It took Alfred all night to get the courage up to finally go into the bedroom. They had moved Dick to his old room after taking him off the machines that were maintaining his life. But after almost thirteen hours he still lived. The monitors, the only machines left in the room, beeped and twittered his defiance of death. Alfred had finally convinced both Donna and Barbara to go downstairs, and Roy had eaten recently and returned, leaving Tim as the only one who hadn't left the young hero for hours. Alfred stood in the doorway for several minutes before he got the nerve to make his presence known.
Clearing his throat he stepped forward, "Master Timothy, I think it would be best if you went downstairs and tried to eat something." Roy watched him somberly as he spoke. Roy noticed that Alfred's eyes never left Dick's face even as he spoke to Tim. It struck Roy that Alfred had not had any time alone with his surrogate grandson.
"I'm not hungry," Tim objected.
"Hey, kid, I think Alfie's right," Roy butted in, "And I want to check on Donna. Then we can change and kick some ass. It'll make both of us feel better." Roy gave Tim a look that prevented the young sidekick from objecting further. Roy addressed Alfred, "Alfie, will you stay with Dick for awhile? We just don't want him to be alone if..." his voice trailed off, unwilling to speak the end of his sentence, as he watched the older man step up to the bedside. Roy watched as Alfred slid his fingers gently beneath Dick's, and noticed Alfred's already damp eyes began to glass over.
"I understand, Master Roy," Alfred answered solemnly. Roy saw Tim understand Roy's ulterior motive, and he seemed more willing to follow Roy to the kitchen.
Roy gave a half smile as they watched the old man quietly take the seat that Roy had abandoned. Then turning to Tim, he signaled with his first two fingers for them to leave quietly, and they did so, closing the door behind them. Tim turned to Roy with new tears in his eyes. "I don't think I've ever seen him cry."
"Yeah, kid me neither," Roy said solemnly.
"I guess it really is over, isn't it," he whispered, staring back at the room they had just left.
Unable to answer, Roy wrapped his arm around the young man's shoulders, and quietly guided the younger boy down the hall.
Dick was so tired. The pain came and went as did the numbness in his legs, but the faces--the memories--they stayed. He kept moving, although his heart was no longer in the fight. Now would be as good as any time to give up.
Laughter began to echo through the darkness of this realm; a dark, evil, frightening laughter. That's when he saw him--Trigon. He towered over the city like a great mountain. His hands spread outward in victory. "I feel your faith dwindling you puny little human. This is the time for which I have had to wait for all too long. You thought you had defeated me. But it is I who will taste final victory. I should have killed you the first time you crossed over," he growled, "But she stopped me. Then you stole her from me again. You were foolish to believe you could teach her the ways of her mother. Because of you I had to punish her for that. And yet she has not learned. When I find you, human, I will see that your afterlife is not one you will soon enjoy."
Dick slipped back into the darkness of the alley and desolately settled down into the corner. It was over. He was going to die just as he lived... alone.
"You were never alone, Richard," came a voice out of the darkness. Fear seized his heart as he recognized the voice. But there was nowhere to run. No choice now. He would accept his fate. "Do you remember, Richard, that time when you were younger, and you became lost in this realm. You came to a crossroad where you found a little girl who was crying just at the edge of this realm. And you asked her why she cried."
"I remember," he whispered. He fears were being replaced by memories he hadn't remembered until just now. "She said she wanted to go back and be with her mother, but she was afraid because she different. Said she was alone and would spend her eternity alone because she was the daughter of evil. If she left this world, others would be hurt."
"That's correct. Do you remember what you said?" she asked.
Given a renewed hope, Dick was no longer willing to accept the helplessness that came with fear, and he walked out into the light and faced the voice in the darkness. "Yes, Raven, I do." Raven stepped out of the shadows, and the image of her father's face eclipsed her own. She could sense the fear that dug at his heart, but he did not retreat. Instead he smiled. "I asked where your mother and father were. You said that your mother lived in a place of light and happiness, and that your father was darkness himself. I remember thinking you talked funny for someone so young. You said your father was the evil incarnate and that because of that you were to spend your life alone. Shunned by others."
