By Christopher W. Blaine
DISCLAIMER: All of the characters contained in this story are ©2002 by DC Comics Inc. and are used without permission for fan-related non-profit entertainment purposes. This original work of fiction may not be reproduced in part or as a whole without the express permission of the author.
"My first memory is of flying, of the freedom that overtakes you when you can pull away from gravity and soar like an angel."
Zauriel nodded and adjusted his wings around him like a cloak. The former guardian angel had no fear of freezing in the snowfall that was blanketing Bludhaven this November night, but he found that by mimicking human reactions the people he talked to were more at ease. "I wish I could agree, but being of the Heavenly Hosts, gravity has no meaning to me."
Nightwing smiled and adjusted the internal heaters for his "winterized" costume. Normally, he would be out patrolling, sniffing out trouble like a dog digging through the garbage. When the former Justice League member had suddenly appeared in his simple apartment, Nightwing had thought another Earth-shattering crisis was occurring. He was genuinely surprised when the angel had said he simply wished to talk. "You are perhaps the most normal, if I may use that word, of all the super-heroes I have encountered. Many times I have tried to understand others such as Batman and Superman, but I do not have a basic frame of reference to compare them to."
At first, he wasn't sure whether to be honored or angry at the implication he was just some plain, ordinary super-hero. Then again, Dick Grayson, the man who called himself Nightwing, was a religious man and decided to honor the angel's request.
"You see, my parents started me on the trapeze act as soon as I could walk. They would take me up and we'd swing and I can remember them passing me between them, so I could get used to the feeling. It's never the falling that really gets to you, it's the going up because you feel like you'll never stop. Falling, you know there is a bottom."
Nightwing suddenly became sullen. "You miss your parents very much, do you not?"
The hero nodded and watched a snowflake fall into his outstretched hand. "They died senselessly, murdered because a mobster got greedy and nobody wanted to play ball. Their rigging was sabotaged and they fell to their deaths. It was just plain dumb luck that I wasn't in the act that night. I had a cold and they were afraid my timing would be off."
"It would appear to me that in hindsight, your parents were quite correct."
"Yeah," Nightwing said, staring off into the distance. "Have you ever met my parents?"
Zauriel shook his head, indicating he had not. "My duties involved protecting those souls still in the mortal plane. It is not my purpose to minister to those who have received reward. However, I am sure that your parents are quite proud of you."
"I wonder sometimes, " Nightwing said, pulling out a pair of night vision goggles and scanning the area. Talking about his parents always bothered him and he wanted to move on. "Anyway, I'm sure you know that Bruce Wayne was in the audience that night, watching the show. The truth was that Bruce was a fan of our act. He immediately broke through the ranks of startled onlookers, totally throwing aside the façade of the rich, bored playboy. When he saw there was nothing that could be done for my parents, he immediately looked around for me. I guess I was in total shock; he knew something about that."
"Despite all of his outward appearances, I have sensed a great capacity to love inside Bruce Wayne."
Nightwing chuckled. "Oh, I know that. It takes a man with a big heart to take in a total stranger, but there was more to it than that. In a way, Bruce taking me as his ward was a way of correcting the wrong that had occurred to him. I know him to well; had it not been for those particular circumstances, I think I would have been left in the care of the state.
"I will always be thankful that Bruce took me in and at least tried to be a father to me. Let's face it, though: he lost his father at eight so he really didn't have a whole lot of knowledge to draw on. Sometimes he could be Mike Brady and other times it was like he was Jack Nicholson out of 'The Shining'."
"Which is where I must confess I am puzzled. Bruce, as Batman, accepted you into his fold by creating the Robin identity for you. It would seem to me that a man so concerned with the safety of others would never permit this," Zauriel said in a thoughtful tone.
"I can't tell you how many times I wondered that, especially when Bruce had me out in that damn orange and green costume, trying to tail someone in secret. Like I wouldn't stick out! Near as I can figure, and Bruce would never admit this, is that he needed someone to inspire him to continue his battle. By the time I had come along, he had avenged his parent's deaths."
"Vengeance is a matter best left to the Almighty," the angel interrupted.
"Right…God is big on avenging crimes against Him, but people like Bruce and I are not content to allow criminals to wait until Judgment Day. I suppose you could call it a human flaw, which brings me back to why Bruce needed someone like me as a partner. After a certain amount of time, you start to lose memories of things in the past. The night my parents died and the night Bruce's parents died will always stick in our minds, but its other things that fade with time. Its hard to hold onto memories, and its even harder to hold onto emotions.
"I think Bruce was losing touch with everything as he was so consumed with rage. He needed something to fight for instead of just lashing out, and I think I represented that. Not just as his son, but as a victim. In a way, I remind him that the battle is never over. Had the war on crime been won, my parents would have never been killed."
