Chapter One - GOODNIGHT, SWEET PRINCESS
Men while in their beds do oft dream things true
A chilling rain pelted the timeworn path her booted feet trod. Withered leaves and rotting papers skipped across the broken bricks, playing a sort of mad hopscotch before finally coming to rest in the muddy gully that separated the walkway from the rest of the moonlit field. A steel-grey sky, water-colored blue and rose betrayed the dawn. Soaked to the soul, the woman shivered. A child of the light, she distrusted this dark, depressing place, and wondered once again why her lover had chosen it for their rendezvous.
Kicking through knee-high grass and turning a corner, she suddenly understood Inexorably drawn, she moved forward with goddess-grace, long copper hair brushing the soft fabric of the raincoat she had hastily tossed about her bare shoulders to mask her identity. On the side of an old abandoned wagon was a poster. On the poster, a trio of acrobats winged through a wet-washed world, pale imitations of what once was. Two adults. One child. A finely tapered arm, adorned with a pale violet bracelet, reached out. Golden fingers caressed the image of the small boy, dark-haired, smiling. So innocent and full of joy. So unaware that his youth would soon be sacrificed upon the altar of greed, and that he was soon to be catapulted not into space, but into despair. As her fingers touched the cracked and faded paper, releasing colored chips that littered the ground like confetti, a muffled cry kissed her ears, compelling her turn back the way she had come.
The rain-soaked earth yielded grey ghosts of fog, but no answer. Moving forward, she returned to the path, but before she was able to call out again, there was another cry; boisterous this time, almost delighted. Remarkably wide emerald-green eyes narrowed as she spied a large brilliantly arrayed tent blocking her way. It had not been there moments before.
"X’Hal," she breathed, unnerved.
What was going on?
As she drew near the colorful structure, the wind whistling about her, she began to discern voices. Men’s. Women’s. Children’s. Martial music was carried by the breeze along with hushed whispers, followed by applause. Something struck her face, and when she pulled it away, she realized it was a playbill, brightly colored; it’s ink wet like fresh paint. Puzzled, she glanced about, startled to find that the day had tempered. Sunlight fell in broad beams through patchwork clouds and the wind, which had been hostile and ice-cold, felt warm where it struck her exposed flesh. Even the bricks beneath her feet had been healed, forming a solid walkway that led to a doorway marked, ‘Entrance’. Gathering her coat about her shoulders, she shivered. Despite the growing heat, her heart was troubled. Was Dick here? In the tent? Was this the circus he had been a part of? Were they touring once again? Perhaps they had called him in to solve some mystery.
Outside the canvas flap, which was closed tight, she hesitated… unexpectedly frightened.
Savagely shaking her head so that her ankle-length tresses fell about her like living things, Princess Koriand’r, warrior born, growled deep in her throat. What was wrong with her? This was so unlike her. Since when had she been afraid of shadows? Of unseen things? With characteristic impatience, she grasped the heavy canvas curtain and thrust it aside, stepping unexpectedly into a world of light and life.
Before her enormous eyes a kaleidoscope of color exploded. Sounds assaulted her. Voices screamed with delight. Little children cried out in fear, but begged for more; all part of the expected hush and hurrah of an audience brought to its feet by the extraordinary. At the same time, the scent of a certain earth delicacy Garfield had introduced her to assaulted her extra-sensitive nose. What had he called it? ‘Pop’ corn? And something else? Oh yes, the candy that had caused the green-skinned youth to laugh until he became a small green hyena the first time he had watched her try to eat it.
Candy from cloth, wasn’t it? Cotton candy?
Koriand’r shifted back into the shadows to allow several performers in garish costumes to pass by her as they lifted the canvas door and let it flap like a bat’s wing behind them. Outside the sun was now blazing and the field beyond the tent was littered with circus-goers. Curious, she turned follow them, but was stopped short when the flap lifted again and a tall well-built man entered, blocking out the now brilliant sunlight. Squinting against its intensity, she was startled to find a familiar face. Handsome, regal as her father but cold as the Warlord's of Okarra, Bruce Wayne passed her by as though she were simply another roustabout. At his side, a beautiful if inarticulate women hung off of his well-tailored arm like a jewel, gazing at him lustily, chattering about nothing. His eyes were fixed on the top of the tent, a slight frown creasing that otherwise perfect forehead. She opened her lips to challenge him, only to fall silent when she realized what he had been staring at – the Aerialists. They were in preparation, their act about to begin; each one swinging with ease from pole to pole, their bright green and red costumes flashing like the tropical birds of her home planet against a falsely blackened sky.
Unable to control her movements, Koriand’r stepped into the light, her bright eyes riveted to the slight male form that waited casually forty feet above her head for the trapeze bar to return to him. Almost as if he had sensed her interest, he turned and glanced toward the ground.
"Dick…" she began. But it wasn’t Dick. The man might have been his brother…. Or his father. She drew a quick breath and spun to glance at Bruce Wayne where he sat in the bleachers not far from her. His dark gaze was the same: driven, intense, full of purpose. Full of pain. But something was different about the pain.
It was unrelenting.
A moment later all questions lay frozen on her tawny lips as a slender boy appeared from out of the folds of his father’s cloak. The costume was wrong, but the colors were those he had worn when she first met him. Even without them, she would have known him anywhere. As she watched, he spun out into the air to the delight of the audience, grasping the arms of his loving, raven-haired mother, who then carried him to the opposite platform across the crowded tent. John and Mary Grayson. The people in the photograph on their dresser in the tower. Dick’s parents.
This must be the night they died.
She couldn’t imagine how she had come to be here or why. She only knew she had to save them. As the young boy turned, ready to perform his own solo death-defying somersault, Koriand’r shed the ordinary raincoat that masked her burnished lavender costume. As the power of the stars began to course through her veins, glinting off the alien metal and revealing her curvaceous form, she readied to leave the shadows; her intent to catch the couple before their fragile human bodies could strike the cruel unyielding ground – before bone could shatter and blood would spray, tainting the white skin of their only child who had just descended to the earth to watch them complete their final swing.
But then she hesitated.
If she saved them, what would become of Dick? Would fate still join him to the Batman in some other way? Would he still become a Titan? Would she ever meet him? Glancing at the handsome man in the bleachers who stood, mouth open, skin as white as paste, she wondered – who would there be to save his soul? Would there be another to act as buffer between the righteous vow Bruce Wayne had made the night his own parents were slain, and the madness that sought thereafter to consume him? Even as the boy before her screamed and the two people who meant the world to him began to plummet towards the tent floor, Koriand’r hesitated. What would become of her? Who would find her when she fled the Gordanian ship and hurtled to Earth, lost and alone? Who would teach her English, hold her tight and fill the emptiness in her own soul?
