By C. W. Blaine
e-mail to darth_yoshi@yahoo.com
Summer, 2000

"What in the Hell do you mean 'she's gone'?" Nightwing exclaimed at Batman's revelation.

The Dark Knight did not move from the massive computer terminal deep within the bowels of the Batcave. "Exactly what I said, Dick; I didn't think it needed any interpretation."

Dick Grayson pulled off his mask and threw it down on the floor. "Why didn't you call me immediately?"

Batman stood up. "Because I wasn't sure if she had been taken or she had gone somewhere willingly. In the past 24 hours, certain clues point more towards a kidnapping."

Dick kept his temper in check, though it was a struggle. He loved the man behind the Batman's cowl like a father, respected him more than any other man alive, but Bruce Wayne was also the only person in the entire world who could set him off in an instant. He knew that the thin line between love and hate was being stretched here. "What clues?"

Batman reached over to a manila envelope and handed it to Dick. "You may not want to look."

Dick ripped the envelope from Batman's hand, and Batman turned back to the computer terminal, bringing up a map of the piers of Gotham City. Dick reached into the envelope and pulled out several photographs. "The first seven are of Grant Curry, a computer science major at Metropolis University who has been working on a research project with Barbara. They were going out to dinner apparently after spending all day writing code," Batman narrated. Dick felt a slight tightening in his chest. The photographs were of a young man, fairly handsome except for the exaggerated grin on his face. Dick recognized the telltale sign of exposure to the Joker's patented killing gas.

For only a moment, he felt a pang of guilt. He didn't know for a moment if the sight of the dead young man, or the thought of him having dinner with Barbara, had brought on the reaction he had. He brushed off the thought as Batman continued. "The next five photos were left on purpose by the Joker for Commissioner Gordon. I'm warning you one last time."

Dick proceeded ahead unaffected by Batman's warning and went to the eighth photo. Anger, the deep white-hot kind, rose up in Dick's throat as he viewed the scene captured before him. Barbara Gordon, the cyber enigma known as Oracle, the former original Batgirl, was there, tossed out of her wheelchair being pummeled by the jester costume clad partner and girlfriend of the Joker, Harley Quinn. The remaining four photos were much the same thing, with the only exception being the amount of punishment Barbara had taken.

"Where are they?" was all Dick said.

"It doesn't matter, you're not going," Batman said matter-of-factly.

Dick reached down to the ground and picked up his mask and then put it on. He took one step forward and took in a deep breath. He was shorter than Batman, especially with Bruce in costume, but he was every bit as muscular. His chest swelled and tightened, threatening to rip the Kevlar weave of his costume. "Says who?"

Batman was unimpressed. "You're too emotional. Jim has asked me to handle this, to bring the Joker in by the book. I can't trust you on this."

Dick put a finger up to Batman's chest. "You kept me out the first time; you won't do it this time."

'This isn't up for discussion. Go back to Bludhaven."


Batman paused for a second. Dick knew that they had been to this point several times in the past. "Fine," Batman said finally, "you can come with me, but the Joker is mine, you run interference."


"At the waterfront, Pier 12."

Nightwing rode hard in the night on his motorcycle, a thousand thoughts racing through his mind. He gunned the engine, pushing the tachometer and speedometer. His thoughts drifted back two years before; back before the quake had destroyed Gotham City, back when it had happened.

Barbara Gordon had decided to become a super-hero at 17, and she modeled herself after Gotham's premier crime fighter, Batman. She was untrained and undisciplined, and he daughter of Batman's best friend, the commissioner of Gotham Police Department. It had taken Batman all of a day to figure out her identity and tell her to stop. She defied him, the first person to do so. He hadn't intimidated her, and Dick suspected that he had respected that.

Batman decided to train her, just as was training 15 Dick Grayson as Robin, the teen wonder. When they had first met, Dick had fallen in love. But even though he was an extraordinary teenager, he was still an underage one. She was flirty, but only to a point, and Dick had decided to move along in his love life.

Just over two years ago, Barbara had decided to give up being Batgirl, to pursue other interests in life. She had left the entire Bat-thing in the past, and Dick was on the rebound from a failed engagement to fellow Teen Titan Starfire.

Then the Joker came to pay a visit.

