I don't own. Thanks to my betas. You guys know who you are cause its 7am, and I don't.

Regrouping

~~**~~

Jordy's Journal:


I walked through the clock entrance to the cave and looked at both of the men waiting for me. With frustration, I shook my head. "She wont come up stairs," I told her father.

"I'd really rather not do this down there."

Mr. Kent grimaced. I think he knew just how painful this was going to be. " I suppose we have to do it down there. But talking to Bruce down there was always like talking to a brick wall."

"Talking to Mara is ALWAYS like talking to a brick wall," Mr. Grayson said. "But I'd really rather do it up here. In the sunlight"

I bit my cheek, trying to think of a compromise. There probably wasn't one. "She... she does need a good talking-to. I mean... We never really got to talk. She cried herself out... and in the morning she was gone." I strategically left out the part where we'd frantically made love, as if tomorrow might never come. "I know what she did to Jimmy. I... I don't know what other way there can be."

"We need to discuss it. She can't hide down there from the fact that he's gone." Mr Kent's voice seemed to catch on the last part of that sentence.

"She knows," I said quietly. Then I told them about coming down and seeing her close the case. "She's accepted he's gone. She... also knows it's her responsibility now. The cave. The city."

Mr. Kent shook his head. "And just like Him, she's going to isolate herself as a way of getting through it. That's why he gave it to her. He knew she'd run it just the way he would."

"It'll be ok," Mr. Grayson assured us. "We'll just talk to her. It's a phase. Remember when she was in high school? It's like that. Crisis of the week kind of thing. Only it's over something real. She'll get better, and we'll all move on."

The last bit was a stretch.

"Look... she'll come out of this. Just like the not talking thing, you'll see. She's just being a little... intense right now. That's all." And that's all it really was, so far. She was focusing on the work, which had been neglected for a week. She was putting pressure on those that she felt needed pressure put upon them--namely her brother. I didn't see much difference, so far, to the way she was running this ship as to the way she had run Young Justice.

"Ok," her father answered. "I just... I'll feel better once I've talked to her. Once I've gotten my two cents in."

Mr. Kent nodded.

"Can I at least come with you? I'm worried for her too."

"I don't think we have a right to keep you away," Mr. Kent told me. "You're probably closer to her than we are. She may listen better with you there."

PROBABLY? Geeze. They really didn't have any faith in her ability to be close to ANYONE. I guess they didn't see us in private. All they knew was that we spent an inornate amount of time together... and that we were lovers. Maybe they thought it was just that. I didn't know. "Look... guys... I know her. Stuff hits her hard. She doesn't say anything... but it does. Just let her work this out."

I followed them down the steps.

If it was possible, the cave was even MORE ill-lit than it had been that morning. "Mara, honey, it's your dad and Uncle Clark. They came to see how you're doing." We all stopped at the bottom of the steps, sort of unsure where to go next.

She relieved us of uncertainty. The chair at the computer never turned, and yet we knew she was talking directly to us. "I know who it is." Her voice was cold—colder than I remembered Robin's ever being.

"We just wanted to see how you were—since the funeral yesterday and everything," Mr. Kent said.

"Fine." I didn't know if she was permitting their inspection, or if by her own perception she was 'fine'.

"Mara, you can come away from there for just a minute and talk to us," I ordered. "Just for a minute," I reasoned with her. Briefly, I wondered if it was working.

"I'm very busy," she replied in that overly patient voice her grandfather used to use on me.

"We're just worried about your going back to work too soon," her father added.

"What? Like YOU? Nightwing hasn't been seen in over a week. The night-life is suspicious."

"God, you even sound like him," her father said bitterly. "Mara, this has to stop. You need to just take a step back for a minute, ok?"

Her chair turned, and I saw them both stiffen. I didn't think anything I could have said would have prepared them, though I know Jimmy had warned them. Her elbows rested on the arms of the chair, and they were steepled in front of her. "I have a job to do," she informed us.

"Does that job also involve waging war with Lexcorp?" her father asked, not backing down an inch.

"Maybe."

"Mara, you need to think about this. You don't want to get in over your head."

She glared at Clark, insulted that he would suggest that she couldn't handle anything that could cross her path.

