Author's Note: A while back, I held a poll on which RiD one-shot I would write next. This one came in 4th on Deviant Art with 13% of the vote and 3rd on with 14% of the vote. I've tried to write the others before it, but they weren't cooperating so here we are!
This has been a nibble in my mind for a while now and I think I've broken through my writer's block enough to get this out. I hope it meets my expectations as well as yours. It begins during the battle on Malina Island at the end of the second season episode "Alienated".
Disclaimer: Young Justice is not mine; Batman/Robin/et al are not mine; basically none of it is mine but I'm playing with them anyway! I promise I'll return them when I'm done with them… hopefully with all the right pieces. *EvilGrin*
January 6, 21:02HAST
The crimson light intensified the scowl of the young Atlantean when he turned to face the Alpha Team leader. The upper lip curled up viciously as he spat, "Just you and me, old friend?"
"No," Superboy snarled furiously as he slid out of the tunnel opening and approached the former friends. "It's a regular reunion special."
Water splashed onto the concrete beneath their feet when Aqualad let the power to his water-bearers fade. He held his hands out to his side in surrender. "Fine, you can take me down, or you can save everyone from this bomb."
With a casual wave of his hand, Kaldur'ahm gestured to the sleek device attached at the base of the mech. The satisfaction at their stunned expressions was evident in his words. "I am told the yield is quite impressive."
Before Nightwing could react, Superboy was moving with an animalistic roar. Quicker than the former Boy Wonder ever remembered, Kaldur was blocking the clone's haphazard attack and taking Conner to the ground. Electricity sparked around Kaldur's hand that encircled Superboy's throat. Even as Nightwing was running to help his friend, Kaldur looked up at him with a sneer that once would have looked out of place on the dark skinned face.
"You have two minutes."
There was no choice.
With eskrima sticks held uselessly in his palms, Nightwing could only watch as Kaldur took to the water and made his escape.
Wasting no time, Nightwing dashed for the bomb. He was aware of a shaky Superboy rising to his feet but ignored his presence as he studied the device. In seconds he realized there was no deactivating it.
Calm, despite the rising urgency of the situation, Nightwing opened his com to hear Lagoon Boy snarl his intent to chase after the retreating villains.
"Negative," He ordered through the team frequency. "We have a bomb down here, alien tech. I cannot disarm it."
"I'll get it out," Superboy snapped, moving forward.
"No!" Nightwing ordered with a raise of his hand. "It might have pressure or motion sensors! All squads: evacuate to bio-ship. Now!"
Muting his mike, Nightwing looked around their immediate area while he heard the others follow his orders. "Not enough time to climb back up," He muttered to his teammate.
Superboy glanced at the water. "We'll have to swim," he told the young leader.
Realizing it was the only way out, Nightwing nodded and the pair bolted for the same pool of seawater Kaldur had escaped through only seconds before. As he ran, Nightwing pulled a rebreather from his utility belt, causing him to lag a few steps behind the Kryptonian clone. Once he bit onto the device to activate it, he dived into the warm South Pacific Ocean and swam through the tunnel after Conner.
Already the dark haired clone was several yards ahead of him. He lost sight of the other teen when Superboy was the first to reach the mouth of the narrow passageway. It was almost a full ten seconds before Nightwing followed him out into the open ocean, but it was enough time for Superboy to have reached the surface.
Kicking upward, Nightwing was surprised when a heavy hand grabbed his ankle and pulled him back down. His startled shout nearly had him loose his hold on the rebreather and the suddenness of the assault saw him at an immediate disadvantage.
He spun in the water, turning to face his attacker and allowed an expression of confusion to show when he saw Kaldur treading water directly in front of him. His friend seemed to hesitate for a moment before mouthing words that stunned Nightwing.
Unable to move quickly beneath the water, he was too slow to stop Aqualad's gauntleted fist that snapped out and latched on to Nightwing's wrist. An instant later, the same electricity that had stunned Superman's clone coursed through his body. He clenched his teeth against the pain, desperate to keep the rebreather in his mouth despite the urge to cry out. His ear burned as the jolt caused the earpiece of his com to short circuit, cutting him completely off from the League members and his Team. A moment later, the assault stopped and his body went lax.
Dazed, but still conscious, he was unable to prevent the Atlantean from swimming behind him and wrapping an armored arm around his waist. It took him a second to process what was going on, which was all Aqualad needed tear the utility belt from Nightwing's waist. The item drifted upward and away from them – no, it was only going up; Kaldur was propelling them both through the water and away from the island.
Kaldur was taking him captive!
Even in his stunned state, Nightwing knew this had never been part of his – their plan. The further they delved into the open ocean, the likelier it appeared that Aqualad was a triple agent.
His mind cleared a little with that realization and he started to fight against his former teammate, causing Aqualad's arm to tighten its hold. Nightwing drove his elbow back into Kaldur's solar plexus, but the blow was lessened by the water pressing in around him. Even so, the Atlantean nearly lost his hold on his prisoner.