"You asked me if that is how I felt when I was in the place of light. It was then I remembered that I had only known happiness when I was there." Raven recalled, "But my father said that it was only false face, and that when they knew the truth they will turn on me, just as they did him."
Dick acknowledged the memory, "I told you that some people are hurtful, but not everyone. It takes a lot to break the bonds of a dark legacy, but we don't have to be what others want us to be."
"Then when I turned around and you saw my face you gasped, but I knew it was not out of horror or pity, but of shock. You stood your ground, and you even smiled at me. Then, when I told you I was the daughter of Trigon, you laughed and said..."
"I remember I... " he began to laugh at the thought. "I said, 'So what? My father dresses in tights and thinks he's a bat.' I remember it well. You thought I mocked you. Somehow you knew my real parents were dead. I guess I pissed you off, because your fear and sadness turned to anger. You told me that your father would let you return to your mother and that all you had to do was push me over the edge into the void that was in front of us. It would have broken my connection to life and killed my mortal body."
"You would have been lost to your biological parents as well as Bruce, who had come to love you as his own. Lost to wander a vast nothingness. I only thought to scare you and make you run away. But despite my harsh words you stayed. I was young and as afraid as I had hoped to make you."
"Oh, I was afraid all right. I didn't want to die. But I had already accepted it as my fate. I asked you if that is what you wanted me to do. If you wanted me to die. You looked like you didn't realize that there was a choice, and you fell to your knees and cried. That's when I understood. I knew that you didn't want to hurt anyone--you just wanted to go home. And that maybe with my life, I could give you that."
Raven tried to step closer, but Dick stepped back. "You smiled at me," she continued the story, "You touched my face, and told me to go home to my mother. And you stepped into the nothingness, no longer allowing the choice to be mine."
"Well, I was lost, and didn't think I could have gotten back to my body anyway," he clarified, trying to downplay his action. "But I didn't die, Raven. You enveloped me within your soul self and returned me to my body. I didn't remember until now. Trigon grabbed us, and I heard you scream. It felt like I was being crushed within you. I couldn't breath. Then I felt suddenly at peace, and I awoke to discover myself in Bruce's arms. By his expression, I don't know which one of us was more scared," he laughed. "I fell asleep, and for the first time, and maybe the last time, I had what was the most peaceful nights sleep I had ever experienced since my parents died." He turned away from his one-time teammate. "You saved my life and for that... I am grateful." The hard times that came afterward returned to him, and Dick asked, "But that was then, wasn't it?" He finally found the courage to turn around and step forward. "We are no longer strangers, Raven. Nor are we friends. So tell me, Daughter Of Trigon, are you here to kill me... again? After all, neither of us are the innocents we were so long ago, are we? It should be easier now. You've had practice hurting people since then. Hurting me."
Richard's words dug in to the emptiness of Raven's soul. She knew he referred to her dark side which had destroyed his life as Titan and vanquished any hopes of happiness he could have had with Kory.
"I know I deserve your hatred, Richard," she returned, and he gave a hollow laugh. " I have no right to ask for your friendship or trust, but I have changed. I have been purged of the hatred that consumed me. I will not ask you to trust my word. But try to understand. I can not let you suffer the way that my father intends for you. If you wish, I can open the way to the other realm. Your body will die, but you do not have to live in the torment that he intends to make you suffer."
"And if I still choose to live? If I want to go back? Then what?" he growled defiantly.
"So, you do know you have a choice, and you do still intend to fight. So be it." She closed her eyes and released her soul self for just a moment. When it returned, Dick found himself facing his own image.
"The way out of here is on the other side of Trigon. You must make peace with yourself and jump within the flames of forgetfulness, sacrificing all that you have witnessed here. Let it be known, Richard Grayson, that if you have made peace with yourself, you will awaken unharmed by the flames, and home within your own body. If not, you will die and your soul will wander forever. I will not ask you to trust me, Richard, but to trust your heart. And one day find room in it to forgive me. Trust your heart, Richard," she repeated, "For if you do, it will see you safely home." Then she left, but not before opening up another option.
