End of Summer
 
Choices Chapters
1: Prologue

2: Robin & Huntress

3: The JSA

4: The JLA

5: Starfire, Robin & Batman

6: New Members of the Family

7: At The Manor

8: The Stake-Out

9: New Friendships

10: The Titans

11: Facing The Past

12: Shattered

13: Confrontations

14: Flying

15: Conversations

16: Hitting the Streets

17: On the Trail

18: Face To Face All characters are ™ DC Comics
This story is © 1999 by Marilee Stephens.

Choices

Chapter 6: New (and Old?) Members of the Family

by Marilee Stephens

Dick quietly focused on the job that Batman had given him. It wasn't a very hard task, but it did give his hands something to do, as well as kept his head occupied. It was what he needed: a straightforward application of his abilities and knowledge, without having to think about all the other things that had sent him on that emotional tailspin earlier. Gather clues, work on what you know, and what you need to find out. Figure out where all the pieces fit. But even as he worked on the task at hand, the back of his mind was spinning with the various pieces of information he had been given in the last few hours.

Applying the powder for picking up fingerprints left by the perpetrators was a bit time- consuming however, considering the size of the lab that they had hit. So he had concentrated on the more likely areas that could have been touched: the doorknobs, the handles to the filing cabinets, the areas around and on the computer keyboards. He, and the others as a matter of fact, really didn't think he would find anything. But it had to be done. Finding any clue, no matter how unlikely it might be, was better than no clue.

Glancing around, he noted Batman and the E-1 Nightwing conversing over some of the files that had been scattered during the break-in. They were talking about it with Inspector Henderson. At least, that was who he was introduced as when they had transported down from the JLA's satellite. It was amazing. He was still finding things out that more and more made him realize that this world was as far removed from his own as it was similar. He had realized that the more time he spent with these people…


He, Batman and Earth-1's Nightwing had been leaving the small lounge in which he and Bruce had been talking, when Batman asked Nightwing how he had found them.

"Robin said he saw you leaving the dining room. I just narrowed it down to the logical places you might have gone off to from there", his counterpart had filled in. "When he and Kory brought the food back up to the meeting room, we decided to give you a few minutes." Nightwing had paused in his explanations for a short moment before directing his next statement towards Dick. "Did your talk help?" he had asked, uncertainty clouding his voice.

"Yeah… A bit… I guess", Dick responded slowly. "At least, I got a few things cleared up."

He had noticed Batman and Nightwing exchanging a look at that. Bruce added, "There's quite a few differences between the relationship we have, Dick, and the one that this Nightwing and his Batman have. I think I understand a bit more of his… confusion now."

"Well, like I said before, I'm sorry I popped off at you back in the meeting room."

Dick had started uncomfortably. "No, it's okay. I really do understand. We're probably both having to adjust to some pretty strange things."

"Yeah, well, I should have handled it better. I've at least met a counterpart of myself before. You haven't. I should have tried to remember what it was like finding out that there's another 'me' out there. Though it's been nearly two decades since Richard and I first met."

Dick hadn't wanted to think about what happened when he had met what was supposed to be a time-displaced version of himself before. Especially given where, when and the results of what happened when he had met said "counterpart". Mentioning Deathwing would only complicate what was already an overly complex situation.

They had been heading back into the meeting room as Nightwing finished his sentence. With their arrival, conversations that had been going at full steam fell to a complete stop. For a few moments, an awkward silence permeated the room. Dick felt that it was his place to break it, as it was his fault it existed, but even as he had opened his mouth to speak both Helena and Kory beat him to it.

"There you guys are."

"We were starting to get worried." Both women had looked at each other as they spoke over the other's words nervously. Helena had picked up two plates of the sandwiches that Kory had made and started to bring them over, nudging Kory to grab a couple of mugs of coffee that were sitting on the table beside her.

"Here you go. We saved these for you. If we hadn't, there would have been none left by the time this bunch got through with them," Helena had expanded on as she handed a plate each to Batman and Dick. Dick noted that she was trying very hard to ease the strain that existed in the air all around their small group.

Kory had gracefully handed a cup over to Batman, but had hesitated before handing Dick his. Taking a deep breath, she faced him. "Uuummm… I'm sorry about what happened…"

"No. It was me. I shouldn't have…"

"No. Really. I shouldn't have been so…"

"Stop it. It was no one's fault", Batman had intoned in his "that's enough" voice. He had then cast a scowl in their direction that caused Dick to go rigid, as it was the look his Batman gave when he wanted the people around him to straighten up. But Kory had just broken out in a short laugh. Perplexed at her seeming insolence, he then noted both Robin and Nightwing shaking their heads, while smiles chased the worry lines from their faces. Helena had just rolled her eyes.

