Notes: Nightwing #100 has a scene where Alfred finds Nightwing's costume abandoned at the foot of Jason's memorial. However, the current Nightwing books seem to be ignoring this dramatic action of Dick's in throwing away the Nightwing costume since he apparently easily wears the uniform again as needed.
This AU was spawned as a result of my dissatisfaction with the lack of follow up, coupled with inspiration taken from a passage in Char's fic 'Court Martial', where Waller makes an offer to Babs for Nightwing to lead the Suicide Squad if he wasn't acquitted of Blockbuster's murder.
Admittedly, this story is very much my reactionary expression in defiance of the depressed, whiney, drama-queen characterisation of Nightwing that we're currently seeing in the books. / I hope it manages to scratch the same kind of itch for some readers as it has for me in the writing of it.
DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to DC and not me. I'm just borrowing them for a while to spin a tale.
Legacies Tainted, Legacies Honoured
By Jacque Koh,
Alfred had stared in dismay at the familiar black kevlar-nomex uniform, with its distinguishing blue stripe over its chest, back and down the arms, currently lying discarded about the memorial to the second Robin. Of its owner, there was no sign.
Bruce wished that he could have dropped everything and gone after Dick. But he had other concerns on his mind. He couldn't abandon Gotham. Oracle was gone; disappeared out country with her Birds of Prey. He had sent Robin and Batgirl across the river to Bludhaven, ostensibly to take care of Nightwing's city while he was laid up from his injury; in reality to remove them from Gotham with its post underworld shake-up dangers. Batman could not leave Gotham unattended right now.
Bruce understood from Alfred's sad assessment that the younger man had been deeply troubled of late. He had heard how Dick's life had been swiftly and systematically destroyed and in hindsight regretted not making the time to check on Nightwing personally. He was paying for his neglect now. However, he also knew that Dick was a survivor. No matter what, Dick would eventually pull through on his own. And when he came back, Bruce would make it up to him.
Unfortunately, Bruce couldn't have known then that it would be a few years before anyone would find a trace of Dick Grayson again...
Three years later
"Waller, where is he?"
It was a familiar growl. One Amanda Waller hadn't heard for a long time, but of course they worked in vastly different circles. "I don't believe I know who you're talking about, Bats."
"You know exactly who I'm referring to."
"Oh? What's wrong, Bats? Lose a toy? Or maybe a son?"
"Left without a word, didn't he?" Waller wouldn't even give Batman the pretence of her full attention. "Junior didn't talk to you then, what makes you think he'll want to talk to you now?"
"Three years is a long time to be away from his family. Enough is enough; it's time he came home."
"And get out from under my control?" Waller smiled knowingly at her grim visitor. "Your boy has talent, Bats. Best field commander the Squad's ever had. He ain't lost a man, or a woman, under his direction yet. For once, retirement don't mean a body bag or a shallow ditch.
"He's doing good where he is."
"I won't leave him in your organisation to be killed."
"What? You have so little faith in your boy's leadership skills?" She glared at Batman across her desk, unconsciously defensive of her prized agent's ability. "Or you think he's not good enough and he'll get himself killed?"
"He's too good for you."
The spat out words made her laugh inwardly. "And you're better for him?" The Bat was just too cute for words. She could well see that he was proud of his boy. "Don't make me laugh, Bats. How long did it take you to realise he disappeared for good? A month? Two months after he tried to turn himself in as Blockbuster's killer?"
"He didn't pull the trigger."
"Girlfriend did; makes him an accessory to the murder."
"He should not be held accountable for the actions of anoth--"
"Damn straight he shouldn't. Girl was poison. Not that anyone needs to be bothered with her any more." The black woman smiled nastily. "Buried her deep and 'lost' the skank. It'll be a cold day in July before she's out of Blackgate."
He stared at her for a long while.
"We take care of our own too, Bats."
"He's too good for you." Batman growled at her again. "It's time my-- son came home."
"You going to let him decide for himself? Boy may not want to leave." Waller stared him down. "Will you respect that?"
"Giz! Giz! It's the Bat! The Bat's here!" The squad agent going by the moniker Mouse charged into her boyfriend's room.
"Batman? Here?" Giz looked up at her from checking his gear. "So it is him..."
"Yeah... And after everything we did to him. He-- he still kept us alive. Went back for us even..."
Their thoughts immediately travelled back to three years ago; to when they had rigged a building to blow up on Blockbuster's assurance that it wasn't occupied. An instruction they had followed to the letter not noticing nor caring that it did have tenants. Nightwing had caught and turned them in for arson and murder. They had had to face the evidence of their crimes and the public prosecutor was more than happy to throw in their faces the stories and lives of the tenants they had killed.
Despite their plea, no one believed that they hadn't understood the consequences of their sabotage; that they didn't know their actions would take the lives of children, babies and nearly whole families. No one believed that the deaths they caused hadn't been premeditated and that they hadn't gone about their work knowing full well that they would kill children and babies. The media circus had indeed latched onto that description of their actions and labelled them as 'child killers' and 'baby murderers'. By the time jury, and judge were done with Giz and Mouse, they were sentenced to thirty-five consecutive life sentences with parole only possible when they were 230.
During the first month of their incarceration, some of the surviving apartment residents who lost families with the building's destruction sent them pictures of the lives they had taken along with the hate mail. Two months into their imprisonment, when life behind bars was really becoming unbearable, Waller approached them and offered a deal; thirty-five missions in exchange for thirty-five life sentences. If they were still alive at the end of all that, they'd get a pardon and they could leave to start their lives over again how they wished with a monetary bonus. They had signed on not knowing what they were setting themselves up for. They just figured that anything else was better than a life time behind bars.
Their field leader had intimidated the hell out of them at their first meeting. They would have sworn that he had a voice which carried with it the chill of a winter's night. The lack of identifiable markings was immediately apparent in his 'uniform'. He wore a solid black kevlar-nomex body suit that covered him completely, a utility belt, gauntlets with compartments and he carried a collapsible staff, shuriken and combat disks. The only relief to the black was with the cape which was inlaid in blood-red. Waller appropriately introduced him as Bloodwing.