It hadn't been Barbara he had been after when he shot her through the spine, it had been her father. Paralyzed from the bullet, the Joker raped her there in front of her father, and then kidnapped him. He had hoped to drive James Gordon insane so that he would know the world the Joker lived in.

It had failed, of course, Batman arrived to arrest the Joker and save Gordon, but nothing in the entire world could help Barbara. Not the love of her father, not the money of Bruce Wayne, nor the guilt of Richard Grayson would ever allow her to walk again.

It was then that Dick had taken a hard look at himself and saw that he had been, always, in love with the fiery redhead in the bat costume. They had grown closer in the past two years, as she dedicated herself as Oracle in aiding Batman in his private war, but there was always something in the way. Dick assumed it was because she felt he had abandoned her when he started dating Kory, Starfire. He hadn't, though. He had realized that he saw in Kory what he saw in Barbara, she had become his surrogate Batgirl.

Dick pushed the bike to its limits, yet controlled it with ease as his face became flushed with rage. Not this time he thought.

"It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood," The Joker sang as he pranced around the room. Barbara Gordon, tied to a simple wooden chair in the center of the room, breathed slowly, trying to minimize the pain from the broken ribs Harley had given her. The Joker's partner, her black and red costume clashing with the Joker's purple suit, danced around as well, doing cartwheels and spins. "I say, Harley, I'm getting bored!"

"Well, Mr. J," Harley said, flipping into a crouch right before Barbara, "why don't we play 'Kick the Gimp' some more?"

Barbara sneered from behind clenched teeth, "Why don't you go f----"

"Ah ah ah," The Joker began, waving a single finger, "Harley has such sensitive ears you know. Wouldn't want her using bad language in front of the adults you know."

"You're f-in right, sweetie," Harley said moving to the Joker's side. "I'd be f-in kicked out of the f-in Girl f-in Scouts if I f-in did that!"

Joker grabbed Harley by the cheeks with both hands, puckering her lips. "Mon Cherie, I love it when you talk French," he said before stabbing his tongue between her lips. The two felons then fell into an exaggerated "make out session", licking each other's faces, ending only when the Joker pushed Harley down to the ground. "You're such a slut, Harley!"

Harley smiled, wiping the Joker's drool off of her face, before licking her hand. "There's an idea, puddin'! We could put a 'For Rent' sign right on Red's lifeless butt and put her out on the pier!"

The Joker paused. "Harley, I'm shocked. No, I'm flat out flabbergasted! This, this woman, and I use the term only in the scientific sense, is the daughter of our dear, dear Commissioner. She can't be sold off like a cheap whore!"

"You bastard!" Barbara screamed, despite the pain.

"Tell me, Barbara old girl," the Joker said as he strolled calmly. "Do you miss it?"

Barbara looked up at the chalk-white face of the madman. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Harley walked over and sat down on Barbara's lap. She put her arms around her neck, despite Barbara's attempts to shrug her off. Harley kissed her on the cheek. "You know, dearie, the hubba-hubba. The whoopee. The feeling of a man."


"I understand that the last man you had was my dear Puddin'....must have been exciting."

Tears began to pour down Barbara's cheeks as the memory of her violation slammed into her mind's eye. The awful knowing that you were being raped, but that you couldn't be sure exactly what they were doing. Had she never seen the photos, despite her father's protestations, she would never have known all the things he had done to her. "I figure we did your boyfriend a favor, killing him you know. It isn't like you could ever satisfy a real man," Harley added, sticking her tongue in Barbara's ear.

"He wasn't my boyfriend! He was an innocent kid trying to get a project done for school," Barbara said through her revulsion.

"Oh, well," Harley said, getting up.

"Harley, go check on the sentries. I want to know the minute he gets here."

Harley paused and then grabbed Barbara's face and kissed her full on the lips. "You're lucky I'm not the jealous type....sleeping with my man."

Harley left, but not before passing by the Joker and grabbing his crotch. When she had gone, the Joker spoke in voice that was almost sane. "I don't know why I put up with her."

"Why?" Barbara asked as she spat Harley's saliva on the floor.

"Ah, the question everyone wants the answer to," Joker began, waving his arm in the air to an invisible audience. "You're father shot me in the knee, that was good, really funny. I can't be outdone by the old coot, so I figure if I violate you in every way possible, he either goes nuts and tries to kill me, or stays sane and tries to kill me."

