Chapter One—The Calm before the Storm

Author's Note

Every time I write a fanfic with original characters in it, I have three purposes in mind which are equally important to me. One is to have my original characters evolve by bringing them to life in stories, and eventually let them be their own people. Second, I'd love to have a great time writing a piece that involves characters that are dear to me. I did this in the Yu-Gi-Oh, Yami no Matsuei, and Petshop of Horrors fandoms and now I do it in Batman/Nightwing. Third is my development and growth as a writer and eventually as a person.

Feedback— regardless whether it is on or off the list—will be greatly appreciated since it will help me with my purpose as well as my development as a writer. I thank everyone in advance for reading this fic as well as for your help and support :-)

General timeline for this one-shot fic is after the events depicted in the Batman and Nightwing series and before the DC 52 Reboot (with the exception of Batgirl 2011—Volumes 1 to 3). Specific timeline for this fic is immediately after the events of Batgirl 2011, Volume 3. This fic also takes the position that events in Batgirl 1 to 3 and the entire "Mirror Arc" happen before the events of Nightwing 2011 #1.

This fic takes the position that everything that happened thus far in the DC universe will still remain as true and that the reboot series (if applicable) are the characters' continuing adventures.

In this fanfic, Bruce Wayne is Batman, Dick Grayson is Nightwing, Damian is Robin, and Tim Drake is Red Robin.

Special Thanks…

To Ellen Fleischer and John U for beta-reading this chapter. And Ellen, thanks for being an awesome editor. I've learned a lot from you :)

Location—Santorini (Thera), Greece

Timeline—21 years ago

In an isolated location where one could find a network of caves, looming figures dressed in black velvet robes congregated in silence by the mouth of a particular cave. To the group, this island where these caves were located served as castle, heaven, altar, and sacred ground. No one in the group had any fear of having this place or their activities discovered, for trespassers—whether intentional or unintentional—were immediately silenced.

From time to time, the participants glanced at the night sky in anticipation of the sign that they had waited for so long. All of the signs were there, save for one...

Finally, the last sign appeared in the sky. The full moon between October to November, also called the Hunter's Moon or Blood Moon, became redder still.

The participants closest to the mouth of the cave filed in and began their trek towards its heart. Most of the cloaked and masked participants held a lit candle as they chanted an incantation in an ancient tongue. They took their time, knowing full well that they would arrive at their destination with enough time to prepare for and complete their task.

The two who led the procession—a man and a woman clad in burgundy velvet robes—clearly stood out from the rest of the flock. Aside from their keeping absolutely silent, they carried two essential requirements for tonight's event. The man protectively clutched a golden tome with blank pages of thick parchment. The woman cradled a crying newborn swaddled in a heavy black velvet cloth.

From its inception, the group had patiently waited. It had taken at least centuries, if not millennia, for everything to fall into place….

The golden tome which contained incantations crucial for tonight's task…

A baby born on the date foretold by their dark prophets….

The right alignment of constellations during a full moon…

The flickering sea of candle flames lessened as the robed participants' procession progressed deeper into the heart of the cave. The bone-chilling cold draft which blew behind their backs was slowly but surely replaced by much-colder stale air.

After making a series of turns, they reached the designated point within the cave. Once again, the flames from the candles that they held began to flicker wildly.

The man and woman who led the procession stopped and stood side by side before the heart of the cave.

The rest of the participants quietly passed by their leaders one by one, filling the huge cavern but making sure to keep the entryway clear.

The burgundy-robed, masked woman who held the baby whispered in its ear, "Hush, little one…. Everything will be over soon. You shouldn't be afraid."

"You're sure about this, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am," said the woman to her male counterpart as she tried to calm down the babe in her arms. She gazed at the baby as if it was an object. "Have I ever given you doubt on my certainty or loyalty to our cause?"

"Never," was the man's reply.

Once the followers took their place inside the cavern, the man entered the chamber, holding up the golden tome for all to see. The woman followed his lead, holding the crying child above her head.

Still holding up their candles, the sea of participants knelt and chanted as their two leaders stepped in the middle of the cavern where the mark of an inverted pentacle enclosed in a concentric circle showed faintly.

