[EDIT: 12/1/2018 I wrote this when I was like…thirteen? So now that I'm 21 I'm slowly going back and making some edits because it's just soooo cringey and poorly written lmao. I'll leave the plot intact though. (All edited chapters will have a date at the top like this).]
This takes place right after Endgame. Instead of it being the 4th of July, Dick leaves the team the day after Wally dies.
"Business as usual," Dick said, nostalgia pulling at his lips.
But his smirk faded quickly at the thought of his late best friend, and he moved for the zeta tube, tears swelling behind the domino mask.
He couldn't be dead. Not him.
Dick waited for the bright light of zeta energy to teleport him back to Bludhaven, tilting his head upwards to prevent the tears from falling.
He'd lost his parents when he was eight, his entire family, and then just over a year-and-a-half ago his adoptive brother. But now his best friend? The Wall-man, WALL-E, Baywatch. The guy he'd shared his past with, memories only privy to Bruce and Alfred? His deepest fears and secrets? The man who had fought by his side since he entered the life?
Dick must not deserve happiness. Maybe it was some kind of curse that prevented him from cherishing something longer than a decade before it was ripped away.
The yellow light faded and his stomach churned. He always got a little nauseous after teleporting, but tonight he felt much worse. It probably didn't help that he hadn't eaten since Barbara forced a granola bar down his throat yesterday.
He began making his way to his apartment, swinging between buildings with his grappling gun. Usually the night cleared his head, but right now the whole world was closing in on him. Suffocating him.
Even though they'd defeated the Light and saved the world—honestly, what else did he expect?—he felt emptier than ever. Bruce had even come back, and Kaldur was in charge again, and all was right.
But none of that mattered anymore. It wasn't enough to heal this hole in his chest.
He just...he just needed a break. From everything and anything that reminded him of his mistakes.
He landed on the roof of his apartment building, ripping off the mask and wiping his eyes. Maybe he should just let it all out. Just scream at the world, at God, at whoever was pushing the buttons that made his life so difficult.
The worst of it all was he…he hadn't even resolved his issues with Wally before he was snatched away. He wouldn't have called their relationship a "falling out", but it wasn't how it used to be. Not at all.
Sure, they'd gotten Artemis back safe, which had lifted the weight of the sky off Wally's shoulders and eased some of the tension between them. But the last time Dick had really spent any time with his friend alone had been when they'd fought at the Hall of Justice.
Yeah, they'd had a few brawls between them, and there had been times when Dick wanted to rip the guy's head off, but this was different. It felt like Wally had lost all his trust in Dick, all his confidence. He hadn't looked at him like an angry friend; he'd looked at him like a stranger. And that hurt.
But it was too late to mend things now. Too late to say sorry, or goodbye, or—
Something was wrong.
Dick could feel it in the air. In his blood.
There'd been a shadow bulging out behind one of the roof heaters; he'd figured it was part of the machinery. It was gone now.
He hastily placed the mask back on his face and approached the ventilation system. He held his breath, listening.
After several heartbeats, there was a sharp inhale behind him.
Dick spun just as something cold and heavy crashed down on his head. He crumpled to the ground in surprise, more alarmed at his lack of attentiveness than the pain. Blood trickled down his temple.
Shake it off.
A man stood over him, tall with a stocky build, but the spots assaulting Dick's vision concealed his face.
Hunched over, Dick swung his legs around, hitting the man's shins and sending him to the ground with a displeased grunt. Dick shot to his feet and kicked his attacker in the face, watching him fall on his back, bloody and unconscious. The exhaust pipe fell out of his loose, unclenched hand.
Dick staggered slightly. Christ. The blow had been more severe than he'd thought. He rubbed the side of his head, blinking away the pain.
That was when he heard it.
A cold knot formed in his throat.
He knew that laugh better than his own.
Dick Grayson did not fear many things, he couldn't—not with Bats around, not as the leader of the team. And Joker himself wasn't what frightened him.
No. Dick's biggest fear—his biggest weakness—was his found family. His loved ones.
