When First I Knew

by Jim Greeno

jrgreeno@ix.netcom.com

The Clocktower, Gotham City

"Oracle here," Barbara Gordon said into the microphone as she donned her headset.

"Hi, Barbara. It's Dinah. The death-defying Black Canary is back in town, ready for a bath and a nap."

Babs laughed at her friend's greeting. They had grown closer since Dinah finally discovered her identity. It hadn't come about under the best of circumstances, but Babs was relieved to be able to share that part of her life with her newfound best friend. It was nice to have a female friend her own age...especially one that enjoys dishing dirt as much as she does.

"I trust everything ended well, Dinah. Welcome home."

"It ended very well, with an explosion as usual. It's always nice to see a drug dealer's yacht sink to the bottom of the Atlantic," Dinah giggled in response.

"Especially when you're not on it...," Babs replied.

"Good point. Thanks for the backup. Aside from being the perfect partner in that situation, Tempest is FINE! That cute scar, those arms, that BUTT...that boy makes Aquaman look like a walrus," Dinah retorted. Babs had long since grown accustomed to Dinah's good-natured swooning. As much as she seemed to fawn over men, it was (mostly) all talk.

She'd also gotten used to keeping Dinah's libido firmly in check, "That 'boy' is married with children, Canary."

Dinah sighed, "All the good ones are. The next time you send in reinforcements, be sure to pick someone who's cute AND single."

Babs laughed, making a mental note to add the Changeling to her list of contacts. A day or two of fending off the advances of Gar Logan would make Dinah rethink that request, she mused.

"I have to break contact in a minute to drop in on a friend. Anything important going on, or do I finally get a night off," Dinah asked.

"Nope, the night's all yours to do with as you will. You and your friend have a good time."

"We will if she can cook. I'm famished. Later, gator," Dinah said as she signed off.

Barbara removed her headset and wheeled away from her terminal. As she prepared to test some new equipment, she was interrupted by a knock at her window as it was being hoisted open.

Within seconds, Dinah Lance stood inside waving hello, a mischievous smirk on her face. "Oh, don't look so surprised. How many friends do you think I have in Gotham," she asked with a wink.

Barbara giggled in reply as she waved back. She was more than a bit unnerved by the sudden company, especially since she and Dinah hadn't spent any real time face-to-face since she was Batgirl.

"I just wasn't expecting any visitors, Canary. It is nice to see you though. Make yourself at home," Babs replied, waving Dinah inside with a smile.

Dinah gave a mock curtsy, then walked about the apartment giving herself the nickel tour. She stopped at Oracle's massive control center, a collection of active monitors, keyboards, and a host of other electronic doo-dads she couldn't even begin to fathom.

"Jeeze, your power bill is probably higher than my life insurance payments," she said in jest.

Barbara laughed again. "These things come in handy when you specialize in keeping crazy superheroines busy and out of danger. State-of-the-art GPS location equipment, a few workstations and servers for hacking, the latest in communication gear...everything a woman needs to keep your butt out of the fire."

"Hmmmmm...," Dinah said as she inspected the equipment. She looked over the main keyboard, picked up and fiddled with most of the peripherals, tried to make sense of the text streaming across the various screens, stopping briefly to poke Oracle's little Nightwing doll in the tummy as she tossed Babs a devilish glance.

"Looking for something special, Dinah?"

"Yeah, where's the 'Pizza' button? I'm starved."

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

After sharing a pizza and about two hours of superhero gossip, Dinah's attention shifted back to Oracle's terminal.

"Let's play with your stuff."

"Ha! Actually, that's what I was getting ready to do when you showed up. Batman installed surveillance equipment all over the city during the No Man's Land fiasco, and I've just finished getting it back online," Babs replied.

"Ooooooo, voyeurism! Lead on!"

Laughing, Babs rolled her way over to a workstation whose monitor displayed a grid of Gotham City, conveniently divided into numbered sectors. Dinah pulled up a chair next to her.

"Okay, here's how it works. By touching one of the sectors on this screen, I'm connected immediately to the surveillance cameras in that area, which are then displayed on the large screen."

Dinah looked around, confused. "What large screen?"

Barbara smiled as she touched one of the sectors on her monitor. As she did, the wall above the monitor rotated inward, revealing a huge screen on the other side. The screen was divided into eight different camera views in the vicinity of that sector.

"Cool! Okay, so what are the bright blue dots on the map for," Dinah inquired.

