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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 5

The computer screen flickered with images of Gotham; constantly changing as Oracle’s sophisticated equipment intercepted various transmissions. Barbara was largely unaware of what was happening. She had tried to remain focused but the pain in her heart was too strong for her to ignore. In her hands she held a photo frame. Her emerald eyes brimmed with tears as she stared down at the face of the man she loved.

Her finger rubbed against the glass and she smiled through the steady stream of tears that were now cascading down her face. “I love you,” she said aloud. She heard the words and her resolve crumbled. Dick was one of only a handful of people she had ever allowed to get close. Unlike so many others who had said things hadn’t changed between them after she had lost the use of her legs, he had meant it. He had treated her no differently. As a matter of fact, it was as if he hadn’t seen the chair at all. Unfortunately, she had continued to question how he could do so. Now, when it was too late, she realized that the genuine love he had shown had been real, not a result of sympathy and was the reason he simply hadn’t cared about the chair.

Barbara pulled the photo to her chest and held it against her, her grief tumbling out of her in loud, unrestrained sobs.

It was around nine a.m. the next day when Dick rolled over and gradually returned to his senses. His mind was foggy and blank. He tried to open his eyes, but his eyelids were so heavy that he found it a real effort to get them to co-operate. His mind moved in a vacuum and then cleared.

“Bruce!”

Wayne awoke with a start and instantly reached for Dick. “It’s okay,” he assured the confused man.

“Bruce?” Dick stared around the room and a long sigh of relief echoed out of him. He’d made it home.

The billionaire pulled himself up straighter in the chair that had served as his bed, nodded and smiled. “Welcome back.” Grayson’s and Wayne’s eyes connected and their souls touched. For several seconds neither spoke, allowing the nebulous connection between them to communicate all that was needed.

Finally, Dick sighed and his pale lips curled into a hint of a smile. “I didn’t think I’d make it.” He reached up and rubbed his eyes, the action evoking a groan.

“Take it easy,” Bruce warned, rising to his feet and checking Dick’s brow for fever. “You’re black and blue from head to toe.” One side of Dick’s face was swollen and sporting a kaleidoscope of dreadful green, purple and blue bruising. The other, in stark contrast, was ashen, almost as white as the sheets he was resting on.

Dick became aware of a second person leaning over him. He smiled up at the relieved face hovering above him. “Hey, Alf.”

Pennyworth patted Dick’s head with great affection. The deep lines of worry that had been etched into his elderly face earlier were gone, replaced by a beaming smile that allowed the years to evaporate. “It is wonderful to have you home, son.”

“It’s good to be home,” Dick whispered, raising himself up to hug the man who was the cornerstone in his life. No matter how crazy his life got, Pennyworth was the stable force Grayson could turn to. Alfred held Dick, careful not to hug too tightly so he didn’t aggravate the horrific injures the young man had sustained. Silently the butler gave thanks to God for providing the miracle that had returned both of Alfred’s boys to him.

Bruce watched the two express their affection for each other. They did it with such ease. Envy blanketed Wayne’s heart. He loved them both and found himself longing for the same ability to express what he felt.

Tears brimmed in Alfred’s eyes as he released Dick and watched Bruce lower the injured man back to the pillow. “You were very badly missed, my boy.”

Before Dick could respond, his name was shouted from the doorway.

“Dick, you‘re awake!” Grayson glanced to his left and spotted Roy and Tim entering the room, both smiling like Cheshire cats and bouncing like jackrabbits.

“Guys.”

Alfred stepped back to allow the two newcomers access to the bed.

“Hell, Robbie, you look a sight,“ Roy grimaced, eyeing his friend’s battered and puffed face. “Looks like you went three rounds with Trigon.”

Grayson smiled wearily and turned back to Bruce. “How are you?” Wayne’s face was drawn from stress and loss of weight, but for the first time in days, his eyes were bright.

“Better than I was this time yesterday,” Bruce admitted, quietly.

The grin left Dick’s face and he reached for his former guardian‘s arm. “I... as soon as I could get on my feet I...”

Bruce squeezed the young man’s shoulder. “Relax. It’s not your fault. I just... I’m fine, now,” he assured. For several more seconds they just stared at each other.

