Author's Notes: This story is set in current DC continuity. Nightwing has recently moved to New York, City. There are references to Nightwing 119 and Detective Comics 598, 599, 600.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the Bat-characters or subsequent franchise licenses. If I did, I would be a billionaire (and perhaps, secretly, a masked vigilante). This was just for fun.
Main Characters: Bruce/Batman, Dick/Nightwing
Thank you, Djinn for the beta.
A new hero was in town, and although New York City's residents weren't yet completely aware of it, Nightwing was busy watching over them. Protecting them.
Tonight he kept watchful guard over a part of the city that rarely slept. And as prostitutes, pimps, and sleazy all-night adult bookstores were the norm here, he was filled with a sense of deja vu as memories of Bludhaven flooded through him.
Then he heard a scream.
He rappelled from his perch atop the building, but was too late, finding her bloody body slumped among the filth that lined the alley, no assailant in sight. Whoever did this was long gone, but had left a brutal reminder of what horrid things mankind was capable of. Dick knelt beside the body, and he could see that she belonged to this part of the city, with the prostitutes, pimps, and all-night adult bookstores. But the manner of her death wasn't a usual occurrence, stabbed over a dozen times, as far as he was able to tell.
His first instinct was to call Oracle and have her contact the proper authorities. To talk to her, use her as a sounding board as he conducted an investigation. But then he remembered.
"Dammit, Babs. When am I gonna stop thinking of you?"
He found the dead woman's purse a few feet away and rifled through it for anything that would tell him who this poor creature was, but the purse was nearly empty, only a few dollars and some change lay loose within it. But something else, too: a picture. He pressed his hand to his head in disbelief, studied the photo carefully, and noticed the look on her face as she gazed at the man beside her, not unlike a young woman in love. The man, however, appeared grim. Just like most of the pictures Dick had ever seen of him. The real pictures. Not the ones he posed for at fancy galas or when in public. Bruce.
"Who was she, Bruce?"
Dick vowed to find out.
He sat at his desk, poring over the quarter's financial statements for Wayne Enterprises and its subsidiaries. He never thought he'd relish this particular task, but things had changed. He'd changed. No, not changed, just refocused. Renewed.
A year abroad. A year to think. A year to remember what everything was about. He'd been back in Gotham for only a short time, but quickly reestablished Batman's place as the City's guardian and Bruce Wayne's place at his family's company.
The intercom buzzed.
"What is it, Rhonda?"
"Dick Grayson is here to see you, Mr. Wayne."
Bruce stiffened. He hadn't seen Dick since….
"Send him in." He stood, turned to face the windows, his hands digging deep into his pockets. Did he dare to hope…?
He turned around. He wanted to go to him, to tell him... Tell him what? That he missed him? That he was sorry? But, he didn't say anything, except something safe and neutral. "Dick. You look well."
Dick approached the desk, but just stood there, looking at something in his hand. A photograph.
"What can I do for you?"
Dick placed the picture on the desk.
Bruce was surprised to see himself in the picture, picked it up. "Where'd you get this?"
"From a dead hooker. Who was she?" He nodded toward the picture.
Dick looked uneasy as he sat in the chair in front of the large desk. "Yes."
Bruce sat heavily into his own chair. She was a friend. She'd wanted to be more than friends, and as he gazed at the picture, he suddenly wished he'd wanted more, too. "Her name is Jeannie Kane. She was a friend." He looked up at Dick. "But she was never a hooker. What happened?"
"I was patrolling, heard a scream. By the time I got to her, it was too late. The picture was all she had on her. That's why I'm here." Dick shifted in his chair. "There's not much to go on. No physical evidence connecting her to anyone. Probably a wacko john."
"I told you, she wasn't a hooker."
"When did you last see her?"
Bruce stood, faced the window again. "It's been a few years."
"A lot could happen in a few years." Dick stood, too. "Any family to contact?"
"No. She had a brother. Roy. He died. She blamed me for his death."
"Was it your fault?"
Bruce shrugged, sighed. "Roy made his own choices. He was helping me when I was wounded. He died helping me."
"How many have died helping you, Bruce?" The question was accusatory, but Dick's tone of voice wasn't. Just sad.
Bruce was suddenly tired all over again, like before, when he left Gotham. He knew that some things would never change. The guilt of past mistakes would never diminish.
"Too many," he whispered, but Dick heard him. He wanted Dick to hear him.