"Stop teasing them, Uncle Bruce."

Dick saw the older man's face relax into a faint grin, and realized that he was getting used it. But the man's actions had had the desired effect. Dick had felt the tension seep out of the room as the others relaxed around them.

Kory indicated the coffee mug she had handed him. "It's black. I know that's how both Dick and Richard take it. I just assumed…"

"That's fine. I guess there are some things that are pretty consistent between these various earths". Wandering over to the conference table, he had grabbed a seat beside Donna and picked up a sandwich. Biting into it, he realized how hungry he was. Being on an emotional roller coaster could wear a person out even faster than being on a physical one could. Eating with relish, he had slowed as he realized that both Nightwing and Starfire were staring at him intently, then exchanging quick grins as a quiet comment passed from Nightwing to his wife.

"Something wrong?" he had inquired, maybe a bit more harshly than intended. But something about their smiles…

"No. No, not really. Just… Well, when you were eating, you just reminded us of someone."

Dick had quirked an eyebrow up at that comment, but they hadn't followed up on it. Just continued looking at him rather enigmatically. Deciding that he didn't want to know, he had decided to just finish the food. As such, he had kept quiet for the next several minutes.

But that didn't mean that he hadn't been listening to all that went on around him. The main conversation that he found himself focusing on was between Batman and Superman.

"So, this break-in. What do we know?"

"Not much, yet. We basically heard the description of the surveillance videotape and a little bit about what rooms at the lab were the most affected. Henderson's down there at the moment. I said we'd send down the best person to help with the investigation as soon as you got back. He'll have more details when you get down there."

"Thanks, Clark." Turning back to the group around the table, Batman had addressed his comments to the small group that Dick was sitting in. "Feel like going to look over this break-in?"

"Definitely, Uncle Bruce," responded the Huntress.

Robin and Nightwing had exchanged looks. "Well, the more of us down there, the faster it will go."

Batman turned to look at Dick. "What about you?"

Dick had nodded his quick acceptance. He definitely wanted a closer look at anything that might be connected to just why or how he got here. But a thought hit him. "Will they need me for any more tests? To try and get me back to my earth?"

Vic had spoken up at his question. "Nah. Not for a while. We're still trying to hash out a lot of stuff from what Jay and Doc already collected from ya. And that bit about that barrier'… Atom's trying to work up a theory on it. I don't figger he'll need ya for that."

"Great. Then I'd love to go."

Nightwing turned to Starfire. "Hon?"

"No, I don't think so. You guys go have fun looking for clues. I need to talk some stuff out with Donna, and I should call down to the Manor to check on things. Just don't go getting that cute butt of yours into any trouble", she had added with a grin.

"Well, if any comes up, I'll give you a call."

"You do that."

Superman had broken up their bantering with a slight shake of his head. "All right. Batman, Robin, Nightwing, Huntress and Nightwing will go look into the lab. Wally, Vic and the Atom will keep working with Jay and Doctor Mid-Nite on analyzing the data that Jay and Charles have already collected. And the rest of us will work on trying to come up with some sort of theory as to just what is going on here, as well as keeping an eye out for any more suspicious acts. Everyone clear?"

As the group nodded their agreement, they had started to break up into smaller groups. As Huntress grabbed his arm to lead him over to the transporter tubes, Dick had heard a number of the group call out to.

"See ya soon, Bat-boy."

"Dick, give me a call if you need anything."

"Donna, why don't you ever say that to me?"

"Gar, I'd never hear the end of it if I ever said that to you."

"Sure. Pick on the green guy. I tell you, kid, I don't get any respect."

"Ya get plenty of respect, Greenie. Just not the type ya want."

Dick had smiled and shook his head. Maybe things on this earth were too different for him to really feel at home here. But some things sure felt good.

He noted Nightwing and Starfire talking off to one side. Hurrying past them, he had caught the tail end of their goodbyes.

"… don't have to wait here for me."

"Maybe not. But I will anyway. Besides, the break's kind of nice."

"Kory. You don't mean…"

He had no clue as what they meant, but decided that maybe there were some topic areas that it would just be more "safe" to avoid. He had caught up with Batman, Robin and the Huntress just by the tubes. Batman set some controls and activated the machine. Just as Robin had been stepping into the tube, his and Dick's E-1 counterpart joined them.

