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)
WARNING: I have nooooo medical knowledge. There are likely to be inaccuracies in this story. I hope you can enjoy it despite this.
Special Thanks: Thank you to all those people who have joined me on the journey. Your words of support and encouragement mean so much.
APOLOGIES: I'm so sorry about the delay again. It is a long story, but I've ended up going away to the beach a week earlier than expected... at the moment I'm in an internet cafe at a shopping centre. (g) Last night, while writing on my laptop I realized I had't posted the last part of Heroes so I saved it on a disk and here I am. Please forgive me for not reponding to reviews yet. I will do so as soon as I get home. MERRY CHRISTMAS.
The Joker's mouth hung open in astonishment, his cherry-red lips forced into a smile by a deformity he had no control over. However, his eyes flashed rage for the world to see. "KILL THEM! ALL OF YOU, GET THEM. GET THEM!!" he screamed.
Batman glanced at Nightwing. "Are you up to this?"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Dick cried, moving to his left. The mob bearing down on them divided into two.
"That isn't what I asked," Batman rebuked, his eyes critically assessing his partner. The mob let out a roar as they advanced.
"You said you wanted us to spend more time together," Nightwing pointed out, unconsciously counting his opponents who were swiftly closing the gap.
"This is not exactly what I meant," Batman replied.
"You really need to be more specific then, Batman. I'm not a mind-reader," Dick admonished with mock disgust.
Bruce sighed in exasperation, but there was a smile on his face. This was like old times - outnumbered, his boy cracking jokes at his side. It didn't get much better than this.
"Bet I bag more bad guys then you," Dick challenged, charging the mob.
"You're on," Batman countered, watching with pride as his son gracefully ducked under the blow of a thug, disarmed a second and sent four others crashing to the ground as he launched himself straight up into the air and kicked out in an arc.
"Five to me," Nightwing cried.
Batman waited for his attackers to come to him. The first few tried to tackle him but bounced off like rabbits hitting a semi-trailer. Only then did Batman enter the fray. His punches were strategic, jaws shattering as they connected with his iron fists.
The communicator in Nightwing's glove sprang to life.
"YOU'RE ALIVE," Barbara screamed at Nightwing. She was beyond rage. There was absolutely no excuse for what he'd put her through. While she accepted that Batman was probably responsible, Dick was a grown man and he could and should have made sure she was informed. "You couldn't find a phone? Didn't you think you could trust me? Do you have any idea..."
"Oracle? Hey, Pretty Lady," Grayson responded. Oracle watched him flip over a group of goons, land behind them and then sweep their legs out, shouting his growing tally to his partner.
"Don't Pretty Lady, me. I don't want to hear it. I thought you were dead and..."
"Don't play dumb with me, Nightwing. I..." She paused. Her eyes narrowed. A frown of confusion settled on her beautiful face. She had to be mistaken. It sounded as though... he was! Nightwing was singing!
"You are my sunshine..."Two more thugs bit the dust. "My only sunshine..." His knuckles found the soft belly of an attacker who doubled over. "You make me happy..." He thrust his elbow back to take out the man sneaking up behind him. "When skies are grey..."
Barbara reached out for the screen, fingering the inch high figure who was singing to her as he went about doing what he did best. Her heart melted and her anger drained away.
"You'll never know, dear..."His nunchakus danced across the bodies of those attacking him, but he didn't miss a single off-key note.
"I love you," Barbara whispered.
"That's a relief," he stated simply. "Now, Pretty Lady, as much as I'm sure you'd love..." he grunted as a blow connected with his left shoulder. He spun around and his fist flashed. "Lights out, pal. Yeah, as much as I'm sure you'd love to hear the rest of my outstanding karaoke, I'm afraid it will have to wait. I'm a bit busy. I'll meet you back at base."
Barbara felt tears welling in her eyes. He was alive. God, she loved him. "I'm leaving now... be careful... and have fun."
"Always," he chirped. "Oh, and as the song says, you'll never know dear, how much I love you..."
It took less than three minutes for Batman and Nightwing to dispense with the Joker's brainless goons. The Joker decided to make a run for it, but didn't get very far before Batman snapped cuffs onto him and secured him to the metal wall erected in the middle of the field.
Then Gotham's protectors tied up the 'Emperor's' men and collected the dozen sharpshooters Nightwing had dealt with earlier. All the while the Joker continued to rant and curse.
"That's it?" Nightwing asked, moaning involuntarily as he stretched his back.
