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Disclaimer: I acknowledge that some of the characters, settings and situations in this story belong to DC Comics. I use them only because I love them and want to see them live on. No infringement of copyright was intended. Please don't sue me. I really won't be worth your while.
Author Comment: This story is set just after Bruce is apparently killed (but is lost in time.) It is an alternative to what took place.
WARNING: There are a number of spelling, grammar and punctuation differences between Australia and the USA... please forgive me for writing with an accent. (g)
The huge open
den echoed with claustrophobic silence. In the last week grief had strangled all
occupants slowly without mercy. However, it had reached its crushing peak today.
Now, the very act of existing was a struggle.
because today was the first time the group had paused long enough to think.
Until now, ensuring Bruce Wayne and Batman’s ‘disappearance’ from Gotham could
not be connected had been their only focus. That had been achieved
successfully but it wasn’t a reason to celebrate.
shroud, the heaviness of heart blanketed the inner circle of the Batclan. As
always Bruce had been fully prepared - even in the event of his death. He’d
recorded individual farewell messages for Damian, Tim, Dick and Alfred – the
four members of his ‘family’. Upon receiving the discs, each had retired to a
separate area of the mansion to view their message in private. Three of the
four had drifted back to the den, drawn to one another by some unseen force.
Tim caught a
glimpse of his own reflection in the glass display cabinet as he returned. His
eyes were still puffy from the copious tears he’d shed. He’d held it together
until the moment he’d heard Bruce’s voice. Reality hit home in that moment and
he’d sobbed like a child waking from a horrific nightmare… but he knew this was
a nightmare from which he would never wake.
message had been direct and to the point – reminiscent of the man himself.
He’d loved Tim as a son and was proud of him. Those heart-felt words meant the
world but also crystallized just how much he’d lost. Now, all Tim had left in
the world was in this room and it terrified him that he may lose Dick and
man eyed the figure slumped on the couch. Dick’s eyes were distant, his
expression hard to read, but his gaze was directed at Bruce’s leather chair
which now stood so ominously empty.
nightmare had begun, Dick had been a tower of strength, even if Tim had
disagreed with some of the decisions he’d made. While Tim had known his friend
was hurting, there had been no sign of it. Dick Grayson had kept an
emotionless mask firmly in place allowing him to lead the rest of the Batteam
and accomplish all required. Bruce would have been proud. However, the events
of today had stripped the mask away revealing the young man’s features ashened
with despair, fatigue and grief.
Tim brushed Dick’s arm as he took a seat beside him. The other blinked, seeming
to return from the distant place that had swallowed him. Dick settled his dull
blue eyes on Tim, acknowledging the attempt at comfort with a grateful but
almost indiscernible tilt of his chin.
his gaze to Damian and his stomach did a slow roll. In contrast to Dick and
Alfred, Tim didn’t consider Damian family. He disliked the boy immensely and couldn’t
help feeling guilty about it. After all, Damian was Bruce’s son.
The topic of
How could that obnoxious, self-centred brat, share Bruce’s blood?
you starin’ at Drake?”
straightened and the nerve in his cheek jumped. “Damian, I’ve asked
before. Now I’m telling you. Treat Tim with respect.”
opened his mouth to respond but the steel in Dick’s expression stole the words.
While Dick had never mastered the Batman glare in the past, he was damn near
close today. That, more than anything, showed the toll Bruce’s death had taken
out of the usually upbeat man.
his head in thanks and again was swamped by not only his own overpowering grief
but by the silent agony reverberating out of Dick. He didn’t know what Bruce
had said to Dick in his private message, but he could imagine. The
relationship they’d shared was something beyond love - a nebulous bond of
strength and devotion the likes of which Tim had never seen before and doubted
would see again. Bruce and Dick’s relationship had been based on so much more
than just a shared tragedy. They’d been more than partners and brothers
in arms. There was something deep and unique about their connection... there had
been something deep and unique about it, Tim lamented sadly. Now Bruce was
gone and Dick, like Tim, appeared empty and lost.
the room with purpose, strode directly to the DVD player and slid a disc into
tracks still stained Alfred’s pale cheeks. “Master Bruce left one further
message. He asked me to show it to you once you had viewed your private
message, Master Dick.”
it?” Tim asked.
an exasperated sound in the back of his throat. “If Pennyworth knew that, he
wouldn’t have to show us the message, would he Einstein?”