His blatant concern for his friends was dangerous. Unlike Bruce, Dick couldn't distance himself from the people he cared about, even if being close to them put them at risk. Dick couldn't shut his emotions off. Not effectively. He couldn't push his friends—his support—away. And Joker had used this weakness on more than one occasion to bring him to his knees.
The laughter echoed around him, and Dick clutched his escrima sticks with white knuckles. Eyeing the limp shadow on the ground. Waiting.
"Show yourself, Joker."
"Aw, Bird Boy, you should know by now to call me Uncle J…"
Merry. Ironic. Familiar.
The voice was a knife on bone.
"What do you want?"
Dick was angry at himself. He'd let his guard down, and now he was in a vulnerable position. He should have scoped the roof before touching down. He should have paid more attention.
"Well isn't it obvious, Night-twit? I want...you."
That was when the shot rang out, and the bullet sailed through Dick's body.
Dick was slightly aware of being dragged across the floor. He would slide along concrete for a short period of time, and then the person grasping the collar of his suit would pause, catch their breath, and continue again. Each movement had pain lancing through his ribcage. His senses were dulled, and he couldn't think straight.
He'd been sedated.
He tried to drown his fear by reciting calculus equations in his mind, over and over. It was something Bruce had taught him once. It helped pull his focus away from the pain, from the situation he'd found himself in.
Then the dragging stopped, and he fell backward, slumping against the wall. He blinked down at his body, realizing his hands and feet had been tied with wire rope—not that he had any motor functions right now anyway.
It wasn't just his muscles that had failed him. His eyelids were heavy. The world was blurry. The lights blinding.
Dick always hated this part. Coming back to the world slowly, struggling to grasp onto reality. Panic welling as he replayed the events in his mind.
What is this, the 12th time I've been kidnapped? Or is it unlucky 13?
He'd thought after he hit puberty the kidnapping would stop. But his enemies had shifted from child molesters or amateurs looking to coax a few million dollars in ransom money out of Bruce Wayne to the enemies of Batman and Robin. And now…now the enemies of Nightwing.
Dick's senses returned to him in pulses—coming and going, staying and receding. Each wave bringing a little more clarity.
With his senses came smell. The smell of antiseptic.
He was in a hospital of sorts; probably the mental hospital downtown that had been abandoned after a few lunatics set the bottom floor ablaze.
Dick checked his arm, already knowing his wrist computer would be gone. And of course, his utility belt. His shoes had been removed, along with his wire cutter hidden inside them. He was really wishing he hadn't removed the locator chip Bruce had implanted last year. He'd wanted privacy, trust. Now he just felt like an idiot.
Oh, god. Bruce.
He'd wanted to talk to Dick after returning to the Watch Tower, but Dick had been preoccupied with debriefing his team on Wally's…disappearance. He'd dismissed Batman—dismissed facing the disappointment in his mentor's eyes.
After all, Dick had failed as team leader. His plans had gone horribly wrong. He'd tried to be like Batman. He'd tried to make sacrifices.
And he'd failed.
After Wally vanished, they'd quickly become busy with tasks involving the Reach and the League, and the opportunity to have that one-on-one had passed. Dick hadn't seen his mentor in six months, and then he left the Watch Tower with nothing but a quiet, "Welcome back."
What was wrong with him?
What if that was the last time he'd ever see Bruce? And they hadn't even shared a proper reunion? He hadn't even told him he loved him.
He'd never told him that.
Dick lifted his hand off his stomach, observing the blood that peppered his glove. It looked like someone had bandaged his side in hopes of stopping the bleeding. Actually…he was pretty sure he felt stitches in there too.
Then again, Joker probably had some sadistic game planned in which he needed Dick alive. That was typically how these things went…
He peeled up the edge of the gauze to examine his wound more carefully. A clean shot, in and out. It didn't look fatal.
Minutes blended into hours, and Dick regained his bearings. Along with the full brunt of pain in his side. Throbbing every few heartbeats to remind him he'd been shot.
