The last chapter! It's sure been a LONG ride. My bad. But it's here!
*Mary is based off Mary Turner/Strix who's basically rescued from the Court by Batgirl. I didn't really have enough knowledge about her to write anymore, but I tried to incorporate her into this story.
"Am I dead?"
There was a slight chuckle. "No, you're not dead, Dick."
Dick opened his eyes, yellow light —sunshine— pouring into his room. There was only one face, bathed in warm colors.
The man squeezed Dick's hand. "Do you know who I am?"
"I..." Dick's head throbbed as he sat up against the fluffy pillows. He was in sheets. Real, comfortable blankets. He looked at the man hard, watching his face fall. He felt his chest swell with emotion.
Apparently that was the right thing to say. Bruce exhaled, tears welling in his eyes as he embraced Dick. At first the contact frightened him—Dick hadn't been touched compassionately in far too long—but then the young man pulled his adoptive father closer. Shaking, he buried his head in the man's shoulder, biting his lip to keep himself from sobbing out loud.
He cried, silently, for the first time in a long time. Regret. Guilt. Sorrow. Shame. All of it came undone from its tight ball of emotions.
He finally looked up. Bruce's dark eyes were lit with relief and sorrow and happiness. Together they said one thing: It's over.
But it wasn't.
Suddenly Dick pulled back, realization dawning on him. "Bruce, I killed so many people, I killed a boy's father. I changed, I..."
"Dick, it doesn't matter anymore," he said seriously. "That person wasn't you, understand? It was a man who was tortured, broken, and lost…but now you're healing, you've come back."
Dick's heart capsized. "Barbara, oh God what did I do? Is she…?"
Bruce glanced down.
"Bruce." Dick's stomach dropped. No. Not her too.
The man grabbed his arm firmly, mouth tight and small. "She's...she's alive, Dick. But she can't move her legs. She's paralyzed from the waist down."
No. No. No.
Dick closed his eyes and cursed. He removed himself from his close proximity to Bruce, and his mentor's eyes narrowed worriedly.
"Dick, it's like I said. You were under Psimon's influence. You were damaged…"
"Were? I am damaged, Bruce!" he hissed. He looked down at his hands, hands covered in blood that would never wash away. "I'm so sorry. Tell them all I'm sorry."
"You can tell them yourself, if you'd like," Bruce said softly.
Dick shuddered at the thought. "Do they know?"
Bruce shook his head. "They think you're dead. I didn't know what you'd want. I'm leaving it up to you to choose."
Dick met his gaze. The words that came next burned his tongue.
"I can't come back, Bruce."
The man who raised him watched with silent, patient eyes.
"I mean…how can I expect others to forgive me when I can't forgive myself?" Dick whispered. "I did so many terrible things. I know I'd forgotten…I know I was messed up, but I still did them, not always unwillingly. I was lost. I am lost…"
Bruce didn't answer for a moment, his eyes swimming with deep thoughts, plans, actions he would need to take to protect his son. They both listened to the birds chirping outside the window of some apartment Dick didn't recognize.
"It's up to you Dick. We can arrange a new life for you, where your identity isn't compromised. Where you can start over," Bruce said. "But you'll be alone. You won't be able to contact any of your old friends. Is that what you want?"
No, it wasn't what he wanted. But it was what he deserved.
He'd broken Bruce's rule, and even though his father was here now, embracing all of his faults, he knew their relationship was marred deeply.
Dick sighed heavily, and the stitches across his torso stung under the movement. "I think it's the only option. And I…I don't want to endanger any of them. The owls might still come after me, especially Cobb. He knows your identity now. Anything could happen."
Bruce didn't say anything. Instead, he grabbed his son's shoulders and turned him to face him. "I'm proud of you, Dick," he said. The boy shook his head, like he didn't want to hear anymore, but Bruce stared at him until he looked up. "I'm serious. You went through more than I'll ever understand. You could have let that fear and anger possess you, but in the end you found the truth and you fought. You saved yourself."
Dick swallowed the lump in his throat, and Bruce's hold tightened.
"Just know that I'm behind you no matter what, Chum. Whatever you choose, I'll be there."
Dick's eyes watered again, and he smiled.
Agent 37 rubbed his neck and began his long walk home.
He kept his eyes rooted to the dark spaces of the city. Not in fear. Just in the off chance he might spot a certain caped crusader.
He was an assassin, nothing could change that. So now he put himself to work as an undercover agent. It was a new chapter. A new life. A new identity.
The only remnant of his old life was a rare drop-in from Bruce.
On one occasion, he'd seen Mary, in civvies, at a coffee shop. They'd made eye contact, and a smile passed over her face before she left. He'd wondered if she'd somehow started over as well, if she'd ditched the Court. He wondered if she too were alone.
When he made it to his apartment, he dumped his pack on the floor and went straight for the pantry for some cereal. His appetite was finally back.
And yes, he still loved cereal.
Not everything had changed.
"What is it with this family and their goddamn secrets?" a voice drawled from behind him.
The agent froze, then he smiled and turned.
The young man was crashed on his couch, feet on the coffee table, cigarette in his uninjured hand. "You just going to pretend like none of this ever happened…? Play along like you died? You think that's easier on them?"
"No," Dick admitted. "It's just easier on me."
Jason sat up, the dim lighting illuminating his face, and Dick still couldn't get used to the fact that he was alive and breathing.
"Dammit…You saved me, you know."
Dick blinked. "What? If anything, Jason, you saved me."
"No, Circus Boy. You killed Joker. You turned my plan, my new life, upside down...even more than it already was. Then when you'd gone all anti-hero...I saw myself, Dick. It was like looking in some demented mirror." The agent's eye twitched, and Jason backpedaled. "No offense. It's just, I saw what I had become, how I'd...gone mad." He looked out into the night, eyes glistening. "I realized that I needed to stop. I needed to climb out of the dark, and I needed to bring you with me. You saved me."
