Chapter Four - GOODNIGHT, SWEET PRINCESS
For my mind misgives some consequence yet hanging in the stars
Nightwing and Jericho arrived in Gotham late that evening, having had to secure transport. Nightwing's face was grim; death-white beneath the black mask from fatigue and worry.
He had called the Manor, but Alfred wasn't home and Bruce hadn't seen Kory. And yet, the homing device told him she was there…or at least, very close by. What could she be thinking? She wouldn't turn to Bruce…. Still Alfred had been kind to her the one time they had visited without Bruce's knowledge. Perhaps she had thought he could help her – if only to agree and give her 'permission' to remove herself from his life. Knowing Alfred, he would have had her sitting in the study drinking cocoa, calmed down and waiting for him when he arrived. But Alfred hadn't been home, and now, she was alone. Normally no one could take care of themselves like Kory, but she was used to tangible enemies. Something you could blast and be done with.
This was different. Dangerous. And in truth, he feared for her sanity.
At his side Jericho touched his hand where it rested on the controls of the tandem bike. "Joey?" he asked.
The mute pointed up ahead.
He saw it. There. On a tree branch, the jewel from her collar with the homing transmitter. Nightwing angled the machine and pulled alongside the bit of alien jewelry. Taking it in his hand, he watched as it pulsed red in the bike's headlights. Slowly, his fingers closed in a fist over it.
"He hasher, Joey. You know I have to go in alone."
"Let me come," Joey signed. "You know of all people that I can. No one will know."
"He will. You don't know him, Joe. He's from before your time. He has knowledge of… other dimensions. Why do you think Raven reacted the way she did? He was there,inside Kory…. I can't take the chance." Jericho started to protest as Nightwing dismounted and turned toward the woods. "Promise me. I would give my life for her."
Jericho touched his shoulder. "I know," he signed, "and so does he."
"Just wait. I'll be back," Nightwing answered.
Hopefully that wasn't another lie.
"But what about Raven's warning. He is here for you."
Nightwing held his friend's wide eyes. Finally Joey nodded, slowly, reluctantly, promising to wait. Satisfied, the dark-garbed Titan took off on foot. Within a quarter of an hour he had located his adversary. Overhead the moon blazed illuminating a familiar figure, but what caught his attention and tore at his heart was the slender figure he saw lying at the creature's feet.
Kory. Beaten. Defeated. Curled in a fetal position. Her eyes glazed and unseeing. Facing her captor, he deliberately reached up and removed his bat-shaped mask, promising no deceptions.
No tricks. No lies.
"So I have you at last."
Nightwing waited, his eyes on the fallen alien. "Is she all right?"
The Gargoyle laughed. "Nothing a good psychoanalyst couldn't cure. I am afraid you're alien girlfriend suffers from the very human emotions of angst and anger. She is afraid. Afraid of her great power. Afraid of hurting or losing you, which is – of course – what she is about to do."
"All of this…just to get to me?" Nightwing snorted. "Why?"
Narrowed eyes burned brimstone-red above a pale grey beak. "Hatred. Pure and simple."
"I don't get it. I neverhave. Why do you hate me?"
Again it laughed. It was obvious it wasn't going to tell him. "Why not?" the creature replied.
Nightwing shifted his feet and the Gargoyle moved quickly to stand spread-eagle over the fallen Tamaranean, his claws grasping several locks of her copper-colored hair. So, his enemy knew what fear was as well. Slowly removing his gloves, the former Teen Wonder threw them at the grotesque's feet. "Well, you have me at last." Spreading his hands wide, he implied with the gesture that he was defenseless. "Just one question, how did you get free?"
The Gargoyle cackled. "You have your precious teammates to thank for that. When Victor Stone's father tampered with the dimensional doorways, I am afraid a few other things slipped through unnoticed. I have been watching ever since. Gathering strength. Gathering knowledge. Biding my time for a perfect opportunity."
One of this creature's weaknesses, Nightwing knew from long association, had always been his desire to hear himself talk. While his mind raced wildly, he kept asking him questions, drawing him into his own tale; praying all the while that some chance of escape would present itself. But with Kory's lovely form trapped beneath the creature's feet, near his poisoned claws, he knew the chances were slim.
"Remove your wristbands. Where you are going weapons will be useless. You do remember, don't you?"
Nightwing had visited the Gargoyle's domain once before, when he was fourteen and still Robin, the Boy Wonder. He had defeated him then, but only by destroying the ring that had provided access in and out of the limbo that was his home. The ring that rested squarely on his index finger now.
"I see you have your ring back."
The Gargoyle snarled. "A gift, from the Master."
"Master? You mean you work for someone else…?"
"Enough questions!" The crazed creature grabbed Koriand'r's head and pulled it up. "The bands... Or do you want her to go with you?"
Nightwing hesitated, unsure of his next move. He had come as prepared as he could, hiding a small pair of pliers in a place he knew the Gargoyle would never question, armed with the knowledge that everything in the creature's mad dimension moved backwards. But they weren't in his dimension…yet. And Kory was still his prisoner.
"Let her go. You don't want her. You want me."
"Astute, former Boy Wonder. She was a means to an end." Red eyes gleamed with triumph as one of his claws hovered near Kory's beautiful throat. " I studied you. You are in control. Not easily swayed or tricked. Not easily manipulated. Your mind is mathematical, precise. Unclouded. You have been well-trained. But this one, so naïve, so full of fire. So easily burned. All I had to do was introduce a drug into her system that would make her more psychically accessible, which I did when – in disguise – I bumped into her during your autograph session. Then, entering her dreams, I turned her into a weapon."
