Mystery behind the death of Dick Grayson. An intriguing story showing a different side of the Bat family.
I own nothing.
“It’s him. Nightwing, right?”
“Nightwing is dead.”
The whispers spread like wildfire through the small crowd of police officers forming on the rooftop of the Gotham PD.
It wasn’t a sight that Commissioner Jim Gordon had ever wanted to see. Had ever thought he’d see. The body had been set down gently and with care, almost posed. Nightwing lay flat on his back and legs out-stretched, with one hand on his stomach and the other laying palm-up by his side. He had been deposited in a place where somebody knew it would be found by the right people; not left to rot in some back alley or forgotten yard where the murder had likely taken place.
A heavy sigh escaped Jim’s lips as he took a knee beside Nightwing’s body, looking down into the young man’s face. There was a bruise on his cheek and one on the side of his jaw, but the rest of his body appeared to be in decent condition for a vigilante. Except for the kill shot. A bullet pierced through the black fabric at the notch at the top of his sternum. Blood was smeared down across his chest, marring the brilliant blue stripe; but it also dripped upward onto the neck, the chin, the face. It suggested that the body had been upside down, or carried over a shoulder.
The Commissioner reached up with one hand, and pushed his glasses out of the way to pinch the bridge of his nose. His eyes fell shut. He couldn’t bring himself to look into the face of the dead man that he had known as a boy a second time. There was a terror that was about to be reigned down on the city.
“Don’t you want to know who he is? We could take off the mask, get a little peek in-“
When the whisper reached his ears, Jim’s eyes flew open.
“Nobody touches him,” He growled, pushing himself back up onto his feet. “You got that?” He demanded, turning on the young officer. “Nobody. Touches. Him.” When the young officer displaced his gaze, Jim too looked away.
“Boyd. Any sign of who deposited him here?” He barked, turning to look at where the Detective was squatting several yards away, over a small pile of blackened paper and string.
“Nothing but the remains of the firecracker,” he said. “Or cherry bomb, of some sort.” It had been the sound that alerted them that something was wrong on the rooftop. “I can analyze it-”
“No,” Jim interrupted, his voice softening. He looked back down at Nightwing. The former Robin, boy-wonder. “This is out of our jurisdiction.” Silence fell over the crowd of whispering officers, as they considered this. Jim paused a moment, before shrugging out of his long, fawn-colored trench coat. He laid it down over the body, using it as a temporary shroud. It didn’t cover below the man’s knees, but it would do for now.
“Everyone clear the deck. I have a call to make,” Jim said, as he stepped over to the giant spotlight that sat in the middle of the roof. There was no pause in response this time, as every hand made for the door. Nobody wanted to be around when the Bat arrived.
Jim waited for the door to close before turning on the light. A beam was sent up onto the heavens, illuminating the area surrounding just slightly. Batman would be in for a rude awakening when he arrived without prior notice. Batman was on top of a lot of things, but Jim didn’t think that this would be one of them. The body had still been warm when they found it, with no signs of rigour mortise setting in. He guessed that the young man had been killed maybe an hour ago.
Jim looked up at the sky for a moment, before walking back over to stand beside the body; to guard it himself until it was safe where it belonged.
Jim didn’t hear Batman land. It was the shadow he saw out of the corner of his eye, the Dark Knight silhouetted against the oversized spotlight. His head was tilted down, slightly, and though Jim couldn’t see his face he knew where he was looking.
Jim said nothing, but he stepped away from the wall he had been leaning his shoulder upon. As he moved, so did Batman. The dark mass descended down beside the shrouded one, his cape splaying out around him as he knelled. Jim observed the faintest amount of hesitation before Batman pulled back the coat.
Already rigid muscles grew only stiffer. Batman planted a hand down firmly on the ground beside Nightwing’s shoulder, his weight shifting onto it.
“Batman,” Jim said, quietly, after minutes had passed and vigilante had not stirred. “We can-”
“What do you know,” Batman said. His voice was almost impossibly low; each word grinding out from behind clenched teeth.
