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This part might be deserving of a tissue warning. Might not. :)

Coming Home, Part 6c
by Smitty

"Three days!"

Babs winced as Dinah's strident voice cut through the police dispatch warbling in her ear. "What's three days?"

"The next flight out of this place! Three days! I'm stuck here three days! And I'm very sorry to say that the people here are not appreciative of my destroying the only economy they know. True, I'd be sorrier if I *hadn't* blown the place, since I'd still *be* in there..."

Babs sighed and leaned forward onto her worktable. "I'm sorry, Dinah," she said sincerely. "I didn't check the flight schedule before I sent you in. That was sloppy on my part. And I'm sorry I wasn't online when you needed me."

"Babs?" Dinah's voice was concerned. "Are you ok?"

"Yeah, just tired," Barbara told her, covering her sore eyes with one hand. "And I really am sorry."

"Yeah, I can tell... you're actually apologizing." Dinah sounded puzzled. "Hey, don't worry about me. I'm going to go hide out in a barn or something. You should, y'know, unplug. Take a Soder break or something."

Babs heard another beep in her ear and realized the house phone was ringing. "Dinah, can you hang on a minute? I gotta get something."

"I'm outta here, babe," Dinah assured her. "Gonna go mingle with the natives and get some shut-eye. You go get what you gotta get and I'll talk to you in the morning."

"Ok," Babs agreed with a tired smile. "Thanks, Dinah. Talk to you tomorrow." She broke her connection with Dinah and switched to the phone line.

"Hello?" she asked brightly, as if she'd just been watching television.

"Hey, Barbara, it's Filb."

"Filb! How are you doing? Is everything ok?"

"Oh, doing fine," he assured her. "I'm sorry to bother you so late. Is Grayson there?"

"Hey, we're night owls," Babs told him cheerfully.

"Comes with the shift. Dick's working out right now. Can I give him a message?"

"Sure. One of the kids in the hospital woke up. He's giving a statement to Amy and a couple of youth cops right now."

"Really?" Babs felt numb. Had Dick been right? "Any word?"

"Not yet," Filb said neutrally. "I'll let you know if I hear more."

"Thanks, Filb," Babs said, almost in a daze. "Have a good night."

"You, too, Barbara."

Barbara disconnected the line and sat for a moment staring at the screen. What did this mean? After a moment, she shook her personal musings and connected to Nightwing's communicator.

"Oracle to Nightwing. Come in, Nightwing."

"Nightwing here." His voice was cold and flat.

"Nightwing, Filb reports one of the kids at Rabe woke up and is giving a statement. Thought you'd be interested."


"Thanks, Oracle."

That was it. The connection was cut.

Fine, Babs thought furiously, ripping off her headset. She'd do it her way. She easily hacked her way into Blüdhaven PD's files and set up a hidden link. When someone typed up that report, it would be fed immediately into her databanks. Just as a precaution, she used her monitors to assure herself that Spud was still safely in his room. She'd cooked up some macaroni and cheese after Dick left, but Spud had only picked at it. Now, however, he was running Buckshot up the bedspread and didn't seem at all inclined to go exploring. Satisfied with that little bit, she pulled herself close to the desk and began working through her backlog.

Rabe Memorial Hospital had lousy security. It took under a minute for Nightwing to slip undetected through a third floor window and melt into the shadows. The drama was wasted on the quiet room. The room had two occupants--one unconscious, one asleep--and the steady beeping of the various machines was the only noise Nightwing's ears could detect. He crossed the room on cat feet, glancing at the charts through his Star-Lite lenses. It was the kid closest to the door. Nightwing squatted by his bed and touched his shoulder gently. The kid had gotten hit in the femoral artery and had been unconscious from shock and blood loss for that past four days. He'd given a statement to the police earlier that evening. He was about to give another one.

"Wake up, Johnny. Wake up," Nightwing murmured quietly.

"Wha-huh?" The kid blinked sleepily in the dark room.


