Summary: What might it take for them to see their love, the love that could save him when his world is turned upside-down? ...If he can bring himself to accept it. If he doesn't crack first.

Disclaimer: Not mine, unfortunately. Le sigh. Just call me 'DC' and colour me black-and-blue. g And the vanilla perfume was inspired by Westcott's writings. Thanks to my brother and Char for the quick betas! (AKA any mistakes left are mine)

Category: Romance, believe it or not. And this is me w'ere talking about, so of course there'll be a few touches of angst/pathos in the mix.

Pairing: Dick/Barbara. (aka Bard or Richara or Richabs... g )

Rating: If you must rate it, G to PG, or the equivalent thereof.

Continuity/Spoilers: No spoilers. So no real continuity issues. It can fit pretty much anywhere into Dick's life after he moved to Blüdhaven.

Note: In case it's not clear, the very first section and the very last one are in a later, different time-frame to the rest. I've made a note at the start of all relevant sections that the timing is different.

The Long Hard Road

"Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light."
Milton, Paradise lost.

The present...

They were just another couple, blending in fairly well – as much as they'd hoped too, anyway – amongst the myriads of other couples that had had the same idea as they, to emerge from houses preparing for the city's semi-hibernation in winter and enjoy the day. And what a day it was! It was a warm day, a delightful afternoon in late fall, when the sun was out and high in the clearest blue sky that Gotham had seen in years. And there were plenty of delights to be had when the leaves of the trees that could were turning that rustic, golden brown, when the children frolicked in green grass to the music of the birds singing the world's praises to all that would listen.

Of course, out of all the couples out to enjoy the afternoon, this particular couple did garner more than usual number of glancing looks as they moved down the paths of Gotham's Central Park. After all, it wasn't often that people saw a woman so young and radiant-looking, so beautiful, and yet so trapped in the wheelchair she rode. But if the first looks were of surprise and a dash of curiosity – and yes, even a hint of pity for such a rare beauty to be tied to such a crippling carriage – then the second, third, and even fourth looks were far better, more accepting and amused, more wistful and happy for the young woman. After all, once the passers-by took the time to see the woman and not simply the chair she sat in, it was clear exactly why her face was radiant on this fine afternoon.

It was clear who she was smiling for.

For she was never content to simply sit still and soak up the afternoon's ambience, but was always twisting around as much as she could in her chair and as much as her body would allow, fingers flying through the air as if she conducted the greatest orchestra in the world. The gestures would pause mid-stream every now and then for her to absently (and continually) tuck her coppery-auburn hair behind her ears, only for her gesturing to resume again with as much exurberance as before. Her battle with her hair, though, was a battle of control she always lost to the gentle breeze flowing through the park as she focused on pointing everything out to her companion, to the young man gently pushing her along.

And it was just as obvious why he was smiling too.

Perhaps it was the way he listened to her talking and to the sound of her sweet voice, the amused contentment that laced his smile that never turned away from her face regardless of where she pointed. Or perhaps it was the way his laughter joined in with hers, so patently amused with her vocal antics and enthused conversation, so perfectly timed to her breathing.

Yes, it was certainly clear how complete this man and woman made each other feel. If the way they were oblivious to the outside world was any indication – which it was – then these two were so deeply in love that they were like the two halves of the one heart. They were just another couple, deeply in love with each other and with their world, out to enjoy the afternoon of late fall along the shore of one of the park's many lakes.

And that lake was where they came to a stop when he pulled her chair to a standstill on the shores of that lake so that she could look out over the peaceful waters. Keeping hand on her chair – ostensibly for support, but the contact with her was good too – he carefully moved around the chair and sat on the ground beside her, one leg stretched out but the other curled up to his chest and providing a support for his chin.

They settled then into a companionable silence as they simply sat and enjoyed their surrounds and their company. After a few moments, she breathed in deeply and gave him one of those blinding smiles that neither quite realised was reserved only for each other. "Thanks for making me come, Dick," she told him softly. "It's so beautiful...and on such a lovey day..."

Flashing her an answering grin of his own, Dick slipped his sunglasses off and closed his eyes as he tilted his head back to soak up the autumn sun on his bared face. "Oh, it'll do," he quipped.

One of her eyebrows arched. "'It'll do,' he says," she echoed, shaking her head in mock-amazement. "You never cease to amaze me, Grayson."

"That's the plan," he told her cheerfully. "Besides," he smirked, "it's not as beautiful as a certain redhead I happen to know. Any day'll do as long as I'm with her."

She laughed then, the sound a clear running brook over smoothly worn rocks to his ears. "Are you sure you're not still wearing those dark glasses, Hot Pants? A girl might think you just gave her a compliment!"

And he lowered his face to grin at her, that hundred-wattage grin he'd never lost in all the years she'd known him, the one he always seemed to have for her from the moment she'd entered his life. "Ain't no compliment when it's the truth, Barb."

That earned him another laugh, along with a cheerful thwack on the arm which was worth putting up with for the laughter. He loved to make her laugh – he could always do that, at least.

If anything, his answering grin only increased in wattage as he chuckled to himself and put his sunglasses back on, not even bothering to pretend the punch had hurt him. They both knew it hadn't, not with the life he'd lived for so long – and still had the body to prove it.

Just like they both chose to ignore the way he couldn't stop himself flinching when she'd hit him.

She covered the slight awkwardness of that moment with another bubbling laugh and suddenly she'd turned the chair around, taking him completely by surprise as she launched herself out of it to tackle him. Now laughing himself, he let himself fall back under the power of her momentum, instinctively turning so that he'd land on his back with her on top.

They lay there for a moment, she looking at him with twinkling emerald eyes and he with his hands cradling her face while buried in her soft, coppery hair. Forgetting their surroundings entirely, everything seemed to vanish for them both except for each other as they slowly kissed, their love a slow burning coal that flamed no less hotter for it.

And then, as if by a mutual though unspoken agreement, he broke off the kiss and easily flipped her onto her back, standing himself and picking her up to carry her in his arms as he walked (limped) back to her chair. And if she let him cradle her in his strong arms for a moment longer than necessary before he put her back in her chair...well, there was a cold wind blowing and he was always so warm to her.

Then she was back in her chair, her crocheted rug tucked in comfortably around her lower body. And he was pushing her chair again down the path in his slow, steady pace that led them away from the lakeside shore to once again blend in with the crowd, just another couple out to enjoy the warm fall afternoon before the savages of winter hit the city. Here, now, they were just another couple...when they were really anything but and had the memories to prove it.


