Chapter Twenty

Batman drove like a maniac. As soon as he cleared the Gotham City limits he tried contacting the Manor.

"Come on...come on..." he muttered. "Pick up, Alfred..."

"Alfred here, sir," the quiet voice responded. Batman heard an underlying layer of anxiety.

"I'm almost home," Batman reported. "How is he?"

"Dr. Leslie is with him right now," Alfred said. "She believes Master Dick is suffering from some form of radiation poisoning. His invulnerability has left him; therefore, she's been able to take blood samples. She's currently running tests on the specimens she took."

"Give me some of the symptoms," Batman ordered. He wanted to get a feel for what could be wrong. He needed facts, something to base his assessment on. He needed information. He needed--

He needed something to sink his teeth into in order to stop feeling like his blood was freezing in his veins.

"His vitals are all weak, sir, and steadily growing weaker. Dr. Leslie has him on full respiration, she's--" the transmission stopped suddenly.

"Alfred! Alfred, come in!"

There was no response. An icy hand gripping his heart, Batman punched the Batmobile's thrusters to even higher rpm's.

Alfred stood back as Dr. Leslie Thompkins worked desperately over Dick. His heart had suddenly stopped. As soon as the heart monitor flatlined, Leslie raced to Dick's side and began CPR. Every few counts, she'd pause and quickly give mount-to-mouth, check his pulse, then start again.

After a seeming eternity, the heart monitor began its familiar, steady rhythm. Alfred stood absolutely still, his eyes closed in relief.

The well-known roar of the Batmobile's engines were heard as it returned to its hangar. Within a few minutes, Batman was at his side. Alfred noted a raw welt from a possible burn on Batman's unprotected cheek, saw the oily remains of blackened smoke on his uniform. His cape was slightly singed.

Batman had eyes only for Dick. He stood over the boy, frozen in shock by Dick's deathly ill appearance. Batman slowly removed the cowl, transforming himself back into Bruce Wayne. He pinned Leslie with his burning scowl, his face dark with rage.

She ignored him and continued to work on Dick. She prepared a hypodermic and carefully injected the boy.

"How is he? What do you have?" Bruce demanded.

Leslie looked up, her eyes calm. She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Bruce," she replied. "He's stable for now, but extremely weak. I'm not certain, but it looks like his immune system is shutting down. Something is attacking his bloodstream. It acts like radiation poisoning, but it isn't like any radiation poisoning I've ever seen before."

Then turning away, she returned to the lab and the electron microscope that she'd been checking before Dick had gone into cardiac arrest.

She sighed. "I just don't know what do, Bruce," she admitted. "I've never seen anything like it before in my life. But then, I've never seen blood cells like these in my entire life, either." This last was muttered ironically.

"Let me," Bruce said curtly. Leslie stood to the side giving him room. Bruce adjusted the electron microscope. Finally, he saw what Leslie meant. What he assumed were Dick's equivalent of red blood cells had a strange, greenish tinge to them, while the white blood cells looked like they were being *eaten* or destroyed by whatever was attacking.

"This isn't getting us anywhere," he growled. "If we want to find the cure, we first need to find the poison." He turned to Alfred. "Where did you find him, Alfred?"

"There, by the open display case, Master Bruce," Alfred said, hurrying to where he'd discovered Dick, glad that he was doing something. "I found him here, unconscious," he said, pointing to the spot where Dick had been lying.

Bruce went down on his haunches, studying the area around the trophy cases carefully. Not seeing anything useful straight away, he stood and checked the interior of the spacecraft. He spotted one of his own metal specimen boxes inside. Eyes narrowed, he picked it up. It was open. He inspected its contents. Empty.

Standing still, Bruce thought back to the previous winter, to his trip to a certain farmer's field near Smallville, Kansas. A field where he'd found a strange green rock. A rock that his instruments could barely register. A rock that glowed with a mysterious, pulsing radiation.

Bruce took out his palm-sized scanner and again began to inspect the area. His training and self-discipline helped keep him calm and focused. While his scanner couldn't clearly record the makeup of the rock, it could nevertheless detect a trace. Outwardly patient, Bruce painstakingly scanned the area.

There! The scanner's LCD screen fluctuated minutely. He turned it back slightly. The screen fluctuated again. Bruce strode in the direction from where he believed the readings originated.

The dinosaur trophy stood tall and forbidding in the dark corner, a souvenir from one of Batman's earliest cases and a constant irritant for Alfred who dutifully dusted it on a weekly basis. Dick thought it was neat, but like all humans below a certain age, he was a junior expert in the field of paleontology and could rattle off just about every known species of prehistoric animal...

Dick claimed that Batman's trophy had never existed. "It's like Barney," he said dismissively. "Or, maybe more like Bugs Bunny. Why don't we get a *real* fossil instead?"

Alfred had rolled his eyes that at this suggestion. "My word," he'd muttered, shaking his head...

Bruce's mouth quirked at the memory. Recalling Dick's current state, the pleasant moment passed and was quickly replaced with his usual grim demeanor. Walking around and below the massive dinosaur's legs, Bruce inspected the immediate area around the trophy inch by careful inch.

At last, a dim, greenish glow radiating from underneath the dinosaur's curled tail revealed its location. Bruce bent down and picked up the peculiar rock. He once again ran his scanner over it, and again, the instrument barely 'pipped' to indicate that the rock even existed.

He held it up, his face bathed in its emerald luminescence. Alfred came and stood next to him, his eyes on the pulsing rock.

"What *is* it, Master Bruce?"

"I'm not sure, Alfred," Bruce admitted. "But I'm going to find out..."

The Catwoman grinned her Cheshire grin.

"I'd call this a good night's work," she purred. She had all of the would-be kidnappers bundled up nicely, ready for transport. She'd tossed them unceremoniously into the back of the very van that they'd intended to use as the getaway vehicle.

She grinned at the irony.

"It's almost too bad I'm going to give up this life. Sometimes it can be so much fun."

Selina thought about a certain bright-eyed, dark-haired, flying boy whom she'd fallen in love with and her demeanor instantly softened. She thought of the boy's father and her heart filled with something else--a sense of renewed hope.

Hope for a life away from scum like these. Hope for a life where the only way she'd ever get her hands dirty again was by gardening.

Selina thought of Dick's secret. He had to be Robin, the Boy of Steel. After all, how many flying boys could there be in the world? Selina instinctively believed that made Bruce Wayne, Batman, but preferred not to think about it.

While Bruce was the kindest, sweetest man she'd ever known, Batman probably ate cats for lunch. Could it work between them? Would she be able to make it work? Could Bruce love a notorious jewel thief? Could *Batman*?

Selina felt a moment of doubt. Shaking her head she climbed into the van's cab and started the engine.

"It'll work," she said with determination as she pulled out to the main highway.

She'd *make* it work.

"She neutralized all of Falcone's men, mistress."

"Thank you, Ubu," Talia said, lowering her glasses. "I am quite aware of Falcone's failure and the Kyle woman's betrayal."

"Should I kill them for you, mistress?" Ubu asked.

"The woman, yes. Falcone, not yet. We may still have need of his contacts." Talia raised her glasses again. This time she zoomed in on the boy's bedroom window. There were no life readings in the room. In fact, there were no readings in the entire mansion.

"They must be down in the subterranean complex," she said. "The woman who came earlier was Dr. Leslie Thompkins. She is very close to the 'family.'" Talia lowered her glasses. "Someone's injured."

"Perhaps the detective?" Ubu offered.

"Perhaps," Talia murmured.

"Should I go in and find out for you, mistress?"

"No, Ubu. We'll wait. We have all the time in the world," she added under her breath. Was her beloved injured, she wondered?

Her beloved...

She'd never met Bruce Wayne, yet she loved him. Some might consider that as absurd, but she knew that they were fated to meet, fall in love, and have a child.

It was their destiny...

It was a few hours before dawn. Bruce had worked feverishly since his arrival running test after test on the green, glowing rock. He'd had to step into the lead-lined chamber to ensure that the radiation didn't reach Dick. That is, if it were indeed the radiation from the unusual rock that was poisoning Dick.

In less than five minutes, they knew that indeed it was. Bruce exposed some of the blood samples to the rock. When he checked the results, he felt his heart start racing with excitement.

"Leslie! I've got something. Look!" Bruce turned aside to allow her to view the test results.

