No Sense Keeping Secrets
"Arkham?" Tim spoke the word uppermost in the thoughts of all four present. "They couldn't…"
"Actually," Barbara said reluctantly, "they could. Remember when Luthor framed him for Vesper Fairchild's murder? How he just… shut himself down?"
Tim nodded impatiently. "So?"
Cass took that moment to knock at the patio doors. She'd changed back to street clothes, jeans, T-shirt, and denim jacket, before arriving. Gordon let her in.
"Rough night?" Dick asked.
Cass shrugged. "Went looking for trouble. Found some. Gangs went making trouble. Found me." She looked around at the grim faces. "Something happen?"
Dick filled her in quickly as Barbara continued. "He was walking a very fine line that time. He wasn't helping his lawyer much, but he was able to participate just enough to avoid this kind of thing. But from what Montoya told Dick, earlier… Bruce wasn't speaking, last night. He was barely interacting-"
"Come on!" Tim protested. "Alfred had just died, how would you be reacting—?"
"Jason, too," Dick interjected. At Tim's double take, he continued: "That's who the Red Hood really was."
Tim blinked. "Jason died years ago."
"That's what we all thought. But the DNA matched, and he looked the part, so..."
Tim shook his head. "OK. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. What I was trying to say was that if it'd been me in that alley, I'd be pretty incoherent, myself. Do we know what happened exactly?"
Dick thought for a moment. "I went to the manor before coming here. Most of what's in the cave... face it, we can't get it away in time. Best we can do is what we're already working on: transmit the files here, and to the satellite caves—"
"Wouldn't it already be there?" Tim interjected.
"Probably," Dick admitted. "But just in case, send everything through the feed and then destroy the crays." Seeing Tim's eyes widen, Dick explained, "you or Babs could probably recover any data we wiped. You want to take a chance you're the only two on the planet who could? Didn't think so. Anyway. I went to see if there was anything that absolutely had to leave the cave, loaded my car with what I could… and then I set the self-destruct charges. We can detonate them from here, once the transmission's complete," he added. "So, when I was down there, I pulled up what he'd been working on last. Because I'd been wondering exactly what you were. Bruce's last log entry indicated that Alfred had been kidnapped. By Black Mask. And he thought he'd figured out where Sionis was holding him."
"The building that exploded on Grummet," Gordon stated.
"Yes, Sir," Dick confirmed. "So it looks like he made it in there in time to get to Alfred, but too late to save him." He sighed. "If Bruce isn't talking, we may never know the rest of it. But, I can guess." He drew a deep breath. "Look, when I first came to the manor, I didn't see much of Bruce. At the time, I really thought he took me in as some sort of publicity stunt. How else was I supposed to explain why he'd fight so hard to get custody of me, and then do everything he could to avoid me?" A sad smile flickered briefly on his lips. Dick continued. "It took a few weeks before Bruce let his guard down around me. I was having nightmares almost every time I went to sleep—big shock, there—and, Tim, they were pretty much the same ones you told me you used to have."
Tim nodded, remembering.
For years, I kept having the same nightmare, over and over again. First I'd watch you do your quadruple somersault, then your parents would fall, and fall…
"Alfred would come in every time I screamed," Dick said softly. "I thought Bruce either didn't care or had to be one heck of a heavy sleeper. And then, one night, I woke up and it was Bruce, not Alfred, who was sitting with me. That was when he told me about his parents. I must have said something about how I was sorry I was acting like such a baby about it," at Tim's shocked expression, Dick shrugged. "I was ten. Circus life was pretty rough-and-tumble. You got into fights. You got hurt. You hurt back. But you never cried-that made you a wuss. I tried explaining that to Bruce, and that was when he told me…
"You're handling this better than I did. After my parents died, I didn't speak for almost a year, and then only to Alfred and Doctor Leslie for the longest time."
"And the bad dreams? You had them too?
"When will they stop?"
(Long pause) "Soon, I hope."
That had also been one of the only times he had seen Bruce wear the costume above cave level, he remembered. Dick inhaled, held it for a few seconds, and exhaled. "Any time someone close to Bruce gets hurt, he locks himself away and he shuts himself off. He was like that when he lost his parents, when he was eight. He was like that when Joker shot me, when Jason… when we all thought Jason died…" He looked at Gordon, "When you got shot, Sir. And of course, after Vesper…" he grimaced. "I think when Spoiler died, he actually tried… reaching out. To me," he added with a pang. And I was so caught up in my own private soap opera; all I saw was that he'd sent everyone else away again. "Let's just say that it could have gone better. Thing is, even when he closed himself off from the rest of us, he always had Alfred."
