| SPIFFY DISCLAIMER THINGIE!!
Rated PG for absolute purity of content! No sex, no drugs, no -er - well, alright. A little rock and roll. J
I wasn't there, of course, when Bruce was killed. But Dick was.
"The damn building was just tall enough," Dick whispered. He was still shaking. "Just tall enough for the fall to be fatal and not tall enough for him to have time to save himself. God, Babs he let go. I had him! Honest to Christ, I had him! I could feel him slipping out of my hands, but I had him! I know I did! And and he just let go. Why? Why did he do that?"
Dick was still clutching one of Bruce's gauntlets in his right hand. He hadn't let go of it in the two hours since I'd brought him home to Wayne Manor. He couldn't seem to stop crying; softly from the heart as if his well of grief might never run dry. I climbed from my chair onto the bed where I had been trying to get him to sleep and cradled his head. He clutched at me and lay his head on my shoulder like an exhausted child.
"Shhhhh, shhhhh," I made inarticulate soothing noises and just held him. The words didn't matter, I think. Obviously, the sedatives hadn't kicked in yet. Anxiously, I glanced at Alfred. The poor old man looked like a ghost, pale and fragile as a soap bubble. Alfred Pennyworth must be close to sixty by now, but I never before saw him look old. Until now.
Alfred raised and cared for Bruce all his troubled life. Bruce was his son in all but name. Alfred's never quite overcome a nagging sense of failure as a parent. After all, if he'd done a proper job raising Bruce, he felt, The Batman wouldn't have been necessary. I never realized what a painful rebuke The Dark Knight must be for Alfred. I tried very hard not to think about what this must be like for him. If he hadn't had Dick to look after I'm not sure he would have made it.
It was that bad.
"Miss Gordon?" he said, his voice just a bit too calm. But his eyes were bright with unshed tears. "There are things that I must do I - I " He gathered himself with an effort. "Will you stay with Master Dick? I don't think he should be alone just now." I nodded.
"I won't leave him," I promised. I think he took comfort in that.
In a daze, he drifted off to do his duty. I closed my eyes. I'm sure Bruce left specific instructions. That would be very like him .
"Alfred?" I said, after a moment. He paused in the doorway, glancing over his shoulder at me.
"What about you? Are you all right?" The devastation in his eyes was my only answer as he moved off.
I was numb. My mind kept spinning endlessly like a racing engine. How did I feel about Bruce? I didn't know. He trained me and welcomed me into his "family." He helped me begin my new life as Oracle after the Joker's bullet shattered my spine and my old life as Batgirl. I fought beside him. He saved my life more times than I can count. But he never knew when to let go.
I remembered waking up beside a sixteen year old Dick Grayson, still stunned by the depths of my passion for this boy. And the look of wonder and love in his eyes when he woke and smiled at me.
And I remembered Bruce.
He gave me a chance to call it off on my own. I'll give him that. But I couldn't. So he did it for me.
"He's only sixteen, Barbara," he said with finality. "This has to stop. Now."
"I love him Bruce," I protested wanly. My features hardened. "But, then, you wouldn't know anything about that would you?" He said nothing, only looked at me with steady, accusing eyes.
"I believe you," he said softly when it was clear that I had nothing else to say. "Then, if you love him, let him go." That night was the first of many nights I cried myself to sleep, alone in my bed.
Bitter? Oh, yes.
Bruce and I definitely had our problems. And now he was dead. I was never going to have a problem with Bruce again.
In my arms Dick had finally fallen asleep. But sooner or later he was going to wake up again. What would I do then? What would any of us do, then?
"God help us," I breathed and stroked Dick's sweat slick, tousled hair. He stirred uneasily and murmured drowsily. "What are we going to do, now?"
Damn you, Bruce. Damn you to Hell. You were supposed to be immortal.
One week later Richard John Grayson, twenty one year old college dropout and Police cadet in the town of Blüdhaven became the fourth wealthiest man on the planet. It was all in Bruce's will.
"I, Bruce Thomas Wayne, being of legal age and of sound mind and body, do hereby bequeath "
"And to my son Richard Grayson Wayne, I leave the bulk of my estate in the amount of " It took the lawyer almost twenty minutes just to read the list of companies and assets Bruce left behind. Dick just sat there like a stone. I don't think he was even listening.
I took care of everything. Officially, Bruce Wayne died in an automobile accident coming back from a wild, late night party. He lost control of his Lamborghini Countasch on Canyon Road on his way home to Wayne Manor, crashed through the guard rail, and died instantly when the car ended up on the rocks below. None of his social peers seemed really surprised at the news. Several of them were already claiming to have been the one who tried to dissuade him from drinking and driving.
"Poor Bruce," one mourned. "I tried to warn him, really I did!"
"'Bruce, old man,' I told him," another said, nodding and waving a drink for emphasis. "Drinking and driving don't mix! But did he listen?"
"Bruce was never very smart," sighed the first. "Flighty as a bird. Grand partier, though! I'm going to really miss those parties "
Beside me, I felt Dick tense. I did try to hold on to him. But he broke free of my grasp and just exploded. That hard right fist that brought grown thugs to their knees when Dick was only twelve, shot out and I have to admit I didn't try to stop him anymore. The offender sprawled to the floor with a loud cry of pain and Dick was swinging at him in a flash, eyes blazing. But his second blow never landed.
Suddenly, as if from the air, there stood Clark calmly holding Dick's fist.
"It's alright son," he said softly. "Everything is going to be alright." Gently he lay his hands, those hands that can move mountains, lay waste to cities and continents if he chose, on Dick's shoulders.
"I miss him, too," he said. His eyes sad, he turned to the hapless socialite cringing on the floor.
"Sir," he said carefully polite. "Isn't there someplace you'd rather be? Perhaps you'd better go there. Now."
Most of the time you have a choice. You can either have Superman who is well, Superman or you can have Clark Kent, intrepid, though self effacing, anchorman for WGBS News. You won't often find yourself confronted with Kal-El, who lives somewhere in between the two.
