His feet made the sound of angel's wings as he dropped down onto the rooftop of the loft apartment. Though the pain in his side was excruciating and his body ached and burned with exhaustion, he made not a sound as he crept his way towards the skylight. Placing a hand on the glass he gently encouraged window open and slipped inside, landing in the middle of the pitch black apartment with the same quiet grace as he had before. Straightening up the best he could he breathed a tired sigh and turned on the lights. Being noisy at this point was inconsequential. There was, after all, no one there to mind.
It was either very late or very early, depending on how one chose to look at these things. It had been a very long night, one that did not go as well as expected and Dick Grayson was looking forward to finally getting some sleep.
Dick Grayson, twenty seven years old, his hair black as the night in which he spent most of his waking hours. Surprisingly fit even measured against the highest of standards, he was a prime example of the very peak of human physical conditioning. His muscles were like stones under his skin, hard and unyielding, and yet, when he moved, he had all the speed, grace and skill of dancer. There was not a human being on the planet who could touch him. As strong as Grayson was, however, he was no less intelligent. Fluent in many languages including English, French, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Japanese, he was also a skilled student in the fields of science, mechanical engineering and medicine.
The one skill of his he needed most at this particular moment.
Moving away from the kitchen/living room area of his apartment, Grayson eased his way into his bedroom, being mindful of the door frame as he gingerly cradled the right most side of his abdomen in his left hand. Continuing this level of caution he made his way over to his bed and slowly got down to one knee. Sliding his hand under the bedstead he blindly waved his palm back and forth across the soft carpeting until his fingertips finally found what they were looking for. With all his strength, he held his breath, pain tearing through his side like razor blades, and pulled the large metal briefcase from beneath the bed. He then placed it on the top of the mattress before undoing the clasps and opening the lid, revealing the majority of his medical supplies.
Taking another pained breath Grayson returned himself to a standing position. What he would do next would be a most difficult task considering his injury, but he had no choice. Removing his blood stained hand from his side he raised his arms above his head. Immediately his body screamed it's objection, the wound near his abdomen leading the call. Gritting his teeth so tightly together that the top and the bottom rows seemed as one, he did his best to ignore the pain as he reached for the zipper on the back of his uniform and, after some clumsy fiddling, finally managed to slide it down the few necessary clicks. After doubling over for a few minutes and taking the time to once again psych himself up, he stood up straight and once more reached his hands behind his back, this time taking the slightly less painful lower road. He then undid the remaining clicks of his zipper enough so that he could finally slide off his uniform. Maneuvering the tight rubber body armor over his wounds was difficult but not impossible. His Nightwing persona soon fell to the floor. With his torso now exposed he could finally begin the task of aiding himself.
After administering a local and retrieving a pair of forceps and a small medical tin from the briefcase, he made his way over to the full length mirror that stood in the corner of his bedroom. For the first time since it happened he was able to lay eyes on the injury that prevented him from apprehending his targets and plagued him his entire journey home. And it looked bad. And it was bad. But not too bad. It looked ten times worse due to all the dried blood smeared around the vicinity, red and sticky like spilled ketchup, but it was nothing to get desperate over. It was nothing that he couldn't handle himself. Gently he ran his ungloved hands over the affected area. He winced in pain as his fingertips found the foreign matter nestled just beneath the surface of his skin, the tiny pieces of metal which had agonized him his entire trek home. Using the mirror for reference he began coaxing the pieces of debris from his midsection with the forceps. Each piece was then dropped into the tin with an audible clinking noise. All the while he was working he couldn't stop thinking to himself: How could things have gone so horribly wrong?
Grayson had been hard at work tracking down a band of arms dealers, an underground group calling themselves The Ordnance. From the intel he had gathered they were the main suppliers of weapons in Bludhaven. Every life that was ended, every hapless security guard just trying to make ends meet; every innocent civilian gunned down, caught in the crossfire of some street gangs petty dispute, it was a weapon sold by The Ordnance that did the job. And Grayson wanted nothing more than to take them out of commission for good. And he had nearly done just that, having that night finally tracked them to their base of operations.
He had been so close.
There weren't supposed to be any problems.
He had taken down larger groups of perps before all by his lonesome, so it made little sense to him how he could have let things end the way they did. The Ordnance HQ was an old smelting plant. Infiltration went off without a hitch and the armed guards stationed outside were quickly disposed. With his binoculars he had had watched their activities from the rafters, a silent shadow lurking in the quiet still of the dark. As soon as their numbers were confirmed he made his move. He had the element of surprise on his side as he KO'd the closest one to him with a well-placed bird-a-rang and then quickly dropped down into the middle of the largest group. He let loose with a devastating spinning kick that floored four of them, sending their heads spinning on their shoulders. Drawing his escrima fighting sticks, he would continue his attack. The crude smacks of wood on bone echoed throughout the building along with the pained and frightened cries of the gun runners. It was music to Grayson's ears and trying to keep himself from enjoying every last minute of it was the most difficult task of the evening. They were outmatched. It was easy. And he got cocky.
