AN: Thanks for taking this ride with me. Sorry it took so long, but I hope you enjoy it none-the-less.
Soundtrack: "Lucky Man" by The Verve
Bruce slowly opened his eyes, squinting to adjust to the brightness in the room. The blurred shapes slowly focused into Diana and the Watchtower's medical bay. "Hi," she smiled, placing her hand on his forehead. He felt the warmth of her palm on his skin, noting that his cowl was no longer on. "How do you feel?"
"Like someone dropped a building on my head." He sat up suddenly as the memories slowly rushed back. "Nightwing?"
She pushed him back down. "He's fine. He's here actually. Recovers a lot faster than you do, though."
He surveyed the med bay, and found it empty except the two of them. "Where?
"With Flash on the observation deck. They're getting along rather well. I'd be worried if I were you."
"Noted." He began to sit up again, and she helped steady him as he rose. Once he was on his feet, she walked to the counter opposite his bed and retrieved his cowl.
"Here," she handed it to him and he pulled it over his head.
"What?" He asked when she continued to regard him with her head tilted to the side.
"I've often wondered how you are able to uphold your ideals when you cloak yourself in so much darkness. After tonight, I feel as if I understand just a little better."
"You can't give men like Harvey Dent or the Joker any power over you. They'll use anything they can as a weapon."
She frowned. "That isn't what I meant."
She moved closer to him. "This may not be well received. And perhaps it isn't my place to say, but you're not protecting him by isolating yourself. You could hurt him, and I suspect others, far worse than any criminal could."
"It's not that simple."
"Then it should be. Having people you care about," she placed her hand over his chest and pressed firmly, "does not make you weak. It makes you strong."
Her words brought with them memories of Tim excitedly waving around the first test he'd gotten an A on. Barbara taking them all out on his last birthday when her cooking experiment had gone awry. Alfred holding him is as he cried by his parents' fresh grave. Dick holding on to him while crying into a Kevlar cap. He'd inadvertently patched together a family of sorts. Maybe it was time to stop fighting that.
After a few moments, she eventually moved away from him, withdrawing her warm hand. "Be sure they know what they are to you." She turned, walking towards the exit.
"Diana…" he called to her right as the doors swished open.
"Yes?" she turned standing under the archway.
"Thank you," he said sincerely.
She smiled then let the doors close behind her as she left.
The Flash, fastest man alive, scratched his head with a red-gloved finger. "You're telling me that you have the ultra-rare-limited-edition-now-worth-a-few-grand collector's issue of "The Adventures of Panther and Captain Fantastic."
"And in said issue Panther beats the built-like-a-tank Captain Fantastic by using his wits alone? I'm speechless. And believe me, that never happens. How did you get your hands on it?"
Nightwing shrugged, leaning back in the command chair. "It was a birthday gift when I was a kid. I was going through a rough time and," he paused, "someone tracked it down for me to cheer me up."
Flash whistled, clucking with envy. "Man, the nicest thing I ever got for my birthday was a chemistry kit." He folded his arms and leaned against the console behind him. "You know, you're not the robot I was expecting."
Nightwing raised an eyebrow.
"Well, I mean, come on. Have you met Bats? I figured his team in Gotham would be as serious and unemotional as he is."
"Robots." Nightwing clarified.
"Exactly. But you—not a robot. You're actually normal. I mean, we've been talking about the complexities of the relationship between Captain Fantastic and Panther for," he checked the chronometer on the panel, "over an hour, which is pretty amazing. I'd rather stick my bare hand in a pool full of Piranha's than talk to Bats for more than 10 minutes. Uh, no offense," he said to Nightwing, as if just remembering who his mentor was.
"None taken," a gruffer voice said from behind them, causing Flash to jump. They both turned, and Flash groaned when he caught sight of the black cape and cowl.
"Batman," he said, first looking rather sheepish, then remolding his mouth into a goofy grin. "I was just keeping Nightwing here company."
"So I've been warned."
"How are you feeling?"
"You always do, don't you" Flash said. "By the way, what is up with the bad guys in your city? Exploding cans of tuna? There has got to be a joke in there."
"Then I suggest you go and find it."
Flash took in a deep breath, and exhaled it dramatically. "Well, I can take a hint. Take it easy, 'Wingster," he saluted his new friend before disappearing in a blur that trailed to the other side of the circular platform before reforming into human shape again. "Oh, hey," he called out once he'd stopped on the opposite end, "About that collector's issue…"
"You can borrow it anytime," Nightwing called back.
"I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," Flash said before disappearing again.
Finally alone, Nightwing stood and turned to Batman. "He's crazy. But I like him."
"That's what I was afraid of." Batman began walking to the edges of the observation deck and Nightwing fell into step next to him.
"You can try to hide it, but you like him too, deep down." At the pointed look he received, he added, "very deep down. You sure you're okay?"
"J'Onn fixed me up, so I'm as good as new," he said tapping the bandages wrapped around his ribcage. "Almost."
"I trust he told you not to strain yourself for a while."
"Yeah, don't worry. I'll stay off it," Nightwing said, waiting for the grunt of approval from his mentor.
So he was surprised when instead he got a "Thank you."
"I don't deserve thanks. Two Face is long gone, because you came back for me. Guess you were right, after all. I made a mistake, and now who knows who else he's going to hurt."
"We'll get him."
"I hope so." They came up to an observation window and stopped in front of it. Nightwing exhaled, preparing himself for the second part of the conversation. "I'm not sure where we stand right now; I know I'm not exactly the kind of partner you want. If you feel it's best for Gotham, I'll step aside. But whatever happens, I want you to know I am grateful for everything you've done for me. So thank you, for…a lot of things."
Batman stared at him blankly for a few moments after he was done, then turned to stare out of the large glass. The rings of the Watchtower spun slowly around the hub. And of course, the Earth spun slowly below that. "Harvey said you care too much; he called it your Achilles Heel."
"He'd probably be right about that."
"No, he wouldn't be. It's something I should have realized a long time ago." He pulled his hand from where it was hidden under his cape and handed the collated papers he held to Nightwing.
"What's this?" Dick asked reading the text on the first page.
"Where you stand." Bruce told him. "Where you've always stood."
Dick gaped shell-shocked at the adoption documents he held in his hand. "How did you get these? When did you get these?"
"I had them drafted a few years ago."
"You never said anything."
"I didn't have the right to lock you into the life I've chosen."
"Is that what these last few months have been about?"
He was quiet for a moment. "There are a lot of things I haven't done right, but this is the only way I could think of to show you-" He stopped abruptly. "You don't have to sign them, if you feel it's inappropriate, or disrespectful." He looked at the griddled floor beneath them.
Dick knew he wasn't done; he was still looking for the words he'd never be able to say. But then again, Dick realized, he already knew—and had always known, what they were without needing them to be spoken out loud. This gesture was worth the thousands of words they'd never said to each other.
Dick finally broke the heavy silence by placing his palm on Bruce's shoulder. "Got a pen?" he asked.
 The ending heavily borrowed from Devon Grayson's Gotham Knights 17. It was when re-reading that comic after years that I found the inspiration to finish this story—and that seemed like a fitting tie-in to the old DCU (and a way to pay homage to probably my all-time favorite Batbook book).