This one's for Charlene. Tell her to a) keep her damned plot bunnies to herself and b)quit having plot bunnies hatch during church.

This is to bring resolution with that horribly conceived and executed Last Laugh story line and the aftermath-basically Dick's whole WAAA. Okie. On with the fic.

Standard Disclaimers apply.

Good for the Soul


The sun hung low in the hazy, humid summer sky. It radiated orange and pink rays that cast long, dark shadows against the ground. The Gotham neighborhood through which Dick Grayson walked had seen massive changes in most recent years. The quake had changed the area, leveling several buildings on the block, but not the church. Rebuilding had seen the change from small Victorian structures to taller buildings with more modern storefronts. Houses turned into apartment buildings, and large uprooted street trees had been replanted with saplings.

And still, the church had remained. The large rose window on the street side of the church had fractured into a thousand pieces during the quake, and the neighborhood had been littered with shards of colored glass for almost a year, making it look like some magic rock garden. Dick had remembered that from when they'd come to take back the city. Everything had been a thousand shades of grey, and yet here was this place, almost magical- covered in purple and blue slivers-in color and still alive.

The window had been blown out again during the Joker's most recent rampage upon the world. That time, yellow and red shards had graced the ground, but that time, it had appeared more like a sea of carnage than a peaceful garden.

Dick stood at the long front steps of the church, his arms behind his back. When had he arrived here? He hadn't remembered walking in this direction. He hadn't really even remembered arriving in Gotham.

That morning, he rose in dread of his day off. He tried to work through them lately, so he wouldn't have time to himself-time to think. He also thought perhaps, if he worked himself half to death, he could somehow make up for what had happened the night the rose window had blown out in a storm of scarlet glass. Knowing he wasn't going to get any peace, and unable to concentrate on any of his projects, he'd gotten in his car and drove. Once he'd stopped for fast food, once he'd stopped at a park and sat on a bench until a bird had landed 'the business' right on his shoulder.

He'd gotten back in his car and had prepared to head for home-it seemed God didn't want him out and about today. As he drove, he'd unbuttoned the hideous midnight blue and canary yellow shirt Robin had given him for his last birthday and tossed it in the back seat with his fast food garbage and pulled a work shirt from under his seat. He didn't care to be smelling of bird shit, and although he was in half a daze, it was a little frosty with the air conditioning on and no shirt. So a blue uniform shirt from his day job would do.

One of two uniforms he wasn't worthy of.

Standing in the long, black shadow of the church, Dick swallowed, looking up the steps to the large bronze doors, up past them to the stonework and finally to the new stained glass window. Lights on inside the church emitted a warm, inviting glow through the newest rose window, so many colors Dick could not count them. All illuminating the dark shadow he stood in, trying to warm it in a way the summer heat could not.

His eyes clenched shut and the air caught in his throat, and he fled up the cracked stone steps, past the bronze doors and their relief images of the life of Christ, and into the church. As if he could somehow hide from the light of the window in there-among the ancient Edison bulbs that hung high in the chauffeured ceiling and burned a safe amber. They would protect him from the palate of bright hues that threatened to burn him.

Standing at the back of the church, in the center aisle, he stared at the red carpet leading from the back door to the altar. He followed it to the marble steps and up to the white-covered, gold gilded altar table and past, to the crucifix hanging high above a golden box. A shudder ripped through him. He was in here. Where it had happened. Certainly the tormenting light outside was better than this?

God had abandoned him.

He had abandoned God and Man, and all that had been good in the world in this church. He'd abandoned his own light, his humanity. He'd become that which he worked against.

Certainly he deserved whatever torment this place caused him.

That was what his father would do, was it not? Over lesser offences, even. He'd continue looking upon the scene, tormenting himself over and over. In that light, certainly Dick could stand a few moments in this place.

His muffled foot steps fell upon the blood red carpet as he made his way forward several pews, then stepped into one on the right. Moving almost to center, he sat down.

