As of this writing, Infinite Crisis and the One Year Later storylines haven't happened yet, but I can't help feeling worried. So this fic was created as an expression of my hope of how Nightwing's mob story mess could be resolved and how the 'new era' might begin.Warnings: Spoilers (speculations) for Infinite Crisis; current JLA books; and for the rumoured status of Batman, Nightwing and Alfred One Year Later.
Disclaimers: DC characters belong to DC Comics, Warner Bros. Entertainment and their related parties. i.e, they're not mine, I'm just borrowing them for a while. No challenge to their ownership of copyright is intended.
Securing the Foundations
By Jacque Koh
Nightwing saw the punch coming at him with plenty of time to counter the blow. However, he made no move to avoid it. To the people watching, it was a spectacular right hook which sent the vigilante flying across the sidewalk and crashing against the wall of the Bludhaven precinct.
The look of shock on the faces of most of the people on the streets was expected; especially on that of Captain Amy Rohrbach who hurried out of the building behind Wayne Enterprise lawyer Rachel Green, a face made infamous a year earlier when Bruce Wayne had been framed for murder, because the one who almost broke Nightwing's jaw was Dick Grayson.
"How dare you!" Grayson was fairly shaking with fury as he was held back by his lawyer. "I know I had to leave town for a while on Wayne business, but how dare you hijack my life and endanger my friends and family by making your enemies think I was you!"
"What? You didn't think I'd find out? You didn't think?" Grayson was fairly foaming at the mouth as he towered over Nightwing's fallen form.
"I step off a Wayne corporate jet from Asia to come to my precinct, thinking to slip back into the life I had to put on hold-- only to be told by my lawyers that I've been fired. That the building I used to live in was blown up along with nearly all its occupants. That my circus was fire bombed. Plus there's an arrest warrant out on me because I was supposed to have joined the New Jersey Mob?" Grayson was screaming at Nightwing now, oblivious to the fast gathering crowd of gawkers.
"But-- my God-- do you know what kind of shock you caused Bruce-- my father? Can you even understand what it did to him on top of all his other stress with the defence contract hijackings which created those-- those OMAC monsters, not to mention the rogue satellite reports? Can you understand my shock to be told he's now in Arkham because...?" He trailed off, clearly too overcome to go on.
"I-- I'm sorry, Grayson. As soon as I learned you were back in town, I came back here to clear--"
"That doesn't bring back the lives of all the people who died because they thought I was you! It doesn't do anything for my father who's now sitting in Arkham trying to regain his sense of reality." Grayson interrupted him angrily. "Why! God damn you. Why did you do this to me? Is this some sort of revenge because I stole and nearly married your girl?"±
"No! This has nothing to do with Starfire. We haven't even been together for years." Nightwing pleaded to him in anguished guilt.
"I'm sorry, Grayson. Nothing like this has happened to my plans before. We-- we just have similar builds and you were in the Bludhaven PD. I thought I could borrow your identity for a while. Given all the times we were on the news together years ago when we were both courting Starfire, I never expected anyone to mistake or believe you were me.
"Your family and friends were not supposed to get hurt. No one should have even noticed what I had done." Nightwing looked down in shame and embarrassment. "No one was supposed to get hurt. No one was supposed to die...
"I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry." He said softly. "I don't know what I can do to mak--"
"After my wedding was utterly destroyed and I saw my fiancée suddenly go through a personality transplant-- I thought I had more than enough of the superhero community." ¥ Grayson glared at him.
There was a slight commotion in the crowd as the Martian Manhunter was spotted in the air above them. Grayson had looked up to stare at the approaching JLA hero for a moment before he turned towards Nightwing again.
"I've always known that Bruce arranged a significant source of funding for the JLA-- and that-- I heard, you are now in the JLA, Nightwing...
"Mr. Grayson--" The JLA hero landed near them and tried to speak cautiously.
"I'm not cutting your funding, Mr. J'Onzz." Grayson glared at new arrival. "I'm a better man than that. I'll not derail my father's support of the ideals which the JLA stand for.