"Well, a full blown gang war erupted among some of the still-devastated areas in Gotham a few hours ago. Each blue numbered dot is Batman and/or one of his allies, who are no doubt dealing with the gangs."

"Five dots...do you mean to tell me that Batman actually has four friends? May wonders never cease," Dinah chided. "What are we waiting for? Let's start spying."

Grinning wickedly, Dinah reached over and touched one of the blue dots on the map. "Let's see what Mr. Sector 024 is up to."

The display on the large screen changed abruptly, revealing Batman mired in a fight with several thugs, dispatching them with ease.

"Does he know we're watching? Can we talk to him?"

Babs quickly typed some commands on the keyboard, transferring audio output to the speakers on her current workstation. She then positioned a stationary microphone on the desk in front of her.

"You can pretty much always assume that Batman knows what you're doing...and what you're thinking, for that matter. And yes, we can talk to him now," Babs replied, signaling for Dinah to remain silent while she established contact.

"Oracle to Batman."

"Yes?" Batman replied curtly as he finished off his remaining opponents.

"Just checking in to see how things are going."

"I'm fine. Check in with the others."

"Yes, sir! Anything else, Your Holy Battiness, sir," Dinah said with a mock salute.

One the large screen, Babs noticed Batman come to a sudden halt. "Oracle?"

Babs reached over and covered Dinah's mouth as she replied, "Ummmmmm...nothing, Batman. Black Canary is here with me. If you need an additional hand or..."

"No," Batman interrupted. "We'll be fine. Batman out." He broke the connection and resumed his climb to the rooftops.

"SNOB!" Dinah yelled at the microphone, unaware that he could no longer hear her.

Babs sighed, embarrassed yet amused. "Dinah, please let me do the talking. It's voyeurism for you, but work for me," she said, giving Dinah a playful elbow to the ribs.

"Okay, okay. Let's move on to Mr. Sector 117," she responded as she touched the dot.

The screen again changed views, this time to Azrael, who was patrolling the docks.

Dinah's eyes widened. She leaned over to Babs and whispered, "Can he hear us?"

"No, not yet," Babs replied.

Dinah spoke up, "Well then YUM! Where have you been keeping this guy? The next pizza is on me if you tell him to take off his shirt."

Babs laughed uncontrollably. "Let's move on, Canary. If you drool too much in this room, you're bound to get electrocuted." Babs touched the two overlapping dots on the map, which displayed Robin and Batgirl in the midst of about twenty opponents. The two young heroes worked in tandem, assisting each other flawlessly as they fought.

Dinah whistled, "Wow, Batgirl and Robin make a great team." Glancing over at Babs as she nodded her agreement, Dinah detected a hint of sadness.

Reaching over to give Barbara's shoulder a caring squeeze, she added, "But then again, as I recall, they always did, didn't they?"

Babs smiled at the compliment. Yes, it was nice to have friends. Especially ones that understand even your most private remorse.

"Uh oh," Dinah said, directing Babs' attention back to the viewscreen.

As Robin and Batgirl finished off their remaining attackers, they were charged by eleven more. Their backs near the end of an alley, things didn't look good. Robin gave Batgirl a signal, and they turned in unison, sprinting toward the dead end.

As they neared the wall, they both jumped up, pushing off of it with their feet. Executing identical double flips, they each took out a thug as they landed. The tide was instantly turned in their favor.

"WHOA! Nice move!" Dinah cheered.

Babs smiled proudly. "They had a great teacher."

Dinah grimaced in disapproval. "He may be a great teacher, but he's STILL a snob."

Babs laughed aloud, shaking her head in amusement. "No, that's just about the last thing Batman would teach them. That part of their training isn't exactly his department."

"Who then?"

Barbara pointed invitingly at the city map. "Mr. Sector 056."

Sufficiently curious, Dinah touched the last remaining dot on the map. The display switched to the corresponding sector. There was a lot of activity on one camera display in particular, but no clear indication of a struggle of any kind.

"Ooohh, he hasn't engaged yet," Babs said, grabbing a remote control. With the press of a button, seven of the camera displays disappeared, and the last one was blown up to full screen. It showed a collection of about twenty-five gang members, most armed, obviously preparing to mobilize.

"What does that mean," Dinah asked.

"It means we get to see the whole show, and I'm all out of popcorn," Babs replied with a mocking frown.

Dinah smiled, "So where is he?"

Babs pointed to the shadows near one of the corners of the screen. "You can't see him now, but I'm willing to bet he's right there. Hang on a sec." Again signaling for quiet, Barbara activated a paging utility.