The shock for Giz, however, was for their new leader to offer him a pest he claimed to have recovered from animal services. After a separation of nearly five months, their new leader returned Goober to him and let it be known to them that the squirrel had become the squad's mascot. Even now, while Goober was primarily still Giz's pet, he also belonged to the squad; and was particularly fond of Bloodwing. In fact, Goober had earlier left Giz to poke around his gear and it was very likely that the little rodent went down the hall to visit Bloodwing to seek out a treat or two.
"Shit! If Batman is here, and he's--"
"Giz-- he's leaving..."
They still had half their 'tour' to go. If Bloodwin-- if Nightwing left now... "Shit!"
"How are we going to survive the rest--" Mouse clutched at Giz's arm as she shook him in panic. "What happens to us when he's no longer the leader?"
"You get assigned another leader." The two swung around to face Waller who had arrived to lean on the door jab. "And you pray hard that your new field commander has even half of the kid's talent."
"Wall, he can't go! He's the only guy that cares to keep us alive." Mouse wailed at her miserably. "If he--"
"It's up to the Bat." Waller shrugged as she sighed. "We were lucky to manage to have him for so long. But-- Hey, if the Bat's an asshole-- he might just stay after all..."
Batman had arched his eyebrow with interest after he keyed his temporary access code on the door's lock to see a short corridor and another electronic door beyond the one that opened. Waller had informed Batman that even in his personal quarters, Bloodwing kept his face hidden behind the full-face mask. The double doors were set up deliberately to give him time to cover up if he had unannounced visitors. The revelation of his identity was in no part of the deal. The squad and their supporters were left entirely in the dark as to who the man behind the mask was.
The second door, however, slid open before he reached it to the called out greeting. "Batman."
Delivered in a flat, controlled, emotionless tone, it was a commendable 'Voice' as effective as his own Bat-growl. But Batman wasn't here to talk to the field commander of Waller's Suicide Squad. And that was who he currently faced seated at a computer console.
Batman allowed himself to take a quick cursorily sweep of the room; he felt his uneasiness grow to note that the room was almost Spartan in décor. Even after three years, there wasn't a single object in the room which was not utilitarian. The only sign Batman could recognised of the bright, lively young man he had raised was with the chitterling squirrel Bloodwing was fondly feeding trail mix to.
Over a year ago, Batman had seen Bloodwing in action for the first time during the debacle that blew up with the appearance of the 'resurrected' Jason Todd. It turned out that Jason had been stolen out of time by the Time Trapper to be his sleeper agent during the Zero Hour crisis; much like the Titans, Terra and Mirage was. However, even with this second chance as a hero, the poor boy was once more slotted into Dick Grayson's shadow as his 'aged' counterpart. It had not been surprising to later learn that the angry young man briefly took up the name of 'Deathwing' to escape Nightwing's spectre. With Dick's absence in the community, however, Jason had for a time stolen Nightwing's identity and operated as a vigilante who killed before he was stopped.
To those who knew Dick Grayson, it had been a difficult period as some believed Dick had gone insane during his absent years. However, Bloodwing appeared to the superhero community for the first time then and exposed Jason's secret. The superhero community had been hearing hints of his existence from some members of the villain community for a couple of years, but until the Nightwing-Jason affair, Bloodwing was almost regarded as a myth.
At their first encounter, Bruce had not recognised Bloodwing straight off. Then, Batman's strained focus was rightfully on Jason and his madness, and his wilful attempt to destroy Nightwing's reputation. If Batman had not been conscious when Bloodwing finally confronted the fake Nightwing in a fight over his broken form, he would have remained in the dark as to Bloodwing's identity too. It was when Batman watched them fight that he saw how much more Bloodwing resembled Nightwing than the pretender. The battle had been heartbreaking for Bruce to witness; to see his 'eldest' son fight his 'second' son.
Through the Time Trapper's mechanisms, Jason may have had the age, size and muscled bulk over the younger Bloodwing, but he clearly did not have the greater wealth of experience. The biggest tragedy of the whole debacle was that Jason managed to kill himself in open defiance of everyone else's efforts to capture and keep him alive to receive help.
They hadn't spoken then. Bloodwing had only stayed long enough to lay Jason's body beside the prone and injured Batman, and set off a distress signal beside them which would call the JLA to their location. Then he had disappeared. That had been the last time Batman had seen Bloodwing until he finally hunted down Waller's HQ.
Batman had a lot on his mind that he could say to his son to try and persuade him to return. Upon learning that Bruce had finally tracked down the missing man, Alfred had sent out word to their select community and the messages came pouring in.
Tim Drake threatened to kick Dick's ass if he didn't appear at his 20th birthday party to celebrate his last moments as a teenager and his 'pre-entrance' into the adult world.
Wally West was demanding for Dick's return in time to be named Godfather to the son that they were adopting; the son that was to be a blessing to Linda and him after having lost their twin children years earlier to one of the Flash's Rouge Gallery.
Roy Harper declared that Dick had better be present for Lian's first Christmas pageant or he'd hunt Dick down to the ends of the earth if 'Uncle Dick' dared to disappoint his little girl.
Barbara Gordon told Bruce in no uncertain terms that he was to inform Dick she wanted to see her friend again to know that he was all right. And to tell him to his face that she hadn't appreciated how he had stayed hidden from even Oracle's network.
And the messages just piled up. Even Grace Choi of the Outsiders's had a message for Dick, saying that he had better return to take back the leadership from Jade before the harassed heroine had a nervous breakdown.
There were many things Batman could have said; greetings and demands he could pass on from family and friends. But he couldn't be sure they would be enough to bring his son home. There was, however, a reason Batman was here in the quarters of the Suicide Squad's field commander, Bloodwing.
Reaching for his cowl, Batman pulled it off to reveal his alter ego; a face that he knew Dick saw less and less of in the past several years since he emerged from childhood to become a man. If Bloodwing was surprised, he didn't show it. But he did return to Bruce the courtesy of removing his own mask, letting his father see a countenance he had not laid eyes on for over three years.
