Standard disclaimers apply. I own who I own. I don't own who I don't own.

Thanks to Brendan, the meanest, prissiest beta in the world.

Blood is Thicker

**

"Just leave me alone, ok?" Mara pleaded, pulling the pie pan away from her brother. "Do you ALWAYS have to be mean to me? Is it some kind of CONDITION you have?" She began cutting herself a third piece of peach pie, a large piece.

"Actually, yeah, it's called "Youreadork-itus," Jimmy said proudly, looking to Jordy for support.

Jordy used the opportunity to take a large drink out of the milk carton before shoving it back in the fridge. He closed the door and turned back to face them, shrugging. "Hey Jimmy, just cool it, ok? If she wants another piece of pie, let her have a piece of pie." When he saw his friend making faces, he wrapped an arm around his wife and kissed her head. "The widdle munckin-oli likes peach pie." He rubbed the slight swell in her mid section.

"You guys're making me sick," Jimmy complained.

Hearing that, Mara turned around and kissed her husband. With a lot of tongue.

"Oh. OH. When does the hurting stop?" Jimmy rolled off his chair and began writhing childishly on the floor.

Unfortunately for Jimmy, it had just begun. His sister disengaged her lips from his best friend's minty colored face, rose, and kicked him in the shoulder. "Get up off the floor," she ordered. "Look, I'm going down stairs to make myself useful for a few hours. Clean up your mess, and go home, before I tell mom you came to Gotham to act like an idiot." Taking off her dark purple suit jacket to reveal her slight protrusion, she swung it over her shoulder and unbuttoned the top button of her black silk blouse, then left the kitchen.

Getting to his feet, Jimmy bowed. "I have been dismissed," he said with flourish.

"Jimmy," Jordan whined. "Can't you just cool it? We're more than half way through this thing, and you're determined to make the last four months hell for EVERYONE. She's getting sick of doing paper work, and she's getting sick of all the crap you put her through. Just knock it off."

The red-headed young man hopped up onto the counter top of the island in the kitchen. He could hear Alfred's verbal reprimand in his head, so he hopped back off and just leaned against it. "Actually, it was all part of my evil plot. You and I are going to have a guy-to-guy talk."

"I think you're the LAST person I need advice from… on ANYTHING."

"HEY! I did the pregnant wife-chick-person thing last year, first of all, and second of all, it isn't about that—you keep her pretty damned pacified, from what I can see. I want to talk to you about a conversation I had with someone last night."

"Oh? Is it about Mustard's break-out? Someone knows how he--"

Jimmy tried to think of a good way to say it, and he realized there wasn't one. "Why did I have Mr. Kent asking me if he was as uncaring and stupid as you make him out to be?"

Jordan walked around the table and back to the refrigerator. Withdrawing the gallon of milk, he stood in front of the open door, untwisted the lid and began drinking.

"Holy avoiding me. Come on." He waited until his friend had consumed the entire gallon, and was screwing the lid on the empty container before he spoke again. "What's up with you and him?"

"Why don't you ask HIM?" Jordan asked, putting the empty container in the refrigerator.

Jimmy tried to gain some ground in the argument. "That's funny, cause he asked me."

"Can't I just NOT like someone? Can Jordan Rayner, perpetual superhero schmuck and all-round 'decent guy', just not like someone?"

Jimmy picked up the pie tin and began picking at the last piece with his fingers. Alfred wouldn't like that either. "You don't even SNEEZE unless there's a reason. And it's really hard to pinpoint the exact one, because there're lots of reasons to hate lots of people, and he seems to be the only one that gets your feathers in a ruffle."

"Use a fork, for heavens sake. And I'm just a regular guy. I'm not someone with a bunch of purpose or anything—I want to make little animations, I want to have more kids, and I want Superman to go live on some other planet."

He licked his fingers of the wholesomy Kent-baked goodness. He'd just leave out where the pie had come from, for now. "Hey, I don't want to be this sexy, but I handle it. My point is, that you don't like someone because they stole yer best gal, or ran over your dog. Not because you woke up one morning and said, 'That guy's an asshole.' You're regular. You have to have a reason."

Jordan was staring down at the ring on his finger intently. He seemed to contemplate it a lot. "I never wanted this ring."

"Shit, you don't want it? You keep threatening to give a ring to Sammy… give it to her so we can watch Timmy's head explode." He shook his head, frustrated. "I swear, the therapist isn't getting rid of Mara's freakiness. It's just being spread around now, and you and Tim were the prime recipients."

"No, Jimmy—you fuck. HE gave me this ring."

"SO? If you weren't a Green Lantern, you'd be something else. Didn't you get some of your mom's powers or something? Or you'd have some kind of weird power suit… destiny and all that stuff. You're freaking green. It's REAL hard to be normal. And if not you, who? He gave the ring to someone the Justice League knew wasn't a psychopath."

"After he let my mom die, he had the audacity to give it to me. Like it was nothing!"

Jimmy wiped his hands on his pants and tried not to yell, but he wasn't successful. "What, you expected him to give it to somebody other than you? Who the hell was there? Kon? And He didn't let her die. She got there first. He was the one who was supposed to hit the reactor. I've seen grampa's files."

"He didn't make it there, did he? If he would have, she wouldn't have had to get in the middle of all of them." And make them all fire at each other—with her in the middle.

"He didn't screw up! Things don't always go according to plan in the field. He did NOT fail. You wanna know what failed…" Jimmy's jaw tightened. "Never mind."

"WHAT? What failed?"

Jimmy looked both ways before he spoke. He knew this was going to hurt. "The ring," he answered quietly.

"WHAT?" Jordan asked loudly. When his friend wasn't forthcoming, he grabbed hold of his shirt. "MY ring? My MOM'S ring?"

Jimmy knew he could do damage to the Lantern, but he did NOT want to drag Mara up here with a ruckus, and he didn't want to do that to the guy who listened to all of his ramblings. "The will power of the wielder faltered, because their energy fire was NOT yellow, and Hal Jordan has faced FAR worse."

Jordan eased up, just a little. "Why wouldn't she want to come home?"

"Look, the Old Man's notes suggested it was the worst she ever faced. If she didn't think she was going to come home… well, the ring obeys the will of the owner. She didn't think she'd make it. So the fact that he didn't do it himself because he was dealing with the whole doomsday weapon had nothing to do with it."

"Mom thought…"

"And the ring obliged," Jimmy explained quietly. He didn't want to be saying this. But he'd thought about it for a long time. He'd never really spoken about his theory before, it was well known that the topic was off limits with Kyle Rayner, and no one else seemed really happy to talk about it.

Jordan's white-knuckled hands wrung at his tormentor's shirt. "Mom wanted to come home!" Suddenly, he let go. He stared down at his hands. "He… he still should have saved her. He saves everybody else."

