Summary: Four-year-old Barbara Gordon is left in the care of Dr. and Mrs. Wayne after being left orphaned. What happens next is a tale that might have been...

Disclaimer: All characters belong to DC and Time/Warner; this is an original story that doesn't intend to infringe on their copyright. Feedback is welcome.

Copyright September 2000

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Otherwheres
By Syl Francis

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Prologue

Six-year-old Bruce looked up at his mother and smiled excitedly. He was sandwiched safely between his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne. Today was his birthday and they'd celebrated with an early movie, The Mark of Zorro.

"That was great, Mommy! Can we see it again?" he asked. Martha smiled down at him.

"I don't know, sweetheart," she said, glancing up at her husband. "You'll have to ask your daddy." Bruce obediently turned to look up at his father.

Thomas glanced at his wife.

"Thanks," he said, ironically. He looked down at his son. "Maybe next Saturday, son. I'll be busy all this week with patients, *and* I promised Leslie that I'd lend a hand at the clinic."

He ruffled his son's dark head. How like his mother, he thought.

Bruce smiled and shrugged unconcernedly. "That's okay, daddy," he said. "The movie was fun, but we don't need to see again. I already promised Alfred that me and him could go to Robinson Park next Saturday."

Thomas and Martha exchanged amused glances. Even at six, Bruce already put others' feelings before his own.

They were startled by a voice in the dark.

"Gimme your money and you won't get hurt!"

Martha gasped. Thomas immediately shoved his family behind him. Little Bruce struggled to see around his father's long legs.

"Please, we'll give you whatever you want," Thomas said calmly. "Just don't hurt us." He reached inside his coat.

"Hold it!"

Thomas froze. The robber stepped into the eerie circle of light given by the streetlamp. He was holding a massive gun aimed at Thomas' chest. "Keep your hands where I can see 'em!"

Thomas nodded. He looked down at his little boy, and shoved him behind his back again. Martha was sobbing softly. He could feel her body trembling through his overcoat.

With a sneering grin, the gunman rifled through Thomas' overcoat, finding his thick billfold inside. Flipping through it quickly, his grin broadened and he jammed it in his own pocket. Glancing up, he spotted Martha cowering behind her husband.

"What do we have here?" he asked. Keeping his gun on Thomas, he reached across and touched her cheek. Martha let out a short scream. Bruce came out from behind his father's protective shield.

"Don't you hurt my Mommy!" he cried, rushing the gunman.

"Bruce!" Martha screamed. Thomas leaped at the robber, grabbing his wrist. The gun went off, the bullet ricocheting wildly off the pavement.

"Somebody help us!" Martha screamed.

Not a trained fighter, Thomas was quickly at a disadvantage, but he was fighting for his family.

Bruce meanwhile was doing everything possible to get underfoot. He grabbed onto the gunman's legs and held on.

"I won't let you hurt my daddy!" he screamed. "I won't!"

Whistles, sirens, and yells could be heard approaching.

"Help us!" Martha's voice had grown hysterical. "Somebody, help us! Please!"

Thomas continued to struggle with the gunman. He'd somehow tackled him to the ground. The gun again went off, narrowly missing Martha.

Both men rolled on the filthy puddles that had accumulated from that afternoon's showers. Bruce wouldn't let go of the leg he'd latched onto.

"Martha! Take Bruce and run!" Thomas yelled.

"Bruce!" Martha cried. "Please! Sweetheart, come to Mommy!" But Bruce had decided that this monster was not going to hurt any of them. On impulse, he attacked with the only weapon he had. He bit down on the gunman's thigh with all the power he could muster.

The robber screamed at the unexpected pain.

"He *bit* me!" he yelled.

By this time, a foot-patrolman arrived on the scene and moved in to subdue the lone gunman.

"*Freeze*! Don't move or I'll shoot! Drop the gun!" A foot suddenly appeared on the gunman's wrist. "I said *drop it*!"

Both men ceased their struggle. Thomas saw the gunman's fingers gingerly release their hold on the weapon. Breathing a sigh of relief, Thomas held his arms out carefully and stood slowly. Martha rushed into his arms. He hugged her desperately to him.

"Bruce? Where is he--?"

They both looked down. Bruce was still biting down hard on the gunman.

"Get 'im offa me! Get 'im off!" The cries had reached a fever pitch now.

"I got 'im, buddy," the patrolman said. "You can let go now." He very gently placed his hands on the boy and began to pull him off. Bruce looked up with wide, frightened blue eyes.

"Are my Mommy and Daddy okay?" he asked in a small voice.

"Bruce!" Martha called, holding out her arms. Bruce ran into his mother's embrace. Thomas quickly bent down and hugged his little boy to him, too. Both mother and father smothered the six year old in kisses.

They were safe.

The next few seconds would be seared in young Bruce's memory for the rest of his life.

Without warning the robber suddenly grabbed the arresting officer's revolver, and before anyone could do anything to stop him, he fatally wounded the patrolman. The distant sounds of sirens could be heard.

Panicking, the gunman threw the gun away and sprinted into the dark shadows.

Stunned Bruce was held in his mother's protective warmth while his father worked rapidly on the wounded man. Somewhere faraway he heard his father's soothing voice.

"Officer--" Thomas read the policeman's nametag. "Officer Gordon, everything's going to be all right. I'm a doctor. Let me help you." Officer Gordon's mouth worked as he struggled to get words out.

"Don't try to talk, officer," Thomas said quietly. "Help's on the way."

"Barbara..." the patrolman whispered. "What will happen to...my little...girl?"

****

"That was a very brave thing you did tonight, son," Thomas said proudly. He gently combed the boy's hair back from his forehead.

"Daddy?" Bruce's face was scrunched up in that way he did when something serious was bothering him. "Why did that man want to hurt us? We never did nothing to him."

"I don't know, Bruce," Thomas said, shaking his head. "Bad things happen in the world. I wish I could be there to protect you from all of it, but sometimes I won't be able to. As a doctor, I've seen the results of what people can do to each other at their worst. But I've also seen people at their best. I've seen the inner strength of those who are suffering and how somehow they manage to go on."

He caressed his son's cheek.

"All we can do, son, is be there to offer a helping hand to those in need."

"Daddy?" Bruce's dark blue eyes gazed solemnly at his father. "When I grow up, can I be a policeman and help others, too?"

Thomas felt his throat catch. A sad smile played at the edge of his mouth. "I thought you wanted to be a doctor," he said.

"I do, Daddy," Bruce said seriously. "Can't I be a doctor *and* a policeman?"

Thomas gave his son an indulgent smile. Last week the boy had wanted to be a fireman, and before that a cowboy. This week, it was a doctor, and now, apparently a police officer.

"Whatever you grow up to be, Bruce," Thomas said. "Mommy and I will be very proud of you."

Bruce smiled happily at his father. Becoming suddenly serious, he started playing with the blanket unsure of how to ask the next question.

"What is it, Bruce?" Thomas asked. "Is something else bothering you?" At Bruce's solemn nod, Thomas urged him to continue. "Go on, son. You know that there isn't anything you can't tell me."

"The policeman said he had a little girl," Bruce's voice conveyed his worry for the unknown little girl. "Will she be okay?"

"I don't know, Bruce," Thomas answered honestly.

"Can't we help her?" Bruce asked. "Her daddy died because--" Large tears began to stream down his cheeks. "--because he helped *us*! Daddy, please? Can we help her?"

Thomas' eyes smiled sadly at his son.

"I'll see what I can do, Bruce. And that's a promise. Now try and get some sleep." Thomas leaned down and kissed his little boy goodnight.

****

Chapter One

Bruce stood behind Alfred as his mother and father led the little girl into the drawing room. She was about four years old, with wide green eyes, and flaming red hair pulled back in twin braids. She was currently dressed in a black velvet jumper over a stiff white blouse with a high collar. Tiny black patent leather shoes completed the picture.

They were returning from her father's funeral.

Bruce's mother caught his eye.

"Bruce?" she said, holding out her hand. "Sweetheart, I'd like you to meet Barbara Gordon. Barbara, this our son, Bruce."

Barbara dropped her eyes to the floor and whispered a hello. Emboldened by her shyness, Bruce stepped forward and gallantly offered her his hand.

"Hi, I'm Bruce," he said. Barbara raised her head. Close up, he could see the red rims around her eyes. He suddenly felt his own eyes tear up. "I'm sorry about your daddy," he said, looking down.

Barbara nodded.

Martha and Thomas exchanged looks above the children's heads. Martha placed a hand on each child's shoulder.

"Bruce, why don't you show Barbara her new room? Maybe show her around the house?"

"Okay!" Bruce readily agreed. "Come on, Barbara! You'll love your room. It has the best view upstairs. And it's right next to mine!" He took the little girl's hand and led her upstairs.

When the children had disappeared, Martha turned to Thomas.

"No known relatives? I can't believe that!" she said, her heart going out to the child. "The poor baby. Thomas, we can't let her be placed in a foster home. Can't *we* adopt her?"

Thomas took his wife's arm and led her to the study. Closing the door, behind him, he spoke.

"We can petition the court for custody, Martha, but there's no guarantee. Barbara may not have living relatives, but several police officers have expressed interest in providing her with a home. Friends of her father."

"Oh, Thomas! What could they provide her?" Martha asked. "Except a life of constant worry? She's lost her father to a madman's bullet. What if she were adopted by another police officer and the same thing happened to her again? What kind of a life is that for a little girl? The uncertainty of never knowing."

Thomas nodded in agreement.

"We'll see what we can do," he said smiling. He took his wife in his arms and held her to him, suffused with happiness that he could still do so.

****

The Family Court Judge banged her gavel.

"This Court is adjourned!" she intoned formally. All participants rose as she exited the courtroom.

"Babs! Isn't that great?" Bruce cried, hugging the little girl to him. "You can come stay with us!"

Barbara smiled at the boisterous boy a little uncertainly. Bruce's eyes smiled happily at her.

"That means that now you're going to be my sister!"

"Your sister?" Barbara asked. She wasn't sure she liked the sound of that.

"Uh-huh!" Bruce said. "And 'cause I'm older, I'll be in charge."

Barbara definitely didn't like the sound of that.

"Oh, no you won't!" Barbara said. "You're not my boss!"

Bruce shrugged. "Sure I am. That's the way things are." Barbara looked about to protest, but Bruce took her hands in both of his. "But now that I'm your older brother, I'm also gonna take care of you. I promise that no one's ever going to hurt you. Okay?"

Barbara liked Bruce holding her hands, so she nodded.

Smiling broadly, Bruce leaned over and pecked her on the cheek. He then whispered in her ear, "I always wanted a little brother, but I guess a little sister is okay."

Barbara smiled shyly. She looked up at Martha and Thomas and her smile broadened. Thomas leaned down and picked her up.

"Martha and I have always wanted a little girl, Barbara," he said. "You're going to make us all very happy." Smiling, Martha reached up and kissed their new daughter on the cheek.

****

"*Oof*!" Sixteen-year-old Barbara whooshed as she landed on her rear end. She looked up at the grinning Bruce with a sour look.

"What's the matter, sis?" Bruce teased. "I thought you were gonna put your money where your mouth is!"

"Funny. Ha-ha!" Barbara said sourly. Her green eyes narrowing, Barbara stood and immediately assumed a defensive crouch. Bruce was officially a 12th degree black belt and she still had to achieve her own black belt status. The siblings had been taking self-defense lessons since shortly after Barbara had come to live with the Waynes.