The speakers kicked in, "Nightwing here."

Babs perked up, an unconscious smile played across her lips. "Hi there, Boy Wonder. It looks like you're about to do something silly."

A whispered laugh came in response, "C'mon, Babs. You're wrecking my concentration. I take it you got your surveillance gear up and running again, huh?"

"Had to. There's just nothing good on TV on Friday nights."

"Well, far be it from me to disappoint my fans. Ooops. They're moving. Gotta go." He severed the connection.

Within seconds, Nightwing became a prominent fixture on the viewscreen. Babs wheeled herself several feet backward as he began his attack.

Dinah looked over her shoulder at her, "Where are you going?"

Babs smiled in response. "The problem with watching Nightwing on the big screen is that he moves around so much. If you sit too close, you have to turn your head back and forth the whole time, which gives me a headache."

The events on the screen proved Babs right, and it wasn't long until Dinah rolled her desk chair back as well. Aerial after aerial, kick after kick, flip after flip, Nightwing moved about his opponents like a whirlwind.

Babs split her attention equally between Nightwing and Dinah. At first, Dinah was watching in her stereotypical ogling manner, whistling and cheering as Nightwing performed stunts that no one without superpowers could duplicate. As the fight wore on though, the playful facade faded away somewhat, and she became more interested in his technique.

"God, he's amazing. The combat moves are definitely familiar; you can tell Batman trained him. But the aerials are incredible. I've never seen anyone move like that."

Babs shrugged, "That's because there isn't anyone else that can. I've known him for almost fifteen years and have never seen anyone as naturally athletic as he is, even Batman. That's why Batman leaves the aerial and gymnastic training to him."

Dinah watched Babs with a sly smile, then started to giggle.

"What," Babs asked incredulously.

"You've got it bad for him," she winked. "Not that I blame you."

"I do NOT, Dinah."

Dinah swiveled her chair to face Babs. "Come on, Babs. It's just you and me here. You're in love with Nightwing, and don't even try to tell me you haven't realized it yet."

Barbara's cheeks flushed a crimson red. Her gut reaction was to get defensive, but she thought better of it. Her relationship with Dinah had become very important to her. It went without saying that confiding in her would eventually be one of the benefits, so why not start now?

"Okay, yeah. I love him. I admit it. You got me," she smiled in response. God, it felt good to say it, she thought.

Dinah knew better than to make fun. She hadn't known Barbara personally for all that long of a time, but it seemed obvious that she wasn't one to share her feelings very often.

"Well, you've got impeccable taste. He's a great guy."

Babs smiled, "You barely even know him."

Dinah giggled mischievously. "I bet in some ways I know him better than you do, Babs."

"You better not mean what I think you mean," Babs replied with a glare.

Dinah's eyes popped open in shock. "NO...No...no. Not like that. I just meant that in the ten years that I've known Roy, I've met Nightwing a few times, and have heard tons of stories that you probably haven't."

"Oh? Anything good?" Now it was Barbara grinning.

Laughing, Dinah replied, "Not really. Just your typical guy stuff. Roy and Nightwing have run the gamut on emotions over the years. When they were kids, Roy hated him. A few years later, he admired him. If you ask him nowadays, he'll tell you that Nightwing is his best friend."

"I don't really know Roy. We've only met a couple of times."

"I know. According to Roy, Nightwing always kept his Titans life separate. During those years they had Titans Tower, when he was dating that Starfire girl, Roy says he didn't have much contact with Batman."

Babs nodded in understanding. "When he moved away from Gotham, we all kind of lost touch for a while. We'd talk every now and then, sent e-mails, things like that. So there's a big chunk of his life that I missed, and vice versa."

"The stories I've heard are all good. Great leader, great friend, yadda yadda yadda. The things that really stood out for me though were the things he did for Roy. Seeing him through his addiction as a kid, and especially how instrumental he was in getting Roy custody of Lian. That was a big turning point in Roy's life, and he has Nightwing to thank for it."

Babs smiled warmly. "Yeah, that's the Nightwing I know. He's been that way since he was little; before Robin, before Nightwing...always taking care of the people close to him..."

They paused as Nightwing finished his battle. Babs turned the viewscreen off and wheeled back to her living room, Dinah right behind her. They sat in silence for a few moments.

"So...," Dinah began. "When did you first know?"

"Know what?"

"How you felt about him. All great love affairs have that one moment where you just know. What was yours?"