"Jordy, there were three of us in the room, and my grandfather still died. You're the one who's always telling us that it happens. And it happens to good people sometimes."

The Green Lantern turned away, leaning heavily on the table. "He should have saved her. He saves every…" he stopped, staring at the patterns in the wood floor. "Am I a complete idiot?"

Jimmy put his hands on his hips. "I don't know, are you? You hate him because he was closest."

"What about Mara?" Jordan asked, feeling slightly justified. "He could have… and he didn't. He could have…" he clenched his eyes shut. "No he couldn't have. Then he wouldn't be the guy I idolized as a kid."

"Yeah, what about her? She's nuts cause she got sprayed with clown brains. The real question is, why're YOU nuts?"

Jordan shook his head. He'd be more surprised if Jimmy actually UNDERSTOOD what he was talking about. "I just… I wish I'd have been able to protect her. And our child." He sniffed, and rubbed his nose with his wrist, hurt by the truth of what he was saying. "She doesn't want me to… maybe she doesn't need me to most of the time. But the time it counts, I'm not there."

Would it be inappropriate to attempt to make light of the situation? Jimmy pondered his options. He could embrace the angst of the moment, but that wasn't his style. He could be cold and truthful, but he just tried to do his best to NOT emulate his sister… "Wait. Now you're talking about last year? Man, I'm glad she lived, 'cause I'd have killed her." He gave a weak smile. "Anyone who hurts my best friend gets to deal with me, got it?" Ok, so something personal had come out in the stead of 'handling the situation appropriately.' "And now I'm too big to get duct taped to shit," he added, almost philosophically.

"She did live," Jordan admitted. "But we almost lost her anyways. And the baby…"

"Yeah."

"We didn't talk about kids before that. And… then…"

"Bright side? She's come through a lot. She's much saner now. Your kid won't end up a supervillian." He shrugged, wondering if it was appropriate to let out a little laugh.

Jordan made a face at the last comment—as though he knew something he ought not. "She wasn't insane till that happened. I mean… She's better now than she ever was… but… she was OK. Before. Before Bruce died at least. She was ok."

Jimmy smiled to himself. He had successfully navigated angsty, treacherous waters. "She wasn't ok before that, man. She had some kind of fixation on him that only got worse when he died."

"Mara wasn't like that. You don't know her like I know her…" He hated having to constantly defend his wife to his best friend. It made it really hard to… well, talk about her. And lately, with the baby coming and all… sometimes he needed someone to talk to.

"Dude, I know how it LOOKED. Until you actually kissed her in the tower that first time, I thought she'd stay pure only for him, like some kind of Bat-nun. Eel and I talked about it."

"Talking with Plastic Man about ANYTHING is a mistake. And you don't know her, ok?"

"He was her entire reason for breathing. The best thing that happened to your relationship was him dying," Jimmy pointed out. "You two would have NEVER gotten married if he was still alive."

Jimmy always had to go and push his luck, didn't he? "Can you just lay off of Batman? And her? I kind of liked the guy, thank you. And Mara and I had good conversations about stuff. Deep conversations. Before he kicked it. So it wasn't like her soul belonged to him or anything."

"Probably conversations about him. 'Batman says' and stuff… like at the dinner table when I was a kid. DO you know how sick I was of hearing that stuff."

Jordan rolled his eyes. "Did it ever occur to you that she did that because you hated it?

Sometimes we talked about him." He looked towards the window and the setting sun spilling through the curtains. "I don't know… just about stuff." They'd had especially good conversations after making love, but he didn't need more 'writhing Jimmy' to contend with, so he kept that detail to himself. "Stuff we've done. Current trends in cookie cutter shapes. What it's like growing up in a family full of people who do this." Looking down at his mother's ring, he smiled at one memory in particular. "The time she stole The Car."

"No way."

"Yeah, way. My reaction too. Crashed it into a wall, scraped the paint and busted a headlight. And all she got was a disappointing glare, and a lecture on how she doesn't constantly need to be outdoing everyone else in her family in every aspect, including screwing up." And grounded for two months, but that had come from her parents—not from the Bat.

"He almost sounds like a real human being there," Jimmy pondered. "Still—I don't think what they had going on there was normal. I mean… when I was six, she got gassed by Scarecrow, and all she did was cry for grampa."

"Jimmy… he was just as much her dad as your father is to you guys. Just try to respect that, or appreciate it, or something."

Jimmy folded his arms over his chest, realizing he had a little leverage. "I don't know. Are you going to start being nice to my Uncle Clark? And respecting his niceness?"

Jordy sighed. "I guess I should talk to him, huh?"

The younger of the two rolled his eyes. "Yeah. Like hello."

"Thanks. Guess I should go ask Little Miss 'I have the monitor schedule of six different heroing groups memorized' when he'll be on duty. I think it might be better to have a captive audience."

A smile slowly crawled across Jimmy's lips. "I have you covered. He's cooking dinner over my house tonight. Bring The Evil One, and you guys can talk, she can feed her tapeworm and everything'll be swell."

"I thought you were going to be nice now, Jimmy?"

"I'm nice!" he protested. "I didn't say it to her face."

* * *

They stopped their forward momentum, as soon as they fully realized what the sight was in front of them. "I should make a smart-ass remark," Jimmy whispered as he deeply contemplated their situation.

"Don't make me kill you today," Jordan whispered back, peeking his head out of the shadows.

"Well, what do we do?"

Jordan resisted the urge to smack his friend. Quietly coming up beside the big chair, he shook it very gently. "Hey… time to wake up, Sleeping Beauty. Jimmy has something to ask you."

Jimmy really wanted his friend to talk to Superman, so he bit his tongue—literally—and kept the insult in his mouth. "I have something to…what? Oh, I got it." He watched Mara rub her eyes for a moment, then pull her swollen ankles off of the tool box she'd shoved under the computer cable. "Ok. Anyways… You wanna take a break from being Darth Tim's lackey and come eat Uncle Clark's food, let mom ogle, let the kids fawn over their favorite aunt…"

"Yes, Jimmy. I'll come over tonight," she said forcefully, cutting him off. She looked at him with a question in her eyes, and he knew exactly what she was asking.

"I think you should talk to him," he pointed to Jordan. "He's come to embrace his stupidity, thus transcending it." He waved, dashing towards the steps. "Gotta go. Dinner's at six." Pulling the new clock closed behind him, he left his sister and his friend to their talk.

"So." Mara closed down the computer, printing out everything Tim would need for the night. This was actually working out for Tim; he got to spend more time at home with his two adorable girls and slightly insane wife. Cassandra had turned into Super-mom, completely compartmentalizing anything that had to do with 'baby' or 'children.' Mara wondered if she'd get batty like that.

