DISCLAIMER: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics.
The sun beat down merciless, warming the golden sand even at the early hour. The island was quiet, this time of the days. The private resort, on its very only tiny island, in the Waltz Key Basin, only housed two dozen guests and was very exclusive. Its clientele were not always on the right side of the Law and management catered to its visitors need for anonymity.
The Resort, as it was known among the higher class crime lords, was only accessible by one way: A private boat that chartered The Resort's patrons to and from Key West. It was a forty minute ride and there was only one dock on the small island. If proof of reservations and a series of pass codes were not given upon arrival at the dock, well, most people can't survive a two kilometer swim through shark infested waters with a bullet in their foot.
Although that hadn't happened in the past year; a shame really. It was always amusing to watch them try.
This was my fourth time as a patron of The Resort. The first time, I had been accompanying Talia all Ghul only a few weeks after my resurrection. We were they only two guests for nearly a month while I recovered my sanity. She had left me after a while, instructing The Resort's management that I was to be allowed refuge at anytime, without complaint, and without payment. That was when I learned that The Resort was owned by Talia, an oasis away from the controlling hand of Ra's.
This time around, I'd been relaxing in my usual cabana with the fabulous view for more than a week now. Now, walking down my own private part of the beach to where several lounge chairs and an umbrella were set up, I'm in no hurry to get back to reality.
I go back? I'll be hunted down by Bruce and his League of Do-Gooders.
It's been two months since that night, when I had overheard whisperings that The Joker had not only escaped Arkham – again – but had gotten his hands on Batman's right-wing man. Fuck, if that news hadn't sent a sliver of fear exploding in my gut at the implications. I knew firsthand what The Joker would do to one of Batman's protégés.
I don't know why I headed out after that demented clown. I had anticipated Batman swooping in to save the days, but the Dark Knight hadn't. In fact, as far as I knew, he hadn't even shown up. It had been on the Red Hood – on me – to save the Blue Bird.
And, apparently, the new Robin too.
I'd only seen the kid a couple of times, met him once. He's good, if a little eager to please Dickie-Bird and Bruce. But hell, who wouldn't be.
But that night…
Funk, it had gone totally pear shaped in only a few minutes.
I had arrived in the warehouse district to see Robin going in to the building. I was still a few blocks away and by the time I got there Robin was already bound and gagged to the chair. Nightwing…
Nightwing wasn't going to survive the next few minutes let along long enough for the cavalry to show up – if they were even on their way.
The last blow of the crowbar to his chest had interrupted the rhythm of Nightwing's heart and he was going in to cardiac arrest.
Seeing Nightwing – Dick – like that, helpless and broken and bleeding…
I didn't think.
I had been where Dick was and I really didn't think Ra's al Ghul would be bringing a son of the Bat back from the grave this time. I was moving into the shadows while the Joker had taunted his captives. All the while, watching Dick's vitals through the sensors of my hood, I wondered what the fuck I was doing and why I wasn't getting the hell out of Gotham before the big black Bat lost another sidekick.
Instead, there I was confronting the psychotic clown that had killed me. And damn it if I didn't want to piss myself! Seriously! Despite being all bad ass and epic, I'm only seventeen! Two years younger than Blue Bird and even he would agree that that bloody clown was fucking terrifying!
And then I'd seen Dick's heart stop.
Nothing else mattered in that moment, and god damn it all to hell I wasn't going to let that sick fuck claim another one of us.
So I'd pulled the trigger.
I can remember thinking "Get to Dick! Just get to Dick!" I didn't know how long he'd been at the Joker's mercy – or the lack there of – I just knew that whatever time he had left was measured in seconds.
I vaguely remember sparing a third or fourth thought for the Replacement as I ran past him, I was more focused on Nightwing. I had palmed a shot of adrenaline as I ran, and without waiting until I stopped I had driven it through the body armor and straight into Dick's chest. I guess even us former Robins get lucky on occasion.
His heart started.
But, shit, it should have waked him up and it didn't.
He was worse off than I thought.
