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The Wrong Batcave

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The setting was Ethiopia, February 2014. The weather was fine, or at least it was at the beginning of the day. There was snow on the ground, but the sun was shining between scattered clouds across the plains. The land was full of refugees from the various wars across the continent, and the Red Cross Relief centers and Doctors Without Borders were providing much needed aid to the hundreds of thousands of people forced from their homes by fear or their house blowing up or both. A bit a ways from the camp sat a warehouse of supplies set at the top of a big hill with some nice curvy paths set between snow, snow, and more snow.

Oh yeah, and the Joker had escaped from Arkham, but why the hell would he be in Ethiopia? It’s on the other side of the freaking world!

But no, Joker had decided that getting the fuck outside the United States was a good idea, and Bruce, being Batman, had been trying to find him. While being his overprotective self, of course. So, when Jason had found in a box of things from his old apartment that Catherine Todd was not, in fact, his real mother, he had immediately wanted to find his real mother. He had tried to slip past the overprotective Bruce, but the man had eyes everywhere, and picked up the plane ticket alert immediately, and, naturally, bought the seat next to him. Jason really thought he gave him the slip, until he sat down on the plane in first class, hey, why not spoil himself, and looked to his left. There sat Bruce, smirking at him.

“So, why are we going to Lebanon?” He asked. Of course, Jason had to explain himself. Bruce had followed that with a lecture about keeping his eyes open, especially in public as Jason Todd-Wayne, because Bruce had been following him since he left the manor, and had stopped someone from kidnapping him. Twice. Also, he had gone on a huge guilt trip about Jason leaving home without telling anyone, and let Jason know he was grounded when they got back.

After that, they had gone on a fun and interesting adventure where they searched out his mother from three potentials Jason had picked out from his father’s old address book, while Bruce was still keeping an eye out for trouble and the Joker. Bruce also kept in frequent contact with Alfred and the League and not so much the Team. They could take care of themselves for a while. How the hell Bruce got the utility belts and communicators through the airport was a question that hadn’t been answered. Those were not things that should make it through security.

They found her, her being Jason’s mother Sheila Haywood, in Ethiopia, aka the current setting. Which brought them to now. With Jason alone in a warehouse, well, alone in the sense that no one who gives a fuck about him was there, and Bruce on the other side of town, looking for Joker who was, naturally, beating the hell out of Jason with a freaking crowbar!

“What the-?” The Joker said. Jason peeked up at his tormentor and saw the crowbar halted in midair a couple feet above him. He sensed as an invisible foot shifted to plant more firmly behind him to keep a strong stance. Joker yanked the crowbar away, unbalancing a little with the force and then swung it again. Jason winced away, screwing his eyes against the expected pain, but it didn’t come. The crowbar was halted again, and this time, it flew away from the Joker as if yanked and then thrown across the room. It hit his smoking birth giver. She made a protest. More protest than she had given so far since handing him over to the bastard, that bitch.

After that, it was like a bizarre fight. It looked like Joker was fighting someone, but he wasn’t having any luck. The invisible person was like a ghost. A ghost who could punch back, and constantly used underhand blows to hit Joker where it hurt, while staying outside of Joker’s range. At least, that’s what it seemed like. Jason couldn’t actually see Joker’s opponent, but the Joker wasn’t landing any blows. He seemed to be getting more and more frustrated, whipping out a knife and slashing with it, trying to hit the invisible person, but he just looked ridiculous turning in circles like that, more than he already did in his stupid purple clothes, that it.

Not one to give up an advantage, Jason had managed to catch his breath while the Joker was distracted. He still hurt all over, but he was able to shove the pain into his ‘don’t think about it’ pocket. He crawled away the best he could to find something to pick the handcuff locks with, leery of the fact he was leaving a trail. He searched along the path towards the door. Hopefully, if he could get outside the warehouse, he could gain some advantage or help. Maybe a signal boost to help Bruce, well Batman, find him faster? Did Batman know he was in trouble? Jason sure hoped so because his afternoon of getting to know his mother had not turned out well so far.

Joker had stripped the emergency beacon from him shortly after he had managed to activate it, which had been immediately, because he was JASON at the moment, not ROBIN, and neither identity was STUPID. Jason was extremely happy he’d discussed with Bruce about revealing that part to his birth giver before taking off, because that was something that would only make the present situation worse. Who knew the bitch would be filching off the top of medical funds in the relief center? Seriously, the woman had issues. Like she had experimented on teenagers, like his dead brothers, which put her to the top of his jerk list. Not that Damian was a teenager, but that made it worse. And that Joker considered that good enough blackmail that Sheila would hand over her son without regret? She was seriously messed up.

“Why you little…!” He heard the Joker exclaim, snatching him away from his train of thoughts with just enough sense to dodge as the Joker’s very sharp knife embedded into the wall where his head was a moment before. He quickly turned his attention back to the Joker whose eyes were focused on him. Joker’s gloved left hand was clutching empty air, while the right was searching for another weapon. Jason saw as an invisible force yanked the hand downwards, away from Joker’s pockets. The Joker gave a frustrated huff and launched something at Jason. Jason felt as a foot landed on top of him and then tried to move the foot so that the impact was off of Jason and stumbled and fell bodily instead.

And then Jason could SEE him! It was a translucent boy with shaggy, ruffled hair and a few scratches from where the Joker had somehow managed to inexplicably land a blow. The kid looked around his age, and was wearing a long sleeved shirt that was not right for the weather in Ethiopia and a pair of dark slacks. He looked like he just came from school! But that’s not what really caught his attention. What caught his attention was how the boy carefully pushed himself up and quickly checked to make sure Jason was okay. What caught his attention was the worried face of his older brother and the goggles that were over his, very much alive looking, eyes.

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Embarrassingly enough, Jason completely lost track of the action after that, just trying to get his head, which most likely sported a concussion, wrapped around the idea that his brother was alive-ish and helping him. He may have also blacked out, but details. Before he knew it, the Joker and his goons had left him, Dickie-bird, and Sheila with a bomb. Sheila was tied up, but, aside from the handcuffs they had put on his wrists at the beginning, Jason was basically free from restraint. He really snapped out of it when Dick helped him to his feet. His ghost of a brother seemed to be exhausted. There were several scratches where the Joker had managed to land a blow, and he seemed to favoring his ribs a bit, but the git didn’t look to be seriously injured. Perks of being a ghost, Jason supposed.

Dick supported Jason over to the door, although it definitely seemed to be taking a lot of effort on Dick’s part. Jason just didn’t understand that the exhaustion was from staying solid, because apparently that took effort, until they reached the door. That’s when Dick, upon figured out it was locked, promptly allowed Jason to fall through him while the git walked through the door. A minute later, the door opened, and Dick was smirking as he picked him up from the untidy sprawl he made on the floor. To Jason’s dizzy, slightly out of it eyes, it looked like his brother’s left hand was messed up, but he could somewhat attribute that to hallucination, like Bruce would probably argue Dick was a hallucination. So, yay! Hallucinations!

They walked a bit away from the warehouse. Once they were at a fairly safe distance, Dick lay him down facing away from the building with a motion to stay. Jason watched as the ghost trotted back into the warehouse. A minute later, Sheila ran out, glanced at him unsure, and then continued on her way upon receiving a proper Batglare.

It happened suddenly. Dick was trotting back towards him, following Sheila’s path. The idiot probably checked to be sure there was no one left inside. He heard a roaring behind him as Batman roared up the slope on a motorcycle, narrowly avoiding Jason as he leapt off and ran towards the warehouse. His dad didn’t even see him! Blind as a bat, really. He literally ran through Dick, who looked startled when it happened. Then, just as Dick reached Jason, the building exploded. Jason dropped back down and curled up the best he could. He felt an extra layer of soft shield him before hot metal struck the exposed parts of his body. After a minute, he felt Dick vanish, and some more metal dropped on top of him, gently this time.

Jason coughed. “Dic-?” He whispered. He cleared his throat. “Dick?” He called out, before breaking into a painful coughing fit. He heard metal shifting and then hurried footsteps. A moment later, the metal shifted off of him. He looked up at Batman’s cowl. The man gently lifted him so he was sitting. Jason cried out as his ribs were disturbed. Oh yeah, and didn’t Joker rupture a lung or something? Something like that might have been mentioned when the man was beating him to death. Bruce immediately put him back down and looked around for help.

“Batman to Watchtower. Robin requires immediate medical assistance. Send aid.”

Chapter Text

May 2013

There was a soft murmur near his ear. Then, a shifting of cloth as someone moved next to him. His right arm felt especially sore, the sadly familiar pinch in the crook of his elbow indicated an IV. A cold feeling originated from the point where the cool saline entered his body, making him shiver the slightest bit. His somewhat scratchy clothes from before had been replaced by a soft large t-shirt that went past his boxers to somewhere between his knees and mid-thigh, and a pair of warm woolen socks. A warm blanket had been tucked around his body, with only his arms and head sticking out. There was a malleable cuff around his upper left arm, and a slight pinch on his left index finger, a blood pressure and heart rate monitor maybe? He moved his left index finger a bit and heard a beeping start up behind his head.

Yep. Definitely a monitor. He could feel a mask of some sort over his mouth and nose as well, regulating his breathing. That, coupled with the uncomfortable feeling of a rubber tube down his throat, was enough to tell him that he was in some sort of medical facility. Was he back in the Target Dump? He’d never heard of anyone returning there. Did the prison have an official med bay? Or did they only have the rooms he’d seen for the experiments? He was probably in one of those. His body certainly felt like something had been channeled through it. Just one problem, the room he was in felt too spacious, too damp, and the slightest bit breezy to be one of those rooms, or even the Swirly Lights Room, as Damian had dubbed it.

Speaking of adorable baby brothers, there was a weight on his left leg, warmth seeping through the blankets at that one spot. With great effort, Dick managed to twitch his leg. He heard a soft mutter and felt the bundle shift curling up to keep his head on Dick’s leg. Something soft lay across both legs of which the ball of Damian was settled half on, half off. A pillow, maybe? An extra blanket seemed to have been thrown over the boy haphazardly. The corner of it rested on the back of Dick’s left hand, now that he thought about it, kind of itchy.

Dick’s entire body felt sluggish and weak, and he noticed that the mask on his face was regulating his breathing rather than just pushing oxygen at him to help him heal as he had first assumed. Where was he, anyway? The Bluemen weren’t the kind of people who would let Damian sleep curled up near the bottom of the bed like a puppy. They definitely wouldn’t have replaced his clothing with softer cloth and wrapped him in a warm fluffy blanket. Dick didn’t think they even owned a blanket this fluffy, unless one of the Bluemen kept it in their guardrooms at the end of the hall. Also, the Bluemen never gave them socks, just slippers.

That reminds him of the time he tried to do the jumping jacks the needle lady forced him through with the infuriating slippers on. Needless to say, they are called slippers for a reason. He narrowly avoided doing a split, and hurt his arm when the poisons caused his reflexes to slow enough that he didn’t fall properly. He ended up strapped from head to toe in punishment.

Head to toe for the bluemen meant head to toe. When the Bluemen left him alone, they normally only tightly strapped him down with three straps, one over his waist and wrists, one over his legs just below the knees, and one over his upper body. When they strapped him head to toe, there was a strap over his forehead, his mouth after an oxygen mask had been fixated, his chin, his neck, his shoulders, his upper body and loops around his biceps, his stomach and loops around his elbows, his waist and loops around his wrists, upper thigh, lower thigh, loops around his knees, just below the knees, shins, and loops around his ankles. They didn’t mess around and he could barely twitch when they were done.

Dick had endured the punishment many times for the tiniest, sometimes imagined slights, especially following the botched escape and Roy’s subsequent death. It was one of Logarithm’s favorite and Dick’s least favorite tortures. The main differences between the demon and the rest of the Bluemen in using it was that Logarithm always blindfolded the boy first and then sharply pricked or burned the boy as the he added the straps in a random order, pulling them so tight Dick could barely breathe. One time, Logarithm had even put a set of mufflers on Dick’s ears so that he couldn’t hear hints of where the next strap would come from. Another time, after applying the blindfold, Logarithm forced the boy to do the leg straps himself as tight as Dick could manage. Then, Logarithm had the boy lie down and attached the strap around his neck firmly. Logarithm tightened all the straps around Dick’s legs even further until it was cutting into his circulation. Every jerk of the straps tighter cut into Dick’s breathing via the strap across his neck, Dick’s instinctual grasping of the strap led to Logarithm playing a game of guess where I am in the room after securing his wrists.

Anyways, back to the original thought train. They were obviously not still with the Bluemen. Dick listened to his surroundings. There was another shift of cloth and quiet yet heavy footsteps moving around to his right. He could hear Damian’s soft and even breathing and a slight echo when he moved his finger enough to restart the beeping of the machine. A few squeaking screeches echoed in response to the beeping. Bats? Was he in the Batcave? But why would Bruce keep him and Damian in the Batcave if they were kidnapped in Civvies. Also, weren’t they in Europe? The heart rate monitor picked up beside him as he felt the respirator force him to even out his slightly panicked breathing. The footsteps moved closer to Dick who instantly tensed.

“You’re awake.” An unfamiliar, gruff voice said. “Can you open your eyes?” He, it sounded like a he, asked.

Dick tried, but his eyes felt like staying closed. He managed to crack his eyes open, but the influx of light led to him immediately closing them again. It felt like a heavy weight had settled on top of his eyelids and his eyeballs were avoiding strain. They weren’t even strong enough to squeeze a tear out. His head felt heavy as well, and his entire body was numb, pins and needles all through his weighted limbs.

“I’m going to take that as a no.” A second later, Dick felt his right hand lift from the blanket by a calloused, large hand. The hand was dry and warm, and definitely an adult’s. “Can you give me one tap of your index finger for yes and two taps of your index finger for no?”

Dick twitched his index finger once for yes.

“Excellent. Do you know where you are?”

Dick hesitated then gave two taps.

“Do you know who I am?”

Two taps.

“Okay. Do you know how you got here?”

Dick thought hard about it. They had been in the prison, downstairs. The lights went out... He could remember the Target Dump and vaguely remember deactivating some bombs… The cave in! He and Damian had gotten stuck in the Swirly Lights Room! And then… it was a portal? Early zeta tube, right? They must have gone through… One tap? He had a vague idea of how they got there, but the theory was a bit lost.

“Well, that’s something. Is Damian your little brother?”

One tap. No hesitation.

“Do you know what caused you to collapse?” They needed a ‘sort of’ option, Dick thought as he gave one tap.

“Hmm. Hard to do a concussion test with only yes or no answers.” Another large, calloused hand reached out and tapped on his right knee with a rubber hammer.

“Did you feel that?”

One tap. Dick could feel the man pause, hovering over Damian.

“Feel a weight on your left knee?”

One tap.

“Alright. Can’t do any more tests until you can open your eyes. Are you in any pain?”

One tap.

“Should have asked that first. Is it your back?”

One tap.

“I’m afraid I can’t do much for that right now. It’s more important that your breathing is even than that you’re off the abused skin, but you can have another dose of pain medicine in an hour. You’ve been in a coma for five days.” Dick heard him put the hammer down, and then felt as he switched the hand holding Dick’s for the one the hammer was in a moment previously. The freed hand reached up and brushed against Dick’s forehead. “You don’t have a fever, so that’s good. Do you hurt anywhere besides your back?” Dick checked with his senses, but the rest of his body only felt numb and heavy, not painful, although the tingling was annoying. He tapped a no.

“Try to get some more rest. If you’re better when you wake up, we might be able to take the feeding tube out.”

Dick gave one last tap and settled in to sleep. He felt a thumb rubbing the back of his hand like Bruce used to when Dick was sick or trying to fall back asleep after a nightmare. His last thought was that he wished Bruce was here.

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The second time Dick woke, it was to soft spoken voices. Well, one soft spoken voice and one loud voice trying to be quiet, but failing drastically.

“But when will he wake up?” Damian demanded grouchily. Dick could feel the kid’s knees against the side of his left leg. Damian’s right hand was settled just above Dick’s knee

“As I told you the last five times you asked, your brother will wake up when he wakes up.” The same gruff voice from before sounded awfully exasperated, Dick observed.

“But you said he wasn’t in a comma any, anymore.” Comma? “So why is he still sleeping?” Oh! A coma! Dick vaguely remembered something about that. Most of the first time he awoke was a blur, what with being unable to open his eyes and all, but there was something about a coma….

“There are different kinds of sleeping. Earlier, your brother was in a coma, a really deep kind of sleep that he needed to wake up from on his own, because his body needed to repair, to fix, too much damage than could be fixed in a normal sleep. While you were sleeping, he switched to normal sleep, woke up briefly but not fully, and went back into normal sleep,” Gruff said. “He probably won’t remember much of what I asked him.” Gruff added, almost as an afterthought.

A large, calloused hand brushed through Dick’s hair absentmindedly. It felt kind of nice, relaxing. Dick started to drift back to sleep. The hand did a final pass, and then Dick felt and heard Damian lifted from his spot on the bed and into Gruff’s arms. “Come on. Let’s get some food into you.” Gruff said, sounding distant, as if he was speaking through a long tunnel.

“But I’m not hungry!” Damian said.

There was an audible sigh. “No. You’re Damian.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

Every time he’d gone to sleep, or back to sleep after a brief period of consciousness really, he’d returned to the blank expanse. Well, it might not have been EVERY time, but it was definitely frequent. It was kind of sad that he preferred the blank, lonely world to the waking world and other dreams. Nothing could hurt him here. He could walk. He could jump, cartwheel, flip and run; but he trudged ahead instead.

There was a shimmer in the distance, and he wanted to see what it was. The curiosity of the shimmer, and the hope it would lead to a friend, helped him to mute the emotions that ravaged in the waking world and his other dreams. It wasn’t a healthy way to deal with his nightmares and reality, but… well, he didn’t really have an excuse. He just did not want to deal with the damage, and he knew there was damage across his psyche.

So, he walked towards the shimmer, day after day, night after night. It never seemed to grow closer, and, sometimes, he worried that every time he woke up, the distance was reset. It felt like walking toward the horizon. You knew you were moving towards it, but as you went, the horizon changed minutely to a new horizon, so you never seemed to reach your destination.

After what felt like months of wandering, but was probably only a week or two in reality, the shimmer loomed over him as a sparkly barrier of colors fading in and out, but not fully disappearing. He wandered even closer until the shimmer was all he could see in all directions except the way he had come. Almost as if in a trance, he reached a hand forward into the shimmer.

As he pushed forward at a steady pace, he felt increasing resistance. Strangely, the resistance was juxtaposed with a musical call welcoming him in. Abruptly, Dick realized that he should probably be listening to the resistance, but when he tried to pull away, he saw the colors had surrounded him. The shimmer was a spider web, and he, the insect, had waltzed right into it. He struggled as the strands formed a cocoon of sorts, tightening until all he could see was the colors and he stilled.

The cocoon sunk closer to Dick and seemed to grow heavier by the minute. The colors wove themselves around his arms and legs, his chest, and his neck before covering his eyes. He felt as if the colors were seeping into his body, saturating his skin. He could barely think, barely breath, and was unable to shift any muscle due to the trembling running through his entire body. He heard the music increase in intensity, calming his body down, keeping him from complete panic. Dick closed his eyes and felt the colors sink in.

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“Dick.” A finger poked a sleeping form gently on the cheek. “Heeyyy. Dick. Are you done sleeping yet?” Someone small, i.e. Damian, shifted to lie on Dick’s chest. “Please wake up. I miss you.

“Not-Batman says that you’re in normal sleep now. But he said that yesterday. It’s tomorrow morning. So, please wake up. …

“You’ve been sleeping for ages. It’s time to wake up now… WAKE UP!!!” Some bats screeched as Damian’s voice echoed through the cave. The little kid gave a sort of ‘meep’ sound, and quickly buried his head in Dick’s shirt. After a few minutes of expressing their discontent, the bats quieted down. Damian slowly picked his head up again. He studied his older brother.

“Are you awake, yet?”

Dick grumbled slightly in his sleep. He wrapped his left arm around Damian, snuggling him close, but didn’t wake. Damian smacked him on the chest.

“Wake UP!”

“Damian.” Thomas interjected sternly. “He’ll wake up when his body’s ready and not a moment sooner.”

“I know, but-”

“That moment will not come faster with you pounding on his chest.”

“Huh? Oh.” Damian wiggled in Dick’s weak grip. Getting in a comfortable position, the boy popped his head up to watch Not-Batman. The man sighed and moved over to take the seat next to the medical bed. It had been interesting week. He had managed to dig out some of Bruce’s old clothing to fit Damian in a free moment, but there was nothing that fit the older boy. Thomas had to make due with some old t-shirts that had been worn enough to soften up and some warm socks for his feet. Thomas had no pants that fit him, but the t-shirt went down to the boy’s knees and a heap of warm blankets worked well enough to keep the main chill of the cave away from the teen.

Thomas had been too afraid to leave the comatose young teen alone for long enough to do any shopping, clothing or otherwise. Fortunately, he had adequate medical supplies and food. He even had the gunk that hospitals gave to patients that had need of a feeding tube. Unfortunately, he had no food truly appropriate for a kid to be eating, stocking mostly protein bars, meat and some vegetables. He called in take out a couple times for some variety, and more kid-friendly options, and called in sick to work for the week.

He had no clue what to do next.

It was easy to focus on treating the kids physically, the problems he could see and fix. Even making sure Damian’s basic needs were met was not difficult. But what next? From what he could tell from keeping an eye on the news, no one was currently looking for them. If what the little one said was true, no one would be. At least, not anywhere they might actually find them. It was easy to ignore the resounding psychological effects that their displacement might have the kids. If he had his guess, Damian would be easier because he was too little to understand and would only really want to be played with.

Richard, though, Richard would need so much more. With how long he’d been out, and how long he was likely to need to stay on bed rest, it could be another month before he was able to walk on his own with confidence any further than the stairs. He could understand almost perfectly what had happened, or at least the basics of it, and, if he remembered his medical training correctly—and he should with how much schooling he’d had to go through—Richard would need plenty of therapy both physical and psychological to get to a stable state and adjust to his new surroundings.

He would not get that in the foster system. If they were lucky, the boys would end up together in a foster home, but there was no guarantee the foster family would be able to, or would desire to, pay for treatments, and the boy would be at best short changed, in that situation, and at worst left to flounder. The worst possibility, if they were unlucky, the boys would be thrown in the Juvenile Detention Center and separated, most likely becoming a target for bullies and any progress would be destroyed.

Thomas could not let that happen to his potential grandchildren. If they were telling the truth, and they had no reason to lie, then he had been given a second chance. A chance to get it right this time, a chance to make up for the one he lost when his son died at eight. Damn it. They had already grown on him. Oh, Thomas would try to find the boys a way home to their father. He knew too well the heartache that came from losing a son, and losing two would be a double whammy. But that would take a while, and he couldn’t send the boys through before they were healed. If something went wrong, they would be doomed!

So, Thomas Wayne would adopt two new grandchildren into his family… Just as soon as his eldest grandson awoke from his coma…

“Not-Batman?” He heard.

“Hmm.”

“I keep saying your name, but you won’t answer me!”

“I’m sorry. I got lost in my train of thought. What were you saying, Damian?”

“What’s going to happen after Dick wakes up?” The young boy looked at him beseechingly from his safe spot within the circle of his brother’s arms.

Thomas sighed, studying the boy’s face. “That will be up to the two of you and, I suppose, me. I won’t do anything drastic without your input, but with your brother being at the age you say he is at, I can’t very well leave him out of a decision. For now, you two are safe here. No one can get in by any conventional means without me knowing, and once I find out how you two got in here, I’ll close up that route as well so no one can follow.”

“Umm. There were a lot of big words in there, and English is not my first language.”

“It’s not?” Thomas felt a tingle of surprise run up his back, and was glad the mask hid his expression. “But you said Bruce Wayne, your Batman, was your father? His first language was English.”

“Well yeah, but my mother had me, or some of her agents did, until I got stolen by the Bluemen. She was Arabic, as was my Grandfather. She told me about Tati, but I never got to meet him.” Damian’s eyes went a bit unfocused, and he snuggled a little deeper into Richard’s chest. “Dick’s a better person. He’s a good brother. He and Alex had me when we were with the Bluemen. They always play with me, and give me sweets, and didn’t hurt me like Mother and the Bluemen.”

There were a lot of points Thomas could take a gamble at in there. It sounded as if Damian had been abused even before he was kidnapped. There was clearly more to the situation than meets the eye. It would probably be better to get the details from Richard when he woke up and could talk about it.

“Alex?” Thomas decided to ask.

“He was our roommate, friend, somewhat brother person. He painted the walls. They were pretty.”

Thomas grunted. “How about you take a nap with your brother there and I’ll go order some pizza?” He paused. “You do know what pizza is, right?

“Pizza? That’s the circle bread with tomatoes and cheese? Alex told me about it. Dick said to get… to get…” Damian trailed off, dropping his face into his brother’s chest as the older boy shifted slightly. Thomas ran a hand along Damian’s back lightly.

“How about I just get cheese?” Damian gave a little hidden nod and a soft okay. “Stay here until I get back please. And shout if anything changes with your brother.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

3 June 2013

Richard was doing better. He was out of the danger zone anyways. He could open his eyes and look around now, but it was obvious that he benefitted from the dim lighting of the cave. In fact, even the cave lighting seemed to be too much because he kept wincing away from it until Thomas gave him some sunglasses. Thomas had helped the boy to sit up a few times. However, he couldn't hold himself up for long. His limbs tended to just flop down after a few minutes of effort, weak from lack of activity. He could sort of pat Damian's hair, or rub something, but that's about it. Not for lack of trying. The boy was just too weak. Whatever caused the coma had come out in the blood and stool tests Thomas had done, rather than the brain scan. There were unusual compounds in Richard's blood that were interacting in a weird way. As time went by and Richard recovered, the compound count had gone down, but not disappeared.

Three times a day, Thomas rubbed the child's limbs to attempt to return strength and feeling to them. He gave Richard a ball to squeeze, and helped him to sit up to strengthen his abdominal muscles. He fed the boy broth and helped him sip water, but insisted on keeping the IV for additional fluids, the saline helping keep down what Richard was unable to ingest. The boy also was able to shift uncomfortably while Thomas was giving him a bed bath to prevent sores, and because, well, the kid needed a bath. He had taken to giving them when Richard was out of it so the boy would not turn bright red. Besides those times, Richard slept and recovered further.

The hardest part was that Richard either could not or would not speak. He just sat there and stared off into space. He'd answer yes and no questions with head movements or with the finger system they worked out, but beyond that he would mostly mumble words at a low volume. The words he could understand sounded like gibberish at first. Then, Damian had listened closely and explained that he thought his big brother was just jumbling up languages. Language confusion wasn't a normal effect he would expect in that sense, but it could occur with brain injuries. Thomas did not believe Richard had a brain injury as the main cause for the coma though. Richard might have one, but he'd never hit his head, so Thomas did not know how he would have gotten it.

That was the main extent of the physical effects on Richard. Thomas had not had the time with Richard awake or medical ability and authority to diagnose the psychological state Richard was in. In general, the boy seemed depressed and a bit confused. This was not the place the boy wanted to be or the people he wanted taking care of him, but that was all that was obvious. He'd barely be able to get confirmation that Richard believed the same story Damian did. When Richard got well enough to talk normally, Thomas planned to take him to Leslie Thompkins, a pediatric doctor he trusted, and get a recommendation for a trustworthy pediatric psychologist. Anything that could help was welcome.

Speak of the devil. Thomas felt his cape flutter as a strong breeze that screamed SPEEDSTER passed through the cave. Damian perked his head up from the ball he had curled into at the foot of Richard's bed. Thomas had been putting him to bed in Bruce's old room until he had time to get a new room set up, but Damian often came down to be with his brother despite Thomas's efforts. The boy was too antsy to sleep alone and often had nightmares. When he woke up, he'd wander the halls until he found the nearest entrance to the Batcave and made it back to his brother. Thomas tried to catch him, but usually only succeeded in getting the boy into a warm robe. It would not do for him to get a chill from the Batcave after all. Damian would curl up and Thomas would throw a warm blanket over him, and then turn back to his work. A couple times, he'd even gotten a brief patrol in, although it was nerve racking to leave the boys alone, even with the old baby monitor he'd set up.

"Mr. Wayne?" Barry asked, eyes obviously wide even with his cowl on. "You have two kids."