The dread in Bruce's heart lightened a bit to discover that the years had been kind to Dick. Though the brightness he remembered had dimmed somewhat, the heavy despair, uncertainty, and self-loathing that once filled his son's eyes were finally absent as well. Bruce knew and understood then that working as Bloodwing on the type of missions the UN needed to have discretely handled, had done much to ease the burden of guilt. It had given Dick an activity which he could count as part of his atonement for the deaths and destruction Nightwing had unintentionally set into motion with a traffic accident that precipitated the death of Blockbuster's mother from a heart attack; a death that drove Blockbuster to hunt down and destroy Nightwing's life in a fit of revenge.
It was with a sense of pride that Batman acknowledged the skill involved in the missions, which showed little to no lives lost; a rarity in the type of missions the Suicide Squad were usually associated with. Once she had known where to look, Oracle had worked diligently with Robin to dig up what mission files they could get to and report to Batman that the missions were most, if not all, that of the highest calibre of industrial and military espionage that the UN ever had the pleasure to see.
Batman knew that Nightwing would never return to Gotham or to Bludhaven. Blockbuster's death was a taint that Bruce was fairly certain Dick would never recover from in that identity. However, Bloodwing was just as unsuited an identity to walk outside of the world of espionage.
As Waller had reminded Batman, Dick was doing good work where he was. He was saving lives and safeguarding the freedom and well being of people on a scale that Dick would never have accomplished with the Titans or the Outsiders. Measured against that, Batman knew the sacrifice of his personal life was a small price that Dick had not hesitated to pay. After all, he had lost far more when Blockbuster discovered Nightwing's identity. And as the unknown and enigmatic Bloodwing in the just as secretive Suicide Squad, Dick could ensure that his surviving family and friends would never suffer for what he was doing.
What then could persuade Dick to leave Waller's organisation?
Perhaps… a selfish reason; a reason Bruce had once ignored and which led him to take in Jason Todd and train the boy to be a Robin; not realising that he had in his heart been trying to raise and train not a partner but another son-- another 'Dick Grayson'. Bruce hadn't listened to his heart's voice then. This time it drove Batman to finally hunt down Bloodwing and face him in his quarters.
"Dick," Bruce walked around the table to gently push aside the squirrel which occupied Dick's hand so that he could take it in his. "I've-- missed you. Please come home."
His son's mouth fell open in shock for his frank words. "Bruce…?"
"If you want to return to the Squad as Bloodwing later, I-- I promise I-- won't stop you. But I'd like to have you home. If not today then at least for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, and for every year that follows-- now and forever."
Bruce locked eyes with his son and hoped that Dick would see the sincerity he felt. "I-- know I've never said it much-- really-- never said it, but I-- lo-- I-- love you-- my son. I've-- missed you.
"Please-- come home."
Waller looked sourly at Bloodwing's formal letter telling her that he would be taking a leave of absence until further notice. If the Bat had his way, she knew that this would be the last she'd ever see of his son.
She was well aware that she had taken in the former Nightwing at a time of weakness; when he felt he had compromised the principles that Batman had ingrained in him since he started his career as the first Robin. The agency couldn't have had a better stroke of luck. Nightwing was infamous in the superhero community as a skilful leader. One of his better known feats of leadership was during the period when the JLA had been declared dead and he headed a team of heroes who had never worked together before. Despite their inexperience, Nightwing had forged this replacement JLA into a formidable team that eventually freed and restored the original JLA members to life and together ended the threat to the world. It could be said that it was the greatest display of leadership that the JLA had ever experienced among all its incarnations.
Much to Waller's satisfaction, Bloodwing did equally well with the Suicide Squad. They were going to miss him dearly. Already, Mouse and Giz were drinking themselves into a stupor once they heard confirmation of his departure. Bloodwing had called a meeting earlier to bid his team farewell and Mouse had embarrassingly bawled as she clung to his cape begging him not to go. However, with Batman standing impatiently in the shadows, the other team members had known better than to raise any great objections or attempt to delay Bloodwing's departure; as disappointed and afraid as they were to be without Bloodwing's leadership, their fear of Batman was slightly higher.
Heaving a great sigh as she filed Bloodwing's letter away, Amanda Waller turned her attention towards the stack of appraisals on her desk where she'd hope to locate her new field leader for the Suicide Squad. May the good Lord help them find one who had even half the skill of the Batman's son.
About Two Years Later
There were times when Superman wanted to do nothing more than hit his head against a wall. More often than not, this feeling would emerge whenever he had to deal with Bat logic.
Superman conceded mistakes were made all around, and that the trust the JLA had fought so hard to forge among its members had shattered with that awkward period. However, though there had been feelings hurt, the Justice League had to persevere and move on. They needed to show a united front and set aside their feelings to work together as a unit. But Batman had felt betrayed… and the worst of it was that many of the others felt it was his due, especially after the mess with the protocols and his building the Brother I spy satellite which he later lost control of.
Intellectually, everyone in the JLA knew that they could not do without Batman. They had tried before, but he was always sorely missed when he was absent. With the brouhaha over, Superman had wondered how long it would take them to persuade Batman to return to the JLA. The problem was that with the eyes of the planet on the JLA, Batman's absence would have been distinctly noted.
While Batman never appeared at press conferences, there was a presence about him that the media were always aware of and felt; even when Bruce was observing the activity as far away as the JLA satellite. If Batman were to leave the JLA, the world at large would know and the JLA would be under closer scrutiny then ever before and none of it favourably; especially if the media thought that the JLA had a difference in opinion with the Batman, the only non-meta and non-powered member on the team. With the rising disgruntled feelings about metas on earth, it wouldn't take long for some idiot to peg the JLA as just a meta team with a superiority complex.
