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Disclaimer: Sadly, Dick Grayson isn't owned by me. DC has that privilege. DC owns most of the characters in this story. All I own is the distinctive way the story unfolds, the specific dialogue and unique situations. (g) No money is being made from this. Please don't sue. It wouldn't be worth your while.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION: The young man I have used to represent Dick is an actor named Eric Close. This photo is from the 1990s. You may recognise him from the hit show "Without A Trace". He played Martin.
WARNING: There are a number of spelling, grammar and punctuation differences between Australia and the USA... please forgive me for writing with an accent. (g)
When Heroes Grieve
The Gotham Central Police Station was a ten story structure that took up an entire block in the middle of the city. It was one of those unfortunate buildings that had been added to and extended over the years due to 'increased public demand'. The architects hadn't done a bad job of making the new mesh with the old, but Robin couldn't help dwelling on the fact that despite Batman's best efforts, another extension was planned.
The teenager looked down on the scene below. The station was surrounded by a growing crowd of people plied with alcohol and brandishing weapons. They were shouting taunts to the police, the Commissioner's name being yelled above all others. They wanted his blood, just as Batman had anticipated. The leaders of the mob, who were working directly for the Joker, were standing atop the stairs handing out alcohol and firing the others up into a frenzy.
The boys and girls in blue had barricaded themselves inside for their own protection, waiting for reinforcements to arrive - from where, Robin couldn’t be sure. Many of the street lights had been smashed by the rioting mob and total darkness would have blanketed the area if not for the moon illuminating the scene with eerie, moving shadows.
"Batman, Robin, reporting. I'm across the road and it's bad. I'm going in via the roof. I'll evacuate the Commissioner the same way. Where do you want me to take him?"
"Use your initiative," was the deadpan response.
"Great," Tim muttered.
Moments later, the lithe form landed on the roof of the station and jogged toward the fire exit that led down into the building. Three policemen leapt out from behind an air-conditioning unit, their revolvers drawn.
"Hold your fire," Tim ordered calmly. He'd expected sentries to be posted on the roof.
The officers peered at the figure and then lowered their weapons. "Robin!"
"Jesus Christ, Kid, we almost shot you."
"The Commissioner," the teenager snapped. "I need... " There was a collective gasp from the street which sent Robin and the policemen racing to the edge of the building. All of the faces below were tilted skyward. Robin followed the inclination of their heads and a smile of relief creased his lips. Standing atop the building next door was a single and unmistakeable figure.
"Batman!" The word rang out and built among the crowd, repeated over and over again.
Tim watched as the crimefighter pulled his cape out with dramatic effect. A huge shadow in the shape of a bat's wings fell over the crowd below as a result of the moon shining behind Batman. Instantly, there were shrieks and cries and then the crowd began to disperse... rather quickly. Only a handful held their ground. The police inside watched the retreat, opened the doors and rushed out to deal with the few remaining troublemakers.
One of the policemen beside Robin sighed long and deep. "Thank, God."
Tim didn't know what had changed his mentor's mind, though he suspected Dick had something to do with it. The thought of his friend lifted Robin’s spirits. We missed you, bro.
A second of the policemen turned to Robin and smiled. "Batman’s back."
The teenager matched the officer‘s smile with his own, watching as the crowd scattered, their eyes still searching the rooftops for the creature of the night that had disappeared almost as quickly as it had appeared. "Yep. He's back and as Nightwing would say, he still needs to work on his ‘people skills‘"
Batman continued to swing across his city. Robin had been wrong. It wasn’t chaos that gripped Gotham. It was terror, pure and simple. Normally, the Dark Knight clung to the shadows. Tonight, he sought the light. Word began to spread like wildfire. Telephone switchboards were overloaded. News stories changed. Every television is the city was on and filled with newscasters saying the same three words. "Batman is back!"
"Oracle?" Bruce demanded.
"Dad's safe. The riot around the station has been broken up, but Robin evacuated him anyway. Under protest by the sound of it. Both Huntress and Batgirl have secured their targets. Arsenal was on top of things at the last report. I haven't heard from Catwoman yet. The streets are clearing. Reports of Batman sightings are flooding in. Mainly in Central Gotham. But also in the West and North. You really must be moving out there." Oracle suspected that was only part of it. Once people heard that Batman was back, every shadow would be perceived to be Gotham's protector. Criminals were once again quaking with fear. Their worst nightmare had returned.
Batman's brow furrowed under his mask as he peeled back his glove and glanced at his watch. It was twenty minutes to 10:00. Bruce didn't know why the Joker had chosen that particular time, but he knew he needed to stop his archenemy before then. No doubt the Joker had something spectacular planned.
