SPIFFY DISCLAIMER THINGIE!

Ah don't own any of these folks! DC comics does! No infringement of copyright is intended! This is a fanfic strictly for entertainment purposes! No money is being made, heah!

Rated R for graphic violence and some filthy language!

Suicide Is Painless

A Dracoverse Tale by Dannell Lites

A brave man once requested me,
To answer questions that are key;
Is it to be or not to be? And I replied
"Oh why ask me?"

'Cause suicide is painless!

It brings on many changes!
And I can take or leave it if I please ...

And you can do the same thing if you please.

"Suicide Is Painless" (AKA The Theme From M*A*S*H)

Johnny Mandel

Something inside my chest coiled and writhed, squeezing hard. Oh fuck, it hurt! I couldn't seem to breathe. Every time I tried to take a panicky breath I could feel something *give*.

'That's what happens,' I told myself, gasping for breath, 'when you tackle half a dozen dockworkers smuggling dope into Gotham with no backup, asshole.'

I'm used to pain. Hell, with my medical history I'd better be. I can handle it. I can, damn it! I know what to do. I mean, it's not like pain is anything new for me. Curling into a tight ball around the agony regularly erupting inside me, I lay as still as possible. That usually works. Shit shit shit ... Not this time, though. Futilely I tried to think, to grab hold of the pain management techniques Bruce taught his wayward little broken Robin Bird. Heh. The Big Bad Bat always has the answers to everything doesn't he?

Fuck him.

I could almost hear the sardonic amusement in Dick's voice. 'Really, Jays? How Freudian!'

'Screw you, too, Dick!' I shot back. And then had to bite my tongue. Hard. Damn! Was THAT the wrong thing to say or *what*? Fucked Up Boy strikes again.

Dick left my head in a huff and I bit my lip. Damn, but I play interesting head games, don't I?

Yeah. Like a train wreck or a freeway pile up is "interesting" ...

Eventually, I had it under enough control - uh huh ... riiight ... - that I could feel something, anything, other than the sharp knives grinding themselves in my chest. I caught the tail end of large soothing hands sliding gently through my sweat slick hair in comfort and a low, deep voice calming my fears. Desperately, I crawled toward that voice. I thought I recognized it. It was familiar.

'I'm coming, Bruce,' I murmured. 'I'm fighting, too. Just the way you taught me, okay? But Christ! It hurts! It hurts like a son of a bitch!'

So, I finally open my eyes. Pried them apart with a fucking crowbar if you've got to know the exact truth. Even that hurt.

But not as much as what I saw.

He was towering over me, that mass of long blonde hair shielding his face and obscuring it from my view. But I wasn't fooled. Not even for a single moment. I knew who it was. Instanfuckingtaneously. Not even the stethoscope dangling from around his neck could disguise him well enough to save him.

"Azrael!" I croaked, my Sahara dry and scratchy throat burning with the effort of speaking. Feebly I tried to rise or resist in some way. Merde! Which is about the only French I know. But the last thing I needed right now was this butthole to remind me of all the things that I didn't have any more. Like, maybe, my left eye. What can I tell you? I've never met anybody in my whole life whose ass I wanted to kick so badly.

And couldn't.

The hands that guided me back down to the small, pristine bed were gentle but very firm. "Non," said Jean-Paul Valley in that quiet, scholarly voice that always sets my teeth on edge (why do you have to be so goddamned motherlovin' perfect). "Azrael is not here. You must be content with merely Jean-Paul. Will I do?"

I gazed up into his clear, calm blue eyes for a couple seconds. Long enough to know that he was right. The Angel was gone. Nowhere to be seen. Those were Jean-Paul Valley's eyes. Azrael's eyes are ... different.

Peering into Azrael's eyes is like staring through the Gates of Hell.

And yeah, I've seen those too. Up close and personal when he beat the shit out of me.

A couple of seconds isn't a long time. Long enough to know, though, that it didn't make a damn bit of difference to me.

I guess it's not too surprising that I didn't notice what he was wearing until about then. It was dark, that was all I knew at first. Dark and depressing. Had to figure, right? He's one of the BatGuys, after all, and dark and depressing is, I don't know, like their trademark, a way of life with them or some damned thing or another.

