A/N: I know I've had actual years with this plan in mind, trying to break down this story, but still...
Infinite Crisis is a beast
"I'm not the Superman you know."
Another Earth. Another Superman. Kal-L to mirror Kal-El, from a place with a different Batman and a Bruce Wayne who may or may not be the same person. Infinite Earths across the universe, all with their own versions of Dick Grayson and the people he knew and loved.
All erased, once upon a time. And all with the potential of coming back.
An earth where Jason Todd wasn't dead, where Dick never held the body of Donna Troy in his arms. An Earth where he married Barbara, and one where Bruce married Selina and Helena was their daughter. Even an Earth where Tim didn't grow up in a mansion and Barbara, for some inconceivable reason, dumped him and dated Bruce Wayne.
Superman of some forgotten Earth described the idyllic world he'd come from, one where heroes lived up to their name, and Dick let it wash over him like a warm shower. The idea of it wasn't so bizarre to him, he'd seen Bruce's weirder case files. The idea of all those Earths being erased to form one universe was a history he wasn't sure he believed, but Bruce had enough evidence to suggest it was possible. And at any rate, the existence of Power Girl lent credence to the story.
But now, hearing how reality was breaking apart, that superbeings from realities that were supposed to have been destroyed not only existed but were punching said reality so hard that they cracked and bled into each other...? That was a trippy thing to hear from someone who wore his friend's face. Dick wondered if he'd maybe gotten drunk again.
The foreign Superman's words were addressed to Dick, but it was Robin who spoke. "I still don't get it. What do you want?"
And while this man was technically a stranger, the pain on his face was so familiar, so like Clark. "I want my home back. That, and... Lois... I survived the destruction of my entire universe, but without my wife's happiness..." He trailed off, and Dick could empathize. A little too well, actually, and he decided to detach again and let Tim handle things. The dialogue continued between the two heroes while Dick only half paid attention, his mind wandering. Was there an Earth where his son lived? Where Blockbuster didn't die, where he never met Catalina? A universe where the Flying Graysons still performed together, one where Bruce never lost his parents?
Was there an earth where RJ had a happy family?
"I want to get back what I lost. You know how that feels, don't you? Both of you..." The words spoke to Dick, but Kal-L's tone had gotten more aggressive. Tim's stance even more so.
"Yeah, you make it sound nice, but you can't just go around destroying stuff as you please! This is our Earth, if you wipe it out then you're doing to them what was done to you, right? Doesn't really fit with the whole Superman image."
"You're a child, what do you know about anything?" Kal-L turned back to Dick. "This Earth is corrupt, you can't argue that, can you? This dark Earth must be forgotten, so the correct one can return."
"Oh my gosh, you're talking about destroying the planet!" Tim screamed, exasperated in a way that Dick would normally find comical. Little Timmy, so logical yet hopeful, always somewhat bewildered when Robin had to deal with people who's dark emotions took them beyond rationality.
Except, this wasn't sounding so irrational to Dick. "...the correct Earth...?"
"What the-? Dick, you're not actually listening to this?"
"Think of it. An Earth without the tragedies defining you and your comrades. Living together with your families, isn't that what we all want?"
Wasn't it? In the back of his mind, Dick knew he should be protesting for some reason, but Kal-L made so much sense...
Until Tim spoke. "If your Earth was so perfect, why'd you need a Superman?" Kal-L stopped for a minute, and it gave Dick a few seconds to scrape together the few brain cells that were bothering to pay attention to this whole mess. Tim forged on, "Shouldn't you be wearing a pair of overalls and chilling on some farm, if things are that good? A perfect Earth doesn't need a Justice League or a Batman and it sure as hell doesn't need Robin, but it sounds like this Earth-2 still has a healthy crime-fighting business going."
Kal-L frowned. "Our heroes knew what it meant to be heroes, not just thugs in costumes." If he noticed Dick flinch, he didn't comment. "You don't understand anything."
"I understand that your Earth still had tragedy to spare," Tim said, ice in his voice. "It just wasn't happening to you." And that, more than anything, got Dick to his feet, because if Tim was using the serious voice, things were about to get real.
"We should call the Justice League, talk this over with them," Dick said, voice airy and light. Though he suspected some of the League probably knew what was going on, this sounded just like Donna and Barbara's recent doom and gloom talk. Despite Tim's look of disbelief, he managed to argue, "If there's something we can do, something good out of this, we deserve to hear him out... Jason and Donna came back to life, maybe we can bring back the people he lost, too? Maybe the two Earths can coexist somehow, maybe..."
"Dick, you don't know what you're talking about."
Probably not, but Kal-L took a step towards him. "We can change this reality, Dick. Write over the corruption and darkness into something better. I need your help."
"My help?" Dick shook his head, wishing the fog would clear. It sounded like he was going to need all his faculties for this conversation, while the bulk of his cognitive processes were still focused on the rubble that was Bludhaven PD and all the needless deaths in the city he loved so much. The baristas and bartenders, the shopkeepers and petty thugs too young to understand the life they were getting into, the families and schoolkids and every last officer he'd worked with, all gone.