"You must have been very bored to come up with something like that; I've existed for millennium and never even came close to anything like that. Was it that boredom that started the split in philosophies between you and Batman?"
"I knew my parents longer than Bruce knew his and I suppose that really affected my outlook on life. After a time, I started to look towards other super-heroes to see if what Batman and Robin were doing was the right thing. God, there were so many, but one stuck out: Superman. Bruce always acted like he resented my hero worship of Superman, but deep inside, I think he was glad. I always assumed that Bruce wanted me to assume the mantle of Batman one day, but that wasn't the case. He didn't anyone to assume the role if he could help it; he didn't want anyone to be that hurt that they would feel the need to do what he does. Sure, he acted liked idolizing Superman irritated him, but he was glad I was developing my own identity.
"By the same token, when I joined the Teen Titans, he really didn't try to stop me. Being a Titan was probably one of the best influences in my life because I got to interact with other people in a way I couldn't as Dick Grayson. You see, once I accepted the mantle of Robin, that became my identity. Dick Grayson was an act and that always bothered me. I suppose I was never as gun-ho about fighting crime as much as Bruce was. I wanted to help people, with Bruce it was different. So, after hanging out with the Titans for awhile, I began to rebel a little against Bruce."
"Rebellion is normal in teenagers; it has always been that way…"
Nightwing smiled and pinched the bridge of his nose. "You don't rebel against the Batman and walk away unscathed. If I wasn't going to play ball, then he would find someone who would."
"Exactly. You don't realize how mad it made me the first time I saw him with her and came to the conclusion that I could be replaced. That's hard to swallow. The big thing was that she had a 'bat' name, which indicated favoritism to me."
"That's interesting considering your feelings towards Batgirl were more amorous, wouldn't you agree?"
"I was confused…here was this hot little redhead taking my job and all I could do was stammer around her. It really through me for a loop and that's when I started spending less and less time in Gotham City. We reformed the Titans and I hooked up with Princes Korindar, my teammate known as Starfire. That's when the real split between me an Bruce began. It wasn't philosophical anymore, but more of a game of chicken, seeing which one of would blink first."
"Then you were shot by the Joker and the Batman made you give up the Robin identity. In all of my times guarding souls on this Earth, I have never seen quite the reaction that you had: you agreed."
"I was being a jackass. I know what he wanted, he wanted me to beg and plead, and I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction. It was all so stupid; he wanted to prove he was still in control and I wanted to show I was all grown up. Neither one of us bothered to consider how close the Joker came to killing me; we were too busy being manly."
"You had your own identity to assert," Zauriel said, pulling his wings closer. "Regardless of the circumstances, you would have surrendered the Robin identity eventually. You are not Batman and living under his shadow was keeping you from reaching your full potential."
"That's what Superman told me when he found out I had to give the costume back to Bruce. He told me to take some time off and think about what I really wanted to do with my life. Did I always want to be Batman's back-up or did I want to be my own man. So, I took a few months off, went back to college and tried to get my life in order. The entire time, though, I was antsy."
"I've always wondered, where did you come up with the original idea for Nightwing?"
Nightwing brought the binoculars down and put them away in his utility belt and pulled out an energy bar. He broke it in half and handed part to the angel. Zauriel accepted the offering without word. He had no need to eat, but found the experience enjoyable enough. When he had been chosen to become Heaven's emissary to Earth, he had been granted several gifts by the Presence, including functional taste buds. "The original Nightwing was, according to Superman, a super-hero on Krypton. He told me the story when I was younger and I remember thinking how cool I thought the name was. I would sometimes hang out in the Batcave, drawing up costume based on a rough sketch of the hero Superman had done for me. My original outfit reflected more Kryptonian taste in its design than anything else."
"I suppose the respite from the super-hero world did nothing to mend your broken relationship with the Batman?" Zauriel said, taking abite.
"No, if anything, we became more and more alienated. He disapproved of my choices of study, he didn't like the fact I chose to live in New York instead of Gotham City. He hated my friends and didn't approve of my girlfriend, Kory. He said that our relationship would compromise his work in Gotham City."
"Really? What was your response?"
"I gave him a list of my body parts he could kiss. So, I hear nothing from him until Jason."
"Ah, yes, the second Robin, young Jason Todd, a tortured soul to be sure. In him, I believe that Batman saw something of you, but he neglected to see how Jason refused to try and reign in his anger towards the world."
"True enough, but it was more than that. Something was wrong with Bruce, but I refused to see it. Taking on someone like Jason was just foolish, and I suppose I should have voiced my opinions stronger. If I had, them maybe he would be alive today."
