After The Fall

Disclaimer: DC owns the characters. I'm just using them for my own nefarious purposes.

A/N: This story takes place immediately following the events in Nightwing #89.

The sun had set an hour earlier. The police and rescue crews were long gone. Nightwing stood on the roof of the apartment building directly opposite the pile of rubble that he had called home yesterday. Before Blockbuster had targeted it. Just like he had targeted Haly's circus the night before. Two homes. Both gone. At the back of his mind, he knew that he needed to find a new place to stay, but, actually, the rooftop wasn't a bad idea. From this vantage point he would probably be able to see the next attack coming. Especially since virtually everything he owned—except for the costume on his back—was currently buried under the aforementioned pile of rubble. No ID, no street clothes. He didn't want to think about how he was going to find another place. Not now.

He didn't know how long he had been standing there. Grief, rage, anguish, all had faded leaving him numb. Maybe this was a good thing.

A movement caught out the corner of his eye made him spin, immediately shifting to a fighting stance. Batman stepped forward, palms out at shoulder height. "It's me," he said quietly.

Nightwing turned away. "Go back to Gotham, Bruce. I'm not in the mood."

"I'm staying at the Huntsdown," he named a hotel near the train station. "I'm here on business—Waynetech business—for the next week at least." He rested a hand on Dick's shoulder. "What happened?"

Dick did not turn around. "Blockbuster. Look, if it's okay with you, I really don't want to discuss this." (Because the smoke from the blast is taking a long time to dissipate, and you're really going to get the wrong idea if I start crying front of you.)

Batman did not respond immediately. Not with words. The hand on his shoulder, however, squeezed briefly. Nightwing flinched but made no move to remove it. "Yoska was in there," he said, finally. When Batman did not answer, he continued. "You remember, the guy R'as hired to pose as my grandfather. He turned up at my door last week and told me he was staying. He—I was talking to him minutes before it happened. He gave me a bottle of wine and told me—he told me--"his voice trailed off. "He was killed instantly. The rescue crews pulled out bodies—the only survivor I can confirm was Aaron Helzinger—Amygdala. I wouldn't bet on there being more—not looking at that." He spun around suddenly, aware that his eyes were watering, but to hell with it. "He blasted an apartment building to powder and killed—I don't even want to think about how many—just because I happened to live there! The only thing that those people did was come within fifty feet of me. Do you have any idea what that feels like?"

Batman bowed his head. "Yes."

Vesper. Dick closed his eyes. And, over the years how many people had the Joker used as bait to draw Batman out to face him? You're an idiot, Grayson, he thought, immediately contrite. "I'm sorry. That was a stupid thing to say."

Batman did not respond for a moment, except to replace his hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Speaking of stupidity," he said then, haltingly, sounding more like Bruce then usual under the cowl, "a few years ago, someone did everything in his power to destroy me. He did it by wearing me down—demolishing Arkham and letting me drive myself to the edge of exhaustion trying to round up the escapees."

"Bane."

"Bane," he confirmed. "I could see what was happening. I knew that he was pushing me, draining me, and I still kept jumping through his hoops because asking for help would have been admitting that I was in over my head."

Nightwing turned around. Batman looked away. When he spoke again his voice was barely audible, but it was definitely Bruce. "Maybe that's the real reason I didn't call you—after. I didn't want you to tell me the obvious, that I should have called you in much earlier. You know what they say about pride and falls."

He knew how shocked he had been when Bruce had asked for help during No Man's Land. "What are you trying to say to me, Bruce?" He was standing at the edge of the rooftop now, looking again at the rubble, as if he might somehow see someone moving underneath in the darkness who had not been visible in broad daylight.

"I think you know."

"What? That I have no job, no place to live, Babs dumped me, and two of the places I've called home have been attacked, destroyed—"He looked at Bruce in horror. "They haven't tried anything at the manor, have they? Is Alfred—"

"No, everything's fine at home. Alfred sends his regards. And before you ask, nobody has managed to breach the Clocktower's defenses either. Try again."

"Damn it, Bruce this is NOT some stupid training exam!" He snapped. Forcing himself to calm down, he continued softly, "either say what you mean, or just go. Please."