The acid in
Tim’s stomach burned and his desire to lash out spiked. Dick gripped his arm...
a mix of support and physical restraint. Tim ground his jaw.
“It is something
Master Bruce wished to add, but recording your message again wasn’t an option.”
television screen sprung to life and filled with an image of Bruce’s face. Tim’s
chest tightened and again found himself battling tears.
there is something I have withheld. You have a right to know. I wanted to
tell you, but made a judgement call not to say anything because I felt it was
in your best interests. Whether this information is to be yours or not, is now
up to you. It is hidden in a secret place.”
went blank. An uneasy silence descended over the occupants. Alfred switched
off the television.
Tim drew in
a deep breath and exhaled. “You know what he’s talking about, Dick?”
had been leaning forward, sat back wearily and shook his head. “No.” Again, his
gaze drifted to Bruce’s chair and his Adam’s apple bobbed.
grimaced. The pallor around his friend’s eyes gave them a hooded look. It was
clear he needed some sleep. Since Bruce’s death, none of them had had a lot of
his attention to Alfred, clearly in search of answers.
“I suspect I
may know to what he is alluding, but it is not my place,” Alfred murmured.
considered the response for only a moment before rising to his feet. “We’ve
got about four hours until we need to hit the streets. It’s been a big
afternoon. I’m heading to bed for a few hours. I suggest you do the same.”
minute,” Damian exclaimed. “You can’t just walk away. What about this
important,” Dick dismissed, walking toward the door.
Dick.” Alfred’s talent for striking that very specific tone that made even the
strongest and most powerful stop and take notice never ceased to amaze Tim.
back. Surprisingly, he seemed totally nonplussed. “Bruce made a judgement
call, Alf. That’s good enough for me. I’ve always trusted his judgement. I’m
not about to start doubting it now.”
marched across, stopped in front of Dick and crossed his arms as if baring the
man’s exit. “My father left the disc for a reason, Grayson. I think we have a
right to know what this is about. If you’re too chicken to find out, I...”
Tim growled. The words ‘my father’, which Damian punctuated every sentence
with, echoed over and over again in Tim’s mind and with each repetition Tim’s
rage and ‘dislike’ of Damian grew. “Just shut up.”
at Dick and then slowly and stiffy crossed the room and inserted himself
between Damian and Dick. He placed a hand on Dick’s shoulder. “Master Bruce
did make a judgement call... when he was alive. That has changed, lad.” The
calm, emotionless tone Alfred was renowned for faltered toward the end.
searched Alfred’s less than stoic face. “Are you advising me to investigate?”
squeezed Dick’s shoulder. “I am only suggesting you consider not only what he
said, but what he meant. Master Bruce believed you had a right to know the
truth despite how painful it may be.” With that, Alfred briskly left the room,
his composure dissolving completely as he did.
He knows what this is all about!” Damian insisted, spinning and starting after
Alfred. “Pennyworth, I’m ordering you...”
him,” Dick growled. “And you don’t give Alfred orders. None of us do.”
And again, Dick delivered a glare of such intensity, Damian’s bravado faded...
if only a little.
father left a message for us. I think we should find out what it was.
Information is power.”
Dick ran his
hand through his hair. “And long held secrets are sometimes best buried with
those who guarded them.”
didn’t leave this for, us. He left it for Dick,” Tim pointed out. “It
has nothing to do with us.”
has to do with me. He was my father.”
Both of you.” Dick exploded, but the anger drained quickly, he not appearing
to have the energy to maintain it. “I’ll be in the cave.”
to know the truth.
frowned. “The truth about what?” Something painful, according to Alfred.
