Batman/Bruce Wayne, Nightwing/Dick Grayson, Alfred, Kathy Kane, James Gordon, and Anthony Zucco belong to DC Comics/Time Warner.
Any others you don't recognize are mine.
I am using them without permission, however I have not and don't expect to make money from this.
Parts, especially Chapter 5, were based on 'Robin, the Boy Wonder', Detective Comics 38, 1940.

End of the story, but as of now I'm planning to extend it into a series, and have a definite idea of future events for this version of Bruce, Dick, and Kathy.

Many thanks to everyone who read, even more to everyone who reviewed. I appreciate the feedback. Special thanks to Rach (aka The Fink) for invaluable help in fine-tuning the fight scenes in Chapter 5; and for ensuring I kept Alfred suitably English. Also to Chris, for some interesting email conversations.

Rated PG : language; violence.

Reviews are appreciated, please take a moment to leave one.

Birds of a Feather


Without a Net

There wasn't much light, but he was used to that. Batman circled the small room, looking around curiously, and then clicked a small table lamp on and settled into an old and worn armchair. There was a framed picture on the table under the lamp. He picked it up. A man and woman in circus costumes with a young boy between them, posing for the camera with big bright smiles. Very different from the portrait hanging in his study where he could see it every time he came up from the Batcave. And yet, the same.

It had been two weeks now since the battle at the Canin building. For the first week he had wondered whether Nightwing would ever appear again. The young man had done what he had set out to do, after all, avenged the crime that had been committed against him and his family. But somehow, Batman knew it wouldn't be that simple. He sighed, and set the picture down again. If it had been him... if and when he caught up with the man owning that shadowy face he had seen once so many years ago but knew he would never forget; if -- no, when he settled that most important account -- Batman would not be done, his mission would not end there. And, as he had somehow known would happen, Nightwing had been back, stopping a mugging here, breaking up a gang fight there.

It was quiet, too, except for the faint sound of a clock ticking in another room. He closed his eyes, letting himself relax, and think. Probably a mistake, as his mind drifted to uncomfortable places.

He had tried calling Kathy in the last two weeks. She had been busy, with that subtle quality in her voice of a woman who's saying 'no' but doesn't want it to hurt. Then he had seen her at a party only two days ago. Still beautiful -- what did he expect? -- laughing with a group of friends, her eyes sparkling until she caught sight of him. Then her smile had become forced and brittle. They had drifted together, and spoken, briefly and with the awkwardness of a couple who knows it's over but hasn't quite acknowledged it yet.

"How have you been, Bruce?"

"Fine. And you?"

"Fine."

"Nice party, isn't it?"

"Very nice."

"Well. I see someone I want to talk to. Look, Kathy, if you want to get together, just give me a call."

"I will. It -- it was nice to see you."

"You too."

All very civilized, very friendly. But he knew he had lost her, just as he'd lost Julie, Linda, and Vicki. And knew he could get her back, if he tried. But it would require too much of a sacrifice. Trust. Honesty. The revelation of thoughts and feelings he had never exposed to anyone. Things he just couldn't give, not to someone who had no chance of understanding.

It had hit him hard, that night, when he returned to a dark and empty house, Alfred gone to bed, no one there to greet him. He had seldom felt so alone, abandoned by the rest of humanity. But in all honesty, he had been isolated even in a crowd of his friends, because none of them knew him, not the real him, not the things he kept inside.

Alfred... he knew the secret but he didn't know the truth, the reality; not how it felt to be the Batman, not the darkness of his world, the burden it was or the trap it had become. From him there had only been more disapproval, when Bruce told him he and Kathy were through.

"You might try telling her the truth, sir."

"You know I can't do that."

"I know no such thing. Sir."

"Then take my word for it."

Playing the good butler, he had nodded, and turned to go about his business. But Bruce had caught his muttered, "Bloody 'ell," just as Alfred had intended him to. Bloody hell indeed.

Was that the real reason he was here? Simple loneliness? No... he was here to reach out to someone who perhaps could understand, someone very much like himself, that much was true. But it was for Nightwing's sake he was here, not his own. Or that's what he told himself, as footsteps sounded outside the door. As a key turned in the lock, Batman got up, turned off the lamp and faded into the shadows of the bedroom doorway.