Johnny's eyes widened and he jerked up when he saw the dark figure by his bed.

"Are you Nightwing?" he blurted out.

"Shhh." Nightwing waved his hand, indicating Johnny should lower his voice. "Quiet."

"Are you Nightwing?" Johnny whispered, eyes wide.

"Yes. I need to ask you some questions."


"First of all, where did you get the gun you had?"

"I--I didn't have one. I got shaked down by the cops a few days ago and had to throw it away."

"Where did you get that one?"

"Uh... some guy Bowser knew. I dunno."

"How was this guy dressed? Expensive?"

"No. Jeans. T-shirt. Like everyone."

"Anything special about him?"

Johnny shook his head bewilderedly. "No. I don't think so."

Nightwing's face didn't change. "Tell me what happened that day."

"You mean what started stuff?" Johnny looked into the darkness for a minute. "I think it started with Ruckman and Meyers. Ruck heard Meyers done his girl and they started getting mad about it. And then Bowser had his hand in his pocket and I guess Ruck thought he was getting his piece or something cuz he pulled out his piece and when someone pulls out 'is piece then all of 'em come out, y'know?"

"Who fired the first shot?" Nightwing asked hollowly. "Did you see?"

Johnny nodded. He cast his eyes over to the guy in the bed next to him. "Kane did. His gun got caught on his jacket and it went off on him. I ran over t'help him and next thing I know, everyone else is going." He looked back at Nightwing with old, tired eyes. "Can I go to sleep now? I'm kinda tired."

"Just one more thing," Nightwing said, not unkindly. "You mean all this... violence, all this death... it started over a misunderstanding about a girl?"

"Yeah, sucks, huh?"

"Yeah." Nightwing nodded slightly. "Go back to sleep, Johnny. Get better."

"Cool. I can't wait t'tell the guys 'bout this. I got t'meet Nightwing. He was in my room and..." His words trailed off to mumbles as he slipped back to his dreams.

Nightwing looked down at the sleeping boy and slipped out of the room via the window.

He went to the roof and looked out ov

er the city. There was a chill in the air and the wind blew back his hair.

Dick Grayson bowed his head, admitting defeat.

Babs breathed a sigh of relief as the heavy wooden door shut behind her. She felt enormously successful. She had thrown herself into the backlog of work that had been accumulating over the last several days and managed to not only finish up all of it, but also complete some proactive research for Dinah's next tour of South American heroin labs. No more surprises like tonight, she promised herself.

It wasn't very late, but Babs had decreed that Oracle was offline for the evening. Dick wasn't reporting in and probably wasn't about to. Dinah had given her the green light to go. Even Batman seemed surprisingly not-grumpy that evening. If only she could be so lucky in her own house.

She wheeled her way back to her bedroom before she remembered why she'd been hiding in the Oracle lair. She could hear Spud playing behind her as she regarded her empty doorway with disgust. Ignoring him, she wheeled into the room. She used the swinging metal bar suspended from the ceiling to transfer herself to the king-sized bed and picked up the novel she had been working through in her spare minutes.

But there was a basket of clean laundry sitting on Dick's side of the bed. And it was looking at her. With a sigh of exasperation, Barbara put her novel back on the bedside table and moved back into her chair. She rolled around the bed to retrieve the basket and brought it close to the chest of drawers. It was silly, she reflected, deftly folding a t-shirt on her lap, that she couldn't ignore some housework for just a few hours. There was no reason to jump on it right away. But it was there, and it was bothering her and she was going to fix it. She shook her head and placed the shirt on the bed, reaching for another.

As she folded the second shirt, she glanced out her unfortunately open doorway. Spud was sitting in his room, playing with the horse. And nothing else. Babs felt bad. It really wasn't fair to have sent him to this room without anything besides the horse. He'd actually exhibited some pretty admirable creativity in choosing his playmates, she admitted. She reached into the basket for a pair of Dick's socks, wrapping them into a ball and reaching to set them on the bed. Across the hall, she could hear Spud cheering for his horse.