I risked it, and knelt beside her chair. "Mara… I know you're busy. I know you have a lot to do. Just… make some time for us. WE need you." I didn't think an outright confrontation would work. I was surprised that her father and Mr. Kent would even bother to try. This WAS Mara we were dealing with. She was thick-headed to the extreme. You had to plead with a different part of her sometimes. "Your mom needs to see you."

If I was hearing correctly, Mr. Kent had drawn in a breath and was holding it. I didn't dare to look at them. I needed to keep looking straight at Mara. I had to force her to respond.

"Tomorrow. Lunch. That is my first opening."

I nodded and backed away, standing so that her chair wouldn't hit me as she spun it around again. "That's fair," I told her. "We all look forward to seeing you. I hope you get done what you need to get done before then."

She gave me one curt nod before she started typing.

I looked to her father. He gestured to say that this arrangement was acceptable.

Taking a few deep breaths, I risked coming around to her side again and kissing her head. She was rigid beneath my touch and didn't respond—but I took it as good news that she didn't pull away. "Be careful," I whispered. "I'm still here, and I still love you… but damn it. Be careful." Her eyes closed for just a moment, and I knew she wasn't ignoring me. What she was doing with this information, though, was anyone's guess.

~~**~~
Private Logs of Timothy Drake:
I slammed my fist repeatedly at Cassandra, who blocked with almost no effort. "I couldn't believe her. That She-bitch," I ground out. "Questioning how I raise MY daughter, because I won't let her go on a field trip to the Bayside Pencil Factory!"

Cassandra had been letting me ramble on, but she finally spoke. "Well, why won't you?"

"CASSANDRA!" She didn't even flinch. "You know what goes on down there in Bayside. Prostitution, gangs…I can't possibly think that's the most ideal place for a kindergarten fieldtrip."

She grabbed my fist and twisted my arm behind my back. "You're not effective. You're just annoying. Try doing more than punching."

"You said I need to wear myself out. You didn't say I had to be effective."

"You'll exhaust yourself sooner, if you fight like you know how."

I was kind of worried about that. I kept myself up physically, but fight-wise, I was three years out of shape. I was equally afraid of pulling something AND looking like an ass. Of course, Cassandra had seen me do a LOT of stupid things over the years, but I wasn't out to confirm her suspicions that was a complete dork.

Hence keeping myself in shape—I'd learned that it was better for the consulting business if you didn't look like a nerd in need of a pocket protector when you walked in the door. Ok. So I was probably getting towards mid-life crisis stage, and I wanted to stave it off by looking ok.

I thought I'd been having trouble sleeping BEFORE Bruce's death. Since the night Oracle told us, I'd not slept a wink, and finally Cassandra had reasoned that I needed to do this for Sammy. I wouldn't be any good to her as the walking dead.

Damn it all to hell, I thought as I began engaging in offensive tactics. It was so in typical Bruce fashion—to die two weeks before the anniversary of Stephanie's death, just to make sure I have NO peace, not now, and probably not ever again.

My step mother was watching Sammy. She had gotten all closed-lipped when I asked if she could help me out, especially when she'd found out I was going to be with Cassandra. She probably thought this was some sort of date or something. If it meant I got some sleep tonight, I'd let her continue thinking that. I was getting kind of desperate. Especially since Bart had come in while I was at work this morning and tossed out all of my liquor and stocked my fridge with a thirty-six pack of beer. It took too long to calm your nerves with beer. It took far too many beers to get to that point. Especially any more. He'd left a note, implying that if I kept it up, I'd be a prime candidate for a twelve-step program.

Cassandra let me go for a little bit, but then she got frustrated and pinned me to the mat in her cave. "At least try to make it difficult for ME. Even if YOU are going to be a total loser."

"Loser," I said with a half smile. "Now is that very fair? It's been a while."

"Concentrate. The point in this is to not think about the other things."

I went after her again. This could be a lost cause, I thought as she dodged my efforts to grab her mid section. "I heard Mara came out of la-la land this morning."

She frowned. "Yeah. She's back to being a thorn in my side."

We circled for a moment. "What'd she do?"

Her eyes narrowed. "Well, we exchanged words. End result: I'm not welcome in the cave because I'm not Him. End of story."

While she was seething, I took the opportunity to kick her legs out from under her and pin her to the mat.