"Oracle, I'm moving to the stadium. Do you have the camera crews in place?"
"Yes. Both helicopters are ready to fly."
"Are you able to bypass all other local programming so that only the transmissions from those two crews are being shown across the city?"
"Can you jam the Joker's coverage?"
"Yes. Batman, you've never appeared on camera before." There had never even been a photograph of Batman taken.
"It's a risk that needs to be taken." If Batman was to bring back peace to the city, not only the criminals, but the everyday citizen needed to see him and they needed to see him defeat the Joker. "Can you delay the telecast by two minutes?"
"I... yes, I think I can. Why?"
"I need you to edit what is being beamed to the city. No close-ups of me at all. Only long shots."
"Understood. I'll inform the news crews that if they don't follow your 'rules' their pictures will be edited out."
"Good. I assume the army is in place?"
"Yes. The entire area around the stadium has been evacuated in a two block radius and the army are preventing anyone from entering the no-go zone. Anything else?"
"No...and Barbara, I couldn't have done this without you."
For several moments there was silence. When Barbara spoke again, her voice was choked with emotion. "I better see if I can get this set up. Oracle out."
Having received the signal to lift off, the news crews, both from the same local television station, climbed into their choppers and headed across town to Gotham Stadium.
"It's coming up on our right," one of the pilots announced. The cameraman and reporter aboard stared out the window. Below them was the huge oval-shaped stadium built specifically for the Olympics which had been held in Gotham five years earlier. The outer walls bent at a forty-five degree angle at the top, extending several feet over the seating area to provide protection from the weather and sun. Ninety percent of the stadium was in complete darkness. Only one of the twelve light towers was switched on, illuminating a small section of the field.
"There's the Joker! Zero the camera in on him,"
The camera man did. "He's waving. The crackpot is waving to us."
"According to our source, Batman is going to show up any minute. And remember not to zoom in on him or we'll only be broadcasting static!"
The Joker smiled a real smile of satisfaction at the choppers buzzing around like gnats in the moonlight. The fools were waiting for Batman to show up. Their protector. Their Dark Knight. All of their hopes for salvation rested on him. It was pathetic. There was a part of the Joker that expected Batman to miraculously appear. Perhaps even a part of him that hoped he would - for prosterity’s sake. No victory was truly complete unless it involved Batman. Winning Gotham was a means to an end. Defeating Batman... watching him die; now that was the closest thing to Utopia the Joker could think of. However, it had been almost two weeks since the Joker’s nemesis had been seen. If Batman was alive, the madman was convinced he would have stuck his vigilante nose in things by now. In the last week and a half only the kid had been seen. No Nightwing. No Batgirl and no Batman. None of them would have left the kid on his own unless they were all dead.
Still, if Batman was alive and did show up, that would play nicely into the Joker's hands and provide the creme de la creme of his accession to the 'throne'.
"What time is it?" the Clown Prince of Crime shouted to his cameraman. They were the only two people on the field itself. Standing around the outside of the sports ground were twenty men, all waiting for a piece of Batman. In the stands was the Joker's back-up plan. About thirty feet to the criminal mastermind's left was a crude, freestanding wall made of old car bodies. It would play an important part in the Joker’s plans later if Batman chose to spoil the party.
"Forty seconds, Emperor Joker."
The Joker purred at the title. Forty seconds until ten o'clock. His underlings knew they had to have all of the major targets around the city secured by then. The men he had selected wouldn't fail him. They were professionals and knew their lives depended on it... literally. One of them had tried to tell him something about Batman being spotted in the city, but the Joker had dismissed that as the last flailing efforts of the police force or Robin trying to scare him and reassure the people. Once the Joker had control of the handful of key places in Gotham the masses would begin to run around in a mad panic. The release of all the prisoners would add to the chaos. Then, the Joker would watch Batman’s pride and joy slip into the pits of hell. That was what he wanted. That was his aim - to watch Gotham City self-destruct.
“Ten seconds, Emperor.”
The Joker picked up the black and white royal cape he'd had one of his men 'acquire' from a costume shop and slung it around his shoulders. He straightened his tie and smiled broadly at the camera. He wanted to look his best.
“Three... two... one... you’re on.”
Across the city, all stations were filled with the Joker’s image.
“Good evening, unworthy subjects. It is your Emperor. The clock has struck ten and Batman is nowhere to be seen. Why, do I hear you ask? The answer is simple. He’s dead. DEAD!” The Joker began to laugh. His laughter reached fever pitch. The chopper above swooped lower for a better view.
The Joker waved. “Now, let us...”
“JOKER!” The word echoed around the stadium. A voice of depth and authority... one the Joker knew all too well. He spun around as Batman stepped from the shadows and strode toward him.
