Dick was dead.
Barbara took a deep breath, pulled it in and let it out, trying to accept what she had seen on the monitors. She should have expected it long ago, knowing him as well as she did. He'd never let someone else suffer if he could stop it, even if that meant giving up his own life. She had admired that about him as much as she'd hated it. It was noble. It was stupid. It was human.
She closed her eyes, breathing out. Knowing this day would likely happen didn't make it any easier to accept. She had always expected to outlive him. The work he did almost guaranteed that. She had known it would hurt when he was gone. She hadn't wanted to watch it happen, and she'd broken things off with him because she couldn't go on the way they had been, but she should have left. She wouldn't know this if she had.
Only she cared about too many people here to leave Gotham. She'd thought about it before, when she was shot, and she'd stayed on for her father. She had done it for herself, too, to prove that Joker hadn't won, but she sometimes thought she shouldn't have.
She refused to look behind her. She was not doing this. She could grieve, and she would hate it, but she was not going to start seeing ghosts. She would not give in to that.
A hand touched her shoulder, and she stared at it, shaking her head. No. She would not do this. Dick was dead, but she was not so consumed by grief that she would see him everywhere and refuse to accept that he was dead. She knew that Jason had come back from the dead, but that was not the same. He had been so altered by it that sometimes it would have been a kindness if he had not been resurrected.
“I'm really here,” Dick said, coming around her chair and sitting on her desk, blocking her monitor.
“Liar,” she managed to say when she could swallow. “You're not Dick. The voice is off. It's a slight thing, but the accent and inflection isn't Dick's. And your eyes are the wrong color. Too intense.”
“You can't blame that one on the lighting?”
He sighed. “I tried. I really did, but I haven't gotten the hang of regeneration yet. It's unpredictable. I got lucky, getting this close. Or maybe I just lack the variety that other Time Lords have. Had.”
Barbara leaned back in her chair, glaring at the intruder. This was some kind of prank or joke, and she did not want to go along with it. She didn't need this, and the real Dick would have known it was in poor taste to even start down this path. “This isn't funny.”
“No, it isn't, and if I were joking, I'd have better lines. Right now, I'm still figuring things out. I don't know if I still love cereal, and it's just damn wrong if I don't,” he muttered. He stopped, licking his lips. “You're right about the accent. It's different. I tried to cover it, but you miss nothing.”
“I know you too well,” she said. Then she shook her head. “No, I know Dick too well. You're not Dick, and this Time Lord thing isn't funny.”
“I am Dick,” he said, running a hand through his hair. He stopped when he reached the ends. “Oh. It's longer this time. Not by much, inch at most, but that's different.”
It was. She'd seen that already. It was one of the little things that added up to the man in front of her not being Dick. He talked almost like Dick, the eyes were the right shape but the wrong color, and the nose wasn't as crooked as she remembered. She didn't know that she accepted his explanation for any of that, though.
“It was hard for me to accept, but it was the only explanation for what was going on.”
“And that explanation is you being a Time Lord?”
He nodded. “You know what they are, right?”
“I'm Oracle. I know everything.”
“Then you know they had this war and lost it.”
“All of them were killed in it,” she added, though she found that part difficult to believe. “You're not going to tell me you're somehow the only child that survived the war.”
“I don't know what I am,” Dick—the man calling himself Dick—said. “No one would want me for their last hope, and they'd probably hate what I've done with my life. I can't justify it to anyone, not even Bruce. I just—being a Time Lord is better than most of the other answers I found and rejected over the years.”
She considered asking him about that and decided she'd rather let this charade end. She wasn't going to ask. He could stop calling himself Dick any time now.
He rubbed at his neck. “I just... I wanted to say goodbye. Tomorrow you'll create a logical explanation for all this, say it was a dream, a rationalization of your grief. I'll tell you to move on, and as strange as this all seems, it will go away in the morning.”
“It's not going away. You're dead. Dick is dead. I saw you—Dick—die, and I can't forget that. I can't ignore it. It will never be the same now.”
“I didn't die. I regenerated.”
“No. You are not a Time Lord. I'd know if you were.”
“Because you know me?” He asked, and she almost agreed to it before he continued, “Or because you're a Time Lady?”