"Um… yeah. Dinner. With Mr. Kent," Jordy began, embarrassed. Who'd have known that admitting you're wrong could be so painful. Especially when he still really didn't like Superman… all he could say now was that he knew why. "Ok, I've been a schmuck. Is that what you want to hear? And why haven't you been giving me a hard time about this?"

"Hey, you said it, not me." She grabbed his hand, twisting her fingers within his. "I didn't say anything because I figured you'd realize you were out of line eventually. I just didn't think it'd take so long." Patiently she kissed his hand. "And my therapist said I have to not try to obsess over things I can't change, and I figured if you didn't come around, I'd just kick your butt."

He slid an arm around her, unable to resist. "You're the best, you know that?" Lifting her to her feet, he stole a kiss.

"I know," Mara whispered. "Now come on. Lets kiss and make up. Or Roy's going to end up being this kid's godfather."

He looked at her seriously, his lips turning downward and his eyebrows sinking around his eyes. "NO Roy. And just because I'm begging Mr. Kent for forgiveness doesn't mean I'm going to be asking him for… stuff."

"You won't be asking. I'd be asking," she pointed out logically.

"Wait a second. You're not even religious."

"That's not the point. You baptize the kid. That's just the way it works." There were certain traditions in her family that were to be upheld, regardless of religious affiliation. The kid gets baptized, and you have a church wedding. Everything else was irrelevant. She'd come to accept that there WAS a God… because Hal Jordan had to be working for somebody. She wasn't sure about the religion stuff though—except for the baptism and wedding thing. That seemed harmless enough.

Jordan ran a hand through his hair. "I'm the only one of us who knows what the inside of a church LOOKS like, and you get to pick godparents?" There was something seriously wrong with this whole setup.

She wrapped her arms around his neck, not even caring that he was trying to start a fight. "Who do YOU have in mind?"

Not knowing what else to do, he hugged her. "Look, let's talk about this later, yeah?" Basically, he was just putting it off. He knew he was, and she probably knew too. Fortunately, she let it pass, because she kissed him again. His hand trailed down to her mid-section. "Figures. He always stops moving the second I put my hand there." He sighed contentedly. He knew why the baby stopped squirming, but he was NOT going to say why. He wanted Mara to kill him AFTER the baby was born.

"Just remember," Mara warned. "Uncle Clark can be annoying in his constant niceness and rightness, but he's family. You're stuck with him the way you're stuck with Jimmy." She had always known Clark and Lois, and while she wasn't close to Lois the way she was to Clark, they were all stuck with him. She didn't blame him for anything, and it had never made her happy to know that Jordan was carrying this grudge over long.

"How do you DEAL with that?" Jordan asked in desperation. He looked behind her to the vault that no one talked about. It seemed like Batman had HIS way of dealing with it.

She shrugged, then saw what he was looking at. "Hey man, I'm changing the combination on that thing," she threatened. "That was always grandpa's way of saying 'I have control over everything, including Superman, so don't cross me' and 'welcome to the family' all in one dysfunctional gesture. We don't whip out the Kryptonite for dinner gatherings." The Bat clan was bad, but they weren't that bad.

"Well, I'm not suggesting we poison him." There was some part of him at his very center that wanted to do something perverse like that for once in his life, instead of always being so… straight laced. "Why is he family though, if Batman didn't trust him?"

"Do you think I trust Jimmy? My protocols for him are a phone book long. Some of them are for if he ever goes rogue. The rest are incase I have a rainy day and I'm bored at the office. Family're the people you're stuck with. Get the combination to the Kryptonite vault, join the family. Get the password for the protocols on the Crays and you know its OK to move in with me. It may be a little perverse, but it's symbolic. And with grandpa, that was the closest he could ever get to saying 'we're glad to have you with us.'" She liked to pinch his fleshy cheeks, so she grabbed them and tugged a little. "And grandpa never trusted anyone. I think he had protocols against Alfred written up somewhere."

Jordan blinked, then pulled his face out of her grasp. "What about you?"

"Yeah, it mainly consisted of calling the credit card company and cutting off my card." She gave a self-depreciating smile. "At least that was the only part he ever bragged about. Come on, what's this all about?"

He shrugged, then rocked her in his arms a little. "So, Batman didn't hate Superman?"

"No more than I hate my brother. I swear."

"How much DO you hate your brother?"

"I've been skimming off of his Swiss bank account and adding the money back into the JLA treasury," she said slyly. It was well-known that Jimmy over- charged. "Grandpa bough the Daily Planet. Just because."

"Wow, I married into a family of wicked people," Jordy marveled.

"Yup. Now let me go get changed and put my feet up for a while. If you're nice, I'll let you ponder my wickedness once or twice before we leave."

Grinning, he slapped her behind then grabbed her hand and began leading her upstairs. "Well, what're you waiting for?" He did, after all, deserve a reward for what he was about to put himself through.

* * *

Jordy now had a new game he liked to play. "I was in the cave, and there's no signal down there, and I'm not allowed to touch the computer…" whenever someone tried to contact him on his communicator to ask a stupid question. The adults knew that the cave had excellent signal. The Young Justice kids believed just about anything he told them.

Still, even though he was messing around on the cave's computer, right where he shouldn't be, he answered Peaches when she rang. "You haveta make Superboy lemme go to the park. We haveta get ice cream…" Jordy wondered if they'd created a monster. Every time she visited, they took her for ice cream.

"Peaches… he's in charge of you. If he says no ice cream, I have to uphold that." Wow, he sounded all authoritative and stuff.

"But, I want some chocolate…"

Jordy rolled his eyes as he continued opening windows. He'd been told that these things were in a specific location… and he needed to get through this before Mara woke up. If she caught him, she'd chop him up into little pieces. You didn't touch the Old Man's computer and live to tell about it.

"Peaches… how's about this. If you're real good and listen to Superboy tonight, I'll bring you a one-pound chocolate bar tomorrow morning?"

"For real?" the girl asked skeptically. "First thing tomorrow morning. First FIRST thing. Before Kon wakes up even."

Jordy laughed, finding what he needed. "First-first thing," he promised.

He was a Green Lantern. Even though his grandfather lived in a Gotham suburb, Green Lanterns traditionally had nothing to do with the city, or the people who operated out of it. Somehow he'd gotten mixed up with these Gotham people. Somehow he'd fallen in love with the second most inaccessible person in the universe, and he'd been sucked into this world of theirs that existed entirely below ground, and between sunset and sunrise.