Dick attempted to distract himself by analyzing his room. Scheming.
By the looks of it, he'd been locked in an empty hospital wing, cords and equipment gone, windows and vents boarded up.
…Joker was learning.
Dick had been captured by the clown four times, and it was obvious Joker hated him more than anyone else. Or maybe it was just the Robin persona in general. He despised how Dick had claimed Batman's attention, how he was a "distraction" to his work. He loathed Nightwing even more for leaving the Bat, for being unappreciative and disrespectful.
Then he'd gone and killed Jason. And Dick had watched the villain snuff out another light.
"You awake, Boy Blunder?"
Speak of the devil…
Joker unlocked the door and stuck his head into the room. He was as hideous as Dick remembered, with perhaps just a few more cracks in his makeup. "D'aww, looky there at the Bat Brat, all sleepy and full of narcotics."
Dick sat upright, hiding his wince the best he could. "What do you want from me this time, Joker? Money? Batman? If you want I can call him over for a little reunion—"
"As much as I would enjoy that, I'm here on the behalf of someone else. And we can't keep him waiting. The poor man never learned any patience."
Dick tensed as the clown stepped closer. "You've partnered up with someone? Don't you usually just screw them over?" What idiot had trusted Joker with his infamous perfidy?
Joker gave a delighted chirp. "Hmm. I do work well alone, don't I? The Knight and I share that in common."
Dick rolled his eyes. "Come on, J. We both know how this goes down. You set up some stupid game to torture me. I escape and beat your ass. And a few years later, you hit the repeat button. Don't you get tired of failing all the time?"
Joker tilted his head at him. A sinister smile on his lips. "Careful, little bird. Or I might just snip your wings." He made a cutting gesture with his fingers. Snip snip.
Dick glared up at him. "I'd like to see you try."
Chuckling, Joker leaned down, tracing the blade of a cool knife along Dick's cheek.
His pasty face and yellow eyes sent a tremor down Dick's spine. He's insane, he reminded himself. You're dealing with an insane person. Know you're limits.
"Such disrespect…I thought after what happened to your replacement you would get the hint," the clown murmured. A smile split his face in two. "Maybe I should remind you exactly who I am...Dickie."
Dick's breath hitched in his throat.
Joker's grin widened at the realization on Dick's face. "That's right Tweety Bird. I know exactly who you are. Where you came from. Where you live. And you better not tempt me, or you might just end up like the rest of your family."
The knife dug into Dick's skin, warm blood pooling and trickling down over his cheek. Dick tried to flinch away, but Joker held his chin steady, the blade dipping toward his mouth to form one of Joker's signature scars.
"Joker!" a deep voice bellowed from the hallway.
The clown growled, withdrawing from Dick. Sighing, he fisted the hero's hair and dragged him out of the room and down the linoleum floor of the hallway.
Dick tried to fight back, but his movements were sluggish and painful, his attempts useless against his constraints.
This was a serious disaster. Heavy on the dis.
The Batmobile was quiet.
Quite and tense and full of the unsaid.
Tim shut off his wrist computer, looking out the window with a frown on his face.
"You're worried about Dick," Bruce deduced.
Tim sighed, his breath ghosting over the window pane. "He just left. Without saying anything." He closed his eyes. "Wally was his best friend."
Bruce pulled into the cave slowly, waiting for Tim to continue.
"You should have seen his face, you know, when we met up with the rest of the team. He was holding Artemis, and he had this look in his eyes. I've never seen that look before." Tim swallowed, glancing at Bruce. "I just...so much has happened to him, I'm scared that he...that he might...lose himself."
Bruce placed a hand on his shoulder, eyes stern but not unkind. "Tim, you're right. Dick has been through a lot, like all of us. But he is also one of the strongest people I know. He has to be. For you, for Alfred, for the team…and for me." He silenced the engine, tearing his gaze from Tim's. "Right now he just needs some distance. He'll be fine. He'll bounce back. Always does."
Tim nodded dutifully, but he wasn't quite convinced.
