The Night the Lights Went out in Gotham
The Night the
Lights Went out in Gotham
by Constance "Eilonwy"
Batman, Batgirl, Robin,
Nightwing, and Jim Gordon are the property of DC Comics/Warner
Brothers animation. No profit is being made from this story. All
other characters are mine.
Set after the end of The
New Batman Adventures, and after two other of my fanfiction
stories, The Summer of Her Discontent and Thirteen Hours. It
didn't start out that way, but the stories turned into the
first 2 parts of a trilogy. This one is the 3rd and
final installment (not my last batfamily fic, I hope, but I
expect from now on it's time to try my hand at the comic
It ignores the (future)
events detailed in Batman Beyond. They didn't (will not)
happen. I'm departing the text. I like Batman Beyond, but it
kind of ruins my fun. For the record, my Batman fanfiction falls
into 3 categories. 1--set in the continuity of the animated
series, but ignoring Batman Beyond. 2--set in the Batman Beyond
Some information and
inspiration came from The Blackout History Project website:
http://chnm.gmu.edu/blackout/transition.html and from a letter
written by editor Willaim Maxwell during the New York City
blackout of 1965.
With thanks to Kellie,
who listened to me describe this blow-by-blow before it was even
time to start writing it; Batya, for random bits of dialogue; and
Merlin Missy, who beta-read and cared enough to nit-pick, fix
typos, and suggest things I should have thought of but
Additional dedication to
Chuck Dixon, writer of the Nightwing comics, who allowed Dick
Grayson to come into his own and sent him to Bludhaven; and to
all the writers, over the years, on Batman Animated, who can
really take a whole lot of the blame for inspiring this.
* * * *
it comes to emotions, even great heroes can be
idiotic."--from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
* * * *
"Wait a sec."
"If I rush this,
I'll blow it."
"If you don't
do something, you'll blow it. She's going to get
hurry something like this. It requires strategy. Delicacy."
"It requires you to
open your big mouth, bird brain. Uh-oh."
Tim Drake, dressed in a
black and white tuxedo almost identical to Dick Grayson's,
reached up and turned his friend's head toward the parquet
dance floor. A tall, blond man with a prominent jawline and a
smile that showed too many teeth spoke to a slender young woman
whose long red hair was piled high on her head, loose tendrils
hanging down over shoulders left bare by the simple green velvet
dress she wore. She had to tilt her head back to look at him and
offered a smile and a nod in return.
Dick Grayson let out a groan and smacked his hand to his
forehead. "Not Biff."
"I think it's
Dirk." Tim Drake watched with amusement as Dirk, or Biff,
led Barbara Gordon out onto the dance floor. The band started
playing "A Whiter Shade of Pale."
"What could she
possibly see in that bozo?" Dick turned back to the
refreshment table behind them, snatched up a handful of celery
and carrot sticks, and shoved half into his mouth mechanically;
they could have been wooden chopsticks for all he noticed.
Squirming in his tuxedo,
Tim Drake tugged helplessly at his bow tie--not a clip-on, but a
real, honest-to-god bow tie. Alfred had insisted. "Beats me.
Look, you asked for my advice. I think you should tell her how
you really feel."
Dick Grayson's look
of irritation smoothed out into defeat. The confident, cocky line
of his body sagged as he glanced away to the rain-streaked
plate-glass windows that formed the walls of the penthouse
restaurant. "I know," he said miserably. "But a
lot's happened...I screwed up. I'm not sure she...aw,
forget it." He cut the air with his hand dismissively,
turning back to the food.
Lightning, sharp and
jagged, danced over the towers of Gotham, with a glare that made
the night bright as day for an instant. Inside the Riverview
Terrace Restaurant, it was a balmy 71 degrees for the Gotham
Orphanage Charity Dance. Outside, on the terrace for which the
restaurant was named, the thermometer crept up inexorably towards
that sound nasty?" a socialite squealed as a clap of thunder
sounded. She and her escort swept by the boy and the man, the
woman clinging to her date's arm.
nasty," the date said mildly. He was tall, with imposingly
broad shoulders, black hair, and a tuxedo similar to Tim and
Dick's. As he went by them, he shot Dick a helpless look.
Tim grinned. "He
sure puts on a good act, doesn't he?"
Dick. "It used to be all I could do not to crack up when
Bruce went into his playboy routine."
The song ended. Tim
Drake took a neat side-step, put his hands between Dick's
shoulder blades, and shoved. "Go ask her to dance," he
said, with clenched teeth.
The man who just three
days ago had taken on ten muscled goons by himself began to sweat
in his tuxedo. As the blond man with the obnoxiously prominent
chin reluctantly drifted away from Barbara, Dick Grayson forced
his feet to move. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot...
She turned at his voice,
the smile she offered polite, but apparently nothing more.
"Hi, Dick. Having a good time?"
"Oh, sure, if you
like incredibly dull, endless society events. I think I'd
rather chase Croc through a sewer."
she said wryly, with a half-smile more friendly than the social
one she had just given him. "You look nice," she said,
eyeing his tuxedo up and down.
"Thanks. So do
The band shifted mood
and time period and began a slow rendition of "It Had to Be
Dick said smoothly, stepping closer to her.
He bit back the reply he
was tempted to give her in sheer self defense; something like
"no, with Harvey Bullock."
me," he said, grinning. Taking another step closer, he held
out his hand.
Warily, as if convinced
he had some nefarious plot in mind, she slowly lifted her hand,
placed it in his. He put his other hand on her waist, and then,
so fluidly they barely had to think about it, they were dancing,
without awkwardness. In some ways it was like being out there, on
the rooftops together--that was like a dance, as they timed their
movements, working together to triumph when outnumbered.
a....bad party," she said.
said, her voice oddly breathy.
A loose strand of her
hair tickled his nose. She shifted slightly, and her cheek came
to rest on the shoulder of his jacket. Everything stopped.
There was a snapping
bang, a loud pop, the smell of burnt wiring. With another bright
flash of lightning, the Riverview Terrace Restaurant went pitch
A woman screamed. Voices
began to murmur in confusion.
"...worst storm in
The pitch black was not
actually pitch; it was only the sudden loss of light that made it
seem that way. On each table, candles in elegant silver holders
continued to burn, flickering slightly with the startled
movements of the guests.
Dick felt Barbara pull
away from him, but she left her hand in his. He held on tightly
and began to gather his bearings.
Tim answered. "By the ice sculpture."
a deep voice spoke into his ear. "This is probably nothing
we need to worry about, but if things get out of hand, our
costumes are with Alfred in the car downstairs."
"Got it," Dick
After eight minutes that
felt like an eternity, the restaurant staff came with flashlights
and the maitre'd announced that the entire building had lost
power. Another waiter ran in, flashlight bobbing, and whispered
something to the maitre'd, whose face turned even gaunter in
the hollow glow of the flashlights and candles. The man cleared
his throat, collecting himself. "Ladies and gentlemen, it
would appear...the rest of the 1200 block has lost power as
Dick and Barbara turned
and made their way carefully to the windows.
Even through the
rainstorm, the lights of Gotham city had been visible, twinkling
through the streaked glass.
Now, there was nothing
Without saying a word,
Dick found the sliding glass door leading out onto the terrace.
Barbara followed his steps automatically, her hand still in his.
Together, they stepped out into the rain, heedless of what it
could do to their evening clothes.
Lightning lanced across
the sky like a scar, illuminating the surrounding buildings and
the Gotham River beyond for a moment. The rain was a steady
rhythm, relentless. It was windy here, high above the city.
Together, they looked
down over the terrace wall.
Block after block, the
city was shrouded in darkness. There were no streetlights, no
homelights glowing from the apartment buildings. The only
illumination came from the cars and the occasional flash of
lightning. A chorus of panicked honking rose distantly from the
streets below, as drivers discovered the traffic lights had gone
The beam of a flashlight
sliced through the falling rain, and Dick and Barbara turned to
see Tim holding a flashlight, with a taller form beside him.
Thunder crashed, loudly enough that even Bruce flinched. They
withdrew under an awning, where they could talk in privacy.
whole city," Bruce said, the rain starting to plaster his
hair to his head. "All of downtown Gotham."
The flashlight Tim held
seemed absurdly inadequate next to the rage of the storm. Water
danced along the tiles of the terrace, raindrops falling with the
intensity of sparks.
"We need to get
down to the car," Bruce finished. "We're going to
work. It's going to be a long night."
* * * *
In the wake of the noise
and rage of the storm, the silence was almost an abomination.
They stood at the edge
of the police precinct rooftop, Batman, Nightwing, Robin, and
Batgirl, watching the street below, which glistened from the
Floodlight stations were
set up about every other block, with two cops at each station.