Barbara woke with a start, jerking fully awake and alert long before the dawn was due. She lay where she woke for a moment, letting the machine in her brain kick into full gear before trying to figure out what had broken her rest. The peaceful lull she'd woken to didn't last long. Barely twenty seconds, in fact, before she realised why she was awake. He was thrashing.

Nightmare dreaming. Again.

Rolling over quickly, she shook him, gently at first then harder. "Dick! Hon, wake up! It's just a dream, Dick."

He mumbled something under his breath – sounding suspiciously like a plea for someone to stop – and kept tossing.

She shook him harder and called his name again, ducking under a flailing arm suddenly heading in her direction but not quite quickly enough to escape. She flinched when his hand landed under her eye with surprising force – she'd definitely have another bruise there in the morning – but kept shaking him anyway.

But he was suddenly awake, upright, jet-black hair plastered to his forehead, gasping and staring into the smothering darkness. Shaken by the terrors of his dreams, he struggled both to regain his breath and deal with the aftermath, with the images still flashing through his brain at a relentless pace.

Not knowing what else to do but hoping physical contact would help ground him, Babara snuggled up to him and wrapped herself around his back, wordlessly offering her presence to support him if he needed it.

And he did. He did need her. God, how he needed her.

It took some time for the shaking and fine tremors to ease and finally stop. Letting out a quiet sigh when they finally did, Dick placed his hands on the arms wrapped around his waist and squeezed gently. "Thanks, Babs."

She squeezed him back in reply. "The dream again?"

He blew out his breath in a fierce gust. "Yeah."

"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked quietly, gently, honestly sincere in the offer and squeezing his waist again to make sure he knew that.

For the first time since— since the dreams started, the outright refusal and shunning of her touch after her offer didn't come. Actually, to be honest, nothing came. He was silent on the matter. He didn't move, and he didn't talk. For her part, she made no move to push him, content to just hold him, knowing he'd talk eventually. When he was ready. Or when it got too bad.

If he didn't crack first.

Finally, after several long minutes, he shook his head. "I can't, hon," he whispered, his voice as tired and pained as the rest of him. "I just... I can't. Not yet."

She kissed him then, once again telling him without words that she was there for him, whenever he was ready – and even if he never was. He shifted in her arms after a moment, moving to brush her skin with his lips and then pulling her down to lie beside him once more. He simply held her then, held her close and hoped she'd ground his body if not his subconscious mind in his dreams as he felt her drift into a light doze that slowly deepened into sleep.

Hours more passed for him until his racing mind was forced to follow her into sleep by his exhausted body.

Cellphone. Her cellphone was ringing. It had to be her's. It was the only phone in all of Gotham with Sting's "Desert Rose" as its ringtone. Pausing in the aisle, she quickly burrowed through her bag for the phone, finally managing to pull it out and flip it open on the third repetition of the music. "You're on."


The tentative, breathless whisper in her ear was instantly recognised. "Dick?" she replied, both smiling and frowning, glad to hear his voice but worried too. He'd been sleeping when she'd left and he'd known for years that contacting her on the phone was always to be a last resort. Too easily traced for her comfort. "What's up, Hot Shot?"

He was quiet for a moment. "I woke up and you—" he broke himself off, but that still told her the whole story without the need for more words. She'd learned to read his pauses rather well of late. She knew right away that he'd been dreaming and when he'd woke to find her not there, to find himself alone...

"We needed some groceries," she told him, keeping her voice light but sincere to show him it was okay, that nothing had happened, telling him she was fine, and that she was sorry for not being there. Damn. I thought I'd be back before he woke up. "You okay?"

He released his breath in a long, hard gust to force his body to relax. "Yeah, I'm fine now," he told her tersely, the boundless fear slowly draining out of his voice now that he'd heard her voice, but it was leaving behind an aching bundle of agitated emotions. He wouldn't be truly fine until she was back, until he could hold her and convince himself that nothing had happened, that the dreams were wrong. "You be home soon?" he asked quietly.

"Five minutes, I promise. Unless the checkout lines are longer."

"Okay," he replied softly, but didn't hang up.

Her forehead creased in concern, his actions telling her that the dream must've been really bad this time. "I'll be fine, hon. I'm just at the corner store."

"I know. I just..." Another hard breath. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to worry you," he told her, finally managing to get his voice under control again. But she could still hear the self-deprecating pain in his words.

She smiled softly. "Likewise. I love you."

"I love ya too," he replied just as softly, then closed the connection.

It actually took her eleven minutes to get home from the corner store. Six minutes later than what she'd promised. That was all she could think about as she rolled herself towards the front door, the paper bag of groceries nestled securely on her lap. Six lousy minutes. The front door was locked, which both did and didn't surprise her. Yes, she'd accidentally left it unlocked when she'd left...but she wasn't surprised to think that he'd locked it after he woke up. It was the kind of thing he'd do, nowadays. That paranoia was just another thing she had to watch out for – although, on the other hand, it wasn't paranoia when the bad guys were real.

Six minutes. Stopping outside the front door, she fumbled for a moment as she tried to reach around for the bag slung off the back of her wheelchair so she could get out her keys. Damn chair. There was never a comfortable (or secure) place to put her purse when she went out.

There was a bit more fumbling too as she struggled with the keys and the locks on the door while trying to keep the groceries on her lap. None of the locks wanted to turn easily and she kept picking the wrong keys to use. She made yet another mental note to one day get Dick to tell her how on earth he could so quickly tell all these keys apart by touch alone.

Six minutes.

Another mental note went towards reminding herself to one day get him to calm down about being alone. She could hear him pacing on the other side of the door, probably making a big circuit from the kitchen to the family room to the couch to the dining table, and then back to the kitchen for the cycle to begin again. Her carpet was literally wearing thing along that well-beaten track. God, he was almost neurotic about the weirdest things ever since he'd been...since he'd moved in with her. Having someone at the door was just one of them.

That thought twisted her mouth in a bitter smile. Hang-ups about front doors and who was on the other side was now just another thing they had in common.

Still, it was enough for her to be sure to drop her keys and curse loud enough to be heard through the door, so that he'd know it was her and calm down. Not that she thought it'd do much good. And, sure enough, she heard the pacing slow, stop for all of five seconds, then he abruptly resumed again. Even outside, the door and most of the house between them, she could hear the limp in his walk that was getting worse the more he paced – but he never once slowed down or halted again. The relentless slightly-out-of-kilter rhythm would've driven anyone else mad by now. Come to think of it, maybe that's why they were both a bit neurotic at times...

Six minutes. Actually, on second thought, she rather thought that by now he'd be beyond neurotic. Six minutes late. Damn.

