Darkness had swept across the broken city. The Earthquakes that had struck without warning or prejudice had devastated both the inanimate and the living. Three months after the atrocity, cranes towered over Gotham as the rebuilding continued. However, it was going to take more than just the replacement of bricks and mortar. Order had been swallowed by chaos and uncertainty as people struggled to re-establish some sort of consistency in their lives. The dregs of society had found purchase quickly. Lawlessness in certain areas was rampant, though was gradually being brought under control by the combined efforts of the army, police and Gotham’s own vigilante. However, the job was enormous and reluctantly Batman had called in his ‘associates’ to help him keep order after the sun went down. All had responded without question.
Nightwing watched the gang of robbers as they broke into the boarded up shop. His fertile mind counted them and assessed their strengths and weaknesses. They were the same group who had hit every night for the past two weeks. The police were at their wits end to collar the thieves who were breaking the spirit of the city that was trying to drag itself out of the pit of despair. Police resources were exhausted and so were the men and women donning the uniform. Help was needed if this particular group of well organised criminals was to be stopped.
Help had arrived. Tonight, the seven men’s rampage would come to an end.
Moments after entering the large electrical store, the group reappeared in the narrow alley with their arms full of the evening’s spoils. They were talking loudly, apparently secure in the knowledge that police were scarce.
“End of the line, fellas,” Nightwing muttered. His well-muscled body tensed and then he launched himself from his place of concealment on the roof above. Three tight summersaults were executed with the precision of an acrobat and he landed with unprecedented grace between the thieves and their waiting van.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” Nightwing greeted, rising to his feet. The seven men dropped their bounty and produced a plethora of weapons.
“And what the hell are you supposed to be?” one demanded, squinting at the shadowy figure.
Nightwing stepped forward into the light. Several of the group recoiled. “It’s Batman!”
“No it isn’t. It’s that Nightwing character. I’ve heard he ain’t so tough. We can take him.”
Dick’s left eyebrow arched and his mouth set in a lop-sided smile. “Who have you been talking to you?”
The thugs glanced around at each other, concerned that Nightwing wasn’t showing any signs of being intimidated or outwardly alarmed by the fact that he was outnumbered by the armed group.
The leader flexed his shoulders and brandished a long bladed knife out in front of him. “Walk away, you costumed freak!”
“See, now you’ve gone and hurt my feelings. I’ve very sensitive to name calling,” Nightwing responded flippantly, his trained eyes watching for signs of attack. “Now, we can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way. The easy way saves lots of messy blood and bone braking and thus I would highly recommend it. The hard way makes me grumpy… and you wouldn’t like me if I got grumpy. So, how about it? If you miscreants would return those goods and accompany me to the police station, everything will be just fine and dandy.”
“Give us one good reason why we should!”
“I realize this is a difficult concept for someone like you to comprehend, but taking things that don’t belong to you just isn’t the American way.”
“Ha!” the leader spat. “There are seven of us and one of you. Do you really think that one man can stop us?”
At this, Nightwing’s eyes narrowed and a smile formed on his face. “Who said I was alone?” he whispered.
A shadow was cast over the group – the outline unmistakeable. The thugs glanced skyward and saw hell itself dropping from the heavens. All of them screamed. Judgement day had arrived and their souls weren’t prepared.
Batman landed beside Nightwing and his lips parted in a smile… though only a brave man would call it such. Six of the men turned and shot off in the opposite direction as fast as their trembling legs would carry them. The final man stood transfixed; frozen in terror in the shadow of the most terrifying thing he’d ever seen. Then, without warning, his eyes rolled back in his head and he fainted, collapsing in a pitiful heap.
Nightwing stared down at the unconscious bundle lying at his partner’s feet. Slowly he turned to Batman, his young face displaying earnest concern. “You know, Batman, you are really going to have to work on your people skills.”
The Dark Knight flicked his eyes to his companion and a glare that could turn even the most resolute man to a dithering mass, rained down on Nightwing. Thankfully, Nightwing was immune to its effects. He had been on the receiving end of Batman glares for more years than he could count.
Dick winked, his bright blue eyes flashing with a youthful mischief he had never lost. “Come on,” he urged, darting off into the darkness in pursuit of the disappearing men. “They’re getting away.”
Batman stood for several seconds before following. “People skills,” he snorted… but even the serious Dark Knight couldn’t help smiling.