Disclaimer: I own nothing.
A/N: Hello, hello!
Indeed this is the sequel to my TT fic "Northern Star." However, I am writing this fic so that new readers do not have to have to had read it. All you need to know is that the apprentice AU fic led to Nightwing. Due to unfortunate family circumstances I decided to post four days early to save me some future stress.
I especially want to thank my beta readers Mellowtopian and Elvenstar-Imrahil for their input.
Dick hated capes.
The Dark Knight's thick black cape threw him off-balance. He had worked with one before, but this was ridiculous. This thing was obnoxious; wearing it on patrol was like trying to para-glide in a Kevlar ballgown. Capes were a hazard in this line of business, though it was all part of the act.
Despite his dislike of capes he didn't have time to rant. There were more important things to worry about at the moment. For example, the terrorist with the bomb strapped to his waist. That was kind of important.
The train rattled beneath him as it hurried along the steel tracks, speeding towards an unknown destination. Wind whistled and howled in his ears. Terrified shouts from the passengers below reminded him of what was at stake. The goon across from him cocked his head to the side.
"Ya know, I thought you'd be a lot taller."
"Sorry to disappoint you," Batman said, "but I'm not here to impress."
Sweat rolled down Dick's neck. Maybe he wasn't so good at this after all. His cape wrapped around his body as the wind whipped him, courtesy of the high-speed train that rocked underneath them. Eying the bomb wrapped in duct tape around the goon's waist, Dick wondered if it was a dud or not.
"I've heard that the Bat scares the crap outta you," the goon said. "I expected to piss my pants. So come on, Batsy: let's dance."
"I'm warning you: disarm the bomb or I'll call in the cavalry."
The train rocked as it rounded a corner and threw its rooftop passengers askew. The goon waved his arms wildly to steady himself. Dick stood still easily, his body automatically adjusting. Standing on a moving train was rather like standing on a ship at sea.
"You? Call in backup? Ain't that a little outta character for ya?"
"Nah. In fact I think this is more in character than I have been in years. Please meet my rambunctious assistant: Robin, the Boy Wonder!"
A red-and-green blur appeared out of nowhere and knocked the terrorist down.
"TT. You talk too much." Damian Wayne, the son of Bruce Wayne and the current Robin, straightened and scowled. "And don't ever call me Boy Wonder again or I'll strangle you with that cape you hate so much."
"It's part of the job description," Dick said, smirking, "Boy Wonder."
Damian's hand snatched at the terrorist's throat as the poor man tried to crawl away.
"I deactivated the bomb five minutes ago," Damian said. "TT. You're so unprofessional. Not even worth our time."
The Batmobile flew alongside the train. Damian leapt into it as Dick dragged the terrorist over the side.
"Autopilot engage," Dick ordered.
The man screamed bloody murder as he dangled over Gotham. Absently, Dick wondered what would happen if Gotham's criminals knew that Nightwing, who had mysteriously vanished from the public, was now wearing the cape-and-cowl. Well, at least one person did.
Of course he would know, Dick thought. Why wouldn't he know?
Dick threw the criminal roughly onto the rooftop.
"Hey, man!" the terrorist gasped, holding up his hands. "This ain't my fault, honest!"
"I dunno. What do you think, Robin? Do you believe him?"
"Am I supposed to answer? Or is that a rhetorical question?"
Damian didn't know how to joke around, did he? That had always been his problem.
"Nah, you quip. It's part of the job description."
"You're a freak."
The two of them brought back their fists and popped the terrorist right in the kisser. As the terrorist flew through the air Dick took out his grappling hook and shot it, whipping his arm back as soon as the rope wrapped itself around the terrorist's legs. Yellow street lamplight glinted off a knife's edge. Dick jerked his head around, distracted. A knife had somehow made its way into Damian's hand.
I thought I made him get rid of them all, Dick thought.
A hoarse scream ripped through the air as the knife hit its target in the shoulder. Not lethal, but enough to draw blood.
"Robin!" Dick grabbed Damian's wrist. "That's enough."
He quickly twisted Damian's wrist until he let go of the knife. Instead of crying out in pain Damian simply glared at him. Boy, Damian was going to get one hell of a lecture once they got back.
