Dick Grayson stepped out into the fading New York sunlight, switching his bags of groceries from his left arm to his right. He could barely keep the smile off of his face as he walked down the street to his apartment building. Beautiful weather, a beautiful city, and finally things seemed to be looking up for him. Things were far from perfect, but a beautiful evening like this made it hard to dwell on the negative things.
Dick opened the door to his building, just as a young woman was walking out. He knew she was one of his neighbors, but couldn't remember her name. He smiled politely as he held the door open for her, and she sent a dimpled smile back at him in return. He nodded in greeting to her and she stole a glance over her shoulder as he slipped into the building.
The young man whistled to himself as he got in the elevator and hit the button to take him to his floor. Always restless, Dick rocked back and forth on his feet, whistling a wordless tune to himself.
When he got to his floor, he pulled his keys from his pocket and went over his plans for the evening in his head as he walked down the hall to his apartment.
After putting away his groceries, he'd grab a quick bite before going out on patrol. The weather seemed to be cooperating for a comfortable night of crime fighting.
He inserted the key into his apartment's lock and he kicked the door open, balancing the groceries in his hands. He grinned to himself and thought of calling Alfred, letting the old man know he wasn't starving without someone to cook for him, but dismissed the idea knowing he'd be in the cave with Bruce.
Maybe he'd call him later when he knew Bruce would be on patrol.
He walked into his dimly lit apartment, kicking the door closed behind him. He dumped the bags of food unceremoniously on the floor, and just as he reached for the light...
"AH!" he cried, practically leaping out of his skin, whipping around to face the source of the voice.
"For the love of everything holy, Bruce," Dick said, his heart racing in his chest.
The light flicked on, illuminating Bruce sitting in one of his living room chairs.
"Would it kill you to call ahead to let me know you're coming?" Dick sighed, rolling his eyes at his mentor. "Or at least turn the light on so I don't know... maybe I could see you when I walked in! You don't have to scare me half to death!"
"Prefer the dark," Dick interrupted, waving a hand at his predictability. "I know, I know. Still, you could give a guy a little warning."
"It's harder to scare you than it used to be. I have to take the moments I can."
Dick looked at Bruce, but the older man's deadpan expression never wavered.
"Was that a joke? Are you feeling okay?"
"At least I waited until you put the bags down."
"And for that, you're lucky. You would've been mopping if I'd dropped all this stuff. I just cleaned his floor, and I'd like it to stay that way."
There was a momentary silence that usually fell in the middle of all of their conversations, after all of the playful bantering was done. Dick knew this was the part where Bruce would get to the point of his visit. He waited, but Bruce didn't say anything. He only seemed to be looking over Dick in an appraising manner, with a look in his eyes that Dick couldn't quite place.
"What are you doing here, Bruce?" Dick finally asked, trying to keep the question casual without sounding annoyed at his mentor's surprise visit.
Dick began emptying the bags of groceries when Bruce's answer didn't come right away. If he tried to appear casual, he figured it would be easier for Bruce. He knew Bruce wouldn't come all the way to New York without an important reason. But conversations like this were always difficult. For both of them.
"I was hoping we could talk," Bruce finally answered.
"Actually," Bruce hesitated. "I was hoping we could go out and talk."
Dick paused for a moment. "Ah, so this is a Batman/Nightwing conversation. Not a Bruce Wayne/Dick Grayson conversation."
There was a flash of slight hesitation on Bruce's face, and Dick knew that wasn't something he often saw.
"Actually, it's both."
Dick considered that for a minute then shrugged. "Okay, give me fifteen minutes to finish up with this stuff then we can head out on patrol."
Bruce allowed himself a slight smile. "Sounds good."
Exactly fifteen minutes later, Nightwing and Batman were sailing through the New York skyline, leaping gracefully from one rooftop to another. Below, a car chase had ensued, and New York's finest were in pursuit of a jewelry store robber. It was a single car, but the man was armed, as he liked to prove by shooting randomly out his window at the pursuing police cruisers.
Nightwing knew they had to end this car chase soon, because the streets were crowded with the night crowd that kept this city going all night long. Looking ahead, he saw an opportunity to stop the chase, and glanced over at Batman running alongside him.
"I see it," Batman growled, not even looking at him.
