Disclaimer: All characters and locales property of DC comics. Used without permission. No financial benefit is being derived from the publication of this work of fan fiction.
This story takes place immediately after Nightwing #110, Superman #219, and Action Comics #829. Events from Nightwing #s 87, 93, and 100 are referenced.
Running away let's do it
Why sit around resigned?
Trouble is, son
The farther you run
The more you feel undefined
By what you have left undone
And more, what you've left behind
---Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods
The Left Undone and the Left Behind
Dick didn't turn around. "I told you, Robin," he gritted through clenched teeth, "forget you ever knew me."
There was no response from the younger vigilante, but Dick still sensed his presence behind him.
"What?" he snarled, spinning about. "Was I not clear? Was I--" he stopped, seeing the barely restrained grief on the youth's face. "What?" He repeated less belligerently.
Tim drew a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. "Batman…" he started, then stopped. "He… we… I… it's really serious… I…" he stopped, pausing for breath. "Oh, G-d, I don't think I can go through this again… I…"
A second figure stepped from the shadows. Dick started visibly. He hadn't sensed her at all. Maybe that was to be expected, when you were trained by one of the best assassins in the world. The lithe form glided toward him. A few paces away, she stopped, and with a fluid gesture removed her mask. Brown eyes met blue, and held them with an anguished gaze.
"Cass." Dick said, more by way of acknowledgement than by greeting.
"Batman." Cass said quietly. "Hurt… bad. On… um… Watch… tower now. We're going. You… should come too.
There was something different about the JLA headquarters, Dick thought as he stepped out of the transporter, a half pace ahead of Robin and Batgirl.A moment later, he realized that it was the lighting. Normally, out of deference to the majority of League members who claimed Terra as their point of origin, the ambient lights mimicked, as closely as possible, Earth's sunlight. Now, however, the overhead fixtures illuminated everything with a reddish hue.
Flash strode forward to greet them. "Dick," he said, expression serious. He nodded at the other two. "This way. Hold on," he said, suddenly, reaching into a supply locker, and coming up with three decontamination belts. "Wear these. They'll protect you from the UV radiation."
They donned them hastily. "Radiation?" Dick asked, as they followed Flash down the corridor. "What's going on? What's happened, Wally? How--" he broke off with a gasp, as they entered the sickbay area. Batman lay on the bio-bed, a breathing mask affixed to his face. Through the transparent plastic, Dick could see that below the cowl-line, Batman's skin was puckered and burned. Bandages encircled his torso and arms. Due to the blanket that covered him from the waist down, it was impossible to tell whether that was the full extent of the damage. On a stool, next to the bed, a familiar form in blue, red, and yellow sat, eyes anguished, one hand laid over that of the injured man's.
Tim choked, as Cass drew in her breath sharply.
"Oh… my… G-d," Dick said slowly. "Is he--"
"His condition is stable, for the present," Martian Manhunter moved into their line of vision. "Although it is far too early to ascertain whether a full recovery might be expected."
At his words, the Kryptonian flinched, and his hand quickly squeezed that of the Dark Knight.
No. Dick thought to himself. This can't be happening. Not to him, not now. He'd ducked out on Bruce, abruptly, some months before, overwhelmed by recent events in his life. He'd meant to go back and explain things to Bruce at some point down the road… when the timing was right… when he could get up the courage…when he finally got his life back together. When child poverty was completely stamped out, the entire world destroyed its nuclear arsenals, and rivers started running uphill. He should have just bitten the… bullet, he winced at his own turn of phrase, thinking about how a single bullet fired in a stairwell, months earlier had shattered his life, as surely as twin shots three decades earlier in an alley had shattered his mentor's. Dick forced his mind back to the present. Now was not the time to agonize over his own stupid choices.
He willed himself to speak calmly, and, amazingly, he found that he was able to do so. "Will someone… please… tell me how this happened? Please."
Superman looked up, expression bleak. His eyes barely acknowledged the three newcomers standing in the room, as Flash kept a respectful distance behind them. The Kryptonian ducked quickly, deliberately avoiding eye contact.
Dick's eyes narrowed. "Superman?" he demanded. "What happened to him? Who did this?"
Slowly, the costumed figure rose to his feet. "J'onn, call us immediately if there's any change," he said softly.
"Of course," the Martian Manhunter acquiesced. Tim started to follow them out, but a hand on his arm stayed him.
"We wait here," Cass stated. "Okay?" She looked from Flash to Manhunter. "Okay?" she repeated.
J'onn nodded slowly, and went to move a second chair next to the bed.
"I'd gone to meet Lois," Clark said, haltingly. "And Brainiac was in her office with her. At least, I thought it was Brainiac. Later, it seemed like it was Darkseid. And the odd thing was that she didn't seem to care."
Dick frowned. "Mind control?" he ventured, wondering what that had to do with Bruce.