Their parents had been naturally worried after the violence that had brought them all together and wanted the children able to defend themselves in case something untoward ever happened again.

"Sensei said your evaluation is tomorrow, Babs," Bruce said seriously. "You've gotta be ready. That hit was ABC. You should've seen it coming."

Barbara sighed mentally. Bruce was right. Her mind wasn't on her game. She stood straight and called a time-out. Brother and sister bowed formally and walked over to the water table.

"What is it, sis?" Bruce asked. Barbara took a sip from her cup, her eyes downcast. Finally, she looked up. Bruce was shocked to see the beginning of tears falling.

"Honey, what is it?" Bruce insisted, taking her in his arms. "Come on, you can tell me. That loser Jason Bard hasn't tried anything has he?" he asked. Barbara shook her head, sniffling.

"No, silly. Jase is a perfect gentleman and you know it," she said, chuckling.

Bruce grimaced. Since Barbara's debut earlier that year, she'd been inundated with boys calling at all hours. So far, Bruce had managed to find something to dislike about every boy she'd dated.

"So, then, what is it?" he asked. He gently wiped her cheek. "You know I've never been able to stand it when you cry, sis."

"It's just that I'm gonna miss, you, you dope," she sobbed. Bruce was leaving for Hudson Medical School in another three days. At eighteen, he was the youngest first year medical student admitted by the school. "Everything's going to change. Nothing's going to be the same anymore."

She began openly sobbing, her heartbreak at Bruce's leaving coming to the fore.

"Hey..." Bruce whispered, holding her by the arms. "None of that. You're not some weepy girl who cries at silly movies or anything like that, sis. I'm only going be two hours away by car. I'll probably be home so many times, you won't even notice I'm gone."

He leaned down and kissed her forehead. "Before you know it, I'll be graduating and completing my residency here with Dad and Doc Leslie." He smiled at her. "Besides with all the boys after you, you won't even have time to miss me."

Barbara smiled and nodded.

"So, want to go another round?" Bruce asked. Grinning broadly Barbara put her cup down and moved to the mat.

****

Bruce looked at the letters in his hand and smiled. A familiar feminine hand told him Barbara had written yet another letter to him. A mental picture of his sister came to him. He suddenly recalled how she'd looked on his last visit home for Christmas.

Barbara was now attending Gotham State University, opting to stay home rather than move upstate for school.

She'd looked stunning in the muted candlelight during dinner and later while the family did their traditional Christmas sing-along. That night, they'd gone outside and wished on a star, something they'd done since they were children. But this time, neither told the other what they'd wished for.

Looking at his sister, how her flaming red hair simply glowed with burnished copper, Bruce had been overcome with sudden feelings that were quite un-brotherly. Almost tongue-tied, he'd been unable to talk.

Now?

Bruce sat on a bench by the Hudson River watching the waters as they meandered towards the Atlantic without actually seeing them. What was the matter with him? Barbara was his *sister*, he told himself. Whatever these treacherous thoughts or feelings that were warring inside him had to be tamped down.

He opened her letter.

//Dear Knucklehead, I wanted to call you, but decided that a letter was just so much more personal. Besides, this way I can talk without you constantly interrupting me about this-and-that new disease that you're studying.//

Bruce smiled at the image. He continued reading.

//So what does your little sister have to say that requires a special letter--written in my best stationary, by the way, so I hope you feel appropriately special? Jason has asked me to marry him. It was so romantic, Bruce! He even went down on one knee, like a true gallant.//

Bruce jumped up from the bench, crumpling the paper in sudden anger. He paced up and down the river walk--ten steps downriver, ten steps back.

"She can't marry that idiot!" Bruce cried. "What's she thinking about?!" He stared out at a group of kayaks cutting through the sun-dappled waters in the distance. Bruce looked down at the crumpled letter and slowly smoothed it out again.

He began reading where he'd left off.

//Bruce, I was overwhelmed. The ring is gorgeous! Everything a girl could ask for. Jase made me feel so special, so loved. He's a gentleman, he's thoughtful, and he always makes me feel as if I'm the only person in the world that matters to him whenever I'm with him.//

Bruce looked away momentarily. What would he do without her? He wondered. Now, too late, just as he was about to lose her, he realized that his feelings for his 'sister' had changed somehow. He loved her, but no longer as a brother. Getting his emotions tightly under control, he started reading again.

//So what's the problem?

Bruce, right then, when Jase was offering me everything I've ever thought I wanted, I realized that the answer was 'No.' I'm extremely fond of Jase, but I'm not in love with him.

For some reason, I kept thinking of you, you knucklehead. As a little girl, I worshiped the ground you walked on. My big brother was everything to me. You were always there for me following my father's death. You held my hand, you talked to me, you played with me, you hugged me when I cried, and smiled with me when I laughed.

Bruce, the rest of what I wish to say can't be said in a letter, but I don't wish to say it over the phone either. Please, can you come home this weekend? What I want to say can only be said face-to-face.

With love,
Babs//

Bruce re-read the letter several times. Unable to wait a moment longer, he rushed to his room, packed an overnight bag, and headed home.

****

"Marriage?" Thomas looked astounded. "But--" He glanced helplessly at Martha. Unlike her husband, Martha was smiling knowingly.

"I wondered when you two would realize how you felt about each other," she said. This time Thomas's surprised look was directed at his wife.

"You mean you knew?" he asked. "Why didn't you say something?"

"Because *they* didn't know," she said serenely. She held her hands out. "Come here, darlings." Bruce and Barbara each took one of her hands. Tears in her eyes, she spoke.

"Nothing can make me happier," she said. Thomas looked about ready to protest. "Thomas Wayne, don't be such an idiot. Barbara Gordon is the daughter of our hearts, but not our biological daughter. She and Bruce are not biological brother and sister. They've loved each other since they were children. Now, their love has blossomed into that of man and woman. How can we not give them our blessing?"

Thomas stood momentarily nonplussed, staring first at his wife, and then at his children. Seeing their anxious looks, his heart melted. Smiling suddenly, he held his arms out to Barbara. She rushed into his arms with a cry.

"Princess, you'll always be my little girl. You've made Martha and me so happy and proud by allowing us to be your parents. Now, you're going to make me even prouder by allowing me to give you away--to my son." He grinned suddenly.

"The scandal sheets are going to have a field day," Martha added, smiling, hugging Bruce to her, "but I believe that this was meant to be."

****

"Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my pleasure to present--the bride and groom."

The Wayne Grand Ballroom erupted in applause as Bruce and Barbara made their dramatic entrance at the top of the grand staircase. Holding hands they descended the stairs and made their way to the middle of the dance floor. As they arrived, the music started playing a Strauss Waltz they both loved.

Thomas and Martha toasted one another. As one they put their glasses down and Thomas held his hand out to his bride of almost thirty years. Smiling, she stood and they both joined the bride and groom on the dance floor.

At an appropriate movement in the waltz, the couples exchanged partners, so that Bruce was now dancing with his mother, and Barbara with Thomas.

"Are you happy, Bruce?" Martha asked. Bruce nodded.

"Very much, mother. Barbara is the most beautiful--"

The elegant celebration was suddenly interrupted by several violent explosions, automatic gunfire, sounds of screams, breaking glass, and angry shouts.

"What's happening?"

"I'm bleeding!"

"Everybody down! Get down! Get down!"

"Help me, someone!" The sound of a short machinegun burst instantly quieted the person.

"Mother! Get down!" Bruce shouted pushing Martha to safety under a table. He looked desperately around the ballroom. Barbara and his father? Where were they?

"Dad!" The agonized cry rang through the ensuing silence. That was Barbara! Bruce turned in her direction, and immediately began running towards her.

"Barbara!" he cried.

"Bruce, don't--!" Martha cried.

"Dad--!" Barbara cried in agony. "Please--! Someone help him!"

As Bruce ran, he was suddenly reminded of the danger surrounding them as bullets sprayed immediately before and behind him. He slid to a stop, holding his arms out. At this point, Bruce became aware of the cries all around him of the injured and the frightened.

He looked at Barbara who was hunched over his father. Her white wedding dress was covered in gore. And his father looked unnaturally still.

"Dad?" he whispered.

As he'd stood fast, in shock over the turn of events, Bruce became aware of several heavily armed men taking positions around the perimeter of guests. They were dragging those capable of walking to a single section of the room. A man who was too injured to move, they simply shot and then took whatever valuables were on him.

"What are you doing?" he shouted. "You just murdered that man in cold blood!"

"That's right," a familiar voice said behind him. "And if you don't shut your mouth, you'll be next. I like the idea of two Waynes for the price of one."

Bruce whirled around. Harvey Dent! He'd been the District Attorney until he'd been disfigured when Rupert Thorne threw acid in his face. The corrosive had been so powerful that it had eaten through his muscles and into the nerve endings. The acid had destroyed part of the brain's gray matter, causing permanent brain damage and turning him into a psychopathic killer.

"Harvey! My dad!" Bruce pleaded. "You've got to let me go to him. Please, Harvey, he's hurt! He's your friend!"

"My name's Two-Face!" Dent growled, smacking Bruce across the face. "And I don't have any friends." He whirled around and faced Bruce from a different angle--his non-disfigured side.

"But, you're right. For the sake of what we once were, it's only fitting that the Doc be given a 'second' chance!" He laughed manically at his pun.

"Let's see what the hand of two-faced fate has to say about *this*--" With that, Dent tossed a coin into the air. Bruce didn't understand what was going on. He followed the coin flip up, up, up, then begin its slow downward arc.

Dent caught it easily. Turning around again, he now faced Bruce with his disfigured side out.

"Let's see what's in store for the good doc."

He uncovered the coin. The face was scratched.

"Oops! I guess fate doesn't have a kind eye on your dad, kid. So sorry." He pulled out a handgun, walked up to where Barbara was still holding Thomas, indicated to his men that they pull her away, and fired!

"*No*!!!" Bruce shouted. Barbara screamed hysterically, fighting the men holding her.

Bruce picked up a silver plate that had been dropped on the floor in all the chaos, and not bothering to aim, threw it at Dent. It struck his wrist, causing him to yell at the unexpected pain.

At the same time, he sprinted towards Dent, intending to tackle him. When Bruce was about five feet from him, he went airborne and slammed into the former family friend.

"Get them, boys!" Dent shouted. His minions instantly started shooting first above the heads of the wedding guests and then began lowering their aims, until the bullets were whizzing less than a foot above their heads.

His guests' screams forced Bruce to stop his counter-attack.

"Please, Harvey," he whispered, pleading. "Whatever you want, you can take. Just don't hurt anymore innocent people."

Standing slowly, Dent glared at Bruce momentarily. Then reaching a decision, he called out to his henchmen.

"I want Martha Wayne and the bride brought before me!" The two women were dragged to him. Barbara was covered in Thomas' blood. She'd stopped crying and looked dazed. Martha pulled free and took the younger woman in her arms protectively.

Laughing mockingly, Dent again flipped his coin.

"Heads, the old lady gets it--tails, the young and vivacious bride!"

"You're insane!" Martha gasped.

"Harvey, please--" Bruce pleaded.

The room watched mesmerized as the coin completed its downward spiral.

"Tails! Sorry, Bruce ol' man. I guess you'll never get to 'know' your wife, after all!"

