I don't own. Please don't sue me because I just do this for fun, and since my slinky broke, this is the only fun I have.

Thanx to Andrew and Brendan for beta help, and listening to me kvetch.


The week leading up to the funeral was a haze, probably for all of us. Mara's parents didn't handle the whole thing well, though her mom was certainly more together than her dad. Her mom and Alfred took care of all the details, and I tried to take care of Mara.

It really wasn't hard to, per say. I just wasn't sure how good of a job I'd been doing. Her mom had asked me early on to watch her, so I stayed at her apartment in Gotham with her. Mara's brother was there every day helping me, too.

He insisted on being there when she woke up. Something serious had happened between them, but I couldn't get it out of him. I knew better than to press people. My dad had been reticent for almost six months after it happened on the exact details of my mother's death.

Jimmy just sat there and held on to her hand with a haunted look in his eyes.

We'd been assured that she'd wake, and she'd be OK, and that was the only reason she was at home with us watching her. She probably should have been seen at STAR labs, but Jimmy was insistent. He said that Robin would flip out if she woke up in some place that even remotely looked like a hospital. Knowing Robin, I had to concur. The girl drove me nuts, but I could predict some portion of the things that'd set her off like a roman candle. Not being allowed to heal in private? That was probably number one on the list of offences.

The guys at STAR were incredibly nice to the whole lot of us heroing types, and the last time I'd been zapped into next Tuesday by Mustard (don't ask—it seemed my coming of age present was my own arch-nemesis), they'd been really good to me. They'd patched me up and sent me home with no questions asked.

Once, when we were younger, Young Justice ran up against a Meta named Terminus. He almost killed the whole damned lot of us, if it weren't for Mara. We'd ALL taken a lot of abuse, and the Justice League ordered us to report to STAR Labs for treatment. Mara had protested up and down, and even gave SUPERMAN a hard time, which just wasn't done. It wasn't until Batman got on and ordered her in that voice that she had BETTER go with the rest of us, OR ELSE that she gave it a rest and obeyed.

Personally, I didn't see what the big deal was. Let the guys with the groovy technology take care of us, and we return home, better than new.

Of course, I wasn't Mara. Whatever her Bat was, she had to be ten times more. And one thing we knew about the Bat—he was a masochist.

It was amazing that she could be so hard on herself in the field, so obnoxious with everyone in her life, and be so timid with me. Sometimes, in bed, she seemed unsure of herself. Like she didn't know if she belonged there. Mara, who insisted in controlling all things, never once took the lead in there. I'd also never once tried anything even the least… adventurous, simply because I didn't know if she'd be ok with it. Her brother made jokes about us being all 'whips and chains', but the truth of it was we were incredibly reserved. SHE was incredibly reserved. She seemed happiest… probably when I wrapped my arms around her and held her until she fell asleep.

I tried my hardest to reassure her… but sometimes I wondered what good I really did. Sure, she seemed a little more… balanced out when we were together. But really. We'd taken up semi-permanent residence together (aside from our frequent 'out of town trips,' that was), and she always seemed amazed when I came home. As if it was questionable that I'd return. I honestly didn't know how someone with her self-assurance—almost arrogance on the job could be so incredibly insecure at home.

I'm blathering again, aren't I? Alfred said that's what this book is for, to blather in. He said he's been keeping a journal for years, and it helped 'one keep one's thoughts in order.' I think he just meant that it'd keep me from getting too strung-out dealing with so many tightly wound people. Alfred was a great guy, the best. When I started seriously hanging around Mara (she also has her grandfather's inability to admit she's IN a relationship), he started taking care of me the way he takes care of them. Hence the recent addition of the journal in the care package he regularly presented me with, and hence the direct order that I actually use the thing.

Mara's asleep on the sofa now. I got her dressed for the funeral, and then let her go back to sleep. She doesn't say anything to anyone, she doesn't resist… she just walks around in a haze. We're concerned for her, but we know it's probably grief. Jimmy acts like it may be more, but I don't know. I really didn't talk a whole lot when my mom died. Folks could have pushed me into the girl's bathroom at school and I wouldn't have batted an eye. So if Mara lets me lead her through life for now, that's ok. Jimmy was hopelessly dedicated to the task of helping her out, and I wasn't going anywhere. If she didn't snap out of it soon, though, then we'd have to start being worried. Well, um… more worried than we already are. A new kind of worry. See? I just go on and on.

I sat on the sofa next to her and gently tugged on her black suit jacket. She didn't have much in the way of dress clothes, and what she had was very business-like. Jimmy and I had done our best to dress her this morning in something respectful. HE had been, after all, one of earth's greatest heroes.

"Mara," I whispered as she came awake. "Mara… you should probably stay up now. Jimmy'll be around with the car soon."

She blinked a few times, then let me sit her up. God, I wished she'd just talk to us. She'd not done anything… not even at the reading of the will. We'd passed it off as her being upset and in mourning… but eventually the world was going to realize she wasn't her spitfire self.

I put my arms around her and held her for a few minutes. I supposed all I could do right now was be here. "I love you. I just want you to know that. I know this is hard… impossible almost. But you'll make it through. I know you're strong." And she was. But still… why couldn't she just bring herself to cry? "Look… just do what I say when we get there. There's going to be a lot of stupid press, so just don't pay any attention to them." Like she'd notice them anyway. "And some important type people your grandfather knew. They're all going to want to shake your hand… some of them are going to hug you, and they're all going to say they're sorry, until you feel like punching them." Unfortunately, I knew what happened at funerals all too well. I smiled and tilted her head upwards with my finger. "No punching anyone out," I said lightly. "Be a good girl." I kissed her forehead. "I'm not going to leave you during this entire thing, I promise. And I'm not ever going to leave you. So everything's going to be ok."

