Disclaimers: Nothing here is mine. I'm just a happy
Spoilers: "A Better World," "Hereafter." See Author's
Note for more information.
Summary: Sometimes, it's just a matter of one day
Ratings Note/Warnings: R. Contains content some readers
may find disturbing.
Author's Note: This is my attempt to explain how
Lorder!Batman came to be. I've decided some version
of the new Teen Titans cartoon exists as canon, as do
the events of *all* prior Timm/Dini Batman cartoons,
including, in an AU sort of way, Batman Beyond: Return
of the Joker.
Title from D.H. Lawrence.
Acknowledgments: To Livia, Jack, Bas, Rynia, the Spike,
and the lit chick for audiencing and many helpful
suggestions. To Misha for the extended... discussion that
led to *this* particular version.
Feedback: Always. firstname.lastname@example.org
There's nothing special about the call, when it comes.
Tim has his own team these days, and they'd long since
created a system to handle those moments when those
team-mates had to get in touch with him, or vice versa.
And because Tim's team is what it is... Well.
It's not the first seemingly random phone call Batman's
gotten through a number of near-instantaneous and
random switchbacks from San Francisco.
It's just that it's usually Beast Boy to make them, and
usually at four a.m.
It's eight thirty-seven in the evening.
"... so I don't mean to bother you or anything I know
you're busy Robin always says don't bother you unless
it's an emergency and I don't think it IS an emergency but
sometimes I don't know for sure and --"
"What seems to be the problem?" Batman grins to himself,
having already decided that *whatever* it is, it'll be a job
"Well. Um. Is Robin there? Because you know he said he
was going to see you and that he needed a vacation --
except that he doesn't talk about vacations the way I've
come to understand the term --"
Or not. "*Starfire*. Are you saying Robin's missing?"
"Yes! Yes, that's it exactly. Only, he's really always been
*kind* of mysterious. It's just that he's been gone for a
week and he --"
"Stay where you are. Someone will be there to rendezvous
with your team."
"Okay! I --"
"Call me *immediately* if you hear anything. Batman --"
"He's all right, isn't he?"
He closes his eyes, just for a moment. Thinks about
everything Robin has shared about his team. About Starfire,
in particular. Sighs to himself. "I'm sure he's fine. Batman
He's had an hour to think.
"San Francisco? Bruce, are you sure I wouldn't be of more
use to you here?"
Superman -- Clark -- doesn't, quite, have his hand on
Batman's shoulder. Everything in his voice and body
language says he's not sure about that decision. He
straightens where he stands, just in case. "Someone needs
to keep an eye on those kids, Superman. You're the best
He's had an hour.
Tim has had a week. Six days, really. Robin had stopped
a jewel heist in Reno not long after leaving his team.
Tim Drake had boarded a plane to Gotham later that
night from Las Vegas International. Careful of him.
Entirely in character. Robin's bike was probably stashed
in the desert.
"You shouldn't be alone for this."
"Nightwing and Batgirl have already been notified." If
they weren't already back at the Manor, they were on
"Clark. I need you in San Francisco. The Titans are...
nowhere near as professional as I'd like them to be."
"They're good kids --"
"Exactly. I need you to find out exactly what they know,
if there's something Starfire didn't tell me --"
Hand on his shoulder. "I'm on it. I'll take J'onn, too."
Batman blinks. He hadn't thought of that. An hour. A
week. Six days. "I. Thank you."
A squeeze. "He's my friend, too."
Clark is gone before Batman can respond, which is
probably for the best.
He powers up Javelin-4 while he waits for the information
to come in from the Gotham area airports. Intellectually,
he understands that the data won't reach the Cave any
faster than it will reach the Tower.
That's all that matters.
There are eight different aliases Robin can reasonably
be expected to use at any given time. Eleven, if he includes
the emergency identities. He has done so.
The only way he would've *landed* in Gotham as Timothy
Drake is if he wasn't, for whatever reason, thinking clearly.
Batman has another system checking that, too.
He would've contacted one of them, as a matter of
Batgirl is on the computer when he walks into the Cave.
She nods at him vaguely and continues to type.
"He landed in Bludhaven as Christopher Miller Sunday
night," is all she says.
Batman nods. "Nightwing --"
"Is already on his way back there. I'm trying to patch
into the security cameras to get a better look at him.
Check the print-outs."
He does. Grainy, blurry shots. Obviously Tim, obviously
in motion. The best shot is of him smiling at a
guardswoman who seems immune to Tim's charms. He's
grown another inch, at least, since Batman last saw him.
There are a dozen absolutely irrelevant things he wants
to say. "There was nothing on either of your systems."
He can't repress all of them.
Batgirl stops typing and looks at him hard for a long
moment. Softens. "No, Bruce."
Batman bites the inside of his cheek. Six days.
"Locked up tight at the new place."
The 'new' place has been up and running for a year. A
subsidiary of WayneTech designed much of the security,
with help from S.T.A.R. It would always be the new
place. "Who *isn't*?"
Batgirl narrows her eyes, mostly at herself. "A few of the
usuals. Ivy broke out three weeks ago. She's still
underground. You have my report. Catwoman and the
Ventriloquist -- wait. He's still working for you, isn't he?"
"Check him anyway. Who else?"
She shakes her head. "Take over on the security cams.
I'll check. It's been *really* quiet here and. Hell. Too
Batman doesn't bother to respond. There's a program
he's been working on to patch airport security into his
own systems. There's nothing wrong with it; he just
hasn't had the time to work out a way to make the reams
of information useful in any way.
And President Luthor hasn't been especially encouraging
of their efforts to help with the terrorism question.
There was always something else to do.
"Joker and Harley were last seen in Metropolis two weeks
Batman closes his eyes. There was a time when there
was no one, *nothing* more important than keeping an
eye on Joker.
The Lords have other things to do, on a daily basis.
He had specifically told Batgirl and Nightwing to. To.
There'd been other things to do.
"Assume they're here."
"Oh. Oh God. Would they... Oh *God*, Batman!"
