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Disclaimer: I acknowledge that some of the characters, settings and situations in this story belong to DC Comics. I use them only because I love them and want to see them live on. No infringement of copyright was intended. Please don't sue me. I really won'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)

Lake of Lost Souls

Part 3

“Yes, the young one. He will find this difficult, but the others will be there for him.”

“Tim lost his Ma too.”

“Yes, I know.”

“He has his father and stepmother but... I guess he sees us as family too.”

“So you admit that they are your family?”

“Never denied it.” Dick swallowed as Tim reached his hand out toward him, tears streaming down the boy’s face. “I’m sorry, Tim.”

“If he were in your position, he would choose to go to his mother also. Don’t worry, he will be well taken care of by your other friends.”

“I...” Abruptly, Dick sat up straighter. The man lurking in the background had started moving. “What’s he doing?”

“Don’t worry about him. He is not something you need to worry about any more.”

“But what’s he doing?”

“He is your friends’ concern now.”

“Do they know he’s there?”

“They will shortly.”

**********

 

Mr. Smith lit a cigar and sat back in his grand leather chair. He smiled at the man standing across from him. This man's work was without peer when it came to causing chaos.

“You see, I have a dilemma. Mr. MacDonald, who came highly recommended, has failed me. Two failures in a couple of days is more than I can bear. It is for this reason I require your particular talents.”

The man in the army fatigues nodded. His jaw was square, almost unrealistically so. The small eyes set deep under his protruding brow never wavered.

“You understand what is required?” Mr. Smith checked.

“Yes.” His voice was deep and jagged.

“And you think you can obliterate Bruce Wayne?”

A smirk appeared on the mercenary's face. “There won’t be enough of him left for an autopsy.”

Mr Smith smiled, widely. “Good. Good. I like that. He was always a little too pretty for my liking anyway.”

**********

The Batmobile rocketed its way across town, the driver’s mouth set in a deep frown as he reflected on what the hired assassin had told him. "He knew I was going to shoot. He jumped in front of Bruce Wayne. Saved his life. Positioned himself so I couldn‘t get a bullet past him... He moved so quickly. I've never seen anyone move like that.”

Nightwing had literally used his body as a shield. What the hell had he been thinking?! Why hadn’t he yelled out - the noise from the fireworks and music, Batman realized. It didn’t excuse Nightwing’s recklessness, though. He’d always been reckless. He never took the correct precautions. He... Batman swallowed and released his breath slowly. Even as a child, Dick had always disregarded his own safety when it came to protecting his partner. Batman had never been able to train that out of him. The Dark Knight shook his head... and the burning in his chest grew.

With great effort, Batman tried to assure himself that it was simply anger plaguing him, but the feeling was fast becoming unbearable and impossible to ignore. The crimefighter cursed. He was being distracted from his mission. He honestly believed he was being stupid and stupidity was not something that usually afflicted him.

Again, Batman set about convincing himself that everything was fine. Nightwing had taken a single bullet to the back, high on the right side. It would have missed his spine and his heart and was too high to have hit his liver, kidneys or spleen. It may have nicked a lung. Alfred was with him. He’d be in hospital now and Leslie would have fixed everything the way she always did. Nothing was wrong... and yet the burning refused to ease.

Unexpectedly, the image of Nightwing lying on the stage popped into Batman’s mind unannounced and it was then that Batman realized his error. Nightwing had not been his saviour. Nightwing hadn’t been at the party. Somehow, Bruce had convinced himself that his partner had been doing his duty, but that wasn’t correct either. In battle, Batman could expect Nightwing to risk his life if necessary, but that hadn’t been the case. Dick had leapt in front of him. It was Dick who had been shot.

Batman released a shaking breath. “Stupid kid.”... and the burning intensified, clutching at his soul. He reached down for his communicator and fingered it, but withdrew his hand.

I’m okay. Get him.

There hadn’t been words, but that had been the message as clear as if Dick had shouted it. ‘Him’ was the person behind all of this and catching that person was what Batman was determined to do while the trail was still fresh. Then he could go to the hospital and put Dick’s mind at rest.

Despite this logical reasoning, Bruce couldn’t dismiss the strange heaviness in his chest.

“What the hell were you thinking?! Dammit, Dick!

**********

“Bruce?” Dick’s face clouded with concentration.

“I beg your pardon?” the oarsman asked.

“I thought that I heard...”

“No, you can not hear him here. You can see his image, but not hear him.”

Dick searched for Bruce on the bank, but he was being masked by the collection of other people.

**********

 

Alfred left Dick’s side reluctantly to go out into the corridor to make a number of necessary phone calls. First, he tried Bruce’s communicator and wasn’t surprised to find it still switched off. Then, he dialled Barbara’s number.