Once the man and woman had walked into the center of the inverted pentacle with the book and the baby in hand, a bright light illuminated the cave wall facing the entrance.

As if an invisible finger guided it, the light drew an inverted pentagram. The same phenomenon happened on the floor where the man, woman, child, and book now stood.

The group's chanting became more pronounced…fervent…particularly when dark smoke seeped out from the mystical pentacle and inverted pentagram, becoming dense shadows that flickered menacingly around the baby.

The newborn cried louder still, as if it sensed both the shadows' dark aura and what was about to transpire.

The woman continued to pacify the baby in her arms while the man knelt down and placed the golden tome by his feet. He flipped through the thick tome and located the right blank page.

When the moonlight filtered inside the cave from above their heads and shine upon the center of the pentagram where the baby and the book now lay, the burgundy-robed, masked man gave the woman a nod. He lifted his head and declared, "It is time, Brothers and Sisters!"

The robed spectators stood and continued their chant, now louder as their voices reverberated throughout the entire cave.

The woman unraveled the baby's swaddling clothes. She placed the baby it in the middle of the pentacle. The man placed his hand over the baby's heart as he read an incantation written in an ancient and forgotten language from the golden tome.

The night sky became redder still due to the total lunar eclipse—a phenomenon caused by the incantation.

At the same time that the eclipse occurred, the baby let out an ear-piercing scream and began crying hysterically.

The man lifted his hand and smirked. He saw an inverted pentagram form over the baby's heart. His grin became even more sinister as thick shadows congregated around the babe, merging into one misty form, and wrapped itself around the baby's arms, legs, and torso.

An eerie bright light illuminated the site where the baby now laid, the participants' chanting stopped as they deemed their task complete.

The shadow then left the baby alone, becoming denser until it transformed into the misty figure of a tall, shapely woman with long hair who stood before the baby.

The light became brighter, flooding the entire cave for several moments before it disappeared altogether—leaving the participants' candles once again as the only source of illumination.

The baby who served as the center of attraction continued to cry from fear, the cold, and pain. The inverted pentagram seared on the infant's forehead slowly but surely disappeared.

"It is done!" said the man to the large group who remained silent, giving the leader their undivided attention. "Now we shall wait until the child comes of age. Long live, Almagest!"

"Long live, Almagest!" echoed the rest of the flock.

The burgundy-robed man picked up the baby, now looking at the latter with reverent eyes.

The woman approached them, with her gazing at the babe with a much kinder expression than she had earlier.

As the man tried to pacify the babe from crying, he looked at the woman and asked, "Are you sure that you've covered your tracks, that you aroused no suspicion?"

The woman's malevolent grin became more confident as she gazed at the baby and replied, "No one will suspect. And even if they do, it'll all be too late for anyone to stop us. As you've said before, Grand Mystic, no one stops Almagest."


Location—Wayne Manor

Timeline—Present Day

Dick Grayson's Point of View

Poached eggs, Canadian bacon, smoked salmon, and an ample selection of breads and pastries that Alfred had baked just this morning…. Freshly brewed imported coffee, tea, milk, and a variety of juices as beverage choices…. Porcelain, silver, linen, and all the formalities of fine dining…. Chef Alfred there to compliment for a fine breakfast and as usual politely refusing to join us for breakfast due to "pending duties" that he "must attend to" in spite of requests coming from Bruce and me… All the time in the word to chew my food and read the paper…..

Mornings at Wayne Manor were a far cry from my conventional bowl of cereal along with milk chugged directly from the carton before work. Definitely a far cry from my days as Officer Dick Grayson, Bludhaven PD…

It's funny how being on my own changed me from someone who was used to having a full-blown traditional sit-down breakfast to someone who usually skipped the meal entirely. However, I make exceptions when Babs or Alfred prepare it.

The breakfasts that I've been having since I had moved back to Wayne Manor a year ago were reminiscent of the breakfasts that I'd had before moving out on my own. Alfred made every meal an affair—his way of giving us a sense of normalcy and humanity. I noticed that to be true ever since I've first stepped inside and lived in the manor many years ago. The tradition continued long after I moved out and Jason, Tim, and now Damian arrived in turn.

