Choices Chapters1: Prologue
Chapter 5: Starfire, Robin and the Batman
by Marilee Stephens
Dick, his insides already doing somersaults from the various bits and pieces of confusing impressions and information that had been presented to him, couldn't believe his eyes when the woman who had spoken walked into the room. "Kory," he mouthed to himself, as she casually sauntered over towards him, smiling beguilingly towards his fellow Nightwing, who stretched out his hand as if to stop her from continuing her advance over to the young man her gaze had focused on. But she missed the gesture and continued on.
"Hi Nightwing", she welcomed him as she moved closer, her smile widening in a familiar way that caused his guts to twist up. For a moment, he got the impression that she was going to embrace him in a hug, but the small step back he took away from her must have changed her mind, as she just held out her hand in greeting. Still, a bit of a state of shock had him rooted, and he ignored the hand, instead staring at her in mute surprise. She looked the same. The same green eyes shone out of her beautiful face. The same golden glow touched her skin. The same deep brown-red locks fell across her forehead and down her back, though he did note that they seemed a bit more tamer than they had been in the past. Her costume was just slightly modified from the one that he was used to seeing on his Kory. But otherwise she looked exactly the same, even though he knew that she had to be a good 10 years older than his Kory would be right now. She ended up stopping a few feet in front of him, her expression changing from one of warmth to wariness and confusion. Noting this, his Earth-1 counterpart came over and quickly grasped her hand when he reached her side.
Noting the stillness of the people around her, she restated her earlier question, as if she hoped that it would give her the reason for the chilliness permeating the room. "Wait until I hear what, Gar?" she asked, though in a more serious tone this time, as she appeared to take in the solemn faces on the group in the room. Turning to the man beside her, a soft "Dick?" exited her mouth.
"Nothing, hon Apparently my younger counterpart is a bit of a xenophobe", the elder Nightwing stated harshly, the tone of his voice condemning the young man. Shaking his head, as if to negate the older man's statements, Dick looked frantically around the room.
Dick saw the eyes of the others in the room on him, or rather, on the tableau he and the couple in front of him were making. The nervous energy that had been surging through his system reached an all-time peak with the look that Nightwing was focusing on him. Almost blindly, he spoke as if to correct the wrong impression that he had inadvertently presented. But the words emerged in a jumbled mess and he just seemed to dig himself deeper into the hole he had made.
"No No, I'm not. You don't know me, anymore than I know any of you. I'm not anything like you think. How could I fear aliens, when I have worked with my Superman, have taken trips to outer space when I did spend four years of my life with my Kory." A numbness seemed to be seeping through him, as he started to mumble softly, directing his statements at the tall woman in front of him, "No This isn't right This isn't the way it went at all. The wedding that damned wedding The mess with Raven Seeing you hurt and not being able to help you. Knowing that I had failed you again " Becoming aware of the looks that dawned on the others' faces, ones that picked up on the past phrasing of his words, ones of shock, and maybe a touch of pity on a very few faces, a wave of anger and confusion hit him and his voice grew louder as he savagely bit out, "Yes, four years Four years before she took up and left Left without looking back, without even saying 'Goodbye'!" Turning to the woman that looked so achingly familiar to him, he directed a surge of anger, one that he never even knew that was in him, at her, "You left!!! Without one word!" Turning to the others, he then threw out, "You all seem to want to think that you know me But you don't! You don't at all!"
Another wave of surprise hit him when he saw Batman move over to the couple facing him and lay a protective hand on Kory's shoulder. Just as he had been shocked by the way that this Batman was so much more friendlier with his fellow super-heroes, it was obvious that he had also developed a closer relationship with this Starfire than Dick could have ever hoped would develop between his Bruce and his Kory. Another brief surge of jealousy swept over him, as he again asked himself why his life was so different from the path that these people's had followed. He saw how she looked at both the men on either side of her, as if silently asking them to help her out. Turning back to him, "X'hal, I don't understand " emerged slowly from her lips.
But neither man flanking her seemed to know how to deal with the outburst that had just confronted them. Instead, aid came when another voice broke the tension that was gripping the room. "It's okay, Koriand'r. I think your husband's and my young counterpart is just feeling the effects of too much information, too little sleep and too little food. We didn't get any rest last night, and haven't eaten since Alfred made breakfast this morning. That, on top of a pretty complete medical examination, a failed attempt to return him home, and two inter-demensional trips, one planned and one not, has probably shaken him," Robin's calm voice cut through the deadened air surrounding the others. Apparently, he had figured out at least one source of Dick's immediate anxiety and sought to remove it, as he then added, "How about you show me where a kitchen is in this monstrosity of a headquarters you people have here and we can get at least one problem dealt with."
"I I ", Kory looked between all three versions of Dick Grayson that now surrounded her, as the eldest had moved up to stand beside the youngest present.
"It's okay, m'love Richard is probably right. Too much thrown at him without enough time to adjust. Some food probably would help." While the elder Nightwing's words and soft tone might have indicated that he had begun to understand his counterpart's feelings, Dick could see the hard stare in the man's eyes and knew that this was not over. Not by a long shot.