Crossing guards in reflective orange stripes as well as ordinary
citizens rising to the occasion directed traffic, while a cop
with a bullhorn informed everyone to go right home. One hardware
store had pulled its entire inventory of flashlights and the
owner's sons stood on the sidewalk, giving them away, along
with batteries, as if this were merely a promotional stunt to
help the flashlight industry. But far too many other shops had
locked their gates. The latest report on the police band was that
the power company was working frantically to get things back on
line, but the lightning had fried several towers.
"This could turn
into an unholy mess," Commissioner Gordon said, hands shoved
deep into the pockets of his trousers, his shirtsleeves rolled up
against the oppressive heat. "For the moment, things are
Batman turned to look at his long-time contact.
"Holding. They have
their own back-up generators, as do the police precincts and the
mayor's office. But god help us all if those back-up
Batman handed Gordon a
small metallic object about the width of a finger. "You
contact me on this the moment something goes wrong at either
"Got it. If it
does...we'll need your team's help. There's no
moon for this one. That's bad."
"Who's not on
the inside at the moment?" Batman asked.
The commissioner thought
for a moment. "None of your favorites."
kidding," said Robin. "Scarecrow? The Joker? Poison
Ivy? Two-Face...all three of him?"
"All locked up at
the moment," Gordon said, with some satisfaction.
"Of course. For once all the nutjobs are locked away. So we
have a blackout. It figures."
Gordon turned and headed
back for the roof access door above the police station, giving
Batgirl a quick glance as he did so.
said Batman, in his clipped, on-duty voice, "You and Batgirl
survey the waterfront. Report in at fourteen hundred hours. Robin
and I will sweep midtown."
Nightwing said irritably.
"If that's a
problem..." Batman began, voice calm.
"I think Robin and
I should check out the waterfront," Batgirl suggested,
pulling out her rappelling gun and adjusting the line.
Nightwing turned to her. "Why?"
"He knows it really
well. He busted that smuggling ring a few months ago."
"You go with
Nightwing," Batman said curtly.
work with Robin on this one." She tried to keep her voice
casual, looked away as Robin knowingly glanced from her to
Nightwing, and Nightwing's eyes fixed onto her.
If Batman noticed the
silent exchange, he was pretending not to. "We don't
have time for this," the Dark Knight said, a dangerous note
creeping into his voice.
Somewhere below, a siren
"No, of course
not." Dick clenched his gloved hands into fists. "You
just fire off orders, and everyone hops to, no questions asked,
no opinions taken. Heaven forbid anyone ever has a say in the
A frown drew down the
corners of Batman's mouth. "Do we have to discuss this
now? We have a job to do. Go to the waterfront, Nightwing."
"In case you
haven't noticed, I don't work for you anymore. I'm
just here to help out. I take orders from no one. Come on,
Batgirl, let's go." Nightwing reached for her arm.
Her cowl twitched as her eyebrows shot straight up and she
stepped out of his reach. "Now who's giving
"Come on, I
A sharp whistle brought
the conversation to a halt. All three masked figures turned.
Robin lowered his bare fingers from his mouth; he had momentarily
removed one glove. In the darkness, the scarlet chest of his
costume stood out starkly against the black trim.
done, maybe we should actually try patrolling?" the boy
said, rolling his eyes. "We're supposed to work
together. Or maybe proving who's in charge is more important
than helping people?"
There was an
uncomfortable silence on the rooftop. "I'm ready when
you are, Batman," Robin said, pulling out his rappelling
The expression beneath
Batman's cowl was inscrutable. He, too, aimed his rappelling
gun. With two short bangs, they shot their grapples upward, lines
streaming behind. The grapples anchored on the next building.
Then, they simultaneously leapt, their capes flying out behind in
them. Their movements had a precision that looked practiced but
were really just instinct.
Nightwing watched them
go. "Did he and I ever work that well together?"
He looked at her,
surprised; he hadn't expected an answer.
"Yeah, you used
to." Her eyes fixed on the shrouded skyline, distant.
said hesitantly, one foot up on the rooftop cornice. "If you
really don't want to work with me tonight, we can split up.
If you want. I'll take the waterfront, you scout
She sighed. "No.
No, it's not that. We should stay in pairs, it's dark
out there. Let's go."
Together, they fired
their lines and took flight.
* * * *
The darkened sky was
oppressive, still covered in a layer of thick, murky clouds
although the storm was over. Down at the waterfront, the ships
had their emergency lights burning. Shimmering strips of gold
danced across the water. In the distance, the bridge was only a
faint, spidery shape without its strings of lights.
A plane, redirected to
Bludhaven or Metropolis, roared overhead, the wing lights
standing out brightly against the murkiness above it.
A handful of police
patrolmen wandered the docks, but they couldn't be
And not every criminal
was currently in Blackgate or Arkham.
Nightwing called a warning to his partner, then launched a
spinning kick that knocked a burly, muscular man to the ground.
Batgirl executed a
backflip as the gunfire from an automatic weapon followed her
trail. She landed behind the protection of a stack of crates. A
blue-black blur, Nightwing darted in the other direction, trying
to draw their fire, and found refuge behind a pyramid stack of
hide forever," said the one who was apparently the leader of
the group. He was a stranger to them, a wiry man who wore a long
brown coat, even in the heat, and glasses. He looked ordinary.
Flanking him on either
side, his compatriots brandished their guns. One of them, a women
in her thirties dressed all in black, blond hair pulled up in a
bun, smiled nastily. Besides the leader, the burly guy, and the
woman, there were two others who looked as if they had come from
Rent-a-Thug. Near them on the ground were open crates, packing
material spilling out. Several sacks now bulging with the objects
stolen from the crates gaped open. They were museum pieces, small
statuettes, gold platters, bowls and other household objects from
a time long gone.
Nightwing. The woman turned, startled; suddenly the masked
crimefighter, as if by magic, was no longer by the crates, but
right behind her. He punched her in the chin and she fell back
against the man wearing glasses.
One of the Rent-a-Thugs
swung his gun on Nightwing. There was a whipping sound, of wind
against blades, and a batarang caught him on the arm. He shouted
in pain and dropped the gun. Nightwing kicked it into the water
and tackled the thug head-on.
Batgirl leapt into the
be wasting time here," Nightwing called out to her.
"It's in the city where Batman's going to need
we'll have rioting?" she asked, ducking a punch from
the woman, then kicking her opponent in the stomach. The woman
went down, hair spilling out of the bun, and didn't get up.
"Gordon said it.
There's no moon. People are going to panic. And in this
heat..." Nightwing side-stepped as one of the thugs rushed
"But what about the
artifacts? We can't just let them steal them." The
other thug aimed his gun at her but she kicked it out of his
said. "Watch it!" Nightwing leapt at the leader as he
took aim at Batgirl's back with his gun. The gun bounced on
the concrete dock and plopped into the water. "Hi,"
Nightwing said, hoisting the slight, wiry man by the front of his
brown coat. "It's not nice to steal shipments of
priceless artifacts during a blackout, didn't your mommy
ever tell you? In fact, it's not nice to steal priceless
artifacts any time."
"Quite the cocky
wisecracker, aren't you?" the man in the glasses said,
as if he weren't being held with his feet inches from the
ground. "I am no mere thief, young man. I am a
"Yeah, yeah. You
can tell it to the judge."
"Oh, I don't
With an unexpected
movement, he brought his left hand into his right coat sleeve.
Swiftly as a snake, too swiftly for Nightwing to realize what he
was doing, his left hand slashed out, the blade of a knife
Nightwing shouted in
surprise and pain as kevlar tore.
Batgirl punched the last standing thug in the chin and ran
towards her partner.
Red welled out from the
slash across his upper arm, but Nightwing didn't drop the
thief. He only offered his prey a slow, nasty smile. "Not a
smart move," he said, and tossed the thief aside as if he
were a sack of laundry. The man struck the wall of a storage
building and fell, out cold.
"Guess our work is
done here," Nightwing said--and promptly sat down on an
"Oh my gosh."
Batgirl hurried to his side, her fingers searching for the source
of the blood. "Let me see."
"It's just a
She snorted. "Why
do they always say that?" she muttered, rolling her eyes.
" It's just a scratch.'" Gingerly, she
touched the wound. The fingers of her glove came away dripping
red. "It looks deep. I think it needs stitches." She
reached into her utility belt and removed a small bundle of gauze
and tape. "For now, this will have to do."
Batgirl wrapped the
gauze around his upper arm while he tried to pretend he
didn't want to wince.
"I don't need
stitches," he protested. "There isn't time. Just
patch it up."
Her communicator beeped.
Batgirl touched it. "Go ahead, Batman."
