Nightwing: Out of Time
By Christopher W. Blaine
DISCLAIMER: The following story contains characters and situations that are ©2002 by DC Comics Inc. and are used without permission for fan-related, non-profit entertainment purposes only. This original work of fiction is ©2002 by Christopher W. Blaine and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole without the express written permission of the author.
Nightwing stared at his younger self in dismay. There was no doubt that the youth in the Robin costume was him; it was like looking in a mirror of the past. However, as they stood sizing each other up, he quickly scanned his memory for the events as they played, but was at a loss when he could not find any.
As far as time-paradoxes went, this little adventure through time was becoming one huge headache. "Keep your distance, little guy, I want to talk to the Batman."
Robin smirked. "What's the matter, am I too tough for you?"
Nightwing was about to reply, slightly embarrassed as he realized that the teenager was possessed of a cockiness that was all-too typical for someone his age, when the Batman interrupted. "Robin, stand down." Nightwing saw the burning gaze of the boy and he felt almost sorry for him. "You wanted to talk?" Batman asked.
"Can we go someplace not so public?" Nightwing requested. He suddenly felt too exposed.
"Who's the hunk?" came a feminine voice from behind him. Nightwing did not need to turn around because the voice was so much a part of him. He took in a deep breath and turned again to where Robin stood, keeping his hands out to seem non-threatening. When he stopped, his breath caught in his throat.
Robin was looking at Batgirl with a mixture of resentment and puppy love. The young woman, no more than eighteen years old, was secretly Barbara Gordon, the woman whom Nightwing was currently involved with in the future. Here she stood, so many years before the tragedies that would take her from innocence to cynicism to maturity.
Barbara was a few years older than him and it was odd to now realize he was now the more senior of the two. In fact, he really wasn't that much older than her and he knew that his body had to be betraying his natural impulses. She turned red as he stared at her and turned away. Robin turned a fiery gaze upon him.
Batman was behind him. "You said you wanted to talk privately?"
Nightwing simply nodded, and slowly, very slowly the Batman noted, removed his eyes from the young heroine. Batman jerked a thumb back to the opposite corner of the rooftop.
Nightwing examined the Batman that stood before him, a man not much older than him. This was not the man he knew from his own time, this was instead the Batman that was finally developing his style and purpose. He knew that when he was a teen (who was still staring at him), that Batman seemed infallible and omnipotent. Only now was he able to see him in a different light.
There was some slight razor stubble on his chin and his eyes looked tired, and Nightwing knew that it was this push-yourself-to-the-limit mentality that would eventually lead to a severe breakdown on Batman's part. "I don't know who you are…"
"I'm a friend…"
Batman leaned in closer. "My God, Dick?"
Well, that was easy, Nightwing thought. "I can explain, really."
Batman stood straight up and crossed his arms over his chest. He was not as large as he would one day become and Nightwing wondered if he would continue to grow in bulk. A small voice echoed in his head, with an Austrian accent. I will crush you girlie-man. "I guess you better. Did you know you're wearing a costume from the 1940's?"
"Huh?" Nightwing asked, perplexed. As far as he knew, he had designed his costume. "No way."
Batman nodded. "You're wearing the costume of the hero that saved my father's life during World War 2. In fact, Robin dug up the photo while researching Green Lantern for a school paper."
Nightwing remembered the brief flash of light from when he had rescued the Batman's father and now realized that he had had his pictures taken. He must have shown his frustration on his face. "That was you? You're traveling through time, aren't you?"
Nightwing quickly gave a recap of his adventures so far, starting with Jonathan Law's encounter with Per Degaton in the future, to his witnessing of the battle between Green Lantern and Solomon Grundy and his subsequent trip to now. Batman said nothing, betraying no emotion, but Nightwing got the sense that the Caped Crusader thought he was insane.
As he continued giving details, he could not help but turn and point out different places in the cityscape. As he did so, he caught sight of Batgirl looking at him. There was no doubt about it she was attracted to him. There was also no doubt of his attraction to her, despite the age difference.
"This presents a unique problem," the Batman said. He stepped closer. "I don't want to talk about this here. Meet me at the cave. If you really are who you say you are, then you'll have no problem finding it."