In a frenzy Bruce fought off the goons who were holding him back, throwing them over his head.

Martha meanwhile was fighting like a wildcat, protecting her child. Barbara still looked as if she were in shock, unmoving, and not reacting to the violence exploding around her.

Bruce flew towards Dent, who was raising his weapon and aiming pointblank at Barbara. Martha in a desperate move pushed Barbara out of the way. Bruce slammed into Dent, just as the maniac fired his pistol.

In slow motion, Bruce heard the gun go off.

Martha jerked backwards as the bullet struck her, a plume of red spraying out from the point of impact.

"No-ooo!" Bruce's voice echoed raggedly in the Grand Ballroom, Barbara's animalistic scream overlapping his own. Harvey's evil laughter resonated in a continuous loop.

****

Chapter Two

Bruce stayed by Barbara's bedside for the next three nights, and except for his parents' funeral, he never left her, not even to eat. She was in deep shock, probably over having had both Thomas and Martha killed practically in her arms.

Bruce felt his world spiraling out of control. He still couldn't believe the double loss. His parents had been the guiding light in his life, encouraging his interests, mentoring him throughout his life. He'd gone into medicine because he couldn't think of anything greater than to follow in his father's footsteps.

He'd taken a second degree in engineering because he had a brilliant mind that was always looking at how things 'were' and trying to figure out ways to improve upon it.

He'd devoted himself to his parents' various charities and had even gone them one better--he'd established his own private corporation devoted to research and development. His own medical and engineering background was the driving force behind some new and exciting medical technology that was revolutionizing internal medicine, and his own field, Pediatric Surgery.

As he watched his bride, Bruce wondered if she'd soon be following his parents. He dropped his head suddenly, overcome with grief.

"Babs, please don't leave me. I couldn't bear to lose you, too." He took her hand in his and held it desperately to his cheek.

Alfred watched and mourned from the sidelines. He still couldn't believe the tragedy that had marked what should have been the happiest day of their young lives. He looked down at the tray he was carrying and sighed. Master Bruce hadn't eaten any of the food he'd placed before him these past few days. Soon, he'd have two patients to care for.

Straightening his shoulders, Alfred pushed through the door and spoke.

"Young sir, I must insist that you take a moment to eat." He paused waiting for a reaction that he knew would not come. Ignoring being ignored, Alfred placed the dinner tray down on the bedside table and turned to face his young employer. Compassion flitted across his features as he looked down at the grief-stricken young man.

"Master Bruce," he said, placing his hand on Bruce's shoulder, "please, sir, you *must* eat."

"I'm not hungry, Alfred," Bruce said tiredly.

"Sir, if you don't eat then I shall be forced to call Doctor Thompkins. She has left instructions that if you did not take sustenance today, that she would come here and feed you intravenously."

"Alfred, please..." he sighed. "I just want to be left alone."

"I'm sorry, sir. But I must insist," Alfred said, a note of steel in his voice. Bruce finally nodded in surrender. He'd been minding that voice since he was in diapers. It was too late to change now, even if technically, he was now the employer.

"Okay, Alfred," he said dully, his eyes on Barbara's still form. About to turn away, he stopped. Did he see that, he wondered. He could've sworn that she'd--

There! He *did* see it! Barbara had moved! Excitedly, he called her, still holding onto her hand.

"Babs! Babs, can you hear me? Babs! Please, sweetheart, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand." He waited, holding his breath, watching her face and more signs of life.

That's when he felt it, a definite pressure on his hand. Bringing her hand up to his cheek, he watched as slowly, Barbara opened her eyes and returned to him.

****

The next day, Bruce finally agreed to leave Barbara's bedside. He and Leslie determined that she was going to be all right. She only needed to rest for a few days in order to rebuild her strength. Bruce kissed her lovingly, a promise for the days to come. He looked up Alfred.

"Take good care of our girl, Alfred," he said with a smile. "I'm leaving her in your hands."

"I promise to do my very best, sir," Alfred replied. Bruce bent down and kissed his bride again.

"I love you, Mrs. Wayne," he said. "Now you hurry up and get better. We still have a honeymoon to take." He grinned broadly at Barbara's shy blush. "And don't think for one minute that you're going to get out of it, either."

With that parting shot, he grabbed his briefcase and headed out.

Alfred collected the breakfast remains and arranged them neatly on the tray. Picking it up he started to leave the room. "Miss Barbara, is there anything else that you need at the moment?"

"As a matter fact, Alfred, there is!" To Alfred's astonishment, Barbara threw off her covers and sat up in bed. She fought a momentary bout of vertigo, but as soon as it passed, she gave him a determined look.

Alfred's demeanor showed no outward sign of the sudden fear that gripped him from the inside.

****

"Ladeeeeessss and Gentlemennnnnn!" The Ringmaster's booming voice resounded through the giant tent. "Children of all ages. Haly Circus is proud to present--the *Flying Graysons*!"

"Thomas and Martha would be proud," Leslie said, turning to look at Bruce and Barbara. "The Wayne Foundation Annual Charity Circus is a wonderful tribute to them, and a great way to raise funds for the Children's Hospital."

Bruce turned and gave his parent's best friend an affectionate glance. Still striking at fifty, Dr. Leslie Thompkins, partner, friend, and personal physician to two of Gotham City's rising stars, turned heads wherever she went.

The late Thomas Wayne bequeathed his life's work, which included his lucrative medical practice and position on the Board of Directors of the Wayne Foundation to his son, Dr. Bruce Wayne. In the three years since his father's tragic death, Bruce had made some astute financial moves and laid the groundwork for his corporation, Wayne Enterprises.

His wife, Barbara Gordon-Wayne, attorney-at-law, worked in the Gotham City District Attorney's office and was quickly proving herself a brilliant prosecutor, successfully putting away many of Gotham's local mobsters. Rumors and whispers were flying rampant through the city that Assistant District Attorney Gordon was being helped by a mysterious figure of the night--the Bat!

"Preposterous!" she'd sniffed during a local news conference. Bruce had teased her unmercifully for several days afterwards, asking her if the 'Bat' drank human blood and surprising her by slipping on a pair of plastic fangs one night before bed. The topic was still a source of amusement for the young, power couple.

Already multi-millionaires from the Wayne fortune, the nascent Wayne Enterprises had made them billionaires almost overnight--with Bruce, the company's founder, at its head as its CEO.

"How else can we still go to the circus at our age and not raise eyebrows?" Bruce asked Leslie. He and Barbara smiled at her. "Besides, I've heard of this family of aerialists. Their boy is supposed to be the best in the world."

All three looked up as the boy in question wowed the crowd with a quadruple spin. The father caught him one-handed and easily delivered him to the platform. The boy was instantly replaced on the trapeze by his mother.

As the boy's mother reached out to her waiting husband's hands, the crowd below watched stunned as the ropes suddenly gave way under her added weight. The boy screamed, "*NO*!"

His horrified voice echoed endlessly in the ensuing silence.

****

Bruce looked up from the two broken bodies. He shook his head regretfully. The Flying Graysons were covered where they lay in center ring, while the subdued circus performers awaited the arrival of the police.

Bruce looked around for Barbara and Leslie. He spotted his wife questioning colorfully dressed circus performers and watched as a clown with a bright red nose and a broad, painted-on smile, sadly shook his head.

Scanning the emptied tent, he saw Leslie seated next to a small, huddled form, the Grayson boy. Making his way across the sawdust covered circus ring, Bruce watched silently as the boy collapsed into Leslie's arms, his tiny body shaking with grief.

Hurrying over to them, Bruce's heart went out to the child, remembering his own heartbreak at his own parents' sudden and senseless murder. A pediatric surgeon, Bruce loved children and hated to see them suffering. Reaching Leslie and the boy, Bruce stood momentarily helpless, and then with the practice borne of someone who worked in and around children on a daily basis, he crouched down to the boy's level and gently held his hands out to him.

Leslie watched as Bruce caressed the boy's dark head while speaking softly to him.

Bruce meanwhile didn't know what he was saying, but the words came nevertheless, half-forgotten words from his childhood, words his father would whisper to him at night when he soothed the demons from his nightmares away.

The boy responded to Bruce's quiet voice. He reached his arms out to him, hugging Bruce by the neck. Bruce held him close, rocking him back and forth.

"Son, everything's going to be all right. I promise. Everything's going to be all right."

****

Bruce sat on the side of the bed, silently watching the boy sleep. Dicky. The clown with the painted-on happy face told them that the boy's name was Richard John Grayson, but that everyone called him 'Dicky.'

And he was now alone in world...

Lt. Bullock had showed them the frayed edges of the trapeze ropes.

"Acid," he spat out laconically.

"Someone ensured that tonight would be the Flying Graysons' last night," Barbara said, her voice simmering with anger. Bruce barely heard her; his only thoughts were of the boy.

"I'd like to take him home with us," he said. "The ringmaster, Haly, says that he has no other family. Babs, do you think you could--?"

Barbara came up to him and kissed him gently, loving him for his compassion and desire to help those in need, in pain. Just like when they were children. Bruce was a collector of the hurt and the broken--a baby bird with a broken wing, a large snarling dog with a thorn in his paw, a sick wino who'd fallen asleep behind a dumpster near the Wayne-Thompkins Clinic. He'd insisted on helping them all.

Now, he was insisting on bringing this small boy home. How could she not love her gentle, compassionate husband?

"I have work to do here, Bruce. Why don't you and Leslie take the boy home?" He nodded in response. "Don't wait up, hon. I'll probably be working pretty late."

Again, his thoughts were only of the boy. He accepted and respected his wife's career without rancor. She had to put in late nights several times a week. It just made their nights together that much more special.

He kissed her on the cheek and then hurried to where he'd left Leslie and the boy...

Bruce looked at the bedside clock. It was now after three and Barbara had still not returned home. As he watched the boy's troubled sleep, his thoughts returned to his wife. He was beginning to worry. She'd been putting in some incredibly late-night hours.

Usually, it didn't trouble him, but these past few weeks she'd been staying out later and later almost every night. And a few nights ago when he'd called her office to remind her of a previous engagement, there'd been no answer.

When he questioned her about it later, she'd shrugged it off, saying she hadn't picked up because she was busy, and apologized profusely for forgetting their dinner engagement.

Thinking about her, Bruce almost decided to call her, when the boy began to toss restlessly. Soon, Dicky began to cry out in his sleep, for his Mommy and Daddy. All thoughts of Barbara were instantly quelled as Bruce took the agitated child in his arms and held him rocking him gently.

"Daddy--!" Dicky called. "Daddy--?"

"Here, son," Bruce answered automatically, his throat catching. "I'm here." Softly repeating the words, Bruce suddenly realized how much he wanted them to be true. More than anything, he wanted to start a family, but Babs' career was just beginning to take off.

As he held the restively sleeping child to him, Bruce began to wonder about their life's choices. Was he feeling selfish, he wondered? Was it selfish to want to be able to hold his own child in his arms? Working in Pediatrics, he'd held hundreds of other people's children and had never felt the remorse he was feeling at this moment.

A feeling of deep longing suddenly washed over Bruce for this small boy, now alone in the world.

"I'm here, Dicky," he crooned sadly. "Daddy's here."

****

The grim figure stood outside the darkened, deserted circus grounds, waiting. Haly's trailer was still lit from the inside. A single shadow moved within. A new shadow appeared on the trailer's outer stoop.

