Falcone Shipping Yard
April 24, 02:46 EST
Nightwing greeted Batman and Robin at the entrance to the bottom deck. His facial expression was hard to read, but Batman could tell something was wrong.
“What happened down here? Where’s Batgirl? Red Hood?”
“Just… follow me.” Batman and Robin did so. When they came around a bend, they saw Red Robin sitting beside Red Hood, his head resting atop Red Robin’s lap. His helmet had been smashed and now sat to the side. A large, now-stopped bleeding gash was across his forehead. The only sign that he was conscious was his half-lidded eyelids and labored breathing. Batman crouched down when he approached them.
“Jason. Are you alright? What happened?” He tried to sit up, but clenched his teeth and groaned when obvious pain wracked through his head; Red Robin gently pushed his head back down.
“Bat- Bruce, I tried. I really tried. I’m sorry… so, so sorry.” He clamped his eyes closed. Fast, shallow breaths came out of clenched teeth, obviously trying to suppress pain.
“Jason, what are you sorry about? What happened?” And suddenly it dawned on him. They were missing a vital part of their group.
Realization must have shown on his face, because Jason’s own contorted in disappointment and despair.
“I’m so sorry I-”
“Jason, stop apologizing and just tell me what happened.” Bruce’s voice was commanding but soft, wanting to ease Jason.
He took a deep breath and began.
“After we got down here and I turned the lights on, she opened up the cargo crates. You heard everything after, about how there were just snakes in the crates. We were played, big time. I saw it all, I was too far away to help her. Someone in all black, looked like one of the guys that flanked our resident creepo out there, tazed her and smacked her upside the head knocking her out. I ran to go attack, but I didn’t hear the other guy behind me. He did the same to me, but luckily my helmet took the brunt of the hit… luckily. Yeah luck didn’t do much for Barbara. God, how could I be so naïve? I didn’t even hear the guy coming! If I did, I would’ve been able to stop them both and get to her-” Jason suddenly grunted and clutched at his head. He felt Tim’s hand gently push his head down; he unknowingly sat up during his recap, making his head swim. His excitement made it pound and he could hear his heartbeat thudding away in his ears.
Once he calmed down, Bruce gently nodded his head in encouragement for him to continue. “The taze and hit the guy gave me didn’t last long, and I started coming through when I saw them both drag her away. They opened that panel over there,” he nodded his chin in the direction of the room opposite them, “and were gone, shutting it behind them. I heard an engine start up, definitely a boat; small and fast, probably a power boat. I think I dozed out again, it kinda gets hazy after that, but next thing I knew I heard these two stomp up to me, and you know the rest.” His voice was hoarse and trailed off as he finished. His clear blue eyes looked up at Bruce again, the space between his brows scrunching up.
“Bruce, they knew where to shock her; the taze was right at the back of her neck, right where her tracker is. It fried the damn thing, trust me I already tried to get a signal. I don’t know how to fix this, but I swear I will. This will not be another repeat of what happened to me.” The determination in his face told Bruce he meant every word with his entire being.
“Jason, what happened to you is not and will never be your fault, and neither is this. So stop blaming yourself and put some of that resolve to good use, okay?” Jason’s solemn expression dropped, but was replaced with one of hearty agreeance.
“Come on. Let’s get you back to the batcave. I just have to talk with Gordon for a moment before we leave.” They all grew quiet and ware at his statement. Barbara was Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. After the incident with Joker, Batman had no choice but to tell him of her roll in his world of being the Dark Knight. Gordon went through a very wide spectrum of emotions toward Batman, the most significant of the choices being anger and disdain, but they both eventually settled at a somewhat comfortable alliance once again.