Leslie gasped at what she saw. "Oh, my God..." she whispered. "Bruce, the red blood cells have turned completely green. The white blood cells are *also* beginning to turn color. They're being consumed almost entirely by the radiation poisoning! Bruce, I've never seen anything like it. What--what *is* this thing?"

"I found it last winter when I was investigating Dick's background. I put it in the specimen box with the intention of running tests on it, but when I found the spacecraft, I guess testing the rock became secondary. I put it inside the craft to retrieve later, but--" Bruce shrugged, hanging his head. "I didn't consider it an urgent matter."

Bruce closed his eyes and clasping his hands together, dropped his head on them. "God help me. I didn't consider it an urgent matter," he repeated in self-recrimination.

Bruce lifted his head and looked at Leslie with haunted eyes. Abruptly, he straightened his shoulders and deliberately hardened his features. His eyes burned with a violence that threatened to erupt at any given moment.

"We'll find the cure, Bruce," Leslie said with a confidence she didn't feel. Bruce didn't reply. He simply nodded.

"Let's get to work," he said...

While Bruce and Leslie worked fervently for the next few hours, Alfred stayed by Dick's bedside. He'd pulled a chair next to the medbed and sat down for a long vigil.

Dick seemed lost amidst the various tubes and machines that surrounded him. Alfred took Dick's small hand in his and held it tenderly. Without realizing that he was doing it, Alfred began to talk out loud.

"Master Dick, you can't leave us, young sir. Master Bruce and I do so need you. And you're to be Master Bruce and Miss Selina's ring bearer, remember? They'd both be heartbroken if you missed the wedding. You've become the most important part of our lives, Master Dick..."

Later, Alfred wouldn't be able to clearly recall what he talked about, he just remembered that there were many things he'd been meaning to say, and he found himself saying them. In the end, he spoke to Dick for what must have been hours...

Alfred woke up to Leslie disconnecting the life-support machines. Bruce stood hunched over the laboratory table, both hands on its gleaming surface. He looked broken.

"Wha--? What are you doing, Dr. Leslie? Master Bruce, what's going on here?"

Although Leslie worked wordlessly, the haunted look in her eyes told the story.

"Master Bruce?" Alfred stood respectfully to the side, not interfering with Leslie's solemn duty. Once she was finished, Bruce walked up to Dick and gently lifted him in his arms. Without a word, he carried him upstairs.

Stricken, Alfred stood in place. He turned to Leslie. She walked up to him, and he took her in his arms, giving as much of his strength as possible to ease her in their moment of sorrow. At last, she spoke, her voice tinged with grief.

"We can't find a cure, Alfred. Whatever this rock is, it's deadly to someone of Dick's physiology. His systems are shutting down one by one, and there's nothing we can do about it. He's dying, Alfred."

Alfred nodded, somehow finding reservoirs of inner strength to maintain his dignified bearing.

"All we can do is make his last few hours as comfortable as possible," Leslie added. She pulled away and gazed into his eyes.

"Bruce is taking him up to his room. Oh, Alfred, Dick's such a bright, shining presence among us, that he shouldn't--that is, his last few moments shouldn't be in a dark cave. He should be somewhere that the sun can reach."

Alfred nodded. "You are correct, of course. We should make Master Dick's last few moments as bright as he's made our lives." He took her arm and escorted her upstairs. "Come. It'll be daylight soon. We shouldn't leave Master Bruce alone at a time like this."

"It is the child," Talia said, gazing through her glasses. "He is the reason the doctor was called." It was serious. Her beloved was still wearing his dark costume, something she knew he *never* did when upstairs in the living area. He was sitting on the bed, cradling the child in his arms.

"Do not despair, beloved," Talia whispered. "I shall give you a child one day. A child of your own flesh. It is my destiny and my desire."

"Will the boy live?" Ubu asked.

"I cannot determine that from this distance," Talia replied. "Father will be most displeased."

"It shall be daylight soon, mistress. It is not prudent to remain and possibly risk being seen."

"You are correct, Ubu," Talia conceded. "Come, let us leave. We have much to do..."

The Catwoman watched the fun from an adjacent rooftop. Assault weapons drawn and wearing full riot gear, Gotham's Finest surrounded the abandoned van. She covered her mouth to keep from laughing out loud when the SWAT team opened the van doors.

The look of shock on their faces was priceless. "I would've *paid* money to see this," she said laughing softly.

Inside the van, she knew were the final remnants of the Falcone gang, wrists and legs immobilized and mouths taped. And because she made them strip down to their underwear before tossing them in the van, they were also shirtless and pantless...

Alfred and Leslie stood helplessly by. Leslie had finally convinced Bruce to put Dick to bed so that he could be made as comfortable as possible. She was about to help change his clothes, but Bruce waved her away.

"No," he said. "This is my job."

Leslie felt her heart breaking as she watched Bruce carefully and lovingly remove Dick's street clothes and replace them with his favorite Star Wars pajamas. When done, he lay his boy down and gently tucked all the covers around him.

Unable to bear being apart from him, Bruce lay next to his son on top of the covers. Feather soft fingertips explored the miracle of his boy's face, his nose, cheek, and chin.

"I'm here, Dick," Bruce said softly. "I won't leave you, son. I was never truly alive until the day you came into my life. You're the reason I was put on this Earth, Dick. To hold you and keep you safe."

Bruce felt the tears start. "Someone please tell me how to keep my son safe. How do I keep the shadows away? Oh, God, how do I save my son?"

Like Alfred earlier, Bruce didn't know when he started articulating what he'd been feeling inside, but eventually he spoke to Dick about nothing and everything...

Bruce woke to terror. Leslie was performing CPR on Dick. Alfred was insistently urging him to move out of the way to let her work. Leslie stopped to check for any progress. Dick's breaths came in ragged gasps, a struggle for what little air he was getting.

Leslie was connecting him once again to the life support machines to help him breathe easier. Soon, Bruce could hear the steady, rhythmic in and out sound of mechanical breathing.

Feeling dissociated from what was happening, Bruce ironically noticed that as Dick started sinking further and further away from him, the eastern skies began to go from black to gray to blue.

Soon the first rays of sunlight could be seen peeking over the hilly woodline. As if two separate people, Bruce watched Leslie work on Dick, heard her urgent cries to keep fighting.

At the same time, Bruce marveled at how quickly the night was retreating from the rapidly advancing sun. He could actually see the day race across the dew- covered, manicured grounds.

Bruce heard Leslie as if in a water tunnel, her voice muffled and distorted. "Come on, Dick!" Leslie cried. "You can make it. Come on, honey! Fight this thing!"

I should be paying attention, Bruce thought. He began to concentrate on what Leslie was saying. This isn't right, he thought. Suddenly, Bruce felt as if he'd just snapped awake. He could hear Leslie clearly, and he understood the meaning behind the words.

They were losing Dick. Watching as she worked on Dick's small body, Bruce finally had enough.

"Stop!" he shouted. "No more!" He shoved Leslie aside and turned off the cold, infernal machines. Bending down, he gently wrapped Dick in his blankets, and lifted him up in his arms.

"But, Bruce--"

"You said it yourself!" Bruce said harshly. "There's nothing more we can do." He looked down at the deathly pale boy in his arms. "If I'm going to lose Dick forever, then I want to hold him for as long as I still have him."

He carried Dick over to the French doors and stepped out into the balcony.

"Dick, I wish you could see this day, son. It's just an ordinary day. Like any other, but there's not a cloud in the sky, and I can hear the robins singing in the woods. I can smell the perfume from the rose garden all the way up here. And the sun is just about to reach your balcony and bedroom windows."

As he spoke, the first rays touched his son's cheek. Soon, they were bathed in the warmth of the morning, kissed by a soft breeze that began to stir. Bruce gently nuzzled his cheek to Dick's.

"You like waking up to the morning sun, don't you?"

"Sure do," a weak whisper below him answered. Startled, Bruce looked down at Dick's exhausted eyes. They were looking up at him, puzzled.

"Your cheek feels scratchy..." Dick protested faintly.

"Dick--?" Overwhelmed, Bruce went down on his knees, holding Dick closely, his chest wracked by harsh sobs. "Dick--!"

"Master Bruce--?" Alfred, believing the worst, bent over Bruce, keeping a tight rein on his own grief, determined to offer his strength to him. "Please, sir. It's time to come in."

"Alfred...?" a tired voice rasped, startling the older man. "Why's Bruce crying?"

"Master Dick--?" Stunned, Alfred thought the world had suddenly tilted on its axis. Unable to hold his weight, his legs gave way. Alfred collapsed next to Bruce and Dick and held them both to him. Unashamed tears of relief and love flowed freely...