He remembered standing over one of them. He remembered he had said something to him, but for the life of him he now couldn't even remember what it was. The most he could figure it was some morally superior nonsense about ensuring that they paid for their crimes or perhaps some arrogant taunt about how guns kept them from truly learning how to fight. Whatever it was Grayson knew it must have been the very same inappropriate emotional garbage he had tried so hard to suppress over the years. To put it simply: he had slipped up, allowed his passion for his mission to carry him away. And he had paid for it.
It turned out he had miscounted. There was one gun runner still standing. Grayson had remembered a sudden paranoid feeling washing over him, his warrior's sense warning him of danger. He spun around on his heels, but it was already too late. He had not gotten a great look at the lone Ordnance member that had somehow gotten under his radar, but it was good enough to know him if he ever saw him again.
While the rest of the Ordnance were somewhat large, beefy guys done up in grey and charcoal suits and fedora hats, this particular individual was whisper thin and instead wore a long black trench coat. His features were sharp and pointed, his nose in particular stuck out quite a bit from his face and was beak like in appearance. His short dark hair was dirty and stringy and his general appearance gave one the impression that he had not had a good wash in a long time. Finally unlike the rest of the group, who armed themselves to the teeth with all manner of modified Carbine rifles and 9mm automatic pistols, this bird faced man clearly favored the explosive as he took Grayson completely by surprise with a well placed, military issue, M67 fragmentation grenade.
It was only thanks to the protection of his suit, and the fact that he had always been very quick on his feet, that Grayson was able to escape with his life that night. The explosive was already in the air when the threat to his person was registered. He could do little more than try to leap out of harm's way the best he could. Such was not enough, however, as the very edge of the explosion ravaged his body, the force of the blast accelerating his leap and sending him crashing through a nearby window. He hit the ground hard and immediately things became hazy. The Ordnance naturally were taking no chances. Now that he was down and seemingly out, they quickly gathered up what little they could and bolted for the door. By the time he had managed to get to his feet and clear his head, their supply trucks had already disappeared into the night.
He supposed it mattered little by that point. He was in no condition to follow.
After ten minutes of gentle pulling and twisting, Grayson was finally finished. The last of the metal fragments clattered into the tin. Standing upright in the mirror he gazed at his reflection. Some of his larger wounds would require a stitch or two, but ultimately the damage was mostly minimal. He breathed a sigh of relief. After washing his wounds and throwing on a shirt he moved out of the bedroom and made for the kitchen. He was hungry, but also very tired, so there was no need for anything grandiose. In the end, condensed soup seemed to be for the best. As the cheap, pre-made food cooked silently on the stove his mind remained focused on The Ordnance. He still could hardly believe he let them get away. If there were any chance he could catch back up with them he knew it would only be if he hit the streets hard. There could be no more room for error.
The minutes slowly ticked by with Grayson still lost within his own thoughts. The soup would simmer and he would stir. After about fifteen minutes or so, the meal was ready. Pouring the entire contents of the pot into a large serving bowl he sat down to eat.
He had surrounded himself by it, immersed himself in it; it was one of the most important elements to his performance in the field, but it was strange. It was only at times like these, sitting at his solitary place at the table in his neat and tidy apartment, during the last remaining stretch of darkness before the first rays of sunlight made themselves known over the cityscape, that he ever really noticed it...
There was so much silence.
It was a little after four o'clock in the afternoon when Grayson finally awoke. A fevered and impassioned dream (one that was now quickly fading into nothingness) on the very cusp of his awakening had caused him to find himself curled up underneath the minimal covers of his bed with morning erection in hand. Now laying on his back, gripping himself softly, he struggled momentarily to recall the dream that had him waking up to such an aroused state. Try as he might, however, there was simply nothing to find. With a sigh he rubbed his eyes and removed himself from his covers. He gave a stretch and made for the bathroom. As he walked he was much chagrined to have his cock leading the way. He gave momentary thought to taking care of his predicament, but in the end simply opted for a cold shower. Over the years he found it the best way to free himself of such unwanted situations.
After a shower and a light breakfast he began his workout. His abdomen still felt tender from the day before, so he did his best to go at a somewhat easier pace than was normal. He could not afford to be dormant, however; as soon as nightfall descended upon the city his pursuit of The Ordnance would resume, regardless of his condition. With eyes of steel and gritted teeth, he swore he would put a stop to them.
