Nightwing: The Darkness
DISCLAIMER: The characters and situations contained in this story are ©2004 by DC Comics Inc. and are used without permission for fan-related entertainment purposes only. This original work of fiction is ©2004 by Christopher W. Blaine and may not be reproduced without permission.
He stood on the rooftop of the tallest building in Gotham City, the famed Luthor Tower erected by the now-dead billionaire and former president after the city had been devastated by an earthquake over a decade and a half before. The wind up this high howled and carried the scent of the bay, which could be seen quite easily from the height he stood at. He looked out at it, his mind remembering a time so very long ago.
He looked down and shook his head, letting his hair catch an up draft, The night hid the gray that was starting to form at the temples, but it could not overshadow the weariness in his eyes. He took in a deep breath and mentally dared himself to step off. He had done more times than he could count, jumped from a rooftop to only throw a line to the next building, demonstrating athletic ability and courage that was simply inhuman. He had never really known fear. He had wallowed in despair and depression, but he had never been afraid.
Even now, realizing that of he jumped, he may not throw the line, he was not afraid. His faith and his training told him that what he contemplated was wrong, but he had to admit that in a dark part of his torn soul, it felt so right. He could imagine the fall, the excitement of not knowing, for once, what the finale would be like. He did not fear death. He welcomed it.
In recent months he had found himself talking to the Grim Reaper, daring him to swing his scythe and take him away from all of this. He no longer saw the difference between life and death; he no longer cared if there was one.
The Justice League communicator buzzed on his utility belt but he did not answer it. If he did, he would be dragged away from this moment. He could feel the will building up inside of him, the desire overwhelming the natural need to remain safe and warm. His heart cried out "jump" and his body wanted to react. His legs trembled in anticipation; his grip was not as sure as it should have been.
He could taste the prospect of dying on his lips and he licked them in reflex; they were salty with sweat. The communicator again tried to get his attention and he imagined pulling it off and throwing it into the wind. There was nothing but more life on the other end of any conversation he had using it. His teammates needed him; he was their leader. Guilt began to weigh in on him as he realized that he didn't deserve to be their leader. The League represented the best and brightest the hero community had to offer. He wanted nothing to do with it.
It was expected of him, though, and every day he went through the motions. He got up, put on the costume and pretended that he was made of steel, that he was a super as he hero, the amazing Kryptonian that spent more time with his children now then he did in costume. The truth was he was dying on the inside and had been for nearly seven years now. It was only now that forty was approaching and he saw his life as being nothing more than a long line of tragedy that he began to contemplate just ending it.
In the old days he would have spoken with Leslie, Bruce's personal physician and an old friend of the family. But she was dead now. He would have spoken with Donna, the former Wonder Girl and the first to ever really hold his heart. But she was dead now. He could have turned to Alfred, loyal butler and true friend. But he was dead now.
The cold, hard reality was that he was all alone, but that was not the reason why he hated life so much now. He could deal with being alone for the rest of his life; he had learned that talking to himself wasn't so bad. He was unable to deal with the reasons behind why he was so alone, the events that had led him to this place high above the city Bruce had made him swear to protect.
The communicator buzzed even more, indicating that the member on monitor duty in the satellite had upgraded the priority of the signal. His mind quickly picked out a name from the duty roster and he remembered it was the android hero, Red Tornado. He was unable of panicking and if he had increased the severity of the alert, then it really must have been a problem.
But was it his problem? Didn't he have enough on his plate right now? A foot moved closer to the edge and he sniffed the air, inhaling air that he had been breathing for most of his life. The years in Bludhaven had not spoiled his love for this city, but love for a place was not enough to make him want to stay here.
How many jumpers had he talked down in his life? How many times had he told them there was always something to live for? All he had was the guilt of the past and the pain of the future. It seemed like an eternity in hell was a small price to pay to get away from that.
"Nightwing," Red Tornado's voice said sternly. He had used the voice override and that meant the highest possible priority. The world was probably ending. Nightwing stepped back from the edge. Maybe he had something to look forward to.
