Author's Note: This set of seven short stories will be based off a quote from Aristotle that reads: "All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, passion, and desire." They will mostly focus on Dick and Bruce, although one or more of the other Robins may make an appearance in a later chapter.
This first piece, 'Chance,' is a response to a request from firstar28 for a short prequel to my story 'Reconciliation,' and details the fight that leads up to the opening of that story. Being a prequel, no knowledge of 'Reconciliation' is strictly necessary for understanding the story.
It was pure luck that Batman was near the docks when gunfire broke out. He certainly hadn't planned on being in the riverine quarter of the city tonight; his evening had hinged on preventing a bank heist downtown and listening in on a midnight meeting between two of Gotham's worst sex traffickers. The burglary had been stopped before it started, however, when the thieves were pulled over for a broken taillight and then taken into custody once it was discovered that their vehicle was stolen. His contact in the red light district had informed him a short while later that the business discussion was being postponed, as one of the participants had a bad case of food poisoning. Those random occurrences had given him time to do one of his usual circuits, albeit at a later hour than usual.
Consequently, he was hunkered down on a rooftop watching the fronts of three buildings that had recently been home to a large counterfeiting ring when shots pierced the silence a few blocks over. He swung towards them immediately, trying to predict what he was walking into. There are at least four or five different weapons going off, his ears determined. Gang scuffle, maybe? His boots hit tin as he landed some fifteen feet above the action. …A shipment of some sort, he deduced as his eyes swept the alley and found a half-unloaded truck, several men on the ground around it. No blood, he frowned. They weren't shot. But then what…?
His answer came suddenly in the form of a black-and-blue blur that twisted and flipped through the guards that were still standing. They dropped to the pavement, unconscious, as he seemed to dance between them. Nightwing, the man on the roof thought, able to recognize the former Robin's style anywhere. He prepared to leap down – this is my city, he should have called in once he crossed the bridge - then hesitated. …No, another, warmer part of him spoke up. That's part of what got us to this point, was my inability to stand back and let him do what he does so well. He's avoided Gotham for this long; it makes no sense to think that he's trying to establish a foothold now. I'm not interfering unless it becomes necessary.
Superman had kept him somewhat in the loop regarding the whereabouts and activities of his son, but he hadn't seen him up close and in action since their last big fight three years earlier. As he watched, he couldn't help but be impressed. …He's gotten even better, he noted. I didn't really think that was possible, but…whoa, that was a hell of a move. Damn, Dick, have you been doing anything other than training? The police work that he was aware the younger man had engaged himself in hardly counted, being in the cowled man's mind a mere extension of a good vigilante's nightly duties. Trust you to find a way to do what you love best day and night, the corner of his mouth twitched proudly. Clever boy.
The alley went quiet. Below, Nightwing slowly rose from his defensive crouch, scanning the buildings from behind blank white lenses. For what, though? Batman wondered. For more gunmen, or for me? He'd be a fool not to expect me to show up after all that noise, and he's anything but that. His position on the roof made him invisible to anyone below who wasn't pointing a spotlight straight at him, but he knew that wouldn't matter. Sure enough, the masked face – familiar, painfully familiar, and yet different than he remembered it – stopped suddenly, staring upwards in his direction. …I suppose this had to happen sometime, he grimaced, preparing to leap down. I just hope he has a good reason for being here unannounced.
Half a second before he launched himself off of the building, several windows broke below him. A door at the base of the edifice on which he stood let a long rectangle of light into the street, and the alley was suddenly a very dangerous place to be as a hailstorm of bullets cut through it. The fact that the cowled man was in costume wasn't enough to keep a fearful gasp from escaping his lips as the figure being targeted melted back into the shadows. Dick…were you hit? He peered downward, and thought he could pick up a small splash of blood on the concrete. Bastards.
He hesitated for a moment, considering his options. I want these goons, he growled. …But if he's hurt, he's a long way from home. Nightwing's nesting grounds, he knew, were on the far side of Bludhaven, further from their current location than even the cave was. They've still got plenty to keep them busy, he judged as a few men braved the street, guns still clenched in their fists, to shove their fallen comrades out of the way and continue offloading. There's time to come back. If the younger vigilante had been too badly injured, on the other hand, he could bleed out in minutes. Unwilling to think about that possibility, Batman began to move around the edge of the open road, not wanting to risk swinging overhead and giving his presence away before he verified that his son wasn't in a desperate situation.