The image editor finishes cleaning up the last decent
shot of Tim. When it prints out, Batman can see him
smiling easily and openly at the elderly cab driver who
is clearly trying to help him with his luggage.
There was nothing visibly wrong with him six days ago,
He jerks himself *back* to himself and looks around. The
Cave. Batgirl is sprawled, half-asleep, on the med-table.
Nightwing is... not here.
Nine days. He checks his watch. Ten days.
"Batman, are you there?"
He taps the communicator. "Yes."
"The Slade angle didn't pan out. He was a tough sonofabitch
to track down, but he didn't have anything useful to say.
Even when *J'onn* asked. J'onn and I are thinking we've
outlived our usefulness here, and GL mentioned needing a
hand with that uprising --"
"You're sick of baby-sitting, aren't you?"
"They never *sleep*, Batman! And that Raven kid uses
magic in an entirely --"
"You can leave." He wants, very badly, to be amused.
There's a pause.
He knows Clark is hearing... everything.
"They know to contact us if they hear anything... Batman."
He closes his eyes. It's safe -- he's awake now. "Get back
to the Tower."
"... I sent Flash and Wonder Woman to Metropolis."
"Nightwing told me."
"I... should have guessed. Batman. *Bruce*. Use us."
"You have to --"
Silence. He uses it.
Twelve days and Nightwing's stopped shaving.
"I'm going to kill him, you know."
It jars him away from the computers. "We don't *do* that,
"Ease off, Bruce. Christ. I'm talking about Flash."
Batman watches him scratch at his growing beard.
Regroups, and knows he's doing it visibly when Nightwing
smirks at him. "You need to shave."
"And you need to sleep. We've got other things to do."
Other things. Twelve days. "Report."
"The hideout in Metropolis was useless. Stage-makeup,
one dead hyena. Signs of at least two other live ones.
Wonder Woman seems to know a helluva lot about --"
"Irrelevant. What else?"
"There are signs that Metallo may be up to something. I
left Wonder Woman looking into that."
Batman nods. Makes a note to himself to specifically tell
Superman to stay out of it, this time. Makes another note
to tell Lantern to *keep* him out of it. Whether either
tack would prove useful... "What else?"
"Batgirl has a bead on Ivy. She'll call in if and when she
gets anything we can use."
"Crashed out at my place back in Bludhaven. At *Dick's*
It takes much, much too long to parse that. Nightwing is
still smirking, but it's rueful. "Are you going to explain
"Just as soon as you explain why it never occurred to
you to get that guy to *knock* on a closed bathroom
He could say something about how it never seemed
important -- Batman *never* changed on the Tower. He
could say something about the amusement factor in
having someone like Flash on a team with people like
Superman, and Hawkgirl.
He'd always meant to, anyway.
Nightwing would've probably appreciated it. Robin...
"He found out your identity in Metropolis."
"Yep. You know, you can rent a hotel room in costume in
that city. Superman's influence is just a little terrifying."
"You're not... sleeping with him." He can't even make it
a question, much less a casual one.
Nightwing, thankfully, looks nothing but offended. "Jesus,
Bruce, give me some credit. I mean, he's a decent
enough guy, but. But." A look. "One, you really need
some sleep. Two, you... whatever. I'm not going there.
Three, come up with a good reason for Dick Grayson to
be Nightwing that either does or does *not* take Bruce
Wayne into account. Four, let us all know what that
reason is, stat, because Flash --"
"I'm working on it."
"Later. After we find Robin."
Nightwing sighs and drops into a crouch. Runs a hand
through his hair. "I just... whatever happened, it had to
be sudden. There's just no way --"
"We'll find him, Bruce."
"I know that, too."
"Right. What should I do with speedy when he wakes
"Did you drug him?"
"Don't think the idea didn't occur to me two or seventeen
The smile on his face isn't enough of a surprise. "Chances
are, he's already awake. And looking for you."
"What... aw, fuck. The *metabolism* --"
"Track him down. Bring him back here. We might as well
"Right. I'm gone. Do *not* forget to call me if Babs calls
"And check on Alfred, would you? He. He wants to
"He almost got out of the hospital the other night. He."
Nightwing stops, very obviously not looking at the stairs
that Alfred won't ever be walking down again.
The stroke had been sudden, and disastrous.
"Bruce. What do we tell Alfred if --"
"It won't happen."
"*Go*. I. Bruce will visit Alfred tomorrow."
Slow, careful nod. "All right."
Seventeen days, and Batman is on the street when Batgirl
"I found her -- Christ!"
"Where are you?" He drops the half-conscious pimp and
punches in the code to start the car.
"Greenhouse, where else. Out in the country --
*dammit* -- right off I-80. Get help here *fast*. I can
handle the vines, but --"
"I'm on my way."
"I heard. I'm coming. I'm... here. Heh." Flash sets
Nightwing down next to the car and dusts off his hands.
"Where are we going?"
We. Christ. Thankfully, Nightwing is giving him a look, so
Batman doesn't have to.
Still. He can be useful. "Batgirl's found Poison Ivy. Do
you remember --"
"The 'poison' isn't just a name, she might know where
to find Harley who's in some kind of fucked up relationship
with the Joker, I got it."
Flash looks... painfully earnest.
Nightwing gives *him* a look and shakes his head. "Just
let us take point. Batgirl can handle herself, so we don't
need your speed *yet*. Batman, my bike will be here in
another couple of minutes. You take Flash in the car?"
"I get to ride in the Batmobile?"
Batman ignores the headache doing its best to form behind
his eyes. "Let's go."
Surprisingly, after a few comments about the complexity
of the seatbelts, Flash is silent. He checks the rearview
several times, nods to himself when Nightwing's bike
comes into view, and then just goes back to staring out
the window at the passing countryside, tapping his fingers
in a somewhat hypnotic blur on his own thigh.
Batman... he knows he needs sleep. More than the six
hours he caught two days ago.
Robin is... he shakes it off internally. "You're quiet."
"Hunh? Oh. It happens. Really."
"Difficult to credit."