A loud thud and the sound of a thousand voices stilled made her look. Too late. Too late. John and Mary Grayson were dead or dying and their son, eyes deep as black holes, was rounding on her, his familiar but high-pitched voice screaming. "How could you do this! What were you thinking of! How could you let them die!" Dick moved like lightning from the center of the tent until he stood before her, anger fueling his child’s strength so the blows that rained upon her soft flesh actually smarted, like the sting of an enraged insect.
"I hate you! I HATE you!! I HATE YOU!"
Koriand’r sucked air and sat up in bed, her alien heart pounding; her long supple body trembling. Not since her father had handed her over to the Okarrans in exchange for a forced peace between their warring planets had she felt so terrified, so…helpless.
Drawing a breath and holding it, she glanced quickly to her side and was relieved to find Dick’s muscular form lying next to her. They were in their shared room in the Titans Tower. He was just beginning to stir; aware of something amiss, but still slightly groggy. Years as the Batman’s partner had taught him to wake at the slightest noise, prepared for the worst. If she didn’t speak, he would be up and out of the bed.
And that was not what she needed at this moment.
"Kory," he blinked and hesitated, his pale hand ready to throw the dark coverlet aside. "What’s wrong?"
She held his eyes, tears evident in her own. A slim golden hand crept out tenuously to move a stray lock of jet-black hair back into place. He was so beautiful. She started to speak, but found she couldn’t as Dick’s younger-self’s scream echoed in her ears.
Her madder-red locks shook. She closed her wide green eyes for a second and, releasing a soft sigh, managed to whisper. "It was a dream…just a dream."
"You look terrible."
That roused her.
Koriand’r cuffed her love on the side of his head and snapped, irritated, "Thank you very much!" Then when she saw the concern in his deep blue eyes, and understood the human gesture, her lip trembled and she repeated, "Thank you."
Dick Grayson shifted up in the bed. He took her hand and pulled her close. "What can I do?"
She turned her body, fitting her back into the curve of his arm and chest, and then pulled his other arm over her ample breasts. With the strength born of a warrior who was not accustomed to being afraid, she drew him close and whispered, "Hold me. Hold me tightly."
Dick complied, puzzled but willing. And he didn’t even complain when the power she exerted made the muscles in his upper arm scream in protest.
"Kory…." He tried again.
"Shh," she breathed, leaning her head against his shoulder. "Shhh. Just hold me."
Even more quietly, just above a whisper – as though she were afraid to let anyone, even her lover hear – Koriand’r added, "And don’t ever let me go."
Over the next few days, as the Titans moved through their normal routine of testing, practicing, and polishing their various combat skills, Koriand’r remained curiously silent and withdrawn. Dark circles rimmed her eyes revealing a lack of sleep and as Donna Troy, her friend and sometimes roommate, noted as she watched her friend sitting uncharacteristically alone, those eyes never wavered from the form of their leader, Dick Grayson. Dick, the former partner of the famous (or was it infamous) Batman, was attired now as his alter-ego, Nightwing, Kory had not entered in to their wargames with her accustomed energy or zeal, saying little but revealing much. She’d also noticed that the alien beauty spent more time protecting Dick than she did honing her own abilities. As the black-haired Amazon finished tying a knot in her golden lasso – leaving her teammate, Gar Logan, the Changeling – trussed and on the ground, Donna brushed off her hands and headed to her friend’s side.
"Ah, come on, Beautiful," the Changeling called, "You got me where you want me. The least you can do is take advantage of the situation. Use me. Use me."
Donna Troy shook her head. "Gar, why don’t you try turning into a clay pigeon and I’ll be happy to use you for target practice. You figure out how to get loose. You never know, you might have to fight Wonder Woman some day."
As she started to move away, the small green-skinned teenager began to shift shapes, alternating between a dozen different animal forms, each one of which found itself held fast by her magic lasso. "Haven’t you heard?" he cried, shifting ever faster and with less hope of escape. "Been there. She couldn’t resist my natural charm. Talk about ‘bondage’."
Donna Troy’s blue eyes rolled as she glanced back at the now six foot long apple-green python that wriggled in the golden lasso’s coils, "Gar…"
"Yeah, Wonder Doll?"
Due to the lasso’s magic effects, Gar Logan fell silent, his ready smile gone. Next to him his friend Victor Stone snorted, "I warned ya, Greeny. Don’t cross that one."
Donna drew alongside her friend and sat stretching tired limbs in the warm sunshine. For a moment she remained silent, watching Nightwing easily elude Cyborg’s powerful mock-attack. She smiled as her longtime friend flipped in the air, rotating several times before making a perfect landing ten feet away from the cyborg.
"Beautiful," she whispered. "Poetry in motion. If he wasn’t spoken for…" With a grin she turned to Koriand’r, only to be startled by her friend’s pale skin and trembling form.
"Kory, are you sick?"
The red-haired alien shook her head.
"Then what’s wrong? You haven’t been yourself. Even Dick...." She paused when Kory’s eyes narrowed as though she had been struck. "What is wrong?"
Kory swallowed. "Nothing… I haven’t been sleeping, that’s all," she admitted quietly.
Donna glanced at Dick where he stood wiping sweat from his arms and face. He had mentioned Kory's restlessness. Only the night before he had shared with her his growing concern. Koriand’r seemed withdraw. Several times over the last week he had awakened to find the golden beauty watching him pensively, tears in her large emerald eyes.
He was worried.
Donna, as usual, had played cheerleader, mentioning her own night-time penchant for playing with Terry's curly red beard and his habit of braiding her hair. But the tears bothered her. They simply were not Kory and now, looking at her friend more closely, she noticed dark circles beneath the other woman's expressive green eyes and worry lines marring her smooth forehead.
The statuesque alien looked chagrined.
Looking down at her hands, Koriand’r said quietly, "I am afraid to."
"Afraid, whatever for? Are you~"
Unexpectedly, a great hairy green paw wrapped itself about the Amazon; a giant Kodiak bear the color of pea soup hauling her back into the middle of the Lair’s expansive lawn. "Thought I couldn’t do it, eh? Ego too big to believe the green kid had it in him? Magic-schmagic," he taunted.
Donna squirmed in his embrace, shifting so her foot came down with superhuman strength on his wrinkled paw and at the same time jamming her left elbow into his grizzly hide. Gar Logan ‘oomphed’ and let her go. As he sat on the ground holding his now-human stomach, Donna nodded knowingly at Nightwing who offered her the golden lasso.
"Nightwing let you go," she said matter-of-factly as she took the lasso and moved toward the door to the Tower. Glancing back at Koriand’r, the Amazon watched her friend shake her head. A second later, the beautiful alien mouthed the word, "Later."
Donna returned the gesture, vowing not to let the matter go.
On the ground Gar Logan shifted to one knee and called after her, "Yeah, he let me go! But I forced him to do it! I have talents you haven’t even begun to dream of."