I rubbed her arms, then tucked her hair behind her ears, making her presentable. I looked her over once more, then gave a tug on her high-collared shirt to hide the bruises there. "We'll go down and wait for Jimbo, ok?" I'd been having one-sided conversations all week. It had taken that long to arrange for an appropriate demise for his alter ego, and hence it was taking us this long to get to the funeral. I seriously thought she'd be doing better if we could just get the closure of the funeral in, then we could all move on, and she could start getting better.

I directed her to the elevator and we made it out to the street below. It was the middle of May, and the weather was crappy. It was grey and the wind was thick and cold. We stood at the curb waiting for Jimmy.

He was on time, we were just early. I didn't know if it would be hard to get her out to the street, so I started trying early. Fortunately she let me take her arm and lead her.

I knew she wouldn't want to appear weak, so I just held on to her and stuck close to her side, so no one could see that I was leading her. I introduced myself as her 'friend'.

When Jimmy pulled up in Mara's car, we both got in the back seat. He'd been holding together remarkably well. He wasn't his usual smart-assed self, and he was much more withdrawn. I had a feeling he was only keeping it together for Mara. Considering they hated each other, I had no idea why that was. "Hey, how're you doing?" he asked her gently.


He seemed disappointed at her lack of response. "Give her some more time," I told him.

"It's been six days," he said quietly.

"I know."
* * *

Mara's dad was waiting at the curb when we pulled up in front of the grave sight. Mr. Grayson took his daughter's hands and helped her from the car. He looked to me for an update.

I shook my head. "Still the same," I whispered. Yes, the same since yesterday when you saw her last, and this morning when you called, I was tempted to add. "This'll be good for her," I told him hopefully. "She'll have some closure."

Jimmy fell in behind us. "How's everyone doing?"

"Same," his father answered, mirroring my earlier response. That meant that he still broke down periodically and Oracle spent a lot of time alone in her computer room. Honestly, I couldn't wait until this was over. Then we could all start to recover.

They'd tried to arrange for a small family gathering before hand, or to keep the funeral entirely private, but it had proved too formidable a task. This had been the problem with my mother's funeral--too many nasty onlookers. People who really didn't know her, but wanted to be there to see and be seen.

Her father stood on one side and I stood on the other, attempting to block her from camera flashes. It just seemed so tacky and wrong to me, but what could we do to stop it, really?

Half the Justice League was already here. My dad was with them. They were all in plain-clothes of course, but they were easy to spot. They were the ones who actually looked broken up about it.

A drizzle had started. Perfect. These things couldn't have decent weather, could they? There was some kind of irony here, but I was too depressed to see it.

"Mara, they've got a seat for you up front," her father said patiently. "Jordy can sit with you. I'm going to sit with mom..." Suddenly, he shook his head, unsure as to why he was even talking. What were the odds she was actually listening to us? "Mara... come on," he said with a bit of frustration as I sat her down.

"She'll get better after this... you'll see," I told him.

He looked at both of us sadly and shook his head, then went over to Jimmy, who'd met up with Crystal.

Please, don't let this turn out to be a disaster; I begged the powers that be. Let them all just hold together a little bit longer. Then it'll start getting better. Let it start getting better.

I couldn't help wondering what was going on in her head. I prayed to God it wasn't self-torture and self-blame. I didn't hold much hope for it being something else, though. I knew her too well. And this last blow? She'd lost her partner--the person who meant the most in the world to her. I wasn't vain enough to think that person was me. It was him, it always had been.

Tim Drake, formerly known as Redwing, formerly known as Robin, stood at the shining black casket, watching the drizzle collect then roll off. I wished I had words for him as well. I knew he'd lost his wife, and now to lose his mentor and former partner? I didn't think there was much left for him, besides his daughter. She wasn't here, thankfully. She was being spared this. After a time, Cassandra came up to the graveside and coaxed Tim away. I felt a sort of kinship with her. We both had that same protective instinct towards our charges.

I firmly kept my arm wrapped around Mara and muttered reassurances to her, though I wasn't sure how much good they'd do. I didn't think I'd ever convinced her in our years together that I wasn't going away, though she'd never outright admit that was one of her fears. And I didn't think I was effective in assuring her that things would be alright after this. Not when she'd just lost HIM. Not when they all had.

After a few minutes, I saw Dinah slowly approach the casket. She spoke out loud in a low voice for a while, clutching a bouquet of white roses to her. Gradually, she got a little louder... until I could begin hearing what she was saying.

"...Said we'd take a real vacation this summer. You never follow through on ANYTHING you say you're going to do."

I sighed. There had always been so much unsaid between them. I prayed that Mara and I wouldn't end up like that.

"I hate you! You stupid pig!" she said loudly. I could see Arsenal walking up the center aisle towards her. She began beating the coffin with the flowers. "You said you wouldn't leave me! You're just like Ollie! You lie! You all lie!"

Arsenal put his arms around her and held arms down so she couldn't hit the coffin any more. I hated these things. Whenever a powered-type needed to be restrained, it always turned into an all-out war. Which is exactly what happened.