The only similarity between breakfasts at Wayne Manor and breakfasts in Bludhaven was that they normally happened very early in the morning—unless the night work wore us out so much so that we'd skip breakfast in favor of sleep…or unless we had our evenings and mornings blend into each other during a case…or unless evening activities not related to crime-fighting kept us from enjoying breakfast at home.

Today had been an uneventful morning, just like the last few days. It had been a nice change of pace. Another nice change was the fact that Bruce and I had been getting along much more smoothly these days. Change could be a good thing. The tension that had been there between us had lifted. It was nice to have him back after he had been missing and away for so long. It was as if things had returned to the way they were when I was much younger, eager, and naïve…a time before the teenage rebel in me emerged and resented everything that he had to say. I guess that our trials had made us stronger—not just as individuals, but also as a family.

Between bites, Bruce read the main section of the paper while I read the local. For this meal, it was just Bruce, Alfred, and me. Damian had declared last night that he was sleeping in. As for Tim, he had been gone for about two weeks and he wouldn't be back until noon tomorrow due to Red Robin-Teen Titan business.

Bruce, however, was a different story. Late night patrols, fighting Gotham's criminals all night, and then swapping the cowl and all of Batman's trappings for Bruce Wayne's custom-made business suit and expensive leather briefcase during the day…all of that barely fazed him.

And what was Alfred doing…?

Alfred was busy with his morning routine of keeping Wayne Manor and the Batcave in order, although he was conveniently nearby in case one of us needed him. Bruce and I are adults now, but I swear that Alfred still sees us as the children that he raised long ago. I guess some things never change, nor would I want them to.

"Master Richard, telephone. An Andrew Ishino wishes to speak with you," said Alfred, entering the room with the telephone on a silver platter.

Bruce lowered down the newspaper just a little, and then glanced towards me.

I took the phone from Alfred and covered the receiver with my hand, "An old college buddy. Thanks, Alfie."

I had a smile on my face when I held the phone to my ear. "Hey, Bro! It's been years! How did you know that I was here?"

Sounding happy and rather nostalgic, AJ replied, "Got lucky, I guess. How's life treating you lately?"

"Good… I'm good. So what has happened the last time we saw each other?"

"After Hudson, you mean? Well, I went back to Japan…helped my Dad. Flew here and there on business…. Now, I'm moving back to the US. First, though, I want to hang out and catch up on old times with you…meet a handful of clients…take care of something personal."

I chuckled. "I was at Hudson for only a couple of semesters here and there, Ishino. Figured that I didn't carve that much of a legacy or even an impression on anyone…."

AJ laughed a bit before telling me, "Who's counting? Remember what I keep telling you about that…?"

"Quality over quantity…?"

"Yep, exactly right," said AJ, sounding very excited and most probably sporting that customary generous grin that he normally wore when his tone sounded just as it did now. "Hey, listen. Dad, Jii-chan, and I are about to board a plane. I'll be in Gotham in two days, staying at a hotel for a couple of weeks. Dad will be joining me a couple of days after I arrive. We'll be watching a concert in Gotham—Alexa's first public appearance ever. You available to hang out here and there during my visit…or maybe come and hang out with us at a concert…?"

"Sure! I'll make time," I said with a vigorous nod, liking the prospect of catching up with an old friend. "I'll give you my email address. Send me your itinerary. I'll pick you up at the airport."

"Sounds good," said AJ. There was a moment's pause, probably because he needed to get something to write down my information. "Okay, I'm ready. Your email address…?"

AJ and I exchanged information. Once we got that taken care of, I told him, "Okay, got it. See you in two days. Anything changes on your end, give me a call. I'll do the same. We have so much catching up to do."

"Yeah, I know. They just started boarding, Grayson." I could tell that AJ was smiling when he added, "Dad's waving. He says 'hi.'"

I couldn't help but smile either. As I've said before, AJ's Dad had always been nice to me. "Tell him that I said hi, too…and that I'll make up for lost time. Same goes with Jii-san."

"Of course…. I'll see you in two days, buddy."

AJ and I then quickly said our goodbyes and ended our call.