"We need you both
downtown, corner of Burnett and 12th. Rioters."
Batgirl inhaled sharply.
"That's bad." She tore off a piece of tape.
"You'd better ask Alfred to meet us somewhere on the
voice asked, with a strained calm. There were only certain
reasons to ask for Alfred.
Nightwing reached for
his own communicator with his free hand. "She's
overreacting, Batman. I just got a little scratch, that's
"A very bloody
little scratch," she said, glaring at him. "His arm.
The knife cut through kevlar, I'd love to know where the
creep got it. He's going to need stitches, I think. Oh, and
give us an extra five minutes or so, we have to gift-wrap these
archaeological thieves for the police patrols."
They tied up the
thieves. Nightwing left a batarang as a calling card. Red was
already starting to stain the gauze wrapped around his arm.
communicator came to life.
she said, her eyes fixed on the red stain on Nightwing's
leaving us his first aid kit at Burnett and 10th on
the roof of the Dixon building. We can't risk being seen
with him. Besides, I need Alfred elsewhere right now."
minute," Nightwing protested, as she cut communication.
"Alfred's not stitching me up?"
"Oh, stop being
such a baby."
* * * *
Nightwing sat on the edge of a ventilation duct on the rooftop
while Batman knelt beside him, cape spreading out behind him on
the roof. His mouth was tight with concentration as his gloved
fingers worked deftly, stitching the wound.
Nightwing hissed through
his teeth, in pain.
Batman said, and made another stitch, then cut it and tied it
The Dark Knight wrapped
a bandage around his former protegee's arm and taped it
From the street below,
light radiated upward and faded as a car went by, headlights on
high-beam and the interior light turned on.
Nightwing got to his
feet and rolled his shoulder, sensing out the condition of his
arm. He winced.
"It'll be sore
for a while," Batman explained, also rising to his feet, a
fluid shadow on the rooftop. "Try not to use it
Nightwing said sardonically. "Come on, we'd better get
to Batgirl and Robin. That crowd looked nasty.
* * * *
Robin, perched like a
bird on the big sign above a hardware store, dropped another
discouraging some of them," Batgirl said, standing with her
back against the upward arm of the sign. "But there are too
many. We can't just beat them all senseless."
Some small illumination
came from a few flashlights the boys had. A car swept by, its
headlight beams flashing over the boys. The car sped up, and
Batgirl and Robin could see its nervous occupants, a family with
two children, staring out the window as they went by.
Several boys barely out
of adolescence, dressed in white t-shirts that stood out starkly
from the darkness of the night, slammed themselves against the
store gate. The gate shuddered and began to give.
"We have to do
something," Robin said.
it's happening all over town." Batgirl bit her lower
lip. "We can't stop every single mob."
"But we can stop
this one." Robin turned to her, fade shadowed. "The way
I see it is, if we only help one person, we're making a
difference. If we can stop this gang from breaking the store
window, stop them from stealing, it gets that much less crazy in
Gotham tonight. Maybe they won't go off and meet another
gang, start fighting over the stuff they stole. Maybe if we stop
them here, we can stop another group somewhere else. Like...a
sneezing," she said, looking down at the gang.
"Never mind. All
right, Boy Wonder Jr., let's do it."
She dropped, graceful as
a cat, into the thick of the teenagers, Robin a split second
behind her. Batgirl shot her rappelling gun at two boys,
immobilizing them with her line. Robin threw his batarang,
striking the hand of another as he reached for the store gate. He
pulled out another batarang, raising it above his head as a
Batgirl called out, her voice clear and strong. "Stop this,
now. I don't think any of you wants to go to jail."
"Hey, check out the
chick," one of the teenagers shouted. He held a length of
chain and had black hair. "Nice costume."
"You can arrest me
anytime," another seconded. He was smaller than the
black-haired boy and wore a black t-shirt with a skull on it.
In response, Batgirl
spun and punched the nearest gang member in the stomach. He
doubled over, gasping in pain. "Anyone else want
Robin said nervously.
The two boys, who seemed
to be the leaders, advanced towards them, with the rest emerging
from the fog-like smoke like apparitions. The black-haired boy
moved with agility, a confident grin on his handsome face.
think my idea is working," Robin finished.
Another boy rushed
Robin, who let fly with the batarang, hitting the older boy in
the shoulder. The boy cried out and stopped, clutching his
understand?" Batgirl said calmly to the gang.
"There's a city-wide blackout. You're only making
things worse. Keep this up, and people are going to get hurt. You
can be a part of the problem, or you can help."
"Yo, freak, you
sound like my teachers. Shut up." The leader swung at her.
She ducked, then grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back.
"Ow!" he yelled. "OW ow ow ow! Let go of me!"
"I pity your
teachers," she said, low. She shoved the boy aside.
"Anyone else want to try me?"
Two teenagers rushed
Robin at the same time, one from each side. The scarlet-clad
figure leapt straight up and kicked both at the same time. They
slumped to the sidewalk.
"Hey, punk." A
tall, burly boy in a black leather jacket leapt at Robin,
swinging a lead pipe. He caught the costumed figure a blow across
the ribs. Robin stumbled, holding his side.
Batgirl turned and
grabbed the lead pipe as the burly boy raised it for another
blow, but then two more attacked her from behind, one wrapping
his arms around her and lifting her off the ground. She muttered
a curse and slammed her heel down hard into his foot, then jammed
her palm upward into his chin. Blood spurted from his mouth and
he dropped her while the other one dove at her legs, tackling her
and bringing her to the ground.
There seemed to be an
infinite supply of juvenile delinquents emerging from the smoke.
Batgirl pinned the one she was wrestling with and called out,
"Think we miscalculated the situation?"
"Oh yeah, I'd
say so," Robin replied, ducking and then catching one of the
teenagers in the stomach with an upward blow.
The attacking boys
became not individuals but merged into an anonymous swarm of
faces and raised fists and weapons. Everything dissolved into
chaos. Batgirl and Robin had no time to catch their breath or
plan, but could only lash out at each attacker, trying not to
hurt them too badly as they defended themselves. The two masked
figures found themselves with their backs to the damaged gate.
"You costumed nuts
think you're so righteous," the older boy snarled. He
shoved back the dark hair falling into his eyes with one angry
gesture. "Telling us to do the right thing. Blame everything
on punks like us. Let me tell you something, some guy in a
business suit paid me fifty dollars to smash a window for him. A
lady offered Spike a twenty if he'd break a store gate. We
figured, hey, if folks like that take what they want, so can
"But you could be
better than them," Batgirl said.
The boy laughed.
"Sure. And when the crisis is over, things go back to
normal, and we're the bad guys again."
Robin kept loooking from
the rest of the gang, who had paused to watch their leader speak
with the enemy, to the one confronting Batgirl.
"Please, if we just
talk about this..."
"Shut up!" The
boy leapt, slamming her up against the gate, holding a pipe
against her throat.
Robin started to go to
her, but four guys piled on him and suddenly he was far too busy.
And then the two dark
shapes dropped from the murky sky.
All heads turned. The
boy holding the pipe to Batgirl's throat slowly lowered his
hands. Robin and the four teenagers froze in mid-tableau, Robin
with his arm drawn back to strike, the other teenagers clinging
to his arms and legs, trying to bring him to the ground.
The two forms emerged
from the smoke, one lithe, a demon in blue-black like a clear
night sky, the other a massive shadow that seemed formed from the
smoke itself, a ghost. Their eyes glowed through the murk, and
even Batgirl and Robin, who knew this was due to the night-vision
lenses, momentarily tasted the awe that criminals often felt.
"Let go of them.
NOW." The ghost spoke, with a voice that could make granite
The boys immediately
stepped away from Robin as if he had burned them. The teenager
holding Batgirl released her, turning slowly, face still, as if
in shock. The lead pipe clattered from his limp fingers, his eyes
fixed on the ghost.
The demon leapt, and
suddenly three gang members found themselves stripped of their
chains and lead pipes. Arms folded, eyes burning, the demon
loomed over four boys who had drawn together, legs unstead.
"Boo," the demon said.
The four boys ran as if
hell itself was after them.
the dark ghost, turning to the rest.
They obeyed, running in
the direction their companions had gone.
Only two remained. One
of them was the younger, small boy in the black t-shirt with the
skull on it. He stood still, eyes wide and frightened, like a
rabbit fixated by a snake. The black-haired one stared, mouth
open slightly, awed.
The demon and the ghost
turned, the ghost's cape whipping out behind it. Batgirl and
Robin followed, and all four were gone, swallowed by the fog.
The older boy said, after a long stretch of lonely silence.
could have been different for you...ever...aw, forget it."
