The hit-man was laying low. He had a new name, new face, new fingerprints, plenty of money to spend if he so chose and enough placed in various CD's and anonymous off-shore accounts to provide for his wife forever. He also had the intelligence to know that as long as he managed to live—however long or short that might be, he would be hunted by the best detective and police minds on the planet.
Not being a stupid man, he doubted that it would be all that long.
But, in his ore reflective moments, he privately agreed that was the bargain he'd made when he'd began in this line of work. He didn't even have any regrets, at least none of consequence. He'd made his choice and it had provided well for him for a long time.
Now he was paying the piper.
"Clark, anything yet?"
Superman looked up from the JLA's main monitor, Green lantern was in the doorway. "No, not yet. We know it was a contract shooting from the Gotham mobs, probably the Molinari Family, but no one is talking and whoever pulled the trigger has gone underground. He or she is being protected and until we can get someone to talk or he gets careless..." He shook his head.
"Seriously? This is Dick we're talking about, we have to find this guy, it can't be a dead end, it's not like we're without resources here. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone slips up; it's inevitable—they'll show themselves sooner or later."
"And when they do we'll catch him."
"Isn't that we said about the Zodiac killer?" Oh yeah, that...".No one's leaned on them?"
"Of course, both me and Batman have 'talked' with them but so far they're standing firm."
"I can't believe this is still unsolved." Jordan turned to go but paused. "It just so frigging frustrating."
Superman privately agreed but said nothing.
Dick was down in the solarium going through his PT routine yet again as Alfred watched, unseen, through one of the windows. Thank god it was summer vacation so his school friends and teachers wouldn't question his whereabouts but the coming September start date for his first year of college was fast approaching and could be a problem. The obvious solution would be to simply inform the various officials that he was either being home schooled or was working an internship someplace. No one would question Bruce Wayne's ward deferring matriculation to assist his guardian in some project or other. Explaining the extent of his injuries would be impossibly difficult if he went to his regular classes; yet another sacrifice the boy would have to make.
The sound of breaking glass brought Alfred out of his reverie. Dick had thrown something heavy (that small Egyptian sculpture perhaps?) and smashed one of the windows.
Leaving the room—running would be closer to it—the boy avoided a collision with Alfred by inches. "...Sorry." He started off again but...
"Master Richard, an explanation, please."
Dick stopped as though jerked back by a rope, stood breathing heavily for a moment then, making an obvious effort, collected himself enough to respond. "Sorry, I guess I was just a little frustrated."
"An understandable reaction if not altogether appropriate." Alfred immediately regretted his criticism.
"Forgive me, it would seem to me that you have more than enough reason for being unhappy at the moment. Is there anything which might help, make things a bit easier for you?"
"Make it so I don't have to take drugs every day, make me whole again, make my chest stop hurting, make me stop being tired all the time and catch the bastard who did this; that would make this easier." He stared daggers at the impossibility of the question, the impossibility of the answer. A curt nod and he was gone, likely to shower and rest.
Sighing with sadness, Alfred went to the kitchen to begin dinner preparations and to think. This had been going on too long and while Dick's frustration and anger were reasonable and would, hopefully subside in time, he was beginning to have his doubts.
"Perhaps it may be past time for me to make my suggestion to the Master."
Dinner that night was strained.
Bruce was preoccupied and Dick was in a foul mood mixed with depressed. He was also suffering side effects from his anti-rejection meds which caused him to endure almost constant nausea. Alfred walked in on...
"I can't believe that the best law enforcement officers, detectives and every hero group in the community can't catch one mid-level hit-man. It's frigging unbelievable."
Bruce considered his words. "I understand but it's obvious that the man is being protected and likely is already out of the country. It's also possible that he's changed his appearance and fingerprints. In addition he was probably using an alias when he was hired to kill you and..."
"Tell me something I don't know."
"Dick, we're all doing..."
"Yeah, everyone's doing everything they can. You know what this reminds me of? Remember that old movie, the one with Charles Bronson, um, Death Wish."
"That's the one where he plays a guy whose wife is killed by some street punks so he becomes a one-man vigilante squad, killing or stopping or whatever every criminal in New York; except the guy who killed his wife. That's the one he never finds."
Bruce sighed, he'd never seen Dick like this.
"But you know what's really killing me here? The fact that I can't do anything about it. Okay, sure, I worked the computer and stuff, but I'm stuck on the sidelines and there isn't a damn thing I can do that'll make a difference."
They had to solve this. They had to.
The hit-man who was under discussion in that well-appointed dining room just outside of Gotham was sitting on the small porch of a small house in a small village in the mountains of Chile. The view was magnificent, the electricity spotty and communication difficult at best. He was as safe as he could hope to be. His looks were surgically changed enough to make recognition seriously unlikely, he'd lost twenty pounds.