The arm around Nightwing's waist tightened almost painfully, pressing against his floating ribs and making it harder for the hero to breathe. To compound the problem, Kaldur reached toward Nightwing's face and pulled the breathing apparatus from his mouth. His situation just became that much more perilous and his fighting became more urgent.
Through his desperate struggles, Nightwing could see the Manta-Sub cutting through the dark waters toward them. It would pass directly beneath them in a matter of seconds.
**M'gann!** he reached out to the Martian telepathically, hoping that she would be able to hear him.
The sub barely slowed as it sped beneath them and Aqualad latched on to the 'wing' of it. The rush of water around Nightwing increased as the sub pulled them both rapidly away from the island. His lungs began to burn with the need to breathe and he tried to connect with his teammate again.
**Nightwing! Oh my gosh! Where are you! The island – hold on, I'm linking you up with Batman.**
There was some comfort from the new voice that sounded in his mind, but he knew it wouldn't last. He fought against the desire to inhale and the pressure building in his chest. He wondered if Kaldur was meaning to kill him then forced himself to focus.
**I've been taken,** he informed his mentor. **Aqualad ambu-**
He was cut off as the bomb exploded and the cloud of fire and debris raced expanded into the air and through the water. The concussive wave hit the Manta-Sub and the pair on the outside was stunned by the shockwave. Nightwing's tentative control slipped and his body inhaled instinctively, drawing seawater into his lungs.
He was aware of a hatch opening on the Sub and several of Manta's soldiers swimming out to aid their commander, but his consciousness faded he was only aware of Batman's mind shouting his name.
"Find a seat," M'gann told those on board. "It's time to go."
"Wait!" Conner looked around quickly at the faces of those on the ship before turning a worried look to Batman. "Where are Superman and Nightwing?"
"Go," Batman ordered the young Martian at the controls.
M'gann nodded, though the pallor of her skin was paler than normal. The hatch sealed behind Superboy and the clone looked at Batman in horror. "You're leaving them!"
"Superman can survive the blast," Wonderwoman told them evenly as she took her seat, though the doubt was clear on her face.
"Nightwing won't!" Robin exclaimed from where he was strapped in. "Batman we can't-"
"Oh my gosh!" M'gann breathed suddenly, her eyes glowing as she made telepathic contact with someone. Her head snapped to Batman and the dark knight stiffened as her mind broke through his with terrifying ease.
**It's Nightwing,** she soothed him an instant before he felt a familiar mind connect with his.
There was a moment delay through which Batman could sense his protégé's fear. **I've been taken,** the same fear echoed inside Batman at those words. **Aqualad ambu-**
The bio-ship was rocked by the explosion, sending everyone on board against their seatbelts. M'gann managed to keep control of the vessel, but there was an expression of worry on her face even as she steady's the craft in the air before leaving it to hover above the churning waves. She shared a look with the Batman before swallowing and pointing the bio-ship back toward the now decimated island.
As the drifted toward the smoldering landmass, the saw the limp figure of Superman fall into the seawater below. Aquaman was moving toward the back of the ship as the opening melted open. He dived over the side while still high in the air. A few seconds later, the bio-ship was only a few feet above, allowing Superboy to pull his mentor and the Atlantean king into the ship.
While Wonderwoman examined the unconscious Kryptonian, a pale faced Robin approached Batman. His face was grim but determined. "We have to look for him."
"He won't be there," Batman's venomous snarl gained everyone's attention.
"What do you mean?" Batgirl asked, standing behind Robin as she had been about to follow him in the search for their fellow Bat.
"Nightwing's been captured by Aqualad." The dark hero growled. "He made telepathic contact with Miss Martian seconds before the bomb detonated."
"What about his communicator," Wondergirl suggested anxiously. "Can't we track it or something?"
Robin was already activating his wrist computer. "I'm not getting any signal from his comm.," He looked up at his mentor with a frown. "And the tracker from his belt is pinging back toward Malina Island and nearly a hundred feet below us."
King Orin was diving again without hesitation. La'gaan was only a second behind him.
"Can you connect with him again?" Superboy asked.
M'gann closed her eyes for only a second before shaking her head. "He's either too far away or unconscious or…" she cut herself off, refusing to even voice the third possibility. "He specifically said he'd been taken. Uncle J'onn?"
The elder Martian only shook his head.
"You were with him," Batman regarded Superboy. "What happened?"
"We followed Aqualad beneath the mech the Kroloteans were building," Conner nearly choked on the guilt that accompanies the look from the Batman. "We fought, briefly, before Aqualad used the knowledge of the bomb to escape through a seawater pool. When Nightwing realized the bomb couldn't be deactivated or removed he ordered the evacuation. There wasn't enough time for us to climb out so we had to take the chance and follow the same escape route as Kaldur. The pool led to an underwater tunnel that went on for a few hundred yards before opening up on a rock face about fifty yards offshore. Nightwing was supposed to be right behind me."
