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Disclaimer: Sadly, Dick Grayson isn't owned by me. DC has that privilege. DC owns most of the characters in this story. All I own is the distinctive way the story unfolds, the specific dialogue and unique situations. (g) No money is being made from this. Please don't sue. It wouldn't be worth your while.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION: The young man I have used to represent Dick is an actor named Eric Close. This photo is from the 1990s. You may recognise him from the hit show "Without A Trace". He played Martin.

WARNING: There are a number of spelling, grammar and punctuation differences between Australia and the USA... please forgive me for writing with an accent. (g)

When Heroes Grieve

Part 2

Alfred watched Bruce blink the memory away. His eyes were moist and he shook his head yet again. Wayne just couldn't come to terms with it. "I'm going for a walk," he mumbled.

"Make sure you put on something warm or..." but Bruce had disappeared. Alfred sighed, reached for the two plates on the table and began to clean up. There was no sense fighting Bruce. He wasn’t ready to eat.

Some time later, Alfred entered the small stable behind the main house. Bruce was brushing down Alegre, a beautiful black horse with a mind of its own. He had given it to Dick for his fifteenth birthday. Wayne's hand paused as his mind wandered back. He remembered that day - he remembered everything about it. It was all so clear. The party. Leading Dick outside. Watching the boy’s eyes pop with wonderment when the stable hand had rounded the corner with the graceful animal. Bruce even remembered when Dick had named the horse, Alegre. It was Spanish for high-spirited. Dick had loved the horse. Despite moving to Bludhaven, he'd made regular trips back to the Manor to see Alegre. Wayne’s eyes shut slowly. There was so much he regretted. Why hadn't he taken the time to come out when he knew Dick was here? He couldn't remember the last time they'd ridden together.

The beautiful black horse shifted uncomfortably. It knew something was wrong. The animal swung its head toward the door where it could see the open plain leading back to Gotham. Like Bruce, the horse was looking for Dick to appear out there as he often had in the past.

“I’ve cut the apple pie,” Alfred stated, quietly. “Are you almost finished?”

“Just have to put their blankets on.” He didn't have to. The Manor stable hand would be arriving shortly to do it but for some reason it was through the horse, that Bruce had found a connection to Dick. Alfred assisted his friend to prepare the three horses for the night and then the pair headed back to the house.

After Alfred had eaten some pie, the two men turned in for the night. Just as the elderly man was about to turn out the light, he heard footsteps in the hall. He rose and peered out into the darkness. Bruce was standing at the door of Dick's room, his huge frame motionless. Even in the limited light, Alfred could see the silent tears streaming down the strong man’s cheeks. Alfred fought the urge to say something. He wanted to put his arms around Bruce as he had when he was a child. He wanted to protect him, but Alfred knew that there was only one path back and Bruce had to find that himself.

It was two o'clock in the morning before Bruce finally went to bed. He lay staring up at the ceiling for hours. When he drifted off, his slumber was restless as the incident... more correctly, Dick’s face, kept replaying over and over again in his strangled mind. Dick’s hand slipping through his fingers. Dick disappearing under the water. Dick’s intense blue eyes sending a message of unconditional love.

At dawn, Alfred rose to discover Wayne’s bed empty. The butler’s heart ached as he padded across to the window. Bruce was exactly where Alfred expected him to be - crouched in front of the cross that bore Dick‘s name. Wayne’s attention wasn’t focused on the small, crude memorial, however. He was staring out at the empty plain that led back to Gotham. Alfred shook his head. He knew that Bruce was clinging to the desperate hope that Dick would miraculously appear and wander up to house with his long relaxed strides and call of, “Howdy, fellas. Just happened to be passin‘.” It was something of a private joke between the three of them. After Batman had sacked Robin the night that the Joker had almost taken the boy's life, Dick had walked away.... or had been driven away by the perceived rejection. It was immaterial now. In the months that followed, the teenager hadn't made any contact with his family and then one day out of the blue, the outer security alarms had sounded and Alfred and Bruce had spotted their prodigal son walking across the open greens towards the stables. They had met him there and he had mumbled something about the fact that he just happened to be passing the Manor and had decided to drop in to see Alegre. That, of course, was absurd as it was impossible to simply be passing the Manor. The property was miles out of Gotham at the end of a lonely road that led nowhere else.