Chapter Twenty-One

"Bruce?" Dick's raspy voice sounded frightened. "What's the matter?"

Bruce's tear-streaked countenance smiled down at him. "Nothing, son. Everything is fine, now." Touching his forehead to Dick's, Bruce closed his eyes momentarily, sending a silent prayer of thanks. He felt Alfred's warm hand on his shoulder, squeezing sympathetically.

Bruce stood, mindful of his precious bundle. "Don't worry, Dick. We'll have you back in your own bed in no time," he said.

"Bed--?" Dick whispered. "But I just woke up..."

Bruce felt his throat tighten. Despite his weakness, Dick sounded feisty. Bruce's mouth quirked slightly. He carefully laid the sick boy in bed and tucked the blankets all around him.

"Hey, who's the boss?" he asked, his voice gently caressing.

As Bruce arranged the pillows, Dick looked up at him, blinking slowly as if having trouble with the meaning behind the words. Finally, his mouth formed the barest ghost of a sleepy, lopsided grin.

"You are," he whispered.

His heart filling with happiness, Bruce continued the game. "Who makes the rules?"

"You do..." Dick said softly, his eyes fluttering.

"Who loves you more than..." Bruce's voice caught. He bent down and kissed his son on the forehead. "...more than anything in the world?"

"You..." Dick said, and dropped off...

"I don't understand," Leslie said, shaking her head. "Dick's entire immune system was in total arrest. Don't get me wrong, Bruce. But why isn't he dead?"

Bruce looked up from the blood samples he was studying. Nothing made sense. The original blood samples had succumbed entirely to the radiation poisoning. Under the electron microscope they were pulsing with the now familiar sickly green.

Bruce ran his hand through his hair. It was past noon and he still hadn't been to bed. Dick was sleeping soundly. He'd even been able to take a little broth earlier. He'd shown steady improvement throughout the morning; however, since noon he'd remained about the same. He was still extremely weak, barely able to hold his head up without assistance.

"I don't know, Doc," Bruce admitted. "The data tells us nothing except that Dick should be dead. And yet, he isn't--for which I'm grateful. But, what do we do now?"

"Start over," Leslie said. "Run new blood tests, use the old samples as the control. I hate to do this to him, but we should probably draw samples at least once an hour to track his progress." She sighed. "And if I weren't so completely exhausted, I would've suggested that already."

Leslie pinned Bruce with a tired stare. "For now, all we can do, Bruce, is keep him comfortable. And *you* should get some rest. You're no good to Dick this way." She walked up to where he was sitting hunched over, and gently took his face in her hands. Bending down, she kissed him tenderly on the forehead.

"You, Dick, and Alfred are all the family I have, Bruce. Call me selfish, but I don't want to lose any of you. We all had a terrible fright last night. We're exhausted and not functioning at full capacity. A good night's sleep will help clear the cobwebs. Who knows, maybe the answer is right in front of us, but our brains are too foggy to see it."

Bruce nodded in reluctant agreement. He stood, too, and placing his arm around Leslie's small waist, he walked upstairs with her.

"Let's look in on him, Bruce," Leslie suggested. Bruce nodded.

The gloomy interior emphasized that Dick's room was a sick chamber. Earlier with the sun streaming in, it had seemed more hopeful somehow, but now with the shades drawn, it'd grown depressing.

Bruce walked over to Dick's bed and sat on the side. The youngster appeared weaker than before.

"Leslie, I don't like the way he looks," Bruce said worriedly. "You don't think he might be having a relapse?"

Leslie answered by opening her medical bag and taking out her stethoscope. She checked Dick's vitals and didn't like what she saw. Dick *was* weaker than he'd been this morning.

"Bruce, he's slipping. I suggest we set up the monitoring equipment again. Just in case," she added.

"Let's get some light in here," Bruce growled. "It looks like a morgue!" With angry movements, he drew the curtains and blinds to let in the day. Because the room was facing east, the afternoon sun wasn't streaming in.

"I don't understand, Leslie. He was improving steadily this morning. What happened?"

Leslie shook her head and shrugged helplessly. "I just don't know, Bruce. I don't know." She turned to look down at Dick's pinched face.

Bruce walked to the French doors, his hands deep in his pockets. After all this, could he still lose Dick? It seemed impossible.

"Master Bruce?" Alfred stood respectfully at the door. "Sir, should I inform Miss Selina? She would wish to be told, I believe."

"Tell her what?" Bruce asked quietly. "That Dick may be dying and we don't know the reason? That I can't take him to a hospital, because--excuse me--but his alien physiology might give away the fact that he isn't quite human?" Bruce pinned Alfred with a cold glare.

"Should we tell her that he's been accidentally poisoned by a rock that I stupidly left where it could be reached by a curious child with no warnings of its being a potential hazard?"

"Sir, you didn't know. You mustn't blame yourself!"

"The *hell* I can't!" Bruce stopped, working through the passions that were threatening to consume him. "I'd just told him...*told* him, that it was my job to love and protect him. But now when he needs me, *really* needs me to come through for him, I've failed him.

"Bruce, Alfred's right. You can't blame yourself. Household accidents happen. No one's to blame."

"I know," Bruce said quietly. "But it doesn't help." He stepped out into the balcony and breathed in the warm summer air. "I should've let him play out here more often," he said. "Let him fly up there in the clouds with the sun shining on him. Dick loves to play outside, Leslie. Did you know that? He told me once that it made him feel all sunshiny on the inside." Bruce grinned. "All sunshiny on the inside," he repeated.

"But I wouldn't let him. Rule number daylight flying where you might be seen." A bright red cardinal flew across the vast lawn at this moment and alighted on the giant maple. "Yet, if Dick were a *normal* kid with a special gift for playing the piano, I would never have denied him. I would've encouraged him, in fact--"

"Master Bruce!" Alfred interrupted. Bruce looked at him, surprised. "I apologize, sir, but what you just said about Master Dick playing outside! How did he describe it again?"

"What? That it made him feel all 'sunshiny' inside," Bruce repeated. "I thought it was cute," he added, shrugging.

"Sir, Dr. Leslie, if I might be so bold, but could that be the answer?"

"What? Could what be the answer?" Bruce asked blankly.

"Sir, remember the young master's sleepwalking episode?"

"Of course."

"Do you remember Master Dick's condition the following morning?"

Bruce nodded. "He complained of a headache."

"Yes, and do you remember that I gave him two children's aspirin?"

Bruce nodded again. "So, what's your point?"

"Sir, I remember distinctly that almost within seconds of taking the aspirin, Master Dick reported his headache gone. But that's not possible. The aspirins can't take effect that quickly."

"I still don't understand what you're trying to get at, Alfred," Bruce said, confused. By now Leslie was also paying close attention to what Alfred was saying.

"Sir, I remember the morning as if it were yesterday. It's a memory that's remained indelibly imprinted. I remember how the sky looked when the sun began to rise. How the winter landscape looked with the sun gleaming upon it. But more importantly, I remember that because Master Dick was feeling ill, you'd sat him on your lap. It was the first time you'd ever done that. You were comforting him as naturally as any father would, and I remember thinking that perhaps, now--well, never mind what I was thinking." Alfred waved his hand as if erasing his words.

"I remember that the sunlight finally reached the kitchen bow windows and came streaming in. You and Master Dick were clearly outlined in a bright sunbeam. Master Bruce, it was a wondrous sight to behold. And that's why I never forgot it."

Leslie and Bruce exchanged strange looks and then turned back to him. This time it was Leslie who spoke.

"Alfred, what are trying to say? Is there something significant to what you're telling us? I mean, besides it being a beautiful memory?"

Alfred sighed exasperatedly. "Don't you see? As soon as you were bathed in the sunlight, Master Dick announced that his headache was gone. Almost to the second." He looked at each one in turn. "The same thing happened here. Master Dick was near death, but as soon as he was bathed in sunshine, he took a turn for the better."

Leslie and Bruce looked stunned at Alfred's words. The implications were astonishing.

"But how could the *sun* be responsible?" Leslie asked. "I mean, it's only white light. We've exposed Dick *and* the blood samples to white light all night long. It's made no difference whatsoever."

