There are days you will never let go off and those you wished would finally pass on from your memory. There are days that are impossible to forget.
Today was such a day for Martha.
She was alone at the Manor. Thomas had taken Bruce out to show him his new office at the hospital and Martha had decided to stay in and use the time to put some more planning into the new foundation she wanted to start. Gotham could be a dreadful city and Martha knew that a little help would go a long way.
The house was silent, when she wandered from the study to the sitting room, searching for Alfred and a cup of tea.
Maybe that was why it took her so long to realize that something had changed, shifted. That something was completely different.
The first thing she did notice, however, was the change of lighting. It had been a sunny day for once, but suddenly only dreadfully pale light shone in through the big windows. When she turned around everything appeared in - if you allowed her the pun - quite a new light.
The hallway looked older, more used, and there was a lot more dust in the air than the housekeepers usually allowed for. The portraits of her and Thomas’ ancestors were the same, but Martha thought she saw a dangerous looking rip in at least one of them, with smaller stains decorating more of the paintings than Martha liked to count.
No, she was very sure that something was very, very wrong.
Her steps were more cautious now, when she continued her way to the sitting room. The closer she drew to the main area of the Manor; the more changes caught her attention.
Quite a few of these horrible vases Thomas’ aunt had gifted them were gone, the decor was slightly out of date - even though Martha couldn’t tell how so, it just felt wrong -, and the carpet wasn’t the one she remembered.
The biggest surprise, however, was the noise. She could hear multiple people talking, running, or just existing. It was the sound of Wayne Manor on its best days, when Martha’s friends were visiting, bringing all their kids along with them. It was the sound of children and Martha really hoped that Bruce would have a few siblings soon, to help him make the Manor a louder place. Kind of like this one.
It was something she was planning on telling Thomas soon. He would be overjoyed. A big family had always been his dream as well, after all. But before she could do that, she had to get to the ground of the mystery that had presented itself to her. She might be a Wayne now, but before she had taken that name, she had been a Kane. And Kane women were the most curious and courageous lot of them all.
She took one of the decorative swords she found hanging on the wall to her right and rounded the corner. It was an unexpected sight that greeted her: A dark-skinned boy and his slightly lighter-skinned companion were sitting in front of a… Martha guessed it could be something similar to a TV. But with a better color quality and so much thinner. Marvelous.
Her small exclamation of shock had made the children aware of her presence. They whirled around and stared at her, the younger of the two already jumping to his feet before Martha could react:
“Who are you, harlot? How have you obtained access into the Manor? Spill your secrets!”
His voice was smooth, with a tint of the British accent Alfred favored, and his face was scrunched up in confusion and anger. Maybe it was the age, but the boy reminded her a bit of her own little Bruce. If Bruce hadn’t inherited the pale and sun-sensitive skin of Thomas, that demanded sunscreen even on gloomy Gotham summer days.
But no matter who this child reminded her off, the language he used was inexcusable:
“I hope, that my ears misled me, because I will not stand by and let myself be called a Harlot. I am a Wayne and a Kane! You are not going to call me despicable things like that. Has nobody taught you manners?”
Her voice seemingly shocked all motion and anger out of the boy. It was the older one who managed to get over his surprise more quickly:
“You have to excuse Damian; he was raised by assassins. But did you say Wayne?”
“Of course. What else would I say? And what are you kids doing here? And is that a weird TV you are staring at?”
When the questions started, they were impossible to stop. Thomas liked to tease her about it, called her a waterfall of endless curiosity. She always told him that she had to be that way, that she had to ask all those questions. Everything else would just be boring.
Her curiosity didn’t seem to faze the boy, however. He, at least, appeared calm, no outward sign of distress visible, though his companion - Damian, he had been called - had gone awfully pale. The look on his face was one of complete disbelieve. Martha had a bad feeling.
“Ehm, could you tell me which year it is?”