But in another reality...
Kal-L was kind, his voice spoke with a gravity that Clark's didn't have, a voice that had gone through more pain than any of them could imagine. "Dick Grayson... people will listen to you. They'll rally for you. They trust you enough to go to the moon and back on nothing but your word. You can lie to their face and let them know it, and they'll still go, and they'll trust you again the second time because even the secrets you hide only reinforce why they should trust you."
"You haven't been around lately, have you?" Dick snorted, but Kal-L didn't back down.
"This doesn't have to be a war. As much as I condemn this world, I don't want to destroy for destruction's sake. If you stand with me, they'll follow, we can bring back Earth-2 without sending everything into chaos."
"And when you say 'bring back', you mean 'erase everything'," Tim hissed, and Dick looked over to find Robin shaking. How did he handle feeling so much? Dick was still processing what an acceptable emotion would be for this situation. "Since you seem to know us so well, let me ask you this! Are that Tim Drake's parents alive?"
"Yes." Kal-L smirked a little. "And they take vacations with you every summer."
Dick felt Tim crumpling, and the tiny shred of feeling in his heart bled for him. But Tim held his ground. "And Dana Winters, is she anything to me?"
"Why would she be?"
"Thought so." Tim breathed out, the sound echoing behind all the protective masks. "And Robin? Whoever Batman's got behind that mask in this fabulous world without tragedy? Is he anywhere near as good as Dick Grayson?"
That question pierced through everything, an arrow fired right through all the barriers of pain and depression, of grief and melancholy. Dick felt his entire history as Robin passing before his eyes, all the failures and harsh training and criticism from Batman. He relived every fight with Bruce, up until the moment he was fired and replaced. And replaced. And replaced.
What did Tim think he was talking about?
But the question stumped Kal-L, too. After a long pause, he shook his head, a hint of a rueful look in his eyes. "No."
With an almost primal growl, Tim reached for his belt. For the Kryptonite.
"Then fuck your reality."
Seconds mattered. Every last second, Donna had always known that. And it was true now more than ever.
And yet, one look at Dick Grayson and the entire Bat-Clan's personal misery and she'd let that go. She'd gambled with the seconds given to her, played with time, when there was so little to spare.
She regretted it now.
"Yes?" Dana was a pretty woman. Healthy, at least physically. She gave Donna a grateful smile, before glancing around fretfully. "I'm sorry, I can't talk. I need to call my husband. He must be so worried..."
Her husband. Jack Drake, who'd been murdered by Captain Boomerang. And this woman knew that, it was a large part of why she was a patient here.
"I can contact him for you," Donna said, not knowing what else to say to that. Maybe it wasn't healthy to play into the delusions, but she also didn't need to trigger a breakdown in the middle of a city blowing up. "I'm actually here because of your stepson, Tim. He was worried about you."
"Oh! Is he safe? He's supposed to be home! But sometimes, he sneaks out, he's... he goes and..." Dana bit her lip, and started to pale several shades.
Donna panicked. "Tim's fine! Completely safe!" What a crock of lies. "He's just worried about you, but I'll tell him you're all right, okay? Everything's fine!"
"No, I should be there for him," Dana said, voice shaky. "He must be so scared... And guilty, Tim always thinks everything's his fault, always wants to help. Even if it means lying and..." Her breathing sped up, and Donna could feel Dana's pulse racing when she took her hands.
"Hey, calm down. Tim's fine. I won't let anything hurt your son, okay?" Donna felt like the biggest liar on the planet, there was so much she had to do that didn't involved shadowing a teenage boy in the middle of a war zone, but she squeezed Dana's hands all the tighter. Titans looked after each other, and where would the team be without their Robin? "You just stay safe, you don't need to worry about Tim."
"I always worry," Dana replied, then shook her head. Then, she looked Donna in the eye, so pale her lips were turning gray. "Tim's safe at home, in bed. He promised us, he promised he wouldn't..." Those ashen lips trembled a little, as she said her next words. "Please, will you look after Robin?"
"What?" Donna was caught off guard, and she stared at Dana as if it would help make sense of this situation.
"Robin patrols in Bludhaven sometimes. I'm sure he's helping now. That's what heroes do, but he's just a boy... he's just a boy..." Dana was shaking now, eyes wide and frantic. "Tim's safe at home, like he promised, he wouldn't break a promise, he knows how his father and I worry..."
"I got it, I got it," Donna hushed, and put her hands on Dana's shoulders. "Robin is my top priority, I promise. Nothing bad's going to happen to him." And she cast a silent prayer to the gods that they wouldn't make her a liar.
But the promise seemed to clam Dana. "Thank you..." She smiled again, that youthful, beautiful smile, before confusion wrinkled her brow. "Wait, Troia, right? Aren't you dead? I saw that on the news..."