I’m sorry, Bruce.

Everything’s alright. “Leslie said it was important to get you to drink some water as soon as you woke up,” Bruce stated.

“I’ll get some!” Tim cried, rushing off to do so.

Dick attempted to pull himself up, but his chest pinched with vigor, causing him to gasp. Two sets of hands darted out to assist him. “I’m okay. Just... “

“You look like shit,“ Roy stated seriously as he and Bruce steadied the injured man.

“Reckon I feel like it too, Speedy.” Harper crouched beside the bed and watched Dick settle against the wall while

Bruce began arranging the pillows behind his boy. Once again, Roy was stunned. This was not the man he knew as Batman.

“You look dreadful, Dick,” Tim grimaced, handing his friend a glass of water.

“I don’t believe I have ever seen you this badly beaten, Master Dick.”

Grayson glanced at Bruce. “You got somethin’ to add?” he demanded, an annoyed twang permeating his voice.

Wayne couldn’t stop the smile dancing onto his lips. “How do you feel?”

Dick sighed and sipped the water. “To be honest, everything hurts. My head. My feet. My arms. My legs. Hell, even my damn ass.” He smirked at the unimpressed look Alfred shot him.

“Considering the beating you‘ve taken, it‘s to be expected,” Bruce stated, noting that Dick’s hand was trembling slightly. The billionaire took the empty glass from his son and watched with concern as Dick allowed his head to rest back against the wall. “I’ll call Leslie.”

“I’m fine, Bruce. Just dog tired. I walked for three days straight. Wasn’t sure if I was going to make it.” Dick’s eyes closed momentarily.

“Dick, what happened?” Tim whispered. “We looked and looked for you.”

Another long tired sigh echoed out of the young man in the bed and he unconsciously reached for his ribs.

Bruce squeezed his shoulder. “You aren’t up to this.”

“You need to rest,” Alfred added.

Dick scanned the faces of the those around him. All wore expressions reflecting deep concern. “I’m okay. Really. Just feel whacked.” Dick collected his thoughts. “I don’t know how I got to the bank, but I did.” He remembered thinking that Bruce had probably dived in after him and that he had to get ashore so he could help his friends rescue Batman. “I think I was awake for a while, but... I can’t really remember. When I woke up, there was someone learning over me.”

“One of the Templer Monks?” Bruce guessed.

Dick glanced at the older man and grinned wearily. “I hate it when you do that.”

“Nice to see you getting some of your own back,” Roy chuckled. “Now you know how I feel when you do it to me.”

Dick winked at his friend and then turned back to Bruce. “How did you know?”

“It was the cloak you were wearing. It’s of the type worn by the Templer Monks.”

“Templer Monks?” Roy asked.

“They have a monastery about 100 miles out of Gotham. They’ve been completely cut off since the earthquakes.” In the wake of the devastation, the decision was made to clear the city of debris as quickly as possible. The area west of Gotham had been pastoral. Farmers hadn’t been happy about the decision to reclaim their land as a huge dump site but the area was unstable after the earthquakes anyway, wide fissures opened in the land. More than two hundred hectares were evacuated so that truckload after truckload of rubble could be deposited in the unstable area. Despite repeated attempts to remove them, the monks had refused to leave their monastery. They were completely self-sufficient and thus had no need to abandon their spiritual home. They didn’t like being disturbed and so the huge man-made wasteland created around them was welcomed. No one had entered the area since the departure of the last truck some twelve months earlier.

“I know the river goes out past the old monastery, but you couldn’t possibly have been carried that far,” Tim pointed out. “I mean, the river was enormous.”

Dick nodded. “Tell me about it.”

“Considering the speed the water was running, it is very possible that he could have been carried that far quite quickly,” Bruce muttered. Of course, the amazing thing was the fact that somehow Dick had remained afloat.

“That’s where all of your injuries occurred?” Roy asked, indicating Dick’s bandaged chest. Bruises also covered Grayson’s arms and legs. Roy shook his head. “God, Dick.”

“I... I don’t remember a lot.” He glanced at Bruce. “Cassie got the little girl,” he confirmed.