"And you did not notice Aqualad lying in wait just outside the tunnel opening?" Batman growled, stepping toe to toe with the clone. "Why didn't you wait for your teammate to exit a potentially dangerous location before making your escape to the bio-ship?"
"I-"Conner, for all his strength and powers, withered beneath the full power of the infamous bat-glare. "I thought he was right behind me."
La'gaan climbed back on board before turning around and assisting his King up into the waiting vessel. Batman glanced at Aquaman and his expression went completely blank when he saw the utility belt his teammate was holding.
"You thought wrong," Batman said, eerily calm as the bio-ship hatch sealed behind the Atlanteans. "And now Nightwing is in enemy hands."
Regaining conscious was not always unpleasant, but this time was no exception.
Nightwing's chest felt like it was on fire and his ears were ringing painfully. He felt hands on his body, removing the layers of armor and protection from his form until he was left with only his skin tight underclothes. When he felt, more than saw, fingers reaching for his domino mask he reacted on pure instinct.
His hand snapped up from his side and gripped the offending wrist in a crushing grip. He twisted the appendage and was rewarded with a snapping of bone and tendons as the joint broke. When the man belonging to that cried out, Nightwing opened his eyes and rolled out from underneath the Manta Soldier standing over him, only to fall several feet to the cold, metallic floor.
He was leaping to his feet in an instant and blocking a blow by one of the other three soldiers. Their black armor stung against his vulnerable flesh, but he struck back as viciously as always. He landed several kicks, taking two to the ground before a lash of solidified water wrapped around his throat and yanked him backward and up against the wall.
"Idiots!" Kaldur'ahm bellowed at his subordinates, his arm outstretched toward Nightwing where his water-bearer kept him pinned. "I told you to bind him before you removed his armor! He is a Bat; dangerous even when thought unconscious! I shall do it myself! Now leave me!"
The one standing guard helped his compatriots to their feet and the exited the room. When they were gone, he still did not release the hero.
"Kaldur," Nightwing choked out while his hands clawed at the water stopping him from breathing. Through the lenses of his mask he met the young Atlantean's pale green eyes and, for an instant, thought he saw regret hiding behind the glare that was leveled his way.
With a violent jerk, Kaldur lowered his arm. The motion dragged Nightwing to the floor where he landed on his already sore chest and expelled the last of the breath in his lungs. Without a word, the son of Black Manta released the water constricting Nightwing's throat only to pin the other man to the floor with a knee to his lower back.
While Nightwing coughed to regain his breath, Kaldur was able to lift each arm and snap a heavy bracer around his lower arm from elbow to wrist. His arms were pulled behind his back and, with a near inaudible hum, the cuffs activated and they were pulled together magnetically. He was pulled to his feet and slammed up against the wall again, the magnetic restraints keeping him in place.
Kaldur stepped back and watched as Nightwing pulled against his bindings. The captive hero frowned as he realized there was no give in them at all. He didn't doubt that even someone with meta strength would be hard pressed to pull them apart. With that realization, he glared at his former double agent.
"What. The. Hell." He snarled in a fair impersonation of Batman.
"Your presence has been requested," Aqualad told him without emotion.
"By whom," Nightwing hissed, watching as the other retrieved something from the table that he had been lying on only moment before.
"You will discover that when we arrive." Kaldur approached and stood directly in front of his prisoner.
Glancing down at what the man held, Nightwing frowned at the collar like object. "Kal…"
The regret was back as he lifted it up toward Nightwing's neck. When he spoke, his words were barely above the volume of a breath. "I am sorry, my friend."
The metal opened with a hinge at the back and was placed around Nightwing's throat. It was wider at the top, rising over his chin and jaw line until it stopped just beneath his nose and ears. He was panting for air when it was snapped together. It was tight, pressing against his trachea and making it painful to even swallow. His mouth was seals shut with his lips crushed against his teeth. It was a device designed to intimidate and torture.
And it had been specifically made for him.
January 7, 06:06 EST
The man in question didn't bother looking up from the computer in front of him as Superman approached. "You've recovered."
The Man of Steel frowned at the subtle tone, the one that said the man wished otherwise, and chose to ignore it. He stood next to the focused detective, briefly glanced at the information on the screen, and sighed. All information the League and Team had gathered on the recent abductees was spayed out over several screens of the Mountain's Command Center. Despite already having analyzed every byte of data there was no doubt that Batman would not move from the spot until he discovered something that would lead him to Nightwing's location.
Sitting in the empty chair beside the Bat, Superman placed a hand on the distraught man's shoulder. "We will find him, Bruce," he assured him quietly.
"Before or after they torture him for the information – on both the League and the Team – that he possesses." Batman's hands fisted and he turned an almost frightened glare to Superman. "It's not just that the things that Nightwing knows could cripple us all if it falls into the wrong hands, Clark. It's…"
"He's your son," Clark gave the shoulder under his hand a gentle squeeze. "I understand that and that's why I know that we'll find him."