It was a longer story than Donna wanted to get into at the moment. She'd squandered enough precious seconds already. "I'm a guardian angel? Looking out for Robin?" That was a dumb lie, and Dana's face reflected it.
"Just because we're in a psychiatric clinic doesn't make us stupid." She sighed and waved her hand, looking more confident than her eyes belied. "Go. You've got work to do. Just... keep him safe, please."
"I will." And with that, Dana had enough and turned away, curling in on herself until one of the medical staff came over to usher her down a hallway.
That was Donna's cue to exit, and she left the clinic with a conflicted heart. The last of the psychiatric patients had been moved, so she called in to Oracle for an update, fearing it would be slightly beyond the scope of Bludhaven. Or planet Earth. "Hey, Oracle. Can you patch a message to Robin? Tell him Dana's safe and accounted for?"
"Robin can't come to the phone right now," Barbara's sardonic voice replied, and Donna's stomach plummeted. "This thing is going to Hell in a handbasket. He's fighting Superman."
"Except not. A Superman from another reality, one that's not affected by this reality's Kryptonite, who maybe want's to destroy reality as we know it. Get over to Bludhaven PD as fast as you can. Batman's already on his way, but if the Kryptonite's not working, I don't know how helpful that's going to be."
Donna wasn't sure how helpful she was going to be against Superman, of any earth, but she obeyed. She'd just made a promise to Robin's stepmom, after all. "Fill me in on the way? What else is happening?"
"Too much, I can't even..." Barbara huffed in exasperation. "Basically every metahuman prison in the country is having a jailbreak. OMACs are marching on Themescyra, and did you know Batman's Goddamn murder satellite is still up there somewhere? Because I sure didn't. What even is my life?"
"No one is where they're supposed to be," Donna murmured to herself, though she had to admit, there wasn't really a standard for how this situation was supposed to go, not when infinite realities were trying to merge together and fight for dominance. It hit her, suddenly, a sense of finality. "They're going to die..."
"Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman," Donna says, dazed by the knowledge. She hadn't asked for this. She hadn't planned to be the herald of destruction and voice of the coming apocalypse, the one to foretell doom and gloom while one of her best friends was busy trying to mourn the death of his child and teammates were coming back from the dead and whatever was going on with Diana right now... "At least tell me the Lantern Corps got the message?"
"Well, there is that. They're calling in the planet guy, even."
"Let's pray that's enough-"
"Holy shit on a stick!"
"What?" Donna tapped the earpiece, frantic. "Oracle? Oracle, what's going on?" She hoped it wasn't Tim, she didn't want to have failed Dana in less than five minutes. "Oracle?"
Barbara came back online, breathless. "Brace yourself, Donna. We just got a new Flash."
One moment, Tim held a piece of Kryptonite in his gloved hand.
The next, Kal-L was melting it with his heat vision.
And then, there were explosions.
It was like watching a movie, Dick thought, in his slightly detached state. A high-octane action movie in one of those new boxy seats that rumbled and made noise in time with the film. And he thought he should probably be a little more engaged in the scene, given that Robin was actively fighting Superman, but the day had just been so much and his emotions run so thin... It was easier to sit back and watch, to blink and not have to feel or process, just focus on the dirt under his feet that might be burying Amy, myriad realities that may or may not be in existence right now, the moral and ethical questions that he had absolutely no authority to make given his recent history.
So he lost himself in the sight of lasers, smokescreens and flying explosive Batarangs. At least, until Tim was grabbing his arm. "Come on, Dick, move!" And behind Robin, a fist.
Superman's fist, that unholy force. There was no resisting or defending. That fist would go through Tim's chest like cardboard.
And suddenly, Dick cared.
Just as sudden, another force intercepted, and the scenery switched to one of red and yellow lightning, a high pitched voice screaming, "OhmyGodohmyGodohmyGod!" for a full ten seconds, before Dick's vision swirled and he was back at the Wayne Manor front gates.
Robin was next to him, just as confused. And a few feet away, panting heavily, was Bart Allen in a Flash costume.
"Uh, care to explain? I mean, thanks for saving us, like, really. But, uh... That's not your usual wardrobe..."
Bart waved his arms like a windmill, on the verge of tears. "It'sreallybadguys,I'vebeenrunningforever! IpassedoutonceinTokyoandthenIjustkeptrunning! They'reallinthespeedforce,itwasSpeedsterCentraljusttogethiminthere, butit'snotgoingtoholdhim, Wally'sgoneandthenBarry andJay,andit'snotevengonnaholdhim, healreadytookoutthe wholeteam,it'sjustamatter oftime,he'scoming!"
"Wait, what? Slow down, Bart." Tim was asking the impossible, and he knew it. "Who's coming?"
There was a pause, while Tim looked at Dick. "Is he friends with that Superman from the other earth, the guy back there?"
