Wakefield Wharf is one of the few bright spots on the landscape of Gotham City. Its coastal area plays host to many stores and entertainment venues, and the boardwalk on its border is arguably Gotham's premiere tourist locale.

That's during the day.

When the last rays of daylight are absorbed by Gotham City's legendary evening shadows, Wakefield Wharf becomes something entirely different. The boardwalk is a hot spot for muggers and rapists, the outside of the Gotham Aquarium is a known hangout for one of the seedier local gangs, and the piers often become receiving docks for arms and drug shipments from Bludhaven and points south.

Much like New York City's Central Park, enjoy its many offerings during the day, but tread carefully at night.

Unless, of course, you happen to be the Batman.

Batman crouched on his perch atop a local museum, completely enveloped by the shadows around him. He hated Wakefield Wharf in the summer. The seeping heat and coastal mist combined to create a dank, humid environment that made him sweat much more than usual. Sweat underneath his fearsome cowl was always an unwelcome experience, causing the Kevlar/Nomex material to chafe his skin and scalp. Such was the life of a crimefighter, he supposed.

Because of his extreme dislike of the area's climate, Batman made it one of the sections of the city that was known to be *his*. His voice became deeper in the Wharf, he made his attacks more personal, his justice more severe. It was most often the criminals he caught in the Wharf that spoke of him as a demon or wraith, and he preferred it that way. The more forbidding his reputation in the area, the less frequent his visits would have to be.

As a result, Bruce Wayne would require fewer facials. Bruce Wayne hates facials.

The drug shipment that brought him to the Wharf had just arrived. The cargo ship docked at the pier directly across from his position was being prepared by its occupants for unloading. Seeing only seven men among the crew, Batman decided to wait until the buyers arrived. Taking down both sides of the deal might prevent him from having to return to the Wharf in the near future, he hoped.

For fifty minutes Batman stood stock still, barely appearing to breathe. When the buyers arrived, five men armed with handguns, he made his move. Kicking off from the museum rooftop, the Batman descended upon his opponents in a flash. Taking two out as he landed, he spun his right leg into a roundhouse to eliminate the two behind him. His foot connected with nothing but air. Turning in that direction, he found his two targets already unconscious on the cement.

Spotting an assailant near the pier approximately twenty yards from him with an automatic rifle aimed in his direction, Batman rolled into a forward somersault. In mid-rotation, he readied a batarang and came up throwing. His bat-shaped weapon flew true, but struck nothing, sailing directly into the bay with an anticlimactic *plop*. That man, too, had already been struck down.

Now aware of the situation, Batman grabbed the thug closest to him and pulled him into a vicious clothesline. He nailed yet another as he turned, catching him in the chin with an elbow. The two dealers still conscious decided to flee, and Batman stopped one with a well-placed batarang even as another batarang dropped the other.

Batman made a quick visual sweep to make sure his opponents were down for the count, then turned and addressed the shadows. "I see you there. You can come out now."

Batgirl complied, emerging from the dark void. She strode up to her newfound mentor casually, craning her neck to look up at him. His expression was not one of welcome.

"Your actions were dangerous and unnecessary, Batgirl. Interfering in my work can cause hesitation, and hesitation can result in death. You should know that."

She stared up at him defiantly. "Help."

Batman shook his head. "If I required your assistance, I would have called off your patrol and ordered you here. If you want to be a soldier in our crusade, you *will* learn to obey orders."

Batgirl pounded her fist into her palm. "Help!"

Batman's eyes narrowed beneath his cowl and his lips tightened into a thin line as he spoke, "You will not question my methods or orders, Batgirl. I'll take over your patrol. Go home." He moved away to begin tying up their fallen opponents.

"No."

Batman turned back to face her. "Excuse me?"

He could make out the scowl on her face beneath her mask as she spoke. "No! No soldier!" With that, she launched her grapnel and took to the sky.

He made no attempt to follow. She would need time to cool off. He would check up on her later.

Dick Grayson was having a good dream. In a few minutes he would recall only the vaguest of details…but he'd be sure that Barbara Gordon was there, and something about leather and chocolate syrup might ring a bell.

But for now, as he wrapped his arms around his Neverland lover, he just wanted to enjoy the sensation of companionship.

"I know this is a dream, Babs, but can I just lay here a while longer," he asked, his voice seeming to echo all around him.

"Normally I wouldn't protest, Boy Wonder, but we're not alone," she purred in response. "Can't you feel it?"

His sense of awareness snapped to attention, and he could feel another presence in the room. He became instantly clad in his Nightwing garb, escrima sticks at the ready.

"Aww, man. I have to wake up for this, don't I?"

Babs giggled adorably. "Afraid so, sleepyhead."

"I swear, if it's not noon, whoever's here is leaving with a splint."

His eyes snapped open and he released his affectionate grip on his pillow. Rolling out of bed, he pulled on his bathrobe and stopped short when he found the cause of his aborted nap. There, sleeping rather peacefully on his couch, was Cassandra Cain. He tiptoed quietly to the bookcase/door that separated his apartment from that of the fictitious Dr. Fledermaus. He opened it silently and slipped through, moving to his computer terminal in two quick strides.

Dick activated the icon on his desktop that connected him with Oracle. The line picked up and he was greeted by the rather tired-looking countenance of Barbara Gordon.

"Hi, Dick. Kinda busy this morning. What's up," she asked, stifling a yawn.

"You guys lose somebody last night," he asked in reply.

"She's there? Please tell me Batgirl is with you!"

"I didn't think she knew where I lived. But yeah, she's here, sleeping on my couch," he answered reassuringly.