It was bad enough that Nightwing had disappeared off the face of the earth five years earlier, thus removing his 'ordinary' non-meta influence from the Titans and the Outsiders. While there were other non-metas in the Titans, Nightwing had always been regarded as the most influential member and the one who would be acknowledged as the leader and voice of the team whenever he was with them.
Even in the Outsiders, well after Jade had assumed command of the team, when he was still on the team any who met them still looked to Nightwing as the leader first. As much as the individual members would hate to admit it, Nightwing was greatly missed. Huntress had initially tried to fill his shoes after he disappeared, but she eventually departed to rejoin Oracle's Birds of Prey, leaving the Outsiders with no non-metas in the team.
Clark knew that Bruce could sympathise with the JLA's plight. However, with decidedly hostile, unforgiving, and unrepentant feelings running out of control among some of its members, time off from the JLA would have done both Batman and the JLA some good. Unfortunately, an absent Batman was something the JLA really could not afford. Despite their feelings, all members of the JLA knew that.
So it was with great surprise that Batman appeared in the meeting room when the next summons to mobilize the JLA went out. Superman had only noticed his approach from behind him when the room lapsed into shocked silence. He had swung his chair around then to stare at the man taking his designated seat. Not only was he surprised by the man's silent entrance, Superman and all the other members were also stunned to see the Batman return without there being some heavy persuasion over a period of at least six months.
Batman had clearly read the question on all their faces. "'No' I am not compromising my feelings about the situation. I just recognise that the JLA cannot wait six months to work out personal differences."
"Batman? I'm s--"
"The JLA needs to show a united front." Batman interrupted Superman evenly not even deigning to look at certain members at the table. "What is the latest situation report?"
With that, Batman had slid smoothly back into the team, although by no means did anyone assume apologies or forgiveness was spread around, and Batman was even more closed off than he ever was previously; a feat most would have thought impossible if they weren't experiencing it first hand. J'Onn was to comment regretfully to Superman and Wonder Woman that even he had been shut out of Batman's steel trapped mind now.
Batman's reply to J'Onn's cautious query had been surprisingly sardonic. "It may occasionally get hijacked, but my equipment never fails. The JLA can stay in contact with me through the usual comms. Oracle or Coeus will be there to advise you." The two being part of the conglomerate the others called the bat clan.
Coeus... the latest inclusion to the bat clan, and the newest dispenser of information... To the selected few who knew Coeus's identity, Superman had to suppose that it was the best they could hope for to have Dick Grayson's presence in their select community again. When Dick finally returned from his voluntary exile nearly two years earlier, it was much to his friends' dismay that he hadn't taken up the identity of Nightwing once more.
While Clark understood that Dick had wanted time off after operating as the Suicide Squad's enigmatic field leader, Bloodwing, for three years straight, he hadn't thought that the younger man could have stayed out of a 'suit' for too long. He remembered meeting Dick years earlier after Batman fired Robin, when the younger man was lost and wondering about his future. Dick had told him then that being a hero was too much in his blood for him to settle into a simpler life as a civilian. Yet, despite Dick's return, Nightwing had stayed absent from the hero community.
If he did appear behind a mask, it was only on the occasions when Amanda Waller begged for his return to handle some especially sensitive cases, and he did so as Bloodwing. However, Dick had guarded his appearance in that identity even more zealously than Batman guarded his. Apart from those in the Squad who may have seen Bloodwing depart with Batman and those who were close to Dick Grayson, few if any would have any reason to make the connection between the missing Nightwing and the mythical Bloodwing.
True to his word, Batman never interfered nor protested whenever Dick decided to set out to lead the Suicide Squad once more. However, Clark and J'Onn would notice the occasions when Batman made use of the JLA's surveillance systems to keep a distant eye on his son; not that he was often successful in his endeavour. Bloodwing's missions were never flashy nor were they perceptible to the enemy factions. He and his team worked under strict cover and their results were almost always felt or realised long after they left the area.
Clark had visited the manor once to talk to Dick. Upon first seeing him though, Dick had immediately apologized to Clark for tainting the name that the Kryptonian's stories had inspired him to adopt; first with his murder of the Joker, though the mad man was later revived; second with Blockbuster's murder, which Nightwing had not prevented though he had the opportunity to; third through the actions of the resurrected Jason Todd, when the hero had been driven mad and stolen the identity to operate as a vigilante that killed.
Clark had listened to him patiently, and then chided Dick for his persistent self-battering. He pointed out to Dick that while Nightwing had killed the Joker in a fit of rage, the man had been easily revived and in fact still lived to escape and kill innocents.
As angry as Nightwing had been with Blockbuster for systematically destroying Dick Grayson's life, he did not kill the man. It was Tarantula who pulled the trigger. And while it was true that Nightwing could have interfered and stopped the murder, he still could not be held accountable for the actions of another person. Tarantula had taken advantage of his hesitation and deep shock to act on the opportunity Nightwing had presented to her.
Regarding Jason? It was just-- unfortunate. Dick had no control over another man's actions. And he did return as Bloodwing to expose Jason as a fake-Nightwing.
Furthermore, through his identity as Bloodwing, the leader of the Suicide Squad, Dick had proven that when he was able to set his mind on a task, he could lead, guide and control a team of killers and murderers to accomplish missions without the unnecessary loss of lives. Whatever failing Dick believed he held, Clark had assured him that he felt that Nightwing had already long atoned for the perceived mistakes of his past actions. However, even with Superman's assurance, Nightwing, and by extension Dick Grayson, still stayed absent from the superhero community. Or rather, he was physically absent.
Through persistence, Oracle had finally been able to entice Dick's appearance online and in voice as another information source for the JLA, and occasionally the Titans, the Outsiders and Oracle's Birds of Prey. With Bloodwing's resources and still live connections in Waller's organisation, Dick could provide a lot of information which would otherwise have taken Oracle more time to unearth, plus expose her to the dangers of being detected and traced by various government agencies. Still, it took nearly half a year before Dick would grudgingly give Oracle a call sign by which to allow others to contact him. Perhaps appropriately, he chose the name 'Coeus', the Titan of intelligence and deep searching questions.