He's dangerous, Dick thought. So dangerous.
If this was how effective he could be as a ten-year-old...
You were effective as a sixteen-year-old, Grayson, a voice in his head said slyly. Nine months of mercenary training changed you. You learned how to kill. If that's what nine months did to you then what could ten years do to a child?
It wasn't Damian's fault; it was how he had been raised. Brainwashing children was a heinous crime, one that Dick would never do. No matter how much he wanted to yell at Damian, he knew that he couldn't, that it wouldn't work. He was a frustrating kid to work with, that was for sure.
"Nice kid ya got there, Bats," the terrorist said.
"Get in the Batmobile," Dick growled.
"I said: Get. In. The. Batmobile."
Damian paused, considering him. It wasn't so much the words that struck the boy as the way Dick said them. It was a tone Dick hardly ever used, except when he dealt with the hardest of criminals. Losing his temper wasn't something Dick did often, but when he did...
"That's an order, Robin."
Finally, Damian moved. No matter what Damian thought, Dick didn't like giving orders. After hand-cuffing the would-be terrorist to a street lamp Dick joined Damian in the Batmobile.
"Gordon will take care of this," Dick said. "Just sit tight."
They rode back to the home base in silence. Dick's hands tightened on the steering wheel, his knuckles growing white as he drove.
"Batman and Robin spotted downtown!" the police radio blared. "Witnesses from the train report that..."
He tuned the voice out. Neither of them spoke as they traveled back to the penthouse. Of late, the two had exchanged brotherly banter. The snotty little brat was the little brother Dick had never had. Well, Tim was like his brother too, but at least Tim had his father. Right now Damian didn't really have anyone except him and Alfred. How odd, yet how utterly sad that Damian had both his parents but not their affection.
I have to be sensitive, Dick thought. We don't have the same backgrounds.
Yet somehow, Dick felt as though he was more qualified than Bruce to mentor the kid. While they shared some similarities (Such as a love of Lady Gaga, Damian was just too stubborn to admit it. Of course they both liked her music!) Dick knew that he was a troubled little boy who needed attention. Being Robin helped dissolve some of his aggression, though he was the most aggressive Robin to date.
And being Renegade does not count.
It was almost like the old days, back when Batman and Robin first started to patrol Gotham together.
No, not quite yet.
"Dad!" Lian exclaimed. "It's Batman!"
"Yeah, it is," Roy replied, glancing at the kitchen TV.
Roy had managed to convince Green Arrow that he no longer needed to occasionally work with him. Lian, at age eleven, was now his sidekick. Together the two of them rocked Star City harder than a drunk on speed at a friggin' rave. It was awesome.
Although Roy had been worried that she would inherit her mother's more violent tendencies, Lian was turning out to be a great kid. He tried not to push her too hard—he knew that a sidekick's life wasn't all it was cracked up to be—but she was a fast learner.
Lian sat on the floor of their living room, drawing with crayons as she watched the TV. She lay on her stomach, her legs kicking the air to some tune in her head.
"Is that Damian?" she asked, pointing towards Robin.
"I think so."
"Huh." She frowned and tapped her chin with her crayon. "So much for teamwork."
Roy stopped what he was doing to watch. For the past three days Batman and Robin had been sneaking around Gotham in the dead of night, enacting justice throughout the land without the media hounding them. Today, they had decided to allow themselves to be seen on camera. Stress was evident on the Dark Knight's face.
"We should visit Uncle Dick," Roy said, more to himself than to Lian. "I think he needs someone to cheer him up."
He hadn't seen Dick quite that stressed out for a long time. Maybe the strain of the cape-and-cowl was too much for him. But no...that couldn't be it. Considering all of the shit Dick had gone through...
"That's because Damian is a poopface."
"Hey, that's not nice angelface."
"But he is!"
"That doesn't mean that we insult them. Except of course..."
"The bad guys."
"That's right. Bro-fist me." Roy held up a fist. Giggling, Lian bumped her fist against his. "'Atta girl. You wanna kick some bad guy butt?"
