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: Thank you to my wonderful beta, Jean whose comments force me to examine my writing. 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: Thank you to all those people who have left such wonderful feedback. Some of you haven't left your e-mail addresses so I haven't been able to thank you. I just want you to know that your kind words mean so much.
Seven seconds... six... five...
Nightwing sprang to his feet, withdrew the batarang he still carried more for nostalgia than anything else, drew on the experience and training he had received as a child, took aim and threw with all the strength he could muster. His shoulder roared with pain, the batarang flew through the air... the timer ticked down... ... four... three... two... the weapon sliced through the cable at the base of the power box, severing it.
"Yes!" Nightwing shouted with triumph. A split second later, the timer activated and the power was switched on. Dick flashed a look at Batman. Bruce nodded. In the past it would have been one of approval. Today, it was one of esteem.
Without warning an explosion ripped through the factory - with no pathway open to release the huge surge of electrical power, the power box shorted out and released its energy with devastating effects. Nightwing, who was closest to the power box, was hit by the explosion, launched through the air and slammed into the wall. He made no sound as his broken body crumpled to the ground. On the other side of the room, the Joker was hurled to the concrete. The girder on top of Batman shook... as did the tiles it was balanced on, but they held. The explosion brought Bane back to his senses and the big man staggered to his feet disoriented. Batman cried out in horror as he twisted his neck and spotted his partner lying unmoving on the ground. Dick had taken the full force of the blast. His suit would have provided some protection... but had it been enough? The concussion of the blast and bone-shattering impact may have caused him to stop breathing... maybe even have caused cardiac arrest.
"Nightwing!" Batman's emotions rose up and threatened to consume him. He began to struggle futilely. Dick needed him. "Nightwing!"
Sparks from the explosion ignited the fibro walls of the building, flames taking hold quickly. The foam on the floor didn't catch fire, to Batman's surprise.
"Nightwing!" Batman watched helplessly as both The Joker and Bane rose, their attention on the injured hero lying so still.
"Kill him!" the Joker screamed at Bane. He pointed at Nightwing's body. "KILL HIM!"
"NO!" Batman bellowed. Again, he battled against the impossible weight pinning him. His muscles strained and his ribs screamed but the girder refused to budge.
Bane took a few steps toward the fallen hero, but stopped. "I do not kill those who can not fight back," he stated firmly. Bane was a lot of things, but he had his own code of honour. Nightwing had fought well and he had won the first round. He deserved Bane's respect for that. The mammoth of a man turned to the Joker. "A man without honour is nothing. Today, he wins the battle. Next time, I will kill him."
"Honour? Next time!" the Joker screamed. Bane spun toward Batman, nodded once and then limped from the burning room. The Joker's other thugs were also retreating. The walls were well alight now and flames were beginning to roll along the ceiling. The heat was building in intensity and the air was becoming choked with smoke. Visibility was dropping quickly.
"Nooooo! I didn't say any of you could leave! I didn't say any of you could leave!" the Joker screamed, stamping his feet like a toddler throwing a tantrum.
Batman calmed himself, emptied his mind of thought and channelled all of the energy he could gather. He pressed up with all his might. He had to get this thing off him so he could help Nightwing. He knew he only had about three minutes before escape from the inferno would be impossible... three minutes before brain damage was caused if Nightwing wasn't breathing.
The Joker turned toward Nightwing. "YOU... YOU ruined everything."
"Joker!" Batman yelled, watching as the madman walked toward the fallen fighter. The Dark Knight needed to distract him. "Joker, the place is on fire. If you want to live you need to escape now!" Again, Batman pressed up. The Joker would kill Nightwing if he didn't stop him. Bruce's ribs bit in protest as he attempted to lift the girder, but it was beyond him. In helpless horror, Batman twisted to watch the Joker closing in on his partner. "Nightwing! Nightwing wake up!"
"You ruined my fun!" the Joker shouted down at the still form of Nightwing. To both Batman's and the Joker's surprise, the bundle on the concrete moved.
"Yeah well, someone's got to," Nightwing muttered in a trembling voice. Slowly, he dragged himself to his knees and then with great effort he forced his legs under himself. He swayed the moment he was upright and had to reach out for the wall to steady himself. His costume was torn from the explosion. His right arm was hanging at an odd angle. Blood was oozing from a deep wound to the back of his head from when he was smashed against the wall like a rag-doll. His eyes were dazed but he was alive.
"Nightwing," Batman murmured with relief. "Nightwing, get out of here. Don't face him. Retreat!"
