The night air was charged with portents of an impending storm, one with a predicted intensity that sent most Gothamites hurrying home to safety. There was one, however, who raced not to the safety of home, but into danger. Clad in dark gray with a mantle of black, the tall, powerfully built man was the city’s self-appointed guardian. Dedicated to his mission, some would say obsessed, he was hardly a man to let adverse weather stay his course.
Racing across rooftops and back alleys that he knew as well as the halls of his ancestral manor, the masked avenger thought it fitting that it should rain tonight of all nights. That the skies themselves should shed tears in memory of events now two decades gone. Of a searing moment in which he lost that which was most dear to him. The moment in which Batman had been born.
It was supposed to be a celebration, an early birthday gift for a son deeply loved by his parents. They had gone to see a showing of the classic movie “The Mark of Zorro”, little realizing how the film, and the tragic events that followed, would shape the life of a child not yet even in his teens.
The neighborhood had then been called Park Row. It would be years later that it would acquire the more infamous name of Crime Alley. Many would mark the start of that transformation with that night. The night that Thomas and Martha Wayne died.
It had happened almost too quickly for the young boy to fully realize what was happening. The armed figure that had stepped out of the shadows with a demand that his parents give up their valuables. A careless motion by the thief had pointed his deadly weapon in the direction of the boy’s mother, which prompted a counter-motion by his father that placed him between the two in an attempt to protect his wife.
Then came the ear shattering explosion of two gunshots, bolts of lightning that destroyed his world and killed the man that Bruce Wayne might be one day have been as certainly as they stilled the hearts of his parents. The thief had then fled, but not before looking deep into the eyes of the boy he’d just orphaned. What he saw there frightened him in a way that he could never have imagined. It was a fear that untold numbers of his fellows would come to experience in years to come.
The boy grew to be a man, armed with vast wealth and a lifetime of knowledge and skills. Combined with a vow made over the bodies of his parents, he would spend every day of his life fighting the good fight, so that no one would ever have to suffer the pain that he had felt. No matter the cost, no matter the sacrifice, Batman would keep his city safe.
Through his myriad contacts, Batman had learned of an attempt that was to be made to hijack a new and experimental power transfer system that had been jointly developed by S.T.A.R. Labs and Wayne Enterprises. A unit that, if it lived up to its designer’s hopes, would go a long way toward solving some of the country’s energy demands.
Coming to rest on a rooftop adjacent to the Gotham Energy Research Center, Batman used his dark cape to blend into the shadows and become virtually invisible. He watched with interest as a large fork lift moved the prototype from the loading dock onto the back of a flatbed truck that was scheduled to take it to S.T.A.R.’s Metropolis complex for further testing. Overhead, the light rain began to grow more intense and the sky echoed with the peals of thunder.
“It should be any minute now,” Batman thought as he watched the workman who had secured the unit climb down from the truck and move inside to avoid the rain.
Almost as if on cue, three large men emerged from a parked car up the street, an assortment of automatic weapons in their hands. Clad in black outfits resembling those worn by military units, they carried an air of professionalism around them that confirmed the rest of Batman’s information. That they were mercenaries led by a former Spetsnaz officer named Konstantin Kurakin who, since the fall of the Soviet Union, now worked for the highest bidder. The rent-a-cops employed by the Research Center were ill-equipped to handle adversaries of their caliber.
Following the silent hand instructions of the tallest of the attackers, who Batman quickly identified as their leader, the two soldiers for hire quickly took up positions on the opposite ends of the loading dock. So efficient were their actions that they overpowered the numerically superior guards without firing a shot.
Batman waited until the guards and truck driver had been herded into the safety of the storage shed before he made his move. If he had acted before, the odds were that one or more of the employees might be hit in a crossfire. That the masked man was also outnumbered and outgunned really never entered his mind. After all, it was really just a matter of perspective. Especially since he had visited the loading dock this afternoon as one of the co-sponsors of the project after hearing of the possible hijack attempt. In his wake, he had left a little surprise that he now made use of. Planning and preparation, one of his many teachers had drummed into him years ago, were essential to survival.
Dropping down on a silk cord from his vantage point, Batman pressed a dark gloved hand against a switch on his utility belt. The switch in turn activated a small, localized transmitter that sent out a high-powered signal that triggered two powerful shock and stun grenades as well as a matching pair of smoke bombs.
