kate snorted. “That never gets old. I should have brought my phone.”

            Alfred shook his head. “Honestly, Mistress Katherine, I think we have enough pictures of Mistress Stephanie sleeping to wallpaper the entire Batcave.”

            I smiled. “One of my favorites is the one with her legs propped up on the headboard.”

            “My personal favorite is the starfish position,” Alfred remarked.

            “Ooh, remember that time she fell out of bed and swore so loudly she woke the bats up?” Kate smirked. “That was funny.”

            “Poor her.” I shook my head. “All that blackmail material…”

            “All of which is being saved for a rainy day, I’m sure. You’re raising a congress of politicians, Master Bruce,” Alfred pointed out.

            “I believe the right term is congress of baboons, though I guess nowadays there’s no difference.”

            Alfred heaved a sigh. “Believe me, Mistress Katherine, there has never been a difference.”

            Sharing a collective laugh, we left Stephanie’s room and went to Luke’s. I opened the door—to find his bed empty.

            “Damn it, Luke,” Kate groaned.

            “I’m assuming he’s down in the cave, tinkering with his projects,” Alfred said resignedly.

            “Or he’s having a rough night.” I shoved a hand through my hair. “Think he needs a chat?”

            “Either that or a stiff drink.”

            “Ha-ha.”

            The route to the Batcave was etched into my mind to the point where I repeated the steps in my head like I was a tour guide.

            Walk down the stairs to the basement to the giant clock. Turn the hands to midnight. Walk down the stairs and no touching the giant dinosaur. Or the penny, that takes ages to clean. We hope you enjoy your stay in the Gotham City underground.

            My first stop to find Luke would have been the workshop, but even before I reached the bottom of the stairs I heard grunting and the dull sounds of fists into a punching bag. So I went toward the training ring.

            Sure enough, Luke was beating the ever-loving tar out of a punching bag, the poor thing barely having time to recover before he was on it again. His face was twisted with rage, but there were tears pouring down his face.

            “Luke,” I said.

            He ignored me, or maybe he didn’t hear me over the sound of his fists.

            “Luke,” I called.

            No response. He launched several kicks, whirling around and around.

            “Master Lucas,” Alfred tried.

            Still nothing. His blows came harder and harder.

            Fed up, Kate stepped forward and bellowed, “LUCAS FOX, QUIT THAT SHIT AND ANSWER US, DAMN IT!”

            Luke yelped, stumbling over his feet and falling flat on his ass. Groaning, he glared at Kate. “What the Hell, Kate? What’s the big idea? You didn’t have to use your Drill Sergeant™ voice on me!”

            “Well you weren’t listening, and I wanted to get your attention,” Kate retorted.

            “All right, fine.” Luke rubbed his face, wiping the tears away. “What do you want?”

            “To see if you’re all right, of course.” I knelt down beside him. “You’re crying.”

            “Really, I hadn’t noticed,” Luke snarked.

            “Master Lucas, we merely want to help you,” Alfred, ever patient, said calmly.

            “I…I know,” Luke sighed, running a hand over his head. “I’m sorry, I just…I’m having a rough night.”

            “Your family,” I guessed.

            “Yeah.” Luke’s hands tightened into fists. “I just…I keep on seeing them,you know? I keep on seeing Ma and Pa bleeding out and Tiff choking and Tam being eaten by rats and…”

            He gagged, his body shaking.

            “I know, I know.” I reached out and ran a hand down his back. “It keeps me up at night too. Sometimes I wish I were still on the booze. At least it helped me sleep.”

            “Bruce,” Kate said sharply.

            “Master Bruce,” Alfred tutted.

            I sighed. “I’m just saying.”

            “No, it’s cool. I got the gist of it.” Luke grinned through watery eyes at me. “Kind of nice to know I’m not alone.”

            “Damn right,” Kate muttered. “I still get nightmares.”

            “We all do, Mistress Katherine.” Alfred rested a hand on her shoulder. “We all do.”

            Luke sniffed once. Twice. “I just don’t know if I can go to sleep tonight.”

            “Believe me, I understand completely,” I told him. “But you have that meeting with the head of Finance tomorrow, don’t you?”

            “Well, yeah…”

            “You need to have at least somesleep for that, don’t you?”

            Luke glared at me. “Please don’t do this to me, Bruce. Please don’t.”

            I sighed again. “Luke, you need to at least try to get some sleep. Even if you can’t, just lie there with your eyes closed for a while. Did you take your sleeping medicine?”

            He snorted. “Like I’d ever forget?”

            “Fair, fair. But could you please try?” I looked him deep in his dark brown eyes. “For me. For your family. You know they wouldn’t want you to be up so late on their account.”

            Luke tried to look away for a minute before gritting his teeth around a reluctant, “Fine. But if I have another nightmare, we’re sparring the next time you’re free.”

            I smiled at him. “It’s a date.”

            He rolled his eyes. “Playboy.” But Luke got off the ground and walked toward the stairs.

            Alfred shook his head. “That poor man. He still has so many demons haunting him.”

            Kate sucked in her cheeks. “I…sometimes I wish I could just…suck up all his pain…just take it all away from him, you know?”