Wayne nodded. His brow furrowed. Dick had avoided answering Roy’s question.

“Thank, God. As soon as I dived in after the toddler I realized I had left her behind.”

“What do you remember?” Bruce pressed.

“Not a lot. I remember clinging to something and being tossed about in the river” His mind drifted as memories surfaced. He had been pummelled in the water by everything from trees to cars. It was all a blur beyond the pain and his determination to keep his head above water. “I remember someone hovering above me. I guess I must have been washed up on the bank somewhere in the wasteland near the monastery. The monks must have found me. I was aware of them but... it’s all a blur really. When I started thinking straight, I tried to make them understand that I had to call you, but they just didn‘t seem to get it.”

“The monks take a vow of silence,” Alfred explained. “And one of poverty. They don’t have electricity or phones so contacting anyone would have been impossible.”

“Yeah, I realized that after a while. As soon as I was strong enough, I got them to understand that I needed to go. They gave me some clothes and some food and I left. Walked day and night. Didn’t stop until... “ Grayson swallowed. He’d lost his train of thought. He was starting to find it difficult to concentrate again. His need to close his eyes was becoming more insistent. His body was reverberating with a dull ache, while painkillers and fatigue amalgamated to cloud his mind.

“Three days, Dick. God, how did you do it?” Tim murmured.

“Don’t remember a lot of it, Kid Just knew I had to get back because you probably all thought I... “ The young man’s sentence faded out.

Bruce nodded. “We thought you’d drowned.”

“Sorry.” The message was for all, but Dick was staring into the face of the man who had raised him.

“None of it matters,” Wayne stated simply. You’re back.

Grayson frowned. “You look like you’ve been ill.”

“He got hypothermia after spending all night looking for...” Roy jabbed Tim in the ribs.

Dick’s eyes narrowed. “I see. And if I’d done that, you’d have kicked my ass.”

Alfred flicked his eyes to Bruce. “He knows you well.”

Wayne shook his head with very real amusement.

Grayson turned to Roy. “What are you doing in Gotham?”

“Tim summoned me with a gold pen call.” Roy winked at his friend.

Grayson blinked as he searched his memory for some form of understanding. Unfortunately he was fighting a losing battle against his need to sleep. Finally, recollection settled in the fog. “I hope you don’t mind. I wanted Tim to have someone to go to if he if ever couldn’t contact Bruce or me”

“No worries. I was pleased to help out. Hey, I wonder what the hell ever happened to that pen?” Roy laughed.

“Are you hungry?” Bruce asked.

“Don’t know.” Dick blinked slowly and his eyelids became heavier. “I guess so. Haven’t... eaten for... a while.” The words slurred together as exhaustion tugged at him.

Wayne grabbed Roy and Tim‘s attention and lowered his voice. “Can one of you go and get Leslie? She‘s in the library.”

“I’ll go,” Tim offered. He rose quickly and headed for the door.

“I’ll come with you,” Roy offered. It was clear his friend wasn‘t up to visitors yet.

Wayne nodded his thanks.

“Boys, I know you want to let everyone know he’s alive but I think it would be best to keep Dick’s return to ourselves until he’s ready to...” Bruce glanced down at the topic of conversation. Dick’s eyes were closed again and deep breathy breathing was echoing out of him. “...until he’s strong enough to take the attention.”

“Hell, he must have been sick,” Roy muttered.

“He walked three days,” Tim pointed out.

“Pure guts and determination,” Harper stated. “Once Dick has something in his mind, no one can change it.”

“You’re not telling me anything I don’t know,” Bruce murmured. “He just needs to rest. The last thing he needs is a whole lot of people coming out here to wish him well.”

“I agree,” Roy supported.

“At least until Leslie clears him for visitors,” Alfred added.

Tim flicked his eyes from one to the other of his companions realizing that the conversation was for his benefit. Finally he allowed his attention to fall on Dick. “Yeah, but we can’t keep this to ourselves for long. There are a lot of people who care and deserve to know he’s alive.”

“Help me get him back down,” Bruce requested. Roy eased his hands under Dick’s left shoulder, Bruce his right. Together the two men slid Dick back down into the bed. Grayson awoke startled, struggling against the caring hands holding him.