"I can't explain that, of course," Alfred said. "Perhaps there's something specific to sunlight--"

"Waitaminute," Bruce interrupted. "When Dick's told us about his dreams, he's mentioned a world with red skies. All this time, I was picturing a sky like ours during sunset. You know, a star that doesn't rise far above the horizon. But what if--? What if, he's describing a planet with red skies, because--"

"--Because it has a *red* sun?" Alfred finished. "Sir, isn't a red star an older star? Perhaps even a dying star?"

Bruce nodded. "I've assumed that Dick's powers were indigenous to his people. That his flying ability was maybe a result of our planet's lighter gravity. But lighter gravity wouldn't really explain an ability to fly, just jump farther and higher."

"Sir, I don't believe that Master Dick has ever mentioned that the people of his planet were anything other than normal. Much as we are."

Bruce held up his hand, as if thinking.

"Normal," Bruce repeated. "His people were normal." Turning excitedly, he addressed Leslie.

"Doc--theory: Let's say that Dick comes from a planet that had a much heavier gravity than Earth's and revolved around a red star. His home world was part of a much older, dying star system. Perhaps the star itself was getting ready to go nova and its own internal instability affected the planets around it--I don't know, maybe caused some kind of gravity spatial anomaly or something--and this resulted in Krypton exploding."

Leslie joined in. "If the key is the sun, then perhaps Dick's people were 'normal' because the light from the red star was too weak to produce these incredible powers that Dick has here on Earth."

"Sunshiny inside," Bruce murmured to himself. "Dick *feels* sunshiny inside...I thought he meant that sunshine made him feel happy, but what if--? Doc, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"I'm not sure, Bruce, but let's try it anyway...!"

By mid-afternoon Dick was sitting up and looking almost like his former self. Alfred had set up a chaise lounge on the poolside patio. Prior to taking him outside, Leslie had drawn four tubes of blood. Once Dick was outside for an hour, she'd drawn another four tubes.

As soon as she had them, she hurried downstairs to the cave and began to work. Bruce stayed outside with Dick, refusing to leave his side.

With each hour that passed, Leslie wordlessly drew another four samples from the boy. Dick slept through most of the ministrations, stirring on occasion, murmuring softly in his sleep.

"Bruce--? Dad--?" he mumbled, his face troubled. "Daddy--?"

"I'm here, son," Bruce said softly. Hesitating slightly, he choked, "Daddy's here. I won't leave you, son. I promise."

Dick's face smoothed out, becoming relaxed. As Bruce sat over him, he was startled by the miraculous transformation. Within minutes of being outside in the sun, Dick's deathly pallor began to gain its normal rosy coloring. His breathing grew steadier, stronger...

When Dick woke, the first thing he saw was Bruce leaning over him, his dark blue eyes smiling softly. Fuzzy from sleep, still weak from his illness, Dick smiled back.

"Hey, partner," Bruce greeted. "How're you feeling?"

Dick realized he was parched from thirst. And starving. Blinking at Bruce, he tried to answer him but couldn't.

Bruce instantly had a glass of water next to him. He solicitously held a straw up to Dick's dry lips and helped him sip.

"Better?" Bruce asked. Dick nodded gratefully.

"Uh-huh," he said softly. Looking around, he was surprised to see that he was lying outside by the pool. "What--? Why--?"

"Later," Bruce said gently. "Are you hungry?"

Dick nodded. Talking was too tiring.

"Good. Alfred's fixed you some of his special chicken soup and homemade bread. What do you think? Would you like some?"

Smiling slightly, Dick nodded again.

"Did I hear someone mention 'Chicken soup'?" Alfred asked. He placed a fully laden tray down on a poolside table. Beaming at Dick, he uncovered the soup tureen and started to serve the patient a generous portion.

Dick tried to reach for the soup bowl, but found that his arms felt too heavy to lift. Inexplicably he felt like crying and tears suddenly started to fall down his cheeks. What was wrong with him, he wondered?

Bruce saw the tears right away, and gently took Dick into his arms. "Hey, munchkin, everything's going to be all right," he murmured. Dick nodded, gaining comfort from being held. "Here, why don't we raise your lounger so's you can sit up a bit more?"

As Bruce said this, Alfred adjusted the chaise lounge. Bruce then gently sat Dick back, drawing the light blanket around his shoulders.

"There," Bruce said, sitting back. "Now, you let *me* do all the work. You just eat and enjoy, understand?"

Dick nodded. "'Kay."

Bruce sat by Dick all afternoon. As the shadows started growing, he felt a growing fear inside. What if this wasn't working? What if Dick needed continuous exposure to the sun, and now that the sun was going down he'd have a relapse? Could he survive another night like last night?

Dick was resting again. A light evening breeze ruffled his dark hair. He looked so peaceful. Perhaps everything was going to be all right after all. Bruce suddenly felt someone's eyes on him. Looking over his shoulder, he saw Leslie leaning against the open door.

She was smiling.

Bruce instantly felt a stab of hope.

Leslie nodded at him. Moving from the open door, she walked up to Bruce who stood immediately and gratefully fell in her arms. All the worry, all the fear, all the terror of the past twenty hours washed over him. He allowed her to hold him once again, to comfort him like that time so long ago in a dark alley. A dark night when he'd lost all that he'd held dear to him.

Bruce allowed himself to cry softly on her shoulder once again.

"Thank you, Leslie," he whispered in soft sobs. "Thank you."

Gently taking his face in her hands, Leslie kissed him tenderly on the cheek. "We have a very special boy here, Bruce. Very special." She smiled. "'Sunshiny inside' indeed." Her smile broadened. "It's nothing short of miraculous. With each hour of being exposed to the sunlight, his blood built stronger and stronger resistance to the radiation. Each subsequent exposure produced a weaker and weaker attack on his system."

Bruce looked at her, hope in his eyes. "Does this mean that he's immune to it?"

Leslie regretfully shook her head. "No. Not exactly. Constant exposure brings on the blood poisoning; however, when the radiation source is removed, his natural immunosystem kicks in, and he comes to a full recovery. With each subsequent exposure and removal of the radiation source, the recovery comes faster."

Leslie bent over Dick who was slumbering and kissed him gently on the forehead. "You're the closest thing to a grandson I have, sweetheart. Thank you for staying with us. You've made us all very happy." She smiled up at Bruce.

"Bruce, the closest that can I explain it--and believe me, this is as near to pseudo-science as I hope to ever get--is that Dick is a living solar battery. His body absorbs sunlight and not unlike photosynthesis, turns it into pure energy. However, unlike plants that also produce photosynthesis under artificial light, Dick *does not*! It's either the sunlight or nothing."

Bruce looked at her solemnly and nodded in understanding. And then looking down at Dick, his mouth quirked in his usual half-smile. "I guess this means that Robin will have to fly during the day more often..."

Chapter Twenty-Two

"Hey! How's the patient?" Selina's cheerful voice immediately perked Dick up. He was lounging on a bench swing, which was located at the edge of the sun-drenched garden. He was sitting up, watching the birds peck at breadcrumbs. Selina came up to him and kissed him tenderly on the cheek.

"How's my favorite guy?" she asked. She was wearing a light yellow, linen sundress with a full skirt that fell below her knees and matching sandals. She was carrying a brown paper bag and a brightly wrapped parcel. She placed them both next to the swing.

Dick grinned goofily and blushed. "Awwww...cut it out, Selina," he protested. Then without skipping a beat asked, "What's in the package?"

Selina grinned, picking up the parcel.

"Here, munchkin. This is for you."

Dick took it, his young face expressing surprise. "But why? It isn't even my birthday!"

"Why? Just because," Selina said, leaning forward and playfully rubbing her nose to his.

"Just because--?" Dick asked, eyes smiling.

"Uh-huh," Selina said. "Just because I love you." She kissed him on the forehead. "Now, go on. Open it."

Dick nodded and eagerly tore through the wrapping. Opening the box, he found a catcher's mitt. Eyes wide, he said, " official All-Stars commemorative glove. How'd you get it?"

Selina smiled impishly. "I have my ways. But that's not all that's in there. There's a card, too. Go on, read it."

Dick did as told. There were four tickets inside with a note written in a lovely feminine hand.

//Happy 'Just Because,' Dick! Enclosed are four tickets to this year's Baseball All-Stars Game to be held in Gotham Stadium. You are about to make three other people very happy. Choose them wisely. Enjoy!--Selina//

"The All-Stars Game!" Dick cried excitedly, his mouth gaping. "Whoa...! Even *Bruce* couldn't get tickets. The game's been sold out for months! How'd you *do* it, Selina?"