It was sometime during his workout that a small electronic jingle filled the room. It was a tune that was familiar, and yet not heard that often anymore. After giving his sweat soaked brow a quick rub with his towel, he made his way to his bureau. Opening of the top drawer, the tune became louder, and after a short rummage Grayson's fingers found the chiming and vibrating form of his old Titan communicator. With a flick of his thumb the device was silenced and a familiar face quickly filled it's tiny screen.
The sender of the call was a dark skinned man in his late twenties. His appearance was friendly and inviting, even despite the almost alien looking metallic and electrical components that made up the majority of the left side of his face. Realizing his call had been received he let out a hardy, "Weh-heh-heh-hell, there he is."
"Hey, Cyborg," responded Grayson. He always found that, no matter what, hearing from his former Titan ally was always enough to put a smile on his face. Even if it was always a small one. He wasn't sure why, but deep down he always figured it was because very little had changed about the man over the years. Cyborg was still very much the same person Grayson had known as a teenager.
"Hey, Sleeping Beauty," said Cyborg. "Were you planning on gracing us with your presence anytime soon? The little ones are getting antsy."
"Sorry, Cy, long night. I'll be there as soon as I can."
"I'm holding you to that, hero."
After a smile and a mock-scolding wag of his finger in Grayson's direction, Cyborg signed off and the tiny screen on the communicator went blank.
Letting out a small exhale, Grayson placed the communicator down on the bureau. He had completely forgotten about his agreement with Cyborg, and truthfully he much rather wished to spend his time making preparations for nightfall. He supposed he could have easily cancelled, but he found such a thing was not within his power. After another quick shower to freshen up, he donned a clean uniform and made for the roof.
Titan's tower had not changed much over the years. The monolithic T sitting in the bay of Jump City still served as a comforting reminder to the people in the surrounding areas that, even after so long, they were still well protected. It was something of which Grayson was very proud.
Grayson, in full Nightwing attire, brought his N-cycle to a quiet purr as he came to a stop in the Titan Tower underground parking garage. Removing himself from the seat, the high tech machine went silent. It had been a while since he was here and old memories were quickly finding their way back to the fore front of his mind. Sometimes he could hardly believe how much time had passed.
Almost instantly there came the ding of a bell from across the spacious garage followed by the whooshing sound of elevator doors.
"Yo, Rob," called a newly revealed Cyborg as he stepped out of the lift, his arms wide open and welcoming.
Cyborg was one of the greatest men Grayson had ever known. Intelligent, strong, compassionate, he was the total package. He exemplified what it was to be a hero. The man was a born leader and also one of the few people in who Grayson placed his complete and utter trust. All in all, he could not think of a more perfect person to train the next group of young heroes who would protect Jump City.
A small smile worked its way to Grayson's lips as he helped close the remaining distance between he and Cyborg. He too opened his arms wide and together the two long time friends shared a brief but firm hug.
"It's Nightwing now, Cy," said Grayson with a smile as he did his best to pat the larger man on the back.
"Oop. Sorry. Hard habit to break, you know?" Cyborg outstretched a hand and gestured to the still open elevator behind him, encouraging Grayson to step aboard. "The grunts are waiting for you in the Training Room."
Grayson said nothing, only nodded, as the two entered the elevator. Once they were on board, the doors slid quietly shut behind them and the lift sprang to life.
While the outside of Titan's tower had remained the same the inside had changed significantly. The machine grey walls were now a elegant and pristine white, which, Grayson had to admit, gave everything a much more professional and, not to mention, aesthetically pleasing appearance. There was new furniture in the common room, new kitchen appliances and such. The building still bent and twisted in all the same places, but he was nevertheless quick to realize that this was not the same place he'd spent all those early years of his life. It was something that, he had to admit, saddened him, if only slightly.
After following Cyborg for a few minutes and getting a miniature tour of the new tower, the two finally arrived at the Training Room. Much like the rest of the tower, the room was enormous and sported the same sleek and modern design. It was also already in use. Ripples of small explosions, clangs, crashing sounds, and yells of exertion echoed loudly throughout the makeshift arena. A group of brilliantly dressed and obviously determined young people fought hard against a small army of expressionless and unrelenting battle droids. These were the new recruits. These were the new Teen Titans.
Amidst the battle Grayson stole a small glance over at Cyborg. The man was smiling from ear to ear, obviously very proud of the work his students were doing. From what he'd witnessed so far Grayson had to admit it was not undeserved. The youngsters seemed to be functioning quite well and he would have been interested to see how they would handle themselves in a real world scenario.
The two watched for a few minutes more before Cyborg finally brought the action to a end, pressing a bright red button on the door frame beside him. Immediately every droid in the room became still, halting their attacks and freezing into place. The young heroes, realizing the drill had come to an end, halted their actions as well and quickly fell into line formation in the center of the room. That is, save for one. A young man sporting a black cape and domino mask and wielding a long metal bo staff seemed to not get the message as he continued his assault on the still motionless droids.