"HowshouldIknow? Idon'tevenknowwhat'sgoingon,that'sallDonna! Shewarnedusandhestillwreckedthewholebase!"
Somewhere in there, Dick picked out a few troubling words. "What do you mean, Wally's gone?" And a wrecked base, taking out the whole team... none of this boded well.
Especially not Bart's complete meltdown. "He'sintheSpeedforce, hedidn'tcomebackout, Ilookedoverandhewas justgoneandBarrywashereand thenpoof! Hissuitwastheonly thingthatsurvived theSpeedforce, Idon'tknowwhat todo!"
Dick sat down. His legs were done with the whole situation, as was his brain. "Wally's... dead? Disappeared?" Bart didn't answer in words, but he didn't need to.
"What about the rest of the team?" Tim asked, a little frantic, but was interrupted by the sound of a woman shouting at them. Confused, they all turned and saw a police officer charging down the steps from the front door, her brown ponytail bouncing in rage.
The uniform was streaked with dirt and charcoal, but Dick knew those badges well. "Amy?"
"Dick Grayson, I swear I'd murder you if I wasn't so relieved! Would it kill you to answer your phone?" Amy Rorhbach launched herself at Dick for a quick hug, and let out a small scream of tension. "Honestly, you think I have time to be chasing you down like this? Let a friend know you're alive!"
"Sorry," Dick said, a little bewildered by the force of her emotions. His hands, though, those reacted without the rest of his brain, squeezing her tightly. Amy was fine, Amy was alive, something precious had managed to survive this mess and he needed to hold onto it for as long as he could. "But you... you made it out of Bludhaven? You're family's...?"
"I swear, the one time I get to take a personal day and it all goes like this," Amy growled. She stood back and gave a nod to Robin and the Flash. "My whole family was eating pizza in the fun center when this chick with an eye-patch shows up and starts dragging us out of the building! I thought we were being kidnapped! I almost shot her!" Ravager? Good old Rose, Dick almost sobbed at the news. Amy continued her rant. "That crazy kid! But she got us out of Bludhaven before things got too bad. The Rorhbach clan is holed up in a hotel in Gotham, but I decided to come back and help where I could." She ran a hand through her hair, smearing some dirt across her sweat-stroked forehead. "They forced me to take a break, so I came here to look for you. And your bird friend."
"Bird friend? You mean...?" Dick looked over, and Robin stepped forward.
"No, ugh, the other... Nightwing!" She cast looks between them all and threw up her hands. "Can we talk privately, or do they know how you know the guy?"
"I'm more concerned with how you know the guy," Tim said, and Bart nodded.
Dick just sighed. "It's fine, Amy. They both know I'm Nightwing. Or, I was..."
He brushed Robin off, and tried to focus on Amy without breaking. "What do you need a murderer in a costume for?"
"I need Bludhaven's hero," Amy said, voice blunt and refusing nonsense, as always. "And I need answers. Whatever's going on involves the whole Earth, not just you Supers, and for once I want to know why the world is falling apart around me. The city's in crisis and we'll all be more effective if we work together."
"Amy..." Dick hesitated, not sure what he could say given all the identities, bases and other secrets that weren't his to tell. But it was Robin who stepped up to answer her.
"To be honest, I'm not sure what we can tell you. We're still trying to make sense of this mess ourselves."
"Oh, good," Amy said, twitch at the corner of her mouth. "Then you need all the help you can get."
Jason pounded his fists on the table, eyes full of rage. "Does anybody here know what the actual fuck is going on?"
Zatanna crossed her legs and snorted from her chair, which was hovering a good foot on the ground for no discernible reason other than it was Zatanna and she felt like it. "Says the zombie boy."
"To answer your question, Jason, no," Wonder Woman broke in. She was trying to stay even keeled but it was pretty obvious her temper was fraying at the edges, though not with anyone in particular. "No one knows what the actual fuck is going on. That's why we're here to compare notes."
"Oh." The boy called Jason, one of the few people in the room actually deigning to use a human name, sat back down in a sort of shocked mollification. The idea of Wonder Woman using cuss words would have shut anyone up, but for Jason, it didn't seem he'd expected someone to answer honestly or admit to not knowing everything. Amy couldn't help but grin. He was such a teenager.
And for one supposedly raised by holier-than-thou Batman, the honesty had to be a nice change. Amy sat back in her chair and surveyed the group of heroes and vigilantes crammed into the Batcave. She'd had to wear a blindfold when Robin escorted her here, but despite the effort, she still was pretty sure she knew where she was. It had been tempting to ask about it and confirm her guess, but she was trying to play ball with these people and that meant a certain level of trust and respect.
All the same, she'd raised an eyebrow at Dick when the blindfold came off, and the look on his face gave her all the confirmation she needed.
Well, what Bruce Wayne didn't know she knew wouldn't hurt her.
At present, Batman was glowering in the corner by a massive computer, and shooting dirty looks at her service revolver. "Don't worry, he did that to me, too," Dick said, the last thing he'd said for a good hour now. While the other masks traded information and debated strategies, he'd hunkered down in a seat and tried to look as invisible as possible.