She began kicking the coffin and pushing against Roy until both of her feet were off the ground and kicking. "You son of a bitch! You're just like him! You left me! I'll never forgive you! You stupid son of a bitch!" The coffin rocked under the force of her blows.

It was painful to watch. I knew if I had trouble seeing it...I turned Mara's head to my chest and held it there. She shouldn't be watching.

Roy eventually subdued her and pulled her to the back. The cameras had caught an eye-full with that one. I wished to God we'd have been able to keep those guys out of here. The service was supposed to start in ten minutes and it was already melting into one of those disasters that seemed to follow this family around.

I held her to me even after Dinah was safely away and in Arsenal's arms. I wished she'd just cry. I'd told her over and over this last week that it was ok if she cried, or threw things, or whatever she needed to do, but she still wouldn't come back. "I love you," I whispered into her hair. "I'll miss him too." I would kind of miss his disapproving gaze, and his frequent question 'and what does that TELL you' in response to clues or basically anything that happened. Lately he'd even let me in the Cave. Twice. Yeah. We'd been kind of getting along. As much as anyone could get along with the Bat.

I had really been so worried about her, and about them, I really hadn't thought about it. I didn't know how I felt. We weren't close, obviously, but he'd been a presence in my life since Robin and I had become serious about spending time together. Most of the things I knew about him, I'd gotten from Alfred. Somehow, though, I felt his loss.

Maybe it was, in fact, the loss that I felt not having Mara completely with me. The loss that she felt that was some kind of gaping hole within her, one that I knew I couldn't fill. I would never be him. I'd been her best friend from the beginning, her lover for most of our time together—and yet I'd never be her partner. I suspected that was why all my proposals for marriage were turned down. How could she commit herself permanently to someone who wasn't The Bat?

Kissing her forehead, I chided myself for thinking of that. Now wasn't the time to lament the fact that she wouldn't marry me. She'd committed to him and his cause when she was just a child. Even to the point that she didn't see the need for my cause—our happiness.

As the stupid thing started, I glanced over at Jimmy and Crystal. Why did they work so much more easily? They'd clicked the way we had, but they seemed so much easier with the expression of that. If only Mara weren't so… driven.

Crystal—actually I should call her Kristin when she's out of costume (though no one ever does, including Jimmy)—had her arm wrapped around Jimmy's bicep. She practically vanished into the grey coat she was wearing, with her white skin and light blond hair. She had the tiniest of frames. Ever since I met her, I'd always thought if you looked at her wrong, she'd break. Of course, she was especially endowed in the breast and behind department. Ok, Jordan, your mind is wandering all over the place.

I wasn't interested in Crystal… but thinking about the special signing bonuses that Jimmy got for being her boyfriend took my mind off the fact that Lex Luthor was now giving a speech about what an incredible business man Bruce Wayne had been.

Oh please. Just kill me, because first of all, all us Justice League and Justice League wanna-be types knew that Luthor was the root of all evil, and I knew from talking with Mara of the constant troubles the two men posed each other in the professional world.

Who was the wise guy that decided he should talk first? Ok. Impure thoughts… impure thoughts will keep me from using the ring to trounce him… Underneath all that body armor Mara hid her own well-proportioned front and back sides. She didn't show 'em off like Jimmy's girl, but that just meant I got to keep them all to myself. She was tall, she was strong, she was great in bed… I loved her to death… Was it wrong to have an erection at a funeral?

I tried my damnedest to hold on to thoughts of her, of ice cream, of teddy bears… anything to keep me from being sick when he hugged Oracle and shook Mr. Grayson's hand as he came off the podium. If I didn't, a big hand'd reach out from the ring and smack Luthor senseless. The man had NO tact. Their family member had died and he was turning it into some kind of PR thing. The guy was scum, and I wished to God someone'd make him pay.

My finger tingled with the need to hurt the big fat jerk when he crossed the center aisle and I knew he was headed for Mara. She bit her lip and let go of my hand. I wished desperately that there was some way I could save her from this.

"My condolences to you as well." He took her hands and shook them, then bent for an embrace.

Don't make me puke. Two years ago Batman and Robin fed Luthor his ass. Too bad he didn't know that this was the girl who had called him a cue-balled puke, then blew up his arms shipment.

"And should you find the burden of running your grandfather's company too great…"

Before he could finish the sentence, she'd pulled back and punched him in the face. A second after that, she had him on the ground—straddling him, and was pulling back for another one.

"Mara!" I called out, resisting the urge to use the ring to pull her off.

Fortunately that was taken out of my hands because Clark Kent was pulling her off. "Mara…" he whispered. "Not now…" She struggled against him, albeit in a more effective manner than Black Canary had done with Roy, but she was basically subdued by the Man of Steel.

"Fuck-off," she ground out at Luthor in a voice too close to Robin's. My heart leapt into my throat.

"My apologies, Ms. Grayson…" Luthor began painfully. He looked like he was ready to cry. He pushed himself into a sitting position. Mud squished beneath his ass.

I couldn't help it. I started laughing. I'd pay money to see Mr. Kent let go of her and let her finish Luthor off.

"Martha Grayson," he whispered finally, in his best imitation of "the Voice". Luthor wasn't paying much attention though; he was clutching his obviously broken jaw.