The Joker withdrew a revolver and pointed it at the injured hero sagging against the wall. "You have ruined my plan. Die, damn you! Die!" He opened fire. Nightwing's body launched into the air. The Joker followed it as it arched over his head but not a single bullet connected. Dick landed on the other side of the Joker on unsteady feet but he didn't fall. He smiled with weary satisfaction. "You lose, Joker."
"No one invited you. I wanted Robin!" the Joker bellowed. He began to cough, the hot air gradually filling with thick smoke. It was becoming difficult to breathe.
"Wrong, I'm the one you've always wanted," Dick insisted. If it came to hand to hand combat, Nightwing knew he wouldn't have a chance. While the Joker was wiry and used every trick in the book, normally it wouldn't have been a contest, but today, Nightwing's strength was gone. His vision was badly blurred and his energy reserves had just about reached their limit. He needed to use other methods to defeat his foe... then he had to free Batman and get the two of them out of the burning building before they were overcome by smoke. "It's always been me you were really after."
Nightwing, don't," Batman warned. He had a feeling Dick was going to attempt to transfer the Joker's fixation with Robin to himself. It was a dangerous ploy that could push the Joker over the edge. Then again, it was obvious Dick was on the point of collapse and was willing to try anything.
"You?" the Joker asked curiously, tossing the empty revolver to the ground.
"That's right. I'm the original Robin."
"No," the Joker argued, shaking his head vigorously. Vaguely he remembered knowing that, but he refused to accept it.
Nightwing began to move in closer and steadily circle to the right. Dark patches continued to rise up in front of his eyes, but Dick wasn't prepared to allow unconsciousness to take him yet. Bruce's life depended on him. All three men had begun to gasp. "Come on, Joker. You know I was Robin. I was the one who first started 'ruining' everything, and I'm still doing it."
"I killed you. On that rooftop. I shot and killed you!" the Joker insisted. He coughed and began to wipe his eyes, which were stinging from the smoke, but still the hideous smile remained.
"Oh, but you didn't." The Joker's face twisted. Nightwing continued to edge closer and to the right, progressively turning the madman around so that the Joker was facing the wall. Nightwing lent back against the structure using it to keep himself on his feet. "You didn't kill me." The Joker's eyes narrowed. "Don't you get it, Joker? You created me." Nightwing reached up and pulled his torn uniform from his shoulder, pointing to the scar. "That's the bullet wound from that night, Joker."
The madman's eyes grew wide as he was confronted with indisputable evidence. "No! It's not true."
Around them, the fire raged. Crates and other abandoned materials caught fire. The temperature in the room was rising uncontrollably. Above, the ceiling began to creak.
"You know it's true, Joker. I didn't die that night. I simply retired. I became Nightwing and another Robin took my place. That's the way it works. Each time you try to kill a Robin, that one grows up, takes on a new identity and a new one takes his place. You can't win, Joker. You can't kill us. We just multiply."
"NO! I killed you. I killed you!" The insanity in his eyes festered with hatred.
"No you didn't. You haven't killed anyone!"
"I always win!" The Joker lunged forward. Nightwing side-stepped the attack and allowed the Joker's own momentum to send him crashing into the wall head first. The crown prince of crime bounced backwards, teetered for a few minutes and then crumpled into a heap.
"You lose," Dick muttered. The darkness he had been fighting against for the past few minutes rose up in front on his eyes. Against his will, his body slumped back against the wall and began to slide down it to the ground. A small voice in his head was ordering him to his feet, but oblivion was beckoning insistently.
"Nightwing." Batman's voice cut through the haze. Dick's eyes blinked open and he stared around himself. There were flames everywhere. He began coughing. "Nightwing, get up."
Dick turned to Bruce, focused on his face, dragged his legs under himself and pushed up. He walked unsteadily across to Batman and stared down at the girder, covering his nose and mouth with his hand to keep out as much smoke as possible.
"You can't do anything, Nightwing," Batman coughed. "Get the Joker and get out of here."
Nightwing took out a small lazer and used it to burn through the handcuffs and then took his high tensile rope and began to tie it to the beam.
"Nightwing! Listen to me. Can you hear me?" Batman demanded through the steady stream of tears leaking out of his stinging eyes. Considering how dilated Dick's pupils were, Batman really wasn't sure that Dick was aware of much at all. "Can you hear me?"
"I hear you, Batman," Dick responded. "Now shut up and let me think."
"It's too heavy."
"I'm not leaving without you."
Bruce flicked his eyes toward the door, watching as the walls of the building began to buckle. Sections of the ceiling were raining down around them. Soon access to the exits would be blocked. "Nightwing, look at me!"