Bruce is infectious.

But I had to admit the Roman clerical collar did sorta stick out. Don't see many of those around The Corner and that's a fact. My eye bulged when I realized what it meant. Jesus H. Christ on a goddamned Cruise missile!

"You're a priest!" I accused, lamely. "A fucking priest?"

He turned a bright shade of crimson and fingered the collar about his throat absently as if it might chafe if he let it. I smiled. 'Score one for the kid that everybody hates!' I crowed silently and stored his discomfort with my foul language away for later ammunition.

"Ah - that's - that's rather a non sequitar under the circumstances, non?" he stammered, still blushing. I blinked. Was he trying to make a joke? Azrael making a joke? The Second Coming HAD to be right around the corner. No doubt about it.

"Son of a bitch!" I started to chuckle.

BIG mistake.

I couldn't stop coughing. Something jarred loose down there and suddenly I was coughing up warm sticky globs of red blood. Breathing was pure torture and next to freaking' impossible. Strong arms swept me up and carried me light as the proverbial feather to another bed. I clutched frantically at the oxygen mask he slipped over my face and breathing became possible again. The hands were back, stroking my hair in reassurance. I saw him warm his stethoscope with his callused hands before he slipped it into his ears and listened to my heart beat. Soothing hands turned me over on my back, tapping gently, skillfully. When the bleeding stopped, he gave me some much needed water to rinse my mouth of the foul metallic taste of my own blood. A pin prick on my arm told me that I'd probably been sedated.

Damn! I hate that.

He fluffed my pillow and spoke to me.

The last thing I remember before I slid head first down into the spreading, comforting velvet darkness was the sound of that voice.

"Rest, now, Jason, mon frere," he whispered. "Rest."

'Valley,' I thought groggily. 'When I wake the Hell up you are sooo dead ... '

Did I mention that he cheats? I didn't think priests were allowed to do that. Cheat, I mean. Aren't they supposed to be better than us regular mooks or something? But this was definitely cheating. No two ways around that. Beneath my breath, I swore luridly. I was supposed to still be out of it, but hey! I've been doped with enough narcotics in my time to tranquilize an elephant. Tranqs don't work on me all that well anymore, I guess. And this crap was kid stuff compared to some. Still, I found out later that I slept for almost three days. Jesus.

So I played possum. It's amazing what you can learn that way, sometimes. And yeah, so what if that's something else I learned from Bruce? Bite me, fanboy.

Through the window I watched Gina's battered old taxi pull up to the curb. Christ, I must know every nut and bolt in that piece of shit-on-wheels by now. For a moment I was kind of hoping Gina might come in and say hi. Which reminded me that I needed to call Barry and let him know where I was. My eye was barely cracked but I still had a great view as Valley reached into the taxi's back seat and scooped an unhappy Barbara Gordon up in his arms while Gina unloaded the wheelchair from the trunk and followed them as he carried Babs up the steps.

See what I mean about cheating? Goddamn him to Hell.

Hell of a thing, though, right? A clinic without handicapped access.

Was she clinging just a little too tightly to his neck?

Was he holding her more securely than was maybe absolutely necessary?

Was ...

Was I being paranoid and pathetic or what?

Shit.

"You're sure he's okay?" Babs inquired anxiously as Jean-Paul set her lightly down in her chair out in the hallway. Through the open door I still had a great view. The Angel nodded and moved off, out of my view for the moment. And if I was nervous about that I think I'm entitled, right? But when he glided back into view he was only ferrying a cup of hot coffee that he handed to Babs with care, who accepted it gratefully. Babs and I are both your basic caffeine addicts so my caffeine deprived nervous system went into hyper drive. Jean-Paul just smiled at her beatifically.

"He'll recover," he reassured Oracle. Then he sighed and ran his fingers threw his thick blond hair. "If I can keep him from injuring himself trying to hurt his doctor, that is." I growled softly in frustration. But I'm proud to say that I didn't move. Not so much as a single muscle.

'Your time is a coming', Angel Man,' I threatened in silent rage. "Count on it.'

"His injuries are not life threatening," Azrael continued. "Merely very painful at this stage. Bruce already knows that. And Dick. And Tim. Even Garth was glad of that. Jays has many more friends than he allows himself to believe, I think."

