Thursday, December 7, 2017

Chapter Thirty-Seven: Reaching for Safety

Part Six: Family

Chapter Thirty-Seven: Reaching for Safety

He struggled in a thick darkness, the cold creeping and slowly attempting to latch onto his fingers and around his neck. His face stung as though he had been slapped. In flashes that came and went, he could see a bright orange mass and glowing red dots. His ears were ringing. He squirmed against the ooze that seemed to surround him like a huge amount of cobwebs.

The light hit his eyes and he squinted. Maybe he should just let them close. He could hear blurred sounds in the background. He just wanted to sleep... Wow, he was sore. What hit him? He squinted again and saw purple and tan skin... His thoughts stopped. He turned his head upwards. A face caught his eyes, which widened as clarity came to him.

"Star...?" He began.

He saw her surprised face turn to a smiling one. He felt her hand on the top of his head and realized that he was lying on a few chairs with his head on her lap. A blanket covered him. There was a clicking sound in the background.

"Where... where am... I?" He asked.

"We are in the Department of Police of the City of Gotham," She replied, and for the first time in a long time, he smiled at her version of the English language.

"What... what happened?" He asked her this time, still tense.

"The police arrived after the explosion," Starfire explained, "The out was knocked from you, but Superman and Wonder Woman were unharmed and soon found you before the police did..."

That's when Robin noticed, the mask was gone from his face, "They, no one... knows then?"

"I do not believe so," Starfire told him, "Superman and Wonder Woman insisted on staying here until the work of paper is done."

"Then... Slade is..." Robin started.

Starfire nodded, "I searched with Wonder Woman for an hour and could not find him."

Robin nodded, but felt slightly disoriented. He decided to try and sit up, hoping that Starfire couldn't detect his apparent shaken exterior. With some help from Starfire, he managed to do so, but his head still ached. Across the room, Gordon noticed that Dick was waking up and briskly came over.

"Dick?" He asked, "How are you feeling?"

"Little dizzy... and sore... but I'm okay," Dick said, not really registering everything.

Gordon nodded in understanding, "Are you up for answering any questions?"

Dick shook his head slightly, hoping to avoid any more discomfort, "Not... not really... but I will if you need me to..."

"That's alright, we can ask you later," Gordon said, "I need to deal with the photographers and news crew, but I'll be back soon, son."

Starfire nodded for him as Dick felt that doing so himself would force him to lie back down. Photographers... How in the world? Oh, of course, it was because of Superman and Wonder Woman, wasn't it? How often do superheroes other than Batman hang out at the G.C.P.D.? He then noticed that he was still wearing the torn uniform underneath the blanket. What a great front page that would be... He pulled the blanket over him more tightly. He shivered.

"Um, Dick?" Starfire said, "I called the others; they're on the roof to avoid... the photographers."

"Oh, thank you," Dick said, then let out what he hoped was a loose laugh, "I can't tell you guys how much I missed you... Who... who are they handing me off to this time?"

"Mr. Pennyworth; he is in the other room with a Ms. Leslie talking to Mr. Bullock. Everything can go back to the normal..." Starfire answered carefully, noticing Robin's rather hidden, but clearly despairing and sarcastic tone.

Dick smiled thinking back to how things were before this whole mess and then he frowned slightly. He attempted to block out the fear that tried to arise from the back of his mind, "Well, not everything... but enough."

There was silence for a minute before he thought to speak again, "Um, Starfire? What happened to Ms. Kane?"

Starfire furrowed her brows, "Ms. Kane was in the vicinity?"

He looked at her, immediately alert, "Yes, she, yeah, she was. You didn't find her?"

Starfire shook her head no and Dick continued, "Then where..."

And yet there wasn't an answer for him to receive. She could be anywhere... Outside the offices of the G.C.P.D., news crew continued to snap away and record everything that they could while Wonder Woman and Superman stood firmly rooted in the doorway.

"At this rate," Wonder Woman stated, "He'll be here any minute to blow this place up to the watchtower."

"Wonder Woman," Superman began, "It's not my fault that a squad of police cars had the sirens wailing behind us when we got here, so if we could focus on the situation at hand..."

It was amazing how persistent these people could be. Superman recalled that there was a code of ethics that they supposedly were to follow, but it seemed that those often were lost in the heat of the moment.

"Excuse me, but if you could back up," He called, trying to create some space, "The photos that you have will not do you any good because of the windows' coatings..."