Thomas just looked at him, narrowing his eyes in a glare. He had yet to confirm if these were Bruce's kids yet. Well, Damian's blood test had turned up positive for a grandfather relation on his father's side, but Richard's had been negative. He didn't know if Richard knew who he really was…

"Uncle Barry?" Damian asked.

"… How come he is 'Uncle Barry' but you call me 'Not-Batman'?"

"…" Damian blinked. "I can call you Ajooz, if you want."

"What does that even mean?" Thomas rubbed his face.

"Old Man."

"Just… Stick with Not-Batman, or have your brother pick something when he wakes up."

"Err. Right. So, kids?"

"Yes. Why are you here, Allen?"

"You haven't been returning Cyborg's or my calls, and have only made brief appearances as Batman, and none in your civilian identity, although he doesn't know that, for the past two and a half weeks. He was starting to get worried, so he sent me to find out what's been going on."

"Just him?"

"Meh. I figured you were investigating something and lost track of time. So, kids? Who are they? How does he know my name?"

Thomas gave him a look over, assessing Barry's sincerity and honest interest. Barry was trustworthy. "They claim to be my grandchildren from another dimension, or at least that seems to be the general consensus. One where my ex-wife and I died instead of my son Bruce. Most of their facts line up. This little one is Damian, and his older brother is named Richard. They came through a portal into the cave almost a month ago, now. I assume they knew you in the other dimension?"

"Not me. Dick told me about his best friend Wally and his Uncle Barry. You're red and fast, so I guessed."

"Huh. I don't know a Wally." Barry moved over to stand next to the bed. Damian screamed when he appeared and nailed him in his tender spot, quickly crawling away to hide on the other side of Richard. Richard groaned and whimpered. They all froze. Well, Damian and Thomas froze, Barry was busy focusing elsewhere. Richard shifted a bit before settling back down into slumber. Thomas let out a sigh of relief and Damian reburrowed. Barry recovered from the shot a second later.

"Woo. You've got an arm on you there." Damian preened.

"Now that you're here. I need things for the boys. My clothes are far too large for either of them, and Bruce's old clothes are a bit too big on Damian. I need to set them up a room upstairs for the time being without Richard being disconnected from the IV for long. He still needs the help. Babysitting or room shopping?"

"Erm. I can do either. I'm not needed at home for the moment."

"You can't leave them."

"I understand. It might be faster for me to do the room, but I don't know much about their tastes."

"Ooo! Lots of color!"

"We can paint the room later. I'm sure Richard would like to join us when he's better. For now, I'll get some basics. You keep watch."

"Alright. I'll go get some stuff to do with a… four?... year old. I'm sure some games will go over great. You get ready to go."

Thomas nodded. "You'll need to stay down here to keep Richard in sight. I don't want you to be out of hearing range if he has a relapse. And get higher cognitive games as well as some simple ones. Damian's incredibly smart."

"What's a relapse?"

"Back in a Flash!" Barry disappeared making Damian jump again.

"A relapse is a term for when he has a sudden problem, a boo-boo, come back when it wasn't supposed to. It could make him worse."

"Oh." They stared at each other for a moment. Then, Thomas sighed.

"I'll need to wake Richard up before I leave and tell him what's going on. He'll know what you guys need for your room. See if you can't gently bring him out of it while I change."

"You're not going out as Not-Batman?"

"No. I'm going out as myself."

"Oh."

"Go on now. Mr. Allen will be back shortly."

"You mean Uncle Barry?"

"N-yeah. Okay."

"Okay." Thomas disappeared into the back area. Damian squirmed up his brother's chest and took a deep breath. He bent his head to face Dick's ear and blew forcefully. Dick flinched away, but didn't wake. Damian grinned and did it again. Thomas wandered back out dressed in a suit as Dick was weakly trying to push Damian away, still half asleep.

"Richard?" He asked softly, laying a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Richard, I need you to wake up for a bit. You can go back asleep in a moment okay." He waited for Dick to weakly open his eyes and focus on him. He slipped a pair of sunglasses on the boy when he flinched away from the light. "Nod if you're coherent." Dick gave a slight, weak nod in response. Thomas picked up his right hand. Their tapping system seemed to be easier on the boy, so Thomas used it whenever he needed clear answers.

"I'm going out for a while to get some things for you and Damian. Do you want to share a room? Damian seems to prefer sleeping with you, but I want to know your opinion." He got a one tap for yes. "Okay. One bed or two? Just give the number of taps." Two taps. "Got it. Any preference in colors?" Dick hesitated. "Right, need to give you a way to answer that. How about a sea theme? Blue and green with dark brown furniture? Would that work?" Dick gave a tap for okay.

"Color!" Damian called out.

"I'll get some colorful blankets." Thomas amended. "I thought we could paint the room later. There's one on the second floor that I think would work best. I'm going to have to help you up and down for now, but I think it will be better in the long run.

"For clothes, I thought maybe I should just get you basics for now. I assume you don't want anything white?" One tap confirmation. "I'll use my best judgment on that." He proceeded to ask Dick and Damian about specifics about underwear and special requests.

"One last thing. Once we get you upstairs, we're going to have to face the city. I've already started things with my lawyers, and I should be able to keep it out of the media, but we need to go over a story. We can talk about that when I get back, but if you're awake, think on it."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

8 June 2013

"YOU IDIOT!"

Logan Burton winced back from the voice of his boss on the video screen. He was currently hiding in a small cabin in the middle of Switzerland from the Justice League. If it hadn't been for their focus on the children, he wouldn't have been able to slip away. As it was, several of the workers at Andoxly had not hesitated identify him as a major player, more particularly the one that went over the top with punishment. The cowards had bayed under the Justice League's fury and quickly gave up the bosses they knew of, which collectively was most of the leadership. Luckily, or unluckily for Logan, the people who controlled the operation had been spared identification by their own paranoia.

Someone, probably several someones, maybe even hundreds of someones, had pointed at Logan as the one who beat and tortured Richard Grayson-Wayne—that was a development he had missed—several times and shot and killed Roy Harper as well as a couple others who he had felt were already on their way out, or should be. Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen were out for blood, and were using the Justice League as their medium to find him.

That… issue… was not what brought the conversation to this point. Although, strangely, the little brat was somehow extremely tied into his boss's ire anyways.

"You should have made arrangements to leave THE SECOND you discovered the escape, and moved the kids you could to a new location! Instead, your HUBRIS has traveled down the chain like dominoes."

Ironically, he had been warned about his hubris after releasing that video, and had, in fact, made moves to separate Andoxly from the rest of the organization. Unfortunately, it had taken too long. The hack that had gotten a location, had also, inexplicably managed to get into the computer systems like a Trojan Horse when they noticed it and had started downloading. While the download had been halted by the destruction of Andoxly, the heroes had somehow still managed to get enough damning evidence to take down the entire organization as was in progress.

Somehow, some way, Logan Burton's promotion in January to Andoxly head from special order child gatherer head, which had seem like such a good and well deserved idea at the time had managed to be the worst mistake the leaders made.

"We've barely managed to hold onto 60 children throughout the entirety of the organization due to YOUR error. Even then, you could have easily grabbed the most successful subjects and ran. Instead, you decided the best choice was TO BLOW THEM UP."

"You can't mean 169? That brat's the reason the League managed to find us in the first place!"

"No. The Justice League finding Andoxly is not 169's fault. It is yours. It is your incompetence that allowed so many children to escape, your faults and sadistic tendencies that gave the Justice League any leads in the first place. Your HUBRIS that lead them straight to Andoxly! They could not find us. They only had whispers of our existence until YOU confirmed their hunches with YOUR ridiculous video." Logan chose not to mention that they had approved that. It would not help his case. "On top of that, 169 was not the only successful subject that was sacrificed to your bloodlust. He was just the most important one in Project PUM, as no other subject lasted long enough and adjusted enough for us to send someone through the portal. We also lost all the successful subjects from Project Ank, Sin, and Tuna. Thanks to YOU we will need to start from the beginning!"

"What about his younger brother?" Logan suggested desperately. "Jason Todd-Wayne. They might not have the same DNA, but they've probably been exposed to many of the same factors. They even look alike!" There was silence from his boss, and his boss seemed to contemplate it. "I could grab him and take him to the new base, and you could see if he could make it as far." His boss held up a hand and Logan halted speaking.

After a moment, his boss decided. "Alright. You have ONE more chance. Only one. Capture Jason Todd-Wayne and bring him to Spain. Once you are in Spain with the boy ALIVE and UNHARMED, we will give you an exact location. You have four months, to allow time for Wayne to relax a bit. For that time, you will return to marking subjects for delivery, but will have no knowledge of where they're going. Fail that, and there will be consequences. If you fail to retrieve the boy within four months, consider yourself terminated."

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

4 June 2013 (just after midnight), Frankfurt Airport, Germany

Sigmore Friedman had no idea how he managed to make it this far.

He also had no idea why or, more accurately how the heck, his passport was valid in a different universe. He understood that it was parallel, but so much stuff was different. Hell, the American President was a badass woman named Emmaline "Mary" Brady, and apparently she wasn't the first one! Which was awesome and all, but back to the main thing, his passport was still totally valid. The real problem was going to be sneaking, well, not really sneaking but bringing the kitten, which was yet unnamed, into the United States. There were a thousand forms and requirements that he had to fill out and forge. He had a no idea if kitten-who-refused-all-the-names-Sigmore-suggested had his shots. Hell, there could be a bunch more shots that didn't exist in his universe the black and white kitten needed or vice versa.

Sigmore let loose the breath he was holding as he entered the airport proper. He had made it this far. Hopefully, the flight to Gotham would go okay, and all would be well. The kitten meowed from his carrier.

"Shh. I can't let you out right now. People have allergies."

"Mew." The kitten pleaded, doing his best to look adorable.

Sigmore sighed. The kitten reminded him of the two kids that had been used in the experiment that had sent him here. Richard and Richard's little brother. He wished he had managed to get a name for the younger one. Or a last name, at least. He wished there was something he could have done for them, but the portal had stopped working a few days after he'd arrived in the alternate universe. It would have been nearly a month ago now. The scientists had been unable to fix it, apparently not knowing the workings of the portal from this side. Sigmore kept the part about Richard silent while being forced to try to get the portal to work, even though he did not know how it worked.

He had slipped away in the middle of the night, freeing a zoo of animals on his way out the door, and luckily hadn't been tracked down yet. Sigmore wasn't sure how long his luck would last, and was taking increasing precautions and paranoia. His plan was to find the Batman or Justice League of this universe, which he really needed more information on, and hopefully to dump the problem on the Bat, while offering his own incredibly limited expertise in hopes of making amends with his conscience. Batman in his universe was a detective genius, highly talented in technology, as far as Sigmore knew. If anyone could figure out how to help Sigmore get back to his universe and save those kids, Batman would be the answer.

"Meow."

"I can't let you out!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

3 June 2013

Dick looked around his new room with dull eyes. It was large, but not too large. The walls were a soft green and two beds were on opposite sides of the room. Barry Allen, but not Wally's Uncle Barry Allen, had watched over the two boys while Thomas Wayne had gone out to the stores. When he got back, the two men had swapped places and Barry had speedily put all the furniture together. Then, the two men had moved the major equipment Dick needed upstairs before moving the boy himself. They had moved Dick fairly quickly so that he wasn't off the IV long. He was still incredibly weak, but it was nice to get out of the Batcave.

Barry babysitting them had been nice. He had brought a variety of toys and board games. Damian loved it. Dick knew, even with how little he'd been awake, that the little kid was incredibly bored with nothing to do but explore the cave or watch his big brother sleep. Television was an almost foreign concept. Damian wanted to try all the games, and Barry was happy to oblige with most of them. They had even included Dick in one of the games, a weird version of Chutes and Ladders, although he fell asleep towards the end.

Dick had been mostly asleep when they started to move him, but woke up more when Thomas dropped him in a bathtub and washed him, extra gentle on his back, before putting the teen in new warm and comfortable clothes. The new clothes still hung a bit big on him, but Dick thought that might be intentional. They were soft enough not to irritate Dick's scarred back. Barry had kept Damian entertained while Dick and Thomas were in the bathroom. Once he was dry, Thomas had set him in the new bed with forest green sheets and a colorful blanket before reconnecting him to the monitors. The IV had been reconnected as soon as he was safely upstairs, so shortly after Thomas had set him down in the bathtub. Then, he had pulled the blanket up to Dick's chin. Seeing Dick's eyes drooping, Thomas left Dick to get some more sleep, while maybe ordering some Flash food for the three.

That brought Dick to now. He had carefully and slowly pushed himself the best he could into a somewhat elevated position and was looking around at his new surroundings. It was much warmer up here than in the cave, but the cave was familiar, even though it carried a sense of wrongness with the lack of souvenirs. This room was new, completely new, and that was jarring. After so many months of the prison, the whitewashed hallways and clothing and dull dorm like walls only brightened by Alex's paints, this room was such a contrast. It was warm. It was welcoming. It was overwhelming, and he wasn't sure how to cope, and honestly felt like crying.

Which was horrible. He had been crying way too much lately. It seemed like all he'd been doing was crying and sleeping. He wanted the silence, liked the silence, but even the silence was oppressive and scary.

"Hey." Dick looked up to see Thomas standing at the door. The man entered. "I know we haven't really had a chance to talk much besides some confirmations of what Damian told me." Dick just watched him.

The man sighed and sat down at the foot of the bed. He took a minute to pick a starting place and Dick took that minute to really study him. He'd figured out that Thomas was Batman here, mostly because the man was in the Batman suit half the time. He'd also figured out Thomas was a very different Batman than Bruce, but the Batcave was too dim and Dick had been too weak to really make out details. The new room was considerably brighter, even with the curtains drawn. While that hurt Dick's eyes a bit after weeks in the Batcave, it also made things easier to see.

"I guess we should start, or start again I suppose, with proper introductions. I'm Thomas Wayne." He looked at Dick expectedly. Dick ducked his head and studied the bedspread. It wasn't tie dye. More blotchy. He traced the stitches. After a minute, he decided.

"Richard."

"Richard?" The man blinked, most likely surprised to hear Dick's voice after so much silence. Dick was surprised too. His voice was stronger than he expected, although still close to a whisper.

"Richard Wayne." He hesitated and then looked up. "Richard John Grayson-Wayne."

"Nice to formally meet you, Richard." Thomas said, smiling at the boy. Dick hesitantly smiled back. Thomas wrapped an arm around him, giving Dick additional support. "Your father would be?"

"Bruce." Dick furrowed his eyebrow. "Dami dit ti?" He shook his head to try to clear it. "Dami… told… you?" He repeated, this time in English. Thomas nodded down at him. "Ugh!" Dick said, his hands flying up to massage his head. "I'm normally better at English!" He growled. "I am normally better at English." He stated each word carefully.

"I think it has to do with your injuries." Thomas replied. "Damian said you spoke many languages and Romani was your first?"

Dick nodded in response.

"Then it will come. You might have to work at it a bit, but it will come. You are adopted, right?"

Dick nodded again.

"I'm sorry for your loss. I hope my son was an adequate guardian, and I hope to be one to you until we can return you to your home." He paused. "However, I do not know how long that will be, especially as it has been a month and there has been no sign of anyone coming after you. For now, we'll have to carve you a spot in life here. Do you understand?"

Dick eyed the covers again, running his fingers along the fabric to get a feel for its softness. "How long we stay here?"

"Until I can find a way through the dimensions to get you home. And until you are fully healed. No grandson of mine, in this universe or any other, will be gallivanting through the multiverse while injured if I get my say."

"Deja did."

"Oh. You know what I mean. Again." Dick smiled. Thomas's teasing smirk became a little more genuine in response. "So, I've talked to my lawyers, and come up with the start of a story, but I want your input to get it as close to the truth as possible. So that you, and especially Damian due to his age, can remember it easily." Dick nodded. "I told them that I had discovered I had a son and had taken in two grandkids, although their father had disappeared in the process."

Dick gave a frown. "Not… abusive…" He huffed out.

"I know, chum, I know." Dick started. "It is something I said?"

"Bruce call me 'chum.'" Dick whispered.

"Oh. Well, I can avoid that if you want."

"Please."

"Alright then." Thomas cleared his throat. "I didn't say he was abusive, although it might have been accidentally implied to begin with. I told them you had been kidnapped and I had saved you from the kidnappers, kind of stretching it because you saved yourselves, and gave you medical attention as I still have my license, I never lost it. Bruce told you I was a surgeon, right?

Dick nodded.

"Yeah. I wasn't absolutely certain if all your injuries came from the kidnapping, so I didn't mention them beyond saying you were seriously injured. Your dad is missing, currently, most likely searching for you two, so that gives an out for when we get you home or if he appears here. We might have some trouble from my ex-wife, but if we keep it low, we should be alright. Is the story alright?"

Dick considered it. "Where kidnappers?"

"They got away. I was too focused on you two to worry about them."

"Can't be Grayson here. Might be… nother…"

"Gotcha. Then you can just be Richard Wayne, if that's alright."

"Tati Wayne?"

"You want to be Tati Wayne? That's a bit of an odd name, but-"

"No! Tati ni father. Was Tati here Wayne?"

"Uh. That's a good point. Wayne is a common enough name that I might not have found you by now though. Yeah. You were Wayne before. It should be okay."

"Where from?"

"Hmm. I'll have to think about that one. What about Chicago? Do you know enough about Chicago?"

"Yes. Okay."

"Any more questions, Richard?"

"No. Story good."

"Gotcha." Thomas brushed a hand through Dick's hair. "The lawyers will want to talk to you, but we should have it all squared away in a week or two. Maybe three if the press finds out too soon." Dick shrugged. He felt really tired. "I'm going to get my friend Leslie to look you and Damian over sometime in the coming days. She's better at pediatrics, kids, and I think you should be seen by a second set of eyes for proprietor's sake. Probably let her in on the truth so that she knows what to look for. Don't worry. She's trustworthy."

"Leslie Thompkins?"

"Yeah. You know her?"

"Mmm. Our doctor. Bruce trust her."

"Good. Good to know. I'll need to find you a speech therapist, too. She should have a good recommendation. That should help get you talking again and in one language. It's summer, so we don't need to worry about school for now. What grade are you in anyways?"

"Was Freshman. Dami start. Dami need to start."

"Hmm. Birthdays?"

"Mine. March 23, 1999. Dami… No know? I no know? Ugh, I donno. He four. I fourteen."

"Take a deep breath. In. And Out. In. And Out. Good. Don't get frustrated. It'll come."

"Difficile." Dick whined.

"I'll get on that speech therapist for you. For now, rest." He helped Dick lay back against the pillows and brushed a hand through the boy's hair. "I'm going to go make you some soup." A horrified expression crossed Dick's face. "Hey! My soup isn't that bad!" There was a small bit of apology in the boy's visage.

"Bruce scary kitchen. Alfred say non."

"Bruce was scary in the kitchen and Alfred made him stay out?"

"Yes."

"Well, I'd like to think I am better than Bruce. You've been eating my soup for the last few weeks, you know." Dick looked properly chastised. Thomas gave him one last pat. "Rest. I'll bring soup up in a half hour."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

7 June 2013

Damian watched as the pretty blond lady took some x-rays of his ankle. The stuff didn't hurt. She just covered him with some heavy vest and made him laid down with his foot in this machine. She pushed a few buttons and then there was a whirling noise, and some lights, and then it was over. She was friendly, yabbering on about this and that, looking him over and then tapping his knee with a rubber hammer. But she turned out to be a trickster! She was telling him some story about some other kid and then she poked him in the arm with a needle! Naturally, as needles are terrible things that made Dick collapse, Damian had gotten upset and ran and hid behind Not-Batman. But then Not-Batman had moved out of the way and tried to push him towards the nasty blond lady.

Damian followed the best course of action at that point and bolted from the room with a cry. He raced up the stairs and into his and Dick's room. Dick looked at the kid weirdly when Damian scrambled over the teenager and hid under the covers.

Not-Batman and the nasty blond lady came in a moment later. Not-Batman ran a hand over his face, spotting the lump on the other side of Dick.

"Richard, we're trying to give Damian his vaccines. Can you give us a hand, please?"

Dick didn't move, eyeing the needles nervously. He shook his head.

"My god, both of you are scared of needles?" Not-Batman asked. Dick gave him a short nod.

"Thomas, can I speak with you outside for a moment?" The nasty blond lady said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thomas followed Leslie out into the hallway, cracking the door behind him in case Richard needed him.

"Thomas, what happened to these kids?"

"I told you, they were kidnapped and-"

"No, what happened while they were captive?"

"I… I don't know for sure. I know they've been injured. Richard, at minimum, has been tortured. He has track marks around his wrists and ankles, up and down his arms, and on his chest. And his back, it looks like he was whipped, and then they branded him. Same brand as on Damian. I treated those for infection when they arrived. I had hoped the lessened stress would make him wake up sooner. The only part of Richard I couldn't actually find a recent injury on was his head. But he's having trouble speaking one language at a time and I don't believe white was his original hair color, so there's probably something there too. Invisible or mental."

"And Damian?" Leslie asked.

"I'm clueless." Thomas replied. "He has some track marks too, but only on his upper arms, and nowhere near as many. You've seen his ankle and, like I said, there's a brand on his back. Both of them have a tattoo on their left arm."

"Then their fear of needles is not irrational. Thomas, it looks like they were experimented on." Leslie said.

"Experimented on? Are you sure?"

"Reasonably. I'll want a closer look at both of them, but if I'm right, then you'll want to take both of them to see a psychologist, and we'll have to keep an eye out for anything unusual. You might want them to see a psychologist anyways. They're in a new place and probably more than a little scared."

Thomas grunted, looking back towards the bedroom. They'd been talking in low tones so the boys didn't hear.

"Now, I'm going to go back in there and you're going to come with me." Leslie said. "We're going to have to tell them exactly what's in the shots and why they're important. We'll need to convince them that even if the vaccines make them sick for a little bit, the alternative is much worse. Might be better if we vaccinate Richard first. Little kids tend to follow the lead of someone they trust."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Meanwhile,

Dick slowly and gently pulled the cover off the ball of Damian.

"Hey," Dick said, aiming a smile at his baby brother.

"Hi." Damian replied.

"I know you're scared. I hate needles as much as you do, if not more." He said, speaking slower than he would normally so as to try to control the language switches. When he spoke slow enough, he could mostly limit them down to two or three languages with the occasional word in an additional language. He was mostly using Romani and Arabic, with some English thrown in. All languages Damian spoke. "But vaccines are important. They stop you from getting sick. We're new to this world. We have no immune system for whatever they have here."

"What's an immune system?"

"Your body's defense against sickness. After you get sick once, your body develops, makes, a defense so you don't get it again."

"But I don't wanna get the sharp pointy things in me."

"Me either. But you know what? I already have a needle in me."

"Huh?"

"See." Dick showed Damian the IV tube that was still giving Dick fluids. He didn't really need them anymore, but Thomas hadn't felt comfortable taking him off it yet. It was also dripping in pain medicine, so Dick wasn't inclined to ask for it to go away.

"And you know what." Dick said.

"What?" Damian asked.

"It makes me feel better." Dick whispered, giving him a little nudge.

"But the other needles."

"Made me worse. Because the people were mean." Dick answered at a more normal volume.

"The blond lady is mean."

"Because she tried to poke you with needles?"

"Yeah."

"Well, I bet if you're good, she'll give you a lollipop."

"What's a ле- леденец?"

"A lollipop?"

"Chupete?"

Dick huffed, frustrated. "Lollipop."

"Sucette?"

"Lolli-... Candy."

Silence for a moment. "Bonbons?"

"Ugh…"

Chapter Text

Romani

9-10 June 2013

Dick was unsure if he wanted to admit it, but he was scared. No, not just scared, terrified. He was back in the blank expanse for the first time he could remember since the colors had been absorbed into his skin. All he wanted to do was curl into a ball and forget any danger that could come his way here. No walking towards color, just sit and wait to wake up. It shouldn't take too long, right? He was probably sleeping way too peacefully, and Thomas would want to make sure he was breathing properly or something and wake him up.

Then again, the suffocating lights weren't the only occurrence he'd had in this whiteout. They were just the most frequent and recent. He'd had that weird dream with Artemis in the white expanse. Maybe he could do that again. With Artemis in mind, Dick clambered to his feet and started walking, before stopping. Last time, Artemis found him. What if he was walking away from Artemis? That would be counterproductive. He plopped down to wait. If Artemis was coming, she'd have to find him. Otherwise, he could just wait until he woke up. It was bound to happen eventually.

His decision paid off. A good half an hour of boredom passed, during which he had taken to doing handstands and cartwheels. Hey, might as well keep his mental self in good shape, even if his physical self was weak as all get out. Anyhow, Artemis wandered over after half an hour.

"Artemis!" He crowed gleefully, tackling her in a hug. Well, half tackling her… Apparently some of his physical weakness had carried over because she barely moved and easily corrected her balance before setting him down on his feet. "Hey Arty."

"Hello Dick." She gave him a sad smile.

"Welcome to the afterlife!" He joked, but immediately regretted it as her smile slid away. "Sorry." He said.

"It's… How is the afterlife, birdbrain?"

"Wellllll, I'm not actually sure I'm dead, so that's something. My grandfather, Bruce's father, has been taking care of me and Damian. He died long before we were born, so we're probably dead."

"That's cool. Getting to know your grandfather."

"Yeah. I've been really out of it lately, just got out of a coma."

"Seriously?"

He tilted his head. "Yeah. Apparently, you can die in the land of the dead."

"What happens after that? Do you get reincarnated?"

Dick laughed. "You wish. You want to get a smart ass infant babbling about your secret identity?" He teased.

"I'd be honored. You'd give away mine before Batman's?" She snorted. "No one would believe the baby. The parents would just coo over how adorable you are and move on."

"How right you are. What's going on in the land of the living?"

"Well, we've been working to get all the kids we managed to save home to families or into new, better homes, while mourning you."

"That's good. Not the mourning part, you could do without that, but the returning kids to families."

"Wally's starting summer school. He took off the rest of the semester to try to find you."

"He did? His parents let him?" Dick asked.

"Yeah. Surprised me too." Artemis answered with a laugh. "Apparently they yelled at Batman about it, guts there, but they couldn't argue it was a bad idea and gave permission. He was skipping school a bunch already and his grades were dropping."

"But… It's just me. He didn't… He didn't need to focus that much. I mean, I appreciate it, but I didn't want him to throw his life aside for me. He needs to focus on school so he can become a world famous forensic scientist."

"That's why Batman suggested it. On his transcript, it says he took a leave of absence, so he basically lost the semester, but this summer will make up most of the classes. Some of them are dual enrolled, actually, so it will look even better on his transcript. I believe his parents made him switch at least one of his classes to online to finish so that he wouldn't have to make all of them up."

"Good. He can get into a good college that way."

"I don't think that's his focus. He's basically benched too. I overheard Batman talking with Kaldur about only bringing him onto missions when absolutely necessary." Artemis paused. "You know, Dick, there's no "just" about you to any of us. Especially not to Wally or me. You mean… meant a lot more than that."

"Sure." Dick said, disbelief coloring his voice.

"No, really. There's a certain lack of butchered words and laughter. No one else will make fun of Kid Mouth with me! M'gann and Kaldur are too nice and Conner doesn't talk enough."

"You'll just need to come up with more insults then. I recommend Kid Klutz. It's fairly accurate." Dick smiled timidly. "Better not to let him get a big head."

"I don't think there's too much danger of that. He's got me, after all." Artemis puffed out her chest.

"Good. A you is good." Dick gave a firm nod. There was a second of silence and then Artemis burst into laughter. Dick's smile grew.

"So, what about you? How are you doing?" He asked.

"Well, I'm on summer vacation now, believe it or not."

"Sum-mer va-ca-tion. Doesn't ring a bell."

"Sure. Of course it doesn't."

Dick just beamed up at the older teen.

"You know, we haven't found your bodies yet."

"I don't think you will."

"What makes you say that?"

"I was trying to get us out when the bombs exploded. You know about the bombs, right? We should have been out before they went out, but I tried to take Damian through an early version Zeta Tube."

"A Zeta Tube?"

"Yeah. Well, that's what I thought it was. I either incinerated us or we're in a different dimension."

Artemis blinked, and Dick shifted awkwardly.

"It's nice here. I can't do much because I'm incredibly weak from everything, but we have clean clothes and plenty of food and Thomas has been taking really good care of us, as far as I've been aware. We're in Wayne Manor in a room set up near the stairs, and it's nothing like where the bluemen were keeping us, but not like my room at home either. I like the difference. It's nice.

"I feel… safe."