Yes, Martha had a really, really bad feeling. And it didn’t get any better when the older one swallowed and continued to speak:
“You… how… You are not, by any chance, Martha Wayne, are you?”
“Well, yes, of course, I am. Who else am I supposed to be? Which, again: Who are you boys?”
All air left the room. The TV-thingy was still blaring in the background but neither Martha nor the boys spent any thought on it. No, instead they stared at each other. Martha had the distinct feeling that these kids knew more about the situation than she did. And she didn’t like that. But before she could do anything about that, Damian spoke again:
“I must apologize for my earlier behavior then… Grandmother”
“Oh, Shit! Don’t listen to him! Damian says weird stuff, like, all the time! Nothing to hear here! I’m Duke, by the way! Nice to meet you! A pleasure! Really!”
But all the exciting babbling from Duke(?) couldn’t redirect Martha’s focus away from the words Damian had said. Grandmother? Was that possible? Well, there were certainly features of her and Thomas - of Bruce - in the small face that stared to defiantly in her direction.
But that would mean… was that even possible? Time displacement? Had she somehow managed to end up in Planet of the Apes?
(She loved that movie. It was her guilty pleasure to watch with Alfred when both Thomas and Bruce were out of the house)
“Grandmother? Huh… I guess that means that I am no longer in the year 1976? Which year is it then?”
Maybe she should be more cautious or more disbelieving, but this was a mystery and Martha was going to get to the bottom of it. She had always wanted to live through her own Sci-Fi adventure.
“2018, I would believe, Mistress Martha”
She whirled around and behind her stood… an old man. She had no other words to describe it. An old man, with grey-white hair, a fitted butler’s uniform, and a smirk she would recognize anywhere in the world:
This couldn’t be right. Alfred was barely older than her, maybe Thomas’ age, but nothing even remotely close to this. Nothing so life-shatteringly different.
Maybe that was the real horror of the time-travel mystery. Maybe it was seeing your loved ones all old and grey. Maybe it was seeing time move on.
But Martha would not let herself be distracted by that. There was so much more going on, so much more to find out and discover.
“Sure, Miss Martha. Time has done me dirty; I know. But that is nothing we can’t discuss over some tea in the kitchen. Master Duke and Master Damian would do some good by cleaning up the sitting room while I entertain the Lady of the house.”
Martha had never heard Alfred talk to Bruce in such a manner, as he was their butler and dear friend and not their nanny. But the way he spoke to these children made him almost sound like their caretaker, a parent - or more of a grandparent - maybe. It was unsettling.
But Martha followed him to the kitchen anyways. And she marveled: This room was certainly the one that had changed the most. Everything was shiny and clean and well-organized. There seemed to be a kitchen island to sit on and a separate dining area so close to the kitchen it couldn’t be counted as a different room.
What had happened to the dining room? Martha would find out and until then she decided that she would approve of the remodeling. It opened the kitchen up, making it friendlier and brighter than Martha could ever remember her own kitchen being. But then again, she seldomly had a reason to wander into the kitchen herself.
Now she took a seat at the table while she waited for Alfred to serve them some tea.
When he did, biscuits adorned the tray on which he brought the teapot. They smelled delicious. Martha could do nothing against the blush that crept up her cheeks when her stomach decided to make its hunger known.
“Eat. I have spent too long feeding the hungry to shame anyone over their stomachs anymore, Miss Martha”
Thankful she took on of the cookies. One bite and her insides melted. These tasted delicious.
“You have outdone yourself, Alfred.”
She looked at him again and this time she was able to see the man she knew behind the wrinkles and the gray. He looked sad, unbelievably sad. Just this one glance told Martha that the future was an exhausting time. That it hadn’t been kind to her dear friend. That didn’t bode well for her.
“Will you tell me what is going on? Since you seem to know more than the children do.”