However, Kory didn't appear to see the look in her husband's eyes, and took his statements for what they were. "Okay Maybe you're right." A wan smile began to cross her face as she then added, as if trying to add a bit of levity to the whole situation, "I know what you're like if you don't get enough food in you." Equally wan smiles started to cover the rest of the assembled group's faces with her remark. All except the two Nightwings.
With a quick tilt of her cinnabar-covered head, she indicated the doorway to Robin. "C'mon, Richard I think some coffee and sandwiches might do the trick." As she turned to head out, Dick felt a quick squeeze on his shoulder. Looking at the red-yellow-and-green clothed man beside him, he saw a note of caution enter the older man's eyes, telling him both that he understood but that he had to get his emotions back under control. Robin then turned and followed Kory out of the room.
Silence reigned heavily over the room for several minutes, as the others were obviously waiting for one of the men standing, facing each other as in an old Western showdown, to make the first move. Dick looked between the masked man in front of him, whose stance indicated both an anger at him and a protectiveness towards the woman who had just left the room, and the cowled man who had moved to stand beside him. Batman laid a hand on his former partner's arm, though whether to reassure him or restrain him, Dick had no clue.
After several minutes, his voice literally shaking with fury, Nightwing finally ground out, "Do you mind telling me what the hell that was about? Kory didn't do anything but try to say hello, and you act like the world was collapsing!"
"Dick don't", Batman warned his former partner. "Let him speak. Obviously, things didn't go for him and the Starfire of his universe as they have for you and Kory."
"No No, they didn't", Dick admitted slowly. "I'm sorry for everything that just happened. It's just There's been so much Too many things It was just the final straw I guess."
But Nightwing didn't appear to want to be placated by Dick's jumbled words. "Final straw? To what? I don't know what your problem is--"
Hearing the accusation in the older man's voice, Dick's own anger reasserted itself. "That's right You don't. You've obviously never had a bad moment in your life, have you?" he lashed out sarcastically. "You've got your Titans, your Kory Your Batman seems to be all that one could hope for in a mentor. You have no idea what it's like to see your whole life collapse around you, do you?!?" His voice rising, Dick disregarded the stunned faces that stared back at him. "You have no idea what my life's like! No clue whatsoever!" Turning, he blindly looked for an exit to the room. "I need to get out of here I can't think here". He located another door and quickly strode towards it.
His actions seemed to touch off a cascade of reactions from the group. "Dick" came from Helena, echoed by Donna's, "Nightwing", both women reaching out to comfort the clearly distraught young man in front of them. But he ignored them.
"Nightwing, please Let's talk this out," came from off to his side, as the E-1 Superman called out.
Finally reaching the exit, Dick snapped, "No No more talk. I don't want to talk. I need to think."
He could just hear Batman's faint "Let him go, Clark," as he quickly headed down the corridor he found himself in. He needed to get away from all the eyes surrounding him. All the eyes that expected different things from him. He didn't know where he was going. But at that moment, he didn't particularly care.
Still, after a few minutes of moving down corridors without concern for where he was or what he was doing, Dick had to admit to himself that he had overreacted. These people were trying to help him, after all. But it all had been too much to take in at once. People who looked liked people he knew, and who, at some level, acted like people he knew, weren't the people he knew. He realized that he didn't know how to act with them, or how he felt about how they acted around him. In some ways, it had been easier on Earth-2 "Lord", he thought to himself, "now they've got me calling these Earths by these weird names," if only because he didn't really know the counterparts on his Earth to the people he had met there, or their counterparts were totally different. Here, on this Earth, some of these people were the counterparts to the people he was closest with in his life. But while they were so similar in some ways, they were so different in others. He needed time away, away from all of them, if only to try and put some distance and perspective between him and them.
Coming out of his thoughts, he realized that he was a bit lost. Not that wasn't expected. He didn't know this headquarters, and while he had noted the general direction and when he had turned and where in the corridors, he realized that he just needed to find a place to sit for a while. Stopping in the corridor he was in, he decided to duck into one of the rooms off of it. After testing a few doors, which appeared to be locked, he hit the "open" button to one door, causing it to faintly "swoosh" apart. Ducking into the room, he turned to see a general seating area/lounge with tables and chairs. But it was what he saw in the room past this area, which could be seen through a half-wall and counter on the far end of the room, that prompted him to shut his eyes as a small groan left him. Apparently, he had stumbled into the kitchen/mess hall, as he could make out his Earth-2 counterpart listening to the tall woman who was facing away from him, apparently slicing something on the counter of an island in the middle of the kitchen area.
" so that's pretty much what we've been up to in the last year since we've seen you, Richard. How about yourself? Things been busy over on your Earth?"
"Busy enough, Koriand'r. Here, let me help you with that."
"No It's okay. There's a large coffee maker over there and coffee in the freezer of that fridge. Why don't you put some on to perk? We'll probably need more than what's usually kept hot up in the meeting room."
