SPIFFY DISCLAIMER THINGIE!

Ah don't own these characters ... DC Comics does! Although to moi's mind they oughta treat them better! *fume* *fume* This is a fanfic for entertainment purposes only and not intended in any way to infringe upon copyrights held by DC Comics or others! So please don't sue moi!

Rated PG-15 for M/M slash themes (although *nothing* is depicted!) so if'n that sort of thing bothers ya'll then best skedaddle!

As far as continuity is concerned, as usual with moi's fic, it doesn't exist heah! Just think of this as an AU:):) An alternate universe where Starfire never existed. Ya'll will be much happier that way, trust moi:):)

The Voice

A Musical Tale by Dannell Lites

It was an accident. Honest to God, it *was*. I just couldn't help myself. Yeah, riiight, Grayson. That tape just leapt right outta the box and played itself on the reel to reel. You betcha. Once I began to listen, of course, there was no way on God's green Earth that I could have stopped.

None.

Okay. No excuses. No rationalizations. I shouldn't have done it. Period. The End. Amen. But ... Christ ... I really didn't know what was on the damned thing! I didn't! That much is no lie. Not even a lie to myself. And, God knows, I'm an expert at self-deception. Never Joey, though. Absolutely not. I usually take one look into those wide, sea-green eyes and start to drown. Lie to Joey? No. I could never lie to Joey. Just isn't possible.

But there it was. Just lying in that battered old shoebox all innocent, like a spider in its silken web. Waiting. Without a label, yet. See, that's what really did it. It didn't have a label. I mean ... all the *other* tapes in the damned box were oh-so-neatly labeled and identified in that flowing, precise script I recognized so instantly. Recording sessions. Joey's music. Like everything else that he does with those beautiful, speaking hands of his (I have erotic dreams about those hands ... ), Joey's handwriting is lovely. But this tape wasn't labeled. Not one single clue about what might be contained on it. So, naturally, I was curious, right?

My Mom once told me that her "little Robin" had an overly developed "bump of curiosity". She was right. It gets me into trouble all the time. I just can't leave a mystery alone. I *have* to know the answer. So, I stood there for several moments, holding the tape, contemplating it, weighing it in my hands, wrestling with myself. It was a losing battle, folks. And I knew it.

Ignoring the prick of my conscience, I found myself spinning it onto the TEAC reel to reel tape player almost without thinking about it any further. My fingers sometimes live a life all their own, completely independent of the rest of me. Like some *other* bodily organs I could name ...

After all, I was unlikely to be caught, I convinced myself. Joey had stepped out to bring back take-out Chinese. My stomach rumbled slightly at the thought of egg rolls, crab Rangoon and General Tso's Chicken.. Yeah, I like the spicy stuff. We'd been working hard for most of the morning. Moving in a big job, even when your life is as portable as Joey's. The living room of my spanking-new New York apartment was still strewn with boxes, with clothes flung haphazardly here and there over the furniture. It was a mess.

Like most of the rest of my life at this point. Forcefully, I pushed thoughts like that firmly away.

Bruce ... was Bruce ... and in the past now, I told myself.

The present belonged joyously to Joseph William Wilson.

I could still scarcely believe it. Just how had I gotten this lucky, I wondered? Joey was moving into my life, lock, stock and rhythm guitar. Christ. My hands started to shake just a bit and I quickly tucked them into the safety of my armpits to stop the trembling.

Damn, you Grayson! Stop it! This is the best thing that ever happened to you, you stupid jerk! *Don't* blow it! If you do ... I - I think this may be your last chance, okay? What the *Hell* are you so afraid of, anyway? What??

What if it doesn't work? What if he ... leaves? Like everybody else.

And that's when the small traitorous voice in the back of my head ambushed me.

And what if he *doesn't* leave, huh? Isn't that what your really afraid of, Robbie, boy?

Ambushed me blindly, I tell you. Blind as a ... blind as a ...

GodGodGod ...

Blind as a Bat.

I'm not sure what might have happened if the music hadn't started just then. Not sure at all. Like a stone, I sank to the carpeted floor, the world's first entirely boneless man. Almost too weak to move.

And then, suddenly, like Salvation from Heaven Above, from the reel to reel wafted a *voice* ...

I ... found out what was on the tape.

God help me.

Like a raging tide, I was swept away by that music. By that *voice*.

Don't ask me how ... but I just *knew*. Knew with a deep, shining certainty that seemed to echo through my body like the grandeur of the music that filled and warmed the cold, hollow places inside me that I barely suspected existed. Oh, yes ... I knew just *who* that pure, sweet, angelic voice belonged to.