Nightwing's teeth clenched but he managed to say, "I'm still here."
"Yes, you are. Pity. But then eternity in limbo is still a more 'fitting' fate than death. It was an easy substitute." He licked his dove-grey beak and whispered slyly, "She was an 'easy' mark."
Nightwing's fists clenched, but he said only, "Well, I'm here now. Let her go."
The Gargoyle grimaced. "Strip off your clothes."
"All of them. There is no modesty beyond the grave, and I won't have any hidden weapons join us on the journey as they did the last time. You are entirely too clever for your own good, Wonder Boy."
Nightwing's heart raced. Then this was it. He had hoped Raven's knowledge of who their enemy was, communicated after he and Joey had reached the harbor, would give him an edge, even if she couldn't make the journey herself for fear of being entrapped in limbo. But it hadn't been enough. Bruce had taught him never to give up. "Well," he thought, glancing beyond the tree line to where Bruce sat, most likely deep in study, "I'm not giving up. I'm giving in."
Therein lay the difference between them.
"Can I say goodbye?" he asked quietly as he disrobed. The cold night air whipped about his bare flesh, chilling him. Above the moon glistened, casting weird shadows across the lawn as far away a single owl hooted, crying for its mate.
"How touching. She won't hear you."
The Gargoyle reached for the costume and catching it with his claws, shredded the Kevlar like cheese. Seeing the crimefighter's startled expression, he laughed once more. "So that they will know who was victor here." That done, he moved away from the beautiful alien with a sweeping gesture, as though granting Nightwing free access, but in reality, he remained only few feet away, hovering.
As far as Dick was concerned, the Gargoyle could have been on the other side of the planet. He only had eyes for the woman he loved and was about to leave behind. Gently, he lifted her limp head and planted a kiss on her soft round lips. Unexpectedly her green eyes opened, though without focus, staring off into the dark woods.
Black lashes fluttered and her hand lifted toward his pale cheek. "Dick, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to…"
"Shh, Kory. It's okay. Everything's going to be okay. You go back to sleep and when you wake up you'll see it's all right." He kissed her again and laid her softly on the ground. Her eyes had closed again.
Weary beyond measure, Nightwing stood and faced the dark creature, trembling in the cold.
"It's all been a bad dream."
"A nightmare for you, Grayson. One without end."
Nightwing shivered, suddenly afraid.
And then, abruptly, Princess Koriand'r of Tamaran rose to her feet unaided, her golden hands pointed straight at the creature's black heart. Scarlet starbolts leapt across the space between them, lighting the night like the Fourth of July, thrusting the Gargoyle backward until he collided noisily with a fat oak. As he lay there stunned, Donna Troy descended from the sky to truss him up like a pig fat pig with her golden lasso.
Numb, Nightwing stared at the Amazon, his mouth open to ask how, but before the question could cross his lips, he breathed, "Joey…"
Materializing beside Donna, the unconscious Starfire limp in his left arm, he signed, "You said wait. You never said what to do while I was waiting."
Nightwing shook his head and sighed as the other two approached.
"Hey, Nightwing," Wonder Girl ventured as she drew alongside him.
"I likethe new suit."
Several hours later Koriand'r awakened in a strange room to find Dick Grayson sitting next to her, his muscular form clothed in a soft clinging robe that was several sizes too big. She smiled at him, reaching out to touch his haggard face, and then…
"Dick…. Batman…I," she pushed up in the bed terrified, "…I killed him."
"Young lady," a deep voice spoke from the doorway, half-heartedly admonishing her, "upstairs you must call me 'Bruce.'"
Kory's head was swimming. "But you…I…" Her heart pounded.
Thank X'Hal, he was alive!
"All illusions, Kory," Dick explained, caressing her hair. "Hallucinations brought on by drugs and controlled by the Gargoyle."
She blinked. "The one from the Titans archives? The one you defeated?"
"Twice now, or so I've been told," Bruce said, entering the room to deposit a pile of clothes in Dick's arms. "After your teammates defeated him, he destroyed his ring himself and fled back into limbo."
Dick smiled. "I think he was afraid Kory would wake up…."
The man who was Batman – downstairs – returned the smile, allowing his hand to linger for just a second as it brushed his ward's. "Wise creature. Alfred said to tell you that when you're ready, there's cocoa in the study." He cleared his throat and headed for the door. "I'll be in cave. I have work to do."
Dick's face fell, but just for a moment. The other man, with his back turned couldn't see, but Koriand'r did. "Bruce…" she said suddenly, shifting so her feet hit the floor. "Please, won't you join us? We'd like you to."
The eyes of the Dark Knight met hers and then fell on his ward, and for a moment, she read a familiar emotion in them. One she knew well. It seemed, perhaps, they were not so different after all.
"Don't forget. We'll be waiting."
As her lover's guardian moved silently down the vast corridor outside his ward's old room, she glanced at Dick's bare feet and legs. "What happened to you?"
He blushed. "Gargoyle made me strip. Thought I had some weapon hidden somewhere."
"And did you?" Her green eyes flashed.
Reaching for his jeans, he admitted, "He didn't find it."
Catching his hand, she pulled him to her and stood, gazing down into the deep blue wells of fathomless beauty and intelligence that were his eyes.
"Mind if I try?"