The fog lifted from the ground revealing a archway leading to another realm. As it became clearer, he saw his parents. They seemed so happy, and their love was so strong that he could feel it pulling at him. Deep inside he did want to go to join them, and he knew that someday he would, but not today.
The numbness returned, and he collapsed to the ground. He knew his choice would be difficult, but he had forgotten how difficult. Fear and loneliness started to enveloped him, and almost instinctively, he waved his hand outward. The movement opened another window. A window to the present. He saw James Gordon, sitting alone in the large chair in the den. He saw that Jim held a picture that had been taken at Dick's high school graduation. In the picture's background he saw the commissioner. He had never noticed him in that picture before, which in the back of his mind he thought was odd. Jim had been there with Barbara more than likely. But he had been there. He had always been there.
He waved his hand again. It was Bruce's room. Dick saw Bruce as he lay in bed tossing. Doctor Leslie sat on the bed next to him, wiping his head with a damp cloth.
"It's ok, son," she said, tears flowing unchecked from her eyes. She hushed him as she slowly moved her loving hand across his unshaven face. "I don't know how, but we will survive this too. Together, we will survive." Afraid, Dick swiped his hand across the window. It took him to the kitchen.
Tim was slinging his dinner plate across the room. "NO! He isn't gone YET! Stop talking like that!" Barbara tried to grab him, but he broke free and jumped across the table. Roy, who for some reason had black hair, was able to catch him.
'Don't you dare assume we want to accept this," Roy stated, fighting the struggling boy. "He's been my best friend ever since I can remember, but you heard it just as well as we did. He's gone."
"NO. No... no... Dick.... forgive me. I failed you," the boy cried as melted to the ground. Roy held him, sitting with him. No one's tears were in check anymore as Donna fell to the ground beside him. "Kid," Roy cried, "Don't you know you were his brother? You never failed him. If anything, you gave him back some of what he lost when... the Titans let him leave. You gave him back his heart."
Dick wiped the tear from his face as he watched the scene. "Believe him, little brother," he smiled, trying to hide his tears, although from whom he didn't know. "You never let me down." With a wave of his hand the scene changed.
Barbara found her way to the music room, still biting back the tears. She slipped up next to the piano, able to do so because the bench was tucked underneath, and ran her fingers across it. Her father must have seen her enter the room, because he followed.
"Honey, you can't keep it bottled up," he whispered, "You were friends too long."
"Oh, Daddy," she cried still fighting the tears, "We were much more than friends. He loved me, Daddy, he taught me to fly. In so many ways, he taught me to fly." She moved just enough so that her father could pull the piano bench out and sit next to her. "Even after this," she laughed slapping her dead legs, still fighting off the tears. "He loved me. He made me whole. And I didn't need to walk because with him I could fly..." She suddenly slammed her fingers on the keyboard and cried out, "And I would have none of it! I didn't need anyone! There are no handles on this wheelchair because I don't like to be pushed. I wasn't going to be dependent on anyone. Not you, not him, not anyone. It was just me and this damn chair, and we would be fine." The last words finally broke the dam of tears, and she fell in to her father's arms. "He loved me, and I kept pushing him away. I loved him, Daddy. I truly did, but I was afraid... Now he's gone. Daddy, I love him. Don't let him leave me, Daddy, please." He held her as she cried, wishing like hell that he had the power to right her world.
Unable to watch any longer, Dick waved his hand, but when the image changed, he found himself looking down at himself. Alfred sat by his bedside. Dick watched as he pushed aside the wisp of hair that always seem to fall out of place.
"I thought I could come in here," Alfred said solemnly, "And say good-bye. But it seems I can't. It was like you brought the sun with you the day you first walked through those doors. If I let you go, I fear you might take the sun with you." He sat silently for a moment, listening to the whistles and beeps of the monitors which were the only signs that there was even a spark of life left in his surrogate grandson.