And the most amazing thing? The owner of that voice couldn't have been more than five years old at the time it was recorded. Couldn't have been. That voice doesn't exist anymore. It was ... silenced.

Yes, it's true enough that time itself and the ravages of puberty might have won out in the end. Probably *would* have, you insist. It wouldn't have lasted. Maybe. But who's to say, with care and training, just *what* that voice might have evolved and matured into? Awe and wonderment crawled up my spine and I shivered as if in the tumult of a chill winter wind.

Vaguely, the echo of another voice, another tape, flooded through me for an instant.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth century they were all the rage. The rock stars of their times. They were called "castrati" and the crowds worshipped them. Young boys, selected for the range and purity of their adolescent voices, then emasculated to preserve those voices like prehistoric flies in amber. The world has not seen their like before or since. Even the most magnificent feminine soprano couldn't equal the breadth and sheer power and agility of their voices.

The last of them, Alessandro Moreschi, died in the early 1920s. But not before he sang for one last time. In 1903 in the Sistine Chapel for Pope Pious X.

And I had heard his song.

The tape made that day, much like this one, was old and ragged, filled with background noise and hissing static. And the singer was far from the best of his unique kind by his very own admission. And yet ... then, as now, I sat transfixed by that voice.

In 1995 a Belgian director, Gerard Corbiau, made a film about the most famous of all the castrati, Carlo Broschi, called Farinelli. Women fainted in his presence, overcome with his reflected glory. And he had a three and a half octave vocal range.

When they recorded the music for the film, they had to synthesize it. *No one*, living today, has a three and a half octave range. No one. Not Pavarotti ... not Maria Callas at her height ... not Beverly Sills ... not Kiri Tanakawa ... *no* one. They had to blend the voices of two of the worlds most famous singers, a soprano and a counter-tenor, to approximate Farinelli's voice. It took them eight months (twice as long as the actual filming) and they won an Academy Award for Sound Editing.

If I'd heard this tape earlier I could have told them where to find their "Farinelli" and saved them a whole lot of trouble.

Lost in the glory of that voice, I closed my eyes and let it sweep me away in a great tide of pure beauty. Higher and sweeter, softer than an angel's wings, it caressed me, making love to my troubled spirit just as surely as Joey made love to my body.

And then I remembered what had happened to that voice.

In spite of being cradled safe and warm within the power and serenity of that voice, my hands clenched themselves into rock hard fists at my side, opening and closing spasmodically, entirely of their own accord. God forgive me, if I could've wrapped those hands around the Jackal's throat, I'd have killed him. With my hands. Watched as he died, the life deserting him, draining slowly away like water pouring from out of a cup, spilling out his eyes, until he was still and cold beneath my tightening, punishing fingers.

To slaughter something that beautiful ... that precious ... to banish it forever from this world with the single, swift and thoughtless stroke of a sharp knife against an innocent five-year-old's throat ...

He deserved to die.

I think I cried.

I can't be sure. It might just have been a dust mote, or the sun streaming in through the uncurtained window into my eyes ...

Sure, it *might* have been that ...

Or it might not.

A deep sense of loss settled into my bones like an ague and began to ache, fiercely. I've lived with tragedy all my life; mine and ... and ... others. It's been a long time since I thought the world was a fair place ...

But *this* ...

This was beyond tragedy.

Deliberately, I let the music soothe me as, muscle by tense muscle, I began to relax, succored by the gentle, nourishing wash of that angelic voice flowing over my sore spirit. It was working fabulously, too. I was almost there. Almost ...Home. Almost round to that small, fiercely guarded, peaceful place deep inside me that I keep so zealously hidden. You know the place I'm talking about. The place where I'm *me*. The place where I don't have to be The Batman's partner, or a Titan, or ... or even Joey's lover ... Just *me*.

Bruce doesn't have a place like that.

But Joey, I think, lives in a place like that most of the time.

You can understand, then, why it was such a shock when the music abruptly died; strangled in mid-aria by a cruel hand. I actually jumped I was so startled. My hooded eyes flew open and I found myself staring up into wide green eyes the color of sea waves rushing to the shore.

I'd forgotten the time, you see.

