Disclaimer:"Holy Lawsuits, Batman! She doesn't own us!"
When the Bough Breaks…
Summary: Set in the "Return of the Joker" continuity. After Tim's rescue, Nightwing temporarily returns to Gotham. But even with Dick Grayson around, the pieces of Batman's world slowly fall apart.
AN:This was originally going to be a short story about Dick's reaction to Tim's abduction. But (as a lot of my stories do) it mutated into something else. Hopefully a good something else. Hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing.
Prelude: The Wait is Over
He landed, right foot, then left, on the third floor fire escape balcony. The wings of his suit automatically folded when he dropped his arms. He grabbed the bottom edge of the window with one hand and yanked upwards. The springs gave way with a little twang and the glass panel slid easily on the rail.
Stepping into his apartment, he pulled off the black mask that hid his identity and held it between his thumb and forefinger. Four months ago, he had left Gotham city to establish himself as a superhero in his own right. To escape the shadow of the bat that had reared him. He'd found a city of his own to protect, and had begun the process of eradicating the petty criminals and crime syndicates that infested it. Every night, he donned his black and blue uniform and patrolled the streets on his motorcycle, trying to protect innocent people from offense. For the past three weeks, however, he'd had his ear to the ground for reasons other than safe-guarding the citizens of his city. He'd pressed every informant, tapped all the police lines, and eavesdropped on the crime bosses to get information. The abduction of anyone in the Bat-family would cause a blip on every radar, even as far away from Gotham as he was. And if anyone did have a lead on his successor as Robin, he was going to get his hands on it.
Walking to his small bedroom, he flipped the light switch on the inner wall and deposited the mask by the digital alarm clock that read 10:43 with florescent green bars. He'd ended his watch early tonight, anxious to contact Gotham again. He'd been in contact every day since Tim's disappearance, but his attempts to raise Bruce or Alfred or even Barbara the previous night had failed. He didn't like being out of the loop (a habit Alfred blamed on his mentor), and the lack of update had nagged him for the past twenty-four hours.
He tapped the touch pad of the laptop on his desk, dissolving the star-field screen saver. A small red box was blinking rapidly on the top left corner of his screen. "Finally," he breathed, pulling off his gloves and seating himself in the desk chair. He clicked the box and the vid-con screen opened on his monitor, showcasing Alfred's stoic face.
"Master Dick, I know you won't be back home for another few hours at least, but I thought you should know…we found him. He's home."
Dick rubbed his palm down his face, letting it come to a halt on his chin. He leaned back in his chair, realizing he'd been much more worried than he'd originally thought. Quickly hitting a few keys, another vid-con screen popped up. He entered another command, and it connected to the bat cave computer. Barbara's cowl-less face appeared, sullen and haggard, in the box.
"Barbara, I just got Alfred's message. How's Tim?"
She sighed, and he noticed her red rimmed eyes. "Not good, Dick. He's been through…more than anyone should have to." Her breathing was shaky.
"What happened? Who took him? How badly is he injured?"
"It was the Joker. And Harley Quinn for good measure."
Dick remembered the couples escape from Arkham a month before he left Gotham. In fact, in one of his last ventures as a protector of Gotham, he and Batman had tried to locate the deranged lovers. The search had gone on for weeks, with no results, and soon they'd been distracted with other matters, other villains, and his decision to branch away from Bruce.
"I knew it was too good to be true. He's been laying low for months. We should have figured he'd have something up his sleeve." He wished he hadn't given up the search all those months ago. "What did he want with Tim?"
"Apparently, Joker and Harley were looking to adopt."
"Yes. But they obviously couldn't go through the normal channels, so they took—" her voice cracked and she abruptly cut off her sentence.
"Barbara, what? Tell me."
"God, it was horrible, Dick. I couldn't believe my eye when I saw Tim, dressed up like that monster. I've seen people infected with the Joker's serum before, but never like this. And the shock torture…" She looked away from the screen, and bit her lip to stop its quivering.
The pieces slowly fell into place in Dick's head. He clenched his fist. "Is he going to be alright?"
"I don't know. We've been working all day to try and reverse this. And Tim's just a mental mess right now."
All day?"You found him last night?" She nodded a confirmation, and he frowned, fuming more. "You should have contacted me then."
"We had our hands full."
"I should have been there!"
"What good would that have done?"
"Any amount. I could have taken care of the Joker while you took care of Tim."
"The Joker's dead. Harley too, most likely."
"Tim killed him."
Tim had never killed anyone before, he knew. And he also knew what taking a life could do to you. "Does he remember?"
She nodded. "After it happened, we had to sedate him to calm him down. His mind is just jumping in loops all over itself."
He ran a hand over his pony-tailed hair. "This is such a nightmare."
"Maybe you should come home. Just for a little while…till we can get things back to normal. Or as normal as they'll ever be again." She raised a hand, cutting off any argument she thought he wanted to make. "Look, I get that you want to make it on your own, but…you're needed here right now. We need you here."
She need not have tried to convince him. He'd made his decision almost as soon as the conversation began. "It'll take me an hour and a half to get there. Leave a light on in the batcave for me."