I saw Gina nod and tug her ratty old cap down around her ears. "Damn stubborn fool," she groused. My favorite taxi driver glanced at Jean-Paul Valley. "Look, Father ..." she began, subdued in the presence of a priest. Somehow, I managed to keep from scowling. Couldn't really tell you how. Okay, so Gina is Catholic. In fact, Mama and Papa Beldacci almost never miss Mass on Sunday. I think that pew in St. Annuncie's has their name carved in it or somedamnthing. Hell, they've even started dragging my heretical ass along to church. So, I had to admit it made sense Gina'd respect a priest.

But that didn't mean I had to like it. Much.

And why the Hell did it have to be this priest, huh?

Fuck.

"Tell Jays that I was here, will ya?" she continued. "And that I'll be back. Mama'd just kill me if I didn't bring him some of her homemade minestrone and pasta con pollo," she grinned. "So would Jays."

The Angel's smile broadened. "I think your mother's cooking is just the thing for my reluctant patient," he chuckled.

Gina smiled in return. "I'm sure there'll be enough for you, too, Father," she quipped. "Mama doesn't really know how to cook for anything less than at least half the Chinese Army." She looked Jean-Paul up and down -

Appreciatively?

Innocently?

Damn! I was too far away to really tell.

Waving her farewells, Gina Beldacci-Brown pulled out her keys with one hand and shook Barbara Gordon's hand with the other. I noticed then that not once had she faced Babs this whole time without her cap pulled low, shadowing her face.

Hiding the scars.

Was she ashamed of them?

You can believe that THAT made me feel like roughly two and half pounds of mandrill shit.

"It - it's nice to finally met you, Miss Gordon," she said, with only a small slip of the tongue to betray her. For her part Babs was great. If she noticed she gave no sign of it to embarrass Gina unnecessarily. Her answer was warm and friendly and full of gratitude.

"Call me Babs," she insisted. "And thanks for the lift, Mrs. Brown."

Gina actually smiled on her way out the door. "Gina," she corrected merrily. "No problem," she asserted. "Call me when you're ready to go, okay?"

To her embarrassment, Jean-Paul escorted Gina to her battered old taxi and watched her drive off. I could tell Gina was impressed. Don't suppose she sees too many gentlemen in her line of work, huh?

Damn, damn, damn!

"I see you still don't have a girlfriend," Babs chuckled, taking in his attire upon his return. Usually, I like Babs' kidding banter. Especially when it's directed at me.

I knew as well as I know that I'm laying here eavesdropping that Valley blushed. Mention anything to do with the big dreaded s-word and Jean-Paul Valley colors like a schoolboy. Damn. How come that never works when I do it, huh?

"No," he returned her soft laughter. "I suppose I have not." Unconsciously, he touched the silver cross hanging from his neck and grinned like a mischievous imp. "Will a 'boyfriend' do?" he asked, lifting his blue eyes toward Heaven playfully.

Babs chuckled and finished her coffee. I took that as a sign and made some rather obvious waking up noises. Sure enough, moments later Babs wheeled herself into the small recovery room, smiling. Hey! My day was made and I didn't care who knew it. The rest of the afternoon was golden. Almost perfect. Jean-Paul made himself scarce, leaving me alone with Babs. She scolded me to be more careful and I lied and promised her that I would.

"You're supposed to duck, former Boy Wonder," she observed acerbically and I grinned. It didn't even hurt.

But I didn't know whether to be pleased or not. I've heard her call Dick that, a lot.

Hell, I even let her help Valley strong-arm me into agreeing to stay in his damned clinic for at least the next day or two. Hey, I may be a wuss where Babs is concerned but in this case I was a wuss with a plan. I reached for the phone to call Barry and let him know the stich. My agreement got Babs to promise she'd come back to see me tomorrow, so I was a happy camper, believe you me.

And she did, too. Gina dropped her off again and stayed long enough to deliver a pasta care package from Mama Beldacci. Man, you know you've done something right when Mama Beldacci feeds you sticky hot lasagna and fresh home baked garlic bread. I even got a hug when Gina left to go back to work. Hot puppies! This was living, I'm telling ya. Maybe I oughta consider getting the fuck beat out of me more often, huh? It was almost worth it to see Babs sitting across from me smiling and laughing. Since she brought her laptop with her we even got a little work done. How's that for a lame excuse?