"You're insane, you know that! Haven't you ever cared about anything?"

The Joker turned and for the first time in Barbara's life, she saw pure madness in a person's eyes. "Anything I ever cared about is gone or never existed. Maybe I made it up, I don't know, and frankly, I don't give a damn! Life is a joke, God is a joke! The only thing you can count on is old Joker coming back for more."

Barbara knelt her head down and said a silent prayer to a God her captor had no fear of.

"Three guards at the front door, probably six to ten more inside, plus Joker and Quinn," the Batman said, lowering his binoculars.

"You take the guards, I'll get Barbara," Nightwing said.

"No. We wait for Gordon and his men. We do it by the book."

Nightwing looked at Batman. "We do things differently in Bludhaven."

"Bludhaven is your town, Gotham is mine. We do it my way."

Nightwing stomped the ground in frustration. "Bruce...."

Batman turned and his demeanor changed. Gone was the Dark Knight and in his place was the man who had held a fourteen-year-old boy who had buried his parents so many years ago. "Dick, you have to trust me on this. Joker won't do anything until after he takes care of me, he always does it that way and that's why he doesn't succeed."

"Bruce, it's Barbara; I can't stand here..."

"Say it."

Nightwing's expression changed to one of confusion. "Say what?"

Batman smiled. It was an odd sight. "Tell me why it's so important. You've been holding back for so long, letting your anger build up. You get frustrated over this issue all of the time."

"What? The Joker? I don't get frustrated over him."

There was a pause and Nightwing realized that Batman was asking him to be honest. Just as a father asks a son why he should let him do something that is obviously important to him. "Because I love her, Bruce, more than anything else in the world."

"Does she know just how you feel?"

"Of course she knows...," Nightwing answered flatly.

"Have you ever actually told her, just to be sure?"

Batman turned around and looked at the warehouse. "I'll take out Quinn. Bring me the Joker."

Nightwing threw a line over to the next building and swung into action.

"Ah, here comes Poppa," Joker cried out at the approaching police cars. "That means old Bat-Brain will be here soon, too. Better get the mood music ready!" Barbara watched as Joker walked over to a portable stereo on the floor and pop a CD in. The familiar sounds of the Immortal Kombat soundtrack began to resonate through the room.

Gunfire sounded from outside the room, along with the screams of men in fear. "About damn time," Joker muttered.

Suddenly, the door to the room burst open as a man flew through to land on his back. He was out cold before he hit. A sawed-off shotgun sailed in after him, followed by a dark figure. "Batma.....hey! What the hell is this? What, I only rate the lightweights now?"

"Shut up!" Nightwing barked, slowly entering, a baton in each hand. "The party's over, Joker."

"Didn't I kill you?" the Joker said thoughtfully. "How many of you sidekicks are there? You're like a plague."

"Let her go."

The Joker laughed hysterically. "Aw, c'mon! You're no fun! Where's your poppa, boy-o? I don't have the patience to deal with errand boys."

Nightwing, without hesitation, launched himself at the Clown Prince of Crime, a snarl emanating from deep within him. A baton flew out and struck the Joker in the stomach, doubling him over. The gangly criminal was able to roll and dodge his attacker, but only momentarily. The hero pounced onto him and began a series of blows meant to disorient the Joker.

The madman, however, seemed to be immune to the desired effects, and simply made "moo" sounds every time a strike landed. Nightwing felt himself getting frustrated, knowing that the Joker was only toying with him, hoping to keep him going until help arrived.

Barbara cursed and worked on loosening the ropes that held her fast. She could tell from the look in his eyes that the Joker was working on a plan. She had come to know that look from her nightmares.

A kick to the jaw and Nightwing fell back, surprised by the force behind it. The Joker skipped to the other side of the room and flung open a dumbwaiter. From inside, he pulled out a purple spear gun. "Always keep a spare handy, I say, never know when you might want to go fishing!"

Nightwing saw the weapon pointed at the struggling form of Barbara and guessed what the Joker had planned. "Gimp on a stick! Ah, what a tasty treat! You know, you should have sent the Bat, Dork-Wonder! Guess I need to prove that I'm still worthy of his attention!"

