Apologies are extended to Danny-lovers, he's not in this story.
While the events at the beginning of this story occur during the period when Danny Chase was a member of the Titans,
I never liked the kid and I'd rather not have his kind of insensitivity around Dick in this situation.
(Yes, I'm referring to the jerk kid's blasé dismissal of Jason's death in canon - New Titans #55.)
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.
Side story summary: Victor Stone cannot accept the notion of Nightwing being confined to a wheelchair and so takes it as a personal crusade to do something about it
And I Shall Build You Wings, So You May Fly Again
By Jacque Koh
They hadn't known what to expect when Raven called the Titans together to arrange a journey to Wayne Manor for a visit. Dick had been absent for a few weeks, but they had all thought that he was just busy with Gotham business. The papers had been rife with rumours of something involving the Police Commissioner, the Joker and the family of Gotham City's most prominent businessman; but there hadn't been any concrete information out there and the Titans knew better than to jump the gun on media gossip.
Besides, the Bat guarded his territory zealously; not even Superman was allowed free leave to visit on a whim. And being knowledgeable about, though not the why of, the strained relationship between Nightwing and Batman, the Titans hadn't wanted to make matters worse by dropping in on their leader unannounced.
They had been nervous though about visiting Wayne Manor, where they'd deliberately place themselves under the critical eye of the Batman. However, Raven had convinced them that it would be important for them to meet Dick there. In deference to Nightwing's insistence on security and the import of secret identities, they had planned to have Donna and Joey go ahead in their civilian guise and give Raven the signal when they arrived so she could teleport Vic, Gar and Kory into the Wayne receiving room. They had been very surprised to find Roy Harper, Wally West and Garth already in attendance and speaking with a curiously jumpy Jason Todd while Alfred served them tea and small cakes. It was only after the Titans, current and original, were congregated in one of the family rooms that Bruce Wayne finally appeared to speak to them.
They hadn't wanted to believe their ears. Starfire had been the most vocal and angry about their being informed weeks after the fact that the Joker had shot Dick and caused him to be confined in a wheelchair for the foreseeable few years. He may not have been wearing the cowl then, but it was unmistakable to the Titans that it was Batman who laid into Kory and told her very coldly he would not tolerate anyone upsetting Dick. And if the Titans were not able to control their emotions or dared to express pity for his son, he would bar them from seeing him.
Vic and Raven had quickly taken Kory aside then. Raven to calm her fiery temper. Vic to counsel her and give her a bit of insight into how he had felt himself after he had been hurt in the same accident which killed his mother, and woken up to find himself a crippled. He didn't want Dick to feel the same way he had felt all those years ago.
Back then, Vic had turned away from his friends and had hated the pity he saw in their eyes. And he had been bitter and frustrated throughout the operations and physical therapy that his father put him through to give him the ability to walk and function again as an able bodied man-- but as a Cyborg. Until he had hooked up with the Titans, Vic had stayed an angry young man who could not accept the changes or his new physical appearance. It had taken him a long time to finally come to terms with his life and find acceptance in himself.
The rest of the visit had gone well after that. Dick received his friends in his bedroom and they did try their best to keep the mood upbeat and hopeful. With Bruce 'Batman' Wayne hovering protectively in the background as a constant reminder, how could they not?
Working together in concert the way Nightwing had trained them to, Donna and Vic had double teamed Dick and shot down his attempt to resign from the Titans and just cede leadership of the team to them. They reminded him Nightwing also had to appear and remain as active Titans leader for a few more months at least, so as to ensure he was dissociated from devastating injury visited upon Dick Grayson. After that Dick was too much of a leader not to slip into planning mode to figure out a way to preserve his secrets.
Vic had discretely drawn back then to half listen to and watch as Dick asked Roy and Wally for assistance and discussed how they might help him with the deception. Even as Vic added his input and gave suggestions on how they might keep their communications a secret, and even design a set up for Dick in the Bat Cave where he could monitor and guide the Titans from a distance, Vic couldn't stop his eyes from occasionally drifting to the gleaming metal wheelchair sitting beside Dick's bed.