Nightwing grinned. "And if I can't find it?"
Batman brushed past him. "Pray that I don't find you."
There was a certain lightness to the Batcave, Nightwing noted as he slowly made his way down the stone staircase. The air was moist, as heavy as ever and the lighting itself was very artificial, disappearing into the black void of the ceiling. There was laughter, though, a sound not often heard in this place in Nightwing's time.
Stepping down into the cave proper, he saw his younger self practicing gymnastics, laughing and carrying on as if there was nothing in the world that was bad. Nightwing wondered if he really had ever been that innocent. What had changed in him so much that he found such antics…childish.
He still enjoyed the thrill of swinging through the air, just as much now as a man as he had the very first time as a toddler in his father's arm. John Grayson had been a master of the trapeze, more at home on the bar than on the ground. Nightwing had been lucky in that Bruce Wayne, his adoptive father, also had need of such skills or Nightwing would have been cut off from his final link with his parents upon their death.
Robin seemed to sense Nightwing's presence and after a final routine on the parallel bars, he somersaulted into the air and landed with bare feet on the black mat. He had his mask removed and sweat was running down his face. Nightwing guessed by the few stray hairs on the lip that Robin was either fourteen or fifteen. "That was pretty good," Nightwing commented. It was no lie.
Robin nodded. "Thanks." He moved over to a chair where his mask, gloves, booties and cape were draped and grabbed a large towel. "Is it true that you're me?"
Nightwing paused for a moment, considering how to answer. Again, that feeling of dread swept over him. Things he said or did now would affect the future, or could affect the future. What if he really wasn't in the past; what if Per Degaton's machine had shunted him sideways into an alternate universe? There were already subtle clues that this wasn't his universe…but was absolutely positive? Could he have seen a picture of himself rescuing Thomas Wayne and then inadvertently used that costume design when he created Nightwing?
If that were true, why didn't he remember these events occurring when he was younger? "I'd prefer not to say," Nightwing finally answered.
Robin shrugged. "Suit yourself. Just remember, Batman and I don't keep secrets from each other."
Nightwing thought about laughing in the deluded teen's face, but then he stopped. Had Batman and him been that close at one time? "Well, if he decides to tell you anything, that's his business. Where is he anyway?"
"Behind you," Batman said. Nightwing jumped and turned quickly. "How did you do that?"
"You're better trained than most of the people I deal with; I modified my approach to be more silent. An excellent training tool. It appears I was successful."
"I saw you, Batman," Robin said, snickering.
"Only because I allowed it." His voice then took on a more fatherly, yet stern tone. "You have homework to do."
Obediently, Robin moved off, disappointment apparent on his face. After the boy had gone, Batman turned to Nightwing. "I'll need your fingerprints."
Nightwing nodded and removed his gloves as they moved over to one of the workbenches. "How's his school work?"
"You tell me," Batman said. Again, another test to prove the validity of his story.
As Batman took his hand and rolled the ink on his finger pads, Nightwing answered his question. "I'm guessing on the age and grade here, but I'd say he's doing alright in school, but he's having some problems relating to his classmates. He's socially inept, finding solace only with other young members of the super-hero crowd. For him, the act of Dick Grayson is harder to put on then Bruce Wayne is for you."
Batman said nothing, but calmly rolled Nightwing's fingers onto the fingerprint card. "He worships you, you know that?"
Batman remained silent and took the card over to the large computer on the other side of the cavern. Nightwing had forgotten how large the old computer had been and he whistled softly. There was a brief pause as Batman scanned in the fingerprints. "I have a computer program that will compare your prints to that of Robin's. If they match, I'll help you. If they don't…" he let his voice die away cryptically.
The moments passed in relative silence and Nightwing took the opportunity to wander the cave some more. The security measures were necessary he knew, because more than one of Batman's more lethal and cunning foes knew his secret identity as well as many of his innermost secrets. Just because Nightwing knew he was Bruce Wayne and knew where the Batcave was did not make him authentic.
His wanderings took him over to a spot he did not immediately recognize. It was an empty area where some miscellaneous crates of electronics had been stacked. It took him a moment to figure out what this spot was and when he did, the reality of the dark future that was to come overwhelmed him.