"Not always," Tim interjected. "You know he quit after Bane—"
"Because he couldn't stand seeing Bruce destroy himself. You have no idea how glad he was to head back to Gotham."
"After—" He glanced at Gordon.
"Right. Quit working for Batman to work for Robin. That's a convincing way to leave someone's life. And after Vesper, he came running back to help. Face it, Tim—Alfred was the one person Bruce never deliberately kept out of the loop. Even recently, when he ordered everyone else out of Gotham, I bet he didn't try to talk Alfred into retiring."
"Like he'd have listened," Tim snorted.
Dick grinned back. "Want to bet Bruce knew he needed somebody who would stand up to him? But what Black Mask did…" Dick frowned. "It's Vesper all over again but worse. Bruce pushes us away because he's terrified that if he lets us get too close, he'll lose us. Alfred was the only exception. And—"
"He blames himself," Barbara interrupted. "Did you see the note Roman sent? It was in the computer. Look."
The two young men blinked at the text on the screen:
Wayne. You want your butler. I want certain concessions from your company. Let's trade.
A list of demands followed, demands that would, effectively, allow Black Mask's hands to extend deep into the pockets of Wayne Industries. A percentage of the profits would be diverted to offshore accounts. Some of Sionis' people would be placed in positions where they would directly influence the day-to-day runnings of the company. WE would turn a blind eye to any illicit monies that might pass through its coffers… Dick grimaced.
"Even if he'd wanted to," he said slowly, "there's no way Bruce could have gotten the board to go along with that. There are too many safeguards against that sort of takeover."
Barbara nodded bleakly. "I think Sionis knew that. And I think Bruce knew he knew that. Ever since Wayne Enterprises bought out Janus cosmetics," she named the company that Roman Sionis—Black Mask—had long ago driven to the edge of bankruptcy, "Black Mask has had it in for Bruce. This was a win-win situation. Either Bruce lost his father's legacy—or his surrogate father. So Bruce moved everything moveable to try to find Alfred before the deadline was up, and…" She sighed. "When Vesper died, that was another attack on Bruce. Bruce reacted by trying to be Batman full-time. If you want armchair psychology, I think he blamed himself for putting her in danger, and decided that to atone for 'letting'—and I'm using the term loosely, letting someone die in front of him, he was going to, well, basically… let Bruce Wayne take the rap and disappear."
She almost missed seeing Dick flinch. She made a mental note to ask him about it later. For now, she added, "If he blamed himself for letting Vesper get close enough to him that Cain saw her as a target, and he reacted by 'punishing' Bruce Wayne, then… if Alfred was kidnapped for the same reason, and Batman couldn't get there in time—"
"You think he's shutting himself down completely?" Dick asked.
"I read the police report," Barbara replied. "From the description, hell, from the fact that they were able to unmask him it sure looks like it."
"Okay," Dick said grimly. "Bruce is in shock. I can see that happening. Easily. But… Arkham? There's no way Bruce is insane."
Barbara nodded. "Legal insanity and mental incompetency aren't the same thing, you know. Believe it or not, Joker's legally sane."
"Say what?" Tim blurted.
"I'm serious. Legal insanity means the person doesn't know the difference between right and wrong. Joker knows we don't go after people for donating to cancer research and exercising their right to vote."
"Hold on," Tim protested, "Are you saying Joker shouldn't be in Arkham?"
"No," Barbara sighed. "Don't get me started on legal insanity versus real insanity, or I'll end up committed. Joker's legally incompetent because he can't assist in his own defense. And, much as I hate to say it, according to the report I've just pulled up from the ER doctor, in the state he was in last night, neither can Bruce."
Dick mulled over her words. "Last night, he was in shock. Montoya told me as much. But what makes you so sure he won't snap out of it?"
Barbara sighed. "Think, Dick. After Jason died, Batman became the… the poster-boy for suicide-by-villain. Dad, when you retired and left for Europe," she turned to Tim. "He outed you to Spoiler, alienated the rest of us and behaved erratically enough that when Vesper turned up dead, most of us were willing to consider the evidence against him. And, when he decided to dump the 'Bruce Wayne' identity, he still left Sasha Bordeaux rotting in Blackgate if you recall.
