SPIFFY DISCLAIMER THINGIE!!!

I don't own them (mores the pity!); they're DC's and Ah'm usin'em without permission:):) Ah ain't makin' a plug nickel! If ya'll sue me Dick and Bruce are gonna be right peeved ...

Rated PG-13 for some verbal violence and a couple of naughty words. So if those sort of things bother ya'll, skedaddle:):)

Another Death In The Family

A Nightwing Tale by Dannell Lites

Another Death In The Family
By Dannell Lites

"Get out of here, Bruce!"

I hissed and turned my wheelchair away from The Batman. I'd never realized the human voice could hold such venom before until I heard it in my own. He didn't move a muscle. He just sat there in the iron patio chair on my balcony, that face a mask of cold calm. Waiting for me to get myself back under control. Nothing touches him; nothing. Damn him.

"Barbara, we need to talk," he said.

"Dick is dead, Bruce and we don't have anything to talk about. I want you *out* of my house. Get out!" I was almost shouting.

I panted for a moment to catch my breath, watching him carefully. For long moments the harsh rasp of my breathing was the only sound in the looming silence. When he spoke, he cut to the heart of the matter, as usual. Bruce is an expert at that. But, then, Bruce is an expert at everything he does, isn't he? Like surgical steel he slices past all the outward fleshly facade, leaving the core of a thing wounded and exposed. And he never, never gives a sign that he sees anyone bleeding. Never.

"I didn't kill him, Barbara," he said softly.

He seemed to be resigned to whatever abuse I wanted give him. What I couldn't figure out was why he was here in the first place. Duty? His version of a friendly cop consoling the grieving widow? Tying up loose ends? Bruce was always neat. I didn't want to see him. He *knew* that. My back was terribly straight now and my voice had stopped shaking.

"No," I said dully, "you didn't. But someone very much like you *did*."

He was silent. There was really nothing he could say to that, was there? I certainly wouldn't be the first to observe how little difference there is, at times, between The Batman and the criminals he preys on.

"In the end," I said bitterly, "it doesn't really matter. Dick is still dead."

"I know that, Barbara," he said, perhaps more sharply than he had intended. That was the only crack I ever saw in that perfect, cool facade. Was the stress beginning to tell just a bit? "I was the one who identified the body."

I was tempted to laugh. The irony was exquisite. Bruce is a survivor, if he's anything. Despite his many amazing skills and hard learned disciplines, it's his greatest talent. He's the best in the world at what he does and what he does is *survive* The exquisite irony is that he doesn't want to. He didn't want to survive the death of his parents when he was six. He'll never forgive himself for that. The Batman was the only way he could live with his loneliness and despair. He didn't want to survive when Bane broke his back. But he did. And Jean-Paul Valley was the demon he let loosed that time in his pain and anger.

"Bruce," I told him. "there are some things that just shouldn't ever happen. A father should never out live his son. And Dick *was* your son. He was the son of your spirit. You made him. And when you didn't think that what you'd made was good enough, you threw him away like used furniture. He loved you. I like to think that in your own limited way, you loved him. But you never told him that, did you? Why couldn't you do that Bruce? But, no, you kept your silence and your heart intact. And now it's too late. He'll never know now, will he?" He didn't even have the grace to look uncomfortable.

I gripped the padded arms of my wheelchair and hung on for dear life, shaking with anger.

"You are such a coward," I accused and he made no move to deny it. "You were always so afraid that I was going to take him away you." I shook off hot, angry tears. "I was never a threat to you Bruce; not when he was sixteen and not when he came back to me last year. *You* were always the most important person in his life. He loved me, yes. But not the way he loved you. You were his father, his brother and the best friend he ever had, all in one package. God help him."

When I was twenty-four years old, I did something really, really stupid. I took a beautiful, anxious sixteen year old named Dick Grayson into my bed and my heart. No, that wasn't the stupid part. The stupid part was when I kicked him out.

"He's only a child, Barbara," Bruce told me in no uncertain terms. "I want this to stop. Now."

"Barbara, I came here because ..." The Batman paused slightly in his conversational sojourn. As ever, those arctic blue eyes are a shield beyond which very few are allowed to pass. Sometimes it's hard ot believe that I was ever one of them. "I thought you might need something." he said finally.

"From you?" I asked calmly, surprised. I shook my head. "No, Bruce I don't need anything. Not from *you*. And if I did you wouldn't know how to give it to me."

