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"I know Dick hates me right now; I understand. I don't blame him. He has every right. Alfred doesn't, hate me I mean...but he's 'disappointed' and doesn't understand. He's barely speaking and I know who has his sympathy. I understand both of them. I do and I don't blame them."
Leslie wasn't buying it and "You've gone too far, Bruce, you really have. You need to fix this and soon, immediately."
But he didn't agree. "I did it for his own good, you know that.,"
"Of course, but that doesn't make what you did anywhere close to being right. Dick has every right to be desperately hurt and it's obvious that you simply don't understand that or, worse, don't care."
He started to shake his head, "But..."
"Don't start with me, not now, not about this. You're in the wrong, you know it and you're too pigheaded to admit it."
Jesus, Leslie was angrier than he'd ever seen her and, dammit, wasn't even trying to see his side of it. "He was almost killed last night, it was just dumb luck he's alive and breathing and healing. If Joker's bullet had been a few inches lower or if that ledge hadn't broken his fall he'd be in a morgue now and I can't allow him to be in a situation..."
"That's ridiculous, you've allowed him to be in this situation since he was nine years old. You're a day late and a dollar short for that argument. Now get out of here and make amends. Now. No more of this; have you any idea what this foolishness is doing to Dick? You're taking away his identity, telling him that you don't have confidence in him, have lost faith in his abilities and threatened his entire sense of home and security."
For the love of... "I'm protecting him!"
"You're pulling the rug out from under him and I'm done arguing with you about this. Either you make this right or I'm finished with you."
"You don't mean that." But she did. The look on her face told him that. With no recourse he stood and left her office, proverbial hat in hand.
The problem was that he didn't believe he was in the wrong, knew he was right. The idea of a now teenaged sidekick was insane, maybe not as crazy as a nine year old one, but still stupid when you came down to it. It was a fatal accident waiting to happen and it was just luck that hadn't happened, at least not yet. This was a wake up call and one he had to heed, come what may. Dick was done with Robin. Period.
Entering the house, the manor, he felt the atmosphere had changed. It was probably his imagination but it felt heavy, depressed, sad and weighty. There seemed to be no light, only shadows and he knew he was the cause.
Alfred met him, silently taking his coat. "Where's Dick?"
"He's not here, sir."
... "Where is he?"
"The young Master declined to share his destination with me. If you'll excuse me, sir, I have duties to attend to."
It was close to a 'fuck off' as Alfred ever allowed himself and the effect wasn't lost on Bruce.
But he was right. This time he knew he was despite what anyone believed. Good Christ; how many times has the JLA, individually and as a group, taken him to task for allowing Dick to be in harm's way? They should be thrilled, happy, ecstatic and turning cartwheels, not acting like he'd administered hemlock to the boy.
Making his way down to the cave he began a slow boil. He was protecting Dick, helping him, making sure that he survived his teens. It was obvious the whole kid sidekick idea had been a mistake from the word go, he'd been told over and over by his colleagues; Gordon, Alfred, the world's press—now when he reverses a bad decision you'd have though he'd kicked an innocent puppy into oncoming traffic.
He was doing this out of love, dammit.
Booting up the main computer he accessed the GPS locator; Dick was at Titan Tower, probably licking his wounds surrounded by his friends. Of course, if Robin was dewinged then it stood to reason that his friends would come under pressure to disband. And since Robin was the Titan's leader, if he was out of the picture then the odds of the kids being able to carry on without him weren't too good. Who would lead them, make the life and death decision; Roy? God help them.
Okay so Robin's retirement would have further repercussions than just Wayne Manor or Gotham. This whole thing, the whole adolescents fighting hardened criminals was misconceived from the beginning, no matter what success they may have had. It had to end and this was as good a time as any.
So be it.
The news scroll on the monitor caught his attention: 'Unconfirmed reports suggest that Robin, who was seriously injured last night during an encounter with the Joker, may be forced into early retirement. It's unknown at this point whether this may be the result of significant injuries sustained or if some other factor may be involved. Stay tuned for updates as they become available.' Crap. Obviously this would be impossible to contain but he'd hoped for at least forty-eight hours before he'd have to deal with the story breaking, it seemed he didn't. And who talked?
Immediately the phone rang; Gordon.
"Batman? What's going on? Just how badly is the boy hurt and what's this rumor about him being cut from being Robin?"
