Chapter 5

BATMAN

I must have passed out. I woke up on the floor with Anna withdrawing a hypodermic from my thigh. I jerked away and stumbled to my feet, wonder what she'd just given me.

"You know, you needed a shot too," she said, putting the hypo down on a table. "You have gotten, not only Nightwing's antibodies but also the chemical which forces the body to overproduce them. If I hadn't given you the drug, you would have ended up like him." She glanced over at Nightwing, lying on the table but now completely still.

Completely still? I lurched over to the table and reached for his pulse, supporting myself with my other hand. His heart was beating strongly at his carotid and I breathed out with relief. Still alive. I peeled open his eyelids, checking his pupils for evidence of brain damage. He looked normal, so far, but his temperature was still too high. "Is there anything you can give him?" I asked and turned as I said it. She was halfway to the door, edging her way out.

"Where are you going?" I demanded. "You aren't going to just leave him here, are you?"

"He isn't my problem," she said. "You and he," she nodded towards Nightwing. "You are...family?"

"No...yes," I said. "But it's your virus that's affecting us both. You owe us. You owe him." Hoping that I'd stay on my feet, I went over to her and saw that she had been removing items from a cabinet, putting them into a satchel. "Planning on leaving with your virus?"

She jerked, then recovered herself. "And the vaccine. Dragutsk stole my formula and the entire stock of the virus." She gestured at the downed militiamen. "He is readying it for deployment. I intended..."

"You intended it for him, but not as a tool. You were planning to murder him with it," I said.

Her eyes flashed. "And why not? You don't know. You cannot know what I have been through! He...Nightwing called me murderer, but he...you...neither of you can understand! Dragutsk killed my parents in front of me! He and all his men deserve to die for it!" Her smile was feral. "I made this virus just for him, hiding it behind other projects so that nobody would know what I planned."

"But it isn't a secret anymore is it? It got out and began infecting people. Now Dragutsk knows about it and plans to use it for himself. How many more people will die so that you can have your revenge?" I studied her and felt a great weariness. "If I know Nightwing, he protected you from the militiamen, didn't he? He never did you any harm. Why should he die?"

"Why do you look at me that way?" she demanded. "As though you pity me? I don't need your pity. I will have my revenge."

"And that will make it all better?" I asked gently. "Will it bring your parents back? Give you back your life as it was?"

"No," she said. "But it will avenge them. They deserve to be avenged!"

"But it won't solve anything. Your virus will only kill thousands who never hurt you and your vengeance will give you nothing but more pain," I said. "I know."

"You know nothing," she spat. "And why should Nightwing live when my own family died? Tell me that!"

"My parents were killed when I was twelve in a mugging gone wrong. I saw the whole thing; I was there," I replied. "For years, I sought vengeance, against criminals as a class. I was sinking into the kind of darkness you live in now until something...someone...happened to me." I gestured towards the table.

Her eyes narrowed. "What?"

"I met a boy. His parents were trapeze artists who were murdered in front of him, just like what happened to me. He was alone in the world and...needed...someone to care for him. I saw myself in him and stepped in. To my surprise, the boy's passion wasn't for vengeance, but for justice; he made me feel ashamed of myself. And suddenly, I had a child to plan for, to encourage, to teach. I had a family again, and my own darkness lifted. Nightwing and I, the both of us, know what it is to lose loved ones." I approached her as she backed away. "We both know what that darkness is like but we choose not to kill. Ever. There is light beyond the darkness. Give it up, Anna. Let it go. Destroy the virus and the formula for its creation. Choose to support life, not death." I smiled, remembering. If it hadn't been for Dick's brightness and joy in my life and Alfred's support, I could so easily have become as bitter as Anna Vinchenko. My frozen soul had warmed itself on his blazing light for so many years, and still did. If we both made it out of Siberia alive, I vowed to myself, I'd make it my business to thank him for saving me from the darkness all those years.

Nightwing begin to cough behind me. He needed me, but I was torn. "Please, Anna. There's been enough death," I said.

Slowly she picked up the satchel. "The plans are inside and so is the supply of virus. Burn them. I don't want to see them anymore." She shoved it into my hands and rushed over to Nightwing. While she was seeing to him I checked the contents of the bag. I found a vial of virus, glowing luridly, and the instructions for its creation. She had been honest with me. I quickly walked it over to the incinerator and turned the temperature up to blast-furnace levels, sagging with relief when I knew it had all been consigned to ash.

Anna remained near Nightwing, taking his vitals.

"How is he? Will he recover?" I asked, still not certain that she could be trusted.

"He will recover," she said, laying his arm back down onto the table. "His temperature has fallen but his body has been through a lot. He will sleep for a long time before he wakes. And now what is there for me? You have destroyed my virus and my bargaining chip. If I am caught, I will be killed."

"You won't be caught," I said, hearing the sounds of a familiar engine in the distance. I opened the door and she followed. Hovering overhead was the Batwing. I waved and Robin brought it in for a landing. When he lost contact with Nightwing, Alfred had sent in the cavalry.

Robin and I loaded Nightwing into the aircraft. Anna looked uncertain as she buckled herself in.

"Feeling uncertain?" I asked. She nodded. "You've made the right decision. It's time to start a new life somewhere else. I could recommend a good research lab that would be interested in you, run by WayneTech..."

"I don't know if I can start again," she said, looking out the windows. "All my life has been lived for vengeance."

"It's never too late to embrace the light," I said, settling back into my seat.


MUCH LATER

DICK GRAYSON

My head hurt. And my back. And various places around my body, the muscles felt like they'd been run through a wringer. I couldn't have moved if I tried, I was that tired. I heard voices, talking as I floated in and out of consciousness.

"...convinced her to destroy a lifetime's work?" the voice had a familiar echo to it. Where had I heard it before?

"I didn't have to. She..."

Bruce? Bruce! He was alive! My eyes flew open. I was in the batcave, on one of our medical beds. Sharp-eyed Timbo caught me looking around in a daze.

"He's back!" He ran over to me, laughing with relief. "You're going to be okay," he said. Easy for him to say, my left butt-cheek was still hurting like crazy.

Batman, looking healthy and strong, strode over to my bed and stood silently, clearly at a loss for words. He clasped my hand in a solid grip while emotions ran across his face: relief, pride and something that might have been love.

"Thank you," he said.

The years dropped away and I was Robin again. I knew that Batman was proud of me and always had been. I grinned back up at him, giving his hand a squeeze.

"Any time," I said.