She looked down at the socks in her hand.

She looked across the hall.

With aim she honed throwing Batarangs in her early twenties, Babs lobbed the sock ball across the hall into Spud's room. He looked up, surprised.

She grinned at the look on his face. Curious, he stood up and peered out of his doorway. Then he retreated out of sight. Poor kid, she thought with a shake of her head. He probably thought he was under attack. But not thirty seconds later, a much smaller set of socks, hastily fashioned into a similar ball, bounced into her room. It settled on the ground, several feet away from her chair. She glanced across the hall in time to see a red head disappear from the doorway. Babs glanced around the room in search of a suitable reply. Dick's sneaker? No, she decided with a wrinkle of her nose. That would stink. She leaned down and took off her own shoe, tucked the laces inside and lobbed it through the door.

"Hey! You can kill a guy with that thing!"

Babs grinned as another, smaller shoe, came flying back.

"Yeah, well, why don't you bring it back then?" she challenged.

"I would, but I'm not allowed out of my room," Spud replied, coming to the doorway. He lined his toes up with the line dividing the hallway and his room.

"Guess you'll have to stay there," Babs said with a shrug. "You hungry?"

"When am I *not*?"

Babs grinned and found a tube of chewy mint candies in her bedside table.

"Catch," she told him, chucking the candy over.

He didn't catch, but he did a decent job of juggling and holding onto the package.

"Thank you," he said very nicely. He dug a candy out of the wrapping and popped it in his mouth.

"You're welcome," Babs replied softly. Someone had obviously taught him *some* manners... once upon a time.

"I'm sorry I make things hard for you," he told her, mouth full. Even from across the way, Babs thought he looked a little worried.

"I..." She wasn't sure how to answer. He *did* make things harder, but it wasn't exactly his fault. Put yourself in his place, she instructed herself. If I were a little boy--god forbid--what would I... oh dear. "I'm sorry I make things hard for you, too," she answered with the ghost of a smile.

Spud bit his bottom lip.

"I'll tell you what," Babs offered. "If you find a way to get across the hallway without touching the floor, you can come over here."



Babs could almost *see* the wheels turn in Spud's head as he gauged the distance from his room to hers and whether it was possible to for him to jump the gap. The hallway was wide, built for her wheelchair to be able to turn around, and Babs watched as he decided against the leap. He vanished into the room for a minute and reappeared with a box of Kleenex and his horse tucked under his arm. He laid a Kleenex on the ground and stepped on it. Then, he put another in front of it and stepped out, balanced between two. He plucked a third from the box and moved forward, but his back foot slipped. He waved his arms, nearly dropping the horse, and hopped back into his room. He poked his head back out long enough to scoop in the tissues and stuff them back in the box.

Babs decided to take Filb's advice and let that one go.

He disappeared from her sight for several minutes.

"If I take this blanket off the bed, I’m gonna have to put it back on again, ain't I?" he finally called.

"'Aren't I'," Babs corrected. "And yes, you are."

There was some suspicious sounding silence and then Spud appeared in the doorway once more. With his trashcan. Babs just bit her lip and kept her mouth shut. She watched as he carefully stepped into the plastic cube and grabbed the sides. Using it like one would use a potato sack in a race, he hopped into the hall. Once. Again. And fell over. Babs slammed a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud as Spud wiggled around like a landed fish, trying to stand up and, that failing, squirm back into his room without spending any more time on the floor than humanly possible.

"Spud. Spud!" Barbara interrupted his gyrations.

He lifted his head. "Yeah?"

"You can get up and go back in your room," Babs told him, smiling. "You didn't win, but you're not out of the game yet."

"Sweet." Spud scrambled out of the trashcan and dragged it back to his room, retrieving the horse from the bottom.

Babs didn't see him again for a few minutes.