Babs thought for a moment. "It was about 5 years ago. He'd been with the second group of Titans for about a year, and was just getting involved with Starfire. I was working an arms smuggling case as Batgirl and needed help. Batman wasn't available, so..."

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

Dick Grayson sat alone is his room at Titans Tower enjoying some much-needed quiet time. The past few weeks had been nothing if not hectic for the Titans. Between their run-in with the Disruptor, Brother Blood, an intergalactic war on Tamaran, and the emotionally grueling runaways case, the entire team was long overdue for a vacation.

For Dick, leaving the Tower meant dealing with Bruce and Alfred, working on the handful of solo cases that still remained unsolved, unpacking and cleaning his apartment, and countless other obligations and duties that would cause nothing but frustration. The Tower offered solitude, which Dick tried endlessly to convince himself he needed.

The Titans commlink chimed and came to life, revealing the face of the Changeling, who was currently on monitor duty as he caught up with his schoolwork.

"You've got a call on the priority line, Robbie."

Dick looked at the comm in annoyance, "I'm not working today, Gar. Tell them I'm not here." Dick reached over and severed the connection.

A moment later, it chimed again. "Hiya, Robbie! It's me! Gar! Remember me? Did I mention that your incoming call was from a civilian on the priority line?"

Refusing to look at his teammate on the screen, he replied, "Is it Alfred?"

"Nope."

"Tell them I'm not here." He broke the communication.

It chimed again, "Dick, we have to stop meeting like this. Do you know that you have, right this instant, a call coming in on the priority line from a FEMALE civilian? A really hot and sexy female civilian that's really anxious to talk to you, even though you're the only superhero in the world that doesn't wear pants?"

Dick tried to stifle a smile, but was still very annoyed. "Gar, please...I'm really busy right now and just need some time to myself, okay?"

"You got it, Robbie! I'll handle it. One date with me and she'll forget you even exist, pants or no pants!" The commlink went dead again.

Maybe a nap is what the doctor ordered, he thought to himself. He moved over to the bed to lie down. As soon as his head hit the pillow, the comm chimed yet again.

"Robbie! It's Gar again. Your mysterious caller has threatened me with bodily harm if I do not deliver a message, which she made me write down. I told her that I might enjoy a good spanking, but I don't think she's going for it. So here we go," Gar paused to clear his throat. "'Richard John Grayson, if you don't answer the comm immediately I'll tell the whole world that you wore Superman Underoos until you were twelve.'"

Dick sat bolt upright in his bed. "Babs!"

"Yeah, Barbara Gordon. Didn't I say that earlier? Anyway, I told her you wouldn't care since your Robin costume is pretty much just Underoos with a cape..."

Dick cut the communication to Gar, picked up the priority line and activated the small viewscreen. "Babs! It's great to see you! How are you?"

She smiled at the warm welcome. "Aside from being verbally accosted by your green receptionist, I'm fine. He said he needed my phone number for 'the file.' Just what kind of operation are you running over there, Boy Wonder?"

"Bah, don't mind Gar. He came with the building. So what's up?"

Barbara's demeanor changed a bit, "I wish I could say this was a social call. I kind of got in over my head here in Gotham and could really use your help. I stumbled onto something big that I don't think I can tackle by myself. Bruce is away with the Outsiders, and if I mess this up...well...you know how he is..."

Dick nodded briefly. "You at home," he asked.

"Yeah. If you have time..."

"I'm on my way."

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

Dinah sat back on the couch. "So you hadn't seen him in over a year, make one phone call, and BAM, he's on your doorstep?"

Babs couldn't help but laugh at the generalization. "Yeah, pretty much."

"So what was the big emergency that Batgirl couldn't handle alone?"

"I'd been tracking an arms dealer for a while. He was putting together a big sale, I got all the info, but the day before it's supposed to take place, I find out the buyer is a runner for Ra's Al Ghul," Barbara explained.

Dinah grimaced. "Ouch, there's a guy you don't wanna cross..."

"Tell me about it. So Robin came and helped me break up the deal. It went down at the old airfield. We took out the perimeter guards easily, destroyed the shipment, and rounded up most of the goons. But the buyer and a few of his men bolted in their cargo plane. So we hop on Robin's motorcycle, fly down the runway, and manage to get aboard just as the plane goes airborne..."

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

The wind coming in through the open cargo door was throwing off his balance and equilibrium. The three men in the back of the plane were firing on him and Batgirl, and it was all they could do to find cover in time. Unable to use their batarangs reliably, the Dynamite Duo deployed a few flash capsules to blind their opponents.