“Miss Barbara?”

“Alfred.” Her voice was strained, her sniffling advertising the fact that she had been crying. “I saw it on the news. An attempt on Bruce’s life but some stranger stepped in front of him.” Barbara paused, her voice breaking. “It was Dick, wasn’t it? He was there. It was Dick?”

“Yes.”

“He’s alright though, isn’t he?” she begged.

Alfred considered his answer carefully and decided that the truth was the only course open to him. “I’m afraid not. He is in intensive care.”

Intensive care! Okay... umm... okay. I’m almost there. I left as soon as I saw the news. I knew it was him. Is Bruce with him?”

“No. Master Bruce has gone after the shooter. I haven’t been able to contact him since.” That was a growing concern.

“Yeah... okay... ummm... oh, God, Alfred.” Barbara began to sob.

“Calm down, my dear. It is important that you arrive here in one piece. How long?”

“Not long. I’m doing double the legal limit.”

“You must slow down, my dear. I don’t want to be standing next to your bed as well.”

**********

 

The mist that had been swirling around the boat suddenly began to lift. “What’s happening?” Dick demanded.

“We are over halfway. Relax, you’re almost there.”

Dick shot a look back at his companions. At Leslie, Alfred and Tim who were reaching out to him. To Barbara a pace behind them. And to Bruce whom he couldn’t see, but who he knew was there.

“They will learn to cope with your loss. You must try to relax, Dick. In a little while you will be with those you love.”

**********

 

Barbara reached out, picked up Dick’s hand and drew it to her cheek. Her face was puffy from crying, her tears still trailing down her face. Alfred moved across and put his arm around her.

“Oh, Alfred. I...” Again she broke down.

“Talk to him,” Leslie encouraged. “Some say that the unconscious are aware of those around them. Talk to him, Barbara. He may hear you.”

Barbara swallowed. “Now, listen to me, Short Pants. I know you and I used to do the ‘anything you can do I can do better’ thing, but this is just taking it a bit far. You think you’re winning by getting shot worse than I did?”

Alfred squeezed her shoulder. “I’m afraid Miss Barbara is going to win this round if you don’t wake up shortly, Master Dick. She regained consciousness quite quickly, if I remember correctly.”

“That’s right, I did.”

“Can’t let Barb beat you, Dick,” Tim added. All waited for some sign that Dick had heard them. His bandaged chest continued to rise and fall rhythmically. His brain activity that was being monitored showed no sign of change.

“Come on, Dick,” Barbara whispered, lowering his arm back to the bed and reaching up to place her hand on the side of his ashen face. She could barely reach. Tim moved forward, lifted Barbara into his failsafe arms and stepped up to the bed so that she was close to Dick. “You and I have so much living we need to share. You said you were going to take me back to the circus so we could soar through the air together again, like we used to. I want to do that with you. Please... please, Dick.” Her resolve crumbled. “Don’t... leave... me,” she wept.

**********

“Barb,” Dick acknowledged quietly. The woman had just moved forward to join the others at the water’s edge.

“Mmm. An interesting one. Her reaction I cannot foresee. You have touched her in a way she never predicted. Her feelings for you run very deep, but she is afraid.”

“I know, but I don’t understand why.”

“That wheelchair...”

“Doesn’t mean a damn thing! I don’t care about it. She’s still Babs to me.”

The oarsman smiled. “Your feelings for her appear to run just as deep... Look.”

Dick glanced at the other bank. There was a young man standing with his parents. “Jason?”

“He is waiting for you. He has a lot he needs to tell you.”

Dick stared at the youth. He could see his face quite clearly. Jason looked serious, but he waved. Dick’s parents were also waving and reaching out toward him.

“It will be easier if you focus on them from now on. You have left your life behind. Focus on your eternity with them now.”

**********

 

Batman entered the Buster and Oyster through the back entrance. It was an upmarket bar for the rich and unscrupulous. Neon pink and green lights flashed though the noisy room as a loud jukebox belted out some trash.

As Batman walked in, half of the well-dressed clientele, who were flashing cash like candy, rose to their feet and discreetly made their exit.

“I’m looking for Mr. Smith,” Batman growled. “He hired a sniper to assassinate Bruce Wayne. I’d like to discuss his reasons with him.”

The barman eyed Batman carefully, slowly edging toward an exit. Everyone else remained still, too scared or too fascinated to move. Batman scanned the room, his gaze stopping on one man who was shaking vigorously. He made his way over with long, easy strides. As he did so, all those he passed dashed from the room, deciding morbid fascination wasn’t as important as saving their own skins.