Something Bruce had done? Something he hadn’t done?
With a shake
of the head, Dick entered his password and the huge screen in front of him
sprang to life.
need to know the information. If it had been essential… or even remotely
important… Bruce would have told him.
over-rated and is subjective,” he quoted, remembering something Alfred had once
told him. He trusted both Bruce’s judgment and Alfred’s wisdom. Whatever the
‘secret’ had been, he felt it was best it died with Bruce.
Assylm.” The computer responded to the voice command and opened the video feed
directly from the prison. This had enabled Batman to check on the status of
the world’s most dangerous criminals. For now, that role fell to Nighwing. In
Instantly, an image of the Joker’s cell filled the screen. The madman was
sitting on the floor in the middle of the cell cross-legged, singing the
sighed. Where the hell did he go from here? Should he shift back to Gotham? What
was he supposed to do with Damian? He couldn’t send the child back to his
mother! He couldn’t expect Alfred to care for the kid alone. All of which
meant Bruce’s difficult offspring had become Dick’s responsibility.
around, comes around,” Dick murmured. Bruce had taken him in and raised him
and now history was repeating, for the raising of Bruce’s child now fell to
him. While Dick accepted and ‘wanted’ to do it knowing it would be what Bruce
wanted even if he’d never expressed it, the personality clash between Tim and
Damian wasn’t going to make it easy. Damian was arrogant and smug and Tim was
finding it increasingly difficult to turn the other cheek. Considering Damian
had almost killed Tim, Dick couldn’t blame his brother.
swallowed. “My brother.” Tim had become his brother in more than legal name. They’d
become extremely close in the last few years. While Donna, Wally, Garth and
Roy had always felt like family, Tim was family.
at the top of the long staircase, looking down on the lone figure sitting at
the control panel staring at the screen - so small and insignificant in the
enormity of the Batcave.
and turned to rest his gaze heavily on Tim as he approached. “You should be
getting some rest.”
“Ditto.” The smile fell and the two men stared at each other, each sensing the
other’s pain and wishing they could ease it. “Are you okay?”
and nodded. “Yeah. You?”
swallowed and looked away as tears threatened to tumble down his cheeks.
“No.” He heard the scraping of a chair before feeling the comfort of a strong
arm across his shoulders.
For a long
time, they stood silently in the shadow of all Bruce had built.
we going to do?” Tim whispered.
his fight. That’s all we can do.”
Damian?” Dick opened his mouth to respond, but Tim cut him off before he could
do so. He didn’t want to hear any more excuses. “Damian is a fully-trained
assassin, Dick despite his size and age. He doesn’t give a damn about us and he
doesn’t respect any of Bruce’s rules. He’ll destroy everything Bruce worked so
hard to create and I can’t stand by and let that happen. I won’t. I know he’s
Bruce’s son but everyone else had to earn the right to wear the costume and become
part of what Bruce built. Why is Damian exempt? Because he has Bruce’s DNA?”
Damian to me. I’ll deal with him, but I need your help. You have to learn to ignore
his abrasive comments. We both had Bruce in our lives and felt secure in our
relationship with him. Damian had no chance to get to know Bruce and so he seems
to have the need to lay claim to him every chance he gets.”
feel sorry for him. I do. I know what it is like to lose your father young… we
both do. But… Damian is arrogant and lacks respect for everyone.”
“I know he
isn’t easy to like, but the bottom line is, we’re all he’s got. I guess the old
choose your friends, but not your family. Just as we’re stuck with each other,”
Dick smiled and depth of the affection Tim saw there made his chest tighten.
He loved Dick like a brother… and could see Dick felt the same way.
with each other, Tim… and we’re stuck with him too. That’s the nature of
he’s God-damn...” Dick drew Tim closer. Tim clenched his jaw, a physical response
to his battle to control his anger.
ten-year-old boy who wasn’t shown a single day’s love before Bruce took him
excuse for his behaviour,” Tim muttered, but the anger was losing the battle in
the wake of Dick’s argument.
through this, I give you my word. Let’s not dwell on this today. Today should
be about Bruce. In his message to you, I know he must have told you how much he...”