You didn't go far, he thought as he searched. Either you're too hurt to have gained much distance, or you're working on your next assault. I know you didn't run; you were trained better than that. A half a block away, he located him behind a dumpster, leaning against the filthy metal with a hand pressed to his side and his eyes closed. Dropping silently to the pavement a few feet away, he paused for a moment, drinking him in.
You're taller than you were when you left. Broader, too, although not by much. I swear you're never going to grow out of being skinny…it doesn't seem to matter how much work you do, you just aren't built for bulk. Where did you get that costume? It suits you…
"You done staring?" Nightwing asked without opening his eyes, a grin cracking his face below his mask.
"…I'm not staring."
"Sure," he agreed good-naturedly, straightening with a slight wince. "Sorry about the intrusion. It was unavoidable." Please don't get angry. I was just trying to protect you. I'm so sick of us being mad at each other, please don't use this to start another fight…
"Understood," the cowl inclined in a slight nod. "I'll want details later."
"…Later?" he asked slowly. "You mean…you want to talk as people?" Say yes. Please say yes. I've missed you so much, Bruce…
Do you want to…talk as people? He swallowed hard. Because I…god, I missed you, son. "…Later," he reiterated with less harshness than would normally have accompanied his having to draw attention back to a mission. "You're injured."
"It's nothing," he waved off. "A couple of grazes. Those guys are terrible shots." He kept his palm tight against his torso just above his hip, hoping that it would mask the fact that there was a bit more than a scrape beneath it.
Don't you have armor? That's foolish, Dick. We're going to have to have a talk about that. He peered secretly at the area being held. Is it just a trick of the light, or is the material darker there? That blood had to come from somewhere. You have a bad penchant for downplaying your wounds, you always have. I wish I could break you of it, but I get the feeling you learned it from me, so I suppose that isn't too likely. What could possibly have been so important as to draw you across the bridge and into a fight with what must have been more than twenty men total? "Do you have a plan?" he asked instead.
"…Are you offering to help me?"
"Your case, my territory, Nightwing." It's not an offer, his tone made clear. My presence is compulsory.
"…Right." He looked away for a moment. "I wasn't expecting those guys in the windows," he admitted slowly. "I thought I'd gotten everyone. There were certainly enough down for that to be a reasonable assumption." He sighed. "Did you see any roof access while you were up top?"
Batman recalled the details of the top of the building. "Yes."
"Well, you take the high road, I'll take the low. Normally I'd say it should be the other way around," he joked a little bitterly, "but if I drip on someone it'll give me away, so…sound good?"
"It's acceptable." It's what I would have done, he confessed to himself. "Are you sure you can make it?" he asked a second later when Nightwing stepped away from the dumpster with a little hiss.
"I'm not a child," he shot back. They stared at one another for a long moment before the younger shook his head. "…Let's go." I hope we still fight together better than we talk, he thought dourly as the cowled man rose back into the darkness that cloaked the rooftops. Otherwise, we're both in trouble. Why can't you realize that I can do this? Hell, I've been doing it, by myself, for three years. Stop treating me like I'm nine.
Drawing up to the edge of the alleyway, he crouched painfully and studied the scene. There are way too many guys here. I mean, I know the only guys who will run armor-piercers into Gotham are based out of Bludhaven, so the prices on this side of the river are even higher than at home, but this is ridiculous. I took out at least a dozen guys, and there's another six-pack working the truck right now. Including that asshole driver, his eyes narrowed as he spotted the man who had given him his worse injury of the night. This was far from the gunrunner's first encounter with Nightwing, who had been trying to nab him for three months. You're good at hanging your buddies out to dry when things get ugly, but you're not getting away tonight, he smirked wickedly in the shadows. I've got backup. Or…I'm backing him up. Well, whatever; it'll be twice as hard for you to run, that's what matters.