Koriand’r offered him a hand as she moved past him. "Gar, will you not ever learn?"
He sniffed. "Seeing as they don’t let green kids in school, I guess not."
That night Koriand’r sat quietly beside the bed, watching Dick Grayson sleep. She had deliberately massaged his aching muscles and kissed his soft skin, sending him off to slumber. For herself, she knew she must not sleep, but must find a way to master this fear that was so much not a part of her. She had faced the warlords of Okarra, fought and defeated her mad sister, and battled such monsters as Trigon the Terrible and Brother Blood. What power had one little dream to terrify her so? Searching the Titans vast database, she had found a few articles relating to the subject and sat now with the hard copies clenched in her hands. Opinions varied, but most agreed that dreams were often an expression of subconscious desires and fears. Was she afraid Dick would cease to love her if she failed him? Was that it, or was there more? In a strange way, she felt these misgivings were not her own. But then, she and Dick had talked about fear, about their shared loss of home and parents and, in her case, siblings. Dick had often spoken of his own concern that he would let his guardian down. The papers said such things could influence your dreams, conjuring images both sweet and sour. That had to be it.
Perhaps she was simply becoming too human.
Opening the window to their suite, Kory took off into the air, feeling the exhilaration of flight, letting the pure freedom of it sweep away all cares and worries as she exulted in her natural born ability. Sometimes Earth, with all of its curious customs and qualifications, weighed her down. Sometimes, like now, she longed for the simplicity of wild Tamaran with its lack of convention and honest abandon. But then, she would think of her lover, and the brilliance of that vision paled next to his clear blue eyes and perfect lips. Now, at this moment, Dick was her life.
That was all that mattered.
Quietly returning to the room, Koriand’r landed and crept into the bed, sliding between the sheets so that her unclothed form rested next to her lover’s. He sighed and rolled over to hold her tight.
"You okay?" he whispered, planting a kiss between her shoulder-blades.
"I am now."
Hours later she awoke. Dick was gone. His absence had frightened her out of the first deep sleep she’d had in a week. Had she missed the Titans call? Was there some danger – a new foe or an old one come back to haunt them?
Drawing Dick’s robe about her golden flesh, she crossed to the open door to listen, hearing nothing but the usual sounds of the Titan’s Tower at night. From Gar’s deep sighs of contentment to Vic’s soft snore, from the multiple beeps and whistles that confirmed the security system was in place and working, to the hum of the computers that cycled on and off, never sleeping, ever alert; ever ready to wake them when there was a need for their services; everything seemed in order. Puzzled, she dressed quickly and leapt into the air, making a quick survey of the building.
Dick, or Nightwing, was no where to be found.
Joey Wilson, keeping the night watch, lowered his acoustic guitar and turned from the Monitor Board when he heard her light footfall behind him. He was a mute, but his large expressive eyes showed concern even before his quick hands spelled out the words.
‘Is something wrong?’
Kory smiled. "Nothing I can’t handle."
Kory laughed. "That’s not the problem tonight, Joe."
He held her eyes, but understood her need to find her own path. ‘Let me know if I can help,’ he signed.
She laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "Always."
Returning to their room, she felt drawn to the open window and the vast world beyond. Dawn was approaching. A rosy glow lit the black horizon, transforming it into the deepest of purples. Within the far-off harbor, at the very edge of her enhanced vision, a single boat docked, its operator moving with unimagined swiftness to disappear into the shadows that masked the edge of the waking city.
By X’Hal, what did Dick think he was doing? Obviously he hadn’t told Joey anything or the other man would have mentioned it. Dropping her borrowed robe, she donned her Starfire costume and set out into the awakening sky, flying fast and free, hoping to make landfall before he got too far inland for her to find easily.
Shortly, her booted feet hit the docking platform and wide alien eyes without pupils scanned the immediate area. As she feared, there was no sign of her teammate. Glancing behind, she didn’t see the Titans boat either, but then, perhaps Dick had taken an unmarked craft in case he was being followed.
It had to be a case. Sometime during the night, when she slept like the dead after so many days of deprivation, he must have been called – perhaps by the Batman. That would explain why he hadn’t awakened her. She and Bruce did not get along. Oil and water. Day and night. Fire and ice. She loved Dick Grayson, but his guardian? He would have left a bad taste in a Skaar’s mouth. Chewing her lip, she tried to decide what action to take as shafts of light broke through dark clouds, heralding the new day.
An unexpected sound, to the left and ahead three or four hundred yards drew her attention. Someone was screaming. A child cried. Faster than lightning, Princess Koriand’r took to the sky, the power of several suns running hot in her veins. She thought she heard Dick’s voice, and then the child screamed again, making her heart pound and her blood burn.
Coming upon a dingy, cluttered alley she witnessed the aftermath of a crime. A shadowy figure loomed over the form of a woman who lay unconscious. Beside her a small child wailed, staring wide-eyed at the perpetrator who reached out towards her, his black garment flapping in the chill breeze of morning. Koriand’r landed with starbolts blazing. Scarlet fire tore into the man, propelling him across the alley where he crash-landed against the rusting hulk of a dumpster that hugged the side of an equally abandoned tenement building. The beautiful alien immediately took the small child into her arms and cooed reassurances, noting with thanks that the woman on the ground was moaning and not dead.
"Hush, little one. Your mother is alive." The girl’s dirty tear-streaked face turned towards her in horror, as though she were an ogre. Terrified, the child tried to wrench free of her grasp. "Little one, what is it?"
"Stay away from me! You’re bad! You’re bad! You hurt him!" Sobs wracked the child’s tiny frame as she sniffled into Kory’s bare shoulder. "Why? Why did you hurt him?"
Koriand’r frowned, wrinkles forming beside her wide green eyes. "Hurt who?"
"The man who was trying to help us. Someone hurt my Mommy. They ran away and then he came. He was trying to help and you…. You…hurt…him !" The child dissolved into tears as Koriand’r realized with horror that she had misread the situation. The man she had blasted had been rendering assistance. Suddenly her heart sank to her toes and with trepidation she turned around.
Disguised in a black coat several sizes to large, Nightwing hung bleeding, impaled by a long sharp spike of iron that had pulled free from the dumpster’s side.
He was quite dead.
Koriand’r’s scream brought Joe Wilson to his feet even as Dick Grayson awoke to find her sitting rigid in the chair beside the bed, papers scattered all about her on the floor. Her eyes were wild and her hands clenched in horror. Rolling out of the bed he moved toward her, concern etched in his handsome features.
"Kory… Kory, what’s wrong? What can I~"
Eyes wide but unseeing Koriand’r woke with a start, releasing the pent-up energy that had flown through her veins in response to the adrenaline rush of seeing her lover slain.
Unfortunately, as in her dream, her lover was in the way.
