CHAPTER 9

Author's note: The funeral scene is based, in part, on the art of Meghan Hetrick, who inked a version of Nightwing #30 which was subsequently not published (a true pity).


DICK GRAYSON,

UNMASKED, TORTURED AND MURDERED

AGE 22

The day they buried him was bright, the sunlight shining on the trees and the green grass. At Batman's request, everyone came in uniform. Barbara suspected it was to prevent too much emotion being shown; they were all professionals and being in uniform meant suppressing tears. Well, she thought angrily, I'm going to give Dick the tears he deserves! And he deserves them... What might have been still haunted her. She and Dick had loved and flirted for years, but neither of them had made a move towards permanency. Now that would never happen.

Barbara found Alfred standing in front of the open casket, set next to the gaping hole in the green grass. "Alfred!" she shouted and ran into his arms.

The old butler felt suddenly frail in her arms. Why, he's getting old, she thought wonderingly. She knew that Damian's death had hit him hard, but now, with Dick, the boy he'd raised... "Are you all right?" she asked softly.

"I will survive this, Miss Gordon," Alfred said, taking out a handkerchief and dabbing at his eyes. "But it is hard, when the old bury the young. And Master Dick was so very alive."

"Babs!" She turned and saw Red Robin, unmasked but in costume. He ran to her and fell into her arms. She hugged him back just as fiercely. "How are you doing?" she whispered in his ear, then held him at arms' length.

His eyes were red and his face puffy. "About how you'd expect. Bruce has shut down. I think he's frustrated because he can't go after Lex Luthor; although he should be!" Tim grimaced and fell silent.

"The League has shut him down?" Babs asked, taking his hand and walking them towards the empty coffin.

Tim nodded. "Yeah. They say that Dick's death was necessary to keep the bomb from going off and taking half the Eastern Seaboard with it. They don't want retaliation!" He spat out the last word. "As if that's what Batman has ever done! Justice! That's what Dick should have." He fell silent when they stood in front of the coffin.

Babs almost started crying when she saw him. He looked like he was sleeping, peacefully for once. Dick wore his Nightwing costume but not his mask. Of course, that had been taken from him by the Crime Syndicate and his identity shown widely on television. For a hero, it was like a rape. In a single act, they took everything from him: his effectiveness, his privacy, his very identity had become useless. She felt her eyes grow hot and the tears start to fall and was grateful when Tim took her hand.

Jason approached them, a mocking smile on his face. "Will ya look at this little family group?" He glanced at Nightwing and shrugged. "At least the Joker let me keep my mask and shirt on before he killed me."

Barbara startled and was instantly enraged. How dare he? She hauled off and slapped him, hard, with her left hand and drew back the right for a roundhouse punch. "You were always jealous of Nightwing," she shot at him. "He was a better hero and a better man than you'll ever be! He can't defend himself anymore, but I sure as hell will!"

Jason looked startled at Barbara's sudden reaction but walked around her to look into the casket. Face turned away from her, he looked at the man he could never surpass . Before he'd changed his life and reentered the Bat Family, he'd tried to kill Dick, all the while wishing he could be him. In the privacy of his deepest thoughts, he's always known that Dick was the better man. "I'm sorry, Barbara," he said. "You know I've always had a mouth. But I really am sorry that he's gone." He turned and put a hand on her shoulder. "And I'm as pissed off as the rest of you that Bruce isn't going after his killer."

She nodded her head and glanced at Nightwing. "I'm sorry, too, Jason."

They all came to the funeral. The Justice League: Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg, the Flash, Green Lantern. Dick's old girl friend, Kory, aka Starfire, had come too, as well as Roy Harper, also known as Arsenal.

When the League arrived, Batman finally came down from the house to greet them. He had gone stony, harder to read than she'd ever seen him. First, after Jason's death and then Damian's, she'd seen the frantic sorrow and loss covering him like a cloak. But now? It was as if he were frozen. But this, this was Dick, his closest friend and ally except for Alfred.

She moved over to him, to try to offer comfort, but Batman shrugged her off. Bruce read a service and Alfred said a few words, then Alfred and Bruce together closed the casket. She, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Batman and Tim slowly lowered the coffin into the earth. One last sign of the Nightwing symbol engraved on the lid, and Superman shoveled dirt into the hole.