A wheelchair, Dick Grayson-- Nightwing... in a wheelchair! The very idea sounded vulgar to Vic. Nightwing was a man of action, grace and motion. While the doctors had assured Dick that his current paralysis was not going to be permanent since he did have some feeling in his legs, being confined to the wheelchair would be his reality for the foreseeable few years as he learned how to walk again. And until then, it felt like it was a-- a heinous crime for Nightwing to be dependant on a-- wheelchair to move around.
By the time the Titans left Wayne Manor, Vic had made a promise to himself that he was going to have Nightwing on his feet again and walking before the year was out. He knew Dick would never agree to total or even partial dependence on mechanical assistance, however, Vic thought he could persuade him to accept aid in making his physical therapy easier. At the least, Vic was going to design an apparatus which would ensure Dick could keep his muscle tone and help him prepare for a time when he regained full control of his legs to walk again.
Nightwing would not be like him. Vic swore this to himself, even as he disappeared into his lab the moment Raven teleported him, Gar and Kory back to Titans Tower. He was not going to let Dick lose anymore of himself to the Joker's bullets.
The soft call beside him shocked Vic awake from where he was slumped over his table of sketches and notes. "Shit! Witch! Knock first, why don't cha?"
"I did." Raven gave him an amused smile as she handed him a cup of coffee which he accepted gratefully. "I believe you were too fast asleep to hear me enter."
Vic breathed deeply of the heavenly coffee aroma and practically inhaled half the cup. "I take back every bad thing I ever said about you, if I ever said anything bad about you in the first place. Thank you, this is God send, girl."
"God? That would be me, I think?" Donna called to him in laughter as she stood at the door to his lab with a plate of sandwiches.
"You girls are good!" Vic took the offered plate appreciatively and began to eat with great gusto.
"You should be resting, Victor." Raven chided him gently as she frowned at the piles of papers he had scattered over his work table.
Donna looked at him with concern too. "Raven's right, Vic, you weren't released from STAR all that long ago, you know?"
Cyborg gritted his teeth as he recalled his recent hospitalisation and what he and the Titans had discovered. It had been very fortunate that Speedy was trying out the prototype communication mask which Vic was making for Dick. Roy had been transmitting sound and visuals, through his Speedy-mask, to their friend who had had to stay in Gotham, instead of rushing down to STAR labs as Dick had desperately wanted to do.
If they hadn't been testing the mask, so that Dick would watch and listen to them from the Bat Cave... if Dick hadn't noticed the monitors in the background-- The Titans would never have known or understood how the Wildebeest had managed to briefly take control of him to make him attack his friends. And STAR would have gotten away with continuing to have a spy recorder within him for their voyeuristic purposes. ¥
The incident had only made Vic even more determined to help Nightwing and to restore him on his feet as the field leader of the Titans. No one needed that kind of close call again. Nightwing could do much more in the field than he currently was stuck in the Bat Cave observing at a distance.
"Victor?" Raven interrupted his thoughts curiously, being very polite in not looking at the papers on his table. "I-- sense that Richard has been on your mind a lot and you've been busy for him..."
"You bet I've been busy." Vic stopped eating long enough to growl to himself. "You can't tell me that it's so wrong for Nightwing to be confined to a wheelchair for at least the next year or so?"
Donna sucked in a deep breath at his statement. "Rhea, no. It's unacceptable."
"But there's nothing we can do, Victor." Raven looked away sadly. "I tried. Please believe me I tried as hard as I dared. But there's still that bullet in his spine..."
"Hey, hey, Witch. We know." Vic put down the coffee and half eaten sandwich to take her hand in his. "We know you did your best. You always have." He assured her gently. "You never did anything by half measures, Witch. You've saved all our bacons at one time or another."
"You saved and healed me, when I almost died after I was attacked by my 'sister's' attack forces."± Donna placed her hands on Raven's shoulders in comfort. "You saved Dick's life too that time when the Wildebeests suit exploded in front of him."§
"But this time, Richard cannot walk, Donna. It-- it is tantamount to a living death for him to be so-- still and confined... And I couldn't do anything."
Vic released Raven so that Donna could draw her into a comforting hug while he petted her back. "As much as you're the Titans' miracle healer, Witch; you can't be expected to cure and heal everything all the time.
