Present Day… New York…
Nightwing had to say this about Agent Burke’s people. They were very thorough. There wasn’t much left uninvestigated at Neal’s apartment or on the roof where the shooter had been perched. Whatever evidence they’d gathered, he was certain between Babs and himself, they could get the information on what the FBI collected, if anything.
For now, though, Nightwing found himself settled in on the rooftop of the FBI headquarters in New York City. Barbara was also keeping tabs on any video feeds from security and traffic cams in the area as well. If a pigeon sneezed the wrong way within a three block radius of the building, they’d know about it.
It was a good thing Babs was helping to keep an eye on the area. Dick was about to be real distracted in about a minute as he waited for a response on his com link.
For the public, the official story was that Bruce Wayne had been been bitten by the wanderlust bug again and was touring the Mediterranean in one of his yachts with his long-time girlfriend, Selina Kyle. He’d given up the shallow playboy routine several years earlier and was making a good show of playing up the gossip mill tale of how Miss Kyle was “making an honest man out of him.”
Selina had laughed herself absolutely breathless when she saw the society page article in an e-mail Clark Kent had sent to Bruce.
So while the press thought that billionaire CEO of Wayne Enterprises was in Europe, in reality, Bruce was actually tens of thousands of miles above. In the Justice League orbital space station called the Watchtower, he was standing alongside Superman, stoically regarding a line of five young teenagers who had just been admitted into the Teen Titans. Since taking a more active role in leadership of the Justice League years ago, Nightwing had made it a point to strengthen relationships between the younger generation and the older one. Whenever a new class of Titans was pulled together, two active senior members of the Justice League would be assigned as their mentors.
Though he would never admit it aloud, Bruce looked forward to these first meetings with the youngsters, especially if he was going to be working alongside Superman as their mentor. He enjoyed playing up the dark, intimidating Bat against Clark’s eternal super boy scout.
“And this room-” Superman said to the Titans as he gestured to the expansively wide open space around them, “-is what we here affectionately call The Kitchen. Do any of you know what The Kitchen is used for?”
Iris West, this generation’s new Kid Flash, shot her hand upward, though started speaking before she was called. “It’s a simulation room for training and exercises and can mimic any sort of environmental or situational scenario. Oh, and it has absolutely nothing to do with food.”
Superman smiled. Iris beamed. “Correct. The training facility here is far more advanced than any we have on Earth. So, during down times you’ll be invited up here for exercises. In fact, you’ll be having one here today.”
Cerdian, the newest Aqualad and youngest of the five, punched the air with excitement. “This is awesome! We get to be trained by Superman!” The others chattered excitedly in agreement.
Batman almost chuckled as Superman’s welcoming expression faltered and became more… sympathetic. “Ah… No. I’m afraid I’m not the one in charge of administering your training exercises here in The Kitchen.” It was a struggle not to show the least little bit of amusement as five pairs of uneasy eyes turned their focus simultaneously on him.
“Today, the five of you will be working together in a simulation I’ve developed specifically to test how well you all interact as a team in a hostile environment. Just a little something to give me some benchmarks on how I should prepare future scenarios.”
Superman knew Batman well enough to be immediately suspicious of the Dark Knight’s declaration. “What simulation will the kids be running?” he asked hesitantly.
Batman finally allowed himself a small smirk. The kids would soon learn to fear that smirk. “Kobayashi Maru #7.”
The boy scout’s eyes went wide with surprise. “You can’t be serious!”
“As a heart attack.”
“Oh, come on! It’s their first day here!”
“You know this kind of stuff is the reason why you haven’t been asked to mentor anyone for the last three years.”
Batman smirked again.
Superman turned his eyes to the ceiling. “Oh for the love of Rao,” he muttered under his breath.
“Um, Superman?” Iris spoke up again, though this time it was far more timidly than before. “What’s a koh-bye-ah-shee mah-roo?”
The Man of Steel looked at his now nervous charges. “Yeah… Have any of you seen Star Trek?”
They five teenagers looked at each other and collectively shook their heads. “Does Star Wars count?” Cerdian asked.