Then one day, he'd become the mentor of a whole new breed of brats, and had become involved in all of the melodrama of their teenage lives. Fortunately, they only called him when they needed something, and it was never advice or a shoulder to cry on—except with the Metropolis contingency. Somehow, Superboy, who he'd never even been FOND of when he'd been in Young Justice, started seeking him out for 'parenting' advice.

He never really asked to be saddled with the Metropolis contingency. Peaches was constantly looking for him to override Superboy, in a mommy said/daddy said kind of way that he could appreciate. He pulled the same stuff when he was her age. Grudgingly, he admitted that if he was stuck with Peaches and Superboy, he MIGHT just be stuck with Superman.

Typing the double passwords, Jordy opened the protocol files.

He briefly glanced over the Justice League files. Every few years, the existence of these files would ruffle some feathers, and there'd be some hard feelings, then everyone'd go back to respecting Grim and Grumpy's distance, and things'd be peachy keen. They knew they needed him.

He felt like he was invading some sort of privacy reading the files on the family, Dick, Tim… Curiosity finally got the better of him, and he opened the file on Jimmy. If you were going to take that twerp out, how would you…

Subject: Nighthawk, aka James Thomas Grayson. Subject maintains a fierce devotion to Nightwing, adamant over protectiveness to Oracle and abject idolization for Robin IV.

Jordy let out a laugh. See? The old guy knew more than he let on. .

The latter relationship manifests itself in the form of aggression, which is equally reciprocated. He is cautious upon his own regard, but shows great initiative towards protecting others. If the love/hate relationship is still primary, the quickest way to distract/neutralize Nighthawk is by placing Robin in inconceivable danger. Less effective strategies involve danger to Nightwing/Oracle.

In the case of explicit rogue behavior, there are several aptitudes to take into consideration: extreme intelligence, short attention span, viciousness in creativity and bad sense of humor. Primary objective is to neutralize any devices he may have created to aid his mission. Do not underestimate extreme technological aptitude. Designs tend to be entirely intuitive and not based upon any written specifications (See Robin IV deductive method).

Nighthawk maintains a high view of his own technological abilities, but a low view of both physical activity and his own ability to fit in, both at school and within the community. He maintains no underlying ties to Batman. He avoids Gotham, save for frequent visits with James Gordon or Alfred Pennyworth. These ties are weaknesses to be exploited as he thinks highly of their opinions…

Jordan read on and on, until he reached several synarios for taking Jimmy out. Jimmy didn't give the old guy enough credit. The old guy had taken enough interest to study him—to find all of his weaknesses and strengths, and the most humane way to dispatch him. Records indicated that Bruce would have rather taken the young man out himself, than to leave that burden to the boy's immediate family.

So… um… taking out friends and family was… business for friends and family.

It bugged Jordy that he was as obsessed with this as he was.

The one for Robin was down right cruel. It had the usual course of distractions and neutralizations, but each protocol seemed to get worse than the first. He stopped when it got to the stuff about the Joker. Sometimes love meant being a vicious bastard.

"Marital problems?" a grumbling voice asked behind him.

"NO," Jordy said forcefully, trying to keep his nerve.

"Who said you could use the computer?"

Jordy REALLY thought Tim wasn't due in for another two hours. "Bruce, actually. The only things I have access to are communications and protocols. I figured maybe I needed to do a little reading."

Tim disappeared into the vault. No, he wasn't happy about it.

Quickly closing everything he'd opened, Jordan shot up the steps before he was forced to further face the wrath of Tim. The guy had come through a lot of personal problems in the last few years, but there were some things he was extremely moody over.

Coming into the house, he saw that Mara was already up from her nap. He thought he'd well and truly tired her out—but a ringing door bell was apparently enough to drag anyone out of sleep. She was closing the door as he met her, then she leaned against it, looking over-tired.

"If we hired someone, we wouldn't have to worry about it." Turning people away at the front door was a full time job. He had no idea how Alfred did that, and everything else that was required of him.

"I KNOW," Mara said forcefully. "I have a stack of resumes to go through. But I'm about ready to hire someone just to go through them." Her personal assistant, Candy, had already said she wasn't going to touch them. But that was what she liked about Candy—the lady knew how to set limits. Staffing your boss's house wasn't what she'd signed up for with Bruce, and it wasn't why she continued to stay on. She was there to hyper-organize the work day, and take care of whatever she could on her own without bothering Mara. It was an arrangement that had worked out so amiably before.

There was something else she was hiding, but he let it go. She'd probably just been super-nasty to whoever'd interrupted her nap, and didn't want it getting around.

He looked at her long robe, wrapped tightly around her. "Why don't you get dressed? We gotta be there in like an ho…"

Mara walked right past him and towards the study. "I have stuff to do."

He followed after her, feeling a bit like a puppy dog. "WHAT?" She was NOT making him go alone.

"Look, SOMETHING." The clock swung opened, and she headed down the steps.

"We need to be there in an hour…" He stopped at the top of the cave steps. This was not time for all of this. Couldn't he have his own special time to be insane? Did he have to share it with her?

He decided to give her half an hour, then he'd try to pry her away from the computer. If she just had a chat addiction, it might be easier.

* * *

"You might want to have a talk with your husband," Batman informed Mara without turning from the computer.

"About WHAT?"

"His sudden need to dig into Bruce's protocols, namely YOURS."

Mara rolled her eyes, not in the mood. "He's not going rogue. He has to say the big 'sorry' to Superman tonight, and he's looking for inspiration." Tim was a spazoid. Always was, always would be. "Now get off the computer. I have work to do."

"There're eight other computers. Use one of them."

"I need THAT one."

"I'm working."

Mara slammed her fist down on the tabletop in front of Batman. "Tim, I don't have time for you shit. It's too early for you to be here, so don't give me a fucking hard time!"

Tim bit his tongue. Something was wrong.

Mara actually looked at what Tim was doing. "And I can't use the Crays because you are reading Jordy's protocol? This is the biggest load of shit I've ever had to endure."

"I believe in being prepared," Tim said, in a truly Bruce-like moment.

Breathing through her nose, Mara tried to calm herself. She wasn't in a good position, and Tim was just making this more difficult. "He passed Bruce's tests, and met with HIS approval. I really don't care about your opinion. And you're too fucking late. He's part of this family." The protocols were probably more trouble then they were worth. They were almost two years out of date. She appreciated grandpa's thoroughness, and she tended to keep anything that had been his—but this was twice in one day she was having trouble because of them.

"This isn't about being family. I came down here, and he was reading the protocols."

"He's had the password for six years. Get over it." Knowing she wasn't going to get what she needed with him in the cave, she made her way up the steps. Half way up, she turned around, her hand tightly gripping the railing. "And if you screw with Jordy, you're going to find out about MY protocols. And all of them are painful." Stalking up the steps as seriously as a protruding stomach would allow, she slammed the clock behind her.