"Ready to go?"

"All set."

Helena had turned to Dick. "Want to head down with Robin and me?"

"Sure."

Humming enveloped the trio as they settled in the booth. One minute, Dick had seen the interior of the satellite. The next, he was stepping out onto a rooftop. Bright sun had hit his eyes and he had immediately looked for a place of cover.

A moment later, the humming again sounded. This time, Batman and Nightwing stepped out of the booth. And all of a sudden, it had hit Dick again. That feeling of something being drastically wrong.

As the others had started to move off towards the edge of the roof, he hesitated for a moment. Realizing this, Batman stopped. "Is something wrong, Nightwing?"

Dick had shook his head. Guess he had to chalk it up to another difference between this Batman and his own. This one came out in daylight. Okay… He could handle that. It felt weird but he could do it.

"No. Not really. You just do things a little differently than what I'm used to."

He had detected the brows of both Batman and the Huntress raise beneath their respective cowl and mask in the exact same manner. That had brought a smile to his lips.

But Robin had been curious. "How so?"

"Oh. It's just my Batman tends to stick to the shadows and the dark. We don't tend to see him out in sunlight much. Actually, not at all."

"Doesn't that affect how much crime he can actually deal with?" the elder Nightwing wanted to know.

"Doesn't seem to. And he thinks that maintaining that air of mystery only creates a greater illusion of fear."

"I imagine it does. And while I'd like to talk about this more, I think this isn't the time or the place. We'll discuss it later. For now, we have more important issues to deal with." Batman had cut the discussion short. This aspect of Batman Dick recognized. Maybe there were some similarities after all.

With that, they had all made for the edge of the roof. Each throwing out their individual lines, they had swooped, almost as one, from the rooftop. Dick had followed the others, even as the sight of all of them swinging through the ample sunlight seemed totally out of place.


Dick paused in his task as Batman signaled to Robin, Huntress and him to join the small group looking over the files. Dick still couldn't get used to the way that the police who had been present on the scene had greeted them. It had been obvious to him that this Batman was somewhat more known than his own was. While Inspector Henderson hadn't been overly friendly, it was also obvious that he was somewhat acquainted with both Batman and this earth's Nightwing. After Batman had vouched for Helena, Richard and the younger Nightwing, the Inspector had immediately allowed them access to the main lab where the robbery had taken place, and had willingly shared what information they had managed to glean from the mess. Dick had to wonder if this was how the Metropolis police treated the Batman and his partners, or just how the Gotham force reacted to them.

Moving over to the where the others were standing, he caught the tail end of a comment of Robin's.

"It's definitely the Ultra-Humanite, Batman." Robin and the Huntress had been busy looking at the surveillance videotape. Not only to positively identify the white Gorilla, but to see if they recognized anyone else involved in the robbery. Unfortunately, it appeared that wasn't the case.

"We should get copies and get some of the others to look it over," Nightwing told Batman. "Who knows who might be involved with this."

"You're right, Nightwing." Turning to the Inspector, Batman was about to inquire as to how easy it would be to make copies when the Inspector held up his hand to silence him.

"All ready being done, Batman. I've worked with you types often enough to have figured out that you might want that."

"Thanks, Inspector. I appreciate all the cooperation that you're giving us."

"No problem. Superman said that this break-in might be related to some others that you're investigating. Faster you guys clear it up, easier it'll be on us." With that, the Inspector moved off to confer with some of his own men.

"So, did any of you find out anything else?"

Dick spoke up with that. "Sorry, Batman, but all I could raise was some smudged prints. They're not going to be any help."

"And outside of the Ultra-Humanite being involved, who seemed to be in charge of the operation, from the tape I didn't get any feel for just what they could have been interested in outside of a fairly simple robbery. Did you get anything besides that, Huntress?" Robin asked the woman who was now perusing the files that Batman and the older Nightwing had previously been looking at.

"No. Nothing at all."

"I did think of one thing that we might want to look more into", Dick's Earth-1 counterpart then injected. As the others looked at him expectantly, he continued, "We've only been looking at the one robbery on Earth-2 and the one here. Which seemed to have come up once we became aware of Dick's trans-dimensional journey." As the others nodded their agreement, he countered with, "But who's to say that these are the first robberies that have occurred with an inter-dimensional angle involved?"