"You can't, Raven; and you gotta remember that and not push yourself to do what's impossible."
"Raven." Donna's interruption stopped her from saying more. "I am a demigod. Yet I'm not omnipotent. We're still human and limited.
"Dick understands. More than any of us, he understands limitations. And while he has always pushed and encouraged us to do our best and more, he knows when things are beyond our reach."
"But it's-- Batman called me. The night the Joker-- shot Richard, Batman called me and-- and asked if I could heal him. And I couldn't--" Her voice cracked on that word as she started to cry softly. "Then-- I couldn't tell any of you. I -- had to keep it a secret-- until Richard was moved back to Wayne Manor-- and out from public eye-- And he's-- Richard has been so brave in-- in front of all of us--"
Donna looked up at Vic at that point. "Give me some good news, Vic." Her voice was thick with tears. "Please-- tell me you were working on something which could end this nightmare."
"Yes, I am, Donna, Raven." He told them as they both turned to face him, his face set in grim determination. "As God is my witness, Nightwing will fly again."
Vic had working designs for the prototype completed by the time he was ready to set up a part of the Bat Cave for Dick to use as his Titans console. Now, all he had to do was find a way to discreetly ask Dick for his approval before he could start taking readings to beginning tuning the system to his body. However, he also knew better than to raise the issue while working on the wiring under Batman's watchful eyes.
Within the superhero community, Batman and his protégés commanded a lot of respect because they were completely un-augmented humans and yet could stand shoulder to shoulder among the best of the meta-human heroes. It would not be an easy task to convince them to accept mechanical assistance or physical reinforcement of their human bodies.
Shelving his plans for a moment, Vic had turned his attention back to the console he was setting up for Dick and handed him a wireless headset. "Here, this will keep you in contact with the Titans via the mikes we'll have stashed in Roy's mask.
"As soon as he comes out from changing we can try out the mike and cameras which will let you hear and see everything from his perspective."
"Yeah, once he's done preening." Wally snickered as he petted Dick on the shoulder. "You should have heard him bitch about the hair dye, Dick."
"It itched!" Roy called out from behind them, drawing their attention to him as he finally stepped out of the costume vault in full Nightwing regalia. "So how do I look?"
No one had been prepared for the heartbreaking look of naked longing, which appeared on Dick's face the moment he saw Roy, least of all Dick himself. Roy had quickly ripped the mask off his face even as Dick turned away from him to stare at the blank monitor.
"Roy-- put the mask back on." They could hear Dick's voice tremble as he tried to control his reaction. "We-- need to check the cameras."
"Outside." Wally heard Batman's gruff voice beside him before the man strode to Dick's side and placed his hands on his son's shoulders.
The speedster didn't need to be told twice to grab the Nightwing-garbed Roy and take him out of the Bat Cave. In a matter of seconds, the monitor flickered on to show them that Roy was at the gym in Titans tower.
"Receiving clear visuals, Roy, say a few words." Dick's voice was only slightly steadier when he reached to turn on the console's speakers so they could all hear them. "Wally? You too, let's test the mikes."
They completed the visual and sound systems check as quickly as possible before Cyborg took his leave too via Raven. It was quite obvious to him that Dick was barely holding it together and Batman wanted him out of his cave so they could have some privacy. It went without saying that they'd wait a few days before they subjected Dick to having to watch a Nightwing-garbed Roy try out some 'acrobatic' moves with Wally's 'invisible' assistance.
It took another week or so before Roy and Wally were finally ready to debut as 'Nightwing' returning to the Titans after a break. They had carefully timed it to coincide with Bruce Wayne's press conference, which he was holding to stop the growing rumours within Gotham City, confirm with the media that Bruce had officially adopted Dick Grayson as his son, to formally acknowledge Dick as his heir to Wayne Industries, and to answer the media's questions regarding the Joker's involvement in his son's injuries.
As they had predicted, a media circus had erupted around the information which Wayne industries released. And the newspapers in Gotham, and across the nation, were splashed with photographs of Bruce Wayne standing supportively behind Dick Grayson in his wheelchair. At the same time, Nightwing's return to the Titans had rated a side bar on the front page of the New York papers, beside the headline news from Gotham.
