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.
It was the Joker that stepped into view.
Or at least it was the man who had become the Joker, Mr. Jack Napier. Had he seen the Mona Lisa hanging on a wall with a moustache drawn over the world-famous grin, he would not have been more shocked. Take away the chalk-white skin and the emerald green hair, and the Joker looked relatively odd. So used to the nightmarish face of his foe had he become that Nightwing was taken aback by what he saw, a normal man with nothing but pity in his eyes.
"You have to stop this, Richard," the Joker said, his voice not full of insanity, but clear and concise. It was unnerving. Even Obsidian had trouble looking at the spirit of the criminal. "This is madness," he said to himself, but all present heard it.
"The only madness is the fact that both of you continue to deny the truth of your existences," Zauriel was quick to point out. "Different motives, same result; both of you deny that what you are doing is wrong. For you Obsidian, you believe that the metahumans and costumed adventurers that now serve in the capacity of your late father somehow promote his perceived abandonment of you and your sister."
The angel then turned his attention to the shaken Nightwing. "And you continue to try to justify a wrong action with nothing but wrong reasons."
"You murdered my body, but my soul was finally set free, Richard," the Joker said. He stepped slightly forward and Nightwing wanted to turn and run. Facing the man he had murdered in cold blood had him shaking all over. "The madness I could not control, I had no choice but to follow it. But my madness served a higher purpose."
"If the Joker is in Heaven, then I don't know I want to go there," Nightwing said.
"I had no control over my madness, though now I have many regrets," the former Clown Prince continued. "Barbara has forgiven me."
Anger, fierce and blazing welled up in Nightwing's throat. "That's a God damned lie," he said, not caring who heard him or why. "You filthy piece of slime, you should be rotting in Hell! In Hell!"
"His anger is beyond reasoning," Michael told them. "He allows his hatred for this man to override his love for both the Presence and the good soul."
"The good soul?" Nightwing asked out loud. "You mean Barbara?" He waited for an answer and when he did not immediately get one, he continued. "Yes, she was a good soul, as were so many others, including my step brother Jason…"
"Whom you were more jealous of than anything else because your father chose him to replace you…"
"I needed time to grow, to mature…"
Michael snorted. "And what a fine job you did, Dick Grayson; you ended up murdering a man who did not have full control of his faculties, a man whose very body had been physically changed by an accident…
"Jack Napier voluntarily joined in with the heist that led to his bath in chemicals," Nightwing quickly pointed out, remembering the origin of the Joker. "He has to carry some of the blame!"
"But he recognized the error of his ways upon his death!"
"Am I dead?" Nightwing asked again. "Am I?"
"Don't you see how this has torn you apart, Richard? You never really wanted to kill me, you just overreacted," the Joker explained, trying to end the confrontation there.
"Don't talk to me you pathetic piece of crap," Nightwing told him. "If I had my way I'd drag you down to the gates of Hell myself." He started to stand up again when Zauriel turned to face him.
"You have no idea how lucky you are. The souls of those who love you have petitioned the Presence and have been granted leave to present your case before a jury of the righteous. Yet you act like a child…"
"I did nothing wrong!"
"You don't seriously believe that do you?" the angel asked. "You killed a man in cold blood!"
"A man that you angels didn't have the balls to kill yourself! You preach about how precious life is; yet you allowed a murdering animal like the Joker to continue to exist! Where is the logic in that?" Nightwing was starting to rant and the large angel said nothing, but instead narrowed his eyes. "And when I did your job for you, you denied me access to my God for absolution…"
"Your argument has no merit," Zauriel pronounced. "Why, Richard Grayson, would you need absolution if you did nothing wrong? Answer that question…please instruct us…"
The hero took a step back and shook his head. "You're twisting my words…"
Zauriel moved forward a single step, keeping the distance between him and Nightwing. "You have worked so hard to deny the truth that what you did was wrong. It has poisoned your soul and blackened your heart."
"Don't listen to them, Grayson!" Obsidian cried out, true fear in his voice. "They are just trying to cover up their mistakes."
"Would you listen to we, the chosen servants of a higher power, or this man who wants to kill you? He wants you to die because when he looks at any super-hero he sees what he could have been. It was your father, the Batman, that pointed out that very fact and this pathetic creature could not deal with it." Zauriel briefly turned his attention to Obsidian. "Look well at him, Richard, for he is you."
