I promised part 5 before New Years. If it means anything, I did finish it before New Years, but an emergency at work precluded me posting it. SOOOOOO. Here I be, here it be, and thanks all, for a great run with Mara!

She isn't dead, she's just going on hiatus. She might pop up in Jordy stories hence forth, so watch out for Jordy #1 coming your way over at Haven_Corridor (Formerly Nightflight) and my list.

Sorry that's so long!! I feel like I'm writing teasers for next week's comics. It's been real, kids!

See disclaimers in part one; thanks and other info in End Notes.

Final Retaliation 5/5

~~Dick~~

I drove back to Gotham alone. Barbara was finishing the rest of the business one has to endure when one has one's house partially blown up. I'd had to spend more time than I'd liked getting Kristin out of trouble for not containing the fire. The Titans alone had gone through four different insurance agencies in the last fourteen years because of the kind of property damage we caused, and now they wanted to hold her liable for not being able to contain the explosion?

Briefly, I wondered if Luthor had anything to do with the hard time we were receiving.

My family needed me, and we were spread all over the damned map. Donna had told me that Mara had been retrieved and who'd done the retrieving. Jimmy had informed me of her current state of being. Donna gave me a heads-up on the Justice League going postal on my ass when she told me her sister was scraping Jordan off the asphalt in Buffalo.

Kyle once told me he hoped Mara would toughen the boy up. It must have worked-the kid was still alive. I'd heard what he'd been up against. It was official. We were being pushed out.

My cell phone buzzed against my leg, and I pulled it out of my jean pocket. "WHAT?" I asked, sounding an awful lot like Bruce. I didn't necessarily have the patience for polite conversation, nor did I have the time for patience.

"Dad. we need you here," Jimmy said, a slight tremor in his voice. I wondered what the hell else could go wrong.

"I'm on my way." I looked at the clock on the dash, and the first exit on the highway. "Give me. half an hour?" I had been well on my way already. "What's going on?"

"Luthor was here," he said. I could practically hear the shiver in his voice. "He knows. He wants the company. Or he tells."

I swore and shook my head. I'd rather have my kids safe than anything else. Luthor knowing, and Luthor telling others was NOT keeping my family safe. We'd have every nutjob we'd ever faced on our tails. I didn't even have to think to know which path Mara would choose, and I knew how badly it would kill her. The company was all she had left of Him.

* * *

~~Jordy~~

Luthor had left and now the room was cold and silent. Morning light streamed in painfully and bright. I didn't know what else to do but hold her to me. Her chest heaved suddenly in silent, violent gasps.

"We'll fix it," I whispered. "We'll find a way." But there was nothing we could do. I knew that.

The door opened again, and this time her grandfather was standing there. "What are you going to do?" he asked. I was sure everyone could guess what had transpired in this room. I didn't need to fill them in with the gory details. I didn't need to tell them what that man had said about Bruce, or about our child.

"I.I think we need to talk to her parents," I said, trying to take charge.

Suddenly, I felt her tear away from me. "Maybe. Oracle can. Find the recordings. the. no. He won't keep it online. We can." she shuddered again. "I can't-we didn't plan." I didn't know how to tell her you couldn't have a protocol for everything. That's how we'd ended up here. Life had happened, and all her planning had gone out the window.

"Let's just talk to your parents. They'll think of something," I said sadly. Was there anything to think of at this point?

"Come on," her grandfather said gruffly. "It's too warm in here." He held out a hand to her, and slowly, with my help, she rose. We walked towards the door and tried to get her to some place with a chair that wasn't entirely made out of metal. And if I could find something nice and squishy to sit on too. well, I wouldn't resist it at this point.

As we crossed the threshold into the hall, the shawl fell off her shoulder just a little, and I could see the blood coming through the bandages and the robe. "You're bleeding again," I told her. "Jimmy'll tape you back up." At this point she was just a mass of stitches covered over in tape and bandages. The stiffness of the tape was what was keeping her upright.

She shook her head.

"Let your brother stop the bleeding," her grandfather told her sternly.

"He's oozing," she growled, thumbing at my cheek.

My shoulders sagged sadly. That wasn't how I wanted her to get through this. "Look, Mara, just." I sighed. "Never mind." I didn't have the energy to fight with her. And. I knew she was only being this way because she was worried.

We came into the living room and she sat on the sofa. Her grandfather pushed a pillow under her arm, even though she didn't want it there, I could tell.

I put myself down next to her gently. We were both a world of hurt right now and didn't need jostling around. "Where's Alfred?" I asked Mr. Gordon quietly.

He shrugged. I had to confess. I felt somewhat abandoned.

Jimmy came into room on our heals, his face somewhat anxious for information. Fortunately, he didn't dare ask what we were going to do. "Dad's coming here. Mom's trying some stuff on her end." He trailed off when he realized Mara wasn't paying any attention to him. She was staring out the window, a few tears falling out of her eyes.