Batman couldn’t help himself. At the small Aqualad’s question, he started chuckling darkly. He then turned without another word and began making his way out of The Kitchen. Superman lingered behind for a moment, trying futilely to reassure the kids with a forced smile.
“Then don’t worry about it. It’s not as bad as it seems. It could be worse. It could’ve been number four or number two. Number seven’s really not that bad in comparison to the ones ahead of it. It’s actually pretty tame comparatively. So go on back to your rooms, suit up, and meet back here in thirty. Batman will run the scenario from the command center, and I’ll be watching every step of the way. Don’t worry.” He began to follow his partner out of the training room.
At the exit, though, he stopped and turned back to the kids. “Good luck, you guys… and…” He stared at them and their innocent little faces and sighed. “…I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry, and I promise I’ll make it up to you all after it’s done. Just remember, it’s only a simulation.”
In the command center, Batman was pouring two cups of coffee when Superman came in, a less than pleased expression on his face. “You do know it’s not kosher to play Good Cop, Bad Cop with the kids we’re supposed to be role models for, right?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Clark,” Bruce said innocently as he offered one of his oldest friends a mug.
Despite his irritation, Superman wasn’t about to refuse the coffee. “Come on. We both know that's bull,” he stated matter-of-factly. “I still can’t believe Dick volunteered you to mentor again, especially after what happened last time.”
“He didn’t.” In the security of the command center, with the doors locked with just him and with only Superman for company, Bruce was relaxed enough to push his cowl back to reveal his face.
Bruce shook his head. “Because Dick’s been tied up in New York the last few weeks handling the new gallery opening, the choice of mentors this year fell to his second-in-command, Donna Troy.”
Clark’s face fell into his palm. “And the last year you mentored was the year all our Wonder Women were stuck in Themyscira, and so she didn’t get the memo that you were NEVER to mentor EVER again.” He looked at Bruce. “Wasn’t there a note to that effect on your file?”
“She thought I entered that in myself to get out of future mentoring assignments.”
“Wonderful.” Clark’s voice was saturated with sarcasm as he leaned against the console Bruce was now working on and took a long sip from his mug.
There was a long moment of silence in the command center, save for the clicks from the keyboard and the miscellaneous computer noises from the machines that filled the room.
“Should I hand over my platinum card now or later?”
“Now. There’s a therapy trip to Disney World that needs to be bought.”
Bruce he reached into a hidden compartment in his gauntlet and pulled out a credit card, which Clark promptly snatched up.
“I’ll be back. DO NOT start the simulation without me, or else YOU’LL be joining me as I escort the kids to Florida.”
Bruce’s eyes narrowed. “You wouldn’t.”
“I’ll stick you on the It’s a Small World ride with Iris myself.”
Once Clark left the command center, Bruce secured the doors, sat back, and relaxed in the peace and quiet. It had been a long time since he visited the Watchtower. He’d almost forgotten how nice the view was from up here. The peace and quiet wasn’t to last,though. A small light blinked on his gauntlet. He had an incoming call via his com unit. Rather than put his hood back on, Bruce patched the call through the computer he was working on.
There was a brief pause. “It’s me,” Nightwing said. “Are you able to speak in private?”
“We can talk right now. I’m alone in the Watchtower command center.” Bruce took a moment to double check the locks on the doors. If anyone wanted to enter, they’d have to knock. “What’s this about? How are things in New York?”
“Things are… complicated, Bruce.”
Bruce frowned. Dick never spoke their real names when they were in uniform unless something serious was going on involving the family. “What’s wrong, Dick?”
On the other end of the line, Nightwing drew in a deep breath. A part of him wished that he could deliver this news to his father in person. Another part was glad that he couldn’t. Still, it didn’t make it any easier to speak aloud the words to Bruce, especially in light of Alfred’s scolding earlier that evening.
He could tell something wasn’t right. The length of silence Bruce was getting from his normally chatty eldest was more than a little unusual. The last time he got this feeling from Dick was the time he told him that Tim had gone missing. A too familiar sensation of dread began to pool in the pit of his stomach.