Then she finally had the door open and was rolling herself inside, letting it fall shut behind her and lock. "I'm back!" she called out, even though she knew he was already aware who'd been at the door. Sometimes it helped them both to talk about the obvious.

She rolled herself to the kitchen and got herself busy with putting things away. Better to let him calm down before she talked to him...or before he talked to her, whichever order it turned out. Besides, she really did want the weight of the groceries off her dead legs before she cut off her own circulation without realising it – one of the joys of being a paraplegic that they never mention in the introductory brochures.

It wasn't long before he appeared at the doorway into the kitchen, but she didn't turn around from what she was doing. Well, she would have, but her head was buried inside a cupboard. She only knew he was there because she'd barely managed to hear his eternally-light footsteps approach and then stop.

"Babs?" The question was just as tentative as he'd been on the phone, but this time for different reasons. She could sense no fear this time, just all the questions running through his mind like deep-sea currents below a millpond surface – no less powerful for the fact that they couldn't be seen on the surface. But she knew him too well to start doubting the existence of those currents now. Especially now. He was the most complicated man she knew.

"I'll be with you in a minute, Dick," she told him calmly over her shoulder, trying to soothe him without being obvious.

A beat. "Okay." He was letting himself be soothed, this time. "I'll wait on the couch."

She paused in her work then, listening to him turn around and move away, hearing in his careful, measured footsteps the pain both emotional and physical that he'd refused to let his voice show. Her eyes closed, tears threatened, her body shook...and then the moment was past and she was composed again.

The last few items still couldn't be put away fast enough. And the lounge-room seemed to be an hour away, it took her so long to cross that short distance.

He was waiting, as he'd promised. She just considered herself thankful he'd chosen to wait on the far end of the couch and had remembered to prop his leg up. She rolled herself to him, quickly getting herself out of the chair and settling herself beside him on the couch. Hands entwined, outside of thighs touching, shoulders rubbing. His grip was unconsciously strong, but she didn't complain, just gripped him tighter in return. A conversation in touch, in unspoken words into the comfortable silence between them.

Finally, she spoke the words aloud. "The dreams?"

"Yeah." He hesitated despite himself, his grip on her hand tightening for a moment as his expression tightened into his 'brave face'. "The usual."

She nodded to herself. That was as much as she could expect out of him – until tonight that is, or the next time the dreams came. Whichever came first. That thought was enough to make her nestle her head into the crook of his neck, the place she privately thought of as her own. "How's your knee?"

He shrugged and wrapped an arm around her, holding her close and saying nothing in that way of his that spoke volumes. Another silence between them, but not quite as comfortable as the one before it.

"I got the honeycomb," she told him finally. Comfort food for both of them, and a secret indulgence they both shared – he for the sweet honeycomb, she for the chocolate covering.

"I know. I heard you put the packets away." Another hard breath. He let go of her only long enough to rub his temples wearily. "Nothing happened?"

"No," she told him, smiling softly, unable to resist letting her free hand stroke the tiny scars on his cheek. "Nothing happened. The checkout lines were long and the traffic was worse than I thought, that's all."

"Oh." He didn't say anymore, and didn't need to. She understood all too well.

Instead, he stared straight ahead, staring down the dark days to the past that danced in his memories, staring far into the distance as he so often did these days – until she reminded him that she was here, beside him...and she had no plans of leaving.

For better or worse. She'd be here for him.




Smoking. Blazing flesh

He jerked awake in bed, sitting up with a gutteral cry torn form his hoarse throat. He'd been calling out in his sleep. Again. He felt like he'd been screaming for days. Or was it months?

"Dick! Honey, what is it!" she asked him, her voice holding all the bleariness and panic of the suddenly-awoken – although she was already fairly sure of the cause of the wake-up call. Even before she'd finished speaking, she was reaching out from where she was lying prone on the bed and pulling him back down, forcing his shaking body down into her arms. He didn't fight her, didn't move except to tremble and shiver as she slowly rocked them both from side-to-side, and somehow that worried her even more than being startled awake at – she squinted – 3:14 in the morning.

"Something's burning," he whispered against her chest, his body shaking even more and in his voice that special note that told her he was nearly hysterical, not fully out of the world of his nightmare.

"Nothing's burning," she whispered soothingly, still rocking them gently. After a moment's thought, she freed one hand to glide her fingers gently over his face and over his clenched shut eyelids, feeling the light scarring of his features. "It's okay, Dick. I'm okay. It was just the dream."

He shuddered, violently, but just once and then he held himself still. A beat. A pause. Then, "Are you sure?"

"I'm certain," she smiled for him, but sadly at the boundless fear he hadn't been able to keep out of his voice. She pulled him closer again, her hold gentle enough that he wouldn't feel trapped but firm enough to provide comfort to both of them. He snuggled in wordlessly, turning so he could spoon her from behind and hold her tightly in return, letting his body generate a picture of her through his senses despite the night-time darkness covering and blinding them both.

In his nostrils, the scent of vanilla. Her hair, tangled around the fingers on one of his hands, soft and plush like a kitten's baby fur. Her heartbeat under his fingertips, regular and the sound of her clockwork breathing rhythms. Dependable. Reliable. Her skin, tasting of sweet toffee and molten chocolate with a hint of spice lurking under the surface. The warmth of her curves pressed against him, the back of her thighs to the front of his, her shoulder blades pressing into his chest, his other hand wrapped around her slim waist with the sleek satin of her nightgown sliding under his stroking fingers.

In that moment, though surrounded by darkness, he saw her in colour, a mental image pigmented by sound, taste, smell, and touch. He held that image close to his heart, burning it into his brain over and over to try and stave off the darkness and the relentless dreams.

And when he did finally fall asleep again, she remained awake long after, staring out the window and watching for hours as the dawn of another day slowly approached.

Their location was no doubt a compromise between them, between the man's desire to hide away from the world and his woman's determination to pull him back into it.

They were in a semi-secluded area of Gotham Central Park, neither out in the open or the areas commonly frequently by the average Gothamite, nor where they so far 'off the beaten track' that there was no one nearby to hear them if something happened. Not that either of the two, appearances aside, were incapable of defending themselves in a fight – because they could fight, both of them, and fight very well, even against the worst Gotham could offer. In their prime. Between the two of them, they had more experience than the average Gothamite could ever hope to garner in a couple of lifetimes or more.

But experience meant nothing if the bodies couldn't follow the mind's demands. And this was Gotham, where no criminal was every really predictable – or completely sane. No safety was ever completely guaranteed in this city.