"I'll-" Nightwing began.
"It's a good plan. Just go for it. I've got my part," Batman interrupted, leaping from the skyscraper towards the crowded streets.
A year ago, Nightwing probably would've resented Batman's gruff words, but their trip together the past year had revealed a lot in their relationship. Lots of old wounds had been mended, and it almost felt like old times again.
Nightwing followed suit and leapt from the building, rocketing towards the street at great speeds. Batman shot off his decel line first, but Nightwing wasn't far behind. Using a high billboard as their grappling point, Batman swung down towards the racing car, lining his decent up perfectly with Nightwing on his tail.
Batman landed on top of the car with a loud thud. Using the metallic extensions in his gloves, he dug into the roof of the car to secure his grip. He swung his cape around to block the windshield, completely obscuring the robber's view. Predictably, the man swerved back and forth, trying to dislodge the vigilante from the roof. Batman held on tightly, making sure to keep the man's view blocked. The man had no choice but to slow down slightly, because without being able to see, he didn't know if he would crash at any moment.
Nightwing landed on the roof seconds behind Batman, but only stayed briefly enough to toss a smoke pellet into the man's open window. The younger vigilante continued his momentum and leaped from the car, somersaulting when he hit the ground.
As the car filled with smoke, the robber slammed on the brakes, jerking Batman forward, causing him to lose his grip on the vehicle. Batman flew forward and rolled as he landed, rolling back to his feet as the car skidded to a stop twenty feet in front of him.
The police cruisers chasing the man skidded to a stop behind him, creating a barrier behind the man's car. They immediately jumped out and aimed their weapons at the smoke filled car.
The man opened his door and stumbled out the car, staying low and keeping his car between himself and the cops. He clutched a bag of his pilfering close to his chest as he tried to blink the tears of irritation away. He wiped his watery eyes, and slowly Batman came into focus in front of him. As he recognized the vigilante, his eyes narrowed and he raised his weapon.
"You," he growled.
Batman didn't move. "I'm not the one you need to worry about."
Before the man could interpret what Batman meant, Nightwing snuck up behind him, clobbering the man with one of his escrima sticks. The man went down hard, spilling the contents of his bag all over him and the street. Several different types of jewels fell from the bag, littering the street in color. When the man didn't move, Nightwing looked up at the other vigilante.
"That was a gem of a chase," Batman said completely straight faced before shooting his grappling line into the night sky.
"Was that a pun? Did you just make a pun?" Nightwing asked incredulously. "Now I really am worried about you."
Batman tried to suppress a grin as he took off into the darkness above the streets. Nightwing glanced back at the police behind him, nodding to them as they hesitantly moved from behind the protection of their cruisers. He fired a grappling line up towards the skyline and followed his mentor into the night.
Several minutes later, Batman and Nightwing were perched high above the street, watching the police as they cuffed the thief and hauled him off to jail. The two watched in silence before Nightwing stole a glance at Batman.
"I know you didn't come all the way to New York City to trade witty one liners and ridiculous puns with me," he said. "So why are you here?"
Batman sighed, unsure of how to proceed. Talking to Dick had always been difficult. They were both so different, despite their similar experiences, and every conversation like this in the past had not ended well.
"I want to ask you something," Batman finally began, standing up straight to his full height. He squared his shoulders to face Nightwing. "I want you to hear me out completely and think about it before you answer."
Nightwing knew this couldn't be good. "Okay," he replied hesitantly.
Batman looked back down at the street, crouching down on the ledge of the roof. Nightwing joined him, sitting down on the ledge with his legs dangling over the edge. Nightwing tried not to look at Batman, having a feeling it would be easier to hear him out without looking into his eyes.
"Since we've been back," Batman began, "I've been talking with Clark and Diana."
"That's good," Nightwing said.
"Yes," he added quickly. "We're going to bring back the Justice League. Start over. New members."
Nightwing considered that for a minute before speaking. "I think it's a good idea. Start fresh. The League has done a lot of good. And there are a lot of good heroes out there that could help."
"I'm glad you feel that way," Batman said. He paused again, unsure of how to phrase the next part. Should it be a question? A statement? While he always had trouble with all conversations with people, conversations with Dick were the most difficult. Dick was a very passionate person, and the last thing Bruce wanted to do was threaten their mended relationship.
