Author's Note: I recently read Infinite Crisis and understand that Nightwing's survival was an eleventh hour decision, made by DiDio as a result of pleading from various Nightwing writers and fans on his staff. I couldn't help wondering, what would have happened if he'd died as planned? After much thought, this story has resulted. Much of the dialogue is taken from the Infinite Crisis book as well as the Nightwing comics. I'll have an end-note when the story finishes to give a list of the comics that I've dipped into for this. I'm hoping to make this as seamless as possible but I gotta admit, Infinite Crisis is a damned complex story. In keeping with my own love of the characters, Batman and Nightwing will be the focus.
And, of course, let me know what you think :) I am a SLUT for reviews
Finally, a big thank you to PJ and Ellen for beta. Any grammatical, spelling, usage or continuity errors are purely mine.
PART ONE- JUST A GUT FEELING
The blast hit him in the middle of the chest, turning the rest of the universe brilliant white in a flash. He never felt himself hit the ground. The last thing he heard was Batman's anguished voice calling "Nightwing!"
Dick felt himself being propelled down a bright tunnel of light, flying faster and more easily than he ever had on a trapeze. The joy and warmth of home began to surround him and he reveled in it, feeling vaguely guilty at leaving Batman behind on the battlefield. At last the journey ended and he stood on a lawn of green grass whose plushy texture immediately made him run his fingers through its softness.
"My little Robin?" a familiar voice addressed him.
"Mom?" He looked up and saw his parents smiling at him, joy radiating from their faces. "Mom! Dad!" He rushed into their arms, pushing back the tears of happiness.
John Grayson chuckled and gave his son a bear hug. Mary kissed him, then held him out at arms' length. "How tall you are, Dick! You're all grown up now. And so handsome!"
The reality of his situation had been slowly dawning on Dick. He looked at his parents' faces with a brief frown. "Mom...Dad...you're dead..."
John Grayson grinned. "And so are you, son. Welcome home. We're your welcoming committee. We have so much to show you."
Mary elbowed her husband and gave him a significant look. A shadow passed over John's face. "Well...you're dead for now, anyway. The rest hasn't been entirely decided yet."
"What hasn't entirely been decided? Where are we, anyway?" He glanced around at the endless field of grass without as much as a tree breaking the lushness.
"Honey," Mary took him by the arm. "Do you remember catechism classes when you were young? This is a sort of in-between place, like a limbo. You're not quite in heaven yet. Tathenniel, the Angel of Time is still working it out, whether this is really your destiny."
"Mom, you're not saying I'm here by mistake?" Memories from before began to surface. What had...? Oh yes, Alex Luthor had been aiming a bolt at Batman and Nightwing had jumped in front of it. He'd left Batman and Robin on that battlefield with Luthor. He had to go back. They needed him. "I can't stay here! They need me." He cast a pleading look at his parents.
"Told you he wouldn't want to stay," John said to Mary. "He's always had a strong sense of duty."
Mary, standing with arms folded, looked troubled. "Dick, it isn't your decision. Tathenniel explained to us that a death is required to balance the multiverse and you are the one selected to die."
Dick just stood there, dumbfounded. Then, anger building, he demanded, "Take me to this Tathenniel. I want to know what's going on." He turned on his 'parents'. "I've had some pretty weird experiences in my life. How do I know you really are my parents? How do I know I'm really dead?"
John and Mary Grayson exchanged sad looks. "We should have expected this," he looked over his shoulder. "Boston! You've met our son, Richard. Would you help explain this to him?"
Dressed in his characteristic acrobatic costume, Boston Brand, aka Deadman, strolled through the grass. He reached out his hand and gave Dick's a firm shake. "Hey, Nightwing, good to see you again!"
"Deadman...?" Dick's stomach took a turn as he recognized an old friend.
"Yeah, it's me, in the ghostly flesh," Deadman said cheerfully. "So, it looks like you're joining the club now."
"The war! I can't stay here. I've gotta help Batman, I can't let him down!" Dick said desperately.
"You want to check on him? You can, you know," Boston said and led him over to an equally anonymous spot on the field. "We all keep track of our loved ones. Here..." He waved an arm and a column appeared, filled with moving figures. The picture narrowed and moved in fast to a small cluster of people.