"All right." Dick wanted to duck back out into the corridor, before either of them had a chance to spot him. But curiosity kept him silent, as he watched the older version of himself interact with the woman whose counterpart he had once been so close to. Besides, listening to them might take his mind off his own problems, at least for the moment. And he needed that moment, to calm himself down, if nothing else. Noting that Robin had finished filling the coffee maker with water and turned it on, he maneuvered himself out of the line of sight as the brightly clad man turned back towards the woman, who had put down the knife she had been wielding and set about putting slices of bread out to make sandwiches..
"C'mon, Richard, there's got to be something that's come up in the last year "
"Not really, Koriand'r Same old, same old. Practice a bit of law, beat up a few crooks. You should come visit. I'm sure Alfred would get a kick out of seeing all of you again."
"Well, if we do, we're leaving our Alfred here. While I loved it, I'm not sure either Dick or Bruce could handle seeing those two together again." Dick could hear the warmth in Kory's voice as a wide grin slashed his older counterpart's face.
"True. Especially when both Alfreds got that put-upon 'I know what you've done' look on their faces at the same time after Dick, Bruce, Helena and Jason raided the kitchen that night. I don't know if who I felt more sorry for at that moment, them or the Alfreds."
"Jason?", Dick thought rapidly to himself. "Jason's alive?!?" But before he had time to digest that little fact, Kory's voice drew him back to the pair in front of him.
"All I know is Dick had dreams/nightmares about multiple Alfreds with that look on their faces for weeks afterwards."
"Serves them all right. Never did get any of that creme caramel that your Alfred had made for the next day's lunch."
"Well, it was probably a good thing in the long run." Dick noted how Kory's body had shifted slightly with that, moving to slightly face his counterpart. "Now, if you're done trying to change the subject "
"Didn't work, huh."
"Nope I've got more than a decade's experience in reading Dick Grayson's moods and feelings." A teasing tone entered her voice. "And you're definitely being evasive "
"No I'm not really. There's just nothing to tell "
"Nothing? Surely something's happened. How about a woman in your life "
In an amused, if exasperated tone, Richard countered, "Koriand'r, what is it with you? Every time I see you, you bring that up."
"Well, maybe I just like seeing Richard Grayson happy."
"I am happy. Overjoyed. Blissful even."
"Yeah, right. Tell me another one. Seriously, Richard. I know that we really don't see each other all that often. But I do worry "
"Now you're starting to sound like Helena. Face it, Koriand'r, with the life I lead, it takes a very special woman. My Bruce was lucky when he found Selina. She understood the life. Same with Dick and you."
"Well, speaking of Helena "
"Speaking of Helena what?"
"X'hal, Richard I'm beginning to wonder about the Grayson men. What about you and Helena? You've always seemed really close."
"Me and Helena? Koriand'r, she's the closest thing I have to a sister!"
"But she's not, and I've always gotten certain 'vibes,' as Garfield would say, off the two of you. And you can't say that she doesn't understand your lifestyle."
"Of course she understands my lifestyle. That's not the point. Maybe at one time I mean, it could have happened, I guess. I can't believe that I'm talking about this with you."
Dick saw Kory reach over to take Richard's hand. "X'hal, I'm sorry. I just want to see you happy." A winsome smile lit up her face. "Like I said, I've got this thing about seeing Dick Grayson happy. And during our last visit, after seeing how you interacted with Well, I just think you should really start considering that part of your life more."
"Okay. I see your point." A teasing grin spread across the older man's visage. "Maybe I should see about hitching a ride to my universe's Tamaran "
"Now there's a thought. Though, as I understand it, you probably wouldn't find much there."
"No I remember after one of the joint Earth missions I was involved with several years ago, I questioned the others about why there seemed to be so few non-Terrans on your Earth. Seems Superman and Power Woman are the only two I've met." Seeing Richard's nod of confirmation, she continued, "The others gave me a few reasons why that might have happened, but something Hal Jordan told me "
Richard interrupted her at that point. "So how does Hal like retirement? From what Alan's told me, he seems content enough."
"So I understand. Of course, he is still somewhat involved with the Guardians. He's part of their What's it called 'honor corps'. And he's very involved with the training of his successor, Rayna Killbears. Spends a lot of time out on his ranch in Colorado, from what I hear. Anyways, he told me that one big difference between the Earth-1 universe and the Earth-2 universe was that Earth-2's doesn't have an Oa or the Guardians of the Universe. Hearing that, I knew things on the Earth-2 Tamaran, if one exists, must be very different."
"Because there's been some archeological and historical evidence that my planet was terra-formed and that this terra-forming was done by the Psions."
Dick saw a small shudder ripple along the woman's spine. Knowing his own Kory's history, he knew the distaste even saying the word must bring to the woman in front of him.
"Yes. The Psions. X'hal, I wish Anyways, they're a reptilian race whose passions are solely centered around science."
"So? I take it that there's some connection between the Guardians and these Psions."