* * * *
Gotham City. Trapped in
darkness, the best and worst rose to the surface, freed by the
absence of an everyday veneer.
Wherever they went, the
heroes saw rioters, looters, and thieves. These were not only the
criminals of Gotham, but the terrified or the avaricious or the
temporarily insane. It was a city transformed; candlelight,
flashlights, emergency lights seemed bright out of proportion to
their power. The difference between darkness and illumination
Light was everything.
Wherever they went, they
saw ordinary people helping other people. Stores somehow staying
open to distribute candles and flashlights and food. They saw an
automat that had managed to stay open, lit entirely by candles.
Neighbors hanging out on their stoops because with the air
conditioners dead it was too hot to be indoors. They sharply
called to their children to stay within flashlight range, to stay
within sight. So the children ran and played in tight circles,
the ones with flashlights using them for complex variations on
tag, under the watchful eye of many adults.
This assuaged their
fears for the families; they felt a certain satisfaction in being
able to pity anyone who went up against these other protectors in
While the generators at
Blackgate and Arkham held...and held...
* * * * *
"I thought for sure
he was going to lecture us."
Batgirl crouched on a
gargoyle, looking down at the street below while Robin coiled his
jumpline, standing behind her on a ledge with one foot propped
jauntily on a window sill.
Robin said dryly. "Didn't you notice?"
"He didn't say
much of anything, just told us what areas to patrol."
"No, but he gave us
"Oh. Yeah, he did,
didn't he?" She looked out across the canyons between
the buildings, at the sky where the clouds were starting to thin,
letting a half-moon peer through. It bathed the city in a faint
silvery tint. Then a cloud moved across the moon again, restoring
the oppressive darkness. "I hope Nightwing and Batman
don't have too much trouble together," she said.
"They weren't exactly getting along earlier."
"So, what else is
new?" said Robin. He looked down, adjusted his gloves, and
bit his lower lip.
"What is it?"
she asked him.
nothing. It's just...those boys. That...that could have been
me. If not for, you know."
Before she could answer,
from the street below came a scream and the sound of breaking
twitched. "That's our cue," he said briskly, then
gestured graciously with his arm. "Ladies first."
* * * * *
They were back to back.
Batman's cape looked a bit tattered, Nightwing was favoring
his arm, and six nasty-looking thugs who hadn't appreciated
the interruption to their appropriation of a dozen television
sets, vcrs, and laptop computers were closing in.
The alley, whose name
had faded off the wall, appeared to be a remnant of Gotham's
19th century roots. Cobblestones broke through the
concrete. The stone walls offered little purchase, with no fire
escapes. One rickety catwalk crossed the alley, far above their
Nightwing's arm, nodded upward. Nightwing saw the catwalk,
its framework etched against the moon for a moment before the
cloud cover returned, and nodded.
A thug advanced, only to
fly backward from a kick from Nightwing. Another one rushed
Batman and was felled by an uppercut to the chin. The thugs
looked at each other. It seemed they, too, had worked together
before, for an unspoken communication seemed to take place. One
As if it were a cue,
they all rushed the masked figures at once.
The odds were six to
two, and the thugs didn't have a chance.
Some lessons are never
forgotten, some habits easy to slip back into, rhythms once
learned, impossible to ignore. Batman shoved a thug, timing the
placement so that the one Nightwing punched fell into him and
they both went down. Together, Batman and Nightwing formed a
barrier none of their opponents could cross. Knives no sooner
flashed then they clattered to the cobblestones from a powerful
kick. Nightwing faced a thug, grinning, and twitched his gloved
hands in an invitation, come and get me.
The thug rushed him.
Nightwing ducked at the last second and Batman's punch
rushed over his head, sending the man flying against the wall.
up as Batman turned so they were back to back again. Each took up
the ready, martial arts stance, hands up, feet apart.
"It's good to
have you back, partner," Batman said, just before another
thug decided he was foolish enough to rush in.
Nightwing blinked, and
half-turned to stare at his former mentor. "What did you
The blow caught him hard
in the stomach. Nightwing fell almost to his knees before he
recovered and punched the thief a reciprocal blow. Now was not
the time; he'd better focus on the task at hand.
Three minutes later, the
alley was filled with unconscious or bruised and bleeding
wrap em," said Nightwing. "Another present for
"It's no gift.
Not anymore. The jails are so full they had to reopen The
"That old place?
It's barely habitable."
it's filled with a lot of folks who under normal
circumstances would never break the law."
"I guess a blackout
makes people behave oddly." Nightwing began wrapping line
around one of the unconscious thugs. "A lot of people are
doing good tonight. Helping other people. It's not necessary
to fall apart."
When the thieves were
trussed up and ready for delivery, Batman aimed his rappelling
gun towards the sky, and fired. The grapple clanged against the
catwalk, and held. Batman tugged on the line, testing it, then
switched the gun to retract. He slid swiftly up and grabbed the
catwalk, pulling himself up.
Nightwing followed using
the same old-fashioned method; the glider attachments under his
arms wouldn't work without an updraft.
Up on the catwalk, they
paused to get their bearings and calculate their next move.
Nightwing looked at Batman, who had lapsed into inscrutability, a
shadow crouched on the catwalk. Unapproachable. The younger man
opened his mouth, wanting to ask...he closed his mouth.
He'd heard right,
he decided. He should be grateful for small gestures. He decided
to let it go.
"I meant what I
said," Batman said, quietly, keeping his back to Nightwing
as he surveyed the city. "I've missed working with
earlier..." the cowled figure continued, more hestitantly.
"It's my habit, to give orders. Out here, it's
survival. I thought you understood that. But I realize now, it
was partly my fault--in my mind, you're still that brash
little boy in scarlet and green, eager to rush in and get the bad
guys without thinking first, needing guidance." He shook his
head. "But you're not anymore."
"No, I'm not
Silence folded around
them. The city--for the moment--was quiet.
Nightwing spoke finally. "Bruce."
Now, the cowled figure
turned on the catwalk, standing up. The two of them faced each
other with about four feet of space between them, one taller,
darker, older, the other younger but full of confidence.
Nightwing said. "For everything. And...uh...I missed working
with you, too."
The silence was too
thick now, practically humming. Batman turned away, Nightwing
cleared his throat.
Batman froze, seeing
something in the distance. Nightwing turned in the same
direction, peering out across the dark buildings.
that?" he said, puzzled. He took a step forward, then
glanced at the digital readout on his wrist display.
"It's too early for sunrise, isn't it? Is that
east," said Batman, voice flat. "But that isn't
The eerie red glow,
visible through the glass windows of an abandoned factory,
"What is it
* * * * *
It was a small apartment
building on a residential street that consisted mostly of small
houses with gardens enclosed by white picket fences.
inhabitants, who had stayed quietly at home in the blackout, were
outside on the sidewalk, staring at the spectacle at the end of
the block. Children clutched teddy bears or their parents'
hands, fascinated and frightened. The glow of the fire cast an
eerie, flickering orange light over the scene. Clouds of smoke
rose from the roof of the apartment building.
A small firetruck and an
equally small group of firefighters battled the blaze. Water
sprayed up from the hoses, cascades of white.
Nightwing and Batman ran
past the onlookers, several of whom turned and gasped at these
new apparitions. As they reached the firetruck, the captain
turned and spotted them.
"How did it
start?" The Dark Knight asked, the orange light playing over
his black and gray costume.
think. Probably a lighted candled fell over." The captain,
his face smudged with soot and sweat, shook his head. "It
wouldn't have been so bad, but there are fires all over the
city. The fire department's taxed to the limit. This truck
is all we could spare." The man, who was in his mid forties,
heavy-set but not overweight, turned and looked straight at
Batman. "We could sure use your help."
There were two kinds of
city officials. Those who distrusted the unusual knight and his
team, who viewed them as nuisances at best and insane at worst;
and those who saw him as a savior of Gotham, a necessary tangent
to their job. This fire captain, with his weathered, dirty face,
air of calm, and a wedding wing on his left hand, appeared to be
in the latter category. There was a respect in his voice and
From inside the building
came a groaning crash as a beam gave way. There was a faint human
"There are still
people inside?" Batman said sharply.
The fire captain nodded,
pulling off his red fireman's hat and wiping the sweat from
his forehead with a sleeve of his jacket. "God help me, I
think so. We got a lot out, but we're only a skeleton crew.
Bader and Murakami are inside now. I think we should--"
But Batman and Nightwing
were already gone, running towards the building.
captain called after them. He rummaged in the side of the truck,
withdrawing two breathing masks. "You'll need
There was no response,
but the two paused, silhouetted against the fire, as Batman
pulled something out of his belt. He handed one to the figure in
black with the blue crest on his chest and took one for himself.