“Something on your conscience? Where can I find Mr. Smith?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never heard of him.” The man stuttered badly, his eyes wide like saucers.

“So why do you look like you’re about to shit yourself?” a man to Batman’s left asked. The Dark Knight turned towards the speaker as fifteen men filed in through the two entrances to the bar. “Everyone out. I have a message for Night Rat from Mr. Smith.”

In less than five seconds, Batman and the sixteen men were the only people remaining. The speaker smiled, the neon lights reflecting off his yellowed teeth. “Mr. Smith said to tell you to mind your own business. This is between him and Bruce Wayne.”

“It became my business when an innocent man got shot.”

“He should have minded his business too, then, shouldn’t he?”

Batman watched as the group of well-muscled thugs slowly spread out. They were armed with iron bars and chains.

“So, what are you?” the Dark Knight demanded. “Rent-a-twit?” Batman froze as he said the words. They weren’t his own. They were the exact words Nightwing had said to a group like this the last time he and Batman had fought together almost six months earlier. All of the sudden, Bruce was consumed by the dreadful feeling of loss. His heart ached, the burning in his chest igniting. Before he could reflect on what all of this meant, the mob attacked.

**********

Bruce? BRUCE?” Dick jumped to his feet again.

“Sit down!”

Somehow Dick knew something was wrong. He could feel it and if there was one thing that Dick had learned in his lifetime, it was to listen to his instincts - and at the moment they were screaming at him.

“Bruce’s in trouble.”

“He can handle it,” the oarsman stated confidently.

Dick stared across at the bank. The faces of his friends had become indistinct. He could see their outlines, their outstretched arms, but he could no longer read their expressions. Behind those at the water’s edge was Bruce. Dick’s eyes narrowed. He concentrated. Bruce’s face came into focus. Unlike the others, whose faces had been shocked and worried, Bruce’s face was blank.

“What’s wrong with him?!” Dick yelled, turning to the oarsman.

“You and he share a remarkable relationship if you can see him from this distance.”

“What’s wrong with him?!” Dick repeated.

“Nothing.”

Dick reached across and grabbed the elderly man. “I want the truth. Why isn’t he moving? Why isn’t he standing with the others?!”

The oarsman’s face remained calm. “Sit down, Dick; your journey is almost over.”

“He doesn’t know, does he? He’s out looking for who‘s behind the assassination attempt,” Dick suddenly realized. “Bruce doesn’t know that I’m...”

“Dying. You’re right. He doesn’t know yet.”

“Why?”

The oarsman wriggled free. Strangely, the boat was still moving toward the other bank even though the oarsman wasn’t rowing.

“WHY hasn’t anyone told him?... He‘s turned his communicator off,” Dick realized. “He’s shutting everything out.”

“This is not something he is prepared to face.”

“Dammit, Bruce.”

**********’

“Dick?” Momentarily distracted but the sudden awareness of his former ward, Bruce walked directly into a punch. He went down under a mass of bodies as the thugs dived on top of him. Too stunned by the clarity of the awareness to fight back, Batman accepted his fate.

**********

Dick watched as Bruce was knocked backwards by invisible hands. “What’s going on?”

“He is being attacked. But don’t worry. He is more than capable of protecting himself. Sit down, Dick. It won’t be long until you are on the other side. There is no pain there, I promise you. Look at your mother. She is crying tears of joy.”

Dick obeyed the instruction. His mother’s face was so clear and so were the other faces on the bank. The young couple was now in focus. Dick would recognize them anywhere. How many times had he seen Bruce gazing at their portrait in the main hall? Martha and Thomas Wayne were smiling at him, but their eyes echoed great pain. Tim’s mother’s did also. Jason looked concerned.

“I’ve got to go back,” Dick whispered.

The oarsman stared up at him and shook his head. “No, son, you must sit down and relax.”

“You don’t understand. I’ve got to go back. He needs me. They all do. And... I need them.” It was a revelation for Dick. He really did need them - every one of them.

“I’m sorry, son, it’s too late. Once we passed halfway, there was no turning back.”

“WHAT?! I’ve got to go back! Turn this boat around! Now!!”

“It is out of my hands. See,” the oarsman pointed to the still oars. He no longer needed to propel the boat. It was being drawn to the other side.

“I’ve got to get back. You’ve got to help me!”

“There is no way back.”

Dick stared at the oarsman. He started to open his mouth when the peaceful silence was shattered by a booming noise. The boat began rocking from side to side as the water churned around them.

“Sit down.”

“What’s going on?” Dick stared back at his friends. All but Leslie were stepping back from the water’s edge. “Something’s happened?”