"And Nightwing..." The voice of the Wayne heir became eerily calm as he turned his attention back on the hero still seated on the pavement. "I've looked up your history with the Titans before, so I-- I know you actually do good work... But if you ever-- interfere in my life again-- the JLA can kiss that funding goodbye! So stay away from me. Just stay the fuck out of my life!"
At Green's urging, Grayson started towards the waiting limo, leaving Nightwing staring after them. But the fallen hero made one last attempt to be heard. "Grayson... I'm sorry."
There was no mistaking the soul crushing regret weighing heavily in Nightwing's words. However, Grayson clearly could not offer any forgiveness at this moment given the misfortune which had been visited upon him and his family. In fact, the young man looked barely in control of himself over the devastating news he had been confronted with since his return to American soil. Now that his anger had been spent, the Wayne heir looked as if he was rapidly sinking into a miasma of grief and shock.
Noticing this, his lawyer took it upon herself to answer for him. "'Sorry' won't help Bruce Wayne recover faster and-- it doesn't bring back the dead, Nightwing..." Green growled without looking back at him as she gently herded her shell shocked change into the waiting limo. "You remember that the next time you think about borrowing someone else's life."
Amy stared at the departing limousine in shock. Until this confrontation, she had thought she knew who her rookie was-- who Nightwing was-- Now--
"You little shit!" She rounded on the vigilante who was receiving a hand up from his JLA colleague. "You made me think-- you--"
"It was a mistake, Am-- Captain Rohrbach." Nightwing couldn't look at her. "I hadn't meant to ruin his life."
"Well, you haven't, you creep! If Grayson hasn't totally given up on a career in law enforcement, I'll make sure of that. He'll have a place in my precinct if he ever thinks of coming back. I'll write him his ticket to any other Police Department in the United States if he decides not to." She told him coldly. "Now get the hell out of my city."
"Nightwing," J'Onn's hand rested on his arm. "I'm sorry to interrupt but I came to look for you because there's been a JLA emergency. We're needed elsewhere."
As Amy watched, Nightwing's shoulders slumped as he took out his JLA communicator to acknowledge his response. "It-- was an honour to work with you, how ever briefly, Captain Rohrbach." The words were softly said. "Goodbye..."
The sorrowful partner in Amy couldn't forget how Nightwing, in Dick's guise, had saved her life and that of her family. "Stay with the JLA, Nightwing. Planet wide threats are probably what you're better suited at handling." She grudging offered some encouraging parting words. "You already accomplished an admirable amount in helping us clean out the BHPD. Time to leave us little guys to fend for ourselves, it's our turn."
The JLA sanctioned vigilante nodded at her kind words before his colleague took his hands to pull him into the sky, leaving Amy staring after the heroes along with the rest of the crowd and the Bludhaven press. The BHPD captain doubted that she'd see Nightwing around Bludhaven again for a long while... if ever.
Several Hours Later
"So how was I?" Dick Grayson asked Nightwing as he got off his bike in Robin's garage to approach him, Robin and Batgirl.
"Beautiful, Mir. Just beautiful."
"Great! You have a good woman in Rachel Green, Dick. She was so worried over you I thought I'd never be able to slip away."
"She's a very good lawyer and as close as we'd ever allowed anyone in confidence with us who aren't in the community." Nightwing agreed as he removed his mask. "I trust Rae explicitly; she even handled my adoption papers."
Robin kept looking from 'Dick Grayson' to the now unmasked Nightwing. "Bro, I gotta tell you this is down right creepy."
"Mirage is a very good mimic, Robin." Nightwing grinned wryly. "An excellent mimic."
"You're never going to forgive me for impersonating Starfire, are you?" § Mirage smiled at him sadly as she adopted her own face and shape again.
"That was a long time ago, and I think Starfire was angrier with me for not realising there was a switch." Nightwing sighed sheepishly as he carefully touched his bruised jaw. "In any case, you did me a big favour here, Mir. Thank you for helping me out."
"My pleasure. But ouch! Did I hit you too hard?"
"Well... I'm guessing you've wanted to punch me for quite a while now, plus I did deserve it, didn't I?" He gave her a rueful look.
"No comment, lover boy. I did spend several days deceiving you."
