You Gave Me Wings
By Syl Francis
Summary: Dick asks Barbara to give something to Bruce in case anything ever happens to him.
"I see them."
"Only thirty--maybe forty, but who's counting?" The cocky reply was all Nightwing. I rolled my eyes.
"Oh, brother," I muttered.
"What's that, Babs?" he asked distractedly.
"I said, watch your butt, former Boy Wonder," I replied sharply. "I'd hate to have to tell Bruce that you became the 'former Nightwing' on my watch."
"Nag, nag, nag," he said good-humoredly. "Oh, Babs if anything ever does happen to me--?"
I gasped. "Dick, don't even joke about it!"
"Who me? Joke? Since when?" His amusement came through clearly. How could that idiot always be laughing at the world, I wondered?
"Anyway, there's something I want you to give Bruce for me. It's on the top shelf in Dr. Fledermaus' closet. A box clearly marked for him. Will you?"
"Dick!" I was stunned. "We are not having this conversation right now, do you hear me?" The last thing I wanted to think about, much less talk about, was the possibility of anything ever happening to him.
There was a short silence from the other end. I instantly regretted my words and was about to apologize when he beat me to it.
"Sorry, Babs," he said, his humor sounding a little strained. "We'll talk later, okay?"
"Dick--!" I began, but he cut me off.
"Sorry, gorgeous," he said. "But there's criminal activity afoot, and I'm just the guy in spandex to stop it."
"Dick--!" I cried. But it was too late.
"Nightwing out." He abruptly cut the transmission from his end.
"Babs--!" The weak voice barely registered on my audio pick-up. "Babs !"
"Dick?" I called, my heart racing. "Nightwing, come in!" I shouted. "Nightwing!" As I called, my hands automatically flew across my keyboard trying to get a fix on Dick's signal. Something was blocking it. I couldn't get a clear ten-digit grid location.
I immediately called for help.
"Batman, this is Oracle. Come in, please."
"What was his last known location?" he asked.
"Warehouse district, Mealtide section. Near the municipal train yards," I answered.
"What was he investigating?"
"A possible arms shipment. He was somewhere in the tunnel that runs underneath the Narrows Bridge. He suspects that the smugglers have been using it as a temporary storage facility before the stuff's shipped off to the buyers."
"Got it," Batman said curtly.
I couldn't think of anything else to say, so I said the only thing I could think of. "I'll keep running a search, Bruce. We'll find him."
There was no answer from the other side. Bruce had already gone into lockdown mode. The only thing that would bring him out of it was finding Dick alive. I wouldn't think about the alternative.
"Hey, Barbara! Got anything for me?" Robin's light-hearted voice rang in my headset. "I just snuck outta the Brentwood Prison compound and hitched a ride to the city on the top of a semi!"
"Sorry, Tim," I replied, still conducting my fruitless search. "I'm pretty busy right now."
"Anything I can help with?" he asked hopefully.
About to say 'no,' I quickly changed my mind. I filled him in on the search we were conducting for Nightwing and the gun-smuggling operation he'd interrupted.
"I read you," he said seriously. "I've activated the Redbird. It'll reach me in about fifteen minutes. I'll be on my way to Bludhaven ASAP!"
"Tim?" I hesitated. "Tim, you have to be there when he--" I swallowed. "He can't be alone. Do you understand?" I knew that Tim understood I meant Bruce.
There was a long pause at the other end. Finally, Tim's too-serious voice answered.
"I understand, Barbara," he said. "I hope to God we're both over-reacting."
"I've found him," Batman said curtly. "He's under a collapsed concrete wall in several feet of water. Looks like there was a massive explosion."
"How is he?" I cried. There was no reply. I could hear the sounds of splashing, heavy breathing, and grunting. After several minutes, Batman finally reported back.
"Nightwing managed to don his re-breather before he blacked out," he said. "It was already in the red mark when I found him."
I gasped, waiting for him to say more, but he didn't. "Batman, how is he?" I demanded. Still no answer.
"Oracle! This is Robin!" I didn't know that the Boy Wonder had arrived at the scene. "We've got him freed. Batman's doing CPR and mouth-to-mouth."
"Ohmygod," I whispered. "Oh, please--!" The silence from the other end was excruciating.