"Like that will help," Wonder Woman muttered.

"Well, if you have any... suggest...ions..." Superman stuttered to a stop.

His eyes focused on an area of the crowd where people were parting. A tall man came into view and Superman's jaw dropped. He scanned him to make sure it wasn't a trick. Wonder Woman elbowed him in the side.

"Superman, could you help me for just a moment..."

"Diana!" He shot and then eyed the newcomer.

Wonder Woman looked over instantly at the sound of her name and then felt herself freeze. The man walked up to them both, looking at them apologetically.

"May I?" He asked.

Superman nodded and looked at Wonder Woman as though asking if he could go in as well. She nodded and they both went inside. The man found Sawyer talking on the phone to the hospital.

"How much of an emergency is this, officer?" Sawyer asked, "We're kind of strained here right now."

"Ms. Sawyer, listen, Ms. Kane, she was delivered here tonight! She's in the emergency room in critical condition, but..."

The man taped Sawyer on the shoulder.

"What, what is it?" She asked, irritated and then she instantly gasped, "You... you..."

"Where's Dick?" He asked.

"A... around the corner," She knew that her eyes were twice their regular size, but at this point, she felt that she deserved some slack.

"Thank you," He said and continued.

Most in the office began to stop and look. Silence came over the room. The man rounded the corner and saw Dick sitting next to Starfire in silence. He looked worn out and tired, and for once his spiky hair was down and flat. He noticed that the two held each others' hands out of immediate sight. He paused in his footsteps and felt guilt for not... doing anything. He couldn't wait any longer. It wasn't fair or just...

He finally spoke, "Dick."

The whole room froze. Dick tensed and felt Starfire's gaze look up and over him. He heard her gasp and very slowly, he turned his head and looked up as well. His eyes, he felt were deceiving him. This couldn't... How? He stood up, confused and hesitant to believe anything. The man felt himself smile upon seeing the obvious distrust, but also the earnest hope in Dick's face, something that would never leave his personality.

The man sighed and spoke, "Alright, I always wanted a husky when I was a kid."

The quirky secret that only they knew. Dick smiled, "Bruce."

Dick wasn't sure how, but he felt his feet move and he ran into Bruce's arms and buried his face in the man's chest. And for the first time, in a long time, Bruce returned the hug and held Dick tightly. Alfred and Leslie came out to see and Gordon watched in disbelief. The unbelievable had happened. Superman and Starfire smiled and watched the reunited father and son share a moment, a much-needed moment, in which they were only aware of one another.

Shock, regret, relief. A mixture of emotions, but neither minded. Bruce was alive. Dick was okay. That was what was important right then. That and nothing else. For an instant, Dick was free from fear. Nothing could harm him. Nothing. He felt... safe.

Finally, they parted and Dick questioned, "How... how are you?"

"Batman rescued me," He said, winking (code for 'I'll explain later'), "He kept me down in the Batcave for the last few months. Said he was tracking a lead and wanted me out of the picture for a while."

Bruce looked Dick over, "You look like a mess."

Dick laughed, and eyed Bruce's hair, which was not quite as long as it use to be, "I'm not the only one."

Bruce smiled, a rare occurrence and turned to face Gordon, "Commissioner, you look flustered."

Gordon slowly nodded, "A bit, a bit, it's uh, good to see you alive, Mr. Wayne."

"Ha, good to be alive," Bruce said.

"Yes, I, I'd think so," Gordon shook his head trying to regain a sense of normalcy, though considering everything, that didn't seem likely, "So, did I hear right? Batman kept you locked up for the past few months?"

"Well, it was fine on my part," Bruce said, making sure to keep Gordon from thinking that Batman had kidnapped him, "He finally let me out after learning about Dick's condition."

"Well, that's uh, that's good to hear. We were planning on taking him to the hospital as soon as the papers were written up..." Gordon started when Alfred and Leslie came over.

"Master Bruce!" Alfred exclaimed, astonished.

"Hi Alfred," Bruce said, "Leslie."

Leslie brought her hands to her face, "Oh, Bruce, I can't believe it!"

Bruce shrugged as she ran over and hugged him. She pulled away back to Alfred and Bruce turned to Gordon again, "Commissioner, would it be alright if I took Dick home to Wayne Manor? Leslie is a highly capable doctor and I trust her that she can take care of him better than any hospital can."

