LAKE OF LOST SOULS

DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of the characters. Nightwing and all of his friends belongs to DC comics. I'd be a happy woman if Dick belonged to me...but no such luck. I have not made any profit out of writing this, so please don't sue me. It would not be worth your while.

Author Comment: This was the third Dick Grayson story I ever wrote. Thank you to my wonderful beta, Jean whose comments force me to examine my writing. There are a number of spelling, grammar and punctuation differences between Australia and the USA... please forgive me for writing with an accent. (g)

Special Thanks: Thank you to all those people who have left such wonderful feedback. Some of you haven't left your e-mail addresses so I haven't been able to thank you. I just want you to know that your kind words mean so much.


Part One

The internal door swung inwards with such force it almost left its hinges. Dick Grayson exploded into the hospital corridor with long strides. Normally his gait was smooth, almost graceful like that of a dancer, or more accurately, an acrobat. Tonight, the pounding of his anger was echoed with the fall of each step.

Ahead, a man in a suit wearing a hip holster flexed his shoulders and moved to block the path of the jean and leather jacket clad man bearing down on him. Two other muscle bound bodyguards joined the first, watching the uninvited guest sporting a motorcycle helmet tucked under his arm march toward them.

"I'm sorry, Sir. This section of the hospital is restricted."

Grayson stared at the speaker, his face twitching with annoyance as he halted in front of the hired security. "I want to see Bruce Wayne."

"Sorry. Mr. Wayne is not receiving visitors."

The annoyance shifted, expanding to include Dick's anger. "'No' visitors?" It was a growl forced out through his tightly clenched jaw. Surely Bruce had included his name on a list of people cleared for admission. Eyes of brilliant blue flashed with an intenseness all three bodyguards couldn't ignore. This one was going to be trouble each decided. The trio had been hired by Wayne Corp. to ensure the billionaire was not disturbed. So far, that hadn't been difficult. The reporters were now waiting downstairs and outside of redirecting a few curious members of the public, there had been little to do but drink coffee and play cards.

"Sir, I'm asking you to leave."

Dick flicked his eyes to the two men standing a step back and then returned them to the cretin blocking his path. The valve keeping his self-control in check moved one step closer to blowing. "Is Alfred here?"

"Mr. Pennyworth is with Mr. Wayne," the cretin replied carefully.

Dick, despite the bubbling of his emotions, felt a sense of relief. "May I speak with him?"

The guards exchanged a glance. One turned and disappeared down the corridor, stopping to speak to a uniformed policeman who then disappeared into a room.

Moments later, Alfred appeared, squinting at the figure some distance away. His eyes lit up with surprise and then concern as he recognised the 'biker'. Swiftly, he strode toward Dick.

"Master Dick. What are you... ?"

Dick shouldered past the security men, shot Alfred a look of irritation and headed toward Bruce's room. Behind him he heard shouts of 'stop', but Alfred's dulcet tones calmed the bodyguards quickly. When Dick arrived at the door, the policeman eyed him carefully and then smiled. "Mr. Grayson, isn't it?"

"Officer Turnbell," Dick acknowledged, remembering meeting the man once at some function at Wayne Corp. Turnbell opened the door and Dick stepped into the private room. Bruce was sitting up in bed dictating a letter to his secretary. Lucas, the only other occupant, greeted the newcomer warmly.

"Dick, it's good to see you." The younger man forced a smile and turned his attention to his former guardian. While pale, Bruce looked well. There was a drip attached to his arm but there was no sign of injury.

"... which will make negotiations difficult. It is for this reason that I..." Bruce appeared to notice Dick for the first time and nodded absentmindedly before continuing with his dictation.

Lucas drew Dick aside. "He wouldn't listen to me. I warned him, but you know what he's like." The elderly man's face was flushed with an equal amount of concern, guilt and exhaustion. He had been at his employer's side since the attack two days earlier.

Dick patted his shoulder. "I know how stubborn he can be. What do the doctors say?"

"That he's incredibly lucky. The knife slash is deep, but it missed everything important. Half an inch deeper and..." Lucas shook his head, running his trembling hand through his greying hair. He had been beside his employer when the assassin had leapt from the crowd. Bruce, despite the flood of death threats prior to the event, had refused to increase the number of bodyguards that usually accompanied him. Security had swooped quickly, but not before Bruce had been injured. Lucas had watched his friend stumble and then collapse, blood spreading across his lightly coloured suit. The personal assistant remembered screaming for an ambulance. Everything else was a blur of images and emotions.

"Please get that off today," Bruce ordered. The young woman nodded, smiled at Dick and then left the room.

Bruce and Dick's eyes met. Lucas, sensing the tension, excused himself. When the door closed behind him, the room was plunged into silence. Neither of the occupants appeared able to find voice. Finally, Bruce reached for the glass of water beside him, gripping his bandaged chest as he did so.

"I saw the attack coming but couldn't react as quickly as I would have liked. Too many television cameras." Bruce had done just enough to save his own life. Protecting his 'secret' had almost overridden his instinct to survive.

Dick shook his head. This hadn't been the first time Bruce had 'turned the other cheek' for the sake of Batman. Grayson, himself, had done it many times as a teenager. Then, he had found it frustrating. Deliberately missing out on being on the basketball team. Holding back in the gym. Allowing a bully to push him around for almost three years. Now, he understood the reason it was essential to keep his 'abilities' a secret, though allowing yourself to be stabbed was taking it too far.