Tim confirmed turning to stand face to face with Dick, the other’s arm sliding
off his shoulders. “And you?”
drifted toward the cabinet that held Buck’s cowl. In a hushed voice he admitted,
“He said everything I knew but still wanted him to say.”
“Good. He loved you, Dick. More than he probably knew himself.”
have to be strong around me.”
nodded. “I’m not trying to be, but thanks. Around you, I know I don’t need to
be anything but myself.”
forward and hugged Dick... hugged him firmly. He felt his brother shudder.
“Let me be here for you too, Dick.”
man pulled away, his eyes glistening with unfallen tears. “I will.” Dick
blinked, forcing the tears to fall, then wiped them with the back of his
sleeve. He shook his head as if trying to clear it, then turned to face his partner.
It was time for ‘business.’ “So, I’m guessing you think I should investigate
what Bruce meant?”
shrugged. “I just think...”
“You saw his
expression, Tim. Whatever it is, it was painful for him. All I have left is
honouring what he wanted. He chose not to tell me so...”
was only part of what he said. “
“You mean my right to know.”
about the fact he said he wanted to tell you. Like maybe it was weighing
on his mind and this was his chance to get if off his chest.”
softly, reached for his temples and began massaging them. For several moments
silence descended in the cave, the only sound the hushed whir of the equipment
around the pair.
have to do it now, Dick, but at least think about it. I hate to admit it, but
I agree with Damian. Bruce made the message for a reason.”
me to know,” Dick whispered.
why not take the secret to his grave? It looked to me like he wanted to makes
sighed. “There are some days when I wish Bruce had been a normal guy.”
smirked. “Are you saying he wasn’t?”
grinned, indicating the cave around them. “You have to admit he had the odd
was welcomed by both.
“So he hid
the information for me to ease his conscience?”
again. “Maybe. Maybe to ensure justice was done. Something he couldn’t do
himself.” Tim licked his lips. They hadn’t discussed this yet but he felt
they needed to sooner rather than later so he prompted quietly, “Maybe
something to do with taking over as Batman.”
grimaced. “I can’t be him.”
would have to and Dick was the best qualified to do so. However, it was obvious
he wasn’t ready to face that yet. “I guess the first problem we need to solve
is where he left a copy of this secret. He didn’t leave any clues.”
and bounced his eyebrows.
message he emphasised the word ‘secret’.”
“It was out
of place. The word was unnecessary. Which probably means...” Dick crossed
the cave and stopped in front of the glass case that contained Thomas Wayne’s
journal. It had always held pride of place. Without a word, Dick lifted the
protective lid and withdrew the leather-bound book. “The secret, Tim.
The ultimate secret we share. When I became Robin, Bruce made me take an oath.
I became part of Bruce’s secret that day and I made that oath with my hand on
this book. So knowing the way Bruce’s mind worked, I’m guessing... “
Dick and watched as the other opened the cover. There, adhered to the inside
was an SD card. “Well, I’ll be damned.”
snorted. “The one item in this place he knew I’d guard with my life because
it, more than anything, reminds us of what we’re doing and why. To fight
crime and corruption and never sway from the path of righteousness.”
for Dick to remove the card but he didn’t. He just stood staring down at it,
caught in a time tunnel of memories. Realizing he needed to take the lead, Tim
leaned over and removed the card, then took it to the computer and downloaded
huge file finished downloading, he swallowed and turned to face his brother. “I’m
staying, so don’t even think about asking me to leave. I honestly don’t care
what this is about, but… I’m staying. Just for once, let me be here for you.”
Alfred had said it could be painful. Tim had no intention of letting Dick face
his hands into his pockets. “One thing being a part of the Teen Titans taught
me all those years was that family face things together.”
“Good.” With a click of the mouse, he launched the file and then backed away to
stand next to Dick.