DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of the characters. Nightwing and all of his friends belongs to DC comics. I'd be a happy woman if Dick belonged to me...but no such luck. I have not made any profit out of writing this, so please don't sue me. It would not be worth your while.
Author Comment: This story is in response to the Reader's Review challenge: Option One - Write a story that focuses on the the father/son relationship between the original Dynamic Duo.
Huge thank you to Jean for giving up her time to beta for me. I am in your debt, Jean. There are a number of spelling, grammar and punctuation differences between Australia and the USA... please forgive me for writing with an accent. (g)
Special Thanks to all those people who took the time to send me support and encouragement.
Readers Review Challenge Fic Option One - Write a story that focuses on the the father/son relationship between the original Dynamic Duo. Aussie Nightwriter
Batman frowned. In some lingering part of his mind, the name was familiar, yet he couldn't place it. Oracle had run a full check of all JLA files and Tim all of the files on the computer in the Batcave and still they had come up dry. So, why was Batman sure he'd heard the name before?
Batman pulled his cape further around himself. The drafty cave offered little protection from the dropping temperature.
The Dark Knight glanced across at Alfred as the latter entered the underground cavern with a tray of refreshments. He was dressed impeccably in suit, tie, leather shoes... and a beanie on his head. "Alfred, do you remember a Peverell Brisco?"
The butler's brow furrowed as he laid the tray next to his employer. "A distinctive name. No, I can't say that I do. Problem?"
Batman frowned. "Maybe. The only clue I have to an arsonist is a piece of paper I found with that name on it and for some reason it's familiar."
"And all of your searches have proved fruitless?" Alfred inquired, pouring the tea. "My goodness. It is chilly today. Lowest temperature on record according to the news."
"Nothing. Nothing in the old files. Nothing on the computer. Nothing connected with the JLA. Thanks," Bruce acknowledged as Alfred handed him a hot cup of Earl Grey. He slipped his right glove off so he could hold the tea cup more easily and took a sip of the steaming liquid. Instantly, he shuddered as the warmth lit up his entire system. "That hits the spot," he acknowledged with a wink. "It's strange. I know I've heard that name, but it was some time ago."
"May I suggest the telephone?" Alfred asked, pouring himself a cup and taking a seat next to Bruce. The elderly man shivered. "It is positively icy down here."
"I've checked the telephone directory. Nothing."
Alfred shook his head as he drank his tea. "Actually, Sir, I meant calling Master Dick. If it was a name you came across some time ago than perhaps Master Dick may be able to cast some light."
"Nightwing will be on patrol. I don't want to interrupt him," Bruce dismissed quickly. There was a hollowness in Bruce's chest. Regrets, he realized.
Alfred pursed his lips. "A few seconds of his time may save you hours of work."
"Alfred... I'll work it out." Bruce gave his companion one of those 'the topic is closed' looks and returned to staring at the computer in front of him.
Alfred sighed loudly.
Bruce ignored him.
Alfred sighed again.
Batman turned. "What?"
Bruce's eyes narrowed. "Alfred?"
"Far be it for me to comment," the elderly man stated, climbing to his feet and heading for the stairs. Bruce watched him and waited. He knew it would come. "Even Solomon knew when to accept help from a friend."
Batman watched the wily old man disappear and then his eyes were drawn to his communicator sitting in front of him. A friend. The word stung, but then, that was why Alfred had used it, Bruce knew. A friend. There was a time when Dick had been his partner. A time when Batman didn't have the luxury of working alone. Of course, he hadn't wanted to. Trapped in a memory warp, his mind filled with scenes of the days when he had patrolled the city with Dick at his side. Sadly, those days were long gone. So were the days when Dick looked up to him. Now, the young man resented him. Bruce couldn't be certain how or why, but it had happened and he accepted it, deciding that there was nothing he could do to change the chasm between them. Neither of them could go back. Strangely, as Nightwing and Batman they could still communicate, even work together. It was only once they peeled the layers of their costumes away and found nothing left but themselves that... well, Bruce could never find anything to say and Dick appeared to have given up. The reminiscences left Bruce longing for some sign that Dick still...