Lian immediately dropped her art supplies to don her costume. As she scampered away Roy looked at the TV again. Everyone was going nuts about the "return" of Batman and Robin, Gotham's famous Dynamic Duo. Roy shut off the television and moved to put on his own costume.
Kicking bad guy ass was always on his list of things to do.
Jump City, California
That's my boy, he thought dryly as he watched the news.
How odd. Time had snatched years of his life away. Ten years, to be precise. Ten years since his first—and almost successful—manipulation of Dick Grayson.
He hadn't been keeping as many tabs on his former apprentice as he used to. It was unnecessary. Dick was his own man now, not a boy any longer. While Dick had eventually proved himself to be the perfect apprentice, that hadn't stopped Slade from trying to recruit someone else. Each time Dick thwarted him. Spectacularly. One resulted in the death of a Titan: Terra.
I don't think Grayson ever forgave himself, Slade thought.
Slade was perfectly aware that he had caused the Titans a lot of grief. Of late he hadn't been clashing with them. Occasionally (or perhaps very rarely) he worked alongside them as allies.
But since their short reunion in Bludhaven Slade hadn't talked to Dick. There was no need to. Why have a heart-to-heart conversation now, after ten years? Neither of them would apologize to the other.
He didn't even talk to his son, now a member of the Teen Titans. It was deliberate. Joey didn't need him in his life. Slade was positive that Joey didn't want to talk to him, didn't even want to associate himself with Slade. Oddly enough, Slade was content with Joey's decision.
He has the right to live his own life.
From what Slade had gathered, Dick now donned his mentor's costume, his new Robin nearly everything that Slade had expected Dick to become. Well, from what Slade could tell the new Robin (Bruce Wayne's biological son, wasn't he?) was a hell of a lot more aggressive than Dick had been. How interesting.
The time for an apprentice was long past. Although he didn't want to admit it, Slade was getting along in years. While time hadn't eroded his skills Slade had learned one thing: he was bad with kids. Well, teenagers to be exact.
William Wintergreen was still with him, even after all these years. The man deserved retirement, yet he still worked for Slade. Or perhaps a gift basket...or a gift card to some fancy restaurant...
So many years, Slade thought.
Someone shouted. Sitting up sharply, Slade instantly recognized the voice. "WILL!"
An instant later he'd regretted shouting. He knew better than that. No one answered. Not like he'd expected anyone to. Slade dashed to the main room, bullets whizzing past him. If it weren't for his eerily fast reflexes he would already be dead.
Without hesitating Slade whipped out a knife and threw it into a man's chest. He staggered, clutching the blade in a futile attempt to stop the blood. He stumbled and fell to his knees, and something in the man's face told Slade that he knew he was going to die.
Would he squeal?
"Talk," Slade growled, "or I'll slice your jugular vein. How does that sound?"
Bubbles of blood forced their way out of the man's mouth. Truthfully,slitting the man's neck would make this a mercy killing. But Slade wanted him to know that no one screwed with him like this.
"We're not here to talk business, Deathstroke," the man spluttered, "we're here to finish you."
"Obviously that failed. Why?"
Blood trickled out of the man's mouth as Slade grabbed a fistful of his shirt and pulled him forward.
"I'm surprised you haven't figured it out yet. Of course, you weren't supposed to be involved in the first place..."
The man reached into an inside coat pocket and pulled out a picture. Slade froze. Without a word he snatched the picture and gazed at it, hardly daring to believe his eye.
For the first time in years he felt very, very afraid.
"Where did you get this?"
"Does it matter?"
"As a matter of fact it does."
"There will be more of us coming," the man snarled."Even you won't be able to stop them."
His attacker twitched once before lying still.
The television still emanated noise. Slade wiped blood away from his face as he stared at the screen. The news anchor was still yapping about Batman and Robin. For a few seconds he stood immobilized. How funny. The world's greatest mercenary, frightened out of his wits and willing to be so when no one was watching.
In a way, everyone was wrong. Slade had feelings. He felt fear, but war taught him how to suppress it. Why in God's name, then, did he feel so frightened now? Was it because the assassins had caught him off guard? Or because...
