Superman plowed through the building, intent on reaching the room that held Singh Manh Lee. Frightened guards and servants scattered in his wake. He burst through the door to find Lee frantically packing a suitcase with what looked like foreign currency, euros, Superman noted when looked more closely.
Superman's face took on a look of disgust as he focused a heat beam on the stacks of paper. A flicker of flame shot up and the whole suitcase went up in flames. Lee backed away and tried to flee, but found Superman blocking the only exit.
Lee took one look at Superman and began to back away with both hands up. "I don't have any problem with you, Superman..." he said uncertainly.
Superman advanced on him. "I think that you do. You've hurt the son of a good friend..."
Lee's face changed to a look of intense frustration. "I haven't laid a hand on the boy. I swear!"
"Oh, but you'd like to, I can see it in your eyes," Superman said softly, face hardening. "In any case, Robin's condition remains to be seen. And that doesn't take into account the boys you have abused; the children you've trafficked. The blot on the face of humanity that you represent."
"You aren't going to kill me, are you?" Lee's eyes darted around the room, past the still-blazing suitcase, looking for escape.
"No, I'm not," Superman said, arms folded. "Although it's what you deserve. I'm going to make you a promise and I always keep my promises." His eyebrows drew together. "You have some information about Batman and Robin. You are going to keep that to yourself and make absolutely NO attempt to use it against them."
"Y..you mean, that Bruce Wayne is Batman...?" Lee stuttered, backed against the stone wall.
"Yes, that's what I mean," Superman's voice had softened to a whisper. "You will tell no one. You will not use that information for any purpose whatsoever. And, most importantly," Superman leaned in, eyes boring into Lee's. "You will leave Robin strictly and completely alone. You will not approach him, contact him, photograph or film him, fantasize about him or collect any image of him. No children will imitate him for your entertainment. For you, he will not exist. Is that understood?" The Man of Steel's voice had diminished to a hiss while the muscles of his neck corded in rage.
Lee gulped. "Understood." Then his face grew crafty. "You're like Batman. You don't kill. How do you plan to make me keep my word?"
Superman merely stared at him. "I have information sources you don't even know about. If I hear that you've broken or even bent any part of our agreement, I'll be here in five minutes to take it out of you. For starters," he said, eyes glowing. "I'll break both your legs and make it physically impossible for you to carry out any of your plans for that boy. Secondly, that United Nations membership you cherish so much? I will absolutely ensure that it is withdrawn, and with it all the aid money you want. You know that I can do it. I have the influence and the moral authority."
Lee hesitated. "Why do you care so much for one boy?" he finally got out. "You want him for yourself?"
Superman's right hand drew into a fist, but he consciously held back the blow. "You would never understand. He's the child of my best friend and like a son to me. You hurt him and... I...will...know!" With each word, he punched the stone wall next to Lee's ear, each blow leaving a deeper hole in the rock. "Do you agree?"
Lee's face whitened with each punch. "Y...yes. I agree. Just leave me alone..."
Superman backed away, face still angry. "See that you do."
The door behind him opened. Batman, Green Arrow entered the room, followed by Kid Flash and Rufus.
Batman noted the recent hole in the stone wall and the shivering Lee. "Conferring with Generalissimo Lee?" Batman said mildly.
"You overheard?" Superman asked without taking his eyes from Lee.
"How is Robin?" Superman asked.
"Bullet in the leg. Flash is taking him to the Watchtower," Batman said, tension in every line of his body. "I'd like to spend some time with President Lee..."
"And so would I," Green Arrow added.
"Wait a minute, you said you wouldn't hurt me if I agreed not to give away Batman's identity!" Lee said in fright, eyeing both Batman and Green Arrow.
"You also promised to forget Robin's very existence," Superman added. "I did promise Lee safety."
They all heard a loud snort and turned to see where it came from. Rufus stumped forward. "He gets safety? Me. What do I get? That bastard abused me for months, then he took my leg! He took my innocence, my entire life! What's left for me?" Rufus demanded, tears running down his face, unnoticed.