The shaft was a split second behind Nightwing, who was a split second behind the Batman as he leapt in the room through the shattered door. Barbara looked up to see the approaching spear and a little voice inside her head told her to prepare.

Richard Grayson put all thought out of his head, his reflexes and training taking over. He knew he could not catch the spear, but if he could angle his body just right, his Kevlar weave costume would be able to take the hit. From the corner of his eye, he caught the glimpse of a batarang flying towards the Joker.

Barbara saw only a black form move in front of her, the Angel of Death, she was sure. She closed her eyes and made a final wish. She waited for the impact.

There was a cry. Then another.

Barbara opened her eyes to see the spear gun fly from the Joker's hands, a batarang stuck in his wrist. She then looked down at her feet, sensing something was touching her, but not actually feeling it.

In all of her nightmares, never had such a scene of utter horror entered her consciousness.

"Nightwing!" Batman cried, running to the fallen hero.

The dark-haired man with the black and gray costume, who had moved with a swiftness that even the Flash would have been jealous of, coughed blood and looked at the spear protruding from his chest.

"Hoo, boy! Damn, Bats, what is it with you and partners?" the Joker cackled from his corner. In most circumstances, now would be the perfect time to escape and any sane man would. The Joker was not sane and would not miss the painful death of a foe for anything. He sat down, nursing his injured wrist, making fake sobbing sounds.

Batman reached Nightwing and checked the wound. "Bru.....Bat...," Nightwing tried to speak to his mentor. Batman saw that the shaft had gone all the way through.

"Damn it, untie me!" Barbara screamed.

Cradling Nightwing in one arm and without looking up, Batman reached with his other hand and undid the knots of Barbara's bindings. She pushed herself out of the chair and put her arms around Nightwing. She whispered in his ear. "Please don't die, Dick, please." The tears were hot and flowed freely.

Nightwing looked at her and put a hand up to her cheek. He heard Batman say something, and he heard the distant sound of sirens. He could actually feel the blood spurt from his damaged heart. "It's okay, Babs, it's okay. You're safe...I did it."

She kissed him. His lips were growing cold. She looked at Batman. He shook his head, indicating he could do nothing at the moment.

Batman slowly reached to a pouch on his belt and pulled out a small device. Barbara saw it, recognized its significance, and nodded. Batman pressed a small button on the device. "It's me. I need you now."

"I'd do anything for you....."

Barbara looked at Nightwing. "What?"

"I'd do anything for you. I didn't mean for it to...to go this far to...to show it. I love..."

He went limp in her arms.

Barbara Gordon screamed and pressed her sobbing face into his hair.

Batman barked even more orders into the small transmitter.

The Joker began singing the theme song to "All in the Family", doing an almost perfect imitation of Edith Bunker.

Hi. How are you? You feeling okay? That was quite a hit you took.

"Yeah, I seem to be alright. Why is it so dark?"

Silly...you have your eyes closed.

Dick opened his eyes to see nothing but white swirling masses of clouds and a young woman, pale in complexion, wearing gothic style clothing, was seated next to him. He didn't recognize the woman, but strangely, found her attractive.

It's okay; a lot of guys get the hots for me when they first step over.

The girl smiled at him and he heard the voice, but her lips never moved.

"Is this better?" she asked, her mouth moving with the words.

"Yes, thank you. You're telepathic?"

She smiled sweetly. "You really are cute, you know that? It's just a damn shame you're so...mortal."

Dick scratched his head and suddenly remembered his injury, the spear through his chest. It must have hit his heart, he thought.

"No, but it came close enough. You're bleeding to death right now. By the way, my name is Death." She held out her hand. Dick took it. It was ice cold. "Normally, I wait a little longer before I actually, you know, take someone, but you really are cute."

"I'm dying? Then it wasn't a dream? Is this a dream?" Dick asked, his voice growing softer with each question.

"Well, dreaming is over-rated if you ask me, and I have it on good authority, believe me. You know, you're something of a celebrity over here you know. Boston Brand won't shut up about how proud he is of you. Oh, and how the women fawn over you and that Green Arrow guy! "

Dick held up his hands. "What the hell are you talking about? You say I'm not dead, but you just referred to a guy who's been dead for years!"

"Easy, guy, it's okay. Like I said, you are not dead yet. They're trying real hard to keep me away from you."


