Dick Grayson dropped wearily into the chair, his adrenaline was still pumping, heart still pounding and the cold sweat of fear still clung to his back, but at least Barbara was okay and the hunt for Oracle was over.
So many things had happened in the past few days that it all seemed so dreamlike, so unreal now that it was finally finished.
There was still a lot to do, other messes to clean up, like the fact that Tad was still roaming free even after killing Cisco Blane.
That was his mess to clean up, Dick thought, Tad was his fault.
In fact, Tad's mistake in killing Blane and his subsequent escape from justice had probably angered Dick more than any other occurrence in the past few days. He'd trusted Tad, put time and effort into his training, wanted him to be so much more than just some street thug turn half-ass vigilante and this is how it had ended.
Yes, Tad was hot headed and a little reckless, but he too had once been a hot headed youth until Batman had helped him channel his anger and pain and make something good come from it.
'But you're no Batman, Grayson,' he thought with a rapidly deflating sense of pride, 'Face it, you never will be.'
So much of the anger Dick felt about Tad was more to do with a sense of hurt and betrayal than any overwhelming sadness at the death of an innocent man and this only added to the guilt Dick felt over the whole affair.
Glancing up at the computer sitting idly on the desk, he noticed a light blinking hypnotically in the corner.
Engaging the power button, he watched the machine whirr into life. A number of messages flashed into view, but one, with Oracles telltale signature, was still encrypted. Typing in the code to unlock the message, he waited for it to clear before reading:
By now you'll have read my last message to you all, but I couldn't go without a final word for you alone.
We've been friends a long time, Dick, and it's only now as I watch my death approaching that I truly realize how much you mean to me.
Over the years I saw you grow from a gangling youth into the beautiful man I know today. I saw the pain when you argued and fought with Bruce, when your relationship with Kory failed and through all the sadness that life dealt you, yet still, despite all of that, you are possible the most decent human being I know.
You're kind and generous and have a sense of honor that I no longer thought existed, well... not outside of a man in a bat costume and his cute little sidekick.
Don't get cocky, Grayson, you're not perfect, but your flaws are what make you special and your weaknesses give you an insight into the weakness of others.
I've never told you how your strength has helped me through the pain of being in this chair have I? Well, it has.
Having you as my friend is the most important thing in my life, because you alone never doubt me for a moment, never treat me like a fragile invalid and never see me as anything but Barbara.
My father fusses and worries, Bruce takes the guilt of my injury and lays it squarely on his own shoulders, but you just stand at my side and help me heal.
I never really said thank you for that, so consider this a time payment.
Over the years I know we've fooled around and flirted, but our friendship was always more important than the off chance that a closer relationship might not work. That doesn't mean I never thought about it, because I did...all of the time.
I never told you that I loved you because it would have changed things, it had to change things and I didn't want to risk it all. I guess now we'll never find out what those changes would have been, huh?
So in these last moments of life, I need to tell you that I love you Dick Grayson, more than any man I've ever known and I'm sorry that I was never strong enough to tell you to your face, I just hope that somehow you knew.
Still, no regrets former boy wonder, life's too short.
Watch your back, Grayson. Just remember that I won't be there to watch it for you from now on.
Take care of Bruce, Dick; he needs you more than he's willing to admit.
Gotta go, grim reaper's calling.
All my love forever
Dick wiped away the tear that slid unashamedly down his face. He smiled as he noted that she'd tried to stop the transmission but failed.
The clock ticked on into the night, still Dick Grayson stared at a computer screen and smiled.
Two Days Later
The Oracle symbol blinked and Dick punched up the screen.
"Hey, nice to have you back!" he smiled as Barbara's face flickered into life.
She wiggled her fingers at the monitor playfully and smiled, "You thought you'd gotten rid of me, didn't you Grayson?"
"Nah," Dick sighed, "Bad pennies always turn up!"
She suddenly regarded him with a mildly disconcerted look, "Say, did you get any junk mail from the old system of mine when I closed it down in a hurry the other day?"
Dick studied her face for a moment, "Junk mail?"
"Yes, you know, files, encrypted messages? It was spewing out all kinds of stuff..."
He had a decision to make; should he admit that he'd read her innermost thoughts as she faced death; admit that the thoughts behind those words had curled around his soul like a warm blanket on a cold night, or give her the choice to tell him herself someday.
"No, no 'junk mail', but I haven't cleared out my inbox yet, so there might still be some there."
"Oh, right," the relief in her voice almost made him smile, "If you come across anything, just delete it, okay?"
"Sure Babs, whatever you say."
"Always obedient, that's my boy!" she laughed.
"Say, how about we head out for a picnic on Sunday?" Dick suggested, "I think we've both earned a day off."
"Sure, why not. Just get Alfred to make up the hamper, right?"
Dick affected a hurt expression, "I can cook!"
"Yeah, about as well as I can ice skate," she retorted with a derisive snort.
"You will be, Grayson, if I get there and find a hamper full of peanut butter sandwiches and soda," She warned with a grin. "Better go, lots to do."
"Oh Babs, about Sunday?" Dick bit his lips and tried to look innocent.
"We'll have to use your car, mine's kinda wrecked," he shrugged and smiled as she pulled a face and grumbled 'men!'
"Just be ready on time, Oracle out."
Dick watched as the screen faded to a dot. Leaning back in his chair he smiled a calculated, knowing smile, "Oh, I'm ready, Babs. I'm ready."