"Is that what you wanted to tell me?" Nightwing asked when Batman didn't continue.
"Yes and no," Batman replied.
He sighed and decided to just blurt it out, and whatever happened, happened.
"I want you in the League."
There was a moment of stunned silence before Nightwing opened his mouth to respond. Before he could say anything, Batman raised a hand to silence him.
"Just hear me out before you answer."
Nightwing nodded and closed his mouth, giving Batman his full attention. Now that the tough part of the conversation had been breached, the rest seemed to flow freely.
"You're good, Dick. Really good. And I'm not just saying that because of who you are. You've got good leadership skills. You've got a lot of experience that the League could use. And let's face it, everyone respects you and trusts you." Dick could hear the unspoken fact that Bruce knew everyone trusted Nightwing more than they trusted Batman.
"You're ready for the League. You proved that long ago when you led the League in our absence. You not only saved the world and our sorry hides, you brought together a team that no one ever imagined could work together. Don't say you're not ready, because you've been ready for this for years. What happened during the crisis only showed everyone else what I've known all along. You're ready for bigger things than chasing thieves down on the streets of New York."
Batman stood up and paced as he talked, but Nightwing stayed seating on the edge of the building, taking in every word.
Batman turned to look at Nightwing, but the younger man kept his back to Batman for several minutes as he mulled over the speech.
"Do Clark and Diana know you're asking me?" he finally managed to get out.
"I know they'd agree with me."
"That would be a no."
"I know how they think, and I know they'd want you in the League, too."
Nightwing stood from his perch on the edge of the building and paced back and forth. Four short steps one direction, four steps back. He made three circuits before he stopped to look at Batman again.
"Bruce, the League is your thing. Not mine."
"You're ready for it."
Dick sighed. "It's not a matter of my being ready for it. I know I'm capable. I did it once before, and it was tough, but we managed. The team managed, not just me. But the League isn't the type of team for me."
Batman crossed his arms, but didn't say anything. Nightwing knew by the look on his face that he wanted more than that.
"I tried that type of team with the Outsiders. I tried not making it personal, and I tried to keep a distance. But that's not who I am. After a year of hard work, I finally have a good thing going with the Outsiders now."
"The Outsiders are dead," Batman said.
"You know full well they're not," Nightwing sighed, rolling his eyes. "You're one of the few people that know that. We're doing good work, and that's where I'm needed right now."
"The League needs you."
"They already have a detective," Nightwing shot back.
"My membership is in question," Batman said to Nightwing's surprise. "I know Clark and Diana are considering not having me in the League."
"What?! That's ridiculous!"
"Agreed. But they don't think tactically. They think with their emotions."
"So you want me there for tactical reasons? So you can have someone on your side?"
Batman sighed. This conversation wasn't going where he'd meant it to go at all. He didn't know how to tell Dick why he wanted him on the team.
"No," he finally answered. "You've got a lot to offer this team. You're a natural teammate. Tonight was evidence of that."
Nightwing ran a hand through his raven hair. "I appreciate the offer, Bruce, but the answer's no."
Nightwing turned on his heel, walking over to the edge of the building. "If you need me though, I'll be around. Don't be a stranger, and next time, call first. I'm getting older, and one of these days, you're going to give me a heart attack."
With that said, Nightwing leapt over the edge of the building, firing off his grapple line. Batman watched him and felt a great sense of pride. He'd known that Dick wouldn't accept, but he'd needed to ask. A younger, less experienced hero would've jumped at the chance to be in the Justice League. The fact that Dick didn't accept showed a great deal of maturity.
As Batman jumped from the side of the building and fired his own grappling line in the opposite direction Dick had gone, part of him wished Dick had accepted the invitation. Tonight had reminded him just how much he missed working on a team with Dick. It would never be like old times, but tonight was as close as it got. The year trip around the world had cemented their relationship, reaffirming the trust they put in each other.
As his feet landed on another roof and he secured his line, Batman did have a good feeling about the whole thing. The Justice League would be great again, and hopefully would continue to be that way for a long time. And he knew that when the time was right, Nightwing would join the ranks of the greatest heroes. And he also knew that Nightwing would be greater than Batman could ever be.