There was no answer for what seemed like an eternity. Dick was sure that Batman had pulled one of the patented disappearing acts that had so annoyed Gordon. When he looked behind him though, the cowled figure was still there. "It isn't a training exam," Batman agreed. "But it may be a flaw in your training itself. Think. Blockbuster is systematically attacking those people and places that are close to you. He is isolating you from every anchor you have." He drew a deep breath before continuing, and, to Nightwing's amazement, he lowered his head in...shame? Embarrassment? "The reason that the pattern seems so apparent to me," Bruce said slowly, "has more to do with the events leading up to Vesper's murder, and my past experience with Bane, and less to do with any detective work on my part. If the attack is—direct enough, brutal enough, personal enough, an—individual can stop analyzing a situation and start simply—reacting to it. That method of operation makes for slipshod results." His voice dropped almost to a whisper, and Bruce did not meet his eyes. "It's a weakness to which I've succumbed on several occasions." He hesitated, then drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. "And I trained you to follow my thinking."

"Bruce—"

His mentor held up a hand. "Let me finish. I know what you're feeling right now, and you have every reason to feel that way. You wouldn't be human if you didn't. And, believe it or not, I know how—attractive the idea of running after the person or persons responsible for this—bloodbath is. After Jason died, I came too close to killing the Joker—"

"Whaaaat?" Dick exclaimed.

"It's true. If Clark hadn't pulled me back, it probably would have cost me my life too, but I didn't see it that way at the time."

"You couldn't have told me this sooner? Like, oh, I don't know, maybe when I strangled him?"

"Maybe you should be asking yourself why I didn't hold you back when you attacked him. Do you seriously believe that I congratulated myself when I resuscitated that monster? The only reason that I didn't leave him lying on the ground was because of what that decision would have done to you.

"Don't let Blockbuster trigger the same reaction, from you that the Joker did, Dick. Not because you think I wouldn't approve, but because you need to live with yourself the next day."

Dick gestured toward the rubble. "How do I live with myself knowing that all of that, was because of me?"

Bruce's hand was back on his shoulder. "By reminding yourself that you didn't demolish the building." This was not your fault."

Dick shook the hand off. "Tell me, do you say the same thing to yourself every time a bystander gets hit in the crossfire? Bruce, I had friends in there—"

"I didn't say it wasn't your responsibility," Bruce interrupted. Dick turned to face him. "You have a duty to the people who died here today, yes," he continued, "to hunt down the ones responsible for this carnage, and to bring them to justice—"

Nightwing smiled bitterly. "Justice? That seems to be in short supply, these days." His eyes were starting to sting again, wasn't that blasted smoke gone yet?

"Doesn't that make it all the more precious?" Nightwing didn't answer. His eyes shut tightly, and his breath came in ragged gasps. "Whatever you decide," Batman continued, "I—won't stop you." He gripped both of Nightwing's shoulders. Nightwing did not pull away. "And it won't change how I think of you," he hesitated for a moment, before finishing the sentence: "son." Dick nodded. A low sob escaped him. Bruce pulled him forward into an embrace, wrapping his cape around them both. Dick wept, as Bruce murmured gently "it's all right. I'm here. I've got you. Let it come. Let it come—so you can let it go." He repeated the litany several times, until the sobbing ceased. Then slowly, he loosened his arms."

Nightwing pulled away, equally slowly. When he felt he could trust his voice, he said "I think I'm okay, now. Thanks."

"What are your immediate plans?" He asked abruptly.

"I—I hadn't thought about it much. Patrol, I guess."

"Do you have a place to stay?"

"Not really."

One corner of Batman's mouth quirked upwards. "Money, credit cards?"

"They were—in my other suit."

Batman nodded. "I'd figured as much when I booked an extra room at the Huntsdown. Come back with me, now and I'll set you up with a couple of changes of clothes, a few dollars, and some temporary ID in the name of your choice. Get some sleep tonight—tomorrow, we can work out a plan of action."

"Alright," he said after a moment's thought. "So what is this Waynetech business that brings you out here?"

"Well, it seems that one of our larger shareholders may have lost the required identification that would allow him to liquidate his stock—if he were to need ready cash, and since he's not the sort who would normally call to advise via regular channels, I came to draw up the necessary papers."

"You?" Dick asked with the first genuine smile he'd made since the blast. "The CEO of the flipping company came for that?"

"The papers are in the hotel room. We can fill them out now, or in the morning."

Dick wasn't going to let this one go. "That was the best excuse you could come up with?"

"Yes, well, spur of the moment, it got me out of a stockholder's meeting," he mumbled. "Let's go."

An instant later, two shadowy forms leapt into the Bludhaven night.