Author's Note &
I am aware that stories with this idea have been told previously; most notably with
'Life and Deaths' by nuke and 'Oz' by Slea (Both of which you can find on ff net)
However, my muse was inspired to create this different, and I hope still unique, story with the same idea.
This story is an AU where the events
in 'Who is Wonder Girl?' (New Titans #50 to 54) took place before
'The Killing Joke'
and encompasses a 'what if' Bruce and Dick had a confrontation, as it had happened in New Titans #55,
but about Jason being injured on a case.
DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to DC and not me. I'm just borrowing them for a while to spin a tale. All these characters are used without permission, and I'm not profiting from this piece of fan fiction, so please don't sue me.
A Door to a Different Path
By Jacque Koh
"I suggest you leave. And give your key to Alfred on your way out.
"I don't need a partner. I never should have had one. And I never will again."±
Dick had stared after Bruce as he stormed up the stairs to the Mansion, more than a little shaken and hurt by the declaration. He had leaned over his knees for a long time waiting, perhaps hoping Bruce would turn around. But that was an exercise in futility. The Bat never apologized or took words back.
A faint noise behind him made Dick turn towards the shadows of the costume vault. "You can come out now, Jason."
The young boy, whom the argument had been over, shuffled out on his crutches guiltily. "Sorry." He mumbled with great embarrassment.
Dick studied the boy for a long moment, his eyes particularly taking in the cast encasing an arm, and a leg, plus the bruised and battered face of one who had obviously lived through a fearsome beating. "It's not your fault when Bruce and I fight, Jase."
"But-- I asked you to come in after-- after--"
"Jason, I gave you my phone number for a reason. ‡ Believe it or not, I do understand." Dick assured him as he came to his feet and strode over to him to lift Jason's chin and make him meet his eyes. "Bruce took Robin away from me once too, when I was barely a year into being his partner, after-- Two-Face nearly killed me with a baseball bat." °
Jason gasped in surprise at this revelation. "Yes, well-- I obviously was allowed to reclaim the identity and the position as his partner."
"Then-- you do-- sort of know I could be Robin again?"
"Positive, little bro." Dick ruffled his hair fondly. "But I don't have to like how he treats you while you're recovering and he's dealing with the guilt for letting you get hurt."
Jason looked up at Dick and he could see the understanding in his eyes. And he just knew that Dick had gone through the same days of feeling useless and unwanted; days of not seeing Bruce for weeks at a time since he needed rest to recover from his injuries and still had school work on top of his physical therapy.
Dick drew him into a warm comforting hug. "Remember, Jase. You're his son. And you better believe that Bruce and Alfred do love you. If he didn't, Bruce wouldn't be freaking out right now and taking Robin away from you."
A knowing smirk crossed Dick's lips with his next words. "After me, you'd think they'd have learnt their lesson. Soon as my body mended, I ran away."
"Getoutta here!" Jason's eyes widened as he looked up at him. "You're shitting me."
"Language, Master Jason." Dick imitated Alfred's voice as he released the boy from his hug and rapped him on the head. "And 'yes' I did.
"Hey, I was twelve and I was just his ward. I figured at the time that if I couldn't be Robin, Bruce didn't have any reason to keep me except as a charity case.
"You're his son, okay? That's a big difference." Dick told him firmly without bitterness. "You're also much older than twelve, and so supposed to have more sense."
"Supposed!" Jason glared at him in outrage. Then his look turned thoughtful. "Will you tell me what happened that time?"
"Sure will, but not tonight. It's getting late and you do need to rest." Dick quickly silenced his protests by giving him an offer. "What about I get Alfred to let you chill out with me in New York this weekend and I tell you then?"
"And you pin your ears back and listen to me, Jase." Dick told him seriously as he hunkered down to his height to make sure they were looking eye to eye. "I want you to promise me that if you ever feel so bad you want to run away, you'll look me up in New York, you got it?"
"I hear you, I hear you."
"Promise me, Jase!"
"I promise, I promise." Jason shook off Dick's hand. "Sheesh, I'm not twelve, you know?" He grinned cheekily at his bro.
"Brat!" Dick mock swiped him on the head, mindful of his injuries.
As always, Alfred was the calm voice of reason; the one who counselled and tried to be the go between. He of course refused to take the keys which Bruce ordered returned. And he also agreed that time away from the mansion would make sense for Jason.
Dick didn't feel up to a drive back to New York, not especially with a bum leg which was still healing from the shrapnel injury from his last adventure with the Titans.§ He didn't want to call Kory for a lift either and he felt less inclined to spend a night alone in a hotel brooding. After the confrontation in the Bat cave, he needed some friendly un-judgemental companionship that night and he knew where he could get it.
A phone call later and Dick soon pulled up in front of Commissioner Gordon's house to be greeted with open arms by a smiling Barbara Gordon. She was due to run off for a yoga class later that evening, but there was still time to sit and chat; no need to mention Bruce at all. Babs wouldn't breathe a word about the Bat in front of her father. And maybe the Commissioner would ask him for a game of chess. A nice quiet, unchallenging evening...
"I suggest you leave. And give your key to Alfred on your way out.
"I don't need a partner. I never should have had one. And I never will again."
Those were the last words Bruce had said to Dick before he stormed out of the Bat Cave to the mansion above, leaving his ward bleeding and hurting on the floor in more ways than one. Gods… he would make any sacrifice asked of him now if he could take those words back.
By the time he reached his room, Bruce had felt ashamed for how he had treated Dick. The Titans had been in another Galaxy when Alfred had called the Tower to ask for Dick. Bruce couldn't blame him for not coming in to provide Batman with the much needed backup while Jason was laid up; no one could have predicted that 'family' needed him. But it was the root of much of his-- jealousy with Dick's attention to the Titans, wasn't it?
Three years later, he had to finally admit, if only to himself, that it was jealousy which made him fire Dick as Robin. That he had hoped by doing so, Dick would realise where his loyalties should lie and quit the Titans to turn his devotion back to Gotham as his partner. Bruce had hoped that after Dick left-- after he had some time to cool off-- that Dick would come back to tell him he changed his mind and was ready to be his full time partner again. To be Batman's Robin in Gotham City once more instead of gallivanting all over the world or other galaxies as a Titan.
Even with his membership in the JLA, Batman never neglected Gotham, he had always had-- Robin… Occasionally Batgirl… God forbid, Catwoman, if he was desperate. Batman had others to take care of the city when he was unavailable. Many a times, Batman even declined involvement with the JLA if his city's needs were more urgent.
With the Titans, however, Robin always seemed to be needed. In every case, every mission the-- kids went off on Robin had to be at the forefront to lead them. And Bruce hadn't liked it-- hadn't accepted it. It took Dic-- Robin away from his duties as Batman's partner more often than was acceptable. So Dick had left, and after months of not hearing from or about his ward, Nightwing appeared as the leader of the Titans... And Bruce finally had to acknowledge that he had lost in the clash of wills between them.
"You're fired, Dick. Get out of my cave." ¤ He never regretted those words more than when he attended Terra Maklov's funeral with the Outsiders and saw Nightwing standing with his Titans...€ When he'd read the front page of the New York papers and see Dick pictured with the Titans in his new regalia...
Bruce took a deep breath as he sipped the hot drink that Alfred gave him. At the least, Alfred had better sense than him in refusing to accept the keys from Dick which Bruce had ordered returned. A faint quirk touched Bruce's lips to think of the old man. No doubt, Bruce would be 'hearing' about his stupidity over the next several weeks and months to come in the Englishman's subtle ways.
Lord, help him if he ever weakened again to take in another waif and try and turn another boy into Robin. Jason had been a mistake. Bruce had known it the moment he set his eyes on the boy who had tried to boost the hubcaps off the Bat mobile. But like watching an impending train wreck about to happen in slow motion Bruce hadn't been able to stop himself. As Bruce had finally confessed to Dick when the man came to the Bat Cave just a few days after the debut of the new Robin, he had missed Dick.‡ And that was why he took in Jason Todd and trained him to be Robin.
This colossal error in judgement could not be clearer to Bruce with the boy's recent injury. Jason was not Dick. When Dick had left Robin's uniform at his feet and went out into the world to embrace the identity of Nightwing, he should have accepted the loss and swallowed his pride then. He could have re-established communications between them and undertaken to renegotiate their relationship; if only to have an experienced partner working with him some of the time if he could not be there all the time.
After all, he had enticed Nightwing's curiosity and assistance a couple of times in the past; like that one occasion when Batman had been captured and Jason, his new Robin, was away in California testifying at an extradition hearing. Alfred had called Nightwing as he had expected and his ex-partner had done the detective work to track Batman down and save his life in the nick of time. That was the closest Bruce had ever been able to come to let Dick know he had accepted his ex-partner's growth as a hero of his own.†
As stubborn a man as he was, Bruce hadn't ever asked for Dick's assistance though the younger man always gave it anyway. Bruce knew that one day soon, he should swallow his pride and have a heart to heart talk with Dick. He could not count on Dick's forgiving nature forever. If he wanted to have any relationship with his ward he had to take the initiative one day soon.