"If you build walls," she said carefully, "to keep yourself from getting hurt… and then something happens to make you believe you can tear them down…" her knuckles whitened on the arms of her wheelchair, "and then… you get hurt again," she squeezed her eyes shut, lowering her head, "you rebuild the walls, and you build them higher. So that next time, you won't be as… vulnerable. And it takes that much longer, and it becomes that much harder to bring them down later. Even," she whispered, "if building those walls means you hurt… other people in the process." She looked Dick directly in the eye. "Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"
Dick thought he did. And he didn't think she was just talking about Bruce, either. But just in case she was, he said "You don't think Bruce is going to come back to us so fast."
"He lost Jason. He lost Alfred. He was injured. He was arrested. He was unmasked. What do you think?"
Gordon cleared his throat. "Assuming all this is true, what's your next move?"
"I want to see him," Dick said firmly.
The elderly man shook his head. "They're likely to arrest you on sight. You know that."
"Story of my life, these days," Dick shrugged, trying to sound flippant.
"There's something else we need to keep in mind," Barbara said. "If Bruce wins that hearing… I just had a look at the charges the DA's office has prepared against him. It doesn't look good."
"Meaning?" Tim asked.
Barbara took a long breath. "He's facing multiple counts on all of the following," she began, "Rebellion, assault, assault with a deadly weapon-"
"Batarangs," Barbara replied. "Just because he's never aimed for the throat doesn't mean they're not sharp enough to slice the jugular."
She continued. "Assault inflicting serious injury, assault with deadly weapon inflicting serious injury-"
"They can separate it out like that?" Tim asked in disbelief.
The two former law enforcement officers nodded instantly. "You'd better believe it," Gordon confirmed, grimly. "The only question is whether they will. There's also malicious maiming, maliciously throwing corrosive substances, breaking and entering. Felony larceny. Obstruction of justice. Misdemeanour child abuse, otherwise known as thrusting a minor into danger on a continual basis. Want to nitpick? Toss in felony flee to elude. Vandalism. Mischief. Now, let's look at recent events. The Brown girl's death would probably be involuntary manslaughter-"
"No way!" Tim declared.
"Yes way," Barbara stated, "but that's not the kicker. Twenty-eight officers died last summer, when they followed his plan to stop the gang war. Now, it probably would get struck down to voluntary or even involuntary manslaughter, eventually, but the DA's office is likely to go for separate counts of second-degree murder first. Do you have any idea the kind of prison time that translates to? I… I really hate to say it, but he might be better off if the hearing does find him incompetent to stand trial."
He rarely slept longer than four hours at a time. Sleep brought nightmares, crazily comforting in their familiarity. Memories, nearly three decades old, of pearls, a gun, and blood on the asphalt in the middle of the night, replaying themselves in his head. The feelings of helplessness, and loss, and the terror, which always awakened him, served to intensify his resolve to create a Gotham in which no other child would become orphaned in a random mugging. Now, he awoke only to face new nightmares. Alfred was dead. Killed before him, and he, helpless to prevent it. Jason… the son he had been unable to save. Jason had tried to redeem himself at the end, he realized, and Bruce could not bring himself to think that it had been 'too little too late'.In point of fact, he could barely bring himself to think. Because when he did, his musings frightened him more than his nightmares.
He had always considered the Bruce Wayne persona to be a mask for Batman to wear during his downtime. It was the image he projected to deflect suspicion away from his nighttime activities. The cowl had seemed to him to be not a mask, but a uniform. What he had failed to realize, was that Batman was also a persona. And, last night, that persona had deserted him. Even before the police had arrived on the scene, Batman had gone. Removing the cowl had been a formality. Batman had escaped, leaving Bruce Wayne behind. He was good at that… leaving others to take the consequences of his failures. James Gordon. His dependence on an 'urban legend' had cost him any chance at employment with another city's police force. And then, Batman had abandoned him to No Man's Land, while he fled to Monaco to 'recover his purpose'. He'd assured Gordon that they were friends. But his actions had not been those of a friend. Sasha Bordeaux. Left behind in Blackgate. And still, she'd kept his secret, refusing to reward one betrayal with another. Stephanie Brown. Stealing and executing his contingency plan had set off the gang-wars, but his failure to anticipate the possibility of such an occurrence had facilitated her blunder. One password could have averted the entire situation. His fault. And Stephanie had ultimately died as a result. Dick... shot. Darla Aquista… shot dead. Orpheus…dead. The police had trusted him, trusted him over Akins. And Batman had let himself be caught off-guard. And he had abandoned the GCPD to face the consequences of his errors. And now, Batman had abandoned him as well. It was only fitting. And with these reflections uppermost in his mind, Bruce Wayne's eyelids lowered. As though he was asleep, his heart rate steadied, and his pulse slowed. He drew on the meditation techniques that he had learned in his travels, and cleared his mind. And there he lay, awake, yet unaware, oblivious to the passage of time.