Dick began to hear a familiar voice and realized it was Bruce's. "He's...talking?"
"No, he's thinking," Deadman replied. "We can hear his thoughts."
For an eternal, searing instant, Batman watched helplessly as a bolt of hellish fire tore through his boy...his son... He'd had a gut feeling for months that death was hanging over Dick somehow, and he'd done his best to protect him but ultimately he'd ignored the premonition as unscientific and counter-productive.
Bad enough that the boy had been trying to get himself killed for the past half year to somehow atone for his role in the murder of Roland Desmond, aka Blockbuster. Dick had racked up injury after injury with more close calls than Batman could count.
Later, after a radioactive monster, Chemo, had been set loose on Bludhaven, Batman had gotten a radio call to the batcave from Superman. "Bruce, I just saw Nightwing in Bludhaven. You have to get him out of here. He's in a radiation 'hot' zone without adequate protection," Superman's voice said urgently.
"Did you talk to him?" Batman asked, reluctant to step in. Dick had been very touchy about his own independence since moving out of the Manor.
"Yes, and the idiot refuses to leave! His suit was already starting to melt when I saw him. If you don't get him out of there, he'll die," Superman said.
"What's his last known location?" Batman asked crisply, activating the batplane's pre-flight, feeding it Superman's coordinates and hitting Alfred's call button. "I'm on my way. And Clark, thanks."
Alfred responded promptly while Batman was finishing pre-flight. "Can I help you sir?"
"Yes, I'm going after Nightwing; he's in Bludhaven. Ready the med-bay, would you? Also, call WayneTech. They've been working on a new treatment for radiation sickness. Get a supply with dosing instructions."
Alfred's eyebrows lifted. "Is Master Dick in difficulty, sir?"
"Yes." Bruce slid into the cockpit and took off. Later, he'd found Dick buried under a pile of plaster and lathe in a derelict building. His own suit's dosimeter was reading hazardous levels; he had to hurry. Slinging Nightwing over his shoulder, he made his way to the aircraft and left the area as quickly as he could.
Back at the batcave, the boy woke up after several doses of the experimental medicine. Thanks to the fast-acting nature of the drug, Dick was burned but otherwise wouldn't have lasting effects. Bruce considered the research money well-spent.
When Alfred advised him that Dick was conscious and trying to leave, Bruce sighed and decided that it was time to finally have it out. When he got to the medbay, the boy was going on about Blockbuster's death and his own culpability for it.
Batman finally lost his temper. "Are you still not ready to discuss this honestly?"
"Wha..what? Wait! What are you talking about?" For a man in his early twenties, Dick looked too much like the perplexed and hurt eight year old Bruce had taken in all those years ago. Bruce softened, then steeled himself. Letting him off easy wouldn't work.
"I'm talking about you! You've been trying to kill yourself for the past six months!" Batman stabbed a long finger in Dick's face.
"No...I...Bruce, it's not like that!" Dick looked like he was about to cry.
The boy looked so broken, Bruce almost toned it down, then remembered the tally: two gunshot wounds in six months and now this. No, he had to knock some sense into Dick's head or he would succeed in getting himself killed. "You lost sight of the value of Roland Desmond's life. If you need me to forgive you for that, I probably can. But it won't mean anything until you forgive yourself. And you have no right to expect me to excuse you, for losing sight of the value of yours!"
After that, Dick had been quiet, thinking over what Batman had said. They'd even managed to persuade him to rest for a couple of days until he was mostly over the radiation sickness. He'd hoped that Dick was finally seeing sense.
Of course, when Bludhaven was hit with another set of explosions, Nightwing had gone right back to the beleaguered town. Batman couldn't resist checking on him and hoped that another mission would pull him away from the nuclear hot spot.
Batman landed on a plot of land across the bay from Bludhaven. As he set down, another explosion rocked the area. Fortunately, the radiation wasn't heavy enough to fog the GPS, so he found Nightwing taking cover nearby.
"Bruce? What are you doing here?" Nightwing's voice conveyed a mix of guilt and irritation. He knew how Bruce felt about his coming back here, especially without the bulky hazmat suit which the environment required but the acrobat hated.