The stun from the capsules enabled them to work their way forward. Two of the thugs fled the cargo area while the third covered them with sprays of automatic gunfire. The plane began to pitch violently now that the pilot was informed of their uninvited presence.

As they tried to move within range of the gunman, the plane pitched again, causing Batgirl to lose her handhold. She tumbled quickly toward the open door as she scrambled to find something to hold onto.

"Robin!" she screamed. He turned to her quickly, but only in time to see her fall helplessly out the door.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" he yelled. He tossed another flash capsule in the direction of the gunman and covered his eyes as it detonated. As the flash cleared, Robin pulled his grapnel gun from his utility belt, aimed, and fired.

The grapnel line hit the gunman squarely in the chest, shattering several ribs in the process. The man's body went limp and with the continued pitching movement of the plane, he fell toward Robin. Robin grabbed hold of him and quickly began removing the parachute strapped to his torso. Once it was free, Robin flung himself out of the open cargo door without a second thought.

Clutching the parachute to his chest, he angled his body downward, vastly increasing his rate of descent. Within a few moments, he caught sight of Batgirl and altered his course to intercept her. He grasped her around the midsection as they collided, the impact causing them both to spin out of control.

Though she was still consumed by the initial terror of her plight, not to mention dazed from the dizzying blow she suffered from Robin, she knew to go limp and trust the young aerialist to steady them both. In seconds she found herself once again in proper freefall position, only now Robin was astride her back, his legs wrapped around her waist. She felt him remove her cape, and a huge wave of relief washed over her as she realized he was fastening a parachute to her back.

He then reached across and grabbed her right hand in his left, released his legs, and swung around to match her position. Facing her, he grabbed her other hand, looked her in the eye and shrugged. She gasped in horror as she noticed he wasn't wearing a parachute of his own.

She tried fruitlessly to call out to him in protest as he released her hands and pulled her ripcord.

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

"He did NOT," Dinah squealed.

Babs smiled knowingly and halted her story. "He most certainly did."

"If he didn't hang on when he pulled your cord, how did he survive? I mean, for him to have had time to catch up to you and pass off the chute, you guys must have been somewhere near fifteen thousand feet."

"I suppose we were, though I couldn't really be sure. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure how he landed as safely as he did, but it was our capes that slowed his descent," Babs replied.

"Your capes? And just how does that work?"

"Our capes had a very strong elasticity to them. If we ever found ourselves in a position where we had to jump from some insane height, we could remove our capes, make a couple of quick modifications, and use them as mini-parachutes. Batman designed them to slow your fall enough to provide options," she explained.

"Yeah, from a few hundred feet or so...but from as high as you guys were?"

Babs shrugged, "Well, he had both of our capes. But like I said, he never told me how he did it. After what he did for me that day, I figured I owed him that one secret..."

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

His plan was working, but not nearly as well as he'd hoped it would. Even with one modified cape on each shoulder he wasn't losing enough speed to land normally. As the city below him grew closer and closer, his mind raced for some kind of alternative solution.

Launching a grapline wasn't an option. He'd have to slow his fall considerably before even the longest grapnel swing would be possible. At his current rate of descent, he wouldn't be able to hold the line.

"Face it, Grayson. You're going to have to do this the hard way."

He began swinging his legs back and forth. If he was to have any chance at breaking his momentum, he'd have to release at a downward angle than was no greater than seventy degrees; and even that was pushing it. If he continued straight downward, he was dead for sure.

He unfastened his tunic and carefully eased himself down until he was hanging from its armholes. The added distance from the chutes gave his swing a bit more form. The buildings below him were coming up fast. It was time to move.

Releasing his hold on the tunic at the highest part of his forward swing, Robin quickly tucked and rolled. Solidifying his center of gravity would help him achieve the angle he needed to survive the fall. As he neared the corner edge of a tall building, he stopped his spin and stretched out. He bent into a perfect pike position just before his feet made contact with the ledge.

With his weight centered squarely in his shoulders, the impact with the ledge was only enough to slightly change his course and speed. He repeated the move four more times between the two nearest buildings, each time adding as much spring as possible when his legs made contact. Unable to sustain another "jump," Robin brought his grapnel to bear and fired high. The line caught and held, and Dick began his swing.

He wrapped the line twice around each hand, then trapped the lower part of the line between his feet, clasping them together as hard as he could manage. The sheer force and momentum of the swing wrenched both of his arms from their sockets, but he managed to hang on, dangling from the line for several minutes. The pendulum he became eventually slowed enough for him to slide down and drop safely to the ground, where he dragged himself into an alley and collapsed.

