Birthday Blues

By: Dannell Lites

SPIFFY DISCLAIMER THINGIE!

Ah don't own any of these folks! DC Comics does! Hee! Ah *wish*:):) This is a fanfic for entertainment purposes only and NOT intended to infringe on any copyrights held by DC Comics or any others! So don't sue moi:):) *eeeppp*

Rated G for pure as the driven snow! No sex, no drugs, no Rock and Roll! Well, okay! Maybe some antibiotics! *snicker*

Thanks to Brooke for the grand beta! *smootchie*

Authors Note: Hey! Ah think Ah've finally found a way to write a happy JP fic! Yaaaaaaay! *beam*



"Jean-Paul, be still!" Doctor Leslie Thompkins exclaimed, her voice both firm and stern, verging on the querulous. "Be still, young man, or I'll be forced to use another body orifice to take your temperature!"

Jean-Paul Valley's eyes widened in horror. His full lips parted to set free the cry of protest that battered for release, unbidden, in his scratchy throat. But then he caught a glimpse of the blossoming threat in Leslie Thompkins green eyes and swallowed his protest with an audible gulp. Meekly, he subsided. Apparently, though, the doctor still didn't care for the sullen look in his azure eyes.

"And please don't chew on the thermometer," she ordered, smiling. "You may be Azrael, my boy, but right now you're a very sick little Angel, I'm afraid." She glanced at her watch and removed the thermometer, studying it carefully.

"Hmmmm." she hmmmmed.

"Doctor Leslie, what's wrong with me?" the young French hero moaned in obvious misery. "I'm all ... spotty!"

The graying physician hastily recorded some information on the chart she clutched, then turned to her distressed patient.

"That you most definitely are!" she chuckled, observing the rampaging rash covering Jean-Paul's face, arms and muscular chest. She gazed at the thermometer once more, shaking her head. "102.5. I'm afraid there's absolutely no question about it, now," she mused. Jean-Paul swallowed hard and waited.

"You have rubella," she pronounced.

Looking lost, Jean-Paul blinked rapidly in confusion. "Is - is that serious?" he asked.

Leslie tapped her teeth with her pen and reguarded her youthful patient wryly. "Not generally, no," she reassured him and was glad to see him gust a heavy sigh of relief at the welcome news. "In fact, rubella is, usually, one of a number of mild early childhood diseases that everybody suffers through sooner or later. Another name for it's 'the measles'. Uncomfortable, but nothing to be concerned about." She paused, thoughtful.

"*Usually*."

Alarmed, Jean-Paul blurted, "Usually?"

Leslie sighed. "Well, I'll admit to being a tiny bit concerned about how the disease may interact with your ... unique ... physiology. But, so far, I've detected nothing untoward. Measles can be tricky, though. We'll have to watch you very carefully. Even for a normal person, measles as an adult can be nothing to sneer at. There are two places that it could 'settle' where it can do real damage. Especially in the eyes." He blinked rapidly as though to protect his eyes from the horrid viral assault.

.

"And the other?" he gulped.

Leslie smiled at his child-like curiosity. "The genitalia," she answered crisply and waited for what she was sure would follow on swift, angelic wings. She wasn't disappointed. He first turned deathly pale and then a deep ruby red with hideous embarrassement. She hastened to pat his back in reassurance.

"Don't worry," she counseled soothingly, "That's extremely rare. And even when it happens it's not fatal. Just ... unpleasant ... "

"Especially when you've never even gotten any use out of them yet!" her patient wailed. Instantly, his eyes widened in shock and he slapped his hand over his own offending mouth.

"Dieu!" he muttered. "I can't believe I just said that."

Leslie laughed. "Fear not, young Angel," she squeezed his hand in quick comfort. "I won't let anything happen to your family jewels. I promise. You've never really been ill before, have you?"

Glum, he shook his bright head. "Non. I've been injured a few times. Never sick like this, though. I don't like it." He smiled beautifully. "But I suppose not being entirely human must have some benefits." With

skilled fingers Leslie swept a stray lock of long blonde hair off his moist, red spotted forehead and tucked it neatly behind one ear. He clutched her hand and held it to his cheek for an instant before he released it.

"Oh!" he cried in mounting concern. "I am sorry! Am I contagious?"

"Definitely," the physician admitted. "But not to worry. Everybody here's already had the measles. We're safe." She glanced back down at the chart, then frowned her unhappiness at something she saw there.

"That's odd."