Feeling guilty himself, Bruce stuttered out, "I wanted to make sure...you're all right..."
"I was in New York when it hit. Got here as soon as I could," Dick replied.
In a pig's eye, Bruce added silently.
"I need to get back in there!" Dick added, putting the binoculars to his eyes.
"Wait," Bruce said, almost desperately.
Dick gave him a side glance. "This is just one of hundreds of disasters right now. Superman's already in the heart of it, along with a dozen others who can stand the radiation. They're looking for survivors. They aren't finding any."
"I need to talk to you about the survivors of something else. I need your help, Dick," Batman hoped that the urgency in his voice would pull Dick away from the toxic city that had almost killed him once. "I'll explain it in the Batcave."
To his relief, Dick nodded and followed him back from the brink and to the waiting batplane.
Nightwing stared at the screen in disbelief. "You think this is a coordinated assault. You think they blew up Bludhaven to distract us? They killed millions!"
"They're aiming for a lot more than that!" Batman said grimly.
"All so some alternate Superman can destroy our Earth and replace it with his?"
"You can see he's not working alone. There's a Superboy that was responsible for the attack on Martian Manhunter. And that Superboy was talking to a Luthor." Batman stared at the screen, jaw working.
" 'A' Luthor? This is insane, Bruce. Why would a Superman risk everything?"
Batman thought he understood the motivation. "To save someone he loves."
"Why come to me?" Dick asked skeptically.
"Because everyone else trusts you. They always have. You've put an importance on keeping up relationships that I neglected. You care." C'mon, Dick, this has got to be safer than trying to dig out Bludhaven!
"So do you," Dick replied. "You just let everyone think different...Look...communications are down across most of the East Coast, but there's a place I can contact everyone from out West. Titans Tower. I'm going to borrow the batplane. You coming?"
"I've got a computer problem I still need to fix. Then we regroup," Batman replied.
"Sounds good." Dick threw him his old daredevil grin.
"Dick.." That gut feeling was back again...
"Yeah?" Dick waited patiently for another instruction.
Suddenly Bruce needed to know. After all the strife, the arguments, the shouting. "The early years. I've forgotten if...They were good for you, weren't they?"
"The best." With a carefree wave, Dick climbed into the cockpit and was off.
"Why me? I don't belong here; not yet," Dick argued, fighting down the urge to throttle Deadman, standing next to him. "You haven't answered my question."
"Perhaps I can help," a deep, rumbling voice replied. Dick turned to see a tall, shining being standing quietly next to Boston Brand. "You've been told by your parents about your unique destiny, I can see."
"Right. My destiny to be some kind of sacrificial lamb," Dick spat out.
The being's luminous eyebrow raised and he said gently, "Don't mock sacrificial lambs. They have their place in the Balance." His eyes filled with compassion, he smiled. "You may call me Tathenniel. I'm in charge of Time, generally, and the Balance always."
Dick blinked, trying to get a clearer image of Tathenniel's constantly shifting form. First he saw a silvery glow obscuring a tall thin figure, then he thought he saw wheels clashing which morphed into tall wings..."Why can't I see you clearly?"
"You already see me to your present capacity," Tathenniel replied. "I'm not entirely here, but this portion of my being should be enough for us to communicate. Now, I understand that you have questions?"
Dick shook his head but his eyes still didn't clear. Questions. Right. "Yeah, am I dead or not? 'Cause if I'm not, I really need to get back to Batman. And Deadman, here, is showing me a bunch of Batman's memories that don't make sense...Oh yeah, and why me?"
"Let's start with the easy question, shall we?" Tathenniel said. "There are two individuals who are suitable to restore the Balance in the multiverse. Either death will influence the future enough to trigger a series of small changes, which will result in a stabilized multiverse once more. You are one of those individuals."
"Who is the other person?" Dick asked. Maybe there was a way out of this?
"I'm sorry, but I can't tell you that. The analysis of the other person's potential timeline is being conducted as we speak. We haven't yet decided who shall live and who shall die. But I can say that your line looks most favorable," Tathenniel bestowed his glowing smile on Dick.
"Oh, for life?" Dick asked.
"Oh no, for your death," Tathenniel said.