TITLE: Path for Tomorrow
AUTHOR: Fatiferous Poet (Call me Fatey)
RATING: Teen – Some language and mild comic violence
GENRE: Action/Adventure / Romance / Angst
DISCLAIMER: Below based on characters not mine. They own the rights, etc.
SUMMARY: Nightwing out on the prowl, but ends up with more than he bargained for.

FEEDBACK: I love all types of feedback – any that are constructive so please leave a review! That way, I know your thoughts for future!! Thanks! - Fatey


CHAPTER ONE: Breaking for a Fight

They were experts in their field.

Atypical lots in this corrupt town, longing to be free.

Tonight their partner team had the legendary caped crusader busy uptown so according to the plan, they knew they were safe. Never mind the job earlier in the week of putting Bat's younger sidekick in the hospital, Thom and Charles felt that the coast was more than a little clear. The traffic split ways and left the road wide open. Which is why they ascended, dark suited like the burglar thieves they were, into Biffany's, the most expensive jewelry store in town.

Also the most almost-next-to-impossible building to break into.

"You hear something Charlie?" The shorter, dark haired man asked.

Halting where he stood, Charles listened, regarded Thom as if he were crazy, and shook his head. "Nope."

"You sure you didn't hear anything?"

"I'm sure dammit. Stop talking and worry about the fill of yer bags." Charles had little patience when it came to the job but Thom was his younger brother and in this business, it was all about the trust of family. Who else could he take on this job who was brave enough to go up against these odds and possibly chance the Bat? Thom, no matter how talkie the guy got, was always there.

With ease and skill, the circle was cut, the suction cup in place to remove the glass and his hand was in before anyone could say 'boo'. "Hurry up Tommy. Those alarms got six minutes on the clock before they go off and we're outta here." At a place like Biffany's, the highest of security was installed. Cameras. Laser sensors. Motion sensors. The works. "Less than six, thanks to yer yappin'."

Thom nodded, knowing his brother's attitude. This many years with all the grey hairs Charles had earned, he knew to listen and began to draw his entrance into the case with the glass cutter. For a full thirty seconds there was no sound save the soft tingle of jewelry as the pair emptied display cases into soft, velvet bags.

"Isn't it about time you wrapped up this little party?" Thom heard the voice but it was Charles who caught the movement in the darkness next to his brother.

"Tommy! Lookou...!"

A thick, solid thunk and the younger brother went down with ease, Nightwing's fire-hardened rattan stick doing its duty against the man's skull. "Hey, don't you got some place you'd rather be pal?" Charles growled, pulling out a gun and firing. Nightwing leapt into a back flip, leaving the bullets to hail a harmless moving pattern into the drywall to his right. Biffany's was dark and in one swift flip, the costumed vigilante was hidden from Charles' eyes.

He should have been scared, perhaps, but Charles wasn't. "Here kitty, kitty, kitty. Come here you sad excuse for the flying rat! Shouldn't ya be in Bloodville or wherever you've been hiding scared these days?"

Nothing.

Not a sound. Not a shadow. Not a movement. This wasn't helping future hairs from growing gray against Charles' nerves.

Damn. Gotham's old crime fighter was here when he shouldn't be. Charles thought he carefully worked this out too, not expecting Nightwing to return home, and glanced at his watch. Two minutes and change, which translated into cutting off his looting time if he had to kill this asshole and grab Thom. Stepping forward, Charles thrust the gun behind the counter that Thom had been empting and looked down, firing a few shots which illuminated the area. Searching for the blood of his victim's slumped over body.

No one.

Only empty space.

"Behind you," a voice whispered which caused Charles to jump and the barrel of his weapon to explode as he whipped around.

"Sonofamarriedwhore!" There was nobody there either. Above him, wondering how or why people in this town still tried petty crime when there was Batman in Gotham and they had read enough in the papers about Batman to have the sense God gave a goat to look up, Nightwing let himself go and dropped down. Right onto the man, sending him and the firing weapon to the floor.

"My mother actually was rather monogamous." Nightwing whispered in the guy's ear, moving to lift the rattan that would render the other helpless. He was distracted from behind.

"Charlie?" A groggy voice came from where the brother's body lay, as Thom now lifted his head. "I heard some gun shots."