Deliberately slow Alfred sat down his cup - Earl Grey, a piece of lemon, no sugar - and looked her into the eyes:
“Master Bruce informed me via the telephone a few minutes ago that temporal anomalies have appeared all over Gotham and that one of them had taken place right here in Wayne Manor. When I went and searched the house, it was easy to spot you with our two youngest boys. But that is all I know, I fear.”
So, he knew nothing. Only that Bruce was still alive - which she had already known, thanks to Damian who had freely called her his grandmother. Which brought her to…
“What is it with all these children? And are there any flying cars yet?”
That made Alfred chuckle and suddenly Martha felt a bit lighter again. It had distressed her horribly to see her dearest - and oldest - friend like this.
“There are no flying cars yet, I am sorry to report, Miss Martha. But not for a lack of trying. Master Bruce has been working on ideas for this particular project of his for years now. But don’t worry, other great things have been achieved. And the children… well, they tend to be a long story!”
“What is a long story?”
A young man had entered the kitchen, probably following the indecent smell of the biscuits. It was probably the prettiest man Martha had ever lain her eyes on, and her Thomas was quite the looker himself.
The man had to be her age, maybe a year or two younger, with tan skin, lustrous locks, and the most kissable mouth since Julio Iglesias. That behind was good to look at too, but Martha was a lady of class, excuse you.
“Your large number of siblings, Master Dick, I’m afraid.”
The butler’s words did nothing to stop the blush that adorned her cheeks from deepening and it also didn’t stop Dick from looking at her and stopping in his tracks:
“You aren’t Martha Wayne by any chance, are you?”
“Yes, I am. I feel quite honored to be so recognizable after all these years.”
“I spend years as a child staring up at your portrait in the entrance hall. I would recognize your face anywhere… Alfred?”
Alfred’s face was dire when he answered Dick’s implied question. Martha hoped that that would be dealt with quickly, so they could go back to her inquiries. She was the time-traveler, after all.
“It appears that Miss Martha is the latest victim of the time displacements taking place in Gotham. I hope, I don’t have to remind you of the protocol for these cases, Master Dick?”
“Of course not, Alfie. But not spoiling the future doesn’t mean that I can’t get a nice cup of coffee, does it?”
Alfred looked as if he considered sending Dick away. Now, Martha couldn’t let that stand. Dick was the first person her age she had met in the future! Her own son would already be 47! She was allowed to have a comfort age-mate with her. It didn’t hurt that he looked like a young Iglesias.
“Alfred, get him his coffee. I am sure he isn’t going to say anything he shouldn’t. A little bit of company never hurt anybody!”
She grinned at Alfred and it wasn’t hart to see his resolve to send the young man away waver. Dick himself sent her a puzzled look and she smiled at him, as well:
“Now, tell me, Dick, what does a young lad like you do with his time?”
“Um… I… I’m a cop over in Blüdhaven and… I like to do gymnastics and aerialist work outs. I am… really not all that interesting”
“So, does that mean you’re flexible? Could you twist yourself into a snake?”
Dick chuckled when she said that, and Martha counted it as a win. Further back in the kitchen she could see Alfred give her a raised eyebrow. Some things hadn’t changed at all and Alfred’s bone-dry humor seemed to be one of them.
“I mean, if I tried, maybe? But I am not a contortionist… what do you do?”
If Dick didn’t want to talk about himself any longer, Martha could deal with that. She was a charming lady after all, and Thomas always told her that her charismatic smile had won him over all those years ago when they first met:
“Oh, me? I am currently busy building up the Martha Wayne Foundation. It’s supposed to found charitable causes in all of Gotham. By God, this city needs it! If I’m not doing that, I spend my time with Bruce - he just won his first grade’s painting contest - or with Thomas. The both of us recently took up the hobby of polo. But mostly I try to still my natural curiosity”
She winked at him and when he almost spilled his coffee over his blue shirt, she put a calming hand over his. Maybe she was too focused on the warm skin under her fingers. But only maybe, and even then, only a touch too much.