This was about family. Tim was pissed because Cassandra had made no motion to come back to work. She was happy being a mom, and that was it. She didn't think Tim would try anything with Jordy, besides the usual making his life miserable, but she had to make it clear, if he tried to even do that, he'd have a very unhappy woman to deal with.

Stopping in the laundry room, she found a shirt that would fit over her stomach, and a pair of pants with an elastic waist. Sliding on a pair of loafers, she grabbed a jacket, and began marching towards the front door. Passing by the room with the large TV in it, she popped her head through the door. "Come on. We're leaving."

Jordan threw his legs off of the coffee table and pushed the power button for the TV's power on the remote. "I'd say something smart, but you'd probably not tell me why the sudden change anyways, huh?" He grabbed his jacket from beside him and chased after her a she got to the door.

"Good call," Mara informed him, storming out the door.

* * *

"Now, explain to me why we couldn't have this conversation in the house?" Jimmy asked as they approached a busy intersection. His sister had marched out the front door and down two blocks, away from their home without saying a word. He stopped short of the street corner. "Waddles, I'm not going another step till you tell me what the hell is up."

Mara turned back to face him, and he saw a rage there that he hadn't seen on her face since their grandfather died. "I don't want Uncle Clark listening in."

"He can hear Aunt Lois calling all the way across the city. I don't think you can waddle far enough away from him."

Her jaw locked with the wisecrack.

"Come on Mar. You couldn't send e-mail? Daedelus doesn't usually do the face-to face consultations."

Her eyes narrowed. "I don't need Daedleus, I need Nighthawk."

"Would now be a bad time to state the obvious?" Namely the usual reassertion that Nighthawk didn't exist any more. He'd died before the pit. After the pit… it was just Daedelus. And if she couldn't deal with that…

"Shut up, you little prick. Listen to me. I need to know something--"

He stared past her, at the cars in the street. "And I'm supposed to answer? After you call me names?" His hand grabbed hold of her fist, catching it like a baseball. He twisted her arm around her back. "Look, I'd kick your ass, here in public, but I found a house in the 'burbs I want, and you're not going to screw up mom letting me move out." He pushed her away, and she glared him, that terrible look in his eyes. It was the same one he'd seen when he told her he refused to be the Bat any more for her. "And there's something not right about kicking a pregnant chick."

"For once in your life, just leave me the fuck alone!" Mara whispered harshly, making sure there was no one on the sidewalk to see their display.

Seeing he wasn't getting anywhere, he met her at the corner. "Fine. What's up?" Maybe she found out he was changing the numbers on Wayne Enterprise's contributions to the Justice League operating budget. At least, he could hope it was something as cut and dry as that… but he knew it wasn't.

She swallowed her emotions. He'd seen her do it before, and he knew it wasn't because of his hack job. "Jimmy… what did you guy's do with Ra's head?" Her voice was quiet… hollow.

"His HEAD?" It was hormones. Please let this be hormones. Don't let this be a repeat of last year. Maybe she needed to make sure he was really dead…

"I… I don't remember. I was unconscious…"

Jimmy's relief turned to frustration. What was this about? "And I was INSANE. What makes you think I know what happened to it?" Her chest began heaving, and Jimmy didn't know WHAT to do. He couldn't just stand there and watch her hyperventilate though. "Mara, God, just backup, and tell me what's going on?"

"Jimmy… just tell me…" her eyes started welling with tears. He'd caught her with tear-stained cheeks a few times since July, and she was getting even more emotional now. Crys hadn't been like that, but her powers had been completely haywire. Cass had seemed to enjoy all the misery her pregnancy had brought to her. He supposed that a weapy Mara was better than her going nuts again.

Slightly afraid of dealing with Insane-Mara again, he dared to give her a hug. "Just tell me why you need it," Jimmy asked gently. Please, don't let it be for anything sick.

Her arms pressed into his back so hard, he thought he might go through her. "I had an… unwanted visitor at the door," she admitted finally. "She wants her father's head back."

"You can't let her resurrect him," Jimmy pointed out carefully.

"I know. But… I have to know. And we have to know… and we have to make sure…" She wiped her eyes on his t-shirt, then picked her head up, letting go of him. "If you tell anybody about that… I'll kill you."

"Tell anybody about what?" Jimmy replied flippantly.

"That—never mind."

"Gotcha. Look. Why don't we ask dad? I mean… he was sane and awake." He tried to start leading her back towards the house. If they weren't back in time for dinner, someone would send out a search party, and that wouldn't be very good for anyone.

"Can't this just be Robin and Nighthawk?" She asked hopefully.

"He really is the best source. Look. I'll see what digging I can do. What I can ask without really asking. And I'll only be straight forward if I have to."

She nodded, then slowly began walking with him. "You know…" she said finally, when they were a block away from home. "Jordy says death is just the time period in between when you're alive and when you're resurrected."

Jimmy grabbed her hands and stared in her eyes. "You're not thinking…"

"I think about it every day," Mara admitted. "And I remember… you said he was going home to his parents. And... I don't have a right to pull him away from that. I wouldn't do that to him." She wiped away a sudden flood of tears. "I miss him."

Jimmy finally relented and gave her his handkerchief. "I know," was all he could reply with. What DID you say to that? Having the knowledge—the power—to resurrect someone from the dead must have been a terrible burden.

No wonder Talia had been on his sister's door step.

"Don't get cooties on my rag," he ordered her.

How the hell did his sister maintain the strength of character and will to NOT do it?

* * *

"Ok, so… talking…" Jordy started off lamely.

Clark Kent stirred the pot of boiling spaghetti once, then adjusted the heat. Without using a potholder, he lifted the lid on the simmering sauce, checking it as well. When this was finished, he turned back to Jordan Rayner.

"Take a deep breath," Clark offered.

Panicking, Jordan looked from side to side. He was hyperventilating, and he knew it. Ok, Rayner, he told himself. Now it's time to be a man. "Look… what I've been trying to say for the last fifteen minutes is… that I'm sorry I'm a big fat jerk." He ran a hand through his hair. "And I'm a big fat jerk over something that isn't your fault… and I know why I'm a big fat jerk, and I'm going to try to stop, but I don't know how successful I'll be."

"You're not a jerk," Clark informed him calmly. "You've been through some… things. I'm just glad the problem wasn't permanent."

"I was mad about my mom," Jordan admitted. "I thought…" he swallowed, knowing it was time to bite the bullet. "I blamed you, sir."

Clark let out a sigh. "I wish you'd have told me sooner." He knew the young man blamed him for his wife's problems last year, he didn't know the grudge went that far back.

Jordy knew he had to just come out and say it. "How do you tell the guy you admired most as a kid 'you failed me'?"