The explosions and sudden near black out conditions had the desired effect, throwing the two junior members of the trio off balance. Especially since they had begun to foolishly relax after thinking they had eliminated any possible opposition.
It would’ve been nice to have gotten all three of them at once, Batman thought as he hit the ground and sent a booted foot into the chest of the closest mercenary, but you had to work with what you could get. The force of his kick both disarmed the large man and sent him hurdling into a wall of storage drums, a wall that then came crashing down, knocking his target senseless.
A quick glance around the loading dock, which had already begun to clear of smoke due to the rain and high winds, brought no sign of the group’s leader. So Batman turned his attention instead to an emerging threat as another black clad form leveled a machine pistol in his direction.
Rather than dive for cover, the Darknight leapt toward the danger and, in one fluid motion, dropped to the ground to effect a body roll that brought him back to his feet only two feet from the would be executioner. All the while, managing to avoid a cascade of weapon’s fire in his direction.
It only took another few moments’ work to put the second mercenary into the same condition as his compatriot. Although the worst this one would have to worry about was a broken jaw rather than the shattered extremities the first might have suffered. Then, not even pausing for breath, Batman turned to face the leader of the assault group, whom he had finally spotted out of the corner of his eye during his body roll.
Another powerful leap brought him to the back of the flatbed, where hidden behind the prototype, the former Spetsnaz had taken cover. Watching his carefully planned operation come apart in a dozen heartbeats, coupled with the harsh reality of what he had previously considered to be nothing more than an urban legend, was almost enough to break Kurakin’s confidence in his ability to defeat any enemy.
But like any good soldier, the Russian fell back on his training and under normal circumstances, that might’ve been enough. Too close now to make use of his gun, he instead met Batman’s charge with the same bloodied blade he had carried with him in Afghanistan.
The weight of the blade in his hand returned his confidence, since he was both a deadly knife fighter as well as an expert in a half dozen forms of hand-to-hand combat. But the man in gray and black he now faced had spent a lifetime learning his craft from experts the world over, and they included all that Kurakin had learned as well as a dozen more. While not every blow the Russian attempted was blocked, the most deadly ones certainly were. Just as most of the American’s counter blows seemed to find their target and strike where they would have the most effect.
Not even the full force of the storm, which had chosen that moment to strike, was enough to break Batman’s concentration. Which was why, when the very air between the combatants exploded in front of him, he was taken by surprise as he rarely was. Against all the odds, lighting had hit the truck and the large prototype on it. In less time that it would take to describe what had happened, the vast amount of natural energy charged the transfer system, overloading its safety limits and causing it to overload, releasing the enhanced energy surge in one blinding burst.
The explosion threw Batman and Kurakin in opposite directions with both landing hard on the pavement. An action that probably saved their lives as the unleashed energy reduced the truck and its cargo to twisted slag. Stunned, it took Batman a few moments to catch his breath, but as soon as he did, he didn’t even wait for his head to fully clear before taking off after his prey, racing down the only street he could’ve taken.
Gotham’s Guardian quickly covered the next block and a half in record time, sure that the Russian couldn’t have had that much of a head start on him. He was running on instinct, twisting and turning according to the mental map he carried in his head. A map that suddenly failed him as he shifted to his left to find a street that shouldn’t have been there.
A look of disbelief filled his face as he stopped and looked at the unfamiliar street sign in the once again light rain. For the first time in his adult life, he was lost in his own city.
“Kane St?” he repeated as he looked at the street sign a second time. “This wasn’t here a week ago.” a puzzled Batman added as he considered that the explosion might have injured him more than he’d thought.
It was a consideration that he didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on as, first a gunshot, then a loud scream filled the air. No matter what his condition, a call for help wasn’t something that he could ever ignore.
“That couldn’t have been more than a block away,” Batman thought as he unfurled a batarang and again took to the rooftops.
Whatever the street names, the Caped Crusader located the source of the cry with ease. Below him were two muggers holding guns on a young couple. The woman had screamed when one of the gunmen had fired a shot that grazed her escort’s arm after he had refused their demands.
Faced with a replay of his own tragedy, the reason he had come into being, Batman went into action without hesitation. Dropping down on one of the two criminals, he savagely slammed his elbow into his face, causing the not yet even twenty year old’s nose to break and spout blood. The distance between the pair had been too much to take both of them down at once, so he whirled around to face the new peril even as death again stalked him at close point range.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, the gunman hesitated in pulling the trigger, freezing instead with a look of horror on his face. A moment of indecision that was all Batman needed to close the distance between them.