Gordon looked between the four people surrounding him. From Alfred, to Leslie, to Dick, to Bruce. He sighed, "Well, I believe legally that shouldn't be a problem. And it's up to you whether he goes to the hospital, but we will need him to come in for questioning at another time."

"We're fine with that, right Dick?" Bruce said, putting a hand lightly on Dick's shoulder, just in case there might be a bruise there. Dick nodded.

"I'd check with the capes, too," Gordon said, "They've been like hawks since the incident and frankly, it might just be best to keep him here after what happened..."

Bruce looked over at Clark, who nodded, "It's alright on our end as long as we can tag along for a bit, just for security."

"I appreciate it... Dick, you ready to go home?" Bruce said.

Dick smiled and nodded, "Yeah."

"Alfred, would you bring the car around?" Bruce asked.

"Of course sir," Alfred said.

Starfire stood up and followed the four remaining to the front. Somehow, despite the photographers and news crew, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Starfire managed to make a path for Bruce, Dick, and Leslie, while simultaneously keeping people back. It was like they had become security against the papparazzi. Gordon already had men outside, however, keeping people back as they got to the car. The three entered while the three capes flew up into the sky. The four Titans on the roof met up with them.

"What's going on?" Cyborg asked.

"We are heading to the Manor of the Wayne's," Starfire informed them.

"So Alfred got the all clear?" Beast Boy asked, emerging from his hawk form to be caught by Starfire.

"No, Mr. Wayne did," Starfire smiled.

Raven hid her own, "I wondered why Dick suddenly felt so... positive, I guess."

Photographers snapped away, hoping for the shot that would be on tomorrow's front page. They already knew what the headlines would read. But strangely, that wasn't what made Dick feel... uncomfortable. It was being out in the open... Once they had entered the car though, Dick found himself unaware of the paparazzi and a bit more secure. Alfred drove the car like before. Leslie was in the front with him and Bruce in the back. No one asked any questions. They just let things be. Dick leaned against Bruce's arm, fatigue plaguing him. His eyes closed. Bruce watched him out of the corner of his eye.

It was... unexpected, Dick's behavior. After everything he had done... it could be deemed an incredibly self-centered action. And he should have realized what was happening sooner, but he didn't. In the past, he had realized that his work cost him relationships, friends... and yet there were always a few that stayed. How Dick managed to be one of them... he wasn't quite sure.

They arrived at Wayne Manor and Dick lifted his head up. They got out and were accompanied inside by the JLA and the Titans, all of which said something to their respective teammate from Gotham, before stopping in the main room. Bruce turned to Leslie.

"Could you take Dick up to his room and bandage him up?" Bruce asked.

"Wait a second," Diana demanded, "We deserve some explanations, Bruce. Right, Clark?"

Bruce looked over at Clark who gave a brief nod of agreement, "It would be rather nice..."

"Yeah, at least explain to us how you're not dead," Cyborg challenged.

Surprisingly enough, Bruce didn't glare down at Dick's teammate and sighed. "Very well, but considering Dick's condition, he needs to get some rest, so I'll make this short."

Despite hearing the word 'short', everyone present slouched a bit for the story. That's what explanations did sometimes...

"How, how did you live?" Dick asked, "I saw you... get shot... and then the fire..."

Bruce looked down at his ward and answered, "With some preparation and with Fox's help."

"Fox knew you were alive?" Alfred asked.

"No, he didn't, but he is responsible for how I survived the bullets," Bruce replied, "Military and police personnel already have bullet proof vests, but it's not a perfect design. It can still shatter and the shattering metal can kill for the bullet if you're really unlucky. Fox designed a light electric vest that when on, remedies this problem, using magnetics."

"Magnetics?" Diana asked.

"Essentially, it repels the bullet so that it slows down enough so that by the time it hits your chest, it doesn't have enough momentum to injure you," Bruce explained, "It does this at almost the speed of sound and starts to slow the bullets about a foot away from you. Once they hit you they're magnetically stuck to the vest. No harm done."

"But what about the blood? And I saw those things come... out... of your chest..." Dick said, resisting the urge to remember the images.

"That's the other part of the design," Bruce stated, "Fox knew that even if the design could save your heart or lungs, it couldn't save the rest of you. You can still die from a bullet in your thigh or arm and if your opponent doesn't see you bleeding, he's likely to keep shooting until he does."

"So you created... a fake out?" Raven supplemented.

