Dick Grayson has stepped down from Batman and become Nightwing again. But when Red Hood is attacked by a villain identified as Renegade, how will the Batfamily react? And what is Deathstroke up to this time?
So, a quick spoiler alert (It’s not much really) This chapter is set about half way through Red Hood and the Outlaws#1, just before Teen Titans#1 (Changing the backstory of the Titans, of course. I don’t like how they erased the friendship between Tim and Kon) setting the scene for Nightwing#1 and although I haven’t gotten my hands on Batgirl#1 or Batman and Robin#1 (Ran out of money) I am guessing it is before those two. However, there are mentions of things which take place in the comics. I am just making up what happened to Cass and Steph.
All characters are DC owned
The sun was setting across Gotham, the people finishing their day and retreating to the safety of their homes as the city’s night-time inhabitancies slowly roused. In the outskirts of the city, a house stood. This wasn’t any family home. This was Wayne Manor, the infamous dwelling of the city’s richest man, Bruce Wayne.
The lights were on, the family at home.
In his room, the oldest of Bruce Wayne’s children, Richard Grayson was packing. At 25 years of age, the young man had long since stopped living at home. However, the last year had seen that change when Dick had become the legal guardian for his youngest brother. The boy who was leaning against the door frame, arms crossed and infamous scowl on his face.
“You know, if you keep that look on your face, it will get stuck.” Dick commented as he folded the last piece of clothing, the blue bird showing against the black.
Lifting the costume, he carefully placed it in his backpack before zipping up the trick bottom. Being a vigilante hero since the age of ten, Dick had long since gotten use to keeping his equipment close.
Behind him, eleven year old Damian Wayne tutted.
“Grayson, you are an idiot. It is physically impossible that a look can become stuck on someone’s face.”
It was such a Damian answer that Dick couldn’t help but smile.
“Calling me an idiot Little D? You might want to be careful with that. People might start to think you don’t like me.”
“I don’t like you Grayson. You continued to degrade my father’s legacy by parading as Batman. It was truly embarrassing.”
Dick rolled his eyes.
“Well kiddo, you don’t have to worry about that anymore. Bruce is once again the only Batman and I will be going back to the Haven as Nightwing.” He said as he glanced over at Damian.
The kid look conflicted. Sure he played the tough card, but in reality, he was a kid. And one who didn’t have a stable home or loving family until recently. To be honest, Dick was worried for his little brother. It had taken so much work to bring the youngest Wayne out of his shell, a shell the boy was slowly retreating back into. Bruce just didn’t seem to understand that. In truth, Dick was worried for the future of Batman and Robin.
Stuffing the remains of his clothes into the pack, Dick sighed.
“Look Damian. I am not really going anywhere. Sure, I won’t be Batman anymore but I will be in the next town over. I promise I will be here whenever you need me.”
Picking up the last piece of clothing, a blue hoodie, Dick pulled it over his head. Tugging down the edges, he carefully smoothed the yellow and red emblem over his chest as behind him, Damian mumbled something.
“What was that Little D?” Dick asked, turning to his brother.
“I said, your clothing is an insult to my father.” The boy growled.
Dick glanced down at the jumper, Superman’s famous ‘S’ Shield proudly stamped across his front. It had been a joke present from Superboy, aka, Conner Kent. A few years before, when Tim had been searching for ideas for a present for his best friend, Dick had suggested a t-shirt to replace Superboy’s current costume. Conner had liked the black shirt with Batman logo so much; he had repaid both Tim and Dick in kind, getting them matching Superman hoodies. Tim had conveniently lost his but Dick continued to wear his, often to annoy Bruce and once to embarrass the Man of Steel himself.
And now, it was clearly embarrassing Damian.
Dick grinned and stepped towards the door and the scowling child. A look of panic crossed Damian’s face as the little assassin realised what was going on, but he was too slow to escape as Dick scooped him up, pressing the boy to his chest.
“I’m sorry little D.” He laughed, swinging the boy from side to side. Damian growled, his face muffled in the folds of the fabric.
“I will kill you Grayson.” He muttered.
Dick released Damian and stepped back, reaching for his backpack.
“You will take good care of your dad, won’t you? Make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid and help him and stuff?” He said, swinging the pack over his shoulder. Damian snorted.
“I am Robin. It is my job to help Batman. Plus, my father is not nearly as incompetent as you.” The boy shot at the older hero.
Dick smiled, ignoring Damian’s comment.
“I’ve gotta go and talk to Tim. See you downstairs in a few minutes?” he asked.
Damian rolled his eyes but stepped aside to let Dick pass.
“Grayson?” he called as Dick stepped into the hall. Dick stopped and turned back to his little brother. Damian took a deep breath.
“For what it’s worth, you could have been a worse Batman.”
Dick smiled again.
“Thanks Little D.”
Leaving the boy on his own, Dick walked down the hall towards Tim’s room. Opening the door, Dick peeked into the room. The middle child of the Wayne family was sitting on his bed, staring out the window.
“Hey Tim.” Dick greeted.
Tim turned to look at his brother.
“Hey Dick.” He replied.
Lowering his pack to the floor, Dick jumped on the bed, the sudden weight causing Tim to almost fall off his perch. Dick laughed as Tim jumped back onto the bed and grabbed the nearest pillow. The pillow connected with Dick’s face. Dick laughed and repaid in kind, the two brothers wrestling on the bed for a few minutes. Finally they called a truce and after a few moments to rearrange the bed, the two sat back down.
“So, what are your plans?” Dick asked.
“Well, Bruce has the little demon now, so he doesn’t need me anymore. Kon has been bugging me to hang out with him and Bart again. So I guess I will go back to the Titans.”
Dick sighed. This old argument.
“Tim, Bruce will always need you.” He said, hugging the other hero. Tim sighed.
“I know, I know.” He muttered.
Dick slowly released him.
“Well whatever you decide, I still expect to see you around Bludhaven occasionally. You are the only one I trust to help me clean up the Haven.”
Tim smiled slightly, nodding.
“Deal.” He said.
The two brothers sat in silence for a few moments before Tim jumped up from the bed. Walking to the desk, he picked up a folder before passing it to Dick. Dick opened the file and flicked through the sketches. He glanced up at his brother.
“New Red Robin costume?” he asked.
“Those are the finals. What do you think?” he asked.
Dick flicked through the sketches again.
“You got rid of the cowl.” He commented. Tim sat back down on the bed.
“Yeah. I’m sick of people making fun of me for it.” The younger hero replied.
Dick passed the file back.
“It looks great.” He answered. Slowly, he stood up. “Well, I had better get down stairs.”
Tim rose to his feet and followed Dick as his older brother shouldered his pack and left the room. The two made their way through the maze of halls and down to the garage where Bruce, Damian and Alfred waited with Dick’s bike.
Bruce was the first to turn and greet the two brothers.
“Dick. Are you sure you want to go tonight?” he asked.
Dick looked around at his family.
“Yes. It’s going to take a few days to get settled in and I want to be back out on the streets as soon as possible.”
Bruce nodded. Dick’s answer was of no surprise to the Dark Knight. Dick walked past the three, only pausing to run his hand affectionately through Damian’s hair. The youngest member of the family glared at him before pulling the hood of his jumper up and over his head. Dick smiled before walking over to his bike and picking up his riding jacket. Dropping his backpack to the floor, he slipped the leather protection over his Superman hoodie before once again sliding his pack over his shoulders. Turning back to his family, Dick quickly exchanged hugs with everyone. Even Damian reluctantly gave the hug before Dick retreated back to his bike, picking up his helmet.
“I guess I will see you all soon.” Dick said as he slipped the helmet over his head.
“Good luck, Master Dick.” Alfred called.
“Bye Dick.” Tim said.
“TT” Damian muttered.
Bruce stepped forward.
“Thank you.” He said.
Dick nodded before sliding the visor of his helmet down. Kicking the stand away, he gunned the engine into life. Slowly, the bike costed out of the garage and down the drive, fading into the night.
Bruce turned and left, heading down to the cave. It was time to start work. Alfred followed, leaving only the two brothers to listen as the motorbike disappeared. Finally, Tim sighed.
“Don’t worry Damian. He will be back soon.” He said, placing a hand on Damian’s shoulder. Damian shrugged it off.
“I’m not worried Drake.” He muttered, but he didn’t move from his spot, his eyes still scanning the night.
Tim rolled his eyes.
“Sure. Anyway, it’s time to go out.”
Not bothering to worry about his little brother, Tim turned and headed off to the cave. Slowly, Damian tore his eyes away from the night and following the rest of his family, went to protect Gotham.
Coasting through the streets of Bludhaven, Dick couldn’t help but look around. The city was un-surprisingly quiet. The Chemo attack and later nuclear fallout had caused most of the population to flee. Even in these areas where radiation was well within safe levels, most people still refused to tread. Only criminals and those who had nowhere else to go still walked these streets. However, there were signs of life. Street lights flickered in the dark. A lot of new buildings were rising from the ruins. A lot of people were returning and moving into new homes. The city was slowly rebuilding.
Dick stopped his bike in front of the building and looked up. It was one of the few hotels in operation. Kicking the stand into place, Dick climbed off his bike and adjusted his pack before pulling his helmet off. Resting it on the bike, he glanced around. It was just a casual glance, but he still saw it. The shapes in the dark. Narrowing his eyes, Dick watched as the shadows disappeared around the corner. There was a scream.
Leaving his bike, Dick jogged over to the corner and pressed himself against the wall. Looking into the alleyway, he analysed the situation. In the faded light of the main street, he could see the three thugs and their victims. Two of them were backing a young man up against the wall while the third had cornered a young woman. The woman was being held at knife point, the thugs hand over her mouth as she cried silently.
There was a groan as the male victim was knocked to the ground and kicked by one of the thugs. Dick thought quickly. Reaching up to the collar of his jacket, Dick pulled the blue hood out and threw it over his head. It should be enough.
He ducked into the alleyway.
“Hey!” he called.
The three thugs froze, turning towards the hero.
“Leave them alone.”
The thug holding the woman at knife point looked at Dick.
“Walk away man. This has nothing to do with you.” He shouted.
Dick stared at him.
“You are attacking people in ‘MY’ city. This has everything to do with me.” He replied.
The thug blinked at him.
“Are you for real?” he asked. Turning his head, he looked at his mates. “Ted, take care of this joker, would ya?”
The one called Ted left his victim and grinned, stepping forward. He had a crowbar in one hand which he swung lazily as he approached.
With a grin, Ted swung the iron towards Dick’s chest. Dick dodged, grabbing Ted’s hand and sending his knee into Ted’s stomach. The thug dropped to the ground with a shout of surprise as Dick freed the crowbar from his grip and spun around, the iron bar connecting with Ted’s back. The man collapsed. Behind Dick, one of the other thugs gave a shout. Dick turned and quickly dodged a series of wild punches as the unnamed thug attempted to advance on him. Ducking down, Dick brought the crowbar across the man’s knee. The man gave a scream of pain as he dropped before a well placed hit from Dick’s elbow knocked him out. Rising to his feet, Dick spun the crowbar in his hand. It wasn’t as good as his eskrima sticks but it would have to do.
Slowly, he stepped towards the final thug and in Dick’s mind, the ringleader. The man had released the woman who had dropped to the ground and was backing up, holding the knife in front of him as protection.
“Ok man, sure. Town’s yours. I get that. Just please don’t hurt me.”
Dick dropped the crowbar to the ground. The man blinked. Then he charged.
Ducking out of the way of the knife, Dick’s fist shot out, connecting with the thugs head. The thug fell, collapsing onto a trash can and sending it flying. The thug didn’t get up.
With a small sigh, Dick rolled his shoulders before stepping towards the woman on the ground. She was rummaging in her purse but gasped as Dick moved. Holding his hands up, he lent down.
“It’s ok.” He said in a low voice. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
The woman muttered something. Dick lent even closer.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear that.” He said.
The woman looked up at him, a hard look on her face. Something hit Dick in the stomach. Dick looked down. A thick metal dart had hit him, going straight through his jacket, jumper and t-shirt and into his abdomen. Wincing slightly, Dick pulled it out before looking at the woman. She held a gun in her hand. Dick’s head started to swim. He tried to stand up but found himself over balancing. He dropped to his knees, his vision going black.
The woman stood up.
“I said, but I’m going to hurt you.” She replied.
Dick hit the ground, unconscious.
The woman dropped the gun and her purse and reached for Dick’s bag, pulling it open as behind her, her male friend stood up. He pulled the padding out from under his shirt.
“So, is this him?” he asked.
Rummaging through the bag, the woman found the false bottom. Ripping it open, she pulled out the costume. She quickly spread it on the ground, the blue symbol visible in the dark. She looked up at her partner and smiled.
“This is him.” She replied.
Pulling his leather jacket closer against the cold, the vigilant known as Red Hood once again glanced through his mask and down the scope of his rifle. He had received a tip that one of Gotham’s more prominent drug lords was going to be meeting with his leading dealers in the alleyway some ten storeys below the roof where the former hero was now perched. The guy was a real piece of work, one the Batman had been trying to convict for many weeks. Red Hood couldn’t wait to hear what the Bat would say when he discovered his former partner got there first. Speaking of which…
Under the hood, Jason Todd smiled. Although he had been keeping off the radar (He really didn’t want to return to his cell at Arkham), he had made the effort to hear all that had been happening with his former family. Dick Grayson had been stripped of the cowl and run off back to his beloved hell hole Bludhaven, leaving the rest of the family to declare war against each other. It was amusing to listen as the family collapsed without the perfect son.
In fact, things had gotten so bad, even the Commissioner had been heard talking about it. The underground was ripe with rumours. It was the word on the street that the little pain in the ass that was the new Robin was refusing to work with the old Batman.
Jason didn’t doubt that. Bruce’s non-existent parenting skills were not enough to handle wannabe hero Tim Drake, let alone a ninja assassin with the social skills of a brick. The Al Ghul kid was not one to handle taking orders and Bruce didn’t have the temperament to deal with a kid who talked back. The Dynamic Duo was failing.
It probably didn’t help that Red Robin was still hanging around. Jason had to admit, he was surprised Bruce hadn’t kicked Tim out yet. After all, it was his habit after taking a new Robin, to get rid of the old one, at least for a while. It had happened to Dick when he had been fired and kicked out of the city. It had happened to Jason when he had been murdered. Even the female Robin had fallen into that trap. Hell, it was practically part of the job description. Once you finish with the short pants, you either die or disappear. But Tim was clearly fighting back, refusing to leave and making the transition between the old and new bird almost impossible. That had to be why the third Robin was Jason’s favourite to mess with. The kid’s mind-set didn’t allow for failure.
Shifting the gun to one shoulder, Jason stretched his back and glanced at his watch. The group was late. Jason hated when people were late.
There was a shift in the air. Jason may not have thought much of his time with Batman, but he was trained enough to recognise when he was being watched. Lowering the barrel of the gun, Jason turned his head enough to see with his peripheral vision.
A figure was just visible, crouching in the shadows on the corner edge of the roof. Running the image through his mind, he tried to identify the figure. Considering how quiet and observant the figure was, it probably wasn’t one of Gotham’s villains. The shadow was shorter then Batman and lacked the female anatomy of Huntress, Batwoman any of the Birds of Prey or the newest Batgirl. He too lacked the cape that would have suggested one of the Robins. In fact, the only hero who he could be was Nightwing.
With a small laugh, Jason rose to his feet and turned to the figure.
“Here to stop me Wings?” he asked.
The figure cocked his head. White lenses with a hint of red seemed to watch the Red Hood. Under his helmet, Jason hesitated. Nightwing wasn’t one for the silent treatment. Even as Batman, the guy was hard to shut up. Something was very wrong.
Unsure what else to do, Jason went on the attack.
“So, how does it feel to once again be under Batman’s thumb? To once again be forced to his beck and call? How does it feel to once again be in someone else’s shadows Dick?”
The figure was still quiet, not rising to the bait. Slowly, Jason started to reach for his hand gun, hidden away in his jacket. He didn’t know why, but he was starting to freak out.
The figure moved suddenly, throwing something towards Red Hood. Taken by surprise, Jason didn’t have time to dodge out of the way. The small metal object hit his shoulder, cutting through the thick leather of his jacket and digging into the flesh underneath. Jason looked down at his shoulder in horror, watching as the first few drops of blood seeped through the fabric.
There was a thud of boots on hard concrete. Jason looked up from his injury as the figure stepped closer, the shadows which had covered him before parting to reveal the blood red emblem across the figures black chest.
Jason mentally cursed. This guy wasn’t Nightwing. He couldn’t be. For one thing, his movements were all wrong. No matter what the situation, Dick Grayson always moved like an acrobat, an undeniable grace in his movements. This guy didn’t. Every movement was forced, strong, but with an element of hesitation, like the man was fighting against invisible restraints.
The costume was all wrong too. Sure, it was a little like the Nightwing costume, the same sort of Kevlar weave. Hell, even the emblem looked similar. But Nightwing had always avoided red. It was a violent colour and one Dick had never associated with after his Robin days. The gloves too were wrong. Three metal fins were fitted to the gauntlets, a wicked edge in the dim light. And then there was the cowl. As Nightwing and Robin, Dick had always avoided wearing a cowl, only accepting it when he was forced into it as Batman. This figure wore a half face cowl, leaving only his mouth visible. A feral grin showing in the gloom.
Jason took a step back. Normally, he was good at dealing with street punks wanting to play hero, and even better at dealing with wannabe villains. But this here was something new. This man looked powerful and deadly. Realising he needed a distraction, Jason waved his free arm slightly, dislodging the knife he had slipped up his sleeve. With impressive speed and accuracy, Red Hood hurled the knife at the advancing figure. The figure turned, the knife missing him by inches. A hand rushed out, catching the knife by its handle. But the distraction had worked.
Ignoring his throbbing shoulder, Red Hood reached into his coat and pulled out his pistol, firing at the figure. The figure ducked, rolling across the roof and jumping over the side. Jason ran to the edge and looked down, trying to see the figure in the dim light. There was no one hanging onto the side, no one on the metal fire escape. There wasn’t even a body at the bottom of the ten storey drop. It was like the figure had never existed. But there was something. Three scratches in the hard brick, only a few inches from the edge.
There was a small sound, like a breath.
Jason froze, listening to his surroundings as he re-adjusted his grip on the weapon. Long ago, Bruce had trained Jason to make his hearing his best sense. During a fight, eye sight was not reliable, subject to change in different surroundings. However, hearing never changed. Listen carefully and a hero had the ability to find an enemy even in the darkest places. There was a faint hiss off to his side.
Jason swung around, gun now facing the noise. Slowly he stepped forward, following the sound. He looked down. A small metal pallet was lying discarded on the ground. Air was hissing out of it, making a sharp whistling noise.
Realising he had been set up, Jason tried to swing around, but he was too late. A heavy boot connected with his back, knocking him off balance. Jason cursed as he dropped his gun, twisting his body to protect his injured shoulder and the metal still imbedded in his flesh. Using the roll to its full potential, Jason jumped to his feet and punched up at the figure. The figure caught his fist, blocking the punch. Spinning, Jason managed to use his own momentum to pull the figure in front of him. In surprise, the figure let go of his wrist. Jason immediately took the opportunity, reaching up to grab the figure, but the figure was faster, ducking down, his foot shooting up and connecting with Jason’s stomach. Jason gasped and took a step backwards, trying to regain his breath as he pressed his arms against his stomach. Instead of rising to his feet, the figure flipped himself upwards, balancing on one hand as he kicked at Jason again. This kick connected with Jason’s helmet, knocking him off his feet.
Jason hit the ground, his head swimming. Despite the protection offered by his helmet, the force of the kick had been enough to make Jason’s head spin, his ears ring and bright lights to go off in front of his eyes.
Besides the crumpled form, the figure flipped back onto his feet. Walking over, a black gloved hand quickly grabbed Jason’s crumpled jacket, dragging the stunned man across the roof.
Jason came back to himself as he felt his body being lifted off the ground, leaving him dangling. Quickly, he looked up. The figure was perched on the edge of the building, holding Jason over the edge of the ten storey drop. Quickly, Jason grabbed the figures wrists, determined to keep a hold on his attacker or, failing that, pull him over the edge too. He tried to speak.
“Who the hell are you?” he gasped, his voice soft and raspy from lack of breath.
Another feral grin crossed the figures face. Slowly, the figure lent over until his head was next to Jason’s.
“Renegade.” A deep voice said.