Chapter 1: Family Reunion
He turned the handlebars, veering his bike off the main road. Off-roading was one of his favorite pastimes. It was also the quickest way to get into the bat cave. Toppling the various shrubs that got in his way, he pulled up on the bike, elevating it off the sharp drop-off of the hill. He re-landed on the level terrain ten feet lower. In front of him was the large stone glacier under Wayne Manor. The rock face approached him faster as he gunned the accelerator. Once it looked certain that he was about to crash into the wall, he pressed a small button on the underside of his right handlebar. Immediately, the wall cracked open and slid apart. Once he'd been admitted, it resealed itself.
He followed the paved path to get further into the cave, slamming on the breaks and rotating the bike ninety degrees once he'd reached the circular platform. Barbara was waiting there to greet him.
"Anything new?" he asked, dismounting the bike and removing his helmet.
"No. I've been working to make an antidote." She motioned for him to follow, and led him to her worktable.
"Don't we already have one that counteracts the Joker's serum?"
"It isn't having much of an effect. He's revamped it somehow. I think it's this new drug, ethophos—"
"—phoprovenol. It's been in most of the drug busts I've done in the past two months."
"Well, it's making our job harder." She pulled an empty test tube out of the holder and added some liquid with a pipette. Capping it, she placed it in the last open slot on the centrifuge. The device hummed and began to rotate. "We've been giving him doses of the old antidote. It helps for a few hours, but then he just reverts again."
"Where's Bruce? I'd think he'd be down here working till he found the solution."
"He's upstairs with Tim. That's the only thing that's gotten him away from the cave. I'm worried about him, Dick. He hasn't slept in at least seventy-two hours. And I'm sure he barely slept those weeks Tim was missing."
He nodded, expression still grim. "I'll go check on him. How are you holding up?"
Shrugging, she folded her arms. "Fine, I guess, considering everything…" she looked away, blinking rapidly as her eyes became glassy.
He put his arm around her and squeezed gently. "Everything's going to be fine. Don't worry," he told her softly.
She turned to him and loosely rested her head on his shoulder. "I hope so. God, I hope so."
Dick opened the large oak door a crack, allowing light from the hallway to spill into the dark room. "Bruce?" When he got no response, he pushed the door open further and peaked his head through. In the far corner, next to the queen-sized bed, he saw large form of his mentor sitting, hands steepled against his mouth. The newly introduced light covered the right side of his body, but the rest blurred easily into the darkness.
"Close the door."
He entered the room and pulled the door shut behind him. "I came as soon as I heard." Bruce didn't move, keeping himself so focused on his sleeping ward that Dick wasn't sure he'd even heard him. He walked closer to the bed, flanking the chair, and saw the sharp black strands of Tim's hair peaking out from under the covers. The sheets gently rose and fell with his shallowed breathing. "How is he?"
"Asleep for now. Hopefully he'll get a few hours in this time."
"Barbara told me you've got him on sedatives."
"He doesn't need to be awake for any of this. Not until we find a permanent solution."
"Yeah, I agree." He placed his hand on Bruce's shoulder. "Get some sleep. You look like hell."
"Fine, but don't come crying to me when you start getting those bags under your eyes."
"You think this is funny?"
"Of course I don't. I was just--"
"Then don't try to make jokes. Don't try to lighten the mood."
"You're right, I'm sorry." There was no arguing with Bruce, especially when he was like this. But he wasn't giving up just yet. "But you're not doing him any good by sitting here brooding. Get some rest. Even if it's just for an hour or two."
"I'm not leaving him. Not again." He moved his hands, pressing his forehead into his palm. "He's just a child, Dick. You're all just children. And I've dragged you all into this life."
Dick knelt down, keeping his hand firmly on Bruce's shoulder. He'd seen a lot of Bruce's moods, but he'd never seen this one. This helplessness. "You didn't drag us anywhere. We all came willingly. Because we trust you and what you're doing. I know it doesn't always seem like it, but we do. We always will."
"Maybe you shouldn't trust so blindly."
"No," he stood, offsetting Dick's arm. "No. What right did I have to put a thirteen-year-old boy in the line of fire?"
"Bruce this isn't your fault."
"Who's next? Barbara? You?"
"You can't predict every scheme every lunatic in Gotham is going to come up with." He stood again, "I mean, come on Bruce, do you know how much good you do for this city? We've put away Bane, Poison Ivy, Two-Face…and I don't even know how many others. And I know that all of us—me, Alfred, Barbara and even Tim—don't regret a minute of it. So stop trying to blame yourself for saving a city."
"But at what cost?" The blankets on the bed moved as Tim rustled in his sleep. Bruce reached down and readjusted the sheets around the boy, "You're right. I'm not doing him any good by being here." He moved past Dick. "Stay here," he paused when he reached the oak frame, "He…he has nightmares. Just make sure he knows where he is, and that he's safe."
"Don't worry, I will. Want me to wake you up in an hour?"
"That won't be necessary. I'm not sleeping until I've fixed the mess I've made. I'll be downstairs helping Barbara." He shut the door behind him.
"Yeah, okay," Dick whispered to the empty room. He hooked the chair Bruce had vacated with his foot and pulled it closer to him. He sat, hand steepled against his mouth, and kept up his mentor's vigil.
To Be Continued…
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