"Now, let's talk about you and Cassie."
Dick found himself tied to a table that resembled a large ironing board, turned upright like some kind of torture contraption, which…yeah, okay, this most probably was. His hands and feet were bound to the sides with leather straps, his mask gone. Lights blared down on him angrily.
He felt naked without his mask. What did it mean that their identities were compromised? Was Bruce safe? Tim? Barbara?
"Dickie, I believe you've met Deathstroke."
Dick lifted his eyes to the man before him.
He was clad in black armor and sported a goldenrod mask. His right eye was blue and cold, the left covered by the black half of his helmet.
Dick had crossed his path several times in his life, especially in the last few weeks when he'd been working with Tigress and Manta.
He wasn't particularly fond of the assassin.
He made sure the man was aware of this by adopting his most unimpressed and bored expression.
Deathstroke strutted forward, hands behind his back and chest puffed like royalty. He drew his sword, swinging it around a few times and then pointing the tip at Dick's neck. "Ah, the great Nightwing. Crime-fighter, leader of sidekicks, son of a bat...and a billionaire." He grinned at himself, amused. "Taken out by a single bullet and unmasked before you could lift a single finger? Frankly, I'm underwhelmed."
Dick raised a single eyebrow. Two could play at that game.
"Deathstroke, huh? I heard Aqualad locked you in the supply closet of a submarine. That must have been pretty embarrassing."
The man scowled.
Dick turned his attention back to Joker, who stood off to the side, tapping his foot impatiently. "Let's get on with this, J. I don't have all day. I'm a busy guy, got places to be."
"You're really in no place to make demands, Richard," Deathstroke said.
Dick flinched at his name. It didn't belong on the tongues of these criminals. Batman was going to hate him when he found out. Their identities were everything. Bruce had scolded him time and time again for letting his friends and teammates in on their secret. And now his openness had bit him in the ass.
"I'm glad you're as eager to start as I am!" Joker exclaimed, walking over to a table lined with all kinds of knives and weapons. His hand fluttered over his choices, and he hummed the tune to eenie-meenie. After some careful deliberation, he picked up a screwdriver and walked towards Dick, spinning the tool delicately over his fingers.
Dick kept his calm. He'd been here before. He'd make it through this. Whatever this was.
He glared back at Deathstroke, noticing his ponytail for the first time and almost dropping a witty remark, but he held his tongue. Deathstroke wasn't like Joker—he was a different kind of villain. He had to tread carefully.
"What is it you want from me?" Dick asked, watching Joker meander closer in his peripheral.
Deathstroke smirked, like he'd been waiting for the segue.
"After the Light and the Injustice League both suffered losses against school children, it became apparent that I could not rely on such inept organizations any longer. I figured it was high-time I ran solo again, and I quickly found work under a new employer. He is quite well-known in your home town. Perhaps you've heard of him."
Dick waited, clenching his jaw.
"He goes by Talon, and he's hired us to turn you into one of Gotham's finest assassins—into the most feared man the city has ever seen."
Dick snorted loudly. "You're joking, right?"
Joker bent forward, waggling his screwdriver menacingly. "Does it look like we're joking?" His crazy eyes widened comically. "Oh. Wait."
He erupted in laughter.
Terrible, terrible laughter.
Dick could feel his body come alive; the drug had worn off. Potent, maybe, but short-lived. He could fight his way out of here if he could find a way out of this table.
"Hate to break it to you, Deathstick, or whatever your name is, but your plan is already flawed. Batman is by far the most feared man...probably ever. Have you seen his bat-glare? Nothing beats that."
Joker seethed, rolling his neck around and looking at Deathstroke impatiently. "Can I cut him open yet?"
Deathstroke's eye flicked to the clown in annoyance before darting back to Dick. "We don't have to make this difficult, Dick. If you join us, we will train you to be great, more powerful than you can even imagine. The people of Gotham will grovel at your feet—you'll never have to resort to crime-fighting on rooftops again."