Any other day, Amy would have assumed he was the leader of this crazy circus. For now, she tried to radiate silent support, while still listening to the arguing voices. Apparently there was such a thing as a Multiverse. "And the two Superdudes want to bring it back?"
"Yes, Superboy Prime, Superman and Lois of Earth-Two, and Alexander Luthor."
"And that's why we suddenly got the Doom Patrol back?"
"Among other things, yes." The tinny voice from the computer belonged to Oracle, and sounded exasperated. "Troia might be the only one who's actually aware of the other Earths, she's the sum of every Donna Troy that ever existed. A key to the lost Multiverse."
"Aren't I special?" The one called Troia sighed, and leaned back in her chair with some barely concealed angst. "But yeah, I'm here to save the Universe. The Multiverse. The original plan was to get an army of metas and go fix the rip in space, while Nightwing leads the ground assault, but then I showed up and El Shitstorm was already going down."
"Sorry," Dick said, though Amy couldn't tell if anyone heard him but Troia. In the back of her mind, Amy marveled that the twin sister of Wonder Woman would place such responsibility on Nightwing, someone she'd always seen as a bit of a jokester.
Then again, when the chips were down, there was no one she trusted more than Dick Grayson. He'd been the best partner she'd ever had, hands down.
"Our enemy is just as clever as we are. They know we outnumber them by a million to one. All the prison breaks, the attacks on Themescyra and Bludhaven, it's all a distraction. To keep us busy and focused on everything but the Earth-splitting machine."
"Excuse me, the what?"
"Gotta say I'm distracted," Robin muttered, but then Dick leaned forward.
"Wait," he said with uncertainty. "The Secret Society of Supervillains, or whatever, you say they hired Slade to nuke Bludhaven as a distraction?" He shook his head. "He wouldn't do that, even for the money. It goes against his code of honor."
"Mercenaries have honor?" The Flash muttered, but Dick nodded.
"When it comes to the jobs he takes," Batman grunted, surprising everyone. "But can you honestly say there isn't a personal factor when it comes to you two?"
There was a long, looong pause.
Dick's jaw twitched. "So it is my fault."
"I didn't say that."
"You didn't have to." He sat back, and Batgirl with the ponytail drummed her fingers on the desk she sat at.
"It's pretty brilliant, though," she commented, earning a bunch of stares. "Like, from a strategic point of view. I mean, we weren't even working together anymore, Batman or Robin could go off the grid and no one would even bat an eye. But you want to get everyone's attention, get us all to focus in one place and ignore all the other crazy business? Hurt Nightwing. Nightwing needs us, we'll drop absolutely everything."
"It would have been a good play," Robin admitted, "Except we'd already been distracted by the baby..."
"Well, now we're aware that an entire city is a toxic wasteland just for a distraction," Amy interrupted, feeling restless. "So, where do we go from here? Apparently there's a tear in space and an Earth-splitting machine, but in the meantime, people in this reality are actually dying. In Bludhaven, and I'm guessing any other cities who got lucky distraction duty."
Wonder Woman nodded her agreement. "As we speak, Themescyra is on the brink of extinction."
"Meanwhile, Batman's paranoia is coming back to bite him in the butt again. Brother Eye isn't just targeting metahumans anymore, it's gained sentience and is helping the enemy!" Zatanna tossed her head and glared at Batman. "After all the trouble it's caused, you'd think you'd have destroyed that stupid satellite by now."
"After all the trouble you've caused, you'd think you'd have renounced your powers by now."
"Which is a worse violation of privacy, monitoring behavior or wiping someones memory, Zatanna?"
"I'll tell you which one resulted in massive death several times over!"
"Enough, children!" Oracle boomed over the intercom, and the adults hushed up for a moment, punctuated by Jason Todd muttering that he still didn't have a clue what was going on. Amy shook her head and wondered how on earth these people managed to function, while Oracle attempted to wrench control over the situation. "We're going to have to attack this from a couple different angles. Troia, you take a team into space to fix that rip before intergalactic war breaks out. Batman, you're in charge of shutting down Brother Eye. Diana and Superman need to put aside their differences and deal with Kal-L. Batgirls One and Two, you're probably best suited to work on the ground level, I want you assisting Officer Rorhbach in Bludhaven. Flash, get word to Max Mercury and Jessie Quick, a few speedsters in that city can only help-"
"Why do we have to fight the problem?"
Oracle stopped at the interruption, and everyone turned towards Dick, who ducked his head. "Excuse me?"
"Well, some good things have already happened because of this crisis. We got back Donna, and Jason... What Kal-L's doing, isn't it what we all want? To make the world better and be with our families? Wouldn't you all change the past if you could?" His eyes fell on Batman, who looked away. "I'm just saying, maybe there's a happy medium. Maybe there's an Earth out there where everything doesn't fall to pieces every half hour..."
