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Disclaimer: I acknowledge that some of the characters, settings and situations in this story belong to DC Comics. I use them only because I love them and want to see them live on. No infringement of copyright was intended. Please don't sue me. I really won't be worth your while.
Author Comment: This story is in response to the Reader's Review challenge: Option One - Write a story that focuses on the the father/son relationship between the original Dynamic Duo.
Huge thank you to Jean for giving up her time to beta for me. I am in your debt, Jean. There are a number of spelling, grammar and punctuation differences between Australia and the USA... please forgive me for writing with an accent. (g)
Special Thanks to all those people who took the time to send me support and encouragement.
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)
Batman regained consciousness gradually. As awareness settled, he registered the pain throbbing through his chest. With great effort, Gotham’s vigilante opened his eyes. His vision faded in and out of focus leading to galloping nausea in his stomach. Far above him he could see a gaping hole in the ceiling of the deserted factory he'd followed his leads to. The exposed iron girders gave the appearance of a maze above, but there was a gap up there. One of the girders was missing.
The Dark Knight drew in a deeper breath and full consciousness returned accompanied by the salty taste of blood in his mouth. His breathing was restricted and so he lifted his chin to investigate, discovering both the reason for his struggle to fully inflate his lungs and the location of the missing girder. The huge 500 kilogram iron beam was lying across his chest along with other debris.
Batman attempted to flex his chest muscles but a groan of discomfort echoed out of him. Several ribs were definitely broken, but he could feel his legs which meant his spine had not suffered major damage; incredible considering the distance he had fallen. Then again, he had been taught to fall by the best.
“Ahhh, you’re awake.” The voice came from the pinned crusader’s right - a rasping voice Batman knew only too well. He twisted his head in search of the speaker.
The Joker’s pasty white face lit with a smile of triumph. “You played right into my hands, Batman.”
“What makes you think that?” Batman asked without emotion. Speaking wasn’t easy and left him panting as he tried to draw enough oxygen into his constrained lungs to keep himself conscious and speak at the same time.
“I laid that trail for you, Bats.” The Joker walked forward, the unnatural smile deepening. “Do you want to know why?”
“You were bored?” Batman asked. His mind began to process the situation meticulously, his eyes flicking down to study the debris on top of him. The girder was across his chest and should have crushed him but for the fact that it was resting precariously on some tiles from the collapsed section of the roof. Batman tried to move his right arm, but it was wedged under him. His left arm was handcuffed to the girder itself. Clearly, he had been unconscious for more than a few seconds for he could see that he wasn’t the only thing attached to the beam.
In the back of the Dark Knight’s mind he vaguely remembered activating his homer as he had fallen. Oracle would know he was in trouble and would have dispatched Robin by now.
The Joker stopped walking and leered down at his captive. “Bored? I am on a mission to exterminate all bird life in Gotham City.”
Batman’s eyes narrowed as he assimilated the words. The Joker’s deformed smile became wider. “That’s right, Bats. I’m using you as live bait to catch me a Robin.”
“He won’t come. He’s out of the city,” Batman replied in a deadpan voice. “You’ve wasted your time.”
The Joker laughed. “Good try, Bats, but you don’t lie well. He’ll come. They always do. Each and every one of the annoying bird boys. This is number three and I’ll kill him like I did the first two.” Robin was a child, perhaps that was the greatest embarrassment and why the Joker was fixated on Batman‘s junior partner. Many years earlier, it had been Robin who had foiled what the Joker believed was his greatest plan. Since then, Robin had continued to ‘ruin’ things. A mere slip of a brat who plagued the Joker’s dreams. The crown prince of crime had gone out of his way to eliminate the child, but Robin kept returning.
Batman worked hard to keep his reaction buried, but an image of Jason lying broken and bleeding filled his mind and leaked out onto his face. His cheek twitched with rage. He prayed Tim wasn’t coming.
The Joker saw the response, crouched and lowered his face so that it was only inches from Batman’s. “You have a front row seat, Bats. You are going to get to watch the third bird boy die.” His sunken eyes flashed with madness as he produced Batman’s communicator. “I’m going to call him here.”
The Dark Knight fought for control. His breathing rate had increased and was causing him to gasp in an effort to get the air he needed. The Joker smiled and lifted the communicator to his cherry-red lips. “Calling all cars. Calling all cars. This is a message for Birdboy. If he ever wants to see Daddy Bat again, he needs to come and find me. He‘s got two hours or the Bat fries.”
Batman glared up at the madman as he rose to his feet.
“Get ready, boys. Robin will be on his way. No one kills him but me... is that clear?”
Oracle bit down on her bottom lip. It was an annoying habit she had developed as a teenager. The young woman had alerted Robin to the fact that Batman had activated his homer and the teenager was heading across town to investigate.
Less than ten minutes later, she had received the Joker’s call. Her hand hovered over the computer keyboard as she tried to decide what to do. She should call Robin. He was already on route. Robin was more than capable in every situation... except perhaps this one. The Joker was no ordinary foe and his fixation with Robin was well known to Barbara. Something deep down inside Oracle was screaming. The Joker wanted Robin. He was trying to lure the teenager into a trap that much she was sure of and if there was one thing the former Batgirl had learned through years facing the psychopath, it was that giving the Joker what he wanted wasn’t the way to respond.
Her decision made, Barbara typed on her keyboard. Her screen changed and she waited. For a split second it went blank and then Nightwing’s image filled it. “Hey, pretty lady.”
“Nightwing, we have a situation in Gotham.”
The smile left his face. “Go on.”
“I’ve just received a message from the Joker.”
“I didn’t know he was out again.“
“Escaped last night.“
“What has he got to say for himself?”
“Ten minutes ago Batman activated his homer. Seconds ago, I received a message from the Joker on Batman’s communicator.” She watched as Dick’s eyes grew wide with surprise and then darkened.