"You did that on purpose," she informed me, rolling out from under me with incredible easy. She didn't stay 'had' for long. She remained on the floor though, laying next to me, incredibly ticked.

I rolled onto my back, trying to catch my breath. She'd certainly made my tiny victory difficult to obtain. "No. I know you get glassy-eyed mad every time I mention her name."

Cassandra crossed her arms over her chest and stared up at the high, vaulted ceiling. "That's because she's Satan."

"She isn't that bad. Look, you just have to share a city with her."

"HE gave everything to her."

"HE left you considerably well set-up."

"He gave the city to her. THAT is enough."

I turned on my side and propped my head up with my arm. "Come on, Cass. We all knew it was coming. You've always been all 'independent woman' and the only thing you ever took from him was his technology."

"This sucks. It's my city too." She flipped herself into a standing position. "Come on. I have an entire gallon of ice-cream to burn off."

I'd noticed her new favorite way of getting through situations was to eat. She probably had more than Rocky Road to work off too, if I knew her. "Alright, come on, fatty."

Her eyes narrowed, and before I could stop her, a flying fist connected with my jaw. "Don't get smart with me, Tim."

"What do you want?" I asked defensively. Geeze. Some people…

"You know what I want," she teased.

"And you know you're not going to get it," I said in all seriousness.

She made the same two moves I'd been tackled by earlier in the evening, and I actually managed to avoid them. "Two isn't enough."

"Back in the day, it was only two. It was Batman and Robin and that's all you had." We'd stopped again. This conversation always seemed to be a show-stopper.

"Now it's Batgirl and Robin and that isn't cutting it. Especially when we don't even work together."

"You haven't even given it a chance!"

"I KNOW Robin."

"Look, we all know Robin. And she might be a bigger pain in the ass than Bruce, but she's MORE than capable."

"I need a partner."

"You have NEVER needed a partner." I picked up my towel and wiped the back of my neck then picked up my water bottle. I was way out of shape.

"I WANT a partner."

I threw down the water bottle with such force it exploded. "It's not going to be me, so just STOP it!" I yelled suddenly. "THIS is why you got me down here, isn't it? Look, I'm sorry Bruce is gone. I'm sorry for all of you. But not even God himself could get me back in that costume."

She turned her back to me. I hated having these arguments. I knew she hated it too, so why did we keep going through this? "Then get out. Go jogging, go drinking… just get the hell out."

~~**~~

Jimmy came up from the cave an hour before dawn. "How'd your first night go?" I asked. He looked almost shell-shocked.

"She's fucking crazy, man."

He sounded like he needed to talk. "What's up?"

"She's just… intense. Beyond intense. She made me drive the damned car, cause that's what he'd do." He collapsed into the chair nearest the clock. "I gotta be at school in two hours. I can't effing believe this. I don't know how she'd do this and then be at school every day." One hand massaged both of his blood shot eyes. "She's down there now, if you want to talk to her. Get a view of insanity from a first-person perspective."

I pulled the hard-backed chair next to the desk over to him and sat down. "Jimbo… You sound like you need an ear."

"I need to eat something and get massive amounts of caffeine in my system, then get back to the 'Haven." He was looking at the door… I knew who he wanted to see.

"Alfred went to sleep at three. I don't think he's slept in a while. I told him I'd wait up for you guys." Which meant I was it, if he was going to talk.

"I just gotta make it to first period English. That lady thinks I'm a ball of wasted potential. She probably wont mind me catching the forty while she's blathering on." He shifted in his chair and grabbed onto the arm rest. "She's sick, man!"

"Yer English teacher?"

"My SISTER! Dude. She HAD this guy. She KNEW she had him, and she still almost ripped his arms out of his sockets. Then we had to put in the obligatory appearance in at the Commissioner's office. Thank God, all I had to do was stand in the shadows and look menacing. The rest of the night was making up for lost time. We ran her patrol rout FIVE times. We've busted more guys than I can even remember… and she's just… harsh. Insane. I don't know. Like there isn't any Mara left and it's all Robin. Half the time I forgot which one of us was supposed to be the dark and creepy one."

"You didn't make any smart remarks in uniform, did you?"

"OH MAN, that's the most demented part. Oh geeze."