"Not an option. If this is true it's going to explode across the world press and won't go away; you have top address this. But first—how badly is he hurt? The footage looked horrific."
"Answer me, goddammit. If that child is badly injured or worse, I'll bring you in myself for child endangerment and negligence."
It was an empty threat from Gordon since he'd allowed Dick, or rather Robin to function for years in Gotham with his praise and approval. However, that wouldn't stop every Tom, Dick and Harry from sticking their noses in and causing a shitstorm. Fine. "He was shot but it's superficial and has been treated, he's resting and should make a full recovery."
He could hear the exasperation at the other end of the phone. "Are the rumors true?"
"...I've decided that, for his own safety, he should stand down from crime fighting; I'll be working alone."
The silence was, as they say, pregnant. Then "You have to call a press conference and make an announcement. That's non-negotiable. Do it today to deflect the rumors."
Gordon was right, dammitall. He picked up the phone.
Donna knocked at Dick's door. He'd arrived late last night, went straight to his room without speaking, in obvious physical and emotional pain and hadn't made an appearance since. Enough was enough, it was time to talk.
No answer, she knocked again and was rewarded by an indecipherable mumble which she took as a nominal welcome. He was sitting at his desk, typing on his laptop, shirtless, his bruised and bandaged shoulder looking raw and painful. She sat on the bed a yard or so away. "So what happened?"
"I was shot."
No kidding, it had been on endless replay on every TV station, YouTube and everyplace else on the planet. You couldn't avoid it of you tried. "And...?"
"And so I came here to regroup."
And the reason he wasn't doing that at the Manor was? "What did Bruce say?"
"He thinks I should take a break for a while."
Dick still hadn't looked up or met her eyes. "How long a break?" C'mon, Dick; spill.
"Until I'm dead." The attempt at humor fell exceedingly flat and he dropped the false, small smile. "I'm fired; he retired Robin. Period, end of discussion."
"But...Jesus." He was serous. "Now what?"
He looked at her and just nodded. "So that's what I have to decide."
"Look, I know, okay? I have to do this myself; I'll think of something, I always do."
She knew when she was dismissed but hesitated at the door. "Dick? You're taking care of your shoulder, aren't you?" It would be like him to let it go, assume that it would heal on it's own and be fine.
He managed not to roll his eyes. "Leslie is on my case about it, I have antibiotics—he picked up the bottle—and the physical therapy is scheduled to start as soon as he gives the okay."
The press conference, as to be expected, was chaos. Batman growled through a prepared statement; "To put rumors to rest: Robin was, as you all saw, injured three nights ago while involved in an encounter with the Joker. He's alive, received treatment and is expected to make a full recovery. Thank you for your interest." With which he turned to leave, followed by a shouted cacophony.
"If Robin is all right, why isn't he here?"
"How bad was the injury?"
"Why hasn't he been seen since he was hurt?"
"How come there was a three day delay for information?"
"Where's Joker now?"
"Where's Robin? If he's okay, how come he doesn't show up himself?"
"So do you blame yourself for putting a kid in the literal line of fire, Bats?"
He paused, stared the reporters down and, cape swirling around him, left without further comment.
Back at Titans's Tower Dick Grayson was watching the live broadcast on the rec room couch, Roy and Wally sitting nearby. Saying nothing to the questioning looks and echoing his mentor, he stood up with some difficulty and returned to his own quarters, closing the door firmly behind himself.
Left to themselves Wally mused aloud. "Y'know, damn. Sure, Bruce can be difficult but this is a lot even for him."
Roy regarded his friend then calmly replied, "Bruce is an ass."
So things stood for a week. Dick remained at the Tower, Alfred (unknown to Bruce) stopped by daily with home cooked meals to entice Dick to eat and Leslie made sure that the wound was healing without problem and that he was doing the PT he'd need to regain full use of his arm—or as much as was possible.
Batman declined any further questions regarding his sidekick.
Commissioner Gordon was beyond frustrated at his inability to get any answers about, well, anything.
It was Donna who broke the stalemate. Finding Dick in the Tower kitchen ladling out some of Alfred's soup, she carried it to the table for him then sat opposite.
He glanced at her, knowing full well what she was asking. "So what?" Her look was enough to make him rethink his answer. "Okay. So, yes. I've been thinking about what I'm going to do now."