The oarsman nodded. “I’m afraid so.”

**********

 

The silent hospital ward resounded with a booming alarm. Leslie leaped toward her patient, her face shadowed with distress.

“Step back from him!” she shouted.

“Leslie?” three desperate voices cried as one.

***************

 

Dick? Bruce searched through the sludge that had entered his mind. For the first time in fifteen years, Bruce Wayne suddenly had the overwhelming feeling of being alone. It was a feeling he had lived with constantly until the day he had opened his doors and his heart to a little boy with bright blue eyes. The dull ache in Bruce’s chest was familiar for this reason. His broken heart had plagued him for most of his childhood and early adult life until... Dick?

The thugs above continued their assault, something Bruce was completely oblivious to. His suit was absorbing much of the beating, but not all. Dizziness descended, though Bruce was unsure if it was a result of the relentless attack or the strange ‘knowing’ that was creeping into his consciousness. Dick was leaving him...

**********

Dick shared Bruce’s strange awareness. “He isn’t fighting back,” the young man whispered. “I... Bruce...”

The oarsman sighed. “He must find his own path, Dick.”

“He can‘t,” Dick realized. Bruce was giving up. Dick couldn’t let that happen. “Get him!” he shouted across the water to the dim figure now hidden behind Tim, Alfred, Barbara and Leslie. “Batman, get him!”

**********

Get him!

Without warning, an inhuman cry left Batman’s being. Like a volcano exploding, The Dark Knight forced his way to his feet, his attackers scattering as they were thrown off him. In seconds, the enraged crimefighter had annihilated the thugs. Re-energised by the silent and unexplained encouragement he sensed from his partner, Batman took control. The side of him that was Bruce Wayne shut down, leaving only one thing in his razer-sharp mind - getting his hands on the person responsible.

“Mr. Smith. Where is he? WHERE IS HE?”

The leader of the broken group of thugs stared at the colossal bat towering over him. “I never met him. We were contacted by a broker a few minutes ago.”

Batman’s rage ignited. Now there were brokers for this? How far into the pits of hell had has his city slipped? “Where do I find this broker?”

“The bartender. He’s the broker!” the thug shouted, wanting nothing more than to get as far away as possible from the enraged beast above him.

Batman spun around, his cape flying out behind him. He found the bartender seated in the gutter waiting for the fight to end. Batman dragged the man to his feet and slammed him into a wall. He said nothing, but the glare that rained down on this pathetic example of the human race said all that was needed.

“Mr. Smith comes into the bar every now and then. He rang me tonight saying you were coming. Asked me to arrange a welcoming committee.” The words gushed from the broker in a burst.

“Who... is... he?” Each word was laced with individual venom.

“He's crazy! He'll kill me if I tell you. I...” Batman tightened his grip. "Two-Face!" the broker whimpered. Batman allowed the thug to slide to the ground, his brow furrowing with surprise and abhorrence.

“Two-Face.” Two Face was behind all of this? Harvey Dent wanted Bruce Wayne dead?

**********

As Dick watched, Bruce’s face darkened. “He knows,” Dick muttered. “He knows it’s Harvey Dent.”

“That he does.”

For several moments Dick stood staring back toward Bruce. Without warning, he spun around and tried to pick up the oars, but he couldn’t shift them.

“It’s too late, son, I’m sorry.” Dick glared at the oarsman. “Try to forget them and think about where you are headed. Your family is waiting.”

“Exactly and I’ve got to get back to them.” Dick glanced at the water.

“No. That is not the path back. The Lake of Lost Souls leads nowhere.”

“You sure about that?”

“No one has ever been able to get to either side by attempting to swim it unaccompanied.” The oarsman could see that his warnings were falling on deaf ears. “You can’t make it alone.”

“I won’t be alone.” The words were said with certainty.

Dick took one last look at his parents. They seemed to understand and nodded their blessing. The Waynes were smiling too. Not the false smiles of earlier, real smiles. Dick’s eyes were drawn to Jason. The youth nodded.

Before the oarsman could say anything, Dick Grayson hurled himself into the crystal clear water.

**********

Three nurses rushed into Dick’s ward. Leslie started calling instructions. She turned to Dick’s family and paused briefly. “You need to step outside.”

Tim took the back of Barbara’s chair and began to wheel her toward the door, both of their eyes still trained on Dick.

Alfred remained steadfast. “What’s happening?”

“Alfred, please,” Leslie pleaded, trying to usher him toward the door.

“I am not moving from this spot unless you tell me...”

“His blood pressure is dropping dramatically. If I don’t stop it, he’ll go into cardiac arrest. Now, please.”