I'd missed them going to out last night cause I'd been called into New York. I didn't think my dad had really needed me, but I think we both really needed to see each other. I was sorry I missed seeing Jimmy off though. This was new territory for him.

"What went on?"

"Man… it was scary. I didn't mean to do it. I don't know where she went, but I got to the cave and she wasn't there. But she had stuff up on the computer. I decided to get a head start—try to figure out where we were going tonight. You know… stuff." He actually shuddered. "I heard her come in, so I decided to go all silent treatment on her, you know. Like she does to everyone else. So she gets half way between the car and the Crays, and she just stops."

"Ok."

"Dude… I didn't mean anything by it! She whimpered. She actually whimpered. She whimpered 'Grandpa?' and her knees buckled. I got out of the chair to grab her, and she just like… attacked me. Like for no fucking reason. She just FLEW at me and knocked me on the ground." He shook his head. I had a feeling he hadn't mentioned that first because he had just wanted to forget about it.

"I didn't even have a CHANCE to smart-mouth her. She just was all psychotic from the beginning."

I put a hand on his shoulder. "We have to think it's going to get better. She's just… adjusting right now. Look. I'm going to try to get her out and about, and keep her in circulation. That's gonna help. You just try and keep her company out there."

"Twenty-nine more days. That's still a long time."

"Thank you. I know. She's having lunch with your parents today. And Mr. Kent will be there. That's gotta beat some sense into her. If… if things DON'T get better. Let me know?"

He nodded. "Yeah. Yeah man."

"Ok. Look. I got stuff in the kitchen. You can eat it on your drive back. And a bottle of Explode to keep you awake, and a bottle of Zesti to wash it down with."

Half of a smile came to his lips. "Thanks Minty. You're ok."

"I'm just trying to keep you all together. Just trust me. This'll all pass."

He shook his head and walked to the kitchen. "This is all just… crazy."

"It'll calm down."

"All you do is spout reassurances," he said, suddenly frustrated.

"Look. What the hell else can I do? There isn't anything I can do to fix it. She won't even let me comfort her. So all I can do is keep thinking that things're going to get better. Because they are, because they HAVE to." I handed him a paper bag from the kitchen counter.

"I'm sorry. I'm on edge."

"It's ok." I had a feeling he was going to be tense like this every night when he came up. "Look. Go to school. First day back always sucks. Everyone feels the duty to as how you're doing and stuff. Just go and get it over with."

He dug through the bag. "Did YOU make these?" he sniffed the carrot muffin.

"Yeah. You won't believe who's recipe."

Jimmy dropped it back in the bag. "Alfred doesn't do the filling stuff."

"Your sister's."

"Ok. I'm leaving now because I've obviously entered the Twilight Zone."

I walked to the front door with him and then down to his car. "No joke. I made her write it down for me. See? She can't be ALL evil."

"I'm not saying she's evil," he muttered with frustration. "I'm saying she's sick."

That caused me to stop in my tracks. "Jimmy… are you not telling me something?"

"I gotta go if I'm going to make first period. Mom said I just have to stay till Trig. I can do that, right? Four classes…" He got in the car and slammed the door, continuing to speak encouragement to himself as he opened the bottle of Explode. There was a reason that stuff was nicknamed 'crack in a bottle,' and right now Jimmy needed it to live up to its name.

I sat down on the steps to the main door, exhausted. I didn't begrudge Alfred his sleep, but he had a hard job. I didn't think that I was a sufficient substitute. Jimmy was still frustrated and Mara was… well, still down there. She was still 'being' Robin… exactly where she'd been when I came upon the scene yesterday morning. Jimmy wasn't the only one who was a half-assed substitute.

~~**~~

I came home from work mid-afternoon, and I avoided the living room area of the loft and went straight for the kitchen.

"Hey! Daddy!" Sammy came running into the kitchen and hugged me around the mid section.

"Hi pumpkin. Did you have a good day?" I took a bottle of water out of the refrigerator. I was still thirsty from last night, it seemed.

Without answering, she sped off into the living room to show me whatever craft she'd done today in school. She returned a few seconds later with a finger painting. That meant I'd have to watch when I was washing her hair—she always managed to get paint buried in her ponytail.

"This is me, and this is you, and this is our dog."