But then the replacement was there and I knew it was only a matter of minutes before the rest of the Justice Babies showed up. With the Joker dead…?
Yeah, it had been time to get the hell out of Gotham.
I hadn't even stuck around long enough to hear if Dick had pulled through or not.
Not that I care.
Not at all.
Aw, fuck! Even two months later I haven't heard anything about Blue Bird or The Replacement and it's bugging the hell out of me!
Maybe it was time to head back to Gotham after all, find out what happened with my brothers.
I've said that a few times now haven't I? Shit, I think I even said it to the Replacement.
Well what the fuck…
Flopped onto the lounge chair, I stare at the waves lapping at the sand.
Dick use to call me that; Brother.
"Welcome to the family, little brother."
That first night I met the crazy older would-be hero I was competing with him in what I thought was Batman's final test. Didn't know that Alfred really was in trouble or that Dick was loving every minute of it. It hadn't been all that long for either of us, only a few weeks since I'd put on his old uniform and him wearing the blue and black. The son of a bitch took me train surfing and tried to teach me a few tricks.
And shit, if it wasn't a blast fighting Killer Croc with Dickie-Bird at my back.
Damn, that was a lifetime ago – literally. It's hard to ignore sometimes; what it was like being so in awe of the way he moved and fought. Hell! Still am some days! One thing I'll give Dick, he was made for this life. As far as any non-super-powered heroes go, Nightwing is second to none – except Batman of course. But it's definitely a close second, and Blue Bird's only gonna get better with age.
If he survived to age, that is.
God damn it, I gotta go back. I need to know if he-
Oh you have got to be fuckin' kidding me!
Speak of the devil, and he appears! Rising up out of the water, decked out in rather revealing light blue swim trunks looking like that blonde actor who played Bond in the latest series. And fuck, if the little shit doesn't know it!
He's moving toward me, but stops several feet away. I can see the newest scars on his torso, a faint t-shaped one giving away the fact that his chest had to have been cracked open recently. Say, within the last two months.
Damn it, he was hurt that badly and I just left him there?
What the hell kind of opening is that?
"What the fuck you doin' here?"
And by his sudden smile I can tell he was expecting that kind of response.
"Can't a guy check up on his little brother?"
"Not on this island. How you get past the defenses?"
"It's easy when you know the disarming codes."
"And how the hell to you know them?"
"I own it."
… Say what?
He laughs and moves over to the lounge chair next to mind, sits on the edge and leans forward until his arms are resting on his knees. "Remember when you first came back to Gotham? You tried to blow us up and I tore up my knee? You beat the hell out of Bruce?"
Always felt bad about what happened to Dick; that kind of knee injury could have laid him up for months or even taken him permanently out of the game. Though I'm not about to let him know that.
"Yes, well, when Alfred told me who the Red Hood was I tracked you down; followed you down the eastern seaboard until you came here. I had Lucius look into this place and make an offer to Talia through one of Bruce's shell companies."
"So Bruce owns it."
He shakes his head. "No. Lucius then turned around and sold it to me. Lucius had been investing the trust fund my parents left me for the last decade. At the time, my portfolio was worth just over eleven million. I signed it all over to Lucius."
"Because my little brother needs a place he can heal up and hide out and get away from everything until he's ready to come home."
So it turns out I'm human after all. If that didn't just tear into my gut and remind me what having someone care about me feels like. Though I guess Dick's always cared. All the shit I've thrown at him since I first put on the cape? I don't understand why he's stuck by me, but he's always had my back.
Even after I tried to kill him that one time…
Okay three times, but I felt really bad about them afterward!
"And call me paranoid, but I didn't like the idea of you owing Talia Al Ghul any more favors."
He chuckles at me and stands. "Look, I'm not sticking around; Tim's waiting with the Jet about three miles out. I just wanted to tell you thanks. I wouldn't have made it out of that warehouse without you, Jay."
"Yeah, you would have. Batman would have shown up-"
"He's off world," Dick frowned, "has been for almost four months."