Quickly ruffling through the dog eared pages, her frown deepened when she did not find what she sought. Surrendering gracefully, she looked to her reluctant patient only to find him scratching vigorously at his forearm. She spatted his hand firmly.

"Stop that!" she instructed. "No scratching. You'll only make it worse."

"But it itches!" came his piteous lament.

She softened. "I know it does," Leslie said. "I'll try and see if I can't find some calamine lotion for you. That should help. But you really mustn't scratch, all right? That will only hasten the spread of the disease. And if you scratch too hard the lesions may form scabs. That could cause scarring. You've a very nice face, Jean-Paul. Let's try and keep it that way, shall we?" She waggled a threatening finger under his nose. "If you force me, I have a very nice pair of soft, foam rubber children's anti-scratching mittens with your name written all over them."

Nodding obediently, he lowered his head. "What was so odd?" he wondered, after a moment, concerned. "About my chart, I mean."

Leslie looked up. "Hmmm? Oh! There's no birth date listed in here for you," she pointed out somewhat vexed at the sloppiness of her office staff. Quick fingers scanned through the thick chart once more, then, pen poised, she inquired, "When were you born, Jean-Paul?"

He frowned. "I don't know," he answered softly, after a long moment. "No one ever told me."

Her brows knitted themselves together in dark anger and then Leslie Thompkins sighed. Damn the Order of St. Dumas .. . "They wouldn't, I suppose." For a moment she contemplated. "How old are you, child?"

"I'm not a child!" he insisted. "I know that much at least! According to the birth certificate the Order supplied for me when I was sent to Gotham University, I'm 23 years old. But that's only a piece of paper. Full of lies. It also says I was born in Lucerne, Switzerland and that definitely isn't true. I have no idea how old I am. Not really." His smooth face lengthened in unconscious sadness.

It was clear that she had inadvertantly brought to vivid life some unpleasant memories. Her first thought was to console him, but she pushed that aside. In recent days he'd become rather averse to being treated as a child, she'd noticed. She supposed she couldn't fault him for that. His struggle to find an identity for himself was a difficult one. Indeed, he wore the rather well proportioned body of a youthful man, but his emotions, his experience of the world, were limited, like those of a child. And, like any child, he was rebelling against that unwanted, inferior status.

"Well, then, it seems to me that in such a case you're free to chose whatever day you like for a birthday!" Leslie smiled brightly. Jean-Paul's answering smile was even brighter.

"That's true!" he cried. "I am!" His eyes twinkled.

"So what's the day given as your birthday on that false birth certificate of yours?" she inquired archly.

"April 15," he replied, the sharp edges of his puzzlement cutting into his soft voice. "Why?"

She barely managed to cleanse her stern face of the storm of rage that boiled across it for an instant before he could see it. Her teeth ached with the need for it to explode outward.

'Easter Sunday,' she thought in fury. 'Oh, you wretched, wretched bastards. Did you think that was amusing? Did it make you laugh to give him the same birthday as the day of Resurrection, your Angel of Vengeance and Destruction? Yes, it did, didn't it? Well, damn your eyes, the joke's going to be on you! I promise you.'

And so The Nefarious Plan was born, full grown and armored, like Athena from the brow of Zeus.

The kindly doctor wrapped the shivering Angel of Vengeance and Destruction in a warm blanket. She fed him home made, hot chicken soup. Millions of Jewish mothers couldn't be wrong, after all. Amusing to think that chicken soup, properly prepared, really *did* have certain antibiotic qualities. Calamine lotion, deftly and gently applied with a soft cotton ball brought a great sigh of relief from those full lips. The pills she gave him, which he swallowed without question or complaint, weren't all antibiotics, though. No need to tell him that, of course. He needed his rest. Sleep, she often thought, was a palliative beyond price.

Embraced and cradled in the arms of Morpheus he soon slumbered in peace, smiling slightly. The physician shook her rueful, graying head in affection. Then she noticed the weathered Western pulp magazine with the bright, lurid cover laying on the bedside table.

OUTLAW VENGEANCE! it screamed its title at the world. NON-STOP ACTION! GUNFIGHTS GALORE! GOOD VS. EVIL! it promised in vivid distinctly purple prose.

Leslie rolled her eyes toward Heaven, then was once more taken unaware by her own fleeting smile. Most likely Jean-Paul was dreaming again, she knew.

"Slap leather, you worthless owlhoot!" she chuckled at the memory of one of JP's dreams. She could still recall the gleam in his eye and the obvious delight with which he'd relayed the tale to her upon waking. With a flourish, she blew nonexistant gunsmoke from off the end of her cocked finger.