In celebration of Roy's successful debut as Nightwing, the Titans had, with Batman's permission, held a gathering in the Bat cave to toast the masterminds and assess the effectiveness of the set up Vic had created for Dick. Much to everyone's surprise, Batman even broke out some champagne for them along with soda for those who did not drink alcohol.
Before the evening was through though, the Bat Cave was to be hailed and visited by Superman who knew Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson personally. Donna had given Vic a significant look then and without any further signal exchanged, she had presented Vic with a distraction to allow him the opportunity to discreetly ask Superman if he would lend his Kryptonian science to his little project.
"Rhea, Dick. It was good to have you back on the field, if only in voice and proxy." She toasted Roy.
"I don't know how you do it, Dick." The archer was exhausted and slumped in his chair. "You make it look so effortle-- I mean-- your job is tough, man."
"I don't see why you're complaining." Wally carried on lightly, as they all covertly watched Dick in concern; hoping that Roy's incautious words hadn't dampened his spirits over their success this week. "I did most of the work to make you look good."
"Hate to bring it up, guys." Gar looked towards Dick with a grin. "But what do we call you now? Too many Nightwings will make things confusing if we have to call Roy that and you're still Nightwing too."
Dick gave Roy a mock glare as he opened his mouth to speak. "You may hear my voice in your ear, Lost Arrow, but 'no', you're not calling me 'Jiminy Cricket'."
"You still need a new code name." Gar whirled around the Cave excitedly in the shape of a green bat. "So here we go again with the names, what'll it be? 'Brain Boy'? 'Mental Man'?
"Or how about the one I loved best! 'Bird Brain!'" ¤
"You're losing your touch, Gar." Dick hid his face in his hands trying not to laugh, "Didn't you already suggest those names to me the last time I went through this?"
"Yes, he did! And Gar, no!" Donna was laughing with all the others in the cave. "Those names were terrible then. They're just as terrible now!"
"Coeus." The quietly spoken words brought everyone's attention to Batman.
"'Coeus.'" Batman locked eyes with Dick as everyone else seemed to be holding their collective breath. "He is the Titan of intelligence and deep searching questions."
Dick had taken a deep breath at Batman's pronouncement. It was obvious to all that the name resonated with him. "Donna--"
"Yes, Dick." She didn't wait for the question to be asked. "I think I can speak for him to say he will be honoured if you take his name."
"Yes, Richard." Raven added her voice to Donna's encouragement. "As a Titan, it is a fitting name for you."
"Coeus." Dick leaned back in his wheelchair and tried out the name on his tongue. "I-- like it."
"Then I propose a toast." Batman raised his glass of champagne. "To Coeus, long may he guide and protect."
"To Coeus!" Champagne flutes and soda bottles were lifted high in a salute to Dick.
It did not miss anyone's notice that Batman's hand had moved to rest on Dick's shoulder, or Dick's hand correspondingly reaching up to grip it. Behind them, Donna was glad to notice that Vic and Superman had finished their discussion and were both beaming at her. She couldn't wait for the moment Vic was done with his project.
"Please, man. Give it a chance." Six months had passed since the Joker shot Dick. Roy had only recently hung up Nightwing's uniform and taken a place in the Titans ranks once more as Speedy. Vic had pushed it off long enough; he needed Dick's cooperation now if he was to make the prototype work at all.
"What's wrong?" Lian Harper stared up at Dick from where she sat on his lap while he was seated in his wheelchair. "Uncle Vic said it'll help get your legs to work again."
Bless the little munch-kin. Vic did notice Dick's jaw tighten at Lian's words, but he would never think of displaying in front of her how upset he might have been with Vic's suggestion. It was dirty pool, but Vic wanted all the advantage he could get on this sensitive subject. And Roy had been willing to lend him his daughter for that very reason.
"Lian-- I-- wouldn't want to be dependent on it."
"But it's just for exercise. Right, Uncle Vic?"
"Lian--" Vic winced inwardly at the exasperation in Dick's eyes as he glared at him.
