Summary: Months of butting heads has put strain on Nightwing and Batman's already tenuous relationship. Diana tries to intervene, but even Wonder Woman might not be able to stop the partnership from crumbling. Set during Justice League Season 2, after Maid of Honor but before Starcrossed.
AN: Well, of course Nightwing is in it. I'd write him into a potato salad. There's no BM/WW per se, but I'm building their friendship. I just need to give the biggest shout out ever to Lael Adair for being pretty much the best beta reader ever! You rock!
EDIT 7/06/2013: It's funny, the story I started writing at 19 years old is very different from the one I want to finish at 29. Thus, I've restructured Building Bridges quite a bit. Re-reading will be extremely helpful.
"I'm sure he won't hate you forever for leaving him there in the street to die. I'm sure he'll understand about the greater good and the choice you had to make and all that. My question is…will you ever really?" – Two Face, Gotham Adventures #44
It happens quickly but feels like slow motion. The Joker pulls the trigger. But at some point between when the gun fires and when Batman's chest should be pierced, Nightwing positions himself in the path of the bullet.
His body jerks with the force of the impact, but it takes four, almost five seconds for him to fall.
Batman drops next to him almost immediately. He is conscious but wheezing heavily and the bullet's trajectory into his chest cavity indicates a high probability of a pneumothorax. Batman pulls a flutter valve from his belt and jabs it into the boy's lung to allow decompression. Once this is done, Batman is on his feet to follow the Joker's retreating footsteps.
He just barely hears Nightwing's breathing begin to ease when he starts running.
"Regardless, we should check it out."
Bruce put his arms through the sleeves of his black jacket as he listened to Dick, perched on the back of the study's leather couch, voice his latest concern. "What were you doing out on the docks?" he asked, straightening the paperwork on his desk.
"Going for a swim." Dick deadpanned. "What do you think I was doing?"
"Well, I'd hope it wasn't patrolling. Nightwing was shot two months ago, and was told to stay inactive."
"I don't know how to say this without sounding immature, Bruce, but you're not the boss of me."
Not amused, Bruce buttoned up the jacket, walked away from his desk and to the study door. "Until I tell you otherwise, you're not to go on duty. Is that understood?"
Dick hopped off the couch, following him. "Look, I appreciate the concern, but I'm fine. You've gone back into action much sooner, after much worse than this. Besides, the situation at the docks is more important."
Now in the living room, Bruce turned to face his former ward. "Batgirl already investigated this supposed unusual activity—"
"It's not just unusual activity. There are log irregularities and—"
"—earlier this month and it was nothing but the implementation of new security procedures by the city."
"Then she must have missed something."
"Or you did. Your investigations recently have become increasingly sloppy, Dick. You're drawing faulty conclusions based on misinterpretations of evidence. I thought I'd trained you better than that."
"Just because I don't play entirely by your rule book anymore, doesn't make me wrong."
A longer argument was something Bruce didn't need right now, so he checked his wristwatch to change the subject. "I'm expecting company soon. We're finished here," he said. As if on cue, the doorbell rang. He saw Alfred head to the front door out of the corner of his eye.
The hint was lost on his protégé. Bruce found his path to the foyer suddenly blocked by Dick's body. "My instincts are telling me that there's more going on here."
"Your 'instincts' also got you a bullet in the chest. They're becoming a liability. I won't say this again, Dick: stand down. Or I'll make this a more permanent leave. With the reckless disregard for protocol you've shown recently, I'm well within my rights to retire your suit permanently." The door creaked open, and Bruce heard muffled voices as Alfred ushered his guest into the manor.
Dick's face transformed from shock to anger in a matter of seconds. "That's unfair on so many levels, I don't even know where to begin. I don't know what's been going on with you lately, but don't patronize me by pretending this is about rules. I'm old enough to be treated with a little respect now. I think I've earned-"
Alfred cleared his throat, having entered the living room, and Bruce applauded his timing. "Forgive the interruption, Master Bruce, Master Dick, but we have company."
His dinner guest stood behind Alfred's right shoulder. Her eyes shifted between the men in the room; Bruce knew she sensed the tension, so he wiped the frown off his face, and replaced it with his best smile. It was time to be Bruce Wayne. "Diana," he said, lightening his normally gruff voice. "I'm glad you could make it." He brushed past Dick, made his way to where she and Alfred stood, and lifted her hand to his lips with flourish.
Alfred moved away from them. "If you all will excuse me a moment, I must go check on dinner."
