The Bat
by Joe Conat

My whole body vibrates as I kick in the braking thrusters, slowing my fall. Seconds ago, I was safe in the cave, surrounded by two generations of misfit heroes, or kids of older heroes. And now I'm slowing my descent into Hell like a professional soldier.

For the umpteenth time in my life, I seriously think I'm going to die. But this is the first time it's worried me.

Down below, I see eyes turning to regard us, me and my cavalry of "second stringers". Both sides think we're here to help them win. They'll soon learn I'm just trying to keep us all from losing.

I don't think I'll succeed, me and my ragtag band. But I have to try.

I have to atone.

The noise is deafening. Thank god for the protection of my helmet. Thank god Ted handed out earplugs. Special ones, built by Kord Industries, that still let you hear people speaking, but eliminate the thunderous commotion of the battle. I knew WayneTech should have hired him years ago.

We land, and I get right down to business. Prying people apart,'s all in vain, I suddenly realize.

We're all going to die.

There's no soft option here. One generation versus another, gods at war with their equally powerful children. Humans caught in the middle. It can only end in blood.

One side will win, the old guard, the new, or humanity. Either way, it's Armageddon. If the old guard wins, it won't be long until it falls apart again. If the new breed wins, we're back to the chaos and insanity. If the humans win...well, they won't let anyone live. They can't.

They. Aren't I human, too?

Not to them, I'm not. To humanity, I'm one of these people here, the ones shaking the foundations of Earth. And so is Ollie and Dinah...Ted...


I see him, a few feet away. He's fighting with some Asian girl and holding his own, barely gaining an edge. He's not that old...she must be a metahuman. I feel a swell of pride...

...and he turns and sees me.

He knows why I'm here, what I'm trying to do. Maybe it's an old man's deluded eyes that see disapproval in his face. Resentment. Judgement.

Then I have to deal with some twerp cyborg in a cowboy outfit, and I lose Dick before I can tell him why.

I screwed this up so badly. I thought I could fix it all. Me and my master plan...what a crock.

I should have stayed in my cave, watched my city, left it alone. Why didn't I?

Because that's not the deal, I tell myself. It was never spoken, but when Clark offered me a place in the League, we made a deal. I wasn't there to save the world, or fight aliens, or travel in time. I was there to watch them. To make sure they stayed in line.

As I am engulfed in Phoebus' flames, and hose him with freezing retardant, I almost laugh. I'm reminded of the "Protocols" incident, when Ra's al Ghul almost destroyed the League by stealing my plans to neutralize each member should it come to that. They kicked me out for it, felt betrayed. They didn't understand. That was the deal.

After Clark quit, so did I, at least as far as any `big picture' was concerned. I went back to Gotham and left the rest of the world to its own devices. I had enough problems, after all.

Bane and Two-Face. My exposure. My home destroyed.

Delivering a mule-kick, I feel my armor thump into my brace, jarring it. Brief pain, hot and sharp, flares in my shoulders. I'm used to it by now.

Clark thought Bane had done this to me. I could see it when he stopped by recently. He was shocked; at the house, at me. Bane didn't do this. Time did this. He'd know that, if he hadn't been hiding all those years.

The doctors were amazed, I recall. They'd never seen so much damage done to a human body over time, and still have it walking and barking orders at them. WayneTech got me the brace that lets me walk and do my job. But it was time for the cape to go on the hook. Time for me to do the job a little differently.

Kord helped me build the BatKnights. They work wonderfully, so long as someone's at the console. Their expert systems are some of the most sophisticated on the planet, but they lack instinct, savvy.

My city is in their care tonight. I have left my home to the ministrations of machines, so I can come here and die.

I tried to reach Dick before we left. I wanted to offer him the job. He'd already beamed down into this mess, though. I was prepared to beg him to give this up, come take care of Leave the world to me.

I don't know if I could have spit that last part out. I messed up.

Maybe I should've killed Billy before he could say his word, though that's not in my nature. Maybe I should've worked on an antidote for those worms rather than muck about with J'onn and my smug machinations. Maybe I should've let somebody else do the talking when Billy ran away.

I've never been good at talking. Not really. Not deep down, serious talking. I'm clever with words, I can use them for defense and as weapons. But I don't know how to talk to people.

So Captain Marvel busted open the Gulag. Luthor won.

We're all going to die.

Then I bump into her. Dressed like an eagle, her sword...

...she's pulling her sword out of Von Bach. She's killed him.


She turns. I look at her face and see something that surprises me. She feels just as sick and afraid as I do. I should say something. Maybe a kind word can end this...

...but I can't think of one.

