Another Way

By Alekto

Chapter 6

I fired.

Carl shuddered, slumped to his knees and then to the ground, his expression one of hurt disbelief.

At the Police Academy they'd congratulated me for my marksmanship. I thought little enough of it at the time: it was just another hurdle I had to pass on the way to getting my badge. I'd spent hours on the range at the Academy shooting at the paper targets there.

But paper targets didn't bleed. They didn't look you in the eye as they crumpled to the floor.

"Oh my God!" The youthful voice behind me was quiet, appalled, familiar: Tim. I would have turned and said something but I couldn't take my eyes off Carl lying on the ground, bleeding into the cheap carpet. A slender, caped figure moved swiftly past me and over to him. He kicked away the gun Carl had dropped then knelt next to him and reached over to his neck to feel for a pulse.

I couldn't tear my gaze from Carl's face which was canted slightly towards me from how he had fallen. It was slack, unmoving. Eyes which only moments earlier had sparked with rage and desperation were hidden below half closed lids. I could only stare numbly at him.

A quiet, firm voice spoke to me from close by: "Give me the gun." Tim's voice, I noted dully. It took me a while to realise it was him: my mind was sluggish, preoccupied. He was crouching next to me, his arm outstretched. I looked up at him. His face was schooled into impassivity, his eyes blank and hidden behind the mask. My gaze fell to my hand which was still clutching the gun I'd taken from Vinnie. "Give me the gun," Tim repeated with quiet insistence, but now a shade of concern or sympathy had leeched into his tone. Concern for me? For others? All of a sudden I wasn't sure.

My gaze returned to Carl, and I felt the gun being gently teased from my hand. I didn't resist. Everything around Carl's still face seemed to be receding into a grey blur. Another face moved into my narrowing field of vision. Tim. "Hey, are you okay?" he asked, his concern now evident. I think he wanted to say more but was constrained by the mask: *Robin* didn't know Dick Grayson.

It took me a few seconds to work it out. Tim was concerned for *me*. That was nice of him. "I think I need to sit down," I murmured woozily as a disconcerting sense of vertigo washed over me.

"You *are* sitting down," came Tim's dry if worried reply.

"Oh," was all I managed to say in response. I was too tired to think of any kind of witty repartee. Everything around me was getting more and more indistinct. My side blazed with fresh agony at every breath, and my head pounded mercilessly.

Finally, too late to do anything but pick up the pieces, Bludhaven's SWAT team burst through the door, guns at the ready, accompanied by a cacophony of shouted orders. 'FREEZE!'. 'HANDS UP!'. 'NOBODY MOVE!'

Nobody moved.

I passed out.

*********

I couldn't be sure exactly what happened afterwards. All I could remember of the next few hours were odd, disjointed images, blurred together as if they were nothing more substantial than half remembered shards of nightmares:

The faces of an ambulance crew looking down at me, talking to me, asking me what hurt, the roof of the ambulance above them very bright and white...

A hospital emergency room, more questions, the flare of pain from my side as gentle hands probed for damage, explanations I couldn't hear, the stab of a needle and the blessed sink back into pain free darkness...

A darkened room, quiet except for the faint sound of machines, a familiar silhouette: black on black against a wall, the faint pressure of a hand on mine, a deep voice from out of the darkness, trusted, loved: 'It's okay. I'm here, son'...

*********

When I next awoke it was pale daylight. The sun out of the window was low on the horizon, shading towards the orange of sunset. I'd been out all night and most of the day, it seemed.

Thinking about it, I felt oddly detached from my body, as if the latter was of no more than passing relevance. I'd been hurt enough times and ended up doped on pain meds before to recognise the feeling. A stray thought drifted into the comfortable fog of my mind of how badly I had to have been injured to warrant the use of what I'd heard Leslie dryly refer to as 'the good stuff' for the pain.

"Hi, Dick. Are you actually going to wake up for real this time?" came Babs' gentle voice. With effort I turned my head to look at her.

"Hi, yourself," I croaked faintly. She looked tired, dishevelled, as if she'd slept in her clothes, but nonetheless she managed a weary smile in response. She held out a glass of water which I drank greedily through a straw.