As the silent, caped figure watched, the newcomer burst into Haly's trailer and was greeted by an angry shout. The interior lights immediately went out. The mysterious watcher pointed a miniature antenna towards the trailer and instantly picked up the conversation within. With a slight adjustment to the volume, the listener could hear everything being said inside the trailer.

"I *told* you to stay away from here!" Haly shouted.

"And *I* warned you about what would happen if you didn't pay Mr. Zucco's asking price. The Graysons' deaths are on your hands, Haly. Now, who else is gonna die? Are you ready to close down permanently, or you gonna play ball with Zucco?"

Haly's voice sounded anguished when he responded. "Do you think that I'd help you or your fat boss, Cowboy? I don't care what you do to me! I'm calling the police, d'you hear? I'll see you both in the gas chamber before I help you transport your drugs across the country!"

"If that's how you feel about it," Cowboy's sneering voice began, "then, I'll be glad to make an example of you to anyone else who tries to mess with Zucco--"

"Care to try to make an example of me?"

Haly and Cowboy both whirled at the sound of the low, threatening voice. Their eyes popped at the frightening figure before them--a black shadow in the moonlight, caped and cowled, it looked like a--

"The Bat!" Cowboy gasped. He stumbled backwards at the unexpected sight. As the figure advanced, he suddenly realized that it had the fluid movements of a "--a dame! It's nothing but a dame in a bat suit!" he said laughing.

"C'mere, chicky," Cowboy said with a leer. "I'll be happy to show you how I treat dames."

The figure said nothing in return, just waited. Cowboy swaggered towards her until he stood toe to toe. Towering over the costumed woman, he sneered at her. "Baby, let the Cowboy make you smile!" he said, reaching for her.

As soon as his hand touched her shoulder, he was flying head-over-heels out the trailer door. Landing with a bone-jarring thud on the hard, dirt-swept ground below, he had no chance to catch his breath before a powerful kick caught him in the jaw.

He went flying backwards in a haze of red and black.

"Where's Zucco?" she asked in a low growl. Cowboy looked up at the advancing figure. He felt the ground near him, looking for something to throw at her. To his vast relief, his hand closed around his switchblade. Flicking it open, he waited until she was almost on him.

"This is your last chance," she warned, standing above him. "Where's Zucco?"

"I-I don't know," he whimpered, waiting for his chance. "Please, don't hurt me!"

She reached down for him, and easily jerked him to his feet by the lapels. "Last chance, scum!"

"Please--he'll kill me," he begged. "Wh-who *are* you anyway?"

"Call me Batwoman," she growled, reaching back with her fist. Seeing his opening, Cowboy struck with the speed of an attacking cobra, slicing up with the six-inch switchblade. But before he could connect with her exposed ribs and finish her off, Batwoman spun and the knife only grazed her.

Completing her spin, she kicked out with a viciousness borne of an intensely white-hot rage at the killer for hire. He fell over like a rag doll, dazed and barely able to sit up. A thin red line trickled slowly from the side of his mouth.

Like a cold, calculating predator who's already trapped her prey and is merely toying with it before the kill, the Batwoman whirled, leaped and kicked out again, slamming the heel of her boot into Cowboy's left temple.

The Grayson's killer went down without a second whimper. Ignoring the slight throbbing from the cut in her side, she glanced up to where Haly stood, watching openmouthed from the open door of his trailer.

"Call the police," she said curtly, slapping a pair of bat-shaped handcuffs on the killer. "Tell 'em what you know."

"Wait! Who *are* you?" Haly shouted.

"Just call the GCPD. I'm going after Zucco," she said. Her long, sweeping cape billowing behind her, she whirled around suddenly and the next moment disappeared into the late, crisp autumn night.

****

Chapter Three

Dick woke up to strange surroundings. Where was he? He looked around the dark room with wide frightened eyes.

"Mommy?" he whispered. Then he remembered. He tried to close his eyes against the remembered pain, but that only made the vision of his parents' fall all the more vivid in his mind.

The screams of the crowds mingled with that of his mother and father as they plunged to their deaths. His own screams still rang in his own ears no matter how hard he tried to cover them.

"No," he sobbed softly. He rolled over on his stomach and cried into his pillow for a few minutes, his overwhelming loss finally hitting home.

He thought of his mother's sunny laugh, "Let's go, little Robin!" and of his father's strong hands, "Here son!" and knew that he'd never hear their voices or feel their warm touch again. He let the tears run their course, until finally, tears spent he sat up and dried his eyes.

"I'm going to find him," Dick whispered fiercely. "And when I do, I-I'll--" he stopped. Dick didn't know what he'd do if he found the man responsible for his parents' deaths, but he knew that he had to try nonetheless.

As Dick sat on the side of the bed, he remembered the nice man who'd helped him back at the circus. Had he introduced himself? Oh, yeah, Doctor Something-or-other. Dick thought that he might be in the man's own home right now.

The doctor had seemed really nice, not like some of the others they'd met. Gaje doctors always looked at the circus people as if they were dirty. At one particular stop Dick had two bad practice sessions in a row, suffering first a from a split lip and then from a dislocated shoulder the next day.

The doctor to whom Dick was rushed accused his Romany father of 'abusing' Dick and threatened to report the case to the local authorities. Dick wasn't sure what the doctor meant, but his dad had been really angry and had yelled at the doctor.

Dick wasn't sure he could trust non-circus people, even if they seemed nice. A lot of Gaje's seemed nice at first. But a lot of times it was all a lie.

Half-forgotten memories rushed to him, of soothing words and warm arms holding him, telling him everything was going to be all right. Without realizing what he was doing, Dick lay back quietly trying to remember. Daddy, he wondered? No, it felt different somehow. Different but nice. Safe...

Feeling the strong, warm arms around him again, Dick began to once again start slipping back to sleep. As a light doze enveloped him, the roar of the circus crowds returned, the trumpeting elephants, whinnying horses, and strange echoes of the calliope.

Smiling, he saw his mother waving from the opposite platform and his father hanging upside down waiting for him. He felt the cold air whipping against his face and hair as he performed--"One, Two, Three, Four!"--revolutions to the delight of the crowd below who shouted the count as he completed each turn.

He heard the crowd's cries of approval as Daddy firmly clasped his strong hands on his smaller wrists, swinging him up and over to a second trapeze. Dick easily grasped the swing and then continued towards the platform where Mommy proudly waited. He saw his mother's brief wave and smile as she leaped into space above him, exchanging her perch on the platform with the trapeze swing he'd just released.

Where Mommy had been standing just moments before, he now stood, watching his parents as they performed their midair ballet as easily as breathing. The next instant--!

Dick sat up with a jerk, his scream caught in his chest. He couldn't breathe. His chest felt constricted. His stomach felt twisted in a knot. He thought he was going to be sick. Closing his eyes, Dick counted backwards slowly from ten. He remembered the relaxation techniques his father had taught him to help him focus before their practices and performances.

Within moments, Dick was breathing normally, his heart had stopped its painful palpitations, and his stomach had stopped trying to throw up his last meal.

Remembering the conversation he'd overheard outside of Haly's trailer before that night's performance, Dick's chin jutted out into a firm line of determination. He suddenly threw off the bedcovers.

"Mr. Haly called him, 'Cowboy,'" Dick muttered. "And he talked about someone else named, 'Zucco.'" Concentrating on the conversation, Dick tried to recall any other bits of information. Finally, he remembered a location. "Oxie's Bar," he said.

A sudden idea came to him. He looked around the room and found the phone. Because of the family's itinerant circus lifestyle, Dick's parents had taught him long ago how to access emergency numbers in case he ever became separated from the troupe while in a strange town.

Picking up the phone, Dick called the local information operator and quickly got the phone number and street address of the bar. He carefully wrote it down on a notepad that he'd spied on the tiny, child-sized desk.

Glancing at the bedside clock, he saw that it was after three a.m. Looking around the room, Dick felt momentarily sorry that he wouldn't be able to personally thank his benefactor, and was about to leave by the outer balcony doors, when he thought that maybe he should leave at least a small note by way of thanks.

"I wonder if the nice man has a little boy, too?" He thought for a moment about it. "No, then he wouldn't have put me in the room. Well, maybe his little boy already grew up and doesn't need the room anymore."

Dick looked around the room appreciatively and smiled slightly. It was a nice room. It was much bigger than his family's motor home, but all of the furnishings within were child-sized, the bed, the desk, the dresser, and the bureau. Curiously, he checked inside the closet. Empty. But he noted that the closet's clothes bar was located at just the right height for a child's reach.

Dick thought about the 'nice man' who would furnish such a room just for his little boy. (For Dick knew instinctively that this must've been a boy's room from the Robin Hood mural on the wall. Robin Hood was his hero because they shared the same nickname.)

"He must really love little kids," he decided. "Maybe he's not like that other doctor."

Deciding that the 'nice man' was probably really not like the other Gaje doctor with whom his father had run afoul, Dick sat down and quickly wrote out a note.

//Dear Mistr--//

"No, that doesn't look right," he said, scratching it out.

//Dear sir--//

"No, sounds funny. He was really nice. I don't want him to think that I'm--How does Mommy put it?--ungrateful." He tried again.

//Hi. Just want to say thank you for being so nice to me. I really appresheate it.// He looked at 'appresheate.' It didn't look right. He scratched out the entire line and replaced it with 'I really feel grateful for your help.'

Dick looked over the finished note.

//Hi. Just want to say thank you for being so nice to me. I really feel grateful for your help.--Dicky Grayson//

Leaving the note where it could be easily found, he hurried out the French doors and into the balcony. Climbing onto the railing, Dick spied a giant oak far below him, a large branch jutting out at the right angle. Mentally assessing the distance, Dick leaped out into the night.

****

Bruce sat up with a jerk. He took a moment to assess his surroundings. He'd fallen asleep at his desk in the study. In a single motion, he blearily rubbed his eyes and then ran his hands through his hair. Looking up at the antique grandfather's clock that stood solemn guard in the study for as long as Bruce could remember, he saw that the hands had advanced almost three quarters of an hour.

It was almost four a.m. Babs still hadn't come home.

He stumbled towards the adjacent half-bath for a glass of water. He filled a paper cup, swallowing the contents in a single gulp. He crumpled the empty cup and threw it forcefully into a small trashcan.

"Where *is* she?" he muttered. He glanced at the phone on his desk and made a move towards it, but stopped. Suddenly Bruce didn't want to know if Barbara might not be in her office. He didn't want to hear the sound of the continuous ring before her voicemail picked up. He didn't want to hear the cool tones, of her business voice informing the caller of her business hours, and to "Please leave a short message, your name and a phone number where you can be reached."

More specifically, Bruce didn't want to hear the sound of his wife's voice 'telling' him that she'd found someone else. That she no longer loved him. That he was no longer her hero of long ago, the boy she'd fallen in love with when she was four and he was six.

Eyes closed, he murmured, "Babs, what's happened to us?"

Turning sadly away, he suddenly thought of Dick. Inexplicably his heart leaped as a mental picture of the small, lonely boy appeared to him. Dick needed him, Bruce realized.

"Or, at least, I need him," he amended softly. Hurrying upstairs he stopped by his old room to check on the boy before turning in.

The empty bed and opened balcony doors stopped him in his tracks. Swearing softly under his breath, Bruce flipped the lights on. He quickly spotted the note that Dick had left him. He felt an icy fear grip his heart.

Reading the note for the third time, he paused.