"What about his tracker?" A voice hesitantly interrupted the pair.
Turning, both senior League members watched as Superboy hesitantly approached them. Batman tensed at the sight of the one he felt responsible for their current crisis. "His com isn't working and his belt was left behind. None of the other tracers inside his suit have been activated."
"What about the bio-tracker he had implanted in his spinal column?" Conner questioned, keeping his distance.
Both men blinked in stunned silence before Batman slowly stood. "His what?"
"I assumed you were aware-"
"We already know what your assumptions lead to!" Batman roared. "Now tell me what the hell you are talking about!"
"It was just after the second Robin…" Superboy managed to suppress the flinch when he realized Batman was literally growling at him. He squared his shoulders and met Batman's hard gaze. "After Robin died, he was afraid what you would do if you lost another partner. He and Mal designed the prototype together: a tracer undetectable by -any known scanning device and powered by the body's own electrochemical processes. He had a portion of a vertebrae removed and fitted with an implant that also served to case the tracker. It was after Aqualad's… departure, so the traitor would not know of its existence. I believe that the current Robin has agreed to be fitted with a similar tracker when he comes of age."
Despite the still delicate nature of the second Robin's death, and the inherent risk such a procedure would have entailed, Superman was impressed by Nightwing's foresight. "Why hasn't he activated it then?"
"Because it has to be initiated by one of three computers," Superboy informed them, "The Batcave, the Watchtower, or this computer. Mal will know how to activate the program."
"Why isn't he in the Mountain?" Batman snarled, though it had softened minutely with the hope of finding Nightwing quickly.
"We had him on assignment in London," Superman turned to an open terminal and opened a channel to the Watchtower. "We can get him to a Zeta port within the hour."
January 8, 20:48 UTC -4
Nightwing hadn't seen Aqualad again.
There was no concept of time, alone and unmovable in his cell. At first he had tried to count the seconds, but after an estimated four hours, exhaustion had won out and Nightwing had fallen asleep. When he awoke, he had still been alone and he had no idea how long he had been out.
He had tried to escape, but the contraption confining his neck and the lower part of his face kept his head immobile. He couldn't contort his body as he normally would, and pulling against the cuffs on his wrists only succeeded in irritating his skin and tiring him out. Accepting his state as prisoner, he conserved what energy he had left and waited.
At some point Nightwing had fallen asleep again only to be roused when the door to his cell finally opened and a half dozen Black Manta soldiers entered the room. They went about their work silently, using a strange device to release the magnetic cuffs from the wall behind him, and pulled him to the center of the room. He fought them, refusing to be cowed by his predicament, but as he expected it was to no avail. A heavy fabric hood was draped over his head before hands gripped his upper arms and led him out.
Nightwing had no idea how long they had travelled. He had been escorted off the Manta-sub and into a vehicle of some sort. A relatively short drive later he was offloaded onto a plane where a needle punctured his bicep and he succumbed to the sedative within seconds. When he came to again, he was being strapped into what he assumed was a helicopter. That had been the last leg of his forced journey that lasted only a few minutes.
Now, he was being lifted out of the aircraft and held aloft by strong arms on either side of him. After being captive for God only knew how long, without food or water or release, he was in no condition to stand on his own.
They marched him out of the outdoors and into a building of some sort. Several minutes later, and countless turns and stairs and elevators, he had the sensation of being taken into a large open space. He was thrown to the ground, where he grunted at the pain the impact brought through his bound body.
He was breathing hard, the hood hindering the ability and he was becoming lightheaded. Large, strong hands grabbed onto his body and lifted him to his knees. He wavered, but the same hands steadied him and held him in place until he could stay in place. As they let go of him, one snagged the hood and slowly pulled it from his head.
"Magnificent," a deep voice breathed in wonder.
Unaccustomed to the lights, Nightwing clenched his eyes shut. They watered from the pain lancing through his eyes, even past his lids, but he forced them open beneath the mask he still wore. Nostrils flaring as he panted for breath, he stared up at the man looming over him.
The scars of Vandal Savage seemed to glow against the skin of his face as he stood in the moonlight flooding in through the skylight overhead. The leader of The Light wore a beaming smile that sent a bolt of fear through the captive. The man's large hand reached out and smoothed the wild hair the removal of the hood had caused Nightwing's head. The young hero cringed at the touch and tried to pull away, though the metal collar had him wincing in pain at the sudden movement.
Savage's smile widened and he took his hand back. "Your spirit is to be admired, Nightwing." He took several steps back and motioned for the soldiers behind Nightwing. "Put him in place, and then leave us."
Two guards lifted Nightwing from his knees and led him off to the side of the room. Two rods of gleaming metal were imbedded into the floor several feet from the wall, four or five feet apart. He was position between them, facing toward the center of the room where Savage stood watching, and one of the guards produce the same device he had seen used on the Manta-sub when they moved him.