The door opened, and a young man in jeans and a t-shirt appeared, reaching for the light switch and then closing the door. He turned around. Then he froze abruptly, falling back a step as Batman moved into view.

"Hello, Robbie. Or should I say Richard Grayson?"

"What the hell are you doing here?" Had to give him credit for a fast recovery; he seemed more angry than anything else.

"Thought we should talk."

"How did you get in?"

"The bedroom window. You really should get a better lock."

"Shit. You always break into people's homes when you want to talk to them?"

"Only when it's convenient. Sit down."

"What the hell do you want?"

"I want you to sit down, Dick. That's what your friends call you, isn't it?"

"What makes you think we're friends?" For a few more seconds he just glared. Then he sat on the couch, as far away as he could get, as Batman went back to the armchair. "How did you find me?" he demanded, resentment still sharp in his voice.

"You let a few things slip."

"Yeah? Like what?"

Batman smiled briefly. "Flying without a net, remember? You used a circus expression, and only a trained acrobat could have saved me from that fall the way you did. And you said you'd been waiting nine years to get Zucco. Nine years ago Zucco was headquartered in Newton, when the Haly Circus played there. Two acrobats, a married couple, were killed in a fall. I have it in my files as a suspicious accident, the kind Zucco specialized in."

"Accident. Yeah. That was the official finding." Dick's voice was still filled with bitter anger, but Batman knew it was no longer directed at him.

He leaned forward, softening his voice. "The Flying Graysons died when their trapeze ropes broke during their act. I know how careful acrobats are with ropes -- impossible that both would have broken at the same time. They were weakened, cut part way, weren't they?"

Dick shook his head. "It was acid. I saw him do it... Blade... Saw him hanging around the equipment before the show started. I -- I didn't understand. If only I'd told someone..."

"You were only twelve years old. You didn't know."

"Yeah." But his face was still pinched with pain. "After the 'accident' happened, I went to see Mr. Haly, the circus owner. To tell him what I'd seen. But they were there, Blade and two more men. They didn't see me, but I listened. They threatened Mr. Haly. Said if he didn't pay, something worse would happen." Dick looked up, staring at him, but obviously seeing the shadow of that remembered fear and grief. "They killed my mom and dad for money. For money!"

"What did you do?"

"I waited, and talked to Mr. Haly after they left. I wanted to go to the police, but he said Zucco controlled the cops in that town; if I told them what I knew, I'd be dead too."

"He was right. Smart man."

"We cut our tour short and left town." Dick dropped his gaze to his own hands, clenched tightly on his knees. "I was taken away. Put in an orphanage. No living relatives, and they wouldn't let the circus folks keep me. Too old to be adopted. Stayed in a couple of foster homes. At eighteen I was on my own."

"And you moved to Gotham. Because this is where Zucco is."

"Right. Took me a year to save up enough to come here. Eventually I got a job in one of the places Zucco's boys hang out. Used a fake name, in case any of them remembered the people they murdered years ago... Took a while, but I got them to trust me, got to be part of the gang."

"And then you created Nightwing, in order to stop what they were doing without revealing your identity."

Dick nodded. "Yeah. I was afraid if I went to the cops they'd try to stop me, so..." He looked up, a hint of self-consciousness in his face. "You were right, I imitated you. Named myself after you. I always -- I kind of admired you. Putting your neck on the line to do the right thing." He hesitated before going on quietly, "I guess I had the idea all along. I always kept up my acrobatic skills the best I could, mostly in school gyms and YMCA's. Took martial arts lessons whenever I could afford it. Knew I wouldn't be as good as you, but I tried." He smiled faintly. "Never thought I'd actually be talking to you, telling you all this."

Batman let a few moments go by before continuing. "You've done what you wanted to do. Blade is dead. Plenty of witnesses saw Zucco kill him, and from what I hear Martin is going to tell everything he knows, including the murder of your parents, in exchange for the witness protection program. Zucco's going down for a long time. He may even get the death penalty. And you won't need to testify against him; no need for anyone to know you were involved."