"Why didn't you call me, Dick? We've been looking for her all night!"

"Hey, relax, Babs. She was here when I woke up just now. I have no idea when she got here. Any idea *why* she's here?"

Barbara sighed dramatically. "She happened onto the scene of Bruce's drug bust last night, helping out when she wasn't supposed to. He said he was 'stern' with her."

Dick's features took on a tone of concern and anger. "Understood. I'll take care of it, Babs."

"Okay, I'll let Bruce know she's with you."

Dick shook his head. "Don't. I'll call him after I talk to Cassandra. I don't want him coming here after her before she's ready."

"All right, but don't take too long. He won't say so, but he's worried about her. It's 11am and he's still on the rooftops looking for her."

"Just about serves him right," he replied. "I've got it under control. Go get some sleep, beautiful." He forced a grin and severed the connection.

After quickly dressing in some sweats, he re-entered his apartment and moved over to his sofa. Cassandra woke instantly and sat up as he approached. Dick smiled as he sat down in the armchair across from her.

"Busy night?"

"No. Sorry," she replied quietly.

"No need to apologize to me, Cassandra. You're always welcome here. Want to tell me what happened?"

Her eyes narrowed somewhat. "No."

Dick smiled slightly, realizing that he was playing the Alfred role after a young Robin had done something wrong on the streets. "Well, why did you come here? Babs wouldn't have let Batman bother you."

Cassandra locked eyes with him. "Learn partner."

"Huh?"

"Bat wants soldier. Saw files. Jason Robin, soldier. Tim Robin, soldier. Barbara Batgirl, soldier. Azrael, soldier. Soldier angry, sad."

Dick frowned. "I'm not sure I understand what you mean, Cassandra. Well all get angry and sad sometimes…"

"No!" She slid off the couch and knelt before him, placing her fist on his chest. "Robin, soldier. Azrael, soldier. Nightwing, *partner*!" She moved her hand from his chest to her own. "Learn partner."

Dick was taken aback. She wanted him to teach her how to be Bruce's partner. He'd never really thought of it in the terms she expressed. Tim was very much Bruce's partner, when Bruce allowed him to be. In the beginning, Bruce even sent Tim to Dick to learn how it's done. Dick had been flattered, and he was proud of everything Tim learned as a result, and thankful for the brotherly bond those early sessions fostered between them. Perhaps…

"Cass, being Batman's partner doesn't solve problems between you and him. Things like last night will still happen all the time."

"Learn partner, not Batman's partner. Saw files. Robin, Titans. Soldier with Batman. Partner with Nightwing; friend, team, respect…"

"…love," he finished for her. "I understand."

She didn't want to be Batman's partner. She wanted to learn to work with others, Bruce included. She didn't want to end up alone…

"So you want to learn how to be a partner, huh?"

"Yes," she smiled back, seeming relieved that he understood.

"And you want me to teach you?"

"Yes, teach."

"Y'know something, Cass? I think you've come to the right place." He gave her a wink, causing her smile to broaden a bit. "Are you ready to get started?"

"Yes." With that, Cassandra stood and began to move the couch, clearing a larger space in his apartment.

"Whoah there, Cass!" She stopped cold and turned to look at him. "What you want to learn doesn't take place in a dojo or on the practice mats. We both know there's nothing I can teach you that way. Being someone's partner is a full-time job, and you've got a long way to go."

Cassie nodded and sat back down.

Dick grabbed his cell phone. "Okay, first we've got to make two phone calls. The first one is to Batman, who's still out looking for you. And the second is for the big first step in your training. You go get cleaned up while I call Batman."

She made her way to the bathroom while he dialed and raised the phone to his ear.

"Batman here."

"Batman, it's Nightwing. Batgirl is with me here in Bludhaven," he said curtly.

There was a long pause before Batman's reply finally came. "And why didn't you call in?"

"She must've come in shortly after I did. She was asleep on the couch when I woke up."

"What is she doing there?"

"Cassandra came to me for help, Bruce. She and I will be working together for the next week or two. She'll be fine, and I'll keep you posted on her schedule."

Another pause. "Batgirl has responsibilities in Gotham."

Dick laughed aloud. "You're not even going to ask why she needs help, are you? I've been giving you the benefit of the doubt lately, Bruce. The rift between you and Alfred, between you and Tim…I haven't said anything because I figured, like you and me, that eventually you guys'd work it out."

"This has nothing to do with Tim or Alfred," Batman interrupted.

"You're right, it doesn't. It has *everything* to do with you, Bruce! You're pushing them all away, only to replace them with others who aren't as good. Why? Because the longer you know someone, the more you feel for them, and you can't deal with that! You brought in Stephanie and Sasha because they're ready to worship you, and you don't have anything emotionally invested in them. It didn't work with Jason; it didn't work with Jean Paul. You tried to replace me twice, and you're lucky I'm still here…what about Tim and Cassie? Will they stick around? What happens when Babs gets too close, huh? Can't exactly replace her with AOL, can you?"

"Dick, this isn't…"

"I'm not finished, Bruce. You wanna know why she came here? She wants to learn how to be someone's partner. She doesn't want to be one of your soldiers because they all end up angry and sad…discarded emotionally. She wants me to teach her to be like me. Not because I'm better, stronger, or faster, Bruce. She wants to be like me because she's *afraid* of ending up like you. Alone."

"I…I…I have to go, Dick," Batman replied somberly.

"Of course you do. Like I said, I'll keep you posted. Think about what I said…"

The line went dead. Dick activated the phone again and dialed another number.

"Lesson #1, coming right up," he said with a smile.

END PART 1