"It's. it's not that I. I need the company so much. It's what he'll do to it," she whispered. I had a feeling she was coming to a decision. "And what'll happen to the employees. And. and it's everything He worked for. It's going to be. demolished." Her eyes clenched closed. "Because of me."

She was full of despair. I could hear it in the suffering of her words, and yet-I knew she was going to stay and see it through. I could hear that in her earlier efforts to come up with some sort of solution. The situation had grown from her own personal agony. There were so many people at stake suddenly-her family, the people with the company. Self-destruction had to take a temporary back seat. I prayed she'd see that some of us needed her here permanently-not just long enough to see this situation through.



* * *

~~Cassandra~~

Tim threw down his duffle bag. "I can't believe-I thought you understood."

Sammy let go of me and ran to her father. "Daddy, Cassie said--"

He knelt and hugged her. "I know what Cassie said," he said, very angry with me.

I put my hands on my hips. I knew what was best for him even if he didn't. Like all that drinking stuff. I knew he didn't need that. I knew he needed to work out. "Tim, if I wait for you, she'll never know."

He scowled up at me. "She didn't have to know." His eyes were so. blue when he was unhappy.

"And what if something happens to you?"

He picked her up and stormed off.

I chased after him. "Do you think you're DONE?" I asked him. "That you're going to put the suit away and FORGET about it?"

"NO!" He hollered back.

"Quit yelling in front of the kid. Put her down."

He stopped in the middle of my training circle and spun around, clutching Sammy to him more firmly. "Cassandra, I thought you understood," he said coldly. "I thought you knew why I didn't want to tell her."

"It's true, daddy?" she asked. Her voice was muffled against his shoulder.

Tim put her down and looked at her firmly. "Go to Cassy's room."

"Daddy?" she asked, rubbing her eyes.

He looked down at her with calm resolve, trying to tell her that he wasn't mad. "Sammy. I have to talk to Cassandra."

Without receiving a real answer to Sammy's question if it was all true, she left. The door closed behind her with a thud, and I could hear her climbing up onto the bed. There was a tension-filled silence as Tim and I stared at each other.

I stepped toward him. "I'm not sorry," I said quietly.

"You never are, Cassandra."

* * *

~~Jordy~~

Her terrible decision made, Mara had dragged herself to her feet, and she was staring out the window. I hated when she closed herself off-though there did seem to be some quiet resolve about her. She did this when her grandfather had died, and look where it had gotten us. She'd nearly lost herself to grief and rage. WE had nearly lost her to her grief and rage. After this battle was over. I prayed she stayed with us.

I had a good mind to call Mr. Grayson again, just to hear a friendly voice. Or Oracle, or Crystal, or anyone.

Mr. Gordon was watching her, as if waiting for her to slip up. He'd gone pale as the rest of us. And as quiet as the rest of us too.

"She isn't really going to give it up?" Jimmy whispered to me. "I mean. dad'll fix it, right? Dad fixes stuff." I shook my head and sighed. I wasn't sure what could be done at this point.

Finally, I slid to the end of the couch and to the phone. I saw that one of the lines up stairs was in use, and watched it drop dead as the light on the display went out. Was that why Alfred wasn't here with us? What could he possibly be doing?

I wasn't good at the secret identity thing. I had no life insurance because of it. I'd never really had one. It's hard when your parents don't, nor do other big-timers like the Flash, or Wonder Woman. Still. to the Bat-people and Superman, the secret identity was almost sacred. It was the prospect of a normal life, and protection against enemies for one's self and one's family. The secret identity was so much to them. Was there really ANYTHING they could do at this point?

I dialed and had Oracle patch me through to my father. My communicator was in pieces. I couldn't even begin to find hers, or ask for someone else's.

Before she put me through, she promised me that she was trying to find something to help us, ANYTHING. I knew she would try her best. Somehow, though, I had a feeling it would be futile. But. I knew she needed to keep herself busy.

"Dad, PLEASE have some good news for me," I whispered into the phone. I didn't need the Justice League pounding on our door as well.

He sounded tired and exasperated when he spoke. "I bought you twenty-four hours, kid. That's how long the Justice League is going to give you before they storm the Bastille."

I breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks. You have no idea what happened."

"Oracle told me. You think we don't talk or something. I told the JLA you're dealing with THAT crisis right now, and they could come demolish you guys later. I'm on my way back there. Just hang tight, kiddo."

I hung up. The conversation hadn't necessarily made me feel any better, but it was ONE worry out of my mind temporarily.

Sounds out front snapped me out of my daze. Slowly, Mara turned from the window to see what was going on, and her grandfather rose from his chair. Jimmy looked at me, and I shrugged. We heard the sound of the front door being flung opened. Mr. Grayson's foot steps could be heard pounding against the tiled floors and he came into the door way, wide-eyed and breathing hard. Our lives were already in shambles.what the hell else could possibly go wrong?