"Dick, it is to help you exercise too. We're all concerned about how to make sure you can maintain muscle tone so you can ultimately walk and run again without any problem." Vic told him earnestly. "Please man, it might even help to encourage the healing."
At the touch of Vic's cold mechanical hands on his, Dick's eyes finally softened. And Vic knew then that the man understood why he had gone to the trouble and was so determined to work around Dick's own resolve to not use or be dependant on mechanical assistance in his efforts to regain the use of his legs.
It had been a day that was long anticipated by the Titans and the Bat clan. In the couple of months which followed Dick's reluctant agreement to cooperate in Vic's project, he had been very busy. Knowing that Dick would never agree to have an implanted interface, he had been left with the predicament of how to produce a mode of communication between the device and Dick's nervous system.
It had taken many hours of consultation with STAR Labs; Garth with his access to Atlantean technology; and Superman with his Kryptonian science. Donna had even managed to get him in touch with Wonder Woman to provide Vic with access to the technology of the Amazons. He had worked himself to near exhaustion to finally come up with a solution, and Vic's mounting excitement as he worked on his prototype made him almost forget about eating for the few days before he expected Batman to bring Dick to Titans Tower to see him.
In hind sight, he should not have been so secretive with his project. Vic hadn't wanted everyone to know what he had been doing because he didn't want to build the anticipation for a success before he was ready to reveal a successfully working prototype. He had also concentrated so much of his focus on functionality and operation that he forgot and disregarded the aesthetics of what the device would look like strapped to his friend's body.
The silence had been deafening when he threw the cloth off the apparatus and revealed to the Dick, the Titans, and Batman and Robin what he had built to assist his friend to walk again. In that split second, Vic had suddenly realised how wrong he was to make the gadget the way he did it.
'God damn you, you fool! You idiot! This is wrong. This is so wrong!' Vic's heart was screaming at him, sounding as loud as a thunder crack in the silence of the gymnasium. He was stupid! He had spent so long working out the possibilities and 'how to's' of the interface, he gave no thought at all to how fitting it would be to the man he knew. He hadn't given a single consideration to how he could have conceived to put to put Dick Grayson-- to put Nightwing in the-- monstrosity that currently faced them.
In this moment of sanity, Cyborg had recoiled in stark horror of what he had made and the first thought which came to his mind then was that he was exactly like his father-- No-- he was worse... At least his father did his best to give him human proportioned limbs.
Dick's calm call shook him out of his shock, and Vic had turned to him with an apology was on lips, but Dick did not let him get it out. "I know-- you spent a long time on this-- my friend. Let's give it a whirl."
"Dick-- I--" Vic watched dumbfounded as Dick wheeled himself towards the table beside the apparatus.
"It's just the prototype, isn't it?" Dick asked him softly. "Let's give it a whirl and see if it'll give me the control you've promised.
"You can work on miniaturising and streamline the design later."
"Dick--" He was too choked up over his friend's graciousness to say much more.
It took a long while, but Vic had lifted Dick onto the table and laboriously strapped the equipment and machinery over and around his waist and legs. He made furious notes to himself as he did so, telling himself that he was not ever going to make Dick suffer through this indignity again.
For a moment after the final buckle and bolt had been secured and Vic switched on the device, Dick had stayed seated on the table to get used to the feel of the device around him. For those few seconds when Dick sat there unmoving, Vic had at first feared that all the humiliation had been for naught-- that he had built a monumental failure. Then, everyone in the room held their breath when Dick bent his knee to draw it towards his chest. And Vic felt the light of hope grow within him. This was the first voluntary movement Dick had ever managed to make with his legs since the Joker shot him.
The device was as bulky and as heavy as it looked, but Vic had thought he did well to compensate for the weight with the energy cells he built in to augment Dick's strength. Watching Dick strain now as he put the flat of his palms on the table and started to carefully move and push himself into a flawless handstand though, Vic made a mental note to himself to remove the 'helpful' added strength and make the next device lighter and more flexible.
Still, Vic knew his design had been in the right direction. Even now, as Dick moved his legs into (what Nightwing would call) a light stretching routine, Vic could tell that he had accomplished a victory in restoring a lot of his friend's motor control. At the least, as Dick gained more confidence in his ability to control his body, his sense of mischievousness was returning too.