"Don't mess with The Angelic Kid, base villain!" she hissed and then had to stifle a giggle.

Really! Why, she hadn't giggled since grade school. Not for the first time she realized that Jean-Paul Valley had that effect upon her. He made her feel young and foolish and very much alive again. Gloriously so. And his struggle, his desire to overcome his past and to help his fellow men ... that, she knew of a sudden, gave her much needed hope.

Still, it was undeniable that Jean-Paul had simply *appalling* taste in literature. What other excuse could there be for all those truly awful Western magazines and detective pulps? The more outlandish the better, she noted.

Jean-Paul only smiled and said, almost apologetically, "I kind of like them." when she chided him for reading such drivel. She's opened her mouth to rebuke him further ... and then she remembered with fondness all those Cherry Ames, Nurse novels and Vickie Barr, Flight Stewardess books of her own youth and she smiled back.

Tiptoeing carefully, ever so quietly, from his side, Leslie checked on several waiting patients, then drifted to her neat and well organized desk. With a memory all their own her pensive fingers dailed a well known number and waited. Several beeps, whistles, various transfers, and about a minute later a phone shrilled.

"Hello. This is Barbara Gordon," a low voice chirped with gay abandon. "I'm not available to come to the phone right now, so if you'll leave a name and number at the beep I'll get back to you Real Soon Now. Promise! Bye!"

BEEP

Leslie gritted her teeth. Blast! She hated this modern rush about world sometimes. Imagine, people too busy to do something as simple as answer their phone. Ridiculous. It was all she could do to keep her voice civil and insert a spot of cheer into her clipped tones when she spoke next.

"Barbara dear, pick up the phone, please. I'm not a supervillain or even a telemarketer, I assure you."

An infectious laugh was her answer. "Sorry, Leslie," Babs Gordon, the Oracle, apologized. "I'm talking to Dad on another line. What can I do you for, friend?"

"Barbara," Leslie was smiling. "I need your help with something. Something rather important to a certain young Angelic friend of our mutual acquaintance

... "

**************************************************************************************

From atop the huge pile of packages balanced precariously in his arms, the top most package, wrapped in bright silver paper, teetered languorously, then fell. Reaching out with one foot, Jean-Paul Valley tapped the small bundle gently upward, then swooped down beneath it, allowing it to land smoothly atop the gaggle of packages he clutched. His triumphant smile didn't quite reach the corners of his full mouth before the plethora of packages in his grasp seemed to explode outward, flying hither and yon, in all directions.

"Dieu!" the French hero exclaimed loudly. The silent, frowning Cassandra Cain, Batgirl, tapped her foot in seeming annoyance, watching and waiting as he gathered packages in haste.

"How can any one person need so many clothes?" he muttered, clearly baffled. He still had no clear idea precisely how he found himself dragooned into the service of helping his silent fellow crime fighter and companion with shopping ....

Things like that happened to him quite a lot where women were concerned, he suspected.

Cassie was still waiting with a bright smile. The Angel of Vengeance and Destruction blinked back mounting confusion.

The youthful heroine pointed at the entrance before them.

"Door." she said, illuminating the obvious.

Then she pointed at herself.

"Lady." came her insistent claim, sounding a bit peeved, now.

Jean-Paul might have scratched his head, except that it would have meant once more dropping his burden.

"Wha - ?" he began. Sudden understanding flooded him and he blushed furiously. "Oh! Pardonne! Yes, the door."

Carefully, he reached out and opened the door with one hand, waiting as Cassie swept into the room in grand style. The young Frenchman stumbled slightly as he stepped into the darkened room.

"The lights,": he cried. "What's happened to the lights?"

With sudden blinding brilliance, the overhead lights burst into luminescence. From behind pieces of furniture, people wearing festive party hats popped up tooting tinny horns and throwing handfuls of bright parti-colored confetti into the air like snow. With a cry of dismay, the startled Jean-Paul slipped, landed on his backside with an indignant squawk, then found himself buried under an avalanche of falling parcels.

"Happy Birthday, JP!" rang out the greeting from one and all.

Hastily rescuing a pair of black lace panties nesting, now, in his thick mass of blond hair and stuffing them with blinding speed into his pocket, Jean-Paul's cheeks flamed bright crimson. Chuckling gleeful mirth, Cassandra reached into his pocket, extracted the fugitive bit of lace, and grinned.

"Not fit," she opined with a serious mien. At Jean-Paul's squawk of dismay she leaned down and kissed him softly on one still burning cheek.

"Happy Birthday," she whispered in his flame colored ear.