"Thank you, Alfred, we'll be in the dining room shortly." He turned his attention back to Diana, releasing her hand. "I take it your trip here was pleasant?"
"Yes, it was. But you didn't have to send a jet for me. I could have flown myself."
"That's Bruce for you. Always showing off." He hadn't forgotten that Dick was still present; he was just giving him time to school his emotions before introducing him to the Princess of the Amazons. Dick, however, seemed ready to make his presence known now.
Diana looked to the boy who stood with his arms folded and then back to Bruce. "I'm a little early, am I interrupting anything?"
"Of course not." Bruce assured her, looking pointedly back at Dick. "We're done here."
Dick's mouth twitched slightly, but he otherwise kept his face blank.
"Diana, I'd like you to meet Richard Grayson." Bruce opened his palm in Dick's direction, prompting her to walk toward the young man.
"Dick Grayson," Dick said, extending his own arm and smiling. "It's an honor to meet you, Princess."
She smiled back at him and shook the hand he offered. "You as well. Are you a business associate of" she faltered for a second, "Bruce's?"
"Seems to be the question of the day." He stoned a glance at Bruce, who kept his face impassive, before turning his attention back to the Amazon. "Believe it or not, this guy," he let go of her hand and jerked a thumb at Bruce, "raised me."
"You're his son?" Diana asked, surprised.
"Dick is…was my ward." Bruce clarified at Diana's quizzical expression.
"Yeah," Dick stuck his palm in his pocket. "Was. Now I'm just some guy who drops by uninvited and eats all their food. Right, Bruce?" The subtle strain in his voice was back again.
"Well, Alfred does always seem to make a grocery run after you visit."
"Purely a coincidence, Master Dick, I assure you." Alfred interjected from where he had reentered the room. "Regardless, you and your appetite are always welcome here. And while we are on the subject, hors d'oeuvres are ready in the sitting room."
"That would be my cue to leave." Dick bowed slightly to Diana. "It was a pleasure, Princess. Enjoy the rest of your evening."
"Won't you be joining us for dinner?" Diana asked.
"No, I think its best that I head out."
Bruce grabbed his forearm as Dick brushed past him. "Stay in tonight," he told him quietly.
Dick pulled his arm from Bruce's grasp. "Whatever you say, boss." He left the room, and they heard the front door open, then slam shut.
Diana looked at her host, concerned. "Did I say something to upset him?"
Bruce stared at Dick's wake. "You're not the reason he's upset," he said shaking his head, then offering her his arm. "You must be famished. Shall we?"
She hesitated, searching for something in his face, before letting him lead her out of the living room.
He'd dimmed the lights, preferring their slight glow, juxtaposed with the flickering of the candles, to one-hundred watt illumination. It relaxed him, which was a nice change from the events of earlier that evening, and it seemed to have relaxed her as well. Their conversation through the main course had been comfortable.
"So what did you think?" He asked after she'd swallowed the last bite.
She dabbed her white napkin against her mouth before replacing it on her lap. "It was delicious. I'll have to give my compliments to the chef."
He picked his wineglass up again, swirling it in his hand. "Alfred will be thrilled. I think it's been at least a few years since he received accolades from royalty."
She smiled at him, and ran her index finger along the rim of her own glass. "You know, I was very surprised when you invited me to dinner tonight."
He shrugged. "It's the least I could do. After all, your endorsement of the Wayne Enterprises Charity Auction brought in nearly two million dollars. I don't know if it would have been half the success it was had you not been there."
"It was a noble cause, and I was honored that you asked me. It's encouraged me to start becoming involved in other philanthropic efforts."
"Trying to spread the word of peace, one charity at a time?"
"You could say that."
"Well, I wish you luck with that," he raised his glass to toast her commitment, and she did the same. "Just be prepared. Once you purposely put yourself in the public spotlight, it'll be hard to get them to leave you alone."
"Don't worry, I'll avoid the commercialized endorsements," she assured him, referring to the predicament Flash had gotten himself into months ago. Her eyes brightened, "I almost forgot to tell you, we analyzed the debris that Flash found in Central City. It looks like you were right, it was manmade. Lantern still wants to sweep the sector to make sure there is no possibility of extraterrestrial interference…"
Bruce placed his glass back on the table and let his forearm rest along the white covering. He cleared his throat, interrupting her. "We should discuss this later."
She drew her eyes together. "Why? I thought you'd want to know."
"I do, but I prefer not to…bring my work home."
She tilted her head slightly, and he knew that wouldn't be the end of the conversation. "Then why am I here?"
"It's different," he tried to explain to her. "This is simply a thank you for your support of a Wayne Enterprises event."