“Easy. It’s okay. Go to sleep,” Wayne ordered.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to drop off. Can’t keep... my eyes... open.”

“You’ve got a lot of sleep to catch up on. You take as long as you need.”

Thanks, Bruce.

Wayne smiled, picked up Dick’s hand and squeezed it. The action held as much affection as any hug. Roy and Tim exchanged happy smiles and quietly left the room. Alfred’s face reflected not only his happiness but his pride. He definitely had both of his boys back.

Outside, Roy slapped Tim on the back as they headed for the stairs. “Well, what do you know. Bats is human after all. If this keeps up, I’ll be insisting on DNA testing to prove it’s him,” Roy whispered.

Tim grinned. “He loves Dick, Roy. He just isn’t someone who shows his emotions a lot.”

“Let’s be honest and say that basically he’s a mongrel but a mongrel who‘s slowly growing on me.” Of course, if Bruce didn't live up to his pledge, Roy was just the man to remind him of it.

Tim rolled his eyes but like Roy, he was riding a wave of pure joy and relief. Having been able to speak to Dick, had allowed both men confirm that their battered friend was indeed okay. “Can I ask you something, Roy?” Tim asked, stopping at the top of the stairs.

“Go for it, Kid.”

“What the hell is a gold pen call?”

Arsenal grinned and leaned back against the railing. “Long story, Tim.” Roy sent his mind back. “When I was about fourteen, the President presented Ollie with a gold pen for his philanthropy work. Ollie was soooo proud of it. He kept it in the wall safe at home.”

“You didn’t?” Tim chuckled.

“Red flag to a bull, Kid. I snuck it out and took it to a JLA meeting to show it off. In those days Robbie, Twinkle Toes and I used have to wait in the common room while the adults had their meeting. I showed the pen to Dick and Wally and then... I don’t know how it happened, but I lost it.”

“What did Ollie do?”

Roy smiled. “Telling him was not my first response. Dick was incredible. He was so calm. First he rang Alfred and asked for permission to use his credit card. Then he went on-line and found a pen that looked exactly the same as the one I’d lost. He arranged for a courier to deliver it directly into my hand within forty minutes. We swore each other to secrecy and to this day, Ollie doesn’t know it’s a different pen.”

Tim shook his head, smiling broadly.

“A few years later, Wally got himself into some trouble. He wouldn’t tell us what it was and before I knew it, he and I were arguing like hell. Dick didn’t bat an eyelid. He just asked Wally if he remembered the day we had replaced the gold pen and said that it looked to him like this was another gold pen type of situation. Help needed - total secrecy - no questions asked.”

“And did you help him?”

“Yeah, he told us what the problem was and we fixed it.”

“Which was?” Tim asked curiously.

Roy shook his head. “I can’t betray his trust, Tim. We did what we had to. It wasn’t a high point in Wally’s life. I guess I was the first to make a gold pen call,” he added, changing the subject. “When I was trying to find my daughter I realized I needed help, but I couldn’t explain a lot. I was sort of in over my head and not exactly on the right side of the law.”

“Help needed - total secrecy - no questions asked,” Tim murmured.

“Exactly. I rang Dick and told him it was a gold pen call. He flew half way across the world and helped me, no questions asked. I owe him so much. He’s the one person I’ve always been able to depend on even when I’ve strayed from the straight and narrow. That’s why if anything happens to me, custody of Lian goes to Dick.”

Tim’s eyes widened.

“You thought Donna?” Roy guessed.

“Well, I... yeah.”

“Donna would play a huge role in raising Lian, Dick knows that, but Lian’s mother is a dangerous woman and I want my daughter in the safest hands possible. There is no question in my mind whose hands those are. Dick would be able to protect her from Cheshire and from anyone and anything else.” Complete confidence resounded in each and every syllable. That, Tim could understand. He felt exactly the same way about the man he thought of as an older brother.

Bruce watched Roy and Tim go and then returned his attention to Dick. Grayson felt pressure applied to his hand and he sighed deeply. He felt tired, but safe and incredibly relieved.

Bruce swallowed. He’d been given the time he’d asked for. Now he had the opportunity to say all that he should have over the years. “Dick, I....”