So he watched them. Just to be certain. He always looked in on them when he was in the neighbourhood, even if he never quite made it to making his presence known to them. It always paid to safe than sorry. He needed that reassurance. And so he watched them as they lay in an open area just a few metres away from the usual tracks, where they were given privacy by a fairly bushy hedge on one side and a grove of trees – a minaiture forest, really, a tree of which was where he watched from – on all other sides, watching as they basked in the sun with the remnants of a picnic lying forgotten beside them. They were obviously enjoying each other's company even more than they'd enjoyed the warm autumn day.

This pair really were, he reflected from his carefully hidden vantage point, a perfect couple. Anyone could see that, especially now that the two were making no effort to hide how they felt for each other behind words, behind smokescreens of obligations and responsibilities...or family. Even as he watched, the man lay back in the soft green grass, sprawling really, his body language the most relaxed and open the watcher had seen it ever since...since that terrible night when they'd found him after he'd been missing from their lives for so long.

The watcher still had nightmares about that night. And the days since. Watching the man recover was like slowly putting the pieces together in some really cracked jigsaw. But he had to watch. He couldn't not watch. He had to make sure they found all the pieces.

But he could see that something had changed since he'd last checked in on the couple. Something so subtle he could barely pick up on it himself. He realised what it was when the man didn't hesitate in pulling his girl down with him, just like she didn't hesitate to snuggle down on her living pillow, folding her arms on his chest and resting her head on them. He stroked her hair and her eyes never left his face as they talked quietly amongst themselves.

Such a perfect match...and so at ease with each other...

He smiled to himself, touched by the picture of contentment and love that they made, all his doubts about them – for him – washing away as if they'd never been. He turned to leave and—


—The twig cracked loudly under his foot.

His heart leapt up into his throat. He froze. And he waited, waited for the inevitable tongue-lashing he'd get for watching them when he'd been told specifically – and quite loudly – in no uncertain terms not to. And sure enough, the man's voice called out to him, wafting to reach his ears through the trees:

"So, you finally gonna come out of there and join us, Timbo? Or you wanna spend the rest of your life as a statue?"

Tim Drake swallowed. Yep, caught out all right. But at least I'm not dead-meat. Dick didn't sound annoyed...did he? Not yet, anyway. Telling himself that that was wry amusement he'd heard in the voice, not irritation or frustration, Tim screwed up all his courage to emerge from the tree line and make his way over to them. He also pretended not to be unnerved by the whispered conversation they held as he approached. It was probably on how many ways they could flagellate him. Definitely time for a casual, if somewhat honest, approach. He settled himself crosslegged beside them on the ground, doing his best not to fidget when neither half of the couple made any move to change positions from sprawling over (or under) each other.

Tim cleared his throat carefully. "'d you know it was me?"

Dick smiled briefly, with the barest hint of wistfulness that was overpowered by the way his face quickly lit up with amusement, delight, and more than a generous hint of mischief. "Trade secret," he retorted smugly. After a moment's thought: "Though it certainly took you long enough to come out..."

Barbara ignored the way Dick's arms were suddenly holding her close to him – and away from Tim – as she summoned a scowl at the teen before them. "Exactly how long have you been watching us, Tim?" she demanded to know in a tone brooking no argument.

The youth shifted uneasily. "Not long." He quickly flashed his most innocent grin. Please let them buy it. "Just happened to be passing by, is all." Just this once, let me get away with it.

"Uh huh," Dick replied dryly, never relaxing his hold on a scowling, stewing Barbara, "and did, by chance, that 'passing by' include the fifteen minutes it took you to sneak up on us?" A beat. Dick cocked his head to the side and arched one eyebrow. "Or the seven minutes it took you to find a good vantage point?"

Tim froze even as he felt his face heat up and he knew right away that he was blushing. Damn my pale complexion! Then he sighed, knowing the game was up – just like he was glad of the tight hold Dick still had on his girl. "Alright, fine. What gave me away?"

Dick's grin only widened – but it suddenly seemed only half of his usual wattage to Tim. "You walk like a herd of elephants."

"I do not!" Now Tim was just indignant. That was his best stealth-walk he'd used there! He was Robin, dammit, a hero in his own right, and he most definitely did not walk loudly!

"Okay, okay," Dick conceded with a dead-pan expression. "You walk like a herd of elephants with pillows strapped to their feet." A moment. "Oh, and for the record, you should lay off the late-night ventures into the Botanical Gardens. Especially after rainstorms like the one we had last night. It's hell on the dry-cleaning bills, as I'm sure you'll be finding out. And I'm told the carpets are a pain to clean as well."

"What!" Then: "How did you know about...all that?"

"I just do. I could tell from the way you walk."

Tim's jaw dropped, then he recovered himself. "Can not!"

Dick sighed. "Youth these days, I tell you. No respect for their elders. Of course I can find these things out from how you walk. I'm still a card-carrying member of the Bat family, you know," he told him firmly, tersely, then paused a moment to regroup when he realised he was getting testy. He covered it up with a shrug. "Besides, your boots are still squishy."

"Oh." That stopped Tim short. There had been a lot of mud around last night...and he had forgotten to change shoes before going looking for Dick and Barbara.

"See? I can tell what you did last night," Dick told him knowingly. "You want another example? Just listening to the way you walk, I can tell you're limping on your left leg and it's a fresh injury, which means that Alfred will probably kill you in small sections once he knows you're up and about. And so will Bruce. I'd advise leaving Gotham for...oh, maybe a month so they can get over it?" He frowned thoughtfully and then shook his head. "Nah, forget that. Leave for a year. Get yourself lost in Blüdhaven or something. You know Bruce and elephants."

Tim blinked. Twice. He thought he'd been following the conversation rather well up until that last sentence. "I do?"

Dick nodded knowingly, his expression composed and serious. "Uh huh. Or should I say, you know Batman and elephants and how well they go together."

"Batman and elephants?" Tim questioned weakly, head spinning as he tried to figure out the connection.

"Yep." A beat. To Tim, Dick sounded disgustingly satisfied with himself...and entirely too well-informed. "Elephants, Timbo. Bats and elephants."

"And what, pray tell," he carefully asked, "do those two have in common?" Besides this conversation.

"Oh, just the usual, you know," Dick replied casually, his jaw shifting slightly. "leathery hides, a tendency to get shot...and not to forget any infractions. That's why you should leave for a year. Before you get too much like bats and elephants yourself." A beat. "But at least," Dick sighed, "I can take comfort that you're not at the nail polish stage. Not yet, anyway." A beat. "Just give it time. You've got a few good years left, I'd say."