"I think that Rufus has a point," Superman agreed. "Well, Lee? What does Rufus get?"
Lee's mouth opened, but no sound came out.
Batman smiled a hard smile. "I can make a suggestion," he said, striding over to a side table where an open briefcase sat. "Reparations won't give him his leg back, but can help rehabilitate him." He picked up a couple of bank books, stamped with the names of two Cayman Island banks and looked at the totals. "This should cover it." He handed the books to Rufus. "It isn't nearly enough for what you've lost, but it's a start and will make you independent." He eyed the boy closely. "You don't want to go back to Gotham, do you?"
Rufus' hand closed around the bank books. "No. Not Gotham. Not ever Gotham again."
"Aren't you going to arrest him or something?" Wally demanded. "I mean...after what he did to Robin! Batman, you haven't even hit him!"
Batman's stare focused on Generalissimo Lee. "I tried hitting him. It didn't help. Lee presents a problem, Kid Flash. If we arrested him, whom would we take him to? He's a foreign head of state whose crimes have been committed on foreign soil."
"But...but Rob..." Kid Flash's glance ranged from Batman to Superman to Green Arrow.
"Robin is safe, now," Batman said, his expression frozen. "Trust me, if there were some further action I could take on Robin's behalf, I would. I think it's time we left, now." He turned to Rufus. "How about we drop you off in Metropolis?"
Clutching the bank books, Rufus glared at Lee. "You're just going to leave him?"
"We can't do much else," Superman said with a sigh. "We're bound by law, Rufus. If we weren't, we'd be just like him," he gestured with his shoulder at the dictator still cornered against the wall.
Rufus shrugged and turned his back on Lee. "I'll go with you. I never want to see that man's face again."
Together the group left the Summer House and made their way back to the tea warehouse and the zeta platform. Superman began programming it for Metropolis when Batman put his hand out and stopped him. "Let's go to the Watchtower first," Batman said. "Rufus, would you like to see Robin one last time?"
Rufus grinned, his face lighting up. "Yeah! I'd like that!"
Superman was about to protest that Rufus wasn't Justice League, then caught a low whisper from Batman, "Go with me on this one."
Silently, the Kryptonian nodded and changed the setting. A few minutes later, the group stepped off the pad into the Watchtower. Batman led Rufus to the Medical Center.
"Dr. Mid-Nite," Batman said. "This is Rufus Garrett. I was wondering whether Dr. Stone is here today."
"Silas? I think he's in his lab," Dr. Mid-Nite said. "Why?"
"I'd like Silas to evaluate this young man for a new prosthetic leg." Batman laid a hand on Rufus' shoulder.
"I don't think I want a fake leg," Rufus muttered. "They never work right."
"This one would be very special," Batman said. "Dr. Stone is a master with prosthetics. With one of his, you'd be able to do everything on the replacement leg you could do with the original, maybe more." He paused, looking Rufus up and down. "What is it you'd like to do with your life, Rufus?"
Rufus was silent a moment, clearly deciding whether to tell this adult the entire truth. Finally, he glared defiantly up at Batman. "Okay, you really want to know? I want to do what Robin does. I want to do what you do. And Superman and Green Arrow and the Flash! But I want to do it for the children in Rheelasia, the kids who are kidnapped into brothels like I was. They don't have anybody to protect them because the people who are in charge of the red light district run the country and nobody is willing to stand up to them!"
Batman didn't look surprised at Rufus' outburst. "Are you serious about this? It's a lifetime work and I should know."
"Yeah, I'm serious," Rufus said in a dejected tone. "But I'm nothing special. I don't have super powers." He tapped his knee. "I don't even have a leg!"
"Robin and I don't have super powers," Batman said easily. "But we manage. Mostly, it's a matter of training and dedication. I think I can supply the training if you have the dedication. How about it?"
"You really think I could be as good as Robin?" Rufus asked, eyes hopeful.