No one knew his name, no one knew where he'd come from nor why and no one here cared so long as he was quiet, kept to himself and caused no trouble. He bothered no one and no one bothered him. It seemed a fair bargain.
And he could pick up and leave at a moment's notice.
Superman stopped by Wayne Manor as he'd been doing at least twice a week since Dick was released from the hospital and was allowed to continue his recovery away from the facility. And he was worried about the boy, he simply wasn't getting better—physically or emotionally—as everyone had both hoped and expected. This was Robin they were dealing with, the kid who'd channeled being orphaned into turning himself into one of the most respected and sought after vigilantes on the planet.
"Alfred? Excuse my barging in, but I was wondering if I could visit with Dick, see how he's doing today."
"Of course, Master Superman, I'm sure he'll be happy to see you, as he always is. Please follow me."
Not only were his friends and co-workers concerned but the news media, legitimate or otherwise were having a field day wondering where Robin was, was he alive, was he getting better, was he dead, was he retired, was he paralyzed, had he eloped with Wonder Girl, suffering from PTSD or was he simply too distraught by what had happened to him to face his public?
"I'm afraid that he seems to be walking the grounds, if you'd like me to ask security where he..."
"I'm sure I can find him, thank you."
In fact, of course, he was a young man who'd lived through more painful, heartrending, terrifying, exhilarating and unforgettable things in his short life than most people experience in several lifetimes. The fact that it might finally be overwhelming him was understandable and healing, if healing there would be beyond what they'd see so far, would take time and probably a lot of it. Beyond that, he'd always been able to rise above whatever was trying to squash him on any given day—until now. Hard as it was to believe e(this was Robin they were dealing with), this seemed to have hit him too hard and might be flat out too much for him to bounce back from.
He found Dick sitting on a bench overlooking the city across the river.
"Would you mind some company?"
Dick turned his head with a small smile, "Sure, have a seat."
It stretched longer.
Dick watched a freighter making it's way toward the ocean.
More silence stretching into long minutes.
Then likely feeling awkward, he finally spoke, "'Sorry. Thanks for coming; I guess you're worried, right?"
Clark watched the ship disappear around a bend in the river. "It's normal that it's taking time for you to get back to being yourself. 'Frustrating, but it's a matter of patience and..."
"Clark, stop." Dick continued to stare at the distant city scape. "I'm not going to come all the way back. I've talked with the doctors and they've told me the deal. I'll get a bit better and stronger but it's impossible for me to regain the level I had before I was shot. It's not going to happen." His voice was final, brooking no disagreement.
"That may be true but consider that the level you were at was that of one of the top athletes on the planet. A ten percent reduction in that ability shouldn't have a major effect on..."
"Stop, seriously. Listen to what you're saying."
He was right, it was a ridiculous comment. "...You've been thinking about what to do now." It wasn't a question.
A nod. "The thing is that I know there's still a lot I can do from a chair or with a computer to fight crime, but..."
"But I don't think I want to. And I'm not sure what I want to do; that's the problem."
"It's still early, you're still adjusting—give it time, don't push it and see what seems right to you."
Dick was listening and even agreed but, still... "That's the thing. I feel like, I, I don't know. I feel like my life has been taken away from me. I know that sounds melodramatic but it's how I feel. I thought I knew what my life would be. I even knew that I could be killed and I was sort of okay with that, it's part of the deal when we do this. But this... I didn't figure on this happening, being handicapped. I don't know how to deal with this." He shook his head, "I really don't."
"I know you've been seeing a therapist, has it helped?"
A small shrug. "I guess. Maybe." He sort of smiled. "Not really. The thing is that I know I have to make adjustments, that my life has changed. I know it wasn't my fault, I know—knew—that it could happen anytime to any of us and my number just came up. I get it; I really do. The problem is that, it's that...I guess it's that I know what I should be doing but I don't see the point."
"There are any number of things..."
"...That I can do. Right, got it. The problem is that I don't want to do any of them."
Clark inhaled slowly, framing his words, changed his mind. "This isn't like you. You're the most resilient person I know. Bruce copes but he's let his obsession control his life; you've always more than coped, enjoyed what you did. I always thought of it as Bruce slogging through the waves, grabbing a breath here and there while you surfed along on top in control."
Dick laughed at the imagery. "Maybe it seemed that like that, anyway." His cell phone chimed, looking at the screen he said, "Lunch is ready, join us?"
After eating, after watching Dick eat the restricted diet of bland food, low sodium and pills, Clark left. His worst fears had been confirmed and he made a decision he'd putting off for weeks now.
He knew what he had to do.