As Bruce absently sipped his drink, he heard his house phone ring. Alfred, of course, picked it up before the third ring. Glancing at the clock which showed a time well after one a.m. he wondered idly who could have called that late. Thinking of the time, Bruce wondered himself if he should suit up and take another patrol of the city. He had, after all, cut his usual rounds short when he saw the Bat Cave alarm light up on his dashboard with Dick's 'intrusion'.
Putting his mug of coffee down so that he could take a deep breath and let it out, Bruce again brooded over the last words he had said to Dick a few hours ago. In the morning-- he determined that he would call Dick in the morning and ask for a meeting to talk; to really talk this time. In the morning-- Or maybe give them a little more time, and arrange a meeting this coming weekend…
He leaped to his feet when Alfred came running into the study. Alfred, as a rule, was not excitable. Why would-- No… Bruce's heart went sinking to the depths of his boots.
"That was Miss Gordon. We have to get to Gotham Memorial immediately, Master Richard has been shot."
Bruce Wayne clung to the seat of the Bentley beside Jason as Alfred gunned the massive car down the highway into Gotham City. His mind had been a washed with terror ever since Alfred's announcement. Dick was shot. By who and how, he didn't particularly care at the moment. He just wanted to know if Dick was still alive. He-- Batman could figure the rest out later. Batman would bring the perpetrators in later. Right now… oh God, oh God! He could not lose his son.
That thought slammed into him like a sledgehammer. 'Son.' Yes, as much as he had tried not to care. As much as he had tried to bring up a 'soldier' to Gotham's cause, which was what Dick was supposed to be to him; if Bruce was to be brutally honest, Dick was more a son to him than he truly thought Jason would ever be, even though Dick had just been his ward while Jason was formally adopted.
Bruce closed his eyes to hunch over his knees as a revelation suddenly came to him. He had nearly lost Jason in that botched case after Robin had disobeyed orders and ventured where he shouldn't have, and he had thought it had been the worst disaster in the world to have befallen him. If he lost Dick... if Dick died… Bruce's whole being had gone numb. He hadn't been aware of the rest of the journey until Alfred's urgent calls and Jason's shaking roused him from his stupor to let him know they had arrived at the hospital. He wasted no more time then to rush into the hospital to try and locate Barbara and Dick.
"Nurse!" Bruce charged to the Nurse's station. "I'm Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson is my son. Please, where is he now!" 'Dick Grayson is my son.' He was stunned as to how easily those words had come to him.
"Mr. Wayne, Mr. Grayson is still in surgery." One of the nurses quickly tried to calm him down. "Please, we'll let you know how he is as soon as the surgeons are finished.
"Mr. Wayne?" A gruff, but familiar voice came from behind him.
"Detective Bullock?" Bruce swung towards him, glad for anything to distract him from worrying about Dick.
"We have Barbara Gordon in a room nearby. She was-- with Mr. Grayson when--"
"She-- is she all right? Was she hurt? What happened? Who shot him-- how did he get shot?"
"May-- maybe I'd best bring you in to see her, Mr. Wayne." The chunky Detective told him uncomfortably. "And-- please-- remembered it-- wasn't her fault. Joker--"
"The Joker! He-- what-- did he do to my son!" For an instance, Bruce could see that Detective Harvey Bullock seemed to be reminded of Gotham's pointy headed resident vigilante. But the big man quickly shook off the feeling as Bruce strove to show him an expression of desperate panic which would be more expected of the playboy, Wayne.
Bullock took him aside to talk to him softly. "Mr. Wayne, Grayson-- your ward was stripped of his clothes after he was shot. Barbara Gordon--" Bullock paused awkwardly. "I-- Please remember, she didn't want to do it... The Joker--"
"The Joker..." Bruce could feel his blood boiling. How dare he! It was because of him that Dick had almost 'ran away' from the Manor a second time before Alfred's interference patched things up between Batman and Robin again. ¥ Why did he have to go after Dick again? "What is it, Detective?"
"Yeah, well-- Joker threatened her, told her he'd have his men-- do 'im-- if she didn't-- and the bastard had his men do them both anyway...
"He-- took pictures..."
For just that split second, Bruce had been blissfully ignorant of Bullock's meaning. But his mind was too quick to work out what Bullock didn't say. "No... He made-- He took pictures? Joker made Barbara rape Dick, had his men-- had his-- rape both of them as well-- and took pictures!"
Bullock shuffled from foot to foot as he looked up at Bruce awkwardly. "She's all messed up over it, Mr. Wayne."
Bullock led him to Barbara Gordon's room, herself admitted as a patient and dressed in hospital scrubs. As soon as Barbara saw him, she broke into tears again. Bruce swiftly took her into his arms and allowed her to cry into his chest.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
"There-- wasn't anything-- " Bruce swallowed his anger at the Joker and tried to offer her the support she needed. "You're alive, and unh-- mostly unhu-- you're alive. That's important." He amended again awkwardly. Rape was not a matter to be taken lightly. Batman had encountered and tried his best to assist victims before and he was well aware that it was a devastating crime.
"Bruce, I did everything they told me to do! You have to believe me! I would never have-- I never wanted to hurt Dick--"
"I believe you, Barbara." Bruce assured her softly. "The Joker's-- unpredictable...
"Can-- can you tell me what happened?"
She started to babble into his chest. "Dick came-- to visit-- Dad-- they were playing chess-- it was Dad's turn, and I-- I had just gone to the kitchen to get another drink-- for them when the door bell rang. Dick-- Dick went to get it-- I called out to him that-- that it would-- would be my friend from-- yoga class. She-- she was supposed-- to-- to be meeting me. He-- Dick opened the door and-- and Joker. It was the Joker at the door. The Joker shot him.
"He was bleeding so much-- in so much pain. The Joker had his gun-- pointed at his head, Bruce, we couldn't do anything. We couldn't-- Some-- some of his men-- beat up Daddy-- took him away and he-- and he-- He made me strip-- made me-- take off Dick's clothes. Gave-- told me I had to-- had to-- or he'd use his men-- Took pictures--
"I'm sorry, Bruce. I'm so sorry. I tried not to hurt him. He said if I-- if I didn't do it. He'd use his own men--"
"I did what Joker told me to do-- but they raped him anyway! And they hurt me. Told me I had to or-- and they hurt him anyway... I'm sorry. I'm so sorry!"
Bruce pushed her away from him so that she had to look into his eyes. "Listen carefully, Barbara. It isn't your fault, Barbara." He told her firmly. "You did everything they told you to do, and it was the right thing to do. You're alive. Dick-- he's still alive.
"If you had resisted, the Joker-- he might-- have just killed both of you." Bruce told her gently, inside though he was seething with fury at the Joker for the pain he had caused to Barbara to have reduced the strong woman into this broken figure. And-- for what he had done to Dick...
"B-- Bruce?" Jason knocked on the door awkwardly; the boy's face was deathly pale.
"Jason?" Bruce turned towards his son.
"Dick-- he-- he's out of surgery. The doctors said we-- could see him for a while..." Jason hung on to the door jab with his good hand.
Bruce held his hand out towards the boy. Jason did not need to be asked twice, Bruce very rarely showed affection. He burrowed straight into Bruce's arms in a three way hug with Barbara.
Bruce stood beside Dick's bed and looked upon the younger man. Jason and Alfred had discreetly left him for a while to give him a moment of privacy. Bruce's clenched fist was shaking as he thought over what the doctors had told him.
The surgeons removed one bullet, but the second was lodged in the spine. They didn't want to remove it for fear of further injuring the spinal column. As it was they couldn't even be sure if the damage would completely take away Dick's motor control from waist down. If they were-- lucky, he would still have feeling in his legs, and perhaps just need to relearn how to walk. If they weren't...
Fighting against his long held jealousies, Bruce had contacted the Titans, specifically Raven. Unknown to Dick, he had kept track of his career with the Titans, and he had read of how she had once saved his life by healing him where the STAR medical personnel would not have had a chance to, given how critically injured he had been after a Wildebeest suit detonated in close proximity to him. £
Raven had tried her best, but this injury was too severe and delicate for her powers to make very much headway. Coupled with the bullet that was still precariously lodged in Dick's spine, she dared not to do more or risk causing further damage if she jostled the bullet.
She had not been pleased with Bruce when he asked her to not inform the other Titans until Dick awoke and was ready to receive them. But she could understand his concerns if Dick did not take the news of the damage to his spine well, and that he would resent anyone displaying pity for him for the devastating injury.
Bruce couldn't bear to think of Dick in a wheelchair for life. Even as a child, Dick could never sit still. Surveillance work had always been difficult for him; Robin had always been impatient for action, be it at the Crays or the unadulterated joy of physical movement. Bruce never knew anyone who loved motion and activity more than his son-- than Dick.
His hand reached to cover Dick's hand. "Dick? Dick, please wake up. I-- I didn't mean what I said to you earlier. I didn't mean it. Please son, wake up."
It seemed like an eternity before he heard the much hoped for voice. "Bruce?"
"Dick." Bruce took both his hands in his. "I'm sorry."