When his lawyer, Rachel Green, arrived some time later, he registered neither her voice nor even her presence. He might have appeared to be lost in thought, but in fact, he was lost on a plane beyond thought. And he had no interest in being found.
The last time he had walked into BPD headquarters, he had thought it was the end of everything. Nothing like having your father facing 28 consecutive life sentences or incarceration in a mental institution to put your life into perspective. He pressed down on the levered handle of the door to the precinct, aware that his hands were sweating. Funny. He'd been a lot calmer when he'd turned himself in over Blockbuster's murder. All she can do is say 'no', Grayson. Get it together!He barely nodded an acknowledgment to the various greetings called through open cubicles. He'd been on the phone with Roy for nearly an hour last night, and he'd reached a decision.
While the public knew that 'Batman' was in police custody, the GCPD had not yet released Bruce's name to the media. Once they did, or once the press succeeded in finding someone-officer or hospital staff-willing to talk, it wouldn't be long before someone connected Richard Grayson with the original Robin. Although most people remained unaware that the 'vigilante known as Nightwing' had once been that Robin, Dick had to admit that it didn't take a genius to realize that when Nightwing had been a member of the Titans, Dick Grayson had been living in New York. When Nightwing took up residence in Bludhaven, so did Dick Grayson. It was ironic, really, now he thought of it. All his stupid chances that had seemed to make so much sense at the time-his acrobatic feats while in BPD uniform, going out in costume before a bullet wound sustained on his day job fully healed… (Was that what gave me away to Desmond? Probably), infiltrating the Jersey mob while cleverly using his own name… and his secret identity had somehow remained relatively safe, until Bruce's capture. What he needed to do now was obtain some sort of official sanction. A long time ago, the Teen Titans had been deputized as law-enforcement agents. That status had ended when the team disbanded years ago. But if he could get that sanction back, although Akins might be able to stop him from acting as Nightwing in Gotham, maybe he wouldn't be arrested walking down the street. Hey. Roy wasn't, and just what was up with that?
"Grayson!" Captain Amy Rohrbach stood in the doorway of her office, arms folded; glowering like a certain bat was wont to do. "In here. Now."
This didn't look good. A thought instantly corroborated by the jeers and whistles of most of the office personnel. He squared his shoulders and strode toward the office. Amy let him pass, then shut the door behind them.
Once in private, she opened her desk drawer, pulled out a manila folder, and slammed it, opened, onto her desk blotter. "Crutches Grayson?" she demanded, scornfully. "Tell me this wasn't some other way for you to… oh, what was the phrase you used, last time-gain atonement? One more crack at getting yourself arrested?"
Dick swallowed. "Amy," he started to say.
She jabbed her index finger against his sternum. "Because, let me tell you something, right now, Dick. Your UN sanction with the JLA probably won't stand up if you're caught assisting a known criminal organization. So keep this up, and you might just get your wish." Her lip curled in disgust. "And that would be a real waste."
Dick had stopped listening. He had almost stopped breathing. Amy was right! As a reserve member of the JLA, he was officially deputized by the United Nations! He held special status as a member of an elite international peacekeeping force! As long as he didn't interfere with the police without being invited to do so… He wanted to cartwheel back to Gotham, triple-flip onto Akins' office windowsill, and make faces at him through the glass. He wanted to kiss his married former captain. For the first time in-G-d, how long had it been? Months? Yes. For the first time in nearly five months, he felt as though his shoulders had come unstapled from his neck.
Amy stopped ranting and looked at the suddenly beaming young man before her with some annoyance. She was chewing the guy out, and he was grinning like an idiot. "Do you understand what I'm saying, Grayson?" She snapped.