“He has Batman? Is he alive?” Unlike Bruce, who could ask such a question without the slightest trace of emotion, Dick’s voice was strained.
“I don’t know. The Joker said that if Robin wanted to see Batman again he needed to find him in the next two hours.”
“Robin?” Dick’s face darkened further. Now it was falling into place.
“I have a location on Batman and Robin is en route but...”
“No,” Dick ordered. She could tell he was now on the move.... on his way. “No, don’t bring Robin into it. It’s a trap set for him.”
“That’s what I thought. Two hours. Can you be here in time?”
“Yes.” It was said with such certainty.
“Should I contact Robin and let him know what’s going on?”
“No. I’ll contact him. I need to call him off and explain why he can‘t be a part of this.”
“If he thinks Batman is in trouble...”
“He’ll listen to me. Nightwing, out.”
The screen in front of Barbara went blank. She drew in a deep breath and released it slowly. “Good luck.”
Robin activated his beeping communicator as he sped across town. “Receiving.”
“Robin, Nightwing. I know the situation. I need you to abort.”
Robin frowned, pulled his motorcycle to the curb and waited for the explanation that would follow. Unlike Batman, Nightwing didn’t expect blind obedience. Dick treated Tim as an equal. That meant a lot to the teenager. Robin had earned his stripes in Nightwing’s eyes and was treated accordingly.
“The Joker has laid a trap specifically for you.”
“For me? Ohhh." Tim had been warned more than once of the Joker's fixation with the persona he had taken on. "But Batman set off his homer. He’s in trouble.”
“I know. We’ve had a message from the Joker. Said we’ve got two hours to find him.”
“My ETA is only about fifteen minutes.”
“Mine is about an hour and 50 minutes. I'm asking you to leave this to me.”
“Nightwing, you’re too far away. We can’t cut it that fine. I can handle it.”
“Robin, the Joker has laid this trap for you. He is expecting you which gives him the advantage. The only way to defeat the Joker is to do the last thing he expects. He isn't expecting me.”
Robin licked his lips. “Nightwing, I can’t just sit around twiddling my thumbs. He’s got Batman. God knows what he’s doing to him.”
“You're assuming that Batman is still alive. You can't afford to make those sort of assumptions with the Joker, Robin."
"You think he's dead?" the teenager asked, horrified.
"I didn't say that." Tim noted the unreal calm in Dick's voice. Grayson was worried, but he knew how to control the emotion. "If Batman is alive, then the Joker will want him to witness your death and... I can’t let that happen, Robin.”
Tim squeezed his eyes shut. He knew what Dick was saying made sense. He knew Nightwing didn’t doubt his ability... they had been through too much together for that, but Batman was in trouble.
"If it were anyone else, I wouldn't be making the trip, Robin. This is the Joker. It's a different situation. He has successfully struck us down too many times to be ignored. We need an advantage going into this. He's expecting you. My turning up may provide us with the edge we need to rescue Batman."
Tim licked his lips. It all make perfect sense. “Rescue aborted. I... what do you want me to do?”
“Wait about a block away. I'll call you in the moment I need you; I give you my word. But no matter what happens... no matter what you see or hear, you are not, I repeat, not to confront the Joker.”
“Understood. Nightwing... be careful.”
“I will partner. Nightwing out.”
“What is taking him so long?” the Joker shouted, his voice echoing in the huge open space. He was pacing with pronounced long strides, his face twitching unnaturally. His men looked at each other nervously. Many had worked with the Joker before and recognised the signs. Their boss was losing it again. The dozen who had only joined the madman in the last few hours watched him with great caution.
Batman, on the other hand, had relaxed. If Robin had been coming he would have arrived by now. He guessed that Oracle had had the sense to order the boy off. Barbara would have realized the entire situation was a trap set for Robin. She had always had good instincts. Of course, if Robin wasn’t coming, Batman was on his own and he needed to try and formulate a way to escape. Unfortunately, he was well and truly pinned. The girder was far too heavy to shift on his own and even if Robin had arrived, moving it would not have been easy. At the moment, the only thing stopping the Dark Knight from being crushed were a few concrete tiles. If they were to shift...
“What is taking him soooooooooooo long?” the Joker bellowed again. His eyes darted to the timer attached to the electricity power box on the wall. He had started it after he had sent the ultimatum via Batman’s communicator. “It‘s been one hour and fifty-two minutes. He’s only got eight more minutes! He‘s going to miss it!”
“He’s not coming, Joker,” Batman called.
“HE’LL COME! They always turn up to ruin things. They can’t help themselves,” the Joker argued.
“He’s not coming,” Batman repeated.
“He’s right,” a voice called from the shadows of the roof. All heads snapped up. Batman’s heart lifted. He knew that voice as well as he knew his own. He had heard that voice deepen over the years. A voice that had matured from that of a high-pitched eight-year-old to a calm twenty-three-year-old.
All watched as a figure dropped from the beams above. It somersaulted perfectly and landed in a crouch to the open mouthed stares of many on the ground. Only then did the blur come into focus.
“Nightwing!” the Joker cried.
Batman allowed himself to smile. No one could fall like Dick, the older man reflected proudly. At the age of eight, Dick had taught his mentor to ‘fall’. Batman felt relief flood his aching system. Now he understood why Robin hadn’t come.
The Joker glared at the Bludhaven vigilante as he rose to his feet. “No one invited you. Go away.”
“Oh, come on, Joker. That’s no way to greet an old friend.” Nightwing scanned the area carefully. The concrete floor was covered in some sort of slippery foam. Flammable, the hero guessed. The Joker loved to add little ‘party tricks’ to all situations. The madman’s thugs were spread out around the huge open room. About sixteen armed with clubs and crowbars - far more than Nightwing had anticipated.