“I’ll check and see where Leslie has got to,” Alfred interrupted, exiting the room. His boys deserved some time alone.

Bruce licked his lips as he searched for some way to put what he felt into words. “When you went under...when you slipped through my fingers I...”

Dick blinked, struggling to focus on what Bruce was saying. He was aware of the strain on his former guardian’s face. “Bruce...”

“No, let me speak.“ Wayne rose to his feet, releasing Dick’s fist. The billionaire ran his hand through his hair in frustration as he tried to explain all he felt. “When I woke up in hospital and Alfred told me that you were gone...” He couldn’t finish the statement as the grief, shock and anger he had felt at the time rose up once again. He turned away from Dick and chose a spot on the wall to focus on, hoping it would be easier than facing his son. “It isn’t possible, Dick. One person can’t do it. I couldn’t stop any of it from happening. I couldn’t save them all... I couldn’t even save you. I’ve finally realized... I mean... I lost you. I was right there and I couldn’t stop...” His voice choked up and broke. “Dick, it’s a war out there. It always has been and it always will be. The war goes on, but... I can’t.” The admission was hushed. “I’ve realized that none of it means anything without y...” Bruce paused as he became aware of the deep breathing coming from the injured man. He stared down at his boy whose heavily bandaged chest rose and fell evenly in the throngs of sleep. Wayne swallowed and squeezed his eyes shut. For several seconds he stood, drowning in frustration and emotion.

Finally, Bruce opened his eyes, stepped up to the bed and tucked the blankets around his boy. There would be time later. Leslie appeared in the doorway.

“He’s asleep again. We got him to drink some water,” Wayne informed her, regaining his composure.

“Was he in any pain?” the doctor asked, reaching for Dick’s brow.

“A little, I think. He’s still exhausted.”

“Next time he wakes I want to take him down to the cave to x-ray his chest and skull. Now, it is about time you got some rest. I’ll sit with him for a while.”

Wayne shook his head. “No, I’ll stay. He keeps waking unsettled.”

Leslie’s heart lifted. It had been a long time since she had seen this side of Bruce. “I’ll bring you some coffee.”

“Tim and Roy?” Bruce inquired.

“Left a few minutes ago.” While it warmed Leslie’s heart to see Bruce placing Dick first, it also concerned her in light of both Alfred’s and Tim’s comments. Both had expressed alarm at the fact that Bruce had shown no indication that he intended pulling the cape back on. That said a great deal about Bruce’s state of mind.

“Tim said it was important to try and gain some control in Gotham. Things are quite bad.” The doctor waited for a reaction from Bruce, but there was none. She had never seen Wayne disinterested in what was happening in his city. All her life she had worried over his obsession, the unrealistic objective he had set himself as a young man and the pressure he placed on himself every night he donned the cowl. There had been times when she had begged him to take some time off. As she stared into the face of the man she had played a part in raising, she saw something far more worrying - indifference. This was what Tim and Alfred had told her earlier and she hadn’t been prepared to believe them. “I hate to admit it, but Batman is badly needed,” Leslie urged in a hushed voice.

“Batman has done all he can and it wasn’t enough. It could never be enough, Leslie,” Bruce replied, his voice void of any emotion.

Thompkins frowned. “What are you saying?”

Bruce turned from her and let his eyes fall on Dick. “I’m finally seeing things clearly.”

“But what does that mean, Bruce? That you‘re retiring?”

 

Chaos was the only word Tim could think of to describe Gotham. He had never seen anything like it, not even during the Clench… not even after the Earthquakes. The police and army were gradually losing control. Robin and Arsenal had stopped dozens of muggings, robberies and other crimes since they had taken to the streets, but it was a drop in the bucket... a drop in an ocean of crime. Each time the pair had interceded, the reactions of the thugs were the same. “If the kid’s here, Batman must be alive!” However, when Batman failed to materialize, there was jubilance and then a renewed determination to fight back.

“We’ve lost the edge,” Tim muttered as he bound his latest catch. Those who had never taken the step of breaking the law for fear of coming face to face with Gotham's avenging angel of the night were now out in force. Teenage gangs were roaming the streets looking for trouble without fear of reprisal. The police couldn't touch them. The courts would release them with a slap on the wrist. Batman, was whole different experience all together.