“Grandmother, could you please stop flirting with Richard”
Damian was back and behind him stood a whole army of children. She smiled her most brilliant smile at them:
“I’m not flirting with him, it’s called teasing. Don’t tell me girls don’t tease you like that, Damian? Almost all the girls in Bruce’s grade do it with him. It is really cute to see him all flustered because Nancy called him pink-cheeked!”
Dick had taken ahold of his cup and fled behind the counter. The children in the door hadn’t really reacted at first, but then Damian had gotten red - just like her little Bruce did - and immediately the teasing had begone:
“Yeah, Brat, why don’t the girls tease you like that?”
“This is a goldmine. Miss Wayne, I need all the embarrassing baby stories about Bruce, please!”
They all yelled over one another, but the loudest voices belonged to two boys. Well, one boy and one young man. Both had Bruce’s black hair and blue eyes, but while one was tall and sturdy, the other seemed a bit sickly, which didn’t diminish the glee in his eyes as he egged Damian on. Brothers, definitely. All of them.
Martha used the commotion to slowly take in all of them. There were five boys - or men as some of them appeared to be - and two girls. They all shared something with Bruce, but only Damian had taken strongly after his father. They also quite obviously didn’t share the same mother. While both Damian and Dick were tan, it still didn’t look the same shade. Duke was black, one of the girls looked East Asian, and the other one was white - and the only blonde one. The two loud boys where probably white too but with one standing almost 1 ½ heads taller than the other, their mother couldn’t be the same either. Martha was intrigued. So, she asked:
“What about your mothers? I take you are all Bruce’s children, right? How come he never stayed with one woman for more than one child?”
The silence happened to fast, it felt almost loud when suddenly none of the kids were talking anymore. It was so quick, it even surprised Martha, who knew her question to be insensitive. You could hear a needle drop in the room, which only moments ago had been bursting from all the different voices and noises.
The first one to talk again was Dick, who muttered more than actually said:
“I can’t believe my time-traveling grandmother just flirted with me only to ask me if Bruce is sleeping around…”
“Okay, Lady, I have to clear this up, because any second you think Bruce made me is slowly killing me. Again. Most of these brats are adopted, myself included, because Big B Bastard has an inferiority complex and takes in any fucking orphan he can find. Doesn’t mean he isn’t a big fat hoe, which is where Demon Spawn came from. And Steph is definitely cooler than half of these losers, but she was fortunate enough not to end in this shithole. I’m Jason, by the way”
Well, that had certainly been an… impression, Martha was sure of that. Jason was the tall, loud one from before and Steph seemed to be the blond girl.
There was a lot to unpack with all that had just left that man’s mouth, though. But mostly Martha wanted to wash it out with soap. She turned around to face Alfred:
“How come you haven’t soaped this young man’s tongue until he forgot how to spell Dammit, Alfred?”
“Oh, Miss Martha, I have certainly tried, but Master Jason had always been more than resistant when it came to his more… unfavorable habits. Quite like you, if I remember correctly. He does enjoy a good book and proper tea, however, just as any gentleman would.”
Behind her the children had started to whisper. But before she could turn around again, Alfred directed his voice at the group:
“You are all very welcome to take a seat and introduce yourself to Miss Martha, but I would hope to think that you are more polite than doing so while standing around in a doorway”
A bit of shuffling and groaning later, all of them had taken a seat at the table next to the counter. Their emotions ranked from bemused over confused to annoyed. It was like a foundation board meeting. But finally, she knew all of their names: Dick, Jason, Cass, Tim, Steph, Duke, and Damian.
“And where is Bruce right now? I would like to see him.”
It was Dick who answered, and Martha took note that all of the others deferred to him. Even Jason and his potty mouth. There were many mysteries on this table. Nothing Martha wasn’t used to and nothing she couldn’t solve. But something told her she wouldn't have the time to solve them all.
“There was a hold-up in the office. He wanted to be here as fast as possible, of course. I mean, you don’t get a chance to see your… to meet a young version of your mother every day, do you? But something else suddenly came up.”