His smile could not have been broader if he'd taken a full dose of Joker toxin. "Every word, Amy!" He whooped. "Every single word! THANK-you!" He raced out of her office, before he really did kiss her. Which turned out to be a good thing, as he nearly collided with Mr. Rohrbach on the steps outside the precinct.
As it happened, securing Akins' permission to visit Wayne had been the easy part. The current police commissioner had been more than willing to grant his predecessor that small favor. "I just want you to know, Jim," he'd cautioned, "we're keeping security to a maximum. You won't be able to enter the room with anything that he might be able to turn into a weapon." Gordon suppressed a smile. The Batman he knew wasa weapon, all by himself. Not that he would dream of mentioning such a thing to anyone connected with the prosecution's side.
The hard part came trying to convince the apologetic sergeant in the corridor to let him walk in under his own power.
"For the last time, Kessler, I do not need a wheelchair-I need you to get out of my way."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Gordon," the officer returned in a placating tone, "but you can't bring any sort of weapon into the patient's room. That includes your cane."
Gordon fixed the tall man with a beady stare. "Listen, Son," he said testily, "let's get a few things clear. If you are that insistent about calling for a wheelchair, you'll be needing it a damned sight quicker than I will. Now, pay attention. My name" he pointed to himself, "is Gordon, not Gandalf! This," he tapped his cane on the linoleum floor, "is a walking aid, not a weapon. Now, if you'd like to take a moment to call Mike Akins and ask him whether he meant for you to take a cane away from an ex-cop old enough to be your father, go right ahead, but I am going to walk into that room, with this cane, to visit an old friend. Do I make myself clear?"
"Kessler," a baritone voice called, "ease off." Gordon turned to see a familiar face atop a lieutenant's uniform, approaching them. "Sir," Danziger said, "we have our orders. Nothing he can use as a weapon can come within his reach. But, the room he's in would normally hold three other patients. If you leave the cane on one of the other beds, could you manage about eight or ten steps on your own, or with one of us assisting you?"
Gordon considered. "You're really going to insist on this, aren't you?" He'd known Danziger for five years. The officer had already proven himself as a skilled hostage negotiator, oftentimes conciliatory to a fault. But, he could also dig in his heels with the best of them, should the situation call for it. And evidently, in Danziger's eyes, this situation did.
"I'm afraid so, Sir," the officer's tone was respectful but firm.
Gordon sighed. "If you people took half as many precautions with Joker and the rest of them, maybe Arkham would hold 'em longer," he muttered, resigned to the situation. He tapped his cane deliberately to the floor and advanced a step toward the doors.
"You have some nerve waltzing in here like this," Akins barked at the young man seated outside his office. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't just place you under arrest and send you down to holding… What's this?" He looked at the thin plastic rectangle that had just been passed to him.
"JLA reservist identity card," Dick said affably. "As a sanctioned member of the Justice League of America—"
Akins held up a hand. "Get in here," he ordered. Dick obeyed.
Once inside his office, Akins motioned Dick to a chair. He remained standing behind his desk, however.
Psychological advantage, Dick noted. He's trying to use the height differential to intimidate me. Of course, facing down adult opponents when you're ten, you learn how NOT to get intimidated pretty quick.
"All right," Akins said grimly. "I may not be able to bring charges against you for what happened last summer, but I can order you to refrain from any illegal activities in this city. As I understand it, you can't intervene in routine police matters unless we invite you. We aren't. We won't."
Dick leaned forward intently. "Are you sure about this, Commissioner," he asked seriously. "Our help in the past—"
"Police work and vigilantism don't mix. You want to help? Wear a badge."
Dick's eyes narrowed. "I did," he returned. "I'll give you that point. They don't mix. Still, last night was difficult for your people. It's going to get worse."
"Not if the lunatics don't have someone in a mask to fixate on. If you won't stay out of costume in my city, you will stay in Blackgate. Do I make myself clear?"
He lifted his head and met Akins' gaze squarely. "As clear as it is that you're cutting off your nose to spite your face." Dick refrained from pointing out that Akins' possessiveness regarding Gotham, and his insistence on running matters his way, reminded him sharply of someone else. A thought occurred to him: was that the underlying root of the conflict between the current police commissioner and his mentor-two men both in positions of command, neither comfortable taking orders, and neither willing to cede authority to the other? He wondered. Broaching the subject, though, would only serve to further antagonize Akins.
"Nightwing will not operate in Gotham, unless and until you request him, Commissioner," Dick said stiffly. "I would, however," he continued, "like to visit my adoptive father."