The little group went into the house to sample the buffet that Alfred had prepared. He'd done all of Dick's favorites, from hot-dogs and beans to macaroni and cheese. Eventually the League drifted out, leaving the Family together. There was another tradition to be observed.

Tim and Jason quickly trooped into the kitchen, Barbara following slowly. She had never been to the infamous movie nights at the manor, although she'd been invited multiple times. Somehow, it had always seemed a sort of boys' night out, so she'd refused. But this night, in honor of Dick Grayson, of course she had to attend.

"Where's Alfred?" she asked. "Isn't this his kitchen?"

Tim and Jason traded glances. "He's with Bruce. He already did the buffet," Tim said. "So, Jay and I are gonna handle things. He'll be out for the movies."

"How can I help?" she asked.

Tim had already pulled the strawberry ice cream out of the refrigerator and was digging scoops of ice cream out with deliberate savagery. Barbara saw a single tear drip off the tip of his nose and drop into the blender.

"Babs, why don't you make the popcorn?" Jason said with unusual tact. He had been subdued since she slapped him. "I'll slice the strawberries."

"Okay," she replied and began searching through the cabinets for the microwave popcorn. "Does Bruce use a popcorn popper? I don't see any micro-pop."

She was irritated when Tim and Jason each smiled. Jason, still smirking, opened a cabinet and removed a large tin of old fashioned popping corn. "Alfred would never allow microwave popcorn. And neither would Dick," he said, handing it to her. "The frying pan and lid are already out. Here's the oil. Butter's in the fridge. Do your worst!" he said.

Tim snickered. "The first time Jason had to make popcorn, he took the lid off while it was still popping. Zip! Pow! Popcorn ricocheting all around the kitchen...He and Dick had to take cover."

"Who told you that? Dick?" Jason rubbed an eye with the back of his hand and went back to the strawberries. "Dick had to do a second pan to make up for it and we cleaned the kitchen. I'd just gotten my uniform as Robin, one of Dick's old ones, shorty-shorts, pixie boots and all...Fuckin' hand-me-downs..." He cleared his throat and bent over the cutting board to begin a frenzy of chopping.

"Oh," Barbara said, putting the pan on the stove. It was an old, black cast-iron frying pan. Looked like it would make a good weapon; it had heft. She poured oil into the pan and turned on the burner. When a test kernel popped, she put the measured kernels into the pan and covered it with the lid, swishing the pan from side to side to keep the heat even. The smell reminded her of all the times she and Dick had gone to the circus while they were dating. Every time the circus hit town, Dick had to go.

She'd never had the heart to tell him that she was getting bored with circus acts. He was having so much fun, and it was so fun to watch the expressions on his face shift. He'd looked just like the boy in the Robin costume she'd first met when they both were children.

"The first time I met Dick, I was pretty full of myself," Jason said, in a deceptively casual tone. "I mean, he was the old model and I was the new Robin. I thought a lot about myself and my abilities. I knew I could do better than some circus kid."

"Did you?" Tim asked, pouring milk into the blender and processing it.

Jason smiled. "I thought I did until he took me for a train ride. Man, I near crapped my pants that night!"

Tim snickered. "Yeah, I know the feeling. When he took me riding, I slid off the train at one point and he just calmly caught me by the ankle and hauled me back on. He could fight off half a dozen bad guys and never break a sweat." Tim went to the cupboard and came back with a jar of brown powder.

"What's that?" Barbara asked.

"Ovaltine!" Tim and Jason chorused.

"The secret ingredient," Jason pronounced. "The shakes may not be made without it," he said in a faux British accent.

"Oh," Barbara said. "This sounds almost like a ritual."

"Pretty much," Jason said, scooping strawberries into the blender. "It started when Dick was Robin and we've been doing it ever since. I think it was mostly Alfred who insisted."

Tim nodded and spooned the Ovaltine into the blender, then put the lid on and processed it. "Movie night is, like, the only night that Alfie can be sure that Bruce will relax. And Bruce never cancels. Not ever."

"How is Bruce taking it?" Barbara asked, emptying her pan into a large bowl. "Oh damn! The butter!" She fished the butter out of the fridge and put it into a small pan to melt. No microwave in the kitchen, at all, she noticed. Alfred really was old fashioned.