            I knew. And sometimes I wished someone would be strong enough to do the same for the rest of us.

            For me.

            There came the sound of a mechanical door whirring open, then the familiar near-silent rumble of the Batmobile. Jason, Cassandra, and Damian were apparently done with their patrol.

            Kate’s head perked up. “Sounds like the rest of the munchkins are home. Shall we go say hello?”

            I shrugged. “Might as well.”

            We walked into the Batcave’s control room to find Red Hood, Orphan, and Robin leaning against the computer monitor. Red Hood and Robin were rubbing their exposed hair while Orphan stood perfectly still, as she was wont to do.

            “Hey guys,” Kate greeted. “What’s up?”

            Red Hood snorted before removing his facemask and goggles. “Not much. Just got done hanging a gang of child traffickers. So, you know, fun.”

            “Good job. Did anything else interesting happen?” I asked.

            Robin yanked off his domino mask and suddenly it was Damian frowning at nothing. “Only one call for help from Crime Alley. Some random woman was terrorizing this family for money. Todd shot her.”

            Jason smirked. “Served her right. Damn bitch was pimping those poor kids.”

            “Ugh.” Kate shuddered. “Nasty business. What’d you do with the body?”

            “Oh.” Jason jerked a thumb at Orphan, who had pulled off her hood and mask and was watching us with apprehension in her Lazarus lime flecked sepia eyes. “Cass burned the body. Some dudes were getting wasted on a rooftop and had a bonfire going. Didn’t seem to notice when she tossed the body in.” He shook his head. “Imbéciles.” Morons.

            “So a fairly average night,” Alfred summed up.

            Cassandra nodded. “Yes.”

            “Cool.” Kate reached over and patted Jason on the shoulder. “Good job, yaladem.” Children.

            “Gracias.” Jason yawned, running a hand through his hair. “I’m going to hit the shower.” Thanks.

            “Good. You reek,” Damian sneered. “And try not to reenact Shakespeare while you’re in there, Todd. If I have to hear a Hamlet monologue one more time…”

            “I like it,” Cassandra piped up.

            “Thank you, Cass.” Jason shot a look at Damian. “Why can’t you be nice to me like Cass is, huh enano?” Midget.

            “Probably something to do with the fact that you call me enano half the time.” Damian waved a hand. “Get lost, Todd.”

            Jason left for the showers, but not before flipping Damian off.

            I shook my head in exasperation. Damian had odd ways of expressing his love to his siblings. Some he treated civilly, like Duke and Cassandra and Dick. Others he exchanged verbal blows with, like Jason. But I knew better. Jason was actually one of Damian’s favorite siblings. This was just his way of showing it.

            “I suppose I have to shower as well.” Damian sighed in defeat. “Woe. I will have to endure Todd’s scent again.”

            “Poor you,” Cassandra told him, a tinge of sarcasm in her voice.

            “Hush, Cain,” Damian said half-heartedly. He could never be angry at Cassandra—I couldn’t think of a single family member who could. “You are just lucky that you do not have to shower with him and hear those stupid monologues.”

            Cassandra shrugged. “Not that bad.”

            “Speak for yourself.” Damian strode in the same direction, tossing a “Good night, Baba. Pennyworth. Kane. Cain.” Father.

            “Good night, Master Damian,” Alfred called after him as Damian disappeared around a corner.

            “Hey Cass, you going to shower too?” Kate asked.

            Cassandra nodded. “Yes. Sticky.”

            “Cool. Better hurry up before your brothers hog all the cold water.”

            My daughter jerked back. “No cold water,” she gasped, her hand going to tug at the white streak in her hair, a trait she shared with Jason and Damian. “No cold water.”

            “Shit.” Kate held up her hands. “I’m sorry, Cass, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to—!”

            Cassandra held up a shaking hand. “Fine,” she squeaked, her other hand twisting that white streak around her fingers. “Okay. Go now.”

            With that, she scurried away toward the showers.

            “Damn it,” Kate cursed. “Damn it.”

            Damn Lazarus Pit.

            “It’s not your fault, Mistress Katherine,” Alfred said soothingly, placing a hand on her shoulder.

            “Yes it is.” Kate buried her head in her hands. “I forgot. Tipesh. Tipesh, tipesh, tipesh.”

            “It’s all right, Kate.” I reached over and squeezed her other shoulder. “We’re all a little guilty of forgetting their triggers sometimes.”

            “But I shouldn’t,” Kate wailed.

            “Mistress Katherine, Mistress Cassandra knows you didn’t mean to startle her. And you know she would be angry at you for blaming yourself.” Alfred gave her a stern look. “Now go get changed. It’s time for patrol. And if I hear anything about this again, I will turn you over my knee. Understand?”

            “But—!” Kate protested.

            “Over my knee, Mistress Katherine,” he threatened.

            Kate’s shoulder’s slumped. “Fine,” she sighed, defeated, before stalking for her private changing room.

            I sighed. “This family is a hot mess.”

            “Indeed, Master Bruce,” Alfred agreed. “Now, go get dressed. Who knows what the criminals of the city are up to tonight?”