"Yes. The Guardians were the ones that evolved the Psions from the lower life form they had been, at least according to what Hal told me. This evolution was one of the Guardians earliest attempts. Too bad for the rest of the universe that they didn't just skip that one set of experiments."
Dick saw Robin give a small nod of understanding. "I see. No Guardians, no Psions. No Psions, no terra-forming of Tamaran No terra-forming of Tamaran "
" Probably no Tamaraneans. Or, at least, not in the form that we're currently in."
"So I should cancel the trip there," Robin added in a joking tone.
"Well, you don't have to do that. Maybe there is another version of me there, just desperately waiting for her 'knight-in-shining-armor' to show up." Kory was busy putting various fillings she had prepared onto slices of bread for the sandwiches. But she took a moment to stop and smile over at Richard, sharing the light moment with him. The carefree smile caused a sharp pain in Dick's midsection. It had been so long since he had seen it. He hadn't seen it for months even before his Kory had left him.
But the smile obviously caused nothing of the sort for his counterpart. Instead he developed what appeared to be an amusingly perplexed look on his face. " 'Knight-in-shining-armor', Koriand'r? Somehow you never struck me as the type that would be needing or wanting a 'knight-in-shining-armor'."
"You're right. X'hal, I guess I've been reading too many fairy tales recently. But now, since you've managed to change the subject yet again "
Richard could only grin at her exasperated expression. It pulled a similar one from the man hiding in the shadows in the next room. "Can't help it, Koriand'r. Though I must admit, I can understand your husband's attachment to you". Seeing the look that stretched across Kory's face, Richard laughed out loud. Shaking his head in amusement, "No, besides that. You're just too easy to talk to."
"Well, I've got years of practice listening to a Dick Grayson. Makes it a little easier."
Dick saw Richard's face develop a concerned expression at that point. "That being the case, maybe you should try and talk to our young counterpart." Realizing how much Richard was concerned about him touched Dick down deep in his soul. It had been a while since he felt that level of concern. Bruce sometimes indicated that he probably felt so, but he had such a hard time showing it. Why didn't these people?
Kory's saddened voice broke through his ruminations. "I don't think so, Richard. Did you see how he reacted to me? X'hal, I don't know what happened between him and my counterpart on his Earth, but it obviously hurt him deeply. I think it would be better if I just stay away from him. I don't want to cause him any more pain." Dick saw her hands tremble as she went to cut the sandwiches she had prepared. At that moment, he felt ashamed by the obvious hurt that he had caused this woman, one that he knew he shouldn't hold responsible. It wasn't her fault that things had gone so badly for him when his Titans had folded.
His counterpart reinforced that point. "Koriand'r, it not you that caused him that pain. And maybe talking to you will alleviate some of it. Besides, you might get him to open up about why some things on our Earths are bothering him so much. I noticed it slightly on my Earth, but since coming here, he's become more and more tense, even before you showed up. Something's bothering him."
"I I'll try, Richard. I just don't know if I'll be any use. And I'd hate to make matters worse.
Dick had heard enough. It was obvious that while he was fighting with his own anxiety, he had also caused some degree of concern and pain in others around him. He told himself that from now on, he would just take what he was told at face value. These people weren't the ones he was angry with.
Just as he was about to turn to quietly sneak back out of the room however, he felt a hand fall on his shoulder. Quickly turning, he instinctively moved into a defensive stance, before he saw the dark-cowled man that had merged with the shadows behind him. Seeing a gloved finger move up to the man's mouth, and then point towards the door, he followed the caped figure silently from the room. Neither noticed how their slight movement did catch the eye of the green-cowled man in the kitchen, whose eyebrow rose at the sight of the two of them.
Once they were in the corridor, Batman turned to Dick and admonished, "What is it they say about people who listen at keyholes?"
Dick reddened at Batman's scrutiny, but then inquired in return, "Why did you follow me?"
"I didn't. At least, not right away. But I figured you needed to talk to someone. Thought you might with me." He indicated a door a short ways down the corridor with a tilt of his head. After a short pause, Dick slowly nodded his head in agreement. Turning, Batman lead him down the hall and into another, smaller lounge than the one that the group had congregated in earlier.
This one also had a window, Dick took in quickly. Funny, he hadn't realized before that none of the rooms he had been in hadn't had one. But a big view of the Earth could be seen on the wall opposite the door that he entered and for a moment it stunned him. Striding quickly over to it, he could only gaze in awe at the blue-green globe below him. He hadn't seen the view all that many times in his life, though more than most people ever would. Still, the sheer beauty of it stunned him. It could have been his Earth. And he had to remind himself that for all the differences he had found here, there were also a lot of similarities.
"We're We're not on Earth?"
Batman's voice came from over his shoulder. "No, the JLA's headquarters is a satellite."
"Just like in the old days," Dick breathed to himself. However, he remembered that the original satellite that the JLA once had had been destroyed and abandoned even before the Crisis on his Earth. Did that not happen here?