Since Barbara had been old enough to make her own decisions on what she did with her life, she continued to become Oracle, even against her father’s wishes. His fear for a repeat of what happened to her and wanting her to stay away from anything relating to her life as Batgirl was a force to be reckoned with, but after much persuasion and constant reminders of her independence, he gave in reluctantly. He could tell a part of her still longed for that part of her life, they all could see it, but being Oracle seemed to help her through that yearning. It wasn’t until her father caught wind of a clinic in South Africa that was testing experimental surgery did she regain some semblance of her life before. Figuring that she had nothing else to lose, she consented. The neural implant surgery was a success, and she regained full mobility. Barbara claimed the mantle of Batgirl once again. Batman was now going to have to tell Gordon that his daughter was subjected to and was overcome by the very thing he didn’t want her returning too… again. He figured doing something once would make the second go around easier… it felt like it would be anything but.
Bruce touched a button on the side of his gauntlet on his inner forearm, calling the batwing into service. Alfred quickly responded to the alert that the batwing was needed, and Bruce caught him up to speed on the situation, notifying him that Jason needed medical assistance when they returned and to prep for their arrival. Alfred confirmed and took control of the batwing.
Dick and Tim helped Jason to his feet; he was unsteady at first but got a good foothold. Nonetheless, they both loosely kept their arms underneath him, with his own draped over their shoulders, just in case. Bruce and Damian led the way out of the ship, with the three of them following in their wake.
“So what happened up there?” Jason asked.
“Our ‘mystery guest’ played Falcone and Black Mask for fools; it was quite entertaining, if I do say so myself. He gave them both bags full of cash and a hidden surprise. Blew the bags up right in their faces, rendering everyone unconscious. Father and I took that as our cue to take action, which was about time –pfft. His two goons tried to attack us, but we got the upper hand quickly; they both were unconscious in minutes. In no time, father had him hanging by his feet, gave him a good solid hit or two to get him talking. The barbarian just laughed though, it was quite unsettling.” Damian’s excited tone from before became more subdued. “He managed to explode the crane he was hanging from, the one we were perched at before, but before we could all get crushed, father cut him free and covered us both from the blast. When it cleared, the bastard was gone.” Bruce gave a quiet scolding Damian at the expletive, but Damian simply waved him off and continued. Dick chuckled lightly at the interaction; it was so… domestic. But domestic seemed to suit them both.
“Too bad we don’t know where he went on that boat of his. No bother though, he can’t cower for long.” They had just reached the main deck outside when Damian finished his explanation.
“I already have a lead on him.” Bruce pulled out a small tracking device from a compartment on his utility belt and showed the four of them a blinking red dot hurtling itself at remarkable speed across the water.
“When did you…?” Damian peered up on his tiptoes at the tracking device.
“I didn’t cut him free just to save his sorry life. I stuck a tracker on him when I pulled him down with us.”
“Well, that doesn’t surprise me.” Jason spoke up.
“I’m sending the signal to Alfred now so he can track it from the cave. We’ll find her, don’t you all worry.” A sudden woosh of air and the wiring of subtle engines sounded above them. The batwing descended upon their location atop the ship. They vaguely heard surprised gasps and murmurs from the various cops and emergency personnel on the ground below about its presence.
Before the three of them boarded the batwing, Bruce pulled Dick aside.
"I know right now you must be feeling... overwrought, but I'm going to need you to be strong, if not for yourself but for Barbara."
Bruce looked at Dick, and in his eyes, he saw an emptiness in them. The person he loved was missing; it only made sense for Dick to feel as if a part of him was gone too.
Dick took a deep, shaky breath. "Right now, I'm really trying to be just wrought."
"Of all the years I've known you, you've never failed to accomplish that."
"Yeah, hopefully this isn't the straw that breaks the camel's back, so to speak." Bruce knew his attempt at humor was just a measly distraction to avoid thinking about the starkness of the situation.
"Just... don't let your emotions cloud your judgment." Bruce settled a reassuring hand on Dick's shoulder and gently squeezed it.
"I won't, trust me." Bruce knew that Dick was lying to himself, that his emotions would get involved some way or another, but Bruce had faith that Dick could hold them back, at least for now.