She cocked her head to the side. "Are you sure that spear didn't hit you're head? You're dying, so your friends asked Superman to come and get you and take you to the moon."

Dick stood up and for the first time, realized he was naked. He noticed that Death kept her eyes on his the whole time. "It takes a real man to look Death in the eyes and live to tell about it. You've got the right stuff, you know that? You've got what it takes to actually make me think twice about coming for you."


"She's safe," Death said, getting up. "Not that I think it'll do her much good, what with you dying and all. But, hey, you've balanced the scales, right? That's all that was important."

"What are you talking about?" Dick asked, a touch of anger in his voice.

"You've always blamed yourself for what happened to her, now you've managed to give yourself punishment. Do you feel better?"

Dick barked at her. "I should have been there...that night!"

"You couldn't have known what was going to happen."

"That's not the point," Dick said before turning away and stomping off into the clouds.

"Don't go too far, it's almost time!" Death called after him.

Dick cursed himself as he walked through the mists. Despite being naked, he was not cold. In fact, he noticed that he didn't even need to breathe. His first out-of-body experience and he couldn't take the time to enjoy it.

His religion did not explain where he was at, this "waiting room" his soul wandered through as his physical body slowly lost its ability to function somewhere on the mortal plane. He wondered where exactly he was, and more importantly, why he was there.

"So, you don't think you belong here?" A pale man, garbed in red, said, approaching from the distance.

Dick recognized him instantly, Boston Brand. A former circus performer that had been killed much like Dick's own parents. He had gone by the stage name Deadman. "No. If I'm dead, then I figure I should be in one of two other places."

Deadman walked up and held out his hand. The dead were certainly polite, Dick thought. "Good to see you, Grayson. Been watching you for years, as a favor for your parents."

Dick's eyes watered slightly at the mention of his deceased parents. "You've seen them?"

Deadman rubbed his head, in a manner suggesting he once had hair up there. "It's not like I see them every day, but sometimes I get to speak with other dead people. I made it a point to seek them out when I first got here." Deadman started walking and Dick took up stride next to him. "This place is about what you figured, it's a waiting area where disembodied souls come to try and hash out those last few details of their lives before going on to their final judgment."

"Why am I here? I don't have any big issues..."

"Sure you don't," Deadman said, kicking a small cloud. It dissipated into swirls and whirls. "What about the little bird you left back in fleshy-land?"

"What? She's okay. I said I would always protect her!"

"I hate to burst your bubble, honey, but you're dead. You ain't helping nobody," Death said, appearing from the mists.

"I'm dead....."

"Yeah, kind of works that way when you don't want to live," Deadman said walking away.

"But I do want to live!" Dick screamed after him. He tried running, but no matter how hard he pumped his legs, he couldn't make up the distance between him and Deadman. Death called again after him, making a remark about his posterior, but he ignored it. Deadman had said he was here to resolve an issue or issues about his life, and he was running out of time. His physical body had just died.

"Hello, Richard," the attractive, blonde-haired woman said. She was naked, too, but there was a glow about her that seemed to absorb any lustful thought Dick might have had, if he were inclined to.

"Sarah? Sarah Gordon?" he asked, not believing it. The woman, though a number of years older than him, was very attractive. She had been the second wife of police commissioner James Gordon. The Joker had killed her only a few months before.

"It's good to see you. You can't imagine my surprise when I found out that you were Nightwing; or that Bruce Wayne was Batman. It made so much sense, I can't understand why I never figured it out."

"I'm so sorry about what happened..."

She held up a hand. "It was a fair trade. I saved the life of a newborn baby. If I had to do it again, I would, just as I know you would. Sometimes, when your job is protecting people, you have to make those hard decisions. Cops like James and myself, we live with it everyday, but we get a check for what we do. You do it for free. I can see why Barbara loves you so much."

Dick didn't know what to say. Sarah's murder had been such a shock to everyone, especially Barbara, who had grown very close to the woman during the year long No Man's Land episode in Gotham. She had immediately turned to Dick, who had lost his parents to murder at a young age, for support. "I don't know if I would go so far as to say that, Sarah."

She smiled warmly and placed her hand on his shoulder. "Would you die for her? Or for yourself?"

"I don't understand," he said.