“No, you’re dead, everyone said you were dead,” he cried out in the last seconds before the impact of a gloved fist robbed him of his weapon. “It was even in the papers.”
A second punch was already in motion to rob the thief of consciousness as well, but the frightened young man beat him to it as he fainted dead away. Batman had spent his career exploiting the cowardice and superstitions of criminals, but this was way over the line.
“He acted as if he’d seen a ghost,” Batman said as he turned his attention from the now prone pair to those they would have robbed without pause. To his confusion, the expression on their faces as they ran away from him wasn’t all that different.
“Perhaps he has,” a woman’s voice said from behind the black-cloaked hero.
Faced with the possibility of a new threat, Batman whirled around, ready to face anything. Anything, that was, except for what actually confronted him.
“Oh my God!” Batman exclaimed under his breath as, for the second time in the last five minutes, he raised self-doubts about his mental capacity.
Standing a dozen feet in front of him was a tall, dark haired woman, at least fifteen years his senior. She was garbed in a bright yellow and red costume with her face partially covered by a pointed red face mask. On her chest was a symbol he knew all too well, for it was one he called his own.
As the shock washed over him, Batman now felt like he was seeing a ghost. For the woman standing there was an older version of someone he knew to be dead, whose funeral he had personally attended. In was only after he accepted the reality of what he was seeing that he finally understood what had happened.
“This isn’t my world,” Batman realized as he allowed himself to relax his combat stance. “Somehow, I’m on Earth 2.”
From his adventures with the Justice League, Batman was well aware that there were alternate Earths in different dimensions. One of these was Earth 2, a world that mirrored his own in many ways, but still had some significant differences. It was the home of the legendary Justice Society of America.
On this world, many of the heroes he knew had similar, if not identical counterparts, most which had started their careers in an earlier time. It was also a world that had seen its own Batman fall a few years before, giving his life to save the city he loved.
“Assuming the costume you’re wearing is real,” Batwoman said as she stepped closer to get a better look, “you’re a long way from home.”
At first, Batwoman just assumed that the man in front of her was an impostor, someone wearing the mantle of Gotham’s deceased champion. Then she noticed the subtle differences in the uniform, the more modern utility belt and the golden halo around the bat symbol. Differences that only a handful of people in all the world would’ve known about.
“The costume is real,” Batman said as he went on to explain how he believed he came to be there.
The woman in red and yellow listened intently as the younger man explained his theory that the energy discharge during his fight at S.T.A.R. Labs had opened up a dimensional portal and threw him through it. The only question was how did he get back?
“Science has never been my strong point and this is all pretty much beyond me,” Batwoman said. “I think I’m going to need some help with all of this.”
Two hours later, after the would-be muggers had been turned over to the Gotham PD, Batman was faced with his third shock of the night. The help that Batwoman referred to came in the form of a face that was also familiar, yet different, to the man under the cowl. Only now it was that of a fully-grown man only two years younger than Batman, and not the boy he had taken in and raised as his own. The costume the man wore was an adult version of the red, yellow and green Robin costume, for on this world, Dick Grayson had never become Nightwing.
“It looks like your theory was right,” a maskless Robin said as he shut off the diagnostic machine he’d used to examine his unexpected visitor. “There’s a residual energy signature of some kind in your body that I don’t recognize. The good news is that it looks to be steadily decaying. I would venture to guess that when it drops to zero, you’ll automatically return to your own Earth.”
“That almost looks like Zeta radiation,” the equally cowless Batman said as he glanced at the computer readout while he pulled his form fitting shirt back on.
“Zeta radiation,” Robin said as he shut down the equipment, “I’m not familiar with that.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to be,” Batman replied, “it’s pretty rare.” he added as he went on to explain. “On my own world, a man named Adam Strange discovered he could use a teleportation beam based on Zeta radiation to travel to a world called Rann in the Alpha Centauri system. When the radiation wears off, he automatically returns to his point of origin.”
“Interesting,” Robin said.
“Could you tell how long it’s going to take to wear off?” Batman asked.
“Based on the rate of decay,” Robin answered, “I would say no more than two or three days.”
“What about using the JLA/JSA transporter to send me home sooner?” Batman inquired as he thought of the device used by his associates to travel between worlds.