~~Cassandra~~

"Well, WERE you going to tell her?" I asked, tearing off my sweater as we circled each other. He'd shed his bag a minute ago when he'd started yelling at me.

"NO!" Tim yelled. "NO! She wasn't going to know!"

"And what if something happens to you?" I asked, taking a step towards him. My problem was, I'd made him too fast.

"It WONT!" He took one more step towards me. "She's a little kid! She doesn't need to know what I. we do. She doesn't need to live with that fear!"

"No. She cries because they might come back."

"I will make her feel safe!" he yelled, coming within an inch of my face. "I raised her! I will take care of her, and that'll be the end of it. She doesn't need to know that what we do got her mother killed. She doesn't need to know-to worry-to have no childhood like we did. Damn it all to hell, Cassandra! You just. DO things. With like NO concept of what anyone else around you thinks or wants. I can't believe you and Bart broke up! You're MADE for each other. You're both. out to screw me over!"

I couldn't stand his hot breath on my face any more. I attacked, pushing him to the ground. He rolled just as I was about to come down on top of him. I saw it just before it happened, and I broke my fall, using the matt to push myself up again. In desperation to get him to listen to me, I grabbed his shirt and pulled on it, dragging him to the ground. It stretched and tore, but he landed beside me.

"You listen. I am not trying to hurt you. I'm doing what's best."

He grabbed my shoulder and threw me over him and tried to get away, but just as I was flying, I grabbed his hand and pulled him back onto the ground with me. "What's BEST? Are you my MOTHER?"

"I LOVE YOU!" He was such an idiot. The look of shock on his face was priceless and ALMOST worth it.

It changed though. It twisted from shock to pain, and he turned away from me, staring straight into the floor. His fist pounded once against the mat. "I. love. Stephanie."

* * *

~~Mara~~

I could see it all slipping out of my fingers. How far and how quickly everything had escaped my grasp. Did I ever think I was ready to take on all that he had? The responsibility of a city, of a company, of my own life, even?

Three and a half months ago I'd been a college student, the protégé of the Bat. I'd been a.a side kick. A side kick trying to get my partner back. The man who was my hero, my father-my god. And I'd failed him even in that-even as I was failing him now, as I sat here staring at the phone on the table, attempting to will myself to make that call to Lucius Fox. To tell him I was a failure and a pale imitation for the shining light that had been my grandfather. To tell him that I'd failed the company, I'd failed my family.

He'd said to me "you'll know what to do," and I thought I had known. I thought I could BE him-to the family, to the company, to the city-to myself. I was not ready to lead. Look where I had gotten us-into a pit of pain and destruction.

If only Tim had come up sooner. No. I couldn't blame this on him, or on chance, it had been entirely my own doing. My own grief, my own misjudgment.

If only I could make myself move. Make myself pick up the phone and admit defeat.

I heard the car out front, and the dying of the engine . Feet upon the tile. It would be more bad news, I suspected. Though I couldn't imagine what else could go wrong. I couldn't imagine how I could have possibly failed more completely, unless someone had died because of me. Who, besides my own child, was going to pay for my own miserable failure?

My father appeared in the door way, a strange, haunted look in his eye. I never knew him to breath so shallowly after physical exertion. Certainly that did not bode well.

My grandfather had taught me to alleviate suffering and counter injustice and in this I had truly failed. Who else would be made to suffer for me?



~~Jordy~~

"Turn on the TV!" Mr. Grayson shouted at us.

My stomach knotted as Jimmy began fumbling within the leather sofa for the remote control. I sighed in disgust and a finger shot out of my ring and turned the TV on with the power button on the set.

"What is it?" I asked as the set turned on and my ring ceased glowing with power.

"Luthor's dead," Mr. Grayson said with concern tainted relief.

Mara leaned against the window heavily, until her grandfather grabbed her and pulled her into a chair. Her eyes suddenly glazed over, and I hoped to God she wasn't zoning out on me again, like before the funeral.

Jimmy found the remote in time to turn up the volume.

"I can't believe." I muttered. There on the screen. Soap operas interrupted by a news report-former President Luthor assassinated outside the White House. There'd been a sniper attack. In the subsequent confusion, Luthor's titanium brief case had vanished.

A female reporter quipped over the images of the chaos outside the White House. "Again. nothing has been confirmed at this time, though rumors are already beginning to surface about the involvement of rogue Brittish intelligence being involved. US officials say it is too early to speculate."

"I don't effing believe it," said Jimmy. He was the first one of us to regain any composure. "I've been praying he'd drop over dead, but. geeze. I'm gonna start going to church."

Behind him, a strange sound erupted. It was like the pleas of a kitten for attention and milk. When I looked back, Mara was sobbing and laughing at the same time.