Nail polish! "I'm afraid to ask..."

"You should be," Dick told him earnestly, all serious and matter-of-fact. "That's the last sign you have before you go nuts."

He gamely fought the urge to rub his temples against the oncoming migraine. "I'm going to go nuts?"

"Yep. That's when you'll paint your nails red – hands and feet – so you can hide in strawberry bushes...just like a good elephant-bat."

Tim's jaw dropped again. That was it. Dick was finally, totally, certifiably, insane. "You're pulling my leg, Dick. Elephants and bats don't hide in strawberry bushes." A second. Two seconds. Tim's shoulders slumped. He had to ask. "Do they?"

"How would you know?" Dick argued back. "Have you ever seen an elephant hiding in a strawberry bush?"

Tim breathed out slowly and wondered where, precisely, had he lost control of this conversation? "No," he admitted quietly.

"Then don't you see, Tim?" Dick pushed triumphantly, his expression shifting craftily. "If you haven't seen one, then painting your nails red must really work as camouflage! Besides, where else do you think we circus folks put Elinore the Elephant between shows?""

Babs, unable to contain herself any longer, let out a peal of laughter and slapped her living-pillow lightly on the arm. "Dick! Stop teasing the poor kid!" Barbara turned her head in Tim's direction and made a face for the youth. "Ignore him, Tim. I'm the one who told him about your little misadventure in the botanical gardens, and he's been dying to use that elephants-in-the-strawberry-bushes joke on someone other than me since we were kids."

"Oh. Right," Tim answered slowly, paused, then made a disgusted face. "And I fell for it, didn't I?"

"Hook, sinker, and forty-feet of line," Dick confirmed cheerfully, his grin finally reappearing again, this time at its usual high wattage. And then he was sitting him and Barbara up and letting her use his body as her personal leaning post to keep herself upright and settled in his lap. (He'd put her in her chair, but that was one the other side of the picnic blanket, and besides, this way he still got to hold her.) Then, once they were settled again, he turned his attention back on Tim. "So," he began once more, casually, disarmingly, "stopped any good crooks lately?"

Tim shrugged easily. Safer territory at last. This, at least, he knew how to answer. "The usual low-life's and assorted wannabes. At least all the psychotics are in Arkham right now."

"All of them?" Dick pressed, his tone unmistakably shifting to pensive.

Oh. Not so safe afterall. Tim paused a moment, then quietly answered the real question: "All except the one we really want. But we're close, Dick. Real close."

Dick nodded and simply fell silent, closing his eyes behind his ever-present dark glasses. No snappy comebacks. No horrendous puns or bad one-liners that had once been as much a part of his arsenal as his acrobatics and fighting skills. Just his silence.

Babs and Tim shared a concerned glance. Somehow that silence was the most worrying reply he could've given.

Babs was the first to speak. "We'll find him, Dick. You know we will."

"We're close, Dick," Tim reiterated. "He's real close. We all are. The scumbag's not going to get away from us," he swore, softly but not less passionately.

Despite himself, Dick's lips twisted into a bitter, humourless smile. Yeah. Not going to get away...not this time, he finished mentally. Nope, they're not gonna mess it up like I did. But all he said in reply was an equally quiet, "Yeah, I know."

Abruptly he stood, but not before gently moving Babs off his lap and setting her down on the ground. Then he turned his back on them and walked (limped) quickly to Barbara's chair and made himself busy with readying it for her.

Their good mood shattered like so many glass slivers, nobody spoke much after that.

Barbara laid awake long into the night – or what passed for the night for Oracle and her companion – waiting for the inevitable.

It wasn't long in coming.

Barely, it seemed to her, did Dick's breathing finally settle into the gentle rhythms of sleep than it sped up again. At first it didn't bother her, thinking it was Dick waking up again. He was a phenomenally light sleeper these days. Anything could wake him now, from a slight change in her own breathing to a cat cassanovaing the neighbourhood from two blocks down. Hell, this was already about the fourth or fifth time he'd tried to fall asleep tonight alone. Then the barely audible murmuring started, and she felt that stab of resignation and apprehension filedl her gut.

Dick wasn't going to wake up to anything except a nightmare.


Careful not to jostle his body, she moved to the side a little. She'd learned that her touching him, even by accident, in the initial stages of one of these night-terrors only made things worse for the two of them. It definitely seemed to make the dreams worse for him – 'the images were more vivid,' he'd said on the only time he'd talked about them so far – and that just made it harder for her to reach him afterwards. Besides, it was safer for her to be slightly out of his reach when the thrashing got bad, as it always seemed to near the start of the dreams. Dick had never been one for quiet nightmares in all the years she'd known him, but even if the thrashing wasn't as bad as a sleep-walking episode, one of his flailing limbs would always connect with her face if she wasn't already out of the way. Then he'd just get all guilty over it when he woke, and he'd be even worse in the morning when the just-as-inevitable bruise showed up.

So, touching was out, at least until after the initial stages of the dreaming. As much as it killed her to have to sit by and watched her love be tormented over and over. And of the remaining senses, smelling and tasting were out as well – tasting required her to somehow touch him to feed him, and as for the other, well, she was fresh out of smelling salts. Not that ammonia had really worked on Dick in the past, either. So that left audio as a way for her to reach him. And that was what she did. She talked, and talked, and talked, and talked, holding onto the slim hope that the soft murmur of her voice would somehow reach Dick's mind in the nightmare world he was trapped in.

Tonight's tale was her humorous account (complete with footnotes and editorial comments) of the first face-to-face meeting of herself and Kory – Starfire – an old flame of Dick's the boy'd nearly married but hadn't thanks to a fellow superhero. She was halfway through by the time the thrashing stopped and Dick stopped that barely-audible mumbling. Mentally pausing her account – I'll finish it tomorrow night, no doubt, she thought to herself resignedly – and knowing that it was now safe to touch him, she dragged her useless lower body after the rest of her. Although his dreams were far from over, he was in too deep to feel it now as she moved across the bed they shared as fast as she could until she was once more nestled by Dick's side with her arms wrapped loosely around his chest.

But oh, how it hurt to hold him, feeling him shiver in her arms from a coldness that had nothing to do with reality or temperature. Watching him, seeing up close and personal the way his features continually twisted to the tune of his dreams. Listening, to the way his breathing constantly shifted, to the tiny whimpers she would only hear with her ear scant inches from his mouth. And she withstood it as long as she could bear. Even when he started thrashing again, she held him tight, her body pressed around his with her mouth close by his ear. That was when she started rocking him as she crooned sweet nothings in his ear, trying once again to wake him up while forcibly holding his limbs as still as she could.