A frown, Nightwing planted his gloved hands with sticks on Charles's chest and thrust out his body to perform a well delivered kick with his right boot. The sound of thick plastic meeting a thicker head smacked in the darkness, sending Thom's semi-state of consciousness back into slumber land once more.

Not an idiot, Charles took advantage of his brother's fate-filled distraction and underneath the crime fighter, shoved Nightwing off his body. The temporary shift of balance tumbled the masked man and Nightwing curled into himself, letting momentum roll him over twice before landing flat on the ground. Without a breath taken, he bunched to shoot across the room as he heard Charles' empty gun sound off and then a new clip clicking into the semi-automatic weapon.

This idiot doesn't know when to give up. Before Nightwing could finish his thoughts or complete his next Houdini escape, additional shots sounded in the store. After sending another round into empty air and walls, Charles stopped trying to hunt the dark vigilante and moved over to his brother, clutching the gun in one hand, the loot in the other and kicking Tommy with his foot to revive him. The dark haired brother lay there limp. "Shit."

Nightwing had already been moving around the room via cover of the dark counters so without warning, he took off a tiny weapon and threw it at the man, causing the gun to disarm but not before Nightwing heard the last shots fired and felt a bullet break through to graze his skin. God damn, that smarts. He grit his teeth, grabbed onto one of the higher ceiling pipes in preparation to launch himself into Charles.

Right on Charles' cue, the six minute mark, alarm bells rang and light flooded their vision, revealing Nightwing hanging off the corner pipe with one hand, his upper leg torn with a small trickle of red spots sprayed on the wall. "Guess it's time to dress you for the show," the masked man commented, dropping to the floor as he pulled out from his blue and black uniform long plastic rope in one hand and a larger object that he flung at the two thieves, this one causing thick grey gas to explode at their feet. Slipping on a miniature gas mask, Nightwing moved in to deliver the ties that bind and ignored the alarm bell chorus in the room that told him Gotham's police were going to be here any minute. Commissioner Gordon vowed to improve officer response times over the years and when Nightwing was done, he realized they succeeded in their goal.

Red and blues were approaching from down the street and as much as he'd like to think GCPD would be used to him or Batman by now, let him walk out the front door, Nightwing wasn't a dreamer. Reality came as he slipped out of Biffany's, hearing gunshots and warnings shouted in his general direction as he scaled up the brick building with a little help from his technology.

Hey watch it Gotham's finest... That almost hit me!

Nightwing leapt from rooftop to rooftop, favoring his left leg but he was hardly slowed down. It took more than a gouge to stop him and while he had plenty of sky, time and distance to leave the area, Nightwing slowed and hid in the shadows three blocks from the scene of the crime. There was a reason for this, the very reason that brought him out tonight and that reason alerted Nightwing by chance to the crime at Biffany's.

He kept careful watch of the police cars and waited.

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……..Forty-five Minutes Later……..

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"Don't hand me this same song and dance."

"Whoa, whoa. hang on a minute."

"No. There is no hanging on one minute. There's no hanging on for five seconds. Out of all the things you've done, all those things, this is the worst!"

"But..."

"No! I knew it was you. I tried to talk myself out of it, saying you haven't been nearly as annoying by calling so much..."

"Hey!"

"...that you were getting better...that the returning of everything but my keys was still a good sign and a step in the right direction..."

"I'll return them!"

"...But no. Could it be simple with you? Ever? No!"

"That's not fair."

"...The minute I heard the sirens. I knew."

"This isn't quite how it looks."

"How else is it supposed to look?"

"Maybe it wasn't me!"

"Don't hand me this crap. This... this... same old 'not-my-fault' routine bullshit!

"How do you know it was my fault?!?"

"You smeared BLOOD on my window Dick!"

Silence.

"Are you going to keep trying to deny it now?"

Silence.

"Do not make me do a DNA test. It's bad enough I'm going to have to pull the window out to get it clean... do not make me threaten a DNA job on you."

Silence.

"Dick! Say something!"

"Fine. Alright. It was me. Happy now Babs?"

"No! No, I'm not happy about this. Not happy at all. Why did you even do all this?"

"I didn't mean to get shot, okay? I was... well.. sort of..."

"Sort of WHAT Dick?"

"I was sort of looking in on you from across the way, when I noticed the activity at Biffany's down the street."