"Oracle, we can't get a pulse," Robin reported quietly. "We're moving him outside for transportation. Inform Alfred and Doc Leslie that they're on the way now. I'm gonna follow-up on the smugglers on this end. See if I can--"
"No!" Batman interrupted. "Take Nightwing home. The Batwing is fully automated. It'll get you to the cave. I'm going after the smugglers."
"Bruce--!" I began.
"Robin, get going. Take him home."
"Yes, sir," Robin quickly agreed. He'd turned on his visual so I could see Batman's stony look. The video pick-up caught a shot of Skirl Rocks, a craggy precipice on the Atlantic side of Mealtide.
Batman's expression looked as dangerous as those storm-tossed rocks below. He stood without moving, an obscure shadow among the murky gloom of Bludhaven's angry seacoast. As the Batwing's cockpit closed over Robin, I caught the barest glimpse of Batman suddenly dropping to his knees.
He's gone. No! Impossible. He can't be. I was just talking to him. He was laughing. Like always. At me. At himself. At the bad guys. At life.
I waited in my darkened headquarters for the sound of his laugh. A sound that I knew had been forever silenced.
I looked up at the monitor. Tim, looking terribly young and vulnerable, sat there. I wiped my eyes and blew my nose before I turned on the two-way video.
"How--?" I choked. I couldn't ask. If I asked then everything would be true. Final. If I didn't ask, then I could continue to wait. And hope.
Tim broke down. He struggled to be stoic--like Batman--but he couldn't. His best friend--the closest man he had to a brother--was gone. He shook his head. Alfred was suddenly next to him, his hands on the teen's shoulders.
"Miss Barbara, I'm afraid that Master Dick--" Alfred paused, a momentary failing of his immaculate composure. "--Master Dick didn't make it. Dr. Thompkins says that he was without air for too long. His injuries too massive. Have you heard from Master Bruce?"
I shook my head in the dark. Finding my voice, I somehow managed to whisper in response. "No. No, I haven't."
Alfred nodded sadly. "You must find him, Miss Barbara." He looked up at me, his eyes reflecting the pain in his soul. "He won't be responsible for what he might do. Please, find him." I nodded mutely.
"I'll do my best," I choked.
"I-I'm sorry, but I must make arrangements," Alfred said sadly. "Please, excuse me." I nodded again, fighting tears.
He looked up at me, his pain almost too much to bear. Perhaps I shouldn't involve him further.
"Yeah?" he asked, wiping his eyes, trying to get himself under control.
"Are you up to a mission?" I asked, my voice breaking. "If you're not--"
"--No! I'm up to it. What do you need?"
"I need your help."
The voice on the other end was instantly awake. "What is it?"
I explained the situation as quickly as possible, keeping my voice businesslike.
"He won't answer my calls. There's no telling what he'll do." I paused, swallowing. I knew that my electronically-engineered Oracle voice hid most of my human emotions.
"I'll find him and stop him," the voice on the other end said with confidence.
"No!" I said sharply. "I want you to find him and watch him. Make sure that he's all right. You're not to interfere unless there is the possibility of loss of life. Do you understand?"
"No," he said honestly. The Man of Steel gazed back at me. His kind eyes expressed his sympathy and understanding. "But I'll do as you request. I know that Nightwing's death is hitting him hard, and I'm sorry. He was a fine, young man and will be sorely missed. However, should Batman cross the line--"
"He won't," I said, fervently willing myself to believe my own words. "He won't," I repeated after Superman signed off.
"I'm finished." Startled, my head shot up. I'd fallen asleep at my station again.
"Batman! Where are you? What happened?"
"I caught up to them." He didn't explain further.
"Bruce, where are you? I'll send help."
"I tracked them to a warehouse along the Avalon Hills section." He paused, and then spoke quietly. "Nightwing discovered their debarkation site and probably caught them as they were offloading the arms shipment. It's a hidden dock near Fireflaunt Mount in Mealtide. The dock connected to an abandoned railway tunnel that ran to their distribution warehouse in Avalon Hills."
I suddenly heard shouts and doors being kicked open in the background.
"The ATF just arrived," Batman reported succinctly. He finally turned on his video pick-up, and I watched as agents from the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms federal law enforcement agency stormed the warehouse.
As the federal agents apprehended the arms smugglers and closed down their operation, Batman made his way to the roof and waited in the breaking dawn as a black shadow descended, welcoming him with an opened cockpit.