But when you see Kal-El you know him.
The man on the floor began scrambling to his feet, but Alfred's umbrella somehow found its way behind his knee and he went crashing back down.
"Beg pardon, Sir," said Alfred, all contrite innocence. "Terribly clumsy of me!"
"Here, let me help you," requested Lucius Fox, grabbing him by the collar and frog marching him to relative safety.
Dick just stared at Clark. He has always been in awe of Superman. He's hardly alone there, it's true. But even before he was Robin, Dick was a flyer. He's still one of only three people in the world who can manage an unassisted quadruple somersault on the high trapeze. But Clark can really fly. When Dick was eleven Clark took him flying with him as a birthday present. All night long they soared and wheeled above the earth, Gotham then Metropolis. For Dick it was magical. A month later, Bruce and I were still listening to him gush about it.
Slowly, Dick lowered his hand. On his shoulder, Clark's hand squeezed compassionately. He's always very careful when he touches people. Dick nodded weakly and Clark moved away. Like a drowning man, Dick grabbed my hand and held on.
The funeral was total insanity. It seems that a few hundred of Bruce's "closest friends" showed up unexpectedly. That was in addition to the newspapers, CNN, Entertainment Tonight and just about every freeloader and gawker in the Western hemisphere. Lucius Fox finally had to get Dad to clear everyone off the grounds of Wayne Manor, then block the roads.
"Bullock!" Dad shouted and Harvey Bullock heaved his considerable bulk to Dad's side. "Get Montoya and Bard and Essen and as many others as you can find! I want these parasi - these people out of here."
"You got it Commish," growled Bullock and cracked his knuckles at the prospect of busting some blue blooded heads. Dad stalked off with Harvey Bullock shambling in his grim wake. I smiled. It's never been a secret how Dick feels about Bruce's society "friends".
And, no, I don't like them either.
Alfred was brutal and fiercely protective.
"No," he said coldly time and time again, "Mr. Grayson can't see you just now, I'm afraid."
"No, Mr. Grayson has no statement for the press at this time."
"Go away!" That ever-present trusty umbrella found more than one target that day.
Through it all, Dick never uttered a single word. He held on tightly to my hand like an anchor and refused to let go.
Alfred was worried about Dick and so was I. Dick wasn't sleeping. The circles under his eyes were like livid, painful bruises, wounds gotten in battle. Unless Alfred forced him, he ate almost nothing. I don't know how much weight he lost but it began to be noticeable. His clothes seemed to hang off his broad shoulders as if they were meant for a larger man. His body cried out for flesh. He avoided everyone. He wouldn't see Roy or Garth or even Wally. All of Clark's phone calls remained unanswered. I have no idea what happened with Kory but she left in tears.
And he stopped talking.
At least in words. But Wayne Manor reverberated with music. The halls rattled under the assault of White Zombie and Nine Inch Nails. Pearl Jam seeped into the walls like a spreading infection and festered. Dick has always loved music. At times, it has been his refuge. But not now. Now, he turned it into something else. When Joe Wilson died his mother Adeline gave Dick Joey's guitar. Dick is a talented guitarist, but it would have been hard to see that in the light of what he played now. Oh, Dick was talking, all right. Loudly.
He began to spend all of his time in the Cave, practicing kata for hours, driving himself to the edge of exhaustion and beyond. Those escrima sticks would flash, deadly, eerily silent in the soft light of the Cave. Dick would leap, and practice dummies disintegrated under the trained, studied assault of that athletic body. In the Cave it was jazz. The cool, honeyed strains of Telonius Monk caressed the ear; Dexter Gordon's lonely sax wailed like a lost child. Dick must have gone through Bruce's entire collection of vintage and modern jazz. And then he started over again. I'm pretty sure he never even noticed that I was still there. When he wasn't practicing he was sitting in his chair in front of the Batcomputer's wide screen, tense as a wound spring, watching video footage. They were always the same films, of course.
Worried? I was terrified.
On the screen the dark hooded figure eased forward gracefully, standing out in vivid contrast to the blazing aura of the fiery sword that sprang to life in it's hands.
My eyes widened and I gasped. "No, no, no, no Oh God, please Dick, no!" I was praying, I'll admit it.
"You need to work on your stealth skills, Babs," Dick said levelly, "you've been sitting there watching me for the last ten minutes. You can come out now." It was the first thing Dick had said to anyone in more than a month. Somehow, I wasn't relieved.
"Dick, please " I began my plea. He cut me off with a rude, abrupt gesture like a sword blade. He was still staring intently at the screen.
"Did you know that he always drops his left shoulder when he moves to the right? And he doesn't like to use his left foot."
When he spun his chair around to face me his blue eyes were like glacial ice. But just beneath the surface, right behind the irises where all the passions hid, killing, consuming anger roiled perilously close to eruption. I bit my tongue to keep from crying out and tasted blood. But it wasn't until I realized where I had seen those eyes before that I began to tremble with fear for Dick.
Bruce had eyes just like that.
"Nothing you can say will stop me, Babs," he said calmly. With a casual flick of his foot, he swiveled back around to face the Batcomputer.
On the screen, the triangular red fluer de lis shield of The Order Of St. Dumas gleamed bright red like fresh blood from a still flowing wound. Again, he turned and looked at me with Bruce's eyes.
"Jean-Paul Valley is a dead man," promised Nightwing.
End Part One!
Rain pounded the earth like a great hammer. Lightning flashed and lit the dark cityscape spread out before us. Thunder peeled like the huge bells of the church belfry where we stood. I looked down at the Saint Vincent de Paul Shelter for the Homeless.
"He'll be here soon," Bruce assured me. I nodded. "Since Father D'estaing took him in off the street last week he hasn't any other place to go."