Years later, after Bruce and Dick had smoothed their relationship a little, Dick had started using the phrase sarcastically and finally affectionately. He usually parked his bike at the gates and walked across the property. He insisted it was just to stretch his legs after the long ride from New York and more recently Bludhaven, but Alfred knew the real reason why he did it. This was Dick's home. When he came, his visits were usually shorter than he would like. Dick Grayson had loved the Manor. He’d loved the wide open spaces that had been his backyard as a child. He’d loved the fresh air out here, something that one couldn't find in Gotham itself... or in Bludhaven. More than anything else, Dick had loved the peace and quiet of the Manor grounds and so he had developed a habit of walking up from the gate, heading to the stables and only then visiting the house and its occupants. Knowing that the Manor security would have picked up his presence, he would wave in the direction of the house and call out at the top of his lungs, 'Howdy, fellas. Just happened to be passin'. I'll be up shortly.’ Then he would disappear into the stables and go riding for anything up to hour before finally reappearing.

Bruce stared out at the open grounds, his mind playing an image of Dick strolling casually toward him. ‘Howdy, fellas. Just happened to be passin'.

Alfred strode slowly toward the phone, praying it wasn't someone else ringing to convey their sympathies. The words 'I'm sorry,' had never sounded so empty to the elderly man. He knew that was harsh, but sorry didn't take away the pain. Sorry certainly didn't bring Dick back.

"Wayne residence." At first, there was no answer. "Hello?"

"Alf, it's Tim. I... um...." Tim floundered. He didn't know what to say... hadn't known what to say for two weeks.

"How are you, Master Timothy?" Alfred asked, pleased to hear the boy's voice.

"Yeah, I'm good. Well, no... I mean... Alfred, I'm so tired. I can't do it on my own." The admission flooded from him. He hadn't slept for days. The streets of Gotham were out of control and Batman's absence was the talk of the underworld.

Alfred drew in a deep breath and released it slowly. "The others? They are not assisting you?"

"No. Oracle is... she's switched off her computer, Alfred. If feel like I'm working blind out here. I had no idea how much I depended on her. Catwoman has disappeared completely. I spoke to Huntress yesterday but... she's not dealing with all of it. She's really angry and I had to pull her off some guys a couple of nights ago. I hate to think what would have happened if hadn’t been there."

"And Miss Cassandra?"

"Needed to get away. She's gone to some spiritual place... don't remember what it was called. I'm on own here and... normally I'd call... but I can't." Tim's voice broke. Normally when things became unbearable, he'd simply call Dick and Nightwing would drop everything and come to stand with him. "God, I miss him so much." So much and on so many different levels. Dick had been more than a brother in arms. Working with Batman was an experience all of its own that couldn't be compared to anything else. However, working with Dick wasn't like working. They had so much fun. No one else would understand that one could have fun while facing some of the most dangerous criminals on the planet, but Dick had understood and they'd enjoyed every moment. "God, I miss him," Tim repeated softly.

Alfred bit down on his own lip to maintain control. "We all do."

Tim wanted to come and visit Bruce and Alfred but like Cassie, Catwoman and Helena he was unable to deal with Bruce at the moment. Had their leader been aggressive and angry, they could have coped, but Bruce was grieving in a way that left the others at a loss. That was why they had kept their distance. It wasn’t that they were walking out on their companion, it was just that they needed space to grieve themselves. Dick Grayson had been their friend too. As for Oracle, she was shattered.

Following Nightwing's disappearance it had been Robin who had been left the task of putting the emergency plan into action. Dick Grayson's death needed to be explained to protect the Batclan's secret. Alone, Tim had set things in motion. He reported Dick missing and then pushed his friend's beloved motorcycle into the raging river. Two days later it had been discovered washed up on the bank. Commissioner Gordon had delivered the tragic news to Alfred as Bruce was not receiving visitors. Between them Tim and Alfred had arranged the funeral. A lot of Dick's hero friends were absent, most still trying to help in their home towns. Only Wally, Roy, Donna and Garth had made the trip. The original Titans. Dick's four closest friends whom he'd grown up with. All but Roy had been devastated. Roy Harper had reacted differently. His response was unadulterated rage. Wally, Garth and Donna had restrained him when he had started yelling his grief and questioning where Bruce was. “He’s busy, is he? That self-centered, self-righteous bastard, couldn’t find the time to come and pay his respects?! Dick loved that mongrel. Even after everything that bastard did to him, Dick still loved him.” There had been more. The statements had shocked the large group of mourners. All in all, it had been an ugly scene. However, the words verbalized the thoughts of many. Just why wasn’t Bruce Wayne present? Roy’s outpouring of emotion had ended only once his energy left him and he had collapsed into the arms of his three oldest friends. The trio had enfolded him in their love to provide whatever comfort they could. "Why?" Roy had kept sobbing. "Why, Dick?"