The Crown Prince of Crime grinned evilly. He was pleased. Now the joy of watching Batman die would be his. For a split second, the Joker flicked his eyes to the right and then the left. A signal, Batman suspected. Or was he checking on something? Batman could see the small army around the field beginning to move in.
“Well, what do you know? The night rat is alive.”
Across the city there were cheers. The cheers rose above Gotham to amalgamate into a single buzz that vibrated around the dark streets. Even in the stadium, despite the two blocks around him being evacuated, the Joker could hear the din.
Batman stopped several feet from the pasty-faced criminal. The Joker raised his hand to stop the approach of his twenty-man army brandishing iron bars.
Batman sent his senses out beyond that group. It wasn't like the Joker to reveal all his cards at once. There was movement in the darkened stands. Maybe a dozen men spread out around the circumference hiding in the shadows ready to attack. The sound of a rifle bolt shifting some 200 metres away drew Batman‘s attention. He tensed ready to move, but he allowed his eyes to settle back on the Joker. It was obvious that nothing would happen without the Joker’s direct order. The wall of steel stood twenty feet away. No doubt that was where the Joker would retreat when the ’show’ started. Silently, Batman began to plan his own retreat if it was necessary.
Gotham's protector had heard the muffled cheer. His city was behind him. Now, it was time to take it back!
“It’s over, Joker. Oracle.”
Barbara Gordon hit a single key on the keyboard in front of her, severing the Joker’s television transmission. Immediately she began relaying images from the choppers; images taken a few minutes earlier. The people of Gotham could no longer hear the conversation between Batman and the Joker and neither could Oracle. She had hoped that Batman would leave his communicator on so she could listen to exactly what was going on, but it wasn’t to be. Like the rest of Gotham City, she was going to have to rely on the commentary from the reporters circling above the stadium.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it IS Batman. I repeat, it IS Batman,” the reporter announced, his voice high-pitched with excitement. “I’d give a million dollars to know what they’re saying to each other, but we are only allowed video footage and only at a distance and you are seeing this live on Channel 7, the People‘s Channel.”
The Joker’s eyes narrowed, but the hideous smile remained. “Do you think you‘ve won, Batman?” the Joker asked, with interest.
“Your video signal is being jammed. All other programming across the city has been bypassed. The only picture on televisions across the city is the one leaving this stadium via the choppers above.” His voice was emotionless. Batman was well and truly back in control.
Movement in the stand again. A whisper only. Batman guessed that the Joker’s concealed men were moving into better positions.
“Then they will show your death live,” the Joker spat. “We shall see who is cheering by the end of the night.”
“I’ve had word from my team that your thugs are under arrest. The riots have stopped. The rioters are returning to their homes to sleep off their hangovers. Gotham is returning to normal.”
“No. No, it isn’t going to happen that way because the world is about to see your death telecast on every television in the country.” The Joker had begun moving to his right toward the wall of steel. His little black eyes were darting around the stadium, the smile on his face deepening in anticipation.
The small rent-an-army began to shift restlessly.
Another rifle bolt slid into place with a thunk, echoing in the silence. A scraping sound. An intake of breath. Batman’s eyes narrowed slightly. Something strange prickled at his senses. He glanced up into the stands.
The Joker quickened his step. “That’s right, Bats. We’re not alone. I may be a certified lunatic but I’m no fool. You don’t think I’d been stupid enough to come unprepared. You are going to die and then Gotham will be mine.”
“My death won‘t change anything. I don’t work alone. My team will carry on its mission ’'to fight against crime and corruption and never swerve from the path of justice.’”
The Joker threw his head back and laughed, stopping beside the iron wall. “Bats you live in a fantasy world. Do you practise sayings like that? Have them written down in a book? Your team failed. Only the kid has been following your path of justice.”
“They were grieving.” The words were whispered, more for Bruce’s sake than the Joker’s. He knew that eventually each member of his hand-selected team would have returned to duty. Oracle and Robin already had. Batgirl had been on her way back. Huntress and Catwoman had simply been waiting for someone to take charge. Arsenal had been a bonus, but he was there for Dick's sake. A gold pen call. Bruce had no idea of what it meant. It was just another example of the love and loyalty the original Titans shared. A pure and unquestioned trust and steadfastness that the likes of the JLA with all of its arbitrary rules and need for public acceptance could never achieve. The original Titans put each other first and be damned with what the world thought. They were a family. They would stand by each other no matter what the consequences... no matter what the outcome. Their love for each other was their strength. The opposite was true for their senior colleagues. The members of the JLA put the needs of their organisation first. They were a business. They shared friendships but had never allowed themselves to consider each other family. Their ability to remain aloof on many levels was their strength. That was the difference between the two groups. That was why Wally West had had so much trouble adjusting when he had moved from one to the other.