"I'm a little busy at the moment," Nightwing replied, coughing. He threw the end of the rope up into the air and watched as it twisted itself around a girder above.
"LOOK AT ME!" Batman yelled as more of the ceiling crashed to the ground. The heat was becoming unbearable but their kelvar suits provided invaluable insulation.
Nightwing allowed his eyes to flick to Batman momentarily. "I AM ORDERING YOU TO LEAVE! DO YOU HEAR ME. I'M... coff...ORD..coff... ERING...coff..."
"Save your breath. Okay, get ready. I'm... coff...going to need your ... coff...help. Push with me... coff... and then you're going to have to wriggle... coff... yourself free. Ready?" Dick had secured the beam so that it couldn't fall down on Batman, but using the cord to winch the girder off Bruce was out of the question. There was no way it would be strong enough. Nightwing just hoped it wouldn't snap.
"Get ready. On three." Dick panted, pressing his good shoulder under the beam. Only feet away, the ceiling collapsed. Batman glared over at his partner. "One... two... three!"
They heaved together. The girder lifted a single inch. It was enough. Batman scrambled backwards. Dick gritted his teeth.
Dick leapt backwards and the girder fell to the ground, snapping Nightwing's rope and crushing the tiles that had been able to prevent it from crushing Batman. Nightwing rushed to his partner's side and using his good arm, dragged Batman to his feet. They paused, staring through tears at the inferno around them. Their escape had been cut off. Their coughing increased as the small flame-free area around them decreased.
"The Joker!" Nightwing cried, turning in search of the villain.
"Escaped earlier," Batman shouted, taking Nightwing's arm and forcing him backwards... but there was nowhere for them to go. They were trapped.
The air outside the disintegrating factory was thick with ash and smoke. Flames were now leaping tens of feet into the air. The building groaned in protest, its agony evident as the metal exterior bent under the weight of the roof. Three fire trucks arrived simultaneously, firemen alighting and attacking the blaze with the precision of a team of surgeons. A crowd of curious onlookers had gathered and were being held back by uniformed police. A half a dozen other police were handcuffing Robin's collection of captives.
The Joker coughed several times. He glared up at the teenager, continuing to rant at the top of his lungs. Moments earlier, he had run directly into Batman's junior partner and had attempted to draw his gun, but of course, it was long gone. He had then attacked the boy, trying to tear him apart with his bare hands as he had planned Bane would, but he had been no match for the well-trained Robin.
"All of my plans ruined!" the madman squealed. "Because of him! Nightwing wasn't supposed to be here!" The Joker shouted at Robin. "He's right. You don't die. You just multiply!"
As Robin shoved the ranting Joker into the arms of uniformed officers, he turned to face the inferno. Only seconds earlier there had been a clear view through the entrance and into the factory. That was now gone. A wall of flame met Robin and he was forced to step back. Searing heat flooded from the building, scorching anything with the audacity to approach it.
"Batman! Nightwing!" Robin yelled. His face shadowed with despair as he searched for his friends. Helplessly, he watched as the firemen tackling the blaze were ordered back.
"The roof is going to collapse. Everyone back!" the chief yelled.
"NO! You can't. Batman and Nightwing are still in there!" Robin argued, racing over to the chief. The man's eyes showed true sympathy, but he shook his head. "Sorry, Son. It's too dangerous. Clear the area!" he shouted to his men.
Robin stared at the man and then spun around to face the burning building. Refusing to give up hope, Robin shot off around the outside of the burning factory praying his friends had escaped via another exit.
Sparks were floating down all over the place. The roaring of the flames was like that of a jet engine.
"Oracle, I don't think they've come out, yet." Robin choked into his communicator. "I can't see them!"
"Robin, leave it to the firefighters," Oracle ordered, her voice low and distorted.
"Damn it, they haven't come out." Robin paused to watch flames leaping into the air. Tongues of fire licked the windows and the sound of the ceiling collapsing sounded over the fire itself.
The firefighters were forced further back by the dreadful heat and imminent collapse of the building.
"Oracle, they haven't... they didn't...YES!" the teenager cried, spotting his partners rounding the side of the building. They were leaning on each other... the wounded helping the wounded. Their faces were blackened with soot and they were coughing violently, but they were both very much alive. "YES! YES! Oracle, they're alive."
Oracle's very audible, "Thank God," echoed in Robin's ears.
Tim raced toward his companions whose lungs were convulsing uncontrollably. "I'll get some oxygen," he shouted, detouring to an arriving ambulance.