"Guess you had your
own," the captain said. He watched them go in, and breathed
out a long sigh. "Godspeed."
* * * * *
Inside it was an
inferno, a choking mess of flame and smoke, relentless. The
flame-retardant material of their suits protected their bodies,
the breath masks protected their lungs. Still, the heat was
hellish. Nightwing could feel the exposed areas of his face and
neck growing hot. His scalp tingled as his hair began to singe.
Nightwing nodded. They
would waste no unnecessary breath.
The stairs were
half-gone. They used one line to form a kind of ladder, then
climbed, Batman first, then Nightwing.
When Nightwing reached
the second story, he found visibility was almost null. The caped
and cowled figure had disappeared, swallowed by the smoke.
called, taking a cautious step.
handed Nightwing an armful, a young woman lapsed into
semi-consciousness, her cat clutched tightly in her arms. The
cat, an orange tabby, spat and yowled as Nightwing lowered
himself and his charges using the line.
A wall began to collapse
as he reached the first floor. He leapt, still holding the woman
and her cat, and then the blessed, relatively cool air of the hot
summer night was around him. Shaking his head, he loosened the
breath mask and gently lowered the woman to the ground.
The fire captain ran
over to him, trailed by a pair of EMS workers.
can't!" the captain insisted. "Bader and Murakami
just came out the back. They saved two more people. I'm not
letting anyone back in, it's unsound."
still in there," said Nightwing, and was gone before the
captain could do anything else to protest.
But as he reached the
entrance to the inferno, Batman emerged, holding an old man in
his arms. The old man's head lolled to one side.
As Batman put the man on
the ground, more EMS workers arrived. They began working on the
Batman shouted to the
police captain. "Is there anyone else in there?"
sure," the man said, uncertainly. "I hope to god not. I
got my men out of there, no one's going back in...wait! You
can't go in there, it's suicide!"
Batman ran past
Nightwing, who turned and followed him.
"What are you
doing?" Nightwing demanded.
"There still might
be someone inside."
"You heard the
captain. It's no longer safe."
On the front steps, the
flames dancing behind him, Batman turned. "It's never
safe. But I have to help them if I can."
Nightwing reached out
and took Batman's arm. "Batman..."
Batman shook off his
grasp. Nightwing leapt past him, up the steps, and put himself
between Batman and the entryway. "The structure could fold
like a house of cards at any second. Or maybe you didn't
notice the collapsed wall and the nonexistent stairs the last
time we went in? We saved three lives here. The captain told me
his men just saved two more. If there's anyone left in
there, it's too late for them."
said, his voice frighteningly soft. "We can't assume
that. I have to..."
not letting you." Nightwing folded his arms and stood
squarely in the doorway. He could feel the tremendous heat
against his back, even through the kevlar.
"Get out of my
way," the taller man said in a voice low and rough.
"Do you want to
Nightwing shook his
Batman moved first,
striking at Nightwing with a sideways blow. But the younger man
was faster, lighter, and trained by the best. He twisted, keeping
his balance, and without hesitation tackled the man who had
They landed hard at the
bottom of the steps. Nightwing pinned Batman in place, gripping
his shoulders and digging his knees into Batman's chest.
"You can't save everyone!" Nightwing said
The older man stopped
resisting, the tension draining from his body. Nightwing released
him and rolled into a wary crouch, watching. Batman knelt,
staring at the burning building.
"I know," he
repeated bleakly. "I...I always have to do more. If I'd
only...done more...to save them..."
They both knew that he
wasn't talking about the inhabitants of the apartment
"You did all you
could," Nightwing said softly. He moved so he knelt beside
Batman and put a hand on his shoulder. "We did all we could
tonight. We helped save five. Five whose families won't have
to mourn them tonight."
From within the building
came a rending, horrible crash as the first floor gave way. The
two men knelt there together for a long time, silhouetted against
the inferno, watching it burn, while the water from the hoses
cascaded above them to touch the flames.
* * * * *
"Oh my god,"
Batgirl said, when she saw their soot-streaked faces. "What
"We helped out at
one of the fires," Nightwing explained tiredly.
"They're all over town. Arsonists, we think. Some
accidental. Mostly industrial buildings, thank goodness."
"This was an
"Did everyone get
"I think so."
"How did things go
with the two of you?" Batman asked, even more subdued than
"We stopped another
mob--they responded pretty well to intimidation and smoke
pellets. The cops are all over the place tonight. They made our
job a lot easier."
to the limit," Batman said. "So is the fire department.
Gordon says that the mayor is declaring a state of
boss?" Robin said.
The clouds moved aside.
Moonlight, blessed, silvery moonlight bathed the city like a
calming, cool hand.
patrolling," The Dark Knight said bleakly. "Until dawn.
We have to do all that we can."
Batgirl rubbed at her
eyes with her fingers. "Until dawn."
I'd like you to check out the residential districts, make
sure things are calm..."
I'll do that," Nightwing said quickly. "That is,
if you don't mind my company," he added, looking at
She seemed puzzled.
"Uh, no. But don't you think it would be
"No time to discuss
it," Robin said cheerily, pushing Batgirl towards Nightwing.
"Have to go patrol, the city needs us."
"All right, all
right, quit pushing!" She protested.
"Meet us at the
batmobile, Miller Alley, at sunrise. And...be careful,"
Batman and Robin left
the rooftop, soaring across the street on their jumplines, an odd
contrasting pair, one large in black and gray, the other small in
scarlet and black.
said. "How unusually...friendly for him."
Nightwing walked to the
edge of the building. "Where to first, Babs?"
"Don't call me
that in uniform, dummy," she said, playfully swatting his
arm. "Let's check the garden district, move our way
"Sounds good to me.
Listen, I'm glad we got paired up, because I've been
meaning to talk to you..."
"Like the boy said,
no time," she said. She abruptly raised her rappelling gun
and fired, then leapt from the building, cape streaming behind
her, legs forward, arm muscles taut as her hands gripped the
Nightwing sighed and lifted his arms so his gliders could catch
* * * *
The blue minivan,
headlights slicing the darkness, pulled to a stop on a street
lined with tenement buildings. On the side of the minivan,
clearly defined in elegant white lettering, were the words
Children ran towards the
van, and the light, as if it were an ice cream truck. Adults,
only a few flashlights between them, some holding candles,
followed, their faces looking hollow and worried in the faint
illumination. The buildings on the street were in badly need of
paint and repair. Concrete steps were crumbling; trash lined the
A man got out of the
vehicle. He was tall, thin, in his 60's, dressed in dark
clothes and a windbreaker with "Wayne Foundation"
emblazoned across the back.
He held up his hands.
"If you will all line up patiently," he said, the
accent softly Anglican, "I have supplies for you all in the
van--flashlights, nonperishable food, and the like."
"You do?" A
middle-aged man with stubble on his chin, dressed in a dirty
white t-shirt and rumpled slacks, narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
A small boy stood at his side. Neither looked terribly well-fed
or clean. "How much will it cost me?"
The thin man opened the
sliding van door and started removing boxes. "Not a cent,
sir. These supplies come courtesy of the Wayne Foundation. There
is a crisis in this city; the Foundation is equipped to aid in
such situations." He handed a flashlight and a few packets
of food to a young, lone mother with a baby and a six-year old
girl. "Perhaps you should stay indoors, madam," the man
said kindly. "It's not terribly safe on the streets
tonight." He held out his finger for the baby to grasp, then
extricated himself. The man's head vanished into the van as
he pulled out two more boxes. "We also have batteries,
transitor radios...one per customer, I'm afraid. But
hopefully it will do until the power company gets the lights back
"Yeah? How long
will that be?" asked the middle-aged man, accepting a
flashlight and a transitor radio. He handed the radio to his son,
who immediately tore open the packet of batteries and with expert
fingers inserted them into the radio.
say." The Wayne Foundation representative offered a
dignified smile and held out a flashlight and batteries to the
A few stations, the ones
with backup generators, were still on the air. A burst of static
and voices came from the radio as the boy twiddled the dial.
"...fires in the
waterfront district...*crrrk*...accident in
midtown...*crrk*...hotline, call 1-800...*crrk*...generators at
Blackgate are fully functional, according to prison officials
...*crrk*...a guy just called my cell phone from his cell phone,
says he just saw The Batman. Bill, what do you think? Is this a
lot of hooey? Is he helping? Or are these sightings the result of
mass hysteria?...Well, Don, there are some who feel, particularly
in a situation like this, that it's a comfort to know
there's someone out there in the darkness to pick up the
pieces that slip through the fingers of the GCPD. And I have to
say I agree. The Batman is a hero, whether the city officials
want to admit it or not."