Akins frowned. "What assurances could you provide that you won't try to slip him a lock-pick? Or that you won't make some attempt to extract him from custody?"
For one fleeting instant, Dick wished he was back with the mob. Then, he could have gotten away with pummelling Akins until his face was as black and blue as the Nightwing costume. Instead, his eyes went flat, and although his mouth curved upwards in an almost-friendly smile, the voice that issued from it could have kept Victor Fries comfortable without the cold-suit. "I can give you my word," Dick replied softly, "just like I can give you my word that I will not file charges against the GCPD for opening fire on a sanctioned Law Enforcement Official last summer, while he was attempting to perform his duties. Provided I'm given the opportunity to visit your prisoner. Who, as of last summer, was also a sanctioned Law Enforcement Official."
He stared intently at Akins, and it was the police commissioner who looked away first. "I'll see what I can do," he growled.
"This is as far as you can go with that, Sir," Danziger cautioned. Gordon sighed, but he leaned the cane against the footboard of the empty bed. He looked several feet over to where Bruce Wayne lay, motionless save for the slight rise and fall of his chest. A blanket covered him from the chest down, save for one leg, elevated in traction. Another blanket was draped over his other leg. His costume had been exchanged for a hospital gown. An untouched tray of food sat on the night-table by the bed. Gordon watched him for a moment, thinking back to earlier days. They'd both been new, then, both feeling their respective ways around a harsh, corrupt, unfriendly city. As much as things have stayed the same in some respects, in others, they ARE better. You HAVE made a difference, my friend, never doubt that.
Danziger extended an elbow to within Gordon's reach. Gordon shook his head. "I can manage, just fine," he said, gruffly. "Just-" he hesitated. He couldn't be sure, but it seemed that for one instant, he'd heard Wayne's breath catch. One instant, and then it was back to normal. Gordon thought for a moment, then deliberately removed his eyeglasses and left them on the folded blanket at the foot of the empty bed. Then he took hold of Danziger's arm, and allowed himself to be guided to the vacant chair next to Wayne's bed.
"Are you awake?" he asked softly.
For a moment, it appeared that Bruce hadn't heard, but then, slowly, his eyes opened, pupils sliding in the direction of the voice. They widened. "J-Jim?" he whispered. "How…" He made an effort to raise himself to a sitting position. Gordon leaned forward to help him, sliding his hands behind the younger man's shoulder blades.
Wordlessly, Bruce buried his face in Gordon's brown cardigan, as his hands gripped the sleeves. After a moment, he realized, in shock, what he was doing.
What was he thinking? Bruce froze horrified. To display this much emotion, in public? To lose the little dignity he had left? And to embarrass Gordon into the bargain… "Sorry," he whispered again, trying to pull away.
He couldn't. Arms, deceptively strong for their appearance, held him fiercely, tenderly in their embrace.
"It's all right," Gordon murmured. "I'm here. I'm right here. And I'm not letting go."
He struggled again, but the former commissioner's grip did not yield. And after a moment, Bruce stopped resisting him. His shoulders shook, as he fought futilely for some measure of control. He was conscious of one arm around his shoulders, supporting his upper back. Gordon's other hand was at the back of his head, gently stroking his hair. It was too much. Too much had happened, in too short a space of time. He needed to get away to compose himself. He couldn't. There was a pain in his throat, a burning in his eyes, his hands trembled. He made one more concerted effort to wrench himself loose.
"You don't have to face this alone," Gordon said gently. "Can you honestly say you want to?"
Bruce shook his head. And then, as though he were a child again, he burrowed his face into Gordon's sweater and let his tears flow. He wept for the death of his oldest friend. He'd long known that there was a good chance he would outlive Alfred, but he hadn't expected that day to come for years, yet. He wept for Jason. For the boy he had adopted and the man that Jason could have yet become. He cried for those who had once been friends and allies. Leslie, who had struggled so hard to persuade him to eschew violence. Instead, she had fallen into his abyss. She had fallen past him. And he hadn't seen, until it was too late. He grieved for those for whom he had never allowed himself to show emotion, certain that once he started, he wouldn't be able to stop. He cried like he had promised himself he would never cry again after his parents' funeral. He cried until he was sure that there were no tears left in him. And then, as had happened with embarrassing regularity these last few months, he found that this was one more occasion where he was quickly proven wrong.