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10 June 2013

Richard squirmed uncomfortably as Thomas carried him down the stairs. While he was getting used to the need to be carried whenever he tried to leave the room, it wasn't any easier. As he grew more aware of his surroundings, he wanted freedom of movement more and more. He really wanted to walk, but he knew he didn't have the strength and would probably just end up tumbling down the stairs and breaking his wrist or something. He morbidly hoped it would be the left one so he could cover it up for a few months.

Thomas brought him into the Foyer, which seemed to have been recently cleaned, although the air still smelled a bit musty. There were two people in there, Leslie Thompkins, who looked a bit different from the one he was familiar with, and some lady he didn't know. Leslie had been by a few days ago to look him over. Thomas had woken him up for the examination, but he had still been pretty drowsy, so he didn't remember it too well. She had prescribed some meds, he knew because he had started taking them the next time he woke up.

The two women were sitting in chairs facing the couch, where a bunch of pillows had been piled up to provide support. This is where Thomas set Richard down. He shifted into a more comfortable position as Thomas tucked a blanket around him, and quietly studied the two women in front of him, not meeting their eyes. Thomas sat down on the couch as well, leaving a small space between him and Richard to allow his grandson room to stretch out.

"Richard, this is Mrs. Blakeley. She's a speech therapist who speaks several languages. She's going to help you start talking again, okay?"

Dick nodded nervously. "D'accord." (Okay) He said.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Richard." Mrs. Blakeley said, reaching a hand forward to shake, before pausing and hesitating. Dick blushed. He was completely wrapped up in the blanket. With some effort, he extracted a hand and shook hands with her. Thomas grabbed his hand and kept it out when Dick tried to retreat back into his blanket. The man looked down at Dick and gave him a smile and his hand a squeeze.

"If it's alright with you, Richard, we'd like to stay for the first session, at a minimum." Leslie said. Dick nodded, looking up at Thomas pleadingly.

"Excellent. Then, let's get started. I feel the best place to start would be to establish which languages you know, so that we can figure out what you're trying to get across." Mrs. Blakely said.

Dick nodded again, unsurely.

"What's your first language?"

"Romani."

"Alright," she noted it down. "Do you think you can name the other languages you speak? If not, I can list languages and you can tell me if you speak it or not." Dick hesitated. He didn't think he could name all the languages he spoke. Too much talking. He hesitated to give all the languages he knew, but a nudge from Thomas got him to see the advantages. The therapist went down a list of languages and checked off English, Arabic, French, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, German, Swahili, Mandarin, and Cantonese, along with Romani. He also spoke Atlantian, but it seemed prudent not to tell her that.

Mrs. Blakeley looked impressed with the sheer number of languages. "Well unfortunately, I don't speak nearly this many, but I hope we can at least start with the ones I do know. I speak English, French, Japanese, and Cantonese. Most people with language confusion revert to their first language the most, so that's something to keep in mind. Mr. Wayne, I recommend that you learn Romani, at a minimum."

Thomas nodded. "Where can I get the resources to learn it?"

"Well, Romani is a spoken language, so it's pretty difficult to learn on your own. You might be able to find some resources online, and Romanian and Hindi are somewhat similar. It might be better to have Richard teach you though. Just go around and point at stuff and ask for the word. If that is okay with you, Richard? It will help you start talking again."

Dick swallowed and gave a slight nod.

"You said you had a younger grandson, too. Does he speak Romani?"

"Yes. Arabic as well." Thomas said gruffly.

"Smart kids. You can ask him to translate some phrases and such if Richard is having difficulty or is out of sorts. Would that work?"

"It's a start."

"The important thing here is to start speaking again. Practice is really the best way you can relearn to speak in a single language. I know this is rather elementary, but I'd like to start you on simple words and phrases. You can get the rest in later, but the basics should get your point across at a minimum."

Dick nodded his understanding.

"Good. So here's how the sessions will work. We'll go over some basic words and phrases until you can say them clearly and then move on to using them in sentences. I know you already know English, but this will be more about saying things correctly and focusing on saying them in the right language. The goal will be to detangle the language away from the other languages you know. Once you have a good grasp on English, we'll move on to the other languages you speak, starting with the ones I speak as well. I would also be happy to practice some Romani with you, but as I don't speak it, I'll have to take your word that it's correct."

"Okay."

"Mrs. Blakely, would you recommend that we go to a pediatric therapist?" Thomas asked.

"Well, I would recommend that you wait until he has a little better grasp on English before doing so. I imagine that it's frustrating to not be able to stick to one language at the moment, and that would most likely be complicated by seeing another therapist at the moment."

Dick breathed a sigh of relief.

"That being said. Richard, a therapist would help you work through your trauma. I know it's not what you want to hear, but seeing a therapist, in a couple weeks, could do you a lot of good."

The scowl that formed clearly broadcast Dick's opinion on the matter.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

25 June 2013

THUD!

Thomas started, and looked down at his younger grandson and then over at Barry. If Damian and Barry were both here, then… Barry understood from the glance and sped off. Thomas picked up Damian and followed after at a hurried, but considerably slower pace. A second later, they heard Barry shout.

"It's okay! It's just Richard!"

In the kitchen, Dick was picking himself off the floor, holding onto the counter with a death grip as he tried to get his legs to hold him, when Barry sped in and looked around. The man quickly came over and helped him over to the square kitchen table and into a chair.

Dick gave a frustrated huff, glaring at the opened loaf of bread on the counter. He rubbed a bruise on his cheek from where he'd hit the edge of the counter. A container of peanut butter was on the ground, rolling away from the counter towards the island. Barry took it in and swooped around the room. He picked the peanut butter up and set it next to the bread. Then, he searched the kitchen for a bag, opening and closing drawers and cabinets keeping them from banging the best he could. Finding a bag, Barry shoved some ice in it before wrapping the ice bag in a paper towel and bringing it over to the teen. He gently handed it to Dick so that Dick could put it against his face. Dick sighed and accepted the bundle, pressing it under his right eye.

Dick frowned when Barry gave him a quick hair ruffle. Thomas entered just as Barry was putting a plate with two slices of bread and the jar of peanut butter, now opened, in front of Dick on the table. He handed Dick a dull butter knife. Thomas set Damian down on his booster seat to the right of Dick and sat to the left of the teenager.

"Does anyone want anything else while I'm up?" Barry asked.

"Can I have a sammitch, too?" Damian asked.

"Two cups of milk and a couple apples for these two to balance it out. One apple and some water for me. Can you cut the apples up?" Thomas said.

"Sure." Barry pulled the carton of milk and three apples from the fridge.

"Richard, would you like jelly?" He asked the scowling teenager who had shifted the jar to the left of his plate so that he could continue to hold the ice to his face while smearing peanut butter on the sandwich. Dick looked up. He shook his head. "Damian?"

"Tt."

Barry set down three plates in front of the small family. A large one with two pieces of bread and apples slices in front of Damian. And two smaller ones with just apple slices in front of Dick and Thomas. He brought the cups over a bit more slowly so that they didn't spill and took his spot in the remaining seat with some food for himself. There was quiet for a few minutes as Dick finished making his sandwich and shoved the peanut butter towards Barry who glazed all of his sandwiches and Damian's. Damian happily munched on apple slices while waiting.

Thomas sighed, when Dick missed his mouth with the sandwich due to a muscle spasm. "Richard, we talked about this."

Dick's scowl deepened, but there were tears of frustration in his eyes.

"You're not going to get better overnight. It will be slow."

Dick almost fumbled his sandwich. "I can't even eat a sandoicchi (sandwich) without casi (almost) dropping it or making a chaos (mess). It's been semaines (weeks)."

Thomas took a brief pause to try to get the gist of that. Dick was frustrated with slow progress. He could work with that. "I know, buddy. But a coma is not something that's easy to recover from. What those monsters did to you is not something that's easy to recover from. Look at the bright side! You made it into the kitchen. While I would prefer you don't try to walk without me, you still made it. The muscle spasms will die down with time, and hopefully go away completely. You've already made lots of strides forward."

"Bien sȗr (Of course). Which is why I can't eat a fu- full sandwich." He spoke a bit slower and stopped himself before cursing with a brief glance at his brother. Thomas gave him a slight nod of approval. He slumped, and muttered something under his breath.

"What was that?"

"Je dis… I said I used to, used to flip all over. Y… And poke fun, gah! Poke. Fun. At. 话 (Hua)… words!"

Silence for a moment as they absorbed the messed up sentence.

"Well, you managed to get it all into English." Barry said when Dick started sulking. "I'm impressed." The teen huffed through his nose, setting Damian off into giggles.

The attention turned towards the littlest and saw that in the time the focus had been off Damian, the kid had managed to get peanut butter in his hair. Dick smiled slightly and shakily lifted a hand to get the peanut butter out.

"Richard, why didn't you call for me when you woke up and wanted to eat? I gave you a button for a reason. I'm proud of you for making it here from the living room, but I'd prefer to at least have been watching. How did you get here, anyways?

"Les murs." Dick said.

"The what?" Thomas asked.

"Walls." Barry answered. "He said the walls. Must have used them for support, right kiddo?" Dick nodded. "I'm guessing you used the counter for support when you got in here." Another nod. "That was smart. Good job, kiddo!" The praise made Dick blush. After so long being tormented at the prison, and, frankly, living with Bruce, he was still unused to the praise that Barry, and Thomas to a lesser degree, were adamant on giving to him when he did something right.

"Finish your sandwich." Thomas grunted. He had sneakily cut it into bite sized pieces when Dick wasn't looking. It got him a slight glare from the teenager, but Dick started eating nonetheless. "Mrs. Sherman will be here in a half hour."

"Who?"

"A pediatric therapist that I know and trust. Mrs. Blakely and Leslie recommended you see one now that you can talk a bit more clearly." Damian looked up curiously, peanut butter smeared on his cheek. Dick resisted the urge to face-palm. He knew Damian could eat neatly. The brat was clearly choosing not to.

"Now?" He asked Thomas with a slight whine.

"Yes. She'll be talking to both of you. I thought Damian should speak with someone as well. I assume it would be better if you go first, Richard." Dick ducked his head and studied his plate.

"Will you stay with me?

Thomas placed a hand on Dick's shoulder. "For now. I'll stay with Damian while she's talking to him as well. Eventually, I'll back off so that you can speak with her alone, but only when you're comfortable."

"Okay."

He gave the teen two pats, and then pulled his hand away and gestured to Dick's plate. "Don't forget to eat your apples."

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

25 June 2013

The streets were dirty and felt oppressive, but they weren't dark. Instead, bright neon lights proclaiming 'Wayne Casinos' lit the night. They simultaneously destroyed and created shadows in sharp contrast. In a darker than normal alleyway, a 6-foot-tall man wearing jeans and a trench coat slowed to a stop. He slumped against the wall, and dragged a hand down his face. A kitten rubbed itself between his legs, meowing softly as if saying "Why are we stopping? I have tons of energy! Come on!"

"Not now, Kitty. I just need a short break." He slid down to the ground. "A short break, and maybe a nap." The kitten put his paws on his leg, gave him an adorable gaze and mewed softly, blinking his eyes.

"…Where did you even learn that?"

"Meow."

"Meow yourself." He said. "Find Batman, Sigmore. It'll be easy. Just go to Gotham and light the signal. Never mind the hours in airports going through security, waiting for flights, and talking to customs, Damn alternate universe differences. Should have stayed in Europe. But no. I just had to assume that most things are the same because it looks similar. Should have at least considered a lack of Justice League or that Batman might be different."

"Mew."

"Yeah, I suppose it was wishful thinking… Richard and Richard, Jr are probably dead by now." He muttered. He sat in silence for a few minutes, moping in his inability to help.

"No. I can't be negative, here. I need to stay positive. I don't know they're dead, so they might be alive. Okay, I just need a new plan, Brainstorm, Scientific Method. Come on, Sigmore, you got this. Logic it out. Okay, what didn't work… There's no Bat signal, so that's out. Hoping to cross his patrol route didn't work. Finding the crime is not working. Going to Commissioner Gordon would be suicidal; he's not an idealist here. Maybe… Nah that wouldn't work." He rubbed the side of his head with both hands, pushing his hair up with his fingers.

"Meow."

"Not now, Kitty."

"Meeeeowww." The cat pawed at him.

"What?" He looked at the kitten. The kitten moved to stand under the light of one of the Wayne Casino signs. "Yes. I see the Casino sign. They don't allow cats."

"Mew." It lowered its head to his knee.

"And, I'm talking to a cat. Great." He looked at the sign. "Wayne Casinos, huh. It's a pretty glaring difference from our universe, huh Kitty? Same event, different person died, different reaction. All the undercurrents say Martha Wayne is Joker here. She's known for being so charitable in our universe, and here… I suppose parents always look charitable to a six-year-old though.

"I wonder if Wayne Industries changed Batman's methods in our 'verse. Wayne Casinos is definitely more jaded. Wayne Industries was all hope and technology and helping those in need. Casinos are about taking advantage of people and if you blow all your money, too bad, come again." He stared off into space toward the sign. "Maybe that's the key. Batman here is more jaded too, and has entirely different equipment, maybe Wayne is the key."

"Mew!"

"Thanks, Kitty. You have some good ideas. Now… how to talk to Wayne…" He pushed himself up. The kitten protested at the movement. "Oh." He opened up the messenger bag that he had acquired. The bulk of his stuff was well hidden in a forest outside of town. He knelt down and placed it against the ground with the flap open. The kitten crawled in. He stood again and adjusted the bag on his shoulder. The kitten purred and settled down in the pouch and he closed the flap, leaving enough room for it to poke its little head out. He smiled, and walked to the mouth of the alleyway, he looked around, and then smoothly crossed the street and entered the nearest casino.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

28 June 2013

Damian darted into the kitchen, and hid behind the counter. He poked his little head out from the side. He looked at his older brother who was sitting at the table, poking at some lukewarm waffles, head resting on the table on a folded arm. Damian crept a little closer, eyebrows furrowed, determined not to make any sound. Dick shifted a little, and Damian froze like a deer in headlights. Dick looked up, and raised an eyebrow at the still child.

"Dami, okay?" He asked, a slight, reluctant smile creeping onto his face.

"Umm. Yes?"

"Are you telling me, or me demander ?"(asking me)

"Telling."

Dick pushed out the chair next to him with his foot. "Suwaru." He said, then screwed up his eyes. "Sit." Damian dropped out of his tense stance and scrambled over and onto the chair. Dick immediately pushed the waffles towards the kid. "Eat food."

Damian shook his head. "Grandpa said you needed to eat all of them."

"Full." Dick replied, feeling a little weirded out that the little one was bossing him around. "You eat."

"Nope!"

Dick muttered something under his breath. He looked up and around as he heard heavy footsteps shuffle into the room. Thomas gave Dick a look. Dick sighed and pulled the waffles back towards him and halfheartedly took a bite. Thomas plucked some toast out of the toaster, and buttered it before setting it in front of Damian. Damian happily picked up a slice and started munching, giving his brother a smug smile. Thomas grabbed himself a protein bar and sat down on Dick's other side.

"Barry will be over a little bit." He informed Dick. He brushed a finger across the bruise on Dick's cheek, causing the teen to wince. "That's healing nicely. You and Damian need more clothes." A flash of something passed across Dick's eyes. "Don't worry. I don't feel you're strong enough to come yet. We'll be doing a lot of walking. Barry's going to watch over you while Damian and I are out." Dick looked at Damian and then back to Thomas.

"You keep him safe." Dick sounded out.

"I will." Dick keep looking at him. "He won't leave my side, I promise."

Switching his gaze over to Damian, Dick focused what he wanted to communicate into his gaze. "Stay with Grandpa. Don't wander, okay?"

"Tt." Damian crossed his arms, but nodded. Dick looked appeased.

"Eat your waffles." Thomas said. "You need the calories." Dick scowled, but forced another bite down.

The door slammed open and closed. Dick jumped and quickly repositioned his fork and knife to use as weapons. Thomas turned to glare at the doorway as a gust came rushing in. Damian just kept eating. "I'm here." Barry announced, unnecessarily with a flourish. Dick snorted and dropped the silverware, turning back to his food.

"We talked about this." Thomas said. "Don't slam the door."

"Right. Sorry, Mr. Wayne."

"Sorry infers you won't do it again."

"I won't." Barry said, giving Damian's hair a ruffle. Damian scowled, and batted his hand away. Only Dick was allowed to do that. Barry grabbed a protein bar from the kitchen and flopped down in the fourth chair at the table, across from Dick. "Hi, Richard. Looks like it will be you and me today. Anything you want to do?"

"Cartwheels." Dick said with a straight face.

"Cartwheels? Umm. Maybe we should start a bit smaller."

"Yes. Quadruple flip off lumieres." (lights or chandelier)

"That's not really smaller…"

"You can play board games." Thomas said. "Or read books or watch TV. Things that avoid movement."

Dick slumped and muttered something under his breath. Damian shoved the last of his toast in his mouth. "Ready," He declared through his mouthful of toast.

"Alright, go get your shoes." Damian scurried off. Thomas turned his attention to Barry. He pulled out a sheet of paper and handed it to the man. "Richard needs his meds at noon. There are three different pills. He needs to take two of the small round white one, three of the white pill-shaped one and one of the circular red one. The names are on this sheet. Don't let him miss them. He likes to purposefully forget."

"Je les deteste."(I hate those.) Dick mumbled. "I don't need."

"What was that?" Thomas asked. Dick remained silent. "That's what I thought. I know he can walk using the walls now, but he almost fell down the stairs yesterday when he decided he didn't want to wait for me for lunch, so make sure to keep an eye on him." He glanced at the teenager. "Maybe stay on the first floor." Damian ran back in, a pair of old chucks, that were too big for him clopping around his feet. "And Richard," he waited until Dick met his narrowed eyes. "No cartwheels. Don't even think about it." Dick huffed.

"I'll do them for you!" Damian shouted, and, just to prove it, he did two cartwheels out of the room, just like his brother had taught him. He landed on his feet with his arms up, and spun around to see his big brother's reaction. He got a smile and an eye roll.

Thomas laid a hand on Dick's shoulder. "Be good." He gave a quick squeeze and followed Damian out the door.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There were no malls inside Gotham City, just large, multi-floored department stores and areas of the city where many such stores were situated. Thomas parked the car in a parking lot near Macy's department store. It seemed as good a place to start as any, and it wasn't far from Gap Kids, where he was planning to get most of Damian's clothes. Turning around, he checked on Damian. The child was looking around the parking lot curiously, furrowing his nose at the lack of things to see. He got out, and helped Damian out of the car seat. That had been one purchase he had made the first time he'd ventured out for things for the boys.

Thomas reached forward and grabbed Damian's hand as the child started to wander away in the direction of a street vender. Pulling the child a bit closer, he found himself shifting through his memories trying to remember what tricks he used to use with Bruce before the boy was killed. Remembering something, he looked down at the child and said, "Damian, if you're good and stay next to me, we'll go get ice cream afterwards."

"What's ice cream?" Damian asked, blinking up at his grandfather.

"What's ice cream? Your father never gave you ice cream?"

"I told you. I haven't met Tati. I found Dick, but he couldn't get me home. The Bluemen were in the way."

"It's a really tasty food. Most kids love it." Thomas sighed. "We can get some and take it home. I'm sure your brother wants ice cream too, and god forbid I deprive him of seeing your first taste of ice cream."

"Hmm. Why? What's in it?"

"Cream, milk, sugar, and candy mostly. Most kids love it."

"Tt." They entered the store and Damian looked around curiously. "So much." He whispered. "So neat."

Thomas steered Damian to the shoe section and set him in front of the kids' shoes. "Why don't you take a look? Grab whatever you like and we'll get it in your size to try on. I'm going to look for shoes for your brother. Don't wander off." Reaching into his backpack, Thomas pulled out a paper with Richard's measurements on it, as well as a ruler. He waved down one of the salespeople.

"Hello. Welcome to Macy's. How may I… Oh my god! Mr. Wayne." Thomas resisted the urge to groan as some nearby shoppers looked over curiously. "Sorry. Sorry. I'm Natalia. How may I help you, sir?"

"I'm looking for shoes, and eventually clothes, but starting with shoes." He tapped Damian on the head. The little kid looked up with a grin. "For this one and a young teenager."

"Grandpa! They have Batman sneakers! And look! These go up to your knees! And they're green!"

"That's great, Damian. But it's a little warm for boots, buddy."

"Boots…" He eyed the green boots curiously. "It's never too warm for boots." The four-year-old declared, passionately.

"Natalia, do you know what size he would be? I have the measurements for his older brother, too."

"We have a tool to measure size, actually. Although you'll want to go up at least a half size, since when they're this little, they'll be at a minimum uncomfortable in them within a month if you don't." The salesperson grabbed a metal plate with sizes written on the sides and with a slider embedded in it.

"Sweetheart, can you take off your shoes?" She asked Damian. Damian looked up at her glanced at his grandfather who nodded, and hesitantly slid out of his shoes. "Good. Now, if you put your bigger foot here and line your other foot up next to it on the side." Damian grabbed the fabric of his grandfather's pants for balance as he followed her directions. The salesperson slid the slider up to his big toe. Damian flinched and tightened his hold on the fabric. Thomas dropped a hand on the boy's head. "There we go! Looks like he's about a size 12."

Thomas nodded. "Keep looking at shoes, buddy." He told the kid. Damian nodded, and turned away to scan the shelves, but kept a hand in place. Turning back to Natalia, he held out the sheet with Richard's measurements. "Can you recommend any shoes for a young teenager? I'd prefer shoes with lots of support. He was badly hurt and is working on relearning to walk."

"Hmm. There's two ways to look at. Softer on the foot or firmer on the foot. You might want to get him slippers for in the house, which will be soft on his feet. While they won't have much traction, I imagine he'll want something on his feet while walking around, and you can find ones that are better than socks. The last thing he'll want is blisters." She mused. "Another option is some sturdy boots, either lace ups, like combat boots, or hiking boots. It's a little too warm for winter boots, but those would also be an option, and they'll be cheaper if you buy them now rather than waiting until winter. The boots will give him extra ankle support and should have good traction. The downside is they're difficult to put on and he might get blisters to start. You'd want thick socks, and those aren't great for summer either. Sneakers would be in the middle. Easier to put on, good traction, but no support for the ankle."

"What about sandals?"

"Sandals. Well, there a bunch of sandals and many have similar characteristics, but if he was injured, you might want to stick with closed toed shoes for now. If he's wearing sandals outside, he could get a small rock or something in his shoe, which is pretty normal. While that's easy to get out if you're healthy, you need decent balance." Thomas nodded. "If you really want to get him sandals. I recommend Tevos or Keens. They have a lot of support and aren't too difficult to get on. Some of them strap onto the ankle, too. You could also get him waterproof shoes if he's planning to go swimming. We have a big selection over there." She gestured at the rows of sandals, and the section of wall that had waterproof shoes on it. Damian tugged on Thomas's pants to get his attention, and showed the man his armful of shoes. Natalia clapped her hands together. "Let's get started with this little one. What do you have there, sweetheart?" She bent down to eye-level. Damian scowled at her, but at a look from his grandfather, reluctantly held out the shoes he had found. "These are some good ones. I'll go get them in your size. Why don't you and your grandpa go look for some cool shoes for your brother while I'm gone, okay?"

"Tt."

"I'll be right back, Mr. Wayne." Natalia said. Damian climbed up his grandfather and settled on the man's shoulders, looking around. Thomas raised an eyebrow.

"Go forth!" Damian cried in Romani, pointing to a wall of hiking boots with one hand. The other hand was gripping Thomas's ear for balance after spending a few seconds trying to get a grip on his thinned-out hair.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"You have got to be kidding me." Dick gapped at the objects Barry was holding out to him.

"Sorry kiddo. Doctor's orders. We start with these and then work our way up."

"What does he want me to do with it?" Dick asked sarcastically. "Draw a sura?" (picture)

"He wants you to start relearning how to write. Your psychologist suggested you start keeping a journal."

"I can write with un stylo (a pen)! And zhurnaly (journals) are evidence."

"Really? Have you tried writing with a pen? Because when I was last over here, three days ago, you were having trouble holding a sandwich. And I've seen your hands shake trying to get food onto a fork."

Dick glared, but snatched the crayons and paper away. He grumbled under his breath. Looking closer at the paper, he saw it was a couple printed worksheets meant for kindergartners. The letters, both uppercase and lowercase, were written neatly in between two solid lines with a dotted line running through the middle. They were separated by letter with an uppercase letter then the same letter lowercase, and then a blank space with no lines before the next letter. Underneath each line of printed letters was a space then two solid lines with a dotted line through the middle that didn't contain letters where he was to write his own. Dick took a deep breath, trying to push down the anger that wanted to bubble to the surface.

"I'm not a muko (invalid). These are for little kids!"

"Actually, you technically are a 'muko'. You're still healing."

"Screw healing. This istseleniye (healing) is taking too long."

"I know." Flash said patiently. They'd had a similar enough conversation a few days ago, but Dick obviously still wasn't okay with the pace. "I know it's slower than you'd want, but…"

"What would you kennt (know) about it?" Dick interrupted rudely. "You have super healing! You're healed in like a day!"

"Maybe, but that day can feel like a year to me."

Dick huffed.

"Look. Before you know it, you'll be all better, and will be able to run around, and do cartwheels like Mr. Wayne forbid, and write with a pen. But you'll only get there if you go slowly. I know I sound like a hypocrite, but you can't heal quickly. Go too fast, and you'll get a relapse." Barry gently touched Dick on the shoulder. "I know you don't want that. You're finally able to walk around a bit."

"It's taking zu lang(too long). I should be sudeni (better) already! Bruce would be sudeni already!"

"I'm not sure what you said, but I believe I heard your dad's name in there. Your dad didn't go through what you did. You don't know that he'd heal any faster. You're hurt all over. I know you don't want to hear it, but healing will take time."

"Can I kukopa (borrow) your nguvu (powers)?

Barry laughed. "Sorry kiddo. Now, let's get to those letters. This is A. Can you say—" He cut off with a laugh when Dick punched him in the arm. "Ok! Ok! How about I start introducing you to this universe's cartoons while you work? Do you have Donsie films in your universe? No? Well, they are a bit more recent of a studio. Let me put on a few. I think you'll like it."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"We're back!" Damian called as they entered the house. The little kid ran straight to the kitchen and climbed up to start pulling down bowls. Thomas shook his head as he followed the energetic kid. He held a couple buckets of ice cream and some other miscellaneous groceries in his hands. Richard and Barry looked up from the board game they were playing, when he poked his head into the living room. Richard had a large stack of game money and tiles stacked up next to him.

"Any problems?" Thomas asked Barry.

"Not really. I started him on those worksheets you gave me with the crayons. He was a little shaky, but mostly good." Richard scowled down at the board game and sneakily slid Barry's piece back a few places. Thomas smiled.

"Good. Richard, do you want to come see what we got? Damian had a blast picking stuff out for you."

Richard looked at him, tilting his head a bit. "Should I be erschroken (scared)?

Thomas laughed. "I'm assuming you said scared. Depends. How much do you like bright colors?" Richard smiled a bit. Damian really hadn't liked the whitewashed environment of their prison. Even Alex's paintings on the walls hadn't really been enough. Everything since Richard woke up had been color, color, alllawn. Thomas slid an arm around Richard's shoulders and helped him up. "Come on, buddy. We've got a surprise in the kitchen. Barry, can you get the bags from the car and put them in the boys' room, please? Also, there's a pair of red slippers in the Macy's bag. Can you bring those down?"

"Sure thing. Back in a flash!"

Barry passed them at least three round trips as the two made slow progress into the kitchen. Richard wanted to walk on his own, so Thomas just had an arm ready to catch him if he fell. By the time they'd gone the short distance to the kitchen, Barry was already inside, setting the bowls and spoons on the table and Richard had almost slipped three times. However, Richard had made it on his own without gripping any walls or leaning too heavily or too long on Thomas for support, so Thomas felt progress had been made. Thomas pulled the closer chair out with his foot, and Richard took a seat.

Thomas took a pair of red slippers with thick rubber traction on the bottom from Barry. Unlike the slippers from the prison, these rose up past the ankles to give some extra support, and they were red, not white. Thomas snapped the tags off and held them out to Richard. "Here, Richard. Put these on." He said. Richard took the slippers and carefully pulled them onto his feet. He flexed his feet curious, and relaxed a bit at the softness.

Thomas pulled the ice cream out of the bag and set it on the table. Richard's eyes lit up. "Ice yogurt!" He shook his head. "No, ice cream." He sounded out.