“It's never going to be the same again, is it?” Tim whispered.

“No, son, it won’t. But it will get better,” Alfred assured him.

“How’s Bruce?”

Alfred didn‘t answer immediately. How could he possibly explain in a way someone else would understand? “He’s dying inside. He just can’t let go.” Lines of anguish bit into Alfred’s pale face. Too little sleep and too much worry had left dark rings under his eyes.

“He's finally realized how much Dick meant to him, " Tim murmured, his thoughts taking voice.

"Not, finally. He's always known. He just never allowed it to be a conscious thought." How little others knew of Bruce, Alfred reflected. Even Tim didn't truly know the man Batman kept hidden. The only other person who had was Dick... and he was gone.

"I wish he'd told him, Alfred." Tim knew how much it would have meant to Dick just to hear Bruce say those three little words all family long to hear from each other. They weren't that difficult to say and yet, they appeared to be an impossibility for Bruce. "If only he'd... God, I wish he'd told him."

"So does he, young man. So does he," Alfred admitted with great difficulty.

“I guess it will take a long time for him to accept that Dick’s gone.”

Alfred blinked and a single tear fell onto his cheek, balanced there for several seconds and then tumbled down his face. "I'm not sure he can." For Bruce to admit that Dick was dead would be to admit that his reason for living... as opposed to existing... was gone. If that happened, Alfred knew that Bruce Wayne would curl up and die. Alfred had watched Bruce shut the world out after the death of his parents... and he had watched intrigued as a small boy shattered the shield and infiltrated Bruce’s heart. No one else had been able to. Alfred doubted that anyone would ever again.

 

Many miles away....

“Wally? Wally?” Linda asked. The two were sitting together looking into the small creek. Here Wally could almost forget the devastation he'd seen. The world was still recovering, but he had needed a few moments to himself. Then he would return to doing what he could to help all those in need.

"Wally?"

“Huh?” he glanced at Linda. Water was still dripping from her raven hair after their swim.

His wife’s deep brown eyes searched his pained face. “You were a million miles away.”

Wally stared back at the creek. “Trying to forget... or maybe remember. I don’t know.”

Linda threaded her arm through his and dropped her head onto the handsome man’s shoulder. She loved him with her whole heart and it tore her apart to see him grieving. “You miss him?”

“Yeah, I do. He was my best friend. We spent our childhood together and when my life became a mess, he was the strength I used to get through it." The words were said softly and slowly as he reflected on each and every one.

"I'm so sorry."

"Yeah. I've lost friends and family before, but... there was something about Nightwing that was invincible. His attitude maybe, I don't know. He had an inner strength." Tears welled in Wally's eyes. "I don't know how we're all going to go on without him."

In a rundown section of Gotham where the scum of the Earth frequented...

“And that, my dear friends, is gin.” The other men at the table all cursed and grumbled as Roy won yet another hand.

“You got the luck of the Irish, mister.”

“Yes, lady luck is certainly smiling on me today.” The group of card players stood and moved off, leaving Roy and the considerable pot. The Titan stared at the money. The false smile left his lips. He had done nothing but win since he had arrived three days earlier. This was where he'd come after the funeral. There had been a time when a winning streak such as this would have sent him into raptures of happiness. Why then, did he feel nothing but empty? The money, or more importantly, the ability to outmanoeuvre and outthink his opposition didn’t seem to mean anything anymore.

Across the room, a man with dark hair stood, made his apologies for having to leave so early and made his way toward the door. Roy shut his eyes. How many times had he seen Dick do the same thing? Grayson was always the first to leave when the gang got together for a night out. He’d had so many commitments and yet he always found time for his friends. Like when he’d dropped everything to travel to the UK to help Roy find his daughter. Dick had always been there for him. Hell, Dick had been one of the people who had helped him seek help when he’d found his life screwed up by drugs. At the time, Roy hadn’t appreciated it, but now he truly understood the term ’hard love.’ Grayson had refused to give up on him. Roy owed him so much.