"See the ball, be the ball." he could hear over in his mind. The meditations of a mad man and his efforts to keep the force field around the block, closing off the church from all outside help. Closing it off from even God.

He sat ridged against the hard back of the pew, trying to breathe normally. He didn't deserve to hyperventilate. That was for someone who deserved to be shocked or upset. He'd done what he'd done, and he couldn't take it back.

In a moment of self-torture worthy of The Batman, he forced himself to look back to where he'd entered the church, the first time he'd been there. Dick remembered the feeling of despair that had overcome him then.

His eyes moved back up to the front of the church where he'd confronted the Joker. There had been a knot in his stomach-thinking of all they'd lost. The woman he loved had been crippled by that man. She'd had her life taken away from her and had had to rebuild-like Gotham she'd been destroyed and had been through her own No Man's Land, and had rebuilt. She HAD rebuilt- but he-the Joker-had forced it upon her. He'd torn her to pieces and had taken away a part of her she'd never get back.

Dick had suspected for a long time that the part of her soul that had been taken away by that mad man had been the piece intended for him, and that was why he couldn't get her to accept his love.

He'd taken away Gordon's wife. Gordon alone had lost more than most could ever lose to one man. They'd found her during No Man's Land, a bullet in her head, in a room full of crying babies-all abducted by the Joker. The man had wished to kill hope that night-but he'd done it inadvertently on so many other occasions.

He'd killed Batman's hope the day he killed Jason Todd. The boy had been the first young man to wear the Robin costume after Dick had moved on as Nightwing. Bruce was someone else who'd lost a part of himself. Never mind that Dick had lost a brother-the young man who'd helped him recover after a dark period in his life. Bruce had lost part of his humanity that day.

That night when he'd come to confront the Joker, he'd thought Timothy was dead. He remembered the sense of futility that had invaded his soul, making him believe that there was no point to continue on as he had been-a guardian of the light. How could he? His brother was gone. The boy who had fought so hard for their cause, the boy who had been his friend and had connected him once again to his father after their relationship had suffered so much. The boy who had bought him that damned ugly shirt and had laughed-telling him it was justice for making him ride on a train blindfolded.

Finally, his eyes came to rest upon the steps. He could still hear the sounds of his fists smashing into the Joker. He remembered trying to make him shut up. Wanting to kill him-to take back the pieces of the souls of his loved ones that he'd stolen-to avenge two brothers and the countless others the clown had taken away. He hadn't cared for his own soul. He hadn't thought about anything but retribution until the Joker breathed his last breath.

Before Dick realized what he was doing, he'd put his hands over his face, and pressed his forehead against the edge of the pew in front of him. Silent sobs shook his chest as his cheeks grew hot against his hands. He had killed.

The anguish washed over him like salty sea water, filled his lungs, but wouldn't let him drown. It was buliant and it carried him along it's currents, flashing not his life, but scenes from that night in his head, over and over.

A hand touched his shoulder, and he pulled away as if it was somehow painful. "I'm done," an older female said from the pew behind him. Slowly, he turned his head to look at her, and possibly grasp some understanding for what she was saying. Her wild, white hair glowed in the warm lights from above as she smiled down on him, her dark, weathered face wrinkling all over, it seemed like. "You look like you need to talk to him more than I do."

"What?" he asked, his voice somewhat raw. He didn't make a habit of becoming emotional in public, but right now he must look like a complete spaz, he thought as she grabbed his arm and began dragged him out of the pew.

"You'll feel better," she assured him.

Before he could comprehend what he was doing-he was out of the pew and crossing the small aisle at the right hand corner of the church and allowing himself to be thrust through a dark stained door. The old metal of the handle clicked as it closed, and he turned around, his hand grasping hold of the cool metal door knob, and then he stopped.