A grin that doesn't miss 'sly' by much. "As difficult as
*you* having, like, people you *enjoy* working with?"
He can't quite repress a smile. "It happens. Really."
He can feel Flash grinning at him, even more than he
can see it out of the corner of his eye.
And he can feel it fade.
"So. Uh. Robin."
"What is it?"
"How long...? I mean, I figured out that Dick -- that
Nightwing *used* to be Robin, and... and I think I
have some questions for you that I'll never actually
ask, because I'm not, actually, an idiot. But..."
"Robin has been doing this for almost five years. He's
"I... yeah. Okay. We'll find him, you know?"
Batman does his best to make his sound non-committal,
as opposed to just irritated.
"You're probably sick of people saying that."
"You have no idea."
And Flash is...
Very obviously thinking.
"I didn't before, no. But I think I'm getting it. That thing
with Superman a few years ago, when we all thought
he'd died. You really -- "
"This is me, shutting up."
"... thank you."
The greenhouse announces itself with fire on the horizon
and a stink of burning vegetation that manages to make
it past the car's filters.
"The thing about Poison Ivy is that it always ends with fire,
one way or another."
"I'm just gonna take your word on that," he says, and
gets out of the car as Nightwing pulls up.
"... northwest edge of the fields, yeah I hear you."
Nightwing taps his communicator and points the way.
"Batgirl's got Ivy cornered in a shed out there. She's out
of acid and a little banged up, but fine. We won't be able
to take the car *or* the bike. Ivy's figured out how to
make her own quicksand."
Batman raises an eyebrow. "Clever of her."
"Just don't veer off the path we're taking, Flash."
Which would've worked fine if the sawgrass hadn't been
altered by Ivy's experiments. Just enough to make a
nuisance of itself.
Batman gets knocked into one of the pits, and before he
can shoot off a grapple, Flash is running them both to
safety. Speed vs. surface tension.
"I told you --"
"Yell at me later. Do you have a flamethrower in that
belt somewhere? I'm starting to see the point of fire as
a weapon, here."
He nods and tosses a few of the exploding batarangs
behind them and Nightwing does the same.
His suit is in shreds over his legs, but he's all right.
The grass starts screaming.
Flash grabs them *both* and runs in mostly the right
direction, dropping them on one of the few patches of
ground bare of vegetation.
The shed is visible, whole and silent.
"Head in, Batman, I'll wait for Flash to catch his breath."
"I'm good, just --" He takes a breath, coughs, takes
another, shakes. Stands up straight. "Right, point me at
the bad guys."
Nightwing frowns. "Are you sure --"
"He can handle it. Let's --"
A vaguely female shape crashes through the wall of the
shed. Red-haired and... green.
Batgirl comes out after her, suit ripped in a dozen places
and fists clenched.
Flash blinks. "Or we could let her handle this."
Ivy struggles to stand, reaching toward a small,
oddly-stunted bush -- and Batgirl stomps on her wrist.
And starts grinding.
"Tell me where they are!"
Ivy rears back, snarls, and both his and Nightwing's
batarangs hit her before she can spit.
Batgirl turns on them, snarling. "We need her to
Batman puts out a hand to stop Flash from doing...
anything. Nightwing doesn't need any direction, of
course. He catches Batgirl by the shoulders and walks
her away from the unconscious and severely beaten
woman on the ground.
"She was about to poison you --"
"I was about to kick her in the *head*!"
"That, too. Stop. Take a look at yourself, okay? Take a
look at *her*."
"Dammit, she *knows*! She *always* knows where to
find Harley, she's fucking obsessed --"
"*Barbara* --" Nightwing cuts himself off, and looks
back over his shoulder at him.
Nightwing leads Batgirl back into the shed. Batgirl
*allows* herself to be led.
He turns to Ivy. She's bleeding from several different
wounds, none of them serious. They can hold her for
at least a few hours before they have to get her to
Arkham -- no. The new facility.
He pulls out the cuffs.
"Can I help?"
Batman blinks. Flash is still there, of course. Vaguely
vibrating behind him, and a little to the right. "What
are your gloves made of?"
"Uh. You know, I honestly don't know."
"Then chances are they're not strong enough to risk you
coming into contact with her bodily fluids."
"To which I say: *ick*."
He gets her restrained. The gag isn't the best -- she'll
be able to dissolve it with her saliva given time and
motivation -- but they'll at least have some warning.
He can hear Batgirl crying in the shed. Great, wracking
sobs of exhaustion and anger.
Flash is staring at the burning greenhouse, very
"I can't hear any of that, you know. Not a... not a
A smile, tossed easily over his shoulder. "Twice in one
night? Bats, you're gonna spoil me."
Eighteen days in three hours.
Seventeen days and Ivy isn't talking.
Seventeen days and Batman's knuckles... itch.
He is not alone.
There is a patch of cape missing where Batgirl moved
too slow to avoid a spit.
Nightwing's glove is dissolving from the punch he gave
the woman after. His uniform is of lighter material than
Batman's own, in deference to his need for greater
Batman can see the man rethinking this.
Flash is in the corner, out of spitting distance, and
Mostly watching *him*.
It can wait.
"Call your bitch off, Batman." A laugh. "Your *other*
Nightwing tightens his fist in her hair.
"Ivy, you need to talk."
"No, let her keep her mouth shut. I've got a few things
I'd like to try." Batgirl is tapping a batarang against her
palm. One of the electrified ones. If she slips... she won't
Ivy laughs again. "Good cop, bad cop? With *that* as
the bad cop? Please."
Seventeen days, and he isn't the only one feeling them.
Nightwing doesn't even look up -- just moves to hold Ivy
still when Batgirl moves in with the makeshift cattle prod.
He wonders if they know what they're doing.
If they realize what line they're crossing.
Flash is watching him.
"Fuck, I don't *know* where they are! We don't keep
each other on fucking *speed* dial!"
"Oh, I don't know, *Pam*. You and Harley are awfully...
tight." Batgirl feints with the batarang and Ivy flinches.
Snarls again, but flinches.