Through it all, Gordon held him tightly, without hesitation, without contempt. Finally, Bruce's sobs ceased, and his breathing quieted. Jim slowly loosened his arms. Bruce shut his eyes, and settled back into the bed. He realized that he should say something. The only problem was that he wasn't at all sure he'd be able to speak without provoking a fresh flood of tears.
"Thanks," Gordon said softly.
Bruce's eyes inched open again. "Thanks?" he asked, bewildered.
Gordon nodded. "After Sarah was murdered," he explained, "I didn't think I'd ever be able to pay you back for being there for me when I needed you."
Bruce shook his head, disbelieving. "You… you didn't… you don't… owe me… for that. I… did what I could. It wasn't enough… but it was… something…" He passed a hand over his eyes. His head was throbbing. "You never owed me... for that," he managed.
Jim placed a hand on Bruce's shoulder. "Agreed," he said with an almost fiendish smile. "According to those rules, you don't owe me anything for the last few minutes, either." Bruce blinked. He opened his mouth to say something, but Gordon cut him off. "And if you're going to insist that you do, why don't you just consider it payment for what happened with Sarah, and say we're even. Deal?"
Bruce took Gordon's outstretched hand with a reluctant half-smile. "Thanks," he said softly. "I… I wish you hadn't seen…"
Gordon squeezed his shoulder. "Don't worry," he said. He pointed toward the bed nearest the door. Bruce's eyes followed the trajectory of his finger to where the cane and a pair of eyeglasses reposed. "You know, I'm practically blind without my glasses."
Bruce's eyes widened as he recalled the last time he'd heard Gordon utter that phrase. For the briefest of instants, a very real smile flashed on his face. "You've known since…"
Gordon nodded. "Suspected strongly," he admitted. "I preferred not to pursue certain lines of inquiry that would have clinched those suspicions, but yes. I think, deep down, I've known that long." He shrugged. "You're hardly in a position to lecture me about keeping secrets. Now…"
Bruce saw him reach for the untouched breakfast tray. He shook his head. "I… I'm not hun-"
Gordon pulled the lid off the tin of fruit cup. "Eat it or wear it," he ordered.
"How could we have forgotten about the JLA sanction?" Barbara asked, incredulous.
Dick grunted as he lifted another carton out of the trunk of his car. Barbara wheeled back from the door connecting the garage to the rest of the house so that Dick could set it down with the others, in one hastily-cleared corner of the basement crime lab. He swung his arms back and forth to get the pins-and-needles feeling out of them. "You know Bruce," he said. "He doesn't like asking for help, period. How long did he try to go it alone during No Man's Land?"
"Point taken. Bet Akins was ticked."
Dick grinned. "He wasn't that surprised, you know. Until I threatened the lawsuit."
Barbara laughed. "I still can't believe you did that!"
"He deserved it. And for what may be the first time ever, it wasn't an empty threat. Once my ID becomes public, I actually will have a few more options."
Barbara turned on her equipment to monitor the police band frequency. "Just don't get carried away, Former Boy Wonder. Your JLA membership gives you international police powers, not diplomatic immunity. And if your ID is public, they'll be able to find you that much more easily."
Dick sobered. "I know. I'm just trying to get used to the situation, now, before all of this hits the newspapers. How long do you think we have?"
"Some orderly could be giving the Post an exclusive as we speak. It could be hours, days at the most." She looked up from her computer array. "Are you… really okay with this?"
Dick shrugged. "Maybe I'm tired of all the wrong people finding out anyway. It might just be a relief to be able to assume from the start that everybody knows already, and work from there."
"Beren called Tim," Barbara said. "They should have the autopsy results by tomorrow, so…"
"We'll need to make the… the funeral arrangements," Dick closed his eyes. "It hasn't really sunk in, yet. I can't afford to let it sink in until we get Bruce out."
Barbara wheeled over and placed a hand over his wrist. "It's not like you can schedule these things," she said, quietly.
"Bruce and I can't fall apart at the same time," he replied. "One of us has to be the strong one. Right now, it has to be me." The conversation was making him uncomfortable. He had to change the subject. "By the way, I found something in the cave I bet you didn't know Bruce had," he said. He pulled the lid off of one of the cartons.
"Just one sec'…"
"Dick, listen to me. Please."
He stopped, and slowly straightened up.