This was the spot of the trophy cases. Here, the Batman would eventually encase the costumes of those heroes that had gone on beyond or suffered for the cause. Here would be the tattered remains of Jason Todd's Robin costume. In a few short years, Jason would replace Dick as the teen wonder and would be killed by the Joker very soon afterwards.
Here would also be the costume of Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. Several years in the future, Barbara would be paralyzed from the waist down by the Joker and would have to give up her life of adventure.
Batman seemed almost attracted to Nightwing's melancholy. "I hate wasted space," the Caped Crusader announced as he approached. "I'm hoping to put in extra costume lockers here." He held up a computer print out. "Your story checks out. Now we have to decide what to do with you."
"Maybe the Justice League could help."
"I don't work with the League," Batman said, whirling back around. His fluttering cape ended the conversation.
Or so he thought.
"Ask them anyway," Nightwing called.
The Batman stopped and Nightwing could tell from his posture that this was not a man used to being contradicted or questioned. "I said no."
"Then I'll contact them. Hal Jordan would be perfect to help me out," Nightwing said moving towards the stone staircase.
A whirling batarang struck the stone ground and remained, right at Nightwing's feet. "Who the hell is Hal Jordan?" Batman asked. "How many people know who you are?"
Nightwing rubbed his forehead, trying to force back the approaching headache. It was a unique situation in that he, the student, was more knowledgeable than the master, Batman. The Caped Crusader was a control freak, Nightwing knew, and this situation was slowly, yet surely, squeezing out of his grasp.
That was the reason for coming to the Cave, to put Nightwing on the Batman's home turf. The problem was this was also his. "Okay…maybe I spoke too soon," Nightwing said, stooping down to retrieve the weapon. "Let's just say that relations between Gotham City and the JLA are a little better in the future. Do you have any ideas?"
"Uh, magic got me here to begin with."
Batman nodded. "You were dealing with a younger, more inexperienced Green Lantern. Maybe someone like Dr. Fate would be better suited."
"How about Wally…I mean Barry Allen," Nightwing asked, cursing his near Faux pas. Wally West, his best friend, was the Flash in the future. Today, however, it was Wally's uncle, Barry Allen, who wore the mantle of the Scarlet Speedster.
"Who?" Batman asked.
"I'm sorry…the Flash," Nightwing said. "Doesn't he have a Cosmic Treadmill or something that allows him to travel through time?"
Batman went over to the computer and typed in some information. The screen soon scrolled the required information before them. "The Treadmill is designed only to work with speedsters. Unless you know how to temporarily give yourself that ability, it won't work."
Nightwing did know how, but it required the Wally West of the future. "I'd really prefer not to work with Dr. Fate…he's a little to wiggy for me."
Batman almost smiled. "I agree, but he is the expert on magic."
"Can't we use someone a little more…modern? How about Zatanna?"
"The girl? She's barely an adult. I don't know if I'd want to subject her…"
"Trust me," Nightwing said. Zatanna was not known in the future as the most powerful member of the super-hero community, but she was one the most stable. Very few people were considered as reliable. She would not even attempt such a feat of she didn't think she could do it. "It looks like I don't have a choice," the Batman replied.
The Dark Knight began to move towards the Batmobile. It was the model that Nightwing was most fond of; the car he had always imagined he would end up driving. "Let's go."
"You aren't going to tell Robin that you're leaving?"
"He'll understand," Batman said without emotion. Nightwing wanted to speak up and tell him how wrong he was. It was unnerving seeing the events that shaped his childhood through the eyes of a man. Here were the roots of the problems that he and Batman would have in later years. He decided to say nothing, though. His separation from Batman allowed him to not only become Nightwing, but allowed him to grow as a person as well. Without that break in their relationship, he would have simply become Batman Junior, a shadow of the man climbing into the driver's seat.
All men wanted to stand on their own two feet, to be recognized for their own accomplishments and achievements and as he hoped into the once-familiar passenger seat, he couldn't help but pause and wonder. Was being distinguished as being so separate from the Batman worth the years of emotional torment?
He knew that the answer would not be very forthcoming in the hours ahead.