Dick looked down. He and Jason were so similar now. They had both crossed over, had both broken Bruce's sacred law. They had both suffered at the hands of a clown, and they had both seen death...or something close to it.
"How do I forgive myself, Jason? Look what I've done."
"You're asking me?" Jason scoffed. "I don't have any answers."
Dick nodded, accepting this. He began pouring some milk into his Cheerios.
Jason's stubborn posture deflated, and he shrugged. "But…maybe someday, you can come back. I think even if Nightwing or the Grayson part of you is gone, that big brother aspect—that guy who bugs the shit out of all the people he cares about—he's still there. If you came back, to be with everyone…I think that's the only way you're gonna heal, man."
Dick beamed at his brother. "That was deep, Jay. Has dating Artemis somehow transformed you into a mushy guy?"
Jason paled. "How did you know about that?"
Dick chuckled. "You'd be surprised. Heard you and Tim hugged it out at my funeral too."
Jason shook his head and began walking away, towards the window. "You may have changed, but you're still a pain in the ass."
"Love you too."
When his brother disappeared over the edge of the window, Dick sighed. For some reason he wasn't surprised that Jason of all people had discovered the truth. He was happy that someone from his old life was still with him. Happier than he had a right to be.
Dick turned to the dark figure behind him. Clearly moving to a new apartment under a new identity had done nothing for him.
"What do you want, Slade?" he asked. He was concerned; his cereal was getting soggy.
The man removed himself from the shadows of the apartment and stood before him.
"You could have done so much," he said bitterly.
"Tell me about it," Dick replied, but the light tone of his voice had turned to an ashy venom. The darkness had never left him completely. It wasn't something he could exactly throw out. He reserved it for his enemies, and those like Slade, whom he still couldn't classify. But he wasn't afraid. Dick had learned that the only thing he feared was himself, and his own lack of control.
Slade strode forward, hands behind his back. "You could have risen as the greatest, most powerful Talon Gotham—the world—had ever seen. You came so far. You even abandoned your morality. But you fought it until the end. You refused power."
Dick frowned. "I was never meant to be a villain, Slade."
"Villain. That word has no meaning, Dick. We live in a world of blurred lines and values. No one is innocent, remember?"
"Maybe not," Dick conceded. "But doing the wrong thing is easy. You took the easy route. Killing out of vengeance for your son, out of pride and fear. I thought I was like you. But I was wrong."
Slade watched him with cold eyes.
"We could still join forces, Dick. We could have everything we ever dreamed of."
"No," Dick said. "Our dreams are different. We're different….I'm sorry."
For some reason, Dick didn't hate the man who had robbed him of a normal life. He didn't hate the person who had tortured him and destroyed his sense of justice.
He pitied him.
Deathstroke seemed to realize the change in Dick, because he smiled, just a little.
"My offer's never off the table, Grayson," he said, sinking into shadow. "But perhaps you're better off here. A forgotten hero. Just a memory."
Dick watched him disappear for good.
"I'm fine! I got it!"
"Christ you don't have to be a bitch about it!"
"Language, Master Jason!"
"He always talks like that, Alfred."
"Shut up, fucktard."
"See?" Tim wailed.
Barbara wheeled herself across the patio to the others, warding off Jason as he tried to assist her. Artemis laughed and squeezed his arm, and he stuck his hands in his pockets angrily.
They sat down at the table, the crisp spring sunlight dancing across their faces.
Bruce sat at the head of the table. He was grinning to himself.
"This looks fantastic, Alfred," Artemis exclaimed. They all agreed as they dug into brunch, and the older man pestered over who had enough potato salad.
Things were almost back to normal.
Then Tim seemed to register that Jason had taken Dick's old chair, and his face darkened. He set his fork down and stared at his plate.
"Hey," Jason said. He kicked Tim under the table. The boy yelped and glared at him.
"Ouch. What the hell?"
"Stop making that face. You look like Dick when I told him they stopped selling Wheaties."
There was a stark silence at the mention of his name, like it carried a heavy weight with it. It had been several months, yet a world without Dick Grayson was still a much colder, harsher world.
But the tension died when Artemis snorted loudly. Tim cracked a smile.
"You told him that?" he asked.
"Oh yeah. Literal depression, for weeks. It was awesome."
"That's probably why he grew his hair out so long," Barbara murmured. "He'd given up on life."
They all laughed at that one.
Even Bruce chuckled. His eyes flickered towards the shadow at the edge of the lawn, near the trees that lined the property. Then they returned to the conversation at hand, and he smiled.
Dick walked down through the trees. They were covered in cherry blossoms and it brought back sweet memories of his times at the manor. He'd scraped his knees so many times climbing those things that Alfred had almost banned him from the yard.
He looked down at the silver and gold pin in his hand and swallowed.
This agent route had been his escape from all he'd done to his family, all he'd put them through. He could hide behind his new identity and try to heal. For a while. But Jay was right. He didn't belong here, separated from all he'd ever known.
Because he was all of those facets of his life, put together.
He was an aerialist.
He was a superhero, on the non-meta squad.
He was the first Robin. Kid Flash's best friend.
He was Nightwing.
And he was and always would be a Grayson, a Robin, and a Wayne.
I went with the whole Agent 37 thing to stay true to the comics. But I'm pretty sure he's coming back. He HAS to come back.
Hope you liked it. Thanks for reading this far/waiting for a century. This was a fun project.
I guess I better update Always There...the other story I haven't touched in a year.
Love you guys,