There was a pause, a moment of silence for the boy who wanted to be a man. Jason Todd had been savagely beaten and then blown up by the Joker and many of the Batman's closest allies believed that it had been a huge mistake to have allowed the inexperienced boy wear the uniform of Robin. "Regardless, around the same time he gave Jason the Robin tights, I became Nightwing and rejoined the Titans. I tried my best to be an older sibling to Jason, but he was even more distant towards me than Bruce. I guess he saw me as the competition for Bruce's approval."
Nightwing finished his part of the energy bar and put the wrapper in a compartment on his belt. "During all of this, Kory and I grew closer, or at least I thought we were. She wanted to get married and I so I proposed, even though I wasn't 100% sure."
"You'll pardon me for being so blunt, but it appears to me that you've inherited the Batman's inability to commit to long-term relationships. Your membership with the Titans was always interrupted with leaves of absence or something else…"
"Donna Troy, my personal Wonder Girl, said the same thing. Her and I have been friends almost as long as I can remember. Hell, I even thought that one day her and I would get married, but it never happened. She told me the exact same thing. I took that advice to heart after Raven disrupted my wedding to Kory. Secretly, I was relieved and I suppose I'm a little embarrassed by that. I felt so pressured into marrying her because it was the right thing to do."
"Love is something that will make man and angel do things they normally would not. Your love for your Tamarian princess was not false, only that it lacked the intensity you desired. There is much of your father in you; I can see his radiance about you."
'That's nice, Zauriel," Nightwing said, turning around so as to not appear caught off guard, "but I was raised to believe that marriage is sacred. I nearly jumped into it for all of the wrong reasons."
"Not such a bad problem when you consider that most people jump out marriage now for all of the wrong reasons. Your heart was noble, as was your cause."
"Tell that to Babs," he said. "Kory and I tried to make our relationshipwork; we even left the Titans to spend time together. In the end, though, we really were from two different worlds. Alone, I tried to find purpose in my life, something that would identify me as me, not as some second-string Batman. And this is what I got," he said, spreading his arms wide. It appeared as if he were trying to embrace the entire city of Bludhaven.
"Bruce has Gotham; I have Bludhaven and I don't envy him a bit. Here is where I began to realize what I wanted to do in life." He brought his arms down and stood in front of the angel. "So many people believe that being a super-hero is about beating people up and throwing the bad guys in jail. That's not true; the real heroes are those who try to live life right and help their fellow man."
Zauriel smiled. "So, you do not believe vengeance is a correct motivation?"
"No, at least not for me. Bruce spends too much time looking at the dark side of humanity; I look for the light side."
"But, you love him like a father…"
"Despite him giving the Batman mantle to Jean-Paul Valley when he got hurt? That was a deep wound. Add to that Barbara getting shot and paralyzed by the Joker and I realized just how far I had gone to distance myself from my roots, you might say. At that time, I was more than alone, I was bitter and angry. I kept wallowing in these thoughts about why couldn't I have had a normal childhood, with a normal family and friends…"
"But what is normal?" Zauriel said, spreading his wings to shake off the accumulated snow. "I have always found it odd that every human I encounter wants to be this 'normal', but they do not want to surrender their individuality."
"Exactly," Nightwing said, not bothering to explain his answer. "You know what I finally realized? When I saw how Jean-Paul went over the edge as Batman, I understood that if I didn't do something…no, if we all didn't do something, we were all going to end up going over the edge. We had lost sight of why we were fighting this fight."
Zauriel nodded and approached the roof edge where Nightwing now stood, scanning the area again with his binoculars. "One cannot work in the midst of evil all alone and expect not to be tainted. It is through our relationships that we help define our limitations. You, of course, realize that had you not come along, Batman would have succumbed to his own demons years ago."
"I don't know if I'd go that far, but I know there is some truth in that. There are other factors in Bruce's life that may contribute to our differing philosophies. Outside being Batman, his life is pretty dull and that tends to wear on you. I suppose I could have followed in his footsteps; I'm pretty wealthy on my own thanks to my investments. But, I knew I had to do something more or else Dick Grayson would disappear and Nightwing would be everything."
"Ah," Zauriel said. He tapped his chin with a finger. "And here is the major difference between you and Batman! You seek to not only improve the quality of life as a protector, but to enhance it as a participant. You feel that Batman's Bruce Wayne façade is…"
"Let's just say that pretending to be a bored playboy is not what I want to do in life, though I'll be the first to admit that joining the Bludhaven police department was not the career I had initially planned on. Then again, if you asked me a year ago if Barbara and I would be a couple, I would have said there was no way she'd ever have me."
"Then I suppose you could say your life is going well, now?"
"Yeah, I guess you could say that. It's going good, but there are still a lot of things I'd like to have."
"Children?" Zauriel asked.
Nightwing smiled. "Something like that…"