STRUCK

By SKH

Rating: PG-13
Characters: Batman/Nightwing
Disclaimer: All characters owned by DC Comics. No profit is realized from creation of stories based on these characters.
Timeframe: Post-earthquake, post-NML reconstruction
Homage: To Charles Schultz's Snoopy for the opening line — I couldn't resist, please don't wince.
Summary: Inclement weather poses a serious threat to an otherwise routine drug bust.
Comments and feedback are welcome to SKHwrite@aol.com


It was a dark and stormy night.

Of course, "dark" was the norm for Gotham City, night or day, it seemed. It also seemed to be Nightwing's ill-fortune for the weather to be wet and dreary, if not storming and miserable, when he made his occasional occupational pilgrimages back to the city where he grew up as the protégé of the Batman.

The same Batman who was, at the moment, alternately delivering chest compressions and artificial respiration with grim determination, to a motionless and near-dead Nightwing, who was lying on his back, as rainwater pooled around him, on the roof of a new high-rise apartment building.

"Come on, come on, Dick," Batman whispered through clenched teeth as he pushed firmly on the young man's chest, "let's have a heart beat, NOW!"

Batman stripped off his glove and pressed his fingers against the artery at Nightwing's throat. Nothing. He quickly checked for any breath escaping the young hero's lips. Nothing. Batman bent and delivered five measured breaths, methodically rose and counted out the chest compressions. He could hear the ambulance sirens approaching the building. Press. Breathe. Check. Repeat. How long had he been doing this? Two minutes. How long until oxygen-deprived brain damage occurred? About five minutes.

But there was the shock, the burns, the systemic trauma Nightwing's body had received from the bolt of lightning to consider, as well. The other man was dead. The man who had taken the direct hit had started to climb over the edge of the roof onto the fire escape ladder just as Nightwing had reached out to apprehend him. The force of the bolt threw both men twenty feet back toward the center of the roof just as Batman landed there, seconds behind Nightwing in pursuit of the fleeing member of a heroin-trafficking gang they had just busted.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

For the last week Batman and Nightwing had independently followed leads on the gang, suspected in flooding the streets of both Gotham City and Blüdhaven with a poor grade of heroin, cut with a toxic filler — an odorless, tasteless powder that turned out to be an agricultural pesticide. Officials in both cities paid little attention to the sudden increase in dying junkies — until the 18-year old prep-school-valedictorian son of a prominent Haven County family had died from the tainted heroin as well. Last night Nightwing had contacted Batman, sharing his gleaned information with his mentor and former legal guardian, suggesting a joint bust of the gang's suspected point of operation: an abandoned warehouse building in Gotham's riverfront warehouse district.

Falling into a practiced strategy as familiar as breathing to the two former partners, Batman took the frontal assault, while Nightwing covered the rear exit of the building from an adjacent second-story rooftop. Two gang members escaped out the back door as Batman rushed the front. Nightwing vaulted from his rooftop perch, landing forcefully on the nearest of the two men. He flipped a flying disc at the head of the second man, who dove, rolled and kept running, having escaped the disc's impact.

"Oh, smart guy, huh? Play a little football in school?" Nightwing quipped as he quickly cuffed the downed suspect. He sprinted after the escaping perp, who ran toward the entrance of the new Riverview Atrium Tower, the first of several upscale residential buildings planned for the old warehouse district's post-earthquake renovation.

The fleeing suspect pulled out a semi-automatic pistol and pointed it at the wide-eyed doorman, who opened the door, allowing the man inside. The gunman ran through the spacious atrium lobby firing off shots randomly for effect, prompting the unarmed security guard to dive for cover under a desk. Just as Nightwing ran through the still-open front doors he saw the target of his pursuit enter a gleaming brass-and-glass view elevator. As he sprinted toward it, the car's glass doors closed and it lifted off — along with the suspect, who snarled down at him. The gunman aimed at the fast-moving vigilante and fired through the doors, shattering them and raining a deadly shower of glass to the receding atrium floor.

Bullets skidded off the marble floor, much too close around him as Nightwing propelled himself into a series of forward handsprings. He rounded off directly beneath the rising car and fired a grappling jumpline straight up; the hook punched through the floor of the car and set securely as Nightwing was lifted into the air.

Startled by the hook's sudden penetration between his feet, the gunman aimed the weapon at the floor of the car, then held his fire, not sure if his shot would be worth wasting one of his precious remaining rounds. He'd wait for a better shot. Meanwhile, Nightwing's rapid and powerful hand-over-hand ascension up the jumpline closed the distance between himself and the car as it slowed in its approach to the building's top floor. He vaulted over the guardrail, landing on the penthouse-level balcony that overlooked the atrium mere seconds after the fleeing suspect exited the elevator. As Nightwing's feet hit the balcony floor, the man spun around and fired.

With no time to dodge the shot, Nightwing caught the slug full in the chest. His feet flew out from under him and he slammed backward over the railing. Knocked breathless, one rib cracked from the slug's impact, Nightwing valiantly twisted his body and reached out, gripping the bottom rail with one hand. Agonized abdominal muscles strained to use the momentum of his swinging catch to pull him back level with the balcony floor. He locked his legs around a post and rolled under the bottom rail onto the balcony.

"God Bless the Kevlar" he groaned raggedly, praising the bullet-resistant material his costume was made from. He pushed himself up, adrenaline and anger driving the muscles in his legs now, ignoring the pain radiating through his chest. "Okay, shit-head, the gloves are off and I guarantee you are going to hurt worse than me in just a minute!" Nightwing muttered as he dashed toward the rooftop-access stairs.