Dick picked up on his counterpart's line of thought. "I get it. Maybe there's been some other crimes that have occurred, both here and on Earth-2, which might be related but that weren't connected at the time as the dimension-hopping aspect hadn't been considered." Dick felt himself relaxing. This is what he had needed. The chance to focus on something else, to work on the mystery that would lead to him getting home. The sitting around had probably contributed more to the strung-out nerves than he had admitted to earlier.

"Exactly."

"Good thinking, Nightwing. We should get in contact with the others, and get back to the cave. See if anything else like these robberies might have been overlooked." Batman reached for his radio and quickly established contact with the JLA satellite. When Green Arrow answered, he quickly outlined their idea. Oliver assured Batman that they would get on it.

After Batman had broken contact with the satellite, Robin added, "The other thing we might want to do is try and look at all the possible relationships that could occur between all these events."

"What do you mean, Robin?" Dick asked.

"Think about it. So far, we've been assuming that somehow you showing up on our earth is related in some way, shape or form to these other events, simply because of the trans-dimensional aspect involved in all of them. But what if it's all just been a coincidence?"

"Or maybe you've been brought here by one of the people involved in these robberies. In fact, now that I think about it, how do we know you're not working for them," the older Nightwing interrupted harshly.

"Steady, Nightwing. From everything that's happened so far, I don't think that's the case," Batman calmly asserted.

Nightwing eyed his younger counterpart, whose face had fallen into a frown, for a moment. "Look, for what it's worth, I believe everything you've told us. But I have to say it. How do we know you're who you say you are?"

The others then eyed Dick a bit warily as well. All except Helena.

"Nightwing, it's like I told Robin yesterday. No, I can't know for certain, but my gut instincts tell me that he's on our side."

"Mine do too, Huntress", Batman concluded. "Still, that doesn't mean that he wasn't brought here by whoever's carrying out whatever plan is going on."

"Or maybe someone else arranged for him to come here. Someone who knows that there's something weird going on. And that our young counterpart here could be a help", Robin tossed back at the elder Nightwing.

"That's a possibility as well", Nightwing agreed.

"It's something to think on. At least until we have more evidence and information. But I think we should head back to the cave before we discuss this more."

"Sounds good, Batman. Maybe looking some old files dealing with trans-dimensional trips might help as well", Nightwing added.

The others' silence indicated their agreement. With that, they collected up their various pieces of tools and equipment and headed back towards the JLA transporter tube.


Dick decided that it felt good to get out of his Nightwing gear. When they had gotten back up to the satellite, they were joined by Starfire and a few of the others. After they had had a quick conference about what approaches they should now take, they had used the tube to get back to this earth's Wayne Manor.

Once they had gotten into the cave proper, Batman immediately headed for a computer terminal. Dick followed him to see what he was doing.

"I'm just sending out some messages to contacts who might be able to help us gather some information about that idea of possible other robberies. As well, I'm going to set the computer on a 'search' mode to do the same thing. While it's doing that, we should probably go change and go upstairs. A bit of downtime could probably do all of us some good."

The older Nightwing appeared, carrying another change of clothes for Dick. Noticing that the others were heading off into different directions to change, he had headed for where he was sure the shower and change room was in this Batcave. And, sure enough, it had right where he expected it to be.

After joining the others in the main room of the cave, Dick followed the now civilian-attired Bruce and Helena up the stairs to Wayne Manor, listening to them go back and forth with ease about some of the people that they both knew. Turning to ask Richard something as he was stepping just beyond the grandfather clock entrance, he was caught unaware by the rush of air and the cry of "DADDY!!"

A small projectile of limbs and fiery hair flew at him before trying to catch herself up. Unfortunately, she was unable to brake before landing in the region of his chest with considerable force. Unable to right himself, he went over with a "thud", while the tiny figure in front of him darted about in midair, a perplexed frown marring her small features, as she looked between both the man resting on the floor and the older man standing just to his side.

"Not Daddy?"

"No, sweetheart, he's not", came Dick's E-1's counterpart's voice from behind and above him…

The little girl's face developed a huge grin as she sailed over to her father's outstretched arms. Cuddling into his chest, she sighed happily, "Daddy…"

Kory, having come up behind her husband from the cave, now walked over to the fallen Nightwing, extending her hand to help him up. "Sorry about that. Alexandra is still working on her flying skills. And she's not used to anyone else looking like Dick. Being only 2, I doubt she even remembers meeting Richard before."

Dick, barely hearing her explanation, continued to gaze in stunned amazement up at the little girl in her father's arms. At least, he now knew who "Alexandra" was. Her hair was the same curly cinnabar shade as her mother's, but her eyes were a solid blue, set in a face whose complexion was a blend in between the gold of her mother's and the paler pink of her father's. "Is this what our child would have looked liked if my Kory and I had stayed together?" he could only wonder to himself.