Batman seemed to be reading his mind, as he continued, "We rebuild it after we decided that the original JLA should reform. For awhile, another group operated out of a bunker in Detroit, but when we got back together following an assault by Darkseid. Well, we couldn't decide where to set back up on Earth. And some of the others argued about how much they missed the old satellite. So we rebuilt."
"I see." Turning, he was about to ask the older man another question when he was struck dumb by the sight in front of him. Again, it wasn't anything too significant, but it just underlined the difference between this Batman and his own.
Because it wasn't Batman sitting on the couch anymore It was Bruce Wayne.
At least, it was Bruce Wayne's face that looked up at him, not the cowled visage of the Batman. The face was a bit more lined than he was used to, the hair a bit more streaked with gray. But it was Bruce's face. The costume was in place but the mask was off. Something so simple, really But it was enough to throw Dick off-course yet again.
"You've You took your cowl off."
Bruce eyed him sympathetically. "Not something that your Batman would do?"
"No, not outside the Batcave, that is."
"I see. Sorry, I thought you might be more comfortable talking face-to-face. Have to admit, while everyone knows who I am up here, I don't tend to unmask all that regularly here either. I can put it back on if you want."
"No No, it's okay." With that, Dick reached up and started to peel his own mask off.
"Sure?" With Dick's nod, Bruce continued. "That's one of the biggest problems, isn't it? All that's different between where you come from and here."
Dick didn't know whether to attribute the man's quickness to simple common sense or the fact that he was the World's Greatest Detective. But again the feeling hit him of how nice it was to be the target of someone's concern. "Yes. I'm sorry, I know I overreacted before. But there were just so many things. And your Nightwing seemed so angry "
"I imagine that there were a great many shocks, given your reactions. As for Dick Well, I'm afraid you accidently hit on some of his own hot-spots. He's usually much more even-tempered. But you seemed to almost deny what he considers some of the biggest influences of his life."
Dick moved to sit on the opposite end of the couch from Bruce. "Yeah, I probably did, even if I didn't mean to. It's just "
Bruce picked up on the hesitation in the young man's voice. Leaning forward, he placed a hand on Dick's shoulder. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to. But I'd like to know."
Dick looked at the hand resting on his shoulder. He tried to remember the last time his Batman had touched him so reassuringly. It can't have been that long ago, but
"I just don't understand ", he blurted out.
"Everything How is it that you look like my Batman, sound like my Batman and yet, you're nothing like him."
"Well, I doubt that I'm nothing like him."
"Maybe not, but in a lot of ways you are. Like what Donna said about you and Superman being best friends. That you have been for years "
"You have a problem with me and Clark being friends?"
"Yes No I don't know. It's just something my Batman wouldn't do. He lets so few people get close. And trusts even fewer. And yet you seem to be quite comfortable with "
"With letting others in."
"Maybe. Maybe I am compared to your Bruce. But I know some people from around here that would say differently. Until we got to know each other, Kory felt I was awful cold, remote and totally emotionless. Of course, coming from her background, I probably did seem that way."
"Well, my Kory sometimes thought my Batman was crazy. I don't get the impression that yours thinks that of you."
"Crazy? No We've had our ups and downs over the years, but I haven't heard her use the word 'crazy.'" Smiling, Bruce added, "She's used plenty of others over the years, but not that one." The brief bit of levity over though, he then added, "Still, I'm not as open as you seem to think I am. Most people still find me somewhat forbidding. The criminal element certainly does. But I've never tried to make good people feel that way. Is your Batman so different? Maybe you should tell me a bit more about him."
Dick wasn't sure how to respond the question put before him. How did he tell this Bruce about Batman. He would feel like he was being disloyal to his Batman somehow. But maybe, if he talked it out, he would figure out why this one seemed so different from his own. And that would at least be one source of his nervous tension removed.
"I don't know what to tell you. I know he's not emotionless. If anything, I sometimes think that he's got too much emotion. He just doesn't know how to let it show. But as a result Well, he channels it into ways that most people wouldn't. Like I said, he doesn't let people in. Even me, whose probably one of the closest people to him. I sometimes have no clue what's going on inside his head, let alone his heart."
"He doesn't trust anyone Afraid he's going to get hurt if he does "
"Yes, that's it. Like he's afraid that anyone he let's get close will leave him "
"Like his parents did."
"Yeah. Exactly. Don't tell me you ?"
"For a time Yes, I did. Not consciously, mind you. But after what happened to my parents, I did bury myself in the books, the workouts, the development of my skills. Whatever extroversive tendencies I might have had as a child disappeared for quite a while. I know that it worried both my Uncle Philip and Mrs. Chilton."
"Uncle Philip? Mrs. Chilton? Who ?"
Bruce leaned back into the couch. "I see. Your Bruce wasn't raised by his uncle and his housekeeper."
"No Mine was raised by Alfred, and partially by the woman who had found him after his parents had been shot, Leslie Thompkins. Seems like he was the only one though, if what Richard, Helena and their Alfred told me is correct."