No one missed Roy wincing and turning quite pale to see Dick stretching his legs in a midair split. It was quite well known among the Titans, during the time Roy was masquerading as Nightwing, that he was far, far less flexible. And had steadfastly maintained that a man was not built to do the splits. However, the brief moment of amusement instantly evaporated when Dick had moved to execute an easy forward flip off the table to land on his feet before them.
Dick's scream of pure agony had galvanised the Batman into motion to catch him before he fell, while the rest of the Titans had been momentarily frozen into inaction by the unexpected surprise. Vic had charged forward immediately, paying no attention to anyone else in the room as he ran his scanners over Dick's pain filled body to try and find out what had gone wrong. He fearfully thought he had done something unforgivable in the design of the apparatus-- that he might have made matters worse...
Between him and Raven, however, they had finally determined that-- it wasn't the device. However, Vic had really wished it was... It would have made the problem a hell of a lot easier-- made it possible to overcome.
Dick's pain--? it was the bullet. It was the God damn bullet from the Joker which was still lodged in Dick's spine-- It was pinching-- it would pinch on a specific nerve whenever Dick tried to rest his weight on his feet.
Vic couldn't look at Dick; none of the Titans could. They had had to look away from the stricken look of understanding on their friend's face when he realised what it meant-- that he-- truly would never walk again. That-- that even if he should, of 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 the bullet's presence would cause him unbelievable agony.
The room fell into a silence even more profound than the one which precipitated Cyborg revealing his creation with that revelation. No one knew what to say to comfort the shocked man who lay protectively cradled in Batman's arms.
"No!" Dick's sudden scream of rage made everyone look up to watch him as he held Batman's cape twisted in his hands. "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 had turned towards him and Donna determinedly, and they could see his eyes aglow 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."
With a light of understanding encouraging their speed, Donna and Starfire had quickly found and stretched out the little used trapeze safety net. Much to Vic's surprise, Batman had come to his feet with Dick in his arms and handed him over to Cyborg's care.
"I'll be your catcher, Dick. You get him up there." It had been hard to swallow around the sudden lump in his throat for the acceptance and trust which Batman and Dick were openly showing him.
As Dick had guessed and also proven when he was swinging through the air with practised ease, Vic's device had returned to him several degrees of freedom. 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; very far from able...
Alone in his lab, Vic had stared at the mess of machinery which now lay on the floor like the sad monstrosity it was. In hind sight, he now wondered what he had been thinking of to have designed this heavy, bulky-- he had no words for it. He and everyone in attendance of the grand 'debut' had recoiled in horror to imagine Dick putting it on. But the man did so anyway-- because he knew Vic had worked so hard on it.
Well, it was truly useless now given the prognosis he and Raven discovered. There was no question that Dick was confined to a wheelchair for life-- and there was nothing anyone could do to change that.
He heard the knock before the door slid open. There was no called greeting though, so that more than anything told Vic who his visitor was.
"Go away, Joey. I'm not in the mood for company."
The mute Titan, however, refused to listen but reached for Vic's chin to make him look up into his forest green eyes. Vic's eyes flickered to notice the hand sign Joey was making to him.
"Yeah? Dick flew."
Joey made another series of signs before he repeated the movements he made earlier again. Vic had flush when he read what Joey was saying.
"Shit, man. I know Dick can't walk ever again. Raven and I made the diagnosis." Vic tried to look away in frustration but Joey grabbed his chin determinedly to make him continue to watch him.
"Joey..." Vic growled in exasperation, but he continued to watch the graceful movements. "Help Dick fly? But--"
Joey made more firm movements, and Vic suddenly understood. "Dick-- Yes, he is happiest when he's up on the trapeze...
"Walk-- walking-- isn't as important to Dick as-- as flying..." Vic repeated Joey's communication in stunned comprehension.
Joey smiled warmly at him. Then pointed at the heap of machinery on the floor and made more gestures.
"Yes-- Joey, thank you." Vic reached for his notes with a new fire of determination lit within him. "Yes, I know what I have to do now."