"Of course," Alfred's voice interrupted via the intercom, "I could call him for you, if you are unable to..."
"Alright, Alfred. You've made your point. I'll call Nightwing." Nightwing he could call... Dick, well, that would be something else altogether.
"Very, good, Sir. I shall turn in, if you have no further need of me."
"Sometimes I wonder just who's in charge," Bruce mumbled.
"I would have thought that was obvious," Alfred chuckled. "Good night, son."
Bruce smiled. "Sleep well, old friend." Batman eyed the communicator. "Oh, to hell with it," he cried, picking it up. "Nightwing?" He waited.
"Depends what you mean by busy. If crouching on the edge of a building freezing my ass off, waiting for someone to do something so I can nab them is busy, then, by God, I'm busy... Hang on." Batman strained to hear what was happening but it was obvious Nightwing had switched off his communicator. "Hell, things are quiet tonight," Dick cursed, as he switched the communication device in his glove back on. "Looks like the cold has even kept the scum of the earth indoors tonight."
Bruce smiled. "So, go home."
"Yeah, right. Just be my luck that... Hang on." Again the communicator was switched off and then back on immediately. "Just be my luck that the one night I'm not out here the crime of the century would take place. So what can I... Hang on.... So what can I do for you?"
Bruce frowned. "I can call back later if you're in the middle of something."
"Nope. Just sitting here freezing. Go ahead, Batman." His voice sounded husky. The cold, the older man decided.
"We've had six fires in Gotham in the last..." Bruce heard a click as Dick's communicator was switched off. He waited. A few seconds later, it came on again.
"Sorry. Go on."
"We've had six fires in Gotham in the last three weeks. All the same MO. At the last one..." Nightwing was gone... and back again.
"Is something going down?"
"No. Go on."
Batman's brow furrowed. "At the last one I found a piece of paper with the name..."
"Hang on... go ahead."
If it had been anyone else, Bruce would honestly have thought the person was just doing it to be annoying.
"A piece of paper with a name. What name?" Dick asked.
"Peverell Bris..." Again he was gone... and back. "Are you having difficulty with your communicator?"
"Huh? No... umm... yes. Yeah, I am. Go on. I'm receiving."
As a child Dick had found it impossible to lie to him. Things hadn't changed. This realization brought a soft smile to Bruce's face. He missed that. He missed a lot of things. "Look, Nightwing, I can call back later if..."
"No, no. Go on. What was the... what was the...hang on..."
A low growl was released from the back of Bruce's throat as the series of distinctive clicks echoed in his ears signalling that Dick was switching his communicator on and off. There were times when the boy could be so exasperating!
"Sorry. Go on."
"No, that's fine. I'll call back when you're less distracted." Bruce slammed his communicator down. What the hell had that been all about?
Before Bruce could contemplate the matter, Barbara's face appeared in the screen in front of him. Her green eyes flashed with ire. "Can I ask you something?" she demanded, though it was clear she was about to lecture him about something. Batman was not an easy man to lecture but Barbara Gordon was one of the few who was capable of doing so.
"Of course," Batman stated, carefully, reaching for his cup of tea.
"How did you put up with him for so long?"
Bruce snorted. There was only one person she could possibly be referring to.
"He won't listen to reason," Barbara complained.
"He never has," Bruce muttered, drinking the warming liquid.
"I've given up, you know. He can die out there for all I care." Via the camera linkup she saw Bruce's face crease with puzzlement. "I'm talking about Nightwing."
"I'd guessed that. What about him?"
"How long have you got?!" she spat back. "He's the most stubborn, pigheaded, obstinate, mulish... and they're the only words I can use in polite company. You should hear my other list."
A smile lifted the right side of Bruce's lips. "Uh-huh. I've been saying that for years and no one's believed me."
"Do you have any idea where he is?"
"Out on patrol. I was just speaking to him."
"Oh, so I guess you know?" Oracle accused. "And I suppose it's okay with you, too?"