Dick had been largely responsible for fostering the relationship between the Titans, and Bruce the one among the JLA. It spokes volumes about how the two men defined themselves and viewed others. Now, however, Bruce Wayne was re-evaluating his worldview.
The sound of movement in the stands distracted Batman and brought his thoughts back to the situation at hand.
“The time for grieving is over. Call your men off, Joker. They can’t escape.”
“They just seem to be talking, though the Joker has moved toward some great structure. Not sure what it is. Batman hasn’t moved. There is only one other man visible. A cameraman by the look of it. Hang on, the cameraman has left his camera and is running toward the stadium. No, wait, I think there are other men down there. Yes! Zoom in on the men... not on Batman. Good Lord. A mob of men with weapons. Looks like we are going to see Batman in action. Ladies and gentlemen, you are viewing Gotham’s ‘urban legend’ for the first time live on Channel Seven!”
The Joker’s eyes became harsh. “Not this time, Batman. This time, I get to win. I don't just have those two dozen morons waiting to beat you to a pulp. I have twelve sharpshooters in the stands around you. On my signal they’re going to fill you with so much lead you’ll be able you use your dick for a pencil... I saw that line in a movie once and loved it.”
Batman said nothing, taking a pair of handcuffs from his utility belt. He felt no need to look for cover. The sharpshooters were no longer a concern. The rent-an-army too would be dealt with in time. “Here’s my favourite line from the movies. ‘You are under arrest.’”
The Joker’s face flashed with rage.
“It’s over, Joker.”
“Sharpshooters. Now!” the criminal mastermind shouted, darting to the left and diving behind the specifically erected wall that would protect him from the bullets about to rain down on Batman like hail. His army of goons hit the ground.
There was silence.
“Now!” the Joker repeated.
The Joker poked his head out from behind the wall, his eyes searching the stands. “What’s wrong with you? Do you want an engraved invitation?! Shoot him!”
“Wait a minute. Something’s happening. The Joker has just dived behind a wall. The mob has dropped to the ground.... no, The Joker's come back out again. Looks like he’s searching the stands for something.”
Unlike the rest of Gotham, Barbara had the privilege of truly watching things live. So far, neither of the camera men had zeroed in on Batman so her job was easy. They were obeying Bruce's rules. Oracle sat and watched, frowning at the screen. Her hatred for the Joker festered. She watched as the vile creature who had taken so much from her reappeared from behind the wall.
Barbara smiled. Clearly the Joker had had men ready to attack from the stands, but Batman must have them covered.
“Shoot him! SHOOT HIM!“ the Joker bellowed, searching the darkness for his snipers.
The only sound to greet the enraged psychopath was silence and then the tune of Frere Jacques wafted on the air from the shadows.
“Bats is alive. Bats is alive.
Yes he is. Yes he is.
He is here to face you
He knows he can beat you
The Joker has lost. The Joker has lost.
The Joker's eyes grew wide. A blue and black clothed figure launched into the air on the end of a fine line. At the top on his arc, he let go of the rope, flipped twice and landed beside Batman with a slight grunt of pain.
“NOOOO. You’re dead! They told me you were dead!”
Nightwing grinned and winked at the Joker. “The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” He glanced at Batman, a very self-satisfied smile on his bruised face. “Sorry I’m late, boss.”
Without taking his eyes off his enemy, Batman shook his head. “I thought we decided that you would stay in bed.”
“No you decided... and I lied,” Nightwing chirped.
Barbara’s eyes narrowed. She watched a small blur appear from the shadows... watched the body arc with perfection. Only one man alive could move with that sort of grace.
“Nightwing? Oh my.... DICK!” Her hand flashed to the screen, her fingers touching his minute half an inch image. For a split second she sat frozen and then her emotions exploded. He was alive! DICK WAS ALIVE! Without warning, she found herself aboard a roller coaster ride of emotions. She moved almost instantly from shock to euphoria, to pure joy... to concern, to confusion, to anger and finally rage.
He was alive! Was this part of some plan of Batman’s? Why the hell hadn’t she been taken into their confidence? WHY THE HELL HADN’T DICK LET HER KNOW?!
© May 2006 Aussie Nightwriter : This relates only to the creative property in this story. The distinctive way the story unfolds, the specific dialogue and unique situations are mine. I acknowledge that some of the characters and settings belong to DC comics and thank them sincerely for turning a blind eye so I can borrow them. (g) No infrigement of copyright was intended and no profit has been made from this story... so, please don't sue me. It wouldn't be worth your while.
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