"I didn't know what you liked, and since Damian's never had it before, I thought chocolate and vanilla would do." Richard nodded with a grin, and then turned to his little brother.

"You've never had ice cream, Damian?"

"No."

"You'll like it."

"I also got chocolate shell, caramel, whipped cream, and sprinkles. I thought we could make real sundaes out of it. Would you like all of that?" Richard nodded, still smiling, and Damian shrugged. He dished the two out a couple scoops of each flavor, and then covered them in chocolate shell, followed by caramel, a generous amount of whipped cream, and sprinkles. "I thought we could watch a movie after eating them. I have some kids movies left from when… from then that I think you'll like." Thomas scooped himself some ice cream and then offered the scooper to Barry with a warning glare to not take too much.

Damian watched Richard as the teen shakily but happily took a decent sized scoop of ice cream and stuck it in his mouth. Richard waggled his eyebrows playfully at the four-year-old, who ducked his head and blushed. Damian studied the ice cream for a second, and then tentatively took a small bite. He swished the ice cream around in his mouth for a second and swallowed. His eyes widened, and a big grin crossed his face. He took another slightly larger bite and ate it happily, savoring the taste.

Richard pulled the spoon out of his mouth, and smiled at Damian who smiled back, ice cream having already made it around the corners of both boys' mouths. The two ate mostly in silence with an occasional 'yum' or 'om nom nom', as the adults talked about various topics above them, mostly exchanging information about how the day had gone.

Damian finished the ice cream first and grinned up at his grandfather. He pushed the bowl at the man's arm, and said, "More."

"What was that?" Thomas asked, amusement slipping into his tone.

"More, please?" Damian asked, putting on his best puppy dog eyes.

"I think you've had enough for now. If you eat any more, you won't have room for dinner. Maybe later, buddy."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

30 June 2013

The room looked like a tornado went through it, or a bomb had gone off. Only small patches of the rug showed through the mess. In a manner completely uncharacteristic to the occupant, toys and books were strewn all over mixed with clothes that formed a trail to an overturned laundry hamper. It looked like it had been practically thrown away. The bed was a mess of tangled and flung sheets. There were no pillows on the bed. Those had made it into the opening of the closet, on top of the hamper, and by the window. The desk chair was wedged under the door knob.

In a small clean corner near the door to the bathroom, a small child sat curled into a ball. His head was down in his knees, only the reddish-black shaggy hair was visible. His shoulders were shaking, and a low keening sound could be heard if you got close enough.

Surveying the room in amazement, Dick gave a low whistle. Or, he tried to. He couldn't really hear it. He meticulously picked his way across the room, careful to put his feet down in the few clean patches. Eventually, he reached the curled-up child on the other side of the room. He knelt down, and reached a hand out. To his confusion, Dick's hand went right through the boy when he tried to shake his shoulder.

The kid froze, and warily looked up and around. "Who… Who's there?" He asked in hoarse voice. Red rimmed, blue eyes searched the disaster zone frantically, but seemed to gaze straight through Dick. Jason's face was wet with tears, clear trails streamed from his eyes down to his chin.

Dick opened his mouth. "Me. I'm here." He tried to say, but nothing came out.

Jason wiped the tears away forcefully. "I warn you. I have… I have… Umm." The kid looked around on the ground. He practically lunged for a towel that lay near him. "I have a towel and I know how to use it."

Dick quirked an eyebrow, unimpressed. "Very threatening." He tried to drawl. Again, he couldn't hear himself speak.

Looking around distrustfully, Jason pushed himself to his feet. Dick stood up with him. Jason carefully inched across the room to the door. Jason gave a quick distance check to the door, and his shoulders slumped immediately when he saw the chair there. He spun the towel into a rope and got ready to slap it at someone if they were to attack him. Increasing the inching to a slow walk, he kept looking around as he went to the door.

Seeing a particular stuffed puppy out of the corner of his eye, Dick hurried over to it. He reached down and tried to pick it up to bring it to Jason's attention, but his finger slipped right through again. He growled with frustration and tried to make his hands solid. It worked for a millisecond. Dick was able to lift the toy an inch off the ground. Then it slipped again, making a soft sound as it hit the pile of clothes it had been sitting on top of. Jason's eyes were instantly drawn to it. Dick saw this, and tried to pick it up again. He only got about a half inch this time. He quickly looked up to see Jason's reaction.

Jason was watching the toy closely. The towel was still held in a threatening position, but his hands had slackened a bit. He slowly walked forward until he was looking down at the toy. Dick took a couple steps back when Jason whipped his head around. He waved a hand in the air all around the toy. Dick flinched as it went through him a few times. Finally satisfied, Jason sent a warning glare around the general area, knelt down, and picked up the stuffed toy himself.

Jason studied it, and then hugged it to his chest. The tears were flowing again as he sank down on the bed, but he seemed a bit calmer. In a better place. He even took in the damage he had done to his room and groaned.

"Bruce is going to kill me." He muttered.

Dick smiled.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2 July 2013

"Right, Je peux faire ca." (I can do this.) Dick carefully reached a bare foot up on the next step, keeping a death grip on the railing. "No es dificil." (It's not hard.) He put weight down on the foot he'd reached up and picked the other one up to follow it. "Just like the walls." He grinned, and stood a bit taller. He carefully adjusted his grip on the banister and kept reaching his feet up, walking up the stairs at a slow, but steady pace. Five minutes later, he stood at the top panting slightly with a large grin. "Take that daraj." (stairs) He swayed a little bit, but managed to catch his balance by quickly shooting his arms out. He nodded with a huge smile, took one step… slipped and tumbled back down the stairs. He rolled up into a ball and slammed into the wall across from the staircase.

"Ow." Dick moaned, blinking tears out of his eyes as he struggled to uncurl and pick himself up. Thomas came running into the foyer from his study. He took one look at Dick, and sighed.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

4 July 2013

Dick entered the kitchen, one hand tracing the wall just in case. It was early morning. There was a happy, excited quiver in the air, and he wasn't entirely sure what it was. He was excited because today was the day he was going to prove he was perfectly capable of getting stuff done. He was going to prove this by making early morning pancakes. He pushed a chair in front of the stove and readied a skillet, spatula, batter scooper, plate and mixing bowl. He hummed to himself softly as he got out flour, milk, honey, eggs, butter, and some chocolate chips and berries. He melted the butter in a measuring cup. He figured Damian probably hadn't had decent pancakes before, so he would need to try several types to get his favorite.

Dick brought all the ingredients, except for the chocolate chips and berries, over to the table inside the bowl along with the whisk so that he wouldn't have to make too many trips, making sure not to spill the hot melted butter on himself. He sat down to make the mixture. No need to push it too much. He hoped he had the recipe right. Once seated, he realized he forgot measuring spoons. He looked over at the counter, and then decided it wasn't worth the trip and decided to guesstimate how much he need of each ingredient. He cracked two eggs and mixed them with the melted butter and sugar. Then, he added the milk by refilling the measuring cup, cursing softly as his hands shook and he almost spilled the entire jug. He winced it some of the spilt milk dripped off the table onto his pajama pants. Finally, he poured in flour in small amounts and mixed it together until it looked like a good consistency.

By the time Dick was finished making the batter, forty-five minutes had passed and he could hear some movement on the floor above him. Quietly praying his grandfather didn't go to check on him and find him missing, Dick shakily pushed himself up from the table, and slowly walked over to the counter with the bowl. He set it down next to the stove. He turned the heat on beneath the skillet, spread some butter around so that the pancakes wouldn't stick, and sat down to wait for it to heat up. A couple minutes later, he poured some batter on the skillet and got to work.

By the time that Thomas essentially ran into the kitchen, he had a solid first few pancakes down and was taking a break before starting on a few more. "Richard?" Thomas asked, looking over the myriad of ingredients and pancakes. Dick poked his head up above the counter from his seat. "What are you doing, kid?" He asked gently.

"Making pancakes," Dick replied. Thomas winced, and Dick screwed his eyes up and slowly and clearly said, "Making pancakes."

Thomas sighed, and ran a hand over his face. "Alright, I'll finish them."

"Non."

"Si." (Yes.)

"Nyet." (No.)

"I don't know that one, but I'm going to assume you said no. Richard, you're not strong enough."

"I'm strong enough!" Dick put on his best bat glare. "I can do it."

"Richard—"

"Ie! (No.) I. Have. To Do. This." The world blurred slightly. "Bitte." (Please.)

Thomas gave a big sigh. "Alright, but I'm standing nearby, and you need to take a break if I tell you to." A smile crossed Dick's face. He wiped his eyes, and stood up to put the next few pancakes on.

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"Jason, stay close." Bruce barked, as his eleven-year-old son started to drift a bit farther from him. They were in the park for an event that Bruce Wayne had been invited to. It was a family charity event for Independence Day, and both Lucius and Alfred had insisted he get out of the house… for Jason's sake. Bruce didn't know how it was supposed to be for Jason's sake, but it was probably good for Jason to get out of the manor during the day. Bruce was reluctant to go because the park was a public place and he did not want to lose his only remaining child.

"Jason!" He called again, fighting the urge to physically pull his son towards him. Jason scowled and muttered something under his breath, peeking in a different direction. Bruce raised an eyebrow. "I can hold your hand, if you don't think you can manage."

"I'll stay close, Dad." Jason put an emphasis on the Dad. Bruce felt his lips turn up slightly. Jason had hesitantly started to call him Dad a few months ago. Bruce had neither actively discouraged nor encouraged the term, and Jason had taken the lack of reprimand as permission. The preteen now switched between Dad and Bruce depending on his mood and if he wanted something from Bruce. Bruce followed Jason's furtive glances to an ice cream stand about 20 feet away. He shook his head, exasperated, and allowed a smile to pull at his lips.

"Dinner first, Jason." He said. Jason slumped a bit. "They're not going to run out of ice cream, and even if they did, we could grab some on the way home."

"JASON!" Jason jolted, and he and Bruce both looked around. "JASON!" Jason saw her first. A small 12-year-old from Jason's school ran up to them, hugging three sodas to her chest.

"Hey Diana," Jason said as she got within normal speaking distance. She bent down to catch her breath. Diana Nicholson. May birthday. She had been in Jason's math, science, and Spanish classes, and was one of Jason's closer friends. Her father worked for a prosperous law firm and her mother worked as an outreach agent at Wayne Tech. One younger brother.

"Hello Diana." Bruce greeted her. "Where are your parents?"

"Oh. Hi Mr. Wayne! They're thataways, a bit." She said, then turned towards her friend. "Jason! I'm so glad to see you. How are you?"

"I'm doing okay, considering. You?"

"Right." Diana looked momentarily chastised. "I'm good. Are you guys staying for the fireworks?"

"Umm." Jason looked to Bruce for an answer.

"We'll see." Bruce told both of them.

"Well, we are. You should come sit by us! Nick, Carlos, and Jenny are here too. Nick and Carlos are sitting by me, but Jenny has to go sit with her family soon. Come on."

Jason checked with Bruce for permission. "I'll be right behind you." Bruce said.

"Yes!" Diana squealed. She shifted the sodas to one arm.

"Here, let me take those." Bruce offered, divesting her of the sodas.

"Thanks, Mr. Wayne." She grabbed Jason's hand and started dragging him in the direction of her parents. Jason sent Bruce a 'help me' look, but Bruce just gave a quick shake of his head with an amused smirk. He followed the two preteens through the crowd at a slightly more sedate pace, keeping Jason in his line of sight.

"Are you going to rejoin Stage Crew in the Fall?" Diana asked as she dragged her friend along. "We missed you."

Jason frowned. "Maybe. I want to, but I don't know. Bruce doesn't really like me being away from home for too long, and, well," He checked that Bruce wasn't right on top of them, and lowered his voice so that only Diana could hear. "I don't know that he finds school that safe anymore. Ever since… you know… He's just gotten worse with the protection. He… well… Bruce doesn't want to risk it."

Diana winced. "You will be at school in the Fall, right?"

"God, I hope so."

They broke free of the crowd and onto the grass, weaving around picnic blankets. "There they are!" Diana pointed towards her family's claimed area. They were in the shade of some trees, but would still have a good view of the fireworks from the spot. Three of Jason's friends were in a semicircle on one of the blankets next to Diana's mother. "Hey! Guys! Carlos! Jenny! Nick! Look who I found!" She called. They looked up, and perked up noticeably when they spotted Jason.

"Jason!" Nick called, clambering to his feet. He darted out, and met them halfway. "It's great to see you, man." He held his hand out for a fist bump and Jason obliged. He slung an arm around Jason's shoulder and led him over to the blanket. Jason looked back to check that, yep, Bruce was following behind him, giving a respectable distance. He settled down in his circle of friends.

"Hi." He said, giving them a nervous smile.

"Hi." Jenny and Carlos echoed.

"Pfft. Enough of that, I got…" Diana looked down at her arms, furrowing her eyebrow in confusion, and then remembered. "Oh yeah!" She scrambled back up and ran back to Bruce who handed her the sodas. She handed them out to Jenny and Nick.

"I'd open them slowly, if I were you." Jason said. "She's been shaking them like crazy."

"Have not!" Diana objected.

Jason just smiled until Diana plunked down with a huff.

Bruce walked over to Diana's mother. "I hope we're not intruding, Mrs. Nicholson." He said, taking a seat on the blanket.

"Mr. Wayne," Sarah Nicholson, Diana's mother, said. She looked around and spotted Jason sitting between Carlos and Jenny. "No, of course not. We have plenty of room. Carlos' dads are sitting with us as well. They went to get food along with my husband and son. Nick's parents couldn't make it." She informed him. Bruce nodded his understanding. "Please. Call me Sarah." She requested.

"Only if you call me Bruce." Bruce retorted. Sarah swatted at him amused, before sobering.

"How are you holding up?" She asked, softly.

Bruce bit down his annoyance. He really didn't want to answer that. "Some days are better than others." He sighed. There. Social obligation complete. Sarah seemed to catch his reluctance and changed the subject. "I'm sending Diana to a Winchester Theatre Arts Camp in a couple weeks. They have an entire section just for the tech crew. Jason might enjoy it, too."

Bruce considered it. He didn't really want to let Jason out of his sight, but maybe if it was a day camp and secure enough… It would get him out of the house. "What do they cover?"

"I know they have a couple days dedicated to different light and sound boards and they definitely cover special effects. I heard they had a knot tying day too. I imagine they have to practice recognizing and untying and retying knots in the dark." She said.

"Where is it? Is it a day camp? Is it safe?"

"They're holding it in Gotham Academy, actually; Winchester had some problem with their pipes, so I'd imagine it's fairly safe. There aren't many people wandering around there in the summer. It's a two-week day camp. Monday through Friday. 9 to 5." Bruce nodded.

"Do you have the information on hand?" Jason would probably enjoy it, but Bruce would need to look at the camp more closely and come up with safety measures before deciding.

"There's a website," She pulled up the website on her phone and handed it to him. "We can carpool, if you decide to send Jason."

Bruce shook his head. "I would prefer to have myself or Alfred pick up Jason, but I would be willing to give Diana a ride home if she needs one, and if Jason attends."

"Thank you." Sarah said.

"Bruce, can we go get sparklers?" Jason asked. Bruce gave him a look. "I meant for you to come with us." The preteen huffed.

"Do you mind?" Bruce asked.

"Nah. They're safer with you than alone."

Bruce nodded, and got to his feet. "Come on then," he said to the cluster. Jason grinned. He and the rest happily started towards the sparkler stand, but before they could take more than a few steps, screams broke out on the far side of the park.

"The woods." Bruce said, and started ushering them towards the trees. Sarah quickly jumped to her feet, grabbed the picnic basket, and followed after the kids. Bruce gave Jason a significant look, and received a nod in return. People were swarming around them as others aimed for the trees, and Bruce quickly turned to find a secluded spot to change, assuming his son was right behind him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jason scurried after his father, glancing back to the chaos on the other side of the event. It looked like fear gas, frankly. He tripped over a tree root, and almost instantly got tripped over by a few flustered teenagers. He shrunk into a ball for a second until there was a break in the crowd, when he scurried to a relatively clear spot in the stream. Regaining his bearings, he realized Bruce had completely disappeared, and Diana and the others were far ahead of him.

"Kid, are you okay?" A rough voice asked, grabbing his arm, and helping him up.

"Yeah. I'm fine." Jason said, scowling and brushing himself off. He looked around again and fought the urge to panic. Bruce was probably at least halfway to Batman and Jason had no idea where he had gone. "I just need to catch up with my Dad."

"Are you lost?" The man asked. Jason turned to him. The man was tall, at least 6 feet and some number of inches. His skin was pale, like he spent a lot of time indoors. He wore a baseball cap, with dark brown and gray hair poking out, and sunglasses, not unusual for summer weather. He was also wearing a plain golf shirt and cargo pants, with a backpack slung over one shoulder. He was unassuming and spoke with a slight European accent, but Jason felt the hairs on the back of his neck tingling a warning. "I can help."

"No, that's okay. My Dad says not to go anywhere with strangers." He decided to head back towards the lawn. He should be able to find a place to change there.

"Don't go that way," The man said, grasping Jason's right arm, and pulling the kid towards him. Jason felt something cold run down his spine. The man was wearing gloves. "There's some crazy dude in a costume spraying gas around and people are screaming their heads off."

"… Scarecrow?" Jason asked, he pushed at the hand holding his arm. "Please let go of me. I need to find my Dad."

The man shook his head, and started pulling Jason deeper into the woods. "He probably ran the other way, kid. We'll find him in the parking lot." The crowd had died down a bit around them.

"No. That's okay. I'll just wait for him here." Jason said, continuing to push at the man's hand.

The man paused. "You got hit by the fear gas, didn't you?" He said.

"No. No, I didn't." Jason replied.

"Hang on. I've got an antidote." Jason was 99% sure the sympathy in the man's voice was false. The man shifted his backpack down off the shoulder not holding Jason, and rummaged through it for something. Jason could have sworn he heard a clank.

"No thanks! I didn't get hit. I don't need an antidote."

"You're getting hysterical. This will calm you down." The man, who Jason was increasingly wary of, said in what was probably supposed to be a soothing tone. He pulled out a syringe that had liquid in it that looked nothing like the fear toxin antidote.

"NO!" Jason shouted, yanking his arm back now, and succeeding. He tried to run away. Unfortunately, the man quickly grabbed a hold of him around his chest, and pulled him backwards.

"Hold still." The man said.

"HELP!" Jason shouted. A couple people turned towards them.

"He got hit!" The man said hurriedly, as Jason punched and kicked at him. "With the gas. I'm trying to give him the antidote." The people turned away. He managed to grasp Jason's right arm, and yank it down. He quickly emptied the syringe into Jason's body. Jason stiffened, and felt his strength fade. Whatever that was, it was strong and fast-acting. The man waited a second, and then lifted Jason up bridal style and started carrying him through the woods.

Jason was freaking out. He was getting kidnapped, and there were people there, but the guy was just telling anyone who looked concerned, and there hadn't been many, that he got hit by the gas and had already been administered an antidote. And Jason couldn't refute it. Jason felt numb, more and more numb by the second. And the world was blurring and the noise was quieting down. Shit, he was going to pass out.

"HEY!" A voice broke through the fog, sounding slightly muted. "Let him go!" Jason felt the world tilt a bit. And then it felt like he was flying through air. There were voices, but he could only make out bits and pieces of what they were saying.

"Jason." A voice whispered. "St-ake." Steak? "Jas-st-ake." Jay-steak? No, thanks. He wasn't hungry. Hmm. Did they say something? The fog closed in, and Jason couldn't stay awake any longer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I don't have time for this." The man who was trying to kidnap Jason sneered, as he stared at the preteens who had gotten between him and the kid. Diana glared at him, from her protective spot in front of Jason, but next to her mother. Nick stood on her other side while Carlos and Jenny were trying to get Jason to wake up. He reached into one of the pockets of his cargo pants and pulled out a gun. Sarah Nicholson quickly swept her daughter behind her and tried to reach Nick, but the villain was faster. He pulled Nick back into a choke hold and held the gun against his head. "Hand over the brat or this one gets hurt." Jenny and Carlos startled and looked over.

Sarah took a deep breath in and let it out. "I saw you in the news," she said, stalling for time until hopefully some authorities showed up. "You're that monster from the Andoxly Prison, Logan Burton." She heard Diana suck in a deep breath behind her, recognizing the name. Nick started trembling harder. Jenny and Carlos stood up, defiance mixing with fear in their eyes. Neither of them recognized the man's name, but they knew about Andoxly. It came with having a close friend who was directly impacted. The man scowled. "What do you want with Jason?" Sarah asked. "Didn't you do enough by killing his brothers?"

Burton clicked the safety off rather than answer. "Hand the brat over now, or this one loses his brains." Sarah shifted slightly, eyeing the gun and its proximity to Nick. She couldn't just let Nick die, but she couldn't hand Jason over either. They might never get Jason back. And Bruce couldn't lose his last child. "Now!" Burton shouted, gesturing with the gun. Diana and Nick both saw the chance at the same time. Nick slammed his head back and slid free of the choke hold while Diana lunged around her mother and shoved the gun up so that it wasn't pointing towards any of them. A shot rang out, spinning through the trees. Diana managed to rip the gun from the man's hand and threw it on the other side of the clearing behind her mother.

Burton lunged forward and grabbed both children by the arms, but Diana quickly spun to face him and scrapped her nails across his face. He yelled and the hand that had been holding Nick flew to his face. Nick kneed him in the balls, causing him to let go of Diana. Sarah spun around and whacked the man in the head with the heavy basket, sending him to the ground. Jenny grabbed the gun and emptied all the ammo out before tossing the gun away and jumping on the ammo so that it was dented slightly.

Sarah kicked the man in the stomach while he was down. She turned and flew across the distance to Jason. "Come on." Sarah shouted to the children, as she bundled Jason up into her arms, along with the picnic basket, which swung from one shoulder. "Quickly."

They rushed away from Burton and back into the main crowd, which was thankfully no longer panicking. Sarah did a quick headcount, and headed towards where she hoped the paramedics would be stationed. The four children behind her made a chain with Diana gripping the back of her shirt. That's the procedure she had insisted on when Bruce and Jason had disappeared from sight. Rushing slightly, but being careful not to lose another child, she weaved to the paramedics. She didn't know what that man had given to Jason, but the child was out cold, and she prayed that it wasn't lethal.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Alex looked up from his book as Wally plopped down next to him, still in his Kid Flash uniform but with the goggles pushed up on his forehead. Only the heroes that lived there had been comfortable in their normal identities around the kids that were staying at the Mountain, and Kid Flash had been warned to keep a low profile. Robin almost never visited except for missions on Batman's orders.

"G'day." Alex greeted Kid Flash.

"I wish," Kid Flash replied.

"One of those days?" Alex asked.

"Not exactly. It's a big holiday, and at least half the country is out at barbecues and picnics. The villains are taking advantage and targeting the crowds. This morning, we had to break up a hostage situation with Trickster, and two attempted bank robberies... AT THE SAME BANK! And after that, we barely had time to eat before The Top was running around kidnapping people from the park. As a speedster, barely having time to eat is not a long time. We've been running ragged trying to stop opportunists taking advantage of the day off. I have a short break now while Flash checks with the League, and then Flash and I are going to the Central City Fireworks. Hopefully, we'll actually get to see them."

"Fireworks?" Alex asked, intrigued.

"Yeah. You've seen fireworks before, right?"

"Yeah, but not in a while."

"Hmm. Maybe you and the other kids can watch the nearby ones from the beach. I'll mention it to Black Canary. They only allow them up here around today and New Year's."

"What holiday is it?"

"Independence Day, also called the 4th of July. Fireworks should be good around here. I'm sure Black Canary or someone will take you to see them."

"Thanks, KF." Wally winced at the nickname.

"Please don't call me that, Alex." He said. He debated for a moment whether or not to get up, and found his decision taking away when Flash called for him. "And that's my cue. See you later or tomorrow." Wally disappeared. A shout for Black Canary echoing slightly in the cave.

"Ciao." (Bye) Alex muttered.

Ricardo, one of the other street kid escapees, entered the room. "Buenos dias." (Good Morning.) He said, stretching out with a yawn. "Why's everyone coming and going?" He asked. "I passed like half the team on my way out here."

"It's afternoon." Alex said. "14:1, actually. And apparently it's a big holiday here, so the villains are seizing the opportunity." Artemis passed with a scowl on her face. She was in full costume with a loaded quiver slung across her back and a bow dangling from one hand. Ricardo watched her pass.

"Batman told me he managed to find an uncle of mine on my mother's side. He asked if I wanted him to talk to my uncle first and assured me that he would be doing a thorough background check either way." Ricardo said.

"Well, that's good, right? You're not alone. Do you think he'll take you in?"

"Maybe. He might not want someone with 'issues'. My mother sure didn't."

"He might be cool. Does he have a family?"

"Si." Ricardo said. He sighed. "He has a wife and three kids. One older than me by a few years, one about my age, and one a couple years younger."

"Sounds like a good situation."

"I didn't even know they existed! I could have gone to them years ago. And then maybe…" Alex nodded his understanding. If Ricardo had been with his family instead of on the streets, he probably would not have been snatched by the Bluemen. "But I'm not… I'm… I've changed since my parents died, and they might not want someone with so many issues. It would take away from their real kids."

"Don't say that. If they can handle three kids, they can handle four. And maybe your cousins will help you out. Especially the older one. It will be like getting a big brother? Sister? And you'll know someone when you go back to school in the fall." Ricardo grimaced, and sighed again. "It will work out. You'll see, Ricardo. And if they're not a good fit, Batman will find you somewhere better. He's good at that."

"I suppose so. What about you? Has Batman found your sister yet?"

Alex scowled. "No. He thinks she might have changed her last name. Last I checked, he was talking to the police in Rome to see if he could find where she went."

"Batman really seems to be going above and beyond for us."

"Yeah…" Alex said. He thought it was probably therapeutic for the man. After losing Dick and Damian, Bruce probably want to feel like he managed to save someone. Searching for their families and safe places for them and the other Andoxly kids, as they were now called, was his way of mourning. He probably felt like helping them was a way to make his son proud, to make up for failing him. Alex secretly dreaded the day that he ran out of kids to help, and had to confront the loss directly. "I think he's a big softie. He wants to be a big scary bat, but can't quite manage it."

Ricardo laughed. "Yesss. He's hiding behind that tough exterior." Ricardo made muscle arm motions to demonstrate Batman's toughness. Then flopped back.

"Of course, he can't show it. That would ruin his image." Alex said. "But a wise man once said, 'Actions speak louder than words.'" Ricardo laughed again, and got up from the couch.

"I'm going to go get something to eat. Do you want food?"

"No thanks, although some water would be nice."

"Water it is. Ciao."

Alex snorted. "Ciao." He replied. He turned back to his book. Harry was about to go down into the chamber, and Alex looked forward to reading about the Basilisk.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

Still 4 July 2013

"Where are we going?" Dick asked. He scowled down at the wheelchair that Thomas insisted he use. Thomas had given him a pair of comfortable sneakers to wear, but insisted that he get in the wheelchair as soon as they were on. Damian was busy playing with the Velcro straps on his Batman sneakers, a small curious smile on his face. He was sitting on the bottom step.

"We're going out."

"I got that much. Where are we going?"

"You'll see when we get there."

"Do I really have to use the… what's the word… chair wheel? I can walk."

"Wheelchair. And Yes. You are able to walk, but only short distances walks without leaning on something. And you're still bruised from falling down the stairs a few days ago. Where we're going, it would be a lot of walking with nothing to lean on." Thomas started pushing the wheelchair towards the door. "Damian." He called, holding a hand out. Damian looked up, and then jumped up and rushed over to them, grabbing Thomas's hand.

"I could lean on you."

"You could. Or you could use the wheelchair and save your energy. We'll be up late tonight."

"Pourquoi?" (Why?) Dick asked. Damian was hopping up and down. His smile was growing as he watched the sneakers light up.

"Richard, do you know what day it is?"

"It's June… something, right?"

"No. It's the Fourth of July."

"Oh." A moment of silence. "Oh!"

"Yes, oh."

"So, we're going to a… Rahat. Queso es le mot? (What's the word?) Exploding lights?"

Thomas snorted. "We're going to a fireworks show."

Dick winced. "Yeah. Fireworks."

"What are Fireworks?" Damian asked. They were at the car now, and Thomas had dropped Damian's hand. He reached down to help Dick into the car.

"I got it." Dick said. He pushed up out of the wheelchair and pulled himself into the car. Thomas sighed again. He seemed to be doing that more and more while dealing with his stubborn grandchild.