"Oracle, you've lost me. He was having trouble with his communicator and..."
"Oh, come on, Bruce. Surely you didn't fall for that? I didn't."
Batman sat back in his chair. "I could tell he was distracted."
"Distracted?! Distracted?!!!! MEN!" The screen went blank.
Bruce blinked. "Now I know why Clark has always worked alone," he muttered.
"I heard that," Oracle growled, reappearing. "Don't you think it's ridiculous?"
"Perhaps if I knew what..."
Oracle stared at him. "You really don't know why he kept cutting out, do you?"
Batman didn't reply. Batman didn't admit defeat easily.
"Some detective! He's sick. Has been sick for days, but he won't go to a doctor. He's coughing his head off out there on top of some building."
"I see." A frown formed on Batman's face. Nightwing had kept switching the communicator off so he could cough? Mild concern touched at his emotions, but the bottom line was it was none of his business.
"I don't know who he thinks he's going to sneak up on. They'll hear him for miles." The false anger stripped from Barbara's face as concern settled in. "He's really sick, Bruce. And the sicker he's gotten the more he's fighting it. I... he won't listen to me. Maybe..."
"He's a big boy, Oracle. Nightwing can look after himself." It was an emotionless statement of fact that Batman believed firmly. If there was one person on the planet he believed could look after himself in any situation, it was Nightwing.
"Uh-huh. Oh, he can look after himself - until he collapses out there! I think it's developing into bronchitis. You should hear the bark."
"He's a grown man."
"So? When it comes to something like this all men are useless!"
"They have no idea of how to handle the fact that they're sick. Most fall in a heap. But not the Bat clan! Oh, no. You seem to think you're all invincible!"
"Damn it, Bruce. Nightwing hasn't slept in days. He spends all night coughing. I'm really worried."
"Oracle, Nightwing will handle it. He's an adult."
"So? I know for a fact that Dick hasn't eaten anything in days."
"Oracle, he... Dick hasn't eaten anything for days?" Bruce asked, snagged on a single word in that statement. His concern caused his baritone to rise a little. All of a sudden, Bruce found himself struggling to come to terms with what was being said. Once he pulled the cowl on, his ability to separate personal from professional was essential if he was to survive - or so he had convinced himself. His relationship with Nightwing was very different to the one he shared with Dick. Nightwing was Batman's partner and capable of making his own decisions. Whether Batman liked them or not was immaterial, he respected them. Besides, it was none of his business. On the other hand, Dick was Bruce's... Dick was his ward... former ward. Bruce sighed and shut his eyes and his heart again filled with deep regrets. Dick was, and would always be, his son and at that moment, that part of Bruce that had been suppressed for too long came to the fore. Emotions he hadn't felt for the longest time prickled. His boy was sick and not taking care of himself? Worry amalgamated with annoyance. "Dick hasn't eaten or slept in days and he's out there on patrol?"
"Not a thing to eat and very little sleep, but he won't admit he's sick. It's like it's a personal battle between him and the illness."
Bruce rubbed his chin. He'd seen Dick do this once before. As a teenager he'd gotten the flu but refused to go down with it because he felt he was needed by the Teen Titans. Finally, he'd collapsed in a heap and ended up in hospital on a drip for almost a week.
Bruce's frown deepened. If things between them were convivial, he could have just picked up the phone, but that wasn't the case and was out of the question. He needed a reason... "So, Nightwing's really busy in Bludhaven at the moment?" Bruce pressed.
"Huh? No. There's nothing..."
"You're saying Nightwing is really busy in Bludhaven and could use some assistance?" Bruce repeated, the inflection in his voice communicating the hidden message.
"Ohhhhhh. Yes. Absolutely snowed under. Run off his feet. There is no way he can handle it on his own."
"You know, he could use a hand, Batman, if you're not too busy yourself."
"I see. Well, I guess what I'm doing could wait a few hours."
Oracle smiled. Bruce winked. "Thanks, Bruce."