"And I have an idea." He sipped the chicken noodle.
"Dick, c'mon. I'm pulling teeth here."
"Robin is finished, at least as far as Bruce is concerned and I agree." Another spoonful of soup. "I'm not nine years old or twelve, I'm eighteen; I'm an adult, at least legally. It's time I moved on, evolved, grew up."
"You're scaring me a little, what are you planning?"
"I've decided to work on my own, at least for a while. Okay,I'll still work with the Titans but Batman and Robin are finished."
"Does Bruce know?"
"No. Not yet. He will."
Donna looked confused and worried. "But...what about Dick and Bruce?"
Dick paused, obviously disliking this. "I guess we're through, too, at least for a while. I'm going to become someone else, a not Robin vigilante, work my own cases, put what I've learned into practice and become my own man."
"Okay, sure; you've been doing our own thing for a while now but you didn't answer my question; what about Dick and Bruce?"
He shrugged, not answering, maybe not knowing the answer or possibly not wanting to think about it.
"C'mon, Dick—I've known you too long for that. You know what you want to happen, you're just not talking. You two are tied together, whether you want to admit it or not. Besides, Bruce wouldn't agree but he needs you a lot more than you need him. Think about that."
"'Not my problem." Dick gave Donna a steady look, considering his possible answers then, "He's an adult. He'll deal with it."
This wasn't good. Well, it had potential for not being good. She wasn't sure what she'd expected but it wasn't this. "Dick...you don't mean that."
He stood up, tired of the conversation and in pain. "In fact, I do."
Yes, he did. "But..."
He was close to having enough and they both knew it. Maybe his arm was hurting again, more likely it was more than his arm which hurt. "Look, I'm not quitting the business; I'm just changing things up so it makes more sense."
Donna nodded. Okay. "You know we're behind whatever you decide, don't you?"
Finally a smile. "It's what I count on." His smile got a little bigger and more real as he stood up with some obvious pain and gave her a careful hug. "Don't worry about me; you know I always land on my feet." Almost satisfied, she left so he could get some rest or whatever it was he needed at the moment.
"Alfred, any word?"
"From whom, if I might inquire?"
It was another three weeks during which Dick was visited by Leslie Thompkins and Alfred almost daily. Something was going on though he wouldn't answer questions which his friends had the tact not to ask.
Finally he started gentle workouts, slowly building his strength back, gaining flexibility and recovering his moves. Over the weeks he was coming back, his workouts harder, longer and he could see the improvement daily. Soon enough he'd close to where he'd been, at least physically. He spent hours on his computer doing whatever he was doing there.
Bruce never called as far as anyone knew and never stopped in to see for himself how his ward was doing. If Alfred was reporting back, Bruce wasn't responding with comments, encouragement or criticism. No one was surprised, least of all Dick. "C'mon, what did you expect; 'Gosh, son, what was I thinking? Please forgive me'? He fired me, he's done, he's moved on and so have I. Forget it, okay?"
That's where things stood for about another month. Dick stayed at the Tower, continued with his workouts both physical and mental and met privately with Alfred regularly to do God knew what. Alfred made it clear, in his way, that he firmly disagreed with the Master's decision and let it be known who he sided with, for which Dick was both grateful and relieved.
It was then that all hell broke lose. Deathstroke was back and having way the hell too much fun with way the hell too much inside information about the Titans. They knew they had to act and now was as good a time as any to let his friends (and others) know what it was he'd decided while he was healing physically, mentally and emotionally.
"Robbie, c'mon, move it—we gotta go, man!"
"Let me get into costume."
The new costume was mostly blue, high collared , baring a deep V of his chest, with yellow trim here and there. Alfred had delivered it three days ago.
They didn't have time for this. "Robbie?"
"Nightwing, remember it."
"Robin was killed by Batman when I was shot; Nightwing is his phoenix. Problems?"
Roy shook his head, whatever Dick wanted and a rose by any other name and all that. "Let's kick some ass."
Later, months later when Slade's trial was sabotaged by Gar, Bruce was paging through that week's issue of Time looking at the photos of the Titans when Alfred placed a cup of coffee beside him. Dick—Nightwing—was featured on page seventy-three.
"He looks well, doesn't he?"
Closing the magazine and dropping it in the recycling bin he nodded. "Yes, I suppose he does."