"I thought I made it clear to you kids that you could come to me with anything."

Jordy rubbed his hands on his pants, trying to think of the right words. "We used to 'play Superman' when you weren't looking. How do you say 'you should have saved my mom'? You can't. There's no way to, because you can't."

"You just did well enough there." Clark was trying to keep his composure. It wouldn't do any of them any good if he let it be known now how hurt he was. Jordan of all people should have understood that he wasn't some type of demi-god, but a real person.

"And it's taken me forever to realize it, and say it." He looked down at his hands. "Look… I'm sorry, ok? I'm not perfect. And if I can say so, being born into this mess makes your perspective a little screwy."

Clark stirred the spaghetti again, then turned back to the young man. "I think you're perspective is fine. You're dedicated to the job, and you put your family first. What I'm trying to say is—YOU are fine, and your apology is accepted."

Guiltily, Jordan looked at the floor. His family and his job… He'd done something recently that could be construed as stealing from the supply closet on a somewhat galactic level, and he wondered if Superman would withdraw the acceptance of his apology if he knew. "Thanks," he said sheepishly. "And… um… you'd better catch up with Mara. I think she has a question for you and Ms. Lane about the baby's baptism."

* * *

A hand connected with the back of Jimmy's head. The young man spun around, abandoning the circuits he was soldering on his work bench. He looked up at his dad, partially shocked, partially annoyed. "What the heck was THAT for?"

"I dunno. Your mom said to hit you." Dick shrugged, peeking over the boy's shoulder at what he was working on. This was attempt number three-hundred to create something that would dampen Peaches' powers without incapacitating her. "Oh yeah… I remember. Mara was in her old room crying." He scratched his neck. There was ALWAYS a reason to smack Jimmy. He just lost count of them sometimes.

"God, like every time she cries, it's my fault." He picked up his soldering iron again, not wanting to show his cards. "Mom still have the boys? We should wake them up, and then sic them on Mara. It'd serve her."

Dick shook his head. "Come on, buddy. I thought we were showing mom that you're a responsible person so you can move out."

"I AM responsible. I got a wife, two kids, and a business. And everyone thinks I'm some kind of delinquent because I'm not perfect like Mara."

Dick rolled his eyes. They were having the 'perfect like my sister' conversation again. "She's probably the most flawed person around here."

"But everything she touches turns to gold." Except this time. Except this time when they were all in way over their heads. He couldn't believe the mess they were now in. And he couldn't even tell anyone because she'd been crying and he'd given her his word. "All I know is I'm being punished."

"Your mother just wants to make sure you're all going to be OK living on your own."

"Big load of Bruce-crap. She just wont let me go." Over-possessive mom who thought he couldn't handle ANYTHING on his own. It went back to when he'd been Nighthawk, and she just kept doing it.

"Jimmy, every time we think you're a responsible adult, you go and do something stupid. Unauthorized upgrades to NORAD stupid."

Jimmy unplugged the soldering iron. He knew he wasn't going to get anything else done. "Nobody ever forgets ANYTHING in this house."

"NORAD, James."

The young man spun in his chair to face his father. "And I said I was sorry! What more do you want? A pound of flesh?" He stared into his father's blue eyes, wondering what had happened in the last few years. "You USED to defend me to mom."

"Jimmy… you sent bots to do unauthorized hardware up grades. You don't have a leg to stand on."

"Not just about that. Everything. SHE moved out, and I was finally… FINALLY the favorite kid for a while. And then HE died, and now I'm not again. Dad… look. I can understand if you need that connection to Him. But god. It's like I only live here so I can be mom's whipping boy. You don't talk to me—all you do is hand her the whip."

Dick pulled up a chair. This was going to be a long one. All he'd done was deliver a smack upside the head from his wife. He hadn't intended for this to snow-ball into a 'talk' type thing. "I'm busy…"

The young man stared at his father critically. "You ALWAYS had time for me."

"Yeah, well, it was a lot easier to spend time when you weren't running around playing Mr. Mom, and you were on the roof tops with me."

"You KNOW why I quit." His jaw clenched, not wanting to go into his reasons. Everything always came back to the old man, and he hated it. Bruce was cause and effect of everything in their lives—as if he were the vanishing point upon which all of their perspective rested.

"James, I will NEVER understand why you quit. Now you won't even work out with me any more. You wait till I'm done in the basement. And then you complain I don't spend any time with you."

"FINE," Jimmy said forcefully. "I'll work out with you. I'll train with you even. But there's no way in hell I'm going back out there."

"You know, I really DID think that you'd get over… what happened… and come back."

"Dad, there's nothing to get over," Jimmy answered forcefully. "It was just never my gig. I wanted to be like you and Uncle Roy. My heart wasn't in it. I got a good thing going now."

Leaning forward, Dick tried to hold back his words, but they came out before he could stop them. "James, you were out there every night with me for two years after your accident. By all rights, you SHOULDN'T have been out there, and I knew better and your mother knew better… but we let you out there because you wanted to be. Don't go telling me it was some kind of suicidal hero worship. You LIKED flying. You LIKED fighting. And I searched like mad for something to heal you and get you back on your feet so you didn't have to worry when you were out there. Then you get that chance, and you hang it all up. Tell you the truth—I think it's kind of insulting."

Jimmy spun around in his chair, his face suddenly burning. "I'm doing good stuff here. Not all the work in the world can be done on rooftops."

"Look at me when I'm talking to you," Dick ordered. He sounded like Bruce, and he wanted to smack himself for it. "I've tried to do a lot of things in this city. A good many of them I've accomplished. But incase you haven't noticed—the problems haven't gone away, they've just changed. And I'm NOT getting any younger."

The chair spun around and stopped in one jerking movement, and Jimmy stared at his father with wide, frozen eyes, no expression on his face. "I refuse to take over this city," the young man finally stated icily.

"Well, who am I going to give it to? The only way your sister is going to leave Gotham is in a pine box."

Jimmy's hands dug into the arms of his chair. "Just shut up, ok? I don't want to hear this. I don't want to talk about this."

"What're we going to do? Wait till I'm dead to talk about it?"

"God! Shut up! I'm not talking about this! I have stuff to do. A job I'm getting PAID for." The chair turned again, and he attempted to rearrange his circuit boards, making himself appear more busy than he was. So much for asking about the head. So much for a lot of things.

Dick rose and headed for the door, having completely run out of arguments to make on behalf of reason or tradition. "Ok Jimmy. Fine. Shut me out. I used to be your pal—your partner. You used to be able to tell me anything. But I guess all of that's in the past. A lot more died in those caves than just Bruce, or your sister's spirit. Maybe some day you'll figure out what it is, and make peace with it." He closed the door behind him, his head wagging low as he did so. That wasn't how he wanted to have the line of succession talk.