"Waitaminute," he muttered. "There's something odd here." Holding the note under the desk lamp, Bruce studied it closely. It looked like the indentations of some other writing was superimposed over Dick's note--possibly numbers.

Bruce took out a pencil, and feeling like he was acting out scene two in a bad B-movie, he lightly ran the pencil lead back and forth across Dick's writing. The faint outlines of a street address suddenly appeared before him: Oxy's Bar 46578 Dixon Drive 555-2358.

"Oxy's Bar?" Bruce wondered. "Probably meant Oxie's Bar on Dixon and 48th." Bruce knew of the place. That was a really bad part of town--several shootings and knifings had occurred there in the past year. And he'd treated the gunshot and knife wounds to prove it.

"If Dicky's gone there--" Bruce began. He had to find the boy and stop him. "He couldn't have gotten far on foot," Bruce muttered as he raced through the house to the front door. Sprinting towards the detached garage, Bruce urgently punched in the security code and waited impatiently for the huge doors to open.

Ducking underneath the door as soon as it cleared about four feet, Bruce ran to the Porsche. Not bothering to open the driver's side door, he jumped in, put the key in the ignition, fired up the engine and roared out burning rubber, barely clearing the still rising doors.

****

Deep under the vast Wayne estate lie a series of ancient underground caverns that carved in the distant past by the churning waters of the cold Atlantic as it slowly receded from the Eastern seaboard and continental shelf towards its present location.

As children, Barbara and Bruce discovered the endless network of caverns quite by accident--Bruce literally fell into it one day. To their excitement, the Waynes allowed the children to turn it into a playroom of sorts. Here, the children's imagination transported them to other places in their endless games of make-believe.

When Bruce finished reading _Tom Sawyer_, he recruited Barbara into playing an elaborate game of hide-and-seek with Bruce as Tom and Barbara, Becky Thatcher. For weeks on end, they'd hidden and continuously run from the evil clutches of 'Injun Joe.' To Barbara's annoyance, Bruce was the hero in all of their mini-playlets, rescuing the damsel from each of Bruce's creative 'distresses.'

"Why do *I* always have to be captured and tied up?" Barbara protested. Her angry eyes flashed green at her older brother in protest. Her cheeks were a match for the flame-red of her head.

"I already told you. 'Cause I'm the oldest, silly," Bruce said shrugging. "And 'cause you're a girl. The girl is *always* rescued by the hero."

Barbara's face scrunched in frustrated anger.

"I can do anything *you* can do, Bruce Wayne! And don't think I can't!" With that, Barbara grabbed Bruce by the wrist and elbow and threw him head over heels. Bruce landed with a ~whoomf!~ on his backside.

"Hey! What was *that* for?" Bruce yelled, jumping to his feet in a smooth motion. Barbara didn't say anything, she just crouched into a defensive stance, the way their sensei had taught them. Her eyes narrowed. She tensed, waiting for Bruce's counterattack. He was better than she, much as she hated to admit it. But it was the truth. If she were to beat him, she had to take advantage of any opening he might give her.

But the counterattack never came. Instead, Bruce visibly calmed down and smiling held out his hand in a gesture of peace.

"You're right, sis," he said. "I guess I have been hogging all the glory. Tell you what, why don't we just call it even for now, huh? I promised Dad that I'd meet him at the clinic later today, so I'd better go on up and change." He turned to go, but before he left he turned back once more. "Would you like to go to a movie with me Saturday afternoon? Mom said that it's okay for Alfred to take us to the new Star Wars movie."

Barbara nodded mutely.

"Great! Look I'd better go. I'll see you tonight for dinner, okay?" He gave Barbara a friendly wave and ran upstairs.

Barbara stood wordlessly, watching as Bruce disappeared up the long, crude stairs. She shook her head. She wasn't sure if should be upset with Bruce for not responding to her anger in kind, or with herself for always losing her temper.

To her knowledge, Bruce had never struck another person in anger. He never got in fights in school, never lost his temper with her (well, almost never), and never had a mean or unkind word to say about anyone else. In other words, he was just like Mom and Dad.

The Waynes were possibly the kindest, most loving people that Barbara knew--excluding Alfred and Doc Leslie. They loved her unconditionally and doted on her every whim. Usually, they took her volatile mood swings in stride--almost always managing to cajole a smile out of her eventually.

She barely remembered her real Dad, and what she recalled of him were vague memories of warm hugs and soft kisses. If she tried real hard, she could see him as he smiled at her from the kitchen door on his way to work. She could see a blue uniform shirt and brightly shining badge over his pocket. She remembered the soft crick and smell of his leather holster and the endless rows of silver bullets jammed into their respective holders.

Most of all, Barbara could remember the gun. In her dreams, the gun loomed large. Supposedly for protection, it had actually been the source of his death. She'd overheard the Waynes' talking softly amongst themselves one night and she found out just how her beloved Daddy had been killed.

With his own gun.

Since that night, she'd hated the thought of guns. She hated to watch the news and see and hear about the violence and heartbreak that guns brought to other little girls and boys. She wanted to do something about it.

In her dreams she always found the faceless man who'd pulled the trigger and killed her daddy. Her dreams began to haunt her in the daytime, and before she realized it, she was already planning her life's work. She knew that she couldn't become a police officer like her daddy. She knew that she couldn't work with guns.

But Barbara knew that she had to 'do something.' Before she knew it, she found the answer. Ironically, it came in the form of Harvey Dent, the District Attorney for Gotham County, and a good friend of Martha and Thomas Wayne...

"What are you doing?" Barbara looked up, quickly placing her finger to her lips in a shushing manner. Bruce sat next to her on the grand staircase overlooking the formal dining room. Their parents were holding a dinner party in honor of their friend, Dent, who'd just been re-elected as DA.

Dad was speaking: "But, Harvey, so many of them come from broken homes. They dropped out of school, have no skills to speak of. I know that most convicted criminals who are currently behind bars test remedially in the basics of reading and math. We should be doing more to rehabilitate them, so that when and if they *do* return to society, they won't repeat the same mistakes."

Dent smiled at his friend.

"Thomas, I know that you and Leslie are for helping others through compassion. You already provide shelters for the homeless, free medical care, and countless other services." Dent paused for moment, picking his words carefully.

"And what you're doing is necessary. Believe me--your combined efforts to help the less fortunate of Gotham is much appreciated and it's accomplishing so much. However, Thomas, as a society we also need to have a practical approach to separating those who would prey on the innocent. A place to send them when they deliberately set out to hurt others."

Barbara caught the expressions of the other dinner guests. They were all listening raptly to Dent's words. He continued.

"What we *need* is a systemic plan to crack down on the criminals who would terrorize the citizens of Gotham and the surrounding county. I've already spoken to the mayor and city council with my proposal for municipal ordinances that impose mandatory sentences for gun-related crimes committed within the city limits of Gotham."

"Here, here!" someone called.

"About time!" another said.

"But Harvey--!" Thomas began. Before the children could hear their father's response, they were 'busted' by Alfred and sent to their respective rooms...

Since that time, Barbara's growing desire to help Dent 'clean up' Gotham City had settled into a certainty of what she would do when she grew up. Now, feeling somewhat low since Bruce had left her, she turned around and started walking aimlessly through the labyrinthine network of caves that she and her brother had already explored.

Taking a flashlight and ball of twine with her, Barbara set off through the myriad caves, exploring each new shadow and hidden crevice. Two hours later, Barbara discovered a small opening behind a stalagmite that she'd never bothered to inspect before. To her surprise, the opening was just wide enough for a child her size.

Shining her light beam through it, she saw that it opened into a rather long and dark tunnel. Taking a chance, Barbara tied one end of her twine securely to the stalagmite at the tunnel's entrance and then got down on her hands and knees and began to crawl. After a few minutes, the tunnel widened sufficiently for her to stand. It continued in the same direction, sometimes taking a left or right turn. At one point, the tunnel branched off in three different directions.

"Eeney-meeney-miney-mo," she sing-songed, eventually selecting the left branch. Thankfully, she still had her twine to help her blaze a trail. On impulse, she found a rock and scratched an arrow pointing the way out.

"Just in case," she muttered. A few minutes later, she was glad she did because her twine finally played out. Feeling around for another rock, Barbara again scratched out an arrow on the tunnel wall and continued on her lonely trek.

Just when it seemed that the tunnel would never end, it finally did.

When Barbara stepped out of the tunnel, she instantly had a sense of *space*--a vast, open space, larger than anything else she and Bruce had discovered in their explorations. Flashing her beam upwardly towards the cave ceiling, she suddenly startled a large colony of bats. The bats instantly swooped and screeched in a scene right out of a horror movie.

Barbara automatically ducked and covered her head. To her relief, the bats didn't attack her, but rather settled soon after their initial disturbance. Excited at finding a colony of bats, Barbara surmised that there had to be an exit to the outside world located somewhere in order for them to be able to forage for food.

Wanting to continue her adventure, Barbara caught a look at the glowing face of her wristwatch. 5:00! Alfred would skin her alive. Well, he'd *look* at her with his eyebrow raised in disapproval, which passed for the same thing in the Wayne household.

Sighing disappointedly, Barbara turned around to head back to the playroom. Before she did, however, she looked back at the newly discovered 'Batcave.'

"But I'll come back," she promised the bats and the cavern. "Don't you worry. I'll come back."

For some reason Barbara couldn't quite pinpoint, she didn't show her discovery to Bruce. Not that night after dinner, nor any day thereafter. The 'Batcave' was hers and hers alone.

And even though the children played together in the adjacent caverns, Bruce never once ventured deeply enough into the seemingly never-ending tunnels, and therefore, he never found 'her' cave.

As the children grew, their playroom became their training room, where they practiced their martial arts and gymnastics, sometimes for hours on end. And to Barbara's secret satisfaction, 'her' cave always beckoned like a mischievous friend who called and tempted her to come out and play when she should be doing her homework...

****

The bats chattered in a high-pitched greeting, their wings fluttering as they suddenly flew around the cave's ceiling, announcing their annoyance at being disturbed yet again. Seeing their dark visitor, however, they soon returned to their ceiling perch, settling down once again, sensing a kindred spirit.

Anywhere else the grim figure could inspire fear and terror in the hearts of those who caught the barest glimpse of her cowled face and flowing cape. But here, the Batwoman was at home.

Here, she was just another denizen of the night, who emerged only when the urge to hunt came upon her and she was forced to satiate her almost obsessed need to bring to justice to those who would prey on the innocent.

Purposely moving across the narrow catwalks that crisscrossed the 'Batcave,' Batwoman took out a miniature remote control. She pressed a button as she walked along the elevated catwalk and lights automatically began to flick on, one-by-one preceding her until she reached the cave's operations center.

Reaching the giant control center, the Batwoman pulled back her cowl, revealing the lovely features and flaming red hair of Barbara Gordon.

Recalling the words of Harvey Dent from long ago, Barbara sadly reflected on the irony that the very man who'd inspired her to seek a career in law, had also been the catalyst who'd jumpstarted her 'moonlighting job'--that of the Batwoman!

Grimly setting her jaw, Barbara set to work.

"Okay, Zucco, you sewer rat," she growled. "Where are you?"

****

Chapter Four

Dick jumped off the giant eighteen-wheeler and waved at the friendly driver.

"Thank you, sir," he called. The driver gave him a smile and a wave, and then a look of uncertainty.

