"I wanna go to Gotham now," Mara cried miserably. "You said one good reason."

Dick still had one arm around her chest, clamping her arms to her sides so she couldn't try to get away. This was getting tiring, going through this with her. No wonder Barb had been half-crazed when he'd come back from Gotham. "Mmm… well, it was an OK reason," Dick said lightly. "But you need to do better."

"BETTER? It's Gotham!" the girl reiterated forcefully. "Grandpa's there, and it's Gotham."

"And this is Bludhaven, and you go to PS159 in Bludhaven, and I work here."

"SO? It's not Gotham. And Grampy's in Gotham too," she pointed out, as if thinking of it for the first time. "And Alfie."

"Your mom an' me are here," Dick pointed out. "You think you could hang around here 'cause we're here, and we'd miss you if you left?" It was strange—it was like some sort of irrational parody of the conversation they'd had just the night before, when she'd attempted to run away.

"I like grampa more," Mara said darkly. "And he likes me more, and… and…" suddenly her face twisted. "Why doesn't he want me? It's 'cause I was bad."

"Mara, he said he doesn't want you in Gotham 'till you're ready to work. He didn't say he didn't want you permanently." He rocked her a little. "You're his special little pal. You get to go to the moon with him, and you get to stay out late with him. But you can't do that right now."

The girl rubbed her eyes on the sleeve of her nightshirt, then rubbed her nose vigorously. "You should make him let me. I can kick everybody's butt."

Dick actually had to laugh at that. She might even think that right now. "Honey, you couldn't kick the broad side of a barn right now."

"Why won't he talk to me on the phone?" she asked. "He talks to me on the phone." Yesterday she called him at work and he scolded her and told her to go back to class, but he didn't hang up on her like he did tonight.

"Hon, I don't know what's crawled up his butt and died," Dick said sympathetically. "It happens with Bruce sometimes." He brushed her hair away from her forehead, and checked both of her red cheeks to see how warm they were. The feaver had broken, but she still wasn't entirely herself. "Just give it a little time."

"Wanna go now."

"You're a real whiner, you know that?"

"I'm not a whiner."


She weakly punched him in the arm. "Not a whiner. Just… wanna go back there."

Dick was so happy that she was finally calming down a little. "I know you do. But you know Grandpa can take care of himself, right? And Cassie's there. If mom finds out that he's in ANY trouble, she'll send Cassandra in. So he'll be ok without you for just one night."

The girl sighed, twisting in his arms a little and staring out the window. "I know. He doesn't need me."

"Now hey, I didn't say that. Just that he'd be ok without you for one night. We gotta get you rested and well-fed so you're ready to go pow, zap, zowee." He pinched her nose. "And… before you go back out with him, we'll give you a trial run with me. You can show me that you're going to think before you jump on people. How does that sound?" He decided to slowly break her into the idea of maybe hanging around Bludhaven longer than she anticipated. Some of his anger with Bruce for abandoning his partner was dying off, but it still left him with the resolve that she stick around someone who wasn't a complete idiot when it came to family.

'Great,' Dick thought. 'Who am I kidding. She ran away to get away from ME.' Now she wanted to run back to someone who really didn't want her right now. The poor kid must have felt so… displaced.

"Dunno," Mara admitted lazily, her anger and resolve dying away.

"It'll be fun. You'll fly with me for a little bit, and we'll getcha back into shape. You'll be better than one hundred percent when you get back into Gotham." He kissed her forehead. "It'll be like a little party. Before you go back to your boss and the grind." If he could get her to see that Bludhaven was cool… he had a fighting chance of getting her to stay.

"Wanna go back to the grind…" but her resolve was waining. What dad said sounded… reasonable. If grandpa wanted her. If she was still welcome in Gotham. "He'll take me back, right?"

Dick smiled. "Hey, be thankful you get to do something fun like fly with me. When I was your age, and I got banged up, I'd be in the cave for WEEKS until he was satisifed I was well enough to be out there."

For the first time, Mara turned to look at her father. She looked his face over, trying to imagine him as a little Robin. "In the cave? Alfie says you can't stay down there all the time 'cause there's no light."