"Here," the hero said, knowing the sensitive microphone would pick up his voice even over the howling of the wind. He felt the tingle as the transport beam was directed over his body, relayed by the signal in his communicator. His body was broken down into its basic molecular components and he wondered what would happen if the beam was interrupted. His atoms would be scattered over the entire planet and he would never know it.
He was smiling when he rematerialized in the transport chamber of the Justice league headquarters. It quickly vanished as the sound of the alarm klaxon echoed through the vast complex. The satellite was the second such headquarters of the League, this one built with money contributed by several of the more prominent former and current members. The League had moved here after the legality of maintaining an "American" base on the moon was brought before the World Court.
Now Nightwing briskly walked towards the monitor room where the Red Tornado would be contacting the rest of the 8-member team. Once they were all assembled, the Tornado would brief them on the situation and it would be up to Nightwing to come up with a plan of action. Leadership came naturally to him, but it was a heavy burden to bear. Once he put on the hat of chairman, he had to act a certain way and hide what he felt lest he expose the younger members to his melancholy. At least that was what he told himself; the truth was he was too embarrassed to come out and just say he hated his life.
He walked into the monitor room to find Wonder Woman already there. She didn't look up when he entered but continued to look at one of the auxiliary monitors. As deputy leader, she took her responsibilities seriously and the fact that she was willing to follow his lead, considering she had the most time with the League, should have told him something about himself. He didn't dwell on such things. He liked Wonder Woman well enough, but whenever he was around her, he was reminded of poor Donna, her twin sister. Had it really been that many years since she died? It was almost as if his whole life had been left somewhere in the past and he was in constant state of denial. His body and mind were here in the present, but his heart and soul were somewhere back there.
"Is everything alright, Nightwing?" Red Tornado asked as he stepped up behind the League chairman. It was incredible how someone made of a metallic composite could move so silently. It reminded Nightwing briefly of the times when Batman had done the same thing. That had been a long time ago as well.
Seven years to be exact.
Nightwing's persona switched from true to false and he nodded his head. "I'm fine, Reddy," he replied. The sound of approaching voices told him some of the other members were arriving. Impulse and Green Lantern to be exact.
Impulse was Bart Allen, the grandson of Barry Allen, the second Flash. Wally West, the man who had succeeded Allen, had helped train Bart to become the hero he was today. As the fastest man alive, Bart was a perfect successor to Wally, Nightwing's best friend. At least Wally was still alive and well, too busy to super-hero because he was taking care of his seven children.
Green Lantern was only the latest in a series of persons to wield a power ring and an attitude that came with it. Nightwing had not even bothered to get to know this one, a young man barely out of high school who still had not shared his secret identity with the team. In the past, it was practically a requirement, but Nightwing had relaxed that rule upon Green Lantern's request. Apparently he was shy about who he really was.
It was all absurd, Nightwing considered as the two men entered the room. Costumes. Secrets. The endless battles. What good was it when you couldn't save yourself or the ones you loved? It was like Alfred used to say; if you hung around evil long enough it started to rub off on you.
He noticed that Wonder Woman had looked up from what she was doing and was looking at him. She was telepathic and he wondered if she could pick up his thoughts. In a way, he secretly hoped she did, because she would be forced to request he step down, possibly even leave the League. Then there would be no more responsibility.
If she had read his dark thoughts she said nothing and he knew she wouldn't. Again he pushed back his personal agenda and turned his attention to the situation at hand. He asked Red Tornado to explain the priority alert.
"We have received a request for aid from the Titans," he explained. "However, I have been unable to pinpoint their signal." The Titans were another group of heroes, made of mostly of younger and inexperienced adventurers. Both Nightwing and Impulse had both been part of the Titans at various times in their careers. "It simply cut out."
Nightwing straightened at that. The Titans used devices similar to those employed by the members of the Justice League to communicate and keep them accounted for. The designs were based upon a combination of advanced Earth technology and Martian science. The Martian Manhunter, a sometime member of the League had helped develop them. They relied on a special global positioning system that had yet to be beaten by anything on Earth. "Where was the last known transmission from?"