He was in an ill-lit booth, a kneeler against one wall baring a white screen covering a metal grill. The only light in the booth was from whatever lay beyond. What was he doing here? He'd only come into this church to-to what? To torment himself?

"Well, are you going to confess, or stand there panting?" a good-natured voice asked from the other side of the screen.

"What?" Dick stared at the glowing silk.

"Do you need help?" the man on the other side asked patiently. "Getting started?"

"I. That lady just shoved me in here," Dick asked, searching within himself for a better reason-a good excuse to flee the scene.

The man chuckled. "That's Elizabeth Jane. She'll have you working bingo if you don't watch it."

Dick's hand twisted the door knob. "This was a mistake."

"Kneel down."

"What?" Dick asked, letting go of the door knob. There was a long, uneasy silence. The air grew thick because of the lack of ventilation. Sweat trickled down his temples and his tongue grew dry and unpalatable.

"I have a feeling it's been a while. I'll start you off. Bless me Father for I have sinned."

Dick blinked, unsure what to do. His despair had been replaced with panic. All he had to do was turn the door knob, throw open the door and disappear, and yet-he couldn't. Finally, his stiff knees hit the barely-padded kneeler and he repeated what the priest had said.

"My last confession was."

Thinking, Dick bit his cheek fearfully. "I can't remember."

"Fair enough. What brings you here today?"

Dick looked down at the ancient wooden rail his lower arms now rested upon. What HAD brought him here today? "I. I don't know." Dick was lucky he remembered he was Catholic.

"If you can't remember your last confession, you've certainly done some things between now and then."

Great, a priest with a sense of humor. "This was a mistake," Dick said, getting to his feet.

"Stay here," the shadow on the curtain said firmly. It acted almost as a commandment from the Bat, because his knees hit the kneeler again with a dull thud. "Now."

For a moment, Dick thought about it. Unsure where to start. Did you start off small, and work your way big, or did you start with the unforgivable. "I haven't been to church in a long time."

"Why is that?"

"HUH?" Dick asked a little too loudly. His voice seemed to hum and resound in the wooden box. "Well, my mom made me go to church at whatever town we were in, and then my parents died and the guy I went to live with isn't what you call religious," Dick said bitterly. The last thing he really wanted to be doing is talking about the intimate details of his life since the age of eight, the last time he saw the inside of a confessional, with a complete stranger. In a confessional.

There was some small movement on the other side of the grill. "What else?" the shadow asked.

Avoiding the issue at hand, Dick blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "When I was in junior high I stole a girl's underwear."

"Let's move on to some more recent stuff."

Dick's eyes clenched shut. He could feel his neck growing wet from the sweat collecting at the collar of his shirt. "I don't want to talk about it," he said stoically, wondering if he could ever master Bruce's ability to express his desire to not talk about something by a mere inflection in his voice.

"It sounds like something that needs to be discussed."

"I really don't think--"

"You're in the confessional already; you might as well just say it."

Dick glared at the screen. The man should be lucky a metal grill separated them. "I killed someone," he ground out in a quiet, virtually nonexistent voice. In a way, he was darkly pleased that the priest had no come-back for that. "And I was glad he was dead, and I wish he was still dead."

"He's not?" the priest asked cautiously. Suddenly, Dick knew the rise that Jason got out of people by shocking them.

"The bastard didn't stay dead. But his heart stopped, and I did it. And. it makes me the thing I try to fight against, and I hate it. But I still wish he were dead." There. He'd said it. And he'd gotten some perverse pleasure from alarming a man who couldn't tell anyone anything of what he said in here.

"I take it you're talking about the Joker?" the priest asked.

Both knees slid off the kneeler and Dick landed on the marble floor with a crack and a thud. "WHAT? HOW?" Dick felt like he was going to throw up.

"This is MY church."

Suddenly, the bile found it's way back down his throat. Anger gave one the resolve to endure much. "FINE. Yes, the Joker. Are you happy now?"