"It was very hard to maintain decorum when you entered our lives. It is not proper for a gentleman's gentleman to laugh even if the joke was funny. I still don't know how it happened. One minute I was just a butler, the next a father figure, and the next a grandfather. When I agreed to become Master Bruce's legal guardian, I had not expected him to become the son I had always desired. He was quite persuasive for his age and very intelligent. He convinced the state to allow me to have guardianship. One minute I was his butler, and the next, I was his guardian. Don't let him fool you, son, he was not always the saint he likes to think he was, and many a time I had to discipline him for his misdeeds. But somehow I guess he knew it was only because I cared. But despite my efforts, I couldn't find a way to make him happy, or even at ease. He buried himself in work almost immediately, never letting down that ever-so-present guard.
"Then, that fateful night when he came back to the house from the circus, you were all he could talk about. But I could tell that it was himself that he was seeing. It had been the first night in a very long time that he had let me see him cry. That night Commissioner Gordon told him that you had been taken from the circus and placed in the Juvenile Detention Center. I guess was the turning point in all our lives. He became outraged. He set forth the legal wheels to attain guardianship of you. Little did he know that the same red tape used to protect him from the government would be used to keep you from his reach. But then came news of the beating you had taken, and of your eventual escape. He became a man possessed. As Batman, he found you and took you back, but not before making certain of your safety within the walls and making a promise to you that you would not have to stay there much longer. Between Mr. Fox and Master Bruce, they found the loophole he needed to bring you home.
"I suppose he thought that having a home would be enough. Silly as it sounds now, I thought so too. I should have known better. I watched you watch him. Every night when you went to bed you would pray asking God to watch over your parents and Mr. Wayne and Alfie. Ugghh." The older man made a face at his unsolicited nickname. "Then you would finally fall asleep only to be awoken by the memory of your tragic loss. That night I found you outside doing exercises, and back flips, and all those glorious acrobatics at two thirty in the morning, I realized what was happening. Then it became more apparent when you stopped saying your prayers and would just pretend to sleep until I left. You would sneak out the window, go into the woods, and cry. And come morning, you would be practically be asleep in your pancakes, but you continued to smile, never letting on the hurt that was in you. Lest we not forget the night Doctor Leslie and I found you swinging from the chandelier. I do believe that was the night you and Bruce finally found it within you to trust each other. It was not long after that Robin flew beside the Batman." Alfred straightened the covers the lay across his young master.
"You were his pride you know. For months everything you did was the topic of his conversations, whether it was a triple back flip in the Batcave or the grades you received on your report card. He looked forward to every moment he was with you. Why he couldn't tell you that I will never truly understand. I suppose it was because he was afraid to admit he cared because everyone he had ever cared for left him." Suddenly, with those words, he could not hold back the tears--he could no longer suppress the heartache. "And... now I... see he may be right."
"No, Alfred, not everyone he ever loved has left him; you're still there." Dick spoke up, although he knew his words were not getting to the ears of his old friend. He became frustrated when he realized his body was not on life-support. He knew they were going to let him go.
"Way to go Grayson," Dick whispered as he waved his hand one more time, closing off the window. "You have been so blinded by self pity. For someone who thought he was all alone in that world, you sure seem to be destroying a lot of lives by dying," he paused. For a moment the pain in his gut and the numbness in his legs pushed their way to the forefront of his thoughts until he realized what was happening. He commanded himself, "No! No more feeling sorry for yourself! This is your last chance to go back and make things right. Don't give up now." He dragged himself out of the alley. Trigon was stomping all over the city, shattering in building after building. Dick could hear the lost souls as they ran from the angry demon, and he fought off the memories that had long haunted him.
The walls seem to echo the screams of the tormented as they wandered aimlessly in this world of chaos. That's when he heard what sounded like himself crying out, but it was not him. It was Raven. She had taken his place to allow him the chance of life. A chance that was quickly fading. The chance he wanted more than anything, but not at the risk of another's soul.
"If she can take my form in this place what is stopping me from taking hers. He scrambled deep within himself and released his spirit, no longer chained by the darkness he had carried within himself. He felt himself fly and, with a emancipation of self unlike anything he had ever experienced, he defied Trigon, once more enveloping the raven as she had once for done him. He lifted her from her father's grasp and dove for the eternal flames.