However, Superman was sure that a face behind a computer simulacrum was NOT the kind of hero Dick Grayson was destined to stay. Dick was a man of action and motion. He was the type of person who needed physical activity and movement. Becoming a dispenser of knowledge and information like Oracle did not suit his style. But Dick's friends had had to accept it to be the most he was willing to be at present.
According to Wally, Dick had decided to give University another try and appeared quite content with his studies in company law and international business. Clark knew that Bruce was over the moon to see that Dick was finally giving some thought to his position as the heir to Wayne Industries. Clark understood too that while Bruce respected Dick's need to be his own person and identity, Bruce's real wish was for Dick to follow in his footsteps to eventually take control of his empire.
At the least, Clark had Wally's assurance that Dick's interests in his studies were genuine. Apparently, the years he had spent as Bloodwing, handling industrial and military espionage, gave Dick a fever to learn more about how companies could be strengthened or made vulnerable through the activities in a board room in relation to the secrets he dealt with.
Regarding this latest situation with Batman though, Coeus had lately become very involved in JLA business. It made Clark wonder how Dick coped. Undoubtedly, the tension between Batman and the JLA must have weathered very heavily on Dick's shoulders. Occasionally, Superman was aware that the two would talk on missions and retreat into private discussions without the involvement of the other JLA members. However, he never intruded on their privacy.
The situation was functional for the JLA, but Clark, Diana and J'Onn often looked on with disappointment when Batman left immediately on mission's end and usually before they could hold a debriefing; choosing to enter his comments and read their reports via the computers. Unsurprisingly, Batman still did his critical analysis of mission events, though it was very much to everyone's relief that he was far more tactful now. And-- apparently more approachable too in offering suggestions and improvements to their actions and growth as heroes. Though relations were slowly improving, Batman still stayed aloof of them.
This had carried on for about six months before a particularly nasty mission had Batman sustain an almost fatal injury while saving the lives of several members. Upon their return to the satellite though, Batman had immediately set the teleporter to beam him out again and back to the Batcave rather than head to the infirmary.
Arthur, who had erstwhile been Batman's strongest critic, exploded when he realised that Batman had slipped away without seeking medical attention. "He almost died out there today saving us! What the hell is with him that he won't let us tend to his injuries?"
Wally had said something very telling to that. "I think-- he's only willing to receive help from friends and those that he trusts."
Certain JLA members grimaced then but Superman knew there still wouldn't be any reconciliation from this revelation. This was classic Bat stubbornness at play here and Batman could certainly out-stubborn the best of them.
Worrying about the man, Clark, J'Onn and Diana finally decided to drive up to Wayne Manor and hope that Alfred would let them in to see Bruce. They knew better than to try the teleporters or to enter via the Batcave. Batman was intolerant of heroes visiting his city at the best of times. They knew he would be even worse tempered when injured.
It was therefore a shock for them to be lead to the study by Alfred where Bruce was seated at his desk and looking quite hale and hearty. His familiar annoyance for their intrusion did not put off Clark from asking him how he recovered so quickly.
Bruce had lifted a brow at them, and then smirked. "Well, it looks like I owe Dick a Ferrari. He told me that someone properly coached could easily pass off as Batman to the JLA, never mind the general public."
With that broad hint, it finally dawned on them that the man under the cowl was not who the JLA had assumed it to be. And that for the last six months they had been fighting alongside a complete stranger.
"You--! Who was it!" Diana was beyond shock and anger. "Who were we fighting beside and risking our necks with for al--!"
"Does it matter?" Bruce glared at them, reminding them that he was the original Bat. "He is Batman; his abilities were evidently sufficient. And he is obviously trustworthy."
"But he was hurt--"
"I am well aware of that." Bruce told them stonily. "The Batcave is below me and Oracle alerted me to his arrival and injuries.
"That was five days ago, and only now do I have inquires of his health?"
"We--" Clark flushed with shame. He had been worried, and now he knew he should have listened to his first instincts and gone flying to the Manor as soon as he left the JLA.
"We're here now, Bruce." J'Onn looked at him entreatingly. "Please, we all saw Batman hurt, but he left rather than seek medical attention at our infirmary. We thought-- we thought you would not welcome our-- fussing."
"That did not stop you before."
"May we see him?"
Bruce narrowed his eyes at them for a long moment after Diana's request. "It is no longer my secret to revea--"
"Sir?" Alfred knocked on the door politely and waited until he received everyone's attention. "The Young Master has decided that it will be all right. He has, after all, been expecting this moment to arrive for quite some time."
Bruce immediately turned his attention back to the three Leaguers. "If you upset him, I will have you thrown out and he has the friends to do so despite your powers."
"Bruce, we are concerned." Clark told him sincerely. "He was hurt bad--"
"A concussion, three broken ribs, punctured lung, cracks in his left femur, as well as a dislocated left shoulder." Bruce rattled off the list of injuries to them almost disinterestedly. "Our personal physician recommends plentiful bed rest and no stress."
"No stress." J'Onn agreed.
Bruce nodded to them and left his desk to lead them up the stairs to the second storey of Wayne Manor. It was much to the Leaguers' surprise that they met Arsenal stepping out from the room they were approaching. His eyes had immediately gone wide the moment he saw them.
"Hey, wait a minute. This isn't Grand Central Station here."
Bruce raised an eyebrow at this exclamation. "Did you tire him out?"
The way Arsenal backed away in a hurry was almost comical. "No! Uh uh. He got the craving for some munchies. I was coming out to look for Alf." Then eyeing the three visitors again, Roy just had to ask: "Wally's in there with him. Isn't that League presence accounted for?"
Diana's mouth dropped in anger. "And is it so strange that we may be concerned about the man who has been fighting by our side as Batman too?"
Clark was starting to get suspicious. "How did Wally know before us?"
"Dick told us." Arsenal shrugged as if it was a non-event. "If you'll excuse me, I'm a man on a munchies mission."