"He doesn't talk much," Tim said. "After Damian...Well, I kind of expected him to go off the deep end. He about went nuts when Jason..." He quickly turned back to the shakes he was pouring into tall glasses.

"It's okay, Replacement," Jason said, voice tired. "We all know what happened. Bruce went berzerk, went to Washington and tried to kill the Joker but Superman stopped him." He leaned against the refrigerator door. "If he went to Metropolis and killed that asshole Lex Luthor, I wouldn't stop him."

"I thought you'd sworn off bloodshed," Tim commented.

Jason flashed him a feral grin. "I have. Mostly. But nobody's got the right to kill the Golden Boy except me, and I decided not to." He pushed himself away from the refrigerator. "Barbara, you want to put the popcorn into six small bowls after you've buttered it."

She finished pouring the melted butter and was mixing the popped corn in the big bowl. "Six? But there are only five of..." She caught sight of the six glasses of strawberry shakes.

"Are you ready to go?" Bruce came into the kitchen. She wasn't used to seeing him in casual clothing. Either he wore his Batman outfit or a business suit, normally. Tonight, Bruce looked different. He wore black jeans and a matching turtleneck shirt. Like Jason and Tim, he had black sneaks on as well. Bruce nodded to her and picked up a shake and small bowl of popcorn. They made a little procession, following him into the den.

Alfred was already sitting in the easy chair on one end. Jason and Tim put shakes and small popcorn bowls on the table at each place except one.

Jason sat by the window, with Tim next to him. He motioned towards Barbara and pointed to the chair beside Tim. "That's your seat. It used to be Damian's."

Not knowing what else to do, Barbara sat down and put the big popcorn bowl on the coffee table in front. While she was doing so, she saw Bruce carefully place the shake and small popcorn bowl he'd carried onto the table beside the empty chair. He took his own seat next to Barbara and picked up his own shake. "Everybody ready? What do we have?"

Jason retrieved a CD from the floor next to his chair. "Robin Hood with Errol Flynn. It's a classic and one of Dick's favorites." Everyone else but Barbara nodded.

Tim brought out two CD's. "I've got The Great Wallendas and the latest Circ de Lunaire. Dick wanted to get this but he never got a...chance to see it."

"A fine choice," Alfred said, voice shaking a bit. "Master Dick certainly would have enjoyed them. Miss Barbara, did you bring anything?"

Barbara laughed a little. "One of our favorites, The Princess Bride. Dick used to say that we had something beyond love, it was true...blayve. And he'd never die, he'd only ever just be 'mostly dead' until I kissed him..." She trailed away, her voice breaking off.

Alfred broke in. "I left my choice to Master Bruce. Sir? Sir?"

Bruce was staring into space, his face charged with sadness. "Hmmm? Oh, yes, Alfred. I chose something, too. The Mark of Zorro, the movie that played the night that my parents were murdered, the one that inspired me to take on this mission. I think that Dick deserves it." He put a CD on the coffee table in front of him.

"Bruce? Why aren't you going after Lex Luthor?" Jason burst out from his end seat. "Luthor just smothered the life out of him and you aren't gonna do anything?"

Bruce frowned. "We've been all over this, Jason, and yes, the rest of you. Luthor did it to prevent the bomb from going off and exposing millions to the radiation! There was no way we could get Dick out of that machine in time. You've seen the tapes; Dick didn't even fight it. He knew and agreed to sacrifice himself for others!"

"He died while you were fighting to get to him!" Tim said. "You could have saved him if Bizarro hadn't stopped you!"

Bruce sighed and shook his head. "No. No, I couldn't have. I'd have tried until that bomb went off. Dick even told me to run; he knew that there wasn't a chance. Lex took the only way out, the way I couldn't bear to take."

"You would never have killed Dick yourself," Barbara said, aghast. "He was your son!"

Bruce smiled at her sadly. "But I should have. We've all sworn to save lives, at the expense of our own if necessary. With his death, Dick saved lives, which was more than I was able to do." He lifted his shake "So, let's drink to Dick Grayson!"

"Dick Grayson!" rang around the room as each person toasted the one who was absent.

They all settled into their chairs while Bruce put the CD into the player and hit "play". The movie queued up and "Robin Hood" began. A moment or two into playback, Tim paused it and went over to the television monitor.

"What's wrong?" Bruce asked.

"I'm going to fix the picture," Tim explained. "It looks awfully green..."