Dick’s gaze travelled to Batman. The Dark Knight’s head bobbed once - acknowledgement that he was okay. Batman flicked his eyes to the girder, then to the thick electric cable attached to the beam and finally to a power-box mounted on the wall to Nightwing’s right. Dick followed the silent cues, his attention stopping briefly on the timer attached to the box. So, that was what the Joker had meant by frying Batman. He had connected the giant beam to the electricity source of the building and set the power to be switched on in... Nightwing squinted... seven minutes. Thousands of volts of pure electricity would then be zapped through Batman’s body.
The Joker’s smile twisted with annoyance. “We are waiting for Robin.”
“Gonna be a long wait. He couldn’t make it,” Nightwing stated, easily. “Not allowed out on a school night. He sends his apologies.” All the while his fertile mind considered and analyzed the situation. First he needed to deal with the thugs, then the powerbox and finally free Batman. Somewhere in between he’d have to take care of the Joker.
The Joker’s face contorted with rage. It was a strange look that had always fascinated Dick. No matter what the emotion the madman felt, the demented smile remained.
“He will come. He always comes,“ the madman insisted.
“Not this time, Happy Jack. You lose.“
‘Careful, Nightwing,’ Batman thought, silently. Taunting the Joker was a dangerous business.
The Joker’s small eyes widened at the insult. “Get him! Damn it, get him before Robin gets here.”
Nightwing’s well-formed frame tensed as the Joker’s mindless muscle moved in. Dick opened his stance, his eyes darting from left to right, waiting for the assault. He began to plot their positions in his mind, labeling each man according to a prominent characteristic - Red Head, Green Parka, Glasses etc. It was the first thing Batman had taught him. In hand to hand combat with more than one person, you had to ensure you knew where everyone was at all times. It wasn’t going to be easy with so many. Six thugs, Nightwing could handle with ease. Eight at one time, at a push. Ten if he was able to remain uninjured during the battle. Sixteen...? Tonight he would find out.
“Say your prayers, “ one of the men snarled. Three members of the mob attacked, the others hanging back believing the trio would be sufficient to handle the costumed freak.
Dick grabbed the arm of the first to reach him and hurled him into the path of the other two. The trio, unable to keep their footing in the slippery conditions, went down in a tangle of arms and legs. This sent the others into action. Three more lunged forward. Dick crouched and sent a fist into the stomach of one and then his leg snapped forward taking down the other two. Nightwing reacted instinctively to movement on his right, shoving his elbow back with practised precision. The approaching thug staggered backwards as his breath was forced from him in a gush.
“Get him,” the Joker cried in frustration. “I want him dead before Robin gets here.“
“He’s not coming, laughing boy,“ Nightwing informed the Joker, scanning the group of thugs who were regrouping and collecting more weapons. Dick knew he needed help but he couldn’t and wouldn’t call on Robin. That would be playing into the Joker’s hands.
“Oracle, anything?” Tim asked. He was pacing beside his hidden motorcycle, one block away as Nightwing had suggested.
“Nothing. He went in about seven minutes ago.”
“I’ll give him ten.”
“Oracle, I’m not going to stand by and hope everything is okay. Ten minutes and I’m going over there.”
“You can’t confront the Joker,” Oracle argued. Her voice wavered. Barbara had faced hundreds of the most evil and frightening people on the planet but the Joker had stolen so much from her... so much from so many people.
“I’m not going to confront the Joker. Nightwing was right about that, but there has to be something more I can do than just stand here!”
One man raised the crowbar he held and hurled it at Nightwing’s head. Hooking his foot under the edge of an old crate nearby, Nightwing jerked hard, sending the crate into the air just as the crowbar neared him. The two collided with a resounding crash dropping between Nightwing and his adversaries. The vigilante chanced a look at the timer.
A group of six men rushed forward. Nightwing leapt straight up into the air and spinning at high speed he kicked out, downing them like dominoes. But still they came. Nightwing ducked another blow, but his footing slipped on the greasy surface and his momentum took him crashing into two others. Dick desperately fought to remain upright on the slippery concrete. He knew that if he went down, he was a dead man… and so was Bruce. Three short sharp blows allowed him to fight clear of his attackers.
“Give it up, Joker. They aren’t good enough. Pack up your rent-a-army and take off.”
Batman once again examined the girder, desperately trying to spot some way to free himself. He knew time was ticking away.
Two of the downed men at Nightwing’s feet dragged themselves up. Nine were stunned or still down. Dick caught a quick glimpse of three men circling around behind him. The final two were nowhere to be found, a point that worried him far more than the fact that he was being encircled.
A groan from Batman distracted Nightwing and he glanced over at his partner. A punch glanced off Dick's hip. Nightwing reacted, kicking out in that direction. A second blow connected with his back and Nightwing catapulted forward. One of the crowbars crashed against his shoulder with a sickening thud. Dick cried out in agony, pivoting and taking down the man who had wielded it.
Batman's jaw tightened. He’d seen the blow and knew it had done some damage. How much, he couldn’t be sure.
“Back off,” the younger vigilante cried. “If that timer goes off and electrifies the beam, the entire floor could come alive through the foam.” It was a bluff but it appeared to work. Several of his attackers paused, considered the information and then turned and ran.
Dick spotted another crowbar descending toward his head at the same time as the two missing men were launching at him from differing directions. Nightwing swerved sideways, sweeping the legs out from under the one wielding the deadly weapon. The crowbar swiped by his head with only a hair’s width to spare. The other two thugs' blows connected, both with his injured shoulder. The pain was excruciating but Dick was able to maintain his concentration and dispense with the two men. Maintaining focus was the key when injured. He couldn’t allow the pain to enter his mind.
“Kill him!“ the Joker screamed, ghoulish delight deforming his face. Like Batman, he could tell by the way Nightwing’s arm was hanging that he was hurt... and so did the thugs who were now targeting that shoulder.
Baman watched helplessly. His partner was doing well, but he was outnumbered and time wasn’t on his side.