"I'll get the doctor, tell him you've woken up," she said after a few moments and left the room. I lay back, thinking, wondering if it had actually been Bruce there with me last night or if I'd just imagined it.

Babs soon returned along with a rotund, tweedy middle-aged man wearing an unbelievably ugly bow tie. I had to presume he was the doctor. "Good evening, Mr. Grayson," he began, his voice a rich, almost theatrical English accented baritone. "Miss Gordon warned us that you would be determined enough to wake up early from the anaesthetic. It seems we should have paid her more heed," he continued with a smile and a nod in her direction. "Anyway, down to business. My name is Doctor Francis Haywood, and I've been in charge of your care since you were admitted yesterday evening."

"What about Carl?" I cut in sharply. "What's happened to Carl: the man I shot? Will he be alright?"

Doctor Haywood paused, unflustered by the rude interruption, but looked over to Barbara as if for advice. She offered him a sad half smile and shrugged in reluctant acquiescence.

"Carl Webber died in surgery," Haywood eventually said.

I slumped back against the pillows, unaware before that moment of how tensed I'd been. The warm fuzziness of whatever painkiller I'd been given had all but faded just in those few moments leaving me with a dull but persistent ache around my middle and side, as well as the pounding headache.

It was nothing to what I felt inside: I'd killed a man. I'd taken a gun and intentionally shot him down. Carl was dead. There was no Batman around to administer CPR to bring him back as he once had the Joker when I'd beaten him to death.

Oh, God. Bruce. Did Bruce know yet?

Of course he knew. He was *Batman*.

I opened my eyes. Babs and Doctor Haywood were looking at me. "Dick--?" Babs began.

"I'm sorry," I interrupted her, "but I'd like to be alone for a while, if you don't mind?"

I caught the flicker of hurt on Babs' face as I turned away from her. For his part, Doctor Haywood said nothing, simply nodded and left.

I was left alone.

*********

My solitude didn't last long.

The knock on the door of my room might have gone unanswered, but the niggling detail of the lack of an invitation didn't deter Sergeant Amy Rohrbach from coming in. "Hey, Rookie," she said cheerfully. "You know, you look like hell!"

"Sorry, Amy, but I don't want to talk to anyone right now," I began.

"Wanting and getting are two different things, Rookie," she announced, "and right now you're stuck with me talking to you, so shut up and deal!"

Her tone was sufficiently unequivocal so as to brook no argument. In the short time we'd been partnered, I'd learned that there was no point protesting when she spoke like that. I did the only thing I could under the circumstances: I shut up.

"Let me see," she began, "you're sitting here, on your own, in the dark. Your girlfriend - who I might add has hardly left your side since they brought you down from surgery - is in the family lounge looking like she wants to hit something. The nurses have been fielding however many phone calls from friends of yours all across the country, many of whom saw you on the news with the gun to your head, all of whom are concerned as hell about you. Don't you think you should talk to these people?"

"Amy, look, I really don't want to talk to anyone right now," I pointed out.

"I can see that," she drawled acidly, then paused as if searching for words. "Dammit, I'm no good at this. I know you feel bad: you shot someone. I mean, it's not like you're supposed to feel *good* about something like that, are you? What I'm trying to say is - you did what was necessary. *I* see it that way. Goddamn it, from what I hear, the rest of the department sees it that way."

"Yeah, right," I said, unconvinced. "I should have been able to control the situation better, shouldn't have let it get as far as it did. It shouldn't have been necessary."

"Maybe so, but that's the way it went down and second guessing yourself won't do any good. You did the best you could - and a hell of a lot better than most other cops would, put in the same situation. Newsflash, Rookie: you're not Superman," Amy added scathingly, before going on in more moderate tones. "You did everything humanly possible to deal with the situation and managed to save a lot of people's lives. You should feel proud that they're alive because of you, instead all you can do is lie here and wallow."