"We don't have a dog."

"You're gonna get me a dog."

We were back to the dog discussion. "We'll see, pumpkin." The last thing I wanted was some stupid yipper dog waking me up four times a night so I could take it to do its business.

"Ukkay." Fortunately, she had a short attention span. She always came back to certain things, but she moved off and on them easily enough.

"Don't say hello or anything." Cassandra had appeared in the kitchen now too.

"Hey. You're the one who told ME to get out."

"You need smacked."

"Why? Because I'm not giving you your way?"

"You know why."

Ok, so it wasn't just Stephanie who used to say that. It was some kind of female phenomenon. Damnit, I needed a drink. Not in front of the kid, and not in front of Cassandra definitely… Ok. Maybe Bart's right. Maybe you ARE a candidate for a twelve-step program.

"Cassandra, I can't and I won't."

"Just wait," she said very calmly. "Wait until you see who's been let loose in the city."

"Are we talking about YOU or MARA?" Sammy grabbed the bottle of water out of my hand and finished it off. I hated when she did that.

"Mara of course."

"Is Mara coming over? She has lotsa good cartoon-DVD's."

"I don't think she's coming over soon, honey." I glared at Cassandra. "If you have problems with her, YOU solve them. Don't drag ME into it."

"Fine," she said, picking up Sammy. "I won't say another word about it." There seemed to be a distinct subtext of 'for now' in her tone. "You meet me tonight before my patrol. Dana is coming after dinner."

"I didn't say I'd work out with you again."

"I don't see you getting much sleep. Not with your liquor supply wiped out."

My head shook in disgust. "It figures you and you former boyfriend would plot against me like that. FINE. I will meet you tonight.

She gave me that smug grin that I hated so much. "Fine."

~~**~~

I arrived just before eleven at her parents' home in Bludhaven. It had been a long morning already. My buddy Mustard had started trouble in New York right at the start of rush hour, and dad was off playing games on the moon. That wasn't true… dad was really working. He and the other Justice Leaguers were attempting to restructure. They'd lost members before—but not one of the heavy hitters, and the Bat was certainly one of the top three. Oracle was up in her office… telecommuting.

Jimmy was asleep on the sofa. That meant he'd survived the first few classes his mother had made him go to. Mr. Grayson was outside, cooking on the grill. I somehow didn't think this was the type of lunch that Mara had envisioned. I walked through the dining room and opened the sliding glass door. It was a chilly day and probably not the best weather for this. "Can I come out?" I asked.

Mr. Grayson turned the steaks. "Sure. It's a little too quiet out here."

"How're you doing?"

"I'll be better when I see Mara looking like herself and out of the Cave."

I nodded. "I called her on my way here. She's still meaning to come." Sitting in the metal lawn chair next to the sliding door, I waited until he closed the lid on the grill before I decided to talk again. "I think it was a good talk we had with her yesterday. It meant something."

"Son, she's only coming because you told her that others needed her. I don't necessarily consider it a winning situation." Superman landed on the edge of the patio. A few seconds later, Mr. Kent was standing before us.

"Clark's right. YOU did it. And… it's a temporary thing… getting her out of that hovel. I guess what we do this afternoon will tip which way she goes." He seemed so frazzled and frustrated. I guess he had a right to be.

Oracle (it was so hard for me to think of her by any different name) came out and joined us a few moments later. I guess the JLA meeting had adjourned if a fair portion of the group was now sitting on the Grayson patio. "I'm going to kill that kid…" she muttered.

Jimmy once told me that threatening the lives of her children was one way Oracle got through stressful situations. I wondered how many times she'd threatened Jimmy's life in the last week or so. "Barb… come on. We already said we have to keep that to a minimum. You know she wont like that."

"She's still playing the little stock-market war. She's obviously doing more than spanking Luthor for insubordinance." She parked herself at the table and rested her shoulders on it heavily. She was tired too, I could tell.

"Jordy," Mr. Kent started. "We have to make it clear to her that she can't play games with Luthor. There's a reason Bruce never did. It's because it causes a LOT of problems. Problems someone with an identity to protect doesn't need."

"I-I'll try to talk to her, sir." I didn't know how much they thought she listened to me on some things. It was like detective work. I had NO business telling her how to… well, run a business. I was some dorky student studying computer animation. If I was lucky, I'd be able to balance a check book when I made it out of undergrad.