Bruises be damned. Dick needs me.

No sooner did that thought fly through her mind, though, and suddenly Dick was awake. In the space of one eye blink, he'd gone from lying in her arms, insensate, trapped in a nightmare world, crying out in his dreams for someone to help him, and then he was sitting bolt upright in bed, sheets in a tangled mess around his legs, sweating and trembling, features twisted into a silent scream. And she was upright too, never having lost her grip around his neck and so was dragged up with him, but she adjusted her hold now to wrap her arms around his shaking, sweaty chest. He half-turned to her and wrapped her up in his strong embrace, instinctively reciprocating the comfort of someone to hold him and just as automatically burying his head in the crook of her neck. Knowing he wasn't fully awake and aware yet, his body reacting on instinct while his mind was still mostly trapped in his nightmare, she was content to hold him, to whisper soothing words to him and keep rocking as he found his own way back to her, to them.

Eventually, slowly, the shaking lessened and finally stopped, and she felt that tiny jerk he always gave when he finally came back to his surroundings. Then he was gripping her, not just holding her, pressing bodies together and burrowing his head even deeper into her hair. And she gave him all the wordless support she could through her hold on him as the shaking started again. Jerking, really. But not a sound of the sobbing – not outwardly, anyway, not beyond his gasping gulps for air. He was so silent about the whole thing that she almost wondered, but only until he spoke:

"S-S-Sorry— 'Mm so s-s-sor-r-ry B-Babs."

"It's okay," she soothed. "Really, Dick. It'll be okay. You'll see, one day." She closed her eyes against the oppressive darkness of the night, feeling a stab of pain her heart of hearts that she was quick to hide before he could sense it. "It'll be okay," she whispered finally. "We'll be okay." And she kept saying it, whispering those last two phrases in his ear like a mantra over and over until she felt herself almost believe it.

He only nodded silently into her neck, saying nothing, working on controlling the emotions that had been so fragmented by his dreams.

"Do you want to...?" she offered quietly, trailing off at the end. He'd know what she meant, and she kind of doubted he'd want to talk about it anyway.

Blowing out one hard breath, he finally managed to stop the trembling and held himself as still as a statue for several long seconds. Then he shook his head and gently pulled her down with him as he laid back on the pillows. "No," he whispered, voice hoarse, as if he had just been vocally sobbing. And maybe he had. "Just...hold me. Please?"

"Anytime," she told him, letting out her banked-up love and affection for the man in her life – and in her heart, let alone the man of her dreams – show in her voice as she held him close – or was he holding her? And then they drifted off to sleep...together.

Always together. Always.

She found him on the bars. The high-bars. Against doctors' orders. He must've come down here earlier, before she'd finished with her Oracle things. She'd come down here after him, after tearing around their place looking for him (or a note). The gym was a last resort. By the time she'd gotten here, she'd been fully intending to read him the proverbial riot act and a half for making her worry needlessly.

She only made it as far as the doorway. She found him, she saw him, and all her anger slipped away like water off a duck's back.

Ahhh, poetry in motion, Barbara thought to herself with a sudden grin. Hell, if this was poetry, then colour her poetic and call her an English teacher. It was hot. Red hot. And it wasn't just the body either – although it definitely is a damn fine specimen, Babs thought to herself wolfishly.

It was simply Dick. It was just the way he was. He'd always had something special about him, about the way he moved, hell, about the way he even breathed. A natural kind of grace, the kind someone did without thinking. Not that he was effeminate or anything – nope, he was definitely male and with the pig-headed, sometimes chauvinistic, attitude to prove it – but there was still a definite fluidity to his movements that he'd never been able to fully suppress or deny. He wasn't even conscious of it, most times. It was simply there. Undeniable. And so damn fine to watch.

Or, at least, it had been.

And that was what brought her up short. She hadn't seen that grace in him in far too long. Not since...since that heart-breaking night in the cave when he'd finally allowed himself to fall apart. Or, even longer back, since that awful night when he'd disappeared off her network and almost out of her life, until they finally found him after so many days of searching. And while the Old Dick might've been fluid and graceful, New Dick was almost an enigma to all of them, even to her at times.

She still knew him well enough to see that, even though his attention was so completely focused on the routine he was performing, he was still aware of her presence from the moment she'd appeared in the doorway. His routine had immediately altered slightly, not so much as if he was showing off what he could – still – do, but that the Romany performer in him was rising to the audience, to the occasion. But then Dick was like that, always subconsciously doing a slightly better job of his acrobatics if there was a warm body nearby – be they criminal or family, conscious or unconscious. Once a circus brat, always a circus brat, she mused to herself with another small smile.

That was why this return to his old graceful moves had to be a good sign. Even if it was against doctors' orders. Somethings, she was glad to see, never changed. He hadn't lost his grace, just misplaced it for a while.

Still, maybe that sense of grace he had was why the change in his routine was so obvious to her. He'd replaced his usual airborne, somersaulting dismount that the routine called for (and demanded) for a far simpler (and safer) method of finishing the routine. He simply slowed until he was barely moving, letting the bar support him as he got his feet on the ground and only letting go once he was sure he was stable.

How much that was something he did because she was watching, or something he would've done if he'd been alone, she couldn't say. In either case, both of them elected not to mention it beyond two short lines:

"Sore?" she asked quietly, her voice still carrying to his ears easily despite the space between them and the fact that she hadn't left the doorway.

Grabbing the towel he'd left lying on the floor by the high-bars earlier, he swiped the perspiration away from his face. "Yeah," he replied shortly. "But it's good." Then he half-heartedly scrubbed his arms and legs before slinging the towel around his neck. He held onto the ends as he turned himself to face her. "So," he asked her now, "what ya think?"

She grinned. "You looked great." Waaay better than great. But she couldn't tell him that, shouldn't really encourage him. "You're a real piece of work; you know that, don't you?"

"Yep. Like a masterpiece, Babs." He grinned in return and literally sauntered over to her. Even with the limp that would never leave his walk, there was simply no other way to describe the way he moved. He stopped right in front of her chair and his amused grin turned rakish.

Her chest tightened. She knew that smile. "You're planning something, aren't you, Grayson?"

Letting go of the towel around his neck, he stepped closer as he cocked his head to the side and replied with his best innocent look, "Who, me?"

Barbara wasn't fooled for an instant. That was the same innocence he'd always directed at her when she'd been baby-sitting him all those years ago and he was trying to weasel out of her a few extra privileges before bed. Another chapter read to him, one more cookie, just one more minute before lights-off, and the list went on...and on. Nope, no way was she fooled. "Know any other Former Boy Wonders, Hot Pants?" she shot back, still amused but fighting the urge to roll her chair back slightly.