There was a sudden jolt as Renegade pushed Jason backwards, releasing him. Jason tried to keep his grip on Renegades wrists but it was a futile effort. Jason began to fall, his eyes fixed on his attacker.
There was a crash as Jason hit the fire escape, the fixed metal stopping his free fall only meters from the top of the roof. Jason let out a gasp of pain as the air was knocked from his lungs once again. Above him, Renegade gave a small laugh before turning from the edge, disappearing from view.
Rolling onto his side, Jason pulled his helmet off and tried to catch his breath. The metal protecting his head was dinted, the red paint scratched.
With a small groan, Jason closed his eyes, resting his head on the metal grate. In the distance, a siren echoed through the night. Jason’s eyes shot open. The people of Gotham had survivor’s instincts not to get involved in fights. However, any decent citizen would call the police at the sound of gunshots. Using the railing, Jason dragged himself to his feet and began the difficult climb back up to the roof.
Renegade had vanished, as Jason had expected him to.
Walking back over to his equipment, Jason quickly pulled out a small first aid kit and tended to his shoulder as best he could. The metal was still embedded, the only thing stemming the blood flow. He decided to leave it until he could get home.
Quickly, he packed away his stuff as in the alleyway below him, several police cars pulled up. Slinging the gun over his shoulder and tucking his helmet under his injured arm, Jason quickly readjusted the red mask over his face before making his way to the far corner of the roof. Releasing a line, he jumped, swinging away towards his apartment as behind him, the police stormed the building.
A screen flickered to life, recordings from a hidden camera sent down the line before the finished product was projected on the surface. In front of it, a man stood. He had shaggy white hair and a beard to match. However his most striking feature was not his hair, nor his impressive build or blue eye. Rather, it was the black eye patch where his right eye should have been.
The man stared the screen for a minute before smiling as before him, two warriors fought. In his hand, he swung a sword in lazy circles, ignoring the blood dripping down the metal.
Transfixed, he watched as one warrior bested the other, as the two disappeared, the winner to celebrate and the loser to lick his wounds. He watched as several policemen climbed onto the roof where moments before, the battle had taken place. He watched as the camera finally died and the screen went blank.
Finally he looked away, down at his sword and the puddle of blood underneath it. He sighed. Reaching for his pocket, he pulled out a piece of cloth and ran it along the blade, clearing away the blood as he turned. Without looking, he stepped over the two forms in their growing pool of blood. The young man and woman who had seen fit to try and blackmail him. The two bounty hunters who had delivered his prize before outgrowing their usefulness.
Still walking, he inspected the blade before sliding it back into its sheath on his back. As he reached the door, he turned back to once again gaze at the two figures.
You never, ever tried to cheat Deathstroke.
Turning back, he allowed the lights to dim as he left the room.
The first test was complete. Now it was time to greet the prodigal child.
Kicking the window with his heel, Jason only just managed to stop himself falling onto the wooden floor. With a groan of frustration, he pulled himself up and glanced around. The room was how he left it, a mess.
Dropping his helmet and equipment in the corner, Jason made his way to the kitchen. Kicking open the fridge, he pulled out a beer and opened it, gulping down half of it before kicking the fridge closed again. His shoulder throbbed. Turning, Jason made his way into the bathroom. Switching on the lights, the vigilant blinked in the sudden light before reaching up to his face, peeling his red mask off his face. He threw the mask into the sink before opening the cabinet. Rummaging around for a few moments, Jason finally found all he needed. Tweezers, sewing kit and antiseptic creams and bandages were carefully balanced on the sink.
Opening the sewing kit, Jason selected a spool of red thread, (Hey, he had a theme. Why break it?) and threaded a needle. Dropping it into his beer, he waited a few moments for the alcohol to seep in. Ignoring the little voice which told him Alfred would never approve, Jason removed his leather jacket and bloodied shirt. Then he picked up the tweezers and dunked them in the beer too. Looking down at the injury, he studied the metal still sticking out of his shoulder. A small trickle of blood was still leaking from the wound.
Securing the tweezers around the exposed metal, Jason took a deep breath, mentally preparing himself. Then, he pulled.
Even with the metal preparation, Jason couldn’t stop the groan of pain as the metal slowly slid out of his shoulder. Finally, it was clear. Dropping the object into the sink, Jason quickly retrieved his soiled shirt and pressed it against his wound, stemming the blood flow.
Picking up the tweezers again, he retrieved the needle and thread from the beer and sat himself down on the edge of the sink to work. With quick, confident actions, Jason sewed up his shoulder, leaving a neat line of red thread to hold the injury closed.
Wiping the blood off his body, Jason quickly applied the cream and bandages before rolling his shoulder, testing his muscles.
Happy with the results, Jason turned his attention back to the metal in the sink. Picking it up, he studied it. It was tiny, no longer then Jason little finger and shaped like a small throwing knife. The edges were barbed, designed to stay in place. It was an amazing weapon, one which would take a lot of skill to use effectively. Whoever this Renegade was, he was clearly well trained.
Jason had to admit, although he would never say it out loud; this guy was more than a match for Red Hood.
But when had that ever stopped Jason. Renegade had humiliated him. Jason wanted, no needed, to make this guy pay. Unfortunately, he didn’t think he could take the guy himself.
Throwing the weapon in the bin, Jason left the bathroom and made his way to his tiny living room, throwing himself onto the sofa. He turned his tv on, tossing the remote to the side as he let the room fill with noise. Leaning back, he stared at the ceiling as he began to plan.
If he were to stop this guy, he would need help. Someone strong enough to overpower Renegade, or at least give Jason an edge in the fight, but still dumb enough not to question Jason’s motives. Someone who would stand by his side in battle. Scarlet was the obvious option, but the girl was being clever, staying off the radar. And Jason wasn’t sure he wanted to pull her back from what was possibly her only chance to leave this life behind her.
There was always Red Robin. Tim Drake was a good fighter and together, they could get an edge over Renegade, but the continued resentment between the two brothers might just work against them. Plus, Tim was firmly under Bruce’s wings at the moment and getting to the little bird would be difficult.
Jason had recently been talking to the newly renamed Arsenal. The archer was still in mourning for his little girl and would probably jump at the chance to let some steam off. Going after Renegade might just help. However, Roy Harper was still a close friend of Dick Grayson’s and might just have an issue with helping Jason.
Jason slapped his forehead. Of course. Dick Grayson.
Jason’s older brother was off on his own, away from the rest of the family and any protecting they could offer. The former acrobat was a strong fighter and had demonstrated time and time again that he wanted to reach out to the rouge bat. It would not be hard to manipulate Nightwing into helping him track down Renegade.
Jason looked away from the ceiling and glanced at the window. The sun was rising over Gotham city signalling the start of a new day. Jason smiled. It was settled. He would rest now. Tonight, he would travel to Bludhaven to find the city’s new protector and propose a team up. Together, the two would find Renegade and make the guy wish he had never been born.
It was fairly early by bat standards when Tim Drake Wayne walked into the kitchen and sat down at the table. The room was quiet. Alfred had left earlier that morning to do the weekly shopping, leaving the rest of the house hold to its own devices. Tim had to admit, he wasn’t happy to be left behind. As Dick had predicted, the Dynamic Duo was struggling. Damian didn’t have the ability to see anything outside of his little world and Bruce didn’t seem to be able to control the wayward Robin. Tim had been forced to witness many battles between his father and brother, as Damian shouted abuse at Bruce and Bruce started him down. It seemed that the two had to argue about everything, from who was at fault when a crook got away to Damian’s strange habit of picking up stray cats.
Even as Tim sat at the bench, he could hear Damian starting up again. It was always the same. Damian would argue, Bruce would calmly talk back to the boy until they both gave up and the finally separate, Damian to sulk in his room and Bruce to either his study or to Wayne Towers. Tim would hide out in the kitchen with Alfred or go down to the cave and work on his new costume. Finally, the family would come together that night, all arguments forgotten as they transformed themselves into the heroes of Gotham and went out to defend their city. By the end of the night, Damian would have something else to complain about, starting the whole thing up again.
Resting his head on the table, Tim sighed and wished Alfred was there. The older man, like a grandfather to Tim, was always able to cheer Tim up when he was down. And Tim was very down. He was sick of listening to Bruce and Damian. He missed working with the Titans and talking with his friends. And mostly, he missed his older brother. It had been a week and a half since Dick had left for Bludhaven and he was yet to call. Tim couldn’t help but worry about his older brother. Dick had promised to keep in contact. It was not like him to break a promise.
Almost as if by magic, the phone rang. Tim jumped, knocked out of his thoughts. On the floor above him, Damian was still shouting. The chances that Bruce would hear the phone were slim. Jumping to his feet, Tim grabbed the phone and raised it to his ear.
“Hello?” he asked down the line.
There was a pause before a female voice spoke.
“Is Dick Grayson there?” she asked.
“No.” He replied.
The woman huffed.
“Are you his brother?” she asked.
Tim opened his mouth to reply but the woman started up again.
“Listen kid, this is Captain Amy Rohrbach of Bludhaven PD. Last night we pulled a motorcycle out of the harbour. The registration said it belonged to the rookie and this was the number given. So where is he?”
Tim blinked again. Dick’s bike was in the harbour? That couldn’t happen. Dick loved his bike. He would never let anything happen to it.
“Dick has been in Bludhaven for the last week and a half.” Tim said, finally gathering his thoughts.
There was silence over the phone as Dick’s former employer thought about the situation.
“Is this something to do with his other job?” she asked.
Tim only just managed to cut off his automatic denial. Dick had told him all about his former partner on the Police Force, including how she had uncovered his night time activities and for his own protection, kicked him out of the force.
Taking Tim’s silence for an answer, Amy continued.
“Look kid, I won’t have the bike impounded. If you manage to get in touch with him, tell him to come and pick it up. I wanna have a word with him.”
Tim agreed and said his goodbye, hanging up on the Captain. Then, he sat down to contemplate Amy’s words. It had been almost two weeks since Dick had been in contact with his family and now his bike had turned up, without its owner. Tim didn’t want to admit it, but deep in his stomach, he could feel that something was very wrong.
Picking up the phone, he rang Dick’s mobile and waited. The phone rang out. Ending the call, Tim placed the phone on the kitchen counter again, his mind racing.
It seemed like the Haven would be getting a visit from Red Robin tonight.
In his safe house, Deathstroke listened over the hacked line as the call ended. Once again, he was polishing his sword, the piece of black and blue Kevlar weave running along the blade in smooth, circular motions. Looking down at the material, he couldn’t help but smile. It had been the first move towards breaking Nightwing’s rebellious spirit, destroying his beloved costume in front of the captured hero, reducing the symbol to nothing but rags as he explained his plans for Batman’s oldest.
Nightwing had shouted abuse and fought against his restraints, trying to escape Deathstroke’s clutches. But all for nothing.
Looking over his shoulder, Slade Wilson glanced at Renegade. The young villain was standing quietly to attention, waiting for his next orders. His cowl was off, showing his pale face and glassy blue eyes. Very few people would recognise the young man as Richard Grayson, the oldest heir of Bruce Wayne. Even less would recognise him as the former hero Nightwing. The kid was dazed, unable to focus on his surroundings. Slade smiled at him. Reaching for his glove, the assassin pressed a small button hidden on the gauntlet, feeling the link between him and his favourite toy flare into life.
“Renegade.” He called.
The change was instant. The confused look disappeared, replaced by a look of absolute concentration as Renegade took control, looking towards his master.
Slade turned his back to his work, placing the piece of Kevlar back into his belt and sliding the sword into its sheath. Meeting Renegades eyes, he stepped forward until he was standing in front of the smaller man.
“There is going to be a visitor in Bludhaven tonight.” Deathstroke said, holding out the sword. “Kill him.”
Renegade nodded and took the sword, face blank but his eyes glued to Slade’s face.
“Yes Master.” The boy replied obediently.
Deathstroke smiled again and turned away as Renegade slung the sword over his shoulder.
“Come here.” Slade called.
Renegade followed him over to the computers, stopping when he was standing next to the mercenary. Deathstroke placed his hand on Renegades shoulder as pictures of Batman and his family flashed across the screen.
“It’s time. Time for your former ‘family’ to see who you really are. To see what I have been working towards since the moment you first fell into my life. It is time for the Bat to see just how dangerous you can be.”
Under his hand, Renegade flinched slightly, Nightwing breaking through for a moment. Then it was gone, Renegade’s face blank again. Slade noted the reaction.
“Batman thinks the worst he has to face in his family is Red Hood. Red Hood is nothing. He is a child, standing in the corner, breaking things to gain daddy’s attention. You are so much worse than anything he could ever be. Now it’s time to prove it. To show them all what you were and what you are going to be.”
Under his hand, Renegade was shaking slightly. Slade gave a small laugh and lent forward, his mouth close to the younger mans ear.
“You are Renegade.”
It was a freezing cold night, Jason noted as he jumped across the roof tops. Bludhaven was similar to Gotham in its structure and the familiar surroundings were comforting to the Red Hood as he moved through the dark, and yet Jason couldn’t relax. His shoulder was aching, the muscles tense from the injury and a disrupted sleep and his head hurt. He had been forced to part with his red helmet for the night, the dents and scratches proving too difficult to fix in the limited time Jason had before he begun the trek to the Haven. And to make things worse, Jason was jumping at shadows. A quick internet search before leaving had left him no closer to uncovering the identity of Renegade. No newspaper articles had mentioned the name, no superheroes were talking. It seemed that until last night, the guy didn’t exist. Or if he did, he existed as someone else. In Jason’s books, that was never a good sign.
Jumping across a small alley, Jason finally paused to catch his breath. He had been patrolling Bludhaven for the last three hours and still, Nightwing hadn’t appeared. The overgrown bird was clearly laying low.
With a sigh, Jason ran a hand through his dark hair. He was glad it was once again back to its normal dark colour. Dying it red had been fun, especially when Jason had spread doubts through Dick’s mind, suggesting their joint former mentor had practiced child abuse by making him dye it, but it was difficult to manage and in the end, not worth Jason’s time.
Finding a corner with a good view, Jason crouched down and looked over the city, contemplating his next move. If Dick wasn’t available, he would need to contact someone else. Renegade was a danger and needed to be taken down in the only way Jason knew how. Pulling his gun from its holster, Jason found himself automatically checking the weapon, insuring the barrel was clear and the safety was on.
Then he sat back to wait. Sitting near one of the main criminal centres of the city was Red Hoods last option. If Nightwing was going to respond to anything in the area tonight, Jason would find him.
Sitting back, Jason prepared himself to wait. Above him, thunder rolled across the sky. Jason glanced up. Beside him, a metal pipe pinged as a drop of water hit it. Another drop followed, and another. Before long, Jason was soaked, the heavy rain creating a thick curtain of water. Jason groaned. He was going to kill Nightwing if the hero didn’t appear soon.
The sky lit up suddenly, a fork of lightning cutting through the clouds. In its light, Jason studied his surroundings. He was perched in a mess of metal pipes and television satellites. Decided it wasn’t the best place to be during a lightning storm, Jason rose to his feet and turned. Another bolt of lightning lit up the night. Jason froze, the sudden light revealing a moving figure across the alley from him.
Ducking back down, Jason strained his eyes as he studied the figure in the gloom, the city once again fell into darkness after the brief flash of light. The figure was struggling backwards, as if he had been hit, a long piece of cloth dangling from his shoulders (“A cape?” Jason asked himself). Even in the rain, Jason could hear the splash as another figure landed on the roof across from him. This figure was taller than the first, shrouded in the darkness.
Jason watched as the two figures engaged in combat, both demonstrating impressive hand to hand skills. However, the first figure was slowing, taking hits from his attacker. Another bolt of lightning lit up the fight, showing the red and black of the two figures. Jason blinked. He knew those costumes. Hell, one of them was his own damn costume!
Red Robin was fighting Renegade. The teen was working hard, trying to escape his attacker but the Renegade was too good. Even as Jason watched, the villain kicked out, the kick connecting with Tim Drakes head, knocking the teen to the ground. Jason couldn’t help it. He winced. Although the cowl of the Red Robin costume was reinforced and Drake had an unusually thick head, the kick still would have hurt. And clearly it did. Tim crumpled, landing in a puddle.
Renegade turned away, pulling something off his back. Even in the dark, Jason could see the metal edge of the sword. Holding the weapon, Renegade started to twist the sword in complex patterns, almost like he was preparing himself. He raised the sword, stepping towards the fallen hero.
Jason felt a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach. Renegade was going to kill Red Robin. Without thinking, he raised his gun, flicking the safety off. On the other roof top, Renegade froze. He turned his head, almost like he was looking around.
Jason didn’t hesitate. He pulled the trigger, feeling the gun recoil in his hand. Renegade ducked to the side, the bullet missing him by inches.
Rising to his feet, Jason took a run up and jumped, landing on the other side of the alley. He hit the ground and rolled, his gun firing even before he rose. Every one of the bullets seemed to go wide, missing Renegade as the villain backed off.
Finally the cartridge was empty, the gun useless in Jason’s hand. Climbing to his feet, Jason threw the now pointless weapon to the ground and got into a fighting stance. Across the roof from him, Renegade slid the sword back into its sheath on his back. With a small battle cry, Jason ran towards Renegade, his fists already swinging.
Renegade was quick to block Jason’s punches and kicks, matching the former Robin swing for swing as the two exchanged blows. But it seemed the fight with Red Robin hadn’t tired out the villain but rather rejuvenated him. Two quick punches in the gut forced Jason back to take a defensive stance. Something flew past Jason’s head and caught Renegade on the shoulder, cutting through his costume and leaving a shallow cut on his skin. Both men paused, turning to where Red Robin had risen to his feet. Tim was holding a batarang in one hand, his bow staff in the other. With a quick flick of the wrist, Tim threw the second projectile towards Renegade, forcing the villain to jump backwards. In the few moments that Renegade was distracted, Tim ran to Jason’s side. No words were exchanged as the two got into a fighting stance, ready for Renegades attack.
But Renegade didn’t attack. Standing back, the villain paused, studying his two opponents. Water dripping down through his dark hair but the villain ignored it. Moving suddenly, Renegade turned and ran, throwing himself off the roof.
After a moment of shock, Jason ran to the edge and looked down, watching the dark shadow disappear in the rain.
“Coward.” He muttered.
“What the hell was that?” a voice asked at his side.
Jason turned to look at Tim. The teenager had followed him over to the edge of the roof to watch their attacker escape.
Jason looked him up and down. The kid hadn’t been able to take Renegade down by himself but the villain had run when the two brothers had teamed up. It looked like Jason had found his assistant.
“Renegade.” The older replied.
Tim put his bow staff away and glanced up at Jason.
“And who is Renegade?” he questioned.
“I don’t know.” He said, glancing at Tim.
There was a pause between the brothers as thunder echoed around them. The rain softened to a fine mist.
“Why are you here?” Tim finally asked.
Jason snorted. There was a reason why the Al Ghul family had named Tim the Detective. The same reason why Ra’s al Ghul practically stalked the kid. The kid just had to know everything and wasn’t afraid to ask. Jason looked down at Tim.
“Just looking for Wings. Can’t a guy come to town to visit his big brother?” Jason asked.
Under the cowl, Tim glared at him.
“You can’t.” He muttered.
Jason couldn’t stop his laugh at Tim’s tone, smile forming on his face.
“And why are you here, former boy wonder?” he asked.
Tim looked at the ground.
Jason felt his smile fall from his face. A villain appears who could hold up against Jason in a fight and at the same time, Nightwing goes missing? It couldn’t be a coincidence. Renegade must have gotten to Nightwing first.
Looking out the corner of his eye, Jason studied Tim. Despite the cowl, the older man could tell Tim was having the same though as him.
“We need to tell Batman.” Tim finally said.
Jason jumped. That hadn’t been the same thought going through his head.
“Whoa! What do you mean ‘we’?” he asked.
Tim looked at him.
“I mean, we as in ‘you'” He pointed at Jason. “And me.” He pointed at himself.
“As if, little bird.” He muttered. “You can face Bats on your own.”
Jason turned away, already plotting his retreat in his head.
“He knows where you are Jay.” Tim called at his retreating back.
Jason froze. Tim had a habit of saying all the things Jason didn’t want to hear. He turned back to where Red Robin was standing, arms crossed over his chest.
“He’s been keeping an eye on you ever since you escaped from Arkham. The only reason you aren’t back there right now is he decided to leave you alone until you step out of line again. When I tell him you were involved, how long do you think it will be before he comes for you?”
Jason growled under his breath. In front of him, Tim smiled, knowing he had hit a nerve.