She tells me I'm out of my league, which is funny in retrospect, to which I retort "Why? Because we're here to save lives, rather than take them?"

She calls me a bastard and attacks me.

We bicker, physically and verbally. Despite damaging a wing of my armor, she isn't trying to do real harm. If she were, I'd have to work a lot harder.

She accuses me of being an aristocrat. Well, yes. I am. But it's funny coming from a Princess.

She grabs me, screaming in my face and flies into the sky. I struggle feebly, not willing to use a deadly attack to break her grasp.

Up here, away from the smoke and dust, the sky is heartbreakingly blue.

In the middle of our screaming and deprecations, I see something out of the corner of my eye. A flash of light, sunlight gleaming on a canopy. It's almost beautiful, like a star over the smoke and dust.

My guts go cold.

There are no soft options here, and it looks like the U.N. has taken the hardest of them all. They've got us all in one place, all distracted. They're going to kill us.

My first brief thought is of Clark. If I can find him...but, no. He's duking it out with the Big Red Cheese. Even from up here I hear and feel the explosive concussion of their blows. That's what Marvel's here for, to keep Clark busy.

The Princess catches my look and turns to see what I'm staring at. Even though she's not looking at me, I can tell she knows.

I think I say something dramatic. I don't recall. We fly.

My lasers cut at the bomb supports as I train a microwave laser at the cockpit. Not enough to fry the pilot, hopefully, but I damage his electronic. The Princess is attacking the other Blackhawk head on, slicing away the wing with that damned sword of hers. I'm sweating in my armor, not from exertion, but because I'm afraid. I've really blown it this time.

I should never have given in, all those years ago. I should have stayed home, sought therapy for my pain. Never trained, never listened to my anger. When the bat crashed through my window I should've killed it and gone on with my life, like a normal person would.

No, instead I take it as an omen. And I go out, and I fight crime. But that's not enough, is it?

As I fly toward this winged death-bringer, I am filled with shame and recriminations. No, it wasn't enough to fight crime myself. I have to bring others into this mess and hurt them, too.

Jason, who died because of my enemy. He never had a chance.

Barbara, crippled because of my crusade. She's never married, can't have children. She spends all of her time in her room, now, among her computers. Her only contact with the outside world.

Tim, who managed to walk away. But I understand even he has not escaped unscathed. His Robin training serves him well, in the CIA.

Dick. Getting shot. Getting fired. Trying to be the only thing he knows how, because it's the only thing I taught him. Go out and fight crime. Keep in shape, focus your hatred into something hard and cold and use it for "the greater good".

No, I'm wrong. I taught him something else. Never, ever let anyone get close to you. Never allow yourself to fully fall in love.

He has a wonderful daughter, my "granddaughter". They don't speak. He wouldn't let her see me.

I wish I could tell him I'm sorry. I wish he wasn't about to die.

The second plane banks away, its mission unaccomplished.

We can't reach the third one. He drops his payload and flies on. Over his radio, I hear him whisper for forgiveness.

The next few seconds are a blur. But I realize Diana's holding me, her fingers bending my armor, and that I'm yelling. She's shaking me and tears are streaming down her face.

"No, Bruce! You can't save them!"

"I...I..." How can I say it? How can I tell her?

I know I can't save them. I want to join them.

Because I failed.

I go limp in her arms. She brings me close and we sob like children.

We jerk our heads up at the crack of thunder. Three lightning bolts, shattering the air as the crash down into the clouds. Then the light.

We're tossed about like leaves in a whirlwind. When I finally get my bearings, I find we're twenty miles away.

Diana is ashen. I imagine I am too. Without a word, we fly back.

The area is obscured by smoke. Several square miles, covered by a cloud of smoke and ash. I don't want to think about what the ash used to be. Who it used to be.

We're superheroes. Some of us had to survive. Didn't they?

Please, God?

We're no more than a mile away when I hear a scream. I know it's Clark, and I know that if I were closer I'd be deaf, armor or no. I see a flash of red light from within the cloud, then HE bursts from it. He doesn't see us, he's too enraged. We're buffeted by his flight. He's going so fast a wave of heat washes over us, the result of air friction. He's headed east.

"Is he...?" Diana asks.

"I think so."

"We should go after him."

Just then I get a signal. It's weak, the excited electrons in the area scrambling and diffusing it. A wash of static and the barest hint of a word...


"Diana!" I scream. "There are survivors!!"

"But Kal...!" she protests. She is already drifting away, to the east.

"No!" There is something in me, some frightening mixture of anger and despair and regret...and hope and joy. There are survivors. We didn't all die.

I didn't kill them all.