With this, she actually did stop struggling. She stared at Luthor, frozen for a moment in anger. Just a second after this, her strong features fell, her muscles grew slack, and she began sobbing. Gently, Mr. Kent placed her in my waiting arms, and I held her to me with all my might. It was over. It was finally over. She was going to be ok.

We'd been blessed. A guy who deserved it was the only one hurt. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Luthor being helped to his feet by some of his people. Good. Go hose him off or something.

"I know, sweetie. I know." I rocked her gently as she sobbed. There seemed to be no stop in sight.

Jimmy had slid over to us. "What do we do?" he asked with concern.

As her fist pounded against my arm in time with her sobs, I licked my lips, looking to the Man of Steel for an answer.

"Lets get her out of here," he said finally, just has her father was coming over. Mr. Kent looked Mr. Grayson in the eye. "I think she needs to leave. This isn't doing her any good," he said, gesturing around him to the media and public attention.

He made a move to help me get Mara to her feet, but Jimmy shook his head. "No, dad. I'll get her to the car. You have to stay here." He came on her other side and helped me practically carry her. I just had to keep in my mind that things were going to get better from now on.

I hated walking up the center aisle with her like that. They were all looking, all gawking at her… It was painful. She was usually so strong, and this was the first glimpse the world was getting of Mara Grayson. I didn't want to think of how upset she'd be when she was finally back to her senses to know other people had seen her at less than her best.

Part of me suspected that Jimmy wanted to go back to the ceremony, but when we put her in the back seat, we realized simultaneously that she couldn't sit back there alone, not in her current condition. I sat next to her and held her so she didn't get jousted around, and he drove us back to her place.

"Thank God we're out of there," I said to him.

"Yeah," he muttered. Peeking between the seats, I saw the speedometer creep up above the speed limit. Usually, I'd have said something about it, but the more distance we put between those stupid, stupid people, the better. None of them knew HIM. None of them knew any of us or who we really were and what we really did. It pissed me off that people like Luthor could be so self-centered. It pissed me off that people like John Gunther could get away with going up to the coffin before the ceremony and making jokes about how 'Brucie' never learned why one shouldn't drink and drive. I'd thought that even though the outside world was going to be incredibly idiotic, that this would be good for Mara. The only decent thing that came out of it was her finally snapping.

"Just help me get her up stairs. You can get back before Mr. Kent speaks."

"Look, I'll stay…"

"No, I know you want to get back. Superman's the only one of 'us' who's going to get to say anything. He won't get to tell it like it is, but it'll be good to hear."

"Look, I don't care." Like hell Jimmy didn't care. "He's gone. Superman saying something isn't going to bring him back, and it isn't going to make her stop crying." It was the first bit of emotion I'd heard from Jimmy since he'd come back last week. I wasn't surprised that it was full of venom. "I'm sticking with her," he said firmly.

I decided not to fight him for now. It wouldn't do her any good if we were arguing in front of her. Especially not now. Her hands had wound around the lapels of my suit jacket, and she was pulling on it, hard. The fabric was actually burning the back of my neck.

"Mara… honey… loosen up a little…" Of course, I couldn't even hear myself above her sobs. Ever so gently I tried to disengage her fingers. "It's ok. I'm not going to leave you. But you can't rip through my neck." She allowed me to pull her fingers off. I held her hands after that, and let her squeeze mine tightly.

Just when I thought my fingers were going to break, we pulled in front of her building. She lived in a better section of town. Of course she did—Bats had been footing the bill. He'd never understood Mara's father's working class mentality. He'd offered the best to Mara, and she took it. She was on the top floor, the thirty-third. We got her there, and it was a difficult thing. By the time we had her door opened, she couldn't walk. It took us quite a bit of effort to get her to the bedroom and onto her bed. Maybe after she cried herself out a little more, I could turn down the bed and get her situated in it.

"You don't have to stay," I told him with authority.

"I told you."

"I know what you told me. Crystal will be looking for you. Look. One of the grandkids has to be there."

The angry look he shot at me said it all. Still… I couldn't let him do this.

"James, go back."

He hesitated for a long moment, and I wondered briefly if he'd protest again. "Fine. Take care of her. I'm not going to that stupid reception thing. I'm coming back here."

"Go to the thing at the Manor. If you don't show up, people are going to think you didn't like him."

"SO? HE is the one who cared so much what the outside world thought of him. And where did it get him? People thought he was an IDIOT, and he was OK with that."

"You know how important the secret was to him. If Luthor knows she got the company, then the contents of the Will are ALREADY public. All you're going to do is create problems for yourself if you don't go back, because folks're going to start saying that you're willing to take the old man's money, but you didn't even care enough to show up after the funeral."

He barred gritted teeth. He had more of the Bat in him than he'd admit. "She's obviously trained you in the art of always being right."

"Yeah. Something like that, bird-boy."

He sat down next to her on the bed. During our argument some of the fuel had been let out of her emotional display. She'd taken to just sobbing against her pillow. Jimmy stroked her hair with a tenderness I had never seen him direct towards her. This last mission had changed all the rules. ALL of them.

"Mara… I gotta go. I'll tell 'em you're upset, ok? They'll understand. If they don't… if they say ANYTHING… well, I'll make 'em understand." He bent and kissed her hair. "Just hang in there, ok?"

After that, he rose quietly and left. Which meant I was completely alone with her—watching her fall away. When sleep overtook her soon after, I was thankful. I'd waited to hear her sobs, but nothing could have prepared me for those anguish-filled cries.