"I got one of them to talk," Batman said quietly. "Nightwing had taken most of them out. One of them got in a lucky punch and distracted him for a split second. Just long enough for another mook to fire a rocket launcher. Nightwing dived and rolled out of the way, of course, but the explosive hit the concrete wall behind him, and--" He stopped. After a long pause, he continued.
"He wasn't able to avoid the concrete boulders as they fell on him. The explosion must have weakened the Atlantic side of Fireflaunt Mount, because after the smugglers successively offloaded the weapons and got them ready to transport to their warehouse, the dock area started to flood."
Another pause greeted me. When he finally spoke, his voice was shaking from barely suppressed anger.
"Nightwing had been unconscious through most of the offloading. But one of the mooks said that as the water started getting higher, he saw Nightwing come to, but he was pinned under the boulders. He saw that Nightwing was injured, too weak to free himself."
Batman paused slightly. "He told me they all laughed. Thought it funny that a 'pajama-clad' hero was about to take a long drink." He stopped again.
"They left him there to drown. Nightwing managed to somehow put on his rebreather, but by the time I reached him, it was too late."
"Bruce--" I began.
"I failed him," he whispered. "I was too late."
"You were right," Superman said. "He needed to handle it on his own." He paused. "He did hold back--but just barely. I saw his rage, the desire for vengeance, but he held back. He didn't kill any of them."
"I know," I choked.
"I checked them with my X-ray vision," he continued quietly. "There are several with severely broken bones and internal injuries--these men are going to live, Oracle, but they're not going to get any pleasure out of it for the next few months or so. Some may never get the full use of their limbs ever again."
"Take care of him," Superman said. "At times like this, a man needs his family."
"I'll try," I said. "And thank you."
"I'm going home. I'll be in contact with you." Superman signed off.
"I think I found it, Barbara," Tim reported. "It's a small package, and it has Bruce's name on the outside. Should I check the contents?"
"No, Tim. It's for Bruce. Whatever it is, Dick felt it important that Bruce get it should anything ever happen to him. Bring it here, please. I'd like to give to him myself."
"You got it."
"I haven't looked at it," I said. "He wanted you to have it, in case--" I handed the compact disc to Bruce. He took it woodenly. Dick's funeral had been that day. It seemed so unfair that when my world was turning black, the day could be so bright and beautiful.
You sure picked the wrong season to leave me, Boy Wonder. Spring is a time for renewal, not death. I blinked in sudden thought.
"What is it?" Bruce asked.
"Today is March twenty-first. The first day of Spring. Dick's--"
"Dick's birthday," he finished. He was staring at the disc as if afraid it would bite him. His hand was shaking imperceptibly. I gently covered it with mine and took the disc from him.
"Here," I said, loading it into my computer. I turned my wheelchair to leave the room.
"No. Please stay," he whispered, his voice raspy. I looked up at him, but he was looking determinedly away. I wanted to say 'no.' I couldn't bear to see Dick again. Not so soon after--!
But I nodded instead.
I wheeled over to the keyboard and downloaded the videodisc. When everything was ready, I moved to the side and indicated a chair for Bruce. Showing no outward emotion, he sat down.
When he made no move to start the program, I reached over and pressed the 'Continue' icon on the otherwise blank screen.
When the program opened, we were treated to the back of Dick's head. He immediately spun his chair around and greeted us with an expansive smile, his arms spread out on either side.
"Ta-da! Hi, Bruce! If you're watching this, I guess I've gone on to the Titans Tower in the sky." He smirked at his weak joke. "Look, I don't want to belabor the point, so I'll make this short and sweet. I'm dead! Get over it! Okay?"
Dick smiled brightly, but it was forced. He struggled with different emotions, until he settled into a serious mood.
"Okay, I know it won't be easy, Bruce. But I don't want you to go all dark and brooding on me and suddenly start leaving all the mooks in Gotham with a leg or an arm shorter than the other. I understand you have to mourn, but I don't want my death to consume your life." His eyes smiled sadly across the screen.
"I'm ordering you not to turn my death into an excuse to lock out Tim, Babs and Alfred from your life. Whether you like it or not, Bruce, they're each a part of our family and love you as much as I do." He clapped his hand playfully over his mouth.
"Uh-oh! I said it--the dreaded 'L-word.' I'm sure that all the superheroes who've gone before me are even now turning in their graves!" He gave a short laugh. "Don't you dare let Wally or Roy ever see or hear this disc, or I'll come back and haunt you so fast, your cape and cowl will--uh, well, I don't know what they'll do, but it'll be bad. That's a promise!"