"Son, are you sure that this is where you want to be dropped? It doesn't seem like a place I should leave a little kid like you alone."

"I'll be okay, sir," Dick said with a reassurance he didn't feel. "My uncle lives just around the corner. He's expecting me."

The driver gave the boy a doubtful look, but at Dick's confident smile, he finally shrugged and started his truck. "Good luck, son!" he called as he started pulling away.

Dick stood on the broken sidewalk for a long moment, watching the large truck as it disappeared around the corner. He checked the street name--46th Street. Dixon Drive should be a few blocks away. He searched for an address on the nearest building and immediately started heading east.

He soon crossed 47th, and one block farther on he found 48th Street. Dick started heading north on 48th. According to the truck driver, Dixon Drive intersected 48th Street about a half-mile further down. Walking and running, Dick made his way quickly through the darkened Gotham City streets.

He tried not to think about the secrets hiding behind every shadowed doorway, or the rundown, boarded storefronts that he was passing. A sudden movement on his right, as he passed by a smelly, scary alleyway made him jump. Dick immediately sprinted at breakneck speed. He didn't dare to stop until he'd put a few more blocks between him and the alley. Taking a moment, he looked back over his shoulder.

The street behind him was empty. A lone streetlamp provided the only illumination for several blocks, casting eerie shadows, making the night seem even blacker. Dick suddenly began to regret his decision to come out here, not just alone but at night.

About to continue on his trek, Dick came across a particularly seedy intersection, a burnt-out, gutted building greeting him on the adjacent corner. Glancing up at the street sign, he was alternately relieved and nervous that he'd finally found Dixon Drive.

Looking around, he spotted the place he'd been looking for: Number 46578 Dixon Drive, Oxie's Bar.

****

Bruce took the sharp turn on two wheels. He expertly brought the Porsche back under control with minimum effort.

"You'll kill yourself, you idiot," he muttered. "A lot of good you'll do the kid then." He stepped harder on the gas. "I can't believe I didn't see him on any of the county roads. Must've hitched a ride. What kind of irresponsible person gives a kid a *ride*?"

He felt the same cold hand that had earlier squeezed his heart. There were many persons out there who offered kids rides from which the innocently trusting children never returned.

Bruce passed the city limits and ignoring the posted speed signs instead floored the accelerator. Knowing that the city turned the streetlights to blinking yellow after three a.m., he approached each intersection with little caution, knowing that he had the right of way.

At one point, another car suddenly crossed in front of him. Jerking the wheel to the right to avoid an accident, Bruce went into a violent 360-degree spin. Bringing the Porsche under control again, Bruce continued on his journey without stopping. Since there hadn't been an accident, he knew that the other driver would be all right, if a little shaken.

As he sped away, he thought he heard a few well-chosen expletive being spewed in his wake from the other driver.

"Idiot," Bruce muttered. "Must've been drinking or something. I obviously had the right-of-way."

Passing 45th Street, Bruce suddenly heard the sounds of a siren.

"Damn!" He couldn't afford to be stopped now. He was almost there. Coming to the next intersection--46th Street--Bruce made a hard, 90 degree left turn. Hearing the sirens somewhere behind him, he quickly searched for and spotted a hidden alleyway. Turning sharply into it, he slammed on the brakes, turned off the ignition and waited.

Within moments, a police squad car, sirens blaring and lights blinking, zoomed by. Bruce waited a few additional minutes, listening for the sirens as they died out in the far distance. Sure that the coast was clear, he backed out of the alley, and continued towards his destination.

Less than ten minutes later, Bruce found it--Oxie's Bar. Parking a half block away, Bruce jumped out and started towards Oxie's. Taking a cursory look around the seedy, run-down district and then down at his beloved Porsche, he shrugged fatalistically.

"It'll probably be gone in less than an hour!'" He sighed and shrugging crossed the street and hurried back towards Oxie's. "Might as well put a sign on it saying, 'Hey look! Free car!'"

But truth be told, it didn't really matter. The car could be easily replaced, but one small, frightened boy couldn't. Thinking of Dick's solemn blue eyes galvanized Bruce into an even faster pace.

****

Dick studied the building's facade with a critical eye, spotting handholds here and there. He'd tried each of the outer doors and found them locked. If he were to gain access to the inside, he'd have to find some other way in. Walking around the building one more time, he noted that there was no fire escape and no drainpipe from the roof's gutter to the ground, just some poorly maintained outside masonry with cracks that could serve as hand and toeholds interspersed here and there.

"Brother, this place is falling apart," he muttered. "Good thing it's so filthy. The dirt is probably holding it up."

Straightening his shoulders, Dick stood on his tiptoes and stretched as far as he could. His fingertips couldn't reach the first handhold above him. Taking a step back, Dick mentally measured off the necessary paces, speed, and angle of flight he'd need in order to reach it. Narrowing his eyes, he took five steps back, and then, breathing deeply in order to focus, he took off.

Reaching an invisible line in the concrete, Dick jumped up and reached for the crack in the masonry. Catching his fingertips inside the crack, Dick now hung six feet above the ground.

Gasping for air, he looked down. "Now what, Dicky?" he asked. "Keep going, I guess."

Looking up, Dick saw the next handhold beckoning.

"I can do this," he declared. Concentrating, Dick used his biceps to raise himself. At the last possible instant, he released one hand and reached overhand for another handhold just another couple of feet above him.

Once he reached this second handhold, Dick brought his second hand up and again pulled himself up. Before long, he was using the abandoned handholds as toeholds, thus resting his arms sufficiently to keep on climbing.

A few minutes later, Dick came up to a window on the second story. Crouching on the outer ledge, he rested for a few moments.

"That wasn't so bad," he gasped. Testing the window, he tried to open it. Locked. He sighed.

"Great. And me without my glasscutter," he said ironically. "Okay, Dicky, we don't want to break the window and make a lot noise. Not yet, anyway." He looked over to his right. "So, why don't I try the window over there?" Shrugging, Dick made his way across the building's facade to a second window ledge. He found that window locked too.

"Of course it's locked. If I was a crook and lived in this neighborhood, I'd lock my windows, too!"

Grimacing, Dick climbed up to the third floor and tried another window. Locked. Beginning to feel frustrated, he again crossed over the crumbling brick face of the building and climbed onto another window ledge. Not really expecting success, Dick was so startled when the window opened on the first try that he fell over backwards.

"Hey!" he yelled, unable to help himself.

Recovering instantly, he managed to grab the window ledge with his hand, and hung suspended from the third story for a precarious moment.

"Shut up, Dicky!" he hissed. "You trying to get yourself caught? Or maybe killed?"

Swallowing nervously, his blood rushing in his ears, Dick closed his eyes for a second and got his breathing under control.

"On *three*, Dicky," he muttered. "One--two--*three*!" When he uttered 'three,' Dick swung his legs up and over, expertly twisting his body in through the open window. Landing noiselessly inside, Dick held onto the window ledge for a second longer than necessary, giving silent thanks.

Sufficiently recovered, Dick straightened and turned. As he did, he walked right into a pair of strong, rough arms.

"Well, well, well!" a gruff, frightening voice said, amused. "Lookit what we got here. Kid, you just picked the wrong joint to break into. Mr. Zucco don't like unannounced visitors."

****

Bruce hugged the shadows around the rundown building. He remembered the countless games of make-believe he and Barbara had played as children.

"Wonder what James Bond would do just about now?" he mused. "Doors locked. No windows on the bottom floor except for the large storefront plate glass window." He paused, weighing his options.

"This is the part where Bond would probably drive his Austin-Healy through the front window in a dramatic entrance," he added. "Well, not being the suicidal type, I guess I'll have to come up with another idea."

Looking up, Bruce spotted an open third floor window. "All it's missing is the neon sign announcing 'Trap!'" He shook his head ironically. "Well, luck is either with me, or there's spider on the other side saying, 'Enter.'"

Shrugging, Bruce took stock of the situation and removed his jacket. "Let's see what kind of shape I'm in," he muttered.

A few minutes, sore muscles, cut hands, torn pants, sweaty forehead, and filthy shirt later, Bruce finally climbed in the open window. Collapsing on the floor immediately inside, he took a few minutes (okay several minutes) to catch his breath and still his rapidly beating heart.

"Don't ever do that again, Bruce," he rasped harshly. "If you do, leave me behind." Grinning ruefully, he climbed painfully to his feet. "Need a little more time in the gym, Bruce. Tomorrow's gonna hurt like hell. Serves you right."

He stopped at a closed door, listened for a few seconds, and then opened it carefully. A hallway.

A filthy, smelly hallway, he amended.

"If this place is open for business," Bruce said grimacing, "it's probably the primary source of every nasty communicable disease in Gotham. First thing I do is report it to the City Health Department."

Hearing voices wafting up from a level below, Bruce walked noiselessly towards an open mezzanine area. Staying to the shadows, he crawled towards the rickety railing overlooking an open bar area and dance floor. Looking up, he saw what he assumed was a skylight. He couldn't tell, because apparently someone had painted over it, thus neutralizing its intended function--that of letting in sunlight.

"Wonder if someone's trying to hide something," he murmured. A child's frightened scream caught his attention.

"Let me *go*!"

Dick! Bruce looked around desperately for the source of the voice. Where *was* he? Finally, Bruce saw the small boy being hauled in by the scruff of the neck.

****

"Whatchu got there, Jack?"

"Dunno, Mr. Zucco," Jack said. "Found him sneaking in through one of the third story windows."

"Third story window?" Zucco asked surprised. "Who *are* you kid? Trying to rob me?"

"You killed my parents!" Dick yelled.

"What? Whaddaya talking about? I never killed nobody!"

"Yes you did! I heard him tell Mr. Haly that you'd ordered him to put the acid on the trapeze ropes. Daddy always checked our equipment before a performance. Cowboy must've done it *after* Daddy checked 'em."

"'Daddy,' huh?" Zucco growled. "You must be the Grayson brat, then." He turned to Jack. "That *idiot*, Cowboy. I wonder how many others he blabbed my name to?"

"Dunno, boss," Jack said. "But at least you don't have to worry about Cowboy singing to the feds."

"Yeah, but that doesn't help me with *this* problem!" Zucco snapped. "If Cowboy told Haly, and the kid overheard, then maybe someone else did, too."

"*No*!" Dick yelled. "No one else was there. Just *me*! I'm the only one who overheard him say that you ordered it. Honest!"

"I believe you, kid," Zucco said with a sneer. "And it's just too bad for you and for that fool, Haly." He snapped his fingers. "Jack, take care of 'em. I don't want nothing left tying me to the Graysons' murder."

"I'm on it, boss," Jack said confidently.

"Too bad we had to ice Cowboy," Zucco said regretfully. "He was a good man with the acid."

"Yeah, but acid's tricky, Mr. Zucco. I mean lookit what happened when Cowboy tried to take out Dent. Instead of killing Dent, the acid turned him into a monster. Dent may no longer be trying to close you down, but--"

"--But now that he's become Two-face, he's trying to take over the rackets," Zucco admitted. "If the *Bat*--or whatever it is--hadn't caught him, he'd've moved in on our territory."

"Come on, Boss! You don't believe in the Bat, do you?" Jack said with a grin. "It's just fool talk!"