"Do you really believe you could have changed anything by being there? Is it your fault that you couldn't deal with your feelings for her until after she was hurt?"

His hung his head and sighed. "It took almost losing her for me to realize how much I needed her. How much I wanted her."

"Because she didn't immediately fall in love with you as Starfire did, you didn't think she was interested. Yet, you kept a torch burning inside you're heart for her, didn't you? Donna Troy, Starfire, all of them, they were substitutes for the Batgirl you left at home."

He sobbed. "I should have been there. I should have been honest with her from the beginning. I could have saved her from all of the pain."

"And now, you've managed to take her place in death. Except you did it for the wrong reasons. Instead of doing it for love, you did it to ease your guilt. The hard part is loving her, despite feeling that you could have saved her."

"And," a male voice said from behind them, "that's where the problem is."

Sarah faded into nothingness and Dick whirled to see a pale man in a green cloak approach. It was Hal Jordan, the Spectre. "It's unfortunate, and sad, but you've committed a grievous sin, Dick. You committed suicide."

"No," Dick answered, shaking his head. "I was trying to protect Barbara!"

The sound of his protests echoed out and then seemed to return again. Jordan slowly approached. "When I was unable to prevent the destruction of Coast City, I wanted to die. I wanted to just crawl somewhere and forget that I ever existed. I felt so responsible because I hadn't been there."

"That's the difference between you and me, Hal; you went insane and killed dozens of people! The only thing I did was make a mistake in battle."

Jordan pointed his finger at Dick. "You foolishly allowed yourself to get killed. Instead of relishing in the life of Barbara Gordon, you wallowed in self-pity over the life you lost!"

Dick pointed his finger back. "Don't go getting all self-righteous on me! You're a damn mass-murderer that God gave a second chance to! Where was God at when the Joker put that bullet into her spine? Was it so hard to spare one innocent person?"

"How dare you speak in such tones about Our Lord," Jordan bellowed, his voice changing to the icy baritone of the Spectre. "You have been judged to be a good soul, Richard Grayson, but blasphemy will not be tolerated! If you fear the truth so much, so be it, but do not blame the Lord for your cowardice!"

Dick screamed at the top of his lungs. "Alright! I admit it! I blame myself for what happened; I wanted her to know that I would have taken the bullet for her!"

"She already knew that, Richard," Sarah Gordon said, materializing in front of him. "She often spoke of a special man, not naming him of course, and how she would look at the pain he was in because of what had happened to her. How he had felt responsible for her injuries."

"The one thing I've learned, bubba, is that dying doesn't make it all better. With you gone, who is going to watch her now?" Deadman asked.

Death approached as well, hands placed seductively on her hips. "Death isn't the way to deal with life, cutie."

"I'm not suicidal; I don't want to die," Dick said truthfully.

"Richard Grayson, there is a huge difference between not wanting to die and actually wanting to live," the Spectre grumbled. "But come, Heaven awaits you."

"No! I have to go back. You've all been right; I've been running from the truth for so long..." He turned to Sarah Gordon. "There's just no way of knowing if I could have done anything, is there?"

She shook her head. "What she does know is that the real man, the real Richard, began to show himself only after the Joker."

As she faded away, the Spectre again bellowed. "Are you so arrogant that you would refuse Paradise for her?"


It had been Deadman who asked the question and Dick nodded. "Yes, I am." He then turned to Death. "Send me back."

She was chewing on a fingernail. "It's not that easy, sweetheart. You don't just up and make a mistake like this and expect it all to be better. I have to be satisfied, you know."

Dick began to back up, not knowing what she meant, but now wishing he had clothes. "I'm not sure I like this."

She went over and grabbed Deadman's arm. "The Spectre will explain the rules from here on out. Next time you and I meet, though, I expect it will be the beginning of a long relationship."

When they had gone, the Spectre began to speak, now in Hal Jordan's voice. "It's not your time, Dick, it never was, but you kept pushing the odds. I know that sometimes doing nothing at all except being there for support is the hardest thing to do, especially in your line of work. That's what she needs. She doesn't need someone to take a bullet; she needs someone to tell her they love her. Dying isn't going to make her happy."

A tear started to roll down Dick's cheek. "I hate not doing anything...."