"One thing at a time," her father said. "We got a long list of things to cover."

"I'm sure you have a list," Mara said, standing in the doorway. I really despised her ability to sneak up on people. And I had a feeling she'd gotten past everyone that time.

I looked up at her and blinked. This was as big of a change as the Darth-Robin gig. Her hair was styled in a very controlled manner. She'd only recently been growing out her hair, and it was now both strangely feminine and no-nonsense. It parted on the right and curved very intently inward on the sides, and the back flipped out. The new style matched the suit she was wearing. It had a deep red blouse covered with a very severely cut jacket. It was neither oversized nor lacking, and yet it seemed to surround her like her armor. A black skirt stopped mid-calf. The heals weren't the sexy spikes I could get her into occasionally, they were high, but with large heels that gave the impression that she wanted to ground any who opposed her into the ground.

Her manicured, French-tipped fingers wrapped around a black leather attaché case. By the fact the steak was falling out of Mr. Grayson's tongs, I suspected this wasn't what he had in mind when he said he'd be glad to see her out of the cave and in different attire. Before it could hit the ground, I sent a construct plate shooting out in his direction to catch it. "Ni—nice outfit," I muttered, wondering if this was the same girl who perpetually wore jeans and flannel shirts in high school. Was she the same girl at all?

"Going somewhere?" her mother asked suspiciously.

"I have a meeting after this," she answered coolly.

A lot of eyebrows shot upward, mine included. "Oh?" I asked, trying to sound as non-committal as possible.

"Strategy meeting," she explained. "Luthor's making a play for Wayne holdings. He's actually been doing it since news of Bruce Wayne's death became public. He's tightened his grip in the last two days, even before my personal rebuttal." She sat down between me and her mother, placing the case on the seat between us.

It was really, really quiet. REALLY quiet.

Finally, Jimmy came out, rubbing his eyes. "Feed me," he muttered, sitting down across from his sister. He opened his eyes, took one good look, at her and let out a scream. "YEEUGS!"

"Shut up, James," she said icily.

"Mara, be nice to your—never mind." Oracle sighed. "Guys… not today. PLEASE not today."

Jimmy started playing with his napkin.

Ignoring Mr. Kent, Mara asked, "I thought this was only going to be family."

Mr. Grayson put the plate on the table. "This is 'just family'."

I was family?

Her mother turned to her and dared take her hand. "Honey… please."

Mara stiffened, but didn't pull away. It was going to be a long lunch.

~~**~~

"Hey, man, how're you doing?"

"Bart, what did I tell you about vibrating through my front door?" I asked angrily.

"I vibrated through a wall."

"Well, get out," I told him, not daring to look up from my computer.

It didn't stop Bart. It NEVER stops Bart. He plopped his butt on the edge of my desk and glared down at me. "You made Cass cry."

"I did not."

"She cried on the phone at me. You think I'm in Gotham for my health?"

"I thought you were here to annoy the hell out of me." I continued typing. I hated upgrading systems that weren't mine to begin with, but the money had been right, and I managed to snooker them into a contract for the next five years. By then, I'll have rewritten the system to my own specifications.

"Man, you be good to Cass. Just because WE didn't work out doesn't mean I don't care about her, and what you're doing just isn't right."

"Cassandra doesn't cry. So quit making up shit. And if you EVER come in here while I'm at work again, I'll kill you."

"Testy. Look, I'm trying to help you out. I'm not going to let you go over-board cause you can't handle this time of year."

"Fuck you, Bart."

"LANGUAGE." He turned off the monitor before I could register what he's doing. "Tim, I know you're going through a rough thing. And I wanna be here for you, but you're making it REALLY hard."

I ran a hand through my hair. "Ok. Bart… I'm sorry." Pushing the chair away from the desk, I looked up at him. "So what do you want me to do?"

"Just do what she tells you, man. She's the best."

I rubbed my eyes. "I will NEVER know what you two saw in each other."

"I'm adorable, and everyone should love me. She's a great listener, and um, other things. Like… talk to her, ok?"

"She's trying to shoehorn me back into that costume."

"Man, you're not listening to a word she's saying, are you?"