“Not much,” Jim began, and in an instant Batman was on his feet, pushing the ageing Commissioner back against the wall. Close as they were, Jim could still barely make out the man’s face. He didn’t fight back, but merely stared into the blackness where he thought the eyes would be. “We found him here, just like this, about fifty minutes ago now. Someone brought him here, and set off some crackers to alert us of his presence. That’s all.”
Upon considering this, Batman drew away and Jim’s heels sank back down against the ground. He watched as the detective stalked away from Jim, immediately spotting the remains of the firecrackers. Batman stood over them, looking down, before he stooped and picked apiece up. Jim expected him to stow it away for safekeeping and analysis. Instead, the man crushed it in his hand.
“Do you know who is responsible?” Jim asked.
Batman didn’t reply. He turned around and swiftly headed back towards them, releasing his hand. Stooping over, he pulled the rest of the Commissioner’s trench coat off the body. Batman’s demeanour changed as he began to pick up the body, becoming gentler than Jim ever would have thought possible. One arm under the man’s knees and the other behind his back, Batman hugged the body of his former partner to his chest, and stood.
Jim had seen Batman lift men larger than Nightwing over his head before as if it was no problem, had seen him hanging onto screaming and squirming victims with one arm as he pulled them to safety. But Nightwing’s weight pulled on him like lead, dragging his shoulders downward and hunching his body.
Jim said nothing as Batman turned to go. As the stooped vigilante passed close to the spotlight, Jim finally caught a glimpse of his face. Stony, with lips carved into a heavy grimace.
“We’ll find who did this,” Jim called, as Batman stepped up to the ledge. He shifted the body slightly, so that he had a free arm. “We’ll bring him down,” he said, and Batman was gone.
Jim knew they wouldn’t. He would. Batman would find who was responsible, and God have mercy on their soul.
“What- what happened? Batman, you have to come home!”
Tim’s frantic voice rattled through Batman’s communicator, but he ignored it. He had returned to the cave only long enough to place Dick’s body on the operation table and do a quick scan. He had been hoping to find the slug; but it had been a clean exit wound.
No. Not clean. The sight of the wound had been ghastly. Torn flesh pushed outward, bits of bone”the C7 vertebrae had been severed. Batman had looked at it as clinically as possible. He had shut down his emotions, closed them in behind not a wall but a dam that would eventually overflow: and they buzzed there, like a swarm of angry bees, just waiting. It had been impossible to keep the tremble from his hands.
As soon as he heard Alfred coming down into the cave he had taken his leave. He didn’t trust himself to speak; he didn’t trust himself to stop moving. If he stopped, he wouldn’t be able to get back up. He had barely registered the crash of the tray Alfred was carrying as it slipped from his numb hands when he saw Nightwing’s body lying prone on the table. He hardly heard the choked cry of “Master Dick!” as the elderly butler rushed to the dead man’s side.
But the time Alfred was calling for Bruce to stay, he had jumped back into the vehicle and put his foot against the gas even as the ceiling slid shut.
“Please. Please come back,” Tim’s voice was still begging on the line. “We- I don’t know what to do. We need your help. Bruce!”
Batman killed the line with the click of a button. Static flared until he shut it off completely, followed quickly by the communicators on his dashboard as they began to blink with messages as well. There was a part of him that hated to leave them alone, and a bigger part of him that hated leaving Dick behind. But he was in good hands, and there was an even larger part of him that had to find reason.
He already knew who it was. The leftover ‘firecrackers’ (as Gordon had called them) that had been left on the rooftop were what had given him away. They had been familiar, close to something he carried. Close to something Robin, and even Nightwing, carried in modified form. It was closer in construction to a cherry bomb, but weren’t something that needed to be lit. They exploded after being thrown against any hard surface, and would emit a cloud of smoke and a pop or crackle. A distraction device, plain and simple.
The one on the rooftop hadn’t belonged to anyone on Batman’s team. Judging by the scorch marks on the concrete surrounding it, this one packed a bigger bang. Batman had run into cracked versions of his own equipment before on the street, though usually the imitation was cheap. Not this time. Batman had seen this exact device used before, thrown at his own feet not two months ago. It was an efficient device and it wasn’t a knock-off. It was merely customised.
