Summary: When Wonder Woman asked Batman if he'd taken Robin as his protégé at the "ripe old age of nine" in order to have him turn out like him, Batman replied, "No…so he wouldn't."
Author's Note: This story is AU—I've made Dick a sort of mixture of the DC comics universe and Young Justice the animated series universe. I confess I liked his YJ Nightwing costume.
Disclaimer: All characters belong to DC, Time Warner, and CN; this is an original story that doesn't intend to infringe on their copyright. Feedback is welcome.
Copyright: May 2012
By Syl Francis
~ / ~ / ~ / ~
Like any good boy's adventure story, it started with a tragedy. In one moment of greed and cold blood, Dick's parents were murdered right before his eyes. But like all good stories, the newly orphaned boy was taken in by a hero who helped him find his parents' killer and offered him the opportunity to fight crime alongside him.
If this was a way he could make sure that other little boys didn't suffer the same fate, then he knew what he must do; however, as with all good things, his good fortune came with conditions.
"There's something I'll have to make clear-I'll be your teacher, your mentor, and eventually your partner." The raspy voice spoke coldly, uncompromisingly. "But I won't be a father."
"That's okay," Dick said, his small chin jutted defiantly. He looked up at the hard features of the Dark Knight, whom he had grown to admire in a just a few short weeks. "I don't need another father."
"You'll follow my orders without question—like a good soldier."
Dick nodded. He would do what he had to. He was already thinking that perhaps one day, he would wear the cowl. But whether he did or not, he knew that he wanted to grow up and be just like Batman. He wanted to dedicate his life to stopping those who preyed on the weak and innocent.
So, the adventure began. And like all good stories, it had its highs…
The Dynamic Duo sprang into action like a well-oiled machine. Batman went for the Riddler, while Robin took down his henchmen—Who? What? When? Where? and Why?
Seriously, he couldn't make that up!
Sadly, it also had its lows…
Batman ordered him to sit out a particular case. He felt Robin wasn't ready to face Harvey Dent. The boy disobeyed and got caught. Dent tricked him into "playing" one of his head games and—
"You're fired. Robin's finished…You disobeyed a direct order, and an innocent man is dead. Plus, you were nearly killed!"
Each word cut into Dick's heart. The worst part of the whole thing was how disappointed Bruce was in him. If anything Dick knew that Bruce was right. He had failed.
There was no way that he deserved to be Robin under these circumstances, which meant that he would never grow up to wear the cowl.
Of course, staying on as Bruce Wayne's "charity case" was a non-starter. If Dick couldn't be Robin and Batman's partner, then he felt he had no right to stay. He explained his reasons in the note he left, but everything came down to this, "You don't want a partner, and you don't need a son."
As he walked off into the dark, dangerous streets of Gotham, he added to himself, "And I don't need or want a father." The future looked as bleak and as dark as Gotham's underworld.
By a strange coincidence, Dick became caught up with an academy for junior assassins headed by your typical megalomaniac named Shrike. He recruited Dick and had great plans for him, since Dick was the best student he had ever found. The first major mission for the junior assassins was to kill Harvey Dent.
Dick almost pulled the trigger, but at the last minute, his own internal sense of right and wrong won out. Instead, he helped in capturing Dent and bringing him to justice. Batman had also been hunting Dent, fearful of what else he might do to Dick should he find him.
Batman offered Dick the mantle of Robin under the same conditions as before: follow orders without question—be a good soldier.
A little more battle scarred, both physically and emotionally, Dick accepted. He was still determined to one day be like his mentor.
Things returned to what passed as normal in Wayne Manor. Dick trained and occasionally laughed, bringing light into the dark recesses of the batcave. Bruce brooded and on rare occasions smiled at something his junior partner said.
And just when it looked like things were finally on an even keel, the Joker shot Robin.
Once again, Dick heard the dreaded words, "You're fired." But this time, Bruce added that he could no longer be responsible for a "child's safety. No…if Joker shot Robin, then let Robin stay dead."