"Batman out." But it wasn't Batman speaking and Bruce knew it. He would need to tread very carefully on a number of levels. Switching off the screen, Bruce rose to his feet and then activated the intercom. "Alfred, I think I'm going to require your assistance."
"Sir?" Alfred asked, sleepily.
"Operation Kick Ass."
"Get dressed. We're going for a little drive."
At two o'clock in the morning, Nightwing entered the all-night pharmacy and walked directly up to the counter. The man on the other side looked up and presented a pleasant smile... for about two seconds. His eyes widened and the smile fell to be replaced by surprise as he stared at the costumed figure standing in front of him.
"Hi," Nightwing greeted, casually. "It's nippy out there, tonight. Look, do you have something... like a nasal spray that works in a couple of seconds and will clear my head?" He attempted to suppress a cough, but failed miserably.
The pharmacist blinked.
"Hello?" Nightwing repeated, waving a hand in front of the man's glazed eyes.
"Huh? Oh... um... nasal spray. Just a minute." The stunned man edged off to the right, his eyes glued to Bludhaven's vigilante. Finally, he disappeared for a few moments and then returned, still eyeing Nightwing like he had two heads.
"And this stuff works quickly?"
The pharmacist nodded.
The pharmacist shook his head.
Again a shake of the head.
Nightwing grinned. "You're a man of few words, aren't you?. How much?"
"No. Nothing. It's on the house," the man managed to splutter.
"Thanks. Have a good night." Nightwing picked up the small spray bottle, turned, acknowledged an elderly woman with a nod and disappeared back into the night coughing.
"That was Nightwing," the pharmacist cried, finally finding his voice.
"What did he want?" the woman asked, stunned.
Batman had no difficulty locating Nightwing. Bludhaven was unusually quiet. No one was prepared to brave the evening chill except strays, milkmen and stubborn, pigheaded crimefighters. The streets were empty and silent, apart from a dreadful bark echoing through the night.
Batman stepped up onto the warehouse rooftop soundlessly and stopped. Across from him, crouched and with his back turned, was Nightwing. Batman waited for the greeting. Slipping under Nighwing's defences was an impossibility and ever since he was a child, Dick liked to remind his mentor of that fact.
When the usual witty salutation failed to materialize, Batman strode toward his companion. Just as he was about to comment, Nightwing broke into a coughing fit. The barking resonated in his chest. Bruce frowned.
As the fit eased, Nightwing cursed.
"You trying to advertise your position?" Batman asked.
Nightwing leapt to his feet, spinning around and taking on a stance to defend himself. "What the... Hell, Batman, you scared me half to death!"
"Sorry. I thought you'd heard me."
Nightwing scowled. "Yeah, well, I was concentrating on other things. So, why the royal visit?"
Batman's frown deepened. His former partner wasn't in a good mood, by the look of it. Alfred's words of wisdom echoed in his mind. "You really are going to have to be careful how you go about this. At no point should you make it sound as if you are giving him orders. He's an adult and if he is as sick as Miss Barbara has indicated, he will repel boarders at all costs. He won't listen to a word anyone says, particularly if it is presented as an instruction. I'm afraid he is a chip off the old block in this area."
"I need your help with a name and as you were having communicator problems, I decided to make the trip."
"Oh. Yeah, sorry about that," Nightwing mumbled. "So, what was the... coff...nam...coff, coff... name?" Unable to suppress the coughing any longer, he had another fit.
Batman ignored his partner's efforts to drag oxygen into his convulsing lungs. "Peverell Brisco."
Nightwing regained control and eyed his mentor carefully. "Brisco. Yeah, that seems to ring a bell."
"But who is he?" Batman demanded.
"Peverell Brisco," Nightwing repeated, sniffling. "It sounds familiar."
"For me too, but I can't place him. I've checked all of the files."
Nightwing shook his head. "I don't know, but it's def...coff...defin...coff, coff...definitely...coff... famil..." His convulsing lungs stole the rest of the statement. This fit lasted longer than the previous ones and Nightwing started to sway toward the end. His head was throbbing and his chest aching.
Batman reached out and steadied him. "Are you alright?"