He turned and sprinted into the other room, heart pounding madly against his rib cage. His old friend lay on the floor, blood oozing from a nasty head wound. He was definitely unconscious, anyone would be after a hit like that...
Someone bludgeoned him.
The old man would have a concussion, if he even woke up at all. Years ago Wintergreen could have shrugged off a hit like this, but he wasn't immortal.
"Did...you...find...?" Wintergreen spluttered, wheezing out each word.
"Don't talk, Will...God..."
Sudden images of finding Wintergreen in that Vietnamese prison struck Slade. Back then he had thought that Wintergreen was going to die. Right now, those same panicked thoughts ran through his mind.
Grant died...I can't...I can't let anyone else die.
Carefully, Slade dragged Wintergreen over to a nearby chair, blood trailing behind him. It took a lot of self-control for Slade not to panic. It wasn't often that he was caught by surprise.
Then again, he thought wryly, maybe I'm losing my touch.
Something wet touched his forearm. Looking down, Slade realized that Wintergreen's bloody hand was on his arm. His old friend was wordlessly asking him what the problem was.
Slade pulled out the picture handed to him by one of the assassins and showed it to Wintergreen. Wintergreen's brow furrowed as he looked at the picture, glancing up at Slade after a few long seconds. Will studied him for a long, long while. Slade knew what Wintergreen was going to say long before he said it.
The silence between them was strained as they traveled back to the penthouse. For some reason Grayson seemed more agitated and angry than usual.
TT. I can handle whatever Grayson throws at me.
Once the Batmobile was parked, Damian hopped out of the car. A lecture was coming. Of course it was, though Grayson's lectures were laughable. Not intimidating in the least. While Grayson did have his moments, he was still unfit to take his father's place.
"What was that back there?" Grayson asked.
"I did what you told me to do: Take out the terrorist."
"We have rules, Damian. I told you: no knives."
"He was about to cut you down, Grayson! If I hadn't stabbed him you would have been dead."
How infuriating. Other caped crusaders used swords and arrows and explosives. Why did Grayson feel as though he had to put limits on him? Damian scowled. It wasn't as if it made a difference anyway. He didn't need any weapon to kill people. It was a useless restriction, but an annoying one.
"I don't care. You don't use knives. I don't want you using unnecessary force."
"It's not unnecessary. You don't use enough force."
Before Damian could climb the ladder back up to the main house, Grayson blocked his way. Damian's scowl deepened. What idiot could believe that this man was Batman? He was too short. Too skinny. Too weak. Not the kind of man who should continue the legacy. While Damian could, at times, grudgingly respect Grayson, he was just so inferior compared to his father. No matter how many times Grayson claimed to understand him, it was hard to believe.
"Your inferior mind cannot even begin to fathom what my mother put me through."
A peculiar expression crossed Grayson's face, showing an emotion that Damian could not identify. It was not commiseration or anger, but something else. Recollection, perhaps?
Without warning Grayson grabbed Damian by the shirt and pulled him close. "You wanna bet?"
More curious than frightened, Damian searched Grayson's face. He knew, of course, of his current mentor's past. Tony Zucco and all that. Well, he didn't know everything about Grayson's past, but something told Damian that he had triggered something. This did trouble Damian, even if he didn't show it. Grayson was not the kind of man who lectured violently.
"What, Alfred?" Grayson snapped.
Alfred's expression didn't change, though he did appear rather worried. "We have someone on the line."
"Put them on hol—"
"You're going to want to answer this."
Grayson let go of him. Avoiding Damian's eyes, Alfred sidled over to Grayson and whispered in his ear. Eyes widening, Grayson turned to leave the room. "Stay here, Damian."
Alfred put a hand on his shoulder. "I suggest that you not bother him now. It's rather personal."
In a simmering rage Grayson stormed out of the room. What was so important that Grayson would keep him out of this? If it was a message from the Titans then surely he would have allowed Damian to follow.
Well, it didn't matter. Even if Grayson didn't tell him Damian was going to find out anyway.
I love writing Damian! He's so much fun!
For those who don't know, there is going a TT FF meetup in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival. Right now it's me and Reddocreep, so if you want to watch a play with us then let me know!