"No, no," said
the thin man, waving away the crumpled money a man thrust at him.
"As I mentioned before, no payments is required. If you
would like to make a donation to The Wayne Foundation, I have
forms in the van. Here, make sure you get batteries for that
* * * *
They leapt the gap
between the buildings in unison, and ran across the roof.
"I think we lost
them," Batgirl said, stopping to catch her breath. She
laughed. "That was one of your more insane ideas."
Nightwing raised his hands in protest, a lopsided grin on his
face. "We were out of smoke pellets. Had to break it up
"You blew a
raspberry at a guy holding a two-by-four."
"A deadly weapon,
the raspberry," Nightwing said, making his voice low and
rough in a mockery of an old radio-show hero. "Criminals
tremble with fear."
"No, they just
chase you so they can beat the tar out of you." She raised
her head as a faint, warm wind swirled across the rooftop,
stirring her red hair and her cape. "Dawn's not far
Nightwing said, and rubbed his chin with his palm tiredly.
"Robin looked tired, too, although the kid would rather die
that admit it. He was just far too perky." He lowered his
hand to his shoulder and rotated his injured arm experimentally,
then winced. "Damn."
Batgirl turned to him,
concern showing on her face even through the concealment of her
cowl. "Let me look at it."
okay...ow, watch it..."
Carefully, she peeled
away the gauze and inspected the wound.
he said, turning his head towards the top of hers, positioned so
that if she raised her head they would be nose-to-nose.
live," she said, replacing the bandage. She raised her head,
met his eyes, and quickly stepped away.
he said, holding his hand out after her.
She stopped at the edge
of the rooftop, hugging her arms, while the breeze danced around
her. She closed her eyes. "Not now. Not while we're
He opened his mouth to
object, even as he knew she was right, when a faint sound drifted
to them, borne on the pre-dawn wind. "What was that?"
Together, they strained
rooftop," she said, turning and walking back the way they
He followed her. They
reached the cornice, then turned simultaneously and ran for the
far edge. They leapt again, easily clearing the gap.
There was a ventilation
shaft in the center of the next rooftop, covered by mesh grating.
Batgirl knelt by the
shaft and cupped her hands to her mouth. "Hello?"
"Oh my god, is
"Yes! Where are
you? What happened?"
"Oh, my wife and I,
we're trapped in the elevator. We've been here all
night. I've got the top hatch of the car open, I've
been calling up the shaft hoping someone would answer. We would
have climbed out but my wife is eight months pregnant."
we'll get you out of there," Batgirl called down.
Nightwing knelt beside
her and began to inspect the mesh, murmuring something under his
breath over and over. It took Batgirl a moment to decipher it.
don't go into labor oh please don't go into labor oh
please don't go into labor..." he shut his eyes as if
in fervent prayer, then opened them and pulled a knife from his
belt. "We can cut this, then I'll lower down to them.
You pull them up one at a time, the pregnant woman first."
man called. "Sorry to nag, but..."
okay," Batgirl shouted down to him. "We're coming
down to get you. My partner's going to rig a harness for
your wife and I'm going to pull her up."
cutting the mesh and tore it away. Batgirl handed him a jumpline,
then hooked the grapple into a steam outlet chimney. He stood,
back to the opening, his hands holding one end of the line, she
holding the coil facing him. "Ready?" he asked.
he called down the shaft, and with Batgirl holding the line, he
lowered himself backwards through the opening.
The darkness in the
shaft smelled of oil and rust. Holding the line with one hand,
Nightwing let himself dangle for a moment and withdrew a
flashlight the size of a pen from a pocket in his sleeve. He
switched it on and held the light in his teeth. It made a thin,
laser-like beam of light down the shaft, and finally brought into
view a man in his mid-thirties with sandy hair. He stood on top
of the elevator car, holding the cables to steady himself. His
shirt-sleeves were rolled up and his tie lay discarded in the
grime on top of the elevator.
"Hi," the man
said, a fine layer of soot covering his pleasant face.
Nightwing nodded a
hello, his mouth full of flashlight. He lowered the last few
yards and dropped lightly to the top of the car, then tucked the
flashlight into its pouch, leaving it turned on. The emergency
lights of the elevator car provided a faint, reddish illumination
The man stared at him.
"You..." his eyes took in the costume and the mask. He
let out a shaken breath that was almost a laugh. "I thought
you were...I assumed you were cops, but you're not
you're...everyone says it's just urban legend,
but..." a slow grin began to spread across his face,
"...here you are...it's an honor--"
"I think you
probably have me confused with someone else," Nightwing
said, a bit acidly, busying himself with the line.
Nightwing?" the man finished.
all about you!"
the man said, as if this should be evident to anyone with a
brain. "Everyone's heard of Nightwing. I'm Al, by
the way, this is my wife, Debbie...Deb! Look who's
Nightwing leaned over
and looked down into the car. A small woman with lots of long
dark hair gave a little gasp of surprise then waved cheerfully.
Al patted his pockets,
an unconscious gesture. "I'd love to get your autograph
but..." he coughed, embarrased. "This is really the
wrong time, forgive me. Now that I'm done babbling at you
like teenage fanboy, what should I do to help?"
here's what we're going to do," he said with
energy, revelling in his work. "You're going to hop
down into the car and help me get your wife up here. Then
I'm going to use the rope to make a sling and my partner up
there is going to pull her up."
Al hopped down into the
car, while Nightwing muttered, once, "Please, please,
don't go into labor..."
called down. "You okay down there?"
yelled up to her.
Down in the car, Al had
scooped his extremely pregnant wife into his arms.
"Well," he said to her, "this isn't the worst
night we've ever had."
said, chuckling. "I can think of worse fates that being
trapped with you for hours on end."
With some effort,
grunting from the weight, Al lifted Debbie and their potential
offspring towards the escape hatch. Nightwing reached down and
grasped Debbie under her arms, pulling her up, straining a little
costume," Debbie said, looking him up and down.
"Who's your tailor?"
he said. "How's the bambino?" Nightwing tugged on
the rope and Batgirl gave him more slack. He began wrapping the
rope around Debboe, forming a rescue seat.
she said, raising her arms so he could work. "We decided not
to peek at our present ahead of time."
Al pulled himself out of
the elevator car, joining them. "How is it out there?"
he asked seriously.
Nightwing said. "All right, Debbie, I want you to hold onto
the rope, like this. Don't make any sudden moves, and stay
calm. This line could hold an elephant."
thanks," said Debbie.
serious! We tried it once. So you and your...luggage...should be
fine. I'll be right here if you get into trouble. I'm a
good climber. Ready, Batgirl?"
said. "You mean...the Batgirl?" He looked as if
he'd won the lottery instead of being trapped in an oily,
dark elevator shaft.
"The one and
only." Nightwing grinned. "Hoist away!" he called
The line went taut, and
then Debbie was hanging in space, supported by the makeshift
rescue chair. Before she was raised further, Debbie reached down,
grabbed Al, and kissed him long and hard.
Slowly, Debbie went up
the shaft. The line swayed a little, and Nightwing heard
Al's sharp intake of breath. A bit uneasy himself, Nightwing
reached out and put his hands on the shaft wall, prepared to
climb up to her if needed.
At last Batgirl's
face appeared, staring down at them. She reached for Debbie,
carefully pulling the pregnant woman out of the shaft.
A few moments later the
line dropped down. "You next, Al."
said calmly, as the line pulled him up. "People pay money at
amusement parks to feel this kind of adrenaline rush."
"It's quite a
ride," Nightwing said, under his breath.
After long minutes, the
line dropped down again. "Want to come up and join us?"
Batgirl called down to him.
He transferred the
flashlight from the pouch back to his mouth, and looked up, The
thin flashlight beam caught her in the eyes. She squinted.
"Beautiful," he said, his mouth full of flashlight,
"if you're up there, you bet." Catching the line,
he coiled it around his waist a few times, then grabbed hold.
The line went taut and
he felt it dig into his sides. With his feet, he helped her pull
him up the shaft, using a swinging motion similar to that
employed by rock climbers. Batgirl went hand over hand, pulling
the line in as if he were a fish. He grabbed the edges of the
shaft as she released the line and seized his arms.
Out on the rooftop, Al
held Debbie under the curve of his arm.
you to the nearest emergency shelter," Batgirl told them.
"Can you climb down a fire escape?" she asked Debbie.
The woman nodded.
"Thank you. Thank you so much."
"Yeah," he said weakly. "For a while there, we
were afraid Deb would go into labor right there in the elevator
"You and me
both," Nightwing muttered.
* * * *
Robin had to jog to keep
up with Batman's long strides. The street was still, only broken
glass and trash to show any violence had occurred there earlier.