The instant he felt the pull of the magnets release his arms, he was moving. He elbowed one guard in the throat, sending the man choking and gasping to the floor, while another he kicked viciously in the knee. Despite putting two of them on the floor, as weak as he was he was easily overpowered and manhandled into position. His arms were stretched over his head and the magnetic cuffs activated, stretching his arms almost painfully and holding them in place against the posts.
"Magnificent!" Savage grinned as the remaining soldiers assisted their fallen comrades out of the room, leaving captive and captor alone.
"Bruce Wayne has trained you well."
Nightwing stiffened at the words and could only stare as the villain approached. Once again the man's hand was reaching for him, stroking back the hair away from his face several times before his fingers started to pry the mask from his face. Dick cried out in protest beneath the metal gag but was otherwise helpless to stop his identity from being revealed.
He felt himself trembling as the mask was finally lifted away from his skin and couldn't stop the fear he knew was being exposed in his eyes. Savage's hand fisted the fragile mask while the knuckles caressed the side of Dick's face. He wanted to turn away, to hide, but his bindings kept him in place.
"You have your mother's eyes."
He felt his head skip a beat.
Vandal chuckled at the expression on Dick's face and turned his back on the captive teen. Frantic for escape, Dick pulled on the restraints futilely as he watched the man pick up a nearby chair and bring it closer. His amusement at hid prisoner's plight was obvious as the man draped himself elegantly in the chair.
"Shall I tell you a story, Richard?" Vandal leaned back casually. "It begins nearly five hundred centuries ago when I was not much older than you are now. In those times, I was a man of middle age, only a few short years left in my life if I were lucky. An asteroid stuck the earth one cold night near my village. While my fellow hunters were frightened and ran, I was curious and approached the warm glowing meteorite. The heat seduced me; a warm place to lie for the night and unlike my brothers I was guaranteed to see the dawn. I slept in the most comfort I had in my entire brutal life.
"When I woke, I was changed. I was smarter, stronger, and impervious to many perils of my age. I evolved beyond anything I could have ever imagined and continue to evolve even now. However, immortality is not without its costs. I was barren and could not father a child. Truly, not a great sacrifice by any means.
"But, as it must, time moved onward and civilizations were born and died. I witnessed it all, participated in some, and facilitated others. I have loved many women over the eons, but none would ever bare the fruit of my loins.
"And then I met a beauty unlike any other I had ever known," Vandal spoke almost reverently," with dark, ebony hair and alabaster skin, and eyes bluer than the purest sapphire." He glanced at Dick and smiled. "Eyes so very much like your own."
Dick felt like he was going to be sick.
"She was young when I discovered her, only nineteen years of life, and yet already she was married and devoted to her mate. I resisted for several years, yet I continued to seek her out. I followed her, desired her, and in the end I could no longer deny that Mary Grayson was meant to be mine. I took what belonged to me. I returned her to her husband, of course, when I was finished with her. But I continued to look in on her from time to time until the day she died.
"Imagine my surprise when on the first day of the following spring, a mere thirty eight weeks from our time together, she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Dark hair, alabaster skin, and eyes so very much like his mothers. And yet, he also looked so much like her husband. It was a possibility that she was already with child when I claimed her, and truthfully I had given up on the ideal of a child millennia ago. That is, until a young would-be hero came to my attention when he and his companions entered a lab under my control. A young acrobat who left behind a genetic sample that, when examine, bore a striking resemblance to my own."
The bile burned at the back of his throat as Nightwing clenched his eyes shut in a grimace of disgust. It wasn't true. What he was insinuating couldn't be true!
A palm against the side of his face was what alerted him to the fact that Savage had risen from his chair. The touch was gentle, a thumb rubbing against his cheek briefly, before it moved to the collar on his throat and a single brush of a fingerprint released the contraption.
Dick groaned involuntarily at the relief to his throat and mouth, the cool air sting the irritated skin for the first time in what could have been days. His mouth opened slightly and he gasped in several gulps of air past his lips. Knowing the man was looking for a response, Dick refused to acquiesce.
"Nothing to say, Son?"
"I am not you son," Nightwing hissed, his voice barely audible after so long of disuse and lack of moisture.
"Genetics say otherwise," Vandal gripped his chin painfully and turned his head from side to side. "The squaring of the jaw as you've aged, the sharper cheekbones, features that were not found on either Mary or John Grayson."
Dick yanked his face away from the grip and glared at the other man. "This is just some new trick."
"To what end, Richard?"
"Don't call me that!" he rasped, jerking against his restraints. "And I don't know, but I do know that nothing you say or do will ever convince me that you are who you say you are."
"Your father, you mean?" Vandal arched a chiseled eyebrow
"You are not my father!" He wanted to yell, to scream his denial for everyone to hear, but his voice barely managed to rise in volume.