"She's with Joker --"
"And you hate it. You hate it every minute out of every
day, don't you, Pam?" Nightwing smiles against her ear.
"She'll never love you the way she does *him*. The
lunatic. The painted, laughing freak. And she's with him
"We'll put her away, sure. But she won't be with him."
Batgirl crouches on her other side. "If you're a good girl,
we'll put her in the cell right next to yours."
Batman has an excellent view of Ivy. She's not looking at
any of them, really. Her face is twisted into something
much closer to a rictus than anything else.
And Flash is.
She focuses on him so quickly that Batman knows he
made a mistake. Her face settles into calm, even lines.
"Like the boy blunder said -- Joker's a lunatic. How would
I know where he is?"
Batman lets his eyes close behind the mask.
He can hear the punches landing.
They haven't given her any water, but if they go too far,
she'll be able to spit blood.
They won't... they probably won't --
Wash of air and Flash is grabbing his arm. There's
"Batman, you have to *stop* them. She's *human* --"
"She stopped being human a long time ago." And that's
not the point. There's something important here.
Something he's missing.
"I'm thinking." Joker's a lunatic. Joker is --
"Christ, Batman, I know this is important, but -- "
"Batgirl. Nightwing. Stop."
"Thank *God* --"
"*Why*?" Batgirl is, at least, looking at him.
Nightwing is not. Later. He'll deal with this later. Because
Joker is a lunatic and Harley isn't much better. Because
they met at Arkham. Because --
"We'll find them at Arkham."
Nightwing looks up at that. Slowly.
Unwinds his fist from Ivy's hair, brushing off the strands
that came loose on his suit with absent inattention.
Ivy, for her part, is rapidly slipping toward
unconsciousness. Nightwing gives her one last backhand.
"No. Nightwing..." He can't go. Not like this.
"We need someone to take her in." And if you don't get
*yourself* killed at Arkham, you'll certainly kill someone
Batman watches him, watches him hear everything he did
and didn't say. Wishes he had room for prayer.
Nightwing nods, curtly, and cuts the straps holding Ivy to
Batgirl is already walking, presumably headed towards her
Flash is... still holding his arm.
And suddenly Batman can feel it. Pressure, heat.
"Get me to the car. Fast."
Flash swallows, clearly visible under the tightness of his
It's only been a year, and even then, at the end, Arkham
was a crumbling mess. Now...
It could be any pre-Victorian mansion left to rot.
It isn't, and not just because Arkham's maintenance had
been, at best, haphazard.
Batman has met countless demons, literal and figurative.
Batman has led a life seemingly designed to wear away
all skepticism he would have liked to have about the
And Arkham is very much unhallowed ground.
Batgirl knows it.
Flash, beside him, is learning.
"No problem. Batman, when we find them --"
The cells are empty, doors smashed when not simply left
open. There are footprints in the dust. Not many.
He leans in to study one more closely -- a thinner layer
He shakes his head at Batgirl and she takes point, down
the stairs. The administration offices have been
ransacked. The damage here is more recent, though not
The infirmary is criss-crossed with footprints, human and
otherwise. It reeks of rotting (flesh no no) meat and --
The hyenas go for him and Batgirl, first. They've been
trained for that, assiduously so, to the point where they
ignore Flash entirely.
This is a mistake, but they've lost the element of
The door to the Operating Theater is closed, but he can
hear movement beyond. He forces himself to pause.
There is no sign, here, of Tim. Of Robin. Not even (a
scrap a shred what have they done) his uniform.
Batgirl takes one of the exploding batarangs from her
belt and looks to him. He nods, and gets his own.
The door explodes inward and they go in low, through
Flash is behind him.
Joker is nowhere to be seen.
Batgirl is --
Up and moving, and a glance shows a hint of red and
black. Harley, running through the maze of tables, up
into a cartoonish approximation of a... family room? No
"Batman! Didn't anyone ever tell you that an early guest
is an unwelcome one?"
Joker's voice, echoing through the hall. Everywhere and
nowhere. He's on the speaker systems, which are
"Or should I call you... Bruce?"
Flash gasps beside him, so he doesn't have to.
"And you brought a friend. How sweet. You Justice types
just can't get *enough* of each other, can you?"
The audio room is above, beyond the audience seats. He
can get there unseen if he --
"But that's not really the point, is it, Brucie-baby? No, the
point is... well. You're *early*, but not too early. I've got
a present for you, Brucie..."
Hum of machinery in front of him, a loading bay. Where's
the power coming from? How had they not *known*?
"We've been playing this game a long time, you and I. A
bit of fisticuffs here, a truly *cosmic* joke there... good
times, good times."
There's something rolling out of the bay.
"But that old biological clock of Harley's was just
tick-tick-tocking away. A woman needs a family, and I'm
not *immune* to the drive. Your old Joker's just a man,
like any other, Batfreak."
It's a table, with a body. A small, small body.
"And Harley... well, let's just say that the *joys* of
childbirth were just a little beyond the old gal's tastes,
The table tilts upward, mechanism grinding from (use)
"But *you've* always had a few spare kids running
Patent leather shoes, buffed to a high shine. White knee
socks. Purple knickers, purple jacket. White, white face.
"So we decided to borrow one."
"Oh my God..." Flash runs for the table, not at top speed.
Too fast to stop, and Batman can't move. Can't blink.
"Oh, it took some *molding*, some *effort*, but in the
end your little bird just couldn't stand up to the drugs,
the shock *therapy*... *you* know how it goes."
A smile, hideous and unnatural. And Robin's eyes are
blank, unblinking pits, even as Flash works on the straps
holding him down.
"He told us everything, Brucie. Every. Little. Thing."
Robin starts to laugh, breath hitching, hitching,
"Say hello to your friends, Junior. I think they've
He stops laughing. He stops -- "Flash, look out!"
Flash turns to him, and Robin is. Robin is still very
well-trained. Flash goes down sprawling and stunned,
and Robin unfastens the rest of the restraints and
Batman can't *move* and Robin has a knife --
Batman lunges, awkward and slow and -- just fast
He catches Robin in a tackle that knocks the boy's head
against the table. He's laughing again, and the knife
comes up and Robin's eyes are blank, so very blank.