I didn't know if she'd loved him in any normal family sense of the word. I didn't know in what manner she related herself to him—all I knew was that she had lost the person she had devoted her life to. That was enough pain for today.

When I was sure she would stay asleep, I picked up the journal and began transcribing the events of the day. Yes, I knew why Alfred kept one. You needed some place of solace when these things hit. Because, to watch them go through it without an anchor would certainly set anyone off on a stormy sea.

I was about to close the journal when the phone in the kitchen rang.

"How is she?" came the question from her surviving grandfather—completely without the preamble of hello. He was another one who could cut through the garbage of a situation.

"She's asleep, thank God. I think… it was rocky, and it was hard for her, but I think that was the best thing that could have happened."

"I'll be over later…"

"Please don't. Just… keep everyone away until I see how she is. I think she's going to be ok, but… well…"

He sighed. "I know. It's her. You never know."

"Tell everyone… I SWEAR I'll call as soon as I'm sure she's OK to be around people." I think we all just needed to play this by ear for a little bit.

"Alfred is going to try to bring food over later. He's been in desperate need of some way to occupy himself."

"As long as he's not offended that I don't let him in if she's awake."

"Understood. I'll pass the information along. And… thanks for sending Jimmy back. Barbara really needed him here."

I licked my dry lips. "I know. I had a feeling. It was hard to get him to go."

"I'll talk to you later, kid. Keep her out of trouble."

A sad smile came to my face. Mr. Gordon had turned out to be a very good friend as well. "I"ll do my best, sir."

Without a good-bye, the phone clicked dead.

* * *

Alfred came and went while Mara was unconscious. He looked haggard and worn to the point of death. His charge was gone. I didn't think he'd make it to Christmas. That pained me. He'd been so good to me, and I knew how he'd held on to the Bat clan and kept them properly cared for since the beginning. Can you tell I've spent too many nights in the kitchen with him, waiting for Mara to return? Probably from my use of words such as"properly", and the like. I didn't know how anyone could hang around that guy and still speak with poor grammar.

I picked at the food Alfred brought. I hadn't eaten all day, and it was dark now, but somehow I couldn't bring myself to just put food on a plate and eat. I also didn't want to make a mess and clean it up. Mara and I bickered about it—her lack of paper plates, but she still refused to buy them, and if I did, she'd find where I hid them and toss them out.

With a touch of humor and sadness, I sniffed and smiled, thinking about that. Robin: warrior princess. Afraid of paper plates.

We'd had some good times. We didn't fight a lot, and if we did, it was mostly false bickering like over the paper plates. When it came down to it, the two of us were just gross behind closed doors. We even did the dishes together. Maybe that's why I didn't want to do them now.

Pulling the shrink wrap over the bowl of potatoes, I put them back in the fridge. I was also too lazy to heat anything up. I wondered briefly what He and Dinah had been like when none of us were looking. Had he been happy with her? I doubt he'd had the kind of contentment and peace I had when I held Robin. Did Dinah?

Maybe one day, when it wasn't so painful for her, I could ask. I just needed some sign…

A cry came from the bedroom. Damnit. I hadn't been there when she woke.

"No!" Another panicked shriek tore from her throat, and I came to her side as quickly as my legs would carry.

I knew she had nightmares, but it wasn't like her to call out. Usually I'd just find her sitting up in bed, breathing hard. But now… now I was quite worried. She was kneeling in the center of the bed, a look of terror in her eyes. What was she remembering?

"Mara… Mara, I'm here…" I wrapped my arms around her and held her tight. "I'm sorry… I was in the kitchen…" If I could just crawl into a hole and die right now, that might make this right.

"No," she said solidly. "No. Jordy…" her arms wrapped around my neck. I had her back. She was scared and upset… but I really and truly had her back.

"What is it?" I asked. Maybe… just maybe she'd tell me. "Talk to me… please. Tell me anything." I held her face in my hands, looking into her wide, frightened eyes. Stay with me, I wanted to say.

"Jordy…I… And…" Her hands clasped my cheeks and pulled my lips to hers. The kiss we shared was hot and salty, and needy. "Oh God. I'm sorry," she whispered fiercely when she pulled away.

"You don't have to be sorry," I assured her. "Not for anything."

"I'm so sorry," she reiterated, tearing at my shirt.

"Mara… maybe now isn't the time…" I had no idea what to do about this. This wasn't exactly in the gentleman's book of etiquette.

The buttons couldn't endure the stress she put them under. They began popping rhythmically beneath her hands. "Jordy… now. Please. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry…"

I pulled her to me and held her as tight as I could and kissed her forehead, thinking. To hell with it. She wanted me. She NEEDED me. More often than not, she acted as though she needed NO ONE. "Please stop saying that. You've done nothing wrong."

Her lips crushed mine again, and I was gasping for breath when she released me. "I've done everything wrong. Everything. I'm so sorry… I love you. I do love you. You have to know that," she begged.

She didn't say it often. Twice in a row certainly meant something. "I know you do. I love you." If we didn't watch, this would turn into a farce. "If you need to talk…"

"No. Not talk. No more talking." Her own wrinkled blouse was the next thing to come off. It hit the comforter then slid off onto the floor.

"Fine," I told her, my lips finding places to tease. "For NOW." I vowed to bring this up again—later. We needed to talk this out.

* * *

Later never came.