But all good things must come to an end or so they say. The Angel brought Babs her coffee-none for me, damn it!-and insisted that I get back into bed and rest. Snarling under my breath, I obeyed reluctantly. Truth to tell, I guess I was more tired than I was willing to admit. I was out like a light. In fact, if it hadn't been for an horrendous noise coming from the main examining room, I'd probably still be out.

I came awake instantly, body flooded with adrenaline. Silently, I slipped out of the comfortable bed and onto my feet. I don't think I made any nose as I made my way to the door leading to the examining room and peered in. Bruce would have been proud of me.

Riiiiight. And pigs might fly, too. There'll be pork in the trees any day now, folks.

Son of a bitch.

I counted six of them.

Not good odds at the best of times. Shit shit shit. This was not gonna be pretty. No freakin' way around that. I gritted my teeth as I watched Valley step forward, shielding the others with his tall body. The greasy mother with the gun, the one I had pegged as the leader of this fun filled little Girl Scout promenade, frowned. But he didn't back down. Damn. Valley's a big guy. I was hoping for a little intimidation here. No such luck. Instead he pointed the gun in his hand at Valley's head and puffed out his chest, fortifying his waning courage.

"Don't be stupid, Holy Man," he sneered. "Just be a good little ring kisser and you might live through this." He grinned ferally. "Ain't makin' no promises, though."

Jean-Paul stood his ground in front of Babs. "Take whatever you want and leave. Please. There's no need to harm anyone. No one will stop you."

Much as I hated to admit it, that was probably the right thing to do. Just a gaggle of bangers out looking to score some easy drugs. Kids, really. Yeah. Right. Kids who'd rip your heart out if you let them. The leader smiled and I suddenly got a very bad feeling about this whole piece of squeeze. In my cozy little hidey hole behind the door I tensed and got suddenly real cold. Taking stock, I wasn't impressed. I was in no shape to deal with these mo fo's as they deserved. I bit my lip. Reluctantly, I decided to let Valley play it out and see what developed. If worse came to worse, I figured I'd have to do something. At least I was behind them, so the element of surprise was in my favor. First strike was mine. But it was gonna have to be a good one. I didn't think I'd get another one.

Things went sour almost immediately. They ransacked the place and came up practically empty. In fact, they really came up with Jack Squat. Not exactly what they were hoping for. I started to sweat. Babs sat quietly in her chair, her eyes watching their every move. Underneath the warming blanket in her lap, her hands lay very still.

"They ain't got shit, Carlos!" snuffled the tall kid in disgust through his runny nose.

Cursing under his breath, Carlos glared at Jean-Paul, waving his gun. "All right, fucker!" he snarled. With a gesture, he commanded his three remaining home boys forward, then pointed at Babs. "Bring me the red headed bitch!" I swear my heart stopped in my chest.

OhGodOhGod

Smiling like circling sharks, the three moved to obey.

Everything happened at once after that. I jumped forward just in time to see Valley move to intercept Babs' three would be attackers. I also saw Carlos level his gun at The Angel. I leapt, grabbed his arm to throw off his aim and we went down in a tangle of arms and legs. My body exploded with pain and I think I grayed out for a few seconds.

But not before I saw Jean-Paul clutch his temple in agony and crash to the floor in a bright splash of flowing red blood.

Carlos sucker-punched me and it took me a minute or two to learn to breath again. Things were not looking good for the ol' home team, folks. Not by a long fucking shot. Choking and gasping with my chest on fire, I saw Babs toss her lap blanket in the short, fat kid's face, effectively blinding him. The extendable metal bo staff clutched in her tight fist snapped to its full length and went to work. With a scything gesture like mowing down standing wheat, she swept the remaining two of them off their feet, spun the staff, then whacked the one still standing sharply under the chin. His eyes rolled up into the back of his head and he crashed to the linoleum floor like a pole axed steer. Like lightning the staff whirled again.

WHACK

WHACK

Fountaining blood from their mouths, and missing a few teeth I suspected, the unlucky bangers howled in pain.