The rain was pouring down as he dove out the doorway onto the roof, simultaneously tumbling and pinpointing his prey. A flying disc ripped the gun from the suspect's hand as Nightwing launched himself at his target. The disarmed gunman turned and grabbed the rail of the fire escape ladder, intending to make his escape. A fraction of a second later, an iron grip seized the man's shoulder.

As Nightwing roughly spun the suspect around — his arm spring-loaded to deliver a jaw-breaking punch — the sudden scent of ozone hit his nostrils and he could feel his hair begin to lift. The next instant the world disintegrated in a white-hot explosion.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Batman had secured the gang members taken down at the warehouse and moved silently out the back door, expecting to see the two escapees trussed, and Nightwing grinning. He saw only one handcuffed man. At the sudden report of gunfire, Batman took off in the direction of the sound. Surveying the front of the apartment building on his approach, he heard another burst of gunfire echo from above. Batman fired a line up toward the roof, setting the grappling hook firmly before retracting the line, propelling himself at breakneck speed to the roof. His momentum carried him up and over the ledge of the roof just as a bolt of lightning hit the building, striking the suspect Nightwing had just siezed. Batman instinctively shielded his eyes as he rolled to the roof deck.

Ears ringing from the blast of the strike, he rose to see two prone bodies, one of them belonging to the young man who was his former legal ward, protégé, son, friend. Racing to Nightwing's side, Batman quickly triaged the man he considered his son, finding only a smoking burn on the sole of his left boot. He checked for breathing and heartbeat, and finding none, immediately began CPR.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Four minutes.

As the EMT's stepped out of the stairwell onto the roof, Batman moved up just beyond his fallen son's head, giving them room to work. He quickly stripped off Nightwing's gauntlets, and reaching down to the young man's waist, pulled the costume shirt up and off, revealing an ugly and spreading bruise where the gunman's slug had struck his chest — stopped from penetration by the bullet-resistant Kevlar-weave of the shirt's fabric.

"How long has he been down?" asked the lead EMT.

"Four minutes, with no response yet." Batman replied, his eyes locked on his son's face. 'Blue,' he thought, 'his lips are blue.'

The EMT's worked rapidly: setting up the portable defibrillator, transferring the fallen man to a dry mat rolled out to provide a barrier between him and the pooling rainwater, attaching the monitoring leads, smearing the conductive gel, placing the paddles. "He's flatlining..."

"Clear!" The electrical surge forced Nightwing's torso upward momentarily.

"No response..."

"Reset — clear!" Amperage coursed through Nightwing's body again.

Never moving his eyes from his son's face, Batman silently spoke a desperate litany: 'Don't you go, Dick Grayson. Don't you leave me. Dick, c'mon back now, please. Please. Don't leave me.'

Seconds became an eternity, punctuated by the sounds of the emergency equipment.

"We've got a rhythm, it's steady..."

"Okay, give him the Oh-Two."

Batman watched his son's chest rise and fall as an oxygen mask was placed over the young man's mouth and nose, and he realized he'd been holding his own breath. He let out a long breath. The lead EMT glanced up at him and smiled. "You need a hit of this, too, Batman?" pointing at the oxygen canister.

"No. Thank you. — Thank you."

"Man, this dude's TOAST!" said the other EMT as he ascertained the condition of the second victim.

Nightwing was carefully lifted onto a gurney for transport to the ambulance. Batman took one end to help carry him down the short stairwell to the top-floor elevator.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"What's your name, son?"

"Hmmm? ..."

"Your name, tell me your name."

"Uhmmm...what...what'm I...wearing..?"

"What's the last thing you remember?"

"Got shot...pissed-off..."

"You want to open your eyes now?"

"Hmmm? ..."

"Open your eyes, Dick."

"Uh-uhn...m'sleepy. Go 'way."

"Nightwing!"

The Voice.

Tired blue eyes slowly opened. And just as slowly focused on a pair of steel blue eyes. Oh. ...Oh, yeah.

"Hey, Bruce," Dick said softly, a lop-sided smile growing across his face, "...Wh'ssup? Ooh...m'tingly, kinda — buzzy. Whoa"

"You were struck by lightning, Dick. Last night. You're at Leslie's clinic now."

"No shit..."

"...Yes. Leslie says you're going to be all right. Maybe a bit shaky for a few days. In addition to a cracked rib and some nasty bruising from that slug you took, you've got a burn on your left hand, and another burn on the bottom of your left foot where the current grounded out of your body."

"No shit..." A frown gradually crept over Dick's face. "Bruce...that guy. That guy with the gun...who shot me..."

"Dead — 'toast', as the EMT called him. The insulating properties in your costume saved your life — barely."

Bruce Wayne looked down and wondered how long he'd been holding Dick's hand in both of his own. Hours?

Dick followed Bruce's eyes to their clasped hands. He smiled gently, and sighed even more gently. Nice. How long since that'd happened? Who cares? S'nice. Tired eyes closed again.

"Dick?"

"Hmmm...?"

"I love you, son."

Sleepy smile now, eyes still closed.

"Mmmm...?"

"I said I love you."

"Hmmm?" Bigger grin.

"Keep this up and you're toast, Dick." That got Bruce a squeeze of the hand. Then Dick was asleep again.

Dr. Leslie Thompkins came over and put her hand on Bruce's shoulder. "Leslie. Thank you. Again." He paused. He needed to say... something. "Leslie, this was a close one. What would I ever do if...?"

"Bruce," she said firmly, "they're all close ones, and will be, as long as you all go jumping off rooftops and battling lunatics."

That lecture. His eyes closed. Did he want to hear this right now? He held Dick's hand just a little tighter.

Leslie walked to the doorway and turned, looking back at her longtime friend and his son. "Bruce? Just make sure lightning doesn't have to strike again before he hears from you that you love him."

— fin