by Cyndi Smith

Barbara observes:
I was the last to enter the den. Something was wrong. I could feel it in the air. *All the clues are in front of me,* I realized. *Alfred is seated next to Doctor Leslie... Alfred never sits in the presence of anyone other than family. A very tired Roy Harper is huddled next to Donna on the love seat. This was the time he usually sleeps before going out on patrol in Bludhaven, and the biggest clues of all are seated in the large chairs by the fireplace. The first was Bruce Wayne's lawyer, the other was Dad.*

"I'm sorry I'm late." I whispered, debating whether or not to turn tail and run. Instead, I pulled up next to dad's chair and took his hand.

Bruce turned from were he stood at the fireplace with Dr. Newman and another lawyer. With a blank expression on his face he swallowed. "That's quite all right, Barbara."

It took a few minutes more to get back his composure. Just another clue. "Before I get to the reason I called you all here, I wanted to give Doctor Newman a few minutes to talk to you, as Dick's closest family members. Doctor."

"Thank you, Bruce." Doctor Newman glanced up at the man I assumed was his lawyer, and then back to the small gathering of people. "This is quite unusual, but seeing how Bruce is Dick's only next of kin and legal guardian, and since Mr. Grayson is incapable of giving his permission, I have agreed to do as he requested and inform you of the situation. This afternoon I informed Mr. Wayne that the chance of his son ever awakening form his coma is slim to none."

*Scream! I want to cover my ears and scream! Tell them they are wrong! Damn it, Barbara, say something! Donna has already started to cry openly, why can't I scream? Why can't I shut him up? I don't want to hear anymore! I don't want to listen! I can't... Tears?...No! I don't want to cry! Why are my attempts of muffling these sobs not working?!*

"I am sorry to have inform you of this, I truly wish there were something more I could do." He continued carefully.

*My tears have a life of their own. Dad is pulling me into his arms. NO! I won't believe this! Why can't I scream? Say something, Barbara! Doesn't he understand he is talking about the man I love?*

"I gave Mr. Wayne the only two options I believe are open to him now. The first is to leave him in his current vegetative state, on life support until which time all of his bodily functions completely shut down. With our technologies, his body can be kept alive for years."

*I'm not the only one unable to speak,* I glanced over at Alfred through the tears. I watched as his noble jaw jutted outward, unmoving. Not a even quiver. His jaw was clinched so tight that I thought it might break if he tried to speak.

"I have given Bruce a list of very good medical centers that care for such patients," Dr. Newman volunteered. "The other option is to go ahead and remove him from life support and let nature take its course. Mr. Grayson is a organ donor so it would be best to have him transported to Gotham General first so that they will be able to harvest his organs."

*Man, and I thought Batman was cold.*

"NO!" A voice caught my attention. At first I thought maybe that voice would lend its power to me so that I could finally speak, but then I saw Bruce run past me to the distraught form of Tim Drake. Oh God, I had forgotten all about Tim.

"Tim. Please son, don't make this any harder than it is," Bruce whispered holding the boy in his arms.

"Bruce, you can't! It's not true! Please don't believe him." Tim continued to cry out loud.

*Bruce listen to him.*

Tim broke away from Bruce's embrace and ran over to Doctor Thompkins. "Leslie, tell him he's wrong!" Tim begged. "Tell him he knows nothing of Dick Grayson. Tell him. Please..." I watched as she simply embraced Tim and let her tears flow with his.

"I am sorry," Doctor Newman reiterated. "I am sorry." Bruce solemnly walked up to the doctor, extended his hand in thanks, and the doctor and his lawyer left. I watched as Alfred left the room with them to escort them to the door. I watched as Roy took Donna upstairs, and as Dad helped Leslie carry Tim to his room. Suddenly I realized I was alone with Bruce. I watched him as my world began to slowly unravel. I... I lost the only thing left I had to dream of. My hope was suddenly as nonexistent as my voice. And, looking at Bruce, I knew he was my mirror.

Bruce looked as though he had not slept in months. He stared out the den window with his head pressed lightly against the glass. He didn't even blink when the massive doors to the den opened. Alfred cleared his throat before announcing, "Forgive the interruption, Master Super? um Kent is here, sir."

Bruce turned slightly to notice Clark Kent straightening his tie. "Thanks, Alfred," he acknowledged.

Alfred nodded his head and excused himself. When the door closed, Bruce quietly seated himself at his desk, and motioning for Clark to take the seat across from him. As dark as Bruce usually was, it had been a long time since Clark had seen his comrade look so strung out. The last time involved the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin, at the hands of the Joker. Clark declined the seat and instead tossed a copy of the Daily Planet onto the desk. The headline was about Lex Luther, but beneath it was small column called The Rumor Mill. It had a selection highlighted that read: "Deadly rumor: Bludhaven's finest finds broken body of man who claimed to have killed the local vigilante known as Nightwing."