"Dick? Coeus told the Titans?" Now Diana was shocked. She had found out about Coeus from her 'sister' Donna ages ago. But she also knew that Coeus was as protective about identities as Batman.
J'Onn, however, was also like Clark in catching on and putting two and two together. "Bruce--"
The former Batman faced them sternly and gave his final order before he'd open the door to the room for them. "He is still very weak right now and easily tired. You. Will. Not. Upset. Him."
"We won't, Bruce. I promise you we won't." Clark assured him firmly.
"You-- must be very proud of him."
Bruce sucked in a sudden breath at J'Onn's words. "Yes. Yes, I am."
At their entrance, Wally came to his feet to stare at the Leaguers. "Oh! Er-- Well, this is awkward." In the bed the speedster was standing next to, instead of a stranger they had at first expected, propped up by a multitude of pillows lay someone very familiar.
"Hey--?" Dick Grayson's tone was understandably wary.
Clark's head swam as he finally acknowledged what his eyes were seeing, and what he had been suspecting for the last few minutes. Looking back over the past six months, Clark had to admit that Dick had been very clever and careful with how he approached and stood near or around the members of the JLA. No one had noticed that the Batman they worked beside was four inches shorter than usual.
"So-- now that you know... Are you mad?" Dick asked cautiously as he fidgeted in his bed. No one missed Wally glaring warningly at them from behind Dick. It was very clear to the others that the scarlet speedster was hovering rather protectively over his friend.
"No, Richard." Diana quickly recovered from her shock to approach the bed and take up Dick's one un-bandaged hand. "I, for one, now have a better understanding of why Batman always left so quickly after a mission was over; you did not wish to deceive Bruce's friends who expected him to be under the cowl."
Diana gave his hand a gentle squeeze. "Thank you for thinking of our feelings. I'm sorry that we had failed to gain your trust."
Dick gave her a 1,000 watt smile for her acceptance. "You have it now. But I can't say I wasn't surprised that you all hadn't caught on that Batman had changed." He turned to Bruce mischievously. "I'd like it in black with a red racing stripe."
"Brat." Bruce looked at his son fondly. "Your Ferrari will be in the garage by the time Leslie lets you out of bed. And yes, you also proved to me that handling the Squad gave you enough practice to work with the JLA."
"Please." Dick waved off the statement. "I faced worse with the Squad. The JLA has nothing on the team of killers and murderers I led during my first year as Bloodwing."
Clark and Diana reddened at the implied rebuke in the exchange. But they couldn't refute the statement that the JLA had presented quite a hostile environment for Batman when Dick took up the cowl.
"I am sorry that I have not been more supportive." Diana sighed as she gave Dick another gentle squeeze to his hand and turned to look up at Bruce as well.
"Richard, now that we know the truth--" J'Onn spoke up after Diana. "I hope this means that Batman will not continue to avoid us."
"Can you accept me as Batman and treat me no differently?"
"And can you control your reaction to him as Batman, now that you know the truth?" Bruce added quickly before they could answer.
"Dick has been the Batman for over six months." Clark nodded rather confidently. "It should not be difficult."
"Of course." Diana added her support. "We noticed no difference between you and the Batman of the past."
"Apart from the sardonic humour you've displayed of late." J'Onn gave Dick a teasing smile.
"I am supposed to be more approachable." Dick reminded them innocently.
Wally snorted, apparently finally relaxing and trusting the other JLA members to stay civil. "Approachable? You don't growl and glower as often as Bruce, but you're still intimidating, Dick." He gave the others a smirk as he went on. "I'm pretty sure no one noticed the difference."
"Would you have either, if he hadn't told you?" Clark teased back.
"Touché." Wally shrugged sheepishly.
"What about the rest of the League?"
"They don't need to know." J'Onn assured Bruce. "We will not break your son's confidence."
"But what of your studies, Richard?" Diana looked towards Dick with concern as she thought over the revelations of the last hour or so, plus what news she had heard from Donna. "Being Batman for the JLA and for Gotham… how do you find time for that now?"
"Well, I am now Coeus and will continue to work with Oracle to provide Dick his cover." Bruce volunteered. "And Bruce Wayne can call Dick's professors to allow him time off from classes when necessary. They'll just think that I've hijacked him on Wayne business."
"It just means I have to make up for the courses later. And that translates into more homework and reports." Dick looked up at Bruce grumpily. "At the rate I'm going, I might as well convert some credits, with the papers I'll have to write, and get an MBA too."
"Dick! Stop. You're making my head spin." Arsenal groaned as he returned to the room carrying a tray piled high with sandwiches and cookies while Alfred followed him with a tea service and coffee. "I'm having a hard enough time with the Outsiders and being a dad for Lian. Listening to what else you've got on your plate is enough to make me tired."
"What? Being a father is a full time job, it's a wonder you have time for the Outsiders." Dick eagerly took the offered plate of cookies and sandwiches that Alfred served him. "I formally handed in Bloodwing's walking papers to Waller once I became Batman, so all I have is Gotham, the JLA and university.
"On top of Bruce's charity dinners and events, that is." He stuck out his tongue with the last statement to show his distaste for that duty.
"If I've gotta go to them, though I live in Bludhaven, you gotta go to them." Tim poked his head into Dick's room and strode in. "Hey, I didn't know you were having a party here?"
"Tim." Bruce nodded to the latest entrant.
"Hey, Bro." All could see Dick visibly brighten at his 'adoptive' brother's entrance. "Classes let off early today?"
"Yeah, I thought I'd hang out here."
"And see if you could borrow the Batwing to fly yourself down to California this weekend?" Bruce asked while hiding a knowing smile behind a sip of tea.
"Awww, com'on, Bruce. I'm over 21, why won't you let me take her up solo yet." Tim whined as he grabbed a cookie from one of the plates.
"Clock the requisite number of practice hours on the flight simulator and you've got a deal, remember?" Dick backed up Bruce's orders. "And no, we're not transporting a simulator to Bludhaven. You haven't got the space or the set up capable of sustaining the equipment without blacking out the entire block."
"You're no fun."