* * *

~~Cassandra~~

There was a pulsing pain in the pit of my stomach. I knew this was coming.

"Tim. just STOP!" I said loudly, pulling him back on to the mat.

"I told you!" he said, rolling away from me. He got to his feet, unfortunately, he was now against a wall. My training room was round. but still. That only left him two escape routs, and I was right-out pissed.

"I love you!" I repeated. "Everything I do is for you!"

He looked both ways, thinking about it. "I love. I can't. Look. I'm just."

"STUPID," I told him. I'd closed in on him a second later. "You can love her. But. she's gone. She's cold. Dead. In the ground."

He actually looked down. Hadn't he thought of it? All the ways he'd tormented himself, and he still hadn't really. realized she was dead. Or something. I'd seen too much death. When someone was dead, they were gone. The end.

"You don't love me at all?" I asked.

Slowly, his eyes rose to meet mine. They were so. blue. "I."

I put my hands on my hips. "Tim. I've known you too long."

"I. I." He stuttered. He was Batman now. But Tim was still stupid. Bruce was stupid too. At least Tim is cute when he's stupid.

I had to put him out of his misery. My lips pressed to his. He tasted salty, the way I always imagined he'd taste. It was a soft, almost conciliatory kiss. "Do you not love me?"

"Shit," Tim muttered, pressing his head against the cement wall. "I. I do."

I smiled and wrapped my arms around his neck, finally content for the first time in a very, very long time.

His hands grabbed hold of my torso, and his lips smashed unceremoniously against mine.

There were a few things finally right in the world-despite everything else going on around us. We had a Batman, and I had Tim.

* * *

~~Dick~~

Mara was laughing and crying at the same time. Jim got her into a chair, but she just sort of crumpled in it. I didn't know if it was from relief, exhaustion, pain, or what. I was worried about her. I spent a lot of time worrying about my kids, and sometimes-it wasn't like it did any good.

Jordy knelt beside her-I could tell he was feeling the effects of the last twenty-four hours. In addition to the bloody mass on his forehead that SHE had given him, he had a host of other injuries. Me losing the backside of my house seemed to be the least of all of our problems right now.

"Hey," he said gently. "It's over."

She wiped her nose with the sleeve of her robe. "We. we don't know that. The case. Don't know what was in it."

He brushed the hair away from her face. "I think it's over," he told her confidently. "And you didn't even have to make that call," he said, looking at the phone. She would be just like him-wait until the last minute to talk to Lucius Fox.

"We have to be sure," she muttered, looking to me pleadingly.

I couldn't help it. I gave her a sympathetic smile. As much as I'd wanted to strangle her lately-she was my kid. She'd also been through more than I could expect Bruce to handle and still come out unscathed. "I'll talk to Donna and your mother. See what we can collectively find out."

She nodded. That seemed to bring her some peace.

Jordan looked up at me, his eyes also trying to ask me some question. Finally, his eyes went to the phone on the table next to the sofa. "I'd talk to Alfred first," he tried to say casually. Unfortunately, with the look in his eyes, I knew there was a lot more meaning in the request.

"I can do that," I said with equal indifference. "I haven't seen him around." I looked to Jim briefly, silently asking him to stay with her. I had to admit Jimmy was right. She wasn't the most stable thing in the world. I loved her-but she'd been through too much to trust her any more. At least right now.

"Jimmy, call your mother. See what she and Donna know." The boy leapt off the couch with a mock-salute. I had a feeling this was getting too emotionally draining for him anyway. He wasn't used to seeing Mara so. fragile. None of us were, really. "I'll be back in a few," I promised, heading for the upstairs.

I didn't understand why the sunlight was so bright today. It seemed to pour in and catch on anything at all in the air, creating a blinding haze. Maybe my eyes were misting. I didn't know. Turning down the correct hall, I knocked on Alfred's door. Jordy had said before that the line in his room had been in use right before I arrived.

"It's unlocked," a voice said casually on the other side.

The door creaked opened, and I stepped into the room. I hung back out of the rays of the sun, searching for some relief-but instead-I saw Alfred sitting there. In that chair.

"N-not today," I begged desperately.

"Today," he said quietly.

I couldn't help it. I fell on my knees at his feet, as if all the begging in the world could help.

~~Jordy~~

We were told by Mr. Grayson to meet Alfred in his room. He seemed to be avoiding eye contact with us, and when I got Mara to her feet, he mumbled some strange apology about having to do something in the garage. That alone gave me an odd feeling, but I didn't know what to make of it.

I, of course, had no idea what this was about. Ok, so maybe I did. But quite frankly, I didn't want to discuss it with him, and I was pretty sure Mara didn't either. I didn't care how Luthor had died.

When we came into his room, the curtains were opened and the cold white light poured in from the cloudless sky. It did not warm the room, though.