"What?" The morphine still dulled the younger man's thoughts. "You never apologize."
Bruce had the grace to wince at the statement. "Well, it's long gone time I learnt how, isn't it?" He gritted bitterly. "Dick, I didn't mean what I said earlier. I'm sorry-- I hurt you."
"Bruce?" Dick looked up at him still greatly puzzled. "Everything's a bit fuzzy here. Are you sure you're all right? I don't underst--"
Bruce's hands tightened over Dick's as he understood that it was the moment the younger man finally recognised the wrongness in his body. "Bruce-- wh-- why can't I move my legs?" The words were said in a whisper, but Bruce could well hear the mounting panic behind them. "Bruce! Please-- tell me something!"
"The-- the Joker shot you--" Bruce told him slowly. "The surgeons removed one bullet, but the second one's lodged in your spine. The doctors-- they're afraid of removing it. Raven--"
"You called Raven?" Dick was shaken from his growing terror by this statement. "You actually called the Titans for help?" His tone was clearly incredulous.
"She's healed you before, I thought-- I hoped..."
Dick's hands were tight over Bruce's as he started to tremble. Then a thought quickly crossed him and he looked up at Bruce in worry. "Babs! Is she all right? Was she hurt as well? Bruce, be honest with me."
"She's fi--" Bruce winced as he cut himself off. The Joker had made her rape her friend, then had her gang raped while forcing her to watch Dick being raped as well. Barbara was most certainly not fine. He debated whether he should tell Dick the truth.
Dick took a deep breath and let it out again. "Tell me, Bruce. I can handle it. She's not anywhere near as badly--" The trembling in his hands grew more pronounced and Bruce guessed that bits of memories were returning to him with a vengeance. "The-- Joker's men-- didn't just rape me alone-- did they?" He asked softly. "They-- did her too."
"Tell me the truth, Bruce." Dick glared at him with fire in his eyes.
"You-- remembered-- right."
"Those-- bastards will be charged with rape and assault, won't they?" Dick asked him fiercely. "I remember-- the Commissioner-- they were beating him up in the background. I heard--"
Now it was Bruce's turn to tremble. He had been so concerned over Dick, he had forgotten all about Commissioner Gordon. And Dick picked up on this immediately. "Go. Go bring those bastards in, Bruce."
"Jim Gordon needs Batman." Dick told him firmly. "And those bastards need to be taken in to pay for what they did."
"I'll be-- okay, Bruce."
"Dick--" Bruce's voice was hoarse with emotion. "Promise me you won't try and check yourself out and leave. Please wait for me. We have to talk."
Dick gave him a long measuring look and nodded. "I'll wait for you.
"Could you send in Jase and Alfred? And-- Raven if she's still there."
Bruce nodded, giving Dick's hand one last squeeze before he left the room.
Batman hadn't expected Batgirl to join him on the hunt for the Joker and Commissioner Gordon, but he didn't have the heart to send her away. He understood why Barbara was there with him. The Joker had made her hurt one of her dearest friend, and-- crippled him-- possibly permanently. A devastating injury as that for someone like Dick Grayson was tantamount to killing him; it had unquestioningly killed-- Nightwing...
They had found the Joker and his men at an abandoned amusement park. And their vengeance was great against the minions that the Joker had gathered. Thankfully the Commissioner was all right. They found him traumatised and shaking with fury for the blatant display of images showing his daughter rape a seriously injured close friend, then gang raped herself side by side with his unmoving body; but his mind was still intact. Batgirl had abandoned them to run after the Joker then before Batman could hold her back.
"By the book! I want that bastard taken in by the book!" Gordon told the Batman firmly as he was untied and carefully draped with Batman's cloak to cover his nude frame.
"Well? What are you still doing standing here with me? Go after her Batman. Go after her before she does something she'll regret--"
Commissioner James Gordon looked up at him gravely. "I know-- that is my daughter, Batman. And I'm asking you to go after her and stop the Joker from ruining her life. I want him taken in alive, with no taint of blood on her."
As it was, Batman had arrived just in time to stop Batgirl from choking Joker to death. She had fought him tooth and claw when he forcefully separated her from the unconscious villain; with her screaming at Batman for letting the Joker get away with another atrocity in his long list of crimes.
"Dick Grayson may never walk again! He needs to pay!"
"And would you have Richard suffer more to learn what you'd done in his name?" The two Bat cowl-ed heroes turned to look at the white garbed Titan who suddenly appeared standing over the unconscious Joker.
"Raven-- he--!" Batgirl started to snarl at the Titan.
"You know Richard long enough to understand his views on taking a life." Raven told her solemnly. "It was Richard who sent me here, Batgirl, Batman. It was his wish that the Joker did not ruin two more lives this night."
"Batgirl!" Batman shook her sharply. "However-- we-- may wish to see him pay-- we can't. You say he doesn't deserve to live, but we-- cannot be his executioners. Dick--"
"Dick wouldn't want that of us." Batgirl slumped against him, all the fight suddenly drained out of her. "It-- It's not fair!"
"No, it isn't." Commissioner Gordon spoke softly as he came up from behind them. "It's not fair, but it's the law."
Batman closed his eyes to the statement. He remembered too well his classes in law and Criminal Justice. That statement more than anything had started him on the path towards creating Batman, who could often stand outside the law to deal out his mode justice. But justice cried out to him right now, for Barbara, for Dick--
"Batman?" Raven seemingly glided to his side as he continued to hold the sobbing Batgirl in his arms. "Richard cares more for you than for his legs." She told him softly and beyond the hearing of the arriving police. "He would like you to return to the hospital to be with him when the doctors come to examine him in the morning. You cannot do that if you sit in a jail cell yourself."
"Raven--" Bruce looked up at her for a long moment. "T-- Thank you."
Raven smiled at him encouragingly. "If it were not for Richard's stories, I confess that I might have fainted with shock to hear Batman thank me." She teased him gently.
The corner of Batman man's lips quirked minutely. "Don't believe those stories, they're myths."
Batgirl coughed against his chest with an unexpected muffled laugh. "Let-- lets go back-- to see Dick."
Bruce thought Dick was eerily calm after the doctors left his room. While it was good news that he wasn't completely paralysed below the waist, the months and possibly years of physical therapy which Dick would need to learn to walk again was still a crushing blow to him and-- Nightwing. It was without doubt Nightwing would be grounded for a long time-- and there was no certainty he would ever fly again.
If only-- if only he hadn't had that fight with Dick; he might have stayed at the manor where he would have been safe. If--
"Bruce?" Dick's call startled him out of his thoughts.
As soon as he turned to face the younger man, Dick read him like a book. "Bruce, you listen to me. And you listen good." Dick told him firmly, his eyes edged with steel as he focused on his mentor. "This isn't your fault, you hear me, Bruce? It. Isn't. Your. Fault."
"But-- if I hadn't driven you away--"
"And would you wish what happened to me on Barbara?" Dick interrupted him quickly. "Do you realise-- if I hadn't answered that door, she would most likely be the one in this bed now? Do you! Would you wish it was Barbara instead of me in this bed?"
Bruce was instantly taken aback; he hadn't given a thought to that scenario. "I wouldn't wish anyone to be--"
"Then let it go, Bruce." Dick's expression softened as he gazed up at the older man. "God, I love you for feeling so protective of me, but this isn't your fault.
"Neither are Jason's injuries your fault either, you know?"
"He'll learn, Bruce. It was a mistake for him to disobey orders." Dick cut him off again. "He knows better now. He'll learn. I learned."
"But-- Two-Face-- Joker-- If I--"
"If you what? If you had killed Harvey all those years ago, he would never have had a chance to beat me up? If you killed Joker rather than take him in each time he got out, Jason wouldn't have been hurt and I wouldn't be in this bed now?" Dick said scornfully to him. "Is that what you were about to say? Would you really let them win and be a greater monster to fight those criminals?"
"He shot you..." Immediately, Dick knew that Bruce was referring to an incident some years earlier which almost precipitated his second dismissal as Robin ¥ , before Batman finally fired him for devoting more time to the Titans than Gotham. ¤
"Bruce, it happens." Dick sighed at him in exasperation. "We heroes always get shot at. Need I remind you that Alfred and Leslie have stitched us both up countless times and yet it still never stopped us from doing what we do?
"And you know-- I gotta admit that this-- the greatest joke in my life right now is-- it was being 'Dick Grayson' which landed me here today."
"Bruce-- let it go." Dick looked up at him encouragingly. "It could have been worse. I could be dead. I could be permanently paralysed. I still have feeling in my toes, Bruce. I can still feel my legs.
"I'll eventually get by."
On the surface, it seemed that Dick was handling his rape and the devastating injury remarkably well. He had asked for and had been extracted from the hospital and transferred to his bedroom at Wayne Manor as soon as the doctors were willing to release him.
It was only after he was settled at the Manor that he finally allowed Raven to tell the Titans of his situation and invited them to visit him. Starfire had been especially furious and upset Dick would keep his injuries a secret from her for so long. Ultimately though, they had to accept that the Titans were not known associates of Dick Grayson. For them to appear at the hospital to visit him would have jeopardise Nightwing's identity, and by extension Batman and Robin's identities as well.