Harper shook his head unconsciously. All his life he had searched for a place he belonged and friends he could depend on. It had taken him a long time to realize that he had both with Donna, Dick, Wally and Garth. They were family. No matter what the geographical distance between them, or the time that would elapse between get-togethers, the moment they were together, it was like they’d never been apart. Now, a member of Roy’s family was gone and Roy Harper didn’t know how to deal with the loss. He honestly hadn’t realized how much Dick had meant to him, nor how much pain it would cause him to see Donna grieving. He had found he needed to leave everyone and be on his own - get away and try to drag himself out the void that was swallowing him. Roy had been so certain that a few days of gambling would see his equilibrium return. Then he would be in a position to help his friends deal with their grief. He missed Lian terribly but right now, he needed to get his head right so he could be the father she deserved. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to be helping. Maybe he just needed a few more days?

“Mind if I join you?”

Roy opened his eyes. A well dressed man in a silk shirt smiled at the unshaven hero. Instantly, the artificial smile automatically appeared on Harper's face. “Of course my friend. What is your pleasure?”

In the ancient Mountains of the Kaowia People...

“You seem deeply troubled,” Kojay stated as he and the young woman seeking help walked through the wilderness. Kojay was a Native American. Cassandra had met him many years before... before she had joined Batman’s crusade. She had come here to understand her own grief. She didn't know how to articulate it.

“Lost,” Cassandra replied. She felt dreadfully lost but didn't know how to put her feelings into words. Her father's strict and atypical parenting style of not allowing her to speak hindered her when it came to expressing herself. “Nightwing was good friend.”

“But I thought you believed when your kind die they go to be with your God?” Kojay believed in many Gods but understood that Cassie believed in only one.

“Miss him,” she admitted. She accepted that Dick had gone to a better place, but that didn't change the ache she felt.

Kojay nodded. “It is not easy.”

“No.”

“From what you have told me, he died bravely. He will be rewarded. He was a good man.”

Cassie glanced at the grey-haired Indian. “The best.”

“Batman. How is he?”

Cassandra stopped walking. “Why?”

Kojay raised each of his hands and then laced the fingers. “Their souls are like this. When one is removed...” Kojay removed his left hand, “the other feels like only half. Only together are they whole. Such soul brothers are rare, but your partners Batman and Nightwing are two of the strongest I have ever heard about. They probably aren’t even aware of the connection they share.”

“Soul brothers? Father and son.“

“Age does not play a part. When souls are connected they are connected and are called soul brothers.“

Cassie reflected on the fact that they had shared common tragedies as children. "They the same." She cursed her inability to communicate more effectively.

Kojay nodded gently. He understood what she meant. “Their souls know and understand each other. Now that one soul has moved on, the other must try to cope with only being half of what he is supposed to be.”

Cassie stared at the elderly Indian. “How help?”

Kojay sighed. “You can’t.”

Her eyes pleaded for him to provide her with something... anything she could do to help Bruce.

“He must decide.”

“Decide what?”

“Whether to stay and try to go on, or to follow his soul brother and join him in the next world.”

Cassandra leaned back against the tree behind her and slowly sank to the ground. For the first time she understood what was going on. Bruce wanted to follow Dick... which meant Cassie was going to lose not only another friend, but her new mentor.

Bruce continued to stare at his open palms. His hands had always been good to him. They’d always been strong and trustworthy. Sure he had practiced and trained as a young man, but it hadn‘t been difficult. His hands had never let him down... until now. He could still feel Dick‘s fingers in his own - feel him slipping from his grasp. Nightwing hadn’t had the strength to fight the water any longer and... Bruce had allowed him to slip away.

Bruce sighed long and deep, his breath shuddering out of him with despair. He was seated on the ground leaning up against the wall of the stable, his legs drawn up close to his chest. Today was worse than all of the ones before. Today, his grief was smothering him and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

How could he have let go? Why hadn’t Selina let him dive in after Dick? What right did she have to stop him? He should have gone in after Nightwing. Maybe if he had, he could have rescued him. The memory of Dick’s face replayed in his strangled mind. The look of shock being replaced by understanding and then love. “Oh, God, Dick. I’m sorry,” he whispered in anguish.

Somewhere beyond Bruce’s closed world of grieving, he heard the approach of another. Strangely, the outer perimeter alarm hadn’t sounded. Glancing up, he instinctively searched for Dick. He couldn’t count the number of times Dick would appear walking up from the gate unannounced. His head would appear briefly and then disappear among the long grass due to the uneven ground only to reappear. Then he’d wave and call out, Howdy, fellas. Just happened to be passin‘. Be up shortly.