He was sitting in the chair next to the window, just out of the path of the light. I could see him staring into the rays of light. "I'm glad to see you," he told us. Which was strange to me. In all honesty, I wouldn't be happy to see us. Not for all the trouble we'd caused.

"Uh-- we came as soon as we heard you wanted to see." I answered, suddenly having a bad feeling about this meeting.

"Now," Alfred began, reaching into his pocket for something. He pulled out a ring that shined in the light.

"What-don't--" Mara seemed to be catching on to the seriousness of this situation. Her undamaged arm wrapped around me, and held on to me to keep her upright.

"Master Jordan. You will take this." His voice seemed very-tired.

Without protest, I did as he asked. I looked at it. It was a solid gold band. On the inside were engraved initials, and a date. I knew whose ring this had been.

"If you will be so kind," he instructed, "you will now give it to Miss Martha."

My eyebrows shot upward, and she actually pulled back from me.

"Miss Martha-don't be unruly. It is unbecoming." She froze where she was, mid-movement, and his eyes rose, and then met hers. "I've taken care of all of you for a very long time. Today. I've done my last thing for you. Now it is time for you to take care of each other."

Slowly, her eyes came to rest on the shining gold band clutched between my fingertips. She finally lifted her left hand to me, and I put the ring upon her finger. There was a long pause as we both grasped the magnitude of what was transpiring. When we both finally looked from her hand to him, Alfred was gone.

* * *

Christmas Eve, Mid Morning

I sat with my legs propped up on the chair across from me. My ring shot little sparks through a hoop and I entertained myself for a few moments. I was tired and worn out from another 'save the universe' deal, and I had to get up early this morning for holiday preparations.

The access hatch on the bottom of the monitor womb buzzed for a moment. The legs sticking out from beneath it grew stiff. A second later, the buzzing stopped, and the body protruding from the hatch relaxed.

"That hurt!" a muffled voice declared from the inside of the hatch.

"Shut the electricity off, first, then you won't shock yourself!" I hollered. When I realized he wasn't really listening to me, I went back to watching the monitors. This wasn't how I'd intended to spend the day. I didn't think Jimmy had planned to spend Christmas Eve on the moon either.

"Playing with dead wires is for sissies," he said as he ducked his head out of the panel and sat up. "That was only sixty volts anyways."

I shook my head, refusing to look at him. "You're retarded, you know that?"

He wiped his hands and slowly crawled to his feet, taking a look at the monitor. "Well, the extra power supply is installed. No more weird black- outs like yesterday."

We'd had another one of those universal crisis things, and the monitors at the Watch Tower went dead for about seven minutes. His dad had been on duty and he'd shit the proverbial brick you hear tell about. Hence Jimmy was up here now. I was just keeping him company and making sure he didn't do something like shock his heart into stopping by doing something stupid like playing with live wires. His wife wouldn't like that very much. I was also waiting for my father. I heard a nasty rumor he'd be making an appearance at the Grayson's for dinner, and I didn't want anything to foul it up.

Tomorrow we could spend over his place, celebrating quietly. Today was a day for knock-down drag outs and general family mayhem. I'd already placed a bet with Roy that Tim and Cassandra would have the first fight. Cassandra was still fuming over something his father had said at the wedding reception-some nasty insult about giving their first marriage to each other three years instead of the two he gave Tim and Stephanie.

Of course, Tim wasn't around to hear it, all he knew was that Cassandra had a look of murder in her eye, and now she was holding a grudge that he hadn't let her deck her new father-in-law.

I'd have probably popped him one, too.

"Twenty-five bucks says Cassandra throws the first punch," Jimmy muttered as he began packing his tools up.

"I already placed that bet with Roy," I told him absently. "And I'm not betting on anything with you any more. Not since I found out you cheat."

"I cheat sometimes," he told me. "It aint my fault I was blessed with a little blonde number who happens to get premonitions from time to time."

"That's like letting Superman and his x-ray vision pull straws for monitor duty."

He sat down at the monitor table and began running a few tests to make sure the power supply would hold. "Uncle Clark wouldn't cheat," Jimmy said solemnly.

"There's a reason he hasn't monitored on Christmas in God knows how many years," I said knowingly. I looked at the power ring for a moment, then aimed it at the counter. Some miniature-dancing pandas appeared on the counter to torment Jimmy.

"Laws of probability," he replied, trying to swat at the bears. "His time will come."

"You just keep thinking that, Jimbo."

Satisfied that his little invention worked, he pulled a pink printed receipt out of his pocket. It gave the total for services rendered and also noted that the money would be automatically withdrawn from JLA funds on the next working day. Never let it be said that Daedelus worked for free, or that there was altruism involved.