I woke to mid-morning sun's rays boring into me like a laser. As awareness came, I realized I was alone. Still, I was hopeful that was a good thing. In this business, one of us usually woke to find the other gone. She would get called out in the middle of the night, I would be dragged to New York, or off-planet in the early morning… mostly I thought nothing of it.

It wasn't until I realized I was curled around something furry, green and NOT a construct that I grew worried. Pulling it away from my chest, I realized it was that damned bear that I gave Mara way back when. God damnit. If I sit up and that crystal angel is on the night stand… You'll what? I asked myself.

Probably break down in tears.

Fortunately that wasn't a question I was forced to answer, because it wasn't. It was on the shelf above her desk, right where it belonged. A sigh escaped me. "Damnit…" I muttered, looking for my shorts. What the hell had she gone and done now?

As soon as I was even half-way decent, I began making phone calls. Her grandfather hadn't heard from her, her parents said that Jimmy had received a text-page from her and left suddenly, and that was all… Finally I called the one guy who knows everything about everything.

"She is in the cave sir. She and Master James."

I breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you. I was so worried… I woke up and she wasn't here… Look. I'm coming over there right now."

"She said was not to admit you."

"Alfred… come on."

"I'll busy myself in another part of the house, sir. If you should arrive… well, you have a key to the front door."

* * *

I drove when I wanted to fly. I wouldn't do that. Not in HIS city… even if HE wasn't here any more. I'd promised him a long time ago that I wouldn't, and so I didn't. I merely sped.

What the hell was she doing? What the hell was she thinking? Why had she… with the bear… and left…

A moan of frustration escaped me as I pulled up to the house and dashed for the door. I began searching frantically for the key, then realized the front door was ajar. Oh Alfred knew us all too well.

The vestibule lead to the parlor, which lead to the inner hall… The shoes I'd wore to the funeral yesterday skidded and slid along hard wood and marble floors. This wasn't her place. Her place had pale tan carpeting and no paper plates. Please… don't let her want to stay here. Or in that cave, that place with no light…

I lifted upwards on the clock as I turned it on its hinge. Alfred had mentioned a long time ago that doing so kept it from squeaking. Sure enough, his casually dropped tip was accurate, and it didn't.

Jimmy's voice was the first that I heard when I crossed the threshold. "Mara, you don't know what you're asking!"

"I know full well what I'm asking," I heard her respond harshly. I closed the clock gently behind me.

"I CAN'T!"

"You can and you WILL!" She had always been a forceful leader. I'd never heard her sound like THAT before. That… 'or else' tone. Not even with Kon.

"Mara, I'm DONE!" I felt bad for him. I could hear the desperation in his tones. Sometimes, it did better to attempt reasoning with an Arkham inmate.

"Dad CANT, Tim WONT, that leaves YOU!"

"Who said there has to BE a Batman?"

"HE did."

"He's gone, Mara. I'm sorry. I am SO, so sorry. But he IS. And me putting that suit on won't bring him back. Damn it to hell, Mara. I almost KILLED you. I'm NOT putting on that suit—HIS suit—and going back out there. I'm not going back out there as HIM because no one can ever BE him, LEAST of all me."

"There are no excuses. You're healed now. And you have the skills. I've seen it. You nearly killed me with them. I KNOW they are there."

"This isn't about the skills," he said desperately. "I can't be him."

"You're the same height and build."

"Incidentals," he told her calmly.

"Gotham needs a Batman."

Jimmy's voice was desperate. "Mara… I'm sorry."

"He died saving you," she said stonily.

Oh God. I couldn't believe she was doing this. Even for Mara, this was… out there.

There was an unbearable silence, and I almost came out of the darkness of the threshold, but I couldn't bring myself to. Suddenly… I was afraid to face her. I was afraid of what she'd tell me.

"I'll give you a month," Jimmy responded. "And I'm doing this in accordance with the old man's last wishes. That is ALL."

"We'll see about that," she said almost knowingly. As if…she had a plan. "Jordan, you can come down now," she informed me.

I sighed. "Mara, it's too soon to get back to work. Come home for a little bit…"

"I've been out of the suit too long."

As I descended the remainder of the steps, I saw her for the first time. "That isn't your suit," I said coldly.

"It is now."

"Mara, you can't do this. All of this."

"Batgirl left and swore not to return back here. That leaves me uncontested."

I came closer to where she was sitting in HIS chair. The one with the high back. I felt like I was approaching the throne. She was wearing a larger, more vicious looking black mask that covered her forehead and came to a point at the tip of her nose. The cape was gone, and the duster was back. The green leggings had been replaced with black and the body armor was a dark blood red. The costume had lost all signs of humanity.

"This isn't the way to hold Gotham together," I whispered.

"I'll do what I must."

I clenched my eyes shut, trying to let the sharpness of her tone pass through me. I never really let myself buy into when she was trying to be hurtful. Deep down, I knew she wasn't TRYING to be hurtful, but I also knew she must be killing Jimmy—because I hurt to see her starting down this path.

"Mara… the funeral was yesterday."

"This city's already been a week without him. It won't go longer. It jeopardizes ALL of our safety." She spun the chair around to face the computer, and went to work. We were dismissed.

The trouble was… I could see her point. It was what the Bat had wanted, should he ever… and she was right—if anyone ever caught on, more secrets than just her own or the Bat's were in danger.

I turned to her brother. "Jimmy… come up stairs with me for a minute."