Alfred swallowed and his eyes grabbed the doctor’s. “Don’t let him die, Leslie. We’ll lose both of them if you do.”

Leslie stared at him.. “You think I don't know that?” They stared at each other and immediate apologies were silently broadcast.

Alfred walked across to the bed, ignoring the nurses who were pumping drugs into the tubes attached to Dick. The elderly man leaned down close to his failing grandson’s ear. “Easy, Dick, I’m here. You aren’t on your own, son. You aren‘t alone.”

**********

The icy cold depths swallowed Dick. At first his arms and legs refused to work. **Alfred? Bruce!** Those thoughts sent Dick surging to the surface. As his head broke the lake he gasped for breath and tried to get his bearings. His parents were only a few feet away. Bruce, Alfred and the others were miles. Dick knew where he belonged and he was prepared to sacrifice everything in his attempt to return to where he should never have left.

**********

Leslie finally prised Dick free of Alfred and sent the latter outside. The elderly man sat down, his hands clenched so tightly in his lap that his knuckles were white. Tim walked across, crouched down in front of him and laid his hand over Alfred’s.

“You okay?”

Alfred nodded. “Yes.”

“Would you like a coffee or something?” Tim asked. Alfred didn’t look well. Despite his obvious efforts to maintain a calm exterior, the deep lines of anxiety criss-crossed his face.

“No, thank you, Tim.” Alfred glanced across at Barbara who was staring out into space. “Perhaps Miss Barbara would like one?”

“He’ll make it, Alfred. I’ve never met a fighter like Dick. I don’t care what Leslie says, he’s fighting. I know he is.”

Alfred forced a smile. “Of course he is.”

At that moment Leslie appeared in the doorway. Alfred, Barbara and Tim’s heads snapped towards her.

Leslie’s face was void of all emotion. “Get Bruce here,” she snapped before turning and racing back into the room. Those three words said more than any explanation of Dick's condition.

Barbara gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. Alfred sat frozen, unable to even think.

Tim’s rate of breathing began to increase. They all knew what this meant. Dick was dying and Leslie didn’t want the young man to pass away before Bruce had a chance to say goodbye.

“His communicator’s off,” Alfred cried, breaking free of the horror and leaping to his feet. “I can’t contact him. I...”

“I’ll contact him,” Tim assured. “I’ll get through to him, Alfred. I give you my word, I’ll get him here!”

Tim raced toward the elevator. The doors opened to reveal Commissioner Gordon. “Daddy!” Barbara cried.

Jim Gordon ran to his distressed daughter. “He... He’s...” She began to cry, burying her face into her father’s chest as he knelt down and put his arms around her.

“Shhh. Baby.” Jim looked up at Alfred. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize his condition was so serious.” Jim returned his attention to his sobbing daughter. “Shhhh.”

“Oh, daddy. He... I... Oh, God. I love him, dad. I’m... in... love... him.”

Jim smiled at his little girl. “I know that. I’ve know that for some time.”

“But I’ve never told him! He doesn’t know,” Barbara wept.

“Of course he does. I’ve seen the way he looks at you. Why do you think I always carry my revolver when he’s around trying to poach my little girl?”

Barbara stared up at her father through the tears. “What am I going to do?”

Jim’s smile disappeared and he pulled his daughter into his arms. “We just have to hope.. and pray.”

**********

Tim found an empty ward, raced inside and closed the door behind him. He dialled Bruce’s number but received the automated message stating that Batman’s communicator was switched off. The youth slung his backpack to the ground and withdrew his Robin belt. In the very centre was the newly installed emergency button. He was only allowed to use it in the most dire emergency. This qualified. Tim depressed the button and held it down, the essential signal sent.

**********

The minutes dragged by as Dick pulled himself back toward his friends and family. Every stroke was harder than the last. Where were they? He couldn’t see any of them except Leslie. Leslie was still standing at the water’s edge, both arms now outstretched.

“Dick, you can’t, son," the oarsman cried. "Your friends are no longer there, lad. They have other things that they must do. Life goes on.”

“Shut up!”

“They are no longer there waiting for you. They’ve given up.”

“No they haven’t. They’re still there. I know they are. I have to get back to help them.”

“Lad, you are a good man. One of the best I have ever met. I am not supposed to help you, but please, take my hand and I will pull you back into the boat and take you to your parents.” The oarsman leaned over the edge of the small craft.

“No! I have got to get back to them. I can’t leave them.”

The oarsman shook his head sadly. “You do not deserve this fate. Are they really worthy of your loyalty?”

“Yes,” Dick stated with absolute certainty.