The hit-man had moved again, leaving Chile and now staying in a remote area of Brazil. No one knew who he was, no one cared. No one asked, no one noticed anything about him. He could stay here a while. In fact he didn't see what he had now as a bad life at all. He'd always loved to travel (though that made him smile), could pick up and go whenever he wanted, see what ever caught his eye, travel with the local peasants or stay at the Ritz. He ate at McDonald's and five star restaurants as the spirit moved him and he'd always been a loner when you came down to it. He knew his wife was being looked after, that she had enough money and would be protected.
All in all, he didn't mind his life at all.
Maybe Asia next or the South Seas.
Later, finally in bed, Dick lay awake. Looking out the large window towards the acres wide expanse of the side lawn, turning his head when reflections from the pool on his balcony caught his eye, he tried to put the night behind him. 'Forgive and forget', that was what Alfred had said.
He could forgive easily enough. He could even understand why the man, a total stranger had tried to kill him. It was a job, an assignment; money paid for services rendered. A business transaction, no more, no less.
Had the man gotten his money or was it partial payment for a job not completed?
Forgive and forget. That was easy. He was always forgiving people, just like people were always forgiving him for this or that; a rude comment, a forgotten towel on the floor, arriving somewhere late.
He could forgive the nameless man, the stranger who'd tried to kill him.
What he didn't know was how to forget.
A total stranger had tried to kill him, had done his research, waited in position for the opportunity and then played his hand. It was just a job to the hit-man, nothing more, nothing less. Money for services rendered. He'd been a money machine since he could remember, paid for working at the circus as a young child, generating money for tabloids and tee-shirt manufacturers and god knew what all since he was an adolescent.
He didn't figure in the equation other than as a source of income, a product to be exploited. He understood that. 'Different side of the same coin.
"Master Bruce, have you spoken with Master Clark recently?"
"Master Dick. I believe that he—Master Clark—has been discussing some kind of possible resolution to the young master's situation."
It was almost too easy when all was said and done—if you consider having Superman personally intervene, arrange for a patient to be transported, shrunk to the necessary size and then operated on by Kandorian doctors to repair the damage to Dick's new heart. Then medically override his body's natural rejection immune system so that the transplanted heart was not only now genetically identical to his DNA but also stronger than his own, perfectly healthy heart had been before it was destroyed. In addition, all of the surrounding, damaged tissues were regenerated and were now also as they'd been before the attack.
"Kal, this means that..."
"It means that physically, in all pertinent ways, you're better than you were."
"You mean it's like it never happened?"
Kal and the head surgeon exchanged glances. "Not exactly. It means that your heart is now completely healed—or rather the transplanted one is. The shooting still happened and you still have to reconcile yourself to that fact but there's no physical reason why you can't continue as if it you were never injured."
"...Okay so you mean that my body is fine but I may still be screwed up mentally and emotionally."
"In lay terms, basically, yes."
"But I'm healthy, right?"
"As the proverbial horse."
Finally, finally Dick's real smile broke through for the first time since he was shot. "So we can go home now?"
"Just say the word."
"I declare, Master Richard, the difference is night and day. Master Superman has my eternal gratitude and that's a fact. Master Bruce?"
"He was helpful."
Dick rolled his eyes. "Jesus, Bruce, some credit where it's due, y'think? He saved my frigging life."
Bruce sighed, almost in pain. Of course he was ecstatic that Dick was completely healed and the fact that being healthy again had made the one hundred percent difference in his outlook. He was well and truly back and thank god. Being forever in Kal's debt, earned though it was, grated but enough of that. "So, do you think you're ready to suit up and join me for patrol tonight?"
"Yeah, um, do you mind if I just kind of stay in tonight?"
"Whatever you want, of course." What was this about? And that was the question left unspoken. His body was healed, but how would he ever fully recover from the trauma he'd been through? His parents had been murdered over a decade before but being able to catch their murderers and establish himself as one of the world's premier crime fighters had allowed the boy to move past what he'd been through. The fact remained that too often he still woke in a cold sweat reliving the nightmare of the Grayson's murders.
How would this be any different? And would it be worse since he was older and more aware of how close to death he'd come?
The hit-man had left Brazil for Bolivia. Continuing to move, he was never apprehended.
Robin, well, Dick Grayson went to Hudson as planned and Robin spread his wings as a solo vigilante in New Carthage but college wasn't a good fit and Dick left after a single semester. That story has been told.
"Look Bruce, I tried, okay? I'm just not Robin anymore. I've changed, I had a change of heart f'God'ssake; literally. I'm not that person, I'm different. I work alone most of the time, I have my own agenda now; I'm an adult. You have Jason—a mistake but I know you won't listen to me about that—you don't need me."
"So this is your answer?" Batman's anger was barely in check at this betrayal and rejection.
"In a very real sense I've been reborn. I want to make it official with a new identity, a new name."
"And that would be...?"