"You intend to deny scientific proof?"
"Results can be falsified," Dick sneered.
The supposed immortal just nodded as if he had expected that answer. "Very well then, I'll just have to find some other way to get you to see the validity of my claims." He spun away from his prisoner and to a chest that lay on the opposite end of the room.
"To what end?" the unmasked Nightwing echoed the man's earlier question. "What could you possibly gain? No matter what you do or so, I won't betray my team or family to you."
"While I admit," Savage replied as he opened the chest and began searching through its contents, "that there is information you possess that interests me, it is not my primary goal. While I had given up the idea of having my own child, the revelation that I have sired such a… magnificent and capable son appeals to me. I was convinced five years ago, New Years Eve. Do you remember?"
"I remember you taking over the Watchtower and then the rest of the League," Nightwing snapped.
A low chuckle echoed in the room. "I was… perturbed, to say the least, when you and your companions interfered. But afterward, watching the footage of you taking on both Superman and Batman – the elite of the League – with nothing more than your wits and a useless Kryptonian clone by your side was what cemented in my mind that you were worthy to be called my son. I have wanted you ever since."
"You're insane, you know that?"
"Perhaps," was the response as he seemed to have found what he was looking for, "But that does nothing to change the fact that, one way or another, I always get what I want." Standing erect, Vandal turned and started toward his captive. The stone spearhead he held in his hand sent a shudder of apprehension through Dick.
The man opened his mouth to speak when the room was suddenly rocked by the tremor of a nearby explosion. A second later, while Savage was regaining his balance, his cell phone began to ring. He spared his prisoner a glance before he reached into a pocket and answered the call. "What is it?"
He paused as he listened to the answer and his head snapped toward Dick. Vandal gnashed his teeth together and Nightwing couldn't resist smirking at the self proclaimed immortal and wiggle his fingers in a condescending little wave.
"Deal with them! Do not let them near this room!" Savage disconnected the call by roaring and throwing it against the wall.
"Problems?" Dick asked innocently.
"It seems," the man stalked toward the restrained hero, seething with rage, "that the Justice League has discovered our whereabouts. Apparently, my agents were not as thorough as I had anticipated when they brought you to me. Where is it, Richard? Where is the tracker they used to local us!?"
"You'll have to kill me to get it," he answered truthfully, with no small amount of pleasure at the expression on the man's face.
He looked like he wanted to tear Nightwing apart, but a moment later he managed to reign in control of himself and slowly lifted the stone spearhead to eye level. "This," he explained to his hostage, "is the weapon that first tried to kill me after my evolution. In a battle with another tribe, I was struck through the heart. I removed it, and proceeded to kill my enemies with it. I should have died, fifty thousand years ago, and yet here I am."
The sound of shouting and fighting drew nearer to the door.
"A rather morbid souvenir, wouldn't you say?" Nightwing questioned, raising an eyebrow incredulously.
"I reminder," Vandal clarified, "of where I came from and the animal I once was. A testament of what I now am. Of what I will prove you are."
"And what's that?"
"Immortal, like your father."
Eyes wide with the comprehension of just what the man was going to do, Nightwing yanked at the bracers holding him captive. "I'm not your son! I'm not like you!"
"Haven't you ever wondered how it is you heal so quickly?" Vandal took another step closer, letting the jagged edge of stone play across Dick's exposed throat. Dick stilled in his bindings, closing his eyes against the not-so-subtle threat. "Why it is that injuries that would have killed another are just a few days in recovery for you?"
"You're wrong!" the young hero hissed.
A loud thud came from the door, quickly followed by another and another. "Nightwing!" Batman's bellow preceded another thud and the creaking of the thick wood as it began to give way to the Dark Knight's assault.
Vandal glanced at the door, then back to his captive. Without another word, he removed the ancient weapon from Dick's throat and drove it into the boy's chest.
A single gasp escaped Nightwing's mouth as his eyes went even wider at the fire that was suddenly surging through his lungs.
The door to the room cracked as Savage leaned in, forcing the spearhead deeper into Dick's flesh. A spasm caused the teen to cough, sending a splatter of blood over Savages shoulder and to the floor. Lips touched his ear as Vandal whispered, "You are my son. Now and forever."
The spearhead was twisted and Dick's cry of pain was answered by Batman's desperate call of his name. Dick's body went lax in his bindings, the metal biting into his wrists as he hung there, watching as Savage stepped away from him and opened a secret panel in the wall.
"And if… you're wrong?" Dick managed around the blood streaming up his throat and out his mouth.
Savage stepped into the passage and smiled as Batman finally managed to break down the door. "Then I have succeeded in killing the son of The Batman."
"No!" Batman howled and raced to his son's side, ignoring the immortal as the hidden panel closed and the man made his escape.
"… Bruce…" Dick choked and coughed up more blood, staining the Batsuit of the man before him. His eyes closed of their own accord, darkness overtaking his vision. The last thing he heard was Batman calling for Superman.