He'd successfully driven Oracle insane for about a month; appearing online and telling her he wanted a piece of the action. He'd build it, they'd pay. She'd gone crazy trying to track him down. Finally his cover was blown at the dinner table one night when his grandfather said "didn't you KNOW that's your son?" Jimmy'd gotten smacked upside the head with a wooden spoon for it, but his business had really taken off once the Justice League and other groups were sure he wasn't evil.

Of course, I wasn't entirely convinced he wasn't evil, but it helped that we had baby pictures of him-naked ones-should he ever step out of line.

"So, uh. I see a ring on your finger," he said very casually.

I shrugged, making a bear in a bubble to float in front of his face.

"Other ring, Minty. Why didn't you guys say you were doing the deed?"

I shrugged again. "I can neither confirm nor deny."

"Shah right." He grabbed hold of the bubble and it popped. The bear danced in his hand for a moment, then vanished.

"Didn't want to make a big deal after everything. Tim's wedding wasn't encouraging, either." Mostly, MARA hadn't wanted to draw attention to it. She'd come so far lately-well, I'd let her have that battle.

I began flipping buttons on the console, looking for my dad. So much for him meeting me up here. "Dad'll know to come over your house, right?" Sometimes I wondered about these things, you know?

"Yeah, he should. Crys called him last night. Mom double-checked this morning." He picked up his box of tools and moved toward the teleporter. "Lets blow this Popsicle stand. I got two cute little kids waiting at home with bated breath for their dad."

I shrugged and followed. "Yeah, right. They're gonna be doing the same thing they were doing when we left-sleeping." A little elf jumped out of the ring and skipped over to the control panel for the teleporter. He took a candy cane out of his pocket, punched in the codes, and we were on our way.

* * *



When I came into the house, Mara was sitting in the living room in the easy chair. Sammy was asleep in her arms. Of course, the girl was growing long and thin, so she was all over Mara, but Mara's arms were wrapped around her. Mara's head rested upon hers.

I watched her stare down at the figures on the carpet longingly. Lying on a blanket, Kristen was asleep, her arms curled around her two sons.

"Some day," I promised her. I put my hand on her shoulder and noticed she wasn't wearing her usual-silk and more silk. It was a pair of my jeans and an old shirt she used to wear in high school. I remembered the instant change her wardrobe had undertaken when her grandfather died, and it was nice to see her in something more relaxed.

She placed her hand over mind. "We're going to start cooking, soon."

I groaned. Traditionally, as soon as the cooking started, the fighting started. Still. everyone seemed very. sedate this year. "Parents are up stairs?" I asked.

Her lips turned upward in one of those quirky smiles that I loved. "Time alone type thing."

That was her term for it. Jimmy had one word for it: Growupsex. Personally. I didn't want to get involved. I smiled and sighed, preparing to find a place on the couch and relax. Jimmy would be back soon, and we could have a quiet Christmas for the first time in. ever.

Everything started and ended with Christmas, Mara told me once. I supposed we'd see about that. This year we'd be seeing new faces at the table, and remembering the passing of others. That would certainly make for a somber event.

The door flung opened, and I wondered what Jimmy was in a huff about. He'd been in a good mood when I'd talked to him last.

"It's wrong on SO MANY levels!" Tim cried out. I'd guessed wrong on who'd arrived, obviously.

"Nothing wrong at ALL!" it was one of THOSE arguments. Cassandra wasn't talking in complete sentences.

I could hear the rustle of bags, and I got up to tell them to be quiet, babies, little girls and new moms were sleeping.

"Well, first of all, you told BART before you told me. And SECOND of all, you could have TOLD me you were trying. A little WARNING would be nice."

Cassandra grabbed the bag from him and began taking out celery and breadcrumbs. This year the fighting had started before the cooking. That was certainly a new accomplishment.

"There're people sleeping in the living room," I informed them. "Don't make me go Lantern on your asses," I said without humor. The ring flashed once, and I glared at both of them

They both looked at me, snorted, then turned back to arguing with each other. Yeah, I was really going to intimidate two Bats in the heat of battle.

"What I'm saying--"

She waved the celery at him. "It's over, it's done with. You know NOW."

Tim ran a hand through his hair and gave a bitter laugh. "THANKS!"

"Well, you're Batman. You should figure it out."

"YEAH, the PREGNANCY TESTER in the GARBAGE CAN was my first tip off, CASSANDRA!"

"Oooh boy," I muttered, leaving the room. The holidays hath begun.

"You didn't even tell me you WANTED to get pregnant. You didn't tell me you were TRYING to. I come home one morning, and see the box sticking out of the waste paper basket-like hello? Great STEALTH MOVE, and Bart saying 'oh, yeah, didn't she TELL you?' SCUSE me if I'm just a LITTLE offended!"

Sammy shot past me. "I'm gunna have a sister?" she asked excitedly. "Or a brother?" Guess she's awake NOW.

I had entered the living room and was standing next to my wife's chair with wide eyes. I knew how sad she got over these things lately.