"Do all you bat folk have such full lives?" Clark's head just swam. He too had a job, a city to watch over, JLA duties to attend to, and a wife, as had Wally, but they at least had powers and super speed.
"Comes with the territory." Dick shrugged. "Time is what you make of it. Of course it would be nice if we had time for social life too… As it is, it's quite nonexistent."
"Ooohh, I'm going to tell Jesse that she's not pencilled in anywhere on your activity calendar." Wally taunted him in a sing-song voice before stuffing a sandwich in his mouth.
"We only had lunch and it was a working lunch." Dick snapped back exasperated. "She's busier with QuickStart Industries than I am at Wayne Inc. and it's staying that way too." He gave Bruce a significant glare when his father was about to open his mouth. "It's still a 'No.' I'll never have any time to sleep if you have Lucius pencil me into your industry meetings."
"And what about Babs!" Tim gaped at him in playful aghast. "Doesn't she count as part of your social life?"
"Geeze, you guys." Dick groaned and gave Bruce a look that said 'save me?' "We broke up over five years ago and are just friends now. Besides, the way she's hobnobbing around the globe on her jet, we don't see each other in person for months at a time."
"And what about Donna?" Roy jumped in from the side. "Hey, you're both not still insisting that you're like brother and sister, are you? She'll be here later, by the way. There was a photo shoot she needed to take care of first."
Dick gave him a pained look that clearly said 'traitor'. Diana had to stifle a grin behind a raised tea cup as she thought about her 'sister's' return from the 'dead' and how she had reconnected with the Titans. The Amazon had to admit to a bit of prejudice in feeling more supportive of her sister pursuing Batman's son (or Batman actually) rather than Green Arrow's 'son'. It was good to see, though, that Roy bore no resentment for Donna eventually drifting away from him and becoming closer to Dick.
"A non-existent social life? Oh dear, I'm sure Dr. Thompkins and Dr. Clancy will be disappointed that you've left them out of you estimation when they come around on non-medical calls…" Alfred looked up thoughtfully as he too joined in the fun. "And ahh, yes, that reminds me; a Ms. Melissa called this morning asking when you were 'returning' from Asia. She seemed most insistent that you make up for the dinner date you had to break because of this-- 'unfortunate' injury."
"Melissa? Melissa?" Bruce looked distracted for a moment. "Oh, yes. Maurice's little girl. You shouldn't stand her up, Dick. No commitment's necessary, but he is a significant shareholder in our pharmaceuticals venture over in New York."
"Bruce!" Dick wailed at them with a pout. "You're all being mean to the injured."
Amid all that revelry, J'Onn had quietly taken Wally aside telepathically to chat. #If I may ask, Wallace, how do the Titans feel about-- this?# J'Onn's voice sounded in Clark's mind as he was included in the conversation.
By not a flicker, did Wally show he heard the telepathic communication, and he understood immediately what J'Onn meant by 'this'. #It's-- awkward.# The speedster finally admitted. #We were in the dark for two whole months ourselves before he called the originals to Wayne Manor. We almost had a heart attack.
#We'd spent so much of our growing years persuading Dick not to be like Batman. And now-- he is the Batman...
#And what of Nightwing?#
#Nightwing wasn't the one who killed Blockbuster, but he still feels responsible, J'Onn.# Wally heaved a big sigh with his mental words. #Apart from that brief time when-- Jason stole the suit, its been in a trophy case since the night Dick brought in the bastard's murderer. And as far as Dick is concerned it can stay there.
#The Titans are sorry to lose Nightwing, but at the least they have a Robin, and Coeus and Batman do stay in close contact with Tim as needed. And the Outsiders can call on Batman if they want to with no one blinking an eye. We do admit that all this is-- better than just having Coeus or-- Bloodwing. After all, Dick was at best a reluctant Coeus. And he would never have allowed Bloodwing any where near the Titans or the Outsiders.
#I can't object to what Dick's done and not be hypocritical. After all, I took up the mantle of Flash from Barry. Dick earned the right to take up the mantle of the Bat a long time ago.#
Clark sighed inwardly at Wally's statement. Before any more could be said though, Alfred started to make pointed shoo'ing motions to the crowd. "I am afraid that visiting hours are over. Dr. Thompkins would be most vexed with us if the young Master doesn't get enough rest."
"My hero." Dick turned to the rest of his guests and waved them off. "Shoo! Go tease someone else about their dysfunctional social life." Contrary to his words, the twinkle in his eyes was bright and cheery enough to show them his own amusement about his 'situation'.
"I swear, if I'm not being pimped out on duty dates by Bruce, I've got the rest of the bat clan and the Titans trying to match make me with every single, and available, super heroine on the east coast."
"You are getting on in years, old man." Tim looked thoughtful as he helped Alfred to clear the trays. "Oh, that reminds me. Maybe I should ask Flamebird to move--"
"Out, brat!" Dick flung one of his pillows at the laughing youth.
Though the others cheerfully trooped out, Bruce had stayed to hover and Clark lingered in curiosity. "Dick, you shouldn't overexer--"
"Bruce-- Dad, I'm better. Really!" Dick looked up at the older man in exasperation as his father fluffed up his pillows for him and made sure there were a glass of water and a plate of food within easy reach. "I've been resting all week. If Leslie doesn't let me out tomorrow to at least take a walk around the garden, I'll be climbing the walls."
"Hush up. I'm your father. I'm allowed to fuss." Bruce petted him on the head fondly.
"Yeah." Dick's eyes twinkled mischievously as he inclined his head towards Clark. "But you're going to have Big Blue wondering if he should wrestle you into a clinic to have your head examined if you don't ease him into the 'new' Bruce Wayne gently."
Bruce turned to look at the open mouthed Kryptonian and smirked. "What? He thinks five years isn't long enough for me to change my behaviour and finally allow myself to openly show affection for my son?"
"Not if all he's ever known is the grumpy old bat."
"But that's you now."
"Can't be, I'm not old enough yet."
"Brat." Bruce tousled his hair, but instead of leaving he took the seat beside Dick's bed.