“You are making a hell of a sacrifice. This battle you have selected for yourself has never been won before. You could be condemning yourself to an endless eternity of nothingness for them.”

“They would do the same for me.” Again the words echoed his unshakable faith in his companions.

“Then I wish you luck.” With that, the oarsman and the boat faded away.

Dick found himself alone in the middle of an expansive lake, halfway between one world and the next.

**********

Batman kicked in the door of the penthouse apartment. Two-Face spun around, the side of his face that was still capable of showing emotions, reflecting his surprise.

“Batman!“

“We need to talk, Harvey!“ Batman ground out. The Dark Knight strode into the room. Dent’s three bodyguards attacked, but Batman brushed them aside without losing his stride. He was on a mission tonight and nothing and no one would stop him from putting Two-Face behind bars.

“This has nothing to do with you, Batman. This is between me and that pretty boy, Bruce Wayne.”

“Wrong,” Batman growled. Two-Face began to back away. He’d come across Batman many times, but he’d never seen the Dark Knight like this. There was revenge written across his face. Two-Face recognised the emotion... it was the one he saw in the mirror every morning.

Abruptly, Batman froze. He glanced down at his belt. A small red light was flashing. Immediately, he pressed it. “Robin?”

“Batman... you’ve got to come now. And I mean now.”

Batman frowned. “That button is for emergencies only,” he snapped.

For several moments there was silence.

Two-Face stared at Batman, watching in fascination as the crimefighter appeared to speak to himself. The mini receiver hidden in the Dark Knight's cowl was audible to Batman alone.

“I know that. Batman, it’s Nightwing. Leslie says you better come now.”

“Now?” Batman murmured. His emotions began to bubble. Unable to keep the other half of himself at bay, he allowed it to surface and the pain returned. Torn, he stared at Two-Face. Get him. That had been his partner’s request. Getting his revenge for Nightwing was more important than anything... wasn’t it?

“Once I have dealt with Two-Face, I’ll...”

“Dammit, Bruce. Isn’t Dick more important?!” Tim shouted.

Batman blinked. Dick? An image of the young man filled Bruce’s mind. “What’s happened?”

“He’s... I don’t know if he’s going to make it.” Tim’s voice was horribly distorted as he fought the tears back. “You’ve got to come, Bruce. Please.”

Batman spun around without giving Two-Face a second look. He raced to the Batmobile and leapt into it cursing. He should have listened to his gut earlier - hours ago when he had first had that twinge. Dick was in trouble. He’d known that. Sensed it... but he’d tried to ignore it. For what purpose? Dammit, Bruce. Isn’t Dick more important?! Bruce’s chest constricted. “Yes,” he answered aloud.

Bruce swallowed and gripped the steering wheel with trembling hands.

Don’t die on me, Dick!

**********

Dick felt exhausted. He was no longer moving forward as easily. The current that he had been fighting against felt stronger as it pushed against his weary body trying, not to drag him back, but down. Dick knew that if he stopped fighting now, he would sink to the bottom of the lake and remain there with all of the other lost souls. Blinking, he searched the shoreline. Alfred, Tim and Barbara had returned just as he knew they would. They no longer only had their arms outstretched, they were leaning out over the water trying to reach him.

“I’m trying, guys. I’m trying.”

Time stopped having any meaning as Dick dragged his body through the sludge, for it was no longer water. His head was aching and his chest burning, his injuries becoming more prominent the closer he got to his family. The exhausted young man was just starting to consider that maybe he wasn’t going to make it, when he caught sight of Bruce’s face. The other man’s blue eyes captured his attention completely.

Hang on, Son. I’m coming!

“You better hurry, Bruce, because I’m getting real tired.”

**********

There was a crowd collected around the bottom of the stairs of the hospital. Most were reporters who were being kept at bay by Gordon‘s finest.

Bruce Wayne leapt from his Jaguar. The men and woman of the press parted as he rocketed through them, the millionaire only barely aware of their flashing cameras and shouted questions.

*********

Dick was only feet from the bank. He’d made it this far. He reached his hand out, his friends leaning as far over the water as they could, but the gap was insurmountable. Exhausted, Dick recognized that he had lost the battle. He was so close, but the throbbing in his head and the burning of his chest made it impossible for him take another stroke. Completely depleted of energy, Dick was forced to give up his fight and unexpectedly he found himself being pulled down into the painless liquid that surrounded him. As he sank, he tried to find Bruce so he could apologize. It was as he was being pulled down that Dick noted Wayne had stepped up to the bank beside the others.

**********

Dick had been placed on full life-support, a pump now forcing his heart to beat. Alfred stood, tears trailing down his cheeks as he watched his grandson’s brain activity on the EEG slow and finally stop.