Dick couldn't believe what Bruce was saying. This time it wasn't even his fault. He'd done everything right. Joker simply got in a lucky shot. It wasn't even life threatening! Leslie said he'd be good as new in a few short weeks.
"Bruce…you can't do this—!"
"I've made up my mind…I should never have brought a child into this in the first place!"
"A child? Bruce, I'm almost sixteen! I've been leading the Teen Titans since I was thirteen! I'll be graduating in few more weeks. It's too late to do this!"
"That's just the point. You'll be graduating and heading to college." Bruce shook his head. "No…this will be far better for you in the long run." He glared down at his ward—not his son—and exacted a promise from him that Robin would remain dead.
"Okay, Bruce…if that's what you want." Dick looked up his mentor—not his father, he reminded himself. "You're the boss. I'm just a good soldier."
And as a good soldier, Dick obeyed orders. He let Robin be buried; he even read the lurid headlines: "Did Robin Die Tonight?" But that didn't mean that he had to remain under Bruce's roof one day past his high school graduation.
Instead, he moved out semi-permanently into a loft apartment near Gotham State University. He enrolled in summer courses and basically flew through all the advanced math and science courses he took.
And much like his mentor, he brooded. He avoided his ex-teammates, unable to face anyone that reminded him of what he couldn't have.
As the fall term loomed, he thought long and hard over his options. Robin was dead. Where did that leave him?
A week before classes started, Dick drove to Metropolis and sought the advice of his other hero, Superman. Clark readily talked to him, encouraging him to graduate from college and to keep his options open.
"Maybe giving up this vigilante lifestyle for a little while—say until you graduate from college—wouldn't be a bad thing, Dick. You have a good head on your shoulders. A bright, intelligent young man like you could pursue just about any career."
"I know, Clark. I'm already enrolled at GSU—majoring in Computer Science and Applied Mathematics. I won't have access to my trust fund until I'm 21, though." He scowled. "And Bruce is still my legal guardian until I'm 18. But, I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself. If I can't be Robin and his partner, then I have no business living in his home."
"Dick, you know that's not true. Bruce is, for all intents and purposes, your father—"
"No!" Dick said sharply. "No, Clark…he isn't! He made that clear when he took me in and offered to train me. That's why he's never adopted me officially. As long as I was Robin, I was at least contributing…I had a place there, a reason to belong. Without Robin, I'm just a charity case."
Clark shook his head. "You're wrong, Dick. And if Bruce said that…well, I think he may have thought it was true at first. But anyone who knows the two of you can tell that that isn't the case. He's your father, Dick, and you're his son. You're both lying to yourselves if you say otherwise."
"You just don't understand, Clark. It was never like that. Bruce no more needed a son, than I wanted a father. I had a father once, a father who loved me. Bruce is…" Dick sighed helplessly. "In all fairness, he's a good man—he cares about people, but he isn't capable of letting anyone get too close. " He dropped his eyes and shrugged. "I guess I can't blame him. It hurts too much when you lose someone you love." Dick looked up cautiously, unsure of what he wanted to say. "When I first became Robin, all I wanted was to be like him. To make him proud. But all I've done is disappoint him."
"Dick, that isn't true! Bruce is proud of you—"
Dick went on as if he hadn't heard. "But I'm gonna show him, Clark. You'll see…one day, I'll prove that I'm just as good as he is." He glared at the Man of Steel. "Now…are you gonna help me?"
Sighing, Clark nodded reluctantly. "Well...on Krypton there's a legend about a great hero named Nightwing…"
~ / ~ / ~ / ~
The Gotham State University graduation ceremony was held outdoors. It was a bright clear day, filled with endless promise. The rows of graduates in their green gowns with gold trim glimmered in the warm May afternoon.
At last his name was called: Richard John Grayson, graduating with highest honors.
Dick had fast tracked through his studies at GSU. High school AP courses had excused him from the most basic first and second year classes. His superior academic performance had earned him special consideration from his department chair.
Before he knew it, Dick was taking courses that would not only earn him a Bachelor of Science, but also his Masters in Applied Mathematics. From there, his advisor told him it was an easy step to being accepted into the doctoral program. He could easily intern at either Star Labs or Wayne Tech to earn graduate lab credits.