“You have a choice. You can come with me now, make it look like it was your idea and get some of the credit, plus you get help to take down this ‘Renegade’, or you can run away and wait for Batman to find you and force you into it.”
Jason thought of all the ways he could shut Tim up.
“I take it there is no way of stopping you from telling him, short of murdering you?” he asked.
Tim shook his head.
“None. And anyway, Bruce knows I am here. If you were to try and attack me again, he would still find you.”
In his mind, Jason mentally added another reason to the list of things he hated about his younger brother. The kid was a tricky little bastard.
“Ok.” He finally agreed. “But I am not going back to Arkham after this.”
“Deal.” He said.
Somehow, Jason believed the kid would keep his promise. He sighed and shook the water out of his hair.
“Ok, let’s go tell the big Bat.” He said.
Tim turned, heading back to his bike. He paused for a moment.
“Jay?” he asked.
“What?” Jason snapped back.
“You keep trying to kill me but when Renegade had that sword, you stopped him. Why?”
Jason thought about this for a moment. He didn’t want to admit it, but the thought of someone killing his little brother just didn’t sit well with him.
“Well, I let him beat you up. Can’t let that guy have all the fun could I?”
Under his cowl, Tim smiled, clearly understanding Jason.
The cave was surprisingly quiet as Red Robin and Red Hood arrived. Jason was hesitating, already looking for escape routes as Tim pulled his cowl off and looked around, trying to gain a glimpse of the dynamic duo. He had sent a message to Alfred who had confirmed that both Batman and Robin were home, but that didn’t mean they had stayed in the cave. Finally, he caught sight of one of them. Damian was sitting atop of one of the gangways, his arms crossed over his chest. Like normal, the kid looked angry at the world and Tim couldn’t help but wonder what had happened this time. Over in the laboratory, an unmasked Dark Knight stood, preparing a sample for testing.
Tim walked over to his adopted father, noting how Jason held back, his hand still resting on his empty gun.
Bruce didn’t look up as Tim drew near, instead placing the sample on a slide for analysis.
“Robin is sulking.” Tim noted, waiting for Bruce’s attention.
“Yes.” The hero said. “I assume that Red Hood’s presence here means you have some important news.”
Tim quickly glanced at Jason, who was glaring at Bruce. Behind them, Damian jumped down from his perch. The kid didn’t like Jason, and wasn’t afraid to say so. Even now, the youngest Wayne was on the defence.
“Why is he here Drake?” he growled.
Jason turned and flashed the youngest hero a smile.
“Can’t help that your brother’s smart enough to come to me when he’s in trouble, can I?” he said.
Damian glared at him.
“Don’t you mean, you can’t help that Drake is idiotic enough?” he shot back as behind him, Tim rolled his eyes.
“Enough Damian.” Bruce called.
The Dark Knight had turned to face his three children, fixing them all with a hard stare as Damian tutted.
“What is this all about?” This comment was directed at Tim.
Tim ran a hand through his dark hair.
“I think Nightwing is in trouble. He’s been missing for almost two weeks.” He said.
“Forget him. I only came here to give you a heads-up.” The oldest son quickly returned Bruce’s stare. “There’s a new villain in Gotham and he’s good. Too good. He goes by the name Renegade.”
A strange look passed over the Dark Knights unmasked face. He moved forward suddenly, grabbing Jason by the collar of his jacket, preventing the second Robin from escaping. Jason looked at Bruce, suddenly nervous of the man as Bruce’s eyes flashed in the gloom.
“Jason, tell me everything right now.”
Back in his underground bunker, Deathstroke was fuming. Renegade had failed in his task, all because of the untimely intervention of the blasted Red Hood. The kid was supposed to be a villain. Slade had observed the many times the former Bat brat had tried to crush his family. Why would he risk his own neck to save a hero?
The wannabe villain had no idea how important this mission had been for Renegade’s development. Forcing the young villain to take his first life (Blockbuster didn’t count, since Nightwing had only been indirectly involved), and that of a sibling, would have pushed Dick Grayson to his breaking point and would have allowed Deathstroke to take complete control over the younger man, rather than simply controlling this subservient mask that was Renegade.
Instead, he still had the two separate personas, slave like Renegade and fiery yet beaten Nightwing. Neither was 100% what Slade wanted, what the mercenary had worked towards ever since meeting the younger man many years before and seeing his potential.
However, all was not lost. The message had gotten out, the Bat and his little allies warned. Deathstroke didn’t doubt that Batman knew all about Renegade and would fight to rescue his oldest. The detective would come for his missing bird and bring his whole family with him. There would be many more opportunities for Renegade to complete his mission. Maybe even to inflict payback on Red Hood. But for now, Renegade would have to be punished.
Slade slid his mask into place, letting it hide his fury as he turned to where Renegade waited. Water dripped from the figure, pooling at his feet. Deathstroke had refused to let the boy rest or seek medical attention for his injury, instead calling him to his side as soon as he had returned from Bludhaven.
Even as Deathstroke stepped forward, he could see a thin trickle of blood roll down Renegade’s arm from the cut in his shoulder, the blood mixing with droplets of water before the mixture dropped down into the pool, diluting even more.
Slade couldn’t help but watch the path of blood before turning his attention back to the boy in question. Reaching towards the younger villain, he ripped the cowl off his face. Renegade didn’t even flinch, seemingly unaware of his masters anger.
“Renegade.” Deathstroke said, letting his voice drop. It was a voice which had caused many sleepless nights among certain heroes, Nightwing included. However, again Renegade didn’t seem to notice the threat.
Slade’s fist shot out, catching Renegade on the jaw and knocking him backwards. A kick to the back of his legs forced Renegade to the floor, leaving him kneeling in front of Slade.
“I am sorry Master.” The boy replied obediently, bowing his head in submission. The collar of his uniform shifted slightly, revealing a small black shadow on the back of his neck. Slade looked at the dark patch of skin, remembering the complex surgery which had caused it. If it were possible, the villain felt even angrier at the situation. Renegade was nothing more than a mask, a character to control. Had Nightwing been in been the one kneeling before him, Slade had no doubt he would have retaliated, attacking Deathstroke for making him hurt his brother. The kid was beaten but not yet broken.
In fact, Deathstroke couldn’t help but wonder what Nightwing would do and say. The hero was always fiery towards the mercenary, always looking for a way to undermine his authority, to break free from the endless game of cat and mouse even as he was slowly dragged into the darkness of Slade’s world. It was part of the reason Slade had first taken an interest in younger man. The boy had amazing potential as a hero, but even more as a villain. Their last violent confrontation in the Hospital had proved to the villain that Nightwing was finally ready to cross the line Deathstroke was now trying to encourage Renegade to cross.
Deciding to find out what was going through heroes mind, Slade stepped back. Renegade looked up at him, blue eyes questioning Slade’s actions.
“Get up.” Slade growled. “I want a word with Nightwing.”
Renegade climbed to his feet and turned, heading out of the room and towards Deathstroke’s laboratory. Under his mask Slade sighed, pushing the remains of his anger away. Being angry could lead to mistakes, something he couldn’t afford around Nightwing.
Raising his glove, Slade quickly checked the controls attached to his wrist, making sure the connection was still strong.
Lowering his arm again, Slade turned on his heels and stalked out of the room, following his protege down the hall to the laboratory.
It was quiet in the cave once more, everyone too stunned by the recent turn of events to really focus on the present. Bruce had questioned Jason on Renegade, pushing the younger man to accidentally reveal his first meeting with Renegade as well as his rescue of Red Robin. Tim had also been questioned, although not to the same extent.
Damian had stood back and watched the two be interrogated, annoying grin on his face as he enjoyed the show. But finally Bruce had gathered all the information he could and pulled up the final piece of evidence, asking both Tim and Jason to identify a picture. The picture had been a black and white still of Renegade.
The moment both Jason and Tim had confirmed the villain; Bruce had closed his eyes and ran his hand across his face.
“I had hoped this would not happen again.” He muttered.
Both Jason and Damian turned to look at the Dark Knight. However, Tim ignored them all, staring at the picture, his mind racing.
“You have met him before?” Jason questioned.
Bruce shook his head.
“I have never faced Renegade.” He replied. “This photo was taken from a security camera a few years ago, during a fight between Renegade and Arsenal.”
Damian snorted at the mention of the archer but was promptly ignored.
“A few years ago?” Jason questioned.
Bruce just nodded. Something was clearly playing on his mind. Jason quickly studied the photo again.
“If he fought Arsenal, why do you care enough to have a file on him? Shouldn’t you leave this to arrowhead and his little family? Or better yet, the JL?” he asked.
Bruce turned to look at the photograph.
“Because Renegade is my fault.” He said, not looking away from the picture. “He was in trouble and needed my help. I was busy so I ignored him, I pushed him away. And then Deathstroke found him.”
The group fell silent, trying to understand Bruce’s words. Finally, it dawned on Tim. The third Robin tore his gave away from the picture.
“Oh no. Please tell me it isn’t?” He fixed Bruce with a pleading look.
Bruce nodded, already knowing that Tim would be clever enough to put all the pieces together. Out of all of his children, Tim was the closest to Dick, and the one he tended to confide in. There was no doubt, even if Dick hadn’t mentioned Renegade; Tim would have noticed the strange obsession his oldest brother had with the mercenary. And the strange fascination Deathstroke had with all his siblings.
Bruce didn’t look at his adopted son, not wanting to see the look of panic cross Tim’s face as the reality of the situation sank in. Behind him, both Damian and Jason exchanged glances. Whatever their brother had guessed, it must have been big to put that look on Red Robins face. They both turned back to their father, waiting for an explanation.
“Renegade is the villainous alter ego of Richard Grayson.”
To say the Bat family’s reaction to Bruce’s words were of shock was an understatement. The outcry from the three Robins was almost deafening in their pitch as the three brought up excuses, arguments and demands, pointing out everything from Dick’s nature as the family’s peace keeper, to promises made by the oldest son in his many years as a crime fighter. There were numerous calls for other heroes to be summoned, everyone from the Justice League, to the Outsiders, to members of Batman Incorporated. Ideas involving identity theft, mind control and alien invasions were thrown around and quickly dismissed. Even Jason got in on the act, voicing his outrage at Dick ‘beating’ him once again before Damian threatened to disembowel him, blaming him for everything.
The only person who remained silent was Bruce, the Batman watching his children self-destruct from the revelation, his mind running through all the possibly answers even as guilt welled up in the pit of his stomach. He hadn’t been lying when he said he blamed himself for the creation of Renegade. Dick had been in a bad shape when the villain had first emerged, the death of Desmond Blockbuster and the loss of his job not been enough to spur the Dark Knight into looking into the life of his oldest. Spoiler’s later mistakes and Dick’s ‘adoption’ into a New York crime family had only left him in the perfect mindset for Deathstroke to exploit. Even then, when reports of Renegade started flooding in and Superman himself set out to intervene, Bruce had done nothing, believing that Dick could pull himself out of trouble. The boy had, but it had cost him everything. Bludhaven had almost been destroyed, and Dick had almost lost his life. Even now, Bruce didn’t like to think of what would have happened if Clark hadn’t come to the cave and almost dragged Bruce to the Haven to find his oldest as the city flooded with radiation. Dick certainly wouldn’t have survived.
Finally, the cave fell quiet. Everything that could be said had been said. Every threat had been made. Like magic Alfred had appeared, bringing with him drinks, snacks and a cold pack for Tim’s head. The Englishman hadn’t even batted an eye at Jason’s presence, instead wordlessly fetching extra for the rogue child.
Using the silence to his advantage, Bruce returned to his computer and begun his search, hooking into security cameras and police reports, looking for something, anything about Renegade. Tim’s offer to help was quickly accepted, the teen taking over the search as Bruce turned to look into reports on Deathstroke. If Renegade was truly back, Bruce had no doubt that Slade Wilson was somehow involved. The man was just too good at manipulating Dick to be an innocent bystander in Renegade’s actions.
Staring at the two detectives, Jason started to question how he had gotten himself in this situation. It seemed only yesterday he was trying to destroy his former family, attempting to murder Tim or Damian to force a reaction out of Bruce and Dick. But today, one little attack by Dick and the whole family was in a panic. It just wasn’t fair. Even as a villain, it seemed that Dick was perfect. Sure, Jason would work to bring Dick down, to show Bruce just what his perfect little bird was capable of. But after that, Jason had no idea what he would do. If Tim was correct, Bruce was keeping watch over Jason and would not let him get away with anything. It seemed like once this was over; Jason would have to disappear for a while and hope the family wasn’t stupid enough to try and come after him.
There was a small sigh at his side. Glancing down, Jason looked at Damian. He had to admit, despite all the crap he put the kid through, Jason liked him. Damian was violent, irrational and had an ego the size of a country, exactly like Jason. If Tim were like Dick (and since he was smart, dedicated and noble, as well as having the Robin mantel stripped from him for a younger model, he was very like Dick) then Damian was like Jason. And Jason knew that Bruce worried about that. Damian had been caught using violent methods and was even placed under a ‘No Kill’ order by the Dark Knight in an attempt to stop any murderous tendency coming out in the new Boy Wonder.
With a small smile, Jason placed a hand on Damian’s shoulder. Despite the mask, Damian seemed to close his eyes, leaning into the touch for a moment. But then the moment passed, Damian registering whose hand was on his shoulder. With a small growl, the boy knocked Jason’s hand away, moving towards his (their) father. Bruce didn’t even notice his youngest, too busy working. Jason shook his head. Bruce just didn’t get the whole father thing.
Stepping forward to join his family, Jason peered over Tim’s shoulder.
“Where is Oracle? Shouldn’t she be doing this?” He asked, watching as Tim flicked through pages of reports at almost inhuman speed.
“Barbara is in Europe, having experimental spinal surgery.” Tim replied, not looking away from the screen. “Got ya!” he shouted, throwing his hands into the air in triumph.
The rest of the family turned as Tim quickly pulled something up onto the screen. It was grainy footage from a security camera.
“This was taken from a security camera on the edge of Old Gotham about an hour ago.” The teenager said.
The footage showed a dark corner of a deserted alleyway. As the family watched, a figure appeared. The footage was fuzzy, the dark doing nothing to help, but it was clear who the figure was. The family watched as on the screen, Renegade jumped, catching the fire escape and climbing out of view.
“It looks like he was heading into Crime Alley.” Jason said, recognising the familiar surroundings.
“Then that’s where we start.” Bruce said, rising from his seat. “We split up. Look into our contacts. Listen to the street. Someone is bound to know something. We need to find him before this gets any worse.”
Obediently, Tim followed his father, climbing to his feet and pulling his cowl up over his head.
“Jay, you can take the spare bike.” He said as he stepped towards the caves garage.
Jason snorted at Tim’s back.
“I never said I was going to help.” He said pointedly. It was a lie, but Jason had to maintain an image somehow. Tim didn’t fall for it.
“Jason!” The teen snapped as he transformed back into Red Robin. Jason smirked and followed his younger brother to the Batmobile and into another argument between Damian and Bruce. It seemed that Robin was convinced he should be involved in Renegades capture. However, Batman was not willing to put his youngest and least experienced child in possible danger, epically against the man who practically trained Damian.
“I am your partner.” Robin shouted as Batman prepared the Batmobile.
“Irrelevant. You are not coming.” Batman shot back, fixing the kid with a glare that could make hardened criminals wet themselves. Robin ignored it.
“You are not keeping me out!” He screamed. “Dammit, this is Grayson we are talking about! He needs me!”
“Yes. He needs you Damian. He needs you alive.” The Dark Knight replied.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Damian asked, his voice still raised enough to echo through the cave.
“Robin, use your head. Red Hood and then Red Robin? It doesn’t take a detective to see that Renegade is targeting you all.” Batman said, turning towards the boy. “I don’t want Dick to do something he will regret for the rest of his life.”
“I won’t stand for this! You can’t stop me!” Damian had gripped his hands into fists, barely holding his anger.
“Yes I can.” Batman replied. “Alfred?” he called.
The butler appeared next to Damian.
“Yes sir?” he asked.
Gotham’s Dark Knight pointed towards Robin.
“Make sure Damian doesn’t leave the cave.” He ordered.
“Of course sir.” Alfred nodded as Batman turned and climbed into the Batmobile. Besides the Englishman, Damian fell silent for a moment. Slowly, he released his fists. He looked up at his father.
“Grayson was a much better Batman then you.” He hissed. “And a better mentor.” Turning on his toes, Damian pushed past Alfred and ran back into the cave, disappearing into the shadows.
Tim stepped forward, intent on calling Damian back and maybe making him apologise to Bruce. Jason grabbed his shoulder.
“Let the brat go.” The older man said as Alfred turned to follow Damian. Behind the two heroes the Batmobile roared to life, coasting out of the cave. Tim turned to watch it disappear before once again looking to where Damian had vanished.
“Dammit.” He cursed.
When Alfred finally tracked down Damian, the Boy Wonder was once again on the gantry, knees pressed to his chest as he stared into space. Even from a distance, the Englishman could see that the boy was shaking, trying to repress his anger. Not for the first time, it struck the older man that his youngest charge was mentally a lot older than anyone suspected.
“Master Damian?” Alfred called up.
The young hero glared down at him.
“Go away, Pennyworth.”
Alfred sighed and walked over to the steps, climbing up onto the gantry. Damian frowned but didn’t protest again as Alfred drew close.
“Master Damian, I understand that you are upset but you must understand that your father is only thinking of your protection.”
Damian tutted, pressing his chin against his knees. Alfred sat down next to the boy, hoping that the silence would calm him. Finally, he got a result.
“Father doesn’t trust me.” The boy muttered. “He doesn’t think I can fight alongside him.”
Alfred sighed. Two weeks of fighting between father and son and it all came down to this.
“Your father does trust you, Master Damian.” He tried to explain. “He would never have allowed you to join him if he didn’t. Unfortunately, Master Bruce is not good at showing his trust, even with his allies.”
Damian snorted. Slowly, Alfred climbed to his feet.
“I have duties to attend to in the house. I trust you will be alright down here?”
Damian glanced up at the older man.
“You can’t stop me leaving here if I wanted.” He stated.
“Of course I can’t. I trust that Master Damian Wayne would never do something so irresponsible.” The Englishman turned and walked over to the stairs. Hesitating slightly, he turned back to look at Damian. “However, in my long years I have noticed that young Master Robin was never nearly as trust worthy. Many times I have turned my back only to find that he has disappeared. But he is a hero and I am only a man.” The butler sighed and began down the steps as his comments slowly sunk in.
Damian slowly rose to his feet. The moment Alfred was out of sight, the boy threw himself off the gantry, letting his cape slow his fall. By the time he hit the ground, he was already running, determined to make it into the city whether Batman wanted him there or not.
Less than half an hour later, Damian found himself at the edge of Crime Alley. He quickly glanced around, making sure he was alone before he slipped into the shadows, disappearing into the most dangerous part of Gotham.
On the fire escape above him, another shadow detached itself from the dark, the figure watching as the boy vanished. Slowly, he raised his hand to his ear, tapping the ear piece.
“Robin has just entered Crime Alley.” He said down the line.
A deep voice replied.
“Understood. Keep on his tail Red Hood. If Renegade is out here, he will go after Robin.”
Another voice joined the conversation.
“I told you he would sneak out.” It said, gloating.
“Yes Red Robin, we all know you are a smart ass.” Red Hood muttered through the link. “I am in pursuit. Red Hood out.”
Even as he cut the line, he could hear Red Robin asking if it was safe to use their youngest member as bait and Batman grunting in reply. Jason had to admit, he would love to hear what logic the Dark Knight would use to justify such an action. But for now he was busy tracking a sneaky Boy Wonder in the hope that he would lead them to their missing bird.
Slade had to admit, when he had imagined how Nightwing would react when released from Renegade, he hadn’t imagined this. The boy was silent, his eyes fixed on Slade’s face, a look of utter hatred in the blue orbs. Unlike every other time they had done this, he didn’t struggle against the thick leather which held him against the wall. He didn’t swear or cry. He didn’t even acknowledge how close he had come to killing his own brother. Instead, he let the quiet devour everything as he played the silence game.
Well two could play at that game. Looking around the lab, really an old chemical testing room, Slade spotted several items he had needed in the last few days. He pulled them over to the restrained hero. For the first time since being released, Nightwing looked away from Slade’s face, glancing down at the tray. Like many villains, Deathstroke was not above using torture to get what he wanted. However, the items were not torture implements, but rather medical implements.