"Except to jail!" I snapped. "He's crazy Bruce," I accused. "How in the name of God could you have chosen him to replace you?" Of course, he said nothing at first. I guess I didn't really expect him to. So, I was taken totally by surprise when he lowered his night vison goggles and looked at me.
"I had my reasons -" he began.
It was all my fault. All of it, my fault. For once, Bruce wasn't paying attention; neither of us were. I distracted him, and before I knew what was happening, there was Jean-Paul Valley, Azrael, barreling into him. The Batman and his opponent went rolling across the stone belfry.
My heart in my throat, I leapt after them, marveling how anyone so big could move so fast. Stupid, stupid, stupid! A hard,.armored fist sent me reeling backwards. With a sharp cry, I landed in a heap and my head struck the unyielding stone. Groaning, I crawled to my feet and shook my head to clear it.
My vision blurred, then cleared just in time to see Bruce go careening through the ancient stone of the belfry's guard wall. I saw his hand reach out to grab hold of the treacherous stone, wet and crumbling. For an instant, he made it. But only for an instant before the stone began to come apart beneath his questing fingers.
Before I could think, my body was in motion, running, slipping, sliding, ANYTHING to reach him before he fell. I was barely in time. Our fingers locked together just as he lost his grip on the guard wall.
And all the while Jean-Paul Valley simply stood there and watched, silent as one of the gargoyles guarding the sanctity of this holy place.
As I'd been taught, I put aside the pain of my now dislocated shoulder and hung on. Fighting off panic, I blinked the rain from out of my eyes.
"Hang on, Bruce!" I called, "hang on, man! I've got you! Just hang on!"
I pulled upward with all my strength and screamed my agony into the shrieking wind. Oh God, it hurt. But, I had him. All I had to do was lift him up. All I had to do -
"Let go, Dick," Bruce said plainly despite the wind. "You have to let go "
He looked up at me then. When he deliberately let go of my hand, his eyes were calm and resolute, as if he knew exactly what he was doing.
I woke up screaming, panting for breath, barely able to breathe. Shaking, I grabbed for the overhead trapeze and hauled myself to a sitting position in my borrowed bed at Wayne Manor. I fumbled for the glass of water at my bedside and sloshed it all over myself. My hands were trembling that badly.
Oh God. For a few endless moments I had to struggle to remember who and where I was. Gordon! I was Barbara Gordon. But I could still feel Dick's horror writhing and twisting just under my skin, screaming for release. The dream was so real.
<It was no dream.>
I dropped the water glass. As I looked about in terror for the source of that soft voice, the glass rolled off the bed and shattered on the hardwood floor of the guest bedroom that I had taken over for the last two months.
<Calm yourself, Barbara Gordon.>
I was shivering with the early morning cold. But, in an instant, I was surrounded by warmth, cradled and nestled before a glowing fire, it seemed. Instinct told me I was safe and protected; much the same way that I always felt with Dick and Bruce at my side in the old days.
<Richard will need you soon. You must be prepared. I tried to show him something. But he was not ready to hear me. I have only upset him terribly. You must be the one to heal him; not I. Remember. Remember the vision I have given you this night. Remember > The voice faded.
"Ra - Raven?"
I never really knew the extra-dimensional Titan, Raven. I can't explain what made me think this was her. It just felt right. There was a brief flash of compassion and joy that felt very much like a smile and then she was gone.
The loud knock on my door would have brought me back to myself, anyway.
"Miss Gordon?" Alfred's urgent voice was steeped in deep anxiety. "Miss Gordon, please wake up!"
"It's alright, Alfred," I called, "I'm decent. C'mon in." I was trying to fool myself, pretending that nothing was wrong and failing miserably. But even if I'd succeeded, one look at Alfred Pennyworth's disheveled face and despairing eyes and I'd have known the truth. Something was very wrong.
"It's Master Dick," Alfred blurted. "He's gone! I can't seem to find him anywhere. I woke to check on him I - I found it best to do that recently " His voice trailed off. "But this evening he was gone. I've checked everywhere. He's not in the Bat Cave nor anywhere on the grounds." His long face crumpled. "I should never have left him alone! I am such an old fool!"
Thunder boomed unleashing its deep sonorous voice, then lightning crackled again just outside my window, rattling the glass. For a moment I was back in that church belfry staring down into Bruce's calm eyes as he let go of Dick's hand.
"It's okay, Alfred," I soothed him, throwing off the bedcovers. "I think I know where he is."
The sky wept and drenched the earth with it's cold grief. Soaked to the skin, Alfred and I emerged into the belfry of St. Thomas Church, a Gothic showpiece, the oldest Catholic cathedral in Gotham.
And the place where The Batman died.
I saw him immediately, crouching in the corner, huddling, still as statue, not even shivering with the cold as Alfred and I did. Briefly, the light of my flashlight passed over the bloodstains left from Jean-Paul Valley's vengeance. They were set into the stone, now. Not even the lashing rain could wash them out.
"Dick?" I called into the darkness. "Dick?"
He didn't seem to hear me; my voice whistled away on the wind and he just crouched there, unmoving, punished by the ripping wind and the cold. I could just make out the small jumbled pile of stones, fallen from the crumbling wall, guarded by menacing gargoyles. This must be where it happened. A flash of lightning brought me my first clear view of Dick's face.
Did you know that it's next to impossible to tell if someone is crying while they're standing in the driving rain?
"Master Dick, please "
But Alfred had no more success than I. Dick was still clad in the pajama bottoms he'd worn to bed, his bare feet gripping the slippery stone beneath them. Naked to the waist, he ignored the cold and the wind as well as the two of us.
I could see it in his eyes. Every time he drew breath, he was right there, gripping Bruce's hand, desperately holding on.
"I won't let you go," he whispered.
The sound was lost in the cacophony of the howling wind. But lip reading was one of the first things Bruce taught the novice Batgirl. My heart clenched and some small part of me died.
"Don't leave me, damn you! Please don't leave me " "Dick?"