One member of the murderous mob took a broad horizontal swipe at Nightwing with his retrieved crowbar. Dick realized he no longer had a choice. His mindset changed. If he was to save Batman’s life he needed to aim for maximum damage without actually killing anyone. The solider inside Dick took control. He needed to take these men down and he needed to do it now. Ducking beneath the deadly weapon aimed at him, Nightwing flowed forward with unnatural velocity, getting close to the thug and burying his nunchaku in the soft stomach of his attacker.
Letting out a roar of pain, the thug stumbled backward, clawing at the midsection desperately as Nightwing whirled around to take on the next person. The wounded man stared at Nightwing, his eyes wide, but before he could say anything, his legs buckled. The other members of the mob froze. Their mood changed as they watched their colleague writhe on the ground in agony.
Nightwing’s eyes darted to the timer...
“Get the bastard!” They charged Nightwing as one. Dick’s mind emptied of thought and he allowed that small part of him that was beyond conscious awareness to take over completely. His nunchaku became an extension of his being and flicked with deadly accuracy, but still they came. A crowbar crashed down on Dick’s arm and his weapon was jarred loose. Nightwing dived toward it, but realized halfway through the air he wasn’t going to make it, so he arced to the right, scooped up a discarded crowbar and came to his feet, holding it out in front of him. His shoulder was burning and numbness was gradually travelling down his arm. He needed to end this quickly before the lack of sensation reached his fingers.
“The foam is going to act like a conductor,” Dick growled. “You’ve got about sixty seconds to get out of here.”
There were only three of his adversaries left standing. The others were littering the ground tending to their injuries.
The Joker squealed like a wounded puppy. “No! He’s not allowed to win. Damn you. Change of plans. Bane!”
“What?” Nightwing cried, horrified. He spun around and spotted the huge man appear from the corridor next to the Joker. For a split second the young vigilante allowed his attention to sweep to Batman. Their eyes brushed... their souls touched.
Bruce… The odds, which had been against them from the beginning had just moved beyond reach. If Dick had been fresh and could have worn his opponent down, that would have been one thing, but he only had forty seconds.
Batman knew the battle was now lost for him, but not his partner. No, Dick. “Get out of here, Nightwing” he called firmly. “That’s an order.” His voice didn’t waver. Nightwing and Batman continued to stare at each other. Behind the masks, father and son spoke silently.
Go, son. Bruce communicated through his intense stare.
No. There were no words, but then, they rarely needed them in situations like this. Some may call it telepathy. Batman and Nightwing knew it was simply that they had been working together for more years than either cared to count and therefore could predict the other’s thoughts and reactions in most circumstances.
“Go,“ Bruce growled in frustration. Dick’s head snapped to the timer.
“Move in but stay outside and collect the strays,” Nightwing barked into the communicator in his glove.
“Already here and bagged myself a few,” Robin replied.
“Well done.“ Nightwing focused on Bane. “We’re all going to fry,” he snarled, facing the approaching man mountain.
“So be it," Bane stated. “Never again will I have another chance like this. You have fought well, but you are injured. Today I get to see the death of both Batman and Nightwing and I will snap Robin in two just like I did to his mentor.”
Dick’s face shadowed with rage. So the Joker had been intending to have Bane break Robin’s back, just as he had done to Batman.
“Today, the three of you die,” Bane boomed.
“Wrong. Today, it‘s your turn,” Nightwing snarled, again glancing across at the timer. He needed to manoeuvre closer to the power box. “Why do you want me dead, Bane?” Dick asked, playing for time. His arm was gradually losing feeling and he would need that arm if his plan was to succeed.
“Nightwing, abort. That’s an order!” Batman shouted. His frustration and fear were growing rapidly. He couldn’t and wouldn’t watch this. Nightwing was in no condition to be facing someone like Bane.
The Joker started clapping his hands with glee. This was better than he could have hoped for. “He’s not listening, Bats. Looks like Bane gets to break a lot of backs today!”
“Nightwing! Abort. Abort, now!” Batman struggled with the beam all the while watching his partner moving slowly to the left.
“Why, Bane? Why me?” Dick repeated, inching his way across the room.
“I don’t ask questions,” Bane replied. “I just do as I’m told.”
“So do Labradors,” Nightwing snorted.
The huge man grinned as he bent and picked up one of the discarded crowbars. He winked and then with a roar he pulled his arm back and sent the crowbar crashing down with animal ferocity. Whipping
his own weapon up over his head, Dick channelled all the energy he could muster into his arms. Batman had taught him that mental energy could be used to support physical strength when injured. The steel bar struck his with incredible force, but surprisingly Nightwing’s body didn't move. He withstood the initial blow much to the surprise of his adversary. They stepped apart, both panting.
“You can’t win. I’m bigger, stronger and I‘ve defeated Batman in the past.”
“I’m smaller, faster and better looking than Batman could ever be,” Dick muttered. However, his adversary had a valid point. He would wear Nightwing down and Dick’s shoulder wasn’t going to hold much longer... mental energy or not. It was clear to Nightwing that he couldn’t take Bane on, on these terms.
Time to change things. Dick threw the crowbar down. Bane’s face shadowed with suspicion.
Batman stopped his struggles to watch. “No. Nightwing, abort. Damn it, abort. That’s an order! I’m giving you a direct order!!”
“You’re giving up?” Bane asked.
Nightwing summed up his energy and ignoring the ache reverberating through his battered and weary shoulder, he charged the other man, slamming him backwards into the wall of the building. Dick reached up and repeatedly smashed the enforcer’s hand against the brick wall, trying to jar the weapon loose. However, the powerful fingers of the assassin refused to release the crowbar.
Something popped into Dick’s mind in that instant - an invaluable piece of advice from Barbara. ‘The bigger they are, the more easy they are to target’. Nightwing rammed his knee into Bane’s groin. His adversary sank down into a half crouch, gasping in pain. The crowbar dropped from his numb fingers and clattered to the foam-covered concrete. Nightwing pounced on the opening, following through with a side-kick to the enforcer’s head. The huge man remained upright for a few seconds before toppling to the side and lying still.