Vaulting easily over the impeding couch, Dick Grayson, Nightwing, offered his hand with a smile. "Need some help there, Az ol' buddy?" he inquired innocently his blue eyes twinkling with merriment.

Jean-Paul looked up, his eyes pleading piteously. "Help? Yes, please?" No one thought that he meant that he needed help to rise to his feet. Seated at last safely on the couch, the young French hero sat very still almost as if he feared to move and thus further embarrass himself.

Carrying the silver wrapped package, Cassandra Cain approached silently. "For you," she smiled. "Birthday."

"M-me?" stammered the hero of Ossaville. "But - but - I don't *have* a -" His weak protests got no further before a smiling Barbara Gordon wheeled herself into the room, a tall intricately decorated cake with chocolate icing perched proudly in her lap.

"Happy Birthday to you!" she sang happily, soon joined by the rest.

"Happy Birthday to you!

Happy Birthday dear JP!

Happy Birthday to you!"

Grabbing a figurine off a nearby end table to use as a faux microphone, Dick Grayson jumped lightly up upon the coffee table and crooned,

"Happy Birthday to you!

Happy Birthday to you!

You live in a zoo -

We're all of us Batty...

And we all love you, too!"

Inspired, one might even say egged on, by his enthusiastic reception, the off duty Bludhaven police officer grinned devilishly and turned to Jean-Paul Valley, pointing a playful finger at the shy man and continued to sing.

"If you're looking for trouble ..." he snarled rotating his hips seductively,

"You've come to the right place!

If you're looking for trouble ...

Just look right in my face!

I was born standing up -

And talkin' back!

My Daddy was a blue-eyed mountain jack!

I tell you I'm evil!

My middle name is misery!

I tell you I'm evil!

Evil, evil, evil, as can be!

So don't mess around -

Don't mess around -

Don't mess around with meeeeee!"

Laughter and applause greeted his impromptu performance and the satisfied hero bowed deeply from the waist. "Thank you ... thankyouverymuch ... "

Midst the clapping and merriment Babs pretended to swoon, emitting a high pitched girlish squeal before declaring solemnly, "Elvis has left the building."

Hopping lithely down from the table, Dick made a wry face. "Hey!" he protested. "I got rid of that costume, okay!?"

Even Jean-Paul laughed at that. Babs sat the impressive cake carefully down upon the now abandoned coffee table and declared, "Well, c'mon, Bright Eyes. Get a move on and cut the cake already! We're starving!"

Jean-Paul seemed to take delight in handing out pieces of the luscious confection to his friends. "Careful boyo," advised a chuckling Brian Bryan as he watched the young man cut a huge piece for himself. "Remember what happened the last time you pigged out on chocolate, now." With mock sternness he turned to the lovely red haired Ms. Gordon. "And it's you I blame for it lass, since 'twas you who gave him the devils own sugar high with all that chocolate you fed him! Cost me my security deposit it did, coaxing him down from the rush!"

"I promise, Brian," the youthful Frenchman vowed meekly. "Only one piece. Only one." Color rose in his cheeks when he tuned to Oracle. "Sorry about the mess .. " he muttered.

"It's all right, Bright Eyes," the Mistress of the Net assured him with a mischievous grin. "You cleaned it up."

"Miss Gordon, I must say that this cake is delicious," declared Alfred Pennyworth. "Superb." General agreement ensued and the former Batgirl smilingly assured the Major Domo of Wayne Manor, "All I did was follow your recipe, Alfred."

They all watched in awe at the look of pure bliss that spread its liquid way across Jean-Paul Valley's handsome face at the first taste of the moist, scrumptious cake. Eagerly he dug in, his fork flew and the large piece of chocolate cake was all too soon demolished. He regarded his now empty plate sadly, then turned hopeful eyes on Brian Bryan.

"Absolutely *not*!" the 'worlds worst psychiatrist' admonished firmly. Waving his fork threateningly in the air, he declared, "I'm fond of my furniture just as it is, thank you very much!"

With a great sigh of regret Jean-Paul sat his plate down reluctantly on the coffee table and eyed the still remaining pieces of the chocolate cake with wistful longing.

Barbara shook her head in wonder. "Do you think it could be genetic?" she whispered to Leslie Thompkins.

The physician chuckled. "Actually," the elder woman opined, "my guess would be a sweet tooth roughly the size of Mount Everest."

"Okay," announced an excited, happy Nightwing to one and all, "Time to open those presents, Angel Man!'