Still reeling inside, physically, mentally and emotionally, he barely caught another voice coming from across the room. "Uncle Alfred… Is that him?" another child's voice inquired, though this one was boyish in tone.

Springing to his feet, ignoring the hand that Kory had offered him, he turned and caught sight of this earth's Alfred standing in the doorway to the sitting room across the foyer. But his attention wasn't on the older man. No, it was fixated on the two smaller figures flanking him, each holding one of his hands. The smaller of the two was the speaker: a boy, probably about 5 years old. From under a slightly unruly thatch of black hair gleamed two blue-green irises, surrounding black pupils, set in a face that reflected the golden tones of his mother's ancestry. The other one was older… 8? 9? years old… and also had jet-black hair, which hung straight down her back. After eyeing him curiously, they then cast delighted grins on the others that surrounded him. As he watched, their mother took to the air and beckoned them. They both flew up and into her arms, laughing and giggling, as she clasped them close, and they returned the hugs and kisses that she bestowed upon them. The girl then flew down and planted a kiss on her father's brow, while the boy took off to hug both his grandfather and then Robin and the Huntress. Finally, after a few more moments of greetings, the girl, apparently the bolder of the two, walked over to Dick, staring up at him as she approached. Her emerald gaze held his, until she was within a few feet of him, from which she shifted it, travelling up and down the length of him appraisingly. Dick felt a bit uncomfortable under her scrutiny, even as he conducted a similar assessment of her.

"Mommy, does he really look like Dad did when you first met him?"

Kory came over and stood beside her daughter, clasping an arm around her, the burnished color of her skin contrasting with the girl's much paler one. But their identical pairs of verdant eyes never left him. "No, Amanda… Remember, I met your dad when he was still Robin. A few years younger than this version of your father is now. Though he's almost as cute"

"Mom…" the girl added in an irritated tone, shaking her head even as a smile passed between her parents.

"Grandpa…", the little boy, wandering over and grasping Bruce's hand, now asked tentatively, "… is he going to be staying?"

Bruce, smiling, knelt in front of the boy. "Well… At least for the night, Mike. After that, we're going to try and get him back to his own home. Is there a problem with that?" he queried gently.

The little boy… "Mike", Dick thought to himself, "Why Mike?", gazed up at Dick with an earnest expression, cocking his head to one side and pulling slightly on his lower lip with his teeth while he thought. "No… I was just wondering what we're going to call him? Can't call him 'Uncle Richard' ", he added, pointing to Robin, "He's Uncle Richard." He then gave a sweet smile to Richard, who had moved to stand beside Helena.

"Yeah, and everyone else calls Dad 'Dick'… So we can't call him that", the older girl, Amanda, mused to herself. She and her brother were now both staring at him. They moved closer together, as if to confer and debate the issue. But before they could put forth anything else as an option, a suggestion came from the smallest member of the Grayson family…

"Unca 'Wing' ", piped up Alexandra in a definite tone. Looking directly at her older siblings, as if challenging them on this point, she nodded once in Dick's direction. "Unca 'Wing'". She then snuggled her head back under her father's chin, as if the whole issue had been settled.

Her siblings, however, seemed to need to debate the issue a bit more. "Well, that could work, I suppose," Amanda stated in an undertone, more to herself than anyone else.

Mike, however, seemed to decide that maybe it would be best if they asked the man who was the center of their interest. Flying up so that he hung just a few feet in front of Dick, flying back and forth in from of him, their faces at equal levels, he cautiously asked, "'Uncle Wing'? Do you like it?".

Dick had watched the previous few minutes play out as if they were some sort of dream. A dream that he just couldn't make himself believe in. With everything he had seen and felt so far, with some explanation, he had been able to make heads-or-tails of it, had been able to accept the facts and stories placed in front of him for what they were, even if in his heart he knew that they didn't feel "right". But this… These children… He just couldn't get his mind around them. They were his children. But they weren't. At one time, they might have been, but that time was past, along with the dreams that he had had back then. A pain twisted inside of him. It wasn't fair. What had he done that old dreams could come back to haunt him, could be sitting right there, as if they had every right to be, giving him a glimpse of what he could have had, and yet he wasn't allowed? Why did he have to be confronted by old wounds that could be allowed to be torn open and picked at this way, bringing the old pain back in fresh new waves?