Cassandra's voice echoed off the walls in the kitchen. "If I wait for you, I'll be old and decrepit. You're mad about the baby."

"NO," Tim said with great emphasis. "I'm mad that you didn't tell me what was going on."

Finally Mara laughed and shook her head. "We have SO many issues," she informed me.

I let out a breath of relief. "You are all cute when you have issues," I assured her.

"Us all? You'd better watch your mouth, sailor."

I knelt beside her chair and grinned. "You all." Growing a little more serious, I grabbed her hand and kissed it, just below her wedding ring. "I promise you, SOME DAY that'll be us, ok?"

She squeezed my hand back. It was a sad squeeze. "I know. Some day."

Unfortunately, we'd been trying. and not the least bit of luck. I was about to ask Cassandra for advice. She seemed to have had quick success after the wedding.

"Till then," I said as the twins started crying in unison, "We'll just have to keep trying really hard." I gave her a slow wink, and she rubbed my arm a little. I was proud of her. She was in the midst of all this 'family stuff' and 'baby stuff' and she was still holding it together.

The front door opened and slammed again. "You all disgust me!" THAT was Jimmy. "You're gonna just let 'em cry like that!" He came into the living room and scooped up both babies just as Kristen was starting to wake. "What're THEY fighting about?"

"Well, your way of telling me SUCKED." Tim was entirely different out of costume. He was just plain old Tim. I knew he had no trouble becoming the Bat once the costume was on. He had a different dichotomy than the old man had. Tim was both parts completely, instead of one life being entirely a façade.

"SHUT UP." Still-worst came to worst-Cassandra would keep him honest.

Jimmy grinned, gently bouncing his crying children. "He just found out that the rabbit died, huh?"

I nodded. I wouldn't even ASK how he knew. Half the free world probably knew Cassandra was pregnant before Tim found out. I had a feeling the tester in the waste basket was her way of saying 'surprise!'. Well, a picture's worth a thousand words. and that's what Tim was cooking up in the kitchen-all the words Cassandra's little image in the trash didn't use up.

"Well, lets get the two buckaroos fed before they break my ear drums." He began walking for the kitchen and the bottles in the fridge, when his wife grabbed hold of his pant leg.

"Don't go in there," she told him. "You might not come out alive. Give 'em to me." Jimmy said she was getting good at feeding both at once. I just shuddered thinking about it, hoping she wasn't going to make us watch.

Sure enough, in a burst of crazy uber-new-age-feminism, up went the shirt, and the kids stopped screaming. I tried not to look without making it look like I was trying not to look. Mara also adverted her gaze, but then her eyes wandered back longingly.

In the hall, the elevator slid opened, and Mara's disheveled parents came out. Mr. Grayson's hair was sticking straight up in the air. There were certain advantages to spending Christmas day with my dad, who lived alone. "What the hell's going on down here?" he asked everyone.

"Tim! She didn't tell you! Get over it!" Oracle knew too. Well, if it was any consolation to Tim, I didn't know.

"Everyone in the damned." his grumbling quieted down so that I couldn't make out all of his words. I could guess, though. I sat down on the sofa nearest her chair, and put my feet up on the arm. We'd had our obligatory world-ending fiasco for the month, but next month was close enough at hand that we might get next month's dose of chaos early.

Mara just sat in her chair, sad and quiet. That's how she'd been lately. Severely lacking in smart remarks. Jimmy left her alone simply because she instigated nothing with no one. Robin was her old self, but Mara wasn't even half the hard time she used to be. I had a feeling that Jimmy'd feel better about himself if she'd just say one insulting thing to him. I had a feeling she had a lot of things to work through, still, before she could do that, even if things had been better with her.

After that day, things had quieted down with the Justice League. Someone felt intent on letting Wonder Woman and her posse in on the little secret that had ruined our lives, finally, while we were trying to pick up the pieces that day. So much had been lost, and so much had been given back, all in one moment.

She and the others were still mad. She wanted to know why she hadn't been told-and she still did not approve of the way things had been handled. It had been me that ended up talking to her. I took the brunt of the verbal lashing and explained that things had spun out of control so quickly-it had all gotten away from us.

We never discussed Luthor's end. It never came up in that conversation or any other. No suspects were ever named, and no one really went out looking. That had been one small bright spot in a sea of hurt and worry.

Alfred's funeral had been hard. The last tie between Bruce and his partners was gone. Mr. Grayson spent a LOT of time in the garage. Mara grew quiet again, and strangely clingy. She even apologized for trying to kick me out and for knocking me unconscious. HE would have probably never done that.

I think she realized that she didn't have to be as alone as he was when she did that. Dinah still hadn't returned from the 'traveling' she'd embarked on at Bruce's death. She was another one that needed to sort herself out. She knew she never really had Bruce, even if they were together-and I think Mara finally saw that. She realized she really had me, all she had to do was take me. I wasn't going anywhere. Even if I occasionally wanted to kill her. And I think she also realized she HAD to keep me. Not just because Alfred had commanded it, but also because that was what was right and best.