The beam of my flashlight played over him and he threw up his hands to ward it off, as if it burned. And perhaps it did. Injured and suffering creatures of the darkness always shy away from the light.
He fell forward, his hands gripping the sides of the gaping, yawning hole in the guard wall. The guard wall there to protect people. To keep them from falling. Alfred moved silently forward. It took him almost ten whole minutes to pry Dick's hands loose from the stone, one finger at a time.
"Hang on, Bruce!" Dick whispered. "Just hang on, man! I've got you! I won't let you go!"
He leaned into his childhood protector's grandfatherly embrace.
"Oh God don't leave me I love you don't leave me "
Above us, the mourning sky wept harder.
Dick slept for twenty-two hours straight when we got him back home.
But when he woke everything seemed to be fine. It was as if the previous night never happened. He came down to breakfast, smiling and devoured his way through three helpings of Alfred's pancakes before he pushed himself away from the table. Gloriously happy, Alfred poured him another glass of the fresh squeezed orange juice that he loves.
"Babs," Dick said, wiping away the butter and maple syrup from his lips with one of Alfred's pristine linen napkins, "we need to talk." I frowned.
"About what?" I admit I was suspicious and it must have shown in my voice. I wasn't quite ready to trust this quick recovery. I wanted to, God knows. No mistake about that. But If Dick noticed he gave no sign. Instead he smiled and set my heart racing.
"Jean-Paul's got to be stopped," he said reasonably. "That's what Bruce and I were doing there in the first place, remember? He's not going to quit killing people. I can't live with that. Can you?"
"Oh, that's dirty pool, kiddo," I muttered weakly. And then he hauled out the really big guns in his assault on my fast crumbling defenses.
"I need you, Babs," he said.
Damn! I don't have much left to offer anyone except my help when they need it. Valiantly, I made a futile effort to tell myself it was a trick, just a trick to get what he needed.
The problem was that, trick or not, it really didn't matter. Dick was right. Valley had to be taken down. I took a deep centering breath. I have gladly trusted Dick Grayson with my life on countless occassions. But could I trust him with his own life now? I told myself firmly that this was no different. Trust is trust, isn't it?
He didn't even have to hear me say it; he read it in my eyes. Across the table his hand slipped into mine, warm and reassuring, his smile broadening.
After that, I don't think I could have stopped it even if I had tried. And I didn't, of course.
Dick was methodical, as always. He didn't overlook a thing. He made extensive lists of all the equipment I would need and then quizzed me about the backups.
"Don't worry about the lousy lighting," I told him. "That's what infra-red attachments are for."
"Are you sure the microphones are sensitive enough for what you need?" he asked. I smiled.
"They can hear a termite belch at a hundred paces," I defended my choice of Sony. "Will you stop worrying?"
"When Jean-Paul Valley is behind bars, THEN, I'll stop worrying." He sounded so much like Bruce that it made my blood chill. But then he kissed me and I forgot everything else, breathless. It was daunting how smoothly everything went.
Lucius Fox almost gave us trouble, though.
"Waterfront property is expensive, Dick," he counseled. "Are you sure you want to do this?" From behind, I could see the muscles of Dick's shoulders knot and tense. But when he spoke to Lucius Fox, CEO of Wayne Enterprises and executor of his estate, he was grinning boyishly.
"I just need a place to store all my stuff from Blüdhaven, Mr. Fox," he explained. "And I've been thinking about buying a couple of new bikes to work on. Just for fun." Lucius' dark face quirked an understanding smile.
"No harm in that, I guess. All right, son. I'll authorize the debenture. It's not as if you can't afford it." Dick smiled like a sunny day.
"Hey thanks, Mr. Fox!" he said. "You're the greatest!"
Within the week, crews were hard at work and the installation was speeding along.
"It would go a lot faster, ma'am," the WayneTech Construction building forman tried to convince me, "if you'd let us work during the day. Cheaper, too. It's pretty hard to get guys to work at these hours of the night even with triple overtime." He couldn't see me smile over the phone, but I did.
"Never mind the money," I told him. "Just be sure you're done by the end of the week."
In the Cave, Dick was spending time getting used to the cape.
"You would NOT believe what a major pain this thing is," he grumbled amiably at me every chance he got. Which, at last count, was about three times a day. Not that I blamed him. He'd already tripped over the ridiculous thing twice in the past hour. And when he got it caught in the door on the way out of his room while wearing it for the first time, even I chuckled. Bruce was a master with it; wore the damned thing like a second skin. But Dick isn't Bruce. Or at least he didn't used to be
"Then get rid of it," I replied, rationally enough.
But, Dick only smiled and continued practicing with it, getting used to the feel of it, grumbling all the while.
When all the work was completed, the last sensor installed, Dick studied the floor plans carefully. Finally, he nodded, satisfied with what he saw. He stroked the blueprints almost like a lover's skin, humming under his breath.
"Okay, Boy Wonder," I chuckled, beating back a sharp stab of unease, "we've built a better mousetrap. So, now, what do we use for the cheese?"
He didn't say a word. He didn't have to. The slow smile that spread across his face in answer was absolutely unmistakable. And answer enough.
Jean-Paul was right on time.
It proved remarkably simple for the mysterious Oracle to lure him to the killing ground with promises of information. Dick was right about the bait, too. Dick made splashy appearances all over Gotham wriggling splendidly on the end of that hook like a fat, juicy worm. Jean-Paul was really angry, if the battered perps he left in his wake were any clue.
So when Oracle sent out feelers concerning information on the whereabouts of the suddenly missing Nighwing, Azrael bit like a hungry shark. He might be suspicious of the timing, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. So there he was, skulking his way into the dockside warehouse waiting to receive him.