Dick Grayson flew across the room, his body engulfed in star-fire. By the time Joe Wilson arrived in the room Dick and Kory had shared for several months now, Dick’s skin was white as paste and his heart had stopped.
Catatonic, Koriand’r believed it to be a dream.
Chapter Two - GOODNIGHT,SWEET PRINCESS
Parting is such sweet sorrow
"Kory, look at me."
Sobs wracked the Tamaranean beauty. Her golden skin was pale and sickly looking and her eyes red-rimmed. She wouldn’t look up. Donna knew why. How could she?
How could she face them after what she’d done.
"X’Hal," the alien princess breathed as a prayer. "Donna…is he…?"
"Kory. I can’t lie to you~"
Kory began to hyperventilate. Donna saw terror flash through those great green eyes. She wanted to die. Right here.
"Kory." Donna’s voice was stern. "Get a grip on yourself. I can’t lie to you. It was close." She paused to take a deep breath, remembering the cold pallid form of her friend hanging limp in Joe Wilson’s arms. Joey had been crying. "Very close." She knelt beside the golden alien and took her hands, feeling them tremble. "Dick’s alive."
"But very weak. We found Raven. She was able to help him." Thank Hera, Donna thought to herself. The empath had been away, walking mystic paths none of them even tried to understand. But Joey had found her…somehow. The connection between them was as curious as that between Dick and herself. It was as though they had known one another long before they met and somehow shared a common destiny. Dick was her best friend.
She shuddered to think how close she had come to losing him tonight.
"He’s all right?" Hope lit Koriand’r’s eyes as she sniffed. Donna noted that the skin beneath her nose was ochre and raw. She had been crying for an hour while they fought to save her lover’s life.
At first, Koriand’r had refused to believe what was happening was real.
It had been disconcerting to see her stand by and do nothing as Joey gathered Dick’s broken form to himself. As Gar and Victor came running in robes and pajamas to see what had happened. As Raven appeared amidst a fury of lightning and smoke expecting a battle, looking for the foe…only to find her teammate, the explosive Starfire, sitting in the corner talking to herself as though she were the only one in the room.
The empath had gasped in pain when her dark eyes found the man she had chosen to lead the New Teen Titans fallen. She had ordered Joe to place him on the bed, knelt beside him, and then chanted and prayed, calling upon the powers bequeathed her by a demon-father and the gentle souls of Azarath who had sought to tame them. As the room grew silent and Raven bent to her task of healing, Koriand’r began to wake. Confused, she looked about as one awakening from a deep sleep and then, noticing Gar and Victor where they hesitated, lost and helpless near the entrance to the room, rose and began to move toward them. Donna Troy, anxious, terrified, angry, had caught her arm, halting her.
"Kory!" she’d screamed, unable to contain her fear. "Kory, what in the name of the gods did you think you were doing? Have you gone mad?"
Kory blinked and then met her eyes. "Donna?"
"Yes, Donna. Who else?" Her fury had abated a bit as she realized the tall alien was unaware of what had transpired. Softening her voice, she began again, "Kory, are you~"
The alien’s eyes had gone wide with horror. Not ten feet away Raven was sobbing, her head thrown back in agony as she sought to draw the deathblow into her slender frame without losing her own fragile hold on life.
"Who…?!" Kory shouted, glancing about, but then as her eyes met Victor’s even as Gar looked away. Then she caught Joey’s puzzled but sympathetic gaze and gasped. The path of the starbolt had left the wall of their suite scorched and blistered.
"X’Hal! I killed him!" the alien shouted.
"Kory, “ Donna repeated, reassuring her. “Dick’s not dead. He’s –"
The beautiful alien wasn’t listening.
Kory began to whine and turn in circles, her despairing heart pumping power through her veins. The starfire began to build in her hands once again, but before she could explode, Donna turned and screamed for Joe Wilson. Even as Raven released her grip on Dick Grayson’s pale but living flesh, Joey – as Jericho – moved to Koriand’r’s side. The Amazon watched Joe slap her golden cheek. Kory’s eyes flashed fire as he did, seeking his and making – contact – just as he desired. Jericho’s lean blond form dissolved as he invaded the alien’s form and took control of it, powering down her star-bolts and forcing her to breathe slowly, until the terror and anger died from her face to be replaced with a sickly resignation.
"She’s safe now," Joe said, using Kory’s vocal chords in place of his own, which had been sacrificed to a kidnaper’s knife when he was just a child. "Her heart is racing, but I think she understands what has happened and her part in it. You’re awake now, Kory. Do you understand?"
"Kory?" Donna repeated, "do you understand? You are not dreaming!"
As Joe Wilson separated from his teammate, her strong form plummeted to the floor drained of its extraordinary strength by the ordeal.
"I understand," Kory whispered, more to herself than to any of them,
"I understand. I’ve gone mad."
"So there have been two repeating dreams. Both of which have resulted in your killing Dick?"
"No," Kory said, shaking her head, "first failing, then killing."
Joe Wilson knelt beside her, his hand on her knee. He signed concern and then asked, ‘Is that something you are afraid of? Do you fear you will fail him?’
Kory’s nostrils flared and she blew out a withheld breath. "Normally? I would say ‘no’. You know me." She paused and looked up at the other members of the Titans who watched her, some with concern, others – Victor in particular – with suspicion. "You know me. I am not like this. It is not like me to be out of control…."
Gar Logan snorted quietly and then regretted it. "Hey, hey, give…okay? Kory, I think you’re just about the best thing to hit this planet since Elvis, but control? When are you ever in control?"
Koriand’r rose, angry. Her fists balled. But as she saw real fear kiss Gar Logan’s deep green eyes, she deliberately unclasped her fingers and returned to her seat. In a small voice she whispered, "Help me, please. I do not know what is wrong with me."
Donna glanced at the man known as Cyborg and his small friend and gently inclined her head. As they began to protest, Joe Wilson shook his blond locks and glanced over his shoulder towards the stairs, where the young woman known as Raven was descending, her dark blue hood drawn tightly about her face, masking her features. Healing Nightwing had taken much from her. They all knew that each time she used her power the chances of her losing control grew. Raven walked a thin line, teetering on the brink of madness; still she would have given her life rather than see Dick lose his.
"Okay," Gar pouted, unaware of the tempest raging in the small dark form that had entered the room. Transforming into a green rabbit and hopping toward the Tower’s exit, he snapped, " Come on, Vic, I know when I’m not wanted…."
Moving to join him, the cyborg added, "Or needed. Let us know how Grayson does, and …." He hesitated, his eyes brushing over the group, "…take care."
Donna Troy frowned. She wasn’t certain who that was meant for. Koriand’r, or the ones left within her reach.
The tall alien suddenly became aware of the empath’s presence and, partially rising, locked eyes with the tenebrous shadow that was Raven’s face.
"Dick…?" she asked, tentatively.