"owwwwwwwwww," he muttered as he woke two hours later. After tending to his dislocated shoulders, he made his way to the Wayne Enterprises building some forty blocks away, where he could arrange for transportation back to the Cave...

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

"Okay, so you land safely, he lands safely...then what?"

"Oh, we landed safely all right, but miles from each other. I thought he was dead. I was devastated...so I headed back to the airfield to get his motorcycle, drove around for a while to gather my wits, then went to Batman's lair to relay the news," Babs responded.

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

Batgirl angled the motorcycle toward the holographic wall that led to the Batcave, passing into the tunnel beyond. Tears fell freely from her eyes, welling on the inside of her helmet's visor. She glided the motorcycle to a stop just inside the parking bay and let it fall on its side as she climbed off.

She removed her helmet and hurled it at a nearby trophy case in a fit of rage and despair, causing a thunderous crash. She pulled off her cowl and dropped to her hands and knees, her body wracked with uncontrollable sobs.

"BABS?!?"

The raised voice coming from the entrance to the medlab across the Cave startled her, and she raised her head in response. It couldn't be...

Standing there, dressed only from the waist down in sweatpants, was Dick Grayson. He dashed to her side in an instant, though he seemed to be having trouble with both of his legs. He gently pulled her into a sitting position as he knelt beside her, then did his best to wipe the tears from her eyes.

"Babs? Are you hurt? God, I thought I lost you."

She looked up at him with wide eyes. It took her a moment to find her voice, "No...not hurt. You...you're okay?"

He smiled down at her, "I won't be running in any marathons for a while, but I'll live. I can't tell you how glad I am to see you. When I got back here and couldn't raise you on the radio, I thought...well...I'm just really happy you're here, Babs."

Dick helped her stand up and held her at arms' length. Tears got the best of both of them, and they pulled each other into a tender hug.

Babs pulled away from him after a minute in his arms and looked deeply into his eyes...

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

"And you kissed him! Side-by-side in battle, together in a moment of INSANE danger, barely cheating death, both thinking you'd lost each other, reunited at last, our favorite heroine grabs her man by the ears and kisses him like he's never been kissed," Dinah shouted gleefully.

Babs blushed profusely again and turned away, silent.

Dinah stopped her cheering and considered her friend for a moment. A look of disbelief began to creep across her beautiful features. "No. Awww, Babs, no! Don't tell me you let him walk away without showing him how you feel! Or at least telling him!"

Babs sheepishly returned Dinah's gaze. "Well, not exactly..."

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

Dick put his hand to his mouth tenderly. His lips were tingling, almost numb from the sensation. Logically, it was an emotionally charged moment, and he supposed he couldn't blame her for reacting as she had. But to expect THAT? From Babs? It was almost unthinkable. He finally admitted that at 18, he hadn't learned all that much about how women work. If he wanted to know where that came from, he would simply have to ask.

"Ummm, Babs? Look, I just don't want there to be any misunderstandings about what's going on here, so I'm just going to ask." He continued nervously, yet determined, "I understand that you're probably feeling a million things toward me right now because of what happened today, but...ummmmmmm...Did you really have to PUNCH ME IN THE MOUTH??"

He stood up from the ground and tried to stop his bleeding lip with the back of his hand.

She stared daggers at him. "How dare you, Dick Grayson! How DARE YOU scare me like that! You had NO RIGHT to do what you did today! No right! What happened on that plane was MY mistake, and you had no business putting yourself in that position!"

"Babs..."

"NO! What if you'd been killed, Dick? Huh? What if I'd lost you? How would I live with that? How could you expect me to ever be able to live with myself?" The tears burned hot trails down her cheeks.

"I'm sorry, Babs..." Dick walked over to the practice mat, pulled a fresh towel from the rack, and wiped the blood from his lips. He suddenly looked over at her and threw the towel in her face. "No! You know what, Babs? I'm NOT sorry! There I go apologizing yet again for being who I am. Well not this time, Barbara. No way..."

Babs turned away from him and began to walk away. "I don't want to talk about this anymore, Dick."

He limped his way over to her as quickly as he could and seized her by the arm.

"No, Babs! We ARE going to talk about this. For once in my life, SOMEONE is going to listen to ME in this damned cave!"

She abruptly pulled her arm from his grasp, but didn't turn away.