He just continued staring at the back of her head.

"Jimmy, come on. Alfred'll feed us." I grabbed his arm. "Just let her work for a little bit," I whispered. "We'll sort all this out."

Shaking his head, he let a breath out of his nose. "I just wish you wouldn't," he said to her. We both stared for a moment at what she was doing. It was a list of possible problem-children from Ra's organization. It probably DID need to be done—tracking them all down and making sure they weren't going to make trouble. I just wished like hell that it didn't need to be Mara that did it. Didn't any of us guys get ANY time off? No rest for the wicked, I supposed.

Finally, disgusted with waiting, I tugged on his shirt sleeve. Thankfully, he followed me. Our feet shuffled and scuffed against the stone steps. He went through the clock before me, and I stopped behind him. "I'll be back down later, Robin. We have to talk. You KNOW we have to talk." I wasn't letting her out of my earlier promise.

* * *

We each had a quarter of the apple pie on our plates. Alfred probably knew better than to stand between a guy and food. Two guys and food was just dangerous. "How're your parents doing?"

"Dad doesn't do much. Takes himself off to the garage when he has to cry. Like I won't notice. He's not going back to either job right now. Mom. Well, mom is now obsessed with revamping her communications systems." He took a big gulp of milk.

Of course they both blamed themselves. That's what this family was all about. Self-blame. I stared at Alfred's back while he washed the dishes. He was probably blaming himself right now, with every stroke of the dish cloth, thinking of everything he could have ever done to stop this family from arriving at it's current position.

Damn it. These things HAPPENED. They happened to US before they happened to everyone else. I'd been preparing myself since early childhood for the eventual loss of one of my parents, or their friends. Mom's death tore me up, but this was US. Why couldn't these people, who I loved like an extension of my own family, just see that?

Of course, they were all still keeping tight-lipped on what had actually transpired with Ra's al Ghoul. Maybe they all had a legitimate reason…

Still. I wanted to shake them all.

"Jimmy, I don't know what happened. In a way… I don't want to know. But… you all can't keep putting it on yourselves."

He didn't respond. He just shook his head, as if to say 'you don't know what you're talking about'.

"You can't waste your time on blame and doubt. Especially not now."

"Why? Because BATMAN wouldn't spend his time doubt?" His voice was bitter and overwrought.

"I wasn't going to say that. Look. You've been doing for Mara all week. I'm glad you're sticking by her, because she needs it right now. She needs it desperately. And she's going to need it more. He just gave her everything. That includes the city. It's going to take her a while to find her way. Find her place again. We can either help her, or we can hurt her."

His eyes narrowed and he leaned forward with his elbows on the edge of the table. "You're suggesting I give in to her. Become… HIM."

"Look. You said you wouldn't do it permanently. You'd do it how long he wanted—a month. That's enough. That's all you need to do."

"It'll never be enough for her, and you KNOW it."

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. She's right. In order to keep the secret, it must be done. And you're it."

He pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm two steps away from failing Advanced Placement English if I don't catch up on my essays, and you guys want me to give up the last month of school to play Batman. I can't believe I'm doing this. I'm going to come here ever night, pretend to BE him… and, and then what?"

"And then whatever you do with it. Don't be the Bat. I don't care. Nighthawk is a perfectly legitimate profession."

"NO it's not."

I wasn't prepared for the force of his last statement."You said yourself that you're healed. You're going to kick ass all over the place."

"Nighthawk is retired," he said quietly.

Just then, Alfred took himself from the room. Strategy. Always strategy.

I put down my fork. "Ok. Fine. Whatever. I can't make you. Do this for her. For the Bat's last wishes. If we try to work with her, maybe we can keep her from going down the path I see her going down."

"Of becoming like Him? It's too late for that, man. That happened YEARS ago."

"Look. We can pull her back from the edge. WE can do this."

He looked so tired, so defeated. I hated doing this to him. "It's the story of my damned life. 'We do it because we're the only people who can,' and all that," he parroted. "And we are, aren't we?" His eyes were searching mine for something desperately. "Alfred will try… but without Grandfather… I don't know what he'll do. Mom and dad… have their own problems. That leaves you and me."

I rose from my chair and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I know. And I'm sorry. If I could do this alone, and do it right, I would. I know you have your own… demons."

He and I had only ever tolerated each other in Young Justice. We joked around there, and were ok with each other, but never what you'd call friends. Friendly at best, would probably be the most appropriate term. Now, suddenly, we were brothers in this common cause.

* * *
We finished the rest of the pie, a gallon of milk, half a loaf of bread, a pound of cheese and a bag of those 'fun size' candy bars.

"But we're not eating our way through stress," Jimmy muttered as he gathered up the wrappers. It was good to see him get some of his zest back. Especially with the road we were about to face.

"You know, you start popping cracks like that in the Bat-suit and Mara's liable to wail off and deck YOU instead of the bad guy."

"I can take her."

"Kid, the whole damned Justice League couldn't take her. Not if she's on her rag."

We both laughed. I spilled the rest of my milk on me, and he dropped the wrappers he'd been collecting.

"I'm going to tell her you said that."

With my sleeve, I wiped the milk off my chin. I wasn't Alfred's perfect prince consort yet. "Man, you won't have to worry about her killing your butt. Cause it'll be me. All me."

"You'll be too dead to kill me."