Bruce ushered Jason, Dick, and Tim towards the ladder that slowly lowered itself down.
“Robin and I will be back soon. Once you get back. Alfred will take care of you. While he’s recuperating, I want both of you to follow the signal of the tracker.” Dick and Tim nodded, but Jason spoke under his breath in resignation.
“You know I can still help even from a bed right?”
“Jason, I’m 99.9% sure you’re concussed. You’d probably see three red dots and not know which one to follow.” Tim responded as he allowed Jason to start his ascent first and followed him up, making sure he didn't fall down.
“You ever hear of trial and error, Timothy?”
“We kinda don’t have time for that Jay.”
“Sure we do! You two go follow the other two red dots while I follow the correct one. Simple as that.”
“You do know you’re talking about following figurative dots that your mind will probably make up because of your condition, right?”
“You know Tim, all that time spent with the gadgets and technology really has spoiled your imagination! Kids these days, I swear…”
“Alright you two, keep it moving. I don’t feel like getting crushed by you two because Jason imagines a rung on the ladder and comes flying down, taking you with him.” Dick said on an exasperated breath.
“You know, now that you mention, I am feeling a little faint.”
“I swear Jason, if you don’t…”
Their distant chatter was less audible as they finally reached the batwing’s hull and it completely stopped once the bottom was sealed shut and it flew away, taking their brotherly banter with them. Jason may have been concussed and had subtle injuries, but that wouldn’t stop him from missing an opportunity to bicker with them. Truthfully, this time around, it was to distract him from what happened with Barbara. That was the case for all of them.
“Batman, it’s good to see you again. Same goes to your Robin.” He extended a friendly hand and shook Batman’s own extended one. Damian stuck his hand out in an oddly professional-even-for-his-age sort of way, but Gordon shook it enthusiastically nonetheless.
“This is fine work you’ve done here tonight boys. This trafficking ring has been going on for a while now, and I’m glad you could help put a stop to it.” Gordon looked so pleased, but as they said, ignorance was bliss.
Here goes nothing…
“I’m afraid tonight was not as successful as it seems.” Gordon’s face was riddled with utter shock.
“Preposterous! You’ve managed to catch two of Gotham’s biggest perpetrators and rescued these poor women. That’s success in my book.”
Batman told Gordon about everything that had also went on, and with each detail, Gordon’s face dropped more and more until eventually it was one of utter rage and lunacy.
“You mean to tell me that my daughter is missing, possibly being trafficked as we speak, and you’re standing around CHIT-CHATTING!?” The dull conversations around them suddenly stopped at Gordon’s boisterous voice. The only noise now was the fast, deep inhales and exhales coming from his nose. The voices slowly resumed around them as Gordon lowered his tone.
“You know, she chose this life. I get that, I understand that; I mean look at me, look at what I do, the life I chose… Risks are expected. The first time she came into dangers way, I knew, deep-down, as much as I hated the thought, that it was only a matter of time before something terrible happened to her. Tragedies in our line of work come without question. To put it simply, and maybe harshly, I don’t know anymore, but I could somehow morbidly accept what Joker did to her because things like that, maybe not as extreme, are to be expected. But the catch is, you’re supposed to learn from those mishaps, only allow yourself one risk. Because with what we do, one risk is all you’re allowed. Karma and the Universe and God himself all know that second chances don’t come to people like us. All I’m saying is that you better find her, because if you don’t, we both know that there is no coming back for her on her own. Her risk and chance were used up. Maybe it’s time you used one of yours, because by some crack in the code, you have a plethora of them.” He stalked up to Batman now, came eye to eye with him, jabbing his finger in his face. If it were any other person, Batman would’ve grown defensive, but he understood where Gordon was coming from and allowed it.
“My men and I’ve got this; you go track that damn coward and bring my daughter home. Do I make myself clear?” His hushed angry words were spoken through clenched teeth. Batman could do nothing but squint his eyes and nod gravely. He understood where he was coming from as not only one human being to another, but as a father.