"Yeah. Too many." Dick turned to leave. "At least now I know who she is. I'll let you know what I find."
"I'm coming with you."
"What? No. I don't need your help. Just needed an ID." Dick seemed to fumble for the right words. Words that would convince Bruce to stay away from this case.
Bruce grabbed his coat.
"You sure this is not because you feel guilty for how she turned out?" Dick asked.
Damn, Dick sounded angry. Bruce chose to ignore the question. He'd become good at ignoring things. A year away hadn't changed him that much.
He opened the door and looked back at Dick. "You ready?"
Dick stalked past Bruce and through the door, and Bruce couldn't help but smirk. Dick always knew when a fight was hopeless.
"We split up. Talk to anyone who might know what happened to Jeannie," Batman said.
Giving orders came naturally to Batman. But this was Nightwing's city.
"Hey. This is my city. I say what we do."
"Okay, so we do what you just said." Dick was appalled at how lame he sounded. "We'll keep in touch on comm frequency three."
"Oracle is patched through on one. She can run profiles of suspects as we gather information."
"We'll do this my way. No Oracle." There. That's telling him, Dickie.
Bruce placed his hand on Dick's shoulder—a hand Dick promptly removed. Bruce nodded, switched his comm channel to three, then shot a line to take him to street level.
Dick fumed at himself. He always seemed to revert back to childhood in the presence of this man, and it was starting to piss him off. He was angry at Bruce for bringing out the worst in him, angry at Barbara for leaving him, but mostly, angry at himself for feeling the way he did about the people who meant the most to him.
He then berated himself for failing to focus on the job. He shot a line and propelled to the opposite end of the street as Batman, and hoped he would find someone who knew what had happened to Jeannie.
Batman watched as she stood under a street lamp, waiting. The streets were busy this time of night. She wouldn't have to wait very long.
"A woman died last night. One of your own. What do you know?"
The girl turned and was startled as Batman appeared from the shadows.
"I'm not going to hurt you. I just need answers. Did you know her?"
"Aren't you Batman? I thought you lived in Gotham?"
The woman looked from side to side then followed him into the shadows. "No offense, but I can't afford being seen in public with you. Ain't good for business."
He nodded and followed her into the seclusion of the alley.
"Yeah, I knew her. Jeannie." She tsked. "I warned her, you know. Told her that she was asking too many questions. Was making the pimps nervous."
"Always asking the other girls if their pimps treated them right, if they made them sell or take drugs. Stuff like that."
"Did Jeannie have a pimp?"
"Jeannie? No. She and I are what you call independents. It's more dangerous 'cause you don't have the protection a pimp can offer." She laughed. "The way we saw it, who was gonna protect us from the pimp? That's when we decided we'd be independent. Problem was, Jeannie just wouldn't keep her mouth shut. Was always trying to get the other girls to leave their pimps. To go straight. Quick way to make enemies around here."
"How long have you known Jeannie?"
"Not long. She moved here about a month ago. I met her on the street, although she never did get any traffic. Didn't seem too interested in scoring. Even tried to get me to go straight." She looked sad. "Yeah, like I'll just go and get me one of those desk jobs."
"Do you know who killed her?"
"Word on the street is that Manny did her in. He's got the biggest roost around here. Wanted to keep his ladies from getting any ideas about leaving him."
"Where can I find this Manny?"
"His hangout is the Black Jack Saloon. Owns the place."
Bruce handed her a Wayne Foundation card. "Call that number. They'll get you off the streets. Give you a job."
She leaned in closer, circling the Batman emblem on his chest with her fingers. "Are you sure there's nothing else I can do for you?"
He grabbed her wrist. "Just honor Jeannie's memory by getting off the streets."
She pulled her arm free with a jerk and turned around. "I never had a man give me something for nothin'. You know…" Bruce decided to leave before she could finish.
Dick listened as Bruce briefed him on the information he'd obtained from the hooker. Then Bruce was silent. Not an unusual occurrence, but after working with the Dark Knight for as long as he had, he'd grown to recognize the nuances of Bruce's silent moods. Something was bothering him.
"What is it?" Dick asked.
"The hooker said that Jeannie was trying to get her and the other girls to go straight. That she never saw her with a customer."
"What do you make of it?"
"I don't know. It sounds like she was undercover…"
"I'm not sure if it's just wishful thinking on my part. She'd never shown an interest in our kind of work before."