As I resumed my breakfast in silence, I thought, "AJ Ishino. Great guy…. Good friend…. He's just a couple of weeks older than I am. I just celebrated my birthday less than a week ago, so that means that he just had a birthday too."

Andrew James Ishino—better known as AJ to family, friends, and business associates... Definitely not a forgettable character... I called him "AJ" when I talked to other people about him. He called me "Dick," just as everyone else did. However, when he and I were talking to each other, we were always on a last-name basis. I guess that it had to do with the attendance roster at Hudson University, as well as the fact that students—particularly freshmen—were normally addressed by their surnames.

AJ and I sat beside each other during student orientation at Hudson. Coincidentally, he also ended up being my roommate. Both he and I had our dreams and goals. He wanted to do his MBA-JD while I aimed to finish pre-law. He was busy with track and field, debate, and the school paper. I simply did my best to get by—my life at the time split between figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up and being Robin. In addition, Robin's time was further split between doing solo missions and being leader of the Teen Titans.

I think back on how quickly AJ and I became friends. It was ironic because our respective personalities and circumstances shouldn't have made that possible. When it came to each other, we didn't devote time, energy, or the inclination to question the motives behind our actions. We mostly accepted things with each other "as is."

AJ and I were figurative partners-in-crime at Hudson, although he was as straight-laced and overachieving as one could possibly be. I, on the other hand, was just too often conveniently absent as Dick Grayson to get him into too much trouble. On times that he and I did get together, we just hung out and talked, studied, or did other typical college student stuff.

During the Hudson days, AJ had been in a long-distance relationship…some girl in England who he wrote to and called every now and then. Meanwhile, I dated Lori Elton, which was another tale in itself. All he knew about that was that she and I dated and had a falling out.

AJ opened up much more about his life than I ever did. I knew the basics about his Dad and their close relationship, the family business, his long-distance relationship, and Jii-san—a kind father figure that he and his father both loved and respected.

The Ishinos welcomed me to their home in Kamakura, Japan during a semester break. His Dad and Jii-san were both kind, very fatherly. They, along with AJ, made me feel at home during that vacation. Time, opportunity, and my secret didn't allow me to extend them the same kindness and hospitality. AJ never made any issue about it.

I left Hudson shortly thereafter, and then returned only to leave once more. I figured out that Hudson wasn't the direction that I wanted to go or could go even if I wanted to at that time. Knowing AJ, he most probably had stuck it out. The guy was driven, stubborn in his own right. He liked finishing what he started.

Hudson was a rite of passage both for AJ and for me. It was our formal declaration of independence from our loving and concerned fathers. Even though we were too preoccupied during those days, and even though my time at Hudson was cut short, our times together were memorable. As Robin, I saved his life a time or two when he turned up in the wrong place, but I managed to keep my identity a secret from him.

I never asked AJ, but he covered up for me many times to keep me out of trouble. He provided alibis for my sudden disappearances on campus. If it weren't for him, I would've been kicked out of Hudson much sooner than I was. I got suspended for a semester since I was out of the dorms and unaccounted for on campus grounds far too many times. As harmless as it was for that one-semester suspension, it was a wake-up call that college wasn't for me at that point in time.

AJ was sad when I left Hudson. Bruce and Alfred were disappointed when I decided to put my college education in the back-burner—in fact, Bruce was downright irate.

On my last day at Hudson, I asked AJ why he'd covered for a slacker like me as much as he had.

I still remembered AJ looking me in the eye and saying, "Grayson, dude… You and I know damn well that you're not a slacker. Damn, you're still up on the dean's list even if you've been gone a lot. I've read your term papers and essays—you're a good writer. You've got more than a brain in that head of yours. You're methodical yet practical about your ways. You'll be a damned good lawyer if that's what you truly want to be. You'll be good at anything that you wish to do. It's not my place to ask what you've been doing and why, but I just can't watch and do nothing."

I didn't understand. "Why? Why help me so much? You really don't know me that well."

AJ's smile reached clear to his slate blue eyes. I could feel the conviction behind his words when he told me, "Because if the tables were turned, you'd be doing the same for me. And you're a good person. I don't know how to explain it, but I can just tell that you are. It's a rarity to meet and be friends with good people nowadays."