"You shouldn't have," began the embarrrassed hero, only to be swiftly interrupted by Tim Drake. "Of course, we should have, Paul," the third Robin urged the Avenging Angel. "It's your birthday, man! So open the presents already!"

JP seated himself once more on the couch and reached for the silver wrapped present. Tim snickered, but allowed himself to be quelled by stereoscopic looks of disapproval aimed in his direction from both Leslie and Barbara.

Defiantly he chanted softly,

"Paul and Cassie sitting in a tree

K-I-S-S-I-N-G!

First comes love -

Then comes marriage;

Then comes Paulie pushing a baby carriage!"

WHAP!

Not even the current Boy Wonder was swift enough to avoid the only half playful cuff aimed at him by Cassandra Cain, Batgirl. The young martial artist scowled fit to frighten a demon out of Hell and Tim back pedaled accompanied by much laughter.

"Dick!" he cried, "a little help here would be nice!"

The original Boy Wonder shook his head with a rueful grin. "We're out numbered here, little bro," he mourned. "I suggest a strategic retreat ... "

"Quite so, Master Dick," agreed Alfred Pennyworth. The British gentleman's gentleman turned to his youngest charge cum grandson. "I advise the same, Young Master Timothy. Forthwith!"

"Cowards!" grumbled Tim.

Dick Grayson eyed the still fuming Cassandra Cain with a jaundiced eye. "Me?" he inquired in all innocence. "A coward? Perish the thought." He burst into an infectious grin. "You bet your butt, I am! Card carrying! Little sister is armed and dangerous, my man. Armed and dangerous!"

For his part Jean-Paul Valley turned vivid scarlet and hoped no one would notice. No such luck. Turning to Brian Bryan, Barbara Gordon remarked, "On a scale of 1 to 10, I mark that an 8 on the Bright Eyes Blush O' Meter. What do you think, Brian?"

The therapist rubbed his jaw in contemplation, studying his younger friend for a brief moment, then shook his ginger colored head. "No," he decided, "a mere 6 at best, lass. I've seen him do much better. Why, you should have seen him the evening he walked in on me and a certain young lady of my acquaintance ..."

"BRIAN!"

The shy young man even startled himself with the utter horror in his voice. Having carefully removed the silver wrapping paper so as not to mar it, he slipped it into his pocket to be preserved and enjoyed at a later time, then buried his face in his hands.

" ... but that's a story for another day .. "

"The present," Babs reminded them all. "So what did Cassie get you, Bright Eyes? Show us."

Relieved to no longer be on the spot, the young man held up the video tape for one and all to see.

TEN EASY LESSONS TO DANCING THE ASTAIRE WAY proclaimed the garish title.

Are you a klutz? the advertisment demanded. Two left feet? Let us help!

The Angel smiled and said, "For you I will learn to dance... "

Brian pd up a large package and handed it to the younger man. "I hope you like it," he said. Jean-Paul unwrapped the heavy gift with care and gasped when it stood revealed.

"My Guardian Angel book!" he cried in delight, turning the colorful pages in awe.

The psychiatrist beamed. "I thought you might appreciate a better copy than the battered, mud stained one you have, lad," he explained.

Tim stepped boldly forward, proferring a gaudily wrapped, oversized package in his grasping hands. Jean-Paul reached out, relieving the teen of the heavy burden, handling it with ease. He shook the package experimentally.

"Hey!" the third Robin cautioned. "Careful with that, Paul! It's kinda delicate! Just open it, hmmmm?"

The French hero obeyed and was delighted with the result. "Software for a satellite uplink!" he cried, examining the program readout with care.

"With a direct Link to the BatComputer," Tim grinned.

"Ah! C'est magnifique, mon petite frere! I shall treasure it."

The Leader of Young Justice chocked the older man on his broad shoulder, pleased. "No problemo, dude. You're an even bigger computer geek than I am, so I thought you might enjoy it. You ought to use that degree in Computer Science you got from Gotham University more often, man. Babs tells me you rock at the keyboard."

Leaning close, Tim whispered in Jean-Paul's ear, "And there's some really - uh - *interesting* Sites already bookmarked, too. Don't miss them. You'll thank me later, I promise you. Heh heh heh."

Blinking rapidly, the Angel did his best not to blush and failed utterly.

"And on that note," announced Barbara Gordon, giving the still chortling Robin a rueful glance, "I present my own humble offering." She turned in her chair, calling in a loud voice, "Dinah! Front and center, Pretty Bird!"