"I may not have been raised in a business environment, but that sounds work related to me."
He'd never explained to her that his corporate assets were just a means to an end, and didn't fall under his definition of work. He'd never explained that to anyone who knew about his nocturnal activities; they all just understood. Apparently she wasn't going to follow suit.
Diana had discovered his secret identity all on her own. He'd been impressed that she'd seen through the disguise when most others hadn't. He'd also been wary of allowing yet another person in on his secret, so for a while, he avoided giving her confirmation. It became clear soon enough, however, that she was completely certain that Bruce Wayne and Batman were one and the same, and wasn't going to press the subject. It had certainly helped their friendship to have her in the know. "Wayne Enterprises isn't the work I'm referring to."
"I see," she said, "so then you're referring to your other job." Despite her royal upbringing and moralistic attitude, he'd come to realize Diana rarely did things conventionally. She could be a real spitfire when she put her mind to it (like she was right now). He hadn't yet decided if that was annoying or attractive. One thing he was sure of was that he wouldn't be baited.
"Yes I am, and that stays out, if you don't mind. Let's talk about things more pleasant, shall we?"
"Alright, then let's talk about Richard Grayson."
His paused. "What about Dick?"
"You have a son."
"Is there a difference?" Her expression changed from challenging to curious, which was quite possibly more dangerous for him. "You've never mentioned him. You've talked about the other vigilantes you work with in the city, but never your family."
"It's a long story, one that I don't care to get into right now. Suffice it to say that when his parents were killed I took him in as my ward. I was his legal guardian until he turned eighteen. As you can see, he still visits." He hoped that would quench her curiosity.
"You two must be very close then. You've shared so much of the same pain."
He didn't say anything.
"He didn't seem too happy when he left here. I hope it's nothing serious."
"We'll live," he said uninterestedly.
"If you want to ta—"
"Diana," he interrupted leaning forward on the table, "there's nothing wrong." This was something he didn't want to get into right now. And he realized he especially didn't want to get into it with her. He checked his watch for show. "It's getting late; perhaps it's time to call it a night." He stood, pushing the chair out with the back of his knees.
Her eyes widened, but then evened out. "I shall never understand why you keep even your friends at a distance."
"You've got the wrong idea," he told her calmly. "I just really think it's getting late." He knew she was a novice when it came to social situations, but she'd see this for what it was: a blow off. He was sorry to do it; he'd enjoyed her company that evening, but he had to draw a line.
She stood too, depositing the napkin on the table and smoothening out the wrinkles in her long sleeved black dress. When she looked back at him, her mouth was drawn downward. "Fine."
"I'll call the jet."
"Don't bother. I can fly myself," she told him curtly, letting him know in no uncertain terms her annoyance at his attitude.
He escorted her to the door, and gave her hand another kiss. She was quick to withdraw it.
"Please give Alfred my regards, and thank him for the wonderful meal."
"Of course." He opened the door for her and she stepped out. "Good night, Dia—"
She'd flown off before he could finish.
"It's unfortunate that the princess had to leave so early."
He grunted a response at the butler, but kept himself occupied with the Bat Computer.
"She seems like a lovely young lady."
He nodded again while calling up the shipment lists for the docks that evening. A rectangular box appeared on the main monitor. He scrolled through it.
"I wonder if she'll call again, or if your rude dismissal served to alienate another member of the fairer sex."
He stopped his scrolling and rested his gloved hand on the computer console. His cowl-less face turned to the butler. "Were you spying, Alfred?"
"Heavens no, sir. I was just bringing out dessert."
"Hmmm," he returned his attention to the screen.
"If you don't mind my saying, Sir, I do hope you'll apologize to her. It's been a while since I saw you enjoy yourself."
Bruce quirked his lips. In all their years together, Alfred had never tried to play matchmaker. "Diana and I are just teammates. There's nothing more to our relationship."
Alfred nodded, "As you say, Sir."
Bruce scrutinized his expression, trying to find any insinuations, but detected nothing. This was the man who'd trained him in his poker face, after all. He turned his attention back to the shipment list and continued scrolling. He placed his thumb and index finger along his chin when he reached the end of the list. "I'm going out tonight."
Alfred seemed to have read his mind as he approached with the cowl. Bruce pulled it over his head.
"Do you want me to wake Master Tim? You haven't taken him on patrol in quite a while."
"No, that's not necessary. I'm just going to do some surveillance by the docks." He secured his cape to his shoulders and made for the Batmobile.