He saw Batman disappear over the peak of the roof, and decided about fifteen more seconds should be sufficient. Three…two…one! he counted down before tumbling forward from his hiding place. His side screamed at him as he folded into a roll to avoid a spattering of bullets and then kicked himself upright to disarm two men. The half-dozen outside joined their compatriots on the cool pavement just as a girlish scream emitted from the busted-out windows of the warehouse. What kind of fun do you have waiting for me inside? he thought joyfully, adrenaline allowing him to ignore the wetness now coursing down his thigh in rivulets.
The door was much too obvious, so he took a running start and flipped forwards, letting his momentum carry him through one of the already pane-free windows. Landing on his feet inside, he stumbled only slightly, then took in the glorious scene before him; a single black-clad man, using his fists to argue with what was easily fifteen of Gotham's most average street toughs. Excellent. He didn't call out as he ran forward, but Batman seemed to sense his approach and dropped down just long enough for his back to serve as a springboard for Nightwing to tackle a group of three. The younger man laughed delightedly as he smashed into them. Just like it used to be.
They found themselves back to back a few seconds later as they faced the last four, and in that moment each could almost believe that no foul words had ever passed between them. Before the daydream could settle in, they split, and two breaths later the fight was over. The pair stood for a minute, panting. "…Fun times," Nightwing said approvingly as they surveyed the carnage. "Although I'll bet the local precinct won't be too happy that they have to process thirty slobs. On the night shift, too," he chuckled. "Ow." His smile turned into a deep frown as his amusement jostled his side. "…Oh," he said faintly, looking down to find a small puddle growing beside his boot. "Shit. I'm fine," he insisted as the only other conscious person in the building swept forwards. "It looks worse than it is."
"…Alfred will be the judge of that," he said firmly, his stomach twisting wretchedly as he saw the wound in good lighting. We shouldn't have gone after them. You should have told me it was that bad, Dick.
"I can make it home, Batman," he crossed his arms, swaying slightly as he put up a nominal fight for his independence. But take me to the cave anyway. Please. That's where I want to be, really, I just…I just need you to recognize that I don't need to be there in order to do my job.
…But that's…that's where we're going. While he wasn't surprised that his son had begun calling somewhere other than the manor 'home' after three years of estrangement, hearing him actually say as much caused a knife of despair to slip between his ribs. Don't argue. Please. Come with me. "You don't have to stay," he tried to sound neutral, "but you could use medical attention. Besides, you owe me details on why you're in Gotham to begin with." He pressed a concealed button on his utility belt as he spoke, calling the car to their location.
I don't 'have' to stay? his eyes widened slightly behind his mask as the cowled man guided him outside, keeping close but managing to refrain from actually taking his elbow. …Does that mean that I could, if I wanted to? "Well…okay," he tried to sound grudging. God, I hope Alfred has fresh cookies…and that Bruce and I can keep from fighting long enough for me to have one. I don't want to fight any more, he stressed to himself. And not just because it cuts into post-patrol snacking.
He stopped for a second after they crossed the threshold, and now a gauntleted hand couldn't refrain from wrapping around his arm. "…Nightwing?"
"Fuck. The driver's gone!" he exclaimed, pulling away and storming over to where he'd seen the man fall. "That son of a bitch!" He slammed his fist into the side of the truck. "I've been after him for three months, and he flew the coop again! He's probably on his way back to Bludhaven right now to figure out his next shipment." He shook his head angrily, then regretted it when the world spun. "…Whoa."
"In the car," Batman said sharply, half-carrying him down the alley. "Don't argue. You're bleeding." Everywhere, a mildly panicked voice added. Once they were both seated and the doors had closed, he leaned over and began to pack the injury with gauze. I never should have let you fight like this. But then, he realized with a start, it wasn't really my choice, was it? If I hadn't shown up, you still would have gone in, but you probably wouldn't have come out. Jesus, Dick.
"…Bet that slimy bastard uses a lot fewer guys next time," the wounded man postulated. "Especially if he saw you and figures that the size of this operation is what gave him away. He doesn't know I tailed him across the bridge, I don't think. Just…couldn't get close enough in a safe place…" he trailed off, eyelids drooping.
"Stay awake," the black-clad man ordered as the auto-navigation sped them through the dark.
"I want that gunrunner, Bruce," he whispered, face pinching.
"…We'll get him," he swallowed the lump that formed in his throat as he heard his name spoken in that oft-wished-for voice. Together, if I'm lucky.