January 10, 00:34 EST
Recognize: Superman, 0-1
The light from the zeta tube dimmed after Superman stepped out onto the floor of the Batcave. He walked into the cave proper, frowning at the quiet that greeted him. He entered the main part of the cave just off of the Batmobile parking pad and looked around. The lights were all off and even the Computer was dark. With a disappointed sigh, he quickly changed into a spare set of clothing Alfred kept down here for him and started up the stairs into the manor above.
It had been almost twenty-eight hours since their assault on the base of Vandal Savage.
Twenty-eight hours since Batman had found his son with a stone spearhead through his chest and heart.
Twenty-eight hours since Nightwing had died.
Clark truly hadn't expected Bruce to be in the cave, but he had hoped.
Pushing open the secret door behind the clock in the study, the man who was Superman was greeted by a stony faced Alfred. "Master Bruce has been expecting you, Master Kent. If you will, please?"
Superman nodded and closed the secret passage and followed allowed himself to be led through the Manor despite having known his way through its corridors for more nearly a decade. "How is he?" he asked the gentlemen's gentleman softly.
"As well as one can expect, Master Kent." The old man sighed, one of the handful of times that Clark was reminded of Alfred's growing age.
Alfred showed him to an open door, a door Clark recognized as the one to Dick's bedroom. Before Clark could thank him, Alfred had bowed his head minutely and made his way back the way they came. With another sigh, he stepped inside.
Dick's body was laid out on the bed. The heavy duvet was pulled up to his chest with his arms resting on top of the fabric. Had Clark not known the truth, he would have thought the boy sleeping. Bruce was slouching in a chair next to the bed. His fingers were steepled together and pressed against his lips, pale blue eyes never moving from the too still form of his son.
"Before you say it, Tim's not here," Batman interrupted with a low growl. "He's at the Mountain with the rest of the team."
"They're going to find out, Bruce," Superman stated.
"You got him out of there before anyone else saw him," Bruce snapped.
"So, what? You're just going to keep Tim away when he's desperate for news on his brother? When they all want to know what happened and why he isn't at the Mountain or the Watchtower?"
"Damn it, Bruce!" Clark crouched next to the chair and looked up into the man's emotionless face. "You can't keep doing this! They have a right to know!"
"I won't be the one to tell them."
Hanging his head in frustration, the man simply sighed again and looked over at the body on the bed. "Bruce, it's been more than a day."
"It doesn't matter."
"No," Batman answered definitively. "I will not bury my son."
Clark's lips parted again to speak when Bruce was suddenly leaping from the chair. He moved quickly to the body on the bed and lifted one of the cold hands into his own while the other pressed down on the abdomen, directly above the diaphragm.
A second later, a ragged gasp shattered the quiet as Dick's body arched off the bad.
"Easy, Dick, easy," Bruce coached the suddenly living boy while Superman got slowly to his feet. "Slow, deep breaths like we've practiced."
Clark watched, relief spreading through him as Dick's color slowly returned to a normal pallid shade and not the waxy grey of death. When Dick's eyes slowly focused on him, he smiled. "Hey, kiddo."
"How long?" Dick gasped as he relaxed back into the mattress.
"Don't think about it," Bruce instructed, shifting on the mattress so he was sitting next to the teen.
Dick's piercing blue eyes locked onto Bruce's and frowned. "How. Long."
Bruce sighed. "Twenty-eight hours."
With a string of Romani curses, Dick closed his eyes and rubbed wearily at the bridge of his nose.
Clark stepped up to stand behind Bruce watching as the dark haired man shifted the blanket to expose the now completely healed chest. All that remained was a pale scar that looked several years old.
"How do you feel?" Bruce asked his son as he covered the chest again against the cool night air.
"Tired, but no worse than usual," Dick admitted, letting his arm flop onto the mattress beside him as he opened his eyes again to look at his father. "Twenty-eight hours?"
Bruce nodded. "You've never had a fifty thousand year old spear piercing your heart and lungs before."
"At least it's not as painful as the first time," Dick moaned.
The memory of that night was burned as much in Clark's mind as it was Bruce's. The night Two-Face had gotten his hands on a little bird and proceeded to beat him nearly to death. Bruce had gotten him back to the cave only for the boy to succumb to his injuries. He was inconsolable and Alfred had needed to call Superman to get Batman to let go of the battered little body.
That was the night Clark learned the Dark Knight's civilian identity and was horrified to learn that the knowledge came at the price of a ten year old boy's life. He hadn't known how to react to the discovery or the overwhelming grief that he felt at the loss of the little boy he had met only a handful of times.
Nor had he known how to react when the same boy's body had suddenly jerked in Batman's arms and let out a blood curdling scream as he returned to the living.
It took weeks for the boy to recover, his juvenile healing powers only capable of healing the severe internal injuries enough to maintain body function. As the years passed and Dick aged, the healing seemed to grow with him. Injuries healed quicker, leaving less scarring behind, and this was now the eighth time he knew of Dick coming back from the dead.
