Part 7
by Cyndi Smith

Bruce awoke, unfamiliar with his surroundings, or how he even got here, wherever here was. It had been a long time since he felt like he had no control over anything, and he hated the feeling. This couldn't be real. Maybe he had run into the Scarecrow's nerve gas unprepared, which is always good for a few unnerving hallucinations, not to mention a beauty of a headache in the morning. As Batman, he began to wander on what appeared to be the rooftops of Gotham, but somehow they were different. His points of reference were a huge inverted cone that looked to be the rooftop spire of the old Cathedral of St. Stephen, and one of his favorite perches, the giant gargoyle that overlooked Crime Ally.

Everything seemed different. There was music in the air. It was soft loving, almost mesmerizing music. The closer he got to the spire, the clearer everything was becoming. When he finally reached cathedral he saw the source of music; sitting cross-legged on the gargoyle's head playing the guitar was Dick Grayson. His son. He felt tears begin to fill the area between the cowl's lenses and his eyes.

"Hi, Bruce," Dick spoke, not even turning his head. "Somehow I knew I would run into Batman before this journey ended. I guess your cowl is like an American Express card; you don't leave home without it. Do you Bruce? Not even in your dreams."

"Is that what this is? A dream?" Batman countered, "Am I dreaming?"

"Man, one of us is... And in my dreams you are usually Bruce." His son shrugged, still not turning. Bruce stood over him as the sound of Dick's guitar drowned the flutter of Bruce's cape. Bruce still eyed the area suspiciously. "So tell me, why the cowl? Is supposed to strike fear in me, Bruce? Or is it to hide you from what you fear." Dick stopped playing and turned his head to face his surrogate father. "Is that what the problem is? Are you afraid of me?" Bruce gazed unbelieving from the rooftop of the church. Only now he realized that he couldn't see the ground from where he was; that the ground was replaced by only a misty fog that seemed to hover below them. Dick patted the head of the concrete monster. "Sit down Bruce. Batman is not needed here."

Bruce pulled off his cowl and lowered himself to the concrete, but his suspicions stayed ever visible. Almost instantaneously he changed from Batman to Bruce, complete with coat and tie. For a moment he froze in panic. "Boggling isn't it," Dick laughed, "Kind of makes me feel like Clark. I even flew threw the air without lines." Glancing back at the pressed and proper CEO of Wayne Enterprises, Dick shook his head. "Do you even own a novelty tee-shirt? I saw a real neat one at Darter's Discount. It said, "Where in the hell is Gotham City.' Had the Batsignal over the top of a silhouette of the city. " Unfazed, Dick returned to playing the guitar until frustration got the best of Bruce and he slammed his hands across the strings."I don't know what is going on here, but I want some answers, and I want them now."

Dick knew this voice. The ability to intimidate flowed through his mentor's blood like fire through dry woodland. "This is limbo, Bruce," He replied. He wasn't sure how else to approach the situation except directly. "Seems when I used the technique, I created a conundrum that even the Riddler would appreciate. I gave myself some extra time, but I've run into a problem." His voice faded almost to a whisper, "I have been trying to get back... But now I am not sure..."

"You're trying to tell me you are Dick Grayson's ghost, and this is heaven?"

"No... well kind of... well more like spirit or soul," Dick explained, "And this is limbo; not heaven or hell."

"If you're a spirit then why aren't you transparent?" Bruce quizzed.

"Look, Bruce, I don't write these adventures; I just seem to live them!" This was starting to get more complicated than he had hoped and unfortunately, as always, the intimidation mask on Bruce was working all too well. All he could think was, *I gotta stay calm, I gotta say calm.*

"Why am I here?" The man demanded, still unwilling to believe anything he was seeing, hearing, or feeling.

"I'm not sure," Dick shouted back, suddenly forgetting to even care if he was calm. "Jason said that sometimes when we sleep our spirits cross into this realm... Maybe you're here to see how the other half lives... or dies."

"Jason?" Bruce's voice echoed more shock than anger, making Dick regret his momentary lapse of control.

"Yeah, he and others were helping me to get back," Dick said, accepting his slip of the tongue, "You'd be surprised what connections I have here." With a wave of his hand, he opened a portal onto a scene in some unknown dimension. It showed a beautiful woman in a large room, sitting at a beautiful grand piano, playing an old tune Bruce recognized as "Harbor Lights." A man stood behind her in a smoking jacket. He bent down and kissed her, and then returned to the large plush chair by the fireplace. The same chair that now sat in the Bruce's den.