Batman and Nightwing continued on across the street, stopping in an alley next to the Batmobile. Dick searched for Bruce through the sooty tears cascading from his throbbing eyes as he fought to expel the smoke from his choked lungs. Batman was bent over, his hands on his knees coughing relentlessly. Nightwing reached out and placed his hand on his partner's back as some sort of support. He knew that the coughing would be agony consider his injured chest. Tim reappeared with two masks and canisters of oxygen.
"Batman," Nightwing insisted. Tim immediately assisted Bruce into an oxygen mask and after threading one of Dick's face, he ran his eyes over his blackened colleagues. Their coughing gradually eased.
"I told the ambulance men to stay back, but by the look of the two of you..."
"No," Batman argued, removing his mask. He coughed several times, briefly replaced the mask to suck in some pure oxygen and then handed it back to Robin. "We'll head back to the cave. I'll call Leslie. Has the Joker been secured?"
"Yes, Sir," Robin replied, watching as Batman turned to Nightwing. The look was not one of gratitude to say the least. "Yeah, well, I guess I'll go and check and see if I'm needed by the police," Robin muttered, backing away and disappearing. He had seen that look before. Clearly, something had happened in the factory that had not pleased Batman and Robin didn't want to be around when Nightwing and the Dark Knight 'discussed' whatever it was.
Nightwing, who was leaning against the bonnet of the car, glanced up at Batman over the top of the small mask that was covering his mouth and nose, noted the glare raining down on him and pulled his own oxygen mask off. He winced as he lifted his weary and aching frame upright. It was time to face the wrath of Batman... or more correctly, what he liked to call, Batlogic. Batman had his own way of viewing the world and if you didn't agree with it, you were immediately crucified.
Bruce glared at the younger man, but noting Dick's discomfort, he took him by his good shoulder and guided him back so he was resting against the car again. Without a word, Batman bent into the Batmobile and snapping open a compartment, he pulled out a first aid kit. "Looks like it's dislocated. Broken?"
"I'm not sure." Dick coughed again, the jarring causing him to groan. He reached for his own elbow and tried to support his shoulder. The gritty taste of acid and smoke remained in his mouth.
"Put the oxygen mask back on," Batman instructed as he searched the first aid kit.
"I'm fine. How's your chest? Broken ribs?"
"Yeah. Three or four," Batman grunted, withdrawing a piece of white material.
"I better tape them for you."
"No, they're fine." Batman removed his gloves, wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and then examined Nighwing's shoulder. "I won't touch it until Leslie has had a chance to look at it," he commented without emotion. With great care he created a sling and eased Dick's arm into it. Grayson's jaw locked as his shoulder moved. Batman looked up sharply. "Okay?"
"Just dandy," Dick grunted. His head was spinning and the nausea in his stomach was doing summersaults, but it was the upcoming 'discussion' of Batlogic that was causing him the greatest discomfort.
Batman examined Dick's badly dilated pupils. "It's amazing you're on your feet," he commented quietly. Bruce had seen Dick smashed into the wall of the factory by the explosion. That image would remain with him for some time. He had honestly thought that... "How do you feel?"
"In comparison to what? Compared to Bane's family jewels, I'm feeling quite well, I guess." He forced a smile, but it was stolen by the deep ache in his shoulder. Dick blinked twice, trying to clear his vision which was blurring in and out of focus of its own accord. Batman placed his thumb on the tip of Nightwing's chin and tilted his head back. Grayson almost lost his balance and would have fallen but for the fact that Batman had anticipated the reaction and steadied him. Bruce frowned, his suspicions confirmed. "You've a concussion. You're going to need a skull X-ray. How bad's the pain?"
"Blood in your mouth?"
"No, but my head feels like an elephant sat on it. You want me to tape your ribs? You shouldn't be moving around so much. Could do internal damage."
"They're fine." The two men had been avoiding full eye contact until this point. Now, their eyes came together. Batman's lips became thinner and his eyes became harder. "I gave you an order." The words were a hushed whisper forced out through his tightly clenched jaw. "I gave you several orders and you ignored them."
Nightwing snorted, rolling his eyes. He knew this would be the cornerstone of the 'discussion'. Batlogic at its best. Blind obedience. No room for negotiation.
"We can't work together if you can't follow orders," Batman insisted, harshly.
"Fair enough," Dick replied, simply. He was too tired and too damned sore to debate the point.
Batman's rage began to boil. It was essential that Nightwing take this seriously. "You ordered Robin to stay back. You expected him to follow your orders and he did," the Dark Knight guessed.
Nightwing shook his head. "No, I explained the situation to him and we agreed that it would be better for me to deal with it," Dick adjusted his sling, but didn't take his eyes from Batman's angry face.