Oracle was the first to break. "Dick, have you even been listening? There's not a happy medium, we're talking erasure and death!"
"Okay, okay, sorry I asked," Dick muttered, and he looked miserable. Amy squeezed his hand, but she wasn't sure how much support that lent.
After some more assignments and a lot more debate, the meeting broke up. Amy stayed with Dick for a moment, even though she could tell Batman wanted her out of the cave as soon as possible. "I know there's not much I can do in the grand scheme of things," she said, sighing to herself. "And compared to the whole of existence getting wiped out, Bludhaven's maybe not the top priority right now. But we have to do what we can, Dick. This is our reality, the only one we've got. We can't just give up on it."
"Even if it's a trash heap?" Dick said, and he ran a hand over his gaunt face. He looked terrible, which wasn't entirely unexpected, given the circumstances, but it broke Amy's heart all the same.
"Like I said, it's the only one we've got." She gave his arm a squeeze. "Bludhaven needs it's hero. Whether that's Nightwing or Dick Grayson is for you to decide."
"I thought I was fired? And Nightwing's not looking so heroic right now, is he?"
Amy pursed her lips. "I'm not going to pretend you've been at your most responsible lately. But you didn't break the law."
Dick pulled away from her. "You can't just say that because we're friends-"
"Oh, good grief, you think I care?" Amy threw up her hands. "I blew the whistle on corruption in the 'Haven, that was my whole operation! You think I'd suddenly backpedal on my principles? That's why I made you quit, Dick! You can't be a vigilante by night and a cop by day, that's unethical as shit!" She planted her fists on her hips and glared. "But if Officer Grayson wants to return to the force and do things by the book, I've got no problem with that! Nightwing left crime scenes so clean you could eat off them, if he wants to return to Bludhaven as a completely impartial and hyper well trained citizen, I'm willing to work with that, too! You just can't do both! We can't do everything, all the time," she added a little more kindly, and Dick's face fell.
"What about Blockbuster?"
Ah, that. "Dick, the only person condemning you for that is you. I don't, and Catalina didn't throw you under the bus, not even to cast reasonable doubt on her own sentence."
"That supposed to make me feel better? That people lied to fake my innocence?"
"What lies? Last time I checked, Nightwing and Officer Grayson were the same person. And Tarantula pulled the trigger without any encouragement from you."
"Well, if I hauled off every petrified citizen who froze up in the presence of a gun, our jails wouldn't' have any room for the real criminals. What is it you expect from yourself?"
"I don't know, to do my job right?" He was about to say more, but stopped when they were approached by Jason Todd, who carried a red helmet in one hand and spinning a gun around in his other.
"'Kay, so it looks like I got assigned to Bludhaven. Which I'm only doing for you and Babs-I mean, Oracle." His scowl was amplified by the domino mask, though Amy wondered why he bothered with one if he was just going to cover it with a helmet. "But the second we get the city cleaned up, I'm going after Slade."
"No, don't," Dick said, but it was a half-hearted protest, and Jason could sense it.
"Are you serious? He just killed, like, over a hundred thousand people."
"I know, I know," Dick muttered, raking his hands over his face. "But we can't just execute people-"
"Why the hell not? You saying he doesn't deserve it? That guy killed an entire city for money, for some vendetta with you, and you're arguing mercy?"
"Not really, just, we can't go kill him..."
"Why, Dick? Why?" Jason challenged, and Amy wanted to step in, but found she couldn't. Not because she didn't have moral convictions, not because she hadn't faced down the same arguments with Bludhaven cops a thousand times before, but because she didn't trust herself to form words when it came to Slade Wilson and the apocalypse that was her hometown.
If he showed up now, in front of Jason Todd... well, she might find she suddenly had a new perspective on Nightwing and Blockbuster.
Which is why Dick's next words didn't surprise her. "Because it hurts, Jason! Because mistakes follow you for the rest of your life and they hurt! Because life isn't a bank account where if you deposit so many good choices you get to withdraw one bad choice, being responsible you're whole life isn't an excuse to just let it all go for a moment and that bad decision stands out like a red flag! Because the Jason Todd I knew wanted so badly to be a hero and you are better than this!"
The words struck Jason in the face, as hard as a slap, but he recovered quickly. "Yeah, well I'm not finding Batman so heroic lately-"
"I'm not talking about Batman, I'm talking about Bruce Wayne!" There was a moment of shock, before Dick waved a hand at Amy. "She knows. Don't pretend you didn't figure it out."
Amy had to shrug. She was caught, but no way was she admitting to anything while the actual Batman was in earshot. This cave was an excellent place to hide a body.
"I'm talking about Bruce Wayne," Dick continued, a bit of a hiss in his voice. "Remember that guy? The one who did all that philanthropic work? The one who ran into a bunch of orphans by chance and invited them into his home for no reason other than they were alone? Don't tell me that guy's not your hero. Because raising damaged teenagers is the most badass act of heroism I've ever known!"