Jimmy pushed the equipment out of the way and buried his head in his arms. His dad sounded like his sister, with all the reasons he should go back. But none of them made sense. Neither of them understood his reasons. Neither of them wanted to even listen to them. It'd figure that the only thing his father and sister would ever agree entirely upon was ganging up on him.

When he'd composed himself, and he was sure his father was not on the other side of the door, he left his room to go find his boys and take solice in their coy smiles and ready laughs. He wanted to give them something resembling a normal future. He wanted to have a normal future of his own. He had two smart, so far perfectly un-meta-like children and a beautiful wife who laughed at his jokes… and his father and sister wanted to wreck it.

Despite the mess that Mara now found herself in, he refused to let his own life fall apart. He refused to let 'the costumes' win, and he refused to let Nighthawk fly again.

* * *

Seven adults sat silently eating in the Grayson dining room, forks scraping against plates, and eyes darting around the room. No one seemed willing to break the silence, until Thomas picked up his plate and threw it off of his high chair when no one was looking. Harry looked at his twin, contemplated the mess for a moment, then followed suit.

A hand reached out of Jordy's ring and caught the plate before it hit the ground, though a few stray noodles landed on the carpet helplessly.

"I told you we should have put news paper under them," Dick peevishly told his son.

"God. Dad.," Jimmy snipped back. "I'll buy you a new freaking carpet." He bent to pick up the plate, scraping pasta and sauce back on to it, eyeing his boys. He handed the plate to his wife, who promptly took it into the kitchen.

"They're kids," Barbara informed everyone. "They do that."

"A little club soda…" Clark trailed off.

"Stains wouldn't show up on a black carpet," Mara pointed out in all practicality.

Winding his hand around his wife's, Jordy smiled, trying to lighten the mood. "Please tell me you're not thinking of recarpeting the manor."

She looked at him, something dangerous and painful in her eyes. "All the carpeting stays. Everything stays." Didn't they know better? She wasn't going to change anything from the way her grandfather had it—not if she could help it. Renovations to the library had been necessary, and the room had been restored as much as humanly possible. Everything was to be as it was. At least physically in the house. Unfortunately, everything changed.

"Anyway…" Kristen volunteered finally, seeing the conversation come once again to a screeching halt. "My parents are grilling this weekend… to use the last of the propane before it gets TOO cold."

"Your moms don't eat meat," Dick pointed out. The last thing he really wanted, on top of this lousy day, was to have to look at the prospect of spending time with Crystal's crazy 'moms' for the weekend.

Kristen smiled at Jimmy. "Well… SOMEONE who shall remain nameless bought them a grill, and they're determined to use it. Baked potatoes and grilled vegetable kabobs."

"Well…" Clark said, trying to keep the conversation going. "That'll be nice." He strained his ears, listening for a kitten stuck in a tree, somewhere. This was just getting painful.

"Excuse me," Mara said, looking a little green. Putting the napkin beside her plate, she grabbed hold of the table and pulled herself to her feet. With all the stealth and speed she could muster, she headed up the stairs.

When she was half way up, Jimmy pushed his chair away from the table and the twins, getting ready to follow her. As he rose, his wife grabbed hold of his shirt. "Don't…"

"Crys, I have to…" Gently disengaging her hand from the fabric of his t- shirt, he went up stairs. Holy fucking disaster, Jimmy marveled, knocking once on the door of her old bedroom (which got quite a workout, now that she hid up here for naps and crying fits on her visits), he pushed the door opened.

"Got room for one more on the crying-bed?" he asked. She was laying on her side, her back to him.

"I'm not crying," Mara answered unhappily.

"God… this is me, ok? You can cut the crap with me."

"Can I?" she responded bitterly. "You're not going to be finding anything out about that bastard's severed head if you're fighting with dad. The ONLY lead we have."

"It's all part of my plan," he reassured her, sitting on the bed behind her. That wasn't the truth, but it'd do.

Mara hugged the pillow to her chest, fighting back the urge to be emotional. "Since when have you ever had a plan?"

"At least my plans don't involve sado-masochism," he pointed out, thinking back to their one and only adventure together, and how she took a hit to the head just for the sake of distraction.

"I hate you," he muttered. "When I find that head… I'm going to blast it into the seven corners of the galaxy," she promised. "I don't care what she- -"

Jimmy felt knots that already existed tighten in his stomach. He turned a little, leaning over her. "Did she threaten you?" Of course Talia had threatened Mara. Why hadn't he realized it before?

"Look… she can't do anything, ok? As long as she doesn't have her father's head, she can't resurrect… No Ra's, no Demon's Head. She has no power without him…God. I hope."

Jimmy let out a deep breath. "What do you think she'll do to you?"

"I know what she said she'd do," Mara answered painfully. "But… she doesn't have any power without him."

Jimmy didn't know if that was true. Talia was incredibly… resourceful. He realized he now had two missions: protect his sister from whatever Talia had threatened, and to make sure a certain Dark Knight didn't rise again. He had no doubt that if Talia was willing to bring her father back, Bruce Wayne was the next one in danger of being ripped from heaven. "Look, for a limited time only, you have Detective Jimmy working on your case," he promised. "Even if I have to kiss and make up with dad. And let me say for the record—I'm completely in the right. This time."

He pulled the blanket off the foot of the bed and covered her. "Take a nap. Lemme see what I can do while they think I've sedated or beat you into unconsciousness."

"Thanks," she muttered. He could tell she was too exhausted and too emotionally drained to put up more of a fight, and he was glad.

"If you're a good kid," he promised, "we'll even save you some cheese cake."

But he didn't know if she'd heard him. She was already unconscious.

* * *

When he came down stairs, no one was in immediate sight. The dining room was empty. Uncle Clark had probably heard Aunt Lois falling off of a building SOMEWHERE and had taken off. He supposed his mother had gone up to her 'office' to work, and his dad had probably gone to blow off steam on the rooftops. There was a meta-based crime syndicate that kept trying to stick its greasy talons into Bludhaven, and he knew his father wouldn't stand for that. His dad was NOT too old. That was just bullshit. Bruce had kept going until…

Not thinking about that now, Jimmy told himself.

"All I'm saying…" he heard his wife's tentative voice from in the kitchen. A few dishes clacked as they were placed in the dishwasher. "Is… maybe you should have thought about it more."

"Oh, like you and Jimmy did," Jordy snipped back. He was heartily offended already, Jimmy could tell. He needed to get in there and smooth things out.