“Given this Zeta radiation, as you call it, in your body, I’d rather not take the chance,” Robin offered his opinion. “But you can run my findings past the other scientists in the Society if you like. Most of them have much more experience than I do in trans-dimensional travel.”
“No need, chum,” Batman smiled, “your word has always been good enough for me. I can wait a few days to get home.”
Robin stiffened at Batman’s familiarity. It might have been meant to convey a sense of appreciation for his help, but as it was, it only served to accent what the Earth 2 hero had been feeling since his appearance. That this Batman was a living reminder of what he had long since lost. His reaction to the words, though unvoiced, wasn’t lost on his guest.
“I guess we just need someplace for me to stay until I can go home,” Batman said, realizing that it would be uncomfortable for Robin if he were to stay here in the Batcave.
“You’re more than welcome to stay at my apartment in town,” Batwoman, who had also removed her face mask to be more comfortable, suggested.
“It might be safer here in the cave, or up in the Manor,” Robin replied, putting aside his discomfort with the idea, “we run the risk of someone recognizing him. After all, Bruce was a public man in this city for decades.”
“And most people would remember him as a man in his fifties,” Batwoman pointed out. “So I hardly think anyone is going to look at him and make the connection. At worse, if someone actually did, I could say he was a younger cousin or nephew. In fact, didn’t Bruce actually have a cousin who looked like him almost enough to be his twin brother.”
“Yes, and interestingly enough, his name was Bruce as well, they just had different middle names.” Robin admitted.
“Then it’s settled,” Batwoman said in a tone that put an end to the discussion.
The late morning sun hung high in the sky as Bruce opened his eyes and returned to full consciousness. It took a few moments for him to remember where he was, the surroundings being so unfamiliar. Then it all came flooding back in an instant.
Riding on the back of the Batcycle, they had arrived at the high-rise in which Kathy Kane lived shortly before dawn. The events of the last hours finally caught up with the world-hopping adventurer and he was more than happy to accept the offer of the guest room. Sleep had come almost the moment his head had hit the pillow.
It had not been a totally tranquil sleep, however, as his mind continued to consider the history of this Gotham and how it differed from his own. At the top of the list was the fact that early in his career, his older doppelganger had married Selina Kyle, the Catwoman, after she had paid her debt to society and given up a life of crime. On his Earth, Bruce had more than once found himself intimately involved with the Feline Fury, but marriage or even a long-term relationship had never been an option.
Still, the marriage of Batman and Catwoman had been a success, so much so that it produced a daughter named Helena, who took up the cloak her father had abandoned after the death of his wife to continue his mission as the Huntress. Giving up being Batman wasn’t something the younger Darknight could imagine, but the fact that his counterpart continued to safeguard the city as Police Commissioner gave him something to consider in case he ever had to put aside his own cape and cowl.
Another thing that weighed heavily on his mind as he slept was his hostess, sleeping in an adjacent room. In some ways, she was so very much like the Kathy Kane he had once known. Both had been circus performers when younger, entertaining crowds both as a trapeze artist and a champion stunt cyclist. In each reality, they had both inherited a small fortune that made them suddenly wealthy.
That was were their lives began to diverge. His own Kathy had only entertained a brief fling as a costumed adventurer, coming to realize that she preferred to follow a more conventional path and use her newly acquired wealth and influence to help those less fortunate. In this dimension, Kathy aspired to have a more hands on approach and spent years fighting beside Batman and Robin.
Bruce had come into contact with the socialite Kathy Kane many times at various charity functions, developing an on again, off again relationship which never went too far. As with most of his associations with the fairer sex, the specter of Batman stood between them. In the end, even that distance hadn’t been enough to prevent her from meeting her death at the hands of one of his enemies.
Sitting up on the edge of the bed, Bruce reached for a robe that had been laid out for him and wrapped it around his well-developed body. His uniform was folded on a nearby chair where he left it, but it was hardly something he could wear all the time. Stepping out into the living room, he suddenly had the strangest feeling. For the first time since the death of his parents, he had absolutely nothing to do. No financial empire to rule by day, and no city to patrol after dark.
Stepping up to the large bay windows that offered a magnificent view of Middletown Park, Bruce looked out on a city he never knew. Comparing it to the memory of his own, he could see where some architectural differences emerged.
“The view is breathtaking, isn’t it?” Kathy said as she suddenly appeared behind him.