"So-- we call it even now? I'd rather not make it a habit to have you beat me up when I'm my other alter ego." ±
"Sure..." His words succeeded in drawing a laugh from her. "Dick--"
"Mir, any time you need my help, you can just ask me, you know?" Dick took her hands in his. "I-- I'm sorry I don't feel it enough to return your love, but it doesn't mean I don't care.
"You're a Titan. And we do run our own emergency babysitting schedules. Arsenal's certainly availed of that service a lot. And I'm sure he'd welcome another single parent around to commiserate with too."
"I'll keep that in mind." She gave him a soft smile before leaning closer to plant a chaste kiss on his cheek before she left.
"She impersonated Starfire for how long and you didn't know?" Tim gave Dick an incredulous look after the door closed behind the former Titan.
Nightwing buried his face in his hands and groaned. "That was her power, okay? Near perfect mimicry."
"Impressive." Cass nodded approvingly as she pulled off her cowl. "She can copy your body language very well; better than the Martian Manhunter."
"Man, when I saw your picture in the papers facing off Dick Grayson and with J'Onn standing beside you, I didn't know what to think." Tim admitted admiringly. "That was smooth, Bro."
"J'Onn is the more infamous impersonator in our community." Dick shook his head as he turned to the Bat Mobile to remove a case from the passenger seat while he started to strip off the top part of his costume. "It is better for us to not be that obvious."
"Bro, you realise though that you've just trashed Nightwing's rep in this city." Tim asked him anxiously.
"Just as well that I'm leaving Bludhaven in your and Cass's excellent care, isn't it?" Dick opened the case to take out a black costume top which he pulled on.
"Bludhaven holds too many memories, Tim. Too many lives lost..." Dick sighed in regret. "And it's currently safer for you and Cass to operate here than in Gotham. I'll just be happy for that small accomplishment.
"Besides, after this bit of bad publicity-- it is probably just as well that Nightwing's giving up on cities and is just working with the JLA for a while, isn't it?" Dick continued to remove parts of Nightwing's costume to replace it with something else from the case.
When he finally turned to face them, his entire carriage had been transformed. Grey had been exchanged for black; the black bat one expected to see on his chest was now a midnight blue in an iron grey oval; the serrated edged gloves, boots and utility belt were midnight blue as well, as were the cape and cowl.
Cass breathed in appreciation as she took in the entire image. "Batman..." The change in colours was quite appropriate given the darker age they were in after the Crisis.
"Are you okay about this move, Dick?" Tim asked him soberly. "You've taken up the mantle previously and I know you hadn't wanted to keep it then."
"Until such time as-- Bruce is ready to come home..." Dick pulled the cowl over his head and face. "It is my obligation to defend Gotham city in his stead. And it's not right if I tried to do it as Nightwing. Gotham needs the Batman whether or not the GCPD cares to admit it."
Cass smiled to see how the new cowl now covered his entire face, much like hers, but still had the distinctive shape and pattern of the original cowl with the familiar Starlite night-vision eye pieces. "He will be proud."
"Thank you for saying so, Cass."
"She's not just saying it, Batman." Tim corrected him seriously. "We know Bruce will approve and appreciate what you're sacrificing of yourself to take up the mantle of the bat again.
"But Bro, we are worried that you're going to stretch yourself too thin being Dick Grayson with Wayne Enterprise, Nightwing for the JLA, and Batman in Gotham City."
"You forget, I used to juggle having the Titans, and later the Outsiders; my position as a rookie in the BHPD; and the Nightwing gig in both Bludhaven and Gotham all at the same time." The smile was apparent in his voice though his face was now hidden. "At least with Wayne Enterprise, I can mostly dictate my hours. And I know they'll initially leave me alone a lot while I get over my shock of a 'ruined' law enforcement career, dead-- friends, and return to a 'home-town' that is-- empty of Bruce and-- Alfred."
Tim and Cass stayed respectfully silent as Dick took a moment to deal with the memories of his losses. The two teens exchanged a look of worry for their older 'brother' as they wondered how they could best help him. However, they also knew that Dick would not welcome their presence in Gotham; not when Batman still had strained relations with the GCPD.