"I didn't spend ALL my time down there. Geeze. Everybody thinks Bruce locked me away in a cage or something when I was done for the night." He smiled rubbing her back. "Just while he was out on patrol."

"No night air?"

"No night air. Now isn't Bludhaven sounding better and better?"

"I guess." She didn't sound very satisified. "Can mom make him come over for dinner? Grampy too?"

"It's late for dinner," Dick stated. "Tomorrow maybe. If Grampy isn't busy." Pulling the sheet off of her bed, he wrapped her in it and picked her up. "We'll get you some dinner now though. I hope you don't mind jello. Doc Leslie said that's all for you till we're sure you're not gonna barf it up."

"Not gonna barf it up. Sausage Pizza." She put her head on his shoulder, and he wrapped her legs round him, carrying her the way he used to when she was a tired toddler.

Taking her down into the kitchen, he sat her at the table and pulled out a bowl of green Jello. "Come on, me an' Jimmy made this for you. You have to try it a little."

"Test it for rat poison first." She folded her arms on the table and put her head on it. "Pizza. Just plain pizza."

Getting out two bowls, he sat down across from her. "Ok. But you have to eat this first, ok? And just to prove your brother isn't trying to kill you, I'll eat some before you do." He spooned some out and ate it, straight from the bowl. "No internal bleeding, no siezures, I think it's going to be ok." Using the same spoon, he scraped her a glob of wiggling emerald gelatin and flung it into a bowl. "Give it a shot," he said, filling his own bowl.

"Will I get pizza if I do?"

Dick nodded. He watched her contemplate the Jello for a minute before slowly digging her spoon into it and eating a healthy sized chunk. Convinced it wouldn't kill her, she ate the rest of it slowly. He had a feeling she still didn't have a stomach for food, but she was too stubborn to admit it just yet.

He swung his chair around the table and sat next to her, leaning closer to the little girl and her cereal bowl of gelatin. "Mara… can we talk?"

"If I get pizza."

He tousled her hair, unable to contain himself. "Ok. Pizza. If you tell me what your bad dreams were about."

Color seemed to instantly flush from her face. "I don't remember," she said unconvincingly.

"I have a feeling you do remember." He hated it when his kids lied to him.

"Just… bad stuff."

"About Gotham? About Grandpa?"

The girl squirmed. "About… stuff." Her father's arm wrapped around her, but she still didn't wish to tell. She felt uncomfortable. Like sitting in front of the guidance counselor, afraid she'd tell something she ought not.

"One of your mom's bad dreams was about her father finding out she was Batgirl in a bad way—namely her going splat all over the place and grampy just getting a body back. Believe it or not… one of MY worst dreams was being second string to Tim. Don't ask how THAT happened. There's the usual spiders and heights and rats and stuff. That's not so bad. It's all the weird stuff with people you love in it that freaks you out. And it's ok, because ALL of us have been there," he explained.

"What does grandpa have nightmares about?" she asked calmly.

"He doesn't talk about them much," Dick admitted, then realized he was giving her permission to be close-mouthed. "But… it's better if you talk about it," he followed with quickly.

"I don't want to tell."

"Remember back in the day when it was cool to hang around the Titans before you grew up and became a little Justice League groupie?"


"Remember when I ordered Uncle Roy to tell me why he was upset when he got back from his vacation? This is the same thing. Batman might be your boss, but I still out rank you. So fess up, Small Fry."

Putting her spoon down, Mara let her hands fall into the lap. She bit her lip, thinking. "You promise not to tell anyone?"

"I'll think about it," he informed her.

"It… wasn't a dream at first. Like a bad one. It was just a bad feeling. And… and then later it was dreams, and then I woke up and it was like they were still in my head, and the bad feeling's still there…"

Dick couldn't help it, he pulled her into his lap. "Mara… I know what it's like. Tell me what they were about. And that's an order," he said gently.

Her eyes grew red and wet, making the blue stand out more. Her icy eyes looked up at him, sorrowful and pleading, but he didn't relent. She needed to do this. "That no one was here."

"No one was here?"

"Everybody was gone. Grampy and grandpa and Alfie and you and mom and Tim and Cassie, and even stupid Stephanie who lets Timmy touch her boobies and Jimmy wasn't here either."

"Tim's groping his girlfriend in front of you kids?" Dick asked angrily.