Arsenal glanced at the boy. “They‘re growing in confidence,” he agreed. “Turning the tide isn’t going to be easy.”

“Batman could.”

“He’s only human, Robin… and I mean that. Only just barely human,” Arsenal chuckled, trying to lift the boy's spirits.

Robin looked at the other man and realized he didn’t understand. Very few people did. Batman could stop this anarchy simply by his presence. Robin had seen it before. He feared he may never see it again. The teenage hero raised his communicator. “Oracle, three more. They’re on the corner of Fourth and Redland Streets. Send the boys in blue to collect them.”

He waited for a reply. When it didn’t come immediately, Tim licked his lips. For the last four hours he had been in contact with Barbara and the grief in her voice had been cutting him to the quick. She had tried to hide it, but Tim could sense the depths of her anguish. The teenager had come close to revealing Dick was alive in their last conversation.

“Roger that, Robin. We have reports of shots fired at the Melbourne Bank on South street. We have a gang going on a smashing spree in central Gotham. There are seventy-six calls for help across the city. We can’t keep up,” she whispered. “It’s everywhere.”

“We can only do what we can,” Tim responded. They were words beyond his years, but leadership was being forced upon him as his adult partners struggled to deal with their emotions. Drake had come to realize that Dick Grayson was much more than just a friend, lover and son. He was literally the circuit breaker for the batclan. Nightwing could turn the darkest situation on its head with a single dry comment. He was Batman's one connection with happiness and sanity, Barbara's soulmate and Tim's best friend and brother. Without him, the soul had been wrenched from their group. The teenager recognized the same was true for Roy and the Titans. Dick was so much to so many people... and they all deserved to know he was alive!

Robin swallowed, trying to collect this thoughts and set his emotions aside. He was carrying a heavy burden, but soon he would be able to tell Dick's friends the truth. “Let’s keep it together, gang,“ he encouraged. Just as he was lowering his communicator, he heard Barbara break into restrained sobs. “Oracle... it... it’ll be okay.”

“For Gotham maybe,” she agreed, her voice horribly distorted. Gotham may recover, but she knew she never would.

Tim licked his lips. Arsenal took the communication device from his young partner’s hand. “Arsenal and Robin moving to central Gotham. Arsenal out.”

Tim cursed, smashing his fist into the nearest wall.

“Easy, Kid.”

“It isn’t right, Roy. She deserves to know. She loves him. How would you have felt if you found out he was alive and no one told you?”

Roy shrugged. “I’d be pissed off until it was pointed out to me that Dick was ill and the decision had been made in his best interests.”

“I don’t believe a word of that,” Tim spat, turning to confront the older hero.

“You’re probably right. I’d have wanted someone’s blood. However, if we tell one, we need to tell all and we both saw Dick. He isn’t up to that.”

“Oracle’s in love with him, Roy,” Tim snarled.

“So are half of the women in the Titans,” Arsenal started, apparently perplexed. “Don’t understand why when they could have me. I mean, Robbie‘s nice enough, but he really isn‘t in my league. When it comes to charm, good looks and raw animal magnetism, I leave Robbie for dead.”

A grin gradually spread over Tim‘s tired face as Roy‘s words achieved their objective. Arsenal clapped the younger man on the back. “We’ll give Dick twenty-four hours and then you can tell Oracle, Robin. People always take it out on the messenger.”

“Thanks a whole hell of a lot,” Tim laughed.

Dick slept through until midday. When he woke, Leslie and Bruce assisted him down to the Batcave where he had x-rays and then he was returned to his room for a thorough examination by the doctor. Leslie had ushered Bruce from the room before starting, insisting that he would only be in the way. Wayne had left somewhat reluctantly.

As Leslie removed her stethoscope from Dick’s chest after half an hour of probing and prodding, she paused and eyed him critically.

“What?” he asked, innocently.

Leslie shook her head at the baby blues flashing at her. Thankfully, after fifteen years, she was quite impervious to ‘that’ look. “The river didn’t do all of this,” she accused.