Despite himself, Bruce's face softened just the teeniest bit. Dick laughed a little louder and longer.
"Ah-ha! Gotcha! I knew I could make the grim Dark Knight smile a teensy bit. And don't try going all stony-faced on me. I know I got you just now."
A half-smile struggled to break through the corner of Bruce's mouth. I held my breath. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that Dick was in his Bludhaven apartment talking to us real-time, teasing Bruce into smiling--something he'd tried to do almost everyday of his life.
Smiling, Dick's dark blue eyes gazed openly at his mentor.
"Bruce, please don't turn my death into a monument. Don't make a visit to the cemetery your idea of a Saturday in the park. If I died in battle, then I went the way I've always hoped I'd go. Fighting the good fight. I have no regrets, Bruce. So I don't want you to blame yourself." He paused, struggling for the words that needed to be said.
"Bruce, no matter what you're thinking right now, you did not fail me! So stop beating yourself." Dick leaned back and crossed his arms as if daring Bruce to challenge him on it. Holding out his hands, he took on a beseeching tone.
"You gave me a home, you trained me, you showed me the way. More importantly, despite your best efforts to the contrary--" He laughed softly. "--You gave me a father when I didn't think I'd ever want or need one. When I fell, you picked me up. When I didn't think I could ever fly again, you gave me back my wings. Bruce, we've had our ups and downs. Let's face it. You're not the easiest guy in the world to talk to, but then, I'm no prize either." Dick looked down at his hands. He was clasping and unclasping them nervously.
"But you said it best once. If things did go wrong between us, or if we handled things badly, no one was really to blame. After all, isn't that the way it always is?"
Bruce looked up quickly, his eyes narrowed in confusion. Dick was simply staring back at him, as if expecting him to say something.
"I don't understand," Bruce said. "The way what always is?"
"Between fathers and sons," Dick replied, touching his monitor palm out.
I lost my personal battle against the tears when Bruce tentatively reached over and touched the monitor with his fingers. Keeping his right hand over Dick's, Bruce covered his eyes with his left. After a moment, he regained his composure and looked up again.
"You're strong, Bruce. You'll get through this. Take care of Alfred, Tim, and Babs. Especially Babs."
My head shot up at this. I wheeled over next to Bruce and held onto his forearm.
"Don't let her hide behind that chair, Bruce. She has so much love to give, but she's too afraid. I've tried to tell her how I feel, but--" He looked down sadly. "Maybe I just wasn't the right guy for her. But if the right man should come along, Bruce, be there for her. Help her let him get through to her--!"
I couldn't listen any more. He'd been worried that maybe he wasn't the right man for me, because I wouldn't let him in. Because I wouldn't let him convince me that the chair didn't matter. His last thoughts were of me and of my happiness.
I looked back at the screen. Dick had stopped talking and was smiling again.
"Okay, I've already babbled on longer than I'd intended. And I probably didn't cover all the bases that I should have, but what the hey!" He shrugged boyishly and checked his watch.
"Even though you're listening to this after I'm already gone, right now, while I'm recording it, I'm still very much alive. And I have a dinner date. You see, today's March twenty-first--my birthday! And my dad is taking me out to dinner. Just the two of us."
We heard a buzz in the background. Dick grinned from ear-to-ear. "That's him. Sorry, gotta go. See, he's a real stickler for timeliness. Some would even call him 'grim.' But I'm working on getting him to lighten up a bit now and then."
Smiling, Dick reached across the screen and the monitor went blank.
Bruce stared at the dark screen for a long moment, without speaking. Finally, he cleared his throat and stood up. He removed the videodisc from the computer and placed it in its jewel case. Wordlessly, he stuffed it in his inside jacket pocket.
I watched him in silence, unable to think of anything to say. Turning, he gallantly held his hand out to me. Slowly, I placed my hand in his.
"Barbara, would you do me the honor of going out to dinner with me? You see, today is my son's birthday, and I can't of anyone I'd rather celebrate Dick's memory with than you."
I nodded, struggling to form the words.
"And I can't think of anyone with whom I'd rather celebrate," I managed, "than the father of the man I love."
All characters are DC Comics
This piece is © 2000 by Syl Francis.
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