"Hello, Jean-Paul." Dick's ominous voice echoed eerily off the walls of the huge building; it seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at all in the same breath. The throat mike we installed in the cowl, then hooked into the warehouse's old intercom system was working just fine. Satisfied, I decided to test the vid. With a touch of my hand, I tested the visual pick up from my minicams we'd carefully installed, scattering them throughout the warehouse. Clear as a bell. I smiled in relief. I was plugged into to all the action. In a very real sense I was right there with Dick. As I should have been in reality.
"Welcome to Hell, Angel-man."
Watching carefully, I pressed several buttons and sealed all the perimeter locks on Dick's prearranged signal. I almost found myself smiling. One thing that Dick Grayson has never lost whether as Robin or as Nightwing, is his flair for the dramatic. In any case, Jean-Paul Valley wasn't leaving this warehouse anytime soon.
"All secure," I assured Dick. Aren't microchips and miniaturized electronics wonderful? It's amazing what they've done for the science of communication. On the floor of the warehouse, Dick smiled and nodded imperceptibly at my voice in his ear.
"You'll like our little playground here, pal. Party time!" He chuckled and the sound echoed like thunder from the walls. "Play nice now, this place cost me a fortune. Fortunately, I have a fortune. You saw to that."
"He was a blasphemer and a devil," said Valley. "He had to be dealt with. Can't you understand that? I have no quarrel with you."
For a moment, I almost felt pity for Jean-Paul Valley. After all, he wasn't really responsible, was he? Twisted by his creators and their cruel "System" and then driven to madness by the weight of the Mantle Of The Bat, he was almost tragic. I set my teeth. Tragic he might be, but whatever else he was, Jean-Paul Valley was a murderer. And very, very dangerous.
Through the remotes installed in the costume, I heard Dick's steady breathing, the regular beat of his heart. It was remarkable. Not once did his heartbeat exceeded fifty-two beats a minute, quite normal for an active athlete of Dick's caliber. He was cold as ice.
"You're a one talent man, Frenchman," he told Valley. "And one sick puppy. But that's all right. There isn't a damned thing wrong with you that I can't cure. With my hands." At my terminal I shifted uneasily and bit my lip. Like a ghost, Dick stepped from the shadows behind Valley.
"Lets rock and roll!" he called. His opponent spun to face him. Jean-Paul's foot slipped for an instant in an ancient grease stain on the concrete floor. In a flash of lightning I saw another, slimmer foot slip on wet stone, pulled inexorably toward a great precipice. My arms felt like leaden weights as memories stirred. As swiftly as it came, the lightning vanished and I watched, shaken, as Valley righted himself.
Jean Paul's eyes narrowed dangerously when he saw the costume.
"There is only one true Batman," Valley declared. "And it isn't you. The Avenging Angel is going to send you to the furthest depths of Hell where you belong." From his gauntlet the flaming ionic sword that named him Azrael sprang to hellish life.
"You first," snarled Dick.
Almost faster than the eye could follow, twin batarangs flew from Dick's hand and buried themselves in the delicate circuitry of Valley's wrist gauntlets. The Sword of Azrael flickered and died.
"Psycho little boys shouldn't play with nasty toys," Dick opined, taunting Valley.
Silently, Dick's larger opponent removed the batarangs and crushed them in his hand. He was angry, it was easy to see that in the straining cords of his neck and the straight stiffness of his back. But he hadn't yet lost control of his temper as Dick intended.
"Don't ever go into a fight mad, Babs," Dick once advised me. "You'll lose. Angry people do dumb things." Jean-Paul Valley might be crazy, but apparently, he wasn't stupid. I began to be very afraid. Valley lashed out at Dick with his longest weapon, his leg, but his target wasn't there.
Dick dodged, rolled and landed on his feet. Absently, he spread The Batman's cape and smiled. "Don't like my new suit?" he asked.
For his answer Valley's lips thinned in anger.
"Come and take it off me, then," Dick invited.
With a tiny, quick movement of one hand he gestured Valley forward. With the touch of another button on my terminal, from the overhead intercom speakers came the harsh sounds of music. A hard driving relentless beat, that rolled over the listener like a great pounding juggernaut. I paled.
"Name that tune in five notes," I thought giddy with fear. As far as I knew, it didn't have a name but I recognized it, all right. Dick spent hours writing and practicing it. But this was the first time I knew that it had words. And such words
"Like the song, Jean-Paul?" Dick asked. "I wrote it just for you."
[Hello. Remember me? The one you left behind?]
Valley shook his head to clear it. I think that's what he was doing. Maybe not. At first I couldn't tell if he were listening or not. It wasn't until Jean-Paul clasped his hands over his ears to shut out the assault of musical fury that I had my answer.
He was listening all right.
Dick palmed something from his utility belt and tossed it on the floor in front of Valley. And the song continued its relentless assault on Azrael. In the seconds before my electronic cameras filtered out the brilliant flash of bright light, Dick disappeared.
With a small cry, Valley threw himself away from the explosion.
"Magnesium is a volatile element," remarked Dick. "Combine it with thermite and sudden exposure can cause blindness for up to three minutes. With the filters in your mask I figure you're good for about a minute."
Jean-Paul stood still, listening intently, searching for the source of that voice with his ears, now that his eyes were temporarily useless. I grinned and wished him luck against the echoes in the huge building and the omnidirectional intercom.
I know my business.
"The name of the Game," Dick explained as if to a backward child, "is 'Pin The Tail On The Batman' Tag! You're it!"
Valley ducked just in time to avoid the razor edged batarang that buried itself in the packing crate at his back. In a flash, Azrael was on his feet and moving. He was fast. Very fast.
"He lied to us both, you know," Jean-Paul said quietly into the darkness where Dick had plunged him. From his shelter behind a support pillar, he listened for a reply. I saw Dick hesitate, frowning, and the tips of my fingers went numb. Damn, damn, damn!
[I do remember you] the song caroled in our ears.
"He lied to me," Jean-Paul continued, "about what he wanted. He told me he wanted me to punish the guilty. He told me that I was Batman and then he took that away from me. He lied to *you, too. He made you love him. And then he didn't love you in return."
