SPIFFY DISCLAIMER THINGIE!!

Ah don't own them (more's the pity!). DC comics does. Ah am only borrowing them and Ah promise to return them intact when Ah am done! If'n ya'll sue moi, Dick and Bruce are gonna be right *peeved*:):)

Rated PG for absolute purity of content! No sex, no drugs, no -er - well, alright:):) A *little* rock and roll:):)

As ever, Ah have made my own continuity. Since Ah find it nearly impossible to keep up with all the retcons and such Ah just use what Ah need or fits the story:):) So all ya'll BatScholars power down those BatSignals telling moi that Ah got the continuity wrong:):) Hee! Ah *know*!

Thank again to my fellow Texas expatriate Syl and my friend Terri for invaluable beta reading and advice!

Letting Go

A Nightwing Tale by Dannell Lites

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.

Until now.

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 Bludhaven 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.

In vain.

"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.

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.

BIG mistake.

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 ..."

"NO!"

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.

"BRUUUUCE!"

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.

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.

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 Bludhaven, 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.

End, Part One

Part 2