"Exactly," Bruce said, "Inside the chest are compartments that release red fluid through a thin grate once the bullet is stuck to the plate. It's accurate thanks to sensors that detect the highest concentration of electrical magnetic energy. Each sensor has a corresponding side on the other side. It also releases the liquid, but in addition, it shoots out what could be mistaken as a bullet, creating the illusion that the bullet passed through the person's chest."

"And you were wearing this the whole time?" Clark asked, dumbfounded by how Bruce could call that a 'short' explanation.

"Yes, it's still too expensive for the military and... as always... I requested a personal prototype," Bruce stated.

"And you didn't get one for Robin?" Beast Boy asked.

"They take a while to make," Bruce told them, "I figured the most dangerous criminals would shoot at me to get me out of the way. If that happened, it would give Dick time to retreat. However, one was in the process of being made for you and should have been done by the end of that week."

Dick nodded, "And then the... fire?"

"Simple," Bruce said, "Vaseline. Or rather, a very dense thin concentration of Vaseline."

"Care to explain that one?" Diana asked.

"It's a little known fact that Vaseline will keep your skin from burning for one minute, two, max when next to a fire; it creates a barrier between you and the flames. I knew that we were dealing with a pyromaniac, so for a while, I'd been coating my face and hands in a very thin layer of it, just as a precaution, considering my social standing. Alfred noticed how it was affecting my skin negatively at one point, actually," Bruce summed up.

"Oh, yes, I remember that," Alfred trailed off.

"Since you didn't go to public events with me, Dick, I didn't give you any either," Bruce told him, "I used it only for work and public events...didn't save all of my hair, though."

The group glanced at his black hair which, as Dick had noted earlier, wasn't particularly straight and at some points incredibly short. It earned a few smiles before Bruce turned the conversation back to a more serious tone.

"Now, Leslie, will you take Dick up to his room and fix him up? I'll send someone up later," Bruce told her.

Dick turned to him instantly, "Wait, you still..."

"You'll get your answers, Dick," Bruce said, hoping to calm him down, "What I'd like you to do now is go up and get your rest."

The Boy Wonder glared at him for a moment, slightly agitated that he hadn't heard the whole story, but mainly it was the pit in his stomach that was bothering him. Leslie walked over and put a hand on his shoulder.

"Come on, dear," She said.

Finally, Dick nodded and began to walk up the steps towards his room. His room... it was... comforting, to say the least. The rest watched before Bruce immediately turned and headed for his study. The remaining heroes quickly followed.

"You think it's safe to leave him up there?" Diana asked.

"With the security system in this house, we have a few minutes of warning time before anyone can get to Dick's room," Bruce told her, "I have someone I'll send up within that amount of time."

"Who?" Beast Boy asked.

They followed Bruce down the staircase, Clark being slightly cautious after his and Diana's last visit there. The Titans' eyes scanned the place, this being their first time in the Batcave. They didn't have much time to look around, however, as footsteps alerted them to the presence of another person there.

"Well, did you get your kid back?"

All eyes turned to the newcomer who was dressed in a recognizable black skin tight cat suit. Half of those mouths dropped. The women kept their cool.

"He's upstairs. I'd like you to go up to his room and guard him for a few hours or so. I'll send someone to relieve you," Bruce said, loosening his shirt to reveal part of the Batsuit underneath.

"Fine," Catwoman said, "Have fun with the dead guy, everyone."

With that, she sulkily left leaving the JLA members and the Titans extremely shocked. Clark was the first to say anything.

"You let HER know before the rest of us that you were okay?" He asked, "Why did you even stay hidden in the first place?"

"When I became a target, I realized that these arson attacks were far from random. I started searching and found many of the victims had links to the Wayne family through financial means. Some were through charities, others contracts, but they all led to points of power in Wayne Enterprises, many of which were probably forgotten to most. Anyone who didn't have a business relation was in the way, so to speak," Bruce told them.

"So... it was about Wayne Enterprises?" Diana finished.

"Basically, that's what I originally guessed, anyway," Bruce stated. "On that lead, I figured that whoever was behind this was likely a business competitor who had been refused some sort of deal. Top of the list for that was Lex Luthor. That being said, it was to my advantage to let him think that I was dead as he'd be more likely to slip up."

"Um," Starfire started, "Excuse me for a moment, but did Luthor want something from you that would have been necessary to create that machine Superman and I fought in Metropolis?"