Dick seemed to be immobile; frozen into place by Jean-Paul's biting words like a deer caught in the headlights of an onrushing semi.
"Dick!" I cried, "For God's sake, move your butt! Move! Move! Move!"
And in the background the song played on.
[I set myself to hunt for you And waited for this day]
Lithe as a gazelle, Dick leapt into the air, somersaulted backwards and landed lightly on the overhead catwalk, crouching low. With a small explosion of air, I began to breath again. Momentarily, a faint memory of the feel of the sleek, iron muscles of those legs beneath my hands, stirred. Resolutely, I pushed it away. Two of Azrael's metal darts whizzed by Dicks ear.
Dick leapt again, dodging low to the ground of the catwalk, now. His hand shot out to catch himself as he swung up to the exit platform. Skilled fingers grasped for the crossbar and closed around it tightly. Another lightening flash of memory struck me blindside.
Swift as the lightning itself, I saw that familiar gauntleted hand streak out and close itself around another, larger, darker gauntleted hand. Pain shot through my shoulder and I let go of my terminal and cried out. For a moment I could have sworn my foot slipped on slick wet stone. Then slipped again. Wind howled in my ears, but I still heard a voice that wasn't mine cry out, "Hang on, Bruce! I've got you, man, I've got you!" And then my foot slipped again, drawing me ever closer to the edge.
"You can't seem to hit the target," Dick chuckled. "C'mon, man! You've got to aim straight!" I snapped back to the present, barely giving myself time to wonder what was going on. Why was I remembering Raven's vision? Why? Was this what Dick had really seen?
With cat-like grace, Dick ran along the guard rail of the walkway, followed like a persistent hound by Azrael's darts. Wood splintered and metal sparked as they tore great gouges in the walls and the iron of Dick's temporary refuge.
When Dick darted passed one of my concealed videocams, I cursed under my breath, then watched it crackle and die, stuck by an errant dart. One of my screens flickered, dimmed, then went blank and I reminded myself firmly that I had others. But I hate being cut off like that. It makes me feel well, helpless.
In awe, I looked on as Dick tucked himself into a tight little ball and launched himself between one step and another at Jean-Paul below. Valley is probably stronger than Dick, but no one human that I know of is faster.
Dick slammed into Azrael's midriff like a highballing freight train and the two of them went crashing into a packing crate. Jean-Paul's armor absorbed most of the force of the impact, I think, but the momentum was another matter.
Dick surged to his feet and kicked the still prone Jean-Paul Valley directly in the left temple, snapping his head back smartly. . Then, like a wraith, he melted into the shadows.
"Pitiful," was Dick's opinion, "really pitiful. You're no fun at all. Bruce taught you better than this. C'mon, pal! Concentrate. Focus."
Valley towered to his feet, moving cautiously, searching for his enemy.
"He taught me well," he gasped, his breath coming in thin shallow pants now, like a winded predator brought to bay. "And you also. We have a lot in common."
"We have nothing in common!" At my console, my fingers froze and then fairly flew over the keys.
"Center on my voice, Dick," I whispered in his ear, "Concentrate on me. Don't listen to him."
"He saw himself in me," Valley persisted. "That's why he chose me. Because, like him, I am driven. He thought he could use that. Lies. It was all lies. We shouldn't be fighting like this. We are brothers, Richard Grayson."
With mounting panic, I heard the harsh rasping of Dick's breath, saw the quick raise and fall of his chest. In the warehouse, miles distant and beyond my control, Jean-Paul Valley stepped calmly from the relative safety of his concealment and stood still, fully exposing himself.
"I loved him too," Jean-Paul murmured.
*Was he lying? Or was he only telling the truth? Just a clever ploy to draw Dick out? Probably. Maybe. Christ, I don't know. But if it was, it worked like a charm.
This time even I was lost. All I could hear was the music
That damned music
On my monitors, Dick's heart rate shot up past one hundred sixty beats a minute, then plummeted like a stone as he conquered his anger. For an instant, but only an instant, I breathed easier. Thank God. Silence reigned in that huge warehouse. I swear I could hear the mice scurrying in the walls on their little rodent feet.
And then all my hopes were dashed when Dick landed, light as a bit of thistledown, and almost as silently, behind Jean-Paul. Before his feet even touched the concrete floor, though, a batarang whistled through the air and struck the whirling Valley, burying itself deep in the flesh of his hip. I saw blood seep through the armor. I pounded my console in fury and helpless frustration. But I was miles distant; I could only watch. Helpless as any other cripple.
"You don't kill someone you love," Dick said.
Feinting to the right, he leapt at Azrael from the left. But Jean-Paul was ready for him. The larger man, rolled, grabbed a passing leg and held on. Dick twisted from out of that vise-like grip, springing away with a parting kick to Valley's unarmored head. But it cost him. He landed hard with an explosion of departing breath. Azrael struggled to his feet and threw what had to be some of the last of those steel darts of his at Dick, wordless as a statue.
Reaching under the cape, Azrael's opponent pulled out his escrima sticks and knocked the speeding darts from the air, almost casually. He spun the sticks ambidextrously in his hands, smiling. He learned that smile from Bruce. It isn't true that The Batman never smiled. He did. But his smile was like the rest of him not something you ever wanted to see.
"I've got some new toys," Dick declared, "wanna play?" Valley's eyes narrowed, but he just stood there.
"You want a piece of me, Avenging Angel? Then come and take it!"
Dick tumbled his way to within striking distance of Valley, who was already in motion himself. With a sweep of those long legs, he brought the Frenchman crashing to the floor. Lashing out with his escrima sticks, he battered Jean-Paul ruthlessly about his face and his unarmored midriff.
From behind, Azrael kicked Dick in the back of the head with a free leg and gave a powerful heave. Dick went flying across the warehouse floor, smashing brutally into a support pillar. I gasped for breath and held onto my console for dear life as if it might save me from the scene on my monitors. Dick slowly regained his feet, wiping the blood from his nose and eyes.