Then, before they could recover, she smashed them in the stomach for shits and grins.

God, I love that woman.

Unfortunately, the victory didn't last long.

Scrambling to his feet, Carlos kicked me once again in the ribs for good measure, then aimed his gun at Babs. "This mutha's got a longer reach than yours, sweet meat," he spat. "Drop it!" Babs lasered him where he stood with a gaze that would have melted titanium. She sat very still in her chair.

But she didn't drop the bo until Carlos pointed his gun at me.

As I heard it clatter noisily to the floor, I curled myself into a tight ball of pain. Oh, Jesus wept! Great going Todd, you useless piece of shit! That's about all you're good for anymore, isn't it? Robin, the Boy Hostage lives again! That was supposed to be Dick's gig, ass-wipe!

Oh, Babs ... Oh God, Babs ...

Carlos' two conscious side boys lumbered to unsteady feet, shaking their aching heads, dripping blood and vomit "Get over there!" Carlos growled, pointing at the prone Jean-Paul. "Make sure that sonofabitch is dead! And bring Fat Pony over here!" When they passed him dragging the luckless Fat Pony, Carlos slapped one of them upside the head. "What's with you two dickless wonders?" he cursed. "Mutha fuckin' losers can't even handle some gimpy goddamned chica in a wheelchair! Useless shit for brains!"

"Hey! He be still breathin'!" exclaimed one surprised banger, kicking Valley. "What we gon' do, Carlos?"

"Then kill him, you stupid bastard! Kill him!" ordered Carlos rolling his eyes heavenward at their display of ignorance.

I guess they decided to enjoy themselves. No need to let Carlos have all the fun, right? Mister My-Bandana-Is-So-Cool-My-Shit-Don't-Stink was the first one of the four to kick Jean-Paul. Right in the ribs and even *I* winced. It didn't take the rest long to get into the spirit of things and join the party, though. The Frenchman moaned and tried to curl himself into a tight ball. Good move. Smaller target that way.

It didn't help.

"Noooo," Jean-Paul gasped, pleading. "Pluh-please ... you - you do not - do not understand ... please ... he - he will come ... he - he will - " Shakily, he made the sign of the cross with bloody fingers. His voice grew stronger now, when he continued.

"Exorcizo te, omnis spiritus immunde, in nomine Dei Patris omnipotentis, et in noimine Jesu Christi Filii ejus, Domini et Judicis nostri, et in virtute Spiritus Sancti, ut descedas ab hoc plasmate Dei Jean-Paul Valley, quod Dominus noster ad templum sanctum suum vocare dignatus est, ut fiat templum Dei vivi, et Spiritus Sanctus habitet in eo. Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum, qui venturus est judicare vivos et mortuos, et saeculum per ignem."

"Shut the fuck up, man!" somebody shouted.

My eyes widened. I'd never seen the ceremony, of course. Never even heard of it being performed. But my ragged, spotty Church Latin kicked in and I understood enough to know what I was hearing. I didn't know whether to hope it worked or not.

~I exorcise thee, every unclean spirit, in the name of God the Father Almighty, and in the name of Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord and Judge, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, that thou depart from this creature of God, Jean-Paul Valley which our Lord hath designed to call unto His holy temple, that it may be made the temple of the living God, and that the Holy Spirit may dwell therein. Through the same Christ our Lord, who shall come to judge the living and the dead, and the world by fire~

They kept on until they thought he was dead before they moved off.

Fat Pony was still sleeping the sleep of the unjust and the unconscious. But the five of them who were still on their feet were all together again, now. A nice cozy little group just begging to be bowled over and stomped. Rolling like a monogrammed sixteen pounder down a Bowl-O-Rama alley, I tenpinned three of them and they hit the floor hard. But Carlos, damn his eyes, deftly avoided me and I got another kick for my trouble. Jesus that hurt! Feebly, I struggled to do something. Anygoddamnedthing. Something must have happened, I figured from the sound of things. That and the fact that no one really paid any attention to me. But by the time I'd forced myself to a sitting position, the three downed bangers were back on their feet, Babs was spilled from her chair out onto the cold hard floor and Carlos loomed over her like a storm cloud.