"You were spying on me."

"I wasn't exactly."

"Dick! You were spying on me, and then, in the middle of it, you thought you'd just up and stop a crime as a little break before returning to spy on me."

Silence.

"Here we go again... will you just answer me and tell me if that's what your genius mind thought you were going to do for the rest of the night?"

"Maybe."

"God Dick... you're so, so smart yet where do you come up with these ideas sometimes? And you know what's worse? Worse than the fact that you thought you'd spy on us. Do you even have the first clue, Mr. Detective, what's worse? He saw you!"

Nightwing stood on the roof of the apartment building, near the elevator room, with his gloved hands turned up, out at his sides. What do you want me to say?

Fingers tight on the sides of her wheelchair, Barbara Gordon thrust them back with strong force, causing herself to jolt forward with an angry roll. One rubber wheel rammed into the hard steel toe of Nightwing's boot before coasting back. "I can't believe you!"

Idiot.

A hard blink was taken behind the mask of Nightwing and Dick Grayson found himself cornered by Babs on her rooftop despite the fact that he was out in the open night air. He didn't know what he could say and worse, hearing his actions from her lips, he had to sort of agree that this single handedly was the stupidest thing he'd ever tried to get away with.

Dear God... What am I doing?

It was all so clear.

So clear.

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Earlier in the week he'd been in her place when she wasn't home, returning some of her things that she had been nagging him on for the past month. Dick had let himself in, placed the box on the kitchen table and did what he always did when he first entered her place. He went for a beer.

Knowing he bought beer and brought it to her place plenty of times in the past, Dick was under the strict assumption that he was owed this one and out of a nasty habit where he knew better, he began to drink it while walking around her apartment. A look or two around her computer area. Tried the last known pass code to unlock her file cabinet. It didn't open. Another sip as he headed on down the hallway to peek in the bathroom.

So far, he wasn't finding anything unusual but he did notice that every last picture of the two of them had been taken down. That turned his stomach quite a bit so he settled it with more beer.

Waltzing into her bedroom as if they were still engaged and not broken off for over three months, Dick ran his hand along her dresser and played with the handle on what used to be 'his drawer'. He moved over to her closet and drew back the door, seeing clothes lining evenly to what used to be crammed on 'his side'. Feeling another bout of heaviness claim him, Dick turned and looked at what used to be his pillow and something caught his eye.

A pained curiosity crossed his face and he drew closer to her bed, his fingers reaching down to see what had been hap-hazardly shoved underneath a pillow. Lifting up the cloth, his lips twisted into a grotesque expression and he flung the garment off his fingers as if he were Superman touching Kryptonite.

Boxers.

It was a pair of male boxers.

Not his.

Lips curled back, Dick sat down his half drunken bottle of beer and began opening drawers. Looking under the bed. When he found enough evidence in this room, he moved fast into the bathroom and felt his balls cave in.

Condoms.

There were fucking condoms in the medicine cabinet and certainly not the kind he bought. He was a Trojan man and these were... were... Lifestyles brand. Extra-large.

Her bathroom tub began to spin against the toilet and tiled floor; holding himself upright, Dick spat many times into the sink wanting to be sick.

Nothing.

His casual perusing visit stopped once he collected himself and light-headed, Dick left her apartment and made sure to lock her place up tight from the outside. Keys making their way back into his pocket instead of leaving them on her kitchen table.

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"So," Nightwing's jaw was set firm and he looked down at her, "Are you living with this guy?"

Barbara looked up at him, "That's really none of your business."

"I found his crap all over your apartment Barbara... no sense in trying to hide it from me." There was a smug look to his face.

"I left those things there for you to find Dick. You don't need to be the world's second greatest detective in order to find them, however I realized that when dealing with the world's most ignorant man..." She wasn't trying to be mean and her voice broke the news gentle, "I left them for you to see so you'd finally get the picture."

The smug look instantly erased.

A sorrowed look overcame her, Barbara didn't want to go to these extremes. She didn't want to have to verbally hit him over the head but Dick Grayson was not making it easy. "Look, what we had was nice. When it was good. But we've gone over this, over and over and over and this isn't for me. And you shouldn't want it for you."

"But Babs..."

"No buts Dick! What do I need to do to get you to stop calling me? Emailing me? I said I needed space and you just couldn't do that."