He forcefully made himself remember watching Dick's movements... It was no question that he had to get rid of the bulky, heavy design. Though the man had tried his best to keep it off his face, Vic had noticed Batman straining to hold on properly each time he caught Dick's hands at the end of a successful move. The man hadn't wanted to mar Dick's achievements with a mistake on his part. The excess weight had to go.
Vic's mind was working furiously, this project wasn't just going to be stuffed into a cupboard and forgotten. He had the painful basics completed. Now he needed to improve on it. Make it lighter... More flexible... More responsive...
Cyborg was going to call in all the favours he could muster for the technology necessary to fulfil his goal; be it Atlantean, Kryptonian, Amazonian technology... Perhaps Gar could help him as well with his Titans West contacts, and he could get Charley Parker to let him examine his Golden Eagle getup with its Thanagarean Nth metal. And this time, Vic was determined to make it look proper as well. He wasn't going to be a fool and forget that he was designing it for Dick Grayson, the last of the Flying Graysons.
Without the ability to walk, Nightwing was finished. But there was still the man behind the mask to care about and Vic was determined to give Dick back his aerial freedom. Even if it killed him, he was going make it so that Dick Grayson could fly again as flawlessly as he ever did before.
In the end, Vic had thought that the final delivery of his gift to Dick had been anti-climatic. As it was, he and the Titans had been almost immediately embroiled on a Tamaranean mission, which took them light years away from Gotham and their earth bound leader, Coeus.
At the end of the day, it was probably just as well since it allowed Dick and Kory to create the distance between them which they needed after their painful break up. So the sojourn into space had been welcomed. Still, it had not surprised the Titans that Kory chose to remain with her family to help them rebuild their world after the quick though devastating war Karras' sister has instigated; and to grieve with them for the loss of her 'husband' and his sister. µ
Though he, like the other Titans, had seen it coming from miles away, it was still heartbreaking because they knew the two had loved each other. Even so, Vic had to acknowledge that it was-- better they broke up this way now, using the excuse of Dick's enforced new existence as 'the crippled Wayne heir.' And to be fair, no one wanted to conceive of the ruckus which would erupt if the media ever linked Bruce Wayne's son to an internationally renown alien supermodel. However, Vic knew there was more behind the story. He had lived it himself, in Dick's place.
As much as he loved Kory like a sister, Vic thought her incapable of showing sensitivity to Dick for his-- handicap. It wasn't as if Kory was inconsiderate. Perhaps it was simply the nature of her race that she could so easily dismiss physical imperfections and kept forgetting Dick couldn't stand at his usual height anymore. Everyone knew Kory didn't love Dick any less because he was confined to a wheelchair. But-- she was just a constant reminder to Dick of his-- loss...
It was unfortunate, but Kory's considerable status as a supermodel was also a huge factor in the couple's problems-- In their society, she was the image of physical perfection and beauty. Before Dick was crippled, he could easily hold his own in turning heads when he was with her. Now though, people saw the wheelchair first. And beside Kory, the contrast in their stature was greater than it had ever been before... And Kory truly didn't understand how much she was hurting Dick with her forgetfulness and-- by merely being with him.
Then-- there was also Dick's regrettable uneasiness with physical contact after what the Joker and his men did to him. He may have been in shock and half conscious during most of the abuse meted out to his helpless body, but the trauma still existed. And while Kory was very understanding and supportive, Vic knew Dick had been extremely frustrated by what he perceived of as his difficulty in offering to, or accepting from, Kory the affection she so easily wanted to share with him... Adding on to that Kory's generally openly demonstrative nature-- the stress she inadvertently caused hadn't been good for Dick's self confidence or his mental health.
All in all, the Titans had to mournfully accept Dick and Kory's separation as being for the best. And that it was a good thing Kory decided to remain behind when the Titans left Tamaran.
Back on earth again, Vic hadn't exactly known what to expect when Dick sent him and the Titans an invitation to a special 'show.' They had arrived in the Bat Cave to find Wally, Garth and Gar already there along with Superman, Wonder Woman, Robin, Barbara Gordon, and Alfred; with a seating area set up within the cave. Once Alfred had ushered them into seats though, Robin had grinningly turned on the spotlights to draw their attention high above them where two men sat on opposite trapeze bars to wave at them.