"I didn't do it, if that's what you're thinking." Bruce left the paper on the desk. "And if you are referring to Nightwing, I am sure you know already he is not dead... not yet... So what do you want, Clark."

"I want to know why the hell I wasn't even told that he was hurt," Clark stated, trying to keep his voice level for his friend's benefit.

"What should I have said, Clark? 'Come on over and we sit together and watch my son die.'?" Bruce mocked. "Clark, he is being kept alive by machines! CAN YOU CHANGE THAT?!" Bruce demanded. His voice rose uncontrollably as he demanded of his friend, "Would my telling you have changed that? He was brought home with a bullet hole that ripped through his body! Could you have changed that?? Or the fact that I had to do CPR on him the next day? COULD YOU? Can you change the fact that there are tubes running in and out of every orifice of his body because without the machines he can't even accomplish the basic bodily functions? So tell me... WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE?. WITH ALL OF YOUR MAGNIFICENT ALIEN POWERS, SUPERMAN, CAN YOU GIVE ME BACK MY SON? ...CAN YOU?!!"

As his final exclamation, Bruce dumped the huge solid mahogany desk over as if it were made of paper, startling Clark and dismaying himself. He turned away and walked over to the fireplace that displayed the painting of his murdered parents over its mantle. "Sorry. Oh God, I'm sorry." Bruce whispered in a voice so low that it took Clark's super hearing to make it out. He watched as Bruce quickly exited the room onto the patio and, alarmed, Alfred entered though the main doors.

"How long has he been like this, Alfred?" he questioned quietly while he righted the cumbersome desk with ease.

Alfred busied himself with cleaning up the papers and knick-knacks from the ground. "It's been building since Master Dick was first brought home, sir." Alfred confided. "It peaked when Doctor Newman gave him his options this afternoon. At most, he may have had an hour sleep in the last three days. We almost lost Master Dick the last time he made any real effort to get some rest, and he has been fighting his need for sleep ever since. But I don't believe lack of sleep is what is bothering him. He has gone longer without sleep." Alfred lowered his voice to an almost scandalous tone, "We have been asked to consider euthanasia." Alfred knew that he didn't have to explain any more to Clark. Clark had known Bruce long enough to know that Bruce was blaming himself for Dick's condition, and struggling endlessly with the issue to end Dick's life.

"Alfred, can you please leave us alone; I think I can handle this." Clark whispered.

Alfred looked as though he might object but thought better of it. Unsure what the alien intended to do, but hopeful that Clark may be able to help, Alfred whispered, "Please be careful. There are a lot of fragile things in this room." He directed his gaze to the portrait above the fireplace, and Clark nodded in understanding.

Reentering the room, Bruce seemed totally oblivious to the fact anyone was still present. Clark was physically only inches taller than Bruce, and sometimes Bruce seemed larger than life, but today the man seemed much smaller--weaker. Clark had to get him to release the fire burning inside, and the tantrum Bruce had just had was not going to do it. But not here. He knew that most of the breakable objects in the room were owned by Bruce's parents, and it would only make matters worse if those items were to get broken.

Clarke stood behind him for what seemed like hours before Bruce broke the silence. "Roy was right."

"About what?" Clark asked softly.

"We only waste time."

Clark suppressed a sigh, and said instead, "Bruce, come with me. We have to... discuss some things."

"No, I have to stay here. I have to be here.' he breathed, almost too low for even Clark to hear.

"Just outside, Bruce," he pleaded.

"No, they may need me..." he returned still barely audible.

"For years I have stood back and watched silently while you bore the weight of the world on your shoulders, but not this time, my friend." He picked up the man and flew out the open balcony doors.

Clark took Bruce to an open field just behind a small wooded vale. Maybe Bruce was still stunned by the action, or maybe he was so far gone already that it took him a moment to figure out what happened, but whatever the reason, Bruce had not made one sound of objection for the whole flight. Instead he simply turned and began to walk back to the manor. But before he could take two steps, Clark was standing before him again.

"Get out of my way, Clark," he growled low. Clark allowed his friend to push him aside and walk past. But Clark just stepped in front of him again. "I can't leave him," Bruce explained.

"Its like you said, Bruce, what are you going to do? Sit there and watch your son die?" he rebutted. Bruce struck out before he could stop himself. His fist made contact with the other's jaw in a solid blow. Bruce knew the only reason he wasn't nursing a broken hand was because his friend had absorbed the punch. He turn again to try and walk away. "He needs me."

"Dick isn't going anywhere, Bruce, and until you do something to get rid of that extra baggage, neither are you."