The boy in front of him, unaware of the hurt his very existence was bringing to the man in front of him, repeated his question. Dick shook his head. "Uncle Wing"? They were so ready to accept him into their family. Why?!? They didn't know him… He didn't know them. At this moment, a part of him wished that he had never set eyes on them, while another part wanted to pull them close and never let them go. Mike was asking such a simple question, and yet he just couldn't answer the boy in front of him. To accept the title of "Uncle" would mean that he was accepting them, implying a closeness, a desire to get to know them. And he wasn't sure that he could do that. It might hurt just too much. Especially if he was gone by tomorrow and would never see them again. He wasn't sure if he wanted to let them in, or get to know them…

So Dick hesitated in responding. He just didn't know what to say. He looked at the two children in front of him, and then the little girl nestled in his counterpart's arms. He noticed those arms tightening, and looking up, saw a coldness entering the other Nightwing's eyes. Their father obviously was taking Dick's lack of immediate acceptance as possibly a denial of the most important things in his life, much as he had taken Dick's statements back on the satellite. He was probably even wondering what Dick would say would hurt his children somehow. Looking over at their mother, he saw the same reaction starting to brew in the swirling green depths of her eyes, as she moved to draw Amanda closer to her. Realizing this, Dick quickly overcame his own shock.

"That's… that's fine. 'Uncle Wing' will be just fine with me."

All three of the small faces beamed at him happily with his acceptance. He also saw the faces of their parents relax with his announcement. His counterpart seemed to also realize the stress facing the children had put him under and dropped his protective glare from his eyes.

"Hey, you three…", he said, drawing his children's eyes over to him, "… you were good for Uncle Alfred while we were gone, weren't you?"

Alfred piped in, "Oh, yes, Master Dick. They were as good as angels. Not a speck of trouble. They never are."

Mike and Amanda both turned to their parents with that. "Yeah, Dad. We helped Uncle Alfred make a chocolate cake, and some cookies. Then he showed us some more of his scrapbooks and old photo albums and told us some stories about when he was in the war," Amanda outlined excitedly.

Their father moved over to them, a warm glow of love emanating from him as he looked at his family. "Uncle Alfred's chocolate cake… Mmmm… It's our favorite. Right, guys?" he interjected, smiling down at the kids.

The three nodded their agreements, though Alexandra's was a tad on the slow side. She allowed a yawn to escape from her lips, even while smiling happily. Kory noted the yawn.

"Alex… Didn't you have your nap?"

The child's red curls shook against the dark tone of her father's shirt. "Un uh… Want to help make cake."

Reaching for her daughter, Kory tried to look stern, but, not being able to help herself, relented and grinned at Alexandra's sleepy countenance. "C'mon you. How about you and I take a nap before dinner, hhmmm?"

"Story, first? Please?", the little girl requested.

"Maybe. How about you two? Feel like taking a nap with your little sister and me?"

Mike looked around at the adults surrounding him. His eyes rested a long time on Dick, and Dick noted that they held a certain wariness to them. It was a look that he recognized, having seen it on himself in numerous pictures taken over the years. Once more, he was taken aback. If anything, he realized that the more he looked at the kids, the more he could see of himself… his parents… Kory… her parents… in them. He just was unable to handle that at the moment.

Looking back at Mike, he also realized that an indecision was plaguing the boy. It was obvious that he wanted to stay, but felt that maybe he should go with his mother right now. In the end, Mike simply nodded to Kory and took her outstretched hand.

His older sister wasn't so uncertain, though. "No… I want to stay down here with Dad and Grandpa and the others. I want to hear more about this problem with the thefts on Uncle Richard's and our earths. Is that okay?"

"Of course it is, Amanda," Bruce answered, reaching out to stroke the girl's hair, even as Kory and the other two moved to go upstairs. "How did you hear about those?"

"Uncle Alfred said that he needed to look up everything you had in the computers about that sort of stuff. I helped him", the girl added proudly.

"That she did, sir… And was very adept at it too", Alfred praised her. "Soon, I think I'll give all those type of searches over to Miss Amanda."

"Becoming quite the little computer hacker, aren't you, Amanda," Bruce clarified.

"Can't keep her off them… Wants to learn all about database management", her father acknowledged.

"It's important, Daddy. 'Specially when you and Grandpa need stuff dug up for a case. Besides, I like doing it."

"Well, I've got the computer doing a search of some related stuff. Maybe when it's done you can look over both sets of data and see if you can find anything matching up between the two."