"Like I told you earlier, a lot can happen in a few years."
Bruce nodded. "A lot can happen in just a year, too."
Dick wasn't ready for this conversation. He wasn't sure if he'd ever be ready.
"Not now, Bruce."
"If not now, when?"
Dick laughed. "That's rich. This coming from a man who never wants to talk."
"Like I said, a lot can happen in a year."
In another time, another place, Dick would have jumped at the chance for a heart-to-heart with Bruce, especially since Bruce actually wanted to talk. But he just stood there, his stomach twisting in knots. He refused to look at Bruce because he knew that his resolve would falter if he looked at him. He wanted to stay mad, dammit. At least for a little while longer. It helped the pain when he was mad. Made the hole in his heart a bit easier to deal with.
"Not today, Bruce." His voice was soft, but firm.
"Let's get back to work, then."
Dick straightened. "Any suggestions?"
"I though you wanted to call the shots."
"A good leader always listens to the suggestions of his underlings."
Bruce paused. "In that case, I suggest I go undercover," he finally said, instead of the retort Dick knew was fighting to come out.
Since we're not working with Oracle on this one, someone needs to monitor communications. Record a possible confession to use as evidence."
"Agreed. That will be your job." Dick could imagine the raised eyebrow beneath the cowl. "Any questions?"
"I need to do this, Dick. I need to do this for Jeannie."
"That's why you're not going to do it. Isn't that what you taught me, not to get personal on a case?" He turned away but muttered, "Like any one of us ever followed that particular rule."
Dick exuded money as he sauntered into the Black Jack Saloon. He took a seat at the bar and ordered a beer.
"Testing. Can you read me, Nightwing?" He heard Bruce's voice through the tiny transmitter in his ear.
"Mmhmm," he answered under his breath, then took a sip of his beer. It was surprisingly good. Cold. Just the way he liked it. He looked around the joint, noticed how organized and clean it seemed to be. He'd expected to find more of a brothel type atmosphere than this.
"Hey, sweet thing. Looking for a good time?" The blonde swung her arm around Dick's shoulder in a seductive manner.
"That depends. You see, I have a thing for redheads." She was nice looking, pretty even, and attired conservatively for a hooker. Dick figured that she must charge more for her services.
She had a drink in her hand that she swallowed in two gulps. "Why don't you buy me a drink and I'll make you forget the color red."
Dick signaled for the bartender to fill her glass, then slipped the pretty prostitute a hundred dollar bill. "Maybe you could be of help, after all."
She smiled, but it never quite reached her eyes. "Sure honey. Anything you want."
"I'm looking for Manny."
"You a cop or something?"
It was his turn to smile and turn on a little of the ole Grayson charm. Can't have anyone getting suspicious of him. "Do I look like a cop to you?"
It must have worked because she blushed. "A girl can't be too careful."
"Why don't you go and find Manny. Tell him I have some information he'd be interested in."
Dick gave her a swat on the behind when she turned to leave. She stopped and looked over her shoulder at him. "Look me up sometime. On the house."
For some reason he thought of Babs. He always seemed to think of Babs when a pretty girl was near. None of them compared to Babs. None.
Manny walked into the room with the authority of someone who owned a lot and expected more. Dick was surprised at his appearance. He expected the stereotypical pimp he was most familiar with from the streets of Gotham and Bludhaven. Manny wasn't like any of those. He looked more like one of Bruce's executives at Wayne Enterprises than a pimp.
He sat next to Dick, turned to look him in the eye. "You wanted to see me?"
"My name's Dick Johnson." He extended his hand to Manny, but it was ignored. Dick smiled knowingly, retrieving his hand. "Can we talk? In private?"
"I like it here."
Dick took a sip of his beer and shrugged. "Okay. I know you killed that hooker a couple of days ago."
If Manny was offended, he didn't show it, just stood and motioned for Dick to follow. He certainly seemed to be one cool customer. Dick quickly ran several profiles in his mind and placed Manny in a couple of different categories reserved for calculated killers.
Dick took one last sip of his beer, sat it back down on the bar with a five dollar bill, then followed Manny into his office.
Manny slammed the door shut as soon as Dick entered, then grabbed him, and threw him into the wall. "Accusing me of anything is not very smart, Mr. Johnson." He took a deep breath. "Now, I'll ask you again, what do you want?"