Dick took a deep breath to reign himself in a bit. "Look, Babs, if there's anyone in the world that understands what you're saying, it's me. No, it's not fair to ask someone to live without the people and things that help make them who they are. It's not fair that either of us had to grow up without our parents. It's not fair to have to lose my second father because he can't accept that I've grown up.

"But Babs, it's also not fair for you to ask me to stand by and do nothing as someone else I care about disappears from my life...someone I love. I did what I did today because I didn't want to lose you. Yeah, there was a real chance that I wouldn't make it and it scared the hell out of me. But if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't do anything differently.

"And if there ever IS a next time, and I don't make it, I'll tell you exactly how to live with yourself...Live every day knowing that someone loved you THAT much. But don't ask me not to try or hope, because in a lot of ways that's all I have left."

She looked at him for a moment, then turned and walked away. She stopped briefly in the medlab to tend to her own minor wounds, then showered and changed. As she entered the main area again, she noticed Dick sitting on the stairs, taping his ankles.

He stood as Babs neared the stairs. "Can I ask you something?"

Babs hesitated a moment before responding. "Sure," she said without looking at him.

He looked at her as if confused or embarrassed. "Would you have let me fall, Babs?"

She started to answer him, then looked into his eyes and realized the true gravity of the question. For the first time since she'd known him, Dick Grayson doubted her.

Babs walked up to him and gently took his face in her hands. Using her thumb, she carefully brushed some of the dried blood from his lower lip. "I am so sorry for what I said, Dick. I was upset, and I didn't mean it. Any of it. And no, Boy Wonder. I will never let you fall, because I love you THAT much."

The words surprised her as they escaped her lips. She wanted to look away, to run, but she couldn't. She stood captivated by his crystal blue eyes, warmed by the relief they betrayed.

Dick looked down at her in sudden awe. It wasn't her words that held him steady, it was her touch. He leaned into her hands slightly and found his own on the small of her back, pulling her to him.

The kiss began tentatively, expected by neither, yet initiated by both. There was no sense of urgency or hunger, no overwhelming abundance of passion. It was a caress, a sensual expression of shared emotion. Her arms moved around his neck, his around her waist. Time stood still as they tasted one another. And when they stopped, they moved into a warm, satisfying embrace.

Dick and Babs pulled away from each other, sharing a loving smile.

"I should really go, Dick. Dad will be worried."

"Me, too. I have a Titans meeting, and should probably have Leslie give me a once over."

They parted ways that night, never again discussing what had transpired.

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

"Earth to Babs!"

Barbara shook herself from her reverie. "What? I'm sorry. What did you say?"

"I asked you, for the millionth time, why you didn't tell him how you felt, or just plain plant one on him?"

Babs giggled, "Oh, I don't know, Dinah. I guess I was just too flustered right then."

"And what about now? I'm sure we can get that huge hunk of equipment over there to make an 'I Love You' e-mail," Dinah chided.

"Things are different now. I think we genuinely love each other, but things are so complicated anymore. I don't think he loves me the way he used to. I mean, I don't think he cares any less...he may even care more now. But it was so simple then."

"It didn't seem very simple then, either. You just told me that the moment you knew you loved him was spread over a roller coaster day five years ago."

Babs shook her head, "That's not what I said at all. That was just the story surrounding it."

"Well? When was it?"

"I knew I loved him the very instant he pulled my ripcord, I've known ever since, and I never stopped. Before that day, that moment, I'd always seen him as a kid. But he grew up while I wasn't looking, in a million different ways."

"Good answer! And you don't think that his answer to the same question will be just as simple?"

Barbara laughed, "Not anymore, Dinah. With his life the way it is, mine as distracting and hectic as it's been the last couple years, and this wheelchair, nothing is that simple anymore."

The computer terminal began to beep.

"Uh oh. I'm being paged," Babs said as she rolled over to her workstation and picked up the microphone. "Oracle here."

"Hey, Babs. Anything good on TV yet?"

"Nope, still waiting for the midnight edition of Nightwing's Night Out," Babs joked.

Nightwing chuckled. "Well, there will definitely be a midnight performance, but unless we get a guest star or two over to the studio, the title character just might get his butt kicked."

"Oh, we can't have that, now can we? What's the situation?"

"I'm looking at twice what I ran into back in the warehouse district. Looks to be about 45-55 down there, all armed. Anyone close to my location available?"

Babs looked at her monitors for a moment. "Actually, Nightwing, we're the closest to you," she looked over her shoulder at Dinah, who nodded as she put her boots back on.