Neon signs sat darkened; it was hard to make out what they read.
The boy winced and put
his hand to his side.
Without turning around,
the caped and cowled figure stopped still.
something from me," he said.
Hastily, Robin lowered
his arm. "No, I'm fine."
The dark figure turned
then, his shadow, cast by the moon, falling over the small
scarlet-clad figure. Batman lifted the boy's arm and lightly
tapped his ribs.
Robin gasped, then set
his mouth in a firm line, back straight.
"How long have you
been concealing that?"
fidgeted. "A while...few hours, I guess."
Batman made a low sound
in his throat, almost a growl.
"It's only a
bruise," Robin protested.
A light flickered;
confident voice called out of the darkness. "Who's
The man stopped and
stood a few feet away, shining the industrial-strength beam of
his flashlight on them.
He was young, maybe in
his early twenties, tall and wiry with dark skin and straight
brown hair. He wore the uniform of a GCPD beat cop.
said, in some surprise. "Wow, have I heard the buzz about
you. Didn't think I'd actually get to meet you so soon. I've only
been in harness for three months. My name's Angelo, by the way.
This is so incredible. And Robin too. Great job you're doing, mi
amigo, put 'er there."
Delighted at being
noticed, Robin held out his hand for Angelo to slap.
In the face of the
rookie's enthusiasm, Batman only said quietly, "How goes the
"Oh, you know,
rough at times. But I did okay, I think. Helped a girl and her
grandmother to a shelter, earlier, tried to stop the riots."
His face was smudged
with dirt and something darker.
partner?" Batman asked.
hurt," Angelo said flatly, his anger long gone cold but
still raw. "Senseless. She was only trying to help. I got
her to Gotham General, they say she will be ok." His eyes
went to Robin. "I heard you say something about the kid
being hurt. Can I help?"
"I said I'm
okay!" Robin almost shouted, his voice squeaking with
annoyance and fatigue.
Angelo held out his
hands, chuckling. "Easy, mi amigo. This one is a
firecracker," he added to Batman, gesturing at Robin with
his thumb, hand fisted. "Well, it'll be dawn soon and this
godforsaken night will be over. I'm going to check on my partner.
Batman." He brought his fist to his chest in salute.
"And Robin. Muchas Gracias for what you do for this
He started off,
flashlight bobbing. Batman and Robin continued toward the alley
where the batmobile awaited them.
But Angelo stopped and
The Dark Kniqht halted
and said, in a tone that might cause many to hesitate to ask
further questions, "Yes?"
wondered..." he said hesitantly, his thumb fiddling with the
flashlight switch. He stared down into its glow for a second,
then raised his eyes to the caped figure again. "What do you
do on nights like this? When it gets to be too much, I mean. How
do you keep going?" The rash confidence was gone, replaced
by the aching need for an answer, for guidance.
"I remember a
promise I made."
Angelo nodded, and his
fingers came up to brush the badge on his chest. He walked away.
As he disappeared around
a corner, a street lamp flickered into life. Then another, and
another. Lights came on in buildings. Streetlights winked green,
From a few blocks away,
echoing down the empty streets, they heard a voice that sounded
like the rookie's shout out in an unrestrained whoop of
Batman and Robin stood
together in one of the pools of light for a long time as
throughout Gotham, the darkness grew less visible, and sunrise
came at last.
Nightwing and Batgirl
perched on the ledge of a billboard, watching the city. The wind
increased, bringing with it a breath of coolness.
Sirens, fewer and
farther between than earlier in the night, sounded distantly.
There were police barriers along the avenues. Stores with their
gates torn away presented smashed windows like jagged wounds.
Trash littered the streets. The moon had set, plunging Gotham
into darkness again, but the darkness was different now. There
was an expectant quality to the sky, a premonition of light.
"Dawn is an hour
away," Batgirl said, looking up at the sky. "I think
we're going to make it. Gotham is going to make it. The
officer at that emergency station said that Arkham and Blackgate
held. They held. I can hardly believe it." She
shuddered. "Imagine. Imagine if those generators had failed,
if even one had been on the outside with the idea of freeing the
others, of setting off a bomb..."
A seagull swooped past
them, its white feathers seeming to glow.
lucky," Nightwing said, voice distant. He watched her while
she lowered her eyes to the street below once again, as the wind
tugged her hair and cape forward around her.
"They said the
power company should be done fixing the problem," she
continued. "We could have light at any moment..."
There was a hum and a
click and then illumination, blinding and hot, caught them from
below like stagelights. They both shied back, hands up
floodlights had come on. As if they had set off a chain reaction,
up and down the block lights flickered on in the buildings. A
soft roar filled the early morning from a thousand restored air
conditioners and cooling systems. In the distance came the sound
of jubilant cheering.
Caught in the light,
their shadows etched on the colorful billboard behind them,
Nightwing and Batgirl froze, speechless. Batgirl swallowed,
embarrassed, as her eyes glimmered, and she choked down the
"...and then there
was light," Nightwing murmured.
He slowly reached out
and took Batgirl's wrist, drawing her gently towards him; as
if under a spell, she didn't pull away, but took a step
closer to him, her fingers coming up to touch his arm. It was
like their dance at the beginning of the night, automatic,
instinctual. He cradled the back of her head in his palm and
kissed her, long and deeply, in the light.
They broke apart as she
sagged back against the billboard for support, stunned. Without a
word, he spread his arms, releasing the gliders, and then leapt,
letting the wind carry him away.
* * * * *
She found the long,
sleek black car--if it could be called something so mundane--in
the promised alley. Batman and Alfred were waiting, the butler
oddly informal in a black turtleneck and black pants.
"...yes sir, all
the boxes of flashlights are gone," Alfred was saying.
"I took the liberty of returning the van to the garage and
putting my foundation attire inside before coming here. The usual
precautions we discussed." He looked up as Batgirl lightly
dropped to the pavement nearby. "Ah, there you,
Batgirl," Alfred said smoothly, as if she were merely late
for teatime. "Everyone accounted for then, sir."
in, said he was going straight home to his loft," Batman
"Oh," she said
flatly. "Where..." She glanced into the back of the
car, whose protective doorshield was halfway open, and had her
Robin, known as Tim
Drake by daylight, was curled up in a ball on the backseat, his
cape tucked over his shoulders like a blanket, peacefully asleep.
"Poor boy, he was
completely worn out." Alfred tut-tutted.
"He did well
tonight," Batman said, allowing the quiet pride to show in
his voice. "And he has two cracked ribs," he added.
Batgirl put her gloved
fingers to her lips. "Oh no, it was that lead pipe that JD
had...I knew Robin had been hit, but he seemed okay, honest, I
The tall, caped figure
held up a hand. "I didn't notice it myself until a
short while ago. He hid it well." It was difficult to tell
if he was angry or impressed.
well and good," Alfred cut in, "but I believe you all
need a good night's sleep. Batgirl, you are of course
welcome to stay the night at the manor..."
right, Alfred. My apartment's not far." She gave a
full-faced yawn, extending her arms above her head. "I think
I...I'd like to take the scenic route."
Through the break
between buildings, the horizon was visible, growing from pale
rose to scarlet. It was going to be a brilliant sunrise.
A flicker of
something...perhaps a smile, touched the Dark Knight's lips.
"Get some rest, then," he said. "Tomorrow
night's clean up."
wait," she said dryly, and reached for the fire escape
His cape fell around his
shoulders, covering his torso completely. "You also did well
Fighting against the
small smile she could feel tugging at her mouth, she reached for
the bottom rung of the fire escape ladder, then swung herself up.
"I think we all did."
* * * *
A steady knocking awoke
her. Stirring, she groped at the nightstand, overturning a
picture frame and knocking a book to the floor. After moments of
blinking and disorientation she realized the sound was not her
alarm but the door.
She sat up. Her clock
said it was about noon. It hardly seemed possible that it had
only been that morning she had watched the sunrise from an alley,
standing outside the batmobile. Bright summer sunlight streamed
in through the slats of her venetian blinds, casting bands across
the rug. Throwing off the covers, she grabbed her robe off a
chair, stumbled to the door, and opened it.
Dick Grayson stood with
his hand poised in mid-knock, dressed in blue jeans and a heather
rubbed her fingers in her eyes. "What are you doing
For a moment she had an
overwhelming sense of deja vú, remembering a night years ago
when Dick had come to her door, waking her up just like this,
coming to her agitated and upset and almost incoherent, his eyes
begging for help before he shut her out.
She looked at him. He
seemed calm, except he stood awkwardly just outside her door,
"Want to come
in?" she inquired.