It belonged to Jason Todd.
4 hours earlier
“Please don’t kill me. I- I-.” A man quivered on the ground, pressed up against several black trash bags seeping their stench onto the street.
“You stole from the wrong guy tonight, scumbag,” Jason Todd said, aiming his pistol at the man’s head. His voice was somewhat distorted, coming from behind the metal mask he wore that made him Red Hood. He had always liked it. It sounded more menacing. And he didn’t have to mince his voice like Bruce did.
“Please! Please. I- I got a family. I got a wife and a kid!” The man sobbed, throwing his trembling hands up over his head.
“Huh. Does she know that you spend your free time with hookers?” Red Hood asked, cocking the gun. “And you beat ’em up when you’re done with them? Yeah. I didn’t think so. At least this way they’ll get your insurance money. Isn’t that right? Think of your family.” Jason grinned behind his mask, looking down at the scum that continued to grovel at his feet, snot dripping down his nose. Jason stepped forward, putting his foot on the man’s chest to keep him still.
“Goodbye.” No sooner had Jason spoken than there was a loud twang of metal on metal. The gun jerked out of Jason’s hand as it was struck near the handle by a well-aimed birdarang.
“That’s going to end really badly for you one of these days, bird boy,” Jason said, as he turned to face his newly arrived opponent. He wasn’t surprised in the least to see Dick perched upon the lowest railing of the fire escape. “Don’t you have another city to bother?”
“I’m just visiting,” Nightwing replied. “Besides, if I had stayed home I obviously would have missed the party.” He front flipped down from the railing and landed lightly on his feet, drawing the escrima sticks from his back as he did so.
“You just like to show off, don’t you,” Jason asked, finding the mouth of the alley now blocked. Dick was good, but Jason had been trained by the best too. That, and he had weapons that stung now. Moreover? He didn’t mind using them. The difficult part would be getting the (still snivelling) wad of scum out with him. Jason wasn’t about to just let him go. “I don’t have time to play games.” Reaching behind his back, Jason curled his hand around the handle of a knife. It was his favourite back up weapon.
“No. You’re too busy playing judge, jury, and executioner now, right?” Dick asked.
“You need to come up with a new phrase for that one. Overdone,” Jason growled, drawing the blade and lunging immediately for Dick. Dick crossed his two escrima sticks and caught the blade in the notch between them, bending backward slightly as he absorbed the momentum of the attack and then shoved it back at his opponent; kicking him in the chest as he did so.
As the two fought, each parrying the others attacks, the man that Jason had been interrogating began to crawl from the pile of trash bags he’d been cowering in.. The hero and the slum lord were still blocking his path. He eyed the fire escape; but he was a large man, and didn’t have the upper body strength to pull himself up. He nixed the plan as soon as it crossed his mind, and began looking around for something else that could get him out.
The gun. It lay glimmering on the ground not far from his foot. Seeing his chance- perhaps his only chance- the man grabbed it in his quivering hands. He aimed it towards the two fighters, and squeezed the trigger. His hands jerked upwards from kick of the pistol, and he nearly dropped it.
The sound of the gunshot rocketed through the alleyway, and instantaneously the man had the attention of both fighters. The bullet went wayward, and the man gave frightened yelp as Dick and Jason turned their focus on him. He began to squeeze the trigger, and for the second time that night a birdarang knocked into the fist holding the gun. The bullet bit the pavement, and the man quickly found himself being brought to the ground by Nightwing.
“Stay down,” Dick said, kicking the gun further from the man’s hand, holding him by the collar of his shirt. “Do you-” He was kicked in the back. His balance was thrown for only a moment, as he began to spring back to his feet.
“I wouldn’t,” Jason said, coolly. A click. Jason cocking the pistol. Nightwing froze, still half-bent over the man below him. Looking into his face, Dick saw fear reflecting back at him. Dick didn’t know who this man was, what Jason wanted with him; he probably deserved to be in jail, if the Red Hood was interested in him. But he didn’t deserve to die.