Picking up a glass bottle, Slade quickly studied the young hero’s injuries. The cut on Nightwing’s upper arm was not very deep but was still leaking blood. Red Robin had aimed to cripple, not kill. Most normal people would have left a wound like that to heal on its own. But Slade Wilson had been a soldier. He had seen many seemingly minimal injuries turn bad, seen strong men reduced to nothing, all because of a badly treated scratch.
Twisting the cap off the bottle, Slade once again met Nightwing’s gaze.
“This will sting.” Was the only warning he gave as he poured the liquid over the wound.
Taken by surprise, Nightwing gasped through gritted teeth, trying to hide his expression from his captor. Slade smirked.
Turning back to the rest of the objects, Slade slipped on a pair of surgical gloves and picked up the tweezers and needles. Like Jason, Slade was good at basic first aid and competent at stitching up flesh. Using one hand to separate the ripped fabric of the Renegade costume, Slade got to work, sewing up Nightwing’s injury with steady hands.
Nightwing made no sound, instead turning his head away to stare at the closest wall. Finishing his work, Slade quickly tied off the knot and dropped his tools, turning his back to retrieve a bandage.
“I didn’t think you had it in you to be so quiet, Grayson.” He said over his shoulder, picking up the bandage in one hand. Turning back to Nightwing’s side, he began to wrap up his work, ignoring the costume in the way.
“I only let you out to have someone to talk to. Renegade is sadly not so good at conversation.” He mused. Nightwing’s jaw twitched. Breaking his gaze away from the wall, he stared at Slade, eyes blazing.
“I have nothing to say to you.” The hero growled in a low tone.
Stepping back from his work, Slade smiled.
“Well that’s a pity.” The mercenary mused. “Because really, our chats are the only reason why I don’t just let Renegade have complete control.”
If Slade hadn’t known Richard Grayson as well as he did, he might never have seen the flash of fear cross the younger man’s face. It was possibly the boy’s greatest fear. For almost all of his life, Dick Grayson, later Robin and later still Nightwing, had been aware of just how skilled he was, of how people saw him. To lose control over himself was the worst thing that could ever happen, not just for Nightwing but for the whole hero community.
Slade already knew that Dick’s unusual upbringing made him privy to almost every secret identity of the world’s heroes. The young man had worked with almost every working hero of his generation, and many from other generations. He had led many teams, starting with the Teen Titans, all the way to a branch of the Justice League. He could form battle plans based on everyone’s weaknesses and strengths, and command the loyalty of even the Man of Steel. He knew who the hero’s secret identities were, how to track them down, and how to defeat them.
He was, although the older generation of heroes would refuse to acknowledge it, one of the most dangerous men in the world.
And with every moment he spent in Deathstroke’s presence, he was losing more control.
Slade smirked. It was possibly fortunate that he was so far the only villain to see Nightwing as what he really was. Other villains, such as Luthor or the Al Ghul family tended to look at the Batman or his other brats as the dangerous party, Nightwing’s happy persona a perfect cover for the real danger. Deathstroke didn’t like to think what idiots like Luthor would do if he realised what he had missed. As for the Al Ghul family, Deathstroke really had to thank Talia. The woman’s experiments on her own son, the current Robin had led Deathstroke to the answer to controlling Nightwing.
Talia al Ghul was his ally in his current work, handing over the plans for the neural implant despite her clear dislike of Grayson and her belief the young hero was weak and had turned her son against her family.
She had also been present in the first staged of the plan, helping to develop the new implant as well as co-ordinate the surgery which had seen the device connected to Grayson’s brain stem. Even now as a friendly gesture, Slade had kept her updated on Renegades missions, as well as offering her his help with her latest project, cloning her son to create a worthy heir.
Speaking of whichâ€¦
Grabbing Nightwing’s dark hair, Slade forced the younger man’s head against his chest before pulling back the neck of his costume. The dark shadow shifted slightly under the straining skin. Blindly reaching out, Slade grabbed a small device resting with the rest of his tools. Holding it over the back of Nightwing’s neck, the mercenary took a scan of the implant.
Releasing his grip on Nightwing, Slade walked over to his computer and opened a link, sending out a signal for a privet line before hooking the scanner up to the mess of wires. Information flew across the screen, showing everything from heart rate to blood pressure to adrenalin levels for the last few hours. Taking note of the spike in adrenalin during Renegade’s fight with Red Hood and Red Robin, Slade slipped on his mask. The screen flickered to life as Deathstroke turned to face it.
“Talia.” He acknowledged.
“Deathstroke.” The Demon’s Head replied.
Sitting down, Deathstroke transmitted the agreed information before he began to discuss his recent work.
Behind him, Nightwing was forced from his escape plans as something moved in the corner of his vision. Turning his head sharply towards the shadows, he blinked as something red flashed in the dark of one of the old work benches. Slowly, the former Boy Wonder narrowed his eyes, praying that he hadn’t just seen what he thought he had.
Damian was acting on pure instinct as he jumped from building to building, utilising all his skills to climb high above Crime Alley. In the distance, he could see the black water which separated the island from the mainland. Even further in the distance, just outside the city limits were the lights of Wayne Manor. Turning to face the opposite direction, he looked over to the edge of Old Gotham.
From the footage, it was clear that Renegade had travelled north, towards the Manor. And yet, he hadn’t attacked the cave. Wherever Renegade was hiding, it had to be nearby. There wasn’t much else available and Damian refused to entertain the idea that Renegade had left Gotham altogether.
Scanning the skyline again, Damian felt his eyes drawn to the east, a place called Amusement Isle. A failed tourist stop due to its proximity to Crime Alley, it had become largely a holding area for cargo. And more to the point, it was full of old sheds and abandoned buildings. More than once during his first year as Robin, Damian had chased suspects through Amusement Isle with Grayson. Damian’s older brother knew the place well. In fact, possibly too well.
Realising he had nothing else to go on and he couldn’t hook into Batman’s comm link without being discovered, Damian took off towards the east, intent on getting to Amusement Isle as fast as possible, unaware of the shadow behind him.
Ten minutes later, he was finally in the right place, using his grapple hook to swing from building to building. Unlike Crime Alley, Amusement Isle was quiet, almost abandoned to the night.
Landing in the middle of the street, Damian paused to take in his surroundings. Street lights flickered in the gloom, but all the buildings were quiet, many long since forgotten or sold off. Above the child hero, power lines buzzed as electrical currents ran through them. Damian gave them his attention for a second before looking away. His father had told him repeatedly to use his head. It looked like now was the time to do just that.
Walking down the road, Damian scanned the buildings, looking for something out of place and growing increasingly frustrated when he didn’t see anything. Finishing one row of buildings, he turned to take the next. Something caught his eye.
A broken window on the corner building. Normally broken windows were not unusual, but this one was at ground height and the perfect angle to jump though. Despite being abandoned, the city laws against squatters meant that every broken window below two storeys had to be boarded up within 24 hours of the break. This window was recently broken.
Above Damian, the power lines hummed.
Stepping closer, the Boy Wonder peeked through the window and into the room beyond. Thanks to the special white lenses in his mask, Damian could see into the dark room. It was an abandoned office, most likely where the foreman of the factory worked. The desk, shelves and even the floor coated in dust and glass. However, there was something wrong with the whole thing. Scanning the room, Damian finally saw what was bothering him. A single set of footprints travelled around the room and out into the abandoned factory beyond.
Placing one hand on the window, Damian hurled himself over the barrier, landing lightly on the floor. The room was warmer then outside. Avoiding the broken glass, Damian made his way to the door, and slipped outside, finding himself in an abandoned factory work floor. Or not so abandoned. There was an eerie light coming from the corner.
Sticking to the shadows, Damian slowly made his way across the factory floor until he could see what it was. A large screen was on, showing nothing but static. Damian stepped closer. Something sticky was underfoot. He looked down and immediately wished he hadn’t. Even in the screens light, he would make out the red stains. Stepping out of the drying pool of blood, Damian backed away, leaving a faint trail of blood from the soles of his boots. His shoulders hit a door, different from the one he had come through. Spinning around, Damian got into a fighting stance as it swung open. No one was there. Relaxing, Damian stepped into the corridor, peering at his surroundings. A light was pouring out of an open door to his left. Slowly, the Boy Wonder stepped closer until he was at the door frame. Pressing his back against the wall, Damian slowly lent sideways, trying to see into the room.
A dark figure walked past, his back to the door. Stopping at a computer, the figure typed something on the keyboard before fiddling with wires. Reaching down, the figure picked something up.
Damian only just managed to suppress his gasp as he recognised Deathstroke’s mask.
“Talia.” The mercenary’s deep voice said.
“Deathstroke.” Was the reply. Damian recognised that voice too. It was hard not to, when it was his own mother.
Peering around the corner again, Damian half listened as Deathstroke started rattling off statistics to the woman who had, for a time, raised Damian.
Finding what he was looking for, Damian waited until Deathstroke was talking again before he moved, rolling silently into the room and behind a bench. The bench cast enough of a shadow to hide the Boy Wonder from the mercenary’s view.
Quickly, Damian glanced around, trying to take note of his surroundings. What he didn’t expect to see were a pair of blue eyes staring at him in growing horror.
As the Boy Wonder climbed through the window into the old factory, Jason sighed. In his ear, the communicator buzzed.
“Batman.” Red Robin called. “Two bodies have just been pulled out of the harbour by Gotham PD. One male, one female. Initial assessment suggests they were killed with a long knife or sword.”
“Gordon can handle it.” Batman ordered. “We are looking for Renegade. That is our only mission.”
Jason decided to cut in.
“Boy Wonder has just gone into an abandoned building.” He said.
There was a moment of silence from the Dark Knight.
“Where?” He growled.
Jason told him the address.
“Follow him Red Hood. If Robin has found something, he may need backup. We will make our way to you.”
Jason grumbled at the orders before releasing his grapple hook, climbing up to the roof of the building. Looking around, he quickly found a door. Kicking it open, he began his decent down into the depths of the building to find his little brother.
It took all of Damian’s will power not to shout out as he recognised his former mentor. Grayson looked like hell. His face was pale, no colour except his blue eyes and a dark bruise rising on his cheek. His hair was a mess and he looked ready to collapse if it went for the restraints holding him upright. Clearly whatever Deathstroke had done to his father’s charity case hadn’t been pleasant. Damian could feel the anger rise inside him, even as he watched the look of recognition and horror pass across Grayson’s face. It was clear this man wasn’t Renegade, the villain Drake and Todd had tried to paint for their father. This was Damian’s older brother, the former Batman and one of the only people who had ever managed to gain Damian’s respect.
Quickly, those blue eyes looked at Damian, then at Deathstroke’s back and back again to Damian. Then he tilted his head, nodding towards the door. Grayson was clearly trying to silently tell Damian to leave.
Receiving the message, Damian quickly shook his head. He wasn’t a coward who would run from someone like Deathstroke. He wasn’t someone who would leave his former partner in danger. He was Robin, the Boy Wonder.
‘Damian.’ Grayson mouthed the words at his younger brother, trying to glare at the boy.
‘No!’ Damian silently said back, shaking his head again to get the message across. He wasn’t leaving without Nightwing beside him.
Grayson continued to glare, his shoulders shaking slightly. Damian quickly scanned his older brother, trying to see where the shaking was coming from. Grayson was tugging ineffectively against the restraints around his wrists. Either trying to break free, or signal to his former partner how trapped he was.
“Nightwing.” A voice called.
Grayson’s head spun around to look at Deathstroke’s back. The mercenary was still standing with his back turned. However, the screen in front of him was blank, his conversation with Talia al Ghul already over. On the screen was the perfect reflection of the room. From his place restrained to the wall, Nightwing looked at it in horror.
As he talked with the Demon Head, Slade was careful to only give her half his attention. She was upset. Her latest attempt at cloning had failed, leaving her with no choice but to start again. This turn of events had made her irritated and in no mood to hear of Deathstroke’s successes with Renegade. It was because of this, Slade found himself observing his surroundings. Trained to kill from an early age had left the mercenary with impressive abilities to see, hear and even smell changes in his surroundings. His later exposure to the serum had increased those senses tenfold, giving him an almost unnatural ability to take note of everything around him, to use one sense to cover another. It was the reason why losing his eye hadn’t affected his work and if it were possibly, made him more dangerous. Because of these abilities, it wasn’t difficult to know that someone had entered the room.
Listening intently, he heard the light sounds of footprints and the muffled thud as the intruder entered the room and rolled before a strange silence fell on the room. Then, slowly, he heard the breathing of the intruder over Nightwing’s heavier panting. Using the computer screen, he was able to observe the flash of red in the reflection and the former Boy Wonders reaction as he too realised there was someone else in the room. Based on the flash of red, the clear lightness of the footsteps, Nightwing’s reaction in the reflection and the fact that they were in Gotham, it wasn’t difficult to guess who had entered the room. Only an assassin could move with such stealth. And there was only one assassin in Gotham who would give a damn about Nightwing.
Cutting the conversation short, Deathstroke shut off the connection, observing his toy in the reflection. Nightwing hadn’t noticed the sudden silence, too caught up in trying to encourage his brother to leave. It was almost heart warming. Almost.
“Nightwing.” Deathstroke called, his eye glued to the screen. In the reflection, the captured hero glanced up. Slade watched with slight amusement as the younger man looked at the blank computer, noticing the reflection. In those few seconds, Slade noticed the look of pleading in his captives eyes as the boy realised he had been caught out. Nightwing was very smart. It was part of the reason why Slade had continued to take an interest in him for all theses year. Even as the mercenary watched, he noticed the emotions cross the young heroes face. Nightwing knew how this would end. He had always known how it would go, from the moment he had woken up from the surgery to set the neural implant.
Rising to his feet, Slade fingered the sword at his side. He had taken it off Renegade earlier, before pinning the younger man to the wall. Nightwing was too desperate to be trusted with a blade.
“Robin.” He called, still watching the screen. “How nice of you to join us.”
Listening carefully, Slade noticed a sound like fabric moving and the absence of breathing from under one of the benches. It was clear Robin had pressed his hand across his mouth, trying to muffle the sound of his breathing. But it was too little, too late.
Turning around, Slade stared through his mask at Nightwing. The older hero was refusing to look away, to give away his brothers position. But that didn’t matter. Deathstroke had other ways to find Robin.
“Tell me, Boy Wonder. Have you met my assistant Renegade?” he asked, raising his arm and the remote attached to it.
Nightwing’s uncovered eyes widened.
“No!” he gasped.
He gasped again as Slade typed in the commands, his head colliding against the wall as he tried to fight the neural implant. Then his head dropped, his face going blank as Renegade took over.
Pressing another button, Slade watched as the restraints dropped away, freeing Renegade. Quickly, he called the younger villain to attention, holding out his sword.
“Kill the fake Robin.” He ordered.
Renegade understood the order. It was well known that Deathstroke refused to accept anyone as Robin except Dick Grayson, the original. Grabbing the sword from his master, Renegade quickly turned to Robin’s hiding place. He stepped forward and kicked one of the benches, sending it flying. However Robin had predicted the action. As the bench moved, the boy threw down a smoke bomb. A cloud of smoke rose up, blocking him from view and allowing him to bolt to the door, kicking it closed behind him. However, it didn’t hold for long. In a matter of seconds, Renegade had reached the door and pulled it open, continuing his pursuit of the current Boy Wonder.
Skidding to a halt in the middle of the factory floor, Damian looked around for an escape. Going back the way he came wasn’t an option. Renegade could follow too easily. Running altogether was out of the question. Grayson was an expert at moving across Gotham city and from what Damian had observed Renegade was using his older brother’s knowledge to act out Deathstroke’s orders. Damian, despite never allowing himself to own up to it, was realistic of his chances. He couldn’t run. He couldn’t fight. In fact, all he could do was hide until he could get a signal to his father and hope that Renegade wouldn’t catch him.
Under his mask, Damian shuddered. He had been sitting at the perfect angle to watch Grayson’s face as Renegade had taken over. To see those passionate blue orbs dull down to nothing. Even in the worst situations, when everything had gone wrong for the Dynamic Duo, Grayson had always shown emotion through his eyes. To see it all disappear was frightening.
Realising he was wasting too much time, Damian picked a direction at random and ran to it, looking for anything he could use as behind him, footsteps drew near. There was nothing. Crouching in the shadows, Damian watched as Renegade entered the main factory. The villain didn’t run. Instead he paused at the entrance, scanning the room.
Somewhere along the way, Renegade had picked up a mask, a half face cowl which hid his eyes. However, now that Damian knew where to look, he could see other signs that the man wasn’t his older brother. Renegade moved differently from Grayson. Instead of the fluent movements which defined Grayson, Renegade moved erratically, like a robot.
No wonder neither Todd nor Drake had recognised him. It wasn’t just their own natural stupidity. It was because Renegade didn’t move like their older brother. Didn’t act like Grayson. Had Damian just come across Renegade, he wouldn’t have seen his brother either.
At the door, Renegade seemed to make a decision. Stepping backwards, he disappeared into the shadows at the edge of the room, moving in a clockwise direction. Damian managed to muffle the sound of his breathing, knowing that Renegade was looking for any little sounds which would betray the Boy Wonder. However, Renegade was still moving through the dark. Damian could hear his footsteps. The young hero couldn’t stay in his hiding place for long. But Renegade had made a mistake. He had left the door unguarded.
Counting under his breath, Damian tried to estimate how far Renegade would be from his position, the echoes in the room doing nothing to help the current Robin pinpoint his opponent’s position. After a few seconds, Damian rose to his feet and dashed across the shadows, heading to the door. Maybe, if he were lucky, there would be a lock to slow Renegade down.
A hand grabbed the back of his hood, pulling him backwards. Damian couldn’t stop the cry of surprise as he was lifted into the air and thrown onto the hard concrete floor.
In what felt like less than a second, Renegade was on him, a black combat boot planted firmly on Damian’s chest to keep him still. The villain looked down at him from his imposing height, seemingly studying his younger brother. Then he reached for his back, drawing a long sword out of its sheath.
Despite himself, Damian panicked and started to struggle, trying to force Renegades boot up as the sword was lowered to rest at his neck. He couldn’t help it, he shouted.
“DICK!” He screamed, trying to twist away from the blade.
Above him, Renegade hesitated.
“Renegade.” A voice said behind him. Not lifting the sword an inch from Damian’s neck, Renegade turned. Deathstroke was standing at the door. The mercenary nodded.
“Finish it.” He ordered.
Renegade turned back to his work and raised the sword slightly, preparing to bring it down on its victim. Realising he only had seconds, Damian through fast.
“You promised you would be there when I need you!” He shouted, hoping Grayson’s own words would stop Renegade. Again, Renegade hesitated.
“Damian?” he asked, his voice stuttering slightly as Nightwing broke through. The sword lowered slightly.
“Renegade.” Deathstroke called again, his voice a warning. Above Damian, Renegade/Nightwing flinched. The sword rose again.
A gun shot rang through the gloom. In his peripheral vision, Damian saw Deathstroke drop to the ground. Jumping away, Renegade looked up into the gloom, trying to see where the bullet had come from, his grip on the sword tightening.
Realising he was free; Damian rolled to his feet and kicked out, hitting Renegade in the knee. Taken by surprise, Renegade dropped. Ducking around him, Damian bolted towards the office and the broken window. A shadow dropped down in front of him, an arm wrapping itself around him. Suddenly, the shadow was airborne, taking the current Robin with it.
Flying through the air, Damian and his rescuer landed on the gantry above the factory floor. The landing was rough, Damian only just managing to keep his balanced as he pushed away from whoever was holding him, trying to escape.
“Stop it.” A voice hissed in his ear. Damian twisted to look as Jason released him. The second Robin was raising his gun. Damian looked back down at the factory floor as Deathstroke rose to his feet, looking up at the two boys. Quickly, Jason pulled the trigger, sending two shots flying. However, he had lost the element of surprise. Deathstroke ducked out of the way, running for cover.
Not letting go of his weapon, Jason turned and wrapped a strong hand around Damian’s arm, pulling the 11 year old across the gantry towards an open window. Using his momentum, Jason pushed Damian through the window and out onto a ledge as below them, Deathstroke shouted something at Renegade. Not stopping, Jason directed Damian to climb up onto the roof and to their escape.
Far below in the shadows, Slade watched the two young heroes escape as Renegade stood silently beside him. If the two fake Robins wanted a game of cat and mouse, then that was exactly what they were about to get.