With a flying leap, Azrael, the would be Batman, piled into his opponent and bore him back to the ground with his greater weight. Steely fingers began choking the life out of my one time partner. I'm not sure how I kept from screaming.
"You really don't understand, do you?" Jean-Paul marveled. The quiet, sick torment in his voice stabbed at me like one of his metal darts. "You think he choose me to replace him because he didn't think you were good enough. You're not, but that isn't why he picked me." Dick struggled beneath those crushing fingers, his body arching and straining. I doubt very much that he heard what Jean-Paul was saying. But I did.
"He picked me because he didn't want you to face Bane. He wouldn't risk your death. But I was expendable. He was a cold man. No, he didn't care about me. None of you ever cared about *me And he thought he could use me. But he was wrong, wasn't he? I proved to him that he was wrong."
Desperate, Dick ripped off Valley's cowled hood, then brought his cupped hands violently together on each side of Azrael's head, over the ears. Jean-Paul screamed and loosened his grip involuntarily. That was all the opening Dick needed.
While Valley was still clutching his ears in pain, Dick doubled his fists and brought them to bear on his foes nose. The sensitive electronics installed in the warehouse and in Dicks costume brought me the sickening sound of splintering bone.
By this time, I was was almost sobbing. Whether with relief or despair, I wasn't sure. That last was meant to be a killing blow, I realized. Only a miracle or an inappropriate angle kept it from accomplishing its job. Oh God. Dick, you promised! We were supposed to stop him; not kill him. You promised! I was helpless. Always so damned helpless.
Temporarily or perhaps even permanently deafened, Jean-Paul Valley didn't hear Dick shout, "Liar!"
My monitors brought me a close up of Jean-Pauls face and I saw his eyes. The certainty of death lived there. Certainty and acceptance. And I found myself staring down into Bruce's smoky blue eyes mirroring that same acceptance.
"Let go, Dick," Bruce said. "You have to let go."
And there came the now familiar sensation of slipping feet, grasping for better purchase. And finding nothing. With dizzying swiftness, I was looking out of Dick's desperate eyes as Bruce's greater weight pulled Dick's upper body over the precipice. His feet were scrambling for something that wasn't there and his arms and shoulders were afire with pain.
"Let go, Dick," came that deep, insistent voice again, utterly calm and certain. "You have to let go."
Dick kicked at the writhing Azrael, but Jean-Paul must have seen the blow coming. He deflected the strike, grabbed Dick's ankle and twisted. Again, I heard the snap of breaking bone. Dick's sharp cry of agony tore a great gaping hole in my heart, making it hard for me to think. Somehow I had to stop this. I had to. Reaching for the keys on my console, I activated my private commlink to Dick.
"Dick, you can't do this!" I hissed at him. "Listen to me! Don't drag yourself down to his level. If you do this, then he's won. He needs help, not a judge, jury and executioner!" I was babbling.
Dick shook his head and ignored me. With his good leg, he sprang at Valley. Over and over they rolled on the filthy floor of that carefully prepared warehouse, first one then the other ascendant. Locked in a death grip they battered at each other, pounding and tearing at one another until I thought that one or the other of them would literally beat the other to death. I didn't dare speak to Dick again. Any distraction now might be fatal for him. I chewed my lips to bloody ribbons and didn't even notice.
Jean-Paul was losing a lot of blood from the wound in his hip and my trained eyes could see the toll it was taking. He was slowing down, getting clumsy. Dick had to be in a lot of pain from that broken ankle, but he seemed to be dealing with it well. I heard the steady rhythm of his calculated breathing and the soft murmur of a focusing mantra as he pushed the pain away, into a well guarded corner of his mind. I almost smiled. Bruce was always a good teacher. Dick would pay for it later, I knew from experience, but for now he was coping.
Dick wrapped his hands around the weakened Jean-Paul Valley's throat and began to methodically pound his head into the concrete. After the first few blows, Azrael was unconscious, but Dick couldn't seem to stop. Over and over the mad Frenchman's head struck the cold unyielding hardness.
"Dick, stop it! You're killing him!" I wailed.
"Yeah," he breathed, "I am "
And Valley's head bounced off the concrete again.
Frantic, I called in as soft a voice as I could mange in my fear, "Bruce wouldn't want you to do this, Dick! Don't lie to yourself and tell yourself that you're doing it for him, my friend. This is for you and no one else. Bruce died saving your life, Dick."
Against my will my voice grew steadily more shrill.
"You had firm hold of him.alright; but you didn't have an anchor and you were slipping. Weren't you? Don't let your guilt eat you alive the way it did Bruce. It wasn't your fault! Anymore than it was Bruce's fault that he survived his parent's deaths! He let go of you! He was the one who let go."
Around Valley's throat, Dick's hands loosened and began to shake. He closed his eyes to shut me out, but I wouldn't let him. It was all falling into place, now.
"Remember. Remember the vision I have given you this night," said Raven's soothing voice. "Remember "
"He didn't want to take you with him when he fell. He let go of you because he refused to let you die, too. And if you kill Jean-Paul you will die. On the inside where it counts. Damn you, if you kill Dick Grayson, I'll never forgive you! Never! Bruce will have died for NOTHING! You always thought that Bruce wanted you to be like him. But he didn't. He wanted you to be better than he was. The whole complete person he could never be. Is this how you want him to remember you? IS it?"
Silence was my only companion in my terror for the longest time.
"Answer me, Dick!" I cried. "Answer me!"
Dick thrust his hands deep into his armpits, as if he didn't trust them to be free and unencumbered; he began rocking back and forth straddling the fallen, unconscious and bleeding Valley. His teeth gritted and the muscles of his neck danced and trembled with the effort of so much restraint.
"Sing!" his voice shook. His body swayed as if in the teeth of a strong, punishing wind.
"Sing!" he pleaded.