"And who exactly is 'we?'"

"You'll see. It's sweeps time, so we'll get better ratings if we have a surprise guest star," she replied.

"Can they be here in ten?"

Babs looked back again only to find herself alone in the apartment. "They're on their way now, Former Boy Wonder."

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

"The new suit has style, but I sure miss those bare legs of yours, Nightwing."

Nightwing grabbed Black Canary by the wrist and tugged her to the ground beside him.

"On the first date? You didn't even buy me dinner," Dinah said, feigning exasperation.

"Nice to see you, too, Canary. Ready to go to work?"

The playfulness subsided as Dinah surveyed the opposition. "What've we got?"

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

This time Babs made popcorn. The midnight edition of Nightwing's Night Out didn't disappoint, and the surprise guest star was outstanding in her supporting role. As they cut through the myriad collection of goons, their lips never stopped moving. And with two characters like Dinah and Dick, it was almost painful to not be able to hear what they were saying.

She'd just have to get Bruce to install audio pickups in the surveillance units...

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

It took the better part of an hour before Nightwing and Black Canary completed their task. 51 men lay in various states on unconsciousness around them. Satisfied with their work, they headed back to the rooftops.

"So, were you just in the neighborhood, or did Babs drag you down here for our little gang war," Nightwing asked.

"Nope, we were just hanging out. Ate pizza, spied on Batman, lotsa girl talk. Think of it as a Girls' Night In," Dinah replied with a wink.

"Sounds like fun. How's she doing?"

"She's just fine, though I think she could use a night on the town. Hint, hint, hint."

Dick shook his head with a laugh, "Babs has made it abundantly clear that she doesn't need me for that. I think the exact quote was, 'I don't like to be pushed.'"

"Nightwing, for a couple of people so endlessly smart and talented, you and Oracle are two of the dumbest and most stubborn people I know."

Dick bowed elegantly. "Why thank you so much for saying so, Ms. Canary," he laughed. "It's just not as simple as some people make it out to be."

"It's exactly that simple," Dinah said incredulously. She smiled up at Dick as she secretly activated her communication equipment. "Do you love her?"

Dick blushed a little, but responded, "Of course I do. It's no big secret...never has been."

"When did you know that you loved her? Was there any one particular moment," Dinah asked, holding his gaze steady.

"That's easy, Batman's birthday, 14 years ago. Batman was going out, and I needed a sitter. That was the first time I ever saw her. Dark blue jeans, red sweater, white turtleneck underneath, tennis shoes, hair in a ponytail...I'll never forget that," Dick said shyly.

"And now?"

He shrugged, "Dinah, I fell in love with her that night, and all over again every day since. I'm a better person just for knowing her, and every time I see her, or think about her, I feel it. It's one of the few certainties in my life..."

"Sounds pretty simple to me..."

He ducked his head a bit as he spoke, "Yeah, well, that's how I feel. It's how I've always felt, and I think she knows that."

Dinah giggled as she turned and readied her jumpline. "Well, if she didn't before, she does now." Black Canary launched her line and felt it take hold. She raised her canary pendant to her lips as she winked at Nightwing. "Good night, Oracle. My work is done here." And with that, she leapt from the rooftop, swinging out into the late night sky.

"Wait," Dick called after her. "Was she...did she hear...Oh, man."

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

Babs sat back in her chair, a stray tear making its way down her cheek, but a wistful smile playing on her lips. She glanced over at the large viewscreen showing Nightwing on one of the many rooftops just outside the warehouse district. The stricken, embarrassed look on his face was priceless.

Babs leaned forward again and opened a communication channel. "Oracle to Nightwing."

The reply came a few heartbeats later, "Nightwing here. Hi, Babs."

"I need a hand with something, if you have time," she said.

"Sure, what's up?"

She hesitated, her defensive shyness temporarily getting the best of her. "I'm stuck somewhere between the past and the present, and I'd like to start heading toward my future."

Babs giggled as she saw the smile spread slowly across his handsome features.

"Sounds like a tough one, Babs. How can I help?"

She paused again, half-nervous and half-teasing. "Well, I could use a push in the right direction..."

"I'm on my way," he responded as he closed the communication.

Babs watched as he leapt at once from the rooftop, flawlessly executed his patented quadruple spin, launched his jumpline, and began his northbound swing...to her...

Which is exactly where he belongs, she thought with a smile.

END

Winner - Best Birds of Prey - BLUDHAVEN DFAs