Clark froze. "I'd… thought so," he said. "I took her home and told her to engage the security protocols. Then I went after Brainiac. He had a base in the Marianas Trench. And… he had Lois, somehow... and Jimmy, and Lana, and Perry. He… I thought he killed them… and I went berserk. I was ready to kill him. And… when I hit him, he… bled. There w-was blood on my hands, Dick."
"Wh-what?" A sickening notion was forming in Dick's mind. He tried to dismiss it, but was left to wonder how else Superman's story could possibly tie in with Bruce lying in the Watchtower's sickbay.
Clark got up from his chair and rested his forehead against one of the smooth metal walls of the conference room.
"Sometimes," he continued, "when you dream… the scene changes, in the middle, but it somehow doesn't surprise you."
"This was a dream," Dick interrupted, hoping for confirmation.
Clark's shoulders slumped. "If you interrupt me, I don't think I'll be able to finish," he said dully. "All at once, I was in some sort of interplanetary boxing ring, facing Darkseid. I was there… to take a beating. And Lois… was there, too. Completely enthralled. If I didn't fight Darkseid, he was going to detonate an explosive he'd implanted in her brain. I had no choice. I fought. I won. And he killed her. And I… I lost it. I attacked him with my fists," he paused miserably, drew a shuddering breath, let it out, then drew another one. "And then," he continued with a sob, "I used m-my… h-heat v-vision…" Shoulders shaking, he slammed his fist against the wall.
Heat vision? Dick tensed. No. Clark couldn't mean that--"Clark," he asked steadily, "why am I wearing a decontamination belt?"
Clark didn't reply, but a moan escaped his lips.
"Answer me, Clark," Dick demanded, harshly."Why are the environmentals set for red-sun conditions?"
Superman turned back from the wall, and faced the younger man, his eyes bright with unshed tears. "So that if someone gets into my head again," he sobbed, "the next person I attack will have a fighting chance!"
Clark was all too aware that, under regular circumstances, a blow from a normal human could seriously injure… perhaps cripple the one who threw it. And, even though he knew on an intellectual level that, with the current environmental settings, that was no longer a danger, instinct took over and he dodged Dick's punch automatically.
Without hesitation, Dick swung again, narrowly missing Clark's eye. "You? You did this?" He swung again, and this time Clark pinned his arm. "How could you? Damn you, Clark! You were his friend!" He twisted, and flipped the Kryptonian over his shoulder, dropping him heavily on the ground.
"I know," Superman said bleakly. "I told you. I thought he was Darkseid."
With a cry, Dick launched himself onto the fallen man, pummelling him blindly. "You… thought… he… was…"
"Dick!" Superman shouted. "Stop! Please! You're reacting… like I did when I thought he'd killed Lois. And once you realize what you're doing, you're… only… going… to… hate yourself…"
Dick smiled bitterly. Events of the last three months played through his mind.
…I'm tired of always playing "remember when"… I think maybe we shouldn't see each other anymore… You won't be able to shake someone's hand without marking them for death… Do you like being alone, Dick? …Get out of the way, Nightwing… all you have to do is get out of my way… Vaya al Diablo! (Heh. Too late, Catalina. I was already there.)
"TOO LATE!" Dick yelled, whether in response to Clark or to the memory he no longer knew, as he pulled his arm back for one more punch. It never came.
"No," Cass said, softly, as she held his wrist immobile. "This… isn't you."
"Let go, Cass," Dick snarled. "He's the reason Batman's lying in critical."
"I know," she replied. "But you're not like this."
Dick slumped. "How do you know how… who I am?" He asked wearily. "I don't even know anymore." Cass released his arm, and he rose shakily to his feet. "And if you knew what I'd done…"
"I do," she said simply.
"I do. So. What next?"
Dick faced her, shock and confusion intermingled on his face. "What do you mean?"
She turned around. "When I was small… you know Cain raised me. He taught me how to fight and… other things. I was only…" She turned back, holding her hand at mid-torso level, "this tall. Cain gave me a… test. Special fighting technique." She looked down. "Assassin skill. I… didn't know. Never did on… um… live target before. This time I did. It worked." She met his gaze, brown eyes haunted. "I didn't understand what happened… but I knew it was me… my fault. And I ran… away. I lived on streets, slept on… fire steps…" She frowned. "No. That's… um… not right word. Fire… um… something. You know? Back stairs for apartment buildings? Outside?"
"Fire escapes," Dick supplied hollowly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Superman move quietly out of the room.
"Yes," Cass nodded. "I fought if someone tried to hurt me or… um…do other things. I still… um…trained because it was all I knew how to do. Until I came to Gotham. Met Barbara… and all of you… and…" she touched her costume reverently.
Dick nodded encouragement. Cass was saying more, now, than he'd ever heard her articulate in the past. "Go on."
"Something I did," she continued, "made a man die. I spent years making myself hurt for that. And nobody cared except me. And nothing changed." She pointed toward the door of the conference room, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the sickbay. "He gave me this," she touched the costume again, "and told me to be Batgirl… and things change. I make them change. I make things better. What I do now… makes things change… helps make people… live. I know it won't… um... bring back the man who died, but even if I sleep on streets forever… that won't bring him back either. Dick? Why aren't you… Nightwing, now?"