"Oh God, Tim."
A flare of *something* in those eyes, a blink, and Robin
drops the knife, wrestling his way out of Batman's grasp
and running into the shadows.
Flash is groaning, and struggling to his feet. He'll be all
Batman takes off after Robin and falls, almost before his
body registers the pain. A blow to the back -- one of
Joker's weighted, flying boxing gloves.
"Ah ah ah, Brucie. Didn't anyone ever tell you not to play
with other people's children? Oh, well, I suppose I know
the answer to *that*."
It doesn't even feel like instinct. It's just too fast, too
easy, and the knife is flying toward Joker's head before
he can stop himself, before he can think.
Joker ducks, laughing, utterly unconscious of what
Batman just did.
And Batman... he can't feel it. He knows he just tried
to kill the man, but there's something stopping him from
understanding it, or.
His legs aren't working properly. The blow may or may
not have damaged something important, but that's not
"Don't you like my surprise?"
"I'm going to kill you," he says, mouth working without
Joker laughs, advancing on him. "C'mon, Brucie. We
both know you don't have the stomach for *that* game."
And it's... something like permission.
From the universe, if not from Joker, or himself.
He slumps in on himself, pretending to favor his left
shoulder. Not pretending at all about his legs.
"... need some help down here. Like *fast*." Flash,
probably on the communicator. Joker turns, snarling --
"No *fair* --"
And the bolo wraps around the man's throat easily, the
weights bringing him to his knees.
"You went too far this time, Joker."
It feels like someone else's voice, someone else's
pointless, shockingly obvious speech.
It has nothing on the feel of his hands around that
scrawny neck, the rope of the bolo slick and hard
against his palms. This close... this close he can smell
the man, and taste his madness on his tongue.
This close, it all feels inevitable.
Even the look of dawning horror in Joker's eyes as he
scrabbles and scratches at Batman's hands.
Because he doesn't have to know the details of what
the man had done.
He knows exactly how far he would've had to go to
make Robin -- *Tim* -- talk.
"Batman? Batman, I found Tim. I... Batgirl sedated him.
Harley... Harley fell. Off the cliff. Batgirl couldn't. I.
The others are on their way..."
Flash, coming closer. There's nothing in Joker's eyes
but rage and pain, no sign that he's even heard what
Flash said about Harley Quinn.
This isn't a surprise.
Batman squeezes a little harder.
"Christ, I can't see a thing in here. Did you find Joker? Is
he about to jump on my head or something? A signal
would be good here...."
Batman can smell urine. Not much longer now.
He can feel himself smiling.
"Jesus, Batman, no!" Flash's hands on him.
"You're gonna kill him! You have to stop!"
An insect, at the edges of his awareness. He's been
trained to ignore worse.
"Aw, man, I'm sorry --"
And it's not that he'd forgotten Flash's strength. It's just
that he never expected it to be used against him.
His back is telling him, in no uncertain terms, that he is
not to make that mistake ever again.
Hoarse, muffled groan. Joker is still alive. He lunges, and
hits the floor hard. Again.
Flash is on him, straddling his chest and *forcing* his
shoulders to the floor. Flash is in the way.
"Please, Batman, snap out of this..."
If he can just reach his belt --
No. Not that. Never... he blinks. Forces himself to breathe,
just breathe, until he has something like control back.
"I'm all right."
"Uh... is that all right like 'I'm no longer insane' or all right
like 'I'm doing my best to trick you so that I can go right
back to strangling the *other* crazy man?'"
It's difficult to decide how to respond. He could be
sarcastic, and so prove himself to be in character. He
could be honest, and so... what?
"You're trying to decide, aren't you? Could you go with
whatever *doesn't* lead to you doing something horrible
"I won't ever hurt you. Not. I won't hurt you."
Flash squeezes his shoulders and smiles down at him
shakily. "Okay. Now about the murder thing --"
"I lost control. I. I'm in control. Now. Thank you."
Another squeeze. "That's three, Bats. You're gonna turn
He's up before Batman can even try to figure out how
to respond, and offering his hand. He needs a great
deal of the man's strength to stand, but he has feeling
in his toes. Whatever this is, he will recover.
"Jesus, did I --"
"Some. It was the Joker."
"Right. Um. Why don't you let me cuff the unconscious
bad guy, this time?"
He hands over the cuffs without a word, and limps
toward the theater, stepping over the Joker (one kick, a
blow to the throat, just *one*) as he goes.
Batgirl is holding Tim.
Batgirl isn't a large woman, but Tim is still much, much
smaller. Crumpled in on himself like a doll. There are
drying tears on his face, streaking through the makeup.
Only makeup. It didn't have to be...
The smile is still on his face, despite the fact that he's
His stomach lurches, and he can't hold in a groan.
Batgirl looks up, wild and unfocused. There's a batarang
in her hand.
"It's just. It's me."
She blinks and grimaces, shaking her head. "I gave him
the anti-toxin, but..."
"It will probably take several doses. It. Is he --?"
"He helped Harley. When she was trying to kill me. And
then Flash caught him and... I don't know if he was
laughing or crying. Batman, I *couldn't* reach Harley,
she fell so fast and oh God I think she's dead --!"
He has nothing to say to that. Joker is an itch at the
center of his spine.
He falls to his knees, and wraps his arms around them
Batgirl will be all right.
He doesn't think he will be, at all.
"He's my *patient* now, Bruce. You know I can't give
you that information."
"Leslie. Please. I... I know you can't tell me what. What
he's talking to you about. But I have to know --"
"If he's going to be all right?" A sigh so heavy he can
almost *see* it, even over the phone. "Bruce..."
"I'll do anything. Anything at all."
"I know. And we both know it isn't about that, not
anymore. Your friend with the ring brought me a stack
of... films. Recovered from Arkham."
He squeezes his eyes shut. "Lantern."
