Having a terrible week. Jim—I can truly feel your pain. The HIGHLIGHT was when I Bruised my ribs on BOTH SIDES in a typically idiotic move on my part, trouble at work, personal troubles, and some other stuff. My personal request: will the people around me PLEASE do me a favor and stop dying. I also find terminal illness unacceptable. So just stop it.

I know deathfic is horribly cliché. Hopefully I've done something a little different here. I don't know.

Standard disclaimers apply. Title stolen from a Sarah Brightman song, but I don't like Filk so that's as much as I stole.

Winter in July


Kneeling next to the silver coffin and taking the cold, painted hand inside, Dick sighed. "It wasn't supposed to be like this, you know. I mean… Well. I don't know what I mean."

Clenching his eyes shut, Dick lowered his head briefly in prayer. He hated funerals. He hated funeral homes, he hated painted hands and the pungent smell of large, expensive arrangements of large, expensive flowers. Their odor burned in his nose and clung to his sinuses and mind as thickly as black smoke from a fire.

The hand was limp and clay-like in his. It had a heavy layer of paint and makeup on it, covering the exposed parts of the body like a silicone mask. He couldn't imagine this cold, embalmed, plasticized thing ever belonged to someone he loved.

He remembered doing this with his parents, Bruce, Alfred…Tim. The list grew longer every year, and he was still a young man. On long summer walks, the aroma of flowers no longer brought pleasant memories. To him, their wet, fleshy petals only symbolized death.

His parents had been ripped from him by violence. He'd long since run out of people to blame. The rest of his family had been taken by illness, accident and old age. He wanted desperately to have someone to hold responsible. He wanted one last fight. Dick Grayson wanted his Alamo.

Bruce had never seen the aneurysm coming. Dick probably should have, he'd reasoned long ago. He hadn't been looking well at Jim Gordon's funeral, and that night Tim had found him in the study, dead. Alfred was gone before the season was out. It had been a winter of woes, but he and Barbara had clung tightly together.

Tim had been eighteen that year. He swore he was only taking one semester off of college, to help out until the city settled down, but he never went back. Robin grew into Batman, and Dick was never so happy in all of his life that someone else besides him had become the Bat. He didn't know if he could bear walking in Bruce's lonely footsteps.

Three years later, Alvin Draper, Tim's own version of Bruce's Matches persona was sitting in a bar in Metropolis' Suicide Slum, waiting for information on Talia Head, who had since pushed Lex Luthor out of his own corporation completely, AND had reconciled with her father. Tim had a good heart. He wanted to do what Bruce would have done, and the way Bruce would have done it. He'd given up his education, even his own life. The boy who'd agreed to be Robin as only a temporary assignment had grown to fill the roll of the Bat. And with one stupid car-bomb, that had been crushed. Stephanie left town the minute she heard the news and never came back. Dick didn't know if she was dead or alive. Superman still felt guilty. Dick was glad.

And Barbara. She had finally agreed to marry him. They were going to have a quiet life. He'd keep doing the night-life, trying to fill the void in two cities. They were going to take care of each other. He hadn't taken care of her very well, had he? By the time they realized she was sick, it was too late. The cancer was too rapid for even STAR Labs to stop it from consuming her.

That had been three weeks ago. And now here Dick was. In a funeral home, breathing in the stink of the pungent flowers, shivering beneath his black suit, holding the cold hand of someone who loved him.

"This isn't how I wanted to spend my Saturday morning," Dick said bitterly. "People are going to get here soon. And then they're going to start saying how sorry they are." Dick couldn't stand that. He looked away from her cold, painted body to the girl against the wall in the back of the long viewing room. "Except her. She hasn't spoken since you died."

Cassandra was still wearing a long black coat dress over top a long black dress that Dick had never seen before. She stared at the square, bookish heals she'd purchased the day before almost blankly. She was twenty-five now, but still held a wide-eyed innocence about her. She'd never had a childhood, and yet, she was still child-like. Even in this. She'd stood in the back of the funeral parlor like a lost, broken child, her face bearing marks of sadness and vacancy that he'd only seen on the face of Bruce as a young man.

"Things flew by so quickly, didn't they? One minute I'm Robin, flying with you. The next Bruce is picking a bullet out of my arm and taking me out of the suit, and a minute later than that and Jason's dead. You're hurt, Tim's stalking me… No Man's Land. Bruce going off the deep end. Bruce coming back from the deep end. Tim's stint as a vegitarian." He smiled at the last. The forsaking of meat never lead any other seventeen year old into that much trouble, or lost a kid a toe. Alfred suggested the boy should have taken up smoking. "Then That Winter," Dick said with a wincing grimace. "There're some people who're supposed to live forever. Or you just think they're never going to die. I suppose… you beat the odds so many times… you get delusions of grandeur. Think you're invincible. Or… maybe the odds didn't like us any more, and decided to fight back."

Dick looked back at Cassandra again, who was now sitting in the last row of silk-backed wooden chairs. He gave her a small, supportive smile, then looked back at his beloved. Her lips were pressed firmly closed on an allegedly peaceful face. He wanted to kiss them one last time, but drowning on the scent of flowers, and staring at the painted lips—he knew it wouldn't be her that he was kissing. He'd derive more comfort from clutching a picture of her to him again tonight as he slept—at least she was alive and happy in that photograph, as opposed to some waxen doll.

"You know… the worst part is," he whispered as the door opened and Dinah Lance entered, also entirely in black. "I don't feel my own mortality. I know I'm going to live indefinitely. By myself." He could hear Dinah behind him, trying to talk to Cassandra. Right now, there couldn't be anything more fruitless.

"It's so cold today. They say it's ninety-five. But I keep shivering. And that'll go on forever. Then winter will come, and I'll be even colder." His voice caught with the last, his throat filling with a salty, swallowed sob.

A small hand came to rest on his jacket-clad arm. Others WOULD be here soon.

He slowly relinquished the cold hand in his grasp. It slid out of his red, nearly numb fingers and to the satin blanket which covered the legs. Trembling with cold or emotion, his hand covered the warm one on his arm. Feeling how it radiated warmth, he slipped his fingers under her palm and squeezed her hand tightly.

Getting up, he did the only thing he had it in him to do. He pulled Cassandra's short, tiny frame to him, feeling her firm, powerful muscles relax just a bit in his grasp. He held her to him protectively, afraid that if he let go of her, he would not see her again in this world. He felt some new, fatherly desire to keep her there, and safe.

Black Canary was sitting in Cassandra's place, looking at them sadly. Dick's lips pulled back in something that would have resembled a smile, were it not so full of bitterness.

Some new thought crept into Dick's head, and he shuddered. This is what Bruce had been afraid of—watching everyone you loved die. Would Cassandra parish too, if he held her too close?

Ten years ago, Dick could not imagine this existence. Worse still was the vision he now had in his mind—what he COULD imagine. Sitting in that house, alone, in the dark. Praying for the night to never end, for fear of being burned by the day. Robins were creatures of the morning, chirping their songs in the goldeny haze of sunlight. He'd ceased being a Robin long ago. Nightwing was neither Bird nor Bat, and it scared him to choose between the two.

Suddenly—for fear of being COMPLETELY alone, Dick slowly pulled away. Cassandra reached out for him, but he would no longer return her embrace. He folded his chilled, numb arms across his chest and locked his jaw stoically. Perhaps… you had to maintain distance, in order to keep anything at all.