Dick shook his head incredulously. "What makes you think I'll just go along with this? Why would I become a villain and a slave—why would I work for you or for some Hawk guy?"
Joker shuddered, a desperate whine sounding in the back of his throat.
Deathstroke scrutinized Dick's expression, his determination, his courage. He sighed and waved his hand—very well.
Instantly, Joker pounced, jamming the screwdriver just below Dick's knee—eliciting a gasp of agony from the young hero.
It took a lot to make him scream, but Joker knew very well by now Dick's tolerance for pain. This was just the beginning of whatever torture he had planned.
"Do you remember Mr. Screwdriver from last time, Dickie? Or perhaps you'd prefer to be reacquainted with the crowbar. I believe it was your brother's favorite."
Dick spat in the clown's face, revulsion boiling in his blood.
"Bring it on, cake-face," he ground out, trembling in pain. They couldn't break him. They wouldn't. Bullet wounds and broken bones weren't enough.
Deathstroke clicked his tongue. "You have a lot to learn Richard..."
3:00 A.M. and Bruce was still sitting at the computer, reviewing case studies and responding to emails. He was ineffably past "far behind" in his work with Wayne Industries, but aside from catching up on all the meeting minutes and overdue reports, it was nice to be back.
"Master Bruce, I do wish you would take a small moment to recognize the mint condition of the Batcave. While you were gone, I spent a good deal of time waxing the—"
Bruce sighed, knowing the butler had been expecting something when he entered the Cave. "Alfred, thank you. It looks wonderful, and...I missed you."
The old man smiled warmly. "As I did you, Master Bruce."
When Bruce turned back to his screen, a window popped up suddenly—an urgent message from Atom.
In the video feed he was ashen, and the look in his eyes sent a cold chill down Bruce's spine.
"Batman...you need to see this."
The feed changed to a dark setting, featuring a lone metal table and a windowless room. Joker's repulsive face came into view, smiling excitedly into the lens of the camera.
"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, aliens and animals, put your hands together for your own beloved Nightwing!" The clown grinned a little wider and spun the table around, revealing a very bloody and exhausted hero.
Batman shot to his feet, eyes glued to the screen in horror. He barely registered Alfred's tray crashing on the floor.
Dick's mask was gone, the left half of his face bruised and swollen. His hair was disheveled, and his puffy eyes screamed with pain and…defeat. The top of his uniform was ripped open, revealing bright red gashes across planes of sweaty skin. There was a bullet wound in his ribcage. His knee was bleeding.
A knot formed in Bruce's throat, and he felt his fingers coil around the top of his chair.
Joker leaned into the picture, only the corner of his face within frame—one maniacal, yellow eye.
"Please grab a snack. Take a seat. And enjoy our show."
Dick hadn't felt this terrible in a very long time. He hated feeling helpless—and like someone had run him over with a freight train...
"Grayson, Talon is your great-grandfather..."
"Yeah, and you're a decent human being..."
"Stop wasting your breath. I'm never going to join you lunatics…"
"...Batman knew, and he didn't tell you...We have proof Dick. DNA, hidden records..."
But Dick was a people-person; he could usually tell when someone was being deceitful. He'd studied body language and mannerisms under Bruce. He'd interrogated countless criminals. He knew what someone looked like when they were lying.
Plus, he had brothers, and you learn from experience.
But he'd seen the pictures; there was no denying the resemblance.
"His name is William Cobb. He was taken in by Haly; the circus has ties with the Court of Owls. They generate groups of young athletes every decade for the Court to take and train as assassins..."
More photos. More pain. More laughter.
"...you were supposed to become an assassin, Richard. Everything you learned was for a purpose."
He felt something fly out of his mouth, and when he ran his tongue over the throbbing pain, he tasted blood.
These fuckers had punched out a tooth!
To his surprise, (and slight disgust), Deathstroke reached down and picked it up, holding the molar up for Dick to see. "This filling bears the mark of all Talons. This is who you are. Past, present, future. Your family was going to send you away to become a killer!"
"Oh but they died, Dickie!"