“You can say ‘his dead mother’, I know.”
Her words created exactly the kind of storm, Martha had expected. She liked a little bit of drama every now and then. People tended to forget that she had been an Ivy League graduate, too. Everyone saw her flirty and happy nature and forgot that she was a person and not only a woman. Typical.
“Miss Wayne? How?”
“Alfred, I would have thought you to be cleverer. It was quite obvious, really. The Manor looks like a shrine and I wanted to renovate it for years now. The kids slipped up a few times. The portrait in the entrance hall of Thomas and me. Your sad eyes whenever you look at me. I am a curious and intelligent woman, Alfred. You do good not to forget that!”
Silence had settled over the table once more, only to be disturbed by Stephanie leaning over to whisper something quite loudly into Cassandra’s ear:
“This woman is my new hero and I want her to be my Batman”
But before Martha could ask, just what the girl meant with that, the doors to the room where once again pushed open. And in the doorway stood not a man Martha didn’t immediately recognize.
And then it clicked.
That was Bruce.
Her Bruce. All grown up.
She had left her chair behind before she had any chance to think about it, basically flying across the room into his arms. He was taller than her now, so much taller.
He was older than her now, so much older.
Older than she would ever get a chance to be.
His arms pulled her into a tight embrace, and Martha couldn’t help but notice how solid he felt underneath her hands. Whenever she hugged her Bruce, she was afraid of breaking him, his tiny body so frail, his entire life so small and precious in her hands. This Bruce didn’t need his mama to protect him. This Bruce was strong and could fight for himself.
It felt like half an eternity when Bruce stepped back, and Martha got a chance to really look at him:
He looked like Thomas. And he looked like her.
There were dimples that could only come from the Kane side of the family, and a forehead Martha always saw when she left her bed in the morning to get ready in front of a mirror and face the day. The nose, however, was pure Thomas, down to the unnecessary amount of nose hair. His ears, as well, screamed Wayne when they twitched under Martha’s attentive gaze.
This was her boy. Her son. Her child. Her Little One.
All grown up.
Martha could see grey color his temples, and winkles decorate his face. But she could also see those brilliant blue eyes that has asked her why seahorses were called seahorses only yesterday. And she could also see the tears dripping down the cheeks of the man her son would one day become.
This time she was the one who offered the hug, and Bruce crumbled against her, not caring for the fact that he was at least a foot taller than her. The room was silent, the eyes of every single kid glued to the shaking figure of Bruce, and the way in which Martha held him.
She only heard him because it was so quiet, his words almost drowned out by his own tears. But she heard him. She would always hear him – she was his mother after all:
“I’m so sorry. I came as fast as I could. The anomalies… they aren’t stable… you will be gone in a few minutes. But… I only got you back… I got my mama back… I am so sorry… I should have been here…”
Her heart broke a little, for just a moment. But she was Martha Wayne. And Martha Wayne did what was right:
“Bruce. Little One. Look at me, please?”
His eyes found hers and Martha was amazed by the emotions she felt looking into this face. Her boy. This was her boy. Her son:
“Don’t be selfish, Bruce. You can’t keep me here. You have a great family – and soon you will hopefully find an amazing wife as well. You have wonderful kids. And you don’t need me anymore.”
“I will always need you. You are my mama.”
“Maybe, so, Little One, but my Bruce needs me more. I haven’t taught him how to ballroom dance yet, and he can’t even tie his own shoes. He doesn't know how to count to ten in Japanese yet, or how to grin without showing his teeth. He needs his mama. And I am sure you will be fine.”
Martha could feel the… the time anomaly getting stronger. Or weaker. She didn’t know. She had studied business at Princeton and not astrophysics, but she could nevertheless feel how her molecules started to vibrate. Her body wanted to return to its own time.
Her mind… Martha wanted to say goodbye.
She didn’t know how old she had been when she had died – but probably not all that old, judging by the reactions of the people she had met today. Bruce must have terribly missed her while growing up, Martha knew that.