I didn't know what to say…how to respond…to that. I felt humbled by those words, and recalling them now brought back those feelings.

AJ gave me a small, sincere smile. "Dick, if I can help you so that you could continue your soul-searching…to find your wings…then I will. Lord knows I have some soul-searching to do, too. Right now, though, I'm not ready. I haven't mustered the guts to do so. You have more guts than I do about that. If college is not for you at this time, maybe in the future that might change. Just don't let that stupid professor and those attendance-crazy academic clods ruin your spirits. As long as you're turning in quality work on time, who cares why you're not here at the dorms, in class, or on campus grounds?"

Letting out a sigh, I murmured, "I couldn't tell you what's going on with me, AJ. I wish I could, but I can't."

"Listen, I don't need or want to know anything unless you want me to. You most especially don't need to explain anything to those jerks. We're friends, Dick. We'll always be friends. I hope that you'll always remember that."

I couldn't help but sigh after that stroll down memory lane, thinking, "I do remember, Ishino. And I've always been grateful for our friendship."

Over the years, AJ sent postcards to me at the manor. There were about four or five in all. Sending four postcards with a brief note saying "Hi, how are you doing?" was about four times more than I did.

Well, if good thoughts for an old friend counted for anything then I should get a brownie point…maybe a brownie point for each time that I was able to save AJ while I was Robin. At least, two days from now, I'd be given the chance to make up for the kindness that he and his family had shown me. He might not have been Wally, Donna, Roy, a Teen Titan, or a Justice League member, but he was a good friend in my book.

The rustle of a newspaper broke my train of thought. Bruce asked me, "When will AJ's father arrive in Gotham?"

"Two days from now," was my absent-minded reply.

Seconds later, I stopped, blinked a bit, and then stared at Bruce. "Wait a minute—how did you know that his Dad's flying in? I didn't say anything about it."

Bruce let out a subtle sigh. "Lucius and I flew out to Kamakura a little while back on business. I met the Ishinos by pure coincidence. Michael, AJ, and I got along really well, and Ishino Industries now has a long-term consulting project with Wayne Enterprises. AJ will be staying in Gotham for a while. He'll look into WE's food, shipping, electronics, and entertainment operations."

I gave Bruce a puzzled look which slowly turned into a knowing one. "You did background checks on them, didn't you?"

"Standard procedure. Lucius also checked the company's financial statements and called friends overseas that he knows. He was satisfied with his findings," said Bruce, still in his reserved mode. His tone was softer than earlier, though, but I' wasn't going to hold my breath for an apology.

With a pursed-lipped smile, I shook my head then murmured, "Looking out for me…looking out for the business. Understandable and I'm not surprised." I stopped, my curiosity piqued. "So what's your take, now that you've done your legwork and met them in person?"

"You have a good friend in AJ. He speaks and thinks very highly of you. Same goes for his father and grandfather. Everyone I met during my trip to Kamakura was hospitable. They have a reputable firm, which has existed for several generations. They're good at what they do. Good business sense, analytical, thorough. Paper trails show that AJ's been working for his Dad about as long as you've been Robin. Two people own Ishino Industries. Michael Ishino holds 70 percent ownership. His ward, or ex-ward, has held the rest ever since she inherited it from her parents. Michael Ishino became her legal guardian when she and AJ were around 10, shortly after her parents died. Although the legal relationship changed once she turned 18, she's still very close to the family. She was an early starter in her family's business, just as AJ was. She just changed careers a couple of years ago."

"Mister Ishino's ward... What was she doing before? What's she doing now?"

"Archeology… Museum work. She's in the entertainment business now." Bruce then met my gaze, adding, "You've always liked history, right? I told her that you were once a curator for the Cloisters. I asked her to lend her help and expertise for the upcoming Foundation gala. Her connections lent the Foundation some museum artifacts. She wanted to make sure that everything that she needed arrived safe and sound. If you don't have anything to do today and you're curious, swing by Wayne Foundation. Give her a hand in examining the crates that the Foundation received yesterday."

I gave the proposal a bit of thought. Since I didn't have anything planned today, I said, "Sure. I miss playing curator, so why not?"