With this as a consideration, Dick had called on Roy Harper and Wally West to help him disguise the fact that Nightwing would be on indefinite leave from the Titans at approximately the same time as Dick Grayson's injury. With Roy dressed in a spare suit and wig, and Wally invisibly helping him perform Nightwing's trademark acrobatics at super speed, they managed to keep Nightwing on the Titans' active roster for an additional two months; after which Speedy took up an ongoing position with the Titans to cover for Nightwing while he was on 'leave.'
Troia and Cyborg were not pleased with Dick's initial decision to withdraw completely from the Titans while he recovered. With Batman's permission, Cyborg easily rigged a communications set up for Dick in the Bat Cave to allow him to watch and listen in on the Titans when they were on missions. Vic even offered to let Dick view their missions through his electronic eye. As Donna joked, he could be their 'god in the box,' lending the Titans his leadership skills and knowledge when they needed it. And the two Titans were serious in their intent to actively draw on Dick's abilities even while he was infirmed.
It was much to their surprise that Bruce was very supportive of the Titans' efforts to keep Dick an active part of their team. But Dick, Jason, and Alfred understood him perfectly. It was Bruce's way of apologising to Dick for his jealousy which made Batman fire Robin and caused Dick to walk away from Gotham all those years ago. It was even Bruce's suggestion, Dick name his online persona 'Coeus,' the Titan of intelligence and deep searching questions. Donna had been especially delighted by the idea and assured Dick that the God would be honoured if he used his name.
Outwardly, Dick appeared to have easily accepted his changed situation. However, Bruce and his Gotham family knew different. Dick had asked for assistance and Bruce gladly arranged to pack up and move his belongings from his Manhattan apartment into a wing of Wayne manor near his current room. Once everything had been unpacked and put away, Dick had asked Bruce to hold on to two items for him and to leave him alone for a while. Bruce had taken the two framed pictures with him, one which showed the last picture taken of the Graysons, and one of him with a young Dick Grayson on a camping trip.
Alfred and Jason had come charging up the stairs at the first crash, but Bruce held them back. Dick had asked for time alone and he well knew that Dick really needed this. The ex-Titans leader had shown remarkable control and bravery over the last several weeks in front of family, friends and the media who were understandably worked up over the shocking injury visited upon the (recognised) Wayne heir. Dick needed this moment by himself to let loose.
It was hours later, after silence had finally fallen in the room that Bruce knocked and entered to find Dick sitting hunched over on the floor amidst the ruins of his old life. Almost all the furniture had been trashed beyond recovery and lying among the destruction were barely recognisable bits of Nightwing's uniform and equipment. The only item still intact and relatively unharmed was Dick's new wheelchair which had been sent rolling across the room against the wall.
Bruce had quietly come up beside him and almost froze when Dick suddenly threw himself into Bruce's arms to hug him tight in a way he hadn't done since he was a child. Bruce had automatically hugged him back and rocked the sobbing man, remembering how he used to croon to a grieving child who had recently lost his parents. And he regretted everything he had ever done to drive the young man the child had grown into away from him.
It would be different now. Bruce swore that he would correct the mistakes of the past and as a first step, he would make real the truth which had always existed in his heart. He would make Dick his son, and as a family with Jason and Alfred, they would weather this new challenge in their lives.
"Come on Bro, up and att'em." Jason's cheerful call roused Dick from a pleasant dream of walking again and flying as he recalled being able to do slightly more than a few months ago. He groaned and tried to burrow under the blankets to hide from the sunlight the boy had let into the room.
"I can't believe Bruce adopted a morning person." Dick grumbled from within his warm nest of blankets.
"Hey! It's not like I have any reason to stay up late as usual with a busted flipper." Jason snorted as he tossed the blankets off the bed's occupant. "Come on, Bro. Yeh need to wake up now if I'm ta get through your morning PT before I'm off ta school."
"Jase?" Dick moaned as he tried to grab the blankets back over him. "Can we skip today?"
"No-can-do, Wingster." Jason pulled the blankets off him again. "Bruce and Alfie insisted that if you don't keep up with your regimen, we don't get to go to New York this weekend to visit with the Titans."
That got Dick up. Vic had been hinting of a project he was almost finished with, which he promised would make Physical Therapy a whole lot more fun and encouraging for Dick. After two months of staying at the manor, Dick was ready to do anything which would stop him from climbing the walls from boredom. While being 'Coeus' for Batman, Batgirl, and the Titans was fun in its own way, Dick needed to get out of the house and do more somehow. The doctors were still talking about years of therapy to get him to retrain his body to walk again, but Dick wasn't sure he'd survive that long. He was going nuts with the inactivity.
"Dick?" Jason's anxious voice broke him from his thoughts to focus on the teen seated on the side of his bed.
"Sorry, wool gathering."
"Well, not on my time. We have the entire routine to go through before Alfred sends up breakfast and the Bruce-ter joins us." Ever since Dick moved back to the Manor, the entire household had taken to having breakfast in his room after Jason was done with his morning physical therapy. It was pleasant, and the truth was Dick did look forward to the morning family time.
Dick grinned at him. "He's never going to live down the nickname, is he? God's, I'd about forgotten I would call him that just to annoy him when I was your age."∞
"So you told me. And it wasn't all that long ago, Dick." Jason grinned at him as his hands went into the practised motions of moving Dick's still unresponsive legs to exercise the muscles. In all, Dick was glad to see he hadn't lost as much muscle tone as he originally feared. "He's still giving me an annoyed twitch when I call him that."
"Well, you better lay off it, Jase." Dick warned him seriously. "We still haven't had that 'talk' about you being Robin again after the cast is finally off your leg."
"Yeah..." Jason automatically deflated as he looked down at his leg mournfully. "Y-- Do you really think you can persuade him to let me have Robin back?"
"I won't lie to you Jase." Dick sighed as he ruffled his hair fondly. "Bruce has had too many scares in this rather short period of time. You do know the real reason why he suddenly decided to adopt me, don't you?"
"To-- make sure you know that he does love you too?"
"Well, that and to keep me close now this has happened." Dick sighed as he gestured towards his legs.
"I would have moved out, Jase." Dick interrupted him. "I love Bruce, and you, and Alfred, but I really need my own space. So I will move out eventually, you know? But not now; I'll only do that when he's ready to let me go again."
"When he's ready?" Jason gave him a raised eyebrow.
"You ever notice how 'clingy' Bruce gets when he's scared?" Dick asked him seriously.
"Clin--?" Jason thought about it. The adoptions, both his and Dick's had come after they were almost 'taken away' for 'good.' Without being asked, Bruce had given Jason his own bike, ostensibly as encouragement to work on his own physical therapy after his injuries healed; then there was the newly outfitted Bat Cave with the elevators and special work station for Dick to be Coeus when he felt well enough to leave his bed and spend long hours at the Crays.
"Do you think we'll ever reach 'situation-normal' again?" The younger boy asked at last after he thought over their father's recent actions with them. "He's been walking on eggshells around us, hasn't he?"
"Yeah, he has, and I hope so, Jase. I really hope so."
Robin stood beside Batman almost awkwardly as the Titans swarmed around Dick. It was obvious to all who cared to observe this that the Titans greatly missed their leader and his presence at the Tower. So far, Troia and Cyborg had coped admirably in their joint leadership. But they really missed Nightwing's detective skills on the last couple of missions. Vic would swear Dick could have easily plucked clues out of the air for them to track down the latest incarnation of the Royal Flush gang, had he been with them. As it was, they had to wait for the villains to get into action before the Titans pounced.
Even as he watched the joyful reunion, Jason couldn't help but think of his own euphoria when they were getting ready to visit the Titans in Manhattan. Earlier, he had been thrilled beyond belief when Batman had handed him the Robin uniform before they approached the Bat Copter to do a systems check in preparation of their jaunt. As Dick had reminded him, there was no reason for Bruce Wayne to make a trip to New York with his sons to visit the Titans, but he could do this as Batman without anyone batting an eye if they were spotted. So while they left Batgirl in charge of the home front with Alfred's able assistance, Batman and Robin flew to New York with their hidden passenger.
Dick had been on tenterhooks the whole morning, half afraid and expectant of Cyborg's surprise. Jason was well aware that he and Bruce had had long talks about mechanical assistance to speed up his recovery where medical science was not offering any solutions. Dick had been adamant about eventually regaining the use of his legs on his own. He had told Bruce he would use mechanical means to assist when necessary, but he did not want to live using it all the time.
It had looked all wrong when Cyborg revealed the exoskeleton he had designed for Dick. Robin had wanted to scream out that the monstrosity should not be allowed anywhere near his brother. It wasn't 'Dick Grayson' for him to put it on. Everyone saw it immediately. Even Cyborg had found himself taken aback and recoiling from the apparatus. However, it was again Dick who calmed their reactions and who Jason thought was exceedingly kind in offering to try the device which Vic Stone had worked so hard on, despite how 'wrong' it felt to have Dick don the equipment.