Selina smiled her enigmatic smile. "Ask me no secrets," she said tickling him gently on the ribs. "I'll tell you no lies." Dick giggled happily, struggling only half-heartedly...

A few minutes later, Alfred found them together on the swing. Selina was sitting up, her feet gently pushing the swing back and forth. Dick lay stretched out on the swing, his head on her lap. He was slamming his small fist into a baseball mitt. Another glove was lying, ignored, on top of a brown paper bag. Selina was gently running her hand through Dick's dark hair.

Dick was talking. "Do you *really* know how to hit a curve ball?" he asked.

"Of course. You're talking to the champion shortstop of Madame Dutetre's Finishing School for Girls' softball team."

"'re making that up!" Dick said, looking skeptical.

"Cross my heart," Selina insisted. "Of course, I was the shortstop *and* pitcher *and* catcher *and* the entire outfield!" she added with a low chuckle. "There weren't too many softball enthusiasts in Europe. They're more into soccer."

Dick laughed at her silliness, and then asked seriously, "So who was the first baseman?"

"That's right," Selina said straight faced.

"No, I asked who was on first?" Dick said.

"That's right," Selina repeated, smiling. She looked up at Alfred and winked. Alfred raised a single eyebrow at the old joke.

Dick turned to look at her, slightly put out. "I asked you *what* was the name of the first baseman!" His tone took on the air of someone speaking to a very dense individual.

"No, What was on second base," Selina said, answering in kind.

Dick grimaced. "*I* don't know!" Dick protested.

Selina could see that he wanted to say something rude, but his innate respect for his elders kept him from doing it. Alfred chuckled softly. He was setting out a light snack.

"I Don't Know was on third," Selina said earnestly. Alfred looked away, covering his mouth.

Dick looked at the both of them accusingly. "You're picking on me," he said sounding hurt.

"I'm sorry, Dick," Selina apologized, with a slight laugh. "But I thought you said that you were a baseball fan."

"I *am*!" Dick insisted.

"Have you ever heard of Abbot and Costello?"

"Were they ball players?" Dick asked seriously.

"I have an idea, Miss Selina," Alfred said. "Might I suggest that you fill Master Dick with tales of the famous duo over this light repast?" He indicated the snack he'd just laid out for them.

"I think, Alfred, that that's an excellent idea," Selina agreed. "Come on, munchkin. Take a seat."

Dick nodded, feeling piqued. He still tired easily, but he was doing much better. The wedding was tomorrow, and they were all holding their breaths.

"Now, Dick, if you wanted to know the name of the first baseman, what would you ask?" Her expression was completely guileless. Dick shrugged and innocently played into her hands.

"I already asked you," he said exasperatedly. "Who's on first?"

"That's it, Dick," Selina called. She was crouched, holding a catcher's mitt out for the ball. Her dress formed a bright yellow circle underneath her. "Right here! You can do it!"

Dick assumed his best pitcher's stance and *threw*!

He threw a little too hard. When the ball *slammed* into Selina's mitt, she tumbled backwards about a foot.

"Selina!" he cried, running to her. "Are you all right?" he asked, helping her up.

She waved her hand, indicating she wasn't hurt. "I'm okay, Dick," she said, slightly dazed. "Just landed on my dignity." She looked up at up at him. "That's some fast ball you've got there, munchkin. I think the Gotham Griffins are looking for a new pitcher. Maybe you should go to their open tryouts next spring."

Dick grinned, embarrassed. He went suddenly still, as if listening.

"Bruce!" he cried. "It's Bruce!"

"I don't hear anything--" Selina said, and then heard it, too--the distinct sound of the Wayne Enterprises' helicopter.

Dick jumped up and began running towards the waiting area by the landing zone. As he ran, Selina smiled.

"I guess you *are* going to be all right after all." Rising slowly, she began walking towards the waiting area. As the helicopter came in for a landing, Dick looked beside himself with excitement, as if he hadn't seen Bruce in over a month.

Selina stood back slightly, not wanting to intrude on what would be their moment.

Dick began waving madly before Bruce even emerged from the helicopter. As soon as the helicopter started lifting, Bruce started towards Dick. Dick unable to contain himself began running towards his dad. As Selina watched, Dick ran up to Bruce who lifted him up and swung him around, both laughing and hugging, happy at the reunion.

Walking up to the waiting area, Selina watched, her eyes stinging. Whatever illness had struck the Boy of Steel, it had to have been serious. Bruce and Alfred had both looked haunted during the past few days, afraid of how close they'd come to losing the boy.


She blinked the tears away that had been threatening and looked up, smiling. Dick was waving excitedly. Bruce still held him in his arms. As they walked up to her, she moved towards them.

"...And she was showing me how to throw and catch!" Dick was saying. He held up his mitt for emphasis.

"Wow!" Bruce said, sounding impressed. "I think we've found the perfect woman, Dick--one who likes sports!" He leaned over and kissed her softly on the lips. Dick watched from his vantage point between them, grinning happily. Looking Selina in the eyes, Bruce added, "Talk about a dream come true."

Setting Dick down, Bruce took Selina's arm and all three began walking towards the house.

"Oh! I almost forgot, Bruce," Dick said holding up the tickets. "Look at what else she gave me--just because!" He held up the four tickets. Bruce took them, his eyes widening.

"'Just because'?" Bruce echoed distractedly. "The All-Stars Game?"

"Uh-huh. Just because she loves me," Dick said smugly. "She said I can pick anyone I want to go with me, too." Looking at them both askance, he added slyly, "Too bad you'll be out of town, huh?" He snatched the tickets back.

"Out of town?" Bruce echoed as if not quite understanding what was happening. He looked at Selina with stunned respect. His eyes asked, 'How'd you *get* them?' Selina smiled, shrugging condescendingly.

"Sure. You'll be on your honeymoon, remember?" Dick said casually. "I guess I'll have to ask Commissioner Gordon to go with me. You think Mr. Fox would like to go? I'll ask Alfred, too." Turning, he skipped into the house.

Bruce stood still, watching his boy as he disappeared inside. He turned to Selina. "All-Stars tickets?" he mumbled dazedly.

Her emerald eyes sparkled in amused affection. "Since Dick won't be going with us on our honeymoon, I thought I'd give him something--*small*--to make it up to him."

"All-Stars tickets?" Bruce repeated, emphasizing each word. He felt her fingers lightly going up his chest. A warm tingle began to spread inside him as he again gazed into her eyes.

"Don't worry, Bruce," Selina said huskily. "I'll make it up to you, too. I promise." She stood on her tiptoes and whispered in his ear.

Bruce felt himself suddenly blushing, a slight smile struggling to break out of the corner of his mouth. Looking deeply into her eyes, Bruce felt as if he were falling without a safety line. He knew at that moment that he'd love Selina for the rest of his life.

Standing in the late afternoon sun, Selina's yellow dress flowing softly around both their legs, Bruce took her gently into his arms and they kissed...

Selina hummed to herself as she walked up the hallway to her hotel room. Tomorrow she'd be Mrs. Bruce Wayne, and Dick's Mom. Could she be any happier? She smiled with anticipation. There was so much to do before tomorrow.

She still had five more stops to do tonight. Once done, she'd have returned all of the stolen jewelry. She paused at her door. How did she feel about that? Recalling Dick's happy smile today, and Bruce's knee-watering kiss, she knew the answer.

Turning the key in the lock, she stepped into the entranceway. Flicking the lights, she was momentarily startled when they didn't come on.

Sighing, she felt her way to the living area and flipped another light switch. Still nothing.

"That's strange," she muttered. Instantly, she knew. Standing perfectly still, Selina knew she wasn't alone. "Not again," she said exasperatedly. "Boys, I thought I told Falcone that--"

She was grabbed from behind. How--? No one had *ever* sneaked up behind her. She remained cool, listening with all of her senses. The person behind her was *huge*--bigger even than Bruce.

Okay, this wasn't one of Falcone's goons. No problem. Selina Kyle could take care of herself under *any* circumstances.

Stomping down with her foot, Selina bent forward and threw her surprised captor over her head. She heard a yelp of surprise. Selina didn't stay in place. As soon as she'd thrown him, she'd vaulted over a bookcase that she knew was to her left. Landing at a crouch, Selina rolled until she found herself next to the door leading to the bedroom.

Her whip. She had to get to it. Meanwhile, she reached into her small handbag, and took out her lipstick. Opening it from the bottom end, she threw it across the room.