Bruce strained his eyes, waiting to see a glimpse of the top of Dick’s head before it disappeared in a dip. Tragically, the area leading to the gate was empty. Dick wasn’t coming.

Glancing to his right, Bruce vaguely noticed a man approaching. Normally he would have risen to meet the visitor, but he didn’t. The millionaire was shoeless and shirtless, his hair uncombed, his face unshaven. His mind barely registered the arrival of the caller. He had little awareness of the living world around him. He was caught somewhere between there and limbo, his mind and emotions trapped in a grief-stricken hell of what might have been.

Hugo Strange stopped walking a few feet from the seated man and stared down at the pitiful heap with a genuine smile of triumph.

“Well, well, Wayne. It would appear the rumour is true, in a way. I’d heard that Batman hadn’t been seen since the floods. Word is Batman's dead. Not far from the truth by the look of you. We have some unfinished business.” Business Strange intended finishing right now. Today, he and Bruce Wayne would face one another and today, Strange would defeat his enemy once and for all and take over in his place. In Hugo Strange’s twisted mind, he was the true Batman, something Bruce Wayne had stolen from him. He had long forgotten the fact that he had been a renowned psychiatrist who had researched Gotham’s vigilante for the Mayor. He had no memory of profiling Batman to the point that he became obsessed with the man and the legend. Finally, he didn't recall putting the pieces into place to reveal the Dark Knight’s secret identity. The only thing Hugo remembered was pulling on the Batman costume he had made with his own hands and staring in the mirror. It was at that very point his mind had snapped. He became the figure that had captivated him and from that moment on, Hugo Strange had spent his life in the pursuit of his goal... and that was to become The Batman.

This fraud at his feet had stolen what was justly his. “Get up and fight me, impostor. Today, you die and I take my rightful place as Batman.”

Bruce stared through the other man with empty eyes.

Strange gazed down at the wretched man seated on the ground. Hugo hadn’t believed the Dark Knight to be dead, but had heard that Wayne’s ward had been killed. Strange knew Bruce Wayne better than he knew himself. The months he had spent, first chronicling Batman and after discovering his identity, studying Bruce Wayne and cataloguing Wayne’s life, had provided him with an almost complete understanding of what made this man tick. For example, Hugo understood how difficult it was for the millionaire to share a trusting relationship with others or to express his feelings due to the tragedy in his past. Family was sacred to Wayne, and as Grayson had been pretty much all the family Bruce Wayne had, the young man’s death would provide the nail in Bruce’s coffin. Wayne had loved the boy more than he was capable of showing. Emotion, in particular, love, was something that Bruce Wayne struggled with and it was this that had caused distance to develop between him and the boy he’d raised. However, Hugo Strange knew that Dick Grayson was the only person Bruce Wayne had allowed to get close.

Strange knew that Grayson’s death would weaken his nemesis mentally and emotionally, thus providing the advantage Hugo had always wanted. With Batman’s defenses stripped away by his grief, Hugo believed he could be the victor this time. He had tried to kill Wayne in the past, but failed. Bruce was a physically strong man, but Strange felt he was far superior mentally.

Hugo had expected to find Bruce Wayne grieving. Perhaps drunk after turning to alcohol for solace like so many weak-minded people did at such times. Clearly, that wasn’t the case. The other man’s eyes were clear, but dazed. Hugo found himself intrigued.

“I heard you lost your ward?”

Bruce continued to stare blankly, his mind lost in the endless caverns of grief and denial.

“Can you hear me, Wayne?”Hugo growled. Still Bruce failed to move or show any sign that he was aware he was being spoken to.

Cautiously, Hugo Strange approached the dishevelled man. “Wayne?”

Bruce dragged his eyes from the spot they had been glued to and unexpectedly his attention was drawn to the small white cross a few feet away.

Strange followed the line of his nemesis’ gaze. The insane psychiatrist snorted with aversion. Wayne’s near catatonic state was indeed a result of losing his former ward. It was exactly the reaction he had predicted. How feebleminded Wayne was. Not worthy of being Batman. Strange flicked his eyes back to Bruce and looked him up and down. “You’re pathetic. Can’t you see that you don’t have the internal fortitude to be Batman? I will make your death swift. Rest assured, Batman will live on and is in good hands.”