They had watched silently when Dick at first sat on the table and bent his knee. Robin had felt Batman's hand tighten over one shoulder at this. Until then, Dick still had not been able to exert voluntary movement with his legs. Dick started to move tentatively and then with more confidence as he got used to the apparatus. Using the table as if it were a gym horse, Dick carefully pulled his body into a flawless handstand.
His audience watched enraptured as Dick put his body through the moves of what the acrobat would have once call a light stretching exercise. It made Jason wince to contemplate the impossible positions Dick could so casually make his body assume. From the corner of his eye, Jason could spot Roy fidgeting uncomfortably as well when Dick stretched his legs into a midair split.
As they watched, Jason could feel the hand on his shoulder begin to ease off its clench as Batman relaxed. Though none had liked the idea of Dick falling back on the use of mechanical aids to recover use of his legs, it was-- 'nice' to be able to watch Dick performing again as if he had not been seriously injured eight months earlier. Unfortunately, their relief was to be abruptly destroyed when Dick executed a simple forward flip off the table and landed on his feet before them.
Dick's scream of pure agony had frozen the Titans though it set off Batman to race to his side and catch him before he fell. Troia had moved next, quickly mopping towels over Dick's suddenly sweat soaked frame even as the Flash zipped off and reappeared with an armful of blankets. Cyborg was already at their side running his portable scanners over Dick's body while Raven tried to siphon away his pain as they tried to figure out what had happened. Robin and the other Titans had stayed back, though they would have wanted nothing more than to be at Dick's side to offer comfort and reassurance.
It was Raven who finally ascertained what the problem could be. That the pain was caused by the bullet... The bullet which had been left in Dick's spine would apparently press against a nerve whenever Dick tried to put weight on his feet.
Through his pain and shock, Dick had stared at Raven and Cyborg in disbelief for what their diagnosis meant... that even should he, on his own power, rebuild the strength and control required to move his legs on his own-- he still wouldn't be able to walk as it would cause him unbelievable agony.
Batman had hugged Dick to his chest with that revelation. Around them, the Titans were at loss as to what they could say or do for their friend. The news certainly marked an end for Nightwing and his reappearance among the rank of heroes. But what it would do to Dick...
"No!" Batman had been taken by surprise when the younger man had forcefully shoved him back. "I will not let him win, do you hear me? I am not going to let that bastard win!"
"Dick--" Batman tried to calm him gently.
"Vic, Donna? Is my trapeze apparatus still up?" Dick turned to the Titans determinedly, his eyes were lit with a fire which made any who looked at him forget about the tears drying on his cheeks.
"Trape-- we never touched them." Vic admitted. "No one wanted to take them down."
"Then rig up a-- a safety net for me for now." Dick smiled at them grimly. "I am going to fly again if it's the last thing I do."
The light of understanding flashed in everyone's eyes with that revelation. Dick may not be able to rest any weight on his feet without pain, but if he stayed airborne he wouldn't need to worry about landing on his feet. True enough, Dick was fine up in the air. With Batman as his catcher, Dick showed he could still perform some simple routines, though he was of course far from able to perform his signature quadruple summersault. As disappointing as it was to learn he could never walk again without pain, Cyborg's gift to Dick at the least allowed him to fly once more. And Jason knew it counted as being far more important to Dick than walking.
Bruce looked up in mild surprise as Dick wheeled himself into his study after knocking and receiving an invitation to enter. He had been expecting Alfred to come in. Dick rarely moved about the manor much, choosing to limit his explorations from his rooms, to the kitchen, the library, the gym and the cave.
"Something I can help you with, son?" Bruce took pleasure in making this address. He could never explain why he hadn't thought of adopting Dick long ago, but he had corrected his laxity at last. He couldn't be prouder of his two boys.
"Yeah-- well, I thought you'd like to be the first to know." Dick handed him a letter. "I'm going back to school."
Bruce looked up from the acceptance letter from Gotham State University in shock. "But I thought--"
"Bruce, I'm bored to death." Dick admitted exasperatedly. "There's only so much I can do with PT, and even as Coeus. I'm going stir crazy and-- I need my own life again."
Bruce stepped around the table to take his hand. "I'm glad, Dick."
"Yeah-- well--" Dick grinned up at him. "I hoped you'd be."
"So? You're thinking of a double major in Computer Science and-- Military History?" Bruce picked up the acceptance letter again and looked over the course stated on it.
"Might as well learn a bit more about programming, which could be useful for Coeus; and--" Dick took in a deep breath. "Well, let's be fair, Bruce. I tried the Business School track once and it bored me to tears. Besides, the leaders in industry have been reading Sun Tzu--"
"On the Art of War."
"Yup, one of the oldest military treatises in the world, but it is still very applicable to the business world. As Wayne heir--" Dick sighed heavily. "You're going to eventually rope me into your world anyway."
"Yes, I have to agree it is a very relevant course when you put it that way." Bruce nodded as he gave it some thought. "I'll keep Lucius's claws off you for a couple more years-- if I can." He added warmly, though his expression was doubtful regarding the last bit.
"Please do." Dick gave him a pained look. "One career change in a year is more than enough."
Session Start (CarneyKid: All Urbytesbelong2me):
CarneyKid: Hey, BG. What's cooking?
CarneyKid: Haven't seen you swing by the CT for a while.
All Urbytesbelong2me: Hey, FBW!
All Urbytesbelong2me: Aww, you know... Parental unit.
CarneyKid: LOL Big daddy G still miffed with U?
All Urbytesbelong2me: Don't laugh! This time he hid my T lines.
CarneyKid : Can't fault him for caring, U know?
All Urbytesbelong2me: (L) him to death, but it's getting old!
All Urbytesbelong2me: But I do understand where he's coming from, U
CarneyKid: Know what U mean...
CarneyKid: Think U want to join my gig instead? ;-)
All Urbytesbelong2me: Coeus? Do tell FBW
CarneyKid: the Superhero Information Network. Come SIN with me. :-D
All Urbytesbelong2me: LOL sounds kinky FBW. What goodies have U got
CarneyKid: Will let U make an intimate examination of my hardware ;-)
All Urbytesbelong2me: Do tell ;-)
All Urbytesbelong2me: gonna get me all hot N bothered?
CarneyKid: Steaming, doll. X-D
CarneyKid: Is it a date?
All Urbytesbelong2me: Keep a window open 4 me FBW.
CarneyKid: Will have window 4 U. 2030hrs. 5 minutes.
CarneyKid: Parental unit will visit if he sees the grid down too long.
All Urbytesbelong2me: LOL
All Urbytesbelong2me: you'd think daddy bat would know better by
CarneyKid: It was-- tough getting there and
CarneyKid: K didn't appreciate getting interrupted. Didn't turn out
All Urbytesbelong2me: U OK?
All Urbytesbelong2me: Sometimes it's good to talk, Dick.
All Urbytesbelong2me: I always have time 4 U
CarneyKid: K not happy with the rules. But DG can't be seen with her.
CarneyKid: No reason for us to share the same company. Less so now...
All Urbytesbelong2me: hugs if she loves U, she'll deal.
All Urbytesbelong2me: Just need a plan for K to officially meet DG
sometime. It'll work out.
All Urbytesbelong2me: Hey, look at the time. Gotta go now if I want
to pick up a pizza along the way. :-)
All Urbytesbelong2me: Will call ahead and get our usual special.
CarneyKid: remember, 5 minutes.
CarneyKid: I have soda and will pop A's garlic bread in the oven:-9
All Urbytesbelong2me: Yummy:-9 I'll see U in a few!
Session Close (All Urbytesbelong2me):
Donna approached the door which marked the entrance to the only apartment in the Clock Tower. She knew Dick was expecting her. She had gathered as much from the way the Wayne security guards had waved her past that Dick had informed them of her possible appearance.
She well remembered Dick had hated it, but he hadn't said no to Lucius Fox's deployment of Wayne security guards in the surrounding buildings. He had no choice, considering the fiasco that resulted from the media finding out the Wayne heir had decided to take up residence in the heart of the city while he was taking classes at the nearby Gotham State U.
It had taken three months for the fuss to die down before the Titans could dare secretly visit and be shown around Dick's new apartment. Still, it was hard to know they couldn't freely visit. Kory had been especially upset that Dick wouldn't let her drop by any time she wanted. The Titans could see the strain in their relationship from miles away. And Donna was actually surprised it hadn't broken down earlier.
Not that Dick hadn't tried... He had planned and arranged three separate occasions where Dick Grayson could be formally introduced to Alien super model Kory Anders. The first 'date' ended with the Fearsome Five attacking the casually dressed Titans and Dick ducking out quickly to avoid being a distraction in their battle. The second 'date' had to be called off because of a Titans crisis which had Dick racing back to the Clock Tower for a stint as Coeus. This third and last time-- had no such distractions. But-- Kory hadn't seen Dick.
He had made a discrete though noticeable entrance at the restaurant with his cover date Barbara Gordon, and Kory had missed seeing him completely. Worse, when Donna had tried to subtly point her friend in the right direction, Kory had become distracted by her many fans who wanted her to sign autographs for them.