Vic had sucked in a quick breath at the sight of Dick wearing the new streamlined and improved leg and spine braces he had completed for him months earlier. Then, he noticed the lack of a safety net and for a split second Vic had been afraid of the 'show' that he knew his friend intended to put up for them, until he remembered the presence of Superman, Wonder Woman, Troia, Raven, and Beast Boy. They could easily handle any aerial emergency should it arise, and Vic had an immediate insight which told him everything would be fine.
With a nod and a salute to each other, the two men began their performance; Dick going through the movements which had made his family famous, Bruce catching and ensuring his safety. Their audience had stared enraptured and applauded enthusiastically at the magnificent aerial performance high above them.
Twists, multiple summersaults-- Dick did them all, making Vic feel relieved and ecstatic for his success with his creation. Dick was flying again. He may not be able to walk, but he was flying.
With Dick's completion and return to his side of the trapeze set up after performing a triple summersault, Vic had thought the show to be over-- until Dick started to swing again. In his wildest dreams, Vic had hoped Dick would regain some aerial freedom with his gift, however, he truly hadn't expected him to try and reclaim his full expertise. Superman's hand calmly held him down.
"Trust him to know his limitations, Cyborg." Wonder Woman told them softly, drawing Vic's attention to her to make him notice that she was holding down Troia too. "You've always trusted him when he was Nightwing, and now as Coeus, for his sense of judgement. Trust him now."
So they sat back and watched. And it was quite clear that no one dared to breathe when Dick made one last swing through the air and released his bar.
One... two... three... four... and a flawless catch...
Vic stared in jubilant amazement, not noticing or caring he had tears freely flowing down his cheeks. Dick had done it... The quad, the signature piece of the last Flying Grayson... He had done it!
All around him the applause was thunderous and loud whoops echoed in the cave, frightening the bats and sending them screaming out into the night. Vic couldn't make himself move nor say a word as his watering eyes continued to blurrily track the two figures swinging together. He had even been totally unaware as they separated and climbed down the ropes to join their audience on the ground again.
Vic finally got up and moved as if he was in a dream, stumbling towards where Dick was seated in his wheelchair once more while Alfred carefully put away the spine and leg braces for cleaning and storage. The others had quickly cleared the way for him. This was as much his triumph too for the apparatus which he had designed and built for their friend.
"Vic!" Dick reached to grab his hand as he stared up at him, his face and cheeks flushed with joy and excitement. "Thank you,"
"Wha--? Aww, Dick. You did it." He tried to brush off his contribution to that amazing performance. "Science can't duplicate ability or determination, man! You did it yourself. It was you!"
"Vic! You made it possible." Dick told him firmly. "Because of the bullet that's still in me, I can't walk.
"You know better than anyone else that I couldn't ever be Nightwing again because of it. But you still worked on the exoskeleton anyway. Improved it... streamlined it... You did this even though you had no reason to."
'I had lots of reasons too, brother!' Vic's heart bristled at Dick's claim, but he stayed silent and let his friend talk.
"You made it possible for me to fly again, Vic. Thank you."
"I--" Batm-- Bruce Wayne's hand had reached over to tighten over his shoulder as if in warning, and Vic finally gave in. "Dick-- it-- it was my pleasure, man. To see that-- To see you do the quad again--
"It was worth it, man! It was worth it."
"Yes, yes it was."
Faced by his friend's brilliant smile, Vic could feel fresh tears freely flowing down his face once more. He didn't care that he was almost ready to bawl like a baby. He hadn't realised how much he missed seeing that smile until this moment.
All his hard work-- the hours he'd spent slaving over the designs-- Yes, it was worth it. It was worth it to see Dick Grayson-- to see the friend he had long admired and loved smile again, and mean it with all his heart.
± New Titans #50 (New Teen Titans: Who Is Donna Troy? TPB)
¥ The New Titans #57 to 59
§ New Teen Titans #36 1987
¤ The New Teen Titans #40 (New Titans: Judas Contract TPB)
µ New Titans Annual #6