"Well maybe I don't want to!"

"That's not fair!"

"It is so fair. You said you wanted me to put you first and so now.. now... that's what I'm trying to do."

"Dick, it doesn't work that way. You don't suddenly put me first after months and months, only because I finally decide I can't deal with it anymore."

Silence. Crap.

"How fair does that sound to you?"

Nightwing felt his breath hitch beneath his costumed throat, "It doesn't."

"I needed you there before Dick. I needed you there for me."

"I was there for you. You got angry."

"No! You weren't listening."

Silence. I was so listening.

"When you decided to be there for me, you didn't act like my partner. You treated me like I was made of glass, Dick. About to break. Can't you see that?"

Silence.

"I didn't want you there to protect me. I wanted you there as a lover. To fight with me, not for me. To hold me. To stand back and let me explore this," Barbara tapped the sides of her wheel chair, "On my own, even if it meant I'd fail or fall."

Nightwing blinked behind the mask. Did I?

A large intake of breath, Barbara let it out slow, trying to calm. "You're a good guy Dick. One of the best. But we can't be together anymore. We just can't, okay?"

Silence.

"Dick?"

Silence.

"Will you say something? Please?"

"Do you want me to clean off the glass?"

A pained laugh, Barbara shook her head and closed her eyes halfway. "No. I'll get Alan to do that. As it is, I'm going to have to explain why you showed up outside my window and why I've been up here on the roof for so long."

Alan... Nightwing's fists balled up in hearing that name. "What are you going to tell... Him?"

"I don't know yet, but I'll think of something."

"Is he a good guy?"

Her eyes narrowed at him for pushing, "It's none of your business Dick."

Nightwing stepped closer, putting a hand on her shoulder, "I just want to know, okay? Can't a guy who's known you for a over decade or so ask?"

A soft smile crossed her exasperated features, because no matter what, he'd always be Dick Grayson and when in a crunch, he'd always pull that card. Trying to keep it light, she offered, "You know what? I liked you a lot better when you were younger, wearing that stupid cape and those silly short pants." Barbara reached up and took his gloved hand with sorrowed affection in her eyes.

"I love you Babs..."

Another intake of breath, she motioned for him to lean down, to bring his face near to hers. Barbara reached up, careful to pry off his mask like she had so many times in their past. Dick looked at her and swallowed hard when her fingers reached to touch his hairline.

"I know you believe you do Dick. Sometimes... I get the feeling that you love the idea of being in love."

He opened his mouth to retaliate but Barbara was quicker. Her index finger fast on his lips, as if she anticipated the response. "Shhh. Just listen. Don't ruin this, and really listen to what I have to say for a change." Dick nodded once against her finger and Barbara gave a tight smile.

"It might be why you do what you do. You like the thrill. The chase. You're always looking for the next adventure, and that's okay. It's who you are Dick. You're Nightwing. You're the original Robin of the famed Dynamic Duo. It's what you do." Dick looked at her, not happy but had no words to argue. "You love what you do, and I think you fall in love with the idea of being in love. Be it work, me, someone or something else. I don't know what it all means but I do know that I need more at this stage of my life. Something that you're not capable to give.

"Don't give up doing what you love Dick, but I'm sorry that you do have to give up on the idea of loving me."

All but kneeling before her, so he was face to face with her in the wheelchair, Dick's eyes went red and he couldn't speak. "Please," Barbara's voice was soft as she took her finger away, "It's time for you to go. Go home, take care of your leg and give me the space I keep asking you for."

He didn't move. Couldn't move until she put his mask into his hand. "Please Dick."

Fingers around the specially formed black plastic, he glanced down at the object in his hand before looking at her. "Good-bye... Babs..." Dick's voice was hoarse and before he pulled away, he moved in to kiss her. One last time.

Dick Grayson's lips lightly touched her cheek.

Letting go of her wheelchair, standing up to his full height, Dick turned away and walked over to the end of her building, heading to the edge. Boot tips looking down to the Gotham streets below.

A turn of his chin, he looked back to Barbara with a naked face as she sat there, watching him. With no further word, he lifted his mask and adhered it to his face before leaping off the rooftop.

Nightwing had something else to fight tonight besides crime.

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End

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Richard John Grayson
Barbara Gordon