"Well, there's one difference, then. Though I'm sure your Alfred would have done a good job. And that means your Bruce would never face the fact he was raised by the woman whose son had killed his parents. That was probably a good thing. I'm still glad that Mrs. Chilton never found out what her son had done. It probably would have "
Dick had gone stock-still and white at Bruce's words. The silence and stillness of the younger man finally caught Bruce's attention, causing him to pause in the midst of his thought. "Dick?"
"You know? You know who killed your parents?"
"I don't understand! How did you ?" Dick paused as he remembered something from before the confrontation up in the main waiting room. "Wait That explains what your Nightwing was talking about. When he said that the Phantom Stranger sent you to another universe to stop Joe Chill "
"Yes. On this Earth, he was hired by Lew Moxon to kill my father, who had testified against in him a court case. Made it look like a simple street crime. The Phantom Stranger allowed me the chance to prevent that from happening to another universe's Bruce Wayne."
"Still, how did you ?"
"How did I know it was him?"
Dick could only nod at the odd note in the other man's voice.
In a deadened tone, Bruce voiced, "His face I never forgot his face."
An awkward silence coursed through the room for a moment as both men thought about the information that one had given the other.
Finally Bruce spoke, "But surely you know all this. Unless Wait, are you telling me?"
"My Batman Bruce He's never known. Not for sure."
"Oh. Yes, I suppose that would make a difference. I know that once I found Chill, and he had died, that I thought I might be able to stop being Batman. But that didn't last long, once I realized the amount of good that Batman could do in places that Bruce Wayne couldn't. But to not have found out No, I don't know how that would have affected my thinking."
Dick realized what the older man was thinking with his musing. Maybe he did know the man in front of him better than he had thought. Protesting the way he was sure the other man's thought processes were going, he stated, "Wait He's not in it for revenge, if that's what you think."
"Are you sure?"
Dick eyed the man in front of him steadily. "Of course. He just doesn't want anyone else to go through what he went through."
"I know the feeling. But I wasn't really thinking of vengeance, but of uncertainty. I don't know what I would feel like if I had to deal with the fact that every time I went out, I might meet the man that had changed my life so much, and yet not even know it. It would definitely change how I approached things."
Dick nodded in understanding. "At least I never had that problem. I've always known that it was Tony Zucco that was responsible for my parents' deaths."
"Yes That's probably affected how you, Richard and my Nightwing all approach your crimefighting. And as for letting people in, your Bruce must have done so, mustn't he? He did take you in."
"Yeah, he did. He always said it was because he saw himself in me and didn't want me to go through some of the stuff that he went through growing up. The fact that taking down Zucco so early in my career definitely gave me an advantage that Batman probably never had. As well as getting me over an emotional hurdle he never had a chance to face."
"I'm sure it did. But, if he is anything like me, having you around probably helped him emotionally more than facing his parents' killer might ever had. I know that teaching my Dick and watching him grow into the man he is brought more pleasure to me than almost anything else in my life."
"Maybe " A slight tremble entered Dick's voice as he went on to expound, "Probably explains why he felt that he had to fire me when it looked like the work could take me away from him as well."
A dead silence filled the air at that point. Dick looked up at the man, who was staring at him with a very perplexed look on his face. Bruce slowly stated, "Would you mind repeating that last bit. He did what?"
Awareness dawned on Dick with the sheer incredulous tone in the man's voice. Softly, barely a whisper in strength, he uttered,"You You didn't tell your Robin that he couldn't be your partner anymore after he was shot by the Joker, did you?"
Dick saw the faint glaze of sympathy flash through the man's eyes. "No. No, I didn't. It was Dick's decision to stop being my partner and to stop being Robin. With his work with the Titans, and his move away from Gotham, he felt that it was time that he take on his own identity. One that didn't put him in the secondary role. I have to admit, at the time, while I was proud of him, I was also a bit upset. I knew he wasn't rejecting me and all that we had accomplished together, but Well, if Jason hadn't already been a part of our lives, I might have felt some sort of sense of rejection more."
Dick could only shake his head in disbelief. In some ways, what Bruce had just revealed explained so much, and in others, so little. "You didn't fire him. He didn't run away from home. He didn't spend several months trying to figure out where he even belonged trying college trying to find a place to fit in. If the Titans hadn't come along with they did " Dick didn't know what to feel. For a moment, anger, sadness, a feeling of injustice gripped him. Why had things gone so badly for his Bruce and him? Whose fault was it? Was it his? Had he done something?
Dick felt the hand that had been previously on his shoulder return and give a tight squeeze. "No, I didn't. But I think that Dick did still have some of the same concerns as you obviously did. He just had a different way to try and answer them. You'd have to ask him for certain though." A pause settled for a moment, before the bigger man continued, "In some ways, it seems our positions were the reverse. It was your Batman and my Robin that made the decisions. We were the ones that had to deal with the fallout. As I said, if Jason hadn't already been there to take over as Robin, once Dick gave him his permission and his old suit "
Dick started as he remembered what Richard had said earlier in jest. "Jason He was already living with you?"