“Put down the sticks and turn around. No funky business,” he said, as Dick dropped his escrima sticks and slowly straightened, turning to face Jason. “Move out of the way.”
Nightwing simply looked at him, moving only to lift his hands slightly.
“He just tried to kill you, and you’re still defending him?” Jason exclaimed, thrusting the pistol forward.
“In my defence, I think he was actually trying to shoot you,” Dick said, though his face grew solemn afterwards. “I can’t let you kill him, Jason.” He took a small step forward, and a snarl appeared on Jason’s face.
“Don’t move,” Jason hissed. “You’re out of your little wings, anyway. Sucks not having a belt sometimes, doesn’t it? Can’t fit much in those little gauntlets of yours, can you, Dick?” Even disarmed, Jason knew Dick could do plenty of damage and he didn’t need any tricks to do it.
“You’re monologueing. Been taking a few hints from Lex Luthor recently? Being in the evil league of evil now, and all,” Dick said, twitching his fingers slightly. “Come on, Jason, put down the gun and let’s settle this like the real ex-sidekicks we are.” He grinned.
The corners of Jason’s lips drew downward. They would never take him seriously, not really. Not Dick, and certainly not Bruce. They saw him as… a charity case still.
Jason opened his mouth to retort, but there was sudden movement in front of him. Dick was moving towards him -no, he’d been pushed?- he was falling now and-
He’d pulled the trigger.
It had been instinctual. The sharp sound still vibrated around in his eardrums. He’d pulled the trigger.
Still holding the smoking gun in his hands, Jason put his hands out as Dick collapsed forward against him. He hadn’t been more than a pace away.
“Dick..?” Jason said, not really hearing his own voice. He wasn’t aware of the man responsible for this making his way out of the alley. He looked down at the man leaning on him. From the way he had fallen, Dick’s face was now hidden the crook of Jason’s arm. He wasn’t moving. Lifting one of his hands slightly, Jason found it covered in blood.
He’d killed him. One shot, and it was over. It was all over. Jason’s arms began to give out, but he caught himself before he could drop the defeated vigilante. The jolt had been enough to make Nightwing’s head shift. Looking down, Jason could see his face now.
Dick had always been fast. He should have been able to dodge. He’d dodged bullets before. He should have seen it, anticipated it, moved, disarmed him, sent them both to jail. That’s what should have happened. But Dick hadn’t moved. He hadn’t even seen it coming.
There was still the hint of that grin on the corner of his lips.
The only thing that Jason could hear was the steady drum of blood pulsing against his ears. It felt as if his heart itself was mocking him with each beat. You’re alive. You’re alive. You’re alive, it said. For a little while, at least. They would have found Dick’s body by now, it wouldn’t have taken them long with the cherry bomb he had set off. He had imagined rather than seen the bright light shining up against the grey clouds that hung above Gotham. Calling him in to take his golden boy home.
Thirty seconds? Maybe sixty, since he would be distraught? That was how long Jason gave Bruce to deduce the identity of Richard Grayson’s killer. His identity. Would it be or the cherry bomb he had used, or something else? Jason could only guess. But he would know. It was what he did. Track murderers and felons… Jason was one of those. He’d been one of those for as many months as he had been back from his wonderful trip in the green goo.
There had been parlays and pardons. He should have been back in jail so many times over that it hurt to even count. But the target on his chest was florescent now, lighting up all the shadows that he passed. Jason knew that in reality, he only had a certain amount of time to get out of the city. To leave Gotham- no, the country- in one piece. But it would only be so long before Batman caught up to him, as he always did with his rogues. Was it even worth running?
Jason had to wonder. Would it be this time that Bruce crossed the line, the one that he had chiselled into stone? Would it be this time that his anger overtook him, and the Batman killed? With this thought nibbling away at the back of his mind, Jason’s feet pounded the pavement and he ran half-blind down the street.
Blood stained his chest and arms. He had tried to clean his hands off on his jeans, but the sticky reddness clung to the creases in his skin and highlighted his fingernails. Even the drunks that he dashed by gasped and turned for a second take. By the time their lazy eyes caught up with the gory figure he was already halfway down the next block.