But her words had been true – her own Bruce needed her more. Her tiny terror, her Little One, her baby.
And this Bruce would be alright. He had a whole bunch of kids who could look after him. He had Alfred.
(and if some part of her was too afraid to ask what had happened to Thomas then so be it)
Bruce would be alright.
Call it a mother’s intuition, but Martha just knew it.
“I love you, mom.”
“I know. I love you, too, Little One. And look after yourself. And those kids of yours.”
Martha let her gaze wander one last time, watching the averted gazes of the people in the room. Some of them were crying, some of them were doing their best to hold the tears back. Most of them were adopted, Jason had said.
How many of them had hoped that their own parents had wandered through time to see them one last time?
No, these children might be feeling Bruce's pain right now, but they also loved her son. They were grateful for Bruce - and they would make the goodbye so much easier for him to bear.
“I am so sorry for not being here earlier, I… I almost missed you! I… mama, I…”
“Shh, its quite alright. I enjoyed meeting your family. It is good to know that you grow up strong. Now, I don’t have to worry about you. My Bruce is gonna be a hero one day, and I am damn proud of him for that.”
Martha had to smile, she just had to. She pressed Bruce closer once more, enjoying the strength he radiated, the confidence hidden underneath the business suit and the shock:
“Yes, a hero. I don’t need to know what you do with your life to know that. Because I have seen your kids, Bruce, and each and everyone of them admires you. Children know what’s up. They know a hero when they see one. And so do I.”
“You will always be my hero.”
Her entire body was crawling with energy now, and Martha knew that it was time. She would be gone soon. Honestly, she wasn’t even really sure if she was still entirely in the Manor kitchen at all.
Something else came to her mind. She was still a mother after all. And a Wayne-Kane:
“Oh… and teach Jason a bit more creative swears, he seems to repeat himself quite often. And look after Dick! Duke needs more yellow sweaters; they make his eyes pop. Cass, honey, you are perfect. Stephanie… I would love to be your Batman whatever that means. Damian… I love you. Tim, please, dear boy, get a hair-“
There was no time left and suddenly Martha had to many things she wanted to say.
Bruce was looking at her, his eyes lost, his mouth slightly agape. Martha wanted to tap his chin to remind him to close it, just as she normally did during dinner when he chewed with too much élan. But for that she would need arms, and her body was no longer tethered to this plane of existence.
She only had a few words left to spare:
“Bruce… Little One… I love you. And I am so, so proud of you.”
“I love you, too, mama…”
“Yes, Miss Martha?”
The butler – her friend – appeared next to Bruce. She hadn’t heard him step closer. But that was unimportant, especially now:
“Just call me Martha. And thank you for looking after him.”
“It was a pleasure and an honor… Martha.”
“Even an old dog can learn new tricks.”
She would never know if he had heard her, because when she blinked the kitchen in front of her had vanished and her own Manor greeted her once more.
Martha had reappeared in the sitting room, and for a moment she thought it had all been a dream, but then she noticed the biscuit crumps all over her dress and reality set in.
She had traveled through time. She had met her own son. She had seen the future – and she knew the future would be alright, even without her in it to make sure of that,
In the distance the sound of a door closing was audible, shortly followed by the sound of small feet running down a hallway and a yell filled with glee and love coming closer and closer:
“Mama! Mama! Papa showed me all the big machines. They are soooooo big. Mama! Have you ever seen them?”
“Yes, I have, Little One.”
A thought – a memory of days that had not yet come – graced her, as she looked into the innocent eyes of her son as he crushed her in a hug:
“Hey, do you want to learn how to ballroom dance to impress all the young ladies?”
Her son would be alright, Martha knew that. And she would give him as many memories of her, as she physically could. She would make sure that he would remember her, since she wouldn’t be there to see him grow up herself.
Her son would be alright, she had made sure of that.
She had seen the future with her own two eyes after all.