“That it is,” Bruce agreed as he turned around to greet Kathy.
The shocks of the previous night had prevented him from really seeing Kathy, his narrow focus assigning her the role of Batwoman and not the woman beneath the mask. The mask and costume were now gone, replaced by a small, thin robe that highlighted the still trim body beneath it. There were some women who while undeniably pretty when young, grew even more beautiful with age. Such was the case with Kathy Kane, a thought that gave him a moment’s regret that he never would get the chance to discover that on his own world.
“I hope you had a good night’s sleep,” Kathy said she walked into the room.
“Yes, thank you,” Bruce said, thinking to say anything else would sound ungrateful.
“I was almost afraid that I’d wake up to find you’d faded away during the night,” Kathy smiled as she motioned for him to join her at a small breakfast nook where two settings had been arranged.
“It wouldn’t be polite to leave and not say goodbye,” Bruce smiled in return as he sat down in the closest chair.
“I hope you like steak and eggs,” Kathy said as she poured each of them a cup of coffee, “it’s been quite some time since I had an overnight guest and I wasn’t sure what to make.”
“That actually happens to be one of my favorite,” Bruce replied as he took a sip of the coffee. “And this is excellent as well.”
“I’m glad, because there’s so much that I wanted to ask you,” Kathy beamed as she tasted her own beverage.
“Such as?” Bruce asked.
“Well, I have to confess that you must know a lot more about our world than I do about yours,” Kathy said as she cut up and began to eat her breakfast. “It’s a strange feeling to know that you have a duplicate on another world.”
“It can be,” Bruce said as he started on his own as well.
“Do you know my double on your Earth?” Kathy asked curiously.
“We ... we were friends.” he answered awkwardly.
“But no longer?” Kathy continued, picking up on the past tense.
“Being Batman wasn’t exactly compatible with having a successful relationship at the time,” Bruce offered, only giving part of the truth.
“But you had a relationship?”
“Our Batman,” Kathy said, “and I still tend to think of he and Bruce as two separate people since I didn’t know his secret back then, was a little different in that aspect. He was capable of loving someone and still wear the cowl. My problem was that I wasn’t the one he loved.”
Bruce nodded in understanding, having heard at least part of the story before.
“Still, it didn’t keep me from loving him, even after I knew he’d gotten married. He didn’t even have to tell me that he did, I just knew. Even after I put aside my costume and married a man who loved me, I never really stopped loving my Batman.”
“What made you put the costume back on?” Bruce inquired as he changed the subject.
“My own marriage didn’t last,” she explained. “In hindsight, it had been a mistake in the first place. Then, after Gotham lost Batman, I felt I had to do something. His loss reminded me that I’d never felt so alive as I did during the years that I wore that costume.”
That was a sentiment that Bruce certainly understood.
“Most people don’t really know what happened that day up on the Gotham Trade Towers, because Dr. Fate did something afterwards to make everyone believe that Bruce and Batman were both killed, and not that they were the same person. The only ones who remember the true story are those who knew that already.”
Bruce tensed up for a moment, not sure if he really wanted to hear any of the details of his counterpart’s death that he was sure Kathy was about to relate. Then he changed his mind, thinking that it would help him understand what motivated this woman across from him. A familiar stranger whom he was finding more fascinating by the minute.
“The Justice Society was fighting some madman named Bill Jensen, and getting the worse of it,” Kathy began as she gained the younger man’s undivided attention, “he was a common murder who had somehow gained incredible powers and wanted only one thing, the death of the man who put him in prison - Police Commissioner Bruce Wayne. In the course of the battle, Dr. Fate had hidden Bruce in the City Museum on one of the lower floors of the tower. As best as the JSA was able to reconstruct afterwards, Bruce took the Batman costume that was on display there and joined the fray.”
Kathy paused for a moment to catch her breath. It was obvious to Bruce that it was a painful story for her to tell. Yet at the same time, she seems to draw strength from it as well.
“Jay Garrick, the Flash, was the only one who actually saw Batman before those last moments, but even that was only for a few seconds because he blacked out after Jensen had tossed him off the roof.” she went on. “He later recounted his surprise at waking up in mid-air and then suddenly being caught by Batman. The Flash remembered asking him what he was doing there, in costume, since he had swore never to put it on again after his wife’s death the year before. Batman simply replied, ‘what I have to’.”