"But you said that Cowboy--"

"Yeah, yeah. Cowboy claimed he was taken down by the Bat--or Batwoman. But I tell you it ain't nothing but a fairytale. He was just trying to cover up 'cause we knew he was gonna rat to the feds." Jack shrugged nonchalantly. "If I'd'a known you was so interested in the Bat I woulda asked Cowboy more questions before I put a bullet through his heart."

"Never mind that!" Zucco yelled. "You just better sure nobody saw you plug 'im! I don't need no cops sniffing 'round here."

Jack grinned, showing a row of yellowed teeth. "Don't worry, boss. Like I told you, I got friends in city jail. The guards never saw nor heard nothing!" He smiled in fond remembrance. "Now, unlike acid, a 38 slug in just the right place--"

Dick gasped as Jack whipped out a vile-looking handgun and held it to his head. "Let me *go*!" Dick cried out, struggling in earnest. Jack viciously hit the child across the face, instantly drawing blood.

A bright red stream spurted out of the boy's nose and mouth. Dick's knees buckled out from under him. He covered his face with both hands, feeling slightly sick from the salty taste in his mouth.

Standing over Dick, Jack continued, "As I was saying, a 38 slug in just the right place has a way of causing permanent damage--!"

He calmly screwed in a silencer to the gun barrel as he spoke, and then coolly held it to Dick's temple. A strange light in his eyes, Jack pulled the hammer back.

"--Permanent *brain* damage!" A peculiar sound escaped his lips--almost a high giggle. He licked his lips in anticipation. "And, Boss, I promise you that there's almost no chance that he'll ever sit up afterwards."

Eyes smiling malevolently, his yellow teeth gleaming in the dim light, Jack reached for the cowering boy.

****

As the man called Jack reached for Dick, Bruce grabbed the nearest thing close at hand and threw!

"Let him go!" Bruce's deep baritone commanded as he ran into the room. He saw that the object he'd pitched with the same force and accuracy from his college baseball days painfully struck Jack on his wrist, causing him to reflexively lower his gun.

The tinkling sound of glass breaking beyond Jack told Bruce that he'd just pitched his famous game-winning fastball with a whisky shot glass.

"Hey!" Jack yelled, swinging his gun towards Bruce. Bruce immediately dove for cover underneath a small cocktail table, crashing into a couple of shaky barstools.

"I *hate* you!" Dicky yelled.

Bruce looked up in time to see the small boy expertly sweeping Jack's legs out from under him, sending him flying through the air. As the killer hit the floor, Dick kicked him across the jaw and then leaped and spun in midair, as if gathering power.

Bruce watched in amazement as the boy followed through by slamming a small sneakered-foot to the gunman's left eye and a sharp jab to the wrist, sending Jack's weapon flying from his hand. Bruce leaped to his feet and started running at a crouch towards Dick as the gun went sliding across the floor to the other side of the bar.

"The kid," Jack gasped. "I'm getting clobbered by a little kid!"

Bruce winced involuntarily as he saw Dick again viciously kick Jack in the ribs. "Dicky! No, son! That's enough!" Bruce yelled.

The next instant, Bruce almost regretted the words as Jack suddenly reached out blindly, trying to grab Dick's foot.

"Dicky, look out!" Bruce cried in warning. But it was unnecessary. Again, Bruce was astounded by the boy's moves. Instead of Jack being able to grab the boy, Dick avoided his grasping hands by leaping high above him and somersaulting just beyond his much larger opponent's reach.

Dick landed behind Jack and instantly set upon the already injured man, uselessly pummeling him with his small fists.

"That's for Mommy and Daddy!" Dick cried out, his voice breaking in anguish. "I hate you! I *hate* you!"

Before Dick could rear back and land another sharp kick on Jack's anatomy, the same soothing voice he'd heard soon after his parents' tragic fall spoke to him.

"No, Dicky," Bruce said gently. "You don't hate anyone, son."

Bruce was momentarily taken aback by the expression of openly naked hatred that Dick shot at Jack. Bruce glanced towards Jack and saw him struggling to keep his eyes open, to push himself up to sitting position. He was barely able to lift his head and look up unseeingly at him.

Bruce quickly glanced back at Dick. What he saw gave Bruce a fleeting sense of hope that perhaps the boy could still be reached. For through the hatred, Bruce saw that Dick looked ill from his handiwork.

The boy's anguished eyes stared at Jack, his pain evident at the hurt he'd caused. The next moment, jaw clamped and fists clenched, Dick whirled and Bruce found himself at the receiving end of a pounding.

"You don't *know*! You *can't* know!" Dick sobbed. "They killed Mommy and Daddy! I want *them* to die, too!"

Jack looked up blearily from where he lay on the floor, apparently forgotten. A large man who looked like some kind of uptown John knelt a few feet away holding the boy in his arms. Crying brokenheartedly, the boy was busily beating the John on the chest with all his might. Even dazed, Jack could see that the boy's fists made no impression on the big guy.

Hugging Dick closely to him, Bruce spoke to him in soft, soothing tones. "No, son. You don't want anyone to die. Let me take you home, Dicky." He stood up, lifting the boy into his arms, hugging him closely. "Come on. Let's go home."

"Now isn't that touching," Zucco broke in derisively. "But I'm afraid that if there's going to be any dying in *my* joint--it ain't gonna be *me*!"

Bruce stood frozen in place, Dick in his arms. Seeing Zucco's deadly weapon aimed directly at them, he quickly turned his body to shield Dick.

Out of the corner of his eye, Bruce saw Jack turn his head painfully towards Zucco. Bruce clinically noted that Dick had done a job and a half on the vicious killer. Jack's left eye was almost swollen shut, and he had to blink to clear his right one. Bruce felt a chill shoot up his spine as a grin slowly formed on Jack's lips. The killer swallowed a few times and licked his lips, obviously trying to form words.

"Way to go, boss," Jack whispered, his voice raspy, barely audible. "That's the ticket."

"Sorry, Jack," Zucco said, not sounding sorry at all. "But I don't think I want any witnesses for this one."

Bruce stared at Zucco for a long moment and then quickly glanced over at Jack for his reaction to this new threat. He saw Jack's swollen eyes widen as the meaning of his boss's words sank in.

"But, boss--!" he rasped.

At that moment, they were all startled by the sounds of glass shattering overhead. Looking up, they caught a fleeting glimpse of a dark, frightening figure swooping down dramatically towards them.

****

Chapter Five

Four pairs of eyes stared up in shock...

Bruce reacted first. Quickly scanning the room for a safe hiding place for Dick, he shoved the boy underneath the lowest storage bin behind the bar.

"Stay there!" he hissed, shutting the cabinet door on the protesting boy's face...

****

"Sweet Mother of--!" Zucco swore. "It's the *Bat*!" He brought his pistol up and took a shaky aim at the descending dark form. Taking an involuntary step backwards, he started firing wildly, missing the mark...

****

"The Bat?" Jack whispered. "I gotta get outta here!" He slowly dragged himself to his knees and started crawling, keeping to the gloom cast by the myriad tables and chairs...

****

"Who does he think *he* is?" Dick fumed. He pushed the cabinet door open, listened briefly for any sounds of movement from the other side, and crept out on all fours...

****

Landing with a graceful sweep of her cape, Batwoman found herself in a dangerous rain of hot lead. She instantly leaped and somersaulted in midair, dodging the erratic fire that Zucco was letting fly in her direction. She crashed into row of tables causing several to collapse from the impact. Rolling over several times to avoid being hit, she picked up a round tabletop and hurled it like a discus.

Zucco saw the spinning disk flying towards him and ducked. The wooden tabletop narrowly missed his head and crashed into the bar mirror behind him. He quickly jumped up and started running, covering his escape with automatic pistol fire.

Batwoman leaped towards him, slamming into the overweight gangster with a shoulder tackle. As they fell in a heap, she recovered first and kicked out with a powerful back leg, connecting solidly with the fat man's midsection.

"Ooofff...!" Zucco clutched his considerably large stomach as his breath spewed forth like a volcanic explosion. "Don't hurt me! Please!" He pleaded. Batwoman hesitated slightly. As she did so, a small human dynamo appeared out of nowhere.

"You *killed* my mommy and daddy! It's all *your* fault!" Dick shouted, launching himself at Zucco and proceeding to pummel him with his small fists.

"Hey! Get off me!" Zucco shouted grabbing the boy by the collar and holding him out. Dick continued to fight back, flailing his arms and legs uselessly. Batwoman made a move towards to Zucco, but he suddenly held the pistol to the boy's head.

"Let him go!" Bruce shouted, taking a step forward. He stopped at the sight of Dick's wide blue eyes. The little boy's pinched face had gone white. A light smattering of freckles across the bridge of his small nose suddenly stood out in sharp contrast. Bruce thought his heart was going to stop. Turning to Zucco, he held his hands out in a pleading gesture.

"Please...he's just a boy, Zucco. Whatever you did, whatever you've done--it'll go easier on you if you let the boy go."

"Shut up!" Zucco shouted, slowly regaining his feet while clutching Dick to him. "Zucco doesn't go to jail! And Circus Boy here is the only one who can tie me to the Graysons!"

"You're wrong! *I* overheard you talking to that other guy--Jack."

"Don't--!" Batwoman ordered, but Bruce ignored her.

"Zucco, I know you ordered the hit on the Graysons and on Harvey Dent," Bruce said urgently, his words tumbling out. "What are you going to do? Kill us all? They don't send you to the gas chamber for conspiracy, Zucco. Only premeditated murder. If you kill that boy, there's no jury in the world who'll acquit you. You *know* that!"

"Maybe...but they'll have to catch me first." He jerked Dick in closer to him, the crook of his arm around the boy's neck. "As long as I have this kid here for insurance, nobody better try nothing!"

Batwoman moved her hand discreetly towards her belt. Zucco saw the movement and immediately aimed and fired at her. In the blink of an eye, Batwoman was diving and rolling out of harm's way. Before Bruce could react, the gun's muzzle was pointing at him.

"Freeze!" Zucco ordered. Bruce looked like he was about to ignore the command, but Zucco instantly switched the muzzle back to Dick's temple. Bruce saw that Zucco's eyes were moving back and forth between Batwoman and him. "I swear I'll plug the kid if you try anything!"

His mind racing, Bruce made staying motions with his hands, trying to reason with the desperate man. "Look, no tricks," he said. "I don't have anything up my sleeve. All I care about is the boy's safety."

Zucco shook his head. "I ain't going to prison!" he insisted. "Try anything and the kid gets it first!" Glancing quickly over his shoulder, Zucco started to slowly back up, his arm still securely holding the squirming boy.

"Look! Take me, instead," Bruce offered. "I promise I won't give you any trouble--!"

"What are you doing--?" Batwoman gasped. Bruce continued talking as if he hadn't heard her.

"--I'll pay whatever ransom you ask for. Get you whatever transportation you want to take you anywhere in the world. Just let the boy go...*please*!"

While Bruce spoke, Zucco had been slowly approaching an open door, dragging Dick along. At Bruce's frantic proposal, the gangster paused for a second. He looked like he was actually thinking the offer over when Dick suddenly kicked back with his foot and hit him hard on the shins.

"Owww--! You little--!" Zucco yelled. The surprise pain caused him to loosen his hold on his small hostage and Dick took advantage of it, successfully wriggling out of Zucco's grasp. Realizing he'd lost his insurance, Zucco ran off firing his weapon to cover his escape.

Without stopping to think, Bruce dove across the space that separated him from Dick and grabbed the boy, shielding him with his own body as a volley of automatic fire burst all around them.