"That is the true anomaly," Red Tornado said. He walked over to the monitor Wonder Woman had been reading from. He pointed to the map of the Earth, laid out in two-dimensions. There were several red dots glowing. "These are all from the same device. It belongs to Kid Marvel."
"Christ," Green Lantern said, leaning in closer. "He's not that fast is he?"
Impulse shook his head. "I'm not that fast," he said. Nightwing knew it was a lie but said nothing. One of the things he had learned about leading a team of individual heroes was to let them speak their minds. It was not something the Batman had been a big fan of when he had been in training.
"We need to go to Titans Tower first," Nightwing announced. "It's the easiest place to look for anyone."
Wonder Woman agreed and suggested that she and Red Tornado continue to monitor the map to see if a pattern emerged. "We can send Impulse if we discern one," she said. Nightwing agreed and told Green Lantern to come with him. "And find out where Copy Cat is," he ordered as he and the Emerald Warrior moved to the transporter room.
Standing on a disk made of green energy, Nightwing flew next to Green Lantern towards Titans Tower in New York City. Standard protocol indicated that they talk an indirect route to the building in the event some sort of super-villain was roaming about on the grounds. It was better to fight out in the open than in close quarters.
Nightwing looked down at his feet and at the small circle that held him aloft. He closed his eyes, seeing if he could maintain his balance, hoping he would just fall over. An accident; he would simply fall and then it would be over. He will have paid. He will have made up for what he had done.
For what he had not done as well.
They passed over a small cemetery, Green Lantern trying to make small talk with his leader, but Nightwing only grunted, vaguely aware of his teammate. He gazed at the graves, wondering what the story behind each one was, counting the gravestones, and marking each tragedy. At least they were free, he said, free of the hell that had been created here on Earth. His vision began to blur and he realized his eyes were starting to fill with water as they often did when he let his guard down.
"You okay, boss?" Green Lantern asked.
Nightwing turned his head away. "Could you put up a windshield?" he said, making a convenient excuse. Excuses were his life now; every day when he got up he had an excuse for not simply ending it. The cat needed fed. His favorite show was on. The world needed saving. He assigned too much importance to himself and it was all a joke.
He hated that word: joke.
He hated thinking it. He hated remembering it. It brought all of the pain to the surface and allowed it to boil away at the remaining bits of his sanity. "I'm so sorry," he whispered. Nobody answered, nobody cared about his sorrow or the guilt he felt. Why should he?
"There it is," Green Lantern said.
Again, the leader moved into position in Nightwing's mind. "Set us down at the very edge of Titan's Island," he commanded. The headquarters of the Titans was located on a small island within a lake in Central Park. The two heroes dropped to the ground and immediately they could smell the putrid odor of burnt flesh.
The Titans had a member called the Human Bomb, the young daughter of former member Damage. When she used her powers, it left a particular scent on the air. There was something odd to this particular smell and Nightwing cautiously approached the T-shaped building. He could remember picnic lunches on this lawn but he could also recount several battles in which he nearly lost his life. He was not surprised that the feeling he used to get in his stomach whenever he thought about all of the close shaves he had in his life was no longer there.
"It's too quiet," Green Lantern whispered and Nightwing had to admit the kid was right. The Titans borrowed a lot of their equipment from the Justice League and that had included a state-of-the art security system. There should have been an alarm blaring. "Want me to go high?"
Nightwing shook his head. "I don't want us to separate until I know what we are dealing with," he said. He wasn't afraid for himself, but he was still evaluating the new Lantern and did not want to make a mistake with him. Mistakes got people killed.
He stopped in mid-stride as several dark memories boiled up. He swallowed and pushed them back down into the pit of his stomach so he could proceed. "We stick together, okay?" Green Lantern agreed and the two approached the front door to the Titan's headquarters. The scent was stronger here and a casual glance through the glass told them why.