"We'll be after him soon. But we have to look after the survivors."

There is a stubborn set to her jaw, and I can tell what she's thinking. I lift her chin with my hand.

"It's what we do," I remind her.

Something shifts in her eyes and she nods. We dive into the cloud.

It's quiet now. As the smoke clears I see Fate and the GLs. They've saved some people, a mix of the old and new it looks like. Wally, poor Wally, is zooming around like a crazed electron. I think he's looking for his daughter, but I can't understand what he's saying.

I refuse to look at the carnage, refuse to see the dead. I will, I know, go back and look. But not right now. I have to get these people safe, and then I have to go save the United Nations. Once I've saved everyone, everyone I can find, then I can come back and grieve. I learned that lesson a long time ago. Never grieve until your job is done. There's never enough time.

Maybe a little time...

We agree to have Fate take us all to New York. My suits Geiger counter is going crazy, so I ask the Ray to keep me clean. GL's bubble should keep the others safe.

As Fate opens his cloak, and the others head in, I let myself take a look. The earth is scorched, the bones of the friends, their children...litter the ground.

Diana brushes past me, headed for Fate. I grab her arm to stop her.

I can't read her eyes, there's too much.

"What I said," I whisper. "I'm sorry."

I am startled to see a tear form in her left eye. "Me too," she whispers roughly. Then she heads away.

I feel a little better. I think the healing is already beginning. It's just a little thing,'s a start.

Minutes later, we're in New York standing on the dais. The building is nearly in ruins. I can see his handprints at the center of a large network of cracks in the ceiling.

He's standing with the Sec-Gen, Wyrmwood. It looks like the worst is over.

"We thought of you as gods," Wyrmwood says.

No, I think. God is supposed to be compassionate. God is supposed to save lives, not end them. Not fail them.

Clark makes a vow. "We will solve our problems together."

Alan takes off his mask. So does the Ray. They are men under their costumes. Old men.

I'm an old man. Too old for masks.

Taking off my helmet is one of the most wonderful feelings I have ever had. It isn't the first time, not even the first in a while, but the sensation of the sun on my face feels like a rebirth. I can come out of the darkness now. My job is done.

Well...that job, at least.

I feel an urge to do something I've never done. Heal. And why not? I still have the fortune. I still have the connections.

Wayne Manor is rebuilt. I had let it languish too long, but now I know why. It had no real purpose. Now it does.

I have a t-shirt made, a red bat on a white field. In old Native American folklore, the bat was a healer. Now I'll let it be that, take on that aspect of my "totem".

I no longer wear black. I find I have developed a distaste for that color.

The hospital needs workers, so I round up some "volunteers".

"Never!" Luthor spits. "I'd rather go to prison."

"You wouldn't go to prison, Lex," I remind him. "Aside from me, you have two options. One: Death. Crimes against humanity are a big deal. Two: Themiscyra."

He looks at Diana. She smiles. He turns back, a sullen scowl on his pudgy face.

"Fine, you bastard."

I make him clean out bedpans. It's petty, but I like it.

The second time I catch him trying to hack the Batcomputer for the codes to remove his collar, he sneers.

"Gonna beat me up, Bruce?" he asks. "Are you going to punish me... Batman?"

"Lex," I say. "Do you ever think about what you did?"

That stops him short. I can see him thinking.

Without a word, he stomps upstairs. He never tries to escape again. Eventually, he heads up a very innovative unit, finding more and more ways to heal the victims of our folly using alien technology.

I never remove his collar.

Dick's lost an eye, but he considers himself lucky. He's reconciled with his daughter, and we...we're making progress, still. The saying goes "it's all water under the bridge", but they're deep waters, and a thin bridge. But we try.

Ib'n...Ib'n is something else entirely. As my son, he stands to inherit a great deal. And I'm not talking about the money.

One day he comes to me in the cave. "Show me, please," he says, pointing to the console. So I do.

Two days later, he's sparring with Dick. Dick's a good teacher, better than I ever was.

Ib'n is very accurate with a Batarang. We just have to remind him not to go for kill spots.

An ex-assassin in the cape...I don't know. I don't know if the cape should ever come down. Costumes are a thing of the past, no longer considered de rigeur even among the super-set.

And Clark and Diana...and their child. Godfather...

I'll practice with Ib'n, maybe. Try to be a good father to him. Learn how to be a good godfather for...whatever Clark and Diana's baby will be.

The future is, as always, uncertain. All we can do is make it better.

The mistake we make, I think, is in being too narrow in our view of how to do that. After all, we have all the choices in the world.

A boy named Billy taught us that.


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