Jason was silent, but the eyes of his mask were wide, almost vulnerable.
"Sometimes Batman's as big an enemy as the ones he fights, but Bruce Wayne?" Dick said, sounding so convicted and passionate that Amy almost forgot he'd been a timid wraith of himself just minutes ago. "That guy was your hero, and that's the only reason you keep coming back. Because you keep hoping that if he takes off that dumb mask, he'll be back to save the world. You're better than this, Jason! You're better than Batman, you became Robin so you could be so much better! Don't make the same mistakes I did!"
Amy stepped up and put a hand on Dick's shoulder. "Rookie..."
"You know I'm right, Amy," he said, then nodded his head over at Wonder Woman, deep in conversation with Donna. "If you don't believe me, Jason, look at Diana. When she killed Maxwell Lord, she thought she was doing the right thing. And I don't know, maybe she was at the time. But now?" His face grew grim, and they all took in the posture of the once proud princess, the news reports that condemned her and the was Brother Eye was turning public opinion against the Amazons. For the first time, the warrior didn't seem so wondrous, just a broken woman.
"She made that choice, and now, she can't save anything."
Before Donna Troy took off for the stratosphere, she had one last item of business. She took Dick Grayson in her arms, and held him as tightly as she dared. "I know I said I'd let play hooky on this one, but..."
"I'll... do what I can," Dick said, sounding like he didn't seem confident in his ability to do anything. Donna frowned and pulled back.
"No, Dick. I'm sorry, but... Oh, I wanted to give you time, I really did, it's not fair at all, but I need you." She squared her shoulders and faced him as a Titan, not as Donna. "Nightwing, I'm leaving Earth in your hands. I need a knight to storm the castle."
"What?" Dick stared at her, and Donna couldn't blame him. A month ago, a year ago, six years, it would have been outlandish.
And yet, still so right. "Someone needs to destroy the Earth-splitting machine. End that, and Superboy Prime can't do anything."
"You want me to go up against Superboy Prime?"
"And whoever is able to go with you."
"There's nobody! We're stretched across land and space! I'm the only one not assigned to a fight because I'm... well, look at me, I'm useless, Donna!"
"Not useless. I've seen worlds, Dick," she said, her eyes filling with tears as the memories swam before her. So many different Earths, so many different paths and all of them tragic for Donna Troy. But in all of them, this bright-eyed boy stood by her side, cried at her funerals and laughed at her weddings, charged before her in battle in a colorful array of costumes, but always the same underneath. "You don't need powers. You don't need to be perfect. I know you, I trust you, I..." She choked a little, and brought her hands to his face. "I've seen realities and futures and the whole Multiverse, and you are the brightest star in it, Dick Grayson! Don't let this be the moment where that light goes out."
She held him for a pleading moment longer, but there were no more seconds to spare. "You've got this. I'm counting on you, Nightwing."
"You should tell Oracle, find someone else..."
"There's no time, and there's no one else. And Oracle hasn't seen all I have. Trust me," she said, with one last entreaty. "Trust me like I trust you."
She didn't know what Dick's answer was, if he even had one yet. She didn't know if he'd act on her words, if he'd be able to in his current state. But she trusted, and hoped. In the meantime, Dick pulled her close again, into another embrace. "Just come back to us, Donna."
That, at least, she could do for her friend. "I'll come back."
And she left, hoping Nightwing would make sure she had an Earth to come back to.
Jason Todd, also known as the Red Hood, was going to be Amy's ride back to the Bludhaven relief efforts. She'd seen the news reports, and while she trusted this kid to help, she wasn't looking forward to explaining this situation to the rest of the force, particularly Commisioner Akins and his Gotham contingent. Then again, Commisioner Akins was notoriously anti-vigilante and anti-meta, so he probably was going to be surly no matter what help arrived.
While they prepared to leave, Jason looked her over. "So, you used to work with Dick? While he was a cop?"
"That's so weird to think about." Jason smirked a little bit, possibly in admiration, before tugging his red helmet over his head. "That guy's full of surprises."
And hopefully he'd have a couple more, before this crisis was out. Amy followed Jason over to his motorcycle, ready to focus on her own work, now that she was a somewhat unofficial ambassador to the superheroes. There was a lot to fill her superiors in on, whichever ones were still alive, though most of their focus would be on the micro task of saving what was left of Bludhaven. A bandaid problem, compared to a heart attack.
Then again, what was the point of saving the earth if they let all it's people go to pieces? Amy could be a superhero in her own right. "Nice ride," she told Jason as he checked over his bike.
"Thanks." He grabbed a spare helmet off a nearby shelf and tossed it to her. It had the Robin symbol painted on the side. "I heard you guys talking... are you going to arrest Dick? For the whole Blockbuster thing..."
"No." She shrugged as she adjusted the helmet straps. "Not like it's up to me. He didn't do anything against the law, no prosecution would dare bring that case to court, it'd be over in five minutes."