"That's exactly what it was," Bruce said, pulling up on the computer screens a design with the label 'Project Xenomineral', "This machine would take radioactive pieces of foreign matter and reconfigure it as solar energy. Luthor must have figured out how to instead increase the output of the mineral's energy instead of convert it to solar energy. In this case, it was kryptonite."

Clark resisted the urge to fume as Bruce finished, "I monitored who Robin's guardian was the entire time. Originally, I had planned that Alfred was to be his guardian, but when Adeline received guardianship, I wasn't too concerned, since we were cousins. I noted when his guardianship was given to Wilson as well, but I didn't see any signs of a Grant Wilson being any trouble. It wasn't until after Luthor's attacks on Metropolis that I realized that something wasn't right."

"Such as?" Beast Boy said sarcastically.

"I couldn't contact Robin when I tried to," Bruce said, pulling the mask on, "That never happens. He always has his communicator with him. I tried several times with no response. In the meantime, I searched up Wilson's history. His company records turned up fake, his name forged, and finally, Adeline's and my own will had been tampered with. When I checked those who had been killed, almost all of them had a link to my will or my parents' will regarding custody or guardianship of minors."

"Adeline's will was changed only in terms of Wilson's first name change to keep everything straight so that he could still claim custody of Dick," Batman continued, "Based on that and Adeline's disappearance, I searched for property records of Wilson's. He had more than you'd expect, to say the least. It looked like he owned a business himself."

"That's what Ollie found odd about him, too," Clark said.

"We found their location around the same time," Batman finished, "Slade had stored mass amounts of weapons below and I set a bomb up to blow it sky high. I got Adeline to safety and once you were present, I let the bomb run out of time. It wouldn't be enough to obliterate anyone, but it would provide a chance to separate everyone. I would have gone and gotten Robin, but you got there before I did. That being said, I took Adeline to the hospital and went straight for the Police Department."

"You don't mind that Slade knows you're alive now?" Raven questioned.

"No, I want him to know I don't die easily," Batman stated.

"So if I'm following you, we couldn't know you were alive because it would have given that information away then to whoever was behind the murders?" Cyborg asked.

Batman gave a brief nod.

"Oh come on!" Cyborg yelled, "This is... This is, really... I hate these ninja-like tactics!"

"Get used to it," Batman said, "I had Catwoman begin to help me a few weeks into December so that I could avoid the spotlight if I ever needed to go out."

"But the Catwoman was fine because she was on neither side?" Starfire asked.

"Yes," Batman answered.

"Do you think Slade will come after him again?" Superman asked.

"Probably, but as for when, I'm not sure," Batman stated, "I'd say sometime when Dick is still incredibly weakened."

"So... soon?" Raven filled in.

Another nod.

"I have set the estate on high alert, sir," Alfred said.

"Speaking of which," Wonder Woman interrupted, "Thanks for locking us out of the Batcave."

"You should know I have defenses like that," Batman told her, "But I do apologize, I was at another base of mine in the city, and thus those defenses were on a higher level than normal."

"Bruce," Clark said, "Please, never do that again."

"Good luck with making me do that," Batman said, and Clark could swear that if it wasn't for his demeanor, Batman would have been smiling.


The quiet monitor beeped away, telling her that her heart was still beating. In some ways, she wished that it wouldn't. Her body ached and her stomach seemed to have been lost at some point. At least the bed was soft. She was in a hospital, Gotham General Hospital to be precise... It was warm in the room, or rather, a good temperature. Not too cold, not too hot. She hoped that she could somehow just doze and slumber...

A breeze hit her face and she tightened her eyes. Did the vent just turn on? She heard footsteps, but something was wrong. There was no sign of a light being turned on. And the shoes.. had metal rims? A hand came to her face and suddenly she heard the monitor speed up a bit. Before she could open her eyes, though, she felt lips against her own. She wanted to panic, but was too tired to do so. Her eyes opened and she saw a figure, the outline was fuzzy, but she knew who it was.

He ended the kiss, "I promise, I'll fix this. I'll make up for tearing up our family. I'll give you one that you can finally have. I promise, Addie."

She wanted to tell him, 'no', but she could only groan. He moved a few strands of hair away from her face.

"Get better," Slade told her.

Adeline barely caught a glimpse of him as he climbed out of the window and into the night, off to do who knew what. She had to warn them. She had to get a hold of Batman. But she physically couldn't and it made her want to scream.

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