"No. The pain of others does not give me pleasure. And you are in pain over it. I can tell."

"Really? What tipped you off? I went against everything I ever stood for because of someone who's taken too much away from me and mine, and I did it. I crossed that line. That useless piece of human refuse still walks the face of the earth, but I am still a killer. My oath means nothing, and I've become the people I hunt down."

"Are you sorry?"

"What the hell kind of question is that?"

"Are you sorry. It's a simple question." This man was, perhaps, more infuriating than Alfred.

"YES," Dick responded hoarsely. Of course Dick was sorry. He wasn't as heartless as some of the scum he brought down. He wasn't the Joker-without remorse.


"GOOD? I kill someone and all you have to say is GOOD?"

"You're here for reconciliation and forgiveness, are you not? Contrition is the first step."

Dick drew a deep breath in through his nose and his lip trembled. He didn't know if it was from anger or sorrow. A hand wiped over his face to pull the sweat away. "I am here because a Church Lady shoved me in the confessional."

"Right." Was this guy implying that he was in here for some OTHER reason? "I'd like to think that God has a hand in things. What were you doing in this church tonight?"

"It wasn't for the air-conditioning," came the flippant reply. "I don't KNOW what I'm doing here, ok? I was driving, then I was walking, and I don't even know WHERE I left my car, and now I'm here."

"In my confessional. Life is funny that way."

"Life can go shove it." Dick sighed, all the anger pouring out of him like grains from a broken sand bag. "Fine. I'm here for a reason. But there is NOTHING you can do about what I've done."

"I can be the instrument of God's forgiveness."

"God. Right. Where was God when all this stuff was going on?" There were reasons he hadn't exactly been jumping to go to church as an adult.

"The same place He's always been. Free will can be a. difficult thing to reconcile sometimes."

When he spoke, his voice was simply dry with cruel logic. "And because that puissant has Free Will, the rest of us are made to suffer."

"Mankind can be cruel. On the whole, we are a race striving for redemption."

Dick didn't have anything to say to that. For once in his life, Dick didn't have a snappy come-back. No puns, no one-liners. A race and a city striving for redemption.

"And I think that's what you're here for."

He snapped out of his private thoughts. "It's too late for that. You can't take back murder. I've done what we say we won't."

"He's still alive. Think about that for a moment."

What was there to think about, really? It all seemed very simple: Dick was the thing he hated most and his self-loathing knew no bounds. At times, he wished for death for himself, but he was too scared to delve it out. "There isn't redemption for what I've done."

"There is forgiveness for EVERYTHING, for those who seek it. But he is still alive. Even more than forgiveness, you've been given something else-a 'do over'. Like the kids on the play ground. Murder is a serious sin. It's something that isn't reversible with an 'I'm sorry' and a promise to do better. But some how, you're walking away from it. It's been reversed. That is a gift from God. Do NOT squander it. Do something with it."

"Like WHAT? Dick asked desperately. "If my. if Ba-if HE wouldn't have been there. What would have happened. HE wouldn't have lost control." Dick's fingers clutched on to the rail in front of him so hard he was afraid he would rip it off, even though it was part of the wall. "What HE probably thinks of me. He hasn't said anything. Hasn't talked about it. He probably disowned me."

"I think HE might surprise you," the priest said, almost knowingly. "Is it possible God put him there, to help you in your time of need?"

Dick's back teeth ground against each other as he thought about what had happened. That final blow. Batman dragging the Joker back from death. "You can't help me," he said finally. "I've done what I've done, and you can give me God's forgiveness, but you can't give me HIS forgiveness or my family's forgiveness, or my own."

"No I can't. But you already have God's, and your family's. All you have to do is accept it. And then, perhaps, you can forgive yourself."

"HOW! HOW do you do that?" His dark voice echoed in the box again. Sweaty hands were pressing into the wood so hard now that he could smell the wax used to polish it. He wished he could just vanish into the wood walls of the booth, and just cease existing.