Dick’s own knees buckled and he fell forward onto them panting. Gingerly, he reached for his shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the timer.
Seven seconds... six... five...
Nightwing sprang to his feet, withdrew the batarang he still carried more for nostalgia than anything else, drew on the experience and training he had received as a child, took aim and threw with all the strength he could muster. His shoulder roared with pain, the batarang flew through the air... the timer ticked down... ... four... three... two... the weapon sliced through the cable at the base of the power box, severing it.
“Yes!” Nightwing shouted with triumph. A split second later, the timer activated and the power was switched on. Dick flashed a look at Batman. Bruce nodded. In the past it would have been one of approval. Today, it was one of esteem.
Without warning an explosion ripped through the factory - with no pathway open to release the huge surge of electrical power, the power box shorted out and released its energy with devastating effects. Nightwing, who was closest to the power box, was hit by the explosion, launched through the air and slammed into the wall. He made no sound as his broken body crumpled to the ground. On the other side of the room, the Joker was hurled to the concrete. The girder on top of Batman shook... as did the tiles it was balanced on, but they held. The explosion brought Bane back to his senses and the big man staggered to his feet disoriented. Batman cried out in horror as he twisted his neck and spotted his partner lying unmoving on the ground. Dick had taken the full force of the blast. His suit would have provided some protection... but had it been enough? The concussion of the blast and bone-shattering impact may have caused him to stop breathing... maybe even have caused cardiac arrest.
“Nightwing!“ Batman’s emotions rose up and threatened to consume him. He began to struggle futilely. Dick needed him. “Nightwing!“
Sparks from the explosion ignited the fibro walls of the building, flames taking hold quickly. The foam on the floor didn’t catch fire, to Batman’s surprise.
“Nightwing!“ Batman watched helplessly as both The Joker and Bane rose, their attention on the injured hero lying so still.
“Kill him!“ the Joker screamed at Bane. He pointed at Nightwing’s body. “KILL HIM!”
“NO!“ Batman bellowed. Again, he battled against the impossible weight pinning him. His muscles strained and his ribs screamed but the girder refused to budge.
Bane took a few steps toward the fallen hero, but stopped. “I do not kill those who can not fight back,“ he stated firmly. Bane was a lot of things, but he had his own code of honour. Nightwing had fought well and he had won the first round. He deserved Bane’s respect for that. The mammoth of a man turned to the Joker. “A man without honour is nothing. Today, he wins the battle. Next time, I will kill him.“
“Honour? Next time!“ the Joker screamed. Bane spun toward Batman, nodded once and then limped from the burning room. The Joker’s other thugs were also retreating. The walls were well alight now and flames were beginning to roll along the ceiling. The heat was building in intensity and the air was becoming choked with smoke. Visibility was dropping quickly.
“Nooooo! I didn’t say any of you could leave! I didn‘t say any of you could leave!“ the Joker screamed, stamping his feet like a toddler throwing a tantrum.
Batman calmed himself, emptied his mind of thought and channelled all of the energy he could gather. He pressed up with all his might. He had to get this thing off him so he could help Nightwing. He knew he only had about three minutes before escape from the inferno would be impossible... three minutes before brain damage was caused if Nightwing wasn’t breathing.
The Joker turned toward Nightwing. “YOU... YOU ruined everything.“
“Joker!“ Batman yelled, watching as the madman walked toward the fallen fighter. The Dark Knight needed to distract him. “Joker, the place is on fire. If you want to live you need to escape now!” Again, Batman pressed up. The Joker would kill Nightwing if he didn’t stop him. Bruce’s ribs bit in protest as he attempted to lift the girder, but it was beyond him. In helpless horror, Batman twisted to watch the Joker closing in on his partner. “Nightwing! Nightwing wake up!”
“You ruined my fun!” the Joker shouted down at the still form of Nightwing. To both Batman’s and the Joker’s surprise, the bundle on the concrete moved.
“Yeah well, someone’s got to,“ Nightwing muttered in a trembling voice. Slowly, he dragged himself to his knees and then with great effort he forced his legs under himself. He swayed the moment he was upright and had to reach out for the wall to steady himself. His costume was torn from the explosion. His right arm was hanging at an odd angle. Blood was oozing from a deep wound to the back of his head from when he was smashed against the wall like a rag-doll. His eyes were dazed but he was alive.
“Nightwing,” Batman murmured with relief. “Nightwing, get out of here. Don‘t face him. Retreat!”
The Joker withdrew a revolver and pointed it at the injured hero sagging against the wall. “You have ruined my plan. Die, damn you! Die!” He opened fire. Nightwing’s body launched into the air. The Joker followed it as it arched over his head but not a single bullet connected. Dick landed on the other side of the Joker on unsteady feet but he didn’t fall. He smiled with weary satisfaction. “You lose, Joker.”
“No one invited you. I wanted Robin!” the Joker bellowed. He began to cough, the hot air gradually filling with thick smoke. It was becoming difficult to breathe.
“Wrong, I’m the one you’ve always wanted,” Dick insisted. If it came to hand to hand combat, Nightwing knew he wouldn‘t have a chance. While the Joker was wiry and used every trick in the book, normally it wouldn’t have been a contest, but today, Nightwing’s strength was gone. His vision was badly blurred and his energy reserves had just about reached their limit. He needed to use other methods to defeat his foe... then he had to free Batman and get the two of them out of the burning building before they were overcome by smoke. “It’s always been me you were really after.”
Nightwing, don’t,” Batman warned. He had a feeling Dick was going to attempt to transfer the Joker’s fixation with Robin to himself. It was a dangerous ploy that could push the Joker over the edge. Then again, it was obvious Dick was on the point of collapse and was willing to try anything.