"If you keep pushing yourself too hard, you're going to have a relapse, Richard."

"I did okay before I came here."

"You mean before you fell into a coma? Your muscles atrophied, Richard. That's not something you can recover from easily. And add the chemicals they pumped inside you before you were comatose. I don't even know for sure what they were, but some of them are still working their way out of your system, even months later. You've come a long way, kid, but you're still not healthy."

"I should be though. It's been months." Dick leaned back against the seat and crossed his arms, scowling.

"Barely." Thomas muttered. He gave Dick's hair a light ruffle. "Put your seatbelt on. Set a good example for your brother." He closed the door. "Come on, Damian. Other side." He folded up the wheelchair and stuck it in the trunk. Then, he helped Damian into his car seat on the other side of the car, and put the child's seatbelt on. Finally, he closed the door, opened the front door, slid into the front seat, and started the car.

"Marhabaan." (Hi.) Damian said to his brother, who was looking out the window.

Dick looked over at him. "Marhabaan, Dami." He said.

"Dick, ma hi 'fireworks'?" (What are fireworks?)

"Fireworks… Fireworks are big explosions of pretty colors."

"Explosions?"

"Explosions."

"Scary." Damian shivered. "I thought we were trying not to get blown up. Isn't that how we ended up here?"

"These can't hurt us."

"You sure?"

"Ja." (Yes.) Dick reached over and laid a hand on Damian's knee. "Don't worry. I won't let anything hurt you."

"Tt."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yep. Still 4 July 2013

HONK! Dick winced and fought the urge to cover his ears as another car sounded loudly nearby. They had reached the outskirts of Gotham City about ten minutes ago and had been in awful traffic ever since. He might have spent five years growing up in Gotham City, but he had forgotten how loud the city could be. The horns, the shouting, people talking as they walked past on the sidewalk, music playing from other cars, loud laughter. It was a sensory overload with his ears alone.

That didn't even include the smells that managed to seep through the windows into the car. There was the smell of sweat, exhaust from cars, overflowing garbage, the smell of the hot asphalt of the road, and various smells from vendors. He could smell street food, baking bread from a nearby bakery, roasted nuts, grease, a random faint scent of cinnamon, and rotting food from the aforementioned garbage.

As if that wasn't enough, Dick was also resisting screwing his eyes shut to keep out the light. The skyscrapers worked twofold. They lessened direct light, but reflected indirect light into his eyes. There were also advertisements, giant signs for different Wayne companies as well as shows in the city. Ads for food, religious beliefs, a water park just outside of the far side of town, and even ads for different events going on like today's fireworks show.

Honestly, Dick wanted nothing more than to beg Thomas to turn around and drive back to the manor. Maybe they could get sparklers or something. They could probably see some of the fireworks from Wayne Manor. They didn't really have to go there to watch. Unfortunately, he knew that his grandfather probably had to be there for other reasons, to represent Wayne whatever the company did in this universe. It couldn't just be Casinos, right? Dick wasn't completely sure of everything Wayne Enterprises did in his home universe, but he knew Bruce had offshoots into everything he could from technology to charities to sponsoring different products and R&D. Wayne Enterprises was huge. Thomas probably had to make an appearance.

"Dick?" Damian asked, turning away from where he'd been watching the city go by since they left the house. "You okay?"

Dick hesitated and then shook his head. "Sensory overload. There's trop beaucoup… too much noise. Too many…"

Thomas grunted. "You'll be okay. We're in the VIP viewing area. We'll be separate from bulk of the crowds."

"What's VIP?" Damian asked.

"It stands for very important persons. It means we're special."

Dick snorted. "Understatement."

Damian considered it for a moment, and then looked at his brother curiously. "What do you and Tati normally do? It's a holiday, right?"

"Yeah. Umm. We don't have a tradition. Depuis deux annees, (Two years ago,) Tati took me and some others to be inducted into essentially the Junior Justice League."

"Junior Justice League?"

"Ja. Fun story." (Yeah.)

"Tell me!"

"Umm. I can essayer (try). Two years ago, Tati and some of the other Justice Leaguers brought me, KF, Aqualad, and Speedy to the Hall of Justice."

"The big building in Washington, DC?"

"Hai. Nosotros pensamos (Yes. We thought.) that we were being shown the HQ, mais (but) it was not the case."

"Huh?"

"We. Thought. That we were being shown headquarters, but no."

"Oh."

"Speedy got mad, and left. Tati and the other Leaguers went on this blocking the sun mission, but they had to ignore this mission about this didian (place) called CADMUS that was on nar."

"On fire?"

"Oui."

"Hang on." Thomas interrupted the story. "Are you telling me you went into a building that was on fire?"

"Aqualad put it out! And the firemen were there."

"On fire… Do you have no sense of self preservation?"

There was a telling silence.

"Anyways," Dick said, clearing his throat. "We erm… snuck into the building. And there was an express elevator in a two story building, so we went down the shaft."

"Did I understand you correctly? You went in a building that was on fire, without your father, and then when you found out there was a suspicious elevator shaft, you went down the shaft?"

"… Correct."

"What is your father teaching you?"

"Detective skills and how to kick as-butt."

"As-butt?" Dami asked.

"How to kick butt. J'ai dit (I said) how to kick butt."

Thomas shook his head. "I think I'll need to have a serious talk with your father about what he lets you get up to."

"Good luck." Dick hid the quick twinge that Bruce would probably listen to Thomas over anyone. Especially because he'd already be inclined to ground Dick forever when Dick got back.

"He told you to go on this mission while he was away."

"Not exactement… He might have said 'stay put.'"

"And you went anyways."

More telling silence.

"Continue with the story!" Damian demanded. They hadn't moved far in traffic yet.

"Hasanana. Okay. I shot my grappling hook at the top of the shaft so that I would drop at a steady rate. But I ran out of line about half way down. So, I swung over to the door. KF and Aqualad followed me down, and Aqualad opened the door. And we explored. It was the cool cave, completely off the grid. I hacked their server. They made their own power. There were these things called genomorphs who controlled everything in the building. The power, moving things, and even some of the employees' minds."

"They can do that?"

"Yeah. The main bad guy, Blockbuster, he'd say something to the one on his shoulder, and then the one on someone else's shoulder would alter that person's thoughts. There was a good guy, Guardian, another hero who was almost completely under Blockbuster's control through the genomorphs. When he found us, he was willing to let us go, but when we mentioned he was breeding weapons… the genomorph took over, and we were attacked." The more Dick talked, the more he calmed down, ignored and the more his speech smoothed into one language. It was Romani, his first language, but as Dami understood Romani now, that was fine.

Damian gasped. "Were you okay?"

"Eh. They didn't manage to get me. Tati taught me to disappear, so I did. Went straight for the museid… elevator. Left KF and Aqualad behind though. I thought they were behind me. We didn't really know how to work as a team then."

"But you told me you were on a team with Aqualad, KF, and other people."

"Ah. But this was actually the mission that created that team."

"Really?"

"Yes. We found Superboy in CADMUS, and decided that we wanted to do more missions like it."

"I'm sure your father was thrilled about that." Thomas said.

"Actually, he was in charge. He made us wait. Three day. But he put together the team, and decided what we did, mostly."

"Comforting." Thomas commented, sarcastically. "Your father clearly had your best interests in mind."

Dick's eyes narrowed. "Sumimasen. Bruce is an ausgezeichnet Tati!" (Excuse me. Bruce is an excellent father.) He shouted at Thomas. Damian flinched. "He's tatsächlich super überprotektiv! He simplemente no puede stop me from yakhruj, donc él controla que je fais the luchsheye, chto on mozhet!" (He's actually super overprotective. He just can't stop me from going out, so he controls what I do the best he can.)

"Calm down." Thomas said.

"Kwa nini? Do you not like shenme I'm hua? (Why? Do you not like what I'm saying?)

"You're speaking too many languages. I can't understand what you're saying." He spoke slowly and clearly.

"Eh?" Dick asked, breathing a little heavy.

"Deep breaths. I 5. And ou 5." Dick flushed, but concentrated on his breathing. "I 5. Ou 5. Good. Keep breathing. We're almost there."

"Are you okay?" Damian asked softly, when Dick started breathing more evenly.

"Yeah." He replied, face still a little red.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

TW START: PANIC ATTACK

Dick flinched as another group of families slipped past going the other way. The people passing were giving the wheelchair a considerable girth, but the people in front seemed unaware there was a wheelchair behind them and were walking very very slowly. Damian was stomping around to Dick's left, peering down at his shoes as they lit up with each stomp. The little kid occasionally giggled, and kept one hand on the wheelchair by Dick's insistence. He found himself frequently checking to make sure Damian hadn't moved away. The sounds of the crowd seemed to be building up the deeper they got in the crowd, and Dick found himself curling in on himself, frantically looking in every direction.

"-chard." Dick jumped as a warm, rough hand landed on his shoulder, and suddenly, it was too much. It was Logarithm. Dick instantly grabbed the hand and shoved it off his shoulder. "Richard." The voice was right by his ear. That was wrong. Logarithm never called him Richard. It was in his space, inside the wheelchair. He was in a wheelchair, right? He was in the now. But it was too close, too close. And it was hot and there were so many people, so many. Too many, too close.

Get away. Get away. Get away. But he couldn't, and he was trapped, and he was back in the box, but he wasn't. That wasn't right. He couldn't get away, because he couldn't walk, and there was something touching him and he cried, and tried to push it away, but it grabbed hold of his hands. He couldn't use his hands! He yanked them back towards him, but the grip just tightened. And the light was fading, his vision was darkening, and then it was all dark with just slivers of light. And his head was in his knees? When had his knees gotten pulled up? But it was still so loud.

A hand was rubbing his back, and it was actually pretty gentle. Who? Why? The voices had quieted a bit, almost like a hush had fallen over. He couldn't hear what they were saying. There were too many, far away. Far away was good. Something was being muttered in his ear, and there was still a firm, strong grip on his wrists. Two small hands were resting on his arm and leg on the other side. 'Damian' his mind whispered to him. Damian…

Slowly, ever so slowly, his vision cleared a bit. His ears popped and he could hear again.

"Come on, Richard. Breathe for me, buddy." Dick heard. He hadn't realized his breathing was uneven until he heard that. He wanted safety. He curled a little tighter. He tried to take a deep breath and couldn't quite manage it. "There we go. Keep trying. You can do it. Listen to me and follow. Breathe in. 2. 3. 4. Hold it. 2. 3. And out. 2. 3. 4. 5. In. 2. 3. 4. Hold. 2. 3. And out. 2. 3. 4. 5. You got it. In. 2. 3. 4. Hold. 2. 3. And out. 2. 3. 4. 5." Slowly, agonizingly slowly, Dick's breathing evened out. As it did, he became more aware of his surroundings. Thomas was to his right, gently holding his wrists up and rubbing his back. Damian was on his other side, watching with a confused, frightened look on his tiny face.

TW END

"Dick?" The kid whispered. "Are you okay?" Dick took stock of himself. His whole body was shaking and he felt wobbly and totally spent. He flushed, and shook his head. Thomas lowered the teenagers' hands slowly, and let go when they were resting on the teen's knees. He kept rubbing Dick's back, and Dick found himself leaning into the man for comfort, still trembling. Thomas stopped and pulled Dick in close, rubbing his arm instead.

Thomas looked up and searched the surrounding area. There were several people gawking, some looking like they wanted to help, and some whispering disapproval. He caught the eye of a nearby vendor. Dick sluggishly watched as Thomas made some gestures to the vendor, and the vendor nodded in understanding. Looking down at Damian, Thomas took a $20 bill out of his pocket and gave it to Damian, still keeping an arm around Dick. "Damian, take this. Do you see that vendor over there?" He pointed at the vendor, and waited until Damian nodded. "Can you slip over to him, and get three water bottles? Go straight there and straight back. I'll keep an eye on you. Make sure to get change and see if he can give you a straw, too."

"Three waters, straw, change."

"That's right. Go quickly." The child trotted off. Dick tried to make a sound of protest. He tried to turn to watch Damian, but Thomas kept him close. "It's okay, Richard. You're okay. Nothing to be ashamed of." He let the teenager turn enough to see the vendor stand. Damian was waiting near the line. The vendor called him forward before the next customer. He said something to the customer, and the customer turned and spotted Dick. Dick cringed away from the attention. Damian stood on tiptoe to talk to the guy. He soon trotted back with three water bottles in his arms and $8 and a straw clutched in one hand. Thomas took one from Damian, opened it, and stuck the straw in, before handing it over to Dick.

"Richard, here." The teen slowly uncurled a bit and grabbed hold of the water bottle. He took a sip from the straw. "Drink slowly." Thomas reminded him. Thomas leant him against the back of the wheelchair. He opened a second bottle for Damian, handed the bottle back to the child, and threw the third in the backpack. "Do you think you can go on?" Thomas asked softly, his brow crinkled, after a few minutes.

Dick thought about it. He felt a bit scared, but going back would feel like defeat. Damian had never seen real fireworks before, and it felt selfish to take that from him. But he didn't want to be in this crowd. He wanted nothing more than to go back to the manor, curl up under a mound of blankets, and hide from the world. Lock the door so no one could get in.

"We have a VIP section. It should be less crowded there. It's just a little bit further. Do you want to go there and then decide?" Dick nodded. That sounded okay, fair. "Here." Thomas tapped Richard's knees to get the teenager to uncurl. He picked up Damian, who gave him a bewildered look, and plunked the child down on Dick's lap. Dick automatically snaked an arm around Damian's waist to keep him safe. "Focus on Damian, not the strangers, okay?" Dick nodded. Damian tutted, but leant back against his brother, and kicked the armrest to make his shoes light up again. Thomas patted Dick on the shoulder, gave Damian's hair a ruffle, and then moved behind the wheelchair. He pushed them back onto the route and on their way.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

"It was good talking to you." Thomas said, dismissing Commissioner Gordon, clapping him on the shoulder. "Tell Barbara I said hello." Upon the Commissioner's departure, Thomas resumed watching Richard with worried, observant eyes from his spot at the VIP tent. The teenager was curled up, no longer in the wheelchair but rather on top of a thick picnic blanket the VIP organizers had provided. He flinched whenever someone laughed too loud, or came too close to his bubble. Damian was next to him chomping happily on some shish kebabs that Thomas had grabbed for him from the VIP tent. There was a bubble around the children that no one was stupid enough to break. The bubble was mostly due to Thomas who would glare at anyone he caught coming too close. Every now and then, Damian would poke or nudge his brother with sticky fingers. It was like watching a backwards rolly polly. Richard would uncurl at the touch and then slowly fold in again. Eventually, Damian got tired of this, and crawled into Richard's lap while the teen was uncurled. He looked down at the remaining half a stick of kebab, and then shoved it towards his brother's mouth. Thomas could see Richard protesting as sauce made it onto his cheek.

"Damian." Thomas called. Damian perked up and met his eyes. "Eat your own food. I'll get Richard something else to eat." Damian slumped, but Richard shot him a grateful grimace, still far too stressed to smile, and Thomas found his own mouth turning down at that. Thomas sighed and turned back into the tent. Dodging a few elites, he reached the catering table, grabbed a plate, and put together a relatively balanced meal with small portions for Richard: grilled chicken, watermelon, fries, and some corn. He put it down and threw together a slightly less balanced meal for himself. He grabbed some plasticware and some napkins and headed back out, carefully keeping the plates level so that nothing would spill.

Weaving his way to their designated blanket, he handed Richard the teen's plate, and slowly sat down next to the boy. At a gentle nudge from Richard, Damian slipped off his lap so Richard could eat. Thomas handed him a fork and knife, as well as a napkin for the leftover sauce on his face from the kebab. Damian had one chunk of meat left to eat and was gnawing at it.

"No kebabs?" Richard asked.

"They were out." Thomas replied. "I thought you wouldn't want one. And it would have taken too long to go to a stand to get a lower quality one, longer than I was willing to leave you two alone."

Richard snorted. "Kebabs are kebabs." But he nodded his understanding. He started picking at his food, slowly eating it. Thomas watched him for a few minutes, before turning away to eat his own food.

"Are you feeling a bit better?" He asked after a few minutes. Richard seemed to hesitate for a moment before giving a sharp nod. Thomas narrowed his eyes at the obvious lie. "I'm sorry." He said. Richard's eyebrow furrowed. "I should have taken the crowds more into account when planning this. I should have considered that you might not be comfortable in them." Richard gave a snort. Understatement. "The sun's going down, so the fireworks will be soon. Think you can stick it out?" Another sharp nod, but the teen's hands tightened on his plate and plasticware. "I won't think less of you if you want to leave." Thomas said, gently taking hold of Richard's hands and loosening their grip. Richard's eyes flicked to Damian, who was trying to build… something with his two kebab sticks. "No." Thomas took Richard's chin and lightly turned Richard's face away. "You need to think of what's best for you, not Damian." Richard shook his head, freeing his chin, and looked back down at his plate. Richard softly pulled his hands away and ate some more fries.

I want… yo quiero to see the fireworks." He finally said, quietly. "I want… I need to see the fireworks. I. need. To do. This."

Thomas looked his grandson up and down. The boy had started to slowly curl up again, but he was still uncurled enough to keep the plate steady. His whole body was tense, but he was no longer shaking. Thomas could see some determination mixed in with the fear, although his whole body screamed that he was fighting a powerful flight instinct, and just barely winning out.

Thomas reached into his backpack, which Richard had been using a backrest, and pulled out the thin blanket he had stuck in there as a just-in-case. He draped it around Richard. The teen startled, and then looked at him in confusion. "If I remember my studies correctly, that should help." Richard nodded, and finished the last few pieces of watermelon on his plate. There was quiet for a few seconds. Richard put his last piece of chicken in his mouth, and then froze, and looked around.

"Thomas." He said.

"Yes?"

"Where Damian?" Thomas felt his eyes widen, and fly towards where Damian had been playing. He was gone, the two kebab sticks gone with him. He looked around frantically. "Damian?" He called. No one answered. Thomas climbed to his feet. Richard tried to follow, the blanket slipping from his shoulders. "No!" Thomas said, stopping the teen with a hand to the chest. "You stay here." Richard looked like he wanted to fight. "He might come back." Thomas added hastily. Richard reluctantly nodded, and sank back down. Thomas quickly picked up the blanket and gave it to the teen. He walked off to find the baby bat of the family.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bruce huffed impatiently as he shimmed out of the Batsuit in his hiding spot. He tapped the comm in his ear again, making sure it didn't fall out. "Are you sure he hasn't contacted you, Alfred?" He asked the man over the communicator, voice strained.

"The trackers have not left the Fairgrounds, sir. I'm afraid I can't get more precise than the fairgrounds at the moment due to interference of the electronics and multitude of police."

"The fairgrounds are huge. Can't you narrow it down a little bit?"

"He is on the East Side of the grounds, near the edge of the forest." Alfred said. "A more precise location should be available to me in ten minutes and 32 seconds." Bruce shoved the suit in the secret pouch of his bag, and zipped it up. He scrubbed at his face to try to discharge anything that reminded anyone of Batman.

"I'll head in that direction." Bruce said. He checked his phone again to see if Jason had at least seen his messages. The boy hadn't answered the phone for any of his calls and none of the texts had been read. The rudimentary GPS on the phone was glitching around the park. "Starting where I know that I saw him last, and working in the direction we were headed."

"Very good sir." Bruce could imagine the prim and proper look on the butler's face as he studied the screens. "I shall be ready for pick up when you are ready. Please do not try to hide your injuries. It sets a bad example."

Bruce took a deep breath as he slipped into the forest near the edge of the lawn. He could see the image of a trampled series of blankets and picnic baskets. Belongings that had been left behind were strewn everywhere. "Thank you, Alfred. Keep me posted." He scanned the ground as he walked for anything Jason may have dropped. Unfortunately, the stampede that had processed through the forest had destroyed any potential clues beyond the obvious. He could not follow footprints his son's size because there were too many. Ripped clothes on branches could belong to anyone. Hmm. Maybe he should make a star to put on the bottom of Jason's shoes. Then he could always pick out the boy's footprints…

Nah. If he could follow them that easily, a kidnapper could as well, and that was no good if the boy needed to hide. Maybe he could add a feature that Jason could press that only he could follow. Like an invisible trail. It could release a chemical. It could be good if he was ever kidnapped. Jason would just need to pretend to trip and voila. Instant trail. Anything to help him find Jason would be good.

Bruce slowed as he came to the spot where he knew that he had last seen his son. He made sure to scan the trees around in case his clever son had hidden in one. "Jason?" He shouted, squinting to try to make out a hint of Jason's red t-shirt. The thick summer foliage was making it difficult to search high and low.

"Jason?" He called again, keeping his eyes and ears peeled for any sign of a reply. It would be tough if Jason had been hit by fear gas. The boy wouldn't necessarily hear him, and Bruce would need to find him fast. Studying the ground, Bruce noticed a thinner trail leading deeper into the woods. Narrowing his eyes at it, Bruce decided to see where it went.

Following the footprints, one large set and one smaller set, Bruce soon came to the edge of a clearing. By that point, he was alarmed by the lack of any sign of his son. The footprints showed that the smaller set had been dragged at least a small distance and then put up a fight. Rounding the corner, Bruce reeled back in shock upon seeing a downed man, groaning and rubbing his head. The man pushed at his eyes, and then looked up hazily to see who entered his space.

"Oh shit." A rough voice grumbled through the man's throat. The voice and the visage, as well as the outfit, suddenly struck a chord in Bruce's mind. He saw red.

"YOU!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Half an hour went by. Thomas searched all around the area of the VIP tent, occasionally stopping by the blanket to check on Richard and see if Damian had come back. He asked people if they had seen a small four year old boy with blue eyes about yah high. No one had, until he wandered over to search around the dessert table.

"Yeah. I saw him." The caterer running the sundae section said. "Not five minutes ago. He got two sundaes. One for him and one for his big brother. When I asked where his big brother or parents were, he kind of looked around, and then said 'That way,' and pointed, and then grabbed the two sundaes with spoons and headed in that direction." The man pointed in the direction Damian had wandered off in.

"Thank you." Thomas said, sincerely. He hurried off. He left the tent flap conveniently in the opposite direction of their blanket. He saw a dark head a bit away looking around, and holding two sundaes. The kid was tough to see as the sun had gone down completely, but Thomas was reasonably sure it was him. "DAMIAN WAYNE!" He called. The kid startled, and turned around, smiling. He wilted upon seeing Thomas's furious glare. "Come here." He barked. Damian obediently trotted over, glancing down occasionally to watch and make sure he didn't trip. When he was close enough, Thomas grasped his shoulder and led him back through the tent towards their blanket. "What did I tell you about wandering off?" He asked.

"Don't?" Damian asked.

"That's right. Don't. So why did you?"

"Well, there was this other person and he was playing with colorful sparkly stuff, and you were busy, so I went over to ask if I could play too, and the other person's Tati said yes, but we couldn't do it on the blanket, so me and the other person went towards the open area near the tent, and then I threw out my kebab sticks, but then we got yelled at for bringing the color stuff near the tent. We split up so we wouldn't get in trouble, but then I couldn't find you guys, so I went inside. And I got ice cream for me and Dick because he needs to eat more, and I like it. And look the ice cream guy gave us both three scoops. Three. So I went to bring the ice cream to Dick, but I think I went the wrong way, but then you were there, calling me, and that's it." Thomas nodded along, as Damian described his adventure. He debated if he should make Damian switch to English, but figured Richard could fill him in later, as Damian would no doubt relate the whole thing to him. Richard would also be able to figure out what Damian was talking about.

"Dami!" Richard called as they arrived back at the blanket. "Where'd you go?"

Damian's face lit up. He opened his mouth, and proceeded to repeat everything he just said with embellishments and large excited gestures. Richard gently pulled the child down to sit next to him. Damian wrapped his arm around Dick's wrist and continued to babble.

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"So, Batman beat him up?" Commissioner Gordon asked, skeptically

"That's right, sir. I found him like that. When I was looking for my son. Have you seen him?" Bruce said, with a straight face that turned into worry as he remembered he'd started looking for Jason, and still didn't know where the boy was. "I've been looking everywhere for him."

"Jason's with the paramedics." Gordon said absently, looking accusingly at Bruce's bloody knuckles. "Batman beat him up?"

"Well, I might have thrown a punch or two when I realized who he was." Bruce said, checking his phone for any messages. "Could you point me in the direction of my son, please?"

"That way." Gordon said, pointing in the general direction of the medical area. "Someone got him with a sedative, but he'll be fine." Bruce's eyes narrowed. He started in the direction of the paramedics but 'tripped' over the prone form of the man who killed his sons. He kicked him a few more times as he 'stumbled' to the other side of the man.

"Oops. I'm sorry. I'm so clumsy." Bruce said completely unapologetically. "I'll see you soon, Commissioner."

Commissioner Gordon watched him leave, and shook his head. "Batman beat him up, huh? I'm sure Batman also has bloody knuckles and his sleeves rolled up."

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Damian leaned against his brother contently. There was music playing down the hill. It was loud, but it seemed to be full of energy. People were getting up and moving their bodies weirdly. Kind of like Dick did sometimes when they were alone in their room. His amazing big brother would grab him by the hands and pull him to his feet and spin all around the room, while humming or singing in Romani or English or sometimes even Arabic. A couple times, they did it while Alex was there, and the teenager would laugh and play along with them.

There was a break in the music. "The Gotham City Fourth of July Fireworks will be starting in ten minutes. Please find a seat on the lawn." The DJ called one last song.

As the song came to an end, people began talking in a hush around them. Those standing settled down, toeing shoes off so they didn't track dirt onto the blankets. Damian folded his awesome-sneaker-clad feet underneath his butt, and nudged closer into his brother with his head. Grandpa Not-Batman put an arm around the two of them from Damian's other side, so that they were all a little huddle. A hush fell over the crowd as the lights on the side of the lawn dimmed and a hum started up. A soft breeze passed through and Damian snuggled in the tiny bit more there was left for him to burrow.

"Macy's Department Stores, Star Industries, and Wayne Casinos are proud to present The Annual Gotham City Fourth of July Independence Day Fireworks Spectacular!"

Damian felt Dick tense next to him. Pewwwwww! Damian heard. A thin stream of light rose into the air at a high speed. Damian followed the red light up high in the sky, and then he heard a 'pop' and the black sky burst in a large explosion of color. Damian flinched at the sound, but the color was very pretty. He put his hands over his ears. That was better. "Woah!" Damian said, as another three bursts flew up into the sky from the river. Damian stared mesmerized. He felt his brother shift next to him, tightening his grip.

The little kid turned to his big brother, and removed a hand from one ear to point towards the sky. "Did you see?" He asked. Dick smiled at him, although it didn't look overly happy. The teenager nodded at him. Damian turned back to the fireworks. A large golden firework rose into the air and burst into many different parts and those turned into smaller parts and fizzled down. There were red fireworks, blue fireworks, white fireworks, green fireworks, gold fireworks, and there were heart shapes and smiley faces and even a couple yellow Batman themed fireworks! And there was a lightning bolt and a rainbow of colors, and there was music all around. The colors were even exploding in time with the music!

Damian started humming a tune that Dick often sang to him to cheer him up, but the fireworks decided they liked the louder music better than Damian's, and ignored him. Damian puffed his cheeks up and hummed louder, but the fireworks still ignored him. Colorful lasers shot up across the river and made shapes like flowers and letters on the other bank.

Suddenly, a hundred pops started going off all at the same time. The colors lit the sky, overlapping and covering each other up. They spread across the dark night sky, covering the stars and making their own clouds of dark smoke and bright colors. They drowned the music out and all Damian could hear was pops and Pews. He kept his eyes on the pretty colors, mouth agape as a phoenix firework burst into being, followed by a bat and a lightning bolt. "Tati." He said to his brother, pointing at the bat before it faded. Dick didn't seem to hear him as the teen's eyes were focused entirely on the light show. Not to mention Dami couldn't hear Dami, so Dick probably could not either. Shame.

The fireworks finished with a loud series of bangs in a sharp climax. Damian and Dick sat together in the sudden silence that fell over the crowd as the show came to an end. When a cheer started to go up around them, Damian felt himself tugged closer to his trembling brother. He looked up with a smile.

"Can we make some?"