Barbara hesitated. "I guess, first, I'm sorry." She looked down at her hands, folded in her lap. "I got scared. Of how good things were going, of where we were headed. I knew something was going to happen to mess us up, soon, so I… I pre-empted it." She looked up. "I loved that when I was with you, I could forget about the chair, because you never seemed to notice it until I brought it to your attention. Somehow, I managed to twist that around until I had myself believing that you were in denial, and convinced that this was temporary. Or that you didn't appreciate that, despite all my electronic toys and my custom van, the chair does limit me. Talk about projecting. Anyway, I don't know everything that happened after you left, that night, but from what I do know, you've had a lot going on. I understand if you don't want to talk to me, right now, but…" she hesitated. "Don't get angry."
She was silent for so long that Dick finally had to ask, "About?" In a way, the pause had been a good thing. It had given him time to compose himself before opening his mouth.
Barbara sighed. "Bruce taught us… a lot. Some things that we picked up, though, I don't think he meant for us to, and… well… let's take me. I… manipulated things on a mission, so that Helena had to confront some of her… issues. She figured it out, and blew up. Rightfully. But one of the things she told me was that I was just like… like Bruce. And it wasn't a compliment. And she was right. I'm telling you this, because, if you think about what you were saying before, it sounds like you're planning to deal with things by suppressing them. And that's another one of Bruce's techniques. And I don't think it's a good one to pick up."
"Dick. Listen. Talking something out is not 'falling apart'. Calling a friend who's been through something similar and asking for coping strategies is not 'weakness'. If you're not comfortable opening up to me, after everything that's happened, I understand. Call Roy, call Wally… hell, talk to Hal Jordan if you think it'll do some good. But don't keep it all in. I think we've all seen enough of what that does to Bruce."
She waited. Dick was silent, but he at least seemed to be considering her words.
A text message began to flash on one of her monitors. She excused herself and wheeled over. A groan escaped her lips. "It's only been dark for a half-hour or so, and Escobar's old crew is down at the docks. So's the Jade Serpent triad."
"Drug-related?" Dick asked, instantly professional.
Barbara hesitated. "Could be." She punched a code onto one of her consoles. "I'll get Cass to check into it. Robin's in Bludhaven, tonight," she added. "Penguin's up to something."
"Penguin's always up to something," Dick remarked as Barbara began relaying instructions to Cass.
Once the link was terminated, she smiled, half-heartedly. "Well, he's up to more than usual. About…"
Dick held up a hand. "I know. Believe me, I know. And don't worry, I'll deal with things, but not right this second. Oh, before I forget," he withdrew his hand from behind his back, and pitched something small, and blue and grey onto her lap, "here."
Barbara looked at the Batgirl beanbag doll that had sat on her workstation in the Clock Tower for nearly five years. "Oh my gosh!" She gasped with a startled laugh. "Where did you find…"
Dick grinned. "In the cave. I guess Bruce must've found it in the rubble, afterwards. Thought you might like it back."
"Omigosh, yes!" She exclaimed. "Dick, I-I don't know what to say…"
"Then don't say anything. But when you don't have your work distracting you," he said hesitantly, as he gestured to the computers, "maybe we could try… I could try… talking. If you don't mind that you'll probably end up hating me by the time I finish," he said lightly.
"Dick Grayson, I could never hate you," Barbara insisted. At that moment, the police band frequency crackled to life.
"Officer down! We need assistance. Any units in the vicinity of Cameron and Weisinger please respond…"
Dick started forward. "That's only about ten blocks from here."
"Dick, if you go out there…"
"Listen to the band, Babs. The nearest unit is over twenty minutes away." He gestured to the monitors. More lines of text were appearing every few seconds. "There are looters downtown, Riddler's at large, and Cornelius Stirk's been on the loose for sixteen hours. I have to help."
Barbara bowed her head. "I know," she admitted. "You're right. But if Akins finds out, you're either going to have to leave Gotham, or wear a disguise around the clock. And forget trying to see Bruce." She sighed. "I mean, you gave him your word, and now you're about to break it."
Dick smiled. "No," he said slowly. "No, I'm not. I promised Akins that Nightwing wouldn't be operating in Gotham without his permission. And I'm going to keep that promise." He reached back into the same carton from which he'd extracted the Batgirl doll. "I'm still going out tonight, though," he said as he pulled out a black cape with a pointed-ear cowl attached to it. "I'll just have to wear a different suit."