I don't think I'd ever seen Joey angry before. Oh, I've seen him just about every way it's possible to see another human being, it's true. I watched him cry for Kole when she died and held him in my arms. I've echoed the joy that seemed to flow from him like a river when he danced. I've held his hand as he lay injured, unconscious, perhaps dying, and prayed. I watched him face down Slade Wilson, the super-powered assassin Deathstroke, The Terminator; the man who called himself his father. I ached for him when he turned The Terminator over to the police with tears in his eyes and signed with trembling hands, "I love you, Daddy." I saw him risk his life to save some paintings by one of the Old Masters because he thought they were beautiful. And, then, I glimpsed the blossoming pain and sadness in his eyes when even his own mother didn't understand why he'd done it.

'Art is forever,' he said, in explanation.

But anger and Joey just didn't seem to equate, somehow. Rationally, I knew that, like everyone even remotely human, he wasn't exempt from the fits of temper that assail us all from time to time and carry us away on a dark tide of rage. He's just better at suppressing and hiding them, I guess. Being an empath can really, really be a bitch.

Eyes flashing emerald fire, Joey threw the tape he clutched so tightly in his shaking hand across the room. It bounced off the wall, clattering to the floor and I winced as if he'd struck me a body blow. The thought of that tape being damaged or destroyed left me cold and weak-kneed. But when Joey turned his back to me and his shoulders began to tremble, I lost all thoughts about the tape.

In an instant I was at his side. My arms ached to embrace him, to hold him, to comfort him as he had so often comforted me. But ... I wasn't certain I had the right. It was my careless disregard, my thoughtless curiosity that had hurt him, after all. The thought of those silent tears squeezed my heart like a vise and threatened not to let go. Ever. Fear punched me in the gut with a harsh hand and I gasped for breath.

The hell with it.

I reached for him and drew him close. Joey's a couple of inches taller than me so it was an awkward fit, but for a moment he lay his head on my shoulder and that frightened little five year old boy pleading and crying in the cold, merciless hands of the Jackal wept. Stroking the tight curls of his long blond hair, I kissed the top of his head, chaste as a virgin, and just held him against the pain for as long as he would let me.

"Oh God, Joey ... " I choked, my voice catching and fading like morning mist, " ... Oh God ... I'm sorry ... I'm so sorry! I - I didn't know! I swear to God I didn't know!"

He pushed me away, hard, and I stumbled back before I caught myself on the arm of the couch. His long, slender graceful fingers flew in Sign. He was trying to say something, but his hands shook and trembled so that I couldn't understand him.

Gently I reached out and caught his flashing hands, brought them to my lips and kissed them tenderly. I love those beautiful hands. But when I looked in Joey's green eyes the pain I saw living there in those sea-born depths was hard to bear.

"Joey, please ... " I managed to stammer, "please, slow down! I - I can't understand -- "

He ripped his hands from out of my grasp and tore a great, gaping hole in my heart that, instantly, began to bled into my soul.

' ... no right ... no right ... '

I could make out a few words from the tumult of his writhing, twisting fingers. He struck his chest so hard I was momentarily afraid he had hurt himself.

'Mine! Mine!'

I swallowed hard and could only nod. He was right. It was a cruel, unforgivable breach of his privacy. I had no defense. None at all. So I didn't bother to even try and offer one. I could only hope that when he calmed himself he would forgive me. That seemed much more likely than that I would ever forgive myself. Again, I forced myself *not* to look away. To face what I'd done. And then Joey's angry face crumpled like used tissue paper, wet and discarded, until only the pain was left shining like a beacon from out of his expressive eyes.

' ... gone ... ' he mourned, ' ... gone ... gone ... GONE!'

If he'd had a voice he'd have been screaming.

In my mind, the beautiful voice that I have always given Joey in my thoughts whispered and shouted at me and I covered my ears against the accusation staining those deep and musical imaginary tones. For an instant I heard another voice with the same depth of tone and power. And ... for a moment I paled when I realized just why it was that that voice was so familiar and soothing; when I *knew* where it was that I'd stolen that voice. But, in the end, it didn't do me any good. I could still *see* the agony I had caused Joey. I refused to close my eyes to that.

Slowly, careful not to put too much strain on my suddenly powerless and shaking knees, I stumbled back across the thick carpet and retrieved the tape, lying neglected in its dusty, forlorn corner of my life. Padding back across the largish room, I knelt beside my stricken lover, reached out and gently squeezed his muscular shoulder. When he looked up at me I melted into a small puddle on the floor, but I couldn't let him know that. He needed me.

Imagine *that*. Someone needed me. Me. Little Dicky Grayson, boy sidekick.

Boy Blunder.