"So... he's innocent?"
"Well, that might be pushing it." Amy slipped the helmet over her head and fixed Jason with a look. "I'd be worried if Nightwing didn't feel at least a little guilty for what happened. That was not his finest decision making on display. But I can't say I've never been overwhelmed and pushed to my limits, either. If he were still working for me, he'd have to submit to review, but not being 100% perfect isn't a crime. The way he describes it, I'm pretty sure he was combating shock and a head injury at the time." That didn't appease Jason, but Amy didn't much care. "He's innocent according to the law. How his conscience feels is another story, but the justice system doesn't exist to wag fingers and make people feel bad."
"Doesn't it?" Jason muttered, and Amy looked him over.
"I'm guessing you haven't always been on the right side of the law." Definitely not as Red Hood, and she suspected even the civilian Jason had some bad experiences in order to become so jaded.
"Good guess, officer. I can see why they made you Captain." Jason snorted and swung a leg over his bike. "Sounds like Dick-head just accidentally murdered someone, but I've shot them in cold blood. Once I'm done playing hero over here, you going to turn me in?"
"I wouldn't be a very good cop if I let dangerous criminals run free. Then again, I'm interested to hear just what you think the prison system is for. If it's as black and white as you think it is, why don't we give the death penalty to everybody?"
"Maybe we should," Jason retorted, and Amy settled on the bike behind him.
"Even Dick?" That made Jason freeze. "I don't know, I've just met you, after all. I only know the part of you trying to save my city, I wasn't there when you shot all these people in the head. Do you think you belong in a jail cell?"
Jason didn't answer, and Amy smiled to herself. "Tell you what, kid, how about you think it over and we'll revisit the cops and robbers conversation after we relocate whatever's left of Bludhaven?"
"Don't call me a kid," was Jason's only reply, before they sped off and out of the cave.
Up in his room, Dick lay on his bed, one of RJ's tiny outfits resting on his chest. The words of Kal-L rang in his ears. "What a miserable Earth. They'd die to protect it?"
And then Tim entered the room. Dick was assaulted with Robin's words, too. "And Robin? Is he anywhere near as good as Dick Grayson?"
"Hey, Dick? Bart and I are headed out. You coming?"
"No." Wally was dead. Or lost to the Speedforce or whatever crazy twist on existence was thrown at them this week. Another casualty, thrown onto the pile. And now Bart Allen was forced into a role he wasn't ready for, while friends and families mourned.
Who even was Robin, on Earth-Two? Why would a Robin exist, if not for him? Suddenly, Dick didn't feel so special.
Tim's fingers twitched against the door frame. "You going to be all right here?"
"No." And what was Tim going to do about it? They were out of time, the world needed saving. No more spare minutes to yank a friend out of their funk, and frankly, Dick would like a few seconds to enjoy that funk, thank you very much. He wanted a chance to good and grieve without someone barging in to tell him Amazons were dying and there'd been some kind of explosion on the moon.
After all, what was Earth, what was the whole of reality, compared to the loss of a son?
Good grief, he was sounding more like Jason with every second.
Tim paused, then shifted over to Dick's bed. "We'll fix this, Dick, I promise. Don't worry."
The optimism grated on Dick. "And just how are you going to fix it?" There was no humanly way to put back all the shattered pieces of this miserable life. Not even a meta-humanly way. But God, if he wasn't understanding Kal-L's position!
But Tim stood his ground. "I will. Trust me. Because I'm Robin, and that's what I do. But..." He stopped for a moment, and Dick saw a small smile creep onto his face. "But more importantly, I'm Tim Drake. And Timmy... he's not perfect and he can't control everything, much as he tries... but that kid's got a way of focusing in on what's important, doesn't he? The good stuff. And saving it forever." Tim broke out into a grin and held his fingers up in front of his face, like he was holding a camera. "Click!"
Dick narrowed his eyes. "What on earth are you talking about?"
"Something that could only happen on this Earth, I bet." Tim smiled like a brokenhearted sunbeam and bounced onto the bed beside Dick. "Hug me before I go off into Armageddon? I promise, Dick, it'll be all right. 'Cause I'm gonna fight for you and hang on to your world by my fingernails."
"You don't make any sense." But he rolled over and allowed Tim his hug, and Tim squeezed him back.
"I love you." Tim buried his face in Dick's arm. "And I'm done being a mini-Bat. If I live through this, I'm firing my fake uncle and coming home. If you guys still have room for a little brother."
Dick tried to process emotions, because normally a declaration like that would have him feeling something, he was sure of it, but he couldn't manage more than a few pats of Tim's back, before the boy was back up and out the door. Off to be Robin, off to save someone.
And Dick stayed behind, clutching an old baby sleeper and reliving the sounds of gunshots and of trapeze artists falling to the ground. And of course, Robin's vehement words...
"Then fuck your reality."