"He killed Barbara…"
"Yes, I did," the Joker admitted. "And I killed several hundred other people as well, men, women and children. But you don't understand, my brain was changed…"
"Then you should have been killed," Nightwing spat.
"By whose authority?" Zauriel asked. "Did you suddenly decide that you were going to subvert the will of the state…"
"God! You sound just like Bruce!"
"The Batman is far wiser than you would like to believe," Gabriel said.
"It wasn't wrong! Now bring Barbara back!" Nightwing demanded.
There was silence for a few moments and then the light faded away. Zauriel began to glow with a blue radiance and his wings flapped, carrying him above the two prisoners. "I, too, had hopes for your Richard Grayson. Many times over you saved the world of man and threw yourself into harm's way to protect your fellow man. Blessed are those with strength that protect the weak, but cursed be those who arrogantly believe themselves superior to will of the people and of God." The angel took a deep breath. "You killed a man in cold blood and relished in it and in that instant, you became like that man. You drove a knife through the heart of your life and shattered the dreams of so many. All of the good deeds you performed pale in comparison to the crime that you refuse to admit to.
"Good-bye, Richard Grayson; despite the efforts of so many souls, you have become lost."
He was cold again and it was dark. The tumbling had started over and his fall was accelerating. He immediately realized he was trapped in the negative dimension that made up the body of Obsidian. The villain's laughter roared all about him.
"I cannot believe how foolish you are, Nightwing! You were given a chance for a reprieve! They would have saved you from me, but you slapped away their hand!" The cold voice continued to chuckle. "Now you are going to die a very painful and slow death, Nightwing. As the protector of Gotham City, you are the direct inheritor of my wayward father's mantle. And after you, I'll go after whoever replaces you; perhaps the Huntress?"
"Leave her alone, Todd!" Nightwing called out. His teeth were starting to chatter as the cold began to have an effect on him. "If its me you want, I'm right here," he said to the darkness, his mind desperately wanting it all to end. He was going to hell, but that was fine with him. At least then he would be too busy screaming to think about how badly he had screwed up.
As his limbs went numb and Obsidian continued to provide a narrative of what he would be doing once Nightwing was dead, the hero decided to concentrate on his life. His thoughts went from his earliest memories with his parents, to their deaths, to the day Batman had handed him the Robin costume. From there he remembered the first day he had met her. "Barbara," he whispered.
He continued to shiver, but he also started to feel warm as he focused solely on her and what their lives had been like together. He remembered with sadness the night she had been shot by the Joker and paralyzed, effectively ending any chance of her ever having children. Yet, she had never wanted to kill the Joker for taking away her life.
"Everything happens for a reason, Wingnut," she had told him once when he had asked about her feelings. "Every action has a reaction. I don't want to be the Joker; I pity him in a way. I have everything in the world, including a man who loves me and what does he have? If he is ever convicted after a fair trial, I'll go to his execution, but to just murder him…well, that's just plain wrong."
Nightwing's eyes opened. "It was wrong," he said, the last of the demons screaming obscenities at him for daring to seek the truth. "It was wrong! It was wrong!"
"What?" Obsidian asked in mid-laugh.
"It was wrong! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Nightwing screamed with the last of the warm breath in his lungs. "Oh, God, forgive me! Barbara! I'm sorry!"
"No!" Obsidian cried out. "You did one right thing in your life…"
Then there was darkness.
Wonder Woman held her hurt arm with her undamaged one while Impulse stopped vibrating in front of the black whirling mass that was in the middle of the cafeteria. Suddenly a body fell out and the Amazon was relieved to see that it was the familiar form of her good friend, Superman. Impulse quickly checked him out. "He's breathing, but his body is really cold to the touch!"
The speedster began rubbing the Man of Steel's limbs at super speed, using kinetic energy to raise his body temperature. After a few seconds he stopped. "I think he'll be okay!"
"What the hell is going on?" Arrowette asked as she stepped into the damaged area. Impulse's face brightened. "I got the signal…A-One priority," she said as she unnotched her bow. "Sweet Christ what is that thing?" she asked, pointing at the mass.
"We think its Obsidian," Wonder Woman replied. Red Tornado entered as well and moved to help the vice-chair of the League. "Superman and Nightwing were both in there."