"Yo, Lil' Rob! Ease up, man!" called Cyborg after a second or two of watching the young man continue his one sided skirmish.
The youngster became still as realization hit. He flushed red and gave an embarrassed "Ooops" before quickly sheathing his weapon and falling in line with the others.
With everything calm and the troops now waiting patiently, Grayson and Cyborg made their way into the room, being mindful debris along the way. When they were finally in speaking distance, the introductions began.
"Alright Titans," said Cyborg, his voice casual and yet serious in tone. "I've got someone here I want to introduce to ya'll." He made a small gesture to Grayson. "This here is Nightwing. He was part of the original Titans like me. In fact he was the leader. He's a good friend of mine, a great hero, and he's going to be working with ya'll for the remainder of today's training. Sound good?"
There were mutual shouts of accordance as the group appeared to be genuinely excited. This got another smile out of Cyborg who, after a moment, continued.
"Well alright. Why don't we go down the line and ya'll can introduce yourselves."
Stepping forward, both Cyborg and Grayson made their way to the lineup where one-by-one each member of the group made his/her introduction. At the same time, one-by-one, Grayson began to read them.
Firstly there was Kid Flash, Bart Allen. A fresh faced youth with light brown hair, he sported the same red and yellow costume worn by his predecessor. A somewhat wiry frame was more than made up for by (of course) his incredible speed. He greeted Grayson with the same kind of unbridled exuberance that seemed common of all speedsters. He asked him about a dozen questions in the span of about five seconds before Cyborg finally managed to step in and talk him back into formation. Not surprisingly, Grayson could tell immediately that the young man was reckless, but also that he was very bright. Being a speedster his greatest hurdle was going to be learning how to slow down and use his head.
Next there was Superboy, Conner Kent. Much like his namesake, he was very big and quite imposing (So much so that it was hard to believe he was only sixteen). He had a massive chest and arms that swelled from beneath his black Superman logo T-shirt. His demeanor was friendly, but as he shook Grayson's hand Grayson couldn't help but notice that the youth was trying to show off, however slightly, just how powerful he was, squeezing his hand in such a way as to announce that he could break it if he so chose. He was confident; too confident Grayson figured. He was arrogant, and arrogance had no place either in heroics or on a team. Still, much like Superman, it wasn't hard to see that there was a good heart beating beneath that red S, and he believed that, with some guidance, the young man would do well.
After that came Cassie Sandsmark, Wonder Girl. Long blonde hair, a trim athletic figure, a soft creamy complexion and unbelievably gorgeous blue eyes made up her appearance. However, though she looked like a fashion model, it was already clear that she had far more to offer than just good looks. Grayson had seen her during the last few minutes of their previous training drill. Much like Wonder Woman, and unlike Superboy, when Cassie fought she did so with skill and precision. There was no wasted effort on her part. Every attack was made with the next one in mind as she seamlessly moved from target to target. Her fighting was just shy of brilliant. Add to that her enhanced strength and speed and you had an outstanding hero in the making. If there was one drawback that Grayson could see in her it was perhaps that she was a bit too eager to please. When she spoke she did so with an almost embarrassed smile, which served as a contrast to her cool and overly proper voice. She was an overachiever (which in this line of work was good) but it was clear she was also desperately seeking approval (Which was bad). She would need to learn to be happy with own actions. A pat on the back would not always be forthcoming.
Lastly there was Tim Drake, Robin. The NEW Robin. Grayson actually knew Tim quite well. The two had after all been trained by the same man, Bruce Wayne, the legendary Batman. In addition to this, Grayson couldn't help but see a younger version of himself within the small, but strong frame of the teen hero. Bright, eager to learn, bursting with energy as well as a great amount of budding potential, Tim was a good kid, and Grayson liked him. He only prayed that the youngster had the good enough sense to carve out his own path, not be relegated to his or Bruce's footsteps..
With introductions out of the way, Cyborg turned full control of the training session over to Grayson. Placing his hands behind his back Grayson began to speak. This was his time with the next generation of superheroes and he would take full advantage of it.
"It's a tough world..." said Grayson, his voice strong and clear. "There are a lot of bad guys with bad thoughts and bad intentions. And not all of them are going to be easy to spot. I see a lot of great potential world savers in front of me today, people ready to stand up for what's right. But believe me when I say that things are never going to be as simple as you think. You ARE going to be tempted. There are a lot of things that are going to blind you, distract you. This is dangerous work you're doing and a lot of people depend on you to keep them safe. Every time you're out there innocent lives are on the line. Never..ever..ever..go into a situation half-cocked. Use your heads. Think... Always be thinking about where you are. Instinct is a good thing to trust, but don't let it rule everything you do. The moment you forget where you are...the moment you lose focus and let yourself get carried away...
...That's when people get hurt."