"Barbara ..." he began. I tried to ignore the trace of a resigned plea I heard buried in the recesses of that deep baritone voice. I think I succeeded rather well.

"I won't tell you again, Bruce," I warned him, low voiced. "If you don't leave right now, you'll wish you had. I'll find some way to hurt you, I swear I will." He looked away. I waited patiently for several moments before I made good on my threat, I did. I gave him a chance. No one can say that I didn't. But he made no move, sat motionless as a stone statue. I don't think he believed me. Knowledge is power, the old adage goes. He forgets sometimes how much power he gave me as Oracle with that Cray mainframe. I decided to remind him. And, after all, no one can hurt you like someone who knows you. As Batgirl, I fought beside Bruce for years. I know him. And I wanted very badly to punish him for destroying what was left of my life with the death of Dick Grayson. I wanted to see him bleed.

As I was bleeding.

"Tell me something, Bruce," I said with perfect deliberation into the spreading silence, "when you identified Dick's body was it easier for you than identifying Jason? After all, practice makes perfect."

His eyes narrowed and he sat straight up in the chair as if electrified. His grip on the arms tightened. That was it. The sum total of his grief as far as I could see. But he did leave. Silently, without even a rustle of his cape to mark his passing. I closed my eyes for an instant, no more, and he was gone, faded into the dying night. But then, it was almost daylight and don't bad dreams always fade with the morning light? Wearily, I wheeled my way back inside my empty apartment. Into my now empty life. I tried very, very hard not to think; a hard fought battle.

I lost.

I know a little about men like Bruce. In many ways, Dick was sometimes like that. Not surprising under the circumstances. The Batman is a model of cold practicality. You could freezer burn your fingers when you touch him. I suppose that's why so few people do. "You always have to maintain an even strain, Barbara. Remember that. No one can hurt you unless you *let* them," he advised me once. But beneath that stoic, silent facade, something ominous sometimes roiled perilously near the surface. "Why does he do that?" I once demanded, exasperated with the man. Surprisingly, it was Dick who had the answer for me.

"Not everybody bleeds on the outside where you can see it," he said.

I hadn't openly scoffed, at least. Dick, who loved Bruce, would have been very hurt by that. Still it was hard for me to imagine anything touching the monolith that was The Batman. In it's own way it was almost tragic. For most superheroes it it's their costumed personas that are the red herrings, the false front with which they deceive the world. With The Batman it's just the opposite. As far as I had ever been able to determine "Bruce Wayne" died when he was about six years old in a spreading stain of his parent's blood.

Eventually, I fell asleep siting at my kitchen table. I have no clue how long I slept but when I looked out the window night was falling. The thing that woke me was a noise. It sounded exactly like something landing lightly on my balcony. For an instant I remembered that sound from the beginning of so many wonderful nights and my heart gladdened. I was so alone after the Joker's bullet shattered my spine and my life. Alone and in pain, huddling in the safety of my computer where I didn't have to see all the sad faces, all the sympathy or disgust of others so plainly displayed. And then one night I heard that sound and suddenly I wasn't alone anymore.

"Hey, Babs," Dick smiled at me. "How they hanging?"

"Pretty low, kiddo," I gulped, bursting into tears. He gathered me into those strong arms and just held me for a long, long time. He never really let me go, after that.

Until now.

But I will never, ever forget that smile, the love, the acceptance there.

"Dick?" I called softly.

But there was no one there to answer me, of course.

There was only the sound of the night wind, its lonely sibilant moans mourning the loss of the light as the sun set.

A lot like me.

After that, sleep was impossible. Still restless, I drifted back out onto my balcony. It was so much cooler there. Through the windows the lights of Gotham, that never sleeping engine of destruction shone and sparkled in the night. Feeling the need to breathe the cool, clear air for a bit longer, I wheeled herself over to rest by the chair that Bruce had abandoned earlier. Closer now, I bent to inspect its white painted iron arms. I ran suddenly shaky fingers over the cold metal. The iron of both arms lay bent and twisted, crushed with the force of a strength and passion it was hard to imagine. And all along both sides, where The Batman had lain hands on it, the white expanse of metal was marred with a bright stain of blood.

"I told you," I seemed to hear the ghost like echo of Dick's musical voice, "not everybody bleeds on the outside where you can see it."

The End