Hugo withdrew a knife, the blade catching the sun and flashing as it arced through the air on its deadly mission. Bruce Wayne didn’t move. Didn’t react... didn’t care... wasn’t really aware. The blade descended toward him but was blocked by the arm of another. Strange leaped back to find himself facing a hooded man who had literally appeared out of nowhere. Hugo recognised him immediately as the assassin Deathstroke.

“Leave,” Slade Wilson growled, placing himself between Bruce and Strange.

“This has nothing to do with you, assassin. It is survival of the fittest. The circle of life. It is time for the charlatan to step aside and allow the true Batman to take over the reins. Look at him. He isn’t capable of wearing the mask anymore. I am,” Hugo pointed out, his face flashing with true insanity.

Deathstroke’s single eye narrowed. In the deep crevices of his mind he was able to put a name to the face in front of him - Hugo Strange. When Wilson had infiltrated Titans Tower a number of years before, he had read a file on Strange. The man was insane - obsessed with Batman. Deathstroke remembered reading a footnote Nightwing had written at the bottom of the file... a footnote that would save Hugo Strange’s life today. “Despite knowing Batman’s identity, Hugo Strange has never exposed him because for Strange, knowledge is power and to share the knowledge he has would be to lose the advantage he perceives he has over Batman’s other enemies.... in his mind he is Batman. It would also shatter the legend itself and Huge Strange‘s obsession with this very legend ensures his silence.”

“Strange, I’m only going to say this once more. Leave or die,” Deathstroke repeated, taking out a gun.

Hugo Strange stared into the eye peering out through the mask. In it he saw cruel and psychotic indifference. It was clear to the former analyst that Deathstroke meant what he said and would kill without thought or remorse.

“You win this round, but I will be Batman. His mind is gone,” Hugo spat with amusement as he turned and strode away.

Deathstroke watched the madman until he disappeared from view. Only then did he turn around to face Bruce Wayne. A frown invaded his face. He had come to pay his respects. He couldn’t do so at the formal funeral. Dick Grayson had been a fine adversary and at one time, a dependable ally... not to mention a friend of Slade’s son.

“Bruce?” Wilson asked, carefully. They had met on opposites sides of a sword, but never face to face like this.

Behind Bruce, Alegre whinnied softly. Wayne glanced back over his shoulder. “Easy, boy.“ It was the first sign of life he’d shown.

“Bruce?” Deathstroke repeated. As the assassin studied the lost blue orbs staring through him, he could see that Wayne was a broken man. The person before him was not the warrior he had faced.

Slade Wilson watched as Bruce’s dazed eyes were drawn to the small cross and the assassin read the name lovingly carved on the memorial. Deathstroke’s hard, emotionless face creased with understanding and what could only be described as wisps of genuine pity. He crouched in front of Bruce, his voice dropping to a hushed whisper. “You have my sympathies, Bruce. The loss of one’s child is debilitating. I know. I have buried both of my sons.” Bruce dragged his eyes from the cross and let them settle on the assassin. “Your son did you proud, Bruce Wayne. He was a great warrior. One of the best I have ever had the privilege of knowing.” With that, Slade rose to his feet, turned and walked away. He had paid his respects, which had been the point of his trip. He had saved Bruce’s life to repay a debt he owed Grayson. While he and Nightwing had not always worked on the same side, he had liked the young man and he had owed Dick his life. Now, that debt was paid in full.

Bruce continued to stare at the spot where Deathstroke had stood. Wayne’s heart rate increased until the muscle was thundering in his chest, fuelled by the assassin‘s words. The loss of one’s child is debilitating. “My child...“ he murmured bewildered. A lump formed in Bruce’s throat as his gaze returned to the simple cross. Bruce swallowed as he acknowledged the words were true and for the first time since losing Dick, he used the word. “My...son.“ The declaration tore at his very soul. Bludhaven may have lost its hero, the Titans their leader and Batman his partner... but Bruce Wayne had lost his son.

 

Catwoman stared down on the city below. There was an eeriness in her heart today. A feeling of hopelessness. These same feelings appeared to be echoed by Gotham itself. Gotham had never been a beautiful city, but she was home. She had survived the earthquake against all odds and while the city had physically survived the floods, Catwoman wasn't sure if Gotham would ever return to normal. Good, decent people were afraid, now. They knew their avenging angel wasn’t out there. The problem was, every lowlife in the city knew it too. How could one man make such a difference? Catwoman reached up and wiped a tear from her cheek. In Batman’s case, one man had been enough. He had created a legend and it was that legend that had kept Gotham from boiling over into a sea of lawlessness.