With that, Gordon kept his eyes trained on Batman as he backed away, eventually turning around mid-stride to answer the awaiting assault of questions for him.
Batman started walking around the buildings to the east where he had parked the batmobile, Robin keeping stride with Batman’s own hurried pace.
A few young, possibly inebriated, citizens were crowding around the vehicle, all admiring it with ooh’s and ah’s. When the dynamic duo approached, they gasped with wide eyes and backed away quickly, allowing them the space to enter. Ignoring them, Batman pressed a button on his gauntlet and the top of the batmobile lifted. They both entered, and once the roof descended on them, enclosing them in tinted silence from the outside world, they just sat there for a moment in pure silence. Batman knew his actions should be hurried, racing to get back to the batcave to congregate with the others and find Barbara, but he found himself pausing. Suddenly, guilt and empathy overcame him for Gordon. It was quickly replaced by seething anger. It was stemming from somewhere but he couldn’t pinpoint its origin and why he was suddenly feeling like this. He’d dealt with this before with Jason, with other civilians, but it all felt too real. Damian was the first to break the silence.
“I’ve never seen the Commissioner so… riled up before. I’m assuming the last time he was like that was when Joker paralyzed Gordon, but I wasn’t around to see that. Who am I kidding, you must have done something else to get him pulling at his hair since that happened, am I right?” Bruce could tell Damian was trying, sordidly so, to be humorous.
He wasn’t laughing.
He turned to face Damian in the cockpit. “Damian, this is no laughing matter. Gordon has a right to be upset with me. I failed him once, and I’m failing him again. Do not joke about something so serious.” Bruce’s tone started elevating. Damian picked up on his steadily growing anger.
“Father, I didn’t mean to be rude. I was just trying to make light of a bad situation.” His tone was subdued once more, but Bruce was already on a roll.
“Well don’t. It’s not the time nor the place. I need you to be serious, I need everyone to be serious. Gordon almost lost his daughter once before and I’ll be damned if I let it happened again! Do you understand me?”
“I-I’m sorry father, I didn’t mean to-”
“A man just lost his child tonight!”
“We’ll find her. We always succeed.” Damian was talking to Bruce as if he were a wounded animal, approaching him with trying calmness. It didn’t work.
“There’s always a first time for everything.”
“Father, we will-”
“What if that had been you Damian? Huh? Would you be so sure of me then to come find you? Jason thought I’d given up on him, who’s to say Barbara won’t feel the same?” Realization dawned on Damian.
“Is that what you’re so worried about? That Barbara thinks you won’t find her? That this is a repeat of what happened with Todd?” Bruce’s silence and unmoving expression was all the confirmation Damian needed.
“Do you honestly think if it were me in her position right now, or at any other time in my life, that I would believe you would not try your damnedest to rescue me? Father, I don’t mean to be rash but get your head out of your ass, stop letting past experiences dictate what you can change now, and go find her.”
Bruce knew he was right. He was letting himself be consumed with assumptions of what was to come based on what he couldn’t prevent before. He gathered his composure from his momentary lapse in character, and with a deep breath, started the vehicle. He turned to Damian before he pulled away.
“I am so proud to have you as a son. At times I don’t think so, but I’m glad you inherited my pragmatism.” The roar of the engine vibrated beneath their feet as Bruce gunned the engine, safely racing his way home. Nonetheless, Damian strapped in tightly at the increasing speed.
“I am content to corner Pennyworth down and demand to know what he drugged you with when we get home. It might come of use at a later time.” Bruce lightly chuckled.
“Stick around. You might just find out what it is.” You, he left unsaid as the distance to the Wayne Manor became less and less, as did the impending knowledge of Barbara’s location.
Bruce promised himself that he would not fail again. As Gordon put it earlier, people in their line of business didn’t get second chances. It was time Bruce used one of his seemingly endless ones for her.