Sing? What in the name of God was he talking ab--
Then it hit me. In the background I could still hear the furious strains of the song Dick had written for Valley, playing endlessly like a howling storm.
[I know what dreams you've
Hello. Hello. Hello.]
With an oath, I pounded my terminal with my fist and strangled that cold, angry voice in mid note. But what to replace it with? Like a man suffering a deep, mortal wound, Dick clutched his shaking body and rocked, back and forth, back and forth. Waiting.
And then I remembered how Bruce had taught Dick French when he first came to Wayne Manor as a lost and lonely nine years old boy grieving for his parents. Dick was the one who taught me the song when I was his baby sitter so I had no trouble remembering it. It was his lullaby.
With no trouble at all, I could hear Bruce's deep baritone voice fumbling over the words. Well, I can't sing as well as Alfred, who trained for it, or even as well as Bruce who loved that little boy more than he loved his life, but I loved Dick, too, and I did know the tune. I was praying harder than I ever prayed before when I began to gently sing, pouring out my love in a throaty, inadequate voice.
Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,
Sonnez les matines. Sonnez les matines.
Din, din, don. Din, din, don.
After the first few words, Dick began to sing along with me, choking, mangling the words and the tune, but not the love at the heart of them. I sang on, crying now myself. Me, who never cried for Bruce when Dick did. Me, who knew, at last, how I felt about Bruce.
Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,
Sonnez les matines. Sonnez les matines.
Din, din, don. Din, din, don.
Standing tall, Dick limped rapidly away from Jean-Paul until he found a packing crate and leaned his back against it for support. His escrima sticks dropped to the concrete floor with a loud clatter from suddenly nerveless fingers. Silently, he slid slowly down the length of the large, rough wooden crate until he was sitting on the floor in the dust and grime. He pillowed his head on his arms, resting on his tightly drawn knees, as if its weight were suddenly too heavy a burden to bear.
"Dick?" I said, uncertainty making my voice unsteady. My heart clenched when there was no answer for many long minutes.
He looked up at me, then, with clear, sapphire blue eyes that were sad but no longer haunted. No longer in great pain.
He looked at me with Dick Grayson's eyes.
"Call an ambulance, Babs," he said. "And the Police."
Joyously, I obeyed.
Gotham is getting used to her new Batman.
Dad was the first to notice.
"He's different somehow," he told me over dinner, shortly after Jean-Paul Valley was convicted of murder and sent to Arkham. "More relaxed, more I don't know more at peace with himself." He tried to smile, but I didn't miss the sadness in his eyes when he said it.
I'm pretty sure he knows. He may even have figured out that it was Bruce in the suit before this. He's a smart man. He didn't get to be Police Commishioner of Gotham City on just his good looks. We've never talked about it. He misses his old friend, I think. But he's having a busy time getting to know his new friend and that's helping.
Jean-Paul Valley is dead.
"This isn't over, yet," Jean-Paul threatened Dick at his sentencing. I remember Dick's lifted eyebrow.
"Oh, I think it is, pal." Dick was terse. "You've made some bad enemies."
"You can't stop me!" Azrael raged. Dick smiled Bruce's smile one last time.
"Oh, I wasn't talking about me," he said softly.
They found him dead in his cell at Arkham one morning less than a week after they transferred him there. There wasn't a mark on him. The only clues were flowers covering Jean-Paul's eyes. The Police were completely baffled. Dick had to explain it to them.
"The 'iris Germanica florintina'," Batman said, "better known as the 'fluer de lis', or, 'bedding flower', was often used in medieval times to lay the dead to rest. Today its best known as the floral symbol of France, chosen so by Charles V. It's also one of the symbols of the Order of St. Dumas." Dick looked speculative. "I wonder where they found their new Azrael? I don't think Jean-Paul had any children."
Wayne Manor is beginning to be a happy place again.
Alfred swears Bruce is still here. Maybe he's right. Sometimes, on my way down into the Batcave in my special elevator, I can feel him so strongly I have to smile. He is free now. Free of the darkness and the pain. He can love and be loved. And he does.
Alfred's smile and droll sense of humor are back. He tends Bruce's grave with fresh flowers and fresh news almost every day, and faithfully relates all the details of our lives. Alfred never talks to Bruce of important things when they visit. Instead they talk of the small things. Not the battles or the villainous plots thwarted by the new Dynamic Duo. These aren't important.
Instead he tells Bruce about Tim's on going struggle with calculus, and about Dick's own struggle to live up to the Mantle of the Bat.
Dick seldom visits Bruce's grave.
"Roy told me once that the Navajo say no one ever truly dies as long as someone remembers them," he told me when I asked him why. Dick squeezed my hand, smiling.
"Bruce will never die." he said.
As ever, I have made my own continuity. Since I find it nearly impossible to keep up with all the retcons and such I just use what I need or fits the story. J In this case Jen-Paul Valley (AzBat!) never recovered from that nervous breakdown he suffered while filling in for Bruce in the now classic epic KnightQuest/KnightFall/KnightsEnd. And Bruce did legally adopt Dick. Also Dick and Babs were lovers for a short time in Dick's midteens. So all ya'll BatScholars power down those BatSignals telling moi that I got the continuity wrong. I know!
Thank again to my fellow Texas expatriate Syl and my friend Terri for invaluable beta reading and advice! Ya'll are the best! This story, if'n it has any merit is mostly thanks to ya'll's efforts at kicking moi's shapely southern fanny!
To those of ya'll (if any!) who are wondering about the song referred to Chapter Three, here it is in it's entirety. J I adapted it from the song "Hello, Remember Us?" by Leslie Fish from off her "Firebird" album. Which I highly recommend to one and all! It is used without permission but I think The Fish would approve. J
Hello! Hello! Hello!
Hello! Hello! Hello!
Hello! Hello! Hello!
Hello! Hello! Hello!
All characters are DC Comics
This story is © 1999 by Dannell Lites.