Just as he headed towards the kitchen, two sets of arms clamped onto his legs. He looked down at his red-headed little cherubs. "Not now, guys…"

Jimmy grabbed both boys by their pants and pulled them up into his arms. "She's never been… stable, or normal, or anything like that. Come on… you KNOW how she used to yell at us. I'm not comfortable with her around MY kids… and she's having a kid of her own?" Did his wife just say that?

"She's FINE. God. Just because she isn't like the rest of you, that means she should be locked up in Arkham or something. And she NEVER yelled at us for anything we didn't DESERVE to be yelled at for."

"You're just whipped," Crystal said confidently.

Jimmy had been about to go in and interrupt, but he froze. This was his WIFE talking like this. The mother of his kids… didn't think his sister should be a mom. He could feel the ulcer boring into him.

"I'm not whipped. She's been through so much. I swear to God, if you say any of this to her face, I'll…"

"You'll WHAT? Jordan, you've NEVER had a spine."

"God… those miscarriages were so hard on her. Can't you just let her have this? Can't you let US have this?"

"Maybe that was nature's way of saying--"

"Don't say another word," Jordy said stonily, tossing the pot back into the dishwater. Jimmy heard it swish around in the soapy water before hitting the bottom of the stainless steel sink. A second later than that, his best friend blasted through the door way, and pushed past him, almost upending him with the boys. Jordy slid the patio door opened and went out onto the deck, anger crackling off of him in the form of green electric energy.

Jimmy went into the kitchen, staring wide-eyed at his wife. "Who the hell ARE you?" he asked angrily.

"Jimmy! I didn't mean it like that!" she answered hastily, shoving dishes into the dishwasher, as though it were nothing at all, and he were overreacting.

"How DID you mean it," he asked, putting the boys on the ground. "Who the hell are you, and what did you do with Crystal?"

"I'm Crystal," she affirmed angrily. "I'm the same Crystal who told you that you didn't have to put up with her crap when we were kids. And we don't have to put up with her crap now. You'd better stop catering to her every mood swing, or all you're going to do is make it worse."

He stared at her for a long moment, wondering how they'd come to this. They agreed in everything—it was just their nature. And now, suddenly, his wife was attacking his sister? No one liked what Mara had done. No one liked the way she behaved most of the time. But she was his sister.

Patting his toddlers on the head her turned around and left, before he said something he'd regret. Sliding opened the glass door, he closed it quickly behind him and stared apologetically at his best friend's back. "Minty… I'm sorry."

Jordy was leaning against the railing, looking out into the yard. His breath was showing up slightly in the twilight-lit night. "You didn't say it… she did."

"She… I don't know what's gotten into her." He was about to check for pods.

"She's always been like this," Jordan said calmly. It was as though he had entered the eye of the storm. "SHE got Robin tossed from Young Justice, as I recall. She was also the second loudest voice, next to yours, on getting Mara into therapy after what happened last summer."

"I forgot she could be pushy sometimes." But did his wife had to pick NOW to be pushy? Could anything ELSE go wrong in his universe? Was there something else out there that could fall apart today?

"Don't worry about it," Jordy answered dejectedly. "You're… not responsible for her."

Jimmy leaned against the railing next to his friend. Briefly he pondered how warm Kevlar and nomex was on a night like tonight. "What's up?" he knew that wasn't all of it.

"She's right."

"You two are going to be great parents. She spoils my kids. If a spoiled kid is the most you guys have to worry about, you're doing fine."

"That isn't what I mean."

"Oh."

"She was talking about nature… and I guess she'd know about that stuff… I don't know. I've always had this weird feeling. Like she could sense what I did. Maybe she just finally bothered to call me on it tonight."

"Her premonitions aren't 100% accurate," Jimmy pointed out sympathetically. What could Jordy have possibly done? The guy's greatest flaw to this point was hating Superman for no good reason.

"Not premonitions. Magic."

"You're not buying into her religious voodoo are you? She's converting everybody, I swear…"

"Jimmy, I mean it. I did something…"

Jimmy looked at his friend, and he saw the pain there. His normally friendly and accessible features were twisted with pain and guilt. "You can tell me… if you want." He wasn't going to pressure Jordy, but he knew he might have to do some arm twisting. Jordy tended to swallow his pain and just keep going, till it exploded out of him.

"I used the ring," Jordy said finally.

"You're a Green Lantern. You're supposed to use the ring."

"Not for… for personal reasons."

"What'd you do? Cheat on your taxes with it?"

"Conceived the baby with it," Jordy whispered, staring up into the stars.

Jimmy felt like he'd been punched in the gut. "Holy shit." They threw you out of the Corps for stuff like that. The Guardians had a simplistic and child-like view of right and wrong—and using one's ring for… selfish gain, interfering with the natural succession of life and death was not accepted.

"And… and I'm helping her keep it, so she doesn't lose this one too. My will. And the ring."

"Minty… Jordy… this is…wow." He'd have been happier not knowing it.

"You're not going to tell anyone?"

He wouldn't be telling anyone—because he couldn't BREATHE. "I… I'm not going to rat you out. I just… why?"

Jordy looked at him for the first time. "This winter… when she miscarried again… if you could have seen the pain in her eyes…" He looked away again, shaking his head. "So I did it. I used the ring for something selfish. And I've FINALLY made it onto the Titans team, and I KNOW I'll be tossed off if your dad finds out. Not to mention have my ring taken away from me, and probably burned at the stake."

"You're overreacting. They haven't burned anyone at the stake in a long time."

"They should. And they should start with me."

Jimmy nudged his friend. "You don't mean that. You wouldn't have done it if you didn't want the baby. It… it can't be that wrong, can it? Bringing life into the world?"

Jordy looked behind him at the glass door. "I don't know. Ask your wife."

"I have a feeling one of us is sleeping on the couch tonight," he said bitterly. "Look… I don't even know what to make of it. You…" he stopped short. What did you say to that? He didn't exactly break his oath in outright, but it wasn't ethically sound…

His sisters eyes… thinking of them… he knew he'd have done the same thing, if it had been Crys. "Don't beat yourself up over it," he ordered suddenly. "You're an OK guy. Even… the way you mess up is admirable." He gave his friend a pat on the shoulder, then left.

* * *

The next morning, James Grayson stood on the roof, staring into the pre- dawn sky, a certain calm having come over him. "You didn't have to make it so damned hard," he whispered into the cold morning air. "I said I'd protect her. But you didn't have to make it so damned hard."

The bare branches of the trees clattered together in the wind, and he watched their dancing movements until the wind was gone.

"Your mother said you wanted to talk to me," Nightwing said from behind him.

James didn't turn. He continued to stare out, his arms clasped behind him, his black sweater stretched firmly across his broad chest. "I want to talk to you about why I quit," he answered emotionlessly, letting the half- truths pass out of him. . "And about what it'd take for me to come back."

THE END?