It made a soft ~whoomph~ as it hit the wall on the opposite side. Darn! It was her favorite color, she thought. Entering her bedroom, she made her way quickly to where she kept her cat-o'-nine tails.

She was hit from behind with the force of a Mack truck.

"Oof!" she grunted, falling forward.

"Not a very lady-like sound," a taunting voice said over her. Selina was kicked again, this time across the jaw. She saw stars momentarily. "But then, you're nothing but a common *thief*--!"

Selina felt another kick, her ribs. She felt herself losing consciousness.

"You do not deserve him," a cold, feminine voice said. "I will not let you come between me and my beloved."

Beloved? Selina felt her blood boil. "That's what *you* think!" She kicked out, connecting with her mysterious opponent's abdomen.

"Urk!" came a gagging sound.

"Not very lady-like," Selina jeered. She'd dived for her hiding place and retrieved her whip. Cracking it menacingly, she waited. "Okay, girlie, come and eat it!"

A soft ~pfwppt~ sound to her left, startled her. She felt a sharp, stinging pain at her side.

"Wha--?" she gasped. Her numbed fingers released their hold on her whip. Her mouth opened, working to say more, but she couldn't articulate her words. The room started spinning crazily. The lights from the city below strobed eerily in a wild staccato.

Drugged--! Her mind screamed.

Selina felt herself going down, her knees giving way. She was confused, fuzzy. The lights in the room suddenly came on. Selina looked around her, trying to focus. She found herself on a merry-go-round looking up.

A face swam into focus, immediately above her. Cold amethyst eyes looked down at her, set off against beautiful, exotic features. Selina tried to lift her arm to reach her mysterious opponent, but couldn't move.

"I am sorry to have interfered, mistress," a deep, masculine voice said from somewhere out of Selina's line of sight.

"That is quite all right, Ubu," the woman above Selina replied. "Felines are notoriously difficult to handle, and the Kyle woman is no exception." She smiled down at Selina. "Besides, I read a veterinary report once that said it's better to drug a cat before boarding a plane. That way it'll travel more comfortably. Enjoy your trip, Cat."

Selina lost consciousness...

She woke up to a confusion of loud voices, flashbulbs, and cold metal handcuffs being snapped on her wrists. Where was she? What was happening?

"What--?" she gasped, dazed. The drugs still hadn't completely worn off. There were more than a dozen men in police uniforms around her. A heavy, rumpled man with a vile cigar jammed in the side of his mouth was barking orders.

"Make sure those handcuffs are on tight," he growled. "The Catwoman has been known to escape before."

"What's going on here?" Selina asked, barely able to focus from the flashbulbs going off in her eyes.

"Commissioner!" a plain-clothed officer walked up, carrying Selina's cosmetic case. "We've got it, sir. Look!" He opened it, displaying a dazzling array of jewels. Selina gasped. There was more in there than should have been.

A sealed envelope fluttered out. She looked at it, struggling to focus through her blurred vision. It was addressed to--?

No! Selina shook her head. It couldn't be. It wasn't true!

A pair of scuffed shoes swam into her line of vision, stopping less than an inch from the envelope. A hand encased in surgical gloves, picked it up. Gordon's exhausted eyes steadily gazed into hers. Shaking his head sadly, he turned away.

"Read her her rights, Bullock," he said tiredly.

"Sure 'nuff, Commish," Bullock answered. "Selina Kyle, you are under arrest on several counts of burglary. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney..."

Flash forward three years...

Bruce sat in the Batcave remembering the days and weeks that followed.

Selina's weak denials...

"Yes! I'm the Catwoman," she cried desperately, holding her hands out pleadingly. "But you have to *believe* me, Bruce! I was returning it all--!"

"And my mother's pearl necklace? When did you take that? The night we made love?"

"No--! Bruce...please! I never took your mother's necklace. It was planted on me."

"By who? Commissioner Gordon? The GCPD?" Bruce turned away, unable to look at her anymore. "I *loved* you. *Trusted* you. And you betrayed me. Betrayed us--me *and* Dick." He paused at the holding cell's visitors' entrance. "Goodbye, Selina..."

Selina's trial, more denials...

"Yes, I stole! Yes, I took the jewels, but I was returning them. I swear--!"

"If that's the case, Miss Kyle," Harvey Dent interrupted. "How do you explain being found at the airport, with the jewels *and* a one-way ticket to Rio on you?"

"I was drugged," Selina said tiredly. "I've told you this before. *She* drugged me."

"Ah, yes," Dent said. "Your mysterious woman visitor and her giant assistant. Miss Kyle, I'm afraid that the people of Gotham will need a little something more substantial than wild tales about the wicked witch of the west and her bogey-man friend in order to acquit you."

"Objection, your honor! The Prosecution is badgering the witness!"

"Objection sustained. Mr. Dent, do you have any more questions of the defendant?"

"No, your honor. I believe that the Prosecution has made its point."

Bruce stared at Selina from where he sat in the back of the courtroom. She sat, head bowed, hair falling loosely and covering her face. She was the picture of broken dejection. Bruce wanted to take her in his arms, to comfort her, tell her everything was going to be all right.

And then the cold, burning anger that had begun to take hold when Gordon first showed him Selina's cosmetics case threatened to consume him. This was followed closely by the recollection of the letter with its cutting, hurtful words. Unconsciously, he squeezed the armrest next to him, the force of his strength warping it.

"The defendant is excused," the judge stated. Selina nodded mutely and slowly returned to her seat.

"The Prosecution rests, your honor," Dent announced formally.

Bruce stood, and without a backward glance, walked out of the courtroom...

Bruce remembered...

Bruce and Dick left town on an extended trip unable to bear the catty whispers and gossipmongers...

Bruce remembered...

Dick crying at night in his sleep. His heartbreak causing the nightmares of his parents' deaths to return with full force.

Bruce remembered...

Dick waking in his arms, sobbing for Selina.

"Why couldn't she love us like we loved her? Why did she lie, Bruce? Why...?"

Bruce remembered...

The long walks as he tried to work her out of his system. Everywhere he looked he was reminded of her. He listened for her laugh. He looked for the dazzling emerald of her eyes. He filled his lungs, hoping for the scent of her perfume...

Bruce remembered...

Dick looking up him with his serious dark blue eyes and asking, "Should I hate her, Bruce? If you tell me to, I will..."

Bruce remembered...

"No, Dick," he'd said, his voice catching. "I don't want you to hate her. I don't want you to hate anyone, son..."

Bruce remembered and closed his eyes. He brought his hand up to them, squeezing hard. Selina was back and with her all of the old hurts and feelings of betrayal. She said she needed his help. That she was in trouble.

Straightening his shoulders, Bruce pulled on the cowl. Batman stood up and purposefully strode towards the Batmobile.

Whatever trouble she was in, it could only lead to trouble for Batman and Robin. If that were the case, then *Batman* was going to stop it before it happened...

Chapter Twenty-three

As he drove through the silent, darkened streets, Batman went back to the moment of truth with Gordon.

He'd already suspected. No, he'd already known but had closed his eyes to it. Watching her from afar as she returned the jewels, Batman had *known* that the Catwoman was Selina.

Her moves, her silhouette, her sensuality. He'd only made love to her that one time, but in that one night he'd committed himself, body and soul, to Selina.

He'd have recognized her anywhere.

But he refused to believe. Until the moment of truth. The moment that Jim Gordon walked into his home, less than an hour away from his wedding. At that moment, he knew that he couldn't hide the truth any longer.

Batman remembered...

Selina's cosmetic case. The damning evidence. Even then, he'd refused to believe. His mother's pearl necklace--his wedding gift for his new bride.

Even then, he'd held back judgment.

And then, Gordon handed him the envelope. It was addressed to him, in a familiar, flowing, feminine hand. It had been opened already, the contents read by others.

Bruce took it in his hand, his fingers shaking slightly. His dark eyes boring into Gordon's, he pulled the letter out. Gordon broke eye content first, unable to look at his friend. It was written on a small stationary-sized piece of paper. The letterhead was that of the Gotham Regency, Selina's hotel.

Bruce unfolded the letter and began to read:

//Darling Bruce, As you know by now, I'm long gone and in Rio. Really, darling, it's for the best. I just don't see myself as the society matron type, married to the world's dullest billionaire. And as for being a mother to Dick, I'm certain that by now you've determined that I'm hardly the Mommy-type. Bruce, darling, you were wonderful in bed, but I've had better. No hard feelings. Ta! Selina//

Bruce's jaw had worked as he struggled to control his growing fury and humiliation.