"I have J'Onn's assistance too." Batman reminded them softly. "None of the JLA was aware of how much Bruce had been doing with the paperwork and administration to keep the JLA Watch Tower operational. J'Onn has the excuse to make calls to Wayne Enterprises as needed to pull Dick Grayson in for 'meetings' over JLA funding and repairs.
"I'm confident the other executives will express relief to have Dick Grayson consent to take the role of Wayne Enterprise's liaison with the Superhero community now that Optitron has to be dismantled and absorbed back into the father company after the OMAC mess. The tax savings for funding the JLA, the Outsiders, and the Titans are still substantial enough to be worthwhile to Wayne Enterprise. It'll be a job in itself, so it won't be strange if I don't spend all my time at Wayne Towers. Plus it'll be very convenient since Dick Grayson therefore won't be missed if Nightwing needs to be away on JLA business.
"In any case, I've already arranged matters with J'Onn and Wally in the JLA. They understand why Batman won't be a part of the JLA anymore and will respect my reasons for keeping Batman exclusively in Gotham City. And everyone knows that Nightwing will be operating just as Batman used to in the JLA, which means unlike the Titans I'll never let Nightwing be in the forefront as spokesperson. Where possible, Nightwing will take care of his duties with the JLA long distance. Brother I makes it a simple task."
Tim couldn't help the shudder which ran through him. "Are you sure you can trust it, Bro? I mean-- after--"
"My override codes were at the program root level for a reason, Robin." Batman reminded him patiently. "Bruce was rightly paranoid enough to make sure we had failsafe protocols for his failsafe protocols. I'm just sorry I hadn't been reachable to help Bruce stop the madness sooner.
"Lord's alterations were purged. Brother Eye is no more. The satellite is benign again and under JLA control now, though I still hold the ultimate failsafe codes." Batman told them seriously. "The members of the JLA who know this are willing to trust Nightwing with it, so let's leave it at that."
"And how are you staying in Gotham then?" Tim asked directly. Without Alfred and with Bruce in Arkham, there would be no one else in Wayne Manor besides Dick.
"I can't-- I'm not staying in the 'mausoleum' on my own, Robin." Dick's tone was strained under the cowl. "As soon as it can be arranged, Dick Grayson is closing up Wayne Manor and taking up residence in a converted penthouse in Wayne Tower. At the least, it eases the business commute. Batman will use the subway rocket to commute between the penthouse and the Manor's Bat Cave, and the other satellite caves.
"I'll have time to settle in and get used to it, Tim. The top Wayne executives, who stayed in contact with me during the time when Bruce Wayne was accused of murder, have already pledged their continued support. I can count on them to keep the company going with, initially, minimal input from me. In Bruce's absence I hold the Power of Attorney, so I will have to take a more visible role in the company's affairs eventually...
"I guess-- it looks like Bruce won after all-- I'm heading Wayne Enterprise whether I wanted to or not..."
"We move on, Robin, Batgirl." Batman interrupted Tim to take the few steps forward necessary which allowed him to lay an arm around their shoulders. "Gotham and other innocents in the world are more important to me-- to Nightwing-- to Batman.
"Everything else are hardships which I'll eventually adept to."
Tim and Cass looked up at the new Batman before they gave each other significant looks. How ever Dick may try to operate on his own to keep them safely out of the-- his city, they weren't going to let Dick isolate himself from them. Dick Grayson was an individual who thrived in the company of friends and family, they would make sure he never lost that. At the least, as Wayne Enterprise's liaison with the JLA, the Outsiders and the Titans, those friends there had excuses to stay in contact with Dick Grayson.
However, the two still made a silent pact then to stay in close communication and visit Gotham in civilian guise as often as possible. Of the once large Bat-family which previously included Alfred; Oracle and her Birds of Prey; Leslie Thompkins; and for a short while Sasha Bordeaux; only they were left. And neither teen was willing to lose anymore of that familial comfort.
§Total Chaos: The New Titans #90-92, Team Titans #1-3, Deathstroke #14-16
± The New Titans #96
¥ The New Titans #100
Thanks for reading,