“You?” the Joker asked curiously, tossing the empty revolver to the ground.
“That’s right. I’m the original Robin.”
“No,” the Joker argued, shaking his head vigorously. Vaguely he remembered knowing that, but he refused to accept it.
Nightwing began to move in closer and steadily circle to the right. Dark patches continued to rise up in front of his eyes, but Dick wasn’t prepared to allow unconsciousness to take him yet. Bruce’s life depended on him. All three men had begun to gasp. “Come on, Joker. You know I was Robin. I was the one who first started ‘ruining’ everything, and I’m still doing it.”
“I killed you. On that rooftop. I shot and killed you!” the Joker insisted. He coughed and began to wipe his eyes, which were stinging from the smoke, but still the hideous smile remained.
“Oh, but you didn’t.” The Joker’s face twisted. Nightwing continued to edge closer and to the right, progressively turning the madman around so that the Joker was facing the wall. Nightwing lent back against the structure using it to keep himself on his feet. “You didn’t kill me.” The Joker’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t you get it, Joker? You created me.” Nightwing reached up and pulled his torn uniform from his shoulder, pointing to the scar. “That’s the bullet wound from that night, Joker.”
The madman’s eyes grew wide as he was confronted with indisputable evidence. “No! It’s not true.”
Around them, the fire raged. Crates and other abandoned materials caught fire. The temperature in the room was rising uncontrollably. Above, the ceiling began to creak.
“You know it’s true, Joker. I didn’t die that night. I simply retired. I became Nightwing and another Robin took my place. That’s the way it works. Each time you try to kill a Robin, that one grows up, takes on a new identity and a new one takes his place. You can’t win, Joker. You can’t kill us. We just multiply.”
“NO! I killed you. I killed you!” The insanity in his eyes festered with hatred.
“No you didn’t. You haven’t killed anyone!”
“I always win!” The Joker lunged forward. Nightwing side-stepped the attack and allowed the Joker’s own momentum to send him crashing into the wall head first. The crown prince of crime bounced backwards, teetered for a few minutes and then crumpled into a heap.
“You lose,” Dick muttered. The darkness he had been fighting against for the past few minutes rose up in front on his eyes. Against his will, his body slumped back against the wall and began to slide down it to the ground. A small voice in his head was ordering him to his feet, but oblivion was beckoning insistently.
“Nightwing.” Batman’s voice cut through the haze. Dick’s eyes blinked open and he stared around himself. There were flames everywhere. He began coughing. “Nightwing, get up.”
Dick turned to Bruce, focused on his face, dragged his legs under himself and pushed up. He walked unsteadily across to Batman and stared down at the girder, covering his nose and mouth with his hand to keep out as much smoke as possible.
“You can’t do anything, Nightwing,” Batman coughed. “Get the Joker and get out of here.”
Nightwing took out his high tensile rope and began to tie it to the beam.
“Nightwing! Listen to me. Can you hear me?” Batman demanded through the steady stream of tears leaking out of his stinging eyes. Considering how dilated Dick’s pupils were, Batman really wasn’t sure that Dick was aware of much at all. “Can you hear me?”
“I hear you, Batman,” Dick responded. “Now shut up and let me think.”
“It’s too heavy.”
“I’m not leaving without you.”
Bruce flicked his eyes toward the door, watching as the walls of the building began to buckle. Sections of the ceiling were raining down around them. Soon access to the exits would be blocked. “Nightwing, look at me!”
“I’m a little busy at the moment,” Nightwing replied, coughing. He threw the end of the rope up into the air and watched as it twisted itself around a girder above.
“LOOK AT ME!” Batman yelled as more of the ceiling crashed to the ground. The heat was becoming unbearable but their kelvar suits provided invaluable insulation.
Nightwing allowed his eyes to flick to Batman momentarily. “I AM ORDERING YOU TO LEAVE! DO YOU HEAR ME. I’M... coff...ORD..coff... ERING...coff...”
“Save your breath. Okay, get ready. I’m... coff...going to need your ... coff...help. Push with me... coff... and then you’re going to have to wriggle... coff... yourself free. Ready?” Dick had secured the beam so that it couldn’t fall down on Batman, but using the cord to winch the girder off Bruce was out of the question. There was no way it would be strong enough. Nightwing just hoped it wouldn’t snap.
“Get ready. On three.” Dick panted, pressing his good shoulder under the beam. Only feet away, the ceiling collapsed. Batman glared over at his partner. “One... two... three!”
They heaved together. The girder lifted a single inch. It was enough. Batman scrambled backwards. Dick gritted his teeth.
Dick leapt backwards and the girder fell to the ground, snapping Nightwing’s rope and crushing the tiles that had been able to prevent it from crushing Batman. Nightwing rushed to his partner’s side and using his good arm, dragged Batman to his feet. They paused, staring through tears at the inferno around them. Their escape had been cut off. Their coughing increased as the small flame-free area around them decreased.
“The Joker!” Nightwing cried, turning in search of the villain.
“Escaped earlier,” Batman shouted, taking Nightwing’s arm and forcing him backwards... but there was nowhere for them to go. They were trapped.
The air outside the disintegrating factory was thick with ash and smoke. Flames were now leaping tens of feet into the air. The building groaned in protest, its agony evident as the metal exterior bent under the weight of the roof. Three fire trucks arrived simultaneously, firemen alighting and attacking the blaze with the precision of a team of surgeons. A crowd of curious onlookers had gathered and were being held back by uniformed police. A half a dozen other police were handcuffing Robin’s collection of captives.
The Joker coughed several times. He glared up at the teenager, continuing to rant at the top of his lungs. Moments earlier, he had run directly into Batman’s junior partner and had attempted to draw his gun, but of course, it was long gone. He had then attacked the boy, trying to tear him apart with his bare hands as he had planned Bane would, but he had been no match for the well-trained Robin.