Batman eyed him carefully. Dick was pale. His lips were set in a grimace and he looked exhausted. It had been too much, too early. "Time to take you home," the older man declared.
Nightwing glanced at his partner and smiled wearily. He was ready to concede.
The fallen emperor of Gotham stared at the pair bewildered.
"You lied to me," he cried, glaring at Batman. "They all lied to me. They said you were both dead."
Before Dark Knight could comment, Commissioner Gordon arrived leading a squad of uniformed officers. The fatigued policemen all shared the same smile of triumph. The day could not have started any worse, but it had ended in victory for the good guys.
"Take him away," Gordon growled, inclining his greying head toward the Joker. He, Batman and Nightwing watched as the still ranting captive was cuffed with the rest of this men and led away. Jim turned to Batman and offered his hand. "You had me worried, old friend."
Batman drew in a deep breath and his head bobbed once in a silent apology. He could never explain just how sorry he was for leaving his friends and his city unprotected.
Gordon glanced at Nightwing and shook his head. "You look dreadful."
Dick laughed. "Thanks a whole hell of a lot, Commissioner."
The police commissioner grinned, his own relief surfacing. He had almost lost his city. "It is good to see you both." He paused, trying to find the appropriate words. "You turned it all around in just one night. I don't know how you do it, but... I .... 'thank you' no longer covers it."
"It always has," Batman stated, walking past Gordon and slapping him on the shoulder.
"It always will," Nightwing added, following his partner.
"Why?" Jim asked, perplexed. He realized he really didn't understand. Why did the Dark Knight do it?
It was Nightwing who paused and glanced back. "Because he's Batman." The young vigilante winked and then continued on his way.
Jim Gordon nodded, more than content with the answer. "Because he's Batman."
Across Gotham there were celebrations and commiserations. The city's urban legend had been beamed into everyday people's homes. While the image had been minute - little more than a smudge, Gotham's citizens had seen it. Now, they knew Batman was real. Now, they knew their hero was back.
For the criminal element there was a sense of dread. Rumors of their nemesis' return had been confirmed. Tomatoes, glasses of beer and numerous other items were thrown at television screens as the city's scum witnessed Batman capturing the Joker.
In a small apartment in the centre of Gotham City, Hugo Strange watched with a certain amount of satisfaction. He was pleased to see Batman win the day, for in Strange's demented mind, he was Batman. However, the feeling of euphoria sweeping over him related to something else - something he had learned in his meeting with Bruce Wayne at the Manor a few short days earlier. Something that held the key to the victory that consumed his every waking thought. For as long as Hugo Strange could remember, he had been searching for a way to unlock Wayne's psyche so he could defeat the impostor and take his rightful place as the true Batman.
The television in front of the psychotic psychiatrist continued to replay snippets of the evening's events. The intense eyes of Strange zeroed in on Nightwing and a triumphant smile of evil settled on his face.
He had found the key.
Nightwing and Batman slipped out through the darkness, bypassing the crowd that had formed around the stadium.
"How did you get here?" Batman asked as he and his partner approached the Batmobile.
"Bike. I sent it home earlier. Thought I'd grab a lift with you. Been a long time since I've had a ride in the Batmobile," Dick chuckled.
Batman disarmed the vehicle and opened the door for Nightwing. He took his partner's arm and guided Dick into the car.
"I'm okay, Batman."
"Let me be the judge of that," the older man ordered.
Dick rolled his eyes and waited for Bruce to get in behind the wheel.
"I take it the Batman sightings reported in the north and west were you, in one of my extra suits?"
Dick nodded. He'd realized that to calm the city Batman needed to be seen by as many people as possible and so he had headed out to the north side in one of Bruce's suits and worked his way west. It had worked.
"Thank you. I couldn't have done it without you." The words were soft and sincere.
Dick glanced at Bruce and sighed. "Yes you would have, but I wasn't about to let you take all of the credit."
Batman started the engine.
"Why didn't you tell Barbara I was alive?... Batman?"
"I don't know," he admitted.
"Well you better come up with the world's greatest excuse because she wants blood."
"I'll speak to her."
"Good, because I don't want to do any more singing. You know how much I hate singing."
Batman's left eyebrow raised curiously under his cowl. "Singing?"
"Don't ask." Dick swallowed and let his head rest back against the seat. His body was aching and he felt exhausted but there was a certain amount of relief too. Bruce was back to his old self, Gotham was safe and Barbara loved him. Equilibrium had returned to his world.