Taking the hint, Clark left the room only to enter a tensed situation of Diana facing off Selina Kyle. He was fortunate though, to have missed most of the confrontation, since J'Onn was trying to pull their colleague away.
Selina, however, plainly was ready to dismiss the Amazon. "Hello, Clark. May we speak in private?"
He did not object to being lead to one of the lounges just down the hall. Entering the room, Clark raised an eyebrow at the tea service and plate of cookies that were left on a table between two chairs for them. Selina though, smiled as she removed the tea cosy and poured some tea for them.
"So... What can I do for you-- Selina?"
She took a delicate sip of her tea before raising her eyes to meet his. "Now that you know Bruce has stepped aside, can you really accept it and not undermine Dick's position in the JLA?"
"Selina-- it is not our secret to reveal." Clark shook his head. "And besides, we truly hadn't noticed a difference."
"But you're still disappointed that Dick never became Nightwing again."
"Selina-- We spoke. I've told him that Blockbuster's death isn't his fault. Even if he did intend--" Clark was very subdued as his thoughts went back to an incident of several years so ago. "The Joker poisoned my wife once. He gave me a choice: to inject him with the same poison and collect the antibodies his chemically changed body would produce to use to save Lois, which would in the process kill him; or to do nothing and watch her die...§
"If Batman-- if Bruce had not been there, I would have killed the Joker to save Lois."
"Well, Lois obviously didn't die."
"No. It was the mad man's joke. The poison did bring Lois to the brink of death, but it also brought her back unharmed."
"What did Lois think about your decision to let her die?"
Clark looked away. Selina was much too astute. She smiled sardonically. "So you do understand after all... But it-- the Bat has higher standards."
"He didn't pull the trigger, Selina. And I know in my heart that if I was in his position and Blockbuster threatened Lois-- or my parents-- if the gun was in my hands-- if I had no friends with me to be the voice of reason, like Bruce was for me that night-- I would have killed Blockbuster, never mind not stopping the one who actually murdered him."
"So-- that's also why you had no objection at all for Dick being Nightwing?"
Clark nodded solemnly. "Dick didn't have murder in mind when he went after Blockbuster. Had it been anyone else with him... Blockbuster's death wasn't--"
Selina shook her head, interrupting him. "Clark, we can discuss this for all eternity. But the fact of the matter is Dick is his own worst critic. He cannot forgive himself for that moment of weakness. That uniform has its final resting place in a memorial box in the Batcave, because by Dick's standards, that's where it deserves to stay after Nightwing failed to prevent Blockbuster's murder.
"When Jason stole the suit for a while, it shook him up too, Clark." Selina stared into her tea sadly. "It pained him that Jason could ride on the ambiguity of the past and so easily promote the idea that Nightwing could become a ruthless killer."
"But we cleared his name easily once the truth came out." Clark protested.
"Dick doesn't see it the same way." Selina looked up at him sadly. "Before Jason was exposed, some of Dick's friends had believed that Nightwing was capable of crossing the line and killing. It hurt Dick greatly that some of his friends actually thought he would deliberately take a life. After Jason, the final nail in the coffin was slammed in with that identity. Dick couldn't have put on that uniform again. Dick will not even entertain the idea of Tim taking up the name if he ever gets tired of Robin.
"Anyway, after three years, Dick was far more comfortable as Bloodwing since that identity carried with it none of the 'baggage' associated with Nightwing."
"But doesn't this mean he's operating like Bloodwing under Batman's cowl?"
"Bloodwing had no place in the world of superheroes. He was the leader of a covert band of killers and cut throats. Bloodwing works in deeper secrecy than Batman. You couldn't get him to speak, much less mingle and work, with the JLA, Outsiders or the Titans." Selina told Clark evenly. "The JLA has Batman.
"And you know why it couldn't be Bruce."
"Bruce-- did need the time off from the League."
"Clark-- This isn't temporary. Bruce never wants to take the mantle back." Selina told him solemnly. "We've already discussed it.
"It was difficult, you know? For Bruce to step away and let Dick go out as Batman." Selina told him quietly. "Bruce will never admit it, but for the few months that Dick just lived here and did not go out in a mask... He was-- happy to have that time.
"Now-- with Dick as Batman..." Selina shook her head. "Pray that Dick is never so seriously injured on a JLA mission ever again. You have never seen Bruce when he has truly been enraged, Clark... And I hope we never shall..."
Clark let out a long sigh, he understood. He rose to reach for and take Selina's hand in his. "Selina, I promise you that we will strive to give Batman more support than he received previously.
"And I, especially, will watch out for my friend's son."
If the JLA was to have a Batman, this was how it had to be. As a matter of fact, the JLA may well be better off with this arrangement. Dick was as accomplished a detective as Bruce, and Clark was sure he could easily call and draw upon Bruce's knowledge as needed. On top of that, Dick was also more skilled as a leader. As good as he was, Bruce tended to bark orders and treat others like subordinates. Dick led and treated others as if they could think for themselves. This was certainly a change that the League's members had welcomed in Batman. And it went a long way towards warming their feelings for the man again. Bruce couldn't have put up with the charade. Dick had no such baggage to get over.
It was also added food for thought that, after his tenure in the Suicide Squad, Dick had far more experience in political and industrial espionage than Bruce. So the JLA might well have a craftier and more politically savvy Batman as well.
It seemed so very like Batman to produce growth and change a way which would leave the world at large clueless of the difference. Clark supposed that he should have expected this sort of seamless transition with the Bat clan. Dick was, after all, his father's son.
Clark knew that he would missed the lighter more cheerful Nightwing and his presence in the Bat-clan; but if this was the only way Dick Grayson would once more emerge in their select community as a hero, so be it. As the new Batman, Dick was already honouring and adding to a commendable legacy. And Clark didn't doubt that Dick would bring the name and reputation of Batman to even greater heights.
§ Superman in Action Comics #719 (1996), Michelinie, Dwyer & Rodier
Thanks for reading.