"You and me ... we got bidnez, bitch," he said. "Teach you some fucking respect, puta ... "

I'd have thrown up then, but I hadn't really eaten anything solid for a couple of days so I was just screwed there.

Carlos' battered none too clean jeans pooled at his feet and his bangers grinned and licked their lips like the predators they were. Gritting her teeth, Babs flipped herself onto her stomach and grimly began using her arms to crawl toward the bo staff she'd abandoned earlier.

I tried to scream. Nobody but Babs really knows what the Joker did to her after he he shot her. Bruce knows. He saw the pictures. But I don't think she even told her Dad about that. Me? I was getting ready to do something really, really seriously fucked up and stupid when it happened.

They never saw Azrael coming.

Carlos' first clue that he was torqued up something fierce came when one of his butt buddies let out a high pitched girlish scream and went flying past him, pancaking into a wall. I had a primo seat for the entire proceedings, I must say. Educational doesn't begin to describe it. By the time Carlos reached down to grab his underwear the rest of his little crew were down and not moving a lot.

They seemed to be moving in slow motion as they tried to run away from The Angel. They didn't make it. And that's who it was all right. Azrael. No fucking doubt about that at all. "Father Jean-Paul" was a memory. A ghost dissipating on an errant breeze. This was the Angel of Vengeance and Destruction, absolutely. Without the mask to cover his face, shielding others from the sight, there was no way in Hell there could be any mistake.

And Hell ...

Hell was just where this thing belonged.

And pity the Devil.

Things happened so fast I couldn't really see much. But there was a lot of screaming, I remember that real well. Azrael didn't have a weapon. Only his hands. That was all he needed. Blood flowed like water, bones snapped and punctured flesh. Azrael moved - once, twice, three, four times and as many bloody kids hit the floor whimpering and retching, pleading for mercy.

He had none.

But he did have other things to attend to.

Carlos' exposed and once tumescent dick shrank like a raisin in the sun and he tripped over his own jeans trying to run away. He pissed himself. Without his gun, he wasn't much. Azrael plucked him by the throat, one handed, from the floor like a noxious weed from a well-tended garden. His feet dangled about a foot off the floor. His eyes bulged as he began struggling, desperate for escape, kicking and pounding striking aimlessly in his terror Azrael ignored the blows as if they were raindrops. It was like beating a rock.

And almost as useful.

Jean-Paul's face never changed expression. That was the really frightening thing. Smooth and still as lifeless marble ... except for the eyes. There was just nothing there. Lights on ...nobody home. Just a great yawning, devouring void ... a ... lack ... that was gonna suck you in and consume you, too, if you weren't careful. A black hole of the soul.

"Animal!" Azrael hissed in a voice like the Winter wind. Low and deep, it sounded like a kettledrum rattling around in his broad chest, ominous and foreboding. And so damned cold ...

"Know that you are anathema in the sight of God and man. Know that men call you defiler and heretic. Know that you are guilty." He shook Carlos like a rat in the jaws of a terrier. Carlos tried to scream. He did. But he couldn't. Not even a scream could get past that choking, killing hand.

"And the guilty must be punished." Azrael said.

His knuckles whitened as The Angel tightened his grip slightly; there came a sickening crunching sound, Carlos' purple lips parted, and he spewed bright red blood. Jean-Paul Valley was covered in lifesblood. In his hair, in his face, and in his eyes. The heavy metallic scent of it burdened the air. Already forgotten, The Angel tossed Carlos' body into a corner and turned to the struggling Babs.

Babs didn't flinch when he picked her up and sat her carefully in her chair once more. Not even when he left a bloody hand print like a crimson scar on her cheek. I was almost proud of her for that.

She was one hell of a lot more together than I was at that moment, better believe it. I was trembling like a leaf and my stomach threatened rebellion. When he touched her my skin crawled.

"Jean-Paul?" she asked, calmly.

"No." he said.

She laid a hand on his cheek. "That was a request," she told him. "Azrael has done his duty. It's time for him to go Home, now."

He stared down into her jade green eyes for an eternal moment and I didn't like to think about what that must be like. Straightening, he nodded almost imperceptibly.

End, Part One

Part 2