Then he found the wheels of her chair with his hands, bracing himself there on his palms as she leaned forward, moving into her personal space with that patented smirk cemented in place on his lips. "Why?" he whispered softly, amusement and something more dancing under the surface of his voice. "Looking for a replacement model, Babs?"

She could only shake her head wordlessly, mesmerised by the vibrant blue of the eyes scant inches from her own that, despite everything in his life, hadn't lost that sparkle that was pure Grayson. She could lose herself in those bottomless blue depths. A few seconds later, though, reason finally kicked in. "No," she replied just as softly, still staring into those eyes of his.

"Ah." Below, at the edges of her perception, his smirk widened and his voice remained deceptively casual. "So, this model still does it for you?"

"And does a damn fine job of it," she told him firmly. He breathing sped up as he leaning in further and she again restrained an urge to back away. Just what on earth are you planning, Dick?

"Good," he smirked at her and then proceeded to answer her unspoken question when his lips unerringly found hers with the ease of long practice. Soft, tender, and oh so passionate.

A girl could definitely get used to this, Barbara thought to herself as he worshipped her lips. Then she was wrapping her arms around him and pulling him closer, and they both got a little lost in each other for a while.


He was dreaming. Again. And fighting it every inch of the way, even though he knew he wouldn't wake until the end. He never did.

...Pain. It always starts out with pain. Pain in his head like razor-sharp daggers left behind by a knife-throwing octopus, in his body like being buried in the middle of a heap of white-hot coals. Pain so bad he can barely breathe, let alone think. And he's already panting, having spent too much time running and not enough fighting.

An image of rooftops, a city stretching out before him like an unfurled tapestry. And the tall sides of buildings, rushing past till they rose far far above his head, enclosing and trapping the sky. Canvas, an awning, breaking his fall.

It's only after peeling himself up from the sidewalk that he sees them. More of the gang, standing before him, around him. His opponents. The gang that chased him down, literally.

Hide his pain and glance around. Yep, still surrounded. No path to the rooftops available. Feeling the way he feels already, there's too many to fight at once and still win.

He fights anyway. Calling on a communicator for back-up, but gets only static. They're jamming him, somehow. Or it broke on the landing. Probably both. He's in trouble either way. So he keeps on fighting, no mercy in his moves. Nerve clusters, bones, it's all fair game to make them go down and out of the fight. And they do go down, swiftly at first, then slower, till only the smarter ones are left.

Keeps fighting. Always fighting. Doesn't see the one pretending to be out, the one with a pipe in his hand and vengeance in his eyes. The one approaching from behind that he doesn't sense till it's way too late to dodge. And pain! His head! It explodes in his senses, stunning him, even as he sees himself go down with a cry.

Then the world blurs and tilts to dizzying angles as a hand grips the neck of his costume and bodily lifts him up. It's a strong grip, too strong for him to break. Brain don't wanna talk to body, and the body wouldn't listen anyway. Hanging limp instead, eyes slightly cracked open, barely able to face the pain enough to see the face of the man who held him.

Shit. Now he knows he's in trouble. It's not 'whose holding him''s more like who's watching. So many of them. And behind them all a shadow, a familiar shadow his eyes are too blurry to really see, the shadow of the one behind it all.

A hand raised, then falling. Lights out. Then darkness. Flashes of darkness.

A white space in his consciousness, blank frames in his life he cannot fill. And maybe he doesn't want to.

Waking. To darkness. Pitch black darkness. Can't see the dimmest outlines, literally not even the end of his nose. And it's quiet. Maddeningly quiet. His voice is swallowed by the darkness, by the predatory blackness.

Sensory deprivation. They're trying to break him.

Fools. They forgot his pain. He still has that. Somehow, he's even sorer than he was before. They worked him over real good this time. Everything hurts. His legs feel like they're on fire, can't move anything below the waist. Damn fools shoulda drugged him if they really wanted to break him. Pain lets him know he's alive...and that has to be a good thing. Has to be.

He waits, counting the seconds in his head to the tick of his internal clock. Picks idly at the manacles he can reach without moving, as well as the collar around his neck. Twitching muscle groups to keep the blood flowing. Regularly. Rhythmically. The pain those twitches cause him is worth it. It helps him keep his sanity intact. What's left of it. Can't let them break him.

Time passes. An eternity, or so it seems. He keeps counting anyway. Can't afford to lose track now. Even if it means not sleeping. Because they'll come for him eventually – they have to – and he wants to be ready. And they do come. Eventually. But not before he's counted his way through one day and halfway through another. Except it's not the they he'd wanted, the ones he wants to find him, to rescue him. It's them.

White light, achingly bright white light through the doorway he hadn't known was there – well beyond the reach of his chains even if he had been able to move. And it hurts! Oh how it hurts! He's spent so much time in the darkness that he can't stop himself cringing away from the painful fluorescence.

Voices. Hands. The collar removed. The chains. And he's instantly in motion. Reflexively coiled muscles release, tension flowing out of him through the blows that connect. He fights everybody and anybody. Doesn't even feel the pain of his legs or even his body anymore, only the exhilaration of finally fighting back.

Until his head explodes again and he sinks into blackness.

The needles wake him. Stimulants burning in his veins. And something else he can't quite identify. Probably some kind of drug. Does his best not to think about that as his eyes fly open behind the mask he still (somehow) wears.

Bright. Very bright. But the colours...

He's nearly forgotten colours. Drinks it in like a starving man, a man thirsty after a marathon desert treks. Can't get enough of the blue-green mold, the grey bricks, even the red of his blood and the brown of older patches. It's a wonderland of daylight and colour, one that almost makes him forget that he's lying on his back on a table of some kind. Almost.

And then he rediscovers white. A white face appearing before him, and suddenly the mask is gone. Ripped. The taser in his suit to prevent that happening doesn't trigger...which means they've already taken his mask off at least once. And then the terror hits. They've seen him, seen his face. He's a dead man walking.

"We're going to break you, you know," white-face tells him conversationally, grinning at him in that hated demented manner even as he weakly struggles against the pain and drugs to try and move his body. "You've screwed up our plans one too many times. We'll break you into tiny pieces and give them back to your little band of pajama-wearers. Then they'll break too."

Laughter as he finally manages enough control to try and pull away from white-face but is stopped by a sudden grasp of his limbs. "You can't do a thing, Nightwing," the gleeful voice tells him. "And no one knows where we are, so don't expect your family to save you."