Dick hesitated. "Because," he said finally, "something Nightwing did made a man die. I couldn't tell Bruce. I tried to turn myself in to BPD… and my captain made up some cock-and-bull story about how I was undercover to try to bring in Tarantula."
Cass frowned, perplexed. "She lied? Why?"
"Her exact words were…
…Putting you in jail will not make this world a better place …you're gonna have to do a LOT better than sitting around in some prison cell feeling…
…feeling sorry for myself," he stared at the young woman standing before him. A hint of a smile flickered briefly on his face. Cass magnified it.
"You know what she told you was… true. Prison is like… um… like me wanting to die before. Too easy. And… nothing important changes."
"Cass," he said desperately, "a man died because I moved out of the way! And I knew it was going to happen! I can see how you can forgive yourself for killing someone when you didn't know what you were doing--"
Dick blinked. "Wh-what? You just told me--"
"I didn't know what I was doing. I wanted to die. Now I don't. Who says... I forgave myself?"
That brought him up short. "Cass…"
"You said you went to the police… um… after. Once they let you go, what did you do?" Seeing his hesitation she leaned forward intently. "Truth!"
Dick sighed. With no small measure of embarrassment, he related his virtual adoption by the Epifani family, and his current activities. The young woman rolled her eyes.
"This is your… um… atonement? This is how you try to… make up… for --"
"Maybe, I didn't want to make up for it! Maybe I just wanted to suffer!"
Time seemed to stand still, as her words hung in the air. Dick opened his mouth to spout back an angry retort, but nothing came out. He tried again, but his response froze on the tip of his tongue. Finally he shrugged his shoulders.
"Sue me," he said, but the anger was out of his voice.
Cass's lips twitched. Dick smiled ruefully. "Cass," he asked. "How did you know?"
"You told me."
She sighed. "You know. I can't read… words. But…um… I read people. The way you stand, walk… um…look at me. The way you um…fought Superman. I didn't see how it was at the beginning… but the way you moved…um… you were angry…scared… but it wasn't just angry at Superman or scared because… um…Batman's hurt…it was like… um… you… got scared because what he did was… um…almost what you did. I… guessed."
She cocked her head, waiting for a reply. If his silence wasn't confirmation enough, his flinch was.
He spun around, shoulders slumped, and head down. He was aware of his heart pounding… Cass could probably hear it from where she was standing. Dick closed his eyes, and drew a deep breath, held it for a count of ten, and let it out. He repeated the exercise until his pulse steadied. Then he felt a tentative pressure on the inside of his elbow. He opened his eyes, and looked at his arm. Cass's second and third fingers, pressed lightly down on the juncture between humerous and ulna. Slowly he turned back to face her.
Cass cleared her throat. "I know I don't talk much," she said slowly. Her lips quirked up into a wry smile. "Not… um…usually anyway. But…I listen. And… if you…" she looked away, face flushing, "um…want to talk… anytime…um… I'll listen to you. Okay?"
Dick touched her shoulder. "I might actually take you up on that. But, first things first." He headed for the door. She followed.
Halfway back to sickbay, he asked her, "Are you and Tim both staying here until we know something?"
Cass nodded. "Aren't you?"
"Yes." Yes, he was. At least until he knew Bruce was going to be okay.
Black Canary and Green Arrow approached from a side corridor, speaking softly. Their conversation broke off when they saw the two younger people. Dick reflexively reached into his jacket pocket and pulled on his mask. Cass grinned. "Canary?" Dick called softly.
Dinah paused. "Nightwing?" She laid one hand on his shoulder, and the other on Cass's. "Batgirl. I'm so sorry, are you--"
Dick shook his head. "I think I'm alright for now. I was wondering, are you on any kind of mission right now? Or are you able to take on Gotham for the next few nights?"
Black Canary nodded almost as soon as he'd finished speaking. "Sure! No problem!"
"Thanks. Oh, and Dinah? Make sure your… dispatcher knows. I'm pretty sure she'd want to."
Black Canary pulled them both forward into a quick embrace. Seeing Cass's discomfort, she released them hastily. "I'll take care of it. You take care of yourself." She grinned at the younger woman before she added, "both of you."
Tim looked up as they re-entered the sickbay.
"Robin," Dick asked, "are the Titans free to look after Bludhaven…or did you want me to see if someone else can take it on?"
"I'll make a couple of calls and find out."
Dick noticed that two more chairs had been set up on the other side of the bio-bed. He took one and Cass took the other. He waited for Superman to meet his gaze. The Man of Steel now sported, among other contusions, an extremely colourful black eye. "I… um… know you don't have a lot of experience with getting injured," he started, "but you might want to get some ice for that." He touched the area around his own eye. "It'll probably help with the swelling. Pain too."
Superman looked away. "I'm… not sure I deserve it," he said softly.
Dick considered that for a moment. Then he turned to Cass and, with a broad grin, uttered three words.
"Cass. Sic 'em."