"You have the potential," Batman said. "Go in to see Dr. Stone and let's see what he can do for you. We'll talk more, later. I'll be in visiting Robin."
"Okay, Batman," Rufus said brightly, looking so much like Dick that Batman's heart ached. "I won't disappoint you!"
He waited until the boy was through the door, then turned back to the Medical Center. Now to find out what, if anything, Lee had done to his boy. Dr. Mid-Nite was waiting for him.
"Batman, I assume you'd like a status on Robin's injuries?" he said cheerfully.
"Yes. You understand, it isn't just the gunshot wound that concerns me..." Batman said uncertainly.
"I do understand. The Flash gave me the background." Mid-Nite's lips pursed. "I've given him a full examination and there's no physical evidence of sexual assault," Mid-Nite concluded. "You understand, Robin has been unconscious since he was brought in. We had to operate to get the bullet out and he's still under the anesthesia. You, or someone will need to ask him what happened while he was a captive." Seeing Batman's chin drop, Mid-Nite added, "We do have competent therapists who can work with the two of you if it's needed." He straightened and began to speak more briskly. "The bullet hit Robin's left leg and lodged next to the femoral artery. A quarter inch over and it would be a different story. Suffice it to say, we've removed the bullet and repaired the damage. He'll need to stay off it for a bit, then start physical therapy to build the strength back. I know that you are well trained in therapeutic modalities and can handle that yourselves." Mid-Nite shifted position a bit. "Robin was also very dehydrated and somewhat malnourished. The IV should help with the dehydration, but tell Alfred that he needs to build the boy up a bit. Some of his marvelous meals will do the trick."
"Alfred will be happy to feed him up," Batman smiled. "And the physical therapy shouldn't pose any problems. We've done this sort of thing before." He turned toward the door to Robin's room. "I think I'll sit with him for a while. I'll advise you if any more...treatment...is needed."
"By all means," Dr. Mid-Nite said sympathetically, holding the door open. Batman slipped in to find the chair by Robin's bedside already occupied by Wally.
Rather than shooing him off, Batman pulled another one close and sat next to him in silence. Robin's leg was bandaged and propped up on a pillow, his arm attached to various IV lines. He looked pale and small in the bed, the few freckles scattered across his cheeks stood out against his pallor.
"I guess Rob will be out of action for a while," Wally mused. "Who'd have thought it all started with a dumb school for juvenile delinquents." Wally stole a look at the Bat sitting next to him. "You...um...don't think anything really happened, do you? With Lee, I mean?"
Batman sighed and pulled his cowl back, then rubbed tired eyes. "I don't know what to think, Wally. Dick was unprotected in Lee's hands for almost twenty four hours. You saw that room of his. Dick is the only one who can answer that question."
For the first time, Wally saw the unconquerable Bat looking vulnerable. It was...unsettling. The sun rose in the morning, the sky was blue and Batman was invincible. He began to comprehend that much of Batman's strength came from his relationship with his young partner. If anything happened to Robin, the Bat might crumble. This was even worse than unsettling, it was downright frightening. "I...think I'll get something to eat," he said and stood up. Batman remained silent, his eyes focused on Robin's sleeping face. Wally slipped out, planning to find Superman or somebody, just in case.
After a few minutes, Dick began to wake up. He didn't remember when he was last so comfortable. The bed was soft and warm, almost as good as his bed at the Manor. He felt comfortable until he tried to move and realized that one of his arms was pinned down. Lee! His eyes flew open in panic and he tried to pull away. Strong hands held him down and he fought harder.
"It's okay, it's okay Dick," a familiar voice repeated. "You're safe. You're in the Watchtower."
Dick's blue eyes fastened on Bruce's familiar face, bending over him. He'd pulled off his cowl and looked so tired, his face lined and bags under his eyes. "Bruce?" Dick asked and let himself relax.
Bruce let go except for a single hand on his boy's shoulder. "It's okay, Dick. We're in the Watchtower. Dr. Mid-Nite treated your leg and you're on the mend."