On the edge Wayne Towers, Batman slowly released his breath as he lowered the radio. Beside him, Red Robin looked up at his mentor and father. Despite the cowl, there was a recognisable sense of fear in the younger hero’s expression as he watched Batman turn the radio off and place it on his utility belt. The two had decided to meet up the moment Red Hood had called in Robin’s location and relocated to Wayne Towers to listen in on the conflict.
The ethics of using the youngest member of their family as a sniffer dog was not discussed. Nor was the idea of sticking a microphone and speaker on the younger Robin. Instead, everything Deathstroke had said within Damian’s hearing, everything which had happened to the younger hero had been relayed to the two, leaving them both in stunned silence. Dick was being controlled. His actions were not his own. Dick was innocent!
The revelation was as unsurprising as it was horrible. Deathstroke was trying to push Dick over the line and do it though his family. Although Deathstroke had never guessed, Batman was aware of how dangerous his oldest could be. It had been part of the driving force behind Bruce’s actions throughout Dick’s life, from trying to force him to give up being a hero when he was sixteen, to naming him as Damian’s legal guardian and heir to the Batman only a few years before. It had earned him years of condemnation from the Justice League and a reputation as a hard father, but Bruce would never regret his actions. After all, what father could call himself caring if he didn’t fight to protect his child from the bad influences in his life? Yes, it hurt Dick badly. Kicking the boy out of his home had been hard and adopting Jason so quickly had been a mistake. Leaving Dick on his own to deal with Damian, the need for a new Batman and a crumbling family had put an incredible amount of stress on the younger man. But Bruce felt he could justify his actions for one simple reason. He needed to keep Dick occupied. If Dick Grayson went bad, he would be more dangerous than anyone could ever imagine. Renegade was just the beginning.
“Batman?” a voice said off to his side.
Batman came back to himself, glancing over at Red Robin. After Jason’s death, Tim had become Dick’s champion for the Robin mantle. Even now, Bruce had to admit that Dick had made the right choice. Tim was a lot like Dick. Possibly too much so. Bruce would have to keep a closer watch over the young bird.
“Batman, what do we do now?” Red Robin asked. The younger hero was gripping his own radio. Batman didn’t need to guess that Red Hood was on the other end of the line. Reaching over, Batman took the radio from the younger hero.
“Red Hood.” He called down the line.
“Batman!” Came the reply. “It’s Deathstroke. The Bastard is here in Gotham! It’s all his doing.” Jason’s voice was muffled by heavy breathing. The man was running as he spoke.
“I know.” Batman replied. “Are you being followed?”
There was a few moments of silence save for the sounds of heavy footsteps before Jason’s voice answered.
Batman nodded to himself.
“Get yourself and your brother to Wayne Towers now!” He ordered.
Clearly Damian was keeping up with Jason. Even as Batman turned the radio off, he could hear Robin’s rebuttal. Ignoring it, Batman tossed the now silent device back to Red Robin.
“Get ready.” He ordered.
Damian gave a final tug of his jump line as he flew through the air, using his momentum to roll as he hit the roof of the building. Coming to a halt, the Boy Wonder climbed to his feet and dusted himself off as behind him, Red Hood landed. It was a better landing then Damian’s. Jason didn’t even lose his balance as his feet hit the ground, using his knees to absorb the impact. Damian tried to suppress the stab of jealousy. Dick had tried to teach Damian how to land safely but despite all his work, Damian still couldn’t perfect the movement.
Red Hood didn’t even glance at his brother as he turned to look out over the city. Wayne Tower was one of the tallest buildings in Gotham city and offered a great vantage point for both heroes and villains alike. Jason looked back the way the two brothers had come. There was nothing to suggest that they were being followed, but Jason had enough experience with people like Deathstoke to know that seeing was not always believing. Several times during their mad dash away from the warehouse, Jason had seen a flash of red or orange out of the corner of his eye. It was not hard to summarise that Red Hood and Robin were being hunted.
Not looking away, Jason reached to his pocket and pulled out another magazine, loading his weapon and preparing himself for any attack as behind him, Damian stepped closer.
A black shadow fell over the young hero.
“I ordered you to stay in the cave.” A voice growled behind Robin.
The Boy Wonder only just managed to stop his shout of surprise. Turning, he quickly composed himself before looking up at Batman.
“T-T.” The boy muttered. “You need me here!”
From his opposing height, Bruce looked down at the boy. Damian was standing defiantly before him, his chest puffed out, his head raised to show his arrogance as he tried to match his father’s glare. Bruce almost sighed, remembering how Damian had managed, even if it was only for a moment, to break Deathstrokes hold over Dick.
“Yes. I do.” He muttered softly. Damian gasped.
Ignoring the troubled 11 year old, Batman swept past, moving towards Red Hood. From the shadows, Red Robin emerged. Stepping forward to follow his father, the teenager paused for a moment before patting his younger brother on the back.
“Well done, little Demon.” He muttered before stepping away, leaving the boy by himself.
There was a pause before Damian found himself.
“Drake!” he cursed in a whisper before turning to follow his family.
“Red Hood.” Batman called as he came to stand beside his son. “Anything?”
Jason didn’t reply. Instead, he nodded his head. Bruce quickly followed his gaze. A figure had appeared on one of the lower lying roof tops. Batman didn’t need to be told who it was. The figure looked up at them, the glow from the street lights showing the black and orange mask.
“Deathstroke.” Batman muttered.
“He’s just standing there.” Jason muttered, the slits of his red mask narrowing as his grip on the weapon tightened.
Red Robin stepped forward to join his father and brother.
“Where’s Renegade?” he asked. There was silence.
“You know kid, you always know the worst things to say.” Jason replied.
Behind them, Damian shouted. There was a loud explosion. The three heroes turned, shielding themselves from the blast. When the smoke had cleared, the three looked up. Renegade was standing on the edge of the roof, a large crater where the bomb had gone off was smoking in front of him. The villain was gripping his sword loosely. Damian was missing.
Damian didn’t know what had stopped him joining his family on the edge of the roof. Some sort of sixth sense, he supposed, which told him to stay put. That was why he was the only one to notice the movement as something jumped onto the ledge behind him, why he was the only one to recognise the red and black costume, why he was the one to give a shout before Renegade grinned and threw down the bomb.
Why he was the one knocked off his feet by the resulting explosion.
Tumbling through the air, the Boy Wonder grabbed blindly as he was propelled backwards over the sheer drop. Luck was on his side.
Damian held onto the ledge as his body slammed into the wall. Below him was nothing but a horrible end looking like one of those pancakes Grayson liked. Above him the explosion dissipated, leaving nothing but smoke.
“Robin!” Tim shouted as he reacted to the sudden attack. Reaching for his belt, he grabbed two projectiles and sent them flying towards Renegade. Renegades reaction was incredible, the former hero stepping almost casually out of the way. But Tim was already moving, sending a fist flying towards his older brother’s face. Renegade caught the fist in his free hand and, using Tim’s momentum against him, spun the younger hero around. The sword sailed through the air, slashing at Tim’s back. The teenager gave a cry of pain as Renegade reached out and grabbed his cape, pulling the teen up. The villain planned his foot on Tim’s injured back, kicking him back towards his family. Jason ducked out and caught Tim as he fell, resting the stunned hero on the ground. He raised his gun, pointing it at Renegades chest.
“No!” Batman shouted.
“Go after Deathstroke.” Batman ordered as in front of Jason, Renegade grinned.
Even as Batman shouted, he was already moving, throwing a line out towards Renegade. Too busy trying to provoke Jason, Renegade didn’t have time to move as the line wrapped itself around the sword. A quick flick of his wrists and Batman had disarmed Renegade, sending the weapon flying. The younger man backed away, falling into a fighting stance Batman recognised as his own. Renegade was prepared to fight.
Batman hesitated slightly. Dick had always been good at hand to hand combat. Being raised as an acrobat meant he had reflexes beyond the norm, as well as amazing upper body strength. It had been a few years since Bruce had managed to best his oldest in a fair fight. And this fight wasn’t going to be fair. Renegade wasn’t like Nightwing. When Nightwing fought, it was to take down his enemy as quickly and painlessly as possible. Renegade was waiting for a fight. He wanted to hurt someone, possibly even kill someone.
Realising there was no other option; Batman crouched down and waited for the attack he knew would come.
Tim blinked as he felt the blood soak into his uniform. Renegades sword had cut through his cape and Kevlar suit but had failed to inflict anything worse than a long, shallow cut up his back. Even then, it was bleeding badly and stinging with every movement Tim made. Climbing up to his knees, the teenage hero looked around. Jason had disappeared off the edge of the roof, chasing after Deathstroke while Batman distracted Renegade.
Turning to look at his adopted father and brother, Tim couldn’t help but stare. The fight was horrible. Every movement was calculated, controlled and dangerous. Tim had no doubt that he was looking at two of the most dangerous fighters in the world. But still, there was something off about the fight. Something wrong with Renegades movements. Tim tried to analyse everything he observed, trying to find the weak link.
There was a grunt. Tim forced himself to turn around and face the sound. In the gloom, he could see a pair of green gloves. The teen froze. Damian.
Forcing himself to ignore his back, Tim rose to his feet and walked to the ledge. He was right, it was Damian. The current Boy Wonder was hanging from the ledge, trying to gain enough footing to push him back up to safety.
Reaching down, Tim grabbed his younger brother’s wrist. It was a good thing he did. The moment Tim touched the kid, Damian’s grip slipped. A few seconds more and no more Damian. The Boy Wonder looked up from his hazardous climb.
“Drake!” he growled out softly. “About time you made yourself useful.”
Tim didn’t even bother replying. He wasn’t in the mood for an argument with the kid. Heaving on the younger boys arm, Tim dragged him back over the ledge and to safety, trying to hide his grin as Damian misjudged his footing and fell to the ground. The latest Robin climbed quickly to his feet, dusting himself off. He froze. Like his brother, the sight of his father and mentor fighting was as horrifying as it was thought provoking.
The two youngest of the Batfamily watched as the fight progressed.
“He’s fighting it.” Damian finally muttered. Tim looked down at him.
“What?” he asked.
Damian glared up at him.
“Grayson. He is part of this battle too. He is fighting Renegade, trying to give father the advantage.”
Tim glanced at his little brother before turning back to the fight. Under his cowl, his eyes narrowed as Renegade turned his back on them, stepping away from Batman. The collar of his costume shifted slightly, a dark shadow showing on the pale skin. Tim looked at the mark. Realisation dawned.
“I have an idea.” He finally muttered.
Renegades attacks were fast and brutal but it only took a few moments for Batman to pick up a pattern. Although violent, the villain was predictable, using many techniques which the Dark Knight could easily block. Each punch lacked the force needed to incapacitate a victim, each kick lagged.
And Renegades defence was almost non-existent. The younger man was making amateur mistakes which could easily get him killed. It was something which Bruce had spent many years teaching Dick to avoid, and something Deathstroke would have come down hard on with Renegade. It didn’t make sense that the villain was making them now, while facing Gotham’s protector.
A punch was aimed at Batman’s head. The hero blocked it, using his free hand to grab Renegades wrist before kicking out, trying to knock the villain to the ground. Renegade flipped himself over, avoiding the kick but making no effort to cover his mistake. Instead, he lashed out with his free hand, trying to bring the blades on his wrist into play. But the attack was too slow, Batman easily dodging as he released his rogue son. Renegade retreated, his foot knocking against the sword on the ground. But the villain didn’t make any effort to pick up the weapon, instead kicking it out of the way.
Even as he disengaged and fell back into a fighting stance, it dawned on the Dark Knight. Renegade was fighting to lose. He wanted Batman to take him down. That could only mean that Dick was getting through somehow. That Dick was sabotaging himself to protect his family.
Quickly, the hero reached for his jump line. Thanks to the automatic retracting mechanism, the line was ready to use once again. He activated it, aiming for Renegades legs. The villain jumped out of the way before the cord could touch him. However, there was no way he could predict the second line which shot out from behind him, wrapping itself around his arm. There was a few seconds of silence as both Renegade and Batman followed the line back to its owner. Red Robin was standing awkwardly, clearly trying not to aggravate his injuries. However, the teenager made no effort to pull the line in.
Under the cowl, Renegade grinned and wrapped his hand around the line, ready to tug it out of his brother’s grip. He never got the chance as a red blur smashed into his back, taking him by surprise. Seeing that his older brother was off balance, Tim tugged on the line, sending Renegade to the ground and taking Robin, who had managed to attach himself to his oldest brother’s shoulders, with him.
Under the cowl, Bruce blinked as Renegade struggled to get up and fight. Damian was holding tight, his arms wrapped around Renegades neck as he dodging all of his former partner’s attempts to dislodge him and one of Renegades arms was now useless as Tim continued to pull it out from under the struggling villain, forcing him back to the ground.
As the struggle continued, Damian pulled out a taser. Bruce stepped forward, hoping to stop his youngest doing anything stupid but he was too late as Damian jammed the device down against Renegades neck and fired. Renegade dropped to the ground, his body convulsing from the sudden shock as Damian was knocked from his perch. Stepping forward, Bruce grabbed the boy and pulled him away from Renegades prone form as Tim dropped the line and stepped back to stand with his family. The whole family started down at their rogue bird.
“Do you think it worked?” The second Red Robin finally asked.
Damian glared at him.
“Of course it worked Drake.” He muttered. Both Tim and Bruce could hear the uncertainty in his voice.
There was a groan from Renegade as his hand twitched. Slowly, the villain started to move.
It felt like waking up, Dick decided as the shocks spread through his body. It was painful, but with each jolt, he could feel more and more. The numbness he had become accustomed to over the last few long weeks was slowly fading. His body, for so many weeks out of his control, was slowly returning to him as the device in his neck fried.
And then, as suddenly as it would appear when Slade pressed his commands, the feeling Dick had begun to associate with the control, aptly dubbed Renegade, was gone. Dick was free.
He gave a groan as the pain slowly faded. His body felt like it was made of lead. Breathing hard, he forced his hand across the rough concrete he was laying on, reaching for his face.
It took a lot of effort but finally, Dick managed to find the strength to reach for the cowl and peel it off his face. He gasped slightly as the too tight material gave under his grip. Turning his head so his forehead was pressed to the cool ground, he closed his eyes and blindly threw the cowl away, trying to catch his breath. There were footsteps off to the side but Dick ignored them. He was exhausted. If Slade was to come for him now, Dick knew he would not be able to fight.
Letting the waves of exhaustion wash over him, Dick tried to remember what had happened since leaving the warehouse. He knew Slade would make him track down his brothers. He remembered running across the rooftops, and fighting someone.
He remembered, despite being stuck in the strange numbness, he had fought to regain control. And he remembered the pain.
The footsteps drew nearer. Forcing his eyes open, Dick slowly pushed his upper body off the ground to look around. A dark shadow was standing before him. Dick couldn’t help but smile. He knew that figure.
“Hey Bruce.” He muttered, unable to raise his voice above a whisper.
The Dark Knight relaxed from his fighting stance. Despite the cowl, Dick could make out the look of relief. There were sounds from behind Dick’s adopted father. A red shadow threw itself at Dick, catching the young hero by surprise. Dick couldn’t help it. He laughed as Damian burrowed against his chest, the standoffish young boy of two weeks ago gone. Wrapping his arms tightly around his little brother, Dick couldn’t stop the babble of comforting comments pass as he tried to sooth the boy. Another figure stepped forward. Dick looked up and smiled as Tim sank to his knees besides his brothers. Slowly, the teen followed Dick’s lead and pulled off his cowl.
“Hey Dick.” He muttered.
Dick smiled softly as his blue eyes met those of his teenage brother.
“Hey Timmy.” He replied.
“You owe me a new cape.”
Dick laughed and Tim slowly smiled. Detangling one of his arms from around Damian, Dick held it up to Tim. The teen smiled and grabbed the hand, allowing his oldest (and favourite) brother to pull him into a one armed hug against Damian’s back. The three brothers sat there, relief pouring off them as their father watched over them.
Slowly, Dick lessened his grip, releasing his younger brothers. Tim took the hint and let go, falling back to sit on his heels but Damian tightened his grip, refusing to move. Slowly, Dick ran his hand through the little assassin’s dark hair. He couldn’t believe how close he had come to destroying this. His smile dropped.
“Deathstroke?” he asked, looking up at Batman.
The Dark Knight was looking out over his city.
“Red Hood is in pursuit.” He reported as Tim offered Dick his hand, pulling the older hero to his feet. Reluctantly, Damian let go and stepped away, trying to regain the sense of independence. Dick ignored him.
“Then I had better go and help Jay.” He replied.
Tim and Damian exchanged glances and waited to their father to shout him down.
Bruce turned to look at his oldest son. Dick was exhausted. The weeks of fighting had taken their toll on him. The dark bruise in his face and the bandage on his arm were just a few of the many injuries Dick would be hiding away, not to mention his mental state. But Bruce also knew his oldest child’s mind. Dick wanted, no needed, to see Deathstoke captured. For too long, the villain had been haunting him. It was time to finally end it.
Batman nodded, ignoring the small gasps from his other children as Dick smiled again.
“Very well.” The Dark Knight grunted, turning his back to the group as he pulled out his locator. He had placed a small tracking device on Jason earlier, and was now following the Red Hood’s movements through Gotham.
Dick stepped forward, but paused as Tim grabbed his arm.
“You might need this.” Red Robin said, handing something to his brother. Dick looked down at it. It was one of Tim’s spare black domino masks. The original Boy Wonder grinned.
“Thanks.” He said, securing it to his face. Tim looked him up and down.
“Welcome back Nightwing.” He muttered, almost to himself as he reached for his own cowl.
Nightwing nodded and turned away, stepping closer to Batman.
“Alright, let’s do this.”
Jason didn’t hesitate as he threw himself over the edge of Wayne Towers, his eyes fixed on Deathstroke. The mercenary was still, seemingly watching the actions on top of the tower and paying little attention to the second oldest bat brat as he drew near. Jason tried not to smile. It was his favourite thing in the world, taking an enemy by surprise before he killed them, and killing Deathstroke would be a huge achievement. Sure, Batman and the rest of his groupies would be angry, but Jason couldn’t bring himself to care. For the Red Hood, it was no longer about catching the villain. Now it was a family matter and if Jason didn’t do what was really needed, no one would.
Landing softly on the corner of an apartment building, the Red Hood looked across the street to his prey. Deathstroke hadn’t moved, still watching the shadows moving atop of Wayne Towers. Jason finally let himself grin. It would be almost too easy to sneak up behind the villain and take him down once and for all.
Jumping off the edge of the building, Jason started to weave his way through the series of fire escapes and window boxes towards the building, all the while planning his next move. He would climb up behind Deathstroke and before the villain knew a thing, he would be digging a dozen bullets out of his back. Of course, after killing Deathstroke, Red Hood would not be able to hang around. The mercenary may have been the bane of Nightwings existence, but Jason was positive that none of the family would let him get away with murder if they could help it. No, it looked like Jason would have to leave Gotham for a while, at least until something or someone else caught the Bats attention.
Balancing on the window sill, Jason shot his line off one last time, watching in satisfaction as it hooked onto the roof. Finally, he would get to kill someone. Tightening his grip on his gun, Jason quickly activated the cord retractor, allowing it to take his weight and pull him over the edge.
Jason Todd hit the ground and rolled to his feet, gun already raised and safety off. He blinked. There was nothing but shadows where moments before, Deathstroke had been standing.
Jason looked around, trying to pinpoint the villain. A flash of orange off to his side caught the former hero’s attention. Deathstroke was running across the roof tops, disappearing back towards Crime Alley. With a growl, Jason ran after the villain, determined to be the one to catch him.
Jumping from roof top to roof top, Jason quickly lost track of his position, his eyes fixed on his prey as the scenery changed around him. Finally, after what felt like hours, Deathstroke stopped on a low lying roof top. The mercenary had his back to Jason and was standing on the edge, looking down. Slowing down, Jason jumped onto a lower landing, ready to carefully make his way up towards the villain. He absentmindedly checked his gun, raising it as he climbed to the roof before disengaging the safety and ensuring the weapon was ready. Once again, Deathstroke had disappeared.
Jason couldn’t help it. He cursed. So much for an easy target.
Jason thought quickly. Trying to catch Deathstroke was almost like a game. Slowly, the Red Hood froze as the reality of the situation dawned on him. The roof was an open area. There was no way Deathstroke would have been able to just disappear. The hairs on the back of Jason’s neck rose as he scanned the sight before him.
Had Deathstroke spotted him? Had the mercenary somehow run off? Or was Red Hood walking into a trap?