"I came to ask you
to breakfast," he said abruptly. "We need to
* * * *
The 24-hour diner had
kept itself running throughout the blackout, using thermal
catering equipment to dispense coffee to exhausted cops and
rescue workers and local residents.
Having weathered the
disaster, the diner was now offering "blackout survivor
specials" to a cheerful, noisy, packed crowd. The
counterman, dressed in white apron, shouted orders back to the
cook while a waitress in a pink uniform flirted and joked with an
EMS driver. Music played on the jukebox, a rock song with a
stirring beat and an upbeat outlook, the kind of thing you could
dance to. Everyone wanted to feel good now that the crisis was
They sat in a booth in
the back, in the corner, seeking relative quiet.
Dick plowed his way
through a stack of banana-walnut pancakes and a side of bacon. He
seemed almost to be storing up energy, as if this were the last
meal of a condemned man. Barbara, her red hair pulled back with
an elastic, reached for the maple syrup and poured it over her
Snippets of conversation
from the other tables drifted towards them.
"...if that cop
hadn't been there..."
firegirl. Man, she looked so tiny, I thought she'd
fall over under the weight of that equipment. And then she picks
up Fred--and you know how heavy he is, just slings him
over her shoulder, and carries him out of there..."
"...this guy, I
don't even know his name, he showed up with a flashlight and
guided us out of the subway tunnel. I think he was a token booth
clerk or something..."
"...stuck in an
elevator with my boss. Can you imagine?"
Barbara stirred her
coffee. "Sounds like we weren't the only heroes out
there last night," she said in a low voice.
said, not surprised, but heartfelt.
"...and then this
caped figure appeared...his eyes glowed...no, I swear! Never seen
anything like it. He saved our lives. Urban legend my a--"
Sipping her coffee,
Barbara stole a glance at Dick over the rim of her mug, and was
astonished to find a small smile on his face as he eavesdropped.
She set down her mug.
"Okay, Grayson, spill it. What are we doing here?"
His eyes went to her
face, and he coughed. "Yeah. That." He swallowed,
shifted in his seat, picked up his straw, twiddled it in his
fingers, and then dropped it. "About last night..."
"Dick, I don't
He held up his hand,
palm flat. "No. Hear me out."
She closed her mouth.
Her hands, resting on the table on either side of the mug, curled
into fists, and she remained silent.
"We both know what
I'm talking about," he said, pitching his voice lower.
"I know what I felt. I think you felt it too. You're
going to deny it, even though we know what the truth is, and see,
the thing is, Babs...Barbara...I understand how you feel.
You're going to write it off because you're afraid I
might leave again, the way I did before." He let out a long,
shaken, breath and his fingers found the straw again and began to
fidget, even though he kept his eyes on her face. "And I
want you to know that I don't blame you at all. I
didn't ask you here to tell you you're wrong, or...talk
you into anything. I just have to say what has to be said. For a
lot of reasons."
The jukebox song
switched, to something a decade old, with a haunting guitar riff.
"Damn it, I have
Dead silence fell
between them, forming a bubble that made the noise around them,
the clatter of plates, the music, the post-blackout gossip seem
sorry," he said. "I am so, incredibly sorry. It's
only words, Babs. But even if you accept my apology now, know
that it wouldn't be enough, it won't make me feel any
"You left without
saying goodbye," she whispered, tears stinging her eyes.
Mortified, she wiped them away and quickly took a gulp of her
"You refuse to even
cry in front of me," he said flatly. "Cry, curse,
yell...something. But you never did."
"I cried," she
said through clenched teeth. "While you were away. When no
one else could see or hear."
He caught his breath,
blinked, startled as much by her candor as the revelation itself.
"You sent a
postcard," she continued, her voice thick with anger and
hurt. "A stinking postcard saying you were alive, Tibet
next. You know how awful it was? Watching how it was eating Bruce
up inside, watching Alfred try to pretend he wasn't
hurting...but all I could really think about was myself. About
how much I missed you. About how it wasn't that you'd
left Batman and the cave and Gotham, but me. I'd be
out on the streets, on the rooftops, each night and imagine you
were still there beside me. God, I missed you. But Batgirl is
supposed to be strong. And I was pissed off at you. So I
didn't let anyone see it. But when there was no one around,
I cried. And I hated you for it."
"I try to."
She closed her eyes.
He reached out, put his
hand over her clenched fist, opening her hand, touching the back
of her hand with his fingers.
A sob broke from her.
"Don't," she said.
what? This?" he said softly, and leaned across the table to
kiss the wetness beneath her right eye.
she said, but left her hand in his, allowed him to kiss her other
eye. Finally, his lips moved down to hers, and as he began to
kiss her, she responded. Her grip tightened around his fingers.
He pulled away first and
they sat facing each other.
"Okay, I deserved
that," he said. "The bastard part, probably not the
kissing, but I'll take what I can get. I am sorry, Barbara
Gordon. I am sorry I left without saying goodbye to you or
without contacting you or explaining what I was going through. I
was a complete and total abject idiot, all other idiots bow
before me and not that I have any excuses, but remember that you
were a part of what I had to escape from. You were a part of it,
the cave, all of it...I was a little crazy, I'd pent things
up so long, and when I left it was like...I felt free, like an
adult, for the first time in my life, I wasn't..."
sidekick," she finished for him.
"I love you,"
he said. "I kept thinking about you when I was travelling,
I'd see a girl with red hair in a crowd...in China, I found
myself a sensei, and he had some female students. Every time they
leapt, kicked, ducked, punched...they reminded me of you. I
always loved you, from the first moment we met on a Gotham
rooftop, you made me so mad, you were so cocky, so sure you could
She laughed. "I was
cocky? Look who's talking."
"I thought you were
the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen in my life," he
said. "And you cut me to the ground, put me in my place. But
I never...I never let myself feel what I felt. I buried it.
Besides, I'd met someone new, someone equally as exciting
who had nothing to do with the rooftop world. You were the two
loves of my life, Babs."
said, tracing the edge of the coffee mug with her finger.
"What do we do now?"
depends," he said, and bit his lip. "I have to be up
front with you. I'm not staying in Gotham. I'm not
leaving right away, but I've been thinking a lot and
it's time for me to go. For me to find my own path."
to leave," she said, her voice leaden. Then a light dawned
in her eyes. "Oh, no, Dick, did you and Bruce..."
said. "In fact...it's okay between us. I understand him
better now. Which is exactly why I can leave. That was one reason
that brought me back to Gotham. The other was you. If
we're...okay...I can leave."
serious?" Her mouth opened. "I'm not buying it,
Grayson. So, if I'm still mad at you..."
"Here I stay,"
he said, spreading his arms wide. Then he let his arms fall.
"Babs, you don't have to love me. But I want you to
forgive me. If I can't have the first part...well..."
he trailed off. "I've survived worse," he said,
his voice raw. He quickly covered it, his voice taking a teasing
note again. "C'mon, Babs, you gonna let me shake the
dust of this one-horse town off my heels or not?"
"What happens if I
do still love you?"
"I have to leave
The jukebox went silent.
The waitress hollered back for some pigs-in-a-blanket. Early
afternoon sunlight advanced across the formica.
"I guess you'd
better leave, then," she said, her voice quiet and full, as
if holding a secret.
A very happy smile
quirked at his mouth before he could control it.
"Where will you
go?" she said, her voice normal again.
said slowly, "...there's this little city downriver.
It's not much, but they really could use some help."
She raised her eyes to
his. "Dick...you're not thinking of..."
cesspool!" she said. "Anything too disgusting for
Gotham flows downstream to Bludhaven."
"Hey, watch who
you're insulting," he said with mock indignation.
have any help, Dad says the police department's corrupt from
the top down..."
have my work cut out for me, won't I?" he said with
satisfaction. "I have to go, Babs. I have to do this. But
look, it's only half an hour away. We could see each other
all the time, I'd visit here, you'd visit there. We
she said, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes. If you want
to. No more secrets."
By answer, she leaned
forward and gave him a quick kiss on the mouth.
"Hm. Hope I
he added, after a pause. He spoke slowly, as if selecting each
word with tremendous care. "There is another option."
option?" she said, puzzled.
"Yeah. Instead of
the going back and forth thing."
"You could come
with me," he finished.
Silence fell between
them with a mute thud and lay there like a dead thing.
There was a crash from
the kitchen as somebody dropped a dish. Laughter burst from a
nearby table. The jukebox song rotated.
Barbara lifted her hand
into the air. "Oh, waitress..."
The woman in pink
hurried over. "How is everything?" she asked
cheerfully, then whipped out a pen and flipped through her order
booklet. "Ready for your check?"
Barbara glanced at Dick,
then turned back to the waitress.
more coffee," she said. "We're...going to be here