"Bruce, I--" Gordon began.

"--Thank you, Jim," Bruce interrupted, crumpling the paper in his hand. "I guess you were right all along. I *was* a fool."

"Bruce?" Dick's small, scared voice called from the door. "Bruce, what's the matter? Aren't we going to the church?"

Gordon picked up the letter and envelope, and began to smooth out the wrinkled paper. He was about to place them in his inside jacket pocket when Bruce spoke up.

"Jim, I'd appreciate it if that letter wasn't used as evidence. It's not just me..." he let his voice trail off, his eyes darting quickly towards Dick and back. Gordon stared at Bruce for a moment longer. Finally, he too glanced at Dick who was staring wide-eyed at the two of them.

With a slight shake of his head, Gordon placed the letter and envelope in his inside jacket pocket. Taking the cosmetics case, he headed out the door. Pausing where Dick stood, he gently ran his hand along the boy's cheek.

"I'm sorry, Bruce, but--" He shrugged helplessly. "--my hands are tied."

After Gordon left, Dick stepped into the study. He looked at Bruce with solemn blue eyes. His normally apricot complexion, so recently pale from illness, had again lost its color.

"Bruce?" he whispered. "What is it?"

Unable to turn and face Dick, Bruce spoke with his back to him. Left hand covering his eyes, Bruce gave a short, forced laugh.

"Ah, um, well, son," he said, struggling to keep his voice even. "There isn't going to be a wedding after all."

"Why?" Dick asked. "Is Selina sick? Is she all right? Can we go see her?"

Bruce dropped his hand, his shoulders sagging. He shook his head. "No, son. She's not sick," he said. Bruce felt his jacket being yanked insistently from below.

"Then why? Where *is* she? Doesn't she want to marry us anymore?"

At Dick's question, Bruce slowly went down to his knees and pulled his son to him, hugging him tightly.

"No, Dick," he said, his voice slightly catching. "She won't be marrying us after all."

Batman swung down from the GCPD Headquarters building rooftop. He paused briefly at the familiar window. About to go in, he was startled by Gordon's voice addressing him from inside.

"I thought you'd be here," Gordon said without preamble. He picked up a manila folder that was lying on the middle of his desk. "Here's the file."

Wordlessly, Batman climbed inside and took the proffered file. It was everything the GCPD had on Selina Kyle. It wasn't much.

"Figured you'd be wanting it," Gordon continued blandly. He felt a soft breeze from the open window. Grimacing, he mumbled, "You're welcome."

Batman inspected the file in the Batmobile. Selina Kyle was an enigma. There were no records of her birth, of her parents, or of any family members. No record of any known residences. Her passport was a forgery. Her fingerprints produced no 'Knowns'.

No federal warrants. No Interpol warrants. Not even a ticket for jaywalking. But then, a person who doesn't exist can't be wanted by the authorities.

"Who are you, Selina Kyle?" he muttered. It was almost as if she'd never existed before she disembarked from her plane at Gotham International Airport. That is, if she'd even arrived by plane. There seemed to be no record of *that* either.

The only solid lead was a photograph of Selina and a known federal fugitive known as Jake 'the Fake' McCabe. According to Bullock's report, he'd followed McCabe until he'd entered the Falcone estate grounds.

"So, we come full circle," Batman said. Falcone had provided Selina's defense attorney. The photo showed that her ties to the Falcone organization ran even deeper.

As he perused the file, a small stationary-sized piece of paper fell out. He recognized the letterhead as that of the hotel that Selina had been staying in. About to give it a cursory glance, he realized that it was the same letter that Gordon had shown him three years ago.

Steeling himself mentally, he forced himself to re-read it. His jaw clenched. The words hadn't lost any of their biting sting over the ensuing years. He was about to crumple it once again, when he stopped. Abruptly, he punched a digital code into his onboard computer and instantly accessed the Batcomputer's memory banks.

Holding the paper carefully, he put it through the onboard scanner.

~SCANNING COMPLETE~ The Batmobile's LCD screen flashed. Batman typed in a few more commands and hit 'Enter.' He returned the letter to the file folder, put the Batmobile in gear, and then slammed his foot down on the accelerator as hard as he could.

Tires screeching, the Batmobile roared into the Gotham City cool spring night.

Dick bolted awake, drenched in sweat. He was gasping for air. He brought his knees up and laid his forehead on them for a moment. He looked around the room, lit dimly by the recessed illumination of a nightlight.

What had he been dreaming about? Flashes of hot pits and demons rising came unbidden. Beautiful, almond-shaped amethyst eyes haunted him. What had the dream been about?

He tried to grasp the faint memory tendrils, but the dream was evaporating already like morning fog.

"Get a grip, Grayson," he muttered. "Sheesh!" He fell back on the pillows, staring up the ceiling. His heart seemed to be back to its normal rhythm. "I wonder what Selina wanted?" he murmured. "Bruce sure didn't seem happy to see her." He sighed unhappily.

"Dick?" a sleepy voice said from below. A tousled red head looked up from the pullout trundle bed. "Whuz'up?"

"Go back to sleep, Wally," Dick said. His best friend had been allowed to sleep over. Tomorrow they were going to catch the Gotham Griffins' opening game, a birthday present from Bruce.

"Who was the dish, anyway, Dick?" Wally asked, ignoring Dick's command to go back to sleep.

Dick knew Wally was talking about Selina. He sighed. "The 'dish,' as you call her, came *this* close--" he said, holding out his thumb and forefinger, "--to becoming my new mother, about three years ago."

"No kidding?" Wally was sitting up now. "What happened?"

Dick looked away momentarily and then shrugged. "Nothing happened. Least of all, the wedding. They called it off at the last minute. Today was the first day I've even *seen* Selina since then."

"Wow," Wally whispered. "And neither one's married anyone else?"

Dick shook his head. He didn't mention Selina's incarceration.

"Funny, for a while there, Uncle Barry mentioned that your dad and Ms. Lance were dating. What happened?"

Dick's eyes instantly grew cold. "I don't want to talk about it."

"No, really," Wally insisted. "I overheard Uncle Barry talking to Aunt Iris and he said that your dad and Ms. Lance were, like, 'made for each other.' Both martial artists, crimefighters, you know?"

"I *said* I don't want to talk about it!" Dick said, and pushed off the bed, floating to the door.

"Hey, Batboy!" Wally called. "I didn't mean nothing, honest." Dick flew out of the room. "I thought you *liked* Black Canary," he added to himself.

Dick paused right outside his room, thinking back to those awful days. After the wedding had been cancelled and the trial over, Bruce never talked about Selina again. Although Dick understood, not being allowed to talk about someone he loved had hurt deeply.

Also, being forced to watch Bruce date other women had caused many long nights of silence between father and son. But the woman who caused the greatest rift and threatened to come between them was Dinah Lance, the hero known as Black Canary.

As much as Dick liked and admired Black Canary, when Bruce brought her home one evening for dinner, Dick threw a tantrum. It was too soon in his eyes. Losing Selina so suddenly was almost like she'd died. He needed time to mourn her loss and felt Bruce turning so soon to another woman was tantamount to betrayal...

"That's the *second* time tonight, young man that you said something extremely rude to Dinah!" Bruce said sternly. Throwing his napkin on the table, he stood, pushing his chair backwards. "I won't have you being disrespectful to my friends." Dinah sat still, eyes shocked, her hand covering her mouth.

"Bruce, please--" she began.

"Apologize this instant, young man!" Bruce demanded, ignoring Dinah's efforts at peacekeeping.

"I won't!" Dick yelled. Inadvertently, he flew straight up and hovered above the expansive dining room.

"Richard John Grayson Wayne!" Bruce said in a cold voice. "You know the rules against the use of your powers in this house. Come down and apologize right now!"

"*NO*! I *won't*! I *hate* her! You were supposed to love Selina, but you let her go to jail! I *hate* you! I *hate* you!" With that, Dick flew to his room and threw himself on his bed. That night he cried himself to sleep.

The next day, at breakfast, Dick sat alone. Bruce was long-gone to the office. Unable to bear the loneliness and heartbreak he was feeling, Dick finally broke down in front of Alfred. The loyal friend swept the boy in his arms and held him until his tears were spent.

Dick didn't know if Alfred spoke to Bruce, but later that morning, while sitting in his room, he heard the familiar sounds of the Wayne Enterprises' helicopter landing outside. He didn't run to greet his dad like he usually did, instead, he walked outside and stood on the balcony, looking out as the aircraft pulled away again.