"Indeed. Bruce. The Joker did... I can't even wrap my
head around the things he did to Tim. I don't know if
I'm *qualified* for this."
"You've been *my* doctor since I was a child, Leslie."
The humor falls as flat as it should.
"I'm going to have to bring in some help. I know a few
doctors in Europe; they specialize in children removed
from war zones. I'll protect your secrets as best I can,
Bruce, but I have to tell you that those secrets aren't
even *close* to my priority right now."
He nods, and it takes a moment to remember that she
can't see it. "Do what you have to do."
She hangs up without a goodbye.
It isn't necessary -- they both know he'll be calling back
He puts his head in his hands and shudders, once.
Breathes. When he opens them again, Dick is in the
There is nothing particularly wrong about his appearance.
His clothes are neat, and the beard, while jarring, is
trimmed. His eyes are... elsewhere.
"That was Dr. Thompkins," he says, and it's not a
"She won't tell us anything."
Dick nods and walks into the study, closing the door
behind him. Sits in the chair opposite his own. "I can't
decide if you were right to send me away or not. That
"I would've killed them both. With my bare hands."
Flesh and cord beneath his hands. So close.
"Leslie let me see Tim yesterday. Through a two-way
mirror. The dye isn't out of his hair. His lips keep
bleeding from the toxin. He. I still can't decide."
All Batman can do is nod.
"Bruce... do you ever think we were doing this the
wrong way? This..." He waves a hand at the room, taking
in the book shelves, the cold fireplace. "Everything?"
"I don't know."
"Because the new facility is better than... better than
Arkham ever was. But Ivy, Joker, Harley..."
"They still got out."
"They'll do it again, Bruce. You know they will."
"You're talking about murder, Dick."
"Look me in the eye and tell me those weren't your
fingerprints on Joker's neck. He's not out of the hospital,
yet. But he will be."
Batman closes his eyes.
"It was one of us this time. Will it be better or worse
when it isn't?"
Dick doesn't wait for an answer, just stands up and heads
for the door.
"Think about it. I sure as fuck don't want to be the only
one who has to." One last look over his shoulder. "Oh,
and the blond kid vibrating in the library is Flash. Wally,
if by some bizarre twist of fate you *didn't* know. I
brought him with me. I'm leaving him here.
"Call it my good deed for the year."
Batman gives him time to make his exit.
Considers attempting to remain here, in the study, until
Flash either came to find him or left.
Right around now, Alfred should be saying something
gently acerbic, with a look in his eyes that suggested
*he* was seriously considering beating him with a
Alfred would have remembered to light the fire, too.
Alfred isn't here, anymore.
He forces himself to his feet and goes.
The library is at least five degrees warmer than the
rest of the manor. Dick had lit the fire, and Flash is
poking it with a look of deep suspicion.
"Hello," he says, and listens to his voice crack between
Bruce and Batman. He doesn't know how to do this.
"Hey!" Flash smiles at him, broad and clear, and takes
a step. Pauses. Looks him up and down with something
between thoroughness and confusion. Eyes the poker
in his hand with rueful amusement and sets it back
among the others. Wipes his hands on the back of his
"Would you like... something to drink?"
"Hmm? Oh, no, Dick got me a beer. Heh. Are you
allowed to *have* beer in a place like this?"
"I won't tell if you won't."
Another smile, a little narrower. "That's *almost* right.
You still sound a little too nice."
Batman blinks. "Flash --"
"You should probably call me Wally. If only so I don't
forget and do something superheroic without my suit on."
It's amazing, even though it shouldn't be. Flash --
Wally -- has always been the one of them most
noticeably *himself*, even with the uniform. He's used
to finding the man in the set of his jaw, the curve of
The hair and eyes only make him... moreso.
"There's no one else here," is what he manages to say
when he can speak.
He pushes a hand back through his hair, which
immediately falls back to frame his face. "Yeah, but..."
A pause, and Wally's frowning around at the room.
"There was... I had a butler. He raised me. He's... he's
sick now. He had a stroke."
"Jesus, that explains a lot. I mean --"
He laughs despite himself. "It probably does."
Wally smiles ruefully at him, from under his lashes. It's
easy to picture the gesture, the motion, with a mask
over the man's face.
He doesn't want to.
"So... uh. Are you eventually going to take more than
three steps in here, or are we going to just kind of yell
at each other from across the room?"
"I'm... not used to company."
A wince. "I... yeah. Dick said it would be all right, but he
said it with a kind of mean look. I can go, it's no
problem. I just wanted --"
"I. It's good to see you."
"And yet there you are, way over *there*."
His feet move almost entirely without his permission, and
Wally is right there, smiling up at him. His hands. There's
an ache in his palms he doesn't know what to do with.
"That wasn't so bad."
Wally has to see it in his eyes. It feels like it's written all
over his skin, naked under Bruce's clothes.
"Hey. I... I kinda wanted to hug you. Before. I mean, I
know it isn't something... fuck it."
Wally's arms around him are lean and strong. His body
is warm. His hair smells like something cheap and
wholesome and Batman shakes in his arms and holds
"Hey... it's all right. It's. I promise it's all right."
He loosens his grip when he can, but can't, quite, let
go. Wally is still grinning up at him, something soft in
his eyes that Batman wants to fall into.
"So... is it the masks? I mean the fact that they're off.
Is that what makes it easier for you to be... like this?"
And he can see it hit, see Wally realize what he's
saying. Feel the long, lean body tense.
He still can't make himself let go.
And Wally's eyes fall shut, most of the way. He's
staring at Batman's mouth. "I. I wondered..."
The kiss is soft, and it's Wally's turn to shake, harder
when Batman kisses back, and then those arms are
tight around his neck and Batman *has* to hold on,
kiss harder, make Wally moan into his mouth and
suck on his tongue. So close now. So close.
Wally breaks the kiss and pants against his chin.
"I want you."
"Yeah, I... okay."
The communicator chirps in his ear.
Alfred is asleep. Deeply so. The lines of his face are
so relaxed that Batman almost can't tell that.