"Yes I had taken him in after his parents had been killed helping me and Dick with a case. We were even trying to come up with names for him to go by even before Dick decided not to be Robin anymore."
Dick nodded slowly, even as he took in the fact that here was another difference in the sequence of events that somehow ended up with the same result Or at least, a similar initial result. From what Richard had implied, there was one major difference. But he had to know for sure.
"And he's he's alive?"
That last question sent all the air out of Bruce's chest. "Yes. Jay's alive. You're not telling me ?"
Dick could only nod his head in the affirmative. Bruce stared at him in shock.
"Please Please don't tell me it happened while he was acting as Robin. Please "
Dick could hear the despair in the other man's voice. He hadn't lived through it, but obviously this man felt deeply enough to know at least some of what his counterpart had gone through.
"How How did it happen?" Bruce demanded to know.
"He That is, Jason He was searching for his mother "
"What? Jay knows who his mother was. Trina Todd, of the 'Flying Todds' "
"'The Flying Todds'?"
"Yes They were an acrobatic group that Dick knew. When Trina stumbled on our identities, she and Joe, her husband, were determined to help us out on a case concerning Killer Croc. That's how they died. He found them snooping around."
"What? You had civilians ?"
"Believe me, you don't know how many times I regretted that decision. But it happened. Jay never had to go looking for his mother, as you just claimed."
Dick nodded. Another difference. A bigger one this time. Who knew how it had affected the course of events. "Your Jason never had to go looking for his mother. Ours did Only, when he found her, it turned out that she was working with the Joker."
"Yeah He He was the one " Dick's voice trailed off as the other man realized the pain the memory of the boy brought to the young man in front of him.
"I'm sorry", was all he could say.
"Yeah Me too."
Again, silence fell, though this time it wasn't as strained as it had been before. Both men sat silently, one remembering a boy that he realized that he really hadn't known all that well, while the other gave thanks that he had never had to face some of the events, and the resulting demons those events must have evoked, that his other counterpart must have had to.
Finally, Bruce broke the silence. "I think I can understand your Bruce better now. I don't know how I would have reacted to some of the things that you've just told me. I might as well retreated from the people around me."
Dick looked at the man in front of him. "That still doesn't explain all the differences. You've obviously been friends with some of these people for a long time. Even before you met and took in Jason. And it still doesn't explain why my Batman would push people away, like he did with me after the Joker shot me."
"No I think I can understand him. He lost something when he lost his parents. Not only innocence, but maybe also Well, for lack of a better word, 'hope'. Or at least, a feeling that good always triumphs. I got that back when I found Joe Chill. He might not have. And while Dick was hurt several times while we were partnered, most of the time it wasn't life-threatening. To have come so close No, I can see why he would want to protect the good things that you had brought to his life, including the sense of hope that Robin always instilled. And if you had died, they would have been gone as well. Therefore, it made sense to try and protect you. And to do that, he had to 'fire' you. I don't know, in the same circumstances, I might have done the same thing."
A bitter note entered Dick's voice. "Yeah, but we'll never know, will we? And if that was the reason, why would he take in a new Robin months later."
Bruce leaned back into the couch again. "That That I can understand. I'm not sure either Dick or Jay have ever realized just what having them out there with me, even if not all the time, has brought to me. What we do can be very isolating. Sharing it with others Maybe that's why I learned to open up to the other members of the JLA, why I did make friends with Clark so early. Because I needed that sense of comradeship. Maybe your Bruce even wants that, but he's also afraid. If I had suffered some of the losses that he seems to have suffered, I might feel the same way."
Dick could see the sense in the man's words. Intellectually, he knew that Bruce was probably right. But at an emotional level That he still had to cope with.
"Maybe I know that even though he holds them at arm's length, there are certain members of the current JLA he's involved with on our world that he has come to trust."
"I'm glad. Who knows, maybe in a few years, he'll relax enough to let others in as well. I know that I have. But that's because of certain things that have happened in my life in the last few years. Both good and bad. Things that made me realize that even the small amount of reserve that I was harboring was harming some of the relationships in my life."
Dick couldn't believe how open this man was being. Still, he had a point. Who knew what his Bruce would be like in a few years. Maybe he was making assumptions based on things that were actually different in the past. Curiosity peaked, he had to ask.
Bruce eyed him, as if not sure he wanted to touch on these topics. But seeing the genuine sentiment in the man's gaze, he decided to answer him.
"Someone Someone very important to me at one time left because she couldn't face the life that I lead. There have been several points in my life where being Batman has really affected my life as Bruce Wayne. I sometimes wonder "
Dick interrupted softly at that point. "What was said in the main hall It's true. You consider yourself 'Bruce Wayne'?"
"Of course. Who else am I suppose to consider myself?"
"Batman? Of course I'm Batman. It's something I become to do what needs to be done. A role I play in areas of my life that Bruce Wayne couldn't operate."
Dick could only shake his head sadly. "No, you don't understand. My Bruce sees it the exact opposite. He's 'Batman.' That's who he is, deep down inside him. 'Bruce Wayne' is merely a role he plays to act in areas of his life where Batman couldn't operate."