"I assume that you and I are still working together in the future," Batman stated. It sounded like he was ordering dinner or something, so bored he appeared. Unlike Green Lantern in the 1940's, the Batman seemed determined to wring every last ounce of information concerning the future out of Nightwing. Now, instead of making off-hand remarks, the younger hero was using guarded phrases.
"We have an understanding," Nightwing said.
"Really…understanding is it. I don't think I would quite put it that way." They turned off of the highway and took a small ramp that would allow them to skirt the eastern side of Gotham City. "I took the liberty of contacting a friend of mine, Jefferson Pierce…"
"Black Lightning," Nightwing commented.
Batman nodded, putting on the left turn signal. Nightwing noticed that the speed they were driving was significantly lower than what he remembered the Batman driving at. Obviously, he wanted time to talk. "He has some contacts here and there in the hero community. He actually suggested Zatanna as well. He's arranging for a meeting along with Superman."
Nightwing physically brightened at the mention of the Man of Steel. "Really?"
Batman did not turn, but Nightwing could feel his disapproval. "Still possessed of that hero worship, I see. Don't you realize that men with powers like his cannot be trusted? What if he decides to rule the world?"
"Please…" Nightwing commented. He so badly wanted to inform Batman that in the future, he and Superman would be leading the Justice League and Lex Luthor would be president of the United States. "I was wondering if you were always this paranoid."
Batman accelerated the Batmobile slightly in response to Nightwing's jest. This Batman had good control over his emotions, but had not yet perfected it as his future self had. Of course, he had a lot more pain to wallow through in the years ahead before he would reach the pinnacle of his abilities. "What's your relationship to Batgirl?"
"You mean Barbara, don't you?"
"What other Batgirl would I be talking about?" Batman asked, once again probing. Nightwing refused the bait. "It's personal."
Batman turned another corner and adjusted the police scanner. "Good. I always hoped you two would get together one day."
Keep digging, Bruce. "So, any bad guys out tonight?"
"I don't think that's important…"Batman was interrupted by a frantic call over the scanner. "Officer down! Officer down! We have shots fired at the William's Grocery Store at Eighth and Nixon!"
Batman pushed the gas peddle to the floor and Nightwing automatically began activating the servo-suspension systems that would allow them to weave through the streets of Gotham City at high speed. Batman said nothing as Nightwing ran through a sequence that he had not done in years, but training and intelligence allowed him to do so as if he had never stopped. "Stay in the Batmobile while I check on it."
"Bite me, Bruce," Nightwing said.
"Insolent pup," Batman commented with a smile. Nightwing realized that maybe Batman's behavior had less to do with wanting to know the future, as it was to have companionship. At this stage in his career, his only real friend was James Gordon, commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department, and that was a loose friendship at best. It wasn't as if they could go bowling together!
Right now, the Batman was sitting with another version of himself, a highly trained and dedicated person…and an adult at that! Nightwing figured that hanging with Robin and Batgirl must have worn his nerves thin during those years. Yet, as soon as he had left to become Nightwing and Batgirl had retired, he had offered the mantle of Robin to Jason Todd.
In later years, Batman would begin to slowly realize that loneliness was a demon he had to confront day in and day out. Being isolated from everyone would eventually cause cracks in the façade of invulnerability he felt the need to project and that would leave him open to the devastating and crippling campaign of terror initiated by Bane. Bane sought to prove himself better than the Batman and in doing so, learned all of the Batman's secrets and used them against him.
In their confrontation, he had broken the Batman's back and left him temporarily crippled. In a haze of confusion and self-pity, the broken Avenger of the Night had turned the mantle of the Batman over to a man not ready for it; a man named Jean-Paul Valley.
The surrender of the cape and cowl to an outsider opened Nightwing's eyes to how far apart he and his former mentor had gone and it was that single event that started the building of the bridge to overcome the almost insurmountable gap between them.
That, however, like everything else, was many years in the future. If he told batman about what was coming, then he would never be beaten by Bane and would most likely be killed by someone else before he would admit he needed his friends and family.
"It's not that…I just can't stand by while police officers are in danger."
"At least we agree on one thing completely," Batman said, throwing the Batmobile into a hard right turn. Rubber burned as 500 horses churned inside the small turbine engine. Nightwing reached forward and flipped on the Bat-Siren. "Do you have to do that?" Batman asked.