Bruce gave me a grateful nod and said, "Her name's Alexandra Emrys. I'll tell her to expect you. She should be there by now. You have your access pass, don't you?"

"Yeah, I still do." I then glanced at the grandfather clock, wondering out loud, "It's barely six o'clock in the morning. Do you think that she'd already be there?"

"She said that she'd be there around five o'clock."

I nodded. The two of us were quiet for a couple of minutes. Then, I sensed something. Gut feeling…

I glanced at Bruce. Our family circle knew full well that Bruce Wayne—the real Bruce Wayne—rarely showed his emotions, unless….

The smirk…. I knew it, I knew it. Something was up.

I raised an eyebrow. I couldn't help but frown a bit. "You're not setting me up with AJ's stepsister, are you? Not a good idea."

"Set you up? What makes you think that way?"

"I know you well enough to know that I'm being set up for something."

This time, Bruce didn't hold back the small chuckle. In a nonchalant fashion, he said, "I've never signed up to be your or anyone's matchmaker. As to you being set up with someone, you certainly don't need it. You're more than capable of handling your personal affairs."

After letting out a snort of disbelief, I echoed back, "More than capable? What's that supposed to mean?"

"I don't need to spell out anything for you. For the record, she's not AJ's stepsister. Also, what do you think Barbara would say to me about that? So no, I didn't set you up with Michael Ishino's ward."

"Yeah, yeah," I mumbled, shaking my head between bites of food.

Breaking the silence, Bruce asked, "When AJ arrives, would you work with him on his projects? He'll need your help to get familiarized with everything at WE. I already warned him that I tend to ask for your help on the last minute. I also gave him my apologies in case you have to leave on a moment's notice from here on out."

Without hesitating, I said, "No problem, but wouldn't that be more of Tim or Damian's territory? I don't want to mislead him or leave things unanswered about the business."

"You and AJ are friends. That will go a long way. It'll help out Lucius and me a lot. You became more familiar with business operations while I was gone. Good consultants know the right questions to ask their clients. He'll get the answers that he needs from the way you respond to his questions. And Lucius is also available."

I gave Bruce a nod. "All right. Lucius helped me out a lot while you were gone, so I do have some understanding of what's going on."

"I also invited the Ishinos to join us for lunch or dinner. It'll give everyone a chance to get to know each other more."

I couldn't help but smirk. "You're really milking this one for all it's worth, aren't you?"

Bruce just shrugged, playing Mister Innocent. "I don't know what you're talking about, Dick."

"Yeah, yeah. That's what you say," was my amused mumble.

Oh, I knew what this was all about. This nice quaint lunch or dinner with the Ishinos at Wayne Manor was really an interrogation and a roast. It would give Bruce the perfect chance to see me through the eyes of an old college buddy. It would allow him to see and know things that a background check and classic espionage wouldn't easily uncover. All those nitty-gritty details that one would make his friends swear up and down to carry with them to their graves would soon be exposed in full view. AJ might not be Wally, Roy, Garth, or Donna, but he did know some rather incriminating stuff about me.

AJ, though, would be much of a target, too.

In my head, I could easily picture as to how Mr. Ishino would be joining Bruce and Alfred on this one. The man had a sense of humor for such things. I'd seen AJ melt in embarrassment a handful of times whenever his Dad put him on the spot.

I guess that Bruce and Alfred deserved the same kicks that life had to offer every now and then. Who am I to deny them of such pleasures? At the same time, though, could you blame me in looking forward to it with the same excitement I would have if all my teeth were about to be pulled out without Novocain?

I couldn't help but shake my head as I ate breakfast. At least Bruce and I found some amusement in all of this.

AJ and me. Partners-in-crime, indeed. Well, at least I wasn't the only one taking center stage for the roasting and interrogation of a lifetime.

End of Chapter One


Nightwing, Robin, Red Robin, and the Batman franchise (characters and all) are the property of DC and their respective creators and legal owners. This fanfic along with its original characters such as Asi the Destroyer, Andrew James "AJ" Ishino, Michael Ishino, Derek Anson, Madeline Harvey, Troy Tsuuri, Jii-san, and Alexa Emrys are the properties of PJ Zatken.