"This wouldn't have anything to do with what Master Dick said earlier, would it?"
He paused, having just opened the car door. "Are you sure you weren't spying?"
The man shrugged. "As they say, old habits die hard. Would you like me to inform him that you'll be at the docks?"
He seated himself in the car. "No. Dick doesn't need to get involved right now." He fired up the engine and the platform rotated to face the cave exit. The blue flame shot out from the back and the car hurled forward. The rock wall sealed itself after the exit.
"Somehow, Master Bruce, I don't think he'll agree with you."
Dick pressed the binoculars to his eyes. The image enclosed in the two conjoined circles blurred before coming into focus on the rows of stacked wooden crates. He moved the binoculars to the only ship docked, continuing his recon. Everything seemed quiet, but he'd have to go in to take a closer look. It was too dark to tell from his vantage.
Pulling the binoculars away, he gingerly stretched his abdominal muscles, making sure he'd be okay for a quick flight down. Batman would be furious if he knew he'd been disobeyed, and a (not so) small part of him relished that thought.
He couldn't stop the criticisms Bruce had hurled at him earlier from rattling around in his brain. As a child, he'd done whatever he could to make the man who'd made his grief bearable proud. And years later, in spite of everything, there remained something inside him that sought his approval. When he'd returned to Gotham as Nightwing, loyalty to Bruce—to Batman—still came so naturally. Yet even after all those years of training together, fighting side-by-side, upholding the mission, it was all irrelevant to Bruce. All he was to him was a sometimes unreliable soldier. "And here I thought I'd gotten past all of that," he mused to himself, shaking the insecurities away. But perhaps there was no way to get past it when you were trying to prove yourself to a man who cared for no one.
He did one more sweep of the ship with the binoculars, readjusting the focus. There was a small flicker in the left ocular piece. He frowned, and checked again. It was gone. A few years ago, he'd have overlooked the minor flash. But now his eye was carefully trained. He knew exactly what he had seen. "Batman."
He grabbed the man by the lapels of his coat and threw him against the shipping crate. "Who are you working for?"
"N-n-no one, I swear, Batman! I'm just a security guard."
He looked at the man's attire, a brown suit with loafers. "Right." He pushed harder.
"Please don't hurt me. Please, I'm begging you! I don't know who he is, I'm just the middle man!"
Batman released his grip and the man dropped to the floor. "What's in these crates?"
"I don't know, I wasn't told." The man pressed himself against the wall, trying to put as much distance between the two of them as possible.
Batman produced handcuffs from his utility belt and slapped them on him, leaning down so they were face to face. "If I don't like what I see when I open those containers, you and your boss are going to be very, very, sorry." Standing back up, he turned and made his way to the large brown shipping crate the man had been attempting to move earlier. He pulled up on the lid, grunting as his muscles strained against the nails. They slowly slid out of the wood and the lid flew to the floor. He looked inside and pulled out one of the many cylindrical cans he found.
There was a quick draft against his ear as something flew by it, followed by the clinking of metal on metal. He turned to see his prisoner standing five feet away from him, hand positioned as if he were holding a gun. The weapon, however, was lying on the floor, next to a birdarang. Nightwing's trademark.
Sure enough, a figure flew over his head, right knee pressed to his abdomen, left leg outstretched. It came into contact with the suited man's chest, and he fell to the floor, winded. Nightwing back flipped and landed in a crouch. His eyes were narrow slits.
Batman frowned. "I thought I told you to stay in."
"Yeah, you're welcome," Nightwing said, standing and walking to the crate. "Here to marvel at how sloppy my investigation was?"
Batman didn't answer but looked back to the can in his hand. Its blue label read Janus Tuna in block letters.
"Are you even listening to me?" Nightwing asked, grabbing the can and tossing it back into the crate after a quick glance.
"Now's not the time."
"With you it never is."
He was interrupted by a soft beeping. It slowly grew louder, and was joined by a chorus of additional syncopated beeps coming from the many crates surrounding them, including the opened one they stood before. Batman reached into it, picked up the can Nightwing had previously discarded and touched its tin surface. "Temperature's increasing."
Nightwing activated the infrared lenses in his eyelets. "Well, it definitely isn't tuna. I'm seeing some mechanical components, but there's some sort of liquid in there too. Looks like the source of the exothermic reaction."
"I'd say that's part of it, but it looks a lot more complex than tha—oh," he said, identifying the configuration of wires in the device. "I think it's time to-"
"—leave? I agree," Batman said as he grabbed Nightwing's arm and pushed him away from the box.
"What about your friend?"