Dinah Lance Drake, clad in her mother's original costume complete with bustier, fishnet stocking, and spike's of death high heels glided into the room pushing a large oblong shaped gift on casters wrapped in about four or five yards of pristine glossy white paper replete with golden haloed Angels and chubby Cherubim before her.

To Azrael's complete mortification, Tim began to loudly hum "The Stripper" under his breath until silenced by Brian Bryan with the simple expedient of a hand over his mouth. "Quiet, you little delinquent!" he hissed, watching the flaming JP from out of the corner of his eye. "If he does that very much more today he's likely to pop an artery."

Tim stuck out his tongue, making a rude noise.

Jean-Paul stared at the advancing heroine, mouth agape. The fear of the unknown marring his blue eyes was a sight to behold. But it was soon eclipsed with a soft smile of appreciation.

"Well," Oracle insisted, "aren't you going to unwrap it?"

Giggles and snorts bounced off the walls like out of control superballs and it appeared that the Angel came dangerously close to losing his sanctity. Not to mention consciousness. He gulped convulsively.

The red haired Goddess of the Internet threw up her hands in a fine display of faux despair. "You people need serious psychological help, here!" she accused. "The present! I meant the present! *Not* Dinah! Sheesh!"

JP leapt to his feet and attacked the huge present with a will. Soon a vaguely piano shaped musical instrument stood revealed by his strenuous efforts. "It's called a harpsichord," Barbara informed him. "Close as I could come to an actual harp. You wouldn't *believe* how hard those things are to find."

He leaned down and she kissed him on the cheek.

"Happy Birthday, Bright Eyes." He had a hug for Dinah, too.

"I'll give you my present later," she whispered in his ear. "In private. You can 'unwrap' me anytime, cutie."

Stunned he stumbled his way back to the couch, reclaiming his seat and the small safe territory that went with it, well away from the wiles of women and the mysteries of the flesh. Cassandra Kane, Batgirl, glared at the older woman but remained silent. Which was not, of course, in the least unusual.

Jean-Paul was rescued from further merriment by the ringing of Barbara's doorbell. He seemed vastly relieved. The first Batgirl frowned, wheeling herself to the door. "Now who could that be? she wondered. "We weren't expecting anyone else." She sat, staring out the open door.

"Oh my," she murmured, leaning down to pick up something.

"I think this is for you," she told JP with a smile. In her lap rested a padded wicker basket. After a brief moment a small white feline head sporting a pair of huge blue eyes peered over the edge.

"Meow," said a tiny little voice and every heart in the room melted into a puddle on the hardwood floor. Well, all but one of them, anyway.

"ACHOO!" sneezed Dick Grayson.

The Oracle handed the birthday boy the basket and the kitten licked the end of his nose with her sandpapery little tongue, butting his chin and purring like a motorboat. The Frenchman blinked looking helpless.

"Who - ?"

"It came with a card," said Babs with a grin. The cream white vellum card she tucked into the hero of Ossaville's calloused hand was unsigned save for the raised imprint of a raking cat's claw etched in black ink staining its otherwise unmarred surface.

JP looked up in stunned confusion, scratching his blonde head. "Catwoman?"

"Meow," confirmed the miniscule feline in her basket, as if recognizing the name.

"Selina!" howled Nightwing, quite as though the thief/adventuress were there to answer his accusation. "You *know* I'm allergic! ACHOO!"

Jean-Paul only contrived to look more confused than ever. "Why would Selina - ?" he began.

Batgirl shrugged, pointing at the kitten and then at the young hero. "Pet," she said. "No more lonely."

"I - I - " stammered Azrael.

"Purrrrrrr," said the kitten.

The Avenging Angel swallowed, hard, raising the small cat to his eyes for closer inspection. One blunt finger slowly reached out to scratch behind the tiny ears. "Enchante, la petite Mademoiselle," he cooed. Black Canary rolled her eyes and Batgirl smirked

.

"Damn!" groused Dinah. "Outdone by a little pussy cat ... "

Dick Grayson wiped his dripping nose. "Yeah," he remarked. "it is kinda strange. Selina usually likes bigger pussys ... "

It wasn't until Tim Drake began to strangle, spewing his mouth full of cheery kool-aide before covering his mouth with his hand, that the pride of the BHPD officer realized just exactly what he'd said. As one the entire room turned, staring at him in slack jawed disbelief.

"Cats!" he shouted, stamping his foot in irritation. "Selina likes big CATS!"

Eventually, as all such parties must, this one drew to an end.

Jean-Paul offered to remain behind and help Barbara clean up the detritus of the small party, but the information broker and former heroine refused adamantly. The French hero packed his trusty VW Beetle with all his birthday loot, hugging his friends a hurried goodbye.