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

7 July 2013

Kid Flash eyed the living room warily from where he stood in the doorway. The room was completely trashed. There was a good inch of water slowly draining on the floor, the TV was knocked over and laying in the water, screen cracked. The couches were torn and laying in odd positions and glass lay around haphazardly. The people in the room were thankfully okay. Conner slowly stood up from where he had been guarding M'gann. Wolf uncurled himself from around Robin, who had his head ducked down and had curled into a fetal position for further protection. Batman had barely been convinced to let Robin come here, and only because he knew a team of superheroes was good protection for the eleven year old while he beefed up the manor security yet again. Rocket released the shield she had formed on instinct that had protected the few children they'd rescued from Andoxly who happened to be in the room at the time. As they all took stock of themselves and looked around, all eyes landed on Alex, the unharmed person standing in the center of the room, looking around in horror.

"What happened?" Kid Flash asked, aiming his question at Alex.

"I-I don't know. I was just-. I mean, we were-, I don't…"

Conner cleared his throat, drawing attention to him. "We were watching Young Frankenstein." He said, bluntly.

"And that led to this… how?"

All eyes went back to Alex, who ducked his head.

"They were… umm… they had him tied down… and he just… he was dead… But then he wasn't… And it… it's not right. I... They would tie us down after drugging us, after the experiments."

"And the electricity." Hoggart, one of the children behind Rocket, spoke up, shivering. He pushed a few strands of black and white hair behind his ear. "They only did it to me a couple times, but they would string you up and electrocute you. It was hell."

"They didn't do that to me." Julie, another one of the kids, said, squaring her shoulders and regarding Alex warily. "Just the needles and bindings."

Kid Flash shifted uncomfortably. "And the living room?"

There was a moment of silence, and then Rocket cleared her throat. "The wind started blowing. We looked around for the source, and Alex was frozen like the devil was upon him. Robin touched him to try to snap him out of it and it all went to hell. It was practically a hurricane within a minute. We barely had time to duck for cover."

Alex gave something that sounded like a mix between a croak and a whimper.

"It's not your fault. Well it is, but you clearly weren't in control of it." Robin said. Superboy snorted. "Hey, I'm trying." Robin protested.

Artemis walked into the room trying to open a soda bottle. She ducked around Kid Flash, but blinked when the couch she was aiming to sit on was not in the right location. She looked up and around, taking in the damage. Then, she shook her head, and spun around. "I don't know what happened, and I'm sure someone will fill me in later. Have fun cleaning up. I'll be in the kitchen when you're done sorting this out." She passed the gob smacked Kid Flash again.

"Wha- Babe!" Kid Flash protested, turning around to watch her. She raised a hand in a short wave, but kept walking, disappearing into the kitchen.

There was a moment of silence and then Julie started giggling and set most of the room off.

"It's… it's not that funny." Alex complained, finding his voice.

Superboy just shook his head and walked out of the room to get some cleaning supplies.

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11 July 2013

Thomas Wayne stalked into the main casino where he spent most of his working time. He had an office on one of the upper floors, but not the top floor because the more penthouse suites they could sell, the more money they made. He swooped past the lobby, not bothering to glance at the people working around, purposefully ignoring the looks he received, and to the elevator bank and around to the employee elevator. He inserted a key, turning it to activate the elevator and reach the administrative floor. The doors opened. Thomas entered, scanned a key card, and pressed floor 32. When the doors closed, he hitched Damian up higher as the kid squirmed, looking around in fascination.

From there it was a short trip to his office. He stepped out of the elevator, and walked to the desk in front of the office where the secretary sat. The exhausted-looking young man seated there perked up when he saw his boss enter. "Mr. Wayne!"

"Morning, Jackson." Thomas nodded to him. He had picked Jackson as his secretary because he was the only candidate who was both qualified enough and brave enough to talk back to Thomas during his interview. He had pointed out a deliberate mistake Thomas had made in the skill assessment part of the interview.

"Is this one of the boys?" Thomas glanced down at the tiny, scowling kid who was shrinking into him.

"Yes, this is Damian."

"Where's the other? Richard, right?"

"He's at home. I have someone checking in on him periodically to make sure he's okay, and I can monitor him from here in case there's an emergency."

"He's doing better, then? How old is he?"

"14. He's getting there, not quite ready to face the world yet, but he's able to walk short distances now."

"Good. You have a stack of paperwork you absolutely need to sign that's about two feet high. The Directors of Wayne Casinos North, Southwest, and Central all called asking to speak with you. I suggest a conference call. Maybe just make it a Board of Directors meeting. Also, there's a Signoir? Seymour? Se-something-or Friedman who's quite eager to talk to you. I'm not entirely sure about what, but he's come by every day at 2 pm for the last week. All he will say is that it's classified, but he thinks you'll find it worth your while."

"Did you run a background check on this guy?" Thomas furrowed his eyebrow, thinking.

"Yes. Nothing popped up. The closest result was a little kid who died in a tornado about twenty years ago. The kid would be the right age."

Thomas seemed to come to a decision. He grunted and checked his watch. It was 9:32. "Set a conference meeting with the Board for 10:30. Tell them it needs to be over at 12:30 at the latest. Damian and I will get lunch, run home and check on Richard, and then I'll come back around 2-2:30 and meet with this guy."

"Sounds good, sir. I'll get right on it." Thomas gave him sharp nod, hitched Damian up higher again, and walked past Jackson into his office.

"Come on, Damian. I have some toys for you to play with while I do the boring stuff."

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Dick fiddled with his new bracelet. There was a wide, thin length of sanded metal that was bent to be comfortable around his wrist connected by a metal chain. It was loose enough to keep him from freaking out about having something tied around his wrist, but tight enough to not fall off or move around too much. The symbol of Asclepius, a staff with a single snake around it, was set inside a red six point flower like star inside a circle on the front side of the bracelet. On the other side, his first name and Thomas's contact information was listed along with basic information on allergies, the general category of medicine he was on, his blood type, and his medical condition.

His medical condition. Dick hated thinking those words. The day after his panic attack and flashback, Thomas had called in both Leslie Thompkins and a recommended psychiatrist and had a long conversation with them. They had called him in after a while, and Dick had been asked many probing questions before being directed to fill out several questionnaires when his language difficulties got in the way. Two hours after the two had arrived, Dick had a new diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a few prescriptions, a list of books and brochures on dealing with PTSD, a follow up appointment with the psychiatrist, and an order in for a medical bracelet. Thomas wrote down a couple recommendations for therapists that specialized in youth with PTSD. After considerable research, the man had booked an appointment with a therapist named Mrs. Shuman for July 12th.

Despite receiving the bracelet two days ago, Dick still wasn't used to having something around his wrist, especially something that could so easily identify him as a billionaire's son. Almost no one knew about him here, but there were still some people. And Thomas Wayne was even more prominent than his son. Everyone knew who Thomas Wayne was. Wayne was emblazoned on top of half the buildings in Gotham. That was where the compromise had come in. Thomas and Dick had argued, with difficulty, over what to put on the bracelet. Thomas wanted to write Richard Wayne so that Dick would get preferential treatment, but Dick didn't want his name on there at all in case of kidnappers. So, they had decided to put his first name and not his last so that the paramedics might be able to snap him out of a Flashback but kidnappers couldn't confirm he was a billionaire's kid.

Still, while Dick mostly understood the necessity of a medical id bracelet, that didn't mean he had to like it. Even if thousands of people wore them, they still weren't that common. It was just another thing that made him stand out. And if there's one thing Dick never wanted to do again, it was stand out.

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Sigmore tried his hardest not to fidget in the chair he was sitting in. He sat as straight as he could, but he had never been the best at sitting still. Having something to play with absentmindedly, whether it was putty, a small toy, or a pen, always helped him to keep his mind at the task at hand. In this case, getting help to go back to his original dimension and save those kids, without harming any more kids. He didn't quite know if this Thomas Wayne would be as trustworthy or generous and caring as Bruce Wayne seem to be. Not that he had ever met the man, but people talked. And no one takes in two orphans seemingly at random without some sympathy for hurting children.

Anyhow, he thought as he smoothly yet sneakily pushed Kitty's curious face back down into the messenger bag on the floor, the recent newspapers he'd searched for any mention of the word Wayne had mentioned that Wayne had taken some time to look after a couple of suddenly appearing grandchildren, who he supposedly had not known of beforehand. That was a good sign. And he was a doctor at one point, and you had to be fairly intelligent and patient to be a doctor, so he should at least hear Sigmore out.

The real question was if Wayne could put him through to Batman. Batman was the man he really needed. The more time he spent in this universe, the more AND less certain he became of that. There was no Justice League. There was this Cyborg guy, but he wasn't any easier to contact than Batman. If Sigmore could reach Batman, he might get referred to the Cyborg guy, but any help was welcome, so that would be okay.

Sigmore checked his watch, and quickly stilled the foot that had to started to tap impatiently. The secretary Nicholas "call me Jackson" Jackson had told him that Mr. Wayne was willing to speak with him, and would be back by 2:30. It was only 2:20. There was no need to be impatient. He calmly pushed Kitty's head back into the bag again.

This time, he got a protest meow. Jackson looked up and over, then went back to his work, shaking his head. Sigmore restrained his sigh of relief. Both he and Jackson looked up when there was a ding from the elevator.

A tall, thickset man with gray hair and a set jaw entered in a business suit. He nodded to Jackson and pulled to a stop in front of Sigmore, who quickly stood up to stand level with him. Mr. Wayne looked Sigmore up and down, and grunted, seeming to find him lacking. Sigmore watched the man's face. That was always where the most emotion was shown. He tried to hold his head up, but felt himself shuddering.

"Mr. Friedman?" The man stated more than asked.

Sigmore drew a fortifying breath. "That's me. Sigmore Friedman." He said. "Sir." He added.

Mr. Wayne opened the door to his office and gestured Sigmore inside. Sigmore reached down to grab his messenger bag with Kitty inside, and walked into the office, glancing uncertainly at Mr. Wayne as he passed. The office was large, but not too large as to exceed cozy. The walls were a soft brown, with green accents. There was a couch in the corner, pressed against the wall near the window. There was a bookshelf covering one wall, full of doctor's manuals, law books, and books related to casinos. There was also a shelf full of pertinent Wayne Casino Files. A L-shaped desk took up the opposite corner, with a couple file cabinets and a cushy, rolling chair behind it. A couple less comfortable looking chairs were placed haphazardly in front.

The door clicked close as Mr. Wayne entered behind him. "Please, sit." He said, gesturing to the less comfortable chairs. Sigmore moved forward and sat, gently placing the bag on the floor. Mr. Wayne circled around to the other side of the desk and sat. Just in time, as the kitten decided he wanted to see the new room and poked his head out. Sigmore forced himself not to look down or make a motion to push its head back down.

"My secretary said that you have been asking to see me for two weeks now, and would not tell him why, just that it was important and would catch my interest." Mr. Wayne said.

"Yes sir. You see, I'm, well, I'm from a different universe." Mr. Wayne's eyes narrowed at the statement, and he opened his mouth to speak. Sigmore continued, ignoring the clear sign.

"I know it's difficult to believe, but it's the truth. In that universe, in my universe, Wayne Enterprises, specifically Wayne Tech, is on the cutting edge of technology and innovation. I… I don't believe it's the same here, but I could just be looking the wrong places."

"If it's different here, why come to me?" Mr. Wayne asked, piercing Sigmore with his stare.

"I need help, and this, Wayne Casinos, is one of the biggest differences between universes. I came to Gotham to find Batman. In my universe, he's a genius, detective, strategist, and has connections to most, if not all, of the heroes. I think this universe's Batman might be similar, but I can't find him. I know he exists, but all the easy ways I can think of to contact him don't exist. In my universe, there's a batsignal, that lights up the sky at night to call Batman, and he's friends with Commissioner Gordon. There is not a batsignal here and I haven't managed to catch him on patrol."

"Again, why come to me if you need Batman?"

"My universe's Wayne has either a way to contact him, or way more luck than the average person, so I'm hoping by coming to you, I can find a way to contact Batman."

"Why? What do you need from Batman?"

"I need to get back to my universe. And I need to take down the organization that's involved with the portal on this side before they figure out how my side did it."

"How did your side do it? Couldn't you recreate—"

"ABSOLUTELY NOT!" Sigmore cried, way louder and fiercer than he intended.

Mr. Wayne raised an eyebrow. Sigmore turned red and looked down at his lap.

"I'm sorry, sir. That was out of line. But no, even if I did know everything they did to create the portal, just the little bit I saw is enough to convince me that I can't go back that way."

"What was so bad about it? If you need to go back and you know a way that works…"

"I can't tell you." He looked back up and met Mr. Wayne's eyes. "It's too horrible, and, no offense sir, but I'm not sure I can trust you with it."

There was a moment of silence.

"Why come to this universe just to want to go straight back again?"

"I didn't know all the details when they recruited me for the portal. They blacked out all the things that would make me not want to do it, or report them to an authority. I didn't know until it was too late." He looked down, took a deep breath, and looked back up. "They forced me through the portal by threatening two children. I need to get back so I can save them."

"Two children?" Now, Mr. Wayne seemed extremely interested. "How old?"

"Four and thirteen, no fourteen. Richard was 14, and his little brother was four." Mr. Wayne jerked a bit, and his eyes widened. Sigmore shifted uneasily. "I… I don't know their full names, and I don't even know the little one's first name, but they're in trouble. I need to go back for them. I've been trying to find a way back ever since I got here, but it's impossible. The portal from this side was destroyed about three days after I got here, and they tried to force me to fix it so they could open it. I refused to tell them. The other side didn't trust them with the information and I'm glad of that."

"What do they look like?"

"Hmm?"

"The kids, what do they look like?"

"Oh. Why?"

"Just tell me."

"Well, Richard has black hair, with lots of white in it. I'm not sure if the white was natural. He has blue eyes and I'd put his height at around 5 feet, give or take a few inches. He was really pale. The little one was smaller, and I didn't get a really good look at him, but the two looked pretty similar. He was a few shades darker than his brother, and had spiky black hair as well. Like I said, I didn't get a good look, so I don't know his eye color, and I can't really guess his height because he was curled up. He looked a bit small for a four year old, but I don't really know any four years old, so I could be off."

Mr. Wayne curled his hands under his chin, fingers linked together.

"Would you be able to create a portal, differently than the one you know, if given adequate resources and access to other scientists?"

Sigmore paused, thinking about it. "Possibly, yes. But I refuse to do it the way that they did. That's why I want to contact Batman. If he's anything like my universe's Batman, then he'll have the resources and connections. Heck, he might even have a working portal."

"Hmm." Mr. Wayne hummed, thinking. Sigmore waited patiently. A few minutes passed. "Come back in three days. I'll- ow!" He looked down.

"MEOW!" The cat said loudly, smiling up at the man from where he was hooked onto the man's pants. "Meow meow meow!"

"What-?"

"I am so, so sorry." Sigmore stuttered. He couldn't see the cat, but he could hear him. "I… He… The cat's from my universe too, and I couldn't leave him."

Mr. Wayne pulled the cat away from his leg, and held him up by the scruff, glaring at the cat. "Mew." The cat said, blinking its eyes. Kitty's attempt at being apologetic was failing because he was still quivering with happiness.

"I'm so sorry. He's never acted like that before."

Mr. Wayne continued to glare for a few seconds, while Sigmore hovered, feeling like he wanted to cry. All ruined by the cat. He needed to find a way back to the kids. The cat was thrown to him, and he caught the cat, and wrapped him firmly in his arms.

"Please. I know that… The cat… but I need to… Please, they need me." He stammered.

"Come back in three days." Mr. Wayne sneered. "And have a collar on that thing."

"Yes sir. Thank you, sir." Sigmore rushed out the room, awkwardly doubling back for the messenger bag. He shoved the cat in there, earning himself several protest meows as the cat struggled to get back to Mr. Wayne.

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A lithe shadow crept up behind Alfred, a smile briefly gracing his face. In all his previous dreams, the man had never seen him, but that didn't stop Dick from messing with him. He was improving on his ability to remain solid enough to touch and lift stuff. Tonight, he had a plan for a new prank. Alfred couldn't see him, so Dick could poke him and follow him around and drive him crazy! Alfred hated it when he couldn't solve a mystery, and in Dick's dreams, he'd been having a lot of fun causing havoc. He let out a little laugh that didn't sound. He could never hear himself in these dreams, only the ones with Artemis. He pooled solidity into his finger. Without further ado, Dick poked Alfred in the back.

Alfred spun around while Dick darted backwards to hide behind the counter. What could he say? It was an instinct. A strange look passed over the older man's visage, before he shook his head, run a hand over his face, and turned back to preparing hot cocoa and coffee for Jason and Bruce respectfully. Dick waited a moment, and then snuck forward to do it again. He crept up slowly. Even though Alfred couldn't see or hear him, he could still be cautious. Otherwise, the fun would all be taken out of it. He stood directly behind Alfred, who seemed to sense him there, subconsciously, if the stiffening was any indication. Then, he quickly prodded the man's bare arm this time and catapulted over the counter to hide behind it again, a grin on his face.

Dick poked his head up slowly just enough to see Alfred's reaction. The man had spun around again and was searching the kitchen for any sign of his aggressor. He lit on Dick's hiding place, staring at it for a moment before turning away, shaking his head. "I must not be sleeping enough." Alfred muttered. He refocused on the tray, placing the two cups and a plate of cookies. Cookies! Oh. Dick had wanted to test if dream him could eat and taste one for a while now.

Abandoning his game, Dick snuck over to grab a cookie. Alfred had left the cookie jar open, but Dick dismissed it. He didn't have that much control yet. When Alfred turned to the cupboard to get some sugar, or sleeping pills, for Bruce's coffee, Dick strengthened the solidity of his hand and grabbed a cookie. He grinned as he successfully managed it, before crying out silently in frustration as the cookie passed through translucent fingers to land on the ground near his feet.

Well, he'd just have to try again. He reached for another one, this one passed through his hand before he even got it off the plate. He growled, before taking a deep breath and focusing on grabbing the cookie again. He had just gotten it and moved it towards his mouth when he heard a crash behind him and the tinkling of broken glass. The cookie passed through Dick's hand again as he spun around. His eyes met Alfred's wide ones, and Dick froze.

Time seemed to pass at a crawl as Dick and Alfred stared at each other. When he couldn't take it any longer, Dick blinked a few times and broke eye contact. He could still feel Alfred's eyes on him as he shuffled his feet. He moved to put his hand in his jacket pockets, but they just swiped across his chest, bringing to Dick's attention the fact that he was, again, dreaming and as such in his pajamas. A blush spread across his face as he remembered he had put on Batman pajamas before going to sleep. How he remembered which pajamas he was wearing in the middle of a dream was an excellent question, but right now he just wanted Alfred to STOP STARING.

Seriously, the staring was getting on his nerves. This was a DREAM. Alfred should just get over himself and wrap Dick up in a hug before Dick needed to wake up. Dick chanced a glance up. Yep. Still staring. It honestly scared Dick a little. Alfred looked like he'd seen a basilisk in the mirror. Well, if he wasn't going to snap out of it any time soon, then Dick would just have to go back to cookie mongering. It wasn't like Dick could talk to him. No sound came out. Dick turned back to the tray and reached for a new cookie.

"Master Richard?" Dick was eighty-five percent sure that Alfred's voice had just wavered. Good to know he was missed. He looked back at Alfred and gave him an unsure smile and a curt nod. A cookie would be nice right about now. Alfred wouldn't be mad about the poking game, right?

Wait… was he crying? Alfred was crying? What? Dick's shaky smile slipped away as he stared at Alfred in horror. Alfred dropped down to Dick's height and gave Dick a watery smile. Alfred reached out to put a hand on Dick's shoulder, but it went straight through. A vocal sob escaped Alfred's mouth. Dick felt a lump growing in his throat. He didn't like this dream anymore, dreaming about sad Alfred was not fun. Time to wake up. He screwed his eyes shut and begged to wake up. The forces that be accepted his plea and in no time he was opening his eyes in his bed in his and Damian's room. Dick stared at the ceiling for a moment before sitting up, pulling his knees towards him, and bursting into tears.

Chapter Text

The graveyard was a decent size, small enough as to feel intimate, yet large enough that no one was likely to be nearby or over hear you talking. Grass covered the graves. Some of the gravestones were weathered to the point of illegible or near so. Flowers popped up in random places between and over the graves, next to store bought flowers placed lovingly in front of grave stones.

Bruce followed the well-worn path through the graveyard. He passed his parents, and came to a plot of seven gravestones. The Flying Graysons were all clustered near each other, new compared to other stones in the area, but old enough to make Bruce feel weary. He slowed to stop at the end of the line, where two new graves were laid, the beds too small for Richard and Damian had died too young.

No bodies had ever been found, but with so many missing and no more signs of life coming from within the building, the league had been forced to halt their search. It didn't make sense for there to be no bodies, and the doubt plagued. Yet, Bruce had to accept his son, his sons, were dead. He had to in order to help Jason heal. To hold onto his last boy, and to not slip away into madness on the possibility as he so badly wanted to. Jason needed him. Bruce couldn't leave because Jason needed him. And no soul-searching journey where he questioned everyone from Ra's al Ghul to Frankenstein was going to change that. Especially not with no bodies.

He knelt by the graves and placed down the flowers he had brought. Purple asters for Dick and white roses for Damian, the son he never knew. He faced Richard's grave and imagined he was talking to his son, the one he had known.

"Hey chum. Long time no speak. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I wasn't strong enough to protect you, or fast enough, smart enough, to find you and save you." He cleared his throat. "Your friend, Alex. He's been a boon. He told me about how brave you were. And I do mean brave. Everyone needs to break at some point to pick themselves up again and pull themselves together. I'm so proud of you. I don't know that you ever knew how proud, and I should have been better at expressing myself. You know it's hard for me, feelings, but that's no excuse.

"Alex said you called me, that you took to calling me 'Tati' and took Damian under your wing even before you knew he was mine. All I could say to that was 'That's my boy. That's Dickie.' That's you. You always cared more about people than anything else. It's part of what made you such a great hero.

"And you were a hero, one of the best. I know I've said this other times I've visited, but I should have said it more when you were alive and home. You were a hero, and I'm so proud of you. You saved so many, when you could have saved yourself. I would have been happy if you'd just gotten yourself out, but that's not you. You would not have failed me if you'd left everyone behind to get away and come find us, but I think you would have felt you betrayed yourself. I think not addressing that, that was my fault." He sighed.

"Anyhow, you probably want to know how things are going here." A happier note, Dick was always an optimist. "Well, I found out Damian's mother was Talia al Ghul. You probably knew that already, but I wasn't sure. I think I've found Alex's older sister. I found three possibilities and am going through their background to try to find if they lost a brother. If I find her, I plan to see if she can take Alex in. Right now, we have about twenty children left. Eight of them are still in Belgium. Two went to France and the government is trying to find relatives of theirs. Another two in England then a few to Russia." He wouldn't mention the children who had died from the experiments. The ones who went through massive withdrawal, the ones the doctors had been unable to save. He definitely wouldn't mention that most, most but not all, of those children had white hair like Dick did in the video. He didn't want to think about the alternative, the thought that he could have found Dick, truly found him, just to lose him again.

"We managed to bring the rest to the United States. It was much harder than we expected, especially Alex. He's here on a student visa, actually. It took us almost two months to get him it, and I sponsored him to go to Gotham Academy. We had to pretend he hadn't snuck here on the bioship and bring him back into the country in legitimate ways. We have two others on student visas and the rest are US citizens, but are either runaways or orphans. We're having trouble finding them homes. Almost all the other kids are in homes, but we believe we've located two or three more places like Andoxly that need to be taken out, so we might have another influx soon. The UN is considering filing the children under refugee status, which will most likely mean they'll be stuck in camps for the next few years until they can get refugee visas or get adopted. It's not ideal by any means, but at least they'll have somewhere to live."

Bruce paused, thoughts circling through his head. "Wally is finally adjusting. I think forcing him into summer school to make up for his missed classes helped. It's given him something to focus on, at least. He and Artemis aren't getting along as well, unfortunately. They had a shouting match in the mountain the other day and I don't believe they're currently talking to each other outside of team missions. Don't worry though. They'll come around. They still work with each other after all. They, both of them and the team, are grieving for you, but life goes on. People still need saving, after all."

"I want to talk with Damian now. If you're listening and he's not, can you pass it along for me? Damian, I know I never met you, but I've heard things about you from Alex and Charlie. Your mother said a few things too, but I think she's a little too… biased, distant. Alex and Charlie seem to have known you better. I've mentioned before when visiting, but I'm proud of you too. You were put in a situation where you were helpless and out of your league and you found your way to Dick and told them who was boss. I've heard about how stubborn you were, but how you still were able to be sweet. I would have loved to get to know you, and it devastates me to lose that chance. I hope wherever you are that your big brother is taking good care of you and you're being the same sweet kid I've heard about."

Bruce sighed and stood up, frowning down at the graves. He closed his eyes feeling the wind whistling through the graveyard, a warm, summer breeze. He wondered how Dick would have felt to feel it, after so many months of cold and isolation. The only fresh air the young teen would have gotten in the past five months since he would have arrived at Andoxly would have been when he was transferred to the shack that the cursed video had been filmed in. It was wrong to think of his little bird trapped like that. Robin loved to fly. He needed fresh air and human interaction to survive and to know that he'd been cut off from both of those things repeatedly…

A flower, one of the bright purple asters, was floating in the air. Bruce narrowed his eyes on it in confusion and looked around to see what was holding it there. He reached out and the flower ducked back like someone stepping out of the way of his hand. It seemed to slip and start to drift down to the ground, but it was stopped and lifted back up. Bruce inhaled.

"Who's there?" He demanded.

The flower holder didn't answer, and before Bruce's eyes, the flower started to fade around the edges. It took a minute, but soon enough, the flower had faded completely. Bruce reached forward and moved his hand around where the flower had been, but there was nothing there. He furrowed his brow. "I know you're there. Show yourself." He sensed a brush of wind in front of his hand, as if someone was shaking their head. The person took another step back. "Dick?" He asked softly, daring himself to hope. He couldn't tell if the person responded. A second later, he could tell the person wasn't there anymore, but they didn't feel gone completely. Unnerved, Bruce dropped his shaking hand.

Something was going on here. And he would find out what.

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Dick opened his eyes, breathing heavily. What was that? Bruce visited his grave, obviously, but why did he see it? He took several deep breaths, using the calming exercises taught to himself by both Bruce and his therapist. He twitched his fingers and felt something odd. A stem? He looked down. Resting between his two hands, exactly where it had been in his dream, was a bright purple flower, slightly singed around the edges. He dropped it and screamed.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

11 July 2013

"Rahat."

Thomas Wayne jerked up at the sound, the first noise he'd heard from his grandson in about an hour. He looked over at his grandson. The two sat inside his refurbished home study, Thomas behind the desk and Richard curled up on the couch to his right. Damian had gone to bed at 7, and Richard had stutteringly read him a story to practice his English. Richard had insisted on staying up later because "I'm a teenager, Thomas! 7 is way too early, and I've been sleeping all day." At least, that was what Thomas thought he had said. Richard was getting better, but he still struggled sometimes with finding the right words, or word order, when he was not fully focusing.

The teen had been given a long length of string by Leslie to work on his fine motor control. A book on string tricks was open next to him, but Richard was not looking at it. He had managed to get the string tangled around his hands in no particular design. He was tugging at it, a crestfallen look on his face as the tangle just got worse. Tears of frustration popped into the corners of his eyes. Each tug made him tremble more, and the expression was starting to border panic when Thomas figured he should probably get up and do something.

"Richard." Thomas said. Richard didn't seem to hear him. He knelt down in front of the teenager, and placed a hand over his wrists so that he was blocking the teen's view. "Richard." He repeated, nudging Richard's chin up to meet his eyes. "Richard, breathe." Upon hearing the rasping breath, Thomas nodded in approval, and glanced down at the tangle of strings, angling his hand so that he could see them, but Richard could not. He gently untangled the mess enough to remove them. To his surprise, Richard managed to really get them messed up. It took him a few minutes to get the strings off. Once he did, he put the ball of string to the side. Thomas pushed his grandson's hands apart a bit and coached the teen's breathing until he calmed down and came back to himself.

A few more minutes passed before Richard finally came back to full awareness. The teen's eyes flicked about, taking in glimpses of his surroundings. He moved his hands about, almost to prove to himself that he could. Before long, he curled up a bit more and looked up at his grandfather, seeming to drink in the familiar face. Thomas nudged him until he unballed and leaned back into the couch. Once he was sure he had Richard's attention, he squeezed the teen's upper arm, looked him in eyes, and asked, "Ok now, buddy?"

Richard nodded in response, but seemed to still be upset as he became more aware of the situation and his surroundings.