"You can't keep me here."

"Actually, I am probably the only one who could. You wanna test that theory?"

"Don't tempt me." He pushed the man again. But unlike before, the man didn't budge.

"If you wanna talk you can talk, if you wanna scream, scream. No one is gonna hear you--no one who wouldn't understand anyway." Clark continued as Bruce tried to walk away in the opposite direction. Suddenly he bumped in to the alien again before he could take his next step.

"Aaauuuggghhhh," Bruce lost it. He swung, making contact with Clark's stomach, then followed through with a roundhouse kick to the head. Clark was actually taken down by the strength of the kick, for he was prepared to absorb the blow so that his friend would not hurt himself, but he hadn't been quite ready for the strength of that blow. Getting to his feet almost more quickly than he went down, Clark blocked blow after blow, kick after kick, actually amazed at how many times the man connected blows that should have been blocked. And really grateful it didn't hurt him as much as it would have the average run of the mill psychotic he had running around his town.

Suddenly the blows were being joined by screaming. Then audible words. "ALL My fault!"{smack} " Shouldn't have even BEEN in that God-forsaken city."{whack} "He was just a child... couldn't get away... to do it myself." {Crack} "Now every fiend... with a gun is after his head."{Slam} The last hit actually knocked Clark on his backside. "All those years ago, you were right. I should have never brought him in to this field." Clark saw Bruce's face streaked with tears, eyes swollen with the pain of fear, and even as his words were getting louder, his strength was quickly withering. Suddenly he fell to his knees wrapping his arms around his head and screamed. "It's my fault... It's my Fault... IT'S ALL MY FAULT."

In the middle of the field, a man he had never known to show emotion had finally released some of the pent-up anger that had burned through him as well as the undeserved blame that he carried for so long. The journalist knew he was as much to blame than anyone. Clark remembered that he had not approved of Dick becoming the "Boy Wonder." He had been just a child after all. In reality, Clark hadn't thought that any normal human should be out "saving the world," since they were often prone to illness and injury, but Batman had proven him wrong. In more than one instance. At times both Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne had proven stronger than those heroes with extraordinary powers.

"No, Bruce," Clark whispered as he sat on the ground next to the exhausted man who now lay trying to regain control of his emotions. "I was wrong. I know what I said, I even think that at the time, not knowing what I know now, my comments were hasty. I did some research on him. After the first time I had confronted you. I read the reports from the department of children and services. Who in their right mind could believe that a center for detention of juvenile delinquents could be a safe place for a child who was innocent of any crime? Let alone one who was the victim of such a heinous crime. Nothing about what happen to him made sense."

"So you did do your research," Bruce broke in the tears finally subsiding, "I thought all those records had... disappeared shortly thereafter. Before he became Robin."

"Hey, I'm a good reporter. Besides I work with one of the biggest snoops in all of North America. You should have seen what I had to do to keep her from doing a follow up on it after she found out that you had gotten custody. Bruce Wayne's rep and all." Clark glanced at Bruce and noticed that his friend seemed not to be listening as he stared passed him and through the trees in the distance.

"I didn't understand why they felt that JDC was a better environment for a child than the circus. Then I remembered what my pa use to say, 'If you city folk knew what to do with half the manure you made, you wouldn't have to wonder if the grass is really greener.'" Out of the corner of his eye, Clark thought he saw a thin whisper of a smile creep momentarily across Bruce's face. "Bruce, what he went through in the time since his parents death till the time you took him in was wrong. If he had survived the abuse he received in the center, he would have more than likely become bitter and angry. Or dead."

"So how is that any different than he became under my watchful eye?" Bruce asked dryly.

"You told me the reason you decided to train him."

"Yeah, the boy was better than good. He had already caught up with his parents' killer and, untrained, confronted Zucco before I found him. He never seemed afraid of the outcome."

"He wasn't." Clark continued with a confidential air, "He told me once that he had hoped that Zucco would kill him too."

"He told you that?"

"It was only Batman's intervention that saved the boy's life, Bruce. You taught him that it was ok to survive, and then you taught him how. It might not have been the only way, but looking back, I really can't think of any other way. He was... no, is everything that is a hero should be."

After a quiet moment, Clark turned to find Bruce had fallen victim of his exhaustion. He had passed out, so that so deep was his sleep, he didn't even budge when the reporter lifted him and flew him back to his room in the manor.

Clark watched for a moment as Bruce slept in his bed. The man sleeping before him had been a worthy opponent and a trusted ally. Like all of the members of the Justice League, he thought of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson as family. He may never admit it to the stubborn man, but he considered Bruce a brother. They are related by a goal. They may never agree on means, but what brothers ever do?

Continue To Part Seven

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