Boy Hostage.

After all these years, the digs still stung, didn't they?

Gently, I pressed the heavy tape into his still and silent hands and closed the chill fingers firmly around it. For a moment his flesh rebelled at the wintry touch of the cold metal. His fingers spasmed then jerked away as if he'd held them to an open, burning flame. I'm sure he meant to drop his unwanted burden. But I wouldn't let him. After a moment his hands stilled themselves and he clutched the tape to his chest, close to his body, close to his heart, as if to protect it from harm or violation; as if it were incredibly precious and he feared to lose it. As if it might suddenly vanish with the fell stroke of something sharp and deadly.

I covered his hands with my smaller, less talented ones. When I spoke it was one of the proudest moments of my life that my voice was steady as a rock. It didn't betray me. Not even once.

"Joey? I'm so very, very sorry. God, I never meant to hurt you like this. Never. If I could wave a magic wand and make it never happen ... I would. You've got to believe that. *Please*. Can you ever forgive me? I really didn't know what was recorded on the damned thing. I swear to Christ, I didn't. But you know what?"

At his look of puzzlement and mounting, spiraling confusion, I plunged ahead, perhaps recklessly, without waiting for him to acknowledge my question.

"I'm sorry I hurt you, but ... " I swallowed my fear and strode stark naked and defenseless into the Valley of the Shadow. " ... I'm *not* sorry I heard it. I could never be sorry about that." I closed my eyes and lowered my head and my awe fill my voice. "Dear God, Joey ... dear God ... To sing like that ... to sing like that ... " I gulped and fought back the tears from my stinging eyes.

With soft lips Joey kissed my still closed eyelids, because he knows that it always leaves me breathless.

'It ... was long time ago,' he Signed. He fell silent, but somehow I sensed he wasn't finished. There was more pain to come. A deep well of it. I was right. Joey's fingers stirred to reluctant life from their death-like stillness.

'Grant ... my brother Grant always made fun of me when I sang. He'd call me "little sissy-boy" and push me around, hit me. Slade hated it. He'd never stay and listen. He used to leave the room whenever I practiced. He was ashamed of me. Even at the age of only five I knew that. I think he was glad ... glad when I ... when I couldn't sing anymore ... '

I winced. Joey blinked and continued.

'My mother was the only one who liked my singing, I thought. She always encouraged me. It took me a long time to finally realize why. Because it made me more firmly *hers*. Grant was Slade's. And I was hers." He gusted a deep sigh and I winced again. 'Singing is supposed to be a rapturous thing,' Joey pointed out. 'It's supposed to bring joy to both the singer and the listeners alike. My singing never brought joy to anyone. Not even me.'

In the labyrinth of my mind his voice was as bitter as soured, stale brine. I squeezed his hands still resting so quietly now in mine.

"That's not true!" I cried in fervent, automatic protest. He looked up, staring at me in startled surprise that stabbed me in all my most private, vulnerable places.

"Your singing made *me* happy, Joey," I whispered. "So happy I cried. My Mom used to cry a lot. All the time, in fact. 'Crying for happy', she always called her tears. That's ... that's what you made me do. 'Cry for happy'. Oh Lord, Joey! I've never heard anything so beautiful. Never."

Joey is an empath. It's almost impossible to lie to him. Especially about how you feel. His eyes went wide with gratitude and pleasure. He squeezed my hand and smiled at me like the rising sun. I gasped for breath. I never, ever thought I'd see or hear anything more beautiful than that voice on the tape.

I was wrong.

Carefully, almost with reverence, Joey replaced the tape in that battered old shoebox that seemed to have become its safe and permanent home. And I suddenly discovered I could breathe again.

Joey strode over by the door, his long legs eating up the short distance ravenously. For the first time, I noticed the spilled remains of the take-out Chinese that was meant to be our lunch splattered on the floor, sinking slowly into the shag weave of the pale green carpet of our living room. Joey knelt and began resolutely scooping the detritus of my General Tso's Chicken and his Mongolian Beef back into their violated containers. He must have dropped them like a hot stone when he heard the music, I realized.

'I'll clean it up,' he assured me solemnly when he saw me kneel beside him. 'Sorry about the mess.'

Once more I covered his hand with mine. "No, *we'll* clean it up," I murmured. "Together." He smiled again and brightened my sometimes-dark world.

'I hope it doesn't stain the carpet,' he fretted in Sign.

I smiled.

"If it does, that's okay," I told him softly. "I'm sure we can find a way to fix it."

The End