"Nightwing? He's in that?" she asked, horror in her voice.
"It will be okay, baby," Impulse offered. She gave him an odd look and managed a slight grin. Today would be the day she would tell him it was over. She was still deciding on whether or not to let out that she was pregnant.
Red Tornado approached the mass. "I can try to enter and see if I can locate Nightwing," he offered.
"Negative," Wonder Woman commanded. "If Obsidian can take down Kal-El, then we are going to need Green Lantern up here before we start anything. Bart?"
Impulse was next to her in less than the blink of an eye. "Ma'am?" he asked, his spirits lifted by the sight of his estranged wife.
"Find out where Lantern is and get the Justice Society up here, now," the Amazon ordered. Impulse threw a longing glance at Arrowette, hoping for some sort of sigh that everything was going to be okay, but he received nothing. Still, he surmised, her presence was a start and he raced to the monitor room.
"Oh, God," Arrowette said in a hushed voice as she moved past the Red Tornado, "please let him be alright."
"Superman is recovering thanks to Impulse," Wonder Woman said. Arrowette turned around and their eyes met and it was if a link had been formed between them. The League chairwoman finally understood. She offered no judgment, but instead bit her bottom lip to keep from saying something inappropriate. Now was not the time for a lecture on morality.
But in her heart, Wonder Woman was starting to realize that the Nightwing she had worked with for so many years had been a chameleon, blending into the scenery of the Justice League, hoping not to be noticed. How many other skeletons were in his closet? Did she really want to know? Did she really want her perceptions of the man she had watched grow to maturity over the years to be laid askew by his depression?
But what had he been depressed about she continued to ponder? He had tried to justify his actions, all of them, including Bruce's conviction for the crime. Was that rational?
She had never had children and so she could not begin to judge Bruce harshly for his parental abilities, but she suspected that part of the problem might have lain with him as he had stated. Bruce had never allowed his adoptive son to grieve for his true parents. Instead he had been pushed into a life of fighting for justice where dark emotions were channeled into action. Perhaps the death of Barbara Gordon had finally just pushed him over the edge and he had been spending the last few years trying to convince himself he never lost control.
"Dick?" Arrowette asked, her body trembling.
In response a body was disgorged from the dark matter and tumbled onto the floor. Arrowette was first to him, scooping him up and putting her check to his. She pulled back immediately. "He's stone cold!"
"Impulse, here now!" Wonder Woman cried out. The computer would relay her voice to the monitor room. The speedster was there in a flash, taking Nightwing from his wife. "I have him, Ciss," he said when she would not immediately let go.
"Yeah," she said as she fell back on her haunches. Instinctively she put her arms around her stomach, as if trying to protect her unborn child from the horror that was taking place. Did babies sense what their mother's sensed? She prayed they didn't.
Impulse did everything he could, but ultimately he failed. "He's gone," he said.
Superman's eyes opened and he rolled over to see the corpse of Nightwing. He said nothing, but instead closed his eyes and said a prayer to Rao that the spirit of the troubled young man would be carried away to a better place.
The heroes assembled represented the best of the current super-hero community, some veterans and some not. They were all gathered inside the Memorial Satellite, a repository for the fallen of their class. Some of the greatest costumed adventurers were interned there, over 22000 miles above the Earth's surface. Green Arrow. Arsenal. Hal Jordan. The Atom. Mr. Terrific.
"We gather here today to pay our final respects to a Titan, an Outsider and a League member that time and time again put his life on the line to ensure that the rest of us could live. Everyone gathered in this room at some point had their lives touched by the actions of Richard Grayson," Wonder Woman said from the podium. The body of Nightwing was locked in a coffin made of titanium, directly in front of Wonder Woman.
In the front row of mourners sat those who had been closest to him: Bruce Wayne (in the custody of Superman), the current League membership (including Arrowette with her husband Impulse), Wally West, the Huntress, Timothy Drake (the former third Robin) and Cassandra Cain (his wife and the former third Batgirl).
"I could stand up here and talk about the Richard we all knew, but I think I'd rather tell you about the one we didn't. Despite the dark exterior, he was a man who loved passionately and who was loved even fiercer. He had his problems and yet he tried very hard to not let them interfere with what he saw as his mission in life: to serve the people. He was not perfect, though many tried to make it appear that he was," she said, pausing briefly to look down at Superman. The Kryptonian had taken Nightwing's death very hard and surprisingly, it was Bruce who had to hold him up.