Dick laughed and straightened his clothes. "Calm down, will ya? I'm here to help you."
"I don't need your help."
"Yes you do. You just don't know it yet." Dick plopped down into a leather chair and noticed that it was rich and supple and expensive. Manny had good taste. "The cops found something at the scene of the crime. DNA." There was no DNA, but Manny didn't know that.
"What does that have to do with me? She was a hooker. I'm sure she was covered in DNA."
Dick shook his head. "You and I both know she wasn't a hooker. The police will eventually figure that out, too."
"No, she wasn't. She was a do-gooder," Manny admitted, probably knowing that this fact would eventually be brought to light. Dick was just relieved that Bruce was right about Jeannie. "Even so, why do you think the DNA is mine?"
"Because word on the street is you killed her to keep your girls in line. Can't have one misguided do-gooder stirring up the ladies, now can we?"
Manny laughed. "I used the situation to my advantage. That's all."
"That would be a convenient story except for that pesky DNA."
"If I did kill her, you think I'd be stupid enough to leave my DNA behind?"
"It doesn't take much, Manny. Even the best of us get sloppy, sometimes. All she would have needed to do was touch you to get enough of your cells to run a DNA analysis."
Dick smiled as Manny noticeably blanched. He was hooked, but Dick still needed to reel him in. Needed to know for sure if Manny was their guy.
"Just why are you here?"
"I can help you. I have connections in the police department. DNA samples get contaminated all the time."
"And what do you expect from this help?"
"A piece of the action." Dick stood. "You see, my business in Bludhaven got blown to bits. Had the biggest roost in the city. Now I have a bunch of girls I'm looking to relocate here."
"You looking to take over my action?"
"No. I'm looking to become your partner. We combine our business and the streets will be ours for the taking."
The offer was an enticing one, if the look on Manny's face was any indication. "How do I know I can trust you?"
"Because, I'm gonna take care of that nasty bit of DNA for you."
"You do just that and then we'll talk."
Dick smiled and extended his hand to Manny. "Fair enough." Manny slowly, hesitantly perhaps, shook Dick's hand. He took the bait, but hadn't swallowed it completely. He was cautious.
This case would take a little time, but it would get resolved. Batman and Nightwing would make sure of that.
Dick walked out of the bar into the humid, summer night and spoke into his comm link. "Batman, you get all that?"
Dick sighed. He knew Bruce had heard him. Knew he was blaming himself for Jeannie. He ducked down a side street, circled around the building's back, and scaled the drain pipe up to the roof. He found Batman sitting against the wall. No, this wasn't Batman. Dick could see that the Bat was nowhere in sight. This was Bruce.
Dick sat next to him. "It wasn't your fault."
Bruce laughed a low, self-deprecating laugh that made Dick's heart ache. "You don't believe that, do you?"
"I do believe that." Dick sighed. "You inspire people, Bruce. You and this crusade. People will follow you to the end of the world, if you let them." Dick ran a hand through his hair. "This job's tough. Some make it, some don't. But it's a job we choose to do."
"Did I give you a choice, Dick? Was this life your choice?"
"It was always my choice." Dick paused, then added softly, "And I'll still follow you to the end of the world, Bruce."
"I thought you hated me."
"I never hated you. Oh, I'm still angry, but mostly at myself. You're just a convenient target at the moment." Dick grinned, then turned serious. "I just need some time to figure out who I am. Again."
Bruce nodded, started to say something, but stopped himself. Dick could see the conflict within his surrogate father.
"What is it?"
"I…I just want you to know. That is…"
"Its okay, Bruce. I understand."
"No, dammit. I'm proud of you, Dick. Very proud of the man you've become." He looked squarely at Dick. "I want you to know that."
Dick was stunned. These types of talks were rare with Bruce. He'd learned to cherish them. He knew he'd cherish this one.
Bruce only nodded. The heart-to-heart was over, it seemed.
"What do we do next?" Bruce asked, and Dick noticed him stifle a word that had once come naturally to Batman. A word that Dick had once loathed, a long time ago when he had been ready to spread his wings and fly from the nest, and when Bruce wanted nothing more than to clip them short and ground him.
Dick rolled his eyes. "You can say it."
"Yep. Very sure."
"What do we do next…partner?"
Dick smiled brightly. "We nail Manny. It may take a little time, but we'll nail him together. Partner."