In his mind’s eye, Bruce could hear his own voice saying those words.
“The rest happened so quickly. Batman made it to the top of the towers, just as the JSA was regrouping and trying one more time to subdue their foe, only to fail again. Jensen turned on Batman, but he wouldn’t be stopped. Batman endured what would’ve surely killed another man and defeated Jensen. At the cost of his own life, he saved his friends, and the city.”
Bruce took a deep breath, feeling the loss of the man he might have been.
“What I have to,” Kathy repeated. “That’s the reason I put the costume back on.”
Silence filled the table for a long moment as neither of them was really sure what to say next. Fate took a hand in the form of a news bulletin that interrupted the background music that had been playing on the radio.
The brief report told of a botched early morning bank robbery in which Robin had attempted to free some hostages, only to be wounded and taken hostage himself. The GPD was attempting to negotiate with the gunmen, but so far without success. More updates would be broadcast as they became available.
Kathy immediately caught the look in Bruce’s eye as he started to get up from the table. She opened her mouth to speak, but Bruce cut her off.
“You know that no matter who sees me, I’m going,” he said, hoping that she wouldn’t give him an argument.
As it turned out, he needn’t have worried.
“I know” Kathy replied with a smile as she also rose from the table, “What I was about to say was just give me a few minutes and I’ll join you.”
The bank in question turned out to be the First Gotham Trust, an institution that once counted Thomas Wayne as one of its Directors. It was housed in an old landmark building that had been constructed back in the mid nineteenth century. A memory of a youthful visit to the hundred and fifty year old building planted the seeds of a plan in Batman’s mind. That was if the unique aspect of the structure existed on both worlds. Directing Batwoman to drop him off in the alley behind the bank, he outlined his plan and sent her off to make contact with the GPD out front.
Working his way into the building, Batman soon found that what he had found fascinating as a boy was true here as well. Prior to the Civil War, the bank had served as one of the stops on the Underground Railroad that had spirited escaped slaves north to Canada. In fact, it had been the station before Wayne Manor. Slaves would hide in a hidden passage in the bank, until they could be smuggled out of the city. The passageway, which his father had taken him on a tour of, still existed, having only been sealed off rather than filled in because of its historical aspect.
It only took a few minutes work with a cutting laser to gain entry into the dark hall, and then move to the other end that opened into the office of the bank president. From the small vantage point he gained by opening the door just a crack, Batman was able to look out onto the main floor and take stock of the situation.
The Darknight Detective quickly ascertained the position of all five thieves. Two were situated around the front windows, watching for activity by the police that filled the surrounding street. As he had hoped, the arrival of Batwoman had drawn their full attention. Two others stood guard over what they assumed was the only other entrance to the bank, a side door from which deliveries were made. The last of the quintet had been assigned to keep watch on their hostages, who were all sitting against the outside of the teller’s cages on the far wall.
The bank employees and customers all seemed to be fine, in fact, they weren’t even restrained beyond the fact that a man with an automatic weapon was watching over them. At the far end of the group, standing a few feet away from the rest was Robin.
The Man of Wonder had a small bruise on the right side of his head, caked with dried blood. Other than that he seemed unhurt. From his observation point, Batman could see that Robin’s hands were bound to a wooden display post by a pair of handcuffs, possibly taken from one of the bank’s security guards. Other than that, the bank robber closest to the hostages seemed to pay him no mind. Instead his interest seemed to be centered on a young woman who was wearing a tight tank top that did more to accent than conceal a not inconsiderable bust.
A well-aimed batarang impacted against the side of the thief’s head, replacing his view of mammary charms with stars and bright lights, at least for the few seconds it took him to hit the floor. As he rushed past him, Batman kicked his weapon to the far side of the room, just in case.
The two at the window never expected to be attacked from behind and fell under a series of quick, expertly delivered blows. Not even waiting for them to fall, Batman was already turning to face the last two, who he was sure were only now beginning to realize that something was happening. He had barely come all the way around when he saw that he needn’t have bothered.
The last two members of the gang were sitting on the floor, their hands joined together by the handcuffs that had been on Robin. The other hostages had fled into the teller’s cage once Robin had freed himself.
“I wasn’t sure you’d be able to free yourself in time,” Batman said with a smile as he closed the distance between him and this Gotham’s defender.