Dick looked down and saw that his left leg was surrounded by bandages. "Oh...yeah, that's right. Somebody shot me." He looked up at Batman. "That's right. You were there, on the hill and I was running towards you. Then..." He looked puzzled, still muzzy from the sedation.
"One of Lee's men shot you," Batman said patiently. "Can you tell me what happened before that?"
Dick thought for a moment, becoming more awake. "They sent you back to Gotham, then took me back downstairs to have 'dinner' with Lee." He shuddered. "I wouldn't eat, so Lee sent me to his bedroom..." He looked down at the coverlet.
Batman felt himself tense and forced his voice to softness. "What happened, Dick?"
Dick paled, then remembered that this was Batman. They always had a debrief after a mission. Right. He took a breath and began to give his account in an unemotional voice, still not looking at Bruce. "Lee came in after his dinner and...and began to approach me. He...uh...unfastened my cape and approached me...um...beginning to undress himself. I..." Dick said, finally meeting Bruce's anguished eyes. "I kneed him in the 'nads and ran." Still pale, he gave Bruce the ghost of an impudent grin. "I found Rufus out in the hallway and he showed me where to hide. After a while, we heard the guards searching the building, really searching it. I decided that I was endangering him by drawing the searchers, so I left our hiding place and found my way to the roof where there was a helicopter, all fueled up. I went back to find Rufus and found him fighting the guards. I tried to help and we both got caught." He bit his lip.
"And?" Bruce prompted.
"Lee showed up and had me taken to the Summer House and Rufe locked up. I was there until the soldiers came again; they were gonna drug me but I got out and ran for it. The rest you know." Dick said, finishing.
Bruce suspected that much of the detail had been purposely left out, but he'd get that later. "All right, Dick. I just have one question to ask you and I hope you'll give me an honest answer. Did...Lee do anything to you?"
Dick looked puzzled, then said, "What? You mean like sex? No. NO! Bruce, I'm fine. He threatened a lot but I...I'm okay. Really." He looked back down at the blankets again. "Somehow, because I was the real Robin, he treated me differently. I think...I was lucky. If I'd been just a little less..." He finally met Bruce's gaze with eyes gone older than their years. "It was a pretty close thing."
Bruce gave a long exhale and leaned in to gather his child close. Gratefully, Robin hugged him fiercely back. "We both were lucky, chum," Bruce said, chin on the top of Dick's head. For his part, Dick simply burrowed in and started shaking. Bruce wrapped his cape around the boy and let him cry.
The weeks that followed were difficult ones in the Wayne household. Alfred looked concerned while Bruce's face took on a grim expression. Robin refused to discuss Generalissimo Lee and Bruce knew that the boy was having nightmares, although he wouldn't talk about that either. After patrol, Bruce took to standing near the boy's bedroom, listening for the sounds of Dick having nightmares. He wasn't sure what he'd do about it until the night he heard Dick scream.
Dick himself had come to dread the nights. Until his leg was healed up, he couldn't go out on patrol as Robin, so he was left behind at the Manor. He did his homework, then lay in bed staring at the ceiling, willing himself to stay awake. He always dropped off and always had the nightmare; it was always the same. In the dream, he was sleeping peacefully, then woke when somebody got into the bed next to him and touched him. In the dream he woke, to find himself naked in a bed covered with a dark velvet spread, lying next to Singh Manh Lee, who was caressing him.
Dick always shot awake, sitting upright in his own bed, trying desperately not to make noise because it would bring Bruce or Alfred running in. He didn't understand why he was panicking now; it made no sense. He'd fought Lee off! The man was half a world away and couldn't get to him now. Superman and Batman had both reassured him about that. He held his head in his hands and knew in his heart that Lee wasn't done with him. You didn't kill an obsession like that, especially when the man was so powerful.
He heard a tap on his door. "Dick? Are you awake?" Bruce opened the door and saw Dick huddled, head in hands. He came in swiftly and sat down on the side of the bed, gathering the boy close to him with an arm around his shoulders. "What's wrong? Nightmare?"