Alfred, of course, has a private room.
He moves to a corner, anyway.
He feels himself smile and lets some of it into his voice.
"Yeah, so, insert small talk you wouldn't really care
about anyway, here."
"And I *would* say that you're missed up here, but,
well, you're *you*."
"But there's something hinky going on in Virginia, blah
blah it's probably Luthor's fault blah. The main thing is
that Superman is making the plan."
"I'm beginning to see the problem."
"Ya *think*? Anyway, *he* wasn't going to call you,
but I? Am attached to my own skin."
"I can understand that."
"You're totally flirting with me over the comm. Can
phone sex really be *that* far away?"
"Yeah, yeah. If you leave now, you can... wait, no,
Supes just broke through GL. Last line of resistance.
You'd better meet us there."
"Send the co-ordinates --"
"To the Cave. Way ahead of you, big guy. I'll see you
in a few hours."
"And in and out and in --"
"Heh. Yeah, and you never hang up first, have you
He twists the smile off his face with an effort. Adjusts
the covers over Alfred's still form.
The driver is waiting for him in front of the hospital.
He doesn't actually work for him -- the service was
recommended by Lucius -- but he's efficient enough.
"The Manor. Quickly."
"As you say, Mr. Wayne."
He reaches the co-ordinates early. As near as he can tell
through the binoculars, he's looking at just another
warehouse on just another set of docks.
Except that the "workmen" move with military precision,
and quite a few of them are armed. And some of the
crates are large and heavy enough to require the use of
The information Flash sent along with the co-ordinates is
spotty, but there's enough of it to draw a few
Public tirades against the varying nations making up
Luthor's 'evil axis' of the moment.
Satellite photos of various *non*-publicized war games.
A dozen noticeably different nationalities.
Weapons technology that might as well have LexCorp
stamped all over it.
The money trail leading, suspiciously, nowhere at all.
The Lords were about to take a very big, very messy
step into the world of global realpolitik.
Of *course* Superman hadn't planned to call him in.
Bruce was *busy*. He couldn't possibly have the time
for something as trifling as encroaching world war.
He leaves the plane a few miles inland, and makes his
way in at a jog.
He has just enough time to scout the south and west
borders of the makeshift compound when Javelin-7
comes in loud and obvious from the east.
And immediately gets fired on.
Thankfully, either these 'workmen' aren't especially
well-trained or they've conveniently -- for him -- forgotten
to watch their backs.
He makes it into the largest warehouse easily, and finds
himself face to face with the absolute proof of
The men who aren't busily destroying the latest Javelin-7 --
and why bother to give the new ones new names? What
was the point of dooming yet another innocent number? --
are equally busily jumping into tanks and planes.
Into other, less identifiable, but probably equally deadly
He slips behind a pile of crates holding -- yes, laser rifles.
"Batman to Javelin."
"We're busy up here, Batman. Make it fast."
"Don't bother with the warning shots. There's an arsenal
in here, and it's about two minutes from being aimed at
"Got it. Lantern out."
He lays out half of his available explosives and runs. He
feels the tug of his cape being perforated in several places,
loses most of the sole of one boot, *and* gets blown
several dozen feet in the resultant shockwave, but he
makes it out.
Just in time to see the Javelin getting shot out of the sky.
Lantern's on top of it, and he counts five bodies in the
man's force bubble before the smoke obscures it. Good
He works his way around the edges of the battle, taking
out as many of them as he can from behind.
Bodies start flying over his head and Hawkgirl's in the
Flashes of red and blue and... yes. Wonder Woman and
Superman are going after the tanks.
There's a flare of green that may or may not be Lantern.
Flash and J'onn are nowhere to be seen.
Worry about that later.
Some of the flying bodies are getting *up*, and coming
after him. For approximately the nine hundredth time
since not-quite-joining the Lords, Batman reminds
himself to work on a suit that can be used for
And then there's nothing but the battle.
And there will never be anything like this, something for
which he can almost believe in some form of god as
much as he believes in all the demons.
There is the moment when the fighting is nothing but
work, and the moment spreads, reaches, moves through
him and around him.
His cape is in tatters.
A rib lets go.
The moment rises and expands just a little bit more, and
breaks with the crunch of a man's kneecap beneath his
And then the moment is something else entirely, and he
is nothing, absolutely nothing but the motions of his
body, more natural than breathing, more perfect than
The mind within him shrinks in on itself, screaming.
He can't possibly survive this.
And then he's whirling into the next kick and into...
Tertiary, possibly quaternary explosions.
He wakes up within himself to pain, none of it serious.
He doesn't have to look down. The suit is a loss.
"Batman to Lords. Check in."
"Wonder Woman, almost done."
"Hawkgirl, me, too."
"J'onn, here. There is no doubt these are Luthor's men."
"Superman. I. Batman, you'd better get in here."
"Get in here."
"Superman, what the hell is wrong with Flash?"
Lantern sparks a wash of chatter over the comm, cut off
with Superman's low, tired sigh.
A muscle twitches in Batman's cheek, breaking open a
cut that had had enough time to start healing. "Say again,"
he says into the silence.
"His neck is broken. It. It looks like an accident. Flying
It's four-thirteen in the morning. A group of teenagers has,
finally, left the gravesite. They took most of their empty
beer cans with them.
It's a moment of terrifying disconnect to see the rest here
amidst the mountains of flowers, silvery in the fading
Because they are terrible.
And because Flash would find them entirely appropriate.
Would have found. Them.
Batman remembers to blink when his eyes start to burn.
"I knew you'd wait."
"Now is not the time, Clark."
"I'm not going to... I'm not going to force my friendship
on you, Bruce. Not here."
"Then why are you here? You've paid your respects with
"Because I need to make sure you're with us. Now, more
"You're going after Luthor."
"The word 'treason' comes to mind."
"We can't think about that right now. That compound...
we've found others."
Batman nods. This is not a surprise.
"Luthor is the only *official* world-leader involved. We
both know that doesn't matter."
"Will you come with us?"
He takes off, for once, without another word.