Donna had been watching Dick's face as he observed Kory's fans. And it did not surprise her that he and Barbara left soon after they had an aperitif, all without Kory being any the wiser. As she accompanied Dick out, Barbara had thrown Donna a last look of exasperation after she glared briefly in Kory's direction.
To be fair, Kory had instantly started looking around the restaurant discretely after she sent her fans away. Donna had taken her hand then and quietly told her of Dick's departure. Kory's first instincts were to leave the restaurant and look for him, but Donna stopped her.
It had hurt to lay the facts out for her again, but Kory had to understand that Dick would never compromise on the safety of Batman's identity. And one thing a striking, alien super model did not have, was anonymity. While Donna, Roy, Joey, Wally, Garth and even Raven could easily pass as ordinary humans who could visit Dick without raising suspicions, Starfire, Gar and Vic were too 'striking' to be ignored. Donna had finally persuaded Kory to let her talk to Dick and arrange for another 'date;' though she had winced at Kory's first few suggestions of places to meet. While they had been their favourite hang outs previously, the dance clubs would not be a kind reminder to Dick of what he'd lost.
Barbara opened the door at her knock and let her in. "How is he?"
"He-- he's taking their pictures from the frames and putting them into albums." Barbara warned Donna as she locked the door behind her.
Donna groaned in disappointment. "Damn-- I was hoping... He-- doesn't see the point, does he?"
Barbara shook her head. "She's too-- famous. You know how Dick has always hated media attention."
Donna winced as she gave that thought due consideration. "And he just realized how big a brouhaha this could be if the media caught Kory Anders with the Wayne heir, didn't he?"
"And apart from that..." Barbara glanced towards the bedroom before facing the Titan again. "We know Dick hasn't been with the Titans much since-- he was shot, but-- just how adjusted are you guys to seeing Dick in a wheelchair?
"I mean, she looked right over him when we entered the restaurant. She completely missed seeing him..."
"Old habits die hard." Donna fidgeted uncomfortably. "But he does know that she cares, right?"
"He--" Barbara looked down. "I don't know." She admitted. "Sometimes-- the way Dick talks, it seems he thinks his-- handicap matters enough to break up old friendships."
Donna bit her lower lip to silent her protests when she noticed the other woman wasn't done. "Fortunately Wally and Roy persisted and-- they're still best buds now. But-- I'm not sure Starfire has a chance... especially when she can't even be freely welcomed here."
And that was the unfortunate crux of the continued relationship between Dick Grayson and Kory Anders. In all the time they had dated, Donna knew Dick always had to wear a disguise to protect Nightwing's identity (and by extension Batman's identity). Her sudden association with a wheelchair bound Dick Grayson, coupled with Nightwing's continued absence would be too much of a coincidence.
Knowing all this, Donna had refrained from speaking when she entered Dick's bedroom to find him flipping through his photo albums. However, the moment he looked up at her and allowed her to see his tears, Donna had flown across the room to gather him into a hug.
Her tears flowed too to think of how she'd have to break the news to Kory later. But Donna just couldn't see any possible compromise. Kory was just too 'public' to fit into Dick's enforced new world as 'the crippled Wayne heir.' And with all the time they already spent apart, Kory was experiencing difficulty in remembering that Dick could no longer walk and could therefore not take her out to do many of their previously favourite activities. It was probably best they ended the relationship now while they still loved each other, rather than later when they had the time to build any resentment for the difficulties mounting between them.
"The Suicide Squad?" Dick's expression was incredulous as he pointed his chopsticks at his visitor. "Are you nuts Babs? You know how much a risk it is, drawing attention from the government like that."
"Worry wart!" She unrepentantly stole a mushroom from his box of Chinese takeout and popped it in her mouth. "Relax, sensei. I learned from the best and covered my tracks but good. They'll never spot me, not in a million years!"
"What does your dad think about your activities now?" Dick shook his head as he laughed and playfully shielded his takeout box from her depredations and made a play to steal a piece of broccoli from her box.
"Honestly? I think he's tickled pink." Barbara grinned at him. "At the least, he's pretty happy that I'm having more fun online and am now sitting in my study where he can look in on me, rather than swinging around buildings out there on the streets."
"So he hasn't hidden your T-lines again?"
"Oh, he's welcome to them." Barbara waved him off. "Being Oracle was what I'm meant to be, Dick." She put down her chopsticks and takeout to lean over and gave him a light kiss on the cheek. "Thanks for introducing me to your SIN-ful activity."
"Ouch! Hey, I'm supposed to be the one with the bad puns here."
"Ha! That's not what you're only known for FBW." Barbara gave him a long measuring look before she spoke again. "You might as well know, cause the woman's a persistent bitch-- The Wall wants an introduction to Coeus."
"She said she knows Coeus was once Nightwing." Barbara warned him. "I don't know if that's just a good guess or if she really has evidence. Or even if she just put two and two together and connected Nightwing's absence with Coeus's appearance."
"Any hints that she's on to our identities?" Dick asked grimly as he put down his chopsticks.
"None." Barbara shook her head. "I've hacked her system. She's got nothing on file. I think she's only made the connection between Nightwing and Coeus."
"Is that so?" Dick looked at her thoughtfully. "Are you up for a bit of hacking work?"
She grinned at him. "No need, I made my own back door."
"All right! Way to go, Oracle!" Dick high-fived her. "Let's take a stroll through Ms. Amanda Waller's set up."
Session Start (Oracle:Wall):
Oracle: What's the deal?
Wall: did Coeus respond?
Oracle: He's wondering why he should.
Wall: Look kid, I need a field leader. Someone good enough to bring a
team in, get the job done AND bring them out again. Alive.
Wall: Nightwing has a good rep. And I know Coeus occasionally leads the
Titans long distance. Light heard them yapping to him over their comms.
Wall: he don't need to be regular. I just need him to be reliable.
Wall: Anything he wants, any price, I can get it for him.
"What do you think?" Barbara looked up from her notebook to where Dick sat before his bank of monitors.
"We have the confirmed leak being Dr. Light." Dick nodded to her. "So it is unlikely that Waller has our identities.
"But-- She's got my attention..."
"Would you, Dick? They're nothing like your Titans."
"Well, knowing-- or suspecting that I am Nightwing, let's see who she's going to propose to give me in a team." Dick cracked his fingers before he pulled the keyboard towards him.
"That's a wrap boys and girls." An electronically generated voice came over the earphones of the field members of the Suicide Squad as they watched the terrorist base go up in flames. "Waller will have your pick up to you in 10 minutes. Hang loose."
"Just hold on, Coeus!" Ben Turner barked into his voice mike.
"Something I can do for you, Tiger?"
"Just how are you keeping track of us?" The big African American looked over his varied companions and glanced back at the burning camp again. "None of us are wearing cameras of any sort. And you're still up close and personal like-- our very own Jiminy Cricket."
A light laughter came over to them through the ear phones. "Well, I am a Titan, and maybe your own God-in-a-box and conscience all rolled into one. Count your blessings and light a candle for me.
"Signing off Squad, and good work!"
Babs hugged Dick in glee as he terminated the connection, thus ending Coeus' first excursion with the Suicide Squad. Bruce had his cowl off as he stood behind them before Dick's bank of computer monitors, the centre four of which had a zoomed in focus on the Suicide Squad while they gathered to wait for their ride out.
"So what do you think, Bruce?" Dick turned towards his father anxiously. "Is it okay if Babs or I use Brother I regularly this way?"
Bruce took in a deep breath before he was ready to answer. "You know, Dick. I've never been so-- frightened of the potential abuse of that satellite until I watched how you used it."
"And I'm glad I now have you and Barbara to take care of and guard it from being stolen." Bruce laid a hand on their shoulders in obvious pride. "Ever since I commissioned Brother I, I've-- always been worried that it was-- too intrusive-- that I might-- there is too much power in this satellite..."
"Bruce--" Dick laid his hand over his father's. "I still don't know what had you so worried about meta humans back then. But Bab's and I can understand the logic behind your fears."
"They will-- hate us if--"
"No one will know to object, Bruce." Barbara interrupted him. "And if they find out? As long as they don't know its true purpose and we don't misuse it... And we won't, Bruce. We will never use it to invade the privacy of others. We'll swear to you right now that we'll only use it on Squad missions and as a last resort to save lives with our own teams."
"I know." Bruce gave each of their shoulders a gentle squeeze. He shook his head. "Still... the Suicide Squad? I had no idea that's where Ivy disappeared off to."
"Waller's been offering deals to inmates at Belle Reve for time off their sentences." Barbara shrugged.
"You still wish you could be right there with them, don't you?" Bruce asked Dick kindly.
"Yeah. It-- doesn't seem fair that I'm safe up in the Clock Tower while they--" Dick let out a deep sigh. "I don't know how you managed it so regularly with your team without this satellite's monitoring capability, Babs."
"We talked and chatted a whole lot more than you do with the Squad, Dick" She grinned at him. "But we're not exactly operating in the same league here."
"Yeah-- It's tough, but after this, the Squad knows I've got their back to get them out alive."