The little girl nodded her head excitedly at her grandfather's suggestion. It was obvious that she took great delight in being able to help her parents and grandfather out. Dick watched the exchange closely, while a feeling grew inside him that he couldn't name. Or maybe it was a jumble of feelings, each fighting for supremacy. But he felt a kind of pride at the way the girl, Amanda, was obviously interested in the work that made up such a big portion of his life. Even if he didn't want to, he felt a small bond form between him and the girl before him.

But even as he thought that, the idea of it scared him. Enough to make him step back, just as a new voice, again familiar and yet not, entered from off to the side.

"Hello, Helena."

He noted the way that everyone else in the room, except for Alfred, went quite still at the sound. While joy quickly spread across Helena's face, he saw a bleakness come over Bruce's, while Alfred's, Richard's and the Earth-1 Dick's developed a look of wariness, as they protectively eyed both Helena and Bruce.

But Helena didn't seem to notice any of it. "Aunt Selina", she exclaimed, as she quickly drew the older woman into her embrace. As the two women drew apart, Dick finally had a good look at the face of the newcomer. Even without Helena's mentioning of the woman's name, Dick could have guessed who it was. So this was the Earth-1 counterpart to Helena's mother. He could see the strong resemblance of this woman to the woman in the portrait hanging back in the Wayne Manor of Earth-2. But his sense of familiarity didn't end there. There was something in the way the woman moved…

"Hello… Selina." Bruce had moved up behind Helena and slowly extended his hand in greeting. The black-haired woman carefully laid her own in his, even as she tentatively smiled up at him. The tension in the room could be cut with a knife, Dick decided. Just who was this woman that could cause this much anxiety amongst this group of people. Obviously they all knew her to some degree. And if this woman was the counterpart to Helena's mother, and Bruce was that of Helena's father, what, if any, was the relationship between Bruce and this woman?

"Hello, Bruce. I'm sorry to just show up like this, but when Helena called me…"

Dick noted the awkward exchange play out between the two people in front of him. There was obviously a strong history there. What that history was, he couldn't be sure, but he was very intrigued.

"I hope you don't mind, Uncle Bruce. The last time I had a chance to see Aunt Selina, she gave me a number I could reach her at. I called from the satellite…"

"That's fine, Helena. You know that my home is your home when you're here. And it's… it's good to see you again, Selina. It's been awhile."

"Yes, it has." A wistful smile played around the woman's mouth. For a moment, it appeared that she was going to say something else, but Helena broke into the silent communication that was going on between the man and woman in front of her.

"Aunt Selina, why don't we go grab some coffee from the kitchen. I want to hear everything that you've been up to recently."

"All right, Helena. But I can't stay too long. I just wanted to have a chance to see you before you headed back home."

"You can't stay? Uncle Bruce, tell her that she has to stay for dinner."

Selina casted a look in Bruce's direction for a short moment before countering. "No, Helena… I really can't. Coffee would be great however."

With that, Selina reached for Helena's arm. Dick noted that she turned immediately in the direction that the kitchen was. She obviously knew something about the layout of the Manor. Before she headed off, Helena in tow, she threw small smiles at both his counterparts and Alfred. However, a curious look entered her eyes when they made contact with his. Before she was able to ask however, Helena took the initiative and led her out of the room.

Alfred cleared his throat. "I'm sorry about that, Sir. Miss Selina arrived only a few minutes before you came home. She said that Miss Helena had contacted her about meeting her here. In all the confusion with the children meeting young Master Dick here…"

"It's all right, Alfred. No harm done." Bruce's face and voice didn't seem to convey any sort of bother about the encounter. Yet somehow, Dick knew that seeing this woman, Selina, had obviously affected him. But Bruce gave no indication of wanting to continue mulling over the matter. Instead, he headed off to the lounge off the main foyer of the Manor, grabbing Amanda's hand to bring her along with him as he entered the room. The three Richard Grayson's followed closely behind him, while Alfred headed off back into the depths of the Manor.

While the others grabbed seats in the couches surrounding the fireplace, Dick's eyes made an involuntary sweep of the room. The portrait of Bruce's parents was where it had been located back in his version of the Manor, though, as it had been on Earth-2, the manner of dress and style of their haircuts were not the same as in the portrait back home. But what Dick found more amazing was the preponderance of photographs that were littered about the room. On nearly every surface available there was at least one framed photo, if not more. Moving around, he casually picked up various ones, discerning who was in them. Several were shots from when his counterpart must have been much younger. At baseball games and on camping trips. But there were also ones that had to be much more recent. A young man was featured in a number of them, along with Bruce, Alfred and Dick. "Could that be Jason?" Dick wondered to himself as he moved to the next set of photos. Shots of the larger family, with the children he had just met at different ages. Christening photos. Birthday party photos. He could even recognize the style of some of the photographs taken. It was obvious that it had been Donna on the opposite side of the camera for a number of them. Not the one of what must have been Amanda's christening, however. She was in that one. Her and Bruce, with Dick and Kory and their daughter. A small wistfulness touched Dick's mouth as he saw the joy that radiated from all their faces.