Nightwing didn't respond, only smiled as they raced along.
"My, my, my…look at the fetching lady in bat," the Joker mused as he examined a tied-up Batgirl. The young heroine struggled against her bindings, which held her fast against an almost comical giant bomb. Like something out of a cartoon, the six-foot diameter black sphere, with a giant smoking wick, sat in the center of the grocery store.
The Riddler, clad in his infamous green jumpsuit with black question mark adornments, giggled and clapped his hands together. Around them lay the victims of Batgirl's sudden assault. "You just can't rent good thugs anymore, Joker!"
"Oh, do tell, do tell, Riddler old bean! Why this young stripling of a girl, barely into womanhood was able to take down your best men! I thought you said that they would be able to take on Batnut and Cock-Robin?"
The Riddler walked over to the store safe, which was wide open. Inside it were several million dollars worth of bearer's bonds. The untraceable negotiable instruments were only a small part of Oswald "Penguin" Cobblepot's vast treasury that he kept hidden throughout Gotham City, but it was more than enough to finance the two villains schemes for the next several months. "Hey, I got a good deal on them at Rent-a-Henchman."
The Joker patted Batgirl on the head and stepped over a sign that announced that the store had recently changed ownership. Its new name was something related to birds, but the exact title was lost under the mud of Joker's shoes. "You think fat-boy will show up?" he asked, referring to the Penguin.
"Is that a riddle? What's fat and ugly and too scared to stop us from taking his lunch money?" The Riddler and Joker both laughed, though the Joker was more occupied with looking out at the array of police cars that had cordoned off the area. "I smell pork, don't you, Riddler?"
The Joker moved over even farther, daring the police snipers to fire as he passed in front of the plate glass, to where two police officers were tied up. They too struggled to get free. Joker picked up a small police radio and cleared his throat. He waited until the Riddler had finished laughing before speaking.
In a high tenor, he cried into the radio. "Officer down! Oh God, help me! This is Officer…" he looked down at the name badge on one of the cops, "…Hernandez and I need back-up now!" Then he grinned and set the radio down. Pulling out a large caliber handgun, he aimed it at the heads of the two officers. Batgirl cried out from behind her gag. "Now, let's see," the Joker began. "This little piggy went to market…" He pulled the hammer back on the pistol.
"Hey, Joker…you said no killing," the Riddler called. The man was too squeamish for the Joker's taste. "Aw, shaddup!" the Joker called.
Just then, a dark shape broke through the glass and descended like God's judgment on top of the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime cried out and then snarled as the Batman punched him square in the jaw. Two shots rang out and then the gun went flying out of the broken window and across the parking lot.
"Where's the kid?" Joker asked, wiping blood from his lip as he stumbled away from the menacing form of the Batman.
"School night," Batman replied.
The Riddler knew that the plan had been a bad one from the beginning and when Batgirl had shown up, he knew it was just going to get worse. As bad as he was, the Riddler did not enjoy killing and the Joker's last-minute additions to their "perfect" plan were not setting well with his partner.
Then the Batman had jumped through the window and instead of running into the night with a few million, the Riddler knew he was about to get hit very hard if he didn't run away. He took a look at Batgirl and actually considered untying her in order to score points with Batman, but figured she would just hit him as well. It wasn't that he was a coward; he just didn't feel like getting hit tonight. Plus, the Penguin would be after him now as well.
As he started to leave, using the sound of Batman's glove hitting the Joker's face as cover for his retreat, he noticed that Batgirl seemed to be smiling. That was never a good sign and just as he started running his options again, a blue fist hit him very, very hard.
Stepping over the Riddler, Nightwing approached Batgirl with a cocky smile. He pulled her gag down. "Thanks, handsome," she said.
He didn't say anything, but instead put his arms around her and began undoing the knot in the ropes that held her fast. "Don't worry, I already pulled the fuse out," he said.
Her face was less than an inch away from his. "I'm not worried."
He tried to reply but his conscience was assailing him. Did he really have to reach around her like this in order to get to the knots? Did he have to be this close, knowing full well that at least on a physical level, they were attracted to each other? Is it cheating to hold a younger version of the woman you love?