In the kitchen, I could hear the argument continuing. Tim was mad in typical Tim fashion that no one had said anything to him, Cassandra was mad that he hadn't gotten a clue before, Sammy wanted to know if it was a boy or a girl, Mr. Grayson wanted to know who was cooking and Oracle wanted EVERYONE to shut up.

Jimmy had his arm around Kristen, and she'd fallen back asleep, both boys still sucking away. Her powers were back to normal, but she hadn't made any announcement yet as to when she'd be back to work.

The front door opened, and I could hear the wind blowing as people entered. The stragglers were here. "Well, I got two bottles this year. One to drink, one for them to break over each other's heads," Jim Gordon said sarcastically above the roar coming from the kitchen.

My father started laughing. "Sounds like the war's already begun

I leaned closed to Mara. "So. um. since everyone's here, and the fight's still on-going. lets slip upstairs and work on our 'secret project'."

"Eww. In my parents house." She made a face.

"You had no problem with it in high school."

"It was dangerous and exciting then," she answered truthfully.

I grinned. "Well, maybe dangerous and exiting will work some magic for us." I rose, then pulled her to her feet.

"Hey! Where do you think you're going?" Jimmy asked. "You gotta stay here. I ain't cooking this year."

"We'll be back," I told him. "One word twerp. And you know what it is." Grownupsex.

He cringed. "Go. Get out of my face."

Mara remained entirely impassive during the exchange. As soon as we were upstairs, though, she let a happy sigh. "I heard dad punched him in the face when he heard what happened at prom."

It was the first bit of spark I'd seen in her in a while. I opened the door to her old room and pulled her inside, tossing her onto the bed. Locking the door, I jumped on the bed beside her. "Hey, I'm just proud of you for not getting caught up in the madness this year. Let 'em duke it out, then after they're tired from fighting, we'll go mop the floor with them."

"Are you going 'strategist' on me?" She rubbed my arm as I pushed her bangs out of her face.

I shrugged. "Maybe. So. Wanna try and gross out your brother?" I pulled back the collar of her shirt and kissed her neck.

"In a few minutes. I figure if we start really going at it on the couch after dinner, we can get him to puke turkey." I had to admit, the spark of mischief in her eye was incredibly attractive.

"You know, if you do that," I told her in all honesty, "you're opening yourself up to a world of hurt."

She shrugged. "It's time to get some things back to normal. And everything else." Mara looked away from me with hesitation. "Well, some things aren't going back to normal, you know? This'll be the first Christmas without. them. HIM."

I rubbed her back sympathetically. She still never really talked about it. "I know. It hurts when things change," I muttered. "When people aren't there any more."

She looked down to her midsection. "It's a gap that really doesn't get filled, does it?"

I shook my head no. "But. Well, new places in your heart open up. Right now we have two nephews that need spoiling. They're loud-mouths. Lanterns in the making. And think of how much it'd kill Tim and Cass if their little bun-in-the-oven grew up on the Great Green Way."

Her laugh rung out, strong and supported. "Don't you DARE. That's all we need are a bunch of Jimmys running around with duplicate Lantern Rings. And he's a rabbit. He and Crystal will rebuild the Corps all by themselves."

I pushed her back onto the bed. "And Tim and Cass would just kill me. We'll split it evenly between little Robins and Lanterns when we start spoiling them."

"That's THREE," she informed me.

Like I couldn't do math or something. "Ours'll be the fourth. We'll split it straight down the middle-promise." We'd get it right eventually. Till then-we'd drive everyone else nuts. It seemed like a healthy enough plan.

Her lips pulled back in an evil grin. They were such pretty, full lips. They beckoned me to taste them.

"Are you going to do this, or what?" she asked finally.

Without further ado, my lips met hers.

THE END

Endnotes:

I want to thank the folks who've put up with this while it was in production: Andrew, Brendan and Charlene (in alphabetical order). I'd also like to thank all of the folks who've been reading Mara's adventures since this summer. You're a bunch of troopers.

For fear of being OT, she's gonna move off the Bludhaven list, if she crops up again. She'll be available at my mailing list (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/battybeyond)

And probably over at Nightflight (now called Haven_ Corridor). I will attempt to continue archiving at fanfiction.net, but I can not guarantee that she'll be in the Batman section where she has been. I'm trying to be fair and offend the least number of people.

It's been a pleasure writing Mara's grown up adventures, and answering the 'what if' question I had in my head when I started. The initial thought was 'wow, if Dick and Babs brought up kids in the Batclan, they'd be really messed up.' And y'all have let me see how that'd turn out. See y'all at Haven Corridor and my group. Thanks for your support and attention.

Yer pal,

Tammy