Turning, he saw another portrait hanging on the far wall of the room. Wandering over, he realized that it must have been his counterpart and Koriand'r formal wedding photograph. But the surroundings seen in the background of the shot gave him pause. He knew the site of the photo. As a kid, he had spend a lot of hours sitting under the same tree in back of Wayne Manor.

"You were married here?" he questioned over his shoulder. Unbeknownst to him, his wanderings around the room had been monitored by the other men. They had been exchanging looks as he had made the trek from each picture to another.

"Yes. Where else would we have had the ceremony?"

"Well, my Kory and I had our… our ceremony at Donna and Terry's place."

A short, sharp lull hit the room with that. Finally, the girl who was sitting nestled beside her father spoke up. "Why did you have it there? Doesn't your version of Grandpa have a manor too?"

"Yes. Yes, he does. Or did."

"Did?" Bruce mouthed. Richard mouthed back, "Long story. Tell later."

But Amanda missed the silent message being passed between the men. "Then how come you didn't get married there?"

Dick thought about that for a moment. "Lots of reasons. One, at the time, I didn't have as good a relationship with my version of your Grandpa as your Dad obviously did. And my version of your Mom didn't get along with my Batman at all. And well, my Bruce wasn't in the best of shape at the time."

"What do you mean?" the little girl wondered.

Dick stopped staring at the portrait and turned back to the group. Realizing that here was another probable difference between this world and his, he softly asked Bruce, "You don't have a foe called 'Bane', do you?"

" 'Bane'? No. Is he someone important on your earth?"

Dick gave a small grimace. "You could say that."

Seeing the curiosity developing on the others' faces, Dick explained. "Bane's a man who decided that to ensure his place of power within the world, he needed to show the world that he was capable of defeating what he considered the most dangerous man alive."

He could see awareness dawning on the other men's faces, though Amanda just looked confused. Her father tried to clarify. "This Bane. He came after your Batman."

"Yes. But he was smart. He knew that he would have to wear Bruce down first. So he managed to release most of the inmates from Arkham Asylum. Bruce wore himself down rounding them up. And when he was the weakest physically and mentally, Bane…" Remembering what had happened next, Dick's voice trailed off.

"Bane… what?" Richard wanted to know.

"Bane attacked him. At the Manor." Dick's voice took on a clinical tone, as he was detaching himself from the results of said encounter. "Bruce was hurt badly." Realizing that he probably shouldn't get into this now, he decided to play it a bit more low-key. "But he's fine now. It just meant that it wasn't the right time to have the ceremony at the Manor. Too many things going on. That's all."

"How badly was he hurt?" Amanda wanted to know. She had clambered off the couch where she was sitting with her dad and gone to climb into her grandfather's lap, a protective gleam emerging from her verdant eyes as she clasped her grandfather's hand.

"Bad enough. He couldn't be Batman for quite awhile."

" 'Awhile'? How long is 'awhile'?" Bruce asked.

"Several months."

"What?!?" A small trace of shock ran across Bruce's and the others' faces. "I think I'd like to hear more about this."

"Hear more about what, Bruce?" came from the doorway to the lounge. The voice didn't register in Dick's memory, but turning, he saw that features of the young man did. He had just been looking at them in the photos. He was taken aback. Until today, he hadn't expected to see these features ever again, even if the young man had aged. This had to be…

"Jason," Bruce managed to greet the young man, even as shock still lingered on his face. But it was the other young man that followed Jason into the room that caused Dick to involuntarily step forward. Again, the features were older, but he knew this face as well, even better than that of Jason's. Still, if Jason was still alive, what was he doing here?

The Earth-1 Dick Grayson stepped forward to make the introductions, not knowing that Dick had already recognized both young men. "Guys, this is my cousin… uumm… 'John'. John, this is my 'kid brother', Jason. And Bruce's neighbor's son, Tim."

"Tim."

"Yes… Tim Drake."

To be continued in next month's FANZING!

 
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