He was gone.

Barbara’s heartfelt sob filled the room. Tim dropped his face. Alfred blinked and as he reached out to brush Dick’s hair from his brow, Bruce burst through the door. No one looked up.

“He’s gone, Bruce,” Leslie whispered. “Only seconds ago. I’m sorry.” The life-support machines continued to beep and pump, forcing Dick's body to continue functioning, but his brain was no longer functioning.

Wayne glared at the doctor as he strode forward. He wasn’t prepared to believe that. He and Dick had a connection... one he’d never realized was there before. One that explained the reason for Batman and Nighwing‘s extraordinary understanding. Quite simply, their souls were linked. Common tragedies were only part of it. Love was the rest. Bruce stared down at his son’s silent face... his son? Yes, his son... and he could still feel the connection. Dick wasn’t gone!

Wayne stepped forward, a lump the size of a fist forming in this throat. “You aren’t dying on me, Dick. I’m not giving up on you!”

**********

As the Lake of Lost Souls sucked Dick down, the young man spotted Bruce walking toward him - but Bruce didn’t stop at the water’s edge, he kept walking. Wayne did not fear the loss of his soul and he was more than prepared to sacrifice it and anything else for Dick. Bruce waded down into the lake until the water was above his waist. He reached out for Dick’s hand, but the lake recognized the soul that had entered it and began tugging at Wayne. It had once owned this man’s soul... some fifteen years earlier... and it would re-claim it.

**********

“Bruce?” Alfred asked. Wayne’s breathing had started to become ragged. Clearly, the shock of losing Dick was tearing Bruce apart - yanking the very soul out of him, just as Alfred knew it would. “Bruce?” Alfred reached for his son’s shoulder.

**********

Alfred waded out to Bruce and grabbed the back of the tormented man’s shirt. Tim followed him and grabbed Alfred. One by one the others entered the Lake of Lost Souls, all of them willing to give up their life and soul for one another. Leslie anchored them on shore, her faith in Dick’s ability to do the impossible holding them firmly in place.

**********

Dick Grayson’s family had formed a tight chain of defence around their lost member. The atmosphere in the intensive care ward had become thick and passionate.

Shoulders touching, the five tried to draw strength from one another and feed it to Dick.

Bruce’s breathing came under control and slowly he reached for Dick’s hand.

************

No longer needing to battle the current thanks to the support and strength given to him by his family, Bruce leant forward, his arm extending toward Dick as his son was dragged below the surface. Bruce and Dick’s fingers brushed momentarily.

**********

“He isn’t gone,” Bruce whispered. “Come back to us, Dick.” Bruce’s fingers encircled Dick’s hand.

**********

As Dick felt himself drawn below the surface, Bruce’s hand closed around his fist. The moment the connection was made...

The EEG began beeping again after almost twenty seconds of silence. Tim, Alfred, Leslie and Barbara gasped. As they watched stunned, Dick’s chest heaved. His eyes fluttered and then opened a quarter of an inch.

Bruce nodded a greeting to the young man who was staring up at him with heavy-lidded eyes. Unlike the others, who had been willing to accept Dick’s passing, Bruce had been certain that Dick’s life wasn't gone. Why? He’d just known. Felt it - just as he had sensed that there was something wrong earlier. Bruce Wayne did not believe in anything he couldn’t see, but he could not deny the connection he and his son shared.

Bruce squeezed Dick’s hand. The slightest trace of a smile appeared on Dick’s ashen face. He tried to speak, but the tube down his throat made it almost impossible. Almost, but not quite. The words were weak and virtually unintelligible, but Bruce understood. “I made it.”

Wayne nodded. “We both did." A lump materialized in Bruce‘s throat and tears formed, but didn’t fall. Dick, I... you mean... you are...

The half smile reappeared. Dick could read the message on Bruce’s confused and emotional face. Yeah, I know. The words themselves weren’t necessary. Dick understood... he always had.

Around them, Leslie and a team of nurses began to fidget and fiddle. Alfred and the others were ushered out of the room, but Bruce didn’t move. Dick’s eyes closed, but as they did, Bruce felt his son squeeze his hand.

“I’m right here, Dick. I’m not going anywhere.” Dick’s headed bobbed ever so slightly and then he slipped back into the world of unconsciousness. Bruce looked across at Leslie, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “He’s going to be alright. “ It wasn’t a question. It was a statement of fact.

Leslie swallowed.. “It’s too early to tell. He... I mean... he was gone, Bruce.”

Bruce shook his head. “No, he wasn’t.”

“Bruce, I still don’t know if he is going to make it,” she warned, not wanting him to get his hopes up.