Lucius Fox wanted him at Wayne Tech, of course. He enthusiastically spoke to Bruce about it. As the heir to the Wayne fortune, Dick was slated to one day take the reins as CEO of Wayne Corp. Until that day, Fox knew that with Dick's sharp intelligence, he'd be able to head its subsidiary, the Wayne Tech R&D department.
Bruce listened, nodding in agreement. He was proud of Dick's accomplishments. He felt that this all proved he'd been correct in his actions after the boy had been shot. It helped assuage some of the deep feelings of guilt that he'd worked hard to suppress all these years. Guilt that wracked him each Sunday, following the weekly "family dinners" that Alfred insisted on.
Bruce had tried to reach out to Dick in his own way, inviting him to ball games or other outings. But somehow Dick was always busy with his studies. And in truth, Dick had been enrolled in an accelerated program for the past three years. Bruce couldn't believe that the young boy he'd taken in under his wing was graduating with a Masters Degree in only three short years. He'd always known that Dick was brilliant—both as his protégé and in his studies—but Dick's academic accomplishments exceeded even Bruce's high expectations for his ward.
He only wished that his decision hadn't cost him their relationship. He sat in the audience watching his…son (?)…cross the stage. When had that happened, he wondered? When had he come to realize that Dick wasn't just a good soldier, but his son? Why hadn't he realized it sooner?
Dick walked up to the podium, his expression serious. Gone was the cheerful demeanor that Bruce remembered so well. It had been replaced by a permanently somber bearing. The times he visited the manor and Wayne Tech since he'd moved out, Dick rarely smiled. Dinners were a tense affair, devoid of any of the former camaraderie that they had enjoyed before.
Alfred and Leslie had tried talking sense to Bruce—even Superman had spoken to him—but he'd remained adamant in his decision. In order to protect Dick, Robin had to retire permanently.
However, after a couple months, Bruce had relented enough to allow Dick to continue using the gym to keep up his acrobatics (which was his legacy, after all) and his martial arts. (As heir to the Wayne fortune, Dick had to be able to defend himself.) It was only during their sparring sessions that some of Dick's old cheerfulness returned. Unfortunately, it never remained for long. Dick usually remained completely focused during these periods, rarely offering a smile or light comment.
Dick was nineteen now—no longer a minor, legally old enough to choose his own way. After the graduation ceremony and requisite family dinner/celebration that followed at Wayne Manor, Dick waited until the guests had left.
Before leaving, Fox broached the subject of his coming to work at Wayne Tech in the fall.
"Take the summer off…enjoy yourself. Then in September, come see me. We have a couple openings in R&D. Dick, you may be the boss's son, but you've proven yourself more than capable during your internship that you belong there." He noticed that Dick had stiffened imperceptibly at the words "boss's son."
"Thanks, Mr. Fox…that means a lot to me." Dick smiled, but Fox noticed that it didn't reach his eyes. He didn't know what had happened the year Dick started college, but something had taken the light out of the boy's life.
Now only Dick and Bruce remained, sitting in strained silence in Bruce's office.
"Dick, when we first set up your trust fund, Lucius and I assumed that you would be graduating from college at 22, like most normal kids." His lips twitched slightly at his small joke. "But as usual, you surpassed all expectations and graduated almost three years early." He held Dick's eyes. "I spoke with the trustees, and we've agreed that at 19 you are a mature young man who is more than able of making your own financial decisions. So…we're turning your trust fund over to you—half the funds now, the rest when you turn 22. Lucius has volunteered to remain as your funds manager. He's already turned the initial investment into quite an impressive amount."
With those words Bruce pushed a packet of papers across his desk toward Dick. The younger man took the papers and his eyes widened at the amount listed.
"Bruce, this is too much! I didn't do anything to earn this money…I can't accept it."
"Nonsense, Dick…of course, you earned it. And it isn't all from me. The seed money came from your parents' life insurance. Lucius invested it, and we only added to it on your birthday and Christmas."
"I don't know what to say," Dick murmured, still reeling from the dollar amount.