"GERONIMO!" Spud came flying across the floor, clutching the edge of the pillow that was under his knees. Because, as every child knows, Pillows + Hardwood Floor = Excellent Sliding Surface.

Babs laughed as he tumbled into the room.

"Good job!" she cheered. "That was great!"

Spud came up beaming. "That was fun!" he exclaimed. "I just had to get a running start." He reached into his shirt and pulled out his horse.

"Keeping it safe?" Babs asked, nodding toward Buckshot.

"I didn't want him to get lost," Spud confirmed. He and Buckshot walked around the bed and crawled up behind the laundry basket. A quick check confirmed for Babs that he wasn't wearing shoes. He must have ditched his other sneaker in his room, she decided.

"Can I help?"

"Sure you can," Babs agreed, surprised that he offered. "Do you want to pair up the socks?"


They worked together in companionable silence for a couple minutes before Spud's curiosity got the better of him.

"How come you have to have a wheelchair?" he asked hesitantly. "Is that ok to ask?"

Babs smiled sadly. "It's ok to ask," she assured him. "I... was shot. With a gun. In the stomach."

"Oh." Spud looked very serious. "Like Scorch. Only you're alive still." He turned his head and continued matching socks.

"Yeah." Babs bit her lip. "I am."

"Do you think..." Spud studied the socks closely. "Do you think that if Scorch hadn't died, he would have been in a wheelchair, too?"

"I--I couldn’t say, sweetie."

A tear dripped onto Dick's police issue black socks.

"I wish he was in a wheelchair," Spud sniffled. "Cuz then he'd still be here."

"Oh sweetie, c'mere." Babs held out her arms and Spud crawled across the clean clothes to lean his head on her shoulder. Some of the clothes fell to the floor.

Neither of them cared.

The computer room was dark when Dick stepped out of the elevator. He was so tired, it actually hurt to walk over to the heavy oaken door and open it. He tried to remember when he'd last let himself sleep. A few days ago? Maybe? He blinked sore eyes and made sure to lock the door behind him this time. He'd done enough wrong this week.

He walked straight to the kitchen, heading for a cold bottle of water. His back ached as he tilted his head up to let the cool liquid run down his throat. The light of the fridge was enough to see that his home was in perfect order again, with the exception of the pair of doors leaning against the wall of the hallway. The doors. It made him tired just to look at them. He'd failed. He'd tried to make a family and all he had were two doors sitting in his hallway. He was sure there was a metaphor in there somewhere, but his brain felt too sluggish to figure out what it might be.

He closed the fridge and walked toward the end of the hall, where a faint light glowed from the open doorway of the master bedroom.

He trudged tiredly toward that light, knowing he was lucky it was even on. He paused at the doorway, looking in at Babs, who was reading by the light of her bedside lamp. Her reading glasses were slipping down her nose and the low wattage bulb cast glittering highlights throughout her hair. He watched her finish her page, then look up at him.

"Are you coming in or not?" she asked calmly.

Dick thanked the stars that at least he had not been relegated to the couch and entered the room. He sat down heavily on her side of the bed, feeling the springs of the mattress give under his exhausted weight. He felt his hip bump Barbara's knee.

Glancing at her face, he knew she noticed too, even though she hadn't felt the brush.

"I screwed up," he told her bluntly. "I pulled a Bruce. When I was nine..." Dick clasped his hands together and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and pulling his eyes from Barbara's closed face to look at the floor. "When I first came to live with him, Bruce was cold and distant and I didn't know why. He was going after Zucco. He was going after Zucco for me. And in the meantime, he ignored me and left Alfred to make things better. But Alfred wasn't the one I wanted. And I just did the same thing to Spud. And to you." He glanced up and saw a laundry basket sitting on the floor near the dresser. Spud was curled up inside it, asleep, Buckshot wedged under his arm. "What's Spud doing here?" he asked, a faint smile playing on his lips.

"He wanted to wait up for you," Babs replied. "He fell asleep in his pirate ship." She waited a bit before adding, "I think he was afraid you were walking out on us."