“You’re joking, right?” the adult Robin said, not really sure if the man in front of him was serious or not. “I could get out of cuffs like that before the first time I ever put on a costume.”
“I didn’t expect any less,” Batman smiled even broader to show that it had indeed been an attempt at humor. “After all, you were trained by the very best.”
The compliment to his long-gone mentor finally brought a change to Robin’s face. That and the realization that the visitor from another world also deserved to wear the cowl.
“I guess I was,” Robin replied, returning the smile.
“Robin, is it safe to come out now?” the voice of one of the bank employees called out.
“One minute,” Robin called back, thinking that they were too busy running for safety to really see Batman before and that it would avoid some unanswerable questions if they didn’t get a good look at him now.
“I guess that’s my cue to get out of here before anyone sees me,” Batman said, thinking the same thing.
He turned and took a step towards the office, only to be stopped by the touch of Robin’s gloved hand on his shoulder.
“It felt good to be working with Batman again,” he said in a low voice that couldn’t be overheard.
“Anytime pal,” Batman said over his shoulder, feeling the warmth of Robin’s smile wash over him before disappearing into the office and the passageway beyond.
Sealing the hidden panel behind him, Batman paused at the outer door and waited until he was sure that the bank had been cleared before venturing outside. That took at least an hour and a half, but there was no way around it. When he finally exited into the late afternoon daylight, he found Batwoman waiting against her Batcycle. He was still so pleased that he’d made peace with Robin that he failed to notice the subtle look of displeasure on his female counterpart’s face as she handed him the trench coat he had worn over his costume on the way there.
Batwoman continued to be mostly silent all the way back to her apartment, answering any direct question with only the shortest of replies. It wasn’t until the doors of the private elevator to her penthouse closed behind them and they were once more cloaked in privacy of her home that she asked a question that had been smoldering from the moment Robin had emerged from the bank with the hostages and announced that all of the robbers had been disarmed and captured.
“Would you like to explain what happened back there?” Kathy asked as she removed her own coat that she had donned down in the garage, the anger in her voice quite evident.
“Excuse me?” Bruce asked as he removed his own covering.
“Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about,” Kathy went on. “You did the same thing that he always tried to do. I wouldn’t stand for it then, and I’m not going to stand for it now.”
She didn’t have to explain who the he was that she was referring to.
“Kathy, I...” he started to say but was cut off as she made it clear she wasn’t in the mood for excuses.
“You went into that bank knowing that you had no intention of waiting until I could get into position to help you. Even though that was what we had agreed on before I dropped you off,” she said. “I spoke to Robin afterwards and he told me that there was absolutely no reason why you couldn’t have waited a few more minutes. No one was in any immediate danger.”
Bruce didn’t know what to say, except that deep down, he knew she was right. At the time, he hadn’t even realized why he was doing it. It wasn’t even a conscious decision.
The question hung in the air for a long moment, until Bruce realized that Kathy wasn’t going to take silence as an answer. Then he suddenly understood why he had done it, the only problem was, how did he explain it.
“Kathy, I’m sorry,” he said in an apologetic tone, “I just couldn’t take the chance that something might’ve happened to you, and that it would be my fault.”
“What did you think might’ve happened to me?” Kathy said, her anger still apparent.
“You could’ve been killed” Bruce replied, knowing as soon as he said it that it was the wrong thing to say.
“That’s a possibility every time I put on this costume, I came to grips with that a long time ago. What would possess you to think that this time would...” Kathy started to say, then finally understood what had prompted his actions. “Oh my God!” she gasped. “She’s dead. Your Kathy died wearing this costume.”
“Yes,” Bruce said, not bothering to explain that technically she had died with it in her arms, but the symbolism was the same.
“Oh Bruce, I’m so sorry for you,” Kathy said as all traces of anger faded, to be replaced with concern and the understanding that despite what he might have indicated before, he had loved his Batwoman.
Moving to him, Kathy removed her gloves and ran a bare hand across the side of his face. Looking up into his deep blue eyes, as Bruce stood a head taller than her, she saw the deep pain the memory had brought back. In her own case at least, she hadn’t been there to watch Batman die.
Then, acting on pure emotion rather than rational thought, she tilted her head forward and kissed him. It was a friendly kiss at first, but one that quickly turned into something much more. Bruce was reluctant to respond to the sudden intimacy at first, but as Kathy pressed her lips even harder against his and brushed against the small opening with her tongue, she felt him begin to respond.