Batgirl immediately reacted, elbowing her attacker fiercely in the neck and turning to deliver another blow to his chest. But she froze.
Her whole body went rigid as she took in the person before her, flickering in the light of the bomb fire.
She knew that figure.
The muscles, the height, the way he stood when he was hurt or recovering from a punch. The curve of his shoulders, the width of his calves, the shape of his hands—even in gloves. He was in a different uniform, dark clothing with a steely hue and gilded armor. But there was no doubt. It was him.
It made her heart physically quiver. Her sternum felt as though it were pushing so hard against her chest that it would thrust her entire body towards him. Like a magnet.
But she caught herself, and the reality of the situation dawned on her. It finally sank in, and her throat constricted painfully.
They stood staring, taking one another in. Neither moved, neither breathed, and Barbara willed herself to say something.
"Nightwing," she said sternly, her voice cracking.
The Talon lowered his sword for a moment, as though reconsidering, and then he charged. Recovering from her shock, she dodged his attacks, ducking, sliding, rolling. She easily countered his moves. She knew him after all, probably better than anyone. Any time they had a brawl it always came close, and she had been getting better. But, as it would seem, so had he.
His sword came down on her and she met it with her steel-clad forearm. She shook under his weight as he put pressure down on her, his face only inches from hers. But she stood resolute, and her horror at seeing him this way morphed into anger. How could he have turned? How could he have abandoned her, everyone, like this?
"Nightwing," she said again, desperately, her arm weakening. Would he do it? Would he kill her?
"That's not my name anymore."
The steel in his voice sent daggers into her heart. She glowered and pushed away, kicking off of his chest into a backwards handspring.
She didn't understand. Why was he doing this? How had she lost him so easily?
"How can you do this? How can you hurt your friends? Your own family?!" she yelled, hoping to get under his skin, to spark a light in his eyes. The only explanation could be that he was possessed, deranged, sick. Something. There had to be an excuse.
He lunged at her, but she bowled away effortlessly.
"I don't have a family," he growled. "And there's no longer a fine line between friends and enemies."
"How can you say that, Dick!?" she screamed, surprised at herself for blurting his name. But did it matter? If anyone could get through to him, maybe she could. He had told her once that if something ever happened to him, something bad, that she needed to "take care of it", that she wouldn't let him hurt anyone. But she couldn't give up on him yet; she couldn't keep that promise right now. "Dammit, Dick. You're the one who always cared about everybody. You're one of us, remember?"
He ran at her and instead of dodging this time, she stood her ground¸ deflecting his blade with her spare escrima stick. He grabbed her and they rolled, somersaulting over one another, and she landed on top of him.
She wouldn't be able to hold his position for long, but she pinned him hard against the roof and stared into his covered eyes.
"Please, Dick. Remember who you are. Remember me. Remember us," her voice broke at the last word, the emotion of seeing him alive and breathing seeping through the stern countenance.
He stiffened, and a beacon of hope shot through her.
But then she was greeted with a hard punch to the temple and went flying to the ground.
Another one, a female by the looks of it, held out a hand to him, helping him up to a standing position. Betrayal in more ways than one swam through Barbara's veins.
She saw spots in her vision, and willed herself not to black out, but darkness came too quickly.
Nightwing was her anchor. He was everyone's rock. He kept a level head, and a sense of humor, and a smile that could light up Tokyo. He hated asparagus, and secretly watched the Bachelor, and loved elephants, and his brother, and his dad, and the Team, and her. He was full of outspoken, ridiculous love.
He used to be all of those things. He used to care about her. He swore once that he'd never hurt her, that'd he never let anything happen to her, that he'd take a bullet for her.
That Nightwing was gone.
"It's like old times, isn't it?" asked Tigress, lowering the binoculars.
Superboy glared at her. "How in the hell is it like old times?"
"Well for starters, you're getting pissed at everything I say…"
He rolled his eyes, but there was a playful smirk on his lips. Artemis had missed that smirk. It reminded her of when she and Wally would mess around with him and take advantage of the alien's naivety. And Dick would be cackling in the corner.
"I meant, in a way, it reminds me of when we had to scold Nightwing for all of his times being a little troll."
"I guess. Only, he isn't a kid anymore, and he's a murderer and a villain…"
Ouch. Hearing it aloud hurts.
"…Sometimes people change, but it doesn't mean the original person disappears…" she whispered. She knew that from experience. Her whole family led a double life, or rather, a triple life, considering their civilian identities. They were evil. They were good. They were the gray area in between. She hated them for what they'd done, but at the same time, she loved them, and she knew there were smiles and memories and feelings of similar love deep in their hearts. Somewhere.
Superboy didn't respond for a moment.
"We didn't leave off on a very good foot…" he confessed. Bart looked up, a question on his lips.
"I was angry with him for keeping secrets. Even when everything worked out I still…I didn't treat him how I should have. Then he disappeared, and the last thing he probably remembers about me is that I considered him a lousy leader and a liar." Superboy winced at his own words, casting his eyes downward with shame.
Bart patted the larger boy's back. "Hey man, guilt is like a poison arrow, right Tigress? It burrows inside of you and slowly kills you, even when the arrow itself is pulled out."
Bart was smiling sadly, and Artemis realized just how much he had matured through his course of returning to the past-ish present. He reminded her so much of Wally. His hair, his eyes, his uniform, his humor. The way he made light of every situation. She may not have been able to protect Wally, but she would try her best to keep his cousin—his successor—safe and sound.
They all froze with a mutual sensitivity for danger as a figure entered their peripheral vision. They shrank behind the roof machinery, alert and cautious.
"Target approaching," said Artemis into her ear piece, her throat dry. Oh man. Oh man. Oh holy freaking man.
The Talon hustled across the roof, but he seemed to be going in the wrong direction. Wasn't the entrance on the other end of the building?
Bart snapped his goggles into place and took off, mumbling something like "watch and learn" as he sped right into the assassin. Nightwing was flipped onto his stomach, and as he began to get up, Bart came around a second time, knocking him down once more. On cue, Artemis notched her arrow and sent it flying, and with the familiar hiss of release, a net encased their struggling captive.
Bart skidded to a halt, smiling smugly. "Well now, that wasn't too – "
White hot fire and flame erupted from the corners of the roof, the gas and smoke blowing them over like cards. Tigress cursed as she mistakenly breathed in a lungful of dirty air, only to feel her nostrils burn and her throat angrily protest. She could barely hear the sirens over the buzzing in her ears, but she already knew this mission was a bust. They'd underestimated just who they were dealing with.
Artemis glanced at Bart to make sure he was okay, and she couldn't help but grin at the casual boy dusting off his knees.
He was fine.
So HEY! I'm soooo sorry I took so long, but school and work have destroyed my free time! I'll update as soon as I can, but I honestly don't know when that will be. Please review, it makes me so happy to see what you guys think!