Grayson’s face screwed up thoughtfully and then he buttoned his shirt around himself. His actions were slow and greatly restricted by his battered body. Walking down to the cave had taken a lot out of him, but for the first time, his mind felt clear.

“Your knuckles are bruised which means you’ve been using them without the protection of your gloves.” She waited. “Well?”

Dick shrugged and grimaced immediately. Movement of any kind caused waves of pain to wash over him.

“I want to know, young man.”

Her patient snorted with amusement.

“I‘m not asking again.” The tone was that particular one that all parents could produce when performing an inquisition.

Dick grinned. She had always been able to get the truth out of him. “About a day out of Gotham, I came across six men in the wasteland. On the run by the look of them. Good place to hide from the law out there. Bruce would probably be surprised what he’d find if he took a run out there. Anyway, they thought I was one of the monks and decided to have some ‘fun’. Normally it wouldn’t have been a problem but...”

“But you were injured,” Leslie finished.

“Got the better of them in the end, but not before they worked me over pretty good.”

“And you chose not to share this because...?” she asked.

Dick shrugged again and this time yelped. “I gotta stop doing that,” he complained, panting.

“Don’t change the subject.”

Grayson scowled in frustration. “Come on, Leslie. If I’d told Bruce that I’d been attacked by a group of thugs he’d...”

“He’d have gone out there and taken them apart piece by piece.”

“Bingo. And right now, he doesn’t need the aggravation. He looks dreadful.”

Leslie sat down beside the young man and picked up his hand. “He stopped living for ten days, son. I know he’s about as articulate as a marble statue.. and that’s on a good day...” Dick grinned. “... but he loves you and to be honest, he simply didn’t cope.” She sighed long and deep. “He is a complex man. I want you to know that within months of taking you in, he changed dramatically. Changed for the better,” she added. “Like Alfred, I was against him becoming your guardian, but he was determined. In you, he saw himself and he didn’t want you to turn into what he was.”

“I guess he failed then,“ Dick muttered, eyeing his own stubbled reflection in the mirror. He really needed to shave.

Leslie smiled. “On the contrary, despite all the odds you turned out okay.”

Dick smirked at her. “Just okay? Not better than okay?”

“Don’t push it, young man.”

Dick rubbed his eyes as fatigue blanketed him again. "Feel like a new born calf," he grumbled.

"You need to rest. You aren't going to get over this over night, young man. I know you honestly believe you are indestructible, but you're not. Your body has been through great trauma and it needs time to repair itself. If you were anyone else I'd have you in hospital for a month. As it is, I'm prescribing a week of bed rest followed by a second week confined to the Manor where Alfred can keep an eye on you. Then we'll re-evaluate your condition."

She waited for some witty comeback or complaint. Instead his brow furrowed with great concern. "Back to Bruce."

“Physically, he’s fine, son. He didn't eat for quite some time, that's all. I’ve forced a couple of decent meals into him since I’ve arrived so we should begin to see some improvements soon. Relax. He’s as tough as they come. Speaking of food, it’s about time I got you to eat something.”

“Sounds good. First, I need to get rid of some of that water you keep forcing down my throat. Must think I‘m a fish!”

He struggled to his feet with Leslie’s help, wrapped one arm across his injured ribs and headed for the bathroom. When he exited a few moments later, he moved slowly to the window and stared out over the Manor grounds. His eyes lit up with genuine happiness when he spotted the horses grazing. He honestly envied their simple lives. His was so complicated these days.

As Dick turned from the window, he caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye. Grayson paused, his attention captured completely. Leslie watched his already ashen complexion pale visibly.

“Dick?” the doctor asked, hastily moving to his side. She followed the line of his gaze and her breath caught in her throat. Before she could comment, Dick spun around and moved swiftly toward the door. “Dick?” Leslie called after him. For several seconds she contemplated how to handle this and then she rushed after him.

By the time she reached the top of the stairs he was disappearing out the front door. How he had moved that swiftly in his condition she didn’t know, but then it wasn’t the first time he had amazed her like this. Leslie called after him but it was clear he had no intention of stopping.

Bruce appeared from the study. “What is it?”

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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