The blood pounded against his ears. You’re alive, it mocked.
Jason ran as if his life depended upon it, because it probably did. But he did not run for his motorcycle, or his hideout for a new gun. He didn’t reach for the edges of Gotham, because from this there would be no hiding. There was only one thing that could be done.
It happened faster than Jason imagined when Batman finally found him; he had expected at least an accusation first before the beat-down began. A strong, firm hand in a black glove wrapped around the collar of his leather jacket and yanked him back, away from the window he was gazing out. He hit the ground so hard that his helmet bounced on contact and left a ringing in his ears. A boot, and then a knee, was placed on his chest. His ribs ached. Hands were wrapping around the back of his helmet, feeling for a seam.
Jason felt a wave of panic as he stared up into the black face above him. He couldn’t so much as see Bruce’s eyes against the glare of the rising sun behind him, and imagined that was probably a good thing. It was all he could do to keep from lifting his hands to wrench the gauntlets away from him; and all too soon the protective red mask was being ripped from his face. Batman tossed it to the side, where it clattered away with several hollow clanks.
The fist connected with the side of his unprotected face once, then twice- and already, it was more than enough to have him seeing tiny bursts of light. The hands then gripped his collar, pulling him up only to push him back down again. Now the interrogation would begin, Jason thought, but a whimper in the far corner stayed the beast above him.
“Who is it,” Batman demanded this tone gravelly but alarmingly even. If Jason didn’t know better, he would have thought it was just any old night. No… Not night. On any old night, the Bat would be returning to the cave now; as the sun was rising over the bay, red and bright. Only, the cave was a morgue now.
“Who?” The voice was demanding this time, and accompanied by a thrust against the ground.
“If-” Jason had to pause to spit some blood out of his mouth- “If I told you that he was the one who shot- who shot him, would you believe me?” The only answer was silence, glaring down at him from the dark form that seemed to block out the light of morning. Batman looked even more like a shadow now than he did at night. Jason shook his head slightly, his ears ringing.
“I didn’t think so.” His own voice felt flat, too. Tired. “You’re thinking that he’d be dead if that was the case, aren’t you? That I would have taken care of it.” Again, there was only silence. But the hands curled even tighter into his jacket, and Jason struggled to swallow a mouthful of blood. “I tried to do it. Shoot him. Put the blame on him. You’d rather believe that.”
Batman stood, forcing Jason into a sitting position as his collar was dragged upwards. Over in the corner of the room, Batman could only just make out the form of a man hog-tied in the shadows. Halving the distance between the two groups was the discarded pistol. Batman began to walk forward, pulling Jason along by his side. The younger man scrambled to his feet to avoid being dragged forward, but he was sent quickly back downward with one quick throttle.
“That piece of FILTH is the last person Dick saved. Not some kid from a burning building, or a woman being mugged- a mother-fucking wife beater piece of scum!” Jason yelled, jerking one hand in the direction of the barely conscious man in the corner.
“Is that what you’re angry about, Jason? That the last person he protected wasn’t worthy?” Batman had stopped walking again. He stooped, and Jason prepared himself for another punch. But when the glove connected with his face this time, it wasn’t with force. The flat of his hand pushed Jason’s face to the side, and he found himself staring at his own once favoured weapon several inches from his face. His lips curled back into a snarl, and he tried to look away. The hand on his face forced his gaze to remain.
Jason tried to focus on the wood grain under his cheek instead of the gunmetal inches from his nose. He could smell the oil he’d used to clean it only earlier that night, mixed with residue of its recent firing. It smelt only bitter now.
He closed his eyes when he found he couldn’t turn. The glove moved away from his face, and the next thing he heard was the slight grating of metal dragging along the floor. Silence, and then the weight of the gun being pressed down against his chest. His stomach twisted. So this was it. He forced himself to look forward again, opening his eyes. The room seemed so much brighter; the sun was rising fast outside. He had to squint to see at all, and for a moment wondered if his eyes were playing tricks on him.
Batman had stood, and was stepping away from him. The gun still rested on his chest. As he sat up, it slid down, landing in his lap.