"Then do something; take off the mask and love her as Dick Grayson, quit trying to protect her as Nightwing."

"It's just so unfair...I wanted children, so did she. I miss working the rooftops with my Batgirl...."

The Spectre cocked his head to the side like a puppy dog that just heard a strange sound. "Who said her condition was permanent?"

Barbara Gordon watched as he heart monitor flat lined and then heard the eerie siren call of death. Dr. Mid-Nite, flown in by Green Lantern to the JLA Watchtower flipped the monitor off and called the time of death. He laid a hand on Barbara's shoulder, trying to comfort her, but then moved out of the way so that the Batman could move closer. Words could not begin to describe the emotions raging inside of him.

Superman herded the rest of the gathered heroes out of the medical lab, to give the two former members of the League some time alone with their fallen comrade. Barbara tried to hold back the tears; Batman didn't even give that much effort.

"Why, Dick, why?" Barbara asked for what seemed the millionth time. "Why didn't you just push me out of the way?"

"It's my fault," Batman said, a cold chill to his voice. "I knew he wasn't prepared. He was so focused on protecting you..."

"God....did you guys ever think I might just have done it for fun?" Nightwing asked in a weak voice.

"Doctor!" Batman yelled.

Barbara pulled herself up to Nightwing's face and kissed it. "I love you," she said.

"I was supposed to say that."

She kissed him again as Dr. Mid-Nite ran in, exclaiming that it was impossible for Nightwing to be alive.

The moved along the beach, not to far from the Coast City Memorial. Both were in wheelchairs, though he had spent several thousands of dollars to ensure his was customized and motorized. It had been a month since his miraculous return from the dead, and Dr. Mid-Nite was still swearing that his heart had been punctured. No evidence of any such wound existed.

Superman's timely intervention had strengthened the bonds between both him and the Batman, and there was a rumor going through the super-hero circles that Batman was going to be asked to rejoin the JLA.

The Titans had to operate without Nightwing, just as Richard Grayson had quit the Bludhaven Police Department and submitted an application to Gotham City PD.

The biggest news on the society page of the Gotham Gazette was the announced engagement of Barbara Gordon, daughter of the city police commissioner, to the ward of billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne.

However, what the papers did not report was that one of the terms of the engagement was that Barbara Gordon would agree to be examined by representatives of S.T.A.R. labs to see if her condition was more treatable than her doctors had led them to believe. Over the years, Dick Grayson had made several profitable investments with the money he had been awarded after his parent's deaths. That, plus the discretionary account that he had from Bruce Wayne, allowed him to pay for all of the research into finding a cure for Barbara.

"I don't want to get my hopes up, Dick, but I am getting excited," Barbara said looking out at the ocean.

Dick nodded. "Hey, I'm optimistic!"

She took his hand and squeezed it. "How long before you get back into costume?'

"About two months, if I'm really lucky. Four if I'm not. I promise never to do that again, though!"

They laughed and the tension eased. They had not discussed the incident in detail, not even when Dick had proposed. The first couple of days had been hectic enough, especially with the Batman playing mother hen. The upside had been that Dick and Bruce had grown very close, and were now even planning on taking a fishing trip together of all things. Barbara could only imagine them sitting in the Batboat out in the middle of a lake, fishing with their Bat-poles, using Bat-bait.....

"Babs, I'm sorry."

"About what?"

"About trying to turn what happened to you into a tragedy for myself. All I was concerned about was how bad I felt for not stopping it instead of concentrating on how lucky I was to still have you."

She wiped a tear from her eye. "I was so scared to tell you how I really felt. If you were hurt so much when we weren't in a relationship, I couldn't even think of how you would react if we were a couple."

"I'm better now. I understand that even if I had been there, I would have had no way of knowing what was going to happen. It took me a long time to realize that."

She snorted. "It took you dying to realize that."

They laughed and then just held hands, watching the sun set. As twilight approached, they began the trek back to their van. Dick looked over at her. "I'd do anything for you, you know that?"

She leaned close to him and whispered into his ear.

His eyes went wide. "Barbara Gordon! I don't think that's possible, except for Plastic Man, maybe, and second, that's not even legal in this state I believe!"

She shrugged her shoulders and moved on ahead. Dick thought about it for a second and then pursued her, calling to her that he'd be willing to break the law this one time.