"Relax. I'll have you home in twenty minutes," Batman assured.
"Home sounds good. Bed sounds even better... of course, I do feel a bit hungry."
Without warning, the monitor in the dashboard sprang to life with an image of an unusually rattled Alfred.
"Go on, Alfred," Bruce instructed.
"Sir, we have a small problem here." A throng of voices rose up behind the elderly butler.
Dick opened his eyes and looked down at the monitor. "What's going on there?"
"I am being inundated with visitors. It seems that word of Master Nightwing's return has travelled far and wide and..." The face of Wally West lunged in front of Alfred, beaming a smile from his soul.
Grayson grinned. "Hey, Wally."
"Get out of the way," a voice ordered from off screen.
"I'm talking here," Wally protested.
"Out of the way!" Suddenly, Wally disappeared and was replaced by Donna. Her concerned eyes lit up with relief when she spotted Nightwing via the camera. "Oh, honey. Thank God. I... is that bruising on your face?"
"I'm fine, Donna."
Tears spilled down her cheeks. "Can't wait to see you," she sobbed.
"We'll be home..." Before Dick could finish, a green rabbit bounced up in front of Donna's face.
"Nightwing! Scared the shit out of us with all of this," Garfield Logan announced before disappearing momentarily and then reappearing as he bounced off the ground and back in front of the camera.
"Sorry," Nightwing laughed. He watched as a metal hand grabbed the green rabbit by the ears.
"You're in the way again, Logan."
"Hey, Robbie!" Garth called from somewhere unseen.
"Where is he?" Starfire demanded.
"On the monitor," Vic replied. The monitor began to shake as everyone present tried to get in front of it.
It was at this point that Alfred regained control. "Ladies and gentlemen, please. As I was saying, Sir," Alfred continued, turning back to camera. "We have about a dozen people here and the number is growing. I have most of them in the ballroom awaiting your return."
"No. Open the east wing and show them to rooms, Alfred. Please pass on Dick's apologies but he is exhausted and will be going to bed the moment we return."
"Hang on a minute," Grayson snapped.
"Dick will be happy to see them all at breakfast," Bruce finished.
"Very good, Sir," Alfred responded before switching off the monitor.
"You can't just cast them aside like that! They've come a long way and..."
"I don't care. The decision has been made. You will be going to bed."
Dick laughed at the absurdity of the statement. "Bruce, I'm not a child any more."
"Wrong." Batman switched the car to automatic pilot and turned to his boy. For several seconds he stared at him. It was time. He'd prayed for this chance. An emotional whisper followed. "You're my child and you always will be."
Nightwing blinked. "Bruce..."
"Let me finish. When you were little you knew how much I cared... because I used to tell you." It was almost a revelation for Bruce. He did used to tell Dick. He remembered doing it. "As you got older, it got harder for some reason. I don't know why. When I lost you..." A lump formed in his throat. "When I lost you, I lost everything. Everything that meant anything to me. I didn't realize that you...."
"Bruce... it's okay. I know," Dick assured gently.
Batman continued to stare at his boy. "You're not a child anymore," he admitted. "You're a grown man I'm proud to call my friend and my partner. But none of that changes the fact that you'll always be my son." Silence followed the emotional admission. Bruce and Dick's eyes locked together in a way that was theirs alone. Their souls touched just as they had so many years before. And I love you.
Dick Grayson understood the message like it had been shouted at him. "I've always known that, Bruce."
"I'm so sorry for all that's happened, son. Things are going to change."
Dick nodded. Bruce squeezed his boy's shoulder and then returned to driving by flicking off the automatic pilot. "Lay back and rest. We'll be home soon."
Dick followed the instruction... for about two seconds. He lifted his head and frowned. "I'm hungry. Can we grab McDonalds drive-thru on the way home?"
Batman turned to Nightwing flabbergasted. They had just shared a highly poignant moment and... he was hungry!
"What? Dick asked with astonished innocence.
"Nothing, son. The usual?"
"Three Big Macs and fries. Do you want anything?"
Bruce Wayne smiled, but this smile was not emanating from his face muscles, it was coming from the recesses of his soul.
Happiness. The essence of contentment. The absence of grief. An emotion that repairs the soul. The product of knowing that all is right with those you love - the path back from the abyss.
Stay tuned for the sequel when Dick's friends let him know how much they care, Barbara has a few choice words for Bruce and Hugo Strange uses the 'key'.
© August 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.