"And you will always do your best to protect those under your command; like you always have." Bruce observed of him with obvious pride in his voice.
Jason stared at the bat computer screens where he had pictures of three woman whose names were in his father's little black book; Sharmin Rosen, Shiva Woosan, and Dr. Sheila Haywood. One of these three women was his mother. He debated asking Bruce for help, but he discarded the thought almost immediately after he came to it. Jason was sure that Bruce wouldn't care or understand why he wanted to find his real mother. ß
"Dick!" Jason swung around in his chair in surprise to have his elder brother sneak up on him. He hadn't seen as much of Dick as he would have liked since Dick moved into the Clock Tower to be closer to Gotham State U. And while he was glad to see him again, Jason wasn't sure what to feel now to be caught out like this though. "What are you doing here?"
"Bruce called me." Dick shrugged as he wheeled up to take a measuring look at the three women Jason had on the screen. "He said you were knocking heads with him lately and asked if I could take a break from school to spend some time with you.
"So? Want to talk about it?"
"I--" Jason hesitated for just a moment before he looked up at his bro. "I think I may have found my real mother..."
"Catherine Todd wasn't--" Dick arched an eyebrow at him before quickly reading the dossiers Jason had pulled up. He whistled lowly. "Israel, Lebanon and Ethiopia, eh? You sure don't pick easy ones, bro. So how did you think you were going to arrange to leave?"
"I'll leave a note for Alfred, let them know I'm with you and we'll take the Batjet out. And isn't it a good thing I can fly it too, don't need legs for that." Dick told him nonchalantly as his hands ran over the keys to type in some commands and make a few entries. "We'll stop over in Lebanon first, I think."
"I-- love you."
"Love you too, little bro." Dick gave him a grin as he reached over to ruffle his hair. "We'll find your mom, short stuff." He looked up again at the picture of Shiva. "Though I sure hope that one isn't it, Jase, Lady Shiva isn't exactly a cool character to play around with."
Jason sat slumped in the waiting room beside Bruce, waiting with him for some word of his brother. He couldn't believe how badly the situation had turned out. As it was, Bruce had joined them in Lebanon since Batman's hunt for the Joker had led him there as well, so they had joined forces for a while. And in the course of their adventure, Jason had finally identified and met his mother, Dr. Sheila Haywood.
But after that, things had just rapidly deteriorated. Jason had discovered his mother's involvement with the Joker's scheme to replace medical goods with poison. He had alerted Bruce, sending Batman charging out of the base camp to intercept and stop the deadly delivery, leaving Jason and Dick behind to watch the camp. Unfortunately, Jason had disobeyed a direct order from Batman in his insistence on trying to help his mother, only to have her betray him.
It was providential that Dick had not been near by when the Joker nearly beat Jason to death with a crow bar and tried to blow up Jason and his mother. Having witnessed the Joker's rapid departure, Dick had gone tearing through the camp looking for Jason and found him in the locked up warehouse. With seconds to spare, Dick had disarmed the bomb which had been left with them. But none of them were to know the Joker had left a second bomb, set to detonate after the first just outside the warehouse.
When Batman had returned, it was to find the camp nearly laid to waste and his sons buried under the rubble that once marked the medical aid warehouse. Haywood had lived long enough to tell Batman of her son's bravery and what had caught them out after Dick disarmed the first bomb. She had been standing near the door and almost beside the second bomb when the blast went off. The last thing she had seen was Dick throwing himself from his wheelchair to grab Jason and shield him from the force of the blast.
Batman found them, just as Haywood had described, with Dick curled protectively around Jason's battered form. By some angel's mercy, his sons were alive. And Bruce lost no time in stripping Jason of his Robin gear and having both airlifted to the nearest hospital.
After patching him up, the doctors pronounced Jason as battered, but out of danger. They had objected strenuously to his leaving his bed the moment he regained consciousness, but Jason hadn't cared one wit. He wanted to hear about his bro.
Bruce hadn't said a single word to him since he found them and registered them at the hospital. Jason knew why. It was his fault. This was his fault. If he hadn't disobeyed Batman's orders and acted on his own, Dick wouldn't have been in danger-- his mother wouldn't have had a chance to betray him-- she wouldn't be dead now... And this was because he hadn't listened.
Jason leaned his head on his knees, his despair growing as he thought of Dick and what further injures he might have caused his brother with this latest stupidity. He couldn't help thinking that Batman was right-- that he didn't deserve to be Robin. And that-- if-- Dick's injuries now ensured he'd never walk again-- Jason would never forgive himself...
Bruce stood up immediately as the surgeon came into the waiting room. "I'm Wayne. Doctor? My son? How is he?"
"You have a remarkable young man, Mr. Wayne." The doctor smiled at him encouragingly. "If he hadn't kept himself in such excellent shape despite the handicap-- well, we may even have a bit of good news for you."
Bruce held out his hand with great puzzlement at the doctor's gesture, only to have him drop a tiny piece of metal in it. "A little gift." The doctor smiled at him. "It came loose on its own and appeared safe for me to remove, so I did."
Bruce's eyes seemed to light up as he stared at the bullet. "Does-- does this mean--?"
The doctor let out a long sigh. "I'm afraid that it is still too early to say." He cautioned gently. "We don't know what exactly may have happened when it was jarred loose-- it might even have caused more damage when it came free-- We can only hope, Mr. Wayne, that it is a change for the better.
"At the least, your boy is now out of danger." The doctor petted him on the shoulder encouragingly. "You can arrange to transport him out of here to be placed under the care of the more modern facilities you have in American."
Bruce stared numbly at the little piece of lead in his hand. Jason sank back into his chair and prayed hard that this new turn of events offered more hope than despair.
The final medical prognosis was that though Dick was now free from the bullet which caused him untold pain when he put weight on his feet, more damage had also been done to the delicate tissues. Dick had taken the news stoically when he was told his recovery had possibly been set back by a couple more years.
Jason was inconsolable and guilt ridden. He in fact gave little thought to the mother who had betrayed him and eventually died. If Bruce had considered punishing Jason for disobeying orders, he discarded all thoughts to it now as it appeared that Jason was harsher with himself. The boy had given the Robin uniform to Bruce, telling him he did not deserve the honour and never would again. He might even have run away had Dick not called him to his room the day he was moved back to the manor from the hospital.
"Talk to me, Jase." Dick looked up from his bed exhaustedly as the boy hovered over him. "Bruce told me you gave him back the Robin uniform."
"I-- I messed up, Dick-- I messed up so bad-- I don't deserve-- I don't--"
"Jase!" Dick's sharp call stopped the younger boy from his babbling.
"Dick-- I-- I'm sorry-- I'm so sorry--"
"Jason, mistakes happen. We all do crazy things with bad consequences from time to time." Dick sighed at him sadly. "The important thing is to learn from our mistakes, you know?
"What did you learn from-- this?
"Not to disobey orders ever again..."
"That wasn't it, Jason." Dick petted the bed beside him, inviting the boy to sit on the mattress with him.
Jason obligingly climbed on the bed and accepted the arm about his waist. "Huh? But I--"
"Jason, sometimes it isn't wrong to disobey orders. Obeying orders blindly is for unthinking soldiers. Where you went wrong was with trust." Dick tapped him on the nose. "You gave your trust to Sheila Haywood blindly because she was your mother." Dick told him softly. "But you didn't know her very well and she didn't earn or deserve that trust you gave her. And you trusted her above Batman. That's where you went wrong."
"Quitting isn't going to resolve matters between you and Bruce, you know?"
"But-- I failed him. I failed you. I can't be Robin again, Dick. I just can't..."
"Then maybe you should try another identity and learn under someone else for a while." Dick took a deep breath as he looked at the younger boy. "Maybe you can try to be Nightwing and work with the Titans."
"What!" Jason stared at him in alarm. "But you're--"
"Lets be honest, Jase." Dick sighed to him. "I'm not going to be able to don the suit for a few years at least."
Jason looked down in shame. "And it's all my--"
Dick shook him firmly. "Stop that right now! Jase, believe it or not, I'm grateful for our little adventure. The bullet's out.
"I may be slightly weaker than before, but I still have feeling in my legs, Jase. And with the bullet gone, I don't have to worry about a pinched nerve which had otherwise made it impossible for me to ever walk again."
Dick took the younger boy's chin in his hand to make Jason look him in the eye. "We are human and fallible, Jase. What's important is we learn from our mistakes and that we are willing to do something to make up for those mistakes.
"Be Nightwing, Jase. Learn what it's like to work in a team and be responsible for more than your own safety for a while. And be willing to learn from others more experienced than you are." Dick offered to him. "I can give Donna and Vic a call and ask them to be prepared to take you in for a spell.
"Learn to fly again."
"I-- I'll think about it."
Dick looked up at the knock on his bedroom door to see Bruce come in with a tray of chocolate velvet cake and ice cream. "Ooo, how did you sneak that past my strict nutritionist Alfred?" Dick grinned as he fluffed up his pillows and carefully pulled himself into a seated position on the bed.