A lump formed in Dick's throat as he stared at the little boy who fit in the basket too well. Spud's face was creased in worry, his forehead wrinkled and his fists clenched.

"Why didn't you tell me you saw Bruce?" he asked, fishing for the only offense he had.

"He asked us not to," Babs said quietly. "You were supposed to find out that evening, but you never called him."

Dick nodded. Of course. The two greatest detectives in the world, reduced to a comedy of errors. It was almost ironic.

"Did you go to the hospital?"

Dick paused in his nodding, then nodded again.

"Did you find what you were looking for?" Babs asked gently.

"I--You were right. You were right, Filb was right, Amy was right... there's no supervillain behind this. No mastermind; no deranged felon. A bunch of kids with guns just got in a fight."

He felt his eyes burn with tears. "And they wound up dead. And it's no one's fault but their own. There's no way I can fix it and there's no way I can stop it from happening again." He shut his eyes hard against the tears and ducked his head. He felt a cool, smooth touch on his tightly fisted his hand and looked down to see Babs' slim white fingers wrapped around his own large brown hand.

"You're my hero, Dick," she told him softly. "You want to save the world. And it hurts when you can't. You can't save those dead kids but you saved Spud. He's not on the streets anymore and as difficult as he can be, he just wants you to come home and love him. And maybe--" Barbara stopped herself and lay her other hand on his shoulder.

"Dick's home?"

Dick quickly blinked his tears away and straightened up to see Spud on his knees, still in the laundry basket.

"Hey, buddy," he said softly. "How're you doing?"

"Ok," Spud said cautiously. "Babs and I got along ok."

"Good. I'm glad." Dick watched as Spud crawled out of the basket and stood hesitantly close to Dick.

"C'mere," he offered, holding out an arm.

Spud rushed to his side, crawling up on the bed between Dick and Babs and resting his head on Dick's arm. Buckshot was strangled in his grip. "Where were you?" he asked anxiously. "Were you with Filb again? Were you looking for the guys who killed Scorch?" Dick stared at him in surprise.

Babs squeezed her husband's shoulder. "Spud woke up last night when you were 'out working'," she told him.

"He wanted to make sure Filb was with you."

"Oh." Dick suddenly realized just how much he'd missed, how much had happened while he was gone.

"Yeah, I was working but-" Dick glanced at Babs. She squeezed his hand and nodded. "Spud... there's no one to go 'get'. There was just... a big fight... and things happen."

"What do you mean?" Spud asked, suddenly sounding very small. "Are you giving up? You can't give up! We have to find who did it and beat them up!"

"Spud," Dick started helplessly.

Spud started crying. "No fair, no fair, no *fair*!" he yelled, his little fists seeming to add more bruises to Dick's already battered body.

"Spud, calm down." Dick pulled the little boy onto his lap, muffling the flying fists and hugging him tightly. He glanced helplessly over the top of Spud's head at Babs who bit her lip and moved her free hand-the one that had been clasping Dick's-to Spud's back, offering comforting strokes.

Exhausted, the little family sat together, rocking Spud until he was quiet.

"I think we all need some sleep," Babs said softly, brushing a stray curl away from Spud's forehead.

"Do you want me to take you back to your room?" Dick asked, knowing that as tired as he was, he could carry Spud to bed as his own father-and Bruce, he added with a flash of guilt-had carried him to his own bed years ago.

Spud sniffed and looked up at him with red eyes.

"Can I-can I stay here with you tonight?" he sniffled.

Dick closed his eyes in relief, remembering Spud's rebuff of his offer what seemed like many days ago.

"Of course you can," Babs assured him. She reached over and tugged Dick's pillow next to her own. "Come on, sweetie." She wrapped her arms around Dick's shoulders, enveloping both of them, and pulling them down next to her on the bed.

Just before he passed into oblivion, Dick felt Babs' hand on top of his and he almost managed to smile before the darkness claimed him.

End Part 6

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