"Don't I get a hug?" inquired Dinah Drake in all innocence, eyes wide and hurt.

Jean-Paul colored and embraced her quickly. "Cer-certainmot," he stammered.

"Later, sweet tater," Black Canary whispered.

Swiftly, before any more embarrassment could befall him, the Avenging Angel folded his long legs into the small car and took off, sweating profusely despite the mild, clement weather. He was calm enough by the time he reached his home in the mountains just outside the small hamlet of Ossaville.

"Harold?" he called, accented voice echoing in the long halls of the castle like building he was pleased to make his home these days. The first he'd ever really had, actually. "Harold, mon ami? Are you here?"

Foolish question, then former St. Dumas assassin reflected. Harold was always here. Wasn't he? He set his burdens down with a heavy heart. Had the silent, hunchbacked mechanical genius ... left?

Abandoned him like so many others?

'People are always leaving me,' the mournful thought coursed through him before he could squash it.

He'd always known that the Batman's 'fix-it man' was a temporary loan. Sooner or later Harold would return to his true Master. Yes, he'd always known that. But did it have to be so soon? Without Harold's cheerful if quiet presence he would be alone here in this huge place.

Alone and very lost.

He did not wish to be alone.

He did not wish to lose himself.

Again.

He was deep in the midst of beating back a small stab of fear when Harold's curly brown head and sunny smile popped around the corner and into the room carrying with him the large economy sized bag of Kitten Chow and twenty pound bag of kitty litter Selina Kyle had kindly provided with her gift. JP had already set out the matching food and water bowls and "La Petite Madmoiselle" was busy inspecting the mysteries of Jean-Paul Valley's bedroom, sniffing delicately, her miniscule nose a twitch..

Yawning hugely, the tiny cat stretched and arranged herself daintily on his pillow.

Opening his mouth to happily greet the mechanic, Jean-Paul was startled to see him lay a finger over his own smiling lips, pointing toward the slumbering kitten.

On tip toe, the two of them, the hero and the helper crept stealthily from the room.

Pointing down the hall with one hand and gesturing vigorously for the Frenchman to follow him with the other, Harold padded off, a confused JP on his heels. The master mechanic lead the Angel to his laboratory, passed the skeletal beginnings of row upon row of waiting, incomplete future projects that only he might fathom. Pushing him in front of a mirror, the short, stocky man handed his employer his Azrael mask. Making quick gestures of donning the concealing garment, Harold waited.

A bemused Jea-Paul tugged on the colorful headpiece. Harold handed the hero his gauntlets, then, and watched impatiently as Azrael pulled them over his long fingers. Holding out his hand, Harold curled one finger into the palm of his hand pressing dramatically.

The jack of all things mechanical beamed widely when he saw the Avenging Angel follow suit, stretching his homely face into a mask of delight.

Over the Angel's head a golden light burst into brilliant life. Jean-Paul gasped in amazement.

"A halo!" he breathed. "You've given this wanna-be Angel a halo!"

Harold pressed his other palm, grinning from jug ear to jug ear.

When JP rushed to copy him, great glowing golden wings unfurled themselves at his side.

"And wings, too!" he cried. "Mon Dieu! Sacre Couer! I'm a real Angel now, thanks to you!"

Harold scribbled rapidly.

You always were, the note said simply.

JP postured, admiring himself in the mirror's silvered elegance.

Only light, Harold wrote, not real. But pretty. Happy Birthday.

The tall blonde man embraced the misshapen little genius. "C'est magnifique. It's a wonderful present, my friend. Wonderful!" Harold blushed fit to matched one of Jean-Paul's own, nodding his pleasure. He wandered over to one of his on going projects and put his busy talented hands to work, humming softly.

Back in his room, the hero of Ossaville poured a bit of Science Diet Kitten Chow into the food bowl and smiled as his small charge came running, poked her nose into the bowl and began to devour the food.

"She's a spirited little lady," spoke a deep baritone voice from the shadows. "Selina likes them that way. You must be careful not to overfeed her."

Azrael jumped, whirling on the voice. "Quelle dommage!" he exclaimed. You startled me!"

He still could not see the figure enshrouded in concealing shadow but he thought he could hear the smile in the rumbling voice, made it seemed for the shouting of rapid fire staccato orders and the freezing of an enemy's blood.

"I'm good at that, I'm told."

JP had to smile.

"Yes, Batman, you are. And I think you enjoy it."

There was no answer to that.