The vision didn't have the effect Dick had hoped for as Bruce leaped up in a fit of anger. "Enough! I have had enough of these games! I don't know were I am, or who you are, or what you think you can accomplish by this, but I don't appreciate these sorts of jokes," he growled. Back in the uniform of the Bat, he snatched the hallucination of Dick by the back of the shirt. The guitar fell from its hand, never hitting the ground, and its body went limp in his grasp. "Stand up! You're going to answer my questions even if I have to beat them out of you."

"I can't! I can't stand! My legs don't work! " Dick shouted back, trying to grab hold of Bruce to keep from falling. Bruce stared down at the spirit's legs that dangled listlessly like that of a rag doll.

"Bruce, you're hurting me!" Dick winced.

"What?" When the words finally penetrated his mind, Bruce quickly pulled his son into his arms, gently lowered him back to the ground, and stepped away as, still shaking, the boy slowly rolled over onto his side.

"I can't feel my legs," he tried to explain, sounding as if he might be laughing, as tears began to stream down his face, and his finger tips dug into the concrete as if he were still trying to bury his emotions. "It's the truth. I wish it weren't. I have been trying to find my way back to the other side. Up until now I have been able to walk, change into Nightwing, and even fly without the use of any equipment. Then I all of the sudden I found myself unable to stand on my own legs. All I can figure is that my body is close, so I am beginning to experience its... problems. The pain, the numbness..." Back in civilian clothes, Bruce lowered himself to his son's side, and pulled Dick into his arms, enveloping Dick as the boy began to cry outright. "I thought I could handle it," the boy cried into Bruce's jacket sleeve. "Now I'm not so sure... Oh God, Bruce... I'm so scared. I don't think I can handle this. I don't think I can return to this."

"Dick, son. I am so sorry, I don't understand what is happening," Bruce was unconsciously rocking the young man back and forth. "I can't seem to do anything right," he growled to himself. "Forgive me, son," Bruce cried, his body shaking beneath Dick. "Oh, God, forgive me." But before Dick could say anything, he found himself alone again and trying to fight back the tears that now discolored the sculpture's head.

Alfred had only come in to check on Bruce. Before Clark left, Alfred had reiterated the need for secrecy. Neither he nor Clark liked the fact that only a select few of Dick's friends and family knew about his precarious health, but both recognized the need for Bruce to handle the situation as he saw fit. Clark had grudgingly complied, and had predicted that Bruce would be asleep for hours. "There wasn't much fight left in him," Clark had said, referring to the 'conversation' he and Bruce had had earlier.

Alfred found his young master thrashing and screaming in his sleep. Not since he was as child had Alfred seen him so emotionally torn apart. His sheets and pillows were already soaked in sweat and tears. He was so alarmed that he started to leave to get Leslie when Bruce awoke with a start. "Dick, please forgive me," he shouted out as he bolted upright in bed. "No! God, no! Please, I didn't mean to hurt you..." Bruce fell to the floor clawing at the carpet as if he were trying to dig something up.

"Master Bruce! Bruce... son... please calm yourself." Alfred had no sooner knelt to the floor than the man whom he'd raised as if he were his own, pulled him into his clutch like a frightened child to a toy.

"I didn't believe him. I thought it was an illusion... Possibly the scarecrow." The visibly shaken man prattled on. Leslie ran in to the room at the sound of Bruce's cries and quickly shut the door behind her. She could not ever recall Bruce having lost his senses so completely. Despite all efforts from Alfred who was now struggling with his own tears, Bruce was becoming more and more despondent--almost unaware what was going on. "I didn't mean to hurt him," he begged.

"You didn't, son," Alfred voiced, looking at Leslie with pleading eyes, "It was Blockbuster." But the words fell on deaf ears.

Bruce continued, "It wasn't logical. It didn't make sense. Then when I saw mother... she was at the piano... Harbor Lights... she was playing Harbor Lights... just like before." Bruce rattled on as Leslie prepared a syringe with a strong sedative. "Oh God, he's hurt and scared... and what did I do? I hurt him more, I yanked him up from the ground shaking him, but he wouldn't stand... his legs were like rubber." He cried, unaware as the needle pierced his skin.

"He said I was hurting him, He couldn't feel his legs... I didn't mean to... I thought I was hallucinating. Oh God... Oh God... "

The sedative worked quickly, and Bruce collapsed on top of the old butler. Leslie had to get Roy and Jim to help return the man back to his bed. Alfred turned to keep the others from seeing the tears of which he seemed to have lost control, and was grateful that, only after an uncertain pause, they left as quickly as they had come. As soon as the door closed, he looked up to see Leslie smiling--fighting the tears in her eyes.

"I won't let him feel responsible for the death of another son... I can't." Alfred whispered to her. She embraced the older man, and together they shared the pain and tears they could never let anyone else see.

Continue To Part Eight

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