The ropes fell away and he leaned up, and she followed his movements closely. He looked at her face and in his mind, the Batgirl cowl fell away, revealing the innocent visage of Barbara Gordon. Only this was a Barbara that didn't have the eyes of a woman who knew pain, or the lips that when not smiling, seemed to hold the bottled-up anger she felt. He wanted to kiss her and he knew she wouldn't resist and he wanted to know why. Why now and not before? Why had he waited so many years to tell her how he felt? Why had he gone through so many dysfunctional relationships before he confessed his true emotions?
Her leg was touching his and it became clear. This Barbara Gordon offered him something on a physical level he could not achieve with the one of the future. As much as he loved her, adored her, he still felt a sharp pain of regret when he looked at her in that wheelchair as he so often did in his own time. The knowledge that physically, it would be impossible for them to…join, to become one flesh, was beyond the realms of possibility and despite himself, he regretted that immensely.
It wasn't until this moment that the dark truth had truly made itself known. He now had knowledge of a side of himself that he did not relish in knowing. It was self-centered and selfish and he became angry. Then he looked into her eyes again and realized that he could never allow thoughts like anger, hate or greed to poison the way he felt about her. "Are you okay?" he asked.
"Yes," she said. She peered closer at him and realized that something had happened behind his eyes. A kiss was not coming and yet she got the feeling that one day…
"Nightwing, we have to go," Batman said. His voice was monotone, betraying nothing. If he suspected the path to the future for the two in front of him, he was not about to let he know. "Batgirl, go home."
She started to protest, but thought better of it. She thanked Nightwing again and dared to give him a small peck on the cheek. When she was gone, Batman handed him a tissue from a ruined box on the floor. "You have lipstick on your face."
"Emoh og gniwthgin!" Zatanna said as she cast her spell.
Nightwing immediately faded from view and Batman turned to the teenaged girl. She was barely Batgirl's age. "That's it?"
She shrugged and smiled. "It's really not that hard once you put it all in perspective. He was out of place; I've returned him to his place."
Batman nodded his approval. The girl was serious about what she was doing and very confident. He liked those qualities. Perhaps she would be a useful ally in the future. He almost snorted. Maybe he could get her on the Justice League to act as his spy…
"You'll cast the spells on Batgirl and Robin, like I asked?"
They started walking towards the Batmobile. "Take me to them and I'll take care of it. I'm not happy about putting the spell on myself, though."
"Would a Porsche make you feel any better, young lady?"
She smiled and hopped into the passenger seat. "Now we're talking! Hey, you're kind of cute…"
He turned slowly to her and seemed to radiate total blackness. "Don't confuse my generosity with affection. I needed something done. You did it. For that, you have my thanks and gratitude."
Zatanna suppressed a shiver and simply nodded, realizing that this was not the man to flirt with or try to be coy with. This was a professional and should be treated with respect. She straightened up and they began to drive away. "Just one question, Mr. Batman."
"Just call me Batman or sir."
"Do you think it's wise that you keep your knowledge of the future?"
Batman considered her words. "What do I really know except that maybe, if I play my cards right and do my best, my life will never be a total waste?"
Nightwing practically crawled through the window to Barbara Gordon's Gotham City home. He knew he should immediately contact John Law and let him know that he hadn't imagined Per Degaton, but decided not to. As he slumped onto the floor, his hand grazed the footrest of his girlfriend's wheelchair. "Well, look what the bat dragged in," she said, holding a cup of coffee. "You smell bad, young man."
Nightwing pulled off his mask, letting the face of Dick Grayson breathe. "God, I'm so glad to see you."
"Prove it," she said, smiling.
Summoning his considerable strength and stamina, he stood up and moved to her. Slowly, he put his arms around her, allowing them to meet in the small of her back. Slowly he moved towards her lips.
She giggled and pushed him away. "Oh my God! I just had the most weird sense of déjà vu!"
"Really," he said, moving back in closer. "I feel the same thing. It's like, we've always been meant to be together…"
She kissed him passionately and he felt himself melting away in her embrace. Tomorrow would be another day and his yesterdays seemed to be another life all together. If anything, he realized that he belonged here in this room, with this woman. This was his life.
This was his time.