Fear. So much terror. Been in situations like this too many times for hope to come to him. But the calmness finds him anyway. His counting starts again. He won't break; he's never broken before. Won't start now. He won't.

Then he sees a hand...and claws! The voice turns smooth, silky smooth like this is just another conversation – and maybe it is, but only to them. Not him. The claws flex. "Personally, I would've used these." Extend and retract. Extend and retract. "But the boss J-man," he's told in a breathy whisper, "well, he wants your optic nerve."

It's enough (more than enough) to make him fight, violently, fear overtaking the pain, horror lending him inhuman strength over the paralysing drugs.

"Hold him!"

But it's not enough. Hands, impersonal hands, holding him down, holding open his eyes. Can't blink. Can't move. His eyes are already drying out.

The white face appears again, smiling, leering, leaning in and purring in his ear. "And I'll be the last thing you'll ever see..."

Red. Burning red.

Horror; no other words to describe it. Absolute horror.

Red. Searing red, bleeding his vision. He's screaming. The world catches fire, burning away to black nothingness—

And then he woke, jerked upright with a half-scream-half-sob lodged in his throat. Shaking in fear, horror, terror, pain, everything so intermingled he couldn't even begin to tell where one ended and the other began. Staring into the darkness. Always the darkness. The darkness that this time will never leave.

There'll be no dawn for him this time. He's an island in a sea of darkness.

But she was there for him. Waiting. Giving him a lifeline to sanity. Holding him. Soothing. Loving.

Lighting his path.

Back to the present...

The sounds of Gotham Central Park swirled around him. Children laughing, playing games. Rustling of trees from the gentle breeze, the singing of birds. Couples walking, talking softly, loving each other in word and deed, taking advantage of this opportunity for outside warmth – or what passed for warmth in an autumn Gotham. There was only a few weeks left till the winter came and the city would freeze again.

And beneath it all he could hear Barbara talking, laughing, with a friend from her college days that she'd spotted. An old room-mate, apparently. He didn't care. He was quite content to stay here, to listen to her talking, and nurse his aching leg in the shade of the old tree he was leaning against. He'd done too much walking today.

Then there was a voice in front of him. "Dick Grayson? Is that you?"

He quickly orientated his body to the voice's direction and raised his head. "That's me," he replied easily, a gentle smile playing on his features to hide the way he'd tensed instinctively. He'd never heard the voice before. He took a quick mental catalogue. Female, on the young side, but wise and mature like she's already had (or still has) children. Nice enough. Not Barbara. Still, he extended his hand to shake, knowing it would save them both from embarrassment and an awkward moment if he offered to shake first.

The hand that gripped his and shook back was young and delicate like he'd thought, but firm too in that deceptive manner women like his Babs had. "I'm Rebecca Jameson," the woman told him, a cheery note in her voice. "Unless I'm mistaken, I think we're neighbours."

He nodded and smiled again, genuinely now, glad to have a voice to match to Barbara's description of their new neighbour. She was apparently a small woman, only slightly plump with stylish auburn hair and deep brown eyes. Her two boys – twins – evidently looked like miniature versions of her on a masculine face. "So I've heard. Babs talks a lot about you and your wonderful boys."

He could virtually hear Rebecca's smile widening at his reply, as well as a note in her voice that made him suspect he'd just inadvertently made her blush. "You're a lucky man, Mr. Grayson. You've got a wonderful woman there," she told him, still smiling, genuine warmth and friendship in her voice. Then it took on a slightly conspiratorial edge. "Now, spill. Is she just your girlfriend, or something more?"

"Girlfriend, for now," he replied honestly, then couldn't help but grin. "Don't tell anyone, but I'm hoping it'll be something more after tonight. If she'll have me."

"Congratulations!" She laughed gaily and clapped her hands, and he had the sudden feeling that this Rebecca Jameson was not a woman who could really be unhappy. "Well, I certainly hope she says yes. I think you'll make a wonderful couple."

"I think so too," he told her. "She's like the other half of me." He flashed a small grin at his private joke and added, "We complete each other."

"Oh my," Rebecca exclaimed, all laughter and giggles now as she gave his arm a part. "Something tells me she's the lucky one. It's not often you hear a man openly say such things about his woman, even before the marriage."

He only smiled softly in return, remembering all the times he'd held back on declaring his feelings until they were alone, held back from acting on how he felt until their lives went to hell in a hand-basket, until he was physically hurt by the life he'd pursued as Nightwing. And he'd held those feelings close only when they'd accidentally hurt each other with words or deeds, to tide him over until they were talking again. Times when he'd been hiding in a way that had nothing to do with the mask he wore every night, when he'd been blind in a way that had nothing to do with his sight.

This time, however, he simply cocked his head to the side and did his best to look concerned. "Well, I love my Babs," he confessed, and shifted his face to present a confused expression. "How am I supposed to keep that a secret?"

She laughed at him gaily again, her laughter clear and bright and tinkling, but to his ears it was a trickle to the babbling brook of his Babs. "Oh," she chuckled, "I definitely have to get you to meet my husband!" She'd turned aside slightly as she spoke – he could tell by the way her voice changed in direction instead of volume. "Personally, Mr. Grayson," she added, the emotion in her voice changing once again, now warm and friendly instead of amused and wistful, "I think you're both very lucky to have each other. You'll make a beautiful couple."

He paused a moment, then shrugged mentally. Oh, why not? "Really? I wouldn't know," he said as gently as he could, hiding a smile of wry amusement when he heard her gasp in shock. "I'm blind, Rebecca."

Another gasp of shock, but this time of pity as well.

And suddenly it was all he could do to stop himself from scowling at her and talking to her in The Voice. Instead he mustered up a smile despite the pressing weight of the last emotion he'd ever wanted to sense. "You see, Rebecca," he said, turning his head to face where he last heard Barbara, "my Babs is more to me than as just the other half of my heart." A smile grew on his features when he heard the slight squeak of her chair's wheels that gave her approach away. "And she's definitely worth more to me than my eyes." He felt Babs grab hold of the hand he'd held out, reassuring and lending him strength with her grip.

"She's my world."

And, hand in hand, they left the tree behind and started walking down the path once more. Together. Forever.

— FIN —

Drop a line and let me know if you like-it/hate-it/want-to-drown-it/want-more...

Dedicated to and inspired by Amanda Sichter's fic "The One-Eyed King", at

www dot comicfic dot net slash fic slash amanda slash oneeyedking dot htm. ;-)

She rocks! It rocks! Just check it out... You won't regret it.