"I should be out of here in a couple of days," Bruce continued. "Just being kept in as a precaution in case of infection. Lucas had me rushed here before I could do or say anything, otherwise I'd have contacted Leslie and let her deal with it. So, what brings you to Gotham?"

Dick's eyebrows drew down, his eyes narrowing. "I read in the paper that there was an assassination attempt on your life and that you were in hospital." The words were ground out. His anger rose again and threatened to ignite. There was silence for several uncomfortable seconds. "Why the hell didn't you call me?" Dick demanded. He remained several feet away from the bed. The physical distance echoed the emotional chasm between them.

Bruce shrugged. "Things haven't been convivial between us for some time. Last time we spoke we parted badly. I didn't think that..."

"You didn't...?! Christ, Bruce! I read about it in the paper! I had no idea of how badly you were hurt."

"Lower your voice," the older man ordered.

"Damn you!" At that moment, Alfred slipped into the room, locking the door behind him. Dick turned to the elderly man. "You couldn't find a phone?"

Alfred's wizened features flickered with deep feeling and then the mask of control fell into place. "Master Bruce felt there was no need to worry you."

Dick studied Alfred as the butler moved to stand beside the bed. "I can't believe you two. I thought that after last time..." ...last time. Last time when Bruce's back had been broken. Last time when Bruce had taken in another boy. Last time when Bruce had adopted that boy. Last time when Jason had been killed. Last time when no one had BOTHERED to let him know. Grayson turned to glare at the man who had taken him in after the murder of his parents. "Look, we had a disagreement, but that..."

"There was nothing to tell you. I'm fine. I will be home in a few days. Tim is looking after the city in my absence. Lucas is quite capable of doing anything needed for the company while I'm laid up. There was little sense disturbing you or burdening you with my problems. You have your own life. We have everything under control here."

Dick would like to have been stunned to by the clinical attitude his former guardian was displaying, but the sad thing was, he wasn't surprised. Bruce had become an emotionless shell so many years past that Dick barely remembered the animated person he used to swing though the night with - or were his memories now skewed with false reminiscences of what he would liked Bruce to have been like? No, the young man decided. Bruce had been different in the beginning. Dick wasn't sure exactly when the transformation had started, nor at what point he had realized it had been completed, but a transformation it had been. Gradually, over time, Bruce had shut the world out and that included even one of the few people he had shared his most prized secret with.

"There was no need for you to make the journey from Bludhaven. Like I said, I have everything under control."

"You're a real piece of work, Bruce." The anger resonating in Dick's voice was fuelled by other emotions, not the least of which was hurt.

"Did you come all this way to argue with me?" Wayne demanded. Again they stared at each other lost in an abyss of inexplicable emotions.

Alfred's aching heart cried out in pain. He had watched helplessly as these two men he loved like sons had drifted apart. He had watched horrified as they had come to, not only verbal, but physical blows. Devastated, he had accepted their estrangement from each other.

Dick drew in a deep breath, released it slowly and then turned for the door. Obviously, there was nothing else to be said. He had been dismissed... again. "If you need anything, you know how to contact me," he spat as he slammed out of the room.

Alfred sighed as his attention settled on Bruce. "That went well."

Wayne continued to stare at the door. Why did it always end like that these days?

"We should have called him," Alfred pointed out, taking the empty glass from Bruce. "He's angry because no one let him know you were hurt. That was what I was trying to tell you."

"There was no need to interrupt him. I'm fine. I have everything under control," Bruce responded, automatically.

"Of course. And you would feel there was no need for him to contact us if he was stabbed, in hospital and had everything under control?"

Bruce frowned, his emotions wallowing in confusion. As Nightwing and Batman they still shared the most unique of all understandings. They anticipated each other's movements and complimented each other completely. It was the perfect partnership without equal on the planet, though geographical distance had reduced the amount of time they combined their talents. These days, Nightwing mostly worked alone patrolling the streets of Bludhaven and Batman only called on his other partners sporadically to deal with Gotham's problems. Despite the extraordinary working bond Nightwing and Batman shared, the relationship between their alter egos was strained and dysfunctional.

"I don't know him any more, Alfred." The statement was hushed. It was almost an admission of failure. He no longer knew or understood the boy he had raised.

Alfred Pennyworth sank down into the chair beside the bed. Like Lucas, he felt incredibly weary having been at Bruce's side since he had been admitted. Alfred's voice lowered to an emotional whisper. "Master Dick is same young man who came to us fifteen years ago... confused, angry and mourning the loss of his father."

Wayne's frown deepened. "He came to terms with the death of his father a long time ago."

"He came to terms with the loss of John Grayson," Alfred agreed. Clearly, that had not been what he'd meant.

The look of undiluted rage in Bruce's face prevented the butler from commenting further. Rage? No, pain and bewilderment Alfred realized.

"Speak to him, Bruce. You need only..."

"I'm tired. I think I'll get some sleep."

Alfred shook his head. Bruce Wayne was one of the most capable men he'd ever met. Whether it be business, or engaging in his 'night job', Bruce was without peer. However, when it came to human relationships, the man who was Batman was about as effective as 'no smoking' signs.

Bruce lay down and shut his eyes, but an image of Dick's angry face replayed in his mind and refused to be dismissed. The abyss between them had grown another couple of inches tonight and Bruce honestly didn't know why.

PART TWO COMING SOON

I would really love to know what you thought.

© June 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. (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.