"Yes," Nightwing insisted, shrugging free. "Must be the smog."
Nightwing turned away, walked back to his vantage point and crouched. "Sorry I couldn't help. Leave it with me for a while."
Batman drew in a breath and released it slowly. If Dick were a kid he would have ordered him home but it wasn't that easy anymore. Those who said that being a parent got easier with time were nothing but bold-faced liars. "I'm here now. I'll give you a hand."
"I don't remember inviting your help," Nightwing growled, without turning.
"I don't remember needing an invitation."
Nightwing snorted and briefly glanced sideways as Batman squatted beside him. For several moments there was silence, the only sound the dreadful wheezing of Dick's lungs as he breathed. He sniffled again.
Batman thrust a handkerchief across to him. Nightwing eyed it for a few seconds and then accepted it. "Thanks."
"So, who are we waiting for?" Batman asked, studying the area below them.
"Who are you staking out?"
"Oh... um... no one."
The Dark Knight turned his steely gaze on his partner. "What?"
"Don't start. That is Bludhaven National Bank and with no one around tonight it is a prime target for... what?" Nightwing demanded as Batman rose to his feet.
"You're perched up here in subzero temperatures 'in case' something happens?" His voice filled the night, echoing off the buildings. True, he wasn't shouting, but Batman had a tone in his voice that allowed him to whisper with the same effect.
Nightwing rose to his feet "Look, I didn't ask you to come out here. I can......coff...handle...coff, coff...this ...coff... on my..." Again he was accosted with merciless coughing. He reached out for the wall of the small structure near him as he tried to regain control.
Batman noted that the arm resting against the wall was trembling. While it was chilly, Nightwing's suit should have protected him from most of the cold. Batman slipped off his glove and reached for his partner's brow. "Hell, you're burning up."
"I'm fine," Nightwing insisted, swiping Batman's hand away. "Just a bit of a cold."
"A bit? You're ill. I think it's time you called it a night."
"You think?!" Nightwing asked, his voice dropping into that 'duck and take cover' zone. "Well, guess what, this is my city and here I make the rules. Sorry I couldn't help you, Batman. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm busy." He pulled himself off the wall and returned to his surveillance position.
Silently, Batman berated himself. He'd given an order and Nightwing had reacted exactly the way Alfred had warned. Perhaps if he was just to state the facts? "That cough is bronchial. You've a fever. Your mind isn't on the job."
"Because you're standing there blabbing at me," Nightwing snapped.
"Your mind isn't on the job as evidenced by the fact that you didn't hear me arrive. Only a fool would stay out here if he knew he was ill."
Nightwing glanced back over his shoulder. "So, I'm a fool now?"
"I didn't say that." This wasn't going well and it was clear that Dick had far more than a simple cold. Batman searched for a way to 'encourage' Nightwing to do the sensible thing. Dick was far from a stupid man, but he had reached a point where he didn't know the path back. He was running on automatic, basically unaware of his own condition. Ignoring his physical state was a way of life. He would not give in - not to the flu, not to anything. It was a characteristic that had saved his life too many times to count. Right now, that characteristic had become a character flaw. He was exhausted and ill and the worse he felt, the harder he would fight. It was the only way he knew to survive. The only way Bruce had taught him. Alfred was right. He was a chip off the old block.
"Well, Batman, this fool is staying put so you can go and pass judgement elsewhere." With that, Nightwing returned to staring down into the alley.
"Oracle says you've been sick for days."
"Ah, so now the truth comes out. She's behind this," Nightwing muttered. "I told her I could take care of myself."
"You appear to be failing dismally."
Nightwing rose to his feet and spun around. Unfortunately, in his weakened state he stumbled and Batman reached out to steady him. "Damn it!" Batman maintained his grip of Nightwing's arm despite the other man's efforts to wriggle free. "Look, it's a bit of a cold but I'm taking care of it."
"You don't appear to have taken any steps to do so."
At this, Nightwing thrust a small white bottle in front of Batman's face waving it like a victor's trophy. "I bought nasal spray," he stated with triumph.