We both grinned stupidly, staring at each other in silence. Soon the mood dissipated, though, and we realized the painful truth of what we were saying. Finally we cleaned up the kitchen in silence. Alfred would beat us with a switch if we didn't. He was leaving us to our own devices for now. Maybe later, we could find him and seek his council.

"I love her desperately," I said out loud as I was scraping our plates.

"I know, man." He deposited his trash, then put the lid back on the garbage can.

Man, I hated doing dishes. "I'm going to get her down the aisle some day."

"Good luck."

Why was I having this 'true confessions' moment with her younger brother? Well, if we were to be comrades in arms, it seemed reasonable that I make my intentions clear. "If nothing else… I'll pester her down the aisle."

Silence enveloped us. I washed the dishes, searching for something else to say, but there didn't seem to be anything.

To my relief, Jimmy filled the air. "She does love you. She told me."

I turned off the water and looked out the window to the dark, deeply shadowed landscape of the back property and where it met with the orange late-afternoon sky. It was frightening and beautiful—just like her. "I know. I know she does. And I know we have something. I guess… it's just a matter of getting her to embrace that."

"Seize the day and shit. That's what I told her." He sighed.

I dried the dishes and put them away to get it done and over-with. It wasn't fun if she and I didn't do it together.

"I don't want to be fucking Batman," he said suddenly.

"I know, kid."

"Quit calling me kid, Minty. GEEZE! Damnit. My mom wanted to kick my ass when she found out I got hurt out there. She's going to be THRILLED to hear I'm taking up the most dangerous job in the world."

"Jimmy, there's nothing dangerous about it. Well, nothing 'most dangerous' about it. You got one of the best watching your back. You go out, you put in your appearances, and you pack it up and forget you ever put on that suit."


"You'll see," I promised.

His cell phone rang. I sat at the island and made little bears with the ring. They didn't want to be happy and dance for me today, though. That's pretty sad when your constructs are depressed.

"Yeah. No. I'm still at the Manor. She's down there. Doing whatever it is she's doing."

He looked over at me. "Jordy's here. He'll keep her out of trouble."

"Thanks," I muttered. That seemed like a full time job, and one I wasn't prepared for.

"It's mom," he informed me.

Biting his lip, he listened to his mother. His head bobbed up and down, and he leaned against the counter. At one point, he pulled the phone away from his ear and grinned at me. "Luthor made a public apology for his 'inappropriate' behavior at the funeral… through his press agent. Apparently he wont be talking for a while… since his JAW IS WIRED SHUT!"

I slapped my hands together. "There IS justice in this world!"

"Mom agrees." He talked into the phone again. "Uncle Clark shoulda let her go, and just let her pound the hell out of him. That'd have been cool. I mean pound the tar. Sorry mom."

Suddenly, he stood up straight. "She did WHAT?"

The teddy bears vanished back into the ring, and I got closer to Jimmy and the phone. "What?" I inquired.

"She's been buying out Lexcorp subsidiaries and scooping up stock in lesser-known holdings since six this morning."

I blinked twice. "And Lucius Fox let her do that?"

"She's doing it with her own money, not Wayne Corp's. But someone got wind it was her, because Wayne stocks have started to rally since dropping at the start of the week. Man. You go girl."

I shrugged, wondering if this was to be the new order of things. "I guess that's the only thing Luthor understands—hit him where it hurts, the wallet."

Jimmy grinned. "Wow, Superman's probably having a field day with this one. Clark Kent too." He leaned away from me and plugged his free ear. "Yeah, mom. I will. I promise. I'll watch her. Anything out of the ordinary—for her—I'll let you know." He hung up.

"You didn't tell her about the Bat-gig?"

"What the hell am I going to say? She was intermittently laughing and crying on the phone with me. I'm not going to upset her now."

I nodded.

He put the phone back in his pocket, contemplated the situation, then responded: "She's right though. If Mara's just spanking him for making her cry in public, that's one thing. But if I know her, she never does ANYTHING half-assed."

Folding my arms over my chest, I grunted agreement. "Time to go into official Bat-mode surveillance. My dad and grandfather'd kill me," I said unhappily.

"Tell 'em to suck it up and deal. Once you go Bat, you never go back," he said, trying to lighten the mood. Unfortunately, it just cut too deeply into what we'd been just discussing.

* * *

I went back down into the cave on the pretence of taking Mara food. I hadn't forgotten about my prior promise to force her to talk. "Mara, honey?" I knew terms of endearment annoyed her sometimes. When she was in Robin mode was one of them. But right now I needed to connect to Mara. Not Robin.

Unfortunately, there was no response. "Mara, I brought you some food. You can't kick the world's ass on an empty stomach."

I almost dropped the plate when I saw her. My heart cried out against seeing her do this, but perhaps it was what she needed to do.

There was a new case in the cave, between the Robin and Spoiler costumes. Mara was at the case, closing the glass door. When it was almost shut, she hesitated and bowed her head. She stood in silent reverence for a long time, and I could not break that.

The wet musty air and the arched walls of the cave carried her voice to me when she spoke. "I know what to do, Grandpa. And I'll do it." Her voice was laced with a certainty and regret that it pained my heart to hear.

With a sense of finality, she pushed the glass door the last few inches shut. It clicked quietly, like the knell of a small but disenfranchised bell.

There was no sound after that, though I was pretty sure, as she stood with her gloved hands pressed against the glass, that she was sobbing.

The end.