We know this can't go on. Not anymore.
Too much has changed. It's been a good run; but I've lost count of the years now. We're not Teen Titans anymore, and we're growing apart.
No, that's wrong. We've grown apart.
We all want different things from life now. We're not teenagers living on the high of being the city's protectors and getting free cable into the bargain anymore. Those were good days, but I guess it all has to come to an end.
Not that this has to be an end. It's also a beginning – for all of us, I guess.
I'm not sure where we're all going to go. It's nice that we're not parting on bitter terms. We're all still friends, and we came to the unanimous agreement to end the Titans.
Of course, it's not necessarily the end of the Titans altogether. There are still the Honorary Titans all over the globe, and as far as I know, Titans East is still together. Maybe Aqualad left, I'm not sure.
But ultimately, we're not united in our goals anymore, and I think that accounts for a lot. We can't be a team anymore if we're not thinking like a team anymore. We've all changed as people; and, well, I suppose it's like Bruce and I.
Nothing lasts forever.
Not even Robin.
"Nobody loves anybody, my darling. We just survive." – Batman; All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #5 (Frank Miller)
"It is over, then?"
"You know that, Starfire." Nightwing looked over his shoulder at her; he was twenty-one, with a wave of ebony hair falling halfway down his back. "We shut down Titans Tower this morning. The Teen Titans are finished."
"Are you sad?"
"Well, yeah, sure. " He breathed in the night air; they were standing on a rooftop, high above Jump City, and Titans Tower, dark and lifeless, was visible across the glimmering water. "…End of an era."
"You will miss them?"
"Of course. But we'll… we'll all stay in touch. You forget, Starfire – this isn't that alternate future you fell into. Remember that time with Warp? This isn't it…"
"I know." She smiled serenely. "Of that I am glad."
They had all changed that last year or so. Raven wore white. Beast Boy was taller; wore silver and purple instead of the original black-and-magenta combo. Cyborg had alloy upgrades and new systems.
Robin had traded in "Robin" to become "Nightwing".
And there was Starfire. She was taller still, with hair almost to the backs of her knees; she wore a V-shaped tiara on her brow beneath her fringe. Her breastplate and gauntlets were much the same; but her boots were shorter, as was her top, both with a more streamlined, angular cut; and the skirt was long, with slits each side, almost to the belt. All that same violet, but overall she looked very different.
And very beautiful.
"And what of us?" She asked quietly.
"I can't stay here with you." His voice was pained. "I already said this. You want to be a model. This is the best place for you to do it, Star. But I can't stay here. I've done my job here in Jump City. Please, Starfire." He reached for her hand. "I need you to understand that."
She didn't smile; but she squeezed his fingers.
"I do not," she admitted. "And it pains me that you shall leave me. But I love you, and do not wish to see you unhappy. If you feel that you must leave, then I will never stop you."
He sighed inwardly, guilt surging upwards.
"It is that I must, Starfire, believe me."
"Then I will let you go."
And she did; her slender fingers sliding from his gloved ones.
"No," he said desperately; because it was all he could say. "I can't walk away like this, with you… hating me…"
"I do not hate you." She put her arms around him and embraced him tightly; and he hugged her back. His second, and perhaps greatest, love. "I could never hate you… Robin…"
He was silent; and then gave a choking little laugh.
"Guess your Rekmas got us after all, Starfire…"
"No." She kissed his forehead. "This is merely life."
"I assumed you wanted to get from under my shadow. Make a name for yourself. You've done that. Created a life, fought your own fights. I didn't have the right to call you back."
"…The right? I'd die for you, Bruce." – Bruce and Dick; Robin #13 (1994); (Chuck Dixon)
"Do you want my approval?"
"No." Nightwing said it to Batman's back, since the man wouldn't turn to him; too busy tapping away on his Bat-computer. "I guess not."
"Then why are you here?"
"To… inform you."
"Hn." Batman paused in his typing. "Blüdhaven?"
"Yes, I thought so. Unless you object, of course."
"Why would I object?"
"Because that's what you do."
"Dick, if you're just here to antagonize me, get out."
"You know I'm not here to do that," Nightwing retorted hotly.
"What an oddly apt byproduct, then." Batman finally looked at him over his shoulder. "What do you want?"
"To tell you that I'm going to Blüdhaven."
"You're a grown man now, Dick. It's your decision where you go and what you do. You don't need my permission."
"Somehow, I feel like that's not true." Nightwing folded his arms. "You're the only reason I'm here. You're the only reason I do what I do."
Batman was quiet for a while.
"You know flattery doesn't work on me," he said finally.
But he'd stopped typing.
"Why the hell would I be flattering you?" Nightwing snapped. "I'm just saying, because… because it's true. You know it is. You know that, no matter what you say, you would have been angry if I'd just gone off to Blüdhaven without telling you."
"What makes you suppose that?" Batman asked dangerously.
"Because if it wasn't for you, I'd just be another orphanage graduate, out there trying to live the normal life," Nightwing replied wearily. "Don't you see, Bruce? Everything; everything that I've been, or am, or will become… it all comes back to you. To Batman."
"You're blaming me?"
"No. I'm thanking you." Nightwing lost his patience. "But I should have known it was too much to hope that you'd recognize that…"
Nightwing turned on his heel and made off towards his discarded motorcycle; he couldn't stand here and listen to this.
Bruce hadn't changed at all.
