He pulled the boy closer. Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.
[The Boy:] You forget some things, dont you?
[The Man:] Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.
-The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.
They don't sedate him.
That is their first mistake.
He twists one of the men's elbows and flips him down to the ground, kicking him in the stomach. Hard. He lands a solid hit on the other man's jaw, and when he's sure that both of them are down, he runs. He runs till he can't anymore and stops, panting, with his hands on his knees.
He looks around.
He's in a dank alleyway now. He stands upright again, and looks at his gauntleted hands. So he can fight. Really well. He can't remember his own name, but he can fight. He frowns. No, that can't be right. He does remember things.
His name is Batma- Bruce. It's Bruce. Wayne. He's thirty four years old. He has two children. Dick and Jason. Dick is in college and Jason is still in school. Dick is eighteen and Jay is fourteen. He can remember that. Alfred is sixty two. Clark is thirty one. Selina is twenty nine. He remembers going to bed after patrol yesterday. It was cold and raining and Jason hadn't finished his homework yet.
It's not cold now. Actually, it feels like summer. He frowns again. His head hurts so much. Why? There's a small pinprick of pain on his left bicep. He looks at it. There's a small hole in the batsuit there. He almost doesn't see it. They must have injected him with something. He has to call Jay. Make sure he's okay. Call Alfred. Report back to base.
He reaches for the small burner cell that he keeps in one of the pouches in his utility belt, but it's not there. He looks at the belt in disbelief. It's smaller. Sleeker. In fact, now that he thinks about it, his whole suit is different. It's lighter. Less clunky. He stretches his arm in front of him. More flexible too. It looks like it's made from a material he'd kill to get his hands on. Some kind of kevlar-silk mesh body armour. darker too; it's almost black. Less yellow on a suit that didn't have too much colour to begin with anyway. The cowl still feels the same.
Except there's something inside his ear.
He grabs at his cowl, trying to take it off. The cowl comes off smoother than it usually does- something he takes note of- and he slips whatever was in his ear out. He examines it, turning it back and forth on his palm. It's a small metal. . . Bluetooth earpiece? No, it's too small for that. It's the size of a earbud. There's a button on the side. Curiosity gets the better of him, and he presses it.
Suddenly there's a red light beeping on the side. He can hear a voice, slightly garbled, coming from the small speaker built into it. Bruce quickly puts it back in his ear.
"-ed Robin to Batman, I repeat, Red Robin to Batman. Are you there? Comm lines have been on and fully secure for the last twenty hours. Red Robin to Batman. Please pick up. Switch on your comm, Batman. If you don't answer in another fifteen minutes, Nightwing's going to head to your last seen location for Retrieval. The school play can go to hell. Red Robin to Batman, I repeat, is anyone there? Red Robin to Ba-"
"Yes," Bruce says, feeling slightly flustered. Is he supposed to talk back into the. . . the earpiece? But he doesn't have a mouthpiece. How does it work? Already his mind is racing, trying to figure out how to engineer one himself. "It's Batman. I'm reporting. Who is this? Jason? Is that you?"
"What?" 'Red' Robin says, sounding slightly annoyed. "No. It's Tim. Where have you been? Your tracker is unresponsive. There's been radio silence from your side for almost a day. Over."
"I. . . don't really know." Who's Tim? "Um, over."
"What? You don't know where you are? Are you sure? How out of it are you? Tell me which street you're on. Over."
Bruce looks around. The alleyway has no markers. He walks out of it slowly, putting his cowl back on, and trying to stay in the shadows. The street in front of him is empty. It looks like Pendleton Street, except there are a dozen new shops on it that he's never seen before. Alternate Universe? He can't rule it out.
"Pendleton Street. I think. Near a Starbucks. Over."
"Roger. Stay put. We'll have Red Hood pick you up. He's in the area. You better tell us what's going on when you're back in the cave. Over and out."
Who's Red Hood? Bruce is about to ask, but the comm line switches off abruptly. He keeps it on from his side, just in case.
The road is completely empty, because it's almost midnight, and it's a quiet part of the city, and Bruce walks onto it, trying to assess his surroundings. There are newspapers and plastic trash bags moving across the road in the slight breeze. A faint siren in the distance. He can smell piss and smoke in the air. Definitely still Gotham, then. The light from the streetlamps is starting to hit the shops at a slant. With a start, he stops in the middle of the road. He can see his reflection in one of the glass windows of the shops. Even with the cowl on, he looks. . . different.
He looks around the street to see if no one's around, and slowly takes off his cowl again.
Then he stares.
He has wrinkles. Faint ones, around his mouth and eyes. And some of his hair is gray, around his temples. His eyes look a little lighter, more washed out. Almost a pale gray-blue. There's a notch in his brow that definitely wasn't there yesterday.
He looks astonishingly like his father. It makes something in his chest contract.
He blinks, and when he opens his eyes he still looks the same. What is happening?
He thinks he may be beginning to get a general idea.
Before he can read into it any further, the communicator switches back on with a small beep noise.
"Red Robin to Batman, Red Ro-"
"Yes, Tim." He says. Does he know a Tim, then? Maybe he's concussed, and he's temporarily forgotten about him. They might even be close. Or at least, they're close enough that Tim knows about Batman. And so does 'Red Hood'. And 'Nightwing'. He can recall something about the Joker wearing a red hood in the early days, and some kind of Kryptonian legend about a great hero called Nightwing that Clark told him about, but no more than that.
"Uh. This is kind of awkward, but Jason doesn't want to come pick you up. He said something about not wanting to have to 'chaffeur around a fascist, self-righteous cock-knob of a man'" Tim clears his throat, sounding a little embarrassed for having to repeat that. "I'm assuming this is about the fight that you guys had two days ago."
"Jay?" Bruce laughs, almost feeling delighted at having something familiar to focus on in this new confusing situation. So Jason must be Red Hood then. That clears some doubt, at least. Still, he can't remember having any fight with him."Jay said that?" He smiles a little. "I have to admit, that does sound like him."
There's a small pause from the other side of the comm line. "You're not. . .mad?"
"Why would I be mad? He's just a boy. Boys have tantrums sometimes. He'll get over it, it's okay." He doesn't even really know why he's telling Tim all of this. He doesn't even know him. There's just something about him, even if it's a scrambled voice on a communicator from a secure line, that makes Bruce's brain say: you know him. You trust him.
There's a longer pause on the comm line; it's long enough that Bruce is about to speak when Tim says, "Uh. Okay. It's just that you're usually really mad when he does something like this. Like. Really mad."
That doesn't really sound like Bruce. He opens his mouth to say something, when Tim starts to speak again. "Um. Anyway. I'm just sending the batmobile to Pendleton on auto. I tracked it down to a warehouse near your last seen, and I'm remote controlling it down to your location. You'll just have to drive it back on auto. Sorry."
"Wow," Bruce says, suitably impressed. "Thank you, Tim. That sounds like it would have been tough to do." Especially for a kid his age. He sounds what? Sixteen? Seventeen? Older than Jason, maybe, but still far from adulthood.
"Uh," Tim says, "Thanks? I do this pretty much all the time, so." He sounds confused, and almost a little flustered. Like he's not used to getting much praise for his work.
Another one of those long pauses over the line. Bruce waits patiently. He thinks he may be beginning to understand what those pauses mean.
"Just. Just get home soon. Demon Brat's worried." Tim mumbles, and cuts the line.
While Bruce waits for the batmobile to drive onto Pendleton Street, all be can think of, is one thing.
What the hell is a Demon Brat?