"I see. I guess at the most fundamental level, we are different."
"Yes. You are. And maybe that's why my Bruce will never be able to become what you are. Or you never able to become what he is."
"Maybe But maybe, when you have the chance, you should ask him what someone once asked me. Someone who even understood my life, and could have shared it, if I had been able to get past certain hang-ups. For awhile, I thought I could. I thought we might build a life together. But certain things kept getting in the way. And that was when she asked me, 'Bruce, this life Do you really think this life is what your parents would have wanted for you?'"
Shock flitted across Dick's face. "ohmigod Someone actually asked you that? What were they thinking? What did you answer?"
"What could I answer? I knew what I was doing might not have been entirely what my parents would have wanted. But I'd like to think that they would be very proud of what I've done, both as Batman and as Bruce Wayne. I'd like to think that Gotham is a better place to live in because of my presence than without it. But she did have a point. At what point do Batman's requirements outweigh Bruce Wayne's needs as a human being? I've asked myself that a lot. And I don't know the answer. It gets really confusing when I consider all my friends that have managed to build fulfilling lives in their private lives "
"Like your Dick and Kory "
"Yes, to some extent. Though they've had to face hells as a result that I haven't. But you should ask them about those. Their lives haven't been as easy as youÕve implied."
"I really angered him up there."
"Yes, you did. Though, I have to say, I think he overreacted a bit as well and probably regrets it also. I know that when he met me at the Manor to come up here, after hearing about you, he wasn't quite sure how to feel."
"I don't understand. Why ?"
"Why would it bother him? I suppose because unlike most of the identical counterparts between our Earth and Earth-2, he was the one that changed the most. Richard stayed Robin, stayed in Gotham for the most part. He didn't. He's never had a chance to meet a person who must have gone through some of the life-changes that he had. Yet you had You had also become Nightwing. I think he was a bit excited at the thought of meeting you, but also a bit wary."
"And I ended up playing right into the 'wary' part, while skipping the 'excited.'"
"Something like that. Especially when you seemed the most confused, and even angry, about some of the most important relationships in his life. Like his relationship with Clark."
"Superman. Yeah, they seemed to act like they were almost family."
"In some ways, they are. Superman and I worked together often enough while Dick was Robin that they developed a close friendship. Dick looks up to Clark in different ways than he does me. And then there was the bit with Kory."
"Please I'd rather not go there. I was an ass I admit it."
"No, you were surprised. There's nothing wrong with that. Especially if your relationship with your Kory went anything like you implied. Dick should have listened. But I'm afraid his relationship with his wife is the one area where he's always thought more with his heart than his head."
"I know I know the feeling."
"You probably do. Listen, I have to admit, I don't know what it's like to meet a counterpart to myself. I never had a chance to meet the Batman of Earth-2, though I have greatly enjoyed the relationships I've been able to form with Richard and Helena. So I don't know how to advise you with regards to dealing with Dick. I do know that Dick tends to be harder on himself than on anyone else. Maybe he subconsciously transferred that to you as well. He might sort of expect you to live up to his standards. I think you're both going to have to take it "
At that point,, as if knowing he was the topic of discussion, a dark head appeared through the doorway. Dick gazed up into the familiar eyes that he saw every morning in the mirror, except these held a certain wariness to them. Stiffening slightly, he braced himself for another possible round of unpleasantness. Instead though, all that he got was a quick, curt nod of a head.
"Sorry to interrupt. But we've gotten some news."
"About my problem?", Dick quickly asked.
His fellow Nightwing could only shake his head at that. "No, sorry." He then took a deep breath, as if steadying himself before battle. "Just like I'm sorry about what happened before. I was wrong."
"No We were both wrong."
"Maybe, but you didn't have a certain Tamaranean take your ear off as a result of hearing about what an idiot you've been."
A small smile crept over Dick's face. "No No, I haven't"
Bruce watched the byplay between the two younger men for a moment before getting back to the task at hand. "Dick, you said you had some news?"
"Yeah We've just got word about a robbery that took place in Metropolis. Concerning some components for both high-tech weaponry and circuitry for a possible teleporter."
"Yeah. Just like the one that Nightwing might have been dealing with on his Earth."
"Great. Just great."
"That's not all. Surveillance videotape showed that the well, that the head of the gang involved in the robbery was a Gorilla. A talking gorilla."
"What? Who? Grodd? Monsieur Mallah?" Dick demanded of his counterpart.
"That's what we were guessing when one other fact came up. It was a white talking gorilla."
"A white one I only ever faced a white one before once, and I doubt it's the same one. Do you have any ideas who it might be, Dick?" Batman asked his Nightwing.
"Nope. But the JSA knew who it was right off."
And so did Dick. Not that he had been there, but he had read the report about when his Titans had faced the same menace with Infinity Inc.
As a result, all he could say was, "The Ultra-Humanite."
To be continued in next month's FANZING!
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This story is © 1999 by Marilee Stephens.
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