He pulled his bike upright, and was about to get on—
"What did you want back then?!" Batman suddenly burst out, looking directly at him. "For me to come running after you to Jump City? I didn't want you to leave, you know I didn't, no matter what I said… And I was going to stop you from leaving, but Alfred… Alfred said it was best to let you go. You were growing up and there was nothing I could do about that. Nothing at all."
Nightwing watched him silently, motionless.
"I know we fought but I didn't mean to drive you away," Batman went on, clutching the armrests of his chair. "But what could I do once the damage was done? Alfred said it was for the best, to let you get out on your own, out from under my shadow. I suppose he was right; and then I heard you'd formed the Teen Titans. What could I do then? I'd lost you. I could never have called you back. I had no power, and no right."
"Of course you had the right!" Nightwing said incredulously, lowering the bike again. "I owe everything I am to you. If it wasn't for you, there would have been no Robin, and no Titans, and…"
"But what would it have proved?" Batman said when Nightwing trailed off. "Only that I could control you. Only that Batman owned Robin. I couldn't have done it. You'd have hated me. You'd probably never have forgiven me. No matter what you think of me, Dick, I could never have done that to you."
"I didn't realize that it made you… unhappy," Nightwing said after a long while. "I thought you were glad to see the back of me."
"I know you thought that. Alfred often lamented over the fact that you had walked away thinking you'd done me a favor. It wasn't true, but… you were gone. I was angry, but I accepted it; as did you."
Batman took down his cowl; his face had a few more lines, but otherwise remained unchanged from all those years ago.
"Perhaps it was fitting," he went on, his voice calm and quiet now. "I started this quest alone. You joined my war, as did Barbara; but ultimately it is, and always has been, my mantle. It would never have been fair to tie others down to a fight they didn't start."
"I'm still fighting," Nightwing said fiercely.
"Yes, and I commend you, for all these years. With me, by yourself, with the Titans… But while you continue to fight, you're no longer at my side. That was what I meant."
Nightwing allowed himself a small smile.
"I think I'm a little too old for that now, Bruce."
"Yes; and you fight your own fights now. Our priorities aren't the same, Dick; they haven't been for a long time. That's what drove us apart."
"We're two different people."
"Ah." Bruce Wayne actually smiled a little himself now. "Alfred wisdom."
Nightwing gave a little laugh.
"Well, he always was the brains of this outfit…"
"Yes, well, there's no denying that…"
There was a moment of awkward silence between them.
"I… I really should be going, anyway," Nightwing said eventually, retrieving the bike again. "Blüdhaven calls."
"Indeed." Bruce rose out of his chair as Nightwing got the bike sorted out. "…Thankyou for coming to tell me. It was… nice of you to think of me."
Nightwing blinked in mock surprise.
"The almighty Batman, thanking someone and using the word "nice", all in one go?"
"Ah, your feeble humor remains intact," Bruce fired back peevishly. "How nostalgic."
The sudden quick embrace Bruce gave him caught him off-guard even more, however.
"And a man-hug too," was all he could say as the man let him go. "Are you the real Batman?"
"Oh, get out," Bruce groaned.
"Again the prodigal son flies the nest, sir?"
Bruce blinked, turning to find Alfred at his side, holding a small silver tray; on which was a cup of fresh black coffee.
"Alfred, I didn't hear you come down."
"Yes, well, you did seem rather preoccupied…"
Bruce took the coffee and went back towards the computer.
"How much of that did you hear?" He asked offishly.
"Enough, sir. All I can say is that I am glad you and Master Dick are no longer at odds."
"I'm surprised he came here…"
Alfred raised an eyebrow.
"You are very hard on yourself, Master Bruce. You know he was not going to hate you forever. I very much doubt he even hated you at all, no matter what you say on the contrary."
Bruce sank back into his chair.
"Blüdhaven," was all he said.
"You do not approve?"
"What can I do? We both know he was never mine to keep. It doesn't matter what I think, not anymore."
"I think he still harbors much respect for you, sir. It seems that way to me, anyhow."
"I suppose." Bruce looked up at his old friend. "What do you think of him? From what you saw?"
"He seems to be a fine young man to me; and as dedicated to your cause as ever." Alfred paused. "There is no weakness in being proud of him, sir."
"I know. And I am." Bruce sipped at his coffee and allowed himself another rare smile. "He's my Boy Wonder, after all."
"They say you can't go home again, but here I am." – Nightwing; Nightwing: War Games Act Two (Part 3 of 8); (Devin Grayson)
In the end, maybe it didn't matter how many years had passed.
Maybe it didn't matter which city it was.
Maybe it didn't matter whether he was a sidekick or a leader and an independent crime-fighter; Flying Grayson or Boy Wonder or Teen Titan.
Maybe it didn't matter which mask he wore; whether he chose to be Dick Grayson or Robin or Red X or Nightwing.
Maybe it didn't matter whether he was affiliated with Batman; or Batgirl; or the Teen Titans; or Slade; or anyone else.
All that mattered was that he stood here, high above the city – a city; any city – and observed, and, like another avenging angel, pledged to do just as he had always done.
Save the world; save the city; save one person; save himself.
It didn't really matter in the end because he was but a page in Batman's Bible.
All of it was.
Welcome to the Layer Cake.
OMG, finally... I haven't updated this since July, and I finished it in July, and wow...
Well, that's the end of Layer Cake. How bloody epic was that...