Busted. Dick nodded. "Yeah," he said, looking down, ashamed.
"You've been having the same one since we got back from Rheelasia, haven't you?" Bruce asked gently.
"How did you know?" Dick looked up with eyes that had half-moons under them.
"I've been hearing you cry out," Bruce replied, noting that the circles on Dick's face were getting deeper. "You haven't been able to sleep much. Care to talk about it?"
Dick shrugged himself away from Bruce's arm. "I can handle it," he said firmly.
"Dick, I know you insisted that Lee never..." Bruce began but was interrupted by Dick.
"No! He didn't. He didn't do ANYTHING which is why these dreams are so stupid! I dream about the things that might have happened but didn't. Bruce, I defeated him. I got away! So why do I have the same nightmare every night?" He scrubbed at his eyes and looked at Bruce with terror. "Every night I dream that I'm in his bed. With him. And I'm powerless. But I'm not. I'm safe, here, with you! I know that."
Bruce grabbed him again and held him close. "You are safe, Dick. I'll kill him before I let Lee near you again. You know that, don't you?"
"Tell my subconscious that," Dick's voice was muffled in Bruce's bathrobe. "It knows...and I know...that Lee is still out there in Rheelasia."
Bruce got up and pulled a chair near the bed. "How about I stay until you're asleep again?"
"You really don't need to do that," Dick said, but had already lain back in his bed. He yawned, suddenly sleepy.
Bruce turned out the light. "I'll just stay until you're resting well."
" 'K...if you really want to..." Dick muttered and was gone. Bruce finally left Dick's room near dawn, when he was satisfied that the boy wouldn't have another nightmare.
SIX DAYS LATER
THE DAILY PLANET-HEADLINE: PRESIDENT OF RHEELASIA ANNOUNCES AMERICA VISIT
BYLINE: LOIS LANE
Singh Manh Lee, President of the People's Republic of Rheelasia has announced an extended American goodwill tour in celebration of Rheelasia's new membership in the United Nations. Said President Lee, "I simply want to thank the people of this great country for supporting our admission. During the tour, I will be opening a series of youth centers for the children of America because, without it's young people a country is nothing." When asked about personal plans for the trip, Lee smiled and said, "I am especially looking forward to renewing an old friendship in Gotham City."
The tour is expected to begin in Gotham City in two months and progress westward.
Bruce Wayne was careful to hide the newspaper from Dick's enquiring eyes. The boy still wasn't eating well, although his leg was healing well. He sipped at his coffee while his son picked at his cereal.
"Dick, I wanted to mention to you, I have to take a business trip to Japan; I'm flying out tonight. Will you be okay here without me?" Bruce asked, watching Dick's face carefully.
A look of dismay crossed the boy's face and was quickly covered with a bland expression. "Uh...okay, I guess. How long will you be gone?"
"Master Dick, if you would rather have eggs and bacon, I can prepare them for you," Alfred asked solicitously, noting the pile of soggy mush in Dick's bowl.
"No, I'm good, Alfie," Dick replied, clearly trying to shovel some food into his mouth. "So, where is it this time, Bruce?"
"Tokyo," Bruce replied. "I shouldn't be gone more than a week. If you have any more nightmares..."
"Yeah, I know...Call Alfred," Dick said glumly. "I'm not a baby, Bruce. I should be able to handle this by myself."
"It will get better, Dick," Bruce said, putting down his napkin. He paused to ruffle Dick's hair before picking up his briefcase. "I promise."
TEN DAYS LATER
THE DAILY PLANET-HEADLINE: Dictator Injured in Skiing Accident
BYLINE: CLARK KENT
Sung Manh Lee, President of the People's Republic of Rheelasia was seriously injured while on a skiing vacation. His spokesman has reported that the President, who has been in office for the past ten years after inheriting it from his father Un Manh Lee, had elected to ski by himself on an expert slope without the usual companionship of his bodyguards.