"Dammit, Amy, I killed someone," I retorted sharply. "How the hell am I supposed to feel? What am I *supposed* to do? Just shrug it off? 'Whoops, sorry you're dead, Carl, but hey - shit happens?' Two people are dead because of me: Greg Petersen bled to death because I screwed up, and Carl Webber's dead because I *shot* him!"

I was shouting by the end, loudly enough to bring the duty nurse running. She started to try to move Amy out of the room but Amy was having none of it. Trying to stop Amy when she got in one of those moods was like trying to stand in the way of a force of nature.

The burgeoning argument was halted by the intercession of a stern English voice. "Ladies, this is most inappropriate behaviour in a hospital. If you would continue this disagreement, might I suggest an alternative venue than Master Dick's hospital room." I could have cheered: Alfred to the rescue. Chastened, the nurse muttered her apologies and left. Amy turned her attention to Alfred only to be met by an utterly implacable disproving gaze that I knew from experience could deter even Batman.

Under that regard Amy stood little chance. She glanced over at me. "We'll speak later," she said evenly, then turned and left.

Alfred pulled up a chair and sat down. I opened my mouth to speak, but he raised a hand to forestall me. "I know you wish to be alone, but there are things that need to be said. Firstly, there are a great many people concerned about you. You may not be aware of how badly hurt you were during your contretemps with those fellows at the bank, so permit me to explain. As you have doubtless surmised, you have two broken ribs. What you may not be aware of, and indeed what warranted the surgery that was required after your admittance here, were the internal injuries." That got my attention. Alfred noticed my surprise. "I will spare you the details for now, but suffice it to say that you were haemorrhaging to an extent that could have been quite serious if not dealt with."

"I didn't know," I mumbled.

"So I gathered," he acknowledged dryly.

Silence stretched out between us: the kind of silence between long acquaintances that doesn't need to be filled. I'd wondered at the kind of meds I'd been given. If I hadn't been so distracted, I could have put it together and worked out that there must have been something more serious than a couple of cracked ribs. I'd had other things on my mind, though.

"Alfred," I began haltingly, "I killed someone. Shot him. In the bank."

"So I understand," he replied gently. I listened for any sound of censure in his voice, but found none. "I've managed to speak to the police as well as to some of the people who were held within the bank including a Miss Howard to whom I believe you spoke during the... unpleasantness."

"Sarah," I murmured in confirmation.

"Just so. They all agree on one thing, that what you did was necessary under what were very trying circumstances, and that in the end your actions saved a number of people from being injured, possibly even killed."

"It still doesn't make what I did right, though, does it?" I argued. "I made a promise to Bruce. It's the most important rule I've lived by all these years and now I've broken it."

"You made another more recent promise as well, if you recall, young Master Dick. As a police officer you promised to protect the people of Bludhaven, and that I believe you've done to the best of your considerable ability."

I snorted, dismissive of any truth in Alfred's words. Ignoring my interruption he went on. "Listen to me, Richard." I glanced up at that: Alfred addressing me so was rare enough to warrant attention. "Yours is a character that is by its very nature willing to sublimate its interests and its own well being in the service of others. You took the decision to protect others, knowing what doing so would cost you. I in no way condone the killing of Mr. Webber, but in the situation in which you found yourself you chose to save those in need, and that is something you've always done, whatever the cost. The difference is that on this occasion the cost has to be borne by your conscience."

The comfortable silence dragged out again as I lay there considering his words. "You know, I keep running through it in my mind," I commented, "trying to work out what I should have done differently. I still don't have any answers," I shrugged ruefully.

"To questions like that, sometimes there are no answers," Alfred eventually allowed with the kind of sad reflection that so often came after long consideration of an insoluble problem. I had the sense that he'd been searching for answers to that particular quandary for a very long time.

"Maybe not," I said quietly, wearily, "but I still can't help thinking that there should have been another way."

-fin-

********

A/N:

Well, that's the end of my first foray into writing Nightwing fanfic. I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I have writing it, and a big 'Thank You' to those who've taken the time and trouble to write a review.

Finally, let me offer another very big 'Thank You' to Sandra for her invaluable help in beta reading for me.