"It can't work that way," Bruce growled.
"It was the only way that would work in this situation. Robin needed to understand why he couldn't be involved or he would have ignored anything anyone said to him."
"Okay, I'll accept that..."grudgingly, he accepted it, "but you know better than anyone that in the heat of battle, you must follow orders. You didn't. You ignored orders repeatedly." Dick reached up and felt the back of his head. There was an egg the size of a fist there which explained why he felt like he was going to pass out. He withdrew his gloved hand and studied the blood. "We both could have been killed," Batman continued, taking out a medical pad and pressing against the back of the younger man's head. "Your death would have been an unnecessary loss."
"One, as I've said before, I don't simply take orders from you anymore, Batman. Two, we weren't killed and three, if you don't mind, I'll be the judge of what and when I risk my life." Dick reached up and took over holding the pad in place.
"That decision isn't yours," Batman argued, ignoring Nightwing's first point. He reached for his own ribs and his face twisted with discomfort. "You knew that when you signed on."
Dick ran his fingers along the curve of his partner's ribcage. "Four, by the feel of it. They'll have to be taped before we leave for the cave. And I don't remember signing anything," Dick pointed out, "
"You're impossible!" Batman exclaimed in exasperation. It was clear the younger man wasn't listening to a word he was saying.
"My lifelong ambition's to piss you off, Batman," Dick commented with a wry grin.
"You do a damn good job of it," Batman grumbled. "This isn't finished. Not by a long shot."
Nightwing sighed and grimaced again. He began blinking. Unconsciousness was calling his name. Before he knew it, his legs were crumbling beneath him.
Batman's arm encircled Nightwing's back and he held Dick on his feet. His ribs burned, but he maintained his grip. "Come on. Let's get you home before you pass out on me. Robin can handle things at this end."
Nightwing allowed Batman to assist him into the car. The Dark Knight walked around and settled himself behind the wheel.
"You probably saved Robin's life tonight," Batman whispered. "Thank you."
"Oracle called and told me what was happening," Dick mumbled. "It was obvious he was after Robin."
"You... you handled the situation well. You were badly outnumbered, but you held it together. You dealt with the Joker in your own way, but it worked." Batman found himself wondering if he would have been successful in the same situation.
Dick's heavy lidded eyes opened fully and he glanced at his mentor a little surprised. Praise from Batman was as rare as hen's teeth.
"You saved my life as well," the Dark Knight admitted.
"Had to. It's my birthday next week."
Batman's eyebrow arched as he started the car. "So?"
"So you give good presents."
Bruce couldn't help but smile. In that moment, all else was stripped away and forgotten as a father shook his head. "I found the magazine you left on my desk."
"The red Harley."
"The fact that it was circled with a note saying 'this one' was a dead giveaway."
"Subtlety was never a strength for me. You know that."
"That I do." The smile faded. All too quickly the moment of repose was swallowed by Batman's obsession... Batlogic had to have the last say. "However, we need to talk about your insubordination. In this job, following orders is the most important thing."
Dick sighed and allowed his head to rest against the back of the seat. Pain, fatigue and his concussion combined sending him closer to the darkness beckoning him. "Look, Batman, just for the record, I do understand there is need for a leader in a team and I'm more than happy to follow your orders without question. To hell and back if necessary... whether I agree with them or not. By now, you should know that."
Batman listened without comment.
"I agree that following orders is essential, but no one... not even you... can tell me what to do when it comes to the lives of my family."
Batman glanced across at his partner, the word 'family' ringing in his ears. Dick's eyes closed, his chest heaved and his breathing slowed and became deeper as he slipped into the painless world of oblivion. Bruce's hard expression dissolved. He reached his hand out and squeezed Nightwing's good shoulder.
"Rest easy, son."
Batman activated the panel in front of him. "Alfred, contact Leslie and have her meet us in the cave. A couple of broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder and perhaps a skull fracture."
"Sir, it is wonderful to hear your voice. I knew Master Nightwing would be able to secure your release."
Batman glanced across at his partner. "He was incredible... don't you dare tell him I said that."
"Of course not, Sir," Alfred chuckled.
"Alfred, we ordered the red Harley, didn't we?"
"Yes, Sir. It should arrive in the next two days. Why?"
"Have I ever told you, Alfred, that in this job, following orders is the second most important thing."
Bruce smiled warmly, checked on his boy and then sent the Batmobile and its precious cargo rocketing toward home. It would appear that 'following orders' was one piece of Batlogic that would need reviewing.
© July 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. (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.