"You don't have to say anything," Bruce said with a slight uplifted twitch of his lips. "But you do have to sign all of these copies." He handed Dick a pen. Nodding, Dick took the pen and signed in all the places indicated.
And just like that, Dick was independently wealthy—several hundred million times over.
~ / ~ / ~ / ~
That summer the Wayne heir locked up his apartment, had his electricity and water turned off, had his mail forwarded to Wayne Manor until further notice, had his passport updated, and basically fell off the face the earth.
Dick was on a personal quest to see if he could reclaim his lost legacy.
A year later, a dark figure was spotted in Bludhaven. Some whispered that it was the Bat. Others believed it was some kind of demon. Whoever or whatever it was, it was raising havoc with Bludhaven's underworld.
Within a few weeks, he was finally cornered by the Dark Knight.
"What do you think you're doing? You've spent the past year traveling the world, training under my old masters, haven't you?" Batman demanded.
"Was that a question?" The younger man smirked.
"You're throwing your life away!"
"No…I'm doing what I was trained to do. What you trained me to do!" He glared at his old mentor. "You took this away from me when I was 15, Batman. Well, I'm old enough to make my own choices now. And I choose this!"
"Dick…I made a mistake when I trained you. I never wanted this life for you—"
"This isn't about you, Batman. This is about me…and about all the 8-year-old kids out there who are growing up without their parents because no one was around to stop the bad guys." He turned his back on his former mentor. "And don't worry…I wouldn't think about operating in Gotham and encroaching on your territory."
He spun around and facing Batman, he stepped briefly into a circle of illumination given off by a lone rooftop security light. It revealed a black, Kevlar-reinforced costume with a lone blue stylized bird on his chest. He had a black utility belt on his narrow waist and a pair of escrima sticks on a thigh holster. A black domino mask similar to the one he wore as Robin and heavy gauntlets that undoubtedly held hidden compartments completed the picture.
"Bludhaven needs a protector, and Nightwing has volunteered."
"And what about Wayne Tech? What about your future? Dick, you have a responsibility to thousands of employees—"
"I know what my responsibilities are, Bruce. I've already talked to Lucius about opening a branch here in Bludhaven. Heaven knows the place needs an influx of decent jobs." He glowered at Batman. "I want to do what's right, Bruce. But I won't be pushed into being someone I'm not. I'll do my duty for Wayne Tech—but it'll be under my conditions. I've already sent Lucius a synopsis detailing setup costs, required personnel and equipment, and projected first year operating costs. He said he'd talk it over with the boss first, but on looking it over he thought it was very doable."
Batman didn't say anything, just glared at the young man standing across from him.
"So what do you say? Yes or no?" Nightwing waited.
"If I say no…what then?"
Nightwing shrugged. "I guess I can always send my proposal to Star Labs. Or…I hear LexCorp is looking to expand—"
"All right, yes! I accept your conditions…" He paused, then growled as if he was saying something distasteful, "Nightwing."
For the first time in a long time, Dick gave him a full-fledged "Robin-esque" grin. "You don't have to say it like it's giving you heartburn, Old Man—"
"It's from an old Kryptonian legend—"
"Kryptonian! Now you are giving me heartburn," Batman muttered. "First those ridiculous pajamas when you were—what 9…10? Now this? Just whose protégé are you anyway?"
Nightwing looked at him seriously. "Yours, of course. I resented you for a long time, Bruce, but I finally came to realize you only had my best interests at heart. A little misguided, maybe…but still." He shrugged. "I told myself when I became Robin that I was going to grow up to be like you. Working for Wayne Corp is one way that I'm honoring that promise." He paused and indicated his costume. "Nightwing is another." He held the older hero's eyes. "I want your blessing, Bruce…but with it or without it, this is who I am. This is what I do."
Batman stared at his protégé for a long time without speaking. Finally, he walked up to Nightwing and placed his hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Let's go, son. Show me your city."
As he watched Nightwing leap off the building before firing his jump line, Batman realized that his son had indeed grown up just like him. Maybe it was time he showed Dick the adoption papers that had been sitting in his desk drawer for almost a year.