"Is resting. Richard is very…weak."
"Can I see him?" Kory’s eyes filled with tears. "I need to tell him that I’m…" Her voice failed.
Raven’s gloved hand reached out, not quite touching the other woman. "He knows. First, we must see if we can find the ‘heart’ of this matter."
"What do you mean?"
Raven settled near Kory’s feet as Donna stepped back to stand by Joe. "If you are willing, I will try to see if I can ascertain what is causing these dreams. You have had, you say, two?"
"That I remember. There may have been more. I’m not certain." She glanced at them, watching as Joe moved off to keep watch at Dick’s bedside. "I’m not sure this isn’t a dream."
"I assure you it is not," Raven spoke softly, but with strength. "I believe someone is influencing you. Planting these suggestions, perhaps to drive you mad. We have many enemies who would stop at nothing to disable our strongest member. Do you remember any thing you might consider suspicious? Has anyone attempted to make contact with you? Anyone out of the ordinary?"
Kory frowned as she cast her thoughts back over the last few weeks. “We went out a few times. We caught that jewel thief, almost by accident, and there was that incident with the police.” Donna knew what she was talking about. Dick had mentioned it. Too many autographs requested too quickly. Traffic had stopped. One woman had fainted, striking him and scratching Kory’s arm as she fell.
"Other than that?” The alien shrugged. “No. Nothing. No one."
"Then we shall have to see if your ‘sub-conscious’ knows more than your conscious." Raven shifted her hood back. Black hair spilled across her shoulders. "May I?"
Donna watched as Koriand’r dropped to the floor, offering her face for the empath to lay her hands on.
"Willingly. I want to know. I need to know."
Minutes passed as Donna Troy watched for some sign of progress. Koriand’r’s face was blank, her eyes distant. Without warning, Raven moaned and shifted as though uncomfortable. The stone on her forehead flashed as she lifted her head, her mouth forming a round ‘o’.
Suddenly, she grew rigid and gasped.
"No! You mustn’t! I cannot live. I will not –" Her hands jerked apart from Kory’s golden flesh and clawed toward the sky, blue and white fingers flashing like silverfish.
"The threat is not new, but new to me. I dare not. I am too weak. Too near losing control…. My soul," the empath whispered as though speaking to herself and then, suddenly fully conscious, she rounded on Donna to cry, "I must leave!"
Crimson lightning sparked amid black storm clouds and she was gone.
Donna and Kory sat stunned. Tears stained the alien’s cheeks as Donna’s hand crept out to take her friend’s. She noticed it was shaking as much as the other woman’s.
Koriand’r remained silent a moment and then seemed to draw herself together. Her back straightened and determination returned to her eyes.
At last, it seemed, there was something she could do.
"No," she said. "It is I who must leave."
She had to see him one final time.
Creeping into the room they had shared, Kory sat softly on the edge of the bed and stared at the still form of the man she loved. Dick’s His chest was rising and falling in a natural sleep; his eyes closed and his black hair tousled. He looked like a little boy. With that thought, Kory grew uncomfortable. Memories of her dreams intruded and she found herself trembling. Ever alert – even terribly injured – Dick Grayson’s eyes opened to focus on the golden girl who sat by his side.
"Kory," he whispered, his voice seeking strength after sleep, "I wondered where you had been. Why did you stay away? Has there been trouble?"
‘ Other than me?’, she thought.
"No, no trouble. You weren’t well and I couldn’t… After what I did…" Tears filled her eyes. "Oh, Dick, how can you ever forgive me?"
His blue eyes narrowed with confusion as he shifted slowly up on the pillows that cradled his head. "Forgive you? For what?"
"For what?" Her eyes were wide as moons. "I almost killed you. I did kill you. If not for Raven…."
He took her hand and refused to give it up when she tried to pull away. "Kory, look at me. Kory."
She couldn’t disobey. He was a natural leader and the authority in his voice would have compelled her, even if she had not simply longed to look at him.
He was so beautiful.
"You didn’t hurt me. Not on purpose. You couldn’t. I know that even if you don’t. Something is wrong here and when I’m up to it, I’ll figure it out. We’re in this together. Don’t forget that. I love you."
Inside her heart was breaking. She remembered another who had told her she was loved as she said goodbye. On Tamaran – as the Gordanians took hold of her arms and wrested her from her parents, from R’yand’r, her brother, from the planet she loved and the people she was to have governed – her mother had cried out that she loved her.
Then, as now, it had made no difference.
For her mother’s good, she had been taken away. For Dick…. Before she would hurt him again she would have returned to the Citadel, to the monsters who tortured her. She loved him that much.
It was why she had to leave.
Leaning forward, she kissed him, slowly, passionately, and then rose. "You get some rest. I couldn’t live if anything happened to you."
Dick started to protest, as always, busy reminding her that she was being over-emotional and would, in reality, survive if something did happen to him. But she knew better. She kissed him again and then whispered, "Sleep well, my love."
With that, she was gone.
Chapter Three - GOODNIGHT, SWEET PRINCESS
But He, that hath the steerage of my course….
"Gone!?" Dick Grayson sat up in the bed, meeting his friend Joey’s eyes, "What do you mean…gone!?"
Joey signed that he was taking a risk even coming to him so he should keep his voice down. Donna was on the prowl…if she heard….
Dick looked sheepish. "Sorry," he apologized, lowering his voice. "What do you mean gone? You mean left the tower?"
"How long ago? Hours?" He didn’t think he had been asleep long, but sickness sometimes played tricks with time.
Joey shook his head and signed, ‘More like half an hour. She flew off toward the city. With luggage.’
Dick rose unsteadily from the bed, trembling with the exertion…more from inactivity he told himself, than from any lingering effects of Kory’s starbolt attack. He crossed to the closet and noticed the few items she had stored there were gone. So was the picture of the two of them taken last summer at the amusement park. Curiously, the one of his parents next to it on the dresser was turned face down.
Righting it, he caught Joey’s gaze, "Do you know what’s wrong?"
Joey shook his head. ‘No. If I did, I would have told you. It is something that frightened even Raven," he signed.
And with that Joey proceeded to fill his friend in as Dick Grayson began to transform himself into Nightwing, just as the mute had known he would. In spite of Donna’s warning to keep the truth from him until he was stronger, there had been no other way. Joey knew that if he had not been allowed to try and find the woman he loved, even weak as he was, Dick would never forgive them…
Donna looked up as a dark figure emerged from Dick’s room. Joey signed quickly that he was going to town in one of the Titans’ boats and would be back shortly. His curly blond hair glistened in the muted light of the hallway as he pulled his cloak tight and headed toward the door.
Something didn’t seem quite right, but just as he waved goodbye and she thought to open her mouth to protest, a cold electricity filled the air and smoke began to fill the room.
Raven had returned.