He looked back to the now empty space where his would-be assailant had been knocked down earlier. "Don't worry about him."
The two continued to run for the exit as the crates behind them emitted a faint orange glow before exploding in a large puff of smoke and debris. The shock wave toppled all the other crates in the room. Tuna cans spilled from them, rolling before undulating to a halt, and sent Batman and Nightwing flying forward.
Batman saw the younger man grimace as he took the force of the fall on his injured side. He placed his hand under Nightwing's elbow and pulled him up. "Keep moving."
"No argument from me," Nightwing said, watching the flames now engulfing the newly fallen cans.
They ran again, each extracting their grapples from their suits. Once they'd reached the deck, they fired them off, lifting themselves off of the boat and into the air. Moments after their departure, the top of the ship blew through, sending pieces of wood and shrapnel flying around them. The ship continued to explode, part by part, and Batman knew they had to get it away from the dock if they wanted to minimize damages. If Alfred sent the submarine…
Before he could finish formulating his plan, the ship began moving away from its docking port. Once about fifty feet from land, it was sucked under the water.
He touched down on the far edge of the dock, Nightwing landing to his right. They shielded their eyes as the water was illuminated from below with a large flash of light, followed by a spray of liquid shooting up at least six stories. At the head of the jet was a figure he recognized immediately. "Diana." At least the mystery of how the ship towed itself out to sea was solved.
Having out run the spray, in her normal League outfit, not the dress from that evening, she halted her ascent, and changed course to intercept him and Nightwing.
"Well, it's nice to know where I fall on your list of people you'll allow to help." As much as her appearance had irked Batman—he didn't let others operate in his city without his consent—it had apparently irked Nightwing more.
"Trust me, I didn't ask for her help," he said flatly. Wonder Woman approached the two of them, strands of soaked hair clinging to her face.
Nightwing ignored her arrival. "You knew I was right, but you made me think I'd screwed up my investigation. Why?"
"This is hardly the time for paranoia. Or territorialism."
"I'm not paranoid. You've been cutting my legs out from under me for weeks now." He brought his left hand up to his temple and rubbed violently. "Forget it. I already know the answer, don't I? I mean, I've seen you manipulate enough people over the years."
Batman kept his voice calm. "I do what needs to be done for the mission—"
"Who cares who you have to crush, as long as you get your way. Every time I think differently, every time I think I have you pegged wrong, your just keep leading me back here. I think I've finally run out of excuses I can make up for you. If you want me gone so badly, then consider it done."
Wonder Woman shifted slightly, looking uncertainly between the two men before her. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't be here. I'll leave you two to talk."
"We're done talking," Nightwing told her. "Actually, I don't think we ever really started." He folded his arms sharply, and the action, apparently aggravating his injury, caused him to wince in pain.
Batman moved forward immediately, "I told you you weren't completely healed," he said gruffly.
"Don't worry." Nightwing stepped back and away from him. "Lose one soldier, you'll still have plenty of replacements." He looked at Wonder Woman. "Welcome to the 'team.' Get used to having all your weaknesses used against you."
He turned around and walked away, and for an instant Batman was back on that roof. But then the image was gone, as was Nightwing. Batman and Wonder Woman heard a motorcycle fire up and speed away.
Diana put a hand on his shoulder. "Are you alright?"
"Fine," he turned to her sharply. "What are you still doing here?"
She folded her arms. "I was coming back to—nevermind. I saw the explosion and wanted to make sure no one was harmed. Is that alright with you Batman?"
He kept his expression the same. "You should go. The police will be here any minute."
"What about Nightwing?"
"What about him?"
"You should talk to him."
"I can't deal with him right now."
"I said talk to him, not deal with him."
"This is a job, not a counseling session." The sirens swelled in the background. "And it's better that he leaves. You should go now too."
She stayed where she was, and for a minute he thought she was going to oppose him. But she dropped her arms and lifted herself off the ground, disappearing into Gotham's sky.
Batman stood alone on the docks, surveying all the damage done that night, before retrieving his grapple gun and disappearing as well.
To Be Continued…
 The quote from Two Face at the opening of the chapter is taken from Gotham Adventures #44. The rewrite for this story was inspired in part by that book, which has long been one of my favorites in that series.
 There are quite a few nods to the BTAS Season 4 episode "Old Wounds" in this, and subsequent chapters.
 The Mission: Probably don't need to explain this one, but in case anyone reading isn't familiar with the comics—Batman's quest to rid Gotham of crime is referred to as "The Mission" by him and his various sidekicks.
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