Bruce himself had taken the news with a sigh and a shake of the head. Wonder Woman was sure that in private, the tears had fallen freely, but Bruce Wayne felt it necessary to put on a brave face. Nothing would be said to discredit his son; his confession about the murder of the Joker would be kept secret, even from Arrowette. A martyr for the cause had the former Teen Wonder become.
Wonder Woman continued the eulogy, gazing out at the assembled heroes and occasionally picking out a face in the crowd that had some special meaning. Far in the back stood Garth, the former Titan called Tempest; she knew that he and Nightwing had fallen out some years before and apparently never reconciled.
Strangely missing was Kory Anders, Dick Grayson's former fiancé. There had been no sighting of her for weeks and the Amazon assumed that she had finally left Earth for good.
"Nightwing will always be remembered for his bravery, for his courage under fire. He died fighting a menace that wanted to kill one of his friends," she said before there was a loud sniffle from Lois Lane. "Such bravery deserves the reward of eternal peace and Nightwing's faith described such a thing. It is my hope and I am sure all of yours, that he has finally found that bliss."
10 years later….
The island was technically part of the government of Thymerscria, but to anyone who wore a cape and tights, it was Wayne Isle. Purchased by billionaire Bruce Wayne just before his "reported" death a year before, it served as the home of his "former" wife Princess Diana and her new husband, the young and dashing Grayson Pennyworth, a nobody who had appeared on the social scene shortly after Wayne's highly publicized funeral.
The only building on the one square mile block of land in the Mediterranean Sea was a home built in the style of ancient Greek architecture, whose centerpiece was a pit.
A Lazarus Pit.
The island was filled with activity as children and adults happily played in the warm sun. A celebration was occurring and the hosts were busy working the crowds.
"Bruce…I mean, Grayson, this is the best one yet," Superman said. The years had been kind to the Man of Steel as he had not lost any hair, though it was stark white now. The seemingly younger man shook his hand and nodded. "It's only the second one, Clark."
"Yes, well, I enjoy them all the same. I think it's a damn good idea to hold a special day to remember our fallen comrades," Superman replied. The day had originally been Wonder Woman's idea, as a way of allowing the surviving heroes a chance to let loose, sit back and talk about their friends that were no longer with us.
"I'm so glad you enjoy my ideas, Clark," a very pregnant Wonder Woman said as she walked up. Even with her belly swollen she oozed beauty and grace. "It has to be twins because Hera help me if I try to pass a child this large out," she commented.
"Pasta! Who wants pasta?" a large, dark haired woman said, holding up a plate of spaghetti. Several dark-haired children danced around her.
"Helena, don't tease the children, they're famished," Wonder Woman called.
"They need the exercise," the former Huntress called back. "Or else they end up looking like me!"
"You're very pretty, Miss Helena," one young boy said.
Helena stooped over and gave the child a kiss on the forehead. "An extra piece of pie for you!"
Wonder Woman and Superman continued to talk, even as Bruce begged off to search the crowd. There were fewer friends this year, but many newer faces. He saw Arthur and Garth playing on the beach with several of the younger heroines (typical he thought), while Ray Palmer simply sat under a tree with his eyes closed, possibly remembering the good old days.
A flash of blonde hair caught Bruce's eye and he jogged over to the reception area where his personal attendants were helping offload a ferryboat. He stopped in front of the woman. "Ms. King?" he asked.
"Good lord," Cissie said, taking a good look at Bruce. "That thing really works, doesn't it?"
"Batman always has an edge, even on old age," he replied with a smile. She marveled at how much he reminded her of Dick when he had been in his better moods. "I have a second chance on life; I've decided to try and do it a little better this time."
Three children, all of them a decade old and dressed in similar clothes, huddled around Cissie's legs. "My kids," she said introducing them one at a time. They were triplets, yet each had a different hair color. The blonde was named Olivia, after Oliver Queen. The red-haired child with the spunky spirit and a mischievous grin was Harper. The dark haired and final child, who was shyer than the other two, was Robin.
"Children," she said, "this is your grandfather."
"He's young," Harper said.