Once in the Titan’s boat and headed out into channel that separated their island headquarters from the mainland, ‘Joe Wilson’ removed his blond hair, revealing a pale white face crowned with thick locks black as a crow’s feathers. Dick Grayson shed his temporary disguise and, as he turned his attention to steering, another figure emerged from his own, quickly solidifying into his silent friend.
Joe Wilson’s hand found his shoulder and squeezed, wrinkling the royal blue fabric of the cloak he had lent him. ‘I give it ten minutes,’ he signed, his usually cheerful face sober.
"Give what ten minutes?"
Joe only stared.
Dick swallowed. "Right. Donna. Then we have to hurry." As he laid on the speed, making the distant shore loom suddenly closer, he grinned, "I owe you one, my friend."
The mute’s face remained somber. ‘You owe it to me to stay alive,’ he said, his hands flying fast. "Please, don’t take any chances."
Dick nodded. "I won't."
Gazing at the dark buildings that loomed before them as they drew into the harbor, Nightwing frowned.
Normally, he didn't lie.
Koriand’r had meant to go to the her apartment in town, but realized almost too late that that was the first place her friends would look. She hadn’t really known where to go and, curiously enough, found herself many miles away in Gotham.
It was an ugly place. as dark as Tamaran had been light. The buildings were often windowless and most crawled with grotesques that sneered and leered at her as she flew past, as though they held some personal grudge. Despite the late hour and the fading light, she could almost have sworn that one of them moved, marking her progress as she passed, but she knew that was foolishness. Glancing back at it, she saw it was simply a piece of stone, lifeless, without a soul or heart.
Like the city’s protector.
Now, instead, she stood outside Wayne Manor. She had no friends other than the Titans on this planet. No parents or grandparents to turn to. But once – just once – she had met this old man who loved Dick as much as she did. In desperation she had headed here to see Alfred Pennyworth, as though he would know what to do. Still, even if he offered her no help, someone had to make Dick understand her decision. If anyone could it would be the man who had cared for him, who had healed his wounds and held his hand when he hurt. Her own golden hand was poised to strike the generously carved mahogany door, but she hesitated.
What if he was here?
What if Bruce Wayne opened the door?
Stymied, she left the entrance to Wayne Manor behind and sought it’s darker twin, knowing that – if the car was gone – she would most likely find Alfred alone.
Dick and Joey stepped onto the warped boards of the dock and hesitated.
‘Now what?’ Joey signed.
Dick Grayson, now dressed as Nightwing, grinned sheepishly. "If you ever tell her, Joe, I swear I’ll take turpentine to your paintings."
Joe Wilson, now Jericho, allowed his eyebrows to reach his curly blond bangs. ‘Tell?’ his hand echoed.
"The last time I lost …track of Kory, I placed a small bat-transmitter in the collar of her costume. All I have to do is turn on this device…." He palmed a small square box that blinked into life at the touch of his finger-tip. As Joe watched, a tiny blip lit up the screen and numbers scrolled by revealing latitude and longitude.
Nightwing’s eyes went wide as his friend signed, asking, ‘What’s wrong?’
"What is she doing there?"
Koriand’r breathed out a sigh of relief.
The Batmobile, as the newspapers dubbed it, was gone. Its berth was empty, though the scent of spent fuel still lingered in the air.
She hadn’t missed him by much.
Wary of intruder devices, Kory entered the cave the way Dick had shown her the last time they had come here to retrieve some device or other that he needed to solve a case. She didn’t know to this day if he had told his ‘partner’ she had been here. It hardly mattered. She had no intention whatsoever of exchanging words with that block of ice.
The unexpected voice chilled her as she spun to find the Batman, minus his mask, standing to her left; his sharp features harshly illuminated by the light the giant computer screen that filled the wall behind him generated. As she stared, he deliberately drew the cowl over his head as though retreating behind its power.
Her own head high, she returned the greeting. "Bruce."
His jaw tightened. "You do realize you are trespassing."
"You do realize you are rude."
The dark knight shifted some papers he held from one hand to the other and then turned towards the computer. "Is Dick with you?"
That surprised her. From this one, it was almost an admission of feeling. She hesitated and then answered truthfully. "No."
He paused ever so slightly, and then resumed his course. How about that? She had taken the mighty Batman by surprise. Before he could ask, she supplied the answer to his next question, "I’m here to see Alfred. Is he here?"
The Batman turned and pinned her with an unwavering gaze. A second later he echoed her abrupt reply. "No."
"Why are you here?" she blurted out, and then thought better of it. It was his home, his…cave. "I mean, the car…."
He glanced toward the rotating circle that normally housed the jet-black machine. "It’s in for repairs." He laughed. A short harsh sound. "So is Alfred."
"What?" Koriand’r was appalled. "What…?" .
"He’s at the doctor." When he saw her start, he raised a gloved hand. "Not to worry. Routine. Even classics need to be fine-tuned now and then." Laying the papers down, Dick’s mentor leaned against the edge of the computer and finished, "Now if that’s all…. You apparently know the way out."
She turned to go, but all of the pent up emotion and anguish she had endured for the last few days seemed to be ignited by this man’s emotionless demeanor. He had no concern for Dick. Why, he hadn’t even asked why he wasn’t with her! Trembling, she felt her star-power rising in her blood, but she held it back, words exploding from her instead,
"I can not understand how someone as wonderful as Dick can abide your heartless arrogance. Aren’t you going to ask? Don’t you even care why he isn’t here? For all you know, he could be dead!"
The dark knight shifted his hip and favored her with a cold smile. "If it had been important, you would have told me. And if he was dead, you wouldn’t have taken the time to stand here exchanging insults with me." Implicit in his words was the fact that she was a silly, irrational, uncontrollable creature that he could read like a book.
Fury boiled up in her. X’Hal, he was a bastard. "That shows what you know."
Unbelievably, she saw a flicker of doubt cross his face. He stiffened. "What are you saying?" Each word had a weight of its own. "Is Dick all right?"
Now you’ve done it, Kory. She took an unconscious step back "He is…now," she squeaked.
Now he was standing. Advancing towards her. "What do you mean…now?" The white slits that were his eyes narrowed and she was strongly reminded of a maternal beast sensing a threat to its young. The Batman stopped face to face with her. They were of a height.
He would accept nothing less than the truth.
"He was hurt," she stammered, lowering her eyes. "I.…I hurt him. I’ve been having dreams. They...confused me. I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. I …. That’s why I wanted to talk to Alfred." Suddenly, she sounded like a little girl very far from home. "I don’t want to do it again. That’s why I’m leaving."
"Leaving," he echoed.
"Going away," she whispered. "I can’t stay here, I might –"
"Leaving," the cold voice repeated, seemingly without mercy, "or running away?"
Her head whipped up, seeking eyes that were masked, "What? What did you say?"