"Well, since Alfred baked this himself, he can't have thought Jason and I would be eating it alone." Bruce set the lap table over Dick's legs and took one of the plates as he sat on the bed facing his son.
"Jason-- told me about Nightwing." Bruce spoke at last as they settled down to eat their dessert. "Dick-- are you-- sure?"
"Yes-- I'm sure." Dick looked up at his father sadly. "I can't ever wear the suit for a few more years, Bruce. Honestly, I don't know if I ever will now. And Jason needs something else. We both know he was chaffing at the bit being your junior partner. And after that last adventure, he's given up on ever trusting himself as Robin again. He knows he did wrong, Bruce."
Bruce let out a long sigh. "I'm-- glad he does. I-- Dick, I just don't know how to reassure him anymore. I can't say what he did was--'okay' because it wasn't. He deliberately disobeyed--"
"He's learned his lesson now." Dick stopped him before he could continue. "Bruce, Jason will remember this more because not only was his mother killed, he got me hurt as well. We can both expect that he will never be so reckless again.
"And I'm willing to trust him to work with the Titans and not endanger their lives with his actions, Bruce. Give him another chance."
"He has it. But how about you?" Bruce's hand moved to rest over Dick's knee.
"I was thinking--"
"If Jason's going to be Nightwing for a while-- as soon as he's mended, I need to give him some training on the trapeze so that his moves are as close to Nightwing's as he can get it."
"So you'll be visiting your old circus friends?" Bruce smiled as he caught his son's train of thought.
"You know me." Dick grinned at him.
"Do you think you can actually get him to muck the elephant pans?"
"It's character building." Dick protested innocently. "Besides, until he learns well enough to perform, he's gonna have to earn his keep some other way."
It had been a gruelling six months of training, but Jason was at last feeling more confident of his acrobatic ability. He knew he would never reach Dick's previous or even current mechanically assisted standards, but Jason was satisfied that he was as good as he was going to get.
The next part of his 'Nightwing' training was going to take him back to Gotham where he'd work under Richard Dragon for a while. Dick suggested that he have Dragon teach him how to master the escrima sticks. At the least, the weapons would help him make up for his slight lack in height until he reached his full growth. Plus Dick could start him on the basics and train with him, since he was an adept in their use as well.
Life with the circus was rather exciting, and Jason had to admit that he had the time of his life tagging along with Dick on his rounds with the various circuses to meet old friends, pick up new skills and augment his technique. With this last circus though, life had taken a rather weird turn.
"Look, Kid, why are you hanging around us so much?" Jason eyed the younger boy warily as he waited for Dick to say goodbye to Pop Haly and his other circus friends.
"Because I have something important to show you." The boy looked him in the eye and turned towards Dick as he rolled up in his wheelchair. "To both of you."
"Kid, I don't like games." Dick eyed him suspiciously.
"Neither do I." He handed them a letter sized envelope. "It's important. I need you. Batman needs you."µ
Bruce stood at the top of the stairs behind Dick's wheelchair looking down into the Bat Cave where the new Nightwing was training with the new Robin, Tim Drake. Laughter and playful taunts hung in the air as the two boys sparred at a lightning fast pace; the sound of escrima sticks clashing against a quarter staff punctuated the air quite frequently.
"Penny for your thoughts-- Dad? Dick looked over his shoulder at Bruce.
"Dick-- what-- are you really feeling now to see this?"
"Tim's a good kid. He could have done with a lot more attention from his parents; but-- there's nothing we can do there." Dick's hand moved up to rest on Bruce's where it gently gripped his shoulder. "How are you feeling? About 'adopting' another boy into our 'family'?"
Bruce didn't say anything but let his eyes stray towards Jason. Dick wasn't slow to notice this. "Jason was born to fly on his own, Bruce. I could have told you that the first time I met him. Tim on the other hand is more willing to play a supportive role to Batman."
"He hero worships you, not Batman." Bruce's lip quirked slightly to remember the monumental meeting in the family room when they had returned, after Dick had sent Alfred and the new Robin to the location he had earlier sent Nightwing to help Batman against Two Face.
"Which is a good thing, isn't it, considering he's going to be working primarily with you, and not with me?" Dick looked up at him.
"I don't think I'll ever take back Nightwing, Bruce." Dick told him softly. "I know what you wouldn't tell me about what the doctors said. I can hack into any system built on earth, be it human or alien in nature. Remember?"
"But you will walk again, Dick. That likelihood hasn't changed."
"It'll take too long, and-- it'll be unfair to Jason." Dick shook his head. "In a couple of years, Nightwing will be his and hardly anyone will remember that someone else wore the uniform before him.
"Poor kid seems destined to follow in my footsteps. Let's hope he doesn't follow this route too." Dick absently brushed his free hand over one of the wheels of his chair.
"Then maybe I should expect you to follow in mine..."
Dick's hand tightened over Bruce's. "That day will never come, Bruce. Don't say--"
"That day will come eventually, son." Bruce placed both hands on Dick's shoulders now. "The mantle of the Bat will be yours. And when that day comes, I couldn't be prouder to pass the responsibility to someone who has shown himself to be a better man than me.
"You are a better leader as evidenced by how you're leading the Titans and on occasion the Suicide Squad. You showed better judgement in character when you directed Barbara's attention and interest to the cyber-world to create Oracle, and encouraged her to form and lead her own commendable team of crime fighters. She is actually accomplishing much more with Huntress in her Birds of Prey, than Batman could ever have hoped to achieve in the JLA.
"After your injury, you just never gave up and besides creating Coeus, you still managed to build a respectable civilian life as an exemplary student and Bruce Wayne's responsible half. I can't tell you how happy Lucius has been since you started coming in to take up half of my schedule."
"Stop, Bruce." Dick groaned as he looked up at his father, not hiding the flush of elation he felt to hear the unexpected praise. "The next thing out of your mouth is that all I need now is to start being respectable."
"Well-- on that score, we do have the charity dinner on Wednesday and you need a dat--"
"Bruce! No more! I hate those duty dates." Dick wailed as he quickly turned his wheelchair around and tried to get away from the older man.
"I know, I don't like these dinners myself but I have to attend them too." Bruce followed at a leisurely pace, though still managing to keep up with the fleeing wheelchair. "As the Wayne heir, you're a very eligible bachelor, Dick. And believe me, it is much better to appear at these functions with a date, or the vultures will come swarming."
"I am not going!"
"Yes, you are." Bruce called after him. "If I have to go, you have to go."
"You're going to have to catch me!" Dick yelled back at him.
"You're on!" Having given Dick a sufficient headstart, only then did Bruce break into a run, past an outwardly frowning though inwardly smiling Alfred.
"Children, they just never grow up." The long suffering butler sighed as he turned towards the two faces that peered at him from the entrance of the Bat Cave, having been drawn up by the shouting. "I trust you shall eventually be better influences on your mentors, young masters?"
Tim grinned at Jason's back as he followed the older boy down the stairs. "Don't tell me. They have that argument before every charity event."
"Got it in one, kid." Jason gave Tim an answering grin as he tossed a bottle of water over to him. "Sucks to be him; I, at least, now have the excuse that I've moved to New York. Plus, he's the heir, thank god!" Jason rolled his eyes at his relief. "I'd go nuts if I was pursued like Dick is."
"Hasn't he--?" Tim asked a bit awkwardly.
"Not since Starfire." Jason shook his head sadly. "It's still-- hard, and-- being in a wheelchair...
"Babs has gotten close, you know? But she-- still can't get over what the Joker made her do to him. And-- maybe he also isn't over his assault yet either.
"He still-- roughing it out and living so close while we were on the road together-- I've heard his nightmares."
"Yeah-- but otherwise, it seems life has been pretty okay for him."
"Which is what is most important, isn't it?" Tim looked up at Jason. "That the Joker may have delivered a set back, but ultimately didn't ruin anyone's life."
"That's true. And as long as he's alive, Dick won't let him win." Jason agreed as he stared up towards Wayne manor with a bit of wonder to consider what he had started with just one phone call the previous year.
± New Titans #55 (Jason's death notice and the Dick/Batman confrontation scenes were withheld from the TPB reprint of the issue since the focus of the collection was on Donna Troy)
‡ Batman #416
° Robin: Year One TPB
§ New Titans #50-54 (New Teen Titans: Who Is Donna Troy? TPB)
¤ Nightwing #101 (Nightwing: Year One TPB)
€ Tales of the Teen Titans Annual #3 ( New Titans: Judas Contract TPB)
† Teen Titans Spotlight #14
¥ Batman#408 (Joker shot Robin, and he almost fell to his death. Batman panicked and fired Dick as his partner, leading to Dick walking out of Wayne Manor. This was the Post Crisis / pre-Nightwing: Year One reason for Dick leaving Batman. I tweaked this for the story to account for the event still happening but accepting the Nightwing: Year One reason for Dick leaving Bruce instead.)
£ New Teen Titans #36 1987
∞ Year One: Batman - Scarecrow, Book two of two (Wee-scrappy Dick!)
ß Batman #426 (A Death in the Family TPB)
µ The New Titans #60 (A Lonely Place of Dying TPB)