"Maybe that string exercise isn't the best thing for you right now. We'll come up with something else, okay?" Another nod. Thomas reached out with his free hand, found a blanket, and did his best to shake it out and wrap it around the teen without letting go of Richard's arm. Richard tended to use physical contact to ground him in situations like this one.

Once Richard was wrapped in the blanket, Thomas tapped the teen's chin and pushed his fringe back out of his eyes. "Might be time for a haircut." He muttered. "I think it's time for bed, buddy." He stated softly. Richard shook his head with wide eyes. "No?" Thomas asked and received another head shake. Internally he sighed. Richard had started speaking more lately as his ability to stick to a language improved, but whenever he was stressed or scared, he reverted right back to nonverbal. Thomas eyed his grandson's trembling form, and silently agreed with the plea to stay up. Forcing Richard to bed now would just end in nightmares. The last thing he needed was two upset kids instead of one.

Thomas hesitated as a thought came to his mind. Now would be a good time to ask, but he worried that he would just make things worse rather than better. If the man he met earlier that day was telling the truth, it should give Richard hope. If not… Well, the kid was already on the verge of panicking anyways. Might as well turn two panic attacks into one. Thomas didn't really need to go on patrol for a couple hours yet and there were no imminent cases to worry about in particular if even patrol was out of reach. He cleared his throat.

"Richard, I have something I would like to speak with you about, but it might make you upset. It also might make you feel better. Do you think you can handle the risk?"

Richard hesitated, but his curiosity brought out a slow nod. The shell-shocked traumatized look faded away to be covered by a brave mask. Thomas felt a proud smile creep across his face, feeling he had already made the right decision.

Sitting down on the couch next to Richard, Thomas settled himself so that he would be able to spot Richard's reactions before they got too far out of control. Richard turned to face his grandfather. One leg slipping down the edge of the couch as he relaxed a bit, even as the blanket was pulled tighter.

"Today, at work," Thomas started. "A man came in to see me. A man, who claimed to be from your dimension." The expected surprise flickered across the teen's eyes. He moved to speak, but Thomas held a hand up in a silent signal to wait. " I know he was from your dimension because he mentioned you and Damian. Well, sort of."

Thomas reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded security still picture. He handed it to Richard. The teen reached a hand from inside his blanket burrito and took the picture. He unfolded it and studied it. Thomas gave him a second.

"Sigmore." Richard muttered, eventually. "His name is Sigmore."

"How do you know him?" Thomas asked. Richard muttered something in Romani before starting in slow, stuttering English.

"He was Blueman, but ne… not. He did not know s'agit… about us children. He protested when he learn. They, other blueman made threat Dami, to me about Damian. I told him, Sigmore, go and my name. They pushed through portal, like Kitty, and others, other animals." Richard said. "Was 3? Days before we came. Did not go back to see sun. Lots of pain then. Overheard doctors excited about success, so…" He trailed off. Thomas could guess from the words and his own knowledge what happened next. Richard had taken the success as a possible way out when there were no other ways and jumped through the portal with Damian, leading them here. "He's here?" Richard asked. "Alive?"

"More than that, buddy. He came looking for you." Richard's head shot up from the picture, then he furrowed his eyebrow in confusion.

"No last name."

"He said that his last name is Friedman."

"No. I did not give him last name. Our last name."

"Ah. He didn't know it. He came to me to try to get in contact with Batman. Seems your father has a reputation of knowing or having these things. He's looking for a way back to rescue you and Damian. He didn't even know Damian's name. Just your first name and both your ages." Richard's face scrunched up, trying to remember something, and then he nodded that the knowledge Sigmore had made sense. "Richard…" Thomas said. "Sigmore said that he would not be willing to try to build a portal, specifically like 'they' did. He quite forcefully actually disagreed with even the possibility. Why is that?" Richard quivered and shook his head. "How did they make the portal?"

Thomas's heart sank when Richard proceeded to go head first back into a panic attack while saying no in all the languages he knew. He reached a hand out to comfort the boy, but Richard slapped it down. The boy scrambled away, falling off the couch and successfully tangling himself in the blanket. Shoot. This wasn't good. The teen was hyperventilating and frankly seemed to be disassociating as well. Thomas's heart sank even further as he recognized the symptoms of a flashback from the books he had been pouring over. Whatever the answer to the question was, Richard knew it, and it was just as horrible as Sigmore had said.

In the end, it took Thomas almost half an hour to calm his grandson down. Even then, he suspected that Richard had passed out rather than fallen asleep. He rubbed Richard's back as he looked upon the ball of fourteen year old that was out on the study couch. He gentled maneuvered around until he could gently lift the ball up without waking him. He shouldered the door open and carried Richard up to the boys' room. Balancing Richard on one knee with an arm around for balance, he pulled the covers and sheets back on Richard's bed and plonked the teen down. Thomas nudged Richard's head onto the pillow, drew the covers up to his chin, and nodded in satisfaction. Richard relaxed a bit into the mattress but fidgeted, searching for something that wasn't there. The adolescent gave a low whine, but managed to subconsciously ball the comforter up enough to serve as a somewhat adequate substitute for what was missing. A frown indicated discontent.

Thomas sighed as he stood and turned to check on Damian. The preschooler was curled up loosely beneath the covers. One arm hugged the stuffed Batcat hybrid to his chest, while the other was balled limply by the child's face, thumb in his mouth. Damian was breathing deeply, as one does in sleep, dark hair mussed up into a bed head already. Thomas smoothed it out the best he could. He felt Damian lean his head heavily into Thomas's hand. Thomas chuckled at that. Already the youngster was taking after his big brother in the physical contact monkey way. He secured the blankets a bit tighter around the kid and left the room.

As Thomas went down to the Batcave, as Richard and Damian called it, to get ready for patrol, he wondered how Bruce dealt with it. Missing two children? Richard said there was another, a brother named Jason. How was Bruce able to leave the boy alone in the manor to go out at night, knowing any night might lead to injury or otherwise make it so he might not return?

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15 July 2013

Dick waited patiently for the computer to boot up. Well, maybe not too patiently. It was taking forever. Who still had dial up? Was it a thing in this world? He moved the loading box around the screen with his mouse, leaving a trail of after effects of loading boxes. Were all computers in this world this slow? He shook the thought out of his head and went back to patiently waiting for the computer to boot up. The loading box disappeared and a screen background came to be. The computer made a start up sound. Dick huffed when nothing else appeared right away, but continued to wait ever so patiently, making blue boxes on the screen with the mouse.

After a considerable amount of time of waiting, the icons finally appeared. Dick double clicked on the old fashioned internet explorer icon. And then double clicked again. And waited. And double clicked again. An internet box popped up with the home page loading, and then another popped up overlapping it, and a third. Whoops. He tapped his foot as he tried to click on the first pop up box, but the other two would not let him. He stopped tapping his foot when he noticed. Patience was a virtue. Yes, the computer was slow. He crossed his legs to stop himself swinging them back and forth. He would just need to wait.

Eventually, Dick was able to successfully connect to the internet. He gave a little fist pump. He immediately typed in 'google . com .' A 404 Error: This Page does not exist popped up. Dick stared at it for a solid second. And then stared some more. No Google? Then what… Maybe they had Bing? 404 Error: This Page does not exist. Dick scratched his head, and then scanned the browser for a search box. He found a small search bar in the upper right corner. He couldn't tell what the server was, not recognizing the name, but decided to give it his best shot. He typed in 'Wayne' as a starting point. Several hundreds of thousands of results popped up with no real organization. Dick's heart sank. Seriously? No one thought to organize this better in this world? How was that even related to Bruce?

He typed the words 'wikipedia' into the search bar. Thankfully, the site was the top of the results list. Clicking the result, he breathed a sigh of relief that it looked almost exactly the same as he remembered. He thought for a second, and then typed Kid Flash into the Wikipedia internal search. Nothing came up, although it did ask if he meant Flash. He didn't really expect differently, as he was sure Barry would have dragged Wally along if he had been Kid Flash. He searched Wally West, and then Wallace West. Nothing. Dick scratched his head.

Maybe he should go up a generation? He thought it was the same year here though… Rudolph West did get him a result. Older brother to Reporter Iris West. Oh good. She still existed and was still a reporter. That was… good. Rudolph was noted to have been married three times, two divorces and one death by automobile accident. Wow. This world's Rudolph had no luck. He did have a kid, but it was a girl from his second marriage, the accident. Her name and age weren't listed, but as Rudolph had both married and divorced his most recent wife in the last five years, Dick assumed she was at least six.

Well, Wally was a bust, but that didn't mean all his friends would be. Gathering his courage, Dick decided to start with superhero names. Miss Martian and Superboy both brought up nothing. Neither of their mentors seemed to exist as heroes either, or at least weren't in the public eye. With some further searching, Martian Manhunter did bring up some conspiracy pages on the search engine Dick still had open on another tab, and Lois Lane (were all the reporters as normal?) had a notation on her Wikipedia page that she claimed her father had died protected a young kid named Kal or Kr. Apparently no one believed her. Imagine that. Mars' civilization had been either destroyed or was focused inward in this universe because there was nothing about there being extraterrestrial life on the planet.

There was a short page about the Zatara Magic Show. It had run for several years before John Zatara disappeared. His child wasn't mentioned anywhere, but Zatanna apparently had a yourSpace page. Dick raised an eyebrow at that. YourSpace? Were they for real? He vaguely remembered something called mySpace when he was younger, but it had been chased out by Facebook and was all but gone. Curiosity got away from him and he proceeded to look up the rest of his friends' real names on the site. It would probably get him more than Wikipedia.

Artemis Crock came up. She currently attended North Gotham High, like she had before Bruce had provided the scholarship to Gotham Academy, and was in a relationship with some guy that looked an awful lot like Icicle Junior. Dick shuddered as that sunk in. Well. That was different from Wally. No Wally West on yourSpace. No Kaldur. No Conner Kent or Megan Morse. Zatanna Zatara had one. Good. That meant she existed. From what Dick could tell, Zatanna still had an obsession with different forms of magic. He idly wondered if there was a Doctor Fate in this universe and if that's where Giovanni disappeared to. He couldn't remember Raquel's last name, so he couldn't look her up.

Babs was here! Or… no… She lived with her mother in Chicago. Oh. Well, she existed. So, there was that. And wow… She was not better off for it. He cringed as he looked deeper into her profile before the site refused to let him see more without making an account. Barbara was heavily involved with several charities, but they were all rather… extreme. Wow, her mother was a scientologist? Ooookay then.

Dick hesitated before typing in the next name on his mental list. He checked the minimum age for yourSpace. 15. Zatanna must have lied about her age. Barbara too, for that matter. Babs wasn't that much older than him. She wouldn't turn 15 for another few months at least. Unless she was born earlier in this universe? Anyhow, Jason definitely would not have a yourSpace, if he even had access to the internet. Dick turned back to the web search bar. What were Jason's parents names? Maybe he could go from there… His birth father's name… had Jason ever told him that? No… But Bruce had. Right. It was just hard to remember because the unimportant details had faded in the last… god it had been almost three quarters of a year.

Focus Grayson, Dick thought to himself. Jason's father's name. What was it? It was similar to Wallace, but not really that close. Umm. Wally. Wooly. Willy. Willis? He'd try that. Willis Todd. Dick breathed a sigh of relief as results popped up for a Willis Todd. He looked at the headlines of the first few results. He blinked once. Rubbed his eyes and stared at the screen. That… he was not expecting that. Maybe he needed a break. Or a nap. Yeah. A nap would be good.

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19 July 2018

"I get that you wanted to keep the boys a secret, but honestly Thomas! You should have taken him months ago!" Leslie Thompkins admonished, as she marched into the hospital holding Damian's hand. "I thought you HAD taken him months ago."

"Yes Leslie. We've already had this conversation." Thomas sighed. He leaned over his grandson's wheelchair to press the button on the elevator.

"This is important!" Leslie said. "If he has any lingering brain damage…"

"He didn't hit his head though."

"Are you a doctor or not? He was in a bloody coma and has been having speech difficulties. You should have gotten him an MRI or CT scan sooner. Frankly, given his condition, he really should have had both!"

"Yes Leslie." The elevator dinged and they entered as the doors opened.

"Can I press the button?" Damian asked while Thomas was carefully maneuvering the wheelchair over the crack between elevator and floor.

"Sure thing, buddy. Floor 5." Thomas said wearily. A couple other people slipped in as well. Damian happily pressed the 5. One of the other people reached above him and pressed 7, and he pouted. Another stranger chuckled and asked Damian to press 3. The doors closed and elevator moved up, with Leslie continuing her rant to Thomas under her breath. They got off at their floor, and Thomas interjected once they were relatively alone again.

"Leslie, it wasn't safe to try to move him. Any change could have worsened his condition."

"It's been a month and a half since he woke up and was able to move." Leslie retorted. "Hell, you took him to the fireworks. Fireworks! And he had multiple panic attacks! It wasn't a good environment."

"I'm right here." Richard muttered in Romani. He tiredly rubbed his eyes. He was fine. Really. Just because he passed out during his appointment with Leslie…

Thomas grunted. Leslie opened the door of the radiology room and held it for Thomas to push Richard through. She walked up to the counter. "Hi, Leslie Thompkins with a patient for an MRI." She said.

"Alright. Patient's name?" The secretary asked.

"Richard Wayne." The secretary froze and peeked up and over the counter at the young teenager. "You heard me right." Leslie said.

"Right…" The secretary said. He handed over a clipboard. "Fill these out. You'll need Richard's input on the symptoms one. Make sure nothing gets left out." Leslie gave a sharp nod, and turned around. She plunked down on the closest chair to Richard. Thomas ran a hand over his face and sat down next to her. Damian wandered over to the magazines and started flipping through them curiously. Thomas gave him a cursory glance to make sure the magazine was one that was relatively kid appropriate before letting him be.

After filling out the lengthy forms, Leslie gave the clipboard back to the secretary, who gave her an update on timing. Thirty minutes after that, Richard was asked to take off everything metallic and put on a hospital robe. Richard swallowed hard before taking off his goggles and leaving them with Thomas at the man's insistence. A nurse took Richard away to the prep room with Leslie, as his doctor, trailing along. He looked back repeatedly until Thomas and Damian fell out of sight.

The MRI took a while, about an hour, and then they had to wait for the results. Leslie and Dr. Collins, the neurologist that they were seeing, looked over the scans in depth. They consulted with each other, and then called the family in. Thomas cleared his throat. "Well?" He asked.

"Well, I was right." Leslie said, sighing. "He has some damage to his left caudate nucleus."

"C'est mauvais?" (That's bad?) Dick asked.

"The left caudate nucleus is in charge of language. It monitors the language in use and allows a person to switch between languages. The damage isn't horrendous, but I would not be surprised if you were experiencing difficulty sticking to one language." Dr. Collins said.

"Is it permanent?" Thomas asked.

"Not necessarily." Dr. Collins said, sighing. "The brain does regenerate cells and will replace the damage eventually, but it will take a while. There's so much we still don't know about brains and head injuries."

"But Richard didn't hit his head?"

"The chemicals." Richard interrupted. "Injections."

Dr. Collins nodded. "He's right. Chemicals often travel through the brain before affecting the rest of the body. If he was getting injections or medicine, a chemical imbalance could have potentially affected parts of his brain." They then proceeded to continue pretending Richard wasn't in the room as they spoke.

Thomas sighed, glaring at the scan that was pulled up. Leslie had drawn a circle on the picture around Richard's left caudate nucleus as well as other trouble spots on his body.

"What about the rest of these?" He gestured to the other trouble spots.

"There's some nerve damage in his wrists and ankles." Leslie explained. "It explains why he's been having problems keeping his hands steady."

"Will that heal?" Thomas asked. Dr. Collins nodded.

"It may take a while, but physical therapy to help strength the muscles will at least lessen the involuntary twitches due to nerve damage. You'll need him to limit time on those ankles though. The muscles are incredibly strained there, especially around the nerves. Mild physio should be okay, but he shouldn't be walking for longer than a few minutes until the swelling goes down significantly and the muscles heal. You'll want to ice them 2-3 times a day for 10 minutes and gently massage the muscles before and after."

"He's seemed to be able to walk more recently."

"He's probably ignoring the pain then. People can get impatient to heal."

Thomas ignored the huff from his ignored grandson. "What can we do to extend that time? He doesn't really like staying still."

"Like I said, physical therapy. So long as he follows the directions of his physical therapist, he'll be able to strengthen his muscles and start moving again. I can give you a couple of recommendations."

"Please." Thomas grunted. "Anything else that might help?"

"I have a couple meds I could prescribe to help, but it looks like he's already on most of them. Any others could make things worse when combined. I will print this out for you, along with my recommendations. I'll be right back." Dr. Collins left the room. There was silence once he left, until Thomas sighed and knelt down in front of his grandson. He put a hand on Richard's shoulder and caught his eyes.

"I know that this isn't what you wanted to hear, Richard. We all want what's best for you. I know it's hard, but try to follow the doctor's instructions."

"Is it f-forever?" Richard stuttered out.

"You mean permanent?" Thomas asked. Richard nodded. Thomas looked over at Doctor Thompkins who was standing with her arms folded watching them. She sighed, and dropped her arms as she took in Thomas's question and Richard's pleading look.

"Brain injuries and fried nerves take a long time to heal, and sometimes they don't heal completely. It will get better. But you'll reach a new normal. A normal different than before you were injured, and it might seem off to you. It'll be okay, Richard." He huffed, but just kind of looked down sadly, like the disappointment was becoming normal.

Dr. Collins took that moment to return. Thomas stood up and thanked him. He took the sheet from the doctor and stashed it in his pocket.

"Have a good day." He said and left again. The small family made their way out.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

15 July 2013

"He ran into a wall, a wall Dick! I swear it's like he wasn't even looking."

"You're sure he's okay?"

"Absolutely positively. Checked on him earlier today. Bruce is being his usual overprotective self on your brother and keeping him home, but knowing your secret ids creates a nice little loophole around that."

Dick snorted at that. "Still, I thought… Logarithm didn't hurt him?" He ducked his head a bit. He and Artemis were sitting in the white world chatting, Artemis with her legs crossed and Dick with his knees loosely pulled up to his chest.

"No. Well, he drugged him, but it was just a fast-acting sedative. Jason is fine. No need to worry."

"He's my little brother. I'm allowed to worry."

"Fair. Fair." Artemis allowed.

"How did he manage to run into a wall anyways?"

"I think he was trying to impress Donna. Your brother has the cutest little crush on her. Even though she only comes by every once in a while." Artemis said.

"Aww. Tell me more." Dick grinned eagerly. Artemis laughed.

"Sure. But you'll have to tell me more about Damian in exchange. Cuteness for cuteness."

"Done." Dick said quickly.

"Well, the first time she visited, he was like you when you met Zatanna. Totally tripping over himself to introduce himself. Not as bad as you though. I mean, you just popped in front of Wally who was introducing himself and shouted Robin."

Dick snorted. "Good times."

"Yep. It was hilarious to watch, and so cute."

"Tell me more about Jason and Donna."

"Nope. It's your turn. Tell me about Damian."

"Umm. Well, he absolutely loves these Batman sneakers he found. They have little lights and he keeps stomping around and giggling when they light up."

"A baby bat stomping around? We might actually hear him sneaking off."

"I know. I really want to teach him how to walk silently, but then I also want to be able to hear him wander off."

"What? You don't want a taste of your own medicine?" Artemis asked, fluttering her eyes at him.

"Haha. Very funny."

"Seriously though. What are you teaching your protégé?"

"Nothing yet. I can barely walk and talk. I taught him some gymnastics before it got too bad. He loves to show off. I was complaining about not being able to do anything and he started practicing around me. Cartwheels, flips, roundabouts. The kid has so much energy. I can't keep up."

"You'll get there." Artemis said. Dick shrugged but didn't seem too bothered at the moment.

"Hey, I looked you guys up."

"In your alternate universe heaven thing?"

Dick hummed. "I wouldn't call it heaven."

Artemis waved her hand in dismissal. She leaned forward eagerly. "So, what are our alternate selves like?"

"Well, to start, Google does not exist here and it's annoying as hell to find stuff. The search engines are just jumbles. It was really hard to find anything until I found a social media site."

"Social media is a good place to go. I can't imagine not having Google though. Was there Bing? Yahoo?"

"None of the above."

"Wow. That sucks."

"Yep. It's also slow as all get out. It was a dial up computer, Artemis! Dial up!"

Artemis laughed. "Aww. Poor little Robin not getting spoiled with technology?" Dick shoved her, and she fell to the ground laughing. He started laughing too. After a moment, they both settled down, staring off into the white blankness. "So, us?" Artemis asked, bringing them back to the topic. She turned to face her friend, reveling in the improvement in health that showed on every part of him.

"Right." Dick said, settling into a comfortable position. "Wally doesn't seem to exist. His dad has been in three marriages and only has a daughter. I also found nothing on M'gann or Conner, but I couldn't even find their mentors. I did find some vague proof that Martian Manhunter and Superman exist on Earth, but not as heroes."

"Are they villains then?"

"I'm not sure. It seems likely, but they could also just be living their lives as civilians or they might be dead. I don't know."

"Hmm. And the rest of us?"

"Right. Zatanna exists, but her father is missing. She seems quite different. Umm. I couldn't find anything about Kaldur'ahm, but that doesn't mean he doesn't exist. There's no Justice League, so Aquaman doesn't really have a reason to come to the surface. I couldn't remember Raquel's last name. Umm. You and Babs exist."

"Babs as in Barbara Gordon?"

"Yep. Neither of you are really… good people. Barbara is off in Chicago involved in all kinds of sketchy things. I think you might have followed in your dad's footsteps. You have a boyfriend who looks an awful lot like Icicle Junior."

"Eww! Gross!"

"Yeah! That was my reaction too!"

"What about your brother? Did you look him up?"

"Yes, actually." A mischievous grin crept over his face and his eyes brightened up. "Guess what came up!"

"Really, Dick? How am I supposed to know?"

"Come on. Guess."

"Alright. Fine. The little dweeb is a Mathlete."

"That would be awesome. But no."

"Uhh... You look happy, so it's something good. Umm. He's top of his class at Gotham Academy."

"Nope. I don't think he even lives in Gotham."

"Come on, Dick, just tell me."

"Fine," he whined. "Drum roll please!"

"No." Artemis deadpanned.

"You're no fun." Dick said with an exaggerated pout. "My younger brother… is a superstar!"

"A superstar?"

"Yep! YouTube exists here, so I looked up some of his music. He's actually really good. And really popular too."

"No way is Jason Todd, eleven-year-old menace, a superstar. Was he on Broadway or something?"

"Funny you should mention that. He has been on Broadway, but he's actually the star of their Disney Channel Equivalent. It's hilarious. They call it the Donsie Channel. It has a bit of a monopoly like Disney, but it's Donsie and the themes are off a bit. They don't have Star Wars here! Can you believe that?"

"Oh no. No nerd movies. How tragic."

"Shut up. We all know you love Star Wars."

"Yeah yeah. They're coming out with a new trilogy."

"They are?!"

"Yeah. Announced it shortly after… you know. Disney bought the Star Wars franchise and so there are new movies coming out."

"What about the cartoons?"

"Well, there are those too. I hope they keep them in canon. Ahsoka is amazing."

"Ahsoka? You watch the cartoons?"

Artemis blushed. "Yeah. Bette and I watch them together. Sometimes, Wally joins us."

"Huh." Dick said, tilting his head slightly.

Artemis cleared her throat. "I want to hear some of that music, Wayne."

"It's… Is it still Grayson?"

"Well, I suppose it's Grayson-Wayne now."

"I like that."

"Good to know. I'll pass that on, why don't I?"

Dick laughed. "I don't think Bruce would believe you."

"Yeah. Maybe not then." Artemis said. "Are you still going by Dick Grayson?"

Dick shook his head. "I didn't know if there was another me out there. Still haven't really looked too deeply into it, actually. Damian can't have a counterpart because Bruce died instead of our grandparents. I'm a bit more up to chance."

"Hmm. So, what are you using then?" Dick blushed a bit. "Come on. You can tell me."

"..." Dick muttered.

"What was that?" She asked.

Dick slumped with a sigh. "Richard Wayne." He said. "In my defense, I was not exactly of fine health when choosing the name."

"Dick, you are Richard Wayne. That is your name."

"Is it though? I mean, I went missing before the forms were complete."

"That's just paperwork." Artemis said, waving a hand to dismiss it. "No one who has seen you and Bruce interact in front of a crowd AND behind the scenes could doubt that you two are family. Stuffy Aristocrats aside. Our number one theory was that you were Batman's son. When we found out your identity, we didn't think 'oh. We were wrong.' We thought 'Ha! Knew it!'. She draped an arm around the tiny ball of bird, and squeezed a half hug in. "I think we were more impressed with your acting abilities and how you managed to make all of us question the truth."

Dick snorted. "We'll laugh about it someday." He piped up. Artemis was pleased to note a small sparkle of mischief had crept into his eyes, nearly invisible, but there.

"Well, it's someday." Artemis said. She sat up straight and said in a haughty voice. "I'd say it's about time to laugh about it!" Dick tried to hold his laugh in; he really did. Artemis met his eyes and then they both fell apart, laughing.

Artemis suddenly shivered, and cocked her head, listening to something only she could hear. "That sounds like my alarm. Keep improving, Dick. Let's do this again soon." She said.

"Mmkay." Dick said, as he fought to catch his breath from the laughing fit. His eyes showed his disappointment, but also how good it felt to laugh again. Artemis reached over and ruffled his hair, and then faded away.

19 July 2013

The room was on the 13th floor, which was only accessible by the staff elevator and a locked door on the stairs for safety and security reasons. It was not a large room by any means, but it did have a small kitchenette and a bathroom connected to the bedroom. There was a TV on the wall as well, with a comfy looking desk chair loosely facing it. The kitchenette had a full-size fridge, a microwave, a stove top, a toaster oven. There was a cabinet below the stove top and plenty of cupboards for cooking supplies, but no pantry.

All and all, it was a decent, excellent really, set up. The colors were cool and calming with no sharp contrasts. The ceiling was high enough to allow some claustrophobia to dissipate and the windows were large enough to seem to further open the room.

"The laundry room is at the end of the hall, three doors down on the left. The trash chute is the other way. There is a bulk laundry service for uniforms and any clothes you'd like bulk washed, but no colors. Put any personal effects in at your own risk. Wash the rest yourself. Things get lost a lot.

"There are random inspections a few times a month. We don't allow illegal drugs or smoking inside the hotel rooms, so that goes for this room as well. The discovery of illegal substances in your room will lead to an eviction and termination. Meaning you'll be fired. Cigarettes are allowed in the casino, and there are lockers down there if needed."

A soft meow followed a rustle in Sigmore's knapsack. The kitten poked his head out and sniffed the air. He turned to face Thomas Wayne, gave a pleased meow, and scrambled out of the bag. Sigmore just barely managed to catch him by his collar before the kitten attacked the man again.

"Kitty no!" He scolded. The cat meowed sheepishly. Thomas raised an eyebrow. "He likes you." Sigmore assured, his shoulders hunched slightly. "A bit enthusiastically, but he does."

"Meow."

"Or you smell like someone he knows. Either way, he doesn't dislike you." Thomas kept his judging gaze on the cat. Sigmore shifted awkwardly, prodding the cat into a less awkward position. "Thank you so much, Mr. Wayne."

Thomas grunted in acknowledgement. "I expect you'll be in the lab promptly at 9 am Monday morning. Carl Stuart will be your guide. He'll show you around and update you on the progress we have. I want a report from you once a week to me directly in addition to any other reports your team may require. Understand?"

"Understood." Sigmore confirmed. "Thank you again." He hesitated. "Sir, about the kids, it's been almost three months, is there any way we could—"

"That is not your concern at this time," Thomas interrupted firmly.

"But sir—"

"Get settled." He said. "We can discuss this issue later." Thomas turned abruptly and left before Sigmore could get another word in edgewise. Sigmore sighed and released the cat onto the bed. He sat down next to him. The kitten meowed and rubbed against Sigmore's hand until the man pet him. Then, the cat jumped off the bed to go explore.

23 July 2013

Damian hummed happily when he felt a hand land in his hair and ruffle it a bit. His little burrow was safe and warm. Not to mention how soft his pajamas were. They even kept his feet nice and warm. The hand in his hair pet it a bit and it felt sooooo good.

His pillow moved slightly, a rumble of a laugh passing through. Damian hummed again and hooked his small arm around his pillow's wrist when it started to move away from its place. Another chuckle vibrated beneath his head. Damian plopped the hand right back where it belonged, his hair rustling slightly at the movement.