A few minutes later, there was a soft knock at his door followed by its being opened. Dick couldn't remember clearly what happened next, except that he ended up sobbing in Bruce's arms with both of them saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," over and over...

The memory was still painful. Dick tried to accept that Bruce had to put his relationship with Selina behind him, but the boy couldn't deny his feelings. He never stopped loving Selina. He didn't know why she did what she did, and he didn't care. He'd forgiven her long ago. Besides, it was in the past.

Selina had served her time in prison and was out, free and clear. He wondered about the reason behind her visit. Dick was sufficiently astute to realize that his birthday party was merely an excuse. Selina had been here today for a reason.

Floating through Wayne Manor's darkened corridors, Dick's jaw took on the same determined look that Bruce's did during a particularly difficult case. Passing by Alfred's suite, Dick listened carefully to make sure his beloved friend was sleeping soundly and then flew downstairs to the secret entrance.

Accessing the hidden door, Dick flew into the Batcave. Flicking an array of light switches, Dick floated, suspended in front of the spacecraft. Remembering what happened the *last* time he'd done this, Dick hesitated.

"Come on, Chicken-boy," he chastised. "Bruce wouldn't have left anything that could hurt you." He thought back over the past few years. Bruce had become even *more* protective after the scare with the mysterious mineral that they'd dubbed, 'Kryptonite.'

Never mind the fact that Dick's powers were probably the most awesome of any of the new crop of superheroes that suddenly started springing like wildflowers all over the place--

"Whoa!" Wally said next to him. Startled, Dick almost flew straight up into the Batcave's ceiling. "So *this* is the infamous Batcave. Awesome! Uncle Barry's told me that *no one* except you guys has ever been inside it!"

Dick crossed his arms and looked quite put out.

"That was true up until about fifteen seconds ago. What's the matter with you? Bruce and your uncle *told* you that you couldn't go anywhere in the house without permission. Especially, the Batcave! Don't you ever follow orders, or remember anything you've been told?"

"Wow! What's this?" Wally asked totally ignoring Dick's question. He was staring at the spacecraft. "Is *this* what brought you here to Earth?" he asked.

Relenting, Dick nodded. "Yeah. It's just big enough to carry a baby." They both stared at it a moment longer.

At this moment, the Batcomputer came online. Dick could see that it was processing data that was being fed to it from a remote terminal. He quickly flew to the station and began flicking switches. Soon, he saw that something was being scanned into it. Typing quickly, he accessed the information as it was being processed.

In the next instant, he read for the first time, the letter that Commissioner Gordon had shown Bruce all those years ago.

Dick sat at the computer station feeling as if he'd been kicked in the stomach. Selina had never loved them, after all. She'd planned to leave the whole time. Everything she ever said to them was nothing but a lie.

"Hey, Dick," Wally said. "What is it? What happened?" Wally had been exploring the Batcave when Dick returned to the computer station and read the letter.

"Nothing, Wally," he said sadly. "Just that...just that--" he stopped, unable to go on.

Wally saw the letter still on the screen at that moment. Curious, he read it. He felt his face go beet-red when he read the extremely personal comments to Bruce from Selina. But the comments that really grabbed his attention were the "Mommy" ones directed at Dick. He now knew how his friend must feel.

"Dick, I'm sorry about the letter. I wish there were something I could do to help you."

Dick shook his head. "That's okay, Wally. Thanks anyway." He looked up. "I guess she never really loved us, after all." He shrugged. "Come on. Let's go back to bed."

"Hey, Dick?" Wally began. Dick turned back. "How do you know that she wrote it? I mean have you done one of those...whatchacallit...? A handwriting analysis?"

Dick nodded. "That's why Batman scanned it in. The Batcomputer ran a handwriting analysis on the letter."

"And--?" Wally asked.

"The computer says that's Selina's handwriting, all right. An almost ninety-nine point nine nine nine chance, in fact."

"What does that mean?" Wally asked. "Smoking gun?"

Dick nodded. "More like an eyewitness *saw* you first load the gun and *then* shoot. It's about as accurate as we can get."

"Does it leave her any wiggle room?" Wally asked.

"Any what?"

"You know, room to maneuver? Any chance that it might not be her handwriting?"

"Well, yeah, of course," Dick said exasperatedly. "I mean you can't ever be one hundred percent sure with handwriting analysis."

"Well, that's good, isn't it?" Wally asked. "Maybe with *your* vision powers you can do the computer one better. I mean, you *are* the Boy of Steel and everything. Do you have anything that you could maybe compare it to?"

Dick looked at Wally as if he'd grown another head. Finally, he nodded. "Yeah, I do. Wait here a sec." In an eyeblink, Dick rummaged through his bedroom, found what he wanted, then returned to the Batcave.

"Hey, that was *way* longer than just 'a sec,'" Wally protested. Dick grinned.

"Oh yeah? And I suppose *you* can do better?"

"I *own* the title, 'Fastest Boy Alive,' remember?" Wally boasted immodestly. "You may have super-speed, but I'm still faster."

"We'll see one day," Dick replied dismissively. "A race around the world. Just you'n me, Flasheroo. We'll set the record straight then."

"You're on, Batboy."

Dick brought the note that Selina gave him three years ago, "Just because," and the scanned digital copy of the letter that she'd supposedly left Bruce when she was about to skip the country. He also picked up the Batcomputer's readout of its analysis of the letter. He then brought everything to Batman's lab.

With great care, he next began to set up the electron microscope and the special alternative light source unit on Batman's lab table.

"I don't get it, Dick," Wally said. "You already have microscopic vision. What do you all of this equipment for?"

"'Cause I want to do it right the first time, Twinkletoes," Dick said only half-listening. "First things first. The note that she gave me three years ago is written on stationary with the same letterhead as the scanned copy. See? Gotham Regency?"

Wally nodded.

"And since that's a really expensive hotel, it's possible that it has a special paper for its stationary. So, we look for grade of paper, any special watermarks, that kind of thing. Hmmmm...nothing special here. Let's check the computer here. Nothing special."

"Nothing special, check," Wally said, fascinated.

"Next thing we check for is the ink. Did the writer use the cheap stuff in the hotel, or did she use something more expensive...? Hey, wait! We have another sample of the writing. I almost forgot!"

Dick quickly scanned the Batcave's files with his X-ray vision until he found the Catwoman's files. There he spotted the burglar's calling card, with its little note of apology to her victims.

"Okay, here we go! Check for grade..." he sighed. "Probably can't trace it. Or the stuff printed on it. She probably did it herself on a laser-jet printer. However, the handwritten part. We can check that the same way as the other two samples."

"What are you looking for?" Wally asked.

"Still checking the ink...Hel-lo! What do we have here?" he asked.

"What? What?" Wally jumped in.

"The ink on the note she gave me and the card are identical. Not the standard American instruments stuff. I'll have to run a further analysis on it. Hold on a sec--"

Taking the alternative light source unit, he ran the handwriting samples through it. The ALS unit was capable of picking up substances invisible to the human eye. Once he had an idea of what he was looking for, Dick then used his own vision powers to do the same. Therefore, he was checking the samples by two means--through Batman's methodical steps, and his own unique manner.

"What do you see?" Wally finally asked.

"I'll have to run a chemical analysis to be sure, but I think that the ink is manufactured in western Europe, probably Germany or France. Nothing really exotic about it, it's just not standard American."

"Oh," Wally shrugged. "What kind of ink was used in the other letter?"

Dick picked up the Batcomputer's readout. About to shrug and put it away, he suddenly frowned. "That's funny."

"What's funny?"

"According to the Batcomputer's analysis, the ink used on the letter is American standard. Probably from some cheap writing instrument. My guess would be that the courtesy ballpoint in the hotel room was probably used to write it."

"So?" Wally shrugged. "What's the big deal?"

"Maybe nothing," Dick said pensively.

Placing all three samples side-by-side, he looked at each carefully with his X-ray and microscopic visions. What was he looking for? He remembered that time three years ago when Bruce had showed him a little bit about handwriting analysis. What was it they'd found? That the Catwoman was probably left-handed because of how she dotted her small-case i's.

Carefully placing all three samples on a special drafting table that was backlit with a fluorescent light, he studied all three again.

Finally, grinning broadly, he nodded in satisfaction.

"The i's have it, as they say."

Continue To Part Seven

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