"I assume you would purchase aspirin for a nuclear holocaust. You're ill."
"I can handle it."
"That is exactly what I said, but it appears we were both wrong. I'm taking you home."
"Go to hell," Nightwing growled, finally breaking free. "I'm not Junior Bat any more. I don't have to listen to you, Batman."
They glared at each other for several seconds, equally determined.
Batman sighed in resignation. He'd failed, but he wasn't prepared to abandon his boy. Without warning, he reached up and pulled his cowl back revealing the very concerned face of Bruce Wayne. "Then I'm asking you to listen to me. I want to take you home, Dick. You're ill."
Nightwing's face flooded with surprise. He blinked. "Put your mask back on. Someone could see you out here!"
"I don't care." The words were so sincere. He meant it. For the first time in a long time, Bruce was putting Batman second and his boy first.
"What?" Nightwing whispered, stunned.
Bruce reached out and removed the younger man's mask. "I don't care, Dick. You're ill. Now, let me take you home."
Dick swallowed and then began coughing again. Bruce removed his cape and wrapped it around the physically trembling Grayson. Fever was ravaging Dick's system without mercy.
"Sorry," he apologized.
"For what?" Bruce asked as he handed Dick's mask back.
"For being an asshole."
"No problem. I'm used it," Bruce stated, pulling his cowl down.
Dick grinned and slipped his mask back on. "Takes one to know one."
"Come on, Junior Bat. Time to put you to bed."
"Don't push it, Bruce."
Batman smiled and lifted his communicator to his lips. "Alfred, I found him. Bring the car around."
"Oh, great. A conspiracy," Dick mumbled.
"How is he?" Alfred asked.
"He's ill," Batman replied. "However, he did buy nasal spray." Dick rolled his eyes.
"Nasal spray indeed. So Operation Kick Ass is a success?"
Dick flicked his narrowed eyes to Bruce.
"Operation what?" He began coughing again.
Bruce slipped his arm across Dick's shoulders and led him toward the stairs. "Don't ask."
"Too late. I've asked. Operation Kick Ass?"
"I was going to have Alfred kick your ass if you didn't agree to come home."
"Oh." Both men smiled.
"And I'm just the person to do it, young man," Alfred cried.
"I don't doubt that for a moment, Alf," Dick chuckled.
When the pair reached the bottom of the stairs, Dick was panting. His congested lungs and weakened body had just about reached the end of their endurance. Nightwing had consciously stopped fighting the illness. After all, his need to push himself on to survive had passed. Help had arrived. He was safe now.
Nightwing was attacked by another coughing fit and would have collapsed but for Batman holding him on his feet.
"Bruce, this is going to shock you, but guess what?" Dick asked as Alfred pulled the limousine around the corner.
"I'm sick," Dick stated with a lopsided grin that echoed the mischief of youth he had never lost.
"No kidding," Bruce chuckled. He assisted Dick to climb into the car and listened as Alfred began to berate the young man while shoving a thermometer into his mouth.
Bruce raised his eyes to the heavens and gave thanks. He gave thanks for Alfred and his pearls of wisdom. He gave thanks for Barbara who had alerted him to Dick's condition; but most of all, he gave thanks for the fact that Batman had failed tonight. It was then that a father's love was ignited. Operation Kick Ass had been a resounding success because behind the masks they wore and underneath the layers of pride that sometimes kept them apart, was a love and respect that only the most fortunate of fathers and sons share. For the first time in far too long, Bruce Wayne had put his son first and despite all that had happened in the past few years... the fights, the distance and the perceived resentment... Dick Grayson had listened to a request from his dad.
© June 2004 Aussie Nightwriter. : This relates only to the creative property in this story. The distinctive way the story unfolds, the specific dialogue and unique situations are mine. I acknowledge that some of the characters and settings belong to DC comics and I thank them sincerely for turning a blind eye so I can borrow them. (g) No infrigement of copyright was intended and no profit has been made from this story... so, please don't sue me. It wouldn't be worth your while.