There was a snort from outside his cocoon. So many good words for laugh. All good. It felt nice. This latest laugh didn't come with a rumble, so not from his pillow. Not important. The bed moved a bit as Grandpa's weight settled on one end. The hand in Damian's hair paused its petting but resumed when Dami let loose a mewl of protest. Good pillow.

"Well, he looks comfy." Grandpa said. Yes. Dami was very comfy. Oh! Another laugh rumble!

"Yeah." The rumbling was so nice. It was like, it was like an electric buzz zipping through the air. He could just stay here all day. Warm and comfy. "I don't even remember him coming over here." Dick said. "I just woke up and…" Damian whined when his big brother removed his hand to gesture at Dami. He blindly reached out for his brother who obediently plopped his hand back on Damian's head. "I'm not super inclined to get up." Dick sounded out in English as his fingers rubbed a lock of black hair. He'd been able to hold one language for a conversation for a week or so, but he still had to concentrate. "It's not every day your baby brother turns 5 after all." Grandpa snorted at that.

"Little bugger could have been 5 for weeks now, even with our guesses." He said. Damian opened his eyes curiously and moved a little. He placed his head a little firmer on his pillow while still turning to blink up at Grandpa.

"Come on, Dami." Dick nudged Damian until the little one moved off, with a whine and pout of course, couldn't make it too easy. Dick gently pushed Damian into a sitting position. Damian didn't want to leave his cocoon so was un-co-op-peer-tiv-ee. He was nice and relaxed. No need to leave the cocoon. Pillow should lie back down.

Dick kept a steadying hand between Damian's shoulder blades while he repositioned himself so that he was sitting as well. Damian leaned against his pillow's chest. It wasn't quite right, but close enough.

"Happy Birthday, Dami." Dick whispered. Damian looked at him in confusion, so Dick translated to Arabic. Still nothing. It took 3 more languages for Dick to stop and think. He realized quickly enough that Mother would not have celebrated Damian's birthday. What even was a birthday? A date of birth? What was celebrate-able about that?

Damian could read the expression on his big brother's face. It was his 'Time to fix good thing' face. Today would be fun.

"Are you sure you don't want any help?" Barry asked skeptically for, like, the third time. "Because I can do it?" He was hovering a little too close and vibrating too. Dick ruthlessly crushed the urge to snap at him.

"I've got it." The young teen said. His tongue was poking out the slightest bit as he concentrated. His hand shook, a tremor running through them. The line of frosting on the 'y' in 'Birthday' went down a bit further than intended. Dick huffed but did his best to change the mistake into a happy mistake, a thick underline with little gaps in it when his hands had unclenched randomly. A moment later, the teen made a pleased note of triumph.

Setting the Ziplock bag he had made into an impromptu pastry bag down next to the lopsided cake, Dick took a step back to observe his creation. Barry sighed. "You could have at least let me level it." He complained.

"Ni. C'est mon gateau." Barry raised an eyebrow. The cake looked more like a mound than a cake. It was held together by frosting, hope, and willpower. The chocolate cake mixed with the vanilla frosting to give it an Oreo or cookies and cream like appearance. The chocolate frosting shakily spelled out a barely legible 'Happy Birthday.' There were cracks in the upper layer, the cake threatening to slide down to the counter by splitting itself into pieces.

At least it would be easy to eat.

Barry watched as Dick opened the Ziplock bag, unsticking it the best he could. He took a spoon and globbed more chocolate frosting into the bag. The stubborn kid's hands were covered in it, but he *seemed* unbothered. Barry shook his head fondly. Dick twisted the bag and pushed the frosting down to the corner that he had open already. The teen somehow managed a messy… well… he was probably going for 'Dami' or an ambitious 'Damian', but it came out more like ՈO|nj, and that was if Barry was being generous, which he always was. Not the point.

Eh. The kid didn't know how to read yet anyways. It would be fine.

Barry went ahead and snapped a couple pictures, keeping the flash off, of both the cake and the teen making the cake, for proprietary purposes. Not for something as horrible as blackmail. No, of course not Richard. Who would do such a thing?

There was chocolate frosting everywhere, the kitchen was a mix of brown and white, globs everywhere. Barry did not look forward to cleaning it up, but at least it would be over fast if he did it. Hopefully, Dick wouldn't attempt to do the cleaning by himself.

Speaking of the teen, he seemed to be more frosting than skin. It put some much-needed color onto his face. A good chunk of his hair looked brown with little powdered sugar like clumps of white sticking out of the hoard. There were streaks all over his face from the teen pushing his hair out of the way. It looked like Dick had a third eye with the streak slowly inching down his forehead.

"You need a bath, kid." Barry said. After he took pictures from all angles of course. He wasn't a monster. Well. That scowl though. It looks so cute with all the frosting. Last photo. Okay. Good. Barry grinned as he, relatively carefully, put the top of the cake carrier over the cake. Hopefully that would help keep it together until Damian and Thomas returned.

"Happy Birthday to you!" Damian was studying all the tall people around him for guidance on what to do. He looked at Dick a little more often because Dick knew everything. Dick would tell him.

There was a messily frosted volcano on the table in front of him. 1-2-3-4-5 candles were in a lopsided circle near the top. They should move those. The lava would make them catch even more fire and fall and crush the sugar village around the base of the mountain, again. They were flickering merrily, as if they didn't know what they did.

Dick squeezed Dami's shoulder. "Make a wish, Dami." He said in Arabic, a jumbled accent coloring the words as they rustled through the air. Rustled was such a fun word. It was an ono… ahno…mat-uh… Umm. A sound word.

Damian cocked his head sideways, big puppy dog eyes blinking occasionally as he tried to figure out what his big brother meant.

Dick smiled warmly at him, but his eyes did that thing they did when Dami didn't know something that he should know already. Dick normally followed that with something fun, but Dami didn't like the eye thing.

"It's your birthday, buddy. It's the day you were born. You make a wish, and then blow out the candles." Dick explained.

"A wish?" Dami asked.

"Yeah. It's something that you want. But you can't tell anyone your wish, or it may not come true!"

"Come true?"

"Can- may! Not happen."

"Not happen?! But. But… How do you know what I wished?" Damian asked.

"Umm." Dick answered smoothly. "Well, birthday wishes are special. The, uh, the birthday wish fairy takes them and works them magic so your wish comes true. To the best of… the best they can." Barry snorted, and Dick paused to glare at the man, who put his hands up in surrender. Damian tugged on his brother's sleeve. The teen turned back to Damian and smiled a genuine if shaky smile. "You can. You can wish for it again at another time. And… I think you can tell me then? Birthdays… Birthdays are special because, umm, the birthday fairies are listening extra hard on your birthday."

"So, I tell you tomorrow?"

"Umm. Yeah. Sure." Grandpa groaned and put a hand over his face and Barry laughed a bit. Damian frowned at them. If the birthday fairies were listening to Damian, then he could wish them to attack the tall people if he wanted. He didn't though. Dick was a tall people. Can't attack big brothers. They were on lava anyways. Dick was smart enough to not be on the lava.

"Go on, Dami." Dick encouraged. "Blow out the candles when you have your wish.

Dami frowned once more, eyes scrunched up as he focused his thoughts. Wish. Wish was something Dami wanted. Dami wanted… Cartwheels! He wished Dick was better soon Damian's big brother could teach him more tricks. Like cartwheels! And flips. And karate like the pretty spotted one in the Panda movie. Not like the Panda. The Panda was awkward klutz. Gray polka dot lady knew what was up!

Dami concentrated very hard on his wish and released all his breath on the cake. The huff didn't work. His big brother made a face like he was blowing, like he did with straws sometimes. Damian copied him. The candles went out. Good. The sugar village was safe from the lava. For now.

Grandpa and Barry clapped, obviously thankful that the lava went away. Dick though. Damian's big brother had his 'love Dami' face on. Dami was perfectly happy with that.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

27 July 2013

Thomas had packed the car in secret the night before. The supplies and suitcases were hidden by a trunk cover in the back of the minivan. Gathering clothes for the boys without them noticing had been a little more difficult. He still wasn’t sure that he’d grabbed their preferred outfits. In order to pack the clothes and other various objects in their room, he had to distract them.

After returning from an eventful day at work, Thomas had set the two boys up with a few writing exercises and a 24 pack of crayons. He hoped Richard would gain some confidence in his writing abilities from teaching Damian. That and stop complaining about having to use crayons. He was improving. Thomas might move him on to those thick markers soon. The teen was almost far enough along and Damian would be starting kindergarten sooner than later.

As frustrated as Richard got, the practice and the basics were doing wonders for his fine motor control. A crayon was easier to use than anything else and the errors weren’t as obviously from a teenager. The teen had even managed to cook dinner several days this past week, with supervision of course. Thomas wasn’t comfortable enough with letting his grandson use the stove or oven without some affirmation that he would get help quickly if he was hurt. The teen had made shish kabobs one night. While they were fairly spicy—Thomas was sure there were milder recipes—Damian had loved them, gobbling down more than was probably healthy for a kid his size with a huge smile.

While the two children were working on the writing exercises, surrounded by a wide array of snacks, Thomas went up to their room. He grabbed a few outfits for each, along with swimsuits and underclothes and packed them into one roller bag. He moved the emergency medical equipment that he would prefer to have quick access to for Richard’s sake, after he had tucked the boys in for the night. It proved even more difficult than the clothes as Richard was a light sleeper and a decent detective. He managed to soothe his grandson enough that the boy went back to sleep.

At 7:30 am, he roused the youngsters and led them, bleary with sleep, to the car. Setting Damian down on the ground next to him, Thomas helped Richard into the passenger seat, fastening his seatbelt and closing the door. The teen passed out practically immediately once settled. Since Damian was a little more awake, Thomas grabbed the preschooler’s free hand, the hand rubbing his eyes, rather than the hand that was clutching Batkitty. Thomas walked him around to the driver’s side of the minivan. He lifted the kid into a five point booster seat and managed to fastener the seatbelt correctly, mostly due to practice by this point.

Both boys snug and safely secure in their seats, Thomas got himself settled in and started the car. He pulled out of the garage, down the driveway, and out onto the main road, checking to make sure each security measure kicked on behind him.

The drive was a little over three hours. Damian was conked out the whole way, but Richard woke up about an hour and a half in. He blearily looked around and then jerked when he realized that he was in a moving vehicle on a highway. Without fully taking in the situation, the kid decided to dive head first into a panic attack.

Thomas cursed under his breath and quickly found the nearest place to pull off. He hit the hazards button, unclipped his seatbelt, and pulled his grandson into a hug. “Come on, kiddo. It’s okay, bud. Shh. Shh. Just me and Dami. Deep breaths. Breathe in. Hold. And out slowly, ok?” Richard’s breathing slowed down gradually, and he relaxed into his grandfather’s chest as the man coached his breathing. “There you go.”

He let Richard choose when to break the hug. Once the teen pushed away slightly, Thomas moved his calloused hands to the boy’s shoulders, rubbing firm circles with his thumbs. Richard eventually recovered enough to look his grandfather in the eyes and ask where they were silently.

“We’re off on a little vacation, kiddo. Get some sun, teach Baby Bat how to swim, and relax.” Richard rolled his eyes up slightly as he thought it over, and then looked back and nodded. Thomas gave his grandkid a hair ruffle. “Tap me if you feel the need to stop for any reason, especially if you’re feeling nauseous. A brief respite can do wonders.”

Richard nodded, took a deep breath, and settled into a position that allowed him to hang on to the handle and look out both the window and windshield. Thomas flicked on some classical music. His grandson startled at it, but they silently communicated that this kind of music, while unexpected, was okay. Looked like it was one of those days in which Richard mostly watched instead of talked.

Thomas hit a drive thru about 30 minutes from the resort and picked up some healthy-ish meals that were doctor (well, Thomas) approved for the boys. Richard sipped quietly at his strawberry smoothie and watched the road. Damian was still sleeping, somehow. Thomas suspected the little boy had stayed up past his bedtime.

The handicap spot nearest to the hotel entrance was open, but there was also valet. Since Thomas planned to go to the beach after checking in--they were on the early side--he pulled into the spot, making sure that the passenger side was next to the handicap aisle. He turned off the car. Richard unclipped his seatbelt and staggered out of the car. His legs were a bit uncooperative, and he grabbed the door handle mid-fall. It didn’t help. In fact, it made his loosely controlled exit into a much less coordinated one because his arm strength wasn’t there either.

Thomas barely saw the disaster in time. He managed to get ahold of his grandson before he could hit his head, but the boy was almost entirely on the ground. There were tears in the teen’s eyes. His whole face flushed red, as Thomas rearranged himself to give Richard the proper support. He lifted the teen and set him down in the backseat next to Damian’s car seat. He kept the door open, so he could keep an eye on both kids.

Richard kept his head down and picked on some strings on his blue sweatpants. Once Thomas got the wheelchair set up, he lifted Richard once more. The kid avoided eye contact as his grandfather set him down gently. Thomas returned to the car and lifted the still asleep toddler from his car seat, settling the boy on one hip. The baby shifted a little before falling back into REM sleep, one arm clutching Thomas’s shirt and Batkitty, the other hand popping a thumb into the kid’s mouth.

There were free cookies near a small seating area off to the side of the lobby. Thomas steered Richard there and left the wheelchair within easy reach of the snacks. Damian had somehow managed to gain a strong grip in the two minutes Thomas had been holding him and would not be detached. Thomas admitted defeat and walked to the check in counter, body oozing confidence and authority that led those around him to instinctively clear a path despite the small child contradicting the vibe. A hat over his head did little to stem the notoriety and recognition, but it would hopefully see people thinking twice about calling the press.

The resort was not beachfront. Thomas was rich enough that he worried about people hounding him even here. He had chosen to book a private cove that had very few people allowed on a nice stretch about 20 minutes away from the resort. They could enjoy their privacy more easily that way.

Thomas managed to untangle Damian slowly during the course of the check in process. He went to go open the car for the porters and took a short detour to plunk the toddler down on his big brother’s lap next to the cookies. Richard reflexively brought his arms up to stabilize the kid. Damian, in the few minutes the boys were out of sight, managed to complete reorganize his body so that he was practically inside Richard’s sweatshirt, pressed against the boy’s chest sleepily. Richard was gently tapping a cookie to Damian’s mouth, careful not to stick it in too far to prevent Damian from choking. He looked up as Thomas reentered. They exchanged sign language okay signs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

27 July 2018

Thomas pulled in to the handicap parking spot by the boardwalk and put the car in park. Richard was still holding onto the panic handle next to the window and staring out the front windshield. Thomas gently laid his hand on the teen’s shoulder. Richard snapped out of it and looked at him, offering up a feeble smile. The tension was obvious in the boy’s shoulders, and he was trembling slightly. Thomas rubbed his shoulder a bit and gestured to the handle. Richard let go of the handle. Thomas gave his shoulder a light squeeze and then got out of the car. He got a finally-awake and curious Damian out of his car seat and set him down, then rounded the car to help Richard out. The boy had mostly recovered from his fall. Generally, on a good day, Richard could stand fairly well on his own now and walk short distances, but he was still weak. Thomas preferred to give the boy some support when walking anywhere outside, especially as the wheelchair would be more trouble than it’s worth on the sand.

Richard leaned against the car as Thomas pulled out a beach bag and pulled the straps over his left shoulder. He handed some buckets to Damian to carry and a hat for Richard to put on along with a wakeboard to carry. There was a beach chair as well that he intended for Richard to sit in for some support, and a cooler that he’d need to come back for later. He slung the chair over his back and held out his right arm for Richard to grasp for support walking.

They had to pass through a gate to enter the beach, but otherwise it was fairly open. There weren’t too many people around, and most seemed to be absorbed in their own circles rather than looking at who was around. Thomas led the two kids on to the beach. He picked a spot about midway between the water and the footpath they had entered from. They dropped their stuff on the sand, and Thomas released Richard so that he could set up the blanket. The boy teetered but managed to maintain his balance without help, blowing his bangs up with a huff when it took too much effort.

Damian spent the whole time Thomas was setting up their spot staring out at the ocean in awe. Once they were set up, Thomas took the boys to the changing rooms near a small beachside shop. He handed over the bathing suits he had grabbed for them. Damian was giggling at the feel of the sand squelching between his toes. It took some effort to walk on the beach, but the kids seemed to take it in stride.

Thomas had to grab Damian’s arm to keep him from running up to the waves when they returned to their spot. The kid was fascinated by the crashing waves. Richard even managed a smile at the toddler’s antics. Damian wasn’t as happy when his grandfather slathered him in sun tan lotion. Both boys had darker skin from their ancestry, but the lack of sun from their captivity and the time they had spent indoors healing had caused their skin to weaken considerably. They could get some nasty burns without the proper protection. So sunscreen. Doctor’s orders. Also, floaties for Damian. He doubted the kid knew how to swim yet. That was today’s objective.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dick anxiously poked his head up from behind a tombstone. It was a rather quiet Saturday, and Bruce was visiting his grave. Again. Which… That was weird on so many levels. The man didn’t seem to notice him, but then… Was this a dream? Were they dead and he was just occasionally haunting the living? How did that kind of thing work anyways? Last thing he remembered, he was leaning back on a beach chair, arm thrown over his eyes while his body soaked in what sun it could through a thick layer of sun tan lotion.

The translucent teenager took a deep breath and darted to a closer tombstone in a crouch. He was near Bruce now. Just downwind of the man. Bruce knelt down and laid some flowers on his grave… and Dami’s grave? Maybe… were there even bodies? Or did Bruce bury two empty coffins? Well, the gesture was nice, but how did Bruce know they were dead if there was no body?

He felt like he’d seen the flowers before. Biting his bottom lip, he thought back and remembered the freak flower from a few weeks ago. The one that had caught fire as soon as he noticed it.

Bruce let out a long sigh and seemed to slump a bit. Dick snapped back to attention. He leaned closer, curling his legs beneath him. His bare feet tickled when the breeze touched them. He seemed to be almost phasing in and out of existence, flickering like a candle.

“Hey chum.” Bruce said, “It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. Logan Burton… Well, I suppose you’d know him better as Logarithm.” Dick shuddered at the name. He nervously gripped his biceps with opposite hands and chewed his lip. “We caught him, Dickie.” Dick’s breath caught, and he searched Bruce’s face for a catch. There was none. Bruce had a bitter smile, and Dick could see that it was a pyrrhic victory.

“Batman stumbled across him and he ended up with quite a few bruises and possibly a broken bone or two. He… That bastard got his hands on Jason for a couple minutes. I… well… You’d probably call it something funny. I’ve heard that Wally refers to it as my “DaddyBats mode” or something like that.

“I saw red, Dickie. I saw red and when my vision cleared, he was a mess. I could have killed him, Dick. I couldn’t control myself, and, well, I don’t know if I can go through that again. If Jason had still been in the area, or if someone had come up on me from behind.” Bruce shook his head to get the thought out. He cleared his throat and dashed a hand across his face. Dick studied him curiously. The teen had climbed up to perch on one of the more stable tombstones, legs dangling freely. Bruce never expressed this kind of stuff while he was alive. It was like he didn’t know how. Face to face anyways. On the bright side, Dick was now a master at reading subtext and body language.

Bruce took a second to collect himself. “Happier news.” The man muttered to himself. “Happy news. Jason is going to a theatre summer camp next week. It’s at Gotham Academy. His friend Diana will be there, so he won’t be alone. He seems excited. I think he just needs something normal to focus on.” Dick slid off the tombstone and crept closer as Bruce talked. “I don’t know what we’ll do for his birthday in a few weeks. Alfred and I hit up a bookstore for some classics in the same style as his go tos. I guess he got the touch of English that you weren’t as keen on.”

Dick gently touched Bruce’s arm. To his deep disappointment, Bruce gave no indication he saw his son. Maybe it was the raincoat/suit jacket thing? Dick reached down and carefully grabbed one of the Asters. He untangled it from its neighbor, and lifted it to his face, sniffing at it curiously. Bruce’s eyes followed the flower. The man reached his hand out carefully, reaching for the stem.

That was when Dick woke up or snapped out of it. Whichever works. Damian had scampered into his lap, sand particles and salt water droplets flying all over. The little kid had a big shell that he’d found, which he wanted to show Dick. He was dressed in a wet bathing suit, all knobby elbows and knees, even as he accidently wacked Dick in the face with one of his floaties and scratched the teen’s arm with the edge of the shell. Dick looked down at his hands, feeling something rounded… cylindrical… like a straw.

The purple aster, smoke dying down around the edge of its petals, was woven into his fingertips. Impossible but there.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The sun was going down as Thomas returned from helping haul water for Damian’s sandcastle’s moat. He plunked down next to Richard who was sitting on the blanket with his arms around his knees. The boy was watching the ocean, staring blankly at the waves, fiddling with a flower he must have picked up somewhere. Did he have that earlier? Never mind. Not important.

“Hey, you still with me?” Thomas asked. Richard flicked his eyes towards him, and gave a brief nod before turning back to the waves.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Richard didn’t answer. “Are you alright?” Richard’s shoulders slumped and he turned to look at the ground, weaving his fingers through the sand. Thomas waited. Mrs. Shuman, Richard’s therapist, had informed him that he needed to give Richard time to speak, and, if it took a while, it meant he was considering how to answer the question. He was considering how much to tell, how much he trusted Thomas with.

“I… I never went to the ocean much as a kid. But… there was a beach outside Mount Justice. We went there a few times. We went on Wally’s first day of school, and he came as soon as he got out…” He was tracing an R in a circle in the sand. He smiled. “That was the day Artemis joined the team.” He waved his hand through the sand, erasing the R. “I’m glad she did, she was a huge asset and a great person, snarky and funny at the same time. But… she was with me when I was kidnapped. I want to believe nothing happened to her and they just left her behind, but I can’t help thinking of what, what happened if she wasn’t left behind. Where did she go?”

He sighed.

“On the other hand, knowing she was left behind feels even worse because she didn’t have a civilian ID to protect, not like I did. She could fade into the background; she could have gone full out. So, why didn’t she save me?” He gave a shudder of a sob. “I, I want to believe she just wasn’t enough, but it’s so hard. That she didn’t just leh-let them take me, But if she wasn’t enough, then who would have been? Was there a way I could have gotten away? I… I…”

Thomas placed a hand on Richard’s back and rubbed in circles as the boy cried. After a while, he calmed down. They listened to the ocean for a while.

“I don’t think I told you. They… They shipped me overseas.” He sighed, and pressed his cheek against his knee. Thomas’s hand stilled for a moment, but then went back to its circles; Thomas did not want to mess with the peace. “I was alone for three weeks, je pense, just stuck in a dark box. The flashlight they gave me died in the first few days. I ran out of f-food at some point, and fresh aqua, water, after that. The worst part is, I don’t… I don’t really remember them taking me out. It sometimes feels like I-I’m still there, alone, in the dark, just… feeling the boat rock. If I listened really carefully, I could, I can sometimes hear the ocean.”

“Could you hear it like this?” Thomas prompted after a moment, keeping his voice soft. Richard’s gaze was far away, but Thomas didn’t want to bring him back now that he was finally talking.

“No… Not in the box, it was really quiet there, almost... completely silent, most of the time. But, I was on the dock before that, I think. It still wasn’t like this though. The smell was worse, stuffy and a bit like pollution, more than fresh air. It was cold when they carried me in. November. I only had the restraints and a pair of boxers covering me. I had tried to escape the last time they wrapped me in a blanket, so they decided I didn’t deserve one. They only gave me one if they were sure I was secure and couldn’t reach the locks, and then only so I didn’t freeze to death. I could hear those fisherman’s bells on the buoys. Just… ringing with the wind.” He shuddered. “I was on the dock at least overnight. I know I shouldn’t be afraid of- of the ocean; it’s so… so… it’s the ocean. And I had good memories of it. And now… Now I just think of the box. And… I don’t want to think of the box.”

“Well,” Thomas started. He draped the arm that had been rubbing Dick’s back around the boy’s shoulders, a gentle pressure encouraging the teen to lean on him. “Now you don’t have to. Look up.” He said, lifting the boy’s chin with his other hand. “What do you see now?”

“I… well…”

“Go on. Tell me. What do you see?”

“I, I see the water. And the sand. And there’s a couple seagulls over to the left. And people swimming. And c’est… there’s clouds. Stratus clouds. And the sun’s setting. There’s so many colors. Warm colors, not cool colors, reds and oranges and yellows. They all just blend together. And Dami’s castle looks cool. He’s got a moat and everything and it looks like he’s declared war on it. He has that look he gets sometimes when he’s frustrated and determined at the same time. The tide’s coming in. It might destroy his castle soon, with how close he is to the edge.”

As if sensing the same thing, Damian shifted his gaze from his castle to glare at the incoming tide. The motion was almost perfectly on cue. Richard and Thomas looked at each other and both promptly burst into laughter. Damian whipped his head around to watch them, wide-eyed confusion spreading over his features to replace the glare he’d been giving the water. After a few minutes, the laughter teetered out. Richard leaned back against the beach chair.

“When you think of the ocean,” Thomas soothed. “I want you to think of this moment, and moments like this, okay? Think about Damian and his castle. And your friends on the beach.”

“Alright, Grandpa. I’ll do my best.” He took a fortifying breath.

“I’ll go bring Damian in, and then we can go get some dinner, okay?”

“Okay.” With a quick ruffle of Richard’s hair, Thomas went to collect Damian and his buckets. All in all, it felt like a good day.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Damian pouted as Grandpa led him into the restaurant, holding his hand.. His hair was still dripping wet and he hadn’t put his socks back on. But he was in mostly dry clothing, so that was something. He was trying to express his displeasure by dragging his feet. Dick kept looking at him and shaking his head with a big smile. The teenager had foregone his wheelchair for the short walk, but had a firm grasp on Grandpa’s other elbow.

The day had been fun and full of new experiences. They had taken a long drive somewhere. Damian was snug inside the special chair Grandpa added to the car for him. When he woke up, they were on a highway, trees and cars flying by. Grandpa was playing some soft music and he could see Dick in the passenger seat, staring out the window. He watched the world zoom by for a while, fascinated by all the different cars flying by, and then went back to sleep. He woke next to the smell of chocolate chip cookies and this weird but good smell. He was nice and warm, and he could feel Dick’s arm on his back, hand rubbing his hair.

Opening his mouth earned Damian a small part of the cookie, which he ate with a “Nom,” of course. He hadn’t had too many cookies in his life, but this one tasted good. Blinking his eyes open sleepily, Damian watched as Grandpa brought them back to the car and fastened him back into the chair while Richard got into the passenger seat. It was a short drive to where they were going. Everything looked mostly new and the whole town was bright and sunny, not like Gotham. Grandpa parked in a space where Damian could see sand and short trees, and blue waves hiding behind the short trees.

Grandpa called this new place a beach. Damian was pretty sure he had been to one before, but he couldn’t remember when. They had to change clothing, and Damian had to wear these weird puffy things on his arms and goggles like Dick’s but tighter. Then, Grandpa took him out to play in the water. They jumped over waves, and he rode a something board. Dick played too for a little bit, but then a big wave came along and he disappeared for a minute or so, coming back up to cough out water, and he went back to the sand, as Grandpa called the squishy stuff..

After Dick went back to the spot where Grandpa dropped all the stuff, and was sitting in the chair, wrapped in a towel reading a book, Grandpa had Damian hold onto the something-board and kick with his feet. He moved forward a bit, and Grandpa kept a firm hand on him as he led him to a spot where the waves weren’t as big. It was fun. The water made a sound like sploosh when he hit it towards Grandpa.

Then, they went back to the sand and Grandpa got buckets and they built a sand temple! Well, Grandpa called it a sand castle, whatever that was, but it was big like a temple. And there was a ‘moat’, and seashells on top. Grandpa went back to their stuff spot and sat next to Dick, while Damian focused on honing the temples defenses, keeping it safe from the evil waves that tried to destroy it. No Bluemen would be able to get to them there. And there’d be dragons and kitties and elephants! And maybe puppies too. That would be good. Like in 101 Bernese, except the Bernese would be safe from Cruel Ella Deville’s evil grasp!

Hmm, maybe Damian should add windows. The Bluemen were allergic to the sun, after all. The light could help. But Tati needed shadows, and Tati was safe, so not too many windows. Just enough. He poked a stick in the side to make a window. Mother liked shadows too. But Mother wasn’t scared of anything, and would just be mad at him.

A shadow fell over Damian’s sand temple. He looked up to see Grandpa crouching down next to him.

“How you doing over here, bud?” He asked. Damian smiled, and showed off his temple.