“I do. He’s decided to live. Nothing will take him now,” Bruce stated.

Leslie stared at him and gradually her face relaxed. “Perhaps. But if he does make it, it isn’t going to be easy. He’s been through so much.”

“I’ll take him home as soon as I can. We’ll get him back on his feet, Alfred and I.”

Leslie walked across and kissed Bruce on the cheek. “I’m sure you will.”

Bruce sat down on the edge of the bed, running his hand through Dick’s hair with great affection. He couldn’t fathom the distance that had grown between them - a distance that had left him viewing his relationship with Nightwing as more important and substantial than the one between father and son. He had pursued a faceless villain because Nightwing had asked him to, rather than being at his son’s side. How could he have allowed his relationship with Dick to be eroded so badly?

Bruce knew that ninety percent of it was his fault. Dick had tried so many times, he realized now, looking back. It was time he and his son repaired their relationship. It wasn’t going to be easy. They had a lot to overcome... a long way to go, but the barrier was gone; obliterated by the realization that they needed each other. Bruce slid his arm under his son and scooped him into his arms.

Two nurses darted forward, but Leslie held them back, tears of joy washing down her cheeks.

Bruce held his boy tightly but with great care. He’d almost lost him. He’d almost let him slip away. Silently, Bruce Wayne made a pledge - he was determined to make things work between them.

The bitterness and confusion that had littered Bruce’s world for so long vanished in that single moment.

**********

 

Dick found himself standing on the bank being flanked by his family. Out of the mist appeared the oarsman in his small wooden boat. The old man was smiling.

“Congratulations. You were right. You do have something to live for.” The old man glanced at Dick’s companions. “I stand corrected. Not some thing, someone. Five someones.”

“I know.”

The oarsman became serious. “You had great faith in him. You knew that he wouldn’t let you drown - that he would enter the Lake to save you even if it meant losing his own soul in the process.”

“Yep.”

“How did you know?”

“I would have done the same for him.”

The elderly man nodded. “Two souls connected by a single binding force. Such loyalty and love is rare.”

“I know.”

“Until we meet again, Dick. Your parents send their love and the Waynes send their thanks.”

Dick grinned. “Thank you.”

“You won’t remember any of this when you wake. May God bless you.”

Dick glanced at Bruce, who was standing beside him, and then at the others who were collected together, a half a pace back. “He already has.”

**********

An hour later, Leslie appeared in the waiting room and informed the rest of Dick’s family that his condition was still serious, but that he was stable off life support and that she was fairly confident that he was out of danger. The relief was palpable. Tim grabbed Barbara and spun her around.

"Do you mind?!" Oracle snapped, but she was laughing.

Leslie smiled at Alfred and invited him to go back into Dick's room. Once they reached the intensive care ward, Alfred followed the inclination of the doctor's head. He stared at Bruce who held Dick in his arms. All that the elderly man had prayed for over the past eight years had just been granted.

“For the last hour,” Leslie informed the butler. For the last hour, Bruce had supported his son. He wanted Dick to know he was there... that he would always be there.

Leslie and Alfred stood silently, not wanting to interrupt the private moment. Out of nowhere, Tim appeared.

“Bruce, I’ve just heard on the radio that Two-Face...”

“Stuff Two-Face,” Bruce interrupted.

“Huh?” Tim stuttered, his eyes literally popping at the response.

“I said, stuff Two-Face. I‘m needed here.”

Tim glanced at Alfred and then back to Bruce. “Oooookkkaaaayyyyyy. I’ll... yeah. Well... okay.” Stunned, he backed out of the room.

Bruce sighed, lowered Dick back onto the pillow and took a seat on the chair beside the bed. Alfred walked across and slipped his arm across Bruce’s shoulders.

“He’s going to be alright, Alfred.”

Alfred Pennyworth nodded. In Bruce’s face he could see the distinct change. The distance between Alfred’s charges was gone. Bruce had finally realized that in pushing Dick away he had abandoned his soul in an abyss of emptiness, but The Lake of Lost Souls would never claim Bruce Wayne again because from now on he wouldn’t allow anything to come between him and his boy.

Alfred patted Bruce‘s back as Wayne repeated, “Everything is going to fine, Alfred.”

A smile from Alfred‘s soul lit up the entire room. “I do believe you are right, son. I do believe you are right.”

 

In a very distant place, on the shores of the Lake of Lost Souls, two sets of parents smiled.

 

Stay tuned for the sequel...Dick’s recovery; Bruce’s determination to repair his relationship with his son; Barbara faces her realization... and Two-Face tries again!



Thank you for reading. I'd love to know what you thought.

© May 2004 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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