“All of my plans ruined!” the madman squealed. “Because of him! Nightwing wasn‘t supposed to be here!” The Joker shouted at Robin. “He’s right. You don’t die. You just multiply!”
As Robin shoved the ranting Joker into the arms of uniformed officers, he turned to face the inferno. Only seconds earlier there had been a clear view through the entrance and into the factory. That was now gone. A wall of flame met Robin and he was forced to step back. Searing heat flooded from the building, scorching anything with the audacity to approach it.
“Batman! Nightwing!“ Robin yelled. His face shadowed with despair as he searched for his friends. Helplessly, he watched as the firemen tackling the blaze were ordered back.
“The roof is going to collapse. Everyone back!” the chief yelled.
“NO! You can't. Batman and Nightwing are still in there!” Robin argued, racing over to the chief. The man’s eyes showed true sympathy, but he shook his head. “Sorry, Son. It‘s too dangerous. Clear the area!” he shouted to his men.
Robin stared at the man and then spun around to face the burning building. Refusing to give up hope, Robin shot off around the outside of the burning factory praying his friends had escaped via another exit.
Sparks were floating down all over the place. The roaring of the flames was like that of a jet engine.
“Oracle, I don’t think they’ve come out, yet.” Robin choked into his communicator. “I can‘t see them!”
“Robin, leave it to the firefighters,” Oracle ordered, her voice low and distorted.
“Damn it, they haven’t come out.” Robin paused to watch flames leaping into the air. Tongues of fire licked the windows and the sound of the ceiling collapsing sounded over the fire itself.
The firefighters were forced further back by the dreadful heat and imminent collapse of the building.
“Oracle, they haven’t... they didn’t...YES!” the teenager cried, spotting his partners rounding the side of the building. They were leaning on each other... the wounded helping the wounded. Their faces were blackened with soot and they were coughing violently, but they were both very much alive. “YES! YES! Oracle, they’re alive.”
Oracle's very audible, "Thank God," echoed in Robin's ears.
Tim raced toward his companions whose lungs were convulsing uncontrollably. “I’ll get some oxygen,” he shouted, detouring to an arriving ambulance.
Batman and Nightwing continued on across the street, stopping in an alley next to the Batmobile. Dick searched for Bruce through the sooty tears cascading from his throbbing eyes as he fought to expel the smoke from his choked lungs. Batman was bent over, his hands on his knees coughing relentlessly. Nightwing reached out and placed his hand on his partner’s back as some sort of support. He knew that the coughing would be agony consider his injured chest. Tim reappeared with two masks and canisters of oxygen.
“Batman,” Nightwing insisted. Tim immediately assisted Bruce into an oxygen mask and after threading one of Dick’s face, he ran his eyes over his blackened colleagues. Their coughing gradually eased.
“I told the ambulance men to stay back, but by the look of the two of you...”
“No,” Batman argued, removing his mask. He coughed several times, briefly replaced the mask to suck in some pure oxygen and then handed it back to Robin. “We’ll head back to the cave. I’ll call Leslie. Has the Joker been secured?”
“Yes, Sir,“ Robin replied, watching as Batman turned to Nightwing. The look was not one of gratitude to say the least. “Yeah, well, I guess I’ll go and check and see if I’m needed by the police,” Robin muttered, backing away and disappearing. He had seen that look before. Clearly, something had happened in the factory that had not pleased Batman and Robin didn’t want to be around when Nightwing and the Dark Knight ‘discussed’ whatever it was.
Nightwing, who was leaning against the bonnet of the car, glanced up at Batman over the top of the small mask that was covering his mouth and nose, noted the glare raining down on him and pulled his own oxygen mask off. He winced as he lifted his weary and aching frame upright. It was time to face the wrath of Batman... or more correctly, what he liked to call, Batlogic. Batman had his own way of viewing the world and if you didn’t agree with it, you were immediately crucified.
Bruce glared at the younger man, but noting Dick’s discomfort, he took him by his good shoulder and guided him back so he was resting against the car again. Without a word, Batman bent into the Batmobile and snapping open a compartment, he pulled out a first aid kit. “Looks like it’s dislocated. Broken?”
“I’m not sure.” Dick coughed again, the jarring causing him to groan. He reached for his own elbow and tried to support his shoulder. The gritty taste of acid and smoke remained in his mouth.
“Put the oxygen mask back on,” Batman instructed as he searched the first aid kit.
“I’m fine. How’s your chest? Broken ribs?”
“Yeah. Three or four,” Batman grunted, withdrawing a piece of white material.
“I better tape them for you.”
“No, they’re fine.“ Batman removed his gloves, wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and then examined Nighwing’s shoulder. “I won’t touch it until Leslie has had a chance to look at it,” he commented without emotion. With great care he created a sling and eased Dick’s arm into it. Grayson’s jaw locked as his shoulder moved. Batman looked up sharply. “Okay?”
“Just dandy,” Dick grunted. His head was spinning and the nausea in his stomach was doing summersaults, but it was the upcoming ‘discussion’ of Batlogic that was causing him the greatest discomfort.
Batman examined Dick’s badly dilated pupils. “It’s amazing you’re on your feet,” he commented quietly. Bruce had seen Dick smashed into the wall of the factory by the explosion. That image would remain with him for some time. He had honestly thought that... “How do you feel?“
“In comparison to what? Compared to Bane‘s family jewels, I’m feeling quite well, I guess.“ He forced a smile, but it was stolen by the deep ache in his shoulder. Dick blinked twice, trying to clear his vision which was blurring in and out of focus of its own accord. Batman placed his thumb on the tip of Nightwing’s chin and tilted his head back. Grayson almost lost his balance and would have fallen but for the fact that Batman had anticipated the reaction and steadied him. Bruce frowned, his suspicions confirmed. “You’ve a concussion. You‘re going to need a skull X-ray. How bad‘s the pain?”