Lee is reported to have struck a tree on the slope and fractured the vertebra in his back at the C5 level, resulting in total paralysis below the waist and partial paralysis above. Although Lee is known to have various enemies opposed to his totalitarian regime, no foul play is suspected.
With great satisfaction, Batman watched the emergency crews hauling President Lee up the hillside. He'd kept to his code and hadn't killed the monster. Batman glanced again at the photo he'd taken from Lee: Robin, age ten, grinning broadly as he swung from a building. He put it into his utility belt and slipped away.
SIX MONTHS LATER
The Hamilton School for Boys was shut down after a police raid revealed that the directors of the school were supplying minors for local brothels and were trafficking selected youth internationally. Both directors were indicted and later tried for kidnapping and human trafficking. They are currently serving time in Federal Prison.
Richard Grayson's file was sealed by court order, as was his testimony to the Nevada Grand Jury. He was released into the care of his guardian and his juvenile record expunged on motion of the District Attorney in the interest of justice.
EIGHT MONTHS LATER
Rufus Garrett won emancipation from his parents at the age of fifteen and lived in Metropolis, attending school at the Metropolitan Academy. During his teens, he achieved black belts in karate and judo, combining those fighting styles with variants of capoeira and kung Fu. He attributed the fluidity of his style to the artificial bionic leg designed by Dr. Elias Stone and sponsored by WayneTech, which was fitted to him and maintained by S.T.A.R. Labs.
During this time, he studied and became fluent in Rheelasian, Mandarin, Cantonese and Japanese.
EIGHT YEARS LATER
Rufus Garrett was a little nervous on meeting with the new Batman of Gotham City. This was to be his final exam before being accepted into the organization of vigilantes called Batman Incorporated. The dojo was quite large by Tokyo standards, and immaculately kept. He'd heard a lot about the new Batman and looked forward to sparring with him. He ran his hand down his new armored suit, a black kevlar/nomex weave with a bright green bat insignia on the chest. He adjusted the mask that covered his eyes. Wouldn't do to lose that.
"Well, Rufe," said the young Gotham Batman with a grin. "Are you ready for a workout?"
"Am I ever," Rufus said, grinning back. "So, Bruce sent you for my final exam, huh?" He pulled the staff from his back, swinging it at the Batman. "Not as handy as my crutch, but I can make it work." Batman wasn't there when the staff struck.
"Gotta move faster than that," Batman taunted with a cackle from behind him. "C'mon, Rufe, I know you've been getting ready for this." The circling began again. "Amazing that Lee's still running Rheelasia," Batman commented.
"From a wheelchair," Rufus lunged again, tripping Batman and tangling him in his own cape. He heard a muffled "damn it!" before Batman brought him down and yanked the cape from his hand. Rufus was undaunted. "I'm going to make life miserable for him. The trafficking has only increased over the years!" He panted to a stop, then deployed the staff again.
"You've worked hard to get ready for this," Batman noted as he avoided Rufus' next attempt to trip him up, again reaching for the cape. "Bruce told you about my trouble with capes, didn't he?"
Rufus grinned. "He told me you called it a kevlar ball gown." He anticipated Batman's rush and used his opponent's momentum to back flip over him. "Good thing Mr. Tan taught me how a Robin fights."
Laughing, Batman called time and pulled his cowl back. "I think you're good enough to turn loose on the criminals of Rheelasia," Dick Grayson said with blue eyes sparkling.
Rufus pulled the mask off and leaned against the wall. "Finally, the mission starts. It's been long enough."
"Yeah, and child-trafficking is more entrenched than ever," Batman commented seriously. "You'll be doing a lot of good."
"I'm just sorry that Generalissimo Lee is still in power," Rufus growled. "Batman may have pulled his teeth, but that monster still has money and influence."
"But at least he's stopped collecting Robins," Batman said in the same tone. "So, if you need anything, financial or physical support, you know who to call." Dick Grayson walked forward and shook Rufus' hand. "You've earned this Rufe. You are formally assigned to be the Batman of Rheelasia and its environs as the Jade Bat. Welcome to Batman Incorporated!"