"Are you a warrior or a child?," he countered. "Dick’s alive…." It wasn’t stated as the question she knew it was.
"He’s strong. He’ll survive. But you? Are you a fit mate for him? Little girl lost. Child of royalty. Spoiled and insecure."
"W-what?" She tried to move away, but he had her arms and he was remarkably strong. Stronger than she had expected. "What?"
"I’ve watched you. Golden child. All fire and fury. You’ve bewitched Dick. Taken from him everything I ever taught him about reason and cold clean logic. Even if you didn’t kill him with your undisciplined powers, you’ve destroyed everything he was meant to be." Bruce’s voice, low and raspy, had risen in volume as he spoke. His fingers seemed to press into her flesh, tearing and scratching, as though the gloves he wore had jagged nails or claws.
"Let me go. You have no right!" she protested meekly.
"I have no right! You, with your wild emotions…. You almost killed my ward. You could have crippled him, left him worse than dead, and you have the nerve, the audacity to accuse me. You are worse than nothing. You are evil. Alien. How could he love you?
“You’re not even humani!”
Koriand’r was shocked. Her heart pounded furiously as she struggled within his grasp. He couldn’t be more powerful than she. He couldn’t!
And yet he was.
Lashing out with her starbolts, she blasted the dark figure in front of her, reducing him to ash.
"Kory. God, Kory! What have you done ?!”
Koriand’r whirled. Behind her was the man she loved. Dick cried in agony; horror etched into every one of his handsome features. He pushed past her and knelt to run his gloved fingers through the pile of ash that had been his mentor and his friend.
"He was like a father to me, Kory,” he cried as he turned to look at her. “I loved him. Dear God, what have you done…?"
Princess Koriand’r of Tamaran – warrior, Titan – sank to her knees, numb.
What had she done?
Though Koriand’r thought she knelt in the Batcave listening to her lover sob, in reality her slender form huddled on a darkened hillside not far from Wayne Manor. After leaving the Titan’s Tower she had been compelled to come to this spot and soon after her arrival, had been tricked into thinking she had entered Wayne Manor for a final confrontation with Nightwing’s guardian.
In truth, she had journeyed no farther than the field where her feet had first struck the earth. She lay, curled in a ball, undone by an enemy she could not see or feel or strike.
Above her head the wizened creature laughed.
Let him come.
Chapter Four - GOODNIGHT, SWEET PRINCESS
For my mind misgives some consequence yet hanging in the stars
Nightwing and Jericho arrived in Gotham late that evening, having had to secure transport. Nightwing’s face was grim; death-white beneath the black mask from fatigue and worry.
He had called the Manor. Alfred wasn’t home and Bruce hadn’t seen Kory. And yet, the homing device told him she was there…or at least, very close by. What could she be thinking? She wouldn’t turn to Bruce…. Still Alfred had been kind to her the one time they had visited without Bruce’s knowledge. Perhaps she had thought he could help her – if only to agree and give her ‘permission’ to remove herself from his life. Knowing Alfred, he would have had her sitting in the study drinking cocoa, calmed down and waiting for him when he arrived. But Alfred hadn’t been home and now, wherever she was, Kory was alone. Normally no one could take care of themselves like Kory, but she was used to tangible enemies. Something you could blast and be done with.
This was different. Dangerous. And in truth, he feared for her sanity.
At his side Jericho touched his hand where it rested on the controls of the tandem bike. "Joey?" he asked.
The mute pointed up ahead.
He saw it. There. On a tree branch. The jewel from Kory’s collar with the homing transmitter. Nightwing angled the machine and pulled alongside the bit of alien jewelry. Taking it in his hand, he watched as it pulsed red in the bike’s headlights. Slowly, his fingers closed in a fist over it.
"He has her, Joey. You know I have to go in alone."
‘Let me come,’ Joey signed. ‘You know of all people that I can. No one will know.’
"He will. You don’t know him, Joe. He’s from before your time. He has knowledge of… other dimensions. Why do you think Raven reacted the way she did? He was there, inside Kory…. I can’t take the chance." Jericho started to protest as Nightwing dismounted and turned toward the woods. "Promise me. You know I would give my life for her."
Jericho touched his shoulder. ‘I know,’ he replied, ‘and so does he.’
"Just wait. I’ll be back," Nightwing answered.
Hopefully that wasn't another lie.
“But what about Raven’s warning?’ Joey asked. ‘He is here for you.’
Nightwing held his friend’s wide-eyed gaze. Finally Joey nodded, slowly, reluctantly, promising to wait.
Satisfied, the dark-garbed Titan took off on foot. Within a quarter of an hour he had located his adversary. Overhead the moon blazed illuminating a familiar grotesque figure, but what caught his attention and tore at his heart was the slender form lying at the creature’s feet.
Kory. Beaten. Defeated and curled in a fetal position; her eyes glazed and unseeing. Turning to face her captor, Dick deliberately reached up and removed his bat-shaped mask, promising no deceptions.
No tricks. No lies.
"So I have you at last," the Gargoyle said.
He waited, his eyes on the fallen alien. "Is she all right?"
His old enemy laughed. "Nothing a good psychoanalyst couldn’t cure. I am afraid you’re alien girlfriend suffers from the very human emotions of angst and anger. She is afraid. Afraid of her great power. Afraid of hurting or losing you, which is – of course – what she is about to do."
"All of this…just to get to me?" he snorted. "Why?"
Narrowed eyes burned brimstone-red above a pale grey beak. "Hatred. Pure and simple."
"I don’t get it. I never have. Why do you hate me?"
Again it laughed. It was obvious it wasn’t going to tell him.
"Why not?" the creature replied.
Nightwing shifted and took a step forward. The Gargoyle responded quickly, moving to stand spread-eagle over the fallen Tamaranean; his claws grasping several locks of her copper-colored hair and lifting her head from the ground.
So, his enemy knew what fear was as well.
Stopping, the former Teen Wonder slowly removed his black gloves and threw them at the grotesque’s feet. "Well, you have me at last." Spreading his hands wide, he implied by the gesture that he was defenseless. "Just one question, how did you get free?"
The Gargoyle cackled. "You have your precious teammates to thank for that. When Victor Stone’s father tampered with the dimensional doorways, I am afraid a few things slipped through unnoticed. I have been watching you ever since. Gathering strength. Gathering knowledge. Biding my time for a perfect opportunity."
One of this creature’s weaknesses, Nightwing knew from long association, was his desire to hear himself talk. While his mind raced wildly, looking for a way out, Dick kept asking him questions, drawing him into his own tale; praying all the while that some chance of escape would present itself. Still, with Kory’s lovely form trapped beneath the creature’s feet and near his poisoned claws, he knew the chances were slim.
"Remove your wristbands. Where you are going, weapons will be useless. You do remember, don’t you?"