Batwoman dodged the hail of bullets, executing a beautiful set of ballet moves in the air. As she did so, she pulled out an object from her belt, pressed a hidden switch on it, felt its satisfying snap and threw!

Landing underneath a table, she heard Zucco scream in pain as her 'Batarang' (as she called it) found its mark. Regaining her feet, she caught sight of Zucco running out the backdoor, which led to a staircase. About to give chase, she was stopped by a shout behind her.

"Wait!"

Batwoman whirled around at the sound of the voice. Bruce. He was sitting up, checking the boy with slightly shaking hands. She watched fascinated as Bruce tenderly ran a hand along the boy's cheek. Bruce was so good with kids. She felt her throat catch at the look of longing in his eyes.

"Are you all right, son?" he asked. The boy nodded and then with a wordless cry threw his arms around Bruce. "It's okay, son," Bruce said soothingly. Looking over Dick's shoulder, Bruce addressed the strangely garbed woman standing before him. "Who *are* you?" he asked.

"A friend," she said, her voice little more than a raspy growl. About to turn away again, she was startled by the widest set of blue eyes she'd ever seen. The boy had suddenly taken a quick look up from behind Bruce's protective shoulders and was now glaring at her with angry accusation.

Dick's dark blue eyes suddenly narrowed. "Where *is* he?" he yelled. "He's getting away! You're letting him get away!" With that, he pushed away from Bruce and started running in the same direction that Zucco had headed.

"Dicky!" Bruce yelled, taking off after the boy.

"No! Bruce!" Batwoman yelled, frustrated. At the sound of his name, Bruce hesitated at the door giving her a hard stare. His jaw dropped. He took a hesitant step towards her.

"Babs?" he said softly, recognition dawning in his eyes. A child's scream from above cast all other concerns from his mind. He turned abruptly and raced after Dick.

"Great going, Barbara," Batwoman muttered. Shaking her head, she took out a grappling gun, aimed up towards the skylight and fired. As she rose, she silently berated herself.

"You knew this was bound to happen sooner or later. You knew you'd run into Bruce sometime as the Bat. So, what do you do? Pretend you don't know him? Call him *Doctor* Wayne? No-ooo--You call him *Bruce*! Why didn't you just wave your wedding band under his nose?"

As she flipped her legs over and onto the rooftop, she added in disgust. "You're an idiot."

****

Under a corner table, Jack's good eye lit in silent mirth. "Oh, Jackie-boy this is good! This is just *too* good!" Taking hold of a chair's leg, Jack pulled himself painfully to his feet. Using the wall for support, he managed to drag himself out of the bar and to freedom.

"Bruce and Babs! Dr. Bruce Wayne and his lovely wife, assistant DA Barbara Gordon."

As he placed some distance between Oxie's and himself, Jack felt the strangest urge to giggle. Unable to help himself, a high nervous chuckle escaped his lips as he stumbled down the street.

Spying a Porsche parked a half-block away, Jack grinned suddenly. "Jackpot, baby!" he said. "Come to Papa!" Climbing into the driver's side, Jack easily jumped the starter.

Thirty minutes later, he was pulling into Zucco's last business front, Ace Chemical Company...

****

Dick burst through the door leading onto the rooftop. He quickly spied Zucco running across the roof's tarmac.

"You can't get away, fatso!" Dick yelled running up behind him. Zucco turned and fired. Dick automatically went into his 'act.' Making each move look as if he were born to dodge bullets, the child acrobat dove and executed several handsprings in a row, interspersing it with a tumbling run that would put a world-class gymnast to shame.

Zucco kept firing until his weapon finally ran out of bullets. Dick regained his feet in a smooth motion and continued his pursuit. Zucco threw his gun in a classic act of desperation and turned to resume his escape.

As Dick neared the grossly overweight gangster, he closed the gap by leaping and slamming into Zucco feet first. Man and boy went down in a tangle of arms and legs, but before Zucco could react and grab him, Dick back flipped out of his reach.

Zucco made a move as if to get up and go after Dick, but suddenly cried out an unintelligible sound. He leaned forward, clutching at his chest.

"M-My h-heart--!" he gasped, falling to his knees. "My heart--!" He pitched forward, rolling onto his back.

Dick ran up to him and grabbed him by the lapels, shaking him. "You're act won't work, Zucco! I'm gonna--!"

"Kid--!" Zucco gasped. "Doctor...I need a doctor...!"

Dick suddenly felt himself being lifted and shoved unceremoniously out of the way.

"Dicky, the man's having a heart attack!" Bruce said tersely. "I'm a doctor. Let me help."

Dick stood mutely aside. "But--I thought he was just making it up."

"It's not your faulty, Dicky," Bruce reassured him as he worked on the man who just moments before was trying to kill them all.

"How may I help?"

Bruce didn't look up as a cold, dark shadow suddenly fell over him. Instead, he kept applying the steady compressions on his unmoving patient's chest.

"You can call 9-1-1," he said curtly. "This man needs to be taken to a hospital."

"Already done," the low, raspy voice replied. "Fire Rescue and the GCPD are both on the way."

"Then you can take the boy home. He doesn't need any more publicity so soon after his parents' deaths."

He stopped compressions for a second, checked Zucco's pulse and his breathing, and got back to work.

"Sorry. The other man got away. I have to go after him--"

"*Look*, *Bat*woman! I'm a little busy here. And when Fire Rescue arrives I'm probably going to have accompany my patient to the hospital. I'm *asking* you for your help."

He didn't look up to see the effect of his words. Taking her silence as acquiescence, he added sarcastically, "Think you can find Wayne Manor?" At this last, Bruce finally looked up. The cowled figure nodded.

"Good," he snapped. "Now, please, get Dicky out of here. This is no place for a child."

****

Dick kept sneaking glances at his mysterious benefactor. He hadn't wanted to leave with her, but Bruce insisted...

"But I don't want to go without you," Dick protested. Not looking up from his desperate task, Bruce still managed to speak reassuringly.

"Don't worry, son. You'll be perfectly safe with her." Not breaking rhythm, he glanced up at this point. "Do you trust me?"

Dick looked uncertain, but something in Bruce's eyes spoke to him. Feeling warmed inside, he smiled slightly and nodded. Bruce's dark blue eyes softened and he held the boy's gaze a moment longer.

He turned to Batwoman. They didn't exchange any words, but Dick saw an imperceptible message pass between them nevertheless. He stared at them, wondering...

"Do you know Dr. Wayne?" Dick asked. His question was ignored. Dick was beginning to feel just a little worried. He instinctively trusted Bruce, and Bruce had told him to trust this strange lady.

Dick looked askance at her. He hoped Bruce's trust wasn't misplaced.

"Where are we going?" he tried next.

"Home," she replied. Her voice was a cross between sandpaper and a tiger's throaty growl.

"Oh."

Dick sat up and looked curiously around the car's control center. There were a myriad of blinking lights, dials, and switches. A red blinking light caught his attention. The light was actually a button. Curious, he reached forward to press it, when his wrist was suddenly grabbed.

"Don't touch anything."

Startled, Dick looked agape at her, his blue eyes wide with fear. He gave her a quick wordless nod, and abruptly she released his wrist. She'd never taken her eyes off the word.

Still keeping her eyes straight ahead, she pointed to a spot a little below the button. Squinting Dick saw that it was writing. Leaning closer, he read the fine print and swallowed--rocket launcher.

Dick instantly sat back, crossing his arms and legs, and slouched in his seat. He sat quietly for about thirty seconds, his heart racing. But then, in the next instant, something else in this fascinating car caught his attention. He bent forward and began fiddling intently with the glove compartment.

Before he could open it, however, he was jerked backwards by the scruff of the neck.

"What part of 'don't touch anything' do you *not* understand?" she growled.

He stared at her clearly frightened, but determined to put up a brave front. "You don't scare *me*," he declared. "I grew up in the circus. I used to play with the lions when I was just a little kid."

The mysterious cowled figure ignored him.

"Why do you dress up funny like that?" he asked belligerently. He thought he saw a noticeable tightening of the lips. Dick felt a little worried. She didn't seem very nice. Dr. Wayne had told him to trust her, but maybe he'd made a mistake about her.

As the silence between them lengthened, Dick grew a little annoyed with her. He didn't like it when grownups treated him like he wasn't there. Daddy had always spoken to him like a person, not like a little kid who didn't know anything. He'd called him his partner, his right hand man.

All of a sudden, Dick felt a wave of cold sweep over him. Daddy and Mommy were gone. He was all alone. He blinked rapidly against the stinging in his eyes. He wouldn't let this weird lady see him cry. Boys didn't cry.

He wouldn't cry.

He sniffed quietly and quickly wiped his eyes.

"Here." The low growl sounded a little softer. Blinking, Dick made out a handkerchief through the blur of tears. He took it wordlessly.

"I'm n-not c-crying," he said. "I g-got something in m-my eye."

A gloved hand lightly caressed his cheek. "I know."

Neither spoke again for the rest of the drive. He must've fallen asleep because the next thing he knew, he was being carried inside the massive house and the large black car was disappearing down a long gravel path.

The pink sky in the east announced the coming of the new day.

****

"Thanks for the lift, Lt. Bullock."

"Any time, Doc," Bullock said, removing his signature vile cigar. He reached across the seat and shook hands with Bruce. "You shouldn't take it so personally, Doc. Them's the breaks. Zucco was a fat slob who got what was coming to him. Can't win 'em all."

"I know," Bruce said quietly. "It's the boy I'm worried about. How will this affect him?"

"Hey, if I was the kid, I'd been dancing a jig should I find out the guy responsible for murdering *my* parents hadn't made it."

Bruce gave Bullock a long, hard stare. "That's what I'm afraid of," he said softly. With that he opened the passenger door and got out, slamming it behind him.

"Oh, Doc?" Bullock called. Bruce leaned in, single eyebrow raised. "We've put out an APB on your Porsche." He shrugged. "Chances are it was taken to a chop shop. And already sold for parts. I'll give you a call should anything turn up."

Bruce nodded. He stood for a moment watching the police unmarked cruiser as it disappeared down the long gravel drive. It was going to be a beautiful, crisp Autumn day. The sounds of birds chirping and the fragrant smell of leaf-covered damp earth wafting in the gentle morning breeze reminded him that life went on.

Just like his parents had tried to teach him, and he'd learned only after their sudden, senseless deaths.

Just like the doctors at Gotham Children's Hospital where he'd interned had tried to teach him, and he'd learned only after his first patient, a thirteen-year-old hit-and-run victim died.

How had his mother put it?

"To enjoy the rainbow, Bruce, you must first have the rain." A half-smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "Okay, Mom. But it sure seems as if the skies have been overcast for a helluva long time now."

He thought sadly of his failing marriage, of what he'd discovered last night. How would he make it through the next few hours, not to mention the next few days?

A small child's innocent face appeared to him--Dick. The boy's wide blue eyes reflected the same pain that Bruce had felt when he lost his own parents, his first patient, and each one that followed. The pain he felt now at the thought that maybe he'd lost his wife.

If his own life was currently under a rain cloud, Dick was certainly the rainbow. Just thinking of the boy made Bruce feel somewhat better.

"Maybe--" he whispered, not daring to articulate his inner feelings. "Maybe..." he repeated softly, deciding to leave it at that for now.

****

End of Part 1
To Be Continued...