“Blood in your mouth?”
“No, but my head feels like an elephant sat on it. You want me to tape your ribs? You shouldn’t be moving around so much. Could do internal damage.”
“They’re fine.” The two men had been avoiding full eye contact until this point. Now, their eyes came together. Batman’s lips became thinner and his eyes became harder. “I gave you an order.” The words were a hushed whisper forced out through his tightly clenched jaw. “I gave you several orders and you ignored them.“
Nightwing snorted, rolling his eyes. He knew this would be the cornerstone of the ‘discussion‘. Batlogic at its best. Blind obedience. No room for negotiation.
“We can’t work together if you can’t follow orders,” Batman insisted, harshly.
“Fair enough,” Dick replied, simply. He was too tired and too damned sore to debate the point.
Batman’s rage began to boil. It was essential that Nightwing take this seriously. “You ordered Robin to stay back. You expected him to follow your orders and he did,“ the Dark Knight guessed.
Nightwing shook his head. “No, I explained the situation to him and we agreed that it would be better for me to deal with it,“ Dick adjusted his sling, but didn’t take his eyes from Batman’s angry face.
“It can’t work that way,“ Bruce growled.
“It was the only way that would work in this situation. Robin needed to understand why he couldn’t be involved or he would have ignored anything anyone said to him.”
“Okay, I’ll accept that...“grudgingly, he accepted it, “but you know better than anyone that in the heat of battle, you must follow orders. You didn’t. You ignored orders repeatedly.“ Dick reached up and felt the back of his head. There was an egg the size of a fist there which explained why he felt like he was going to pass out. He withdrew his gloved hand and studied the blood. “We both could have been killed,” Batman continued, taking out a medical pad and pressing against the back of the younger man’s head. “Your death would have been an unnecessary loss.”
“One, as I’ve said before, I don’t simply take orders from you anymore, Batman. Two, we weren’t killed and three, if you don’t mind, I’ll be the judge of what and when I risk my life.” Dick reached up and took over holding the pad in place.
“That decision isn’t yours,” Batman argued, ignoring Nightwing’s first point. He reached for his own ribs and his face twisted with discomfort. “You knew that when you signed on.”
Dick ran his fingers along the curve of his partner’s ribcage. “Four, by the feel of it. They’ll have to be taped before we leave for the cave. And I don’t remember signing anything,” Dick pointed out, ”
“You’re impossible!” Batman exclaimed in exasperation. It was clear the younger man wasn’t listening to a word he was saying.
“My lifelong ambition’s to piss you off, Batman,” Dick commented with a wry grin.
“You do a damn good job of it,” Batman grumbled. “This isn’t finished. Not by a long shot.”
Nightwing sighed and grimaced again. He began blinking. Unconsciousness was calling his name. Before he knew it, his legs were crumbling beneath him.
Batman’s arm encircled Nightwing’s back and he held Dick on his feet. His ribs burned, but he maintained his grip. “Come on. Let’s get you home before you pass out on me. Robin can handle things at this end.”
Nightwing allowed Batman to assist him into the car. The Dark Knight walked around and settled himself behind the wheel.
“You probably saved Robin’s life tonight,” Batman whispered. “Thank you.”
“Oracle called and told me what was happening,” Dick mumbled. “It was obvious he was after Robin.”
“You... you handled the situation well. You were badly outnumbered, but you held it together. You dealt with the Joker in your own way, but it worked.” Batman found himself wondering if he would have been successful in the same situation.
Dick’s heavy lidded eyes opened fully and he glanced at his mentor a little surprised. Praise from Batman was as rare as hen‘s teeth.
“You saved my life as well,“ the Dark Knight admitted.
“Had to. It’s my birthday next week.”
Batman’s eyebrow arched as he started the car. “So?”
“So you give good presents.”
Bruce couldn’t help but smile. In that moment, all else was stripped away and forgotten as a father shook his head. “I found the magazine you left on my desk.”
“The red Harley.”
“The fact that it was circled with a note saying ‘this one’ was a dead giveaway.”
“Subtlety was never a strength for me. You know that.”
“That I do.” The smile faded. All too quickly the moment of repose was swallowed by Batman’s obsession... Batlogic had to have the last say. “However, we need to talk about your insubordination. In this job, following orders is the most important thing.”
Dick sighed and allowed his head to rest against the back of the seat. Pain, fatigue and his concussion combined sending him closer to the darkness beckoning him. “Look, Batman, just for the record, I do understand there is need for a leader in a team and I’m more than happy to follow your orders without question. To hell and back if necessary... whether I agree with them or not. By now, you should know that.”
Batman listened without comment.
“I agree that following orders is essential, but no one... not even you... can tell me what to do when it comes to the lives of my family.”
Batman glanced across at his partner, the word 'family' ringing in his ears. Dick’s eyes closed, his chest heaved and his breathing slowed and became deeper as he slipped into the painless world of oblivion. Bruce’s hard expression dissolved. He reached his hand out and squeezed Nightwing’s good shoulder.
"Rest easy, son."
Batman activated the panel in front of him. "Alfred, contact Leslie and have her meet us in the cave. A couple of broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder and perhaps a skull fracture."
"Sir, it is wonderful to hear your voice. I knew Master Nightwing would be able to secure your release.”
Batman glanced across at his partner. "He was incredible... don’t you dare tell him I said that.“
“Of course not, Sir,“ Alfred chuckled.
“Alfred, we ordered the red Harley, didn’t we?“
“Yes, Sir. It should arrive in the next two days. Why?“
“Have I ever told you, Alfred, that in this job, following orders is the second most important thing."
Bruce smiled warmly, checked on his boy and then sent the Batmobile and its precious cargo rocketing toward home. It would appear that ‘following orders’ was one piece of Batlogic that would need reviewing.
I would really love to know what you thought.
© July 2004 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 I 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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