            “Good point.” I walked away in the direction of my own private changing room. “Man the monitors?”

            “As always,” he called after me.

            I nodded as I entered my changing room, closing the door softly behind me.

            We all had our own rooms in the Batcave on the off chance there was a real emergency that we all needed to be present for, or if we were too tired to make it to our real rooms. That was also where we kept our uniforms and where we changed so we could all have some privacy.

            I stripped out of my tank top and boxers and reached for my uniform, neatly folded on the bed, and trying to ignore the sight of my arm. Though I always kept the lights off while I was changing, I hated seeing any of my exposed skin.

            I couldn’t bear to look at my ruined body. The rest of my family felt the same. Hence the reason why the manor held next to no mirrors. The ones we did have were locked in the storage rooms deep within the Batcave, wrapped in sheets and trash bags.

            Methodically, I began to don my uniform, repeating the steps in my head. For whatever reason, it calmed me.

            Pull on the jock and under armor. Put on the suit. Clasp the belt. Tug on the boots. Wrestle the cloak and hood over your head and shoulders. Ta-da, you’re Batman. Go forth and conquer.

            Leaving my room, I strode through the cave and—

            I couldn’t help it. I just couldn’t help it. I turned to look at the holograms.

            For every dead body buried in our backyard, we’d erected a holographic statue of each one of them.

            Except for Uncle Philip, who we’d buried in the bottom of our pond.

            The thought of my horrible uncle was enough to force bile up my throat. I swallowed and tried to force that thought out of my mind.

            All of the holograms here were of our fallen in their battle attire. We had plenty of pictures of them in civilian clothing upstairs in the manor proper. This was a tribute to the warriors they had been. I stared at each one.

            A pale fifteen-year-old with short black hair, mirthful brown eyes, and silver braces, clad in a proper black tuxedo. Penny-Two. Julia.

            A man clad in thick black armor, a bat helmet covering his face and two mechanical wings protruding from his back. Batguard. Jim.

            A man in red armor and a golden cape, a red facemask obscuring his features and two swords sheathed behind his back. Azrael. Jean-Paul.

            A tall woman in a flowing cat uniform with blood red lips, henna colored skin, and peach goggles, a whip tied around her waist. Catwoman. Selina.

            A flickering image of an ultrasound, the shape of a baby just visible. Selina and Bette’s almost child. A daughter who would have been called Helena Kane-Kyle.

            A small pale fifteen-year-old in an orange-red cat uniform with clear goggles magnifying her bright sky blue eyes and a slingshot tucked into her belt. Catgirl. Carrie.

            A tall bronze-skinned woman with jasmine colored hair in a blue and gold uniform with golden mechanical wings protruding from her back. Hawkfire. Bette.

            A small fourteen-year-old boy in ripped jeans, sneakers, and a shirt that read “Real Men Use The Force” with light brown hair and shining blue eyes. Mockingbird. Cullen.

            A tall man in a slate gray suit and an albino fox mask with no hair and dark umber skin. Foxtrot. Lucius.

            A short woman in a khaki suit with poofy black hair that fell in a halo around her face, dark brown skin, and a black fox mask. Foxglove. Tanya.

            A little eight-year-old girl in a black and pink homemade Batgirl costume with dark brown hair in twin buns and Foxtrot’s dark umber skin. The future Batgirl. Tiffany.

            A tall fourteen-year-old girl with black hair and dark brown skin in a hot pink dress, black leggings, and clunky black combat boots, a red fox mask on her face. Foxface. Tamara.

            A giant clay figure with glowing yellow eyes. Clayface. Basil.

            A hulking seventeen-year-old in a light and navy blue striped uniform with two black G’s inside of a yellow diamond on his chest, dark brown hair on his head. Gotham Guy. Hank.

            A sixteen-year-old girl with sepia skin and braided black hair in a black and purple Batgirl costume. Batgirl. Nell.

            This was our secret shrine, to honor the sacrifices they had made that the world could and would never know about. Only we would know. And only we could continue protecting their legacy.

            My eyes were drawn to Nell’s hologram tonight. She was so damned beautiful, her mahogany eyes shining through her mask, her smile bright despite the horrors she had seen in her short lifetime.

            She shouldn’t have died that day. She didn’t deserve to die that day.

            “Batman.”

            I turned to see Batwoman walking up to me, her cape swishing behind her. Her expression was somber as she stood at my side, staring at the holograms.

            “It’s not fair,” she murmured, gazing at Bette’s face. “It’s just not fair.”

            “Is anything ever fair?” I turned away from the holograms. “One of these days one of us will be next.”

            Batwoman snorted. “Like God will be merciful enough to let us die. They certainly didn’t let Jason or Cass or Damian stay dead.”

            I wasn’t totally sure God had anything to do with that, but I decided not to push the issue.

            The comm. link built into my hood gave a crackle. “I have reports of a robbery going on at the bank,” Penny-One’s calm voice said.

            Batwoman sighed. “Joy.” She glanced at me. “What do you say, Bats? Ready to butcher some robbers?”

            I gave her a vicious smirk as I swept toward the Batmobile. “Let’s go.”