His question was answered seconds later as the sound of breathing reached his ears. Turning, Jason tried to angle his gun but he was too slow. Deathstroke wrapped a hand around Jason’s arm, stopping the younger man from retreating to a safe distance before his fist made contact.
Jason heard, rather than felt the sickening crunch as the fist connected with his face, the cartilage in his nose crushing under the sudden force.
Dazed, he attempted to step backwards, dropping his weapon to the ground as Deathstroke released his arm. But the villain wasn’t done yet. Faster than Jason could follow, Slade reached up and grabbed the collar of the second Boy Wonders leather jacket, bringing his fist down on Jason’s jaw again and again.
Jason raised his hands to protect his face but Deathstroke caught him in the temple, making Red Hoods head spin.
Realising he was in trouble, Jason tried to struggle out of Deathstrokes grip as the blind panic began to build in the pit of his stomach. The mercenary was strong and ruthless, not showing any signs of strain or weakness as he continued to pummel his prey. In shock, Jason’s knees gave way, leaving the young man dangling in his enemies grip even as he tried to push the villain away. Deathstroke didn’t stop. He simply lowered the struggling hero to the ground and kicked him, dinting the armour under Red Hoods shirt and splitting the stiches in his shoulder. Lying on the ground in a daze, his own blood slowly filling his mouth, Jason felt paralysed as memories flickered through his mind. Memories of a madman standing over him and raising a crowbar, an insane giggle on his lips and murder in his eyes. It didn’t take a genius for Jason to realise that he was going to die. For the second time in his life, Jason Todd closed his eyes and prayed that this time; his father would save him.
It was often spoken of by the people of Gotham, a rumour which was not a rumour, a whisper in the night. It was spoken when parents tried to avert their children’s fear. When a criminal was found hanging upside down from a street lamp, babbling in terror. The legend of the Batman. Many people claimed to see the Dark Knight, leaping from roof top to roof top night after night as Gotham’s champion guarded his city. Often, a red bird was seen following him. The innocent people would look up at this sight and know they were safe for another night, the criminals would watch in fear. But tonight was different.
Only a lucky few people saw it, watching in awe as figure after figure flew across the roof tops, flashes of red and black blending into the night sky. Then those lucky few went home, locked their doors and shivered in fear. The people of Gotham were not stupid. They knew that one figure was good, two was better. But three figures meant trouble for the city and four… Four meant danger. The Batman and his allies were massing. And no one wanted to find out why.
Using his line to swing himself across a large alley, Tim couldn’t help but glance across at his brother. Nightwing was moving fast, flipping himself over obstacles and cutting across alleyways like he was being chased, the sword he had wielded as Renegade hanging off his back. Tim had questioned Dick’s actions when the oldest had finally managed to shake off the lasting effects of the taser and retrieve the weapon. Dick had muttered something about returning it to its owner before sliding the deadly steel into its sheath and walking over the Batman, accepting the GPS from his adopted father.
The newly freed hero had taken a moment to study the digital map before handing it back. Then without a word, he had thrown himself off the edge of the building, gaining speed as he released his line. It had taken a few moments of shock before the rest of the family swung into action, chasing the original Boy Wonder off the ledge and down into the dank streets of Gotham.
Nightwing set a brutal pace, ducking and weaving his way through the streets, the rest of the family fighting to keep up with the former acrobat. In fact, Tim couldn’t help but notice, the only person who was following Nightwing step for step was Robin. Clearly the partnership between the oldest and youngest child of the Batfamily had some advantages. The young assassin was keeping a minimal distance from his former partner, clearly unwilling to let Dick out of his sight for even a second.
Bruce on the other hand, was continuing to weave in and out of sight, leaving his children to continue on by themselves before catching up again a few minutes later. Risking a glance to his other side as the second Red Robin successfully made his next jump; Tim couldn’t help but try to read the look under the cowl. Batman was planning something.
Veering off to the side, Tim managed to draw close to his father.
“What’s the plan?” he shouted across at Batman.
The Dark Knight looked across at him even as he released his jump line. Tim couldn’t be certain but he was pretty sure his father was sizing him up under the cowl.
“There is no plan. This is Nightwings fight now.” Batman finally replied as the momentum pulled him away once more, cape flying out behind him like the wings of a giant bat.
Tim risked a quick glance ahead of him and jumped, narrowly avoiding a collision as he flipped himself up onto a barrier. Somehow, Nightwing and Robin had managed to draw ahead of him. Even with the distance, Tim could see Damian stumble slightly on a jump. For a brief second, Dick slowed down and grabbed Damian, steadying him before letting forth another burst of speed, Damian quickly speeding up to follow. Pushing himself, Tim also sped up; making the jump Damian had almost missed. Fortunately, Dick must have realised he was leaving Tim behind. The older hero slowed down, allowing Red Robin to catch up.
Finally level with his brothers once more, Tim looked across at Dick.
“Nightwing! What do we do?” He asked, hoping his words weren’t lost in the wind. There was a moment of silence except for the pounding of three pairs of feet before Nightwing replied.
“We take Slade down once and for all.” Nightwing growled, doing a remarkable impression of Batman on a bad day.
The older hero turned his head slightly before slowing down, catching both Tim and Damian by surprise. The two younger heroes overshot as Dick veered off to the side, speeding up suddenly. Tim turned and after making sure Damian was following, raced after his brother. Even as he pushed himself, Tim finally saw what Dick had seen. A figure was standing on the edge of a building, looking down at something.
Red Robin didn’t need x-ray vision to recognise the figure as Deathstroke. Beside him, Damian gasped, partly out of breath but mostly in surprise. It was clear the current Boy Wonder had also identified the villain.
The figure raised a fist and brought it down on a shadow in front of him, making a heavy, meaty sound as the fist connected. Tim really didn’t want to know what it was that made that sound. Forcing himself to stop, he grabbed Robin and pulled the boy back, scanning the area for Nightwing. The hero had disappeared into the shadows.
And then suddenly he appeared again, flying through the air towards Deathstroke like a silent, deadly shadow.
Time seemed to slow down as Nightwing crashed feet first into Deathstroke, knocking the villain over before he himself hit the ground and rolled, rising straight into a fighting stance.
The villain was also quick to rise, making no effort to hide his actions as he looked Nightwing up and down. A laugh cut through the silent night. A laugh that made Tim freeze. Slowly, the villain signalled for Nightwing to attack.
The fight had begun.
With a snap, Stephanie Brown closed her laptop and sighed. Her weekly internet chat with her predecessors of the Batgirl title had gone over an hour longer than expected. Barbara was awake from her surgery and the outcome was good, leaving the group with a lot to take about. With a lot of hard work, it looked like Steph’s mentor would be walking before the year was over and, although it wasn’t discussed, possibly reclaiming the Batgirl title. Cass was as sonic as ever, the Black Bat enjoying her work as the Batman Inc. Representative in Hong Kong. However, she too had picked up the possible change in the ranks and had already invited Steph for a visit should the girl need to get out of the city.
But Steph couldn’t help but feel a little bit of relief at the possible change. Being the female partner to the Dark Knight was starting to get to the former Girl Wonder. Sure it had been alright when Dick had held the title, even if Damian constantly tried to degrade Steph. But the return of the original Batman and Tim’s increased presence in Gotham, as well as the breakdown between Batman and Robin was making crime fighting increasingly stressful.
Steph had decided, for her own sanity, to lessen her presence in Gotham for a while, only working with the Birds of Prey and avoiding the intense arguments between Batman and Robin and the sonic shadow of Red Robin. In fact, Steph was starting to consider returning to her first secret identity. The Spoiler was only a minor player in Batman’s crusade and as such, was less involved in the family dynamics. Certainly it felt like running away from the problem, but Steph had never claimed to be perfect. She had created the Spoiler as an attempt to hinder the father she hated, and she had never doubted her place as the fourth Robin had been a simple convenience to try and taunt Tim back to the family. And judging how that had ended, there was no doubt that Steph would not be remembered for her good work as the first female Robin. In fact, the only really sincere moments of her crime fighting career so far, was her time as Batgirl. Dick was kind and truly did want Steph to do her best, treating her like a little sister. He was quick to help her out and tried not to judge her actions. He was even prepared to defend her from Damian when the kid decided to start trying to abuse his position as Batman’s partner. But Dick was no longer Batman. Instead, he had disappeared back to Bludhaven and left the family to its own devices.
And disappear, the first Boy Wonder had. Barbara had questioned Steph on Dick’s whereabouts. Apparently he was the first person she had tried to contact after finding out her surgery was a success. But Dick hadn’t answered. Nor had he answered the next ten times Barbara had called that week. Despite the distance, Dick was not one to ignore his sometimes girlfriend and still best friend. Dick had been Barbara’s rock during her long years without legs. He would not miss her call for anything. Put simple, Barbara was very worried.
Steph had promised her she would look into things and try and find him, even going to Batman or even Red Robin if she had too. After all, Gotham’s female heroes had to stick together somehow. Still the idea was less then desirable. In fact, Steph would much rather ask Robin and put up with the brats condescending speech then go to the Dark Knight.
Pushing her laptop to the side, Steph slowly climbed to her feet and stepped into her closet, pulling aside the secret panel which hid her costumes from the world. Pulling the door closed behind her, she quickly changed into the black and purple Kevlar, taking a moment to ensure the yellow bat was visible across her chest. Picking up her belt and cape, she quickly slid them on, leaving only her cowl off. She kicked the door open and stepped back into her room, ready to leave. A shadow appeared in the corner of her vision.
“Batgirl” A deep voice said.
Steph only just managed to muffle her scream of surprise as she swung around. Somehow, in the time she had been changing, Batman had climbed through her window and into her room. The Dark Knight stood in the corner, looking at her through the white lenses of his cowl, his expression unreadable. Even so, Steph felt herself shiver under his gaze. It was the same intense gaze which had fallen on her so many times when she had tried to live up to the Robin mantle.
“Batman” She muttered, trying not to let her voice shake.
“Your assistance is required tonight.” The Dark Knight stated. Without looking, he turned back to the window, expecting Steph to follow. The girl hesitated.
“Why?” she finally asked as Batman started to climb out of the window. The older hero paused, one foot hooked over the window. He looked back.
“We need your help.” Was all he said. Turning away, he climbed out of the window and disappeared up onto the roof. With a sigh, Steph raised her cowl and secured it on her face before following her former mentor outside. Well, at least he was trusting her. Maybe, if Steph was very lucky, she would be able to get the information she needed.
To say Slade was surprised to see Nightwing was an understatement. He had given Renegade specific orders to lead the family on a wild chase across Gotham, allowing the mercenary to pick them off one at a time before Renegade would complete his final mission. Even the chase with Red Hood had been factored in, the second Robin already chosen as Deathstrokes first victim the moment he had jumped off the roof and tried to chase Slade down. However, Slade had not factored in the possibility that Nightwing would take control again.
Not allowing himself to show his shock, as Slade climbed to his feet, the villain glanced down at his gauntlet. The light on the device flashed, showing a strong signal to the implant in Nightwings head. How then, was it possible that Nightwing could be in control?
Behind him, Red Hood groaned in pain while in front, the older Boy Wonder lowered his body, ready for a fight. Slade eyed him, feeling the grin spread. He laughed.
Slade had to hand it to Grayson, the kid could still surprise him. Quickly, the older man signalled for Nightwing to attack, knowing that in the resulting confusion, he would be able to fix the controller. Plus, it would be a good opportunity to put Nightwing back in his place.
Clearly Nightwing had understood the signal. The younger man leapt forward, fists already swinging. Slade stepped forward to meet him, blocking the punches and sending his own back towards the hero. The two continued to trade blows as behind them, a black and red shadow dropped to the ground and moved towards Red Hood. Quickly, the shadow hauled the dazed hero to his feet and began to lead him to safety, Nightwing distracting Slade enough to make the retreat go unnoticed.
The fight was fairly even, the past encounters between the two leaving them both with a good knowledge of the others skills. However, Nightwing was tiring quickly, only adrenalin keeping him on his feet as he continued to take hits.
One powerful kick and it was too much for Nightwing. The hero tripped and fell, landing on his back. Quickly, he drew Slade’s sword and pointed it at the mercenary, preventing Slade from stepping too close. Under his mask, Slade grinned and reached for his glove.
A red device flew through the air, hitting the controller and sending out a shower of sparks. The controller flickered and died, the connection lost as Slade stepped back in surprise. Robin dropped into the ledge nearest his brother, another projectile ready as Nightwing slowly rose to his feet.
Behind Slade, Red Hood pushed Red Robin away, forcing himself to remain standing as wordlessly, the four brothers moved to circle the mercenary, preventing any chance of escape.
Slade evaluated his surroundings. Over the last few years, the villain had studied every member of the Bat family, picking out their weaknesses and strengths, looking at Batman’s training methods and watching how each boy grew his own fighting style. And Slade knew he could beat any one of them. However, he didn’t think he could beat all four at once.
A dark shadow appeared in the villain’s vision, a flash of purple melting into the black as the two figures arrived. Under his mask, Slade rolled his good eye. Batman was really taking this seriously, he noted as the Dark Knight and the newest Batgirl appeared, almost sub-consciously joining the circle the boys had made. Even in the distance, sirens sounded as Gotham’s finest drew near.
Slade Wilson was a strong fighter, and a dangerous opponent, but first and foremost, he was a realist. And he wasn’t afraid to retreat when he knew he was going to be beaten. Quickly, the mercenary looked at his options. With Gotham’s heroes surrounding him and its Police Force on the way, it was clear that Batman thought he had trapped Slade. However, the hero had made one fatal error. The same error which had been obvious for the last two weeks.
“It’s over Deathstroke.” Batman growled.
Slade glanced around the circle. At Red Robin, who was standing defiantly, despite his tattered costume, at Red Hood, swaying slightly, one hand pressed to his chest while his broken nose still bled. At Batgirl, who was looking around, confusion on her face a she tried to understand the situation. At Robin, the youngest continuing to take his eyes off the villain to stare at his oldest brother as he balanced on the ledge. And finally at Nightwing. The oldest glaring at Slade as if in one look, he could transmit a lifetime of hatred.
Under his mask, Slade smiled. If he couldn’t win, no one could.
“Is it really, Batman?” He asked.
Reaching for his belt, Slade pulled out his gun, aiming it at Robin. He fired.
For Nightwing, the world was suddenly in slow motion. Slade raised the gun, pointing it at Damian as the 11 year old balanced on the ledge. Without thinking, Dick found himself moving, throwing Slade’s sword to the side as he ran to his younger brother. In the distance, the crack of a gunshot. Nightwing pushed himself faster, skidding in front of Robin and pushing the kid to the side. Something hit him in the chest, his ribs starting to sting.
Dick looked down through his mask. A small hole was in the black cloth of the Renegade costume, right where Damian’s head had been moments before. Even as Dick watched, a small trickle of red fell from the hole. In a matter of seconds, the trickle became a steady stream.
Dick lent back, trying to breath. His chest suddenly hurt. Feeling off balance, the hero tried to take a step back, tried to right himself. But there was no where for him to go.
Slowly, Nightwing dissapeared over the edge of the building and into the alley below.
“Nightwing!” The cry came out of nowhere as the hero in question tumbled out of sight. Even as Batman watched in horror, Robin was moving, throwing himself over the edge after his brother, para-cape flowing out behind him.
It took all of Bruce’s self control to stop himself from rushing to the edge.
There was a gasp to Bruce’s side. He turned in time to see Deathstroke disappear, jumping across the rooftops and away from the heroes. Jason was groaning on the ground as Steph rolled off him. Clearly the mercenary had thrown the girl at the rogue Bat suddenly, noting correctly that Nightwing and Robin’s actions had distracted the rest of the family.
“Batman!” This shout came from Red Robin. The teenager had run to the edge but hadn’t jumped, clearly torn between jumping after his brothers or chasing down Deathstroke.
Batman thought quickly. Deathstroke had overstepped the line for the final time. He needed to be taken down before anyone else got hurt. But Dick was hurt, possibly fatally and Bruce would never forgive himself if he didn’t help him.
Bruce had spent many years seeing putting his duty before his family. It had cost him so much.
Closing his eyes under his cowl, Bruce made the unpopular decision. One which, if he was wrong, would haunt him for the rest of his life.
With a gasp, Nightwing forced his eyes open. He was exhausted, the weeks of torture finally catching up with him. His chest ached, every breath burning as he tried to roll off the twisted pile of metal and glass which was, until he landed on it, a perfectly good car. With a groan of pain he gave up, letting his body flop back down onto the wreck.
Looking up at the street light flickering about him, the hero tried to focus as the edges of his vision began to fade. Under the mask, Dick took note of his injuries. The bullet in his chest seemed to have missed all his vital organs. Normally, his chance of survival would be good. However, even as Dick lay still, he could feel his blood dripping out of him, his body going into shock much faster then it usually would. The lack of sleep and food from his imprisonment, as well as the mistreatment was playing its part in slowly killing him. With another sigh, Dick let his mind go blank, trying not to think of how his death would hurt his family. In the distance, the police sirens drew closer. There was a crunch of glass close by.
Slowly, Nightwing drew his eyes away from the light, looking at the figure as it drew near.
“Grayson.” A voice muttered.
Dick sighed softly.
“Damian.” He replied in a whisper.
The current Boy Wonder jumped up onto the car besides his brother. Even in Dick’s fading sight, he could see the boy assess the situation.
“Idiot.” The kid finally muttered, pressing his hand roughly on the wound as his free hand reached for Dick’s, guiding it to the injury as well.
Working quickly, Damian tried to create a seal over his brothers bleeding chest, determined to keep as much blood from escaping as a constant stream of verbal abuse passed the boys lips.
“I can’t believe you would do something so stupid.” He growled, ignoring the gasp from his brother. “Well actually, I can. Damn it Nightwing, you are no use to me dead.”
Dick couldn’t help it. He laughed.
“I…didn’t realise…I was of any use…to you at all.” He muttered. It hurt to talk.
“TT.” The kid stated, finally pulling away to retrieve his first aid kit. Quickly, he applied a dressing the way Alfred had taught him.
“We need to go find father.” Robin finally said, grabbing Nightwings shoulder and trying to pull him up. With a grunt, Nightwing accepted Robins help, leaning most of his weight on the kid as he rose to his feet. The sirens were almost deafening now.
Slowly, the pair took a shaky step away from the wreck. But it was one step too many, as Nightwings knees buckled under him. The hero collapsed to the ground with a shout, causing Robin to gasp.
“Nightwing.” He called, ducking down to his brother’s side. A bright light washed over the pair, illuminating the already soaked bandage.
“Nightwing, you have to get up.” The boy continued, trying to once again drag his former partner to his feet. But Dick couldn’t move.
“You have to get up.” Damian tried again.
“Robin!” A voice shouted.
The young hero looked up as three policemen drew near.
“Stay back.” He replied, immediately going on the defence. The men drew back. They knew of the current Boy Wonders temperament. Another figure stepped into the child hero’s view.
“Robin. It’s alright son. We are here to help.”
Slowly, Damian turned his head, his masked eyes meeting those of Commissioner Gordon.
To say it had been an odd night for the Police Commissioner would have been an understatement. Called up at an ungodly hour to investigate a possible murder in the harbour had led to the discovery of the bodies of two of Europe’s most wanted criminals. The cleanup had taken hours, every few minutes another interruption as someone else reported seeing the Batman. Clearly, Gotham’s Dark Knight was working hard.
However, Jim Gordon hadn’t been expecting the face to face encounter with the hero as he made his way home. Batman had been his normal, grim self but Gordon couldn’t help but notice something different about the Bat’s posture. The man was on edge. Knowing that this was never a good sign, Gordon hadn’t protested as Batman asked for backup, mentioning something about an assassin or mercenary. Instead, Batman’s long time friend accepted the GPS which would guide his squad to the hero’s location.
Returning to the office, Gordon had immediately called his best men together.
It didn’t come as a surprise when the GPS led the police officers to a darkened apartment building on the edge of Crime Alley. It was even less of a surprise when one of his officers noticed movement on the roof. However, the surprise was around the corner as Gordon directed his men to a small alley where they could safely park their vehicles.
The first thing Gordon noticed, as the darkness was lit with flashing red and blue light, was the car. It was smashed, crushed from something falling onto it. Standing beside it were two dark figures. The taller one was clearly injured, shadow falling over the smaller figure as he took a shaky step.
Besides him in the car, a young officer pulled out his gun. Gordon quickly reached over and took it off the kid. He then turned the squad car’s headlights on.
The taller figure collapsed suddenly with a shout, hitting the ground hard and allowing the lights to illuminate the smaller figure. Gordon gasped. He knew that costume.