“Pick it up.”
“What?” Jason asked, looking up at the man.
“Pick up your weapon.” Batman seemed to bristle under his cape. His shoulders grew more tense, and his hands clenched into fists. There was a slight tremor in them, and Jason couldn’t tell if it was from the tension of his coiled muscles or something else. Maybe it was both.
Jason looked away, and then twisted so that the gun fell out of his lap before getting to his feet. He staggered slightly, and lifted his hand up to wipe away some of the blood streaming down his nose. As the sun rose over the bay, the room gradually brightened even further. The only sound in the room were the unfacilitated whimpers from the man in the corner. Jason longed to knock him out again.
“I’m not picking it up. You’re going to have to kill me without it,” he said, raising his eyes to look back at the man. “Because that’s what you’re-”
Jason didn’t get to finish. Batman had dove for him again, and the two were rolling in the dust on the floor. Jason fought back this time, parrying punches and throwing blows of his own, as his instinct for survival kicked in. No punches were pulled this time. Jason could feel each knuckle as it lanced across his ribs, could almost make out the pattern on the bottom of that god-forsaken bat-boot as it hit dead center on his back and sent him sprawling. He landed on his stomach and slid several feet, his outstretched hand hitting something cold. Lifting his head slightly, he saw the gun once again inches from his face.
His salvation. He could use it and be out of here- try the running plan again. His hand was already curling around the grip, as if urging him on this path.
Jason stood, the pistol in his hands. But he didn’t turn it on his opponent, but instead, whirled around and threw it with all his strength. It crashed through one of the nearby dusty windows, where it would drop several stories before plunging into the bay.
“I’m not going to do it!” He roared, as he turned back towards Batman. He bent forward slightly with the effort behind his yell. “I’m not- I’m not using that again!” He fell onto his knees and reached up to cover his ears with his hands. He could still hear the echo of the last time he’d used the weapon rattling around his head, already haunting him. He remained on his knees, head bowed, as he waited for the blow that would end the ringing in his ears. But it didn’t come. His hands eventually lowered to the ground, where he splayed them against the wood.
“You brought him to the rooftop. You could have left him, had hours on everyone. You could’ve been outside the city. But you’re here.”
Jason looked up at the sound of his voice. Lit from the front now, Batman looked less menacing. Less like a shadow, and more like a man. Even his voice was quieter. Jason looked down again.
“I couldn’t leave him like that,” He whispered, his shoulders hunching forward. “He didn’t deserve that.”
“Do you know where we are?” Jason asked, not lifting his head for an answer. “Nightwing helped me take down a drug ring here. Back- back… before everything happened. When I was still a kid. I was in over my head. So close to getting my head blown off, when he showed up.” Jason gave a dry chuckle. “He promised not to tell you anything,” he said, lifting his head slightly to look over at the man standing several yards away from him, batarangs still notched between each finger on his right hand. Ready, Jason thought, just in case he had decided to use the gun.
” I bet you knew anyway, though, didn’t you? The way you know everything that goes on here. The way you knew I wasn’t going to shoot you five minutes ago.” He lowered his head again.
“It was an accident,” Bruce said. Jason’s gaze snapped up.
“I killed him! It doesn’t matter what it was, he’s DEAD now because I shot him!” Somehow, Batman- Bruce- voicing what had really happened made it seem even worse. Pointless, even. Dick had been killed for nothing, by accident, protecting a lowlife. He deserved some sort of revenge, didn’t he?
The sound of footsteps drew his gaze up again. His jaw fell open as he saw Batman walking towards the exit, his boots sending hollow reverberations through the floor.
“Where are you going?” Jason yelled. “What are you doing? You’re leaving me?” No, no, this wasn’t how this was supposed to work.
“Get out of Gotham, Jason.” He had paused in the doorway, and turned to look back at the criminal huddled in the middle of the floor. He looked more like a man than ever now, his hands hanging limp by his sides. As he turned to go, Jason made out some final words before the room fell quiet again to only his pounding heart.
“That man in the corner wasn’t the last person he saved.”