The same fear I'd felt that night churned inside me and I felt the breath catch in my throat. I surge to my feet; unable to stay still any longer with the realization that it really had all come down to me. "Fuck! Your heart stopped, Dick! Technically, you were dead! And Batman, goddamn it, The Joker was trying to get to him and you and The Replacement would have died without him knowing what happened!"
"And now neither Tim nor I have to worry about that psychopath again. Thanks to you."
"Thanks to…?" The sincerity in his words is enough to bring my frantic pacing to a stop. I look at him; really look at him and it hits me. "I killed him, Dick, and you're still thanking me?"
"You said it yourself, Jay, I was dead. If I didn't get back up he would have moved on to Tim and done the same or worse to him. No one was coming, no one knew where we were, and there was no Batman swooping in to save the day. We're – I'm alive because you did what you had to."
"Bruce would have wanted me to subdue him," I point out to him. "It's what you would have done."
"Not anymore," he snarls more viciously than I have ever heard from him.
I have to admit: that surprises me.
"Batman's not here, Jay," he tells me, "and I don't know when or even if he's going to be coming back. He's gone and left me with running the Team and working with the JLA to try and stop an invading alien army before they stop hiding in the shadows and come out with guns blazing. I can't be doing my job when I have to worry about the next time that sick son-of-a-bitch is going to want to play with my insides on the outside!"
He's yelling by the end, eyes wide with fury and shoulders tense. He looks like he's got the weight of the world on his shoulders, and after hearing his little rant I can almost believe that he does. And fuck me!
He looks like Batman!
I close the distance between the two of us and grab him by his arm. He's surprised by the contact and doesn't resist when I pull him back down to the lounge chair. I stand above him, my arms crossing over my chest when I frown at him. Nothing is said between us, but I know he knows: I'm not letting him off this island.
He guffaws and tries to stand.
I push him back down. "You're not getting choice here, Dickie-bird. Call The Replacement, have him head back to Gotham for the next few days. You can bunk with me before heading out to save the world."
I lean over him, pushing down on his shoulders when he goes to rise again. "Don't make me tie you down, Dick. You even take time to recoup from what The Joker did to you?"
"Spent a month up in the Watchtower's med bay," he answers.
"Then went back right to work, I bet." I shake my head. If this is what it means to be the Bat, I don't ever want to wear the cowl – metaphorically or not. "Dick, seriously, you're going to burn yourself out if you keep going like this."
"It's not like there's a choice, Jay," he snaps at me. "I've got more than a dozen kids looking to me to lead them, the JLA wanting answers only my intel and sources can get them, plus patrol in Gotham and the crazies that call it home, training with Tim and Barbara-"
"You're not leaving!" I yell at him, giving his shoulders a shake. "Just… damn it, Dick! I didn't save my brother from The Joke just so you could work yourself to death!"
There's that word again.
I want to take it back, because I don't think I've ever said it to him, but just as much as it shocked me to hear me say it, I think it shocked him more. He's staring up at me with a calculating look and slowly I feel his body relax.
I let go of his shoulders and sit back down on my own lounge chair. I can feel the smug smile on my face and he just shakes his head at me with a laugh. He reaches into the waistband of his trunks and slips a communicator into his palm.
"Robin, you still there?"
"Are you heading back out now?"
"Not just yet. I need you to go back to Gotham."
"Why? What's going on?"
Can't the sprog do what he's told? "Just go away, Replacement!"
"Don't worry about it. Stay with Batgirl for a few days then you can come pick me up."
"Fine, but I don't like you alone with him."
"Did you forget who pulled your fat from the fire, Replacement?"
"Robin, cool it. I trust him with my life. I'll be fine. Go home."
The rest of their conversation is lost to me.
I'm more focused on what Dick had just said.
I trust him with my life.
Seriously? I've tried to kill him in the past. Beat the shit out of him more than a few times. Why would he trust me? Why would he even want to?
Huh… maybe there is something to this brother business.
'Cuz looking at the man now lounging on the beach with me I have to admit: I trust him with mine.