"How may I help you?" Azrael said at last. The Dark Knight stepped from the soothing shadow that were so familiar, so comforting for him, into the harsh light.

"You misunderstand," he said. "I haven't come for your aid. I came to give you your birthday present."

Jean-Paul's blue eyes flew wide. "You - you got me a birthday present? Me?" JP fancied that the full lips twitched in the beginnings of a smile from Bruce Wayne before it disappeared behind the all sheltering cowl of The Batman. "Shouldn't I have? It *is* your birthday isn't it?"

The Agent of The Bat nodded. "I thought - " He looked away. "I thought you'd forgotten."

He studied his boots for what seemed like long moments until he felt a large hand touch feather light upon his shoulder. "I didn't forget," The Batman said.

JP smiled like a sunny day. Then he watched as the Caped Crusader reached into the depths of the bright yellow ubiquitous utility belt spanning his waist. The package he held out to his sometimes assistant was quite small and flat., but neatly and very carefully wrapped, topped with a bright golden bow.

"Alfred wrapped it," The Worlds Greatest Detective explained. "It got a little mussed, I'm sorry," he gestured down at the gray and black costume he wore. "This thing doesn't come equipped with pockets, I'm afraid."

When the Avenging Angel unwrapped the small bundle he found himself starring at a computer disc, plain and unlabeled. Like any of a thousand, thousand others.

"There's a name and a phone number on that disc, among many other things," Batman informed him. "The man on the other end of that phone can tell you quite a bit more than is on that disc."

JP looked up in bewilderment. "More about what?" he asked. "What is it that you've given me?"

The Guardian of Gotham knelt beside the confused young man.

"Your father," answered Bruce Wayne, simply. "I've given you back your father."

Suddenly weak kneed the young man sat heavily onto the bed, clutching the disc tightly in white fingers, staring down at it. "My fa-father? How - "

But when he looked up once more The Dark Knight Detective was gone, leaving only the reaching shadows in his ghostly wake.

He inserted the disc into the CD Rom drive of his computer and waited impatiently. There must be quite a bit on information on the disc, he decided. It took almost five minutes for the program to boot up even with the fastest DSL lines available, much to his surprise. When access was finally achieved he saw immediately the explanation for the long time lag.

Video. Always huge files. He was puzzled. What could - ? Who - ?

At first he thought he was looking at himself. That was his first thought. But then he noticed the short, almost buzz cut blonde hair and realized with a sinking heart just *who* he was watching. There was only one other possibility, after all. And he had always worn his hair long. Never this short except for a very brief time after he'd been burned in an explosion.

No. Only one other possibility indeed.

"My son," said Ludovic Valley, his blue eyes staring into the camera, "if you are seeing this then I am dead. What a great cliche! But true for all of that. This message will only be delivered to you in the event of my death. Do not mourn, my son. No, do not mourn for me, but you must protect yourself. You must. The Order will be coming for you."

The Azrael before him leaned closer to the camera in entreaty.

"They will tell you that you are Azrael, now. Heed them not. You may be whom you wish to be. Listen to me carefully. You must flee. Quickly. I have left with you with much money. Money and the phone number of a man in Switzerland. His real name does not matter. In any case he has many different names. He is best known as The Eraser. Go to him He has been well paid to provide for you a new, foolproof identity. Follow his instruction and the Order will not be able to find you. They must not find you. They must not ... twist ... you as I have been twisted. As all Azrael's are twisted and used, then eventually discarded. It must not be so for you."

The older man with his face glanced away for a moment taking a deep breath before facing the camera once more. "Promise me. Promise me, Jean-Paul." It seemed so important to him. His eyes begged for the boon as his lips could not.

"I promise, father ... " whispered the former assassin.

His hands, those hands that had taken so many lives, rose in benediction.

"This is my only prayer before God when I shall meet him. That you be free. That you be happy." He lowered his head. "I shall burn for this blasphemy. So be it. Then I burn. But you will not. May the Blessings of St. Dumas be with you, my son."

He lowered his head onto his arms for many minutes. He would need a new keyboard after this, he suspected. Moisture was never good for the delicate electronics. He never knew how long he simply sat there struggling with his rage and sadness. Eventually he levered himself tounsteady feet and sought the small plain alter in the bedroom's cozy corner. Slipping to his knees, he lit a votive candle with a trembling hand and began to pray.

"God, make me worthy of this great sacrifice," he began.

And no one was more surprised than Jean-Paul Valley when he realized that, *this* time, he wasn't speaking of the Crucifixion ...

The End