Mara blushed a little, losing some of her self consciousness. A few tears dribbled out of her eyes. "Well, I wasn't supposed to be watching."

He kissed her forehead. "Then don't watch. You know we're not going anywhere, right?" So why the hell had she wanted Bruce so badly? If she was afraid of losing everyone?

"Yeah… I guess."

"We're you're parents. You know we're not going to leave you anywhere, or abandon you. And if you're in a burning building, I'm going to not let you burn up, you know what I mean?" Hence the tossing out of the window that had begun this whole horrible escapade.

"I don't know."

"Mara… no one's going anywhere."

"You could! You don't know that!"

He wiped the tears off of her cheek. "Mara… if you're afraid we're all going somewhere, why do you want grandpa? Isn't he disappearing too?" Maybe there really wasn't any logic behind it. Who knew what types of fears all those vials of toxin were supposed to induce. Perhaps she was mixed in the head over it.

"Cause… Cause you guys don't have to stay. But he's my partner and we're supposed to stick together… only we're not sticking together right now, cause he won't let me in Gotham." Suddenly, her head pressed to his shoulder, and Dick could feel his shirt growing wet.

Maybe Bruce wasn't as big of a jerk as he appeared to be. "Ooooohkay. I'm beginning to understand a few things, I think. Grandpa's just looking out for you. He'd doing what good partners do. He wants you to get all better, is all." And to realize no one was going anywhere, Dick figured out. How the hell did Bruce know that that was what her fear was?

"It still feels like everybody's going to go away," the girl admitted. "And I'll just be all by myself and no one will be around at all." She clung tightly to her father, afraid it would come true. It seemed so much scarier now that she had said it out loud.

"Mara, you have to know that even if something happens to one of us… everyone else in the family will still be there." She looked up into his eyes, and he realized that wasn't what she was worried about, really. "And none of us would ever… EVER abandon you intentionally. There was an intensity in her red little eyes that searched him with neither belief nor denial of what he was saying.

Kids were such a perfect trial, Dick decided, holding her head between his hands. "Martha Ann Grayson. You look at me, and you listen. You are a monster. You're devious and not to be trusted. We all know that. We know you're pig-headed, crass and a complete social misfit." He kissed her forehead. "We know that, and we still love you. It's what makes you… well, you. We are NEVER going to give up on you, and we're never going to turn our back on you. And we're never going to up and leave you. Because we love you. And for all those faults, you're also the best little butt-kicker, smart, funny, loyal to a fault, and got a heart and a work ethic to match. We're all glad we have you on our team, and we're glad we have you in our family, ok?"

Slowly, her lips pulled back in a tiny smile. Grateful hope began to light in her eyes. "You're gonna keep me?" she asked.

Dick squeezed her. "Geeze. Yes. We're going to keep you. No matter what." He crushed her against his chest and rocked just a little bit. "The day you were born, I held you just like this, and told you I'd always be here for you. And I said I'd try to be the best dad I could be. And it's not being a very good dad if you just abandon your kid, right? So me an' your Cheese Head brother an' your mom're gonna be right here."

She rubbed her cheek against his shoulder, a lot of the bite taken out of her. She felt safer and more secure than she had in a while. "Ok," she whispered. "You an' me'll have fun. Nightwing and Robin. And it'll be… fun." Her eyes closed. So much for pizza.

"Nightwing and Robin. The greatest team-up since… Laurel and Hardy. But you get to be the straight man. Ok?" He kissed her hair, and she nodded contently. A few seconds later, she as asleep again.

"Richard John Grayson," Barbara whispered coldly. "You did NOT just tell her what I think you did."

His wife wheeled into the kitchen, and the surprise on his face was the same as an admission of guilt. "I just… we have to keep her calm, right? And she's not crying any more…"

"She is NOT going back out there."

"Shh…" Dick whispered. "She doesn't need to hear this."

But Barbara knew she'd been lied to. "You had no intention of pulling her out of the suit."

"Babs… this is her life."

"Not any more, it isn't," she answered coldly.

All Dick could do was pray to God she didn't wake, and that Barbara didn't continue. He was about to fight an uphill battle, and he knew it was going to be hell the whole way.

Continued in part six…