Nightwing had visited the Gargoyle’s domain once before when he was fourteen and still Robin, the Boy Wonder. He had defeated him then, but only by destroying the ring that had provided access in and out of the limbo that was his home. The ring that rested squarely on his index finger now.
"I see you have your ring back."
The Gargoyle snarled. "A gift, from the Master."
"Master? You mean you work for someone else…?"
"Enough questions! The bands. Give them to me!” The crazed creature jerked Koriand’r’s head. "Or do you want her to go with you?"
Nightwing hesitated, unsure of his next move. He had come as prepared as he could, hiding a small pair of pliers in a place he knew the Gargoyle would never question, armed with the knowledge that everything in the creature’s mad dimension moved backwards. But they weren’t in his dimension…yet.
And Kory was still his prisoner.
"Let her go. You don’t want her. You want me."
"Astute, former Boy Wonder. She was a means to an end." Red eyes gleamed with triumph as one of the grotesque creature’s claws hovered near Kory’s beautiful throat. " I studied you. You are in control. Not easily swayed or tricked. Not easily manipulated. Your mind is mathematical, precise. Unclouded. You have been well-trained. But this one, so naïve, so full of fire. So easily burned. All I had to do was introduce a drug into her system that would make her more psychically accessible, which I did when – in disguise – I bumped into her during your autograph session. Then, entering her dreams, I turned her into a weapon."
Nightwing’s teeth clenched, but he managed to say, "I’m still here."
"Yes, you are. Pity. But then eternity in limbo is, perhaps, a more ‘fitting’ fate than death. It was an easy substitute." He licked his dove-grey beak and whispered slyly, "As she was an ‘easy’ mark."
Nightwing’s fists clenched, but he said only, "Well, I’m here now. Let her go."
The Gargoyle grimaced. "Strip off your clothes."
"All of them. There is no modesty beyond the grave and I won’t have any hidden weapons join us on the journey as they did the last time. You are entirely too clever for your own good, Wonder Boy."
Nightwing’s heart raced. Then this was it. He had hoped Raven’s knowledge of who their enemy was, communicated after he and Joey had reached the harbor, would give him an edge even if she couldn’t make the journey herself for fear of being entrapped in limbo. But it hadn’t been enough. Bruce had taught him never to give up. "Well," he thought, glancing beyond the tree line to where Bruce sat, most likely deep in study, "I’m not giving up. I’m giving in."
Therein lay the difference between them.
"Can I say goodbye?" he asked quietly as he disrobed. The cold night air whipped about his bare flesh, chilling him. Above the moon glistened, casting weird shadows across the lawn as far away a single owl hooted, crying for its mate.
"How touching. She won’t hear you."
The Gargoyle reached for his Nightwing costume and, catching it with his claws, shredded the Kevlar like cheese. Seeing the crimefighter’s startled expression, he laughed once more. "So that they will know who was victor here," he said. That done, the creature moved away from the beautiful alien with a sweeping gesture, as though granting him free access. In reality, he remained only few feet away.
As far as Dick was concerned, the Gargoyle could have been on the other side of the planet. He only had eyes for the woman he loved and was about to leave behind. Gently, he lifted the beautiful alien’s limp head and planted a kiss on her soft plump lips.
Unexpectedly Kory’s green eyes opened. Her long black lashes fluttered as she lifted her hand toward his cheek.
"Dick, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…"
"Shh, Kory. It’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay. You go back to sleep and when you wake up, you’ll see it’s all right." He kissed her again and laid her softly on the ground. Her eyes went without focus to the trees surrounding them, and then closed.
Weary beyond measure, Nightwing stood and faced the dark creature, trembling in the cold.
"It’s all been a bad dream," he told the woman he loved.
"A nightmare for you, Grayson. One without end."
Dick shivered, suddenly afraid.
And then, without warning, Princess Koriand’r of Tamaran rose to her feet unaided.
Kory didn’t look at him. She lifted her golden hands and pointed them straight at the creature’s black heart. Scarlet starbolts leapt across the space between them, lighting the night like the Fourth of July, thrusting the Gargoyle backward until he collided noisily with a fat oak tree. As he lay at its foot, stunned, Donna Troy descended from the sky to truss him up like a pig fat pig with her golden lasso.
Numb, Nightwing stared at the Amazon, his mouth open to ask’how’, but before the question could cross his lips, he breathed, "Joey…"
Materializing beside Donna, the unconscious Starfire limp in his arm, Joey signed, ‘You said wait. You never said what to do while I was waiting.’
Nightwing shook his head and sighed as his friends approached.
"Hey, Nightwing," Wonder Girl ventured as she came alongside him.
She looked him up and down.
"I like the new suit."
Several hours later Koriand’r awakened in a strange room to find Dick Grayson sitting next to her, his muscular form clothed in a soft clinging robe that was several sizes too big. She smiled at him, reaching out to touch his haggard face, and then…
"Dick…. Batman…I...." She pushed up in the bed, terrified, “I killed him!"
"Young lady," a deep baritone voice spoke from the doorway, half-heartedly admonishing her, "upstairs you must call me ‘Bruce.’"
Kory’s head was swimming. "But you…I…" Her heart pounded.
Thank X’Hal, he was alive!
"All illusions, Kory," Dick explained, caressing her hair. "Hallucinations brought on by drugs and controlled by the Gargoyle."
She blinked. "The one from the Titans archives? The one you defeated?"
"Twice now, or so I’ve been told," Bruce said, entering the room to deposit a pile of clothes in Dick’s arms. "After your teammates defeated him, he destroyed his ring himself and fled back into limbo."
Dick smiled. "I think he was afraid Kory would wake up…."
The man who was Batman – downstairs – returned the smile, allowing his hand to linger for just a second as it brushed his ward’s. "Wise creature. Alfred said to tell you that when you’re ready, there’s cocoa in the study." He cleared his throat and headed for the door. "I’ll be in cave. I have work to do."
Dick’s face fell, but just for a moment. The other man, with his back turned couldn’t see, but Koriand’r did. "Bruce…" she said suddenly, shifting so her feet hit the floor. "Please, won’t you join us? We’d like you to."
The eyes of the Dark Knight met hers and then fell on his ward and, for just a moment, she read a familiar emotion in them. One she knew well.
It seemed, perhaps, they were not so different after all.
"Don’t forget. We’ll be waiting."
As her lover’s guardian moved silently down the vast corridor outside his ward's old room, she glanced at Dick’s bare feet and legs. "What happened to you?"
He blushed. "Gargoyle made me strip. Thought I had some weapon hidden somewhere."
"And did you?" Her green eyes flashed.
Reaching for his jeans, he admitted with a shy smile, "He didn’t find it."
Catching his hand, Koriand’r pulled the man she loved to her and stood, gazing down into the deep blue wells of fathomless beauty and intelligence that were his eyes.
"Mind if I try?"