“Nightwing.” Robin called, falling to his knees. “Nightwing, you have to get up.”
“Shit.” Gordon breathed, climbing out of the car and studying the fallen figure. It had been a long time since he had seen the older hero. Certainly the costume was different. But he did not doubt who it was. Nightwing had disappeared around the time the Batman and Robin dynamics had changed. Many people in Gordon’s office had suggested that the kid had been killed in the violence during Batman’s brief absence. Gordon however, had started to wonder if the Batman title was hereditary, and if so, would Nightwing be the successor. Although he had never voiced it aloud, he had become convinced that the man under the cowl was Bludhaven’s hero, not Gotham’s. And then it had all changed back.
Realising he was stalling; Gordon started to make his way towards the scene. In front of him, three of his men backed away as Robin went on the defence. The kid was on edge, clearly looking for a fight. Walking past his men, Gordon let the light wash over him.
“Robin. It’s alright son. We are here to help.”
The kid slowly relaxed, looking him up and down before turning back to the injured hero and seemingly dismissing the police officers. Gordon quickly turned to his men.
“Get a doctor. Now!”
The men nodded and turned away. Unlike the Commissioner, they did not like dealing with the heroes of their city.
Walking softly, Gordon made his way over to the figures, trying to assess the damage. He cursed as he noticed the blood soaked bandages across Nightwing’s chest. The hero was in a bad way and needed medical attention fast.
Realising the older hero was talking to Robin, Gordon paused, intent on giving the two a little privacy. However, that didn’t stop him overhearing the conversation.
“Robin, you need too…you need to do this for me.” The older hero gasped.
Robin shook his head.
“I don’t follow your orders anymore, remember?” The kid challenged, looking up at the sky, looking for someone.
Nightwing groaned and slowly raised his hand from where it was pressed against his bleeding chest. He raised it to Robin’s cheek, forcing the kid to look at him.
“Robin…I’m serious.” He grunted.
Robin reached for the hand but didn’t dislodge it. Instead, he wrapped his hand around Nightwing’s wrist, holding the hand still.
“Father will come for you.” He said. “I swear it.”
Nightwing grunted, trying to rise himself up.
“Take care of him…Promise me…you won’t let him hurt…when I’m gone.”
Using his free hand, Robin tried to help Nightwing up.
“No. You are not going anywhere. You are the only brother I can stand. I’m not letting you leave.” The kid said.
Gordon felt his stomach drop. He had always suspected that Batman’s allies were also his family. Ever since meeting the first Robin. Where others had seen a kidnapping or a paedophile, Gordon had seen a father and son. Now he knew for sure. Forgetting his promise to give the two heroes privacy, the Commissioner turned and ran to the scene.
“Nightwing.” He called.
The older hero looked up at him.
“It’s ok son. Help is on the way.” Gordon said, trying to hide his fear. He just prayed the ambulance would make it in time.
The heroes continued to stare at him. Then slowly, as if drawn to something, they both turned their heads to the other end of the alley. Gordon followed them, looking up as two figures slowly made their way towards them. The smaller figure gasped and broke into a run as they drew near, dropping to its knees on the hard ground. Gordon immediately recognised Batgirl as the hero looked over Nightwings injuries. Behind her, the other figure drew closer.
It took all of Gordon’s self control not to reach for his gun as he recognised Red Hood. The Arkham escapee was in a bad way too. The man limped over, one hand pressed against his side, his face almost unrecognisable under the red mask. He looked the fallen hero up and down before giving a breathy laugh.
“Always have to one up me, don’t you wings?” The man said.
Nightwing almost laughed.
“It’s…my job.” He muttered.
Red Hood smiled slightly. Then he lowered himself to the ground with a grunt as Nightwing looked around.
“The teen Wonder is getting the car. Bats has decided to forgo family time and is going after Deathstroke.” Red Hood said allowed.
Gordon had no idea what that all meant, but clearly Nightwing did. He slumped back, much to the group’s horror. Robin kept his grip on the older heroes hand as Batgirl tried to shake him. Red Hood shifted slightly before kicking Nightwing in the ribs. The hero gasped and roused.
“No going to sleep on us now Wing.” The villain said. “You know I don’t want to handle this brat.” He indicated to Robin, who ignored him.
In the distance, a siren sounded. The ambulance had arrived.
“You are a crappy brother.” Nightwing muttered at Red Hood as the villain glanced up at the approaching medics.
“Robin.” The villain muttered.
The young hero rose to his feet, letting go of Nightwing’s hand to point his blood stained fingers at the Commissioner.
“Send them away.” He ordered.
Gordon opened his mouth to argue. This was no time for secrets. There was a life at stake. There was a roar from the other end of the alley. A car drove forward, skidding to a halt beside the heroes and villain. Gordon recognised it as Batman’s famous car.
The driver’s door was kicked open as the teenage driver jumped out. Gordon had to admit, Red Robin looked just as battered as the rest of the family as the teen ran over to the rest of the group. It seemed that an unspoken conversation went on as Batgirl rose to her feet and grabbed one of Nightwing’s arms, Red Robin grabbing the other. Together, the two lifted Nightwing up and began to drag him to the car as the ambulance screeched to a halt by the police cars. Gordon turned to look behind him at the confused medics and the worried police officers. One of the medics pointed up at something and screamed.
Gordon spun around in time to see the dark shape hit the ground, becoming Gotham’s dark protector. Batman ignored the police and walked over to his car and the crowd around it as Nightwing was loaded into the back.
“Deathstroke?” Red Robin asked, looking up from what he was doing.
Batman ignored him, instead looking around at the group.
“Get them home.” He ordered Red Robin, indicating to Robin and Batgirl. Robin opened his mouth to protest but Batgirl quickly slapped him on the head.
Reaching forward, Batman grabbed Red Hood’s shoulder and pushed the villain around the car. Pushing open the passenger door, he almost threw the protesting man inside, slamming it down and cutting off the shouts.
Walking over to the driver side, Batman quickly climbed in and took off, tires squealing in protest as the car disappeared into the night, leaving three heroes standing alone in the alley.
There was a soft sigh from Red Robin.
“Alright, let’s go.”
Robin glared at him as Batgirl started to run, grabbing a fire escape and disappearing into the dark.. But Red Robin was ignoring him, the older hero prepping his jump line instead. With a glance at the kid, the teenager shot out the line, following the girl. Robin growled before racing to catch up.
Back in the alley way, Commissioner Gordon stood forgotten, watching the heroes leave. He shook his head as he turned back to the shocked medics and police before quickly shouting out orders to them, trying to get the situation under control, trying to keep himself from thinking. But deep in his mind, Jim Gordon prayed that Gotham would not lose a hero tonight.
The cave was just as dark as always, Steph casually observed. She had arrived only moments before with Tim and Damian, her former Boyfriend quickly dragging the junior assassin away into the depths somewhere. Steph really didn’t want to know where. Nor did she want to know what was behind the hastily erected screens in the corner of the medical bay. The soft whispers and sounds of a heart monitor were enough for the girl to make an educated guess, and it wasn’t pleasant.
Instead the former Girl Wonder walked around, casually looking at anything which caught her eye as she tried not to think. Nightwing had been in a bad shape, his injuries much too serious to brush off like he normally did.
In the laboratory, a computer monitor was on. Slowly, Steph made her way towards it. It was a news report. Reaching for the keyboard, Steph quickly turned up the volume before sitting herself in front of the screen.
“It was a tense scene here in Bludhaven, where just moments ago, the Justice League confirmed the capture of the villain known as Deathstroke the Terminator.”
The female reporter stood awkwardly on screen, holding her microphone in one hand as she tried to wrap her jacket closer around herself, the cold air blowing her hair over her face.
“Deathstroke has been linked to many murders over the last twenty years and has been found guilty of espionage as well as theft and fraud, putting him on the Justice Leagues list of dangerous criminals. A representative of the Justice League claimed that the villain was found tied to a flag pole on top of Bludhaven National Bank by Metropolis Hero Superman. How the villain ended up there is anyone’s guess, as is how Superman knew where to find him. But regardless of the mystery, the people of Bludhaven can sleep easy tonight. The dangerous criminal has been caught. I am Sally Gibson, National News.”
Steph slowly rose from her seat, looking hard at the grainy footage as Superman dragged Deathstroke from the scene before the image cut, returning to the studio.
“Well that’s good news Sally, I know I will certainly sleep easier in my bed.” The anchor man said, grinning at the camera with a false look of happiness.
Steph rolled her eyes and once again muted the program, lowering herself back down and spinning on the chair until she could see the strategically placed screens. She looked hard at them, almost as if she could suddenly develop x-ray vision and see what was going on. More to the point, what was going on in the mind of her former mentor? As far as Steph knew, Batman had never killed anyone. But from what she could see, what Deathstroke had done to Dick was in-human. How had the Dark Knight stopped himself killing the man for hurting his son?
Steph knew it would be a question she would never answer. Relaxing into the chair, she let her mind wonder again as she waited patiently for the news.
Arriving in the cave, Tim couldn’t stop the worry in the pit of his stomach as he noticed the screens around the medical bay. Clearly Bruce hadn’t wasted any time getting Dick into surgery. It took all of Tim’s self control not to run over and see for himself the state of his older brother.
Looking around to try and distract himself, Tim felt his eyes fall on Damian. He mentally cursed. The kid was standing in the corner, shaking slightly as he stared at the screens. But what really worried Tim was the blood. On Damian’s face was a bloodied hand print, a reminder of what had happened. The kid’s tunic and gloves were dripping droplets of red onto the floor. In all of Tim’s memories of the kid, he had never seen his younger brother so quiet or so pale.
Cursing again, this time aloud, Tim pushed past Steph and walked over to Damian, grabbing his little brother’s arm as he recognised the symptoms of shock. It seemed the situation had finally hit home.
“Come on.” He muttered.
For the first time ever, Damian didn’t protest as he was dragged away, instead blindly following Tim down to the batcaves extensive bathroom.
Working quickly, Tim stripped his little brother of his belt, gloves and cape, throwing them into a pile before pushing Damian into one of the shower stalls. He didn’t pause. Any second, Damian could snap out of the shock and Tim could find himself with a batarang in his chest. Again.
Turning the hot water of, Tim watched as the kid gasped and slid down the edge of the stall, sitting in a growing pool of water as the red print slowly disappeared from his face. Damian was shaking hard now, a surprising sight for anyone who knew the current Robin’s parentage. But Tim couldn’t help but feel sorry for the kid. He quickly racked his brain, trying to think of what Dick would do in this sort of situation. But the problem was that Dick wouldn’t think about it. The guy was a natural at the big brother job.
Closing his eyes, Tim let his instincts take over as he stepped into the spray, kneeling down besides the eleven year old and pulling him close. Damian didn’t fight, so Tim decided he had done the right thing as he hugged the boy to his chest and ran his glove through Damian’s dripping hair. He faintly wondered if Dick would be pleased by Tim’s decision. The through sent another chill to the pit of Tim’s stomach. Tightening his grip on Damian, Tim lent back against the wall and prayed that their older brother would be alright. After all, Tim knew he was not ready to be the older brother for Damian.
It was a phone call Dr Leslie Thompkins had hoped never to receive again. The call to Wayne Manor. Letting herself inside, she took a moment to look around before making her way downstairs. The house was as she remembered it those years ago, before her falling out with the family after faking Robin’s death. Admittedly, relations were better in some ways. Alfred and Dick had welcomed her back, as had Barbara. Stephanie still referred to her expertise when the girl needed help. Even the new Robin, Damian knew not to mess with her. Admittedly, Tim was still cold, only working with her when Dick asked it. But Bruce…
The first Dark Knight scared Leslie, his threats to destroy her still all too clear in her mind. She had known that Bruce would not react well to her actions regarding Stephanie, but honestly, Leslie couldn’t see what else she could have done. The girl shouldn’t have been out on the streets. She shouldn’t have been in the situation Batman had put her in. Leslie had only done what she could to help the girl survive. It had been horrible when Leslie had realised her actions had put her at odds with the boy she helped to raise for so many years.
Bruce’s call had her on edge. Batman was not the sort to forgive easily. Either she was going to him to be arrested, or something had gone seriously wrong in the Batfamily. Both options were horrible.
Opening up the clock, Leslie made her way down to the cave, meeting Alfred on the stairs. The Englishman was worried. Batman had called him up, asking to prepare the medical bay for surgery. Leslie felt her insides turn to water. Now she knew. Someone was hurt.
Following Alfred down, Leslie made her way through the familiar surroundings to the medical bay, quickly preparing herself for surgery as she watched Alfred rig a screen around the area. This was bad.
It felt like seconds later that the sound of an engine was heard, and the Batmobile glided into view. Leslie had to hold herself still as Batman climbed out of the driver’s seat. He didn’t look at her as he made his way around the car, ignoring the second door as it opened and another figure struggled out. Instead, he made his way to the back and bent down, his body blocking Leslies view as he picked something up. Alfred stepped forward, intent on helping his friend. He froze, giving a gasp of horror as he saw what Bruce was holding.
The Dark Knight turned, cradling someone in his arms. Leslie slowly stepped forward, hoping to recognise the figure. Batman shifted the figure slightly before stepping forward. The movement wasn’t enough to disturb the figure, but it was enough for Leslie to finally get a good look at her patient. She tried to stifle her cry as she recognised the bundle Bruce carried. He may have been wearing a different costume, but Leslie would have recognised Dick Grayson anywhere.
Ignoring Leslie, Bruce carried Dick over to the medical table, laying him down carefully before brushing the younger hero’s dark hair away from his face. Dick, still semi-conscious, tried to roll onto his side and pull his legs to his chest, trying to protect his injuries. Bruce grabbed Dick’s shoulders and pushed him back onto his back, whispering some words to his son. Dick stilled with a sigh.
Looking up, Leslie suddenly found herself meeting the Bat-glare.
“Help him.” Bruce ordered, stepping away from the table.
Leslie didn’t need to be told twice as she rushed to the table to assess the situation. Dick had been shot in the chest and beaten badly.
Gathering her strength even as she could feel Bruce’s gaze on her, Leslie got to work.
It had been nice while it lasted, Tim thought. Once in the shower, Damian had quickly regained his senses, pushing Tim away before climbing out and trudging up the stairs. Tim had been forced to run after him and drag him out of the cave to change, preventing the little demon from going into the medical bay. Once upstairs and in a clean set of clothes, Tim had worked even harder, trying to stop Damian returning. Eventually Tim had won, appealing to Damian’s pride.
The boy had then taken up residence on the couch in Bruce’s study, his ipod playing loudly as he stroked the dark fur of his new kitten, the hood of his jacket hiding his face.
Tim sat at the desk and watched the boy. In Damian’s lap, the kitten mewed.
“Hush, Ashia.” The boy muttered to the cat.
Tim couldn’t help but grin. Ashia the cat had been part of the family for only two weeks before Dick left, but had already generated a lot of amusement as Dick dubbed the creature ‘Ace the Bat-Cat’. Damian hadn’t been impressed and tried to explain the meaning of the name but both brothers had ignored it, instead sticking to the nick-name.
Realising he was smiling, Tim quickly let his expression go grim. It seemed so recent, when he and Dick were making fun of the cat, and yet now Dick was downstairs fighting for his life.
With a sigh, Tim lent back in his chair and closed his eyes. In his pocket, his phone buzzed. Pulling the device free, the Teen Wonder opened his eyes and looked at the flashing message.
It was from Kon.
‘Hey. Defstrk caugt. True?’
Tim frowned at the message before closing it. He blinked as another message flashed up. Quickly scrolling through his message bank, Tim noted he had at least half a dozen missed calls and messages, all from various friends in the Superhero community, all asking about Deathstroke. What the hell was going on?
Rising to his feet, Tim glanced at Damian. The kid looked like he was asleep, lying on the couch. Tiptoeing over to the clock, Tim quickly turned the hands and entered the secret passage, heading down to the cave to speak to his father. He may not be Robin anymore, but he was still a detective, and he was going to find out what was going on.
The screech of the bats was almost deafening as Tim walked through the gloom of the cave, his bare feet muffling any sounds he made as he navigated through the dark. The cave was lit with a series of floodlights in the roof, designed to cast a layer of shadows throughout the vast cavern and create an intimidating atmosphere. Intimidating to those who didn’t live there.
Taking a final step, Tim hesitated as he stood before the screens. Whatever was behind those screens was reality. While outside them, Tim could imagine whatever he liked. He could imagine that it was a normal night, Bruce working in the depths of the cave, Damian hiding somewhere sulking and Dick was just a short distance away. He could imagine that he had just come from seeing the Titans. He could even imagine that the whole night hadn’t happened and he was upstairs in his bed dreaming this whole thing. But once he walked into the medical bay, it would all be real and he would have to deal with it.
Taking a deep breath, Tim stepped past the shield.
The first thing he saw was Jason. The Red Hood was un-conscious, lying on one of the spare examination tables. His shirt was off, his chest and shoulder tightly bandaged while an IV pumped much needed fluids into his system. Jason’s face was a mess of cuts and bruises, his nose swollen and purple in the harsh light.
It was strange, Tim thought as he looked at his older brother. Jason was one of the most violent people the teen knew. The hurt the older hero had endured during his childhood had been amplified during his resurrection, causing him to attack without prejudice, whether he was faced with a friend or foe. Tim had faced Jason many times and only just survived. And yet, as Tim watched the older hero, he couldn’t help but be struck with a thought.
Jason had a family. The rogue Bat may not like it, but if he ever needed help, Batman, Nightwing…Hell, even Tim himself would respond.
Tim remembered well his first few years as Robin. Everything he had done had been to try and fix the hole Jason had left in the family. Every action he had taken, had been shadowed by the fear of following Jason’s footsteps, first to the grave, and then to something worse.
But it didn’t matter that the man was homicidal, that he had recently escaped from jail, or that he had tried to kill his older brother, both his younger brothers and many of his former friends and enemies. Jason was forever a Robin and would forever be part of the Batman legacy.
Softly, Tim stepped closer to Jason’s prone form. Behind him, there was a small cough.
“He’s going to be alright, isn’t he?” Tim asked.
“Yes Master Timothy.” Alfred answered from his place behind the teenager.
Tim nodded and swallowed, hoping his voice wouldn’t shake.
“And Dick?” he asked.
There was a brief pause from behind him.
“Master Timothy, please turn around.”
Tim felt his hands curl into fists. Slowly, balancing on the soles of his feet, Tim pivoted on the spot. He didn’t know what he expected to see. What he did see was Alfred, the Englishman was standing in front of the Teen Wonder, partly blocking his view. However, Tim could still make out the scene behind him.
Stepping forward, Tim stopped for a moment as Alfred placed a hand on his shoulder before the older man backed away, leaving Tim to continue on his own.
In front of him, Bruce sat. The Dark Knight had removed the top half of his costume, leaving him bare chested as he sat by Dick’s bedside and watched his oldest child. It took Tim a few moments to spot the red tube protruding from Bruce’s arm, and a few moments more to understand what it was as his eyes followed it up to the IV bag, and then back down to the needle in Dick’s arm. Against the head of the bed, a life support machine pinged softly, measuring Dick’s heart rate.
Stepping closer, Tim felt himself mentally comparing his older brothers. Like Jason, Dick’s chest was bandaged up. However, the oldest of the Bat-siblings didn’t look nearly as bad as the Red Hood. In fact, Tim’s oldest brother looked peaceful in his sleep. It looked slightly odd to see the many thousands of dollars of medical equipment surrounding the bed.
“You should be resting.” Bruce muttered, not looking up at his teenage son.
Tim shrugged, knowing Bruce wouldn’t see it.
“I don’t think resting is going to be so easy tonight. Jason seems to be doing ok. How is Dick?” The younger hero replied, looking at his surroundings. His eyes fell on an abandoned chair. Walking over, the teen picked it up and placed it next to the bed.
In front of Tim, Bruce sighed and ran his free hand through his sweaty black hair.
“Leslie thinks he will be fine.” The hero replied, finally turning to look at Tim as the teen sat down. “He lost a lot of blood from the bullet wound, but most of his injuries are minimal. His rate of recovery looks good.”
“But you are still worried.” Tim stated, recognising the tone in his adopted fathers voice.
Bruce looked away, glancing across the medical bay. In the corner, Leslie was studying an x-ray of a human skull. Tim found himself glancing at it, noting the black smudge on the top of the spine.
“That’s the implant, isn’t it?” he finally asked softly.