He just hoped that the next time wasn't the time that he wouldn't; and Clark didn't have a doubt that there would be a next time.
"He knows, Bruce," Dick's shaky voice interrupted the silence that had enveloped the room.
"Everything," the tired teen sighed and sat up, pushing back until his back was resting against the headboard. "He knows I'm his son. He said he's known since Cadmus Labs."
"We only discovered it after New Year's Eve," Clark commented with a scowl.
"From the skin cells and hair strands the Watchtower filtration and scanning system picked up," Dick nodded.
"So why didn't he try something before now?" Bruce questioned with a shake of his head. "Why wait?"
"I don't think he has," Dick answered. "Remember the Bialya mission?"
"Queen Bee's soldiers were ordered to take you alive," Clark slumped into the chair Bruce had vacated.
"And the bounty the League of Shadow's had on my capture the following year? Or the abduction attempts of Dick Grayson by known mercenaries over the years but we could never track down who hired them?" Dick shook his head. "He hasn't waited; he's just stopped being subtle about it."
A poignant silence descended on the trio until a soft clearing of a throat behind them alerted them to Alfred's presence. "Forgive the interruption, Sirs, but there is someone here desperate-"
A blur that was Tim Drake bolted past the butler and leapt onto the bed next to the recovering teen, slender arms wrapping around Dick's torso in a grip the promised to never let go again.
"- to see Master Richard." Alfred finished with a slight upturn on his lips. He bowed his head slightly to Dick. "It's good to see you awake, Master Richard."
"You're just waking up!" Tim's voice squeaked from where he had buried his face into dick's chest.
Bruce chuckled in amusement and gently pried the youngest member of the Batclan from his son. "Easy, Tim, Dick's still weak."
The fourteen year old nodded and shimmied up the bed until he was sitting beside his pseudo brother, their shoulder's touching, and calming with the contact. He eyed the three adults warily. "So… why couldn't I come back to the Manor?"
"Dick needed his rest," Bruce started only to be interrupted by a dismissing wave of Tim's hand.
"I've been here before when Dick's been injured," he pointed out with a serious frown. "What was so different about this time? He doesn't look that bad off to me."
Clark and Bruce looked to Dick who shrugged. "I'd wanted to tell Jason too. I think, as Robin, he needs to know in case something happens when we're in the field together."
"Know what?" Tim questioned, looking at Dick,
"It's your decision, Dick," Bruce assured him and started to rise off the bed.
Dick's hand held tighter to Bruce's and guided the man back to the mattress. "Will you stay?"
"That's my cue," Clark was smiling as he got up from the chair. He reached over and gave Dick's shoulder a squeeze. "I'm glad you're okay, kiddo."
"Me too," Dick returned the smile.
Clark excused exited the room as Dick started in on the explanation that would most likely take the rest of the night to accomplish. Alfred closed the door on the trio of Bats and followed Clark down the corridor. "I am pleased you were here, Master Kent. I know your presence comforts Master Bruce during these… episodes."
With an undignified snort Clark shook his head. "That's one way to describe them." The pair stopped at the top of the stairs. "I got to tell you, Alfred, I was really afraid that this would be the time that he didn't come back. So soon after Jason, I don't want to imagine what would have happened to Batman if that had been the case."
"I too fear the day when that may be the case," the butler admitted morosely.
There was a moment of quiet before Clark spoke again. "His heart was, literally, in pieces Alfred," he whispered to the man. "On my way here I use my x-ray vision to see the extent of the damage. He shouldn't be alive."
Alfred swallowed and sagged noticeable for a moment before straightening. "Then perhaps, despite the origins of his birth, we should be thankful that we may never have to see the day when he isn't. Now, it is late and we have all had a trying last few days. May I interest you in a cup of tea before you return to Metropolis, Master Kent?"
With a warm smile for the man many regarded as a Grandfather, Clark nodded. "Mint, this evening if you have it Alfred."
January 17, 18:12 EST
"… And in Entertainment news, Gotham's own teen heartthrob, eighteen year old Richard Grayson-Wayne, son of Billionaire Bruce Wayne, was seen on the arm of local Actress Melanie Danvers on the red carpet of the premier of her new movie, 'Crimson Falls'. The couple has been photographed several times in the last few months and speculation is growing about their rela-"
The video playback was paused on the striking figure the civilian persona of his son cut. If there had been any doubt, which he had had none of, it was quelled by the fact that the boy he was seeing on the screen should not have survived if had not the blood of the immortal flowing through his veins.
Reflected in the glow of the television, Vandal Savage teeth gleamed as his smile widened. Richard would stand at his side, of that he was certain. He would be patient, after fifty thousand years he had mastered that virtue. But sooner or later, Richard would be his; it was only a matter of time.
And if there was one thing he and his son had, it was time.
An eternity of it.