"Yeah." Dick's lips twisted. "I got both of them, finally. But not exactly the way I planned." He sighed, his fingers curling into fists again. "I wanted Blade to go on trial, too. Go to jail. Zucco ordered it, but he's the one who actually killed my parents. I didn't want him to die like that... When he fell, if I could have, I would have saved him, too. Maybe that doesn't make any sense."

"You don't like to see people die. Makes sense to me."

Dick rubbed a hand over his face. "After my parents fell, that night -- they put the spotlight on them, while they were lying there. And then when I saw Blade, all lit up that way, with the flashlights, and the blood..."

"I understand."

"He died the same way they did. I guess -- maybe that's justice."

There was another pause, until Batman found himself asking the question that had been haunting him since the moment he had realized why Dick Grayson had become Nightwing, a reason so like his own for creating Batman. "Does it help?" he asked softly.

"What?"

"I mean -- you've avenged your parents' deaths. How does it feel?"

Dick's eyes raised to his face, perhaps wondering what the purpose of that question was. Whatever he saw there prompted him to answer it seriously. "It doesn't bring them back. It doesn't make up for the last nine years. But -- I guess it helps. A little."

"What now? You could just retire Nightwing. Walk away from this, have a normal life. But you're going on with it, aren't you?"

"Yeah. I've thought about it. This is what I want."

Batman wasn't even sure why he asked the next question, except that it was something he might have to ask himself someday. "Why? Are you sure it's not just that you've spent so long trying to catch your parents' killers that you don't know what else to do with your life?"

For a moment he thought Dick might be angry. But he answered calmly. "Maybe that's part of it. But there are lots of other people who are victims, like me and my parents. Lots of people who'll be victims in the future. If I can prevent just a little of that -- well, that sounds pretty good to me."

"It's a hard life. Difficult. Dangerous."

"I'm not afraid."

"Think about it first."

"Nothing to think about. You don't understand. I have to do this."

"I understand better than you think. We have a lot in common." Now Batman looked away, staring into the distance unseeingly. The idea was back, stronger than ever, the idea he had rejected the first few times it had occurred to him. Was it what he really wanted? Was he capable of doing it?

Trust... It would take that, and more. It would mean breaking a hole in the wall he had built around himself; it would mean risk, letting someone into the most important parts of his life. It could also mean having someone who would truly understand, who could share his struggle, with whom he could shed the deception, the mask Bruce Wayne always wore.

And almost before he realized it, the decision was made. "You'll need training," he said. "Your fighting skills could use some work. As far as acrobatics, you could probably teach me a few things. Detective techniques, crime scene analysis, I can help you with those too. And you probably don't have much in the way of files, computer resources, general supplies. You can use the Batcave whenever you need to, and we can see about a car for you."

"What are you talking about?"

"If you're determined to do this, you might as well do it the right way." Batman sighed as Dick just stared at him blankly. "I'm offering to train and equip you. Face it, you could use the help." He waited. "Well? Will you do it?"

It took a moment as Dick hesitated, studying his face. "What do you get out of it?" he asked abruptly. "Why would you want to do this?"

"Like I said, we have a lot in common. I look at you, and I can almost see myself... Maybe I can't stop you, and maybe I shouldn't, but maybe I can help."

A lot in common. For an instant he had an odd feeling, a sense of inevitability, as if fate had brought them together at last after nine years; as he remembered that night so long ago when he had almost gone out to the circus. What might have happened if he had been there when Dick's parents had died? If things had gone a little differently, could he have helped back then? Would the two of them be sitting here like this now?

Dick's expression softened, and he nodded tentatively, starting to smile. "Not sure why you think we're so much alike," he said, "but I'm flattered. I guess I'd be a fool to turn it down. Thanks."

"Good."

Before he could think about it too long, before he could change his mind, Batman raised his hands to his head and lifted his mask, sliding the cowl off. His face felt naked, exposed, at first... as Bruce Wayne looked up to see Dick Grayson staring at him in astonishment. He leaned forward in the chair.

"I was only ten years old when it happened. My parents and I had gone to a movie, and we were walking back to the car when we took a shortcut through an alley..."

* The Beginning *