"Is this your island, grandpa?" Olivia asked.
But Robin remained quiet and simply stared, as if Bruce were something she could not quite comprehend. Kai Drake, the teenaged son of Timothy and Cassandra Drake, ran up and offered to take the children to the pay area, where Zatanna was putting on a magic show. After the children had left, Robin casting a final glance at Bruce, who waved to her, Cissie let out a sigh of relief. "That was easier than I expected."
Bruce nodded, his face becoming serious. "I was sorry to hear you and Bart divorced."
Cissie shrugged. "I tried to make it work, but once he found out about Dick and I, he couldn't get past it. I don't blame him, but it has been hard on the children."
He said nothing for a long moment, trying to figure out the best way to approach the subject. "You do know they are entitled to Dick's inheritance?"
"A few million dollars isn't going to help…"
"It's six billion."
Her face lost all of its blood. "Really," she said, nodding her head as a small smile crept onto Bruce's face. "That might be a little different…"
He laughed and put an arm around her shoulder. "I'm glad you came; those children are my only ties to him," Bruce said as they moved towards a path that skirted the beach.
"You know, I miss him still. He had this way of dominating your life, of just filling it with …with…"
"I know," Bruce agreed. "But he had his problems."
"Diana finally told me about the Joker," she confessed. Bruce looked out to where his bride was busy serving food to their guests. "She did, did she?" he said, an edge to his voice.
"I needed to know," she told him. "I needed to know the truth of why he wouldn't fall in love with me."
"He was hurting too much…we were all hurting too much," Bruce explained. "We all made some stupid mistakes."
They stopped and Cissie brushed back her hair as the wind blew it into her face. She stared up into the open sky. "Yeah, but at least he's not hurting now."
It always starts the same way.
The sun is beating down on my face and I can hear the ocean in the background. I know what I will see when I open my eyes.
She stands there, dressed in the string bikini I bought her during that trip we made in secret, the one where we made love on the beach for hours on end. That time when we confessed our undying love for each other and then we cried when we realized that we could not be together just yet.
Just never it seemed.
She lowers down onto her knees and shades my eyes with her hand; in the other is an intoxicating island drink. In the background I can hear Jason, calling out in joy as he splashes in the water with Batmite. "Dick! Dick! Watch him, man! Come on, brother!"
But I don't look; instead I gaze up at her and reach up to play with a loose strand of red hair that has fallen. "Hey, babe," I say. I'm so happy to see her that I hope against hope that the moment doesn't end.
"I love you, Dick," she says.
"That's a fine catch, son!" my father calls out. He and my mother are performing on a trapeze that has been set up on the beach. Underneath them is Roy, running around chasing girls in thongs. "She's a keeper!"
"Mr. Grayson, you hush!" Barbara yells out before turning back to give me a light kiss. As she starts to move away, she thinks twice and then gives me another one, a deeper more passionate kiss that sets my body burning with desire. "Easy, boy," she says, patting my chest.
I take the drink from her and watch as a thin man approaches us, a small crowd with him. The crowd is laughing and I assume he is a comedian of sorts. As he draws nearer I finally am able to place a name to him. "Here comes Jack," I tell her.
"Of course it is," she says as she stands up. I tell her to stay, but she merely smiles and walks a few steps away. Jack and the crowd stop several feet from her. Then he pulls out a gun and shoots her through the stomach and the spine.
Her blood splatters onto me and I scream, calling out her name even as she hits the sand. Jack then turns the guns on the crowd, firing and firing, and I start to notice they are all people I know. Bruce. Alfred. Kory. Donna. Cissie.
The he shoots my parents.
Then Todd, Roy and Oliver.
I can't move, my body won't respond even as Jack's skin begins to turn snow white and his hair emerald green. Barbara calls out to me to help, but I am unable. Instead I have to watch as he violates her and then slowly, over a twelve-hour period, cuts her into pieces.
I know it isn't them.
I hear the demons laughing, telling me that I deserve what I am getting.
Then the sea and sand are gone, replaced by black caverns and lava flows. I hear more screams, pathetic wailings of "I'm sorry! God! I'm sorry!"
I always seem to forget it's my own voice.
- "And I am aware now of how everything's gonna be fine one day…
Too late…I'm in Hell" from Fine Again by Seether