I buried my head in my hands. "Bart… why're you on me too? You were there." He'd been the first person I'd called. I hadn't known WHAT to do when Stephanie died. "You saw her. You saw her body… You can't think I should go back out there."

"Tim, don't put words in my mouth. You're the one who's saying that. I'm just saying… talk to her. Listen to her. You were always so in control. Just… take a little control over this and quit let it eating you."

~~**~~

Mara's out there with her brother again tonight. This afternoon went a little better after Jimmy went back to sleep. Mara didn't say a word while Mr. Kent gave her a lecture on playing hard ball with Luthor. Unfortunately, I think she's dedicated to it.

Her dad talked to her about not cutting people off. At first, I was really afraid she'd be dedicated to that too, until her mom took her up to her old room for a little bit. When I dared sneak up to eavesdrop, they were both crying.

Alfred and I hung around in the cave tonight while they were getting ready to go out. She did seem a little better, changing out of her no-nonsense suit into her costume. I mean… she didn't kick us out or ignore us. And we got see a little of someone we knew peeking through.

"When I say seven, seven and five, I mean it. Not five, five and seven," she told her brother smartly, loading supplies into her belt.

"So, I miscounted last night. Seven gassers, seven sparkers and five pukers. Ok, got it."

"Amateur. Watch how you're loading that thing. If I start barfing all over the place because you busted a cap opened by sitting on it in the car… they're not going to FIND all the pieces of you." She pulled the cape back and repositioned the contents of the belt.

"I'm not gonna sit on it! See, if I could make a glove…" She smacked him upside the cowl. "No gauntlets. Got it. You got some anger management issues, you know that?"

"You're cute. Get your ass in the car before I kick it."

Beneath the cowl, Jimmy grinned. He waved to us. "Alfie, Minty. Later folks." Just before he got in the car, he gave me a glance that wasn't difficult to read. He was wondering how long this'd last, and if it was for real. All I could do was give a little shrug.

Mara came over to me. "Don't wait up," she said.

"I gotta," I said playfully. "Can't sleep with you out of my sight."

Her gloved hand came to rest on mine. It was a black glove. I did wish she'd put the other one on. "Get some sleep. When I come in… I have some work to for my… other job."

I guess that meant that she was quitting school. "How's about this. I'll get your cape. Just… put a little yellow back into the uniform. Nothing wrong with a little green, either."

She actually gave me a little smile with that. Her hand reached up and touched the back of my neck. "We'll talk about it. Hey. Thanks."

"Damnit… you don't have to thank me." I tried to hide my frustration. "You're stuck with me. The only thing that's gonna get rid of me is a restraining order, got it?" I even had the audacity to kiss her cheek at that point. "Just stay connected to us, ok? I know you have a lot going right now. But… if anything… he'd want you to stay connected. Even at his worst, he still had time for you, so just make time for us." I hated playing the "Him" trump card, but I'd do what I had to, to keep her where she was now—at least willing to communicate. "Now… go out there and kick the world's ass," I told her. "But be careful."

With that, she turned and left. Alfred and I watched the car pull away.

"I want to think she'll keep being like this," I said, collapsing into a chair. I honestly didn't know how she kept these hours. "Why do I have this aching feeling… like it wont last?"

"Precedent, I fear, Master Jordan," he said quietly. I think I was the only one who saw this side of him, the side that faded and grayed whenever he was out of their sight. He looked as tired as I felt. "All we can do is continue to draw her out."

I pulled out a chair for him, because he looked like he was going to collapse. "She listens to you most, young sir. And I am too old for this."

"No, Alfred…"

"You've always been one to face reality, my boy."

I stared down at my hands. I was even less than an inadequate substitute. "Please… don't talk like that."

"I'm hardly giving up just yet. Merely… accepting my limitations."

With that, he turned and left. I put my head down on the table. Just yet, being the key part of Alfred's statement. It was a responsibility I didn't want. I was a Lantern. I wasn't some—

The thoughts died before they even pushed to the front of my brain. I couldn't be what he was to them. That was it, pure and simple. I was afraid. I didn't know if I had it within me to keep her from darkness. Saving the universe was one thing. It was impersonal and just a job. Saving the person I loved most… frightening, daunting… and maybe beyond me.

End.