"Shh." the priest said. "Murder is a grave sin. But it isn't a sin that is beyond forgiving. If God can do it, then YOU can do it. It is vanity to think you are beyond forgiveness or redemption."

When he could finally speak, Dick ground his words out through clenched teeth. "I CAN'T," he said with what he realized was his father's stubbornness. "I did what we don't do."

The priest sighed. If he was even a fraction as frustrated as Dick was, then Dick was doing his job, he decided. "Humanity is constantly striving for redemption," the priest repeated. "You did what you shouldn't, and you've been graced with another chance."

This guy didn't get it, Dick decided. "I've crossed the line."

"Mankind sins," he replied quickly-as if he knew how Dick would answer. "We are NOT perfect and sometimes we fall into darkness. No single person can spend all of their time in the light."

Dick swallowed. "I never. I always."

"In that way, ALL of us are the same. We ALL fall into darkness. The difference between you and the Joker is one thing: what one does after that. You can revel in it and condemn your own soul to damnation, or you can strive onward." His voice was firm, almost scolding-as if he could shake the young man out of his foolishness using only words. "Are you going to wallow, or are you going to go on?"

Dick leaned backward on the kneeler, shocked with the forcefulness of this diatribe. His breath caught in his lungs, and he licked his lips, trying to restart them. Was he wallowing? It seemed. WRONG, somehow, to let go of something so. terrible. "H-how?" he asked finally.

"Let go." It was quiet for a minute. "Let's talk about penance."

"What?" Dick whispered through dry lips. "Just. let go. And.and not hold on to it?" His life was based on holding onto things. His family's life was based upon holding on to things. And you were supposed to just. let go. Somehow. "Easier said than done," he decided.

"It'll be something for you to work on." He said it so simply. Like he said it to people every day. Like. people worked on things every day.

"It. it all builds up sometimes."

"Coming here. more than once every few decades can help."

"Yeah," Dick said in a daze. "I might try it."

"Penance," he began again. "Lets start by seeing you here tomorrow morning."

"WHAT?" Dick suddenly wondered if he was on the same planet as this guy.

"We have Mass at five, seven, nine, eleven and one. One might be nice if you like to sleep in. You'll see more familiar faces at five, though."

He stared at the curtain in shock. "F-familiar faces?"

"I can't name names of course. You'll have to show up and find out," he said with humor.

Who the hell else was coming here? "Other people. in my line of work come here?"

"You'd be surprised. And the second part is coming back here regularly. Both might help with the self-forgiveness thing."

"Self forgiveness thing?" Dick mimicked.

"It's too late to be thoughtful," the priest said with a shrug. The shadow lifted its shoulders and they fell again, back to a restful position.

Dick looked around the dark box. As a child he'd feared that if you said anything too bad, the bottom of the box would fall out and you'd slide down a chute, straight to hell. Well, he was still here. "If I were to... you know. Come after my night job."

"Well, the choir loft is not used that early. It's dark." Suddenly, Dick wanted very much to sit in a pew. He had no idea who might be lurking up there before dawn, and wasn't excited to find out.

All in all, this-today, had been. a good thing. He'd been shanghaied into the confessional and into giving a confession in a fashion that even Batman could appreciate-and he felt better. Hopeful. The hope that the Joker had taken away from HIM had been restored.

Somehow, things that he hadn't known had been taken from him had been given back.

"I'll work something out," he promised. "Confession. church. Anything else?" Dick asked hesitantly.

There was a thoughtful pause on the other side of the curtain. "The cleaning lady found a pair of grey cargo pants-twenty-seven in-seam-behind the fan for the organ. She was rather upset. You can return them to whom they belong."

Despite himself, and everything that had happened these last few months, Dick smiled. "I will," he promised. The priest was right-you had to keep going forward. Tim's birthday was coming up. He'd have to add to the boy's wardrobe.