“We found Tim.”
Three words, spoken so softly that Bruce almost didn’t catch them. He stared at the computer screen, at the com link window with its now calm audio waveform. His mind just couldn’t comprehend what he’d just heard. He was imagining it, right? Or perhaps he was dreaming? That had to be it… He’d dozed off waiting for Clark to get back and was just dreaming… Imagining things…
“Sorry, Dick,” he said. “I think I misheard you-“
When his son interrupted him, his voice was clearer, forced a little louder, but was still thick with emotion. “Tim’s alive, Bruce. He’s here in New York. We finally found him.”
Everything stopped for Bruce in that one moment. His heart, his breathing, his thoughts. The only chatter in his head were Dick’s words circling his mind. He felt an unfamiliar sensation in his eyes and he rubbed them irritably to try and clear his suddenly blurring vision while he attempted to find his voice. It took several tries. The words just wouldn’t come out at first.
“How?” Bruce asked in a tense voice. “When? Where?” He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, trying to make his thoughts more clear. “No, no. Start from the beginning.”
As Dick retold the story he’d shared with Alfred just hours earlier, Bruce turned up the speaker volume and muted the microphone on the computer. He didn’t want Dick to hear any hint of the quiet, reserved sobs of relief he was muffling with his own gloved hand.
Timothy, his missing son, presumed dead by many others over the last seven years, was alive.
Even the Batman couldn’t possibly maintain his composure in the face of that.
“I asked Barbara to send you some files,” Dick said once his initial story of how he and Damian discovered Tim was completed. “They’re of the DNA test, and a video Babs recorded from the camera on my mask. You should be getting them now.”
Bruce’s fingers immediately dashed across the keyboard with a speed to that would do any Flash proud as he accessed his secured personal link up with Oracle. He refreshed the window several times before the info packet from Barbara finally showed up. As soon as he was able, he opened up the video file and filled the large computer screen with the moving images from Dick’s eyes to his.
“Tim,” Bruce murmured in wonder as he stared at the grown man painting on the video in front of him. Though his son was older now, Bruce immediately recognized him. To be told that his long lost son had been found, to hear those words, was one thing. However, seeing him moving and painting and just living… It really drove home the fact that Tim was, in fact, alive and well. He unconsciously rose to his feet and reached out to touch the screen, pausing the video as Tim had just happened to turn to face Dick’s line of sight.
“Bruce? Are you still there?”
He flipped the microphone back on and cleared his throat. “Yeah. I’m here. Just… a little overwhelmed right now.”
Dick’s tone became more guarded and serious. “There’s more, Bruce, and none of it good.”
Red flag waved, Bruce forcibly brought his emotions back under control and turned his full attention back to his eldest’s words. “What do you mean?”
It was then that Dick explained Tim’s memory loss to Bruce, and how he’d been rescued from Ra’s Al Ghul by Talia, and how she turned him into a criminal named Neal Caffrey, who had been arrested by the FBI. Dick’s explanation of exactly how Tim lost his memory had very large, very obvious gaps, and Bruce would’ve pressed him hard on the matter if he hadn’t been successfully distracted by the description of events that had occurred during the last eight hours.
“A sniper?” Bruce growled.
“Perhaps,” Dick said. “Agent Burke has a theory that the attack tonight wasn’t to kill Tim, but to provoke him. I’m not sure why. We’re still trying to figure that out.”
Bruce’s hands tightened into fists. The fear that they could possibly lose Tim again, this time permanently, just as they finally found him, chilled him to the bone.
“I’m coming to New York,” he told his son. “And we are going to bring Tim home.”
“He’s in FBI custody, Bruce,” Dick tried to reason with his father. “The feds aren’t going to like it if you just storm in there and take him without going through the proper channels.”
“I’d like to see them try and stop me.”
“Bruce! I’ve got Babs working an angle to get him released into Justice League custody. As much as I would love to just storm into that building myself and take him back on my own, as leader of the Justice League I can’t risk straining the relationship between the federal government and the us.”