Batman straightens the wreaths into more even lines,
slipping the rose hidden in his cape beneath the rest.
He leaves the beer cans where they lay.
"Well. It had to be done." The stink of burning flesh is
no worse -- and perhaps better, in ways, than what he
had thought might happen.
No matter what Clark himself had expected to come of
He watches the fire to make sure it doesn't start to burn
out of control. Fires.
Clark had been exactly as thorough as he needed to be.
Diana goes to the man, saving him the trouble.
"Are you okay?"
A pause, and Batman narrows his eyes against the
possibility of the man --
"I'm great," he says, with genuine relish.
And isn't that just fascinating.
Diana looks to him, for whatever reason.
He nods, and the troubled look deepens on her face for
a moment. And then fades, with an obvious act of will
on her part.
She is a princess of a warrior people. This can only
seem logical, if, perhaps, out of character.
She turns back to Superman, back straight and eyes
no wider than is her usual.
He's done here.
"Batman to team two."
"Hawkgirl and I've got a bunch of Luthor's storm
troopers under wraps here, Batman. J'onn's faded out
for whatever reason. He *looks* fine."
Hawkgirl's no fool, and neither is Lantern.
"Well," says Lantern. "Isn't that interesting?"
The smile on his face doesn't feel entirely unfamiliar.
Flash had been... he shakes it off with an internal shrug.
"Very. Handle the clean-up. I've got some things to take
"Right. Lantern out."
He taps the *other* communicator as soon as the plane
lifts off. "Nightwing."
A pause, and Batman can hear a television come on
from Nightwing's end.
Superman's voice, muffled through the communicator.
He can't make out the words, but the tone is open and
very, very obvious. He's making the announcement.
Nightwing laughs in his ear, honest and light. "That's
what I love about you, Batman. Once you make a
decision? You don't fuck around."
"What have you done on your end?"
"Like assassinating a sitting President? I leave that to
the big boys. Consider the Northeast yours, in terms
of the police departments. Well. *Most* of the police
Something like a pang. But, then, his ribs aren't healed
yet. "I'll take of Gordon."
"Babs will probably be waiting for you when you get
back. She didn't like my ideas at *all*."
"That's a problem."
"You are, as ever, a master of the understatement."
And you, Dick? What are you, right now? He shakes
that off, too. "If you couldn't convince her..."
"I'm on my way to her place. She's about to lose a
great deal of access and materiel."
"Cut her out."
"It's the only way."
"You sound like a zealot."
"Whose fingerprints are on Luthor's neck? There's no
way out of this now, Batman."
There's a reflexive urge to snap at the man for stating
the obvious, but reflex is all it is. Because there really is
no way out.
He wonders when that happened.
"Yeah, thinking. I've been doing a lot of that, just lately."
"Color me unsurprised."
"I need a new uniform. A better one. I get the feeling I
can't avoid the kevlar any more."
"I have a few designs in mind."
"Color *me* unsurprised. Nightwing out."
Batman watches the construction teams work, from a
To be honest, he hadn't been especially enthused about
the idea when Superman had brought it up.
To be perfectly honest, he'd come very close to taking
the Kryptonite out of his belt.
The man had a point.
They need the newer facilities for the criminals who
can, actually, make trouble.
The growing tribe of lobotomy patients, on the other
He can see the shape of things to come in the bones
There's a kind of symmetry to it, even a practical sort
of poetry. They're building a new world, and there's
no room in it for open, stinking graves.
Everything must be made new again.
"It's an obscenity." Barbara stands beside him, her
gaze a hot weight of accusation.
Batman considers and rejects telling the woman that
she'd announced her presence with a broken twig.
Let her make her own mistakes.
"Wasn't it always?"
"You never thought you had to help, before."
She makes a sound, something between impatience
and absolute rage, but her body remains still.
"There's still a place for you at WayneTech."
"So you can watch me twenty-four hours a day? No
"You assume I'm not already doing so?"
A twitch. The reports have been explicit: she hasn't
"When will you let my father out of that... that *camp*?"
"There's too much upheaval right now. You know that."
"And that's the bullshit Superman's been feeding to the
press. What's the *real* party line, Batman?"
"Don't ask questions you already know the answer to."
A hissed-out breath. "He's your *friend*!"
"He's an enemy."
He looks her in the eye. There's a smudge of dirt on her
cheek, and her hair hasn't been washed in at least a
few days. She is, as always, beautiful. "That's up to you."
"I used to think I loved you, Bruce. Now? I don't think
I ever knew you at all." Her eyes are clear.
And when she walks away, she uses no more stealth
than what has become natural to her.
When she's out of earshot, Batman calls it in.
She won't be allowed to do any more damage than
she's already done.
They watch Tim from behind the two-way mirror.
He's pale, but his hair has grown out, the last of the
dyed strands snipped and burned away. He'd looked
up to acknowledge that he knew they were there, but
has long since gone back to reading his book.
"Dr. Shabouk says he's almost ready to see us,"
Nightwing says from around a mouthful of his own
It's a new and distressing habit, but Batman isn't sure
what, if anything, he should do about it.
Nightwing has been nothing but professional.
The new uniform is a sleek, self-conscious grey. Bulkier
than the last, but between the two of them they've
managed to retain most of the flexibility he needs.
It's... enough. "Have your people found Thompkins,
"She's underground. We'll find her."
"Is better. I hear you. We're not going to make another
mistake like Selina."
He nods. There are words he should be saying, but he
can't quite find them. He tries, just the same.
Nightwing looks at him, a bright, brittle light dancing
in his eyes for just a moment before fading into calm.
"I'm all right, Batman. I promise."
"I. Are you sure?"
A hand on his shoulder, steady and firm. "I'm all
Batman puts a hand over Nightwing's own, careful of
the raw, bitten fingertips, and they go back to watching
There's no one left, really, to give an update, to.
He sees Superman more than often enough for the both
And in San Francisco... Raven is doing her job, and she
doesn't really give a damn, either way.
But Tim has them.
And *will* have them.
When he's ready.