"Oh, God," Green Lantern said, turning to vomit into the grass. Inside on the floor were the smoking remains of what had once been a teenaged girl. It wasn't the Human Bomb, though, and Nightwing quickly examined the scene through the glass. He needed to make a check of the door to make sure it wasn't wired with a booby-trap before he could step inside but that did not stop him from trying to figure out who he was looking at. After several seconds he came to realize that it was Robin.
He tried to feel some remorse, but the truth was he hardly knew the girl. She wasn't even from Gotham City but was instead a native of Los Angeles who had developed a case of hero worship for the many incarnations of the Teen Wonder. She had not been particularly skilled, but she had been big on heart.
He remembered her several times trying to break through his shell, to try and get to know him and he now regretted their last conversation when he told her that she was living up to a failed legacy. Then he cursed, realizing that he would have to tell Bruce about this Robin being dead. How many did that make now? He should have broken her legs or something; stolen her costume. Maybe he should have told her parents? "Now there's a novel damn idea, Grayson," he told himself.
Two minutes later he was inside. Green Lantern, still visibly shaken, remained with the body and called in the report to the satellite. Red Tornado relayed back that Impulse was now on-planet and trying to catch up to Kid Marvel. Nightwing took the information and walked away, heading for the upper levels. Like the League, the Titans always kept someone on monitor duty and if there had been trouble, the call would have gone out from there.
When he got to the monitor room he found the Human Bomb, or at least half of her. She had been cut in two pieces except the bottom part of her body was no place to be found. He looked at her face and found it strangely twisted. He supposed that the pain of being cut in two would do it, but without the other part of her to indicate how it was done, he could not be sure. She looked as if she were petrified with fear. He supposed that was to be expected.
Fifteen minutes later he rejoined Green Lantern in the lobby. The Emerald Gladiator had used his power ring to pick up Robin's remains and put them inside a green energy casket. Nightwing wanted to admonish him about disturbing evidence and the importance of a crime scene, but then he thought better of it. Green Lantern was not immune to the natural human reaction to a mutilated corpse; it was best to not spoil that. Let him keep his innocence, Nightwing thought to himself; it may serve him well in the future.
His communicator buzzed and he picked it up. "Nightwing."
There was the sound of wind blowing and Impulse started to shout on the other end. "I'm in the damned Artic! I finally found a piece of Kid Marvel. It's his arm…"
"Understood. Collect the remains and bring them to the satellite for autopsy," Nightwing order. He changed channels to the satellite. "Any word on Copy Cat?"
There was a pause and then a strangely seductive voice spoke. "Here, glorious leader; I suppose I'm elected for doctor duty again?"
"This isn't the time to joke around," he said. "We've got three dead teenagers, killed violently. The Titans has a membership of nine members. Do I need to say any more?"
"Nightwing, this is Green Arrow."
"Go ahead, Cissie," he said. Green Arrow rounded out the League membership and was, next to Wonder Woman, probably the first person Nightwing would ever turn to for advice. A reluctant hero, she was the illegitimate daughter of the original hero she took her name from.
"Sorry to be late," she apologized. It was very unusual for her not to report to a priority signal, unlike Copy Cat who seemed to relish at being late for everything. "I'm in the League jet right now flying to Vancouver. There is a report on the local RCMP band that several costumed kids just fell from out of the sky into a campground."
Nightwing acknowledged the call and changed back to Impulse's channel, directing him to meet Green Arrow in Canada. Impulse relied he was already there and explained the situation. "It's the rest of the Titans, all right. Or at least, pieces of them. God, boss, they've been torn to pieces."
"I understand," Nightwing said. He shook his head and told Green Lantern to go on ahead without him. He needed to reset the Tower security system and see if he could find the surveillance digital data chips.
When Green Lantern was gone, Nightwing stood in the middle of the lobby and wondered what he had gotten himself into. It was his job to find out, a job he didn't want and a job he sure as hell didn't deserve. He just wanted to go curl up into a ball and wait for it all to be over. This was a job for a hero, not him.
He wasn't a hero. He was just someone standing on the edge of a darkness that wanted to swallow him. The funny part was he wanted that to happen. "Damn you, Bruce," he said before snapping back into reality and heading back upstairs.