Bruce glared at the computer screen. He hated admitting it, but Dick had a point. While Batman had a certain amount of leeway to do as he pleased in Gotham City, regardless of the local and federal law enforcement agencies based in the city, that didn’t translate on a national level. That was why Dick was leader of the Justice League right now, and not him. Dick had a knack for playing well with the other agencies and keeping everyone relatively happy with one another.
He sighed. “Fine. But I’m still coming to New York. Fair warning, if getting Tim back by-the-book fails then I’m doing things my way.”
“Do we have any intel on the status of the League of Assassins right now?”
“Nothing recent. Aside from a couple of high profile hits done the last few years, Ra’s has been flying mostly under the radar. Damian is hoping to get information on them from his mother.”
Bruce’s skin crawled at the thought of his youngest son being anywhere near the woman partially responsible for Tim’s current situation. However, he knew that Damian could hold his own against his mother and her machinations, especially if Stephanie was with him and Cassandra was just a call away.
“Keep me posted if there are any changes in the situation on the ground,” Bruce instructed. “I”ll be there as soon as I can.”
Bruce almost disconnected the call there, but stopped himself. “Dick?”
The older man voice took on a more reassuring, fatherly tone. “You’ve done a good job,” he said. “I just wish you would’ve told me about all this sooner.”
“I know, and I really am sorry about that. I just-“
“It’s alright. You don’t have to explain anything. I understand. Just keep your focus right now on keeping Tim safe.”
With that, Bruce finally disconnected the call. He wanted to head out of the Watchtower and return to Earth as soon as possible, but instead he stood there for few minutes in the command center, leaning against the computer console for support. The full gravity of Dick’s revelations were starting to sink in, and he was completely overwhelmed. His hands were trembling and the room felt like it was spinning.
There was an insistent pinging from the door behind him. Then a voice chimed in over the intercom. “Batman? What’s going on? Why’s the door locked?” After Bruce pressed a button on the console, Clark walked in, looking a little confused at his best friend’s obvious distress. “Bruce?” he said with concern. “Is everything alright?” The Man of Steel stopped in front of the computer and glanced up at the screen. “What’s this-” His words failed him as he took a good hard look at the man in the stilled video. “Whoa,” he said softly. “Is that who I think it is?”
Bruce nodded numbly. “Tim’s alive,” he murmured.
Clark was completely floored. “After all these years…” A brilliant smile crept up on his face. “This is wonderful news, Bruce!” The smile faded, though, as he regarded his friend. “But shouldn’t you be thrilled?”
The Kryptonian sighed. “When is it ever not?” He placed a comforting hand on Bruce’s back. “Here. You really don’t look fit to fly right now. I’ll call Donna and have her handle the Teen Titans. Then I’ll pilot your shuttle back down to Gotham and you can explain what’s going on along the way.”
“Not Gotham. New York,” Bruce clarified as closed all the videos and documents regarding Tim. Then he took a deep breath, put his cowl back on, and stoically exited the command center.
To all the rest of the people in the Watchtower, it seemed that the Batman was in one of his usual antisocial, brooding moods as he stalked silently towards the shuttle docks. Only Superman understood how deeply shaken and not like himself the patriarch of the Bat clan was. That Bruce hadn’t even attempted to refuse his offer to help fly him back to Earth was a sign of how unnerved he really was.
I couldn’t help myself. Once I got started writing to introduce Superman and Batman, I couldn’t help but give them one of my longest chapters to date. How could I not?
The length was not the only thing that made his chapter take longer to write than many of the others. I struggled for a few days to figure out exactly how to write this scene. Where was Bruce during all the earlier events of the story? How would he react to Dick’s revelations?
Once I started writing, especially when I hit the banter between Clark and Bruce while they’re introducing the next generation of Teen Titans to The Kitchen, I couldn’t stop. After all the drama and angst of the recent previous chapters, I needed to add a little bit of humor back into the story.
I really hope everyone enjoys reading this chapter as much as I enjoyed writing it.