Besides him, Bruce nodded, once again turning to watch Dick sleep. Tim understood the silence.
“It can’t be removed, can it?” he asked.
“No. The risks of brain damage or even death are too high to consider surgery, even if Dick was fit enough to undergo the procedure.” Bruce replied, his voice flat. “Leslie is trying to find a way to permanently block its signal, or at least stop any possibility it could be reactivated.”
Tim thought for a long moment.
“Bruce?” he finally asked.
The teen held his breath, waiting for his mentor to turn his attention on him.
“Yes?” Bruce asked. The Dark Knight sounded exhausted.
“Why did you hand Deathstroke over to the League? After all he has done to us, done to Dick and Jason and even Cass, why didn’t you retaliate?”
Bruce seemed to pause, processing his son’s question as he studied his hands.
“Why did I let the Joker survive after he took Jason from me? Why did I refuse to take Bane down after he broke my back?” He looked up again at his third child. “I can’t live for revenge Tim. If I do, what will stop me from becoming like the people I fight?”
Tim swallowed. Although he had already known it was going to be Bruce’s answer, the verbal confirmation was welcome to the Teen Wonder. It was the principle Tim had trained under and according to Alfred, the principle Bruce had lived by ever since he had invited a lonely circus orphan into his life.
With a small sigh of acceptance, Tim shifted on the chair, moving closer to Bruce until he was leaning against his adopted fathers shoulder. Dick’s bed was a white island in front of him, Jason’s in his peripheral vision. Slowly, Bruce relaxed, allowing Tim to rest against him as the two continued to watch over their sleeping birds.
It was a peaceful hour of silence for both Bruce and Tim before the two were thrust back into reality. Damian, finally awake enough to realise Tim had slipped away, had made his way down to the cave with Alfred and tried to engage Tim in a verbal fight. Tim had ignored the boy, instead watching as Bruce sighed and rose to his feet to try and calm Damian down. However, that hadn’t saved the teenager from the wrath of Alfred.
The Englishman, finally able to rest from his duties of caring for the injured and the young, turned his sights on Tim and the blood slowly seeping through the back of his clean shirt.
It had taken all his will power to try and resist the older man, and even then it wasn’t enough as Alfred managed to drag him to the corner of the medical bay and remove his shirt, inspecting the long cut in his back. Tim didn’t have the heart to tell him how it had happened and instead resigned himself to sitting quietly as Alfred worked and watching as Bruce talked Damian into taking Tim’s abandoned seat.
Although neither of them realised it yet, Tim could see the slowly strengthening bond between father and son. It didn’t take a detective to see that soon the two would start to form the well functioning team that defined Batman and Robin.
Tim sighed quietly as Alfred worked, causing the older man to pause as he treaded the surgical needle.
“Master Timothy?” The Englishman asked.
“I will start looking for an apartment in the morning Alfred.” Tim muttered, his eyes still glued on Bruce and Damian. In front of the two, Tim’s adopted father pulled his little brother into a one armed hug. Tim didn’t need to look around to know that Alfred was frowning at him.
“Master Timothy, do not think that you have been replace.”
Tim couldn’t help it. He smiled.
“No. Damian can’t replace me. I just think it’s time for this bird to finally leave the nest.”
There was a minute of silence as Alfred slowly worked, stitching up Tim’s back.
“An old friend of mine in New York has been involved with the newly created Lex Towers.” The older man said slowly. “I believe one of the Penthouses is for sale. If you wish, I can get you the details.”
Tim thought for a moment, trying to ignore the needle in his back. Lex Towers, in the heart of New York City. It would be a very good place to start.
Nodding his head, Tim relaxed slightly.
“Thank you Alfred.”
The two fell into silence, both lost in their own thoughts.
It was almost six hours after Tim and Alfred’s talk that Jason awoke. The Red Hood awoke violently, ready to attack at a moment’s notice as he swung to his feet. However, he had overestimated his abilities. The pain in his chest toppled the rogue bat, sending him crashing to the ground. He swore loudly, trying to remember how he had fallen asleep. He had arrived at the Cave with Batman and watched, forgotten in the shadows as Bruce rushed Dick into surgery. However, it seemed that he hadn’t been forgotten enough as Alfred appeared and immediately began to assess his injuries.
Like many before him, Jason had fallen to the wrath of Alfred, allowing himself to be manhandled rather then start a fight with the Englishman. But he had not expected the older man to sedate him. The shock of the situation had lasted the few seconds between Jason noticing the needle in his arm and him losing consciousness and falling onto the waiting bed.
Now as he woke, he quietly swore at the Butler.
While Bruce had been occupied with Dick, Jason could easily walk away from the situation and be long gone before the family decided to come after him. But now, with six hours gone, even getting out of the cave would be difficult.
Climbing to his feet and leaning heavily on the bed, Jason looked around. There was another bed in the small confines of the medical bay. Jason didn’t have to look hard to guess whose bed it was. Dick was hooked up to various monitors which beeped erratically as Jason’s older brother slept. None of the machines had been disturbed by the presence of Damian. The new Robin had somehow managed to crawl onto the bed and tunnel his way through the various wires to press himself against Dick’s side before falling asleep. It was sickeningly cute.
Tearing his eyes away, Jason absentmindedly rubbed the bandages on his chest as he looked around. Someone, probably Alfred, had folded Jason’s jacket and pants on a chair next to his bed.
Walking to the chair, Jason inspected the clothes, giving them a quick sniff. Yes, they had been cleaned. There was also a black t-shirt, probably one of Dick’s spares, folded up with Jason’s clothes. However, the Red Hood’s weapons were nowhere to be seen.
Realising he was wasting time, Jason pulled the shirt over his head, fighting the urge to groan as pain shot through his chest. Forcing himself to slow down, Jason finished clothing himself and pushed away from the bed, testing his strength.
Slowly, one step in front of the other, he made his way out of the medical bay and towards the stairs, praying that his luck would get him up out of the house and if possible, out of Gotham. However Lady Luck must not have heard of Jason Todd. No sooner had Jason placed his foot on the first step, Bruce rounded the corner.
The billionaire was dressed in plain black pants and a polo shirt and looked like Jason felt. Clearly the strain of three children injured in one night had taken its toll on the famous playboy. For a second, Jason was convinced Bruce hadn’t seen him as the blue eyes scanned the cave. Slowly, Bruce turned to stare at Jason.
“You should still be sleeping.” Bruce muttered, eyeing Jason carefully.
Jason snorted but didn’t reply.
Bruce sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He looked up again, this time meeting Jason’s critical gaze.
“Twice now I have lost you Jason. I lost you to the Joker, and again when you came back and I couldn’t help you. I won’t stop you from leaving but please don’t just walk away son. We all need you here. We need to know you are ok.”
It was the one comment Jason wasn’t prepared for. Had Bruce actively tried to prevent Jason from leaving, the younger man knew he would fight. If Bruce had ignored him, or even invited him to leave, Jason would have taken the out. However, he was not prepared for a heartfelt request from the only father figure he had ever known. That was normally Dick’s area, and welcomed scorn. Bruce saying it was unnatural.
Jason opened his mouth, trying to think of a reply. However, Bruce was no longer paying attention. Instead, he stepped carefully around Jason and walked towards the medical bay. Not sure what else to do, Jason followed.
Bruce walked with purpose to Dick’s bedside, checking equipment as he moved. Finally reaching the bed, Bruce pulled the sheet away from Dick’s chest, checking the bandages. To Jason’s untrained eye, everything looked normal but clearly Bruce wasn’t taking any chances. After what felt like ages, the Dark Knight seemed satisfied, lowering the sheet back into place.
Next to Dick, Damian moved. Bruce paused for a moment until his youngest settled before gently running a hand through Damian’s hair.
“I believe Alfred is making breakfast upstairs. After a night like this, we all need it.” The Dark Knight finally said aloud. Jason blinked, taking a moment to realise his adopted father was talking to him.
Slowly, Jason backed away. It was all so clear to him. He had to leave, right now. If he didn’t it was possible he wouldn’t be able to leave.
As Jason turned, his stomach growled with hunger.
He had to leave. Straight after breakfast.
It took three days for Dick to wake up from surgery. On the second day, Bruce had talked to Clark Kent, explaining to the Man of Steel why it was so important that Deathstroke had been captured. And, like the reporter he was, Superman spread the news to the Hero community. Within hours, Dick’s contacts all over the globe were calling the cave, trying to understand the situation.
The moment Dick opened his eyes, heroes started converging on Gotham to see for themselves that he was alive.
The first heroes to arrive physically at the Cave were the Super family. Superman flanked by both Superboy and Supergirl. Kara had been in a panic. She and Dick had become good friends over the years and the thought of him being injured was difficult for her to process. In fact, it had taken the combined efforts of both Tim and Kon to calm her down as Clark disappeared to talk with Bruce and Dick.
Clark had been in a funny mood, seemingly torn between angry at Kon for something and worried for Dick, the boy he watched grow up.
Tim had seen the oddity of the situation and the moment Kara had settled with a cup of tea, he had pulled Kon aside, intent on questioning his best friend. It hadn’t taken much to uncover the whole story. Clark was using Dick’s injury to try and distract himself from Kon’s latest stunt. It seemed, the Boy of Steel had somehow managed to figure out how to get a needle to penetrate bullet-proof skin and had gotten himself a tattoo.
Normally that wouldn’t have been a problem, except Kon had chosen the one design which would blow his secret identity to pieces. Tim had almost fallen over laughing as Kon revealed the S Shield on his right shoulder.
It had been that moment, when Tim was distracted by Kon that Bart Allen arrived.
Wally West, childhood friend of Dick’s and the (now retired) fastest man alive, had used his super speed to its full advantage, rounding up both Kid Flash and Impulse before dragging the younger speedsters across the county to visit.
Bart had heard of Kon’s tattoo and, guessing Nightwing was alright, left his older cousin to visit his friend and dumped Irey with Damian (Much to the Boy Wonders horror) before joining his friends for a talk. The three boys had laughed and talked for an hour before Clark finally called it quits and collected Kon. The clone had waved goodbye and disappeared with a promise to call and finally organise a date for the re-birth of the Teen Titans.
Tim and Bart had then gone up to the caves gantry to watch other heroes arrive and depart while Tim outlined his plan to move out of Gotham. Bart had been surprisingly supportive as the two watched members of the Justice League, the Outsiders and the first Titans move around the Cave.
Finally Barry Allen had arrived to pick up his family and Bart had left, leaving Tim to admire the sheer number of well wishers Dick drew. But yet, there was one face missing from the crowd.
Tim’s interest was piqued when the Arrow family arrived. Unlike most of the heroes who had arrived at the cave entrance either by flying or teleporting, Oliver Queen and his family had driven up to the main gate and entered the Manor that way. Connor Hawke, Mia Dearden had Cissie King-Jones had arrived with their mentor (Or in Cissie’s case, her mother’s former partner), but the absence of Roy Harper was noticeable.
Admittedly Roy wasn’t likely to arrive with the rest of the Arrows anyway, but the fact that he hadn’t made any effort to check up on his best friend was worrying.
Waiting for the perfect opportunity, Tim had cornered Cissie, dragging her out of the cave and into the Manors kitchen to talk. Cissie was hesitant, but her long friendship with Tim, as well as her position as the Titans support group meant it took very little encouragement for her to tell the Teen Wonder everything.
Arsenal had been arrested and imprisoned in the Middle East, accused of war crimes. Ollie and the rest of the Arrow family had tried to step in but fearing rumours of favouritism, the Justice League had pulled them back. Instead several officials had been appointed to review the charges, all the while Roy rotted in prison.
Tim had listened in horror, so caught up in the story that he failed to notice Jason enter the kitchen and listen in until the rouge Bat had swore aloud.
Although Jason was yet to leave the Manor, he had spent the past few hours hiding out away from the transiting heroes, his status as an Arkham escapee contributing to him isolating himself in his old bedroom.
Jumping slightly, Cissie had backed away from Jason as the older man cursed the Justice League with all his might. Tim turned to glare at his older brother.
“Jason. Stop.” Tim growled, gaining Jason’s attention. The former villain had glared at his younger brother but had calmed down slightly. Realising it was safe to do so, Tim continued.
“The League can’t be seen to help outlaws. I know it’s not his fault, but Arsenal made a choice and if the Leagues officials fail, nothing short of a jail break can help him.” Even to Tim’s ear it sounded preachy.
And it was the wrong thing to say, if Jason’s smile was anything to go by. Grinning like a madman, Jason turned and stalked out of the kitchen. Signalling for Cissie to stay put, Tim ran after his older brother as Jason stalked down the hall, heading towards Bruce’s study.
“Jay. What are you doing?” Tim called as he managed to catch up to Jason.
“Exactly what you suggested, little bird.” Jason replied, not looking around.
The older man didn’t stop, kicking open the study door and walking inside, much to the surprise of a group of former Titans. Both bats ignored how several of them drew back and let Jason pass. Instead, Jason stalked towards a certain red haired Tamaranian.
Unlike the rest of the group, Kori didn’t shrink away. Instead she stepped forward to meet Jason. The second Robin grabbed her arm and whispered something in her ear. Kori looked thoughtful for a moment before nodding and turning away. Jason let her go, turning on his heels and walking out of the room.
Tim cursed and followed Jason a second time.
“What was that?” He asked as he fell in step, this time the two heading towards Jason’s room.
“Recruiting.” Was the only reply.
Jason entered his room and pulled out a bag. It had taken some work but he had finally managed to find out where Alfred had hidden his weapons and retrieved them. Opening the bag, Jason quickly inspected his equipment before opening one of the draws and dumping his minimal clothes on top. Behind him, Tim lent against the door frame.
“Are you going to stop me?” Jason finally asked, looking at Tim in his peripheral vision. Tim shrugged and pulled out his wallet.
“Would it do any good?” the teenager asked, opening his wallet and looking through it, finally pulling out a card.
Jason grinned slightly.
“Probably not.” He slung his bag over his shoulder and turned to exit the room. Tim stepped forward, blocking the door. Jason pause, waiting to see what the boy would do.
Extending his arm, Tim held out the card. Jason took it.
“What’s this?” he asked, looking at it.
“I know you don’t have the funding to go through with your plan. That should help.”
Jason looked up from the bank card and raised an eyebrow.
“Alvin Draper?” He questioned.
“If anyone asks, you picked my pocket.” He replied.
Jason returned the grin as Tim stepped out of the way, letting the older man through. Not looking back, Jason walked out of the room.
With a small sigh, Tim stepped out of the room, closing the door behind him before heading back to the kitchen to continue his talk with Cissie.
It was two months later, that Nightwing found himself absentmindedly rubbing the back of his neck as he stood on a ledge at the edge of Gotham city, overlooking the raised tent of Haly’s Circus. The rubbing had become a nervous habit, the raised skin where the implant sat, no longer an alien feeling under his fingers. Leslie had tried everything she could think of to remove or deactivate it but it seemed that it would now be a permanent part of Dick Grayson’s life. However, she had managed to alter the device so Deathstroke could no longer control Nightwing. At least, until the mercenary managed to hack the new signal, something which easily could happen since the mercenary’s escape from prison a month ago.
Dick had to admit, he had been surprised Slade had taken so long to escape. The Justice League had been furious; none more than Bruce and now a worldwide search was in progress, trying to track down the villain.
Pushing away those thoughts, Nightwing gave a small sigh and crouched down. Normally, he would be analysing his environment, or lost in thoughts of his old home at the circus and the night he lost his parents. But no. Tonight his musing was about his second family.
Two months since he had been shot by Slade. Two months since the dynamics of the Batfamily had changed. Admittedly it wasn’t a bad change. Bruce and Damian were finally working together, the Dark Knight finally learning to listen to his youngest while the current Robin had finally learnt that he could trust his father.
Even Jason was making an effort. Almost exactly a week after disappearing from the Manor, the former villain had returned, dragging a beaten but not broken Roy Harper with him. No one was quiet sure why Jason had done it, but Dick hadn’t complained at the return of his best friend. Roy had been equally glad, claiming that he owed Jason his life. Realising that Jason was once again going to leave, Dick had jumped at Roy’s comment, making the archer promise to take care of his brother. Roy had agreed and followed Jason when he tried to disappear. Even now Dick was keeping an eye on the new team, named the Outlaws by the Justice League. Admittedly Jason wasn’t too happy with the situation, but Dick knew Roy and Kori would take good care of his brother.
And then there was his teenage brother.
Tim had moved out of Gotham shortly after Dick was released from bed rest. Dick remembered spending three days helping the teenager make the move to New York, including half a day rigging Tim’s new penthouse with explosives (And Dick certainly wasn’t going to ask why. He would just put if down to teenage paranoia.) Now Tim was out of contact, playing a complicated game of media espionage against a global anti-meta organisation calling itself N.O.W.H.E.R.E. Dick had to admit, he was a little afraid of what N.O.W.H.E.R.E. was capable of; its connection to the disappearance of several teenage Meta’s enough to gain the Leagues notice. Nightwing just hoped Red Robin was small enough to slip through the cracks the organisation left until the League could finally respond. After all, it was Tim’s friends who were being targeted.
As for the rest of the family, well…
Barbara had returned from Europe. The surgery was a complete success and she was slowly regaining the use of her legs for the first time in years. Dick had made a habit of dropping by every day, taking her to her appointments when she needed it and generally being a shoulder to lean on. Barbara had been thankful, helping Dick with all his cases even as she worked to regain the now absent title of Batgirl.
Steph had retired the cowl, instead returning to her old identity, The Spoiler. Taking on a new purpose in the family, Stephanie was now working as a runner between Batman and the members of Batman Inc, delivering everything from technology, through to new training methods around the globe. And when she wasn’t travelling, the girl was living in Hong Kong with Cass, enjoying being a partner of the Black Bat.
It seemed to Dick, that the world was fast changing around him. Bruce and Damian were getting along, Jason was being social and Tim had left home. Babs was walking again and Steph was out of town.
Dick looked down, his eyes drawn to his own chest and the red print across the front of the costume. None of the family had been happy when Dick had decided to recycle the Renegade costume, Bruce least of all, but to Dick it had felt right.
As Red Hood, Jason wore a red bat across his black chest. As Red Robin, Tim was a black and red blur in the night. Even Damian seemed to have picked up the red and black theme. Red and Black were now the colours of the Robins. Dick didn’t wear the costume to remind himself of Renegade, but to honour his brothers.
Light slowly washed across the city as the sun rose. Realising he wasn’t going to get anything more done tonight, Nightwing climbed to his feet and jumped off the edge of the building, letting his jumpline catch his weight as he swung across the city, making his way home.
It had been Bruce’s fault really, that Nightwing was no longer in Bludhaven.
The Dark Knight had realised that his oldest was going to leave again and had acted quickly, buying an apartment in the middle of Gotham city in a poor attempt at keeping an eye on his son. Claiming it was a thank you gift for caring for Damian for so long, Bruce had transferred everything into Dick’s name, leaving no room for arguments and forcing Dick to accept the present.
Dick had accepted reluctantly but was soon seeing the upside to the situation. Bludhaven wasn’t far away and the apartment was near the more interesting parts of Gotham. It was close to several transport points for the Justice League (Superman had spent years trying to talk Nightwing into becoming a full member of the League and had jumped at the opportunity during Dick’s brief time as Batman, making Nightwing an automatic member whether he liked it or not. Dick had to admit, he wasn’t unhappy at the situation.) The apartment also served as a meeting point and safe house for Batman and Robin.
Reaching the large window, Dick opened it and dropped onto the carpet. He could already tell he had a visitor. Silently walking through the dark living room, he headed to the spare bedroom, pushing the door open.
Robin was curled up on the bed the boy had long since claimed for himself.
Damian had embraced the apartment as a second home, often dropping by in the night when he was bored or tired or injured. Bruce had gotten use to it and most mornings, would sent Alfred with the car to pick up his youngest.
Dick looked up at the bedside clock. He had an hour before he would need to wake Damian and hand the kid over to Alfred, allowing the older man to go back to the Manor to feed Bruce and the younger to go off and feed Ace.
Slowly he reached forward and ran a hand gently through Damian’s hair, ignoring the sleepy threat as the younger hero roused from sleep for a moment. Backing off, Dick turned and left the room, instead stepping into his own room and stripping off the costume, replacing it with a pair of loose pants and a t-shirt.
Walking barefoot to the kitchen, the first Boy Wonder made himself breakfast before turning to the open window, leaning against the kitchen bench as he watched the sun rise.
Another night safe for the innocent and Dick Grayson had to admit, he couldn’t wait to see what the day would bring.