Chapter 1

How many nights have I spent over the last two years listening to Tam's beautiful music like this? Sneaking into the rafters of the piano bar she played in every other Wednesday night had become a ritual for me. I would wait with baited breath from the shadows high above the black grant piano for her appearance. When she finally made her way to the stage, the patrons of the upper class nightclub barely even noticed her arrival. They'd be too caught up with their drinks and idle conversations. I'd notice, though. I always noticed. How could I not when she stepped from the shadows into the soft mood light dressed like that?

During the daylight hours she was either all business or all college student. When she was on the clock, she was straight laced in conservative suits to give off the air of corporate confidence. When she needed to be on campus, it was whatever could be thrown together in five frantic minutes because she'd overslept by thirty and needed to be out the door in ten. However, on two Wednesday nights every month, Tamara Fox took meticulous time with her appearance. She would have her hair done up by her favorite stylist, and she would dress in one of several evening gowns she owned. The transformations for these two nights a month would be so complete, so unlike the personas she wore during the day, that it would take my breath away every time I saw it. Then, when she sat down before the grand piano and began to seduce strains of Chopin and Rachmaninoff from the elegant instrument, her music would steal away the rest of me.

Tonight, though, my heart was too heavy to be stolen. Knowing that this might be the last night I would hear her play weighed heavily on me and kept my mind grounded firmly in the reality of the now, instead of the dreams of what could possibly be. I couldn't afford to dream like that anymore. Not about her. So for two hours I sat there in the shadows, eyes closed as Chopin's Nocturnes washed over me, all the while repeating silently to myself all the reasons why it was better if Tamara wasn't a part of my life... How it was the only way to keep her from being hurt by the evils of the world that had already taken or tainted nearly everything and everyone else I loved.

She met me on the rooftop when her sets were done, as we'd done so many times in the past. Tam's face lit up when she saw me in our usual spot, a place right behind a set of air conditioning units that provided a perfect blind spot from all cameras in the area and any potential onlookers from the street.

"You made it!" she'd exclaimed as she rushed forward and wrapped her arms around me. "I'm so glad. I was afraid you wouldn't be able to when I heard the news about Killer Croc's escape on the tv."

My own arms pulled her closer to me and I just held her. Behind my cowl, my eyes were closed and I was trying to commit as many things to memory as I could. The scent of her hair... The soft warmth of her body against mine... The sound of her voice... I was also repeating to myself the same mantra that'd been running circles in my mind most of the evening, that this was going to be for the best, no matter how much it hurt either of us.

"Robin?" she said tentatively, remembering that it's what I had asked to be called when I was in uniform, even if we were alone. "What's wrong?" She stiffened in my grasp. I almost smiled. Tam always had this sense about her when it came to what I wasn't saying. It was as if were fluent in reading my body language. It was one of the things I appreciated about her. It's one of the things I know I will miss the most.

With a deep sigh, I gently extracted myself from her embrace and there, in the shadows of the city we both called home, proceeded to explain why it was I could never see her again.

Tamara stood there in stunned silence, as if she didn't quite believe what she was hearing. I could see her soft brown eyes begin to take on that shine that comes from tears rising up. Seeing that makes my own chest tighten, and I knew I couldn't stay there any longer. "This is for the best," I told myself and her softly, my voice thick with grief. "Things will be better this way." Then, with my head bowed, I began to turn away. "Goodbye, Tam."

The deed had been done. My head hurt, and my heart felt like it was a lead weight in my chest. I couldn't stay here any longer. I didn't want to be here when the realization of everything finally came crashing down on her. My resolve on leaving her was already paper thin as is. So I went to the edge of the rooftop and began fumbling with my grappling gun so that I could leave. Maybe if the Fates decided to show a little mercy, they'd hand me a slew of criminals to beat the tar out of till sunrise. Perhaps if they were feeling especially generous, they'd send me a mission that would take me off-world... or at least out of the country...

"No."

The whisper was small and soft and I almost didn't catch it. I lifted my head and turned it slightly. "Hm?"

"No!"

The element of surprise is a powerful tool. Bruce taught me that. It was one of the first lessons he instilled in anyone he trained personally. These days, after everything I've lived through, it took a lot to surprise me enough to throw me completely off my game. Tonight... "a lot" consisted of being emotionally compromised when the woman I had just broken up with decided to grab me by the cape and suddenly put all her weight into pulling me away from the roof's edge.

Being effectively clotheslined by your own cape is a very disorienting thing. As I awkwardly fell back onto the unforgiving rooftop, I heard my grappling gun go skittering wildly across the cement. When I tried to sit up, I was roughly shoved back down before I could get my bearings and had the wind knocked out of me when someone sat down right on my stomach.

"Take it off!"

"What?" I didn't think I heard that right.

Tam's fingers were flying on my cowl. I quickly brought my hands up to try and catch them before she triggered the safeguards that were in place to prevent me from being unmasked out in the field. "Stop it! You'll shock yourself!"

"I don't care! Take it OFF!"

"Tam, QUIT IT!"

"NO!"

"GOD DAMN IT!" I had no hope of stopping Tam outright. Trying to catch hands that could play the Flight of the Bumblebee in under a minute and a half was like trying to catch live minnows with your bare hands. It just wasn't going to happen. So I managed to worm my fingers under hers to somehow disengage the safeguards. Once that was done, she had my cowl pulled off in no time flat. The heavy black cape went along with it, rushing over my face as Tam's weight disappeared from my midsection. I quickly got to my feet before the cape had completely fallen away. The wind blew my hair into my face haphazardly as I stared at the woman in front of me in shock.

"What are you doing?" I yelled at Tamara. I would've said more, but when I got a good look at her, everything I was about to say about secret identities, masks, and other safety related issues died on my tongue. She stood there, one hand curled into a fist that rested on her hip and the other clutching my purloined cape and cowl with a white-knuckled death-grip. Her previously immaculate hair was in semi-disarray from the scuffle of removing my mask, and her brown eyes were blazing with a defiant fury I'd never seen in them before. Yes, everything I had been about to say to her in my own shock and frustration had been deleted and overwritten with one overriding, stupidly male thought.

Damn, she's hot when she's mad...

"What am I doing?" she growled. "What are YOU doing?"

I frowned. "Tam," I started as gently as I could. "I told you..."

She shook her head angrily. "No, no, no, no, no! This... Us... You are not going to end it all between us like this!"

"Like this?" I was confused. What was she talking about?

Tam squeezed her eyes shut for a moment. "You do NOT get to hide behind a damned mask and tell me in THAT voice that it's all over." The hand that clenched my cowl tightened before she flung it hard to the ground at her feet. Later, I'd learn that her nails had actually managed to dig sizable grooves into the sturdy material. When she opened her eyes to stare me down again, they were shining with unshed tears, but everything else about her expression was still absolutely furious towards me. "If you want to walk away from me, if you want me out of your life so badly, then you are going to tell me to me face to face!"

The End

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