"Yes, their untimely deaths and your adoption by Bruce Wayne delayed your destiny as a Talon..."
"...now is your time to fulfill it. This is your fate. Claim your title."
What they said couldn't be true. They'd told him lies. Only lies.
Next, Deathstroke fastened wires onto his chest, dragging the ends of the cables behind the table. Even in Dick's half-conscious state he knew that could only mean bad things.
From the dark, a new figure emerged. The harsh light of the hospital wing illuminated his sinister grin, his pale face, his sickly brain…
"Remember me, Boy Wonder?"
Dick tried to free himself as the psychic approached, fighting against the straps. But he was so…tired. So weak.
It was useless.
The real torture was just about to begin. Something Dick was not accustomed to. Something he was not prepared for.
He was scared.
The psychic placed his fingers on Dick's temples, and Dick could feel him pierce his mind like a knife slicing across his skull. His eyes rolled back in his head as the images began to play—the news broadcasts of his family's death so many years ago, brains scattered across the floor, limbs bent in horrifying positions.
"As if lying to you about your past wasn't enough, Batman didn't even tell you that your parents' killer is still alive. Yes, Dick. Zucco didn't die from a heart attack. He went into a coma, and later, he was sent to jail. In a couple years, he will walk free, just like all the others."
Dick struggled against the restraints, the leather biting into his wrists. "Stop it!"
The images were graphic, and they burned into his eyes. For the second time.
Suddenly, he lurched upward off the table—screaming through gritted teeth.
A jolt of white hot electricity shot through his body, leaving a scalding fire in its wake. He'd bit through his tongue.
He could hear Joker's cackle in the background.
"You're not Bruce's son, Dick. He hasn't included you in his will. After a decade, you're still just a sidekick. Still just an orphan."
The images transformed into memories of Jason—happy, alive—and then bloody and burned and broken from the explosion.
"You're just another pawn. He put you out in the streets of Gotham at the age of nine. You were thrown into the field, likely to be murdered. And if you had died, as did your replacement, he wouldn't have ended the life of the man who killed you—he'd let him live on. Because you're nothing."
Another shot of electricity.
The pain was unreal; it felt like he was being ripped apart from the inside, like every cell in his body had been lit aflame. And there was no way he could pass out with Psimon holding his mind hostage—no matter how much he wanted to. He was trapped in his pain.
"You're not a hero. You're a disgrace, Dick. While in charge, you allowed your base—your friends' home—to be blown to smithereens. You let your best friend die without purpose; you put your teammates through hell, sacrificing them all for the mission."
Suddenly, Dick sensed a fear deep within him, a sensation so dark and frightening it almost made him forget he was bleeding from every pore.
Yet…the sensation was familiar.
He knew that feeling.
It was a feeling engendered by none other than Scarecrow himself.
What the hell was happening?
Dick didn't understand. All these villains—had they come together for this?
What was the point?
Did they just want to watch the son of a bat writhe in pain and beg for reprieve? Had they gathered here to watch him finally break?
He tried to hold his breath, but the toxin entered his lungs, and the painful memories became twice as horrific and gruesome, ten times as terrifying. A thousand times more potent.
Dick yelled for them to stop. Pleaded. Screamed.
His mouth was full of blood from the bite marks along his tongue, and tears streamed down his face. He couldn't fight anymore; it was useless. His heart couldn't take the physical and emotional turbulence.
He wanted it all to end.
"You're afraid, Dick. You always have been. You were raised by the Flying Graysons, famous for defying fear. But not you.
"How could you be Robin? How could you possibly assist the Dark Knight when you were afraid? Afraid he wouldn't need you anymore, afraid your teammates would all die under your command? And now, both of those fears have been realized, haven't they?
"You were meant to be alone, to bring suffering to others. You're determined, clever, and impulsive—traits of a true assassin. It's in your DNA, Dick, and like your great grandfather before you, you will become a Talon. And you will embrace it."
Another round of voltage sent Dick screaming until his voice ran hoarse.
Hope you guys like it so far!