“Yes,” she said, and then clarified. “To both.”
He frowned. “Wait. You're not kidding. Babs, why isn't that a joke? You keep saying I'm joking, but why aren't you?”
“Because I'm not,” she said, folding her hands together. “I shouldn't have to be more than human to be smarter than all of you, but I am.”
“I just assumed you were better than all of us,” Dick told her, leaning forward to cup her cheek. His hand was missing its usual roughness, and she pulled away. He grimaced. “Everything is different. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come. It was selfish. I just wanted a little more time with you, to see you again before I left. I knew everyone saw me die, knew I couldn't explain away what happened. Even the truth isn't something they'll accept. Look at the mess with Jason, and he didn't regenerate.”
“Dick,” she said, though she didn't know why she called him that when she didn't believe him. “We would have sensed each other. Time Lords are supposed to be able to do that.”
“Yeah, but we've always been... close,” he said. “We didn't need words. Maybe that wasn't because we were a couple cliché. Maybe it was because we had something else in common.”
“You know, just because you think you're a Time Lord doesn't mean you should accept me saying I am without any proof.”
“You want proof?” He laughed. “How do you think I fit in the Nightwing costume? It's bigger on the inside.”
She laughed, shaking her head. “Dick...”
He grinned back, and that looked like Dick. He shifted his feet, leaning back against the desk. “You've got a point, though. I have to ask the obvious. If you're a Time Lord—Lady—why didn't you regenerate when the Joker shot you?”
“I think I almost did. I'm not sure I was close enough to dead, and I know I didn't want to go. Even if it meant not walking, I had to stay. I knew if I changed, I'd lose everything I had. I wasn't ready for that.” She forced a smile. “I wasn't ready for a lot of things. I knew I was strong enough to keep going.”
“You were. You are. You are amazing.”
He took her hands and pulled them to his chest, letting her palms rest against it. “Feel that? That's why my heartbeat always seemed louder than anyone else's.”
“Two hearts,” she said, almost unable to believe it. “You really are a Time Lord. I don't—”
“Please tell me you weren't kidding about being one yourself, Babs,” Dick said, reaching up to caress her cheek. “I think the worst part about regenerating and finding out that I couldn't die was knowing that I would leave everyone behind. I'd outlive them. I wouldn't age with them. I could be Nightwing forever, but I'd do it watching them all die.”
“Is that why you broke up with me? Because you thought you'd outlive me?”
“It might have been part of it, but you know that is not the only reason we didn't work out,” she said. She reached over and hit him. “You covered up your second heart. You made your body feel warmer so no one would notice that your body temperature is cooler than a regular human.”
“Another feature of the Nightwing suit.” Dick shrugged. “Don't pretend you didn't cover it up, too. No one complained about your hands, either.”
“Dad couldn't know.”
Dick nodded. She knew he understood. He hadn't been willing to leave before—wait. He had left.
“This isn't your first regeneration.”
“No, it isn't.”
“That's why you went from Robin to Nightwing? Not a fight with Bruce but because you'd regenerated?”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “Everything about me was different. Small things, like now—voice, hair, eyes, personality quirks, favorite foods—and I had to train myself all over again. I have to do it now, but last time no one saw me 'die.' I had time to be back to 'normal,' to Dick. This time they saw. They think I'm dead, and I don't think they'll understand if I explain. What I am—what we are—isn't supposed to exist, and I won't expose you to try and reclaim my life. There isn't even that much left worth salvaging.”
She swallowed, the feelings from earlier washing over her again. She had believed he was dead, and she had hated it. “I don't want you to go.”
“I want to ask you to come with me.”
“It's okay, Babs,” he said, already knowing what her answer was. “I may have one less regeneration than you, but I'm almost immortal. When you're ready, I'll be waiting.”
She pulled him down so she could kiss him, but she stopped before she did, holding him there as she spoke. “You don't have to go before morning. And if you keep the accent and don't cover those eyes, the others might not recognize you.”
“You trying to get me to stay?”
“It might be nice if you stick around for a while,” she said, trying not to smile. “I need to get to know you all over again, Time Lord Wonder.”
He grinned. “Does this mean you'll be my Time Lady? Please say yes.”
“How about maybe?”
“I can live with maybe.”