Behind her, Catwoman heard movement. She didn’t turn, monitoring the sound with her well trained senses. If it was some mugger or rapist, they were in for a surprise

“It’s me,” a woman’s voice reassured.

Catwoman sighed. “Huntress.”

The other approached and stopped beside the lone figure. “Have you heard from him?”

“No,” Catwoman snarled. Her anger rose. She felt like she’d been palmed aside by Batman. Cast adrift like unwanted garbage.

“He‘s disappeared and all hell has broken loose. We need help.”

“Why are you telling me? I don‘t know how to contact him. Ask the kid or that Oracle. Or Superman. Hell, ask Santa Claus, he‘d know more about it than I do.”

Huntress stared at the other woman and she saw something she had never consciously seen before. “Men like him don’t know how to express their feelings,” Helena whispered. Selina‘s cheek twitched, but she didn‘t comment. “He‘s a warrior, Catwoman. He can’t react the way normal people do.” Helena’s gaze was drawn to the cloudless sky and her thoughts to Batman. “It seems to me that when heroes grieve, they do it silently and completely alone.”

Selina knew the other woman was right. Batman was grieving. He’d shut everyone out... even Robin.

“I want to help him, but I don’t know how if he won‘t let me,” Catwoman whispered.

Huntress nodded. “I’ve lost loved ones, Catwoman, so I know what it‘s like. At some stage, you just reach a point where things don’t seem so bad. It still hurts, but you feel like you can finally see yourself going on. He will too.”

“I hope you’re right,” Selina whispered.

“You’re in love with him, aren’t you?”

“What?” Catwoman cried, spinning around to face Huntress.

Helena smiled gently. “I’ve seen the way you look at him. Relax. Men don’t notice those things. Only women do.”

“Huntress...”

“Your secret is safe with me. Give him time. He’s a strong man. He’ll come through this.”

“I’m not so sure he will,” Catwoman disagreed. She had seen the despair and anguish in his eyes as he had searched for Nightwing. She’d seen and felt it to her core. The loss of the other man had been literally tearing Batman apart.

“You mustn’t lose faith, Catwoman.”

The thief turned vigilante returned to studying the gloomy streets below. Others viewed Batman as little more than a hard, emotionless, obsessed warrior. She knew better. She knew that Nightwing’s loss was forcing Batman to relive the loss of past loved ones. People like the second boy to wear the Robin costume. The boy killed by The Joker. She knew how much that had affected him. Batman had once told her that he had been orphaned young, actually witnessing the death of his parents. Catwoman also knew that Nightwing had been far more than just a comrade in arms. When she had first met him, he had worn the yellow cape - the first Robin. Part of the dynamic duo. While she couldn’t be certain if Nightwing had indeed been Batman’s son, she suspected it was so. The Dark Knight’s family had been stolen from him when he was child... now it was happening again. How could anyone possibly be expected to ‘come through’ that?

Catwoman turned to comment, but she paused, spotting in the other woman’s face her own mix of emotions. “You were in love with Nightwing?”

Helena turned away. “No.”

Catwoman placed her hand on her companion’s shoulder and guided her around so they were facing.

“I’ve seen the way you look at him. Relax. Men don’t notice those things. Only women do.” She smiled gently.

Huntress swallowed. “It’s different to what you think. I... I did love him, but his heart belonged to another.”

“Oracle?” Catwoman guessed. She had heard Nightwing and the mysterious woman arguing and flirting over the communicator.

Huntress nodded. Catwoman sighed. “It appears we share more in common than we first thought.”

“You mean, Batman isn’t in love with you?”

“I don’t know. Sometimes I think he is. Unfortunately, his heart belongs to another,” she replied wistfully.

“Who?” Huntress asked.

Catwoman looked back over the streets of Gotham. “Her.”

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8



© May 2006 Aussie Nightwriter : This relates only to the creative property in this story. The distinctive way the story unfolds, the specific dialogue and unique situations are mine. I acknowledge that some of the characters and